Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why We Had Girls

There have been many times during our family lives where people have asked if I ever felt that I'd missed out by not having a boy to round off our brood.

That's really a question that never needed any thought, of course we didn't, although I suppose on reflection we may well have missed out on skateboard ramps and bicycle jumps and flying foxes, and for a while I wondered if that mattered.

Then I came across this sequence of photographs in my Mother's collection, taken in my brother's backyard.

I think we're really grateful for our girls!

( I do believe that Scott eventually recovered!)


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas is coming

Indeed it is, so we had a bit of a get together last weekend to catch up with those that won't be around for one reason or another in a week or two.

If I were to describe the feelings I have about our own family's Christmas excesses I could rightly be accused of being a grouch, or perhaps a Grinch or at best ungrateful. I am really none of those things, and without trying to justify our behaviour I am pleased that I find myself questioning our celebration each year, trying to find a balance in my mind between all that we have, and all that most of the world do not.

You could of course help ease my concerns by downloading a Care Australia Catalogue, and choosing a gift for someone who is a lot more in need of it than I!

For the record, Sebastian does love his Wiggles socks, and the Car, or is it a Fire Engine, or maybe a Space Ship..... perhaps it's a Dump Truck, that Uncle Matt gave him.

Monday, December 15, 2008


I missed posting Thursday, even though I had a great idea and thought of something to say and remembered the picture above, which I took somewhere in the Blue Mountains a couple of years ago.

Then, after finding the picture, I forgot entirely what I was going to write about.

I have absolutely no idea what the story was about, but I hope you enjoy the picture anyway, I'm sure it had some witty connection or other!

Monday, December 08, 2008


We lived in a small, narrow street.

In Brisbane terms it was barely narrow enough to be a lane, and even more unusually houses were built almost to the street frontage itself.

Our house had begun to look almost respectable we thought, if not fashionably trendy, with its high timber fence we'd built from a packing case stolen scrounged from the glass factory at the end of the street, and pavers similarly appropriated from the gasworks at South Brisbane.

After a hectic bout of incessant renovation, we motored off into the sunset for a tiny and well deserved dose of R&R, expecting that on our return, all our good works would hit us in the face and we'd bask in a fresh glow of self satisfaction.

After a week or two under blue skies and lying on golden sands, our neighbourhood did seem a little duller than we remembered it, and we did think it unusual, as we turned into our street, to note that the sign that had once read "Cambridge Street", now quite clearly, in jagged black letters declared that we were heading into "Darkest Africa".

Should we, in that light of that, have been surprised to find a Giraffe peering over our fence?

Thursday, December 04, 2008


The first time we ever came across the concept of Awards of Encouragement happened when we were living in Tweed Heads, opposite a family with three terribly young children. "Terribly" being the operative word, or so it seemed to us, as their mother in an effort to make herself understood would often resort to raising her voice to such a level that we could have heard what she was saying from the next suburb, let alone merely across a suburban street, even if her children couldn't.

This happened with such regularity and with such enthusiasm that we were sure that at some point a vein would pop somewhere deep in her brain, and she'd fall down dead.

For the mother of our household, in charge of one new born child, it was a particularly distressing time, she swore that she would never raise her voice like that no matter what the circumstance. Time of course was to prove her wrong and on that first occasion she lost her cool with our own three year old, raising her voice to the extent the children across the road snapped firmly to attention, it must be said that she did suffer a terrible flashback as the veil of guilt descended.

Apart from the slight issue with the mother's volume control, they were a lovely family and we spent a goodly amount of time in their company, so it was only natural that when the eldest received his first certificate of achievement he was duly paraded before us.

"Luke had a really good try at folk dancing".

The world isn't a fair place. In my youth, no matter how really good "the try I had at folk dancing" was, I always ended up being rapped around the legs with a long rule for being out of step. On reflection I suppose there would have been no kudos for me nor satisfaction for my teacher had she sent me home with a certificate that read "Master Midge was only flogged three times today".

I think all of these encouragement awards should be made to comply with one of those regulations about honesty in labelling.

The young ladies in the picture above are in the costume of their Morris Dancing troupe. For those who may not be aware, that particular type of dancing involves jumping up and down on the spot rather a lot, and for lack of a better description, this pair were far from the most robust of their group. When they were all assembled on stage, the troupe had a combined mass something akin to that of Tasmania, and once the jumping up and down commenced, the audience were compelled to flee from the inevitable disaster.

I'm sure that a workplace health and safety enquiry ensued, and I'm guessing the builders of the stage were duly, and I would contend wrongfully censured for it's failure. The real culprit surely was the primary school teacher who sent home all those certificates that read "Joyce had a really good try at folk dancing", rather than a discreet note inviting Joyce to be the light and sound monitor.

A day or two ago, Aaron erroneously presumed that awards "for trying" were invented for the benefit of the Lewis family. I can assure him that really isn't the case. Our own gene pool alone mounts a deserving argument for their being. When his brother's wife, who knows a little about genetics, reflects on all of this, she may well not take any reassurance at all after calculating the probability of producing any superlatively physically co-ordinated progeny.

Unsurprisingly it was the eldest of the lights of our lives who arrived home wearing one of those badges for the first time. It was succinct, and straight to the point.

"Abbie was trying today".

We knew that.

That's what started her mother shouting in the first place.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Feeding the Fish

It's coming up to that time of year when our closest relatives used to go away on holidays.

Uncle Moss and Auntie Dawn would take their tent and most of their worldly belongings and set up camp at Tallebudgera, and for all too few weeks I'd be allowed to join them, spending every waking hour exploring the Burleigh bushland, fishing, swimming and generally staying as far away from anything that remotely resembled authority as I could.

Part of the routine for campers was the late afternoon fishing session at the mouth of the creek. People would line up shoulder to shoulder right at the bar, where the river meets the surf, for a chance at catching whatever it was that fed at dusk on an outgoing tide at the edge of the surf!

I can't remember anyone ever catching anything in that location, but it was a great way for everyone to see the last of day off.

"Feeding the fish" we used to call it, which is exactly what we call it when youngsters visit our place and spend a goodly portion of their time amusing themselves by hanging over our goldfish pond. Our pond, for those who haven't visited the home of the Biting Midge, is neither large nor small, in fact it's exactly in between.

