Sad to report, another rich relative in Spain has died, leaving me a small fortune

IMG_0318Mr Thomas Schlesinger, a distant relative of mine and his poor wife died in 2010 on the Barcelona Motorway, writes his personal attorney, the barrister Alejandro Gomez (Esq) of Lanx & Associates, (located at 42 Arc del Teatra, Barcelona) in a letter that arrived by post last week, dated September 14.

Before his death, Mr Gomez writes, Thomas deposited $8.5m in the Spanish Finance Bank, but tragically did not make a will.

All efforts to trace Thomas’s relatives have been ‘abortive and a mystery”.

Rather than risk having the funds confiscated, “as according to Spanish Inheritance Law on article 101-102 amendment”, Mr Gomez has kindly offered to present me (L Schlesinger) as the next of kin of Thomas Schlesinger, who I am told was a “formal contractor/engineer” at mining giant BHP Billiton” to share the $8.5m with him, minus 10 per cent to go to “some charity organisations”.

Because of his personalities (of which I assume there are multiple) Barrister Gomez writes and says that I should keep the matter “secrete and confidentiality as our primary working conditions” but that I should email him at his private address, or phone or fax as soon as possible “to ensure the success of the project”.

As I pondered the words of Mr Gomez, I reflected on a double tragedy: almost three years ago I received another letter from Barrister Mateo Pinto from Madrid to inform me that another distant relative of mine ‘Albert Schlesinger’, an oil magnate who lived in Spain for 28 years died with his immediate family in an “auto car accident on the Damascus Highway in Syria in December 2004”.


The 2012 letter informing me of Albert Schlesinger’s passing

Sadly, he too had not left a will (it must run in the Schlesinger family on our Spanish side: car accidents and not writing wills) leaving US$9.6 million unclaimed in a vault at the Madrid Central office.

So much death, yet so much unclaimed money…

I have now received two letters from Spain at two different home addresses (I moved house in 2013).

The only thing genuine thing about them are of course the charming Spanish stamps and postmarks on the envelopes.

The latest letter has a lovely one euro stamp depicting Felipe the Sixth, the current Spanish monarch, in a red-brown tint.

The first letter had two stamps: a 35 cent stamp depicting the back seat of a car with a teddy bear and a 50 cent stamp of a red ship of some kind.

So the scammers have spent 1.85 euros (A$2.92) of their own money, trying to get me to give them thousands of mine.

I haven’t given them a penny and it seems hard to believe that anyone else would fall for this scam. But they do, and in droves.


The September 2015 letter

According to the Australian government’s Scamwatch website, losses for the first seven months of the year from ‘inheritance scams’ – as these are known – total $4.43m from 2500 reported cases, making up roughly 10 per cent of the $45m lost to scams of one sort or another.

“Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to get your money or personal details. Scams succeed because they look like the real thing and catch you off guard when you’re not expecting it,” writes Delia Rickard from the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission

But surely only greed, naievety or stupidity – perhaps a combination of all three – can be driving people to divulge their personal information and lose tens of thousands of dollars to people like “Alejandro Gomez” (For an explanation of how this scam works, click here.)

While the posted letter, stamps and postmark adds an air of authenticity and the letterhead has an actual address (Arc del Teatre in Barcelona does exist) there is no firm called Lanx & Associates.

BHP Billiton, is of course a real company, but never employed a Thomas Schlesinger, who never deposited money into the Spanish Finance Bank, because no such bank exists.

As for Alejandro Gomez, no such barrister is currently practicing in Barcelona according to Google, though there is an Argentinan football player and a Columbian tennis player with the same name, so maybe the letter writer is a sports fan.

And type the name of his “law firm” Lanx & Associates into Google and you come up with consumer forums (like this one) packed with people telling identical stories about letters from lawyers in Spain.