It's deep enough to scare the daylights out of a small child if they fall in (which they regularly do), and cause terrible stress among their parents, particularly as we tend to keep a type of goldfish that comes from somewhere in the Amazon and is rather partial to young white flesh. It is shallow enough though so that they if they were clever (which they never are) they at least have a sporting chance, and could probably escape an entry without getting their shirt wet, although to date none ever has.

Of course for us getting wet was almost compulsory no matter what the activity on those camping days, and so it was almost unusual one balmy summer evening all those years ago, that as I had my fishing line dangling in the mouth of Tallebudgera Creek, along with forty or fifty others of all generations, I was standing on dry sand.

I should not proceed further without explaining that the mouth of the creek is rather rapidly flowing on an outgoing tide, and just before the bit where we all "fed the fish" there was a deep and slow moving swimming hole, which tried to empy itself each ebb.

On this particular evening a middle aged swimmer had strayed too far close to the current at its perimeter, and soon found himself tumbling and gagging, breathing foam and sand, and being swept in the direction generally described as "out to sea".

He did what most people in that situation would do.

He went into a blind and very noisy panic.

I can hear his screams of terror as I type, burned as they are in the very core of my brain, and intermingled as they were, with horrifying gurgles and splutters as he went down for the second time, knowing full well that once more and he was doomed.

The fishermen stood in silence to a man. Watching bemused as the poor fellow was swept struggling and spluttering, eyes wide with fear, past each and every one of them in turn. Heads turned to follow, mouths agape, altogetherly reminiscent of a giant laughing clowns sideshow attraction.

As the ocean loomed closer the screams became even more desperate, if that was possible.

My father, who was next but last in the line of fishermen, decided that he couldn't let the poor fellow disappear.

"Stand up" he called, from the comfort of the sand.

The drowning man screamed louder, thrashing more violently. So violently that he appeared to have grown several more limbs among the foam.

"STAND UP YOU MUG!" he shouted with a tone which was unmistakably assertive to say the least.

The thrashing stopped.

The man fell silent. He struggled to his feet in water that was barely shin deep.

He stood without moving.


In 1960, society at large was perhaps a little less caring, a little less sensitive maybe, than it is today. I watched, covered in the same blanket of silence in which he had found himself, or maybe I sniggered just a bit with the others, as he waded ashore, trying to make himself invisible.

My life had changed.

I had seen the eyes of someone who wished he had drowned.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The first day of the first test

The serious end of the cricket season in Australia always begins with the first test match of the year, and the first test match is always at "the Gabba", Brisbane's Woolloongabba Cricket Ground, home of the Queensland Cricketer's Club, and at other times the Brisbane Lion's who play a game called Australian Rules Football.

A year or two ago, about the time when a team of gentlemen from England visited to once again lose the right to call 'the Ashes' their own, the Australian Cricket Board decided it would be a good idea to clamp down on people having fun at the cricket, so they stopped the uncivilised practice adopted in some quarters, of arranging for a young lady to provide a drink waiter service during the match, in fact to make it doubly difficult beers could only be ordered in lots of two, and they were light at that. Not being one to imbibe alcoholic beverage, I wasn't too perturbed personally, but the banning of whole oranges or watermelons because they could be used to smuggle alcohol was probably going a bit too far, as was the blanket ban on packaged foods, canned drinks of any sort, musical instruments, cameras with "telescopic" lenses and generally having any sort of behaviour which could in any way be construed as having fun.

I even wrote to the Board at the time to suggest that perhaps the Mexican wave could be allowed occasionally under police supervision, or just maybe the occasional taunt of a non-racial, non-sexist nature could perhaps be allowed through to the keeper.

But the board knew better, it stopped selling tickets in blocks of more than four to disrupt unruly gatherings, it encouraged patrons to "dob in" anyone who's behaviour was mildly annoying, anonymously, by SMS.

In year three of this new regime, only two beach balls were confiscated, and the Police had to quietly talk to some of the Milo kids to urge them to curb their enthusiasm, but by and large we could have slept untroubled for much of the day.

I can't recall a test match day with large sections of grandstand vacant before and while I suspect someone in a board room somewhere is blaming the harsh economic times for the lack of attendance, I was sorely tempted to SMS the hot line and complain about the Kiwi supporter wearing the black shirt of the New Zealand Baaa-rmy Army.

Barracking along partizan country lines needs to be stamped out in the interests of the game, that should take care of the rest of those of us who bother to turn up.

I'm sure the Board will blame the empty seats on a lack of interest by the public in games against New Zealand, and they have a point. On the last night of the test, Suncorp Stadium could only squeeze in 55,000 disinterested fans for a Rugby League match between the same two countries!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not Cute

Mr Two, his mother and grandmother found themselves in a large chemist shop a few days ago, the sort with lots of aisles and a cash register near the door.

While the elder duo were somewhat occupied at the register, finalising their purchases, Mr Two took it on himself to explore, carefully covering his tracks under the guise of looking for his grandmother. "JoJo" he called as disappeared from view, with that sort of half crouch that children adopt when they are intent on finding something that is lost.

His mother was not amused, and tried her darndest to ensure that her mother would not be either.

"It's not cute, Mum" she admonished.

And it wasn't.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spirit Levels

One of the delights of having small children around, is that they believe pretty much anything they hear. It’s not that I deliberately set out to deceive them, but sometimes my mouth just goes off before my brain is engaged and I just can't help telling great big lies.

One of the really sad things about watching kids grow up, is coming to the realisation that they have reached an age where they don’t believe those tall stories any more, or at least in the days before the internet was invented they didn’t.

Now there’s a thing called Wikepedia, which seems to be the one resource that all students use as the basis for obtaining knowledge. This is a somewhat terrifying prospect for the world, as it is an enterprise which draws its knowledge collaboratively. Anyone, even someone like me, can dial in and add to the knowledge pool on any given subject.

In theory that’s a grand idea, it’s supposed to ensure that knowledge is always cutting edge, that the merest hint of an inaccuracy will be immediately clarified by an expert in the field, but the reality is that the information is readily open to sabotage either willful or accidental.

When I was checking the spelling of Stokes Poge the other day I decided to check the Wikepedia entry for Thomas Gray, whom I knew had been buried beside his Mum at that spot, and had died in 1771, coincidentally the year after the discovery of Australia by James Cook.

“Thomas Gray (December 26, 1716 – July 30, 1771), was an English poet, classical scholar and professor at Cambridge University.

He was born in Shellharbour, Australia, the son of an Ultrasonographer and a Nurse. He was the first of three children and the only child in his family to survive infancy. He lived with his mother after she left his abusive father. He was educated at Kiama Community College where his uncle was on drugs. He recalled his schooldays as a time of great sorrow, as is evident in his Ode on a Distant Prospect of Kiama Community College. Gray was a small and sickly boy who spent his time reading and avoiding athletics. It was probably fortunate for the young and sensitive Gray that he was able to live in his uncle’s household rather than at college. He made three close friends at Kiama: Andrew, son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, Shawn, and Alexander. The four of them prided themselves on their sense of style, their sense of humour, and their appreciation of life.”

Those who know about these things, tell me that the entry was “only” left in this form for about two weeks, as if two weeks worth of final year students may not have handed in their plagiarised and worthless assignments based entirely on the contents of this article.

Which of course brought me to a rather exciting conclusion. I don’t have to lie to my grandchildren anymore.

If for example I was to build a machine to collect the bubbles of pre-digested wind that the goldfish pass in the pond, (to sell to the Chinese of course - that’s what they use for the bubbles in spirit levels you know) I wouldn't have to tell anyone what it was.

I wouldn't have to, because I’d build a detailed entry for Wikepedia complete with photographs, and I’d tell them to look it up.

After all, the internet doesn’t lie.

Not like their grandfather.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bill and Audrey

Everyone needs an Uncle Bill and Auntie Audrey.

They've both gone now, but until Bill’s demise this month, for the entire lives of four generations of us, and all but twelve years of my mother's life, they've loomed in our family like imaginary friends of the very best kind. They were real of course not imaginary, but Bill, Audrey and our parents, were destined never to meet despite a lifetime of being so close, leaving a touch of surreality about their relationship.

Audrey lived on opposite sides of the world to my mother, half a century and more before computers and email were to be invented, and closer to a century before video chat. At some time in the 1930's, wen both were twelve years of age, they began to correspond.

They became what was known as "Pen Friends", which if one thinks about it is very much like logging on to Facebook, except the messages were longer, and took three months to deliver by sea mail. It’s hard in this era of instant communication to imagine a communication method that provided the answer to a question six months after it was asked, but that’s what being a pen friend meant.

Writing letters by hand, licking stamps and leaving them in a pillar box where they would by some magical means be transported halfway around the world to another little girl in an unimaginable country, was how it was done.

Monthly correspondence passed on ships in the night.

War arrived, and my mother sent relief parcels from Australia to Audrey’s family in war-torn England, they remained in their own countries, grew older and eventually married all the while keeping up their regular communications. Their respective husbands became part of the friendship. When my mother produced children, it was natural that we should be adopted by an Auntie and Uncle whom we’d never met.

They would send us marvelously exotic parcels to us each birthday or Christmas wrapped in battered brown paper and string with a green customs sticker on them hinting at the contents, and stamps from England that would be soaked off and left to be lost on the kitchen window sill. Books and toys from the other side of the world. We’d write in return to offer our thanks, and our incredible family from the other side of the world became closer and the communication network broadened.

Airmail became economical, and the letters became Aerogrammes, a lightweight folded tissue paper, on which Mum and Audrey would type their correspondence on ever blank space, with single line spacing and no paragraph breaks to get more words in. With a little luck, they'd arrive within a few weeks of being posted.

When Bill and Audrey went abroad, we’d receive photos, we knew all their relatives and the state of health of each of them, and they knew ours.

For us their house was the thing of fairytales, it had a name of it's own, and was located in the impossibly English "Swallow Close", it was hard to believe it just wasn't part of an elaborate movie.

One year, international telephony arrived and after booking a call weeks in advance because that's what one had to do to make use of the limited lines available, we phoned them on Christmas day.

They didn’t have children of their own, but our extended family was their extended family, we had children of our own, they became "Great".

Travel over that distance was once the realm of the wealthy and the idle, and the relationship had stood for almost half a century of before any of us had the pleasure of connecting face to face. As fate would have it, I was to be the first of our family.

With the Mother of my children and the eldest (and only at the time) two of them in our little red rented car with its "Visitor to Britain" sticker on the windscreen, we turned into their driveway one fine summer afternoon in 1982.

We had arrived at "Hunter's Mead", Swallow Close.

We were to about to meet for the very first time. We were about to cross a bridge that was half a world long.

Audrey and Bill rushed into the yard.

Life turned into slow motion, we knew them so well from the countless holiday snaps.

Surely this was Deja Vu. We knew the house, we knew every flower and the little concrete owl, everything was eerily familiar. They were, well they were them in their socks and outdoor shoes with their skin the colour of fresh milk.

Oddly, she was dressed to exactly match the colour of the door of their garage, although that didn’t seem at all odd at the time, they were English after all.

Her first words to us face to face, were such a powerful testament to the power of long distance relationships that my hair stood on end, and although my hair these days is permanently on end, I still get a shiver when I think of them:

“It’s so lovely to see you again!”

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Elegy written in a country Churchyard

Sadly, Bill passed away last week.

While there are many things that he will be remembered for, (including Julian's "come friendly bombs" encounter), this photograph of our two eldest daughters with their father will always be one of them.

Late in the very first evening of our very first visit, Bill packed the three of us up while the ladies were otherwise occupied, and took us to the churchyard in nearby Stoke Poges, where he posed this photo of us sitting/leaning on Thomas Gray's mother's tomb, said to be the very spot Thom had sat while writing his elegy.

If you'd ever met him, you would have enjoyed his ability enthuse others with his own quiet charm and love of life's important things.

Our contact was infrequent, our encounters rare, but on the day the photo was taken, he didn't need to know I could only recite the first four lines from memory when he asked if I'd heard of Gray's Elegy.

I'd fluked my way through a test he didn't know he'd set, and Bill was just as impressed with my detailed knowledge of English poets then, in 1982, as he was with Julian's during what was to be our last visit twenty-five years later.