Greetings from Germany. My new best friend Barrister Mark Torres Esq. (Spanish Lawyer and Doctor in Law) located at Calle Velázquez 53, 28001 Madrid Tel.: 00-34-692-838-947, wants to share 7.5 million euros with me, left by a person with the same surname who died in a car crash in 2004.
Anyone want to take up the offer?
I am glad I wasn’t in Spain in 2004. It seems to have been a catastrophic year for accidents!

Reading newspapers, video store browsing, cinema without distraction, film processing anticipation and other pleasures killed off by the digital revolution

I still get immense pleasure from reading the newspaper, accompanied by a cup of coffee.

It's not the same reading an iPad on the toilet

It’s not the same reading an iPad on the toilet

It’s not that I don’t get most of my news from other sources (I am a Twitter addict, and the most used apps on my iPad are those for ABC News, The Guardian Australia, The Age, the BBC, CNN and of course the AFR), it’s just there is a certain pleasure that I get from reading the newspaper that cannot be replicated digitally, even with e-ink.

In a digital world of endless distractions and diversions – a newspaper is a finite sum of its parts and that’s something to cherish.

And so it seems to me utterly unfathomable – even though the boffins say its inevitable – that there may one day be a world without this compendium of daily stories, facts and figures, photographs, commentary, weather reports,  obituaries and trivialities.

For me it’s still one of life’s great pleasures – reading the paper, but it seems a dying one too, or on life-support at best.

And it got me thinking about other things I took for granted while growing up that have all but disappeared thanks to the digital revolution.


14196995087_160e0fed5b_zThe uninterrupted movie

– the ability to sit through a 90 minute movie in a darkened room, transfixed by the screen, without any distraction, appears lost for ever. It seems every time I go to the movies, I must also sit through a second viewing via a giant screen lighting up in front of me the size of a human head as someone in the audience gets bored and scrolls through their Facebook account on their smartphone. Cinema etiquette – that you sit quietly and focus on the film you are watching (and forked out a small fortune to watch) – has long disappeared. I don’t even bother complaining anymore, sometimes I check my own phone.

Remember these?

Remember these?

Developing your camera film

Remember those bygone, halcyon days when you put film in your camera, took 24 or 36 what you thought were well-considered shots and then handed the film into a man behind a desk in a little shop. The next day you would return with knots in your stomach in anticipation of your artistic genius as you received an envelope of glossy pics (Remember the little sleeve for the developed negatives?). Now I can’t remember the last time I bought a roll of film. Do they even sell film anymore? Didn’t Kodak go bankrupt? Now its all instant gratification, you can take thousands of shots and see the results immediately. You don’t even need a camera, just a good quality smartphone. And does anyone print out their photos anymore? Or create albums of their holiday? It’s all just digital folders marked “Holiday, August 2012” on your computer.

16571720284_4de9e13b6e_z-1The writing and receiving of letters

I used to love getting hand-written letters, but I can’t remember the last one I received, or, the last one I wrote one myself, affixed a stamp and dropped in the letter box. Emails, texts, Viber messages, are instantaneous  – and brilliant in many ways – but what happened to the anticipation of receiving a hand written letter from a far off country covered in stamps and post office markings?

4165217347_ec1dabe345_zChoosing a movie in a video store

I have previously blogged about the demise of the suburban video or DVD store – we have none left in our suburb – killed off by video streaming services, video kiosks and – dare I say it – online piracy. Once a part of the Saturday night ritual for many lonely hearts, kid-weary families and movie geeks, prowling the aisles, the local video store is disappearing fast.

751707089_c25111d1c8_zPsychiatrists & psychologists

Ah, lying on the couch and talking about your problems. I have no hard evidence for this but surely demand for the services of shrinks is plummeting when you have Facebook. This seems to have become the place where everyone pours out their problems. And while I groan at every “oh woe is me” post, I can see the appeal: There’s instant feedback ( you can count the ‘likes’) and advice from your pop psychology Facebook friends via the inane comments they write.

There’s plenty more things killed of by the internet, or dying slowly – here’s a list of 40 compiled by the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

I wonder how many of these things my five-week old son, Aubin, will know of when he is older?