For Uncle Bill:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault
If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Yet e'en these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd Muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
E'en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires.

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate, --

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
"Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;

"There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high.
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

"Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.

"One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

"The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,-
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn."

The Epitaph

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
And Melacholy marked him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode
(There they alike in trembling hope repose),
The bosom of his Father and his God.

By Thomas Gray (1716-71).


Monday, November 03, 2008

Emissions Trading

Our family has always been aware of the dangers of greenhouse gasses.

While it wasn’t long ago that global warming was observed and considered to be a threat, and even less time before scientists became so confused with what they were seeing that they renamed the phenomena “climate change”, how the simple logic behind the science has escaped almost the entire population of the world is beyond us.

Each year after Christmas, my grandparents used to holiday at Redcliffe, now one of Brisbane’s outer suburbs, although in the early sixties that was a relatively easy commute to “town”, it seemed to be miles from anywhere. We’d join them for some of the time, although my father never took leave from his duties in the office presumable a better alternative than spending protracted periods with his mother in law!

If some of those Global Warming Scientists had spent any time at all with my grandmother after Christmas, the concept of emissions trading would be well evolved by now. By the age of ten, it was pretty clear to me that the temperature of the toilet compartment in the flat had consistently increased by more than a few degrees after her occupancy of the space. If one grandmother was capable of that, what evil powers were being unleashed on the earth each day by the combination of all the grandmothers in the world?

It was my father though, who took the concept of emissions trading to an entirely new level. In what some would describe as his declining years, although undoubtedly his view was that he had been saving his best till last, he developed a temporary condition which polite company would refer to as a “stomach bug”.

We were picnicking in a lush green parkland when he felt the urge to respond to what colloquially may be described as a “call of nature”. He was bent almost double, with the beginning of a tear in his eyes as he hobbled across to the conveniences.

In due course he emerged, still bent double, still with tears in his eyes so it was difficult to tell at first whether his condition had improved, but on closer inspection the grimace that had once graced his countenance had been replaced by an evil grin.

He was claiming a personal best.

He had not been alone in that toilet block. The cubicle beside the one he had occupied had a tenant of its own.

Apparently, the greenhouse gases he had produced were of sufficient toxicity to increase the temperature of an entire suburb by considerably more than a few percentage points, although confined as they were in a relatively small space, it didn’t take a very long time at all for the neighbour to become acutely aware of the impact of global warming on his own little patch.

So overcome was this invisible stranger that he became suddenly loudly and violently ill, his plaintive retching reverberating through the otherwise silent cavern, except of course for my father's muffled chuckles.

This tale of course gives rise to some serious thought on the question of emissions trading. If we have something so terribly nasty that it can change the global weather, who is going to be silly enough to trade with us, and what will we get for them?

Monday, October 27, 2008

The National Anthem

I saw an interview recently with Professor Graeme Clark, the inventor of the Bionic Ear and watched fascinated as he told the story of the first person implanted and how all data relating to the first hearing experiment was lost.

They played single tones into the device at first, and then a tune which was well known at the time.

Sadly, it was "The" National Anthem and as soon as the patient, who had lost his hearing some years before, heard it, on reflex stood to attention, accidentally unplugging all the data leads on the way up.

Of course "The National Anthem of Australia" in those days, wasn't the the song about Girt that we all know so well, rather it was the cheery "God Save our Gracious Queen", and it is a testimony to our commitment to put Commonwealth before country that it was taken as seriously as it was.

No public function of any kind was ever commenced without a stirring rendition of the thing played by a brass band, a recording of the Queen's guard playing it, or perhaps the Humpybong Municipal Band at a pinch. Our morning parade at school featured a recording so scratched that we were blissfully unaware that the out of time clicks that occurred just before the second lot of "dadada dum dum dum dum de-dums" weren't actually part of the music.

It is with just a touch of embarrassment that I recall the last time I stood for that particular version of our national anthem at a public event.

I can't remember the name of the Cinema, but it was in George Street near McDonnel and Easts and the movie was "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" which means it happened some time around 1964.

We all waited silently for the show to begin as the lights slowly began to dim.

The projector began to roll and the image of the bearskin hat of one Her Majesty's finest could clearly be seen projected on the red velvet curtain as it began to sway.

As the curtain was drawn, the drums began to roll, and the audience dutifully stood to attention.

This is where things went slightly awry.

Instead of rolling into the well known anthem (minus clicks), the band played another marching tune as the camera panned to a platoon of Guards drilling in front of the palace.

The audience stood, bemused.

A few more beats and it became clear. This was an advertisement for Grenadier Cigarettes!

Some chose to stand hopefully, waiting forlornly, willing the anthem to come next. It never did

Some shrunk back into their seats hoping no-one would recognise them in the darkness.

A snigger rippled through the theatre, but no one spoke.

Grenadier Cigarettes disappeared shortly afterwards along with cigarette advertising, and I haven't seen the national anthem played in a cinema since, but if it were to happen, perhaps I will be forgiven if I'm a little slow getting to my feet.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Getting a message across

When I was young, "chalking" of walls, gates and pavement was considered to be a heinous crime against society. There were no pressure pack cans of course, and serious graffiti was usually very serious indeed, executed with a brush and whitewash.

What appears in the photograph above to be a witty piece of chalk graffiti was actually executed if that’s the right word as temporary poster art above the first level frieze of the Art Gallery of NSW. Having seen Bill Posters at work a few hours earlier, it seemed a bit lame to me that someone would draw mock graffiti on a building with chalk, no doubt while its owners looked on arms crossed an smug smiles all round, all the while donned in elaborate safety harnesses and fluorescent orange vests and under the watchful eye of a workplace health and safety inspector.

I’m not sure about those orange vests either. When you are working on a ledge on the first floor of a building, what possible hazard can there be that requires you to be highly visible?

As a piece of street art, I think it's message was lost entirely, simply because by the time one has enough of a profile to draw on a gallery wall under supervision, one probably already owns a Mercedes.

It succeeded in one sense though as it reminded me of another angry message I once read. This one was in the mid seventies, and while spray cans were available, they were clearly too expensive to use in this manner, as the writing was in a heavy brown brush.

It was on a retaining wall at Bondi Beach, where the water was often fouled by a sewerage outfall which deposited its cargo in exactly the wrong part of the current in prevailing breezes, and was the subject of much public angst.

The message read simply:

Are you really going to swim here?

... or just go through the motions.


Monday, October 20, 2008


Being the eldest in our brood, it’s not surprising that I was the tallest child for the entire time that I was growing up. It’s a matter of fact now, that I was also the tallest because that’s just how it turned out to be. In looking back through all those old photographs it’s astonishing how many times I was actually too tall for the camera.

For reasons that don’t seem particularly clear, but may well have been related to the quality of hair cut my mother used to provide, there’s often, if not mostly, a goodly chunk of yours truly cropped out of any photo which featured more than one person including myself.

Where most children have a complete photographic record of their changing facial features, my legacy seems to be a chronology of what surely were the least attractive knees in primary school.

I had a brother in law once, who came from a country which is often the brunt of stereotypical jokes about people whose perception are apparently quite different from our mainstream. Without wishing to cast aspersions, a lot of the attendees at his mother's seventieth birthday party had names like Seamus, Paddy, Patrick and Sinead and it was one of those who had the duty in that time well before digital photography had been thought of, to record the event on film.

All seven rolls of film were duly processed after the event, and to the complete horror of all, each and every one of the one hundred and sixty-eight borderless glossy photographs featured at least one headless person.

The initial reaction from the photographer was an outpouring of pure anger, in an accent that could only be described as something of a heavy brogue:

“I TOLD you we should have got someone taller to take the photographs!”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Making Ducks

My dad made a duck.

He used to make all manner of things for our kids, in the same trademark “folk” style which could never be mistaken for the work of someone for whom the fun of the project was in fine finishing and exquisite detail rather than in the sheer joy in the doing and in watching the end user at play.

His simple duck had three moving parts, commonly called wheels, and two other bits somewhat rudely carved and clear varnished. The back wheel had an eccentric axle so that as the duck was pulled along, it’s tail bobbed up and down, giving the impression that it was waddling, at least when it was on a carpeted floor. When it wasn’t it didn’t work, but that never seemed to be noticed by anyone pulling it along.

I am my father’s son in that I seem to share his uncontrollable urge to build things that could easily be produced in a factory, but I just can’t seem to manage the same simplicity and timeliness that he achieved.

I always need to overcomplicate things, or make them “better” when there’s no need. So when I make a duck, it isn’t a duck, it’s a “seabird”, and it isn’t made from a total of five pieces, mine has twenty-four parts and they all had to be assembled in a particular order. All of that means of course that it didn’t actually get finished in time for the first birthday as planned, it took a mere extra year!

It does have a head that wags from side to side with a satisfying clatter, but it seems to have a strange vulnerability at the very point that pivots. I suspect that thirty years from now, it will by my father’s version which will have survived another generation complete with it’s one broken eye or perhaps by then with two, to be copied by one of my grandchildren’s parents for their own next generation.

Incredibly Sebastian turns two this week, and he’ll have a duck of his own, a mate for his mother’s, and she’ll have hers back after a few decades of slumber in a box in our ceiling!

I wonder who will be the most impressed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Taking Care of Business

When I was young, Barbecues, weren't just a means of charring sausages, they were an event.

A huge event.

Enough food and drink to feed a family at least four times the size of ours would be prepared, the fire would be lit early, to allow sufficient time for the cooking plate to be evenly heated, and we'd all be dressed in our going out clothes before marching into the back yard to eat. We'd even take paper serviettes as they were known before they were called napkins.

My father and I would also have to don silly outfits, chefs caps and aprons with slogans like "What's Cooking?" on them to ensure that we didn't get any grease on our going out clothes. I'm not sure what my parents were thinking to subject me to the dual embarrassment of watching my father dressed like that, while being similarly attired, but it did have something of a lasting impact on my sartorial habits.

The reason that my siblings, being just enough years younger than I to have avoided the need to don funny hats while eating outdoors, have apparently made their way through life with substantially fewer emotional scars than I, can probably be deduced from this one photograph alone, but as if to rub salt into my already gaping wounds, there are plenty more where that came from!

The whole barbecue thing gathered quite some momentum in the early sixties, at a time when the greater Brisbane area was undergoing what today would be called infrastructure works, but in those days was simply described as "being sewered". Houses were being connected to a trunk sewerage at a great rate of knots and the old "outhouses" were being replaced often with purpose built lean-to's accessible from within the house envelope, with a special indoor WC compartment.

We moved into a house at exactly the time that the barbecue movement reached something of a crescendo and to add to the excitement, "the sewer" was going in as well. It wasn't going to be good enough to have a simple hot plate and some painted rocks in this house apparently, so my father took advantage of the mess being made by the installation of the sewerage pipes and levelled the new barbecue area. He spent more than a few weekends building a monster construction out of concrete blocks with some screen "breeze" blocks in the end and it's own flue in the centre. Together my parents made a canvas cover to fit the rotary clothes line, so we could even barbecue when it was raining. No stone was left unturned in the quest for the ultimate backyard experience.

My grandfather didn't understand any of this modern stuff, which he thought was surely turning life as he knew it on its head.

"In my time", he said "we used to 'do our business' in the backyard, and cook in the house."

I'll bet he didn't get dressed in his going out clothes for his trips to his backyard.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Apartments Mooloolaba

I love this place because its colours reflect the essence of a family holiday. They inadvertently evoke memories of fibro beach shacks casually maintained with whatever paint that could be found.

Neighbouring buildings from a similar era similarly provide life in the side streets, and may well be destined to become the fibro shack vernacular of the next half century.

In the morning they are mellow, a little faded, and easy on the hangover, but in the light of the setting sun the buildings fluoresce like a sunburnt backpacker ready for another big night on the town.

I particularly like this photo (now!) because it actually made it onto the judges long list in the "I love this place" competition. I suppose a long list is only once removed from a very long list, but did make the exhibition!

And just this once, I didn't run out of words.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Esplanade Mooloolaba

I love this place because of the contradictory messages it sends.

Families armed with buckets and spades bustle among latte sipping sophisticates and pretension disappears as bare sandy feet meander across polished marble floors.