Will there still be newspapers around when he is old enough to read them? Will he laugh in disbelief when I tell him of the time I forgot to put ‘film’ in my camera on my first visit to London? (Yes that did happen).

Perhaps like the skateboard and vinyl records, some will make a comeback…


Perhaps a hover board instead of a skate board?

Anzac Day: an immigrant’s education

6968598698_f28850d25b_z This Anzac Day, my eleventh in Australia, was a milestone for me.

While I didn’t attend a Dawn service – something I would still like to do – for the first time I got an education about April 25, 1915 and what it means

(And…what it clearly doesn’t mean to a fair proportion of Australians, including SBS sports journalist Scott McIntyre, sacked for his disparaging views.)

Firstly, I wanted to understand why “April 25” and what in fact was being commemorated.

An excellent article by Age journalist Tony Wright “Nation forged by heroes & horror” was a great starting point. Wright wrote his account of the significance of Anzac Day in Gallipoli ahead of the commemoration services.

While evoking the horror of the battles below the cliffs at Anzac Cove –  “shells roaring a few metres overhead, the bodies piling up and the flies and the lice” – Wright provided a neat summary of the important facts and figures:

– that about 40 per cent of the male population between the ages of 18 and 44 enlisted to fight in the Great War (the Returned Services League provides the exact number, 331,781)

– that they were all volunteers (this came as a complete shock)

– that they all thought they were going on a “fine adventure’ (another shock), the RSL says they “rushed to enlist for an exciting war”.

– that 8709 young Australian men died at Gallipoli on a patch of land ” barely larger than an Australian farm” and more than 21,000 were injured, (and that more than 60,000 in total died during the War and more than twice that number were wounded).

– that the invasion of Gallipoli by the Anzacs was a military failure, that achieved “precisely nothing for the invaders in the course of World War 1”.

The innocence, bravery and naivety of the Anzacs astonished me, the loss of life monumental for a small country of just 4.9 million at the time (though I disagree with Wright that the numbers are unimaginable: as a Jew, the slaughter of six million by the Nazis in the holocaust is truly unimaginable).

First Anzac Day, Hobart Domain, Tasmania - 1916

First Anzac Day, Hobart Domain, Tasmania – 1916

Another excellent article, by Tony Stephens, author of The Last Anzacs entitled “Legend outgrows the men who fought“, provided an understanding of what was achieved from the point of view of actual Anzac veterans.

Peeling back the almost cult-like, untouchable heroic status that Anzac Day has undoubtedly achieved among many Australians (among them, the “poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers” McIntyre derides in his contentious tweets) there thoughts are sobering and cautionary:

– Tom Epps of the 27th Battalion: “It provided a lesson in the futility of war.”

– Harry Newhouse of the 4th Battalion: “The Turks never did anything to us and we never did anything to the Turks. We did not think we were going to fight them, poor buggers.”

– Albert White of the 25th Battalion: “I never understood what we were fighting for. I went because most of my cobbers went.”

– Ted Matthews, of the Ist Division Signals: “Some people called us ‘five-bob-a-day murderers’ but the politicians were the murderers. Politicians make up the wars. They don’t go to them.”

Stephens writes that Gallipoli built national pride and confidence, but that it’s a “tired cliché to say it marks the birth of a nation, or a coming of age”.

Other events, he says like Federation in 1901, prime minister John Curtin defying Churchill in the Second World War and bringing troops home to defend Australia against Japan, the 1967 referendum that included aborigines in the Census ( I would add the 2008 Rudd government apology to the stolen generations), could all be said to be defining moments in the continual evolution of the shifting Australian national identity.

Many Australian I know – educated, smart, well read – don’t care much for Anzac Day, or how it is remembered.

There views may not be as extreme as Scott McIntyre, but what they really want is some authenticity about how Gallipoli and the Anzacs are remembered and they revile the crass commercialisation, hijacked by the likes of VB, Anzac biscuit makers, Woolworths and others.


There were hundreds of people, including senior politicians like Malcolm Turnbull who welcomed the sacking of McIntyre for airing his views, but debate about what Anzac Day should mean is healthy and necessary if it is to have resonance for immigrants like myself and our children.

I agree with Guardian columnist and satirist Geoff Lemon, who wrote in light of the sacking of McIntyre, that while his tweets were historically “flawed”…

“…the greatest insult you can offer the fallen is to lie about who they were and what they did – to whitewash their sins and burnish their glories.

Keeping Anzac Day alive and strong starts with education – in my case self-education – not deception, myth-making, political spin and marketing tricks.

I feel a greater affinity with my adopted country, armed with a bit more knowledge about its history.

Lest we forget (…what really happens in war-time)

Writing well really does pay according to a new survey

slide_272894_1944735_freeAs a journalist, there’s nothing more annoying than finding spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in your own work.

I confess that I always read my own stories first in the Australian Financial Review – the newspaper I write for – and feel gutted if there is a glaring error – spelling, punctation or grammar. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too often.

Writers hold their own written work in high esteem, as they should, as it represents their personal brand.

Errors make you look stupid and can be downright embarrassing – or very funny if it’s not your own work.

A while back, a bestseller called “Eats, shoots and leaves” by British radio journalist Lynne Truss attempted to, very humouresly, highlight common punctuation mistakes and how they often change the meaning of a sentence. Her aim was to lift writing standards which have arguably gotten worse since publication of the book given the popularity of Twitter, Facebook and text messaging.(Embarrassingly, Truss made mistakes of her own, in her book).

You may scoff as you type out a garbled text message on your phone or dash off an unreadable tweet, but new research has found that there is a high correlation between how accurately you write and how well you do your job – and very importantly – the level of pay you earn.

Regardless of whether you are a salesman, lawyer, engineer or accountant – those who make fewer mistakes in their emails, reports and presentations are better regarded by those that employ them, and, they earn more money.

This came out of a study of  448 profiles on freelance jobs website Elance by Grammarly, a start-up proofreading web application that finds and explains in-depth grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes online.

Grammarly found that an engineer who made 10 or fewer errors per 100 words written in their online profile earned on average $521 per project while an engineer who made 30 or more errors earned less than half that.

Similarly, lawyers who made less than 10 errors per 100 words earned $372 per job, while those that made three times as many errors earned only $198.

Overall, it found that freelancers who made the fewest mistakes received the highest reviews from their employers – those who made the most mistakes were rated much lower.

In short, accurate writing increases credibility, hireability and pay.


Grammarley survey: writing well pays better

Journalists and others that write for a living will be pleased to know that – according to the study – writers make the fewest mistakes, followed closely by those in admin and  legal roles.

While it was perhaps not surprising to find that IT professionals make more mistakes on average than any other professional – almost one in every five words – it was alarming to learn that those in leadership positions (in finance and management roles) are almost as bad.

Perhaps it explains why big companies all hire expensive public relations executives – to find and correct all those top management mistakes, before they become public relations disasters.

34d1609 is also giving away one free premium access account to Grammarly. Just send your name and email to – The first email received will win the premium pass.

Melburnians – enjoy the world’s best liveability while it lasts

traffic jam

Gridlock: where Melbourne is heading

Melburnians love to crow about Melbourne’s long-running status as the world’s most liveable city.

Melbourne has ranked top city in the world for the last four years in a row according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey – with Sydney a lowly seventh.

Melburnians rightly love to lord it over Sydneysiders and other global city dwellers, but I’m afraid our world’s best status is fading fast.

I could point to a hundred different articles (try this one on urbanisation by Fairfax economics writer Ross Gittins) or extensive research data to explain that we are building upwards at such a rate but without the necessary investment in transport infrastructure to get everyone to and from work, schools and the shops. 

My own daily commute into work is a good case study of the looming chaos that awaits. It begins with a short 15 minute bicycle ride from my home in Niddrie in the northern burbs to Essendon Station, where the Craigieburn line stutters along towards the city, 15 kilometres away.