Sirocco, like many of the apartments on “the front”, is architecturally crispy white with modern glass and polished finishes by day, and a facade that mimics the fluidity of the headlands and the the waves opposite.

By night it dons blue lipstick, a princess all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Mooloolaba by night, silent but for crashing of the waves.

Sadly this was another of my entries in the National Trust "I love this place" photo competition. I say sadly because while I sort of love the photo, I merely quite like the actual place, and in a sense I'm quite relieved that there were many better photos in the pool so that I wasn't forced to live the lie that is fame!

Part of the brief was to create a description in 100 words or less, completing the sentence beginning with "I love this place".

This of course left some room for creative license including taking liberties with the word "love" which I've heard many times has many meanings.

Sadly there was a bit that I had to leave out because I'd run out of words. Had I been allowed just ten more, the description may very well have continued, and the fate of the photograph may well have been very different:

"Mooloolaba by night, silent but for crashing of the waves on the sand, and the sploshing of last nights imbibement on the shopfronts beyond. "

Thursday, October 02, 2008



Until the early 1960’s my grandfather and his brothers ran a white metal foundry which once made specialised bearings for large steam engines of the type used in factories for milling cane or powering ships at sea.

Life had been kind to his father while there were steam powered engines and ships at sea, but by the 60’s new technologies had pretty much overtaken all that, and the foundry was limited to casting odd job lots, and street numbers for the Brisbane City Council to issue to ratepayers.

These were the days long before China had been invented as a supplier of all things cheap and practical, so among other things they used to melt down bits of war surplus aeroplane and cast the numbers in sand moulds with a suitably curved oval background, complete with screw holes for mounting on any handy gatepost.

When they were finished they looked exactly like the one in the photo from last week.

Except that before they looked like the picture, the black bit had to magically appear.

Since a metal foundry is set up for melting metal and making moulds of sand, and is really not set up for any kind of fine art work such as painting a black background on street number plaques, that task fell on my grandmother who used to enlist the help of her two eldest grandchildren. At school holidays and sometimes on weekends I would sit with my cousin Judith and we’d paint black backgrounds on those plaques with artist brushes and enamel paint. It was our first paying job, and while I can’t remember how much we received, it seemed like something in the order of a penny per four or five million numbers painted.

We’d have a table set up in the fernery of the original “Wilmaur” which was a bit like one of those conservatory type rooms the do it yourself makeover tv shows produce today, except with a concrete floor, full of hanging fish fern and maidenhair and diagonal lattice walls, but in those days it was just a nifty way of connecting to the outdoor toilet without going outside.

It wasn't really a sweathouse, but recollecting and analysing my part in the enterprise fifty years later, one could be forgiven for drawing remarkable comparisons to any number of pictures of third world enterprises today. I suppose that's more to do with the technology than the conditions, but certainly there are similarities. My grandmother was a stern taskmaster who used to provide us with very weak milky tea or even weaker orange cordial to sustain us but never ever smiled, not even when we finished painting a plaque without going over the lines.

Perhaps she did occasionally, when we let her win at dominoes, but whenever I try to remember all my mind can conjure is a sort of "I'm going to be sick now" grimace that came close to a smile but not quite.

She was a stern taskmaster, and with the benefit of rewriting history I could surmise that quality time with grandma was all about the money rather than the relationship!

Grandad on the other hand, was a different sort of stern. He was made of the unbending stern stuff that family heads were supposed to be of, in that post Victorian era, but as is so often the case he had a centre as soft as a Caramello. He never went anywhere without wearing a tie and starched collars on his shirts, his long boots laced up to his shins and were old fashioned even for those times and he wore long underwear no matter what the temperature.

Every time we visited, he'd stand erect at the door as we left, like a preacher after a service, and as we passed he'd press a penny into our hand, sometimes threepence. On a good day we could double our earnings just by leaving!

It's all got me thinking about what sort of an impression I'm leaving on my own grandchild. Perhaps I should at least tuck my shirt in, or put something on my feet, and give him a sixpence (taking inflation into account) as he's leaving.

What will the world make of my board shorts fifty years from now?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Life at the pointy end

This is a photograph of what a passenger in business class looks like after ten hours in the air. There’s a certain lack of actual stress evident, even though she’s clearly sitting in the old style seat that was a relic from the days of steam rather than one of the more modern capsules for passenger comfort. I suspect the frequently filled glasses and canapes to order more than made up for any actual discomfort, not that there was any felt, unless of course one fell asleep and woke with an imprint of one’s pearls on one’s chin.

This stylish travel experience is in rather stark contrast to the earliest experience of the youngest of our offspring, who the observant will note, was the subject of a wry comment or two after the last post. (That is to say the most recent post on this blog and not to be confused with the soulful bugle tune popularised at dawn on ANZAC day.)

When our youngest bobbed onto the scene, we determined that our scruffy hoard had grown to the extent that as our progeny now outnumbered the number of hands we had available after each carrying a bag of life’s necessities, our former world girdling ways could be quite hampered, so we contented ourselves with nautical pursuits for many years.

More years than we realised apparently, as the youngest was well into her teens and to be fair to her, she had even learned which way was up on a fish shop ticket, by the first time she saw the inside of a commercial aircraft.

Many people will know that aircraft are usually boarded at what is euphemistically known as “the pointy end” and although that name is a complete misnomer, most understand that on boarding a plane one first must tip toe through the velvet lounges which are the first and business class seats, before reaching somewhat lesser standards of space and comfort which seem to diminish in direct proportion to the distance from the cockpit.

She apparently didn’t count among that number.

On entering the metal tube, thrust as she was into those sumptuous surrounds she made a quick mental count of the seating arrangements, and quite publicly expressed her disappointment in noting that the seats were so big and so far apart that they wouldn’t be able to sit together, her mother her sister and she.

Fortunately her disappointment was very short lived, lasting bout as long as it takes to get to the very last row in an aircraft. Where the toilet is usually located.

The real pointy end. The seat was so far back in the aircraft, they were ushered to assume the emergency brace position just so they’d be able to sit in their seats without bumping their heads.

The reality of international travel was about to hit home.

At the other end of the travel naivity scale, her eldest sister but one, as a somewhat world weary four year old some years before had joined her kindy group on a tour of an airport, during which the tiny horde was shepherded to all corners of an aircraft, and even served light refreshments while seated in the passenger positions on board.