What a year ago was a pleasant cycle down a quiet backstreet, where I could drift off into my own thoughts, is now a busy road packed with frustrated people-movers, utes, sedans and station wagons, who weave past me in desperation to avoid the gridlock on the main thoroughfare, Keilor Road.

Even this far out from the city, any vacant lot, deserted car yard or decrepid office building is giving way to an apartment block with dozens of units crammed on top. On the quieter streets, old houses have been bulldozed and replaced with three townhouses. 

 More people, more cars, same roads, same frequency of trains and trams. 

At Essendon Station, Rose Street is most days clogged with cars and buses while the train platform is just as crowded, heaving with already weary-looking fellow commuters.

melbourne platform

Flinders Station, Melbourne

There’s a collective groan as the citybound train pulls in and commuter’s faces stare back from inside carriages, pressed against the glass.

And that’s on a good day when there isn’t a dreary announcement about a train cancellation forcing two sets of commuters onto the same train, resulting in carriages packed so tightly you fear getting an itch you could never scratch.

Finally, twenty minutes later we pull into Southern Cross station. I extract my head from under a stranger’s armpit, apologise for inadvertently rubbing my backside against a pensioner’s bald head (hey, at least they got a seat), exhale, and make my way towards the escalators and the exit. Here a gang of transport Gestapo (train police) are usually standing by ready to spear tackle the elderly, children, mothers with babies and minority groups, should they have forgotten to swipe their Myki card.

Lucky for me I fit none of those categories.


queen liz

Fit for a queen? I think not!

Yet more fun awaits me later in the day when I hop onto a tram on Collins or Bourke Street for a meeting uptown – the geniuses who came up with the idea of free CBD trams seemingly did not factor in that every man, woman, child, homeless bum and confused tourist now chooses to take a tram rather than walk a city block.  Tempers flare as we all contort ourselves into weird shapes and postures. The tram driver, oblivious to the gang of drunk vagabonds that have boarded the train with shopping trolleys, four large dogs and a spicey pepperoni aroma, yells out that he won’t close the doors until we get off the steps.

Cursing under my breath, I decide to walk back to the office from my meeting…

Liveability my ass.

Melbourne’s crown is slipping as the city grinds towards eventual gridlock.

Anyone who takes a bus, train or tram – or is crazy enough to drive into work – can surely see that for themselves. The old cliched saying of “what goes up, must come down” applies when “up” means high rise apartments and “down” means liveability without investment in public transport

Dealing with my Twitter addiction or: please be kind and retweet

twitterHello world. My name is Larry Schlesinger and I am an addict.

It’s not crack cocaine, or alcohol or heroin or chocolate that I can’t get enough of.

I am addicted to Twitter. I make this confession openly and honestly and promise to change.

I realised I was addicted to Twitter – really realised – when I sat down on a Tuesday evening last week in front of the television to watch an episode of my favourite show, the UK detective drama Midsomer Murders. As the killer was unmasked by Detective Inspector Tom Barnaby of Causton CID, I was completely clueless as to how the great sleuth had reached this stunning conclusion (Who would have thought it was the priest with a limp in love with his brother’s ex-girlfriend?)

The truth was I had completely lost track of the plot, Christ, I didn’t even know who the main characters were anymore.

It was all because of Twitter.

It seemed impossible that I could go more than 15 minutes of a Midsomer murder (in some quaint flower-encrusted cottage) before, with sweaty palms and gritting teeth, I yanked my phone out of my pocket and ravenously checked the updates on my Twitter feed.

Had I missed something? An explosion? A plane crash? A new government crisis? Had Tony Abbott spontaneously combusted? Had someone cooked a hamburger all by themselves? Or remembered the name of their dead pet parrot? Or decided they liked the colour blue more than red?

How could I possibly go on watching Barnaby as he traipsed through the English countryside finding clues while all these important things were happening in the lives of others – some of whom I don’t even know?