While her parents were trying to elicit news of the days adventure later in the evening, and wondering why it seemed all so underwhelming, she simply rolled her eyes and replied “We didn’t even go anywhere.”

Friday, September 26, 2008


I know it's an oldie, and yes I know I took liberties as the father of the bride when telling it, but it was really used, if you recall to describe the compatibility of the two young people in question.

I'd tell the whole story, this is the bit about her, but it's more fun knowing that he'll be squirming in angst ridden discomfort until the second part is released, perhaps in a few minutes, or perhaps never.

I was reminded of it while cleaning up the street number above, a found item whose history is safe until next week, and since this is the first time I think, since I decided that I would meet a regular publishing day that I've missed it, it's time for the to wheel out a "ready made".

We were in the local fish and chip shop, my youngest daughter and I, (clearly it was my turn to prepare a meal), waiting amid the wafting smells of seafood boiling in an ocean of vegetable oil. One other customer hovered just outside the doorway, but apart from that the town was deserted, as though it had been evacuated in the aftermath of some monstrous natural disaster.

"Number four" called the cheery voice from behind the counter in an accent that showed just a hint of Vietnamese.

"Oh no", enquired the youngest, by then an almost mathematical prodigy, but some years before her collection of University Papers began to litter the walls,"We're going to be here all night!"

"Why?" I inquired, looking around and failing to notice anyone other than the aforementioned doorway hoverer, who clearly was next in line before us.

It was at that moment I realised that while there are the sort of people in life who believe their glass to be half full, and there are the sort of people who believe it to be half empty, there are also the sort of people who read their fish shop queue docket upside down.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bin Etiquette

Wheelie Bins were designed to hold hippopotami I’ve heard it said, or was it that they will hold as much as a hippopotamus, I’m not quite sure?

Well I am reasonably sure actually, as having spent the goodliest part of Friday fitting six cubic metres of Jenna and Steve’s former stuff into a three cubic metre skip, I had plenty of time to contemplate wheelie bins, and their impact on our lives.

I’ve never been one who’s been happy wasting even a cubic centimetre of wheelie space, and given that we pay by the year to have one bin full of stuff removed each week, if the truck arrives to collect it and it isn’t absolutely brim chock a block full, I get a strange sinking feeling somewhere in the depths of my being, to the effect that we are having advantage taken of us. Sadly of late, with the onset of age, recycling and an absence of time at home and visitors in the household, the bin has been trundled to the footpath on more than one occasion, with more than enough room for a family of Hippos.

It’s not at all like the good old days, when if I’d had a pile of debris the size of Jenna and Steve’s, it would have all gone into the bin. Eventually.

Sure it might have taken months to get rid of it all, but rid we would be, and I’d even top up the neighbour’s bins in the process, so they too could feel good about themselves if perchance they’d noticed a teeny gap between lid and top of load.

We’ve had tonnes of bricks removed, twenty at a time to keep down the weight, and we know from personal experience that a monster television will fit exactly sideways into green plastic bin once it’s legs have been removed.

The fridge required a little more enthusiasm, but with the aid of a good axe to dismantle it into bite sized pieces, it was gone in three weeks.

Probably the most challenging object to exit using this technology was the half ton industrial photocopier that ceased functioning within a few minutes of nine of us carrying it up the stairs. We couldn’t give it away, and it was going to cost a small fortune to take it to the dump, not to mention the necessity of finding another nine souls who didn’t realise just how heavy and cumbersome it was.

Thanks to the miracle of the modern battery screw driver, it quite quickly came to pieces week by week, into handy chunks, small enough to carry and fit you know where. Some of the chunks were so small they even filled the spaces between the other refuse, and the screws neatly wedged it all together whenever a crack appeared due to subsiding vegetable peel.

Unfortunately, we lived in exactly the place where the garbage collector began his day.

Our bin was the very first to be lifted and tipped, the contents had the full height of the high sided truck to fall, and not so much as a single potato peel already in place to dampen the sound as each week enough metal to keep China in car production for a year, or a formerly intact a television set or refrigerator, or the entire lower story of a block of flats landed triumphantly on the bare steel floor.

Even more unfortunately for those who considered five am to be a particularly unpleasant time to be woken by a loud resonant clanging and banging, the fully enclosed steel body acted as an amplifying echo chamber too, turning the entire vehicle into a massive drum.

We were often awake at five on garbage collection days, although we spent the time very silently, crouched indoors, hiding in embarrassment and hoping that no one connected all that noise to us.

Perhaps they didn't connect the noise to us at all, perhaps they simply thought it was old Mrs Solomon from across the road taking her hippos for a walk.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


OK it's tasteless to even discuss it, but so what?

Now that they are coming to a close may I say that I have nothing but admiration for all the competitors in the Paralympics, and there are some wonderful examples of masterful feats and courage and all that sort of stuff. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to travel and to compete with people with similar ability.

I even know a couple of people who have competed in games past, and they are brilliant folk, who tend to think of themselves as "differently abled" rather than disabled, which of course leaves me terribly discriminated against.

At first glance I do appear to be "similarly abled" to the athletes in the real games, but in reality I am disabled by virtue of the fact that I can't run as fast, jump as high, or keep in time with anyone I jump off a diving board with. No matter how hard I've trained or tried, I've never beaten anyone at anything that can be remotely considered to be sport.

I can’t run as fast as the one legged runners, can’t swim as fast as that amazing bloke with no arms, and can’t see the ball as well as those blind goalball players, even with their eyes taped over, and I'm certain that even if I could throw a javelin as far as those blind athletes, I certainly couldn't throw it as straight.

Shouldn't there be an event or two for me to compete with other similarly hopelessly uncoordinated, genetically unsuitable "differently abled" people at our own level too? Why are we left to wallow in our own unfulfilled dreams of competing on the world stage, just because we are hopeless?

Many sports have grades of competition at a local level after all, my friend Rod won his golf club B grade competition last week, which means that he got a prize for being the best of the second best lot, when all but the winner in the best lot didn’t.

Why can’t we ALL compete internationally at our own level, at the people’s games?