And then the utter ludicrousness of it dawned on me.What the f-ck was I doing? Had I gone mad?

Yes, Twitter is without any doubt the most powerful social media device in the world bar none – I realised this the day someone at work yelled out: “Someone has just tweeted that Oscar Pistorious has been arrested for shooting his girlfriend” – but the addiction (and the envy: he has how many followers???) came much later.

Never mind breaking news about really significant events – where Twitter has its true power – I had to know the insignificant minutiae of everybody else’s lives – and tell my eager 1,500 or so followers all the boring crap about my own. Had it really come to this?

Of course I am not the only one addicted like a twit. There are millions of us updating the world about ourselves, 140 characters at time. We’ve all become experts at the “#” and “@”. We know what’s trending. We know who said what to whom.

Get on any train in Melbourne or Sydney or Paris or London, or a bus in Dar-es-Salaam of Caracas, or a camel in Morocco and there will be someone tweeting or retweeting or favouriting or replying.

The kind of crap you used to mutter to yourself on a lonely stretch of highway as the tumbleweeds drifted buy  – that’s what’s become breaking news in the Twit-o-sphere.

– I just saw a dog that looked like my grandpa. Better tweet that.
– What a beautiful row of palm trees. Better tweet that. Etc etc.

I am pleased to say I am dealing with my addiction, though temptation is the route of all smart phone evil.

For the last two days, there has been no Twitter and no inane tweeting after work. I’ve actually given my wife and my daughter my full attention between the hours of 6.30pm and 8.30pm. It’s been a struggle, my palms have been itchy, my fingers twitching, seeking out the phone I’ve stuck in a locked drawer, but I’ve managed…somehow.

Home in the evening has become a Twitter-free zone, especially as the bodies start dropping all of over Midsomer County, the deadliest county in England.

Baby steps, Baby steps…each day is a struggle, but I think it is getting easier.

I’m so pleased with myself, so delighted with my progress that I think I’ll celebrate. Yes, this is what I will do: I’ll compose a little congratulatory message to all my ‘friends’.

Exactly 140 characters.

The freshlyworded 2 minute review: Serial

141023_CBOX_SerialPodcast.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeWhat’s being reviewed?


What is it ?

A 12 podcast series produced by ‘This American Life’ a  syndicated American radio program and WBEZ Chicago, a community radio station.

What’s it about?

Part story telling, part investigative journalism, part amateur sleuthing in the style of Scooby Doo (as one reviewer put it), Serial tells the story of the 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee and the conviction, after two trials, of her former boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was given a life sentence. In each episode, journalist and broadcaster Sarah Koenig attempt to unravel a different element of the case to answer the question: Did Adnan do it?

If you only know one thing…

It’s the most downloaded podcast of all time with more than 5 million downloads as of January this year.

Is it any good?

Yes. If you love a good detective story or a riveting documentary, you will love Serial. The show’s executive producer, Ira Glass said of it: “We want to give you the same experience you get from a great HBO or Netflix series, where you get caught up with the characters and the thing unfolds week after week, but with a true story and no pictures. Like House of Cards, but you can enjoy it while you’re driving.”

What I liked most about it?

The chatty, personal style that exploits the audio-only medium and draws you in. How much you learn about criminal investigation and procedure. The setting, Baltimore, one of America’s most interesting cities. The interweaving of narrative, interviews, opinion and evidence that gives Serial its power.

What I disliked?

Trying to remember all the details and keep track of the various plotlines. At times confusing. The ending may disappoint some.

How much time do you have to invest?

Eight and a half hours of listening time, plus many more hours on the Serial website, doing your own research and reading analysis and comments about the show. It’s addictive.

How do I listen to it?

It’s free. Download it from iTunes or from

Can you recommend something similar, in another medium?

The Oscar-nominated documentary: “Capturing the Friedmans” about dark secrets in a upper middle-class Jewish family in New Jersey. And watch The Wire, a television series set in Baltimore about criminals and the police that pursue them. Arguably the greatest television show ever made.