I wouldn’t mind having a go at synchronised swimming I think, although I’d be terrible at it and I admit that the thought of being beaten by a team comprising two limbless, one palsied, and a blind girl all sloshing about to music is just a bit too much to contemplate.

Perhaps I should contact the girl who was sent home because she wasn’t blind enough, and the wheelchair basketballers who were disqualified when it was discovered they could walk, and see if we can find a category of disability that would allow us to compete on the world stage.

Perhaps a “Blistered thumb from video gaming” might be the start of a whole new sporting movement.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Naming inanimate objects is a mysterious custom. Just why certain people see fit to call their car “Karen” instead of “my green Suzuki” is something that I can’t quite fathom.

In some parts of the world and in that particular time in history before street numbering was invented there was arguably some relevance to providing names for buildings. Telling people you lived in “Windsor Castle” is ever so much more impressive than “16A High Street”.

The custom lived on through history though, and even the most humble of abodes took on personalities of their own through their simple nomenclature. Over generations there were so many “Rose Cottages” and “Vicarages” that new and increasingly original means of identifying properties were invented, reaching something of a climax I think with the mysterious ‘Chunda Lu”, a fibro beach house which sat for at least a century on the highway at Burleigh, tucked quietly under the hill.

Often, in the elusive quest for originality and perhaps relevance, parts of the occupants names were mashed together in an invented word which phonetically reminded one of a place far, far away. My maternal grandparents lived in a succession of houses called “Wilmaur” an altogetherly respectable and suitably sounding melding of the first syllables of their surnames :Wilson and Maurice.

I wonder if “Suevic Flats” in Coolum would lose its vaguely exotic aura should one actually meet Sue or Vic?

The naming of resort properties causes particular angst among those who are charged with such duty. Of course it’s all about marketing, and enticing one to dream that truly one is in St Tropez or on Costa del Sol, and not at 27 Brisbane Road, Caloundra no matter how surreal that circumstance may be.

Which reminds me of one particularly frothy afternoon a long time ago, I attended a marketing meeting convened by arty agency types who these days would turn up dressed in nought but black, which come to think of it is exactly how they were dressed even then.

To a man, they bubbled about the research, and the undoubted popularity in the marketplace of the Australian Aboriginal language, citing recent commercial successes with buildings named Ballah and Allungah, which could well have been the Kom-bumerri people’s words for “Sue and Vic” for all we knew.

They asked for some suggestions for aboriginal names for the twin towers.

I offered the names of the only two Australian aborigines I knew at the time:

“How about Lionel and Kevin?”.

The room fell silent, there was a sort of dull snicker from somewhere in the direction of my client, and the black attired ones seemed to be concentrating very hard indeed to hide their displeasure.

And that as they say in the classics, is how the project came to be named:


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Saving Forests

Opening junk mail can be a strangely satisfying experience I’m sure, particularly when it’s offering glimpses of a world one would normally barely dare to dream of.

Of course the promoters of Art Unions various are quite aware of my susceptibility to their unrelenting temptations and ply me often with vast quantities of opportunities to “Win”, whether it be the trip of a lifetime, the home of my dreams, or merely my choice of seven cars.

Clearly their technique of bombarding all and sundry with pretty brochures and reams of printed papers is financially viable, if not a little disturbing if you happen to be a tree.

There is one particular organisation which sends me an envelope every six weeks or so, jam packed with flyers and posters espousing the virtues of their particular prize choice of the month. The choice is always a house or apartment of substantial value, and I enjoy taking a few minutes to cast a professional eye over the intricacies of the design, before deciding that I couldn’t live with it and discard the entire contents.

It is always at the point of release that I realise that the impossible has been achieved. Each month someone manages to cram two and a half entire paper baskets full of waste into one small DL envelope. Each month I feel terrible about the cost and waste and carbon emissions and global warming and am prompted to pick up my keyboard and fire off my protestation to someone.


And each month in the process of ditching it all I get to the return envelope they so thoughtfully enclose, and feel the unpolished brown recycled paper and see the little frog logo and the thoughtfully printed “enviromail”, no doubt in carbon neutral organic ink, and I just know the world is safe.



Thank goodness. Without that I'd start to believe it was all just waste.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Gone to Lunch

Perhaps some will recall mention I made a few weeks ago of Dot, an artist working away within a work of someone else’s art.

It may be that Mr Solokov had deliberately provided the framework for any number of whimsical pieces during the course of his exhibition, but I like to think that there was an ever so tiny piece of anarchy happening from within the exhibit itself.

Performance art meets Pop.

I think I'll call the next one "Back in Ten Minutes"

Things it seems weren’t all that they seemed within the gallery either, because while by day she was content to slave away with her pot of white paint, by night she was splashing colour round getting ready for an exhibition of her own.

For those with an inclination toward such things, I’m sure she’ll appreciate a visit starting tomorrow (Tuesday) night, details below.

Two New Views:
including paintings of Glebe, Newtown, Narrabeen and Carcoar.
Sept 9 to 14

More information.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fathers' Day

I'm not sure about the need to celebrate Father's day.

There's enough pleasure to be derived from just being in that predicament without having to be reminded of it with a new pair of socks, although that is not to say that it's not appreciated, nor that the odd or even quite frequent bar of chocolate between the annual events would go astray in allaying fears of one's inadequacies as a Dad.

My own father was somewhat less demonstrative than some would have one believe is the standard for fatherly expression, and probably for that reason I value, (rather than the terribly unblokey "cherish") both of the times I can recall when his guard dropped briefly to allow a verbal expression of (shudder) love for his offspring. There was certainly an underlying concern and pride and other apparently unspeakable emotions lurking just below the surface, seen but not heard, and sadly he seemed completely lacking the ability to express them, at least verbally, until that fateful night after the birth of our second child.

In those days fathers and grandfathers for that matter, weren't allowed anywhere near the 'secret women's business' surrounding the first weeks of life of a new infant, so we were standing outside what amounted to a shop window, staring in at three rows of cribs, wondering at our extraordinary good fortune that ours (third from the left, middle row) shone out so remarkably above all the others in every respect. With us was our eldest daughter/granddaugher, exactly two years of age and behaving as only the cleverest, prettiest and cutest of two year olds can do.

I looked at both my progeny, and then at him, and remarked that it had been a wonderful two years, with never a day passing without something special happening. Some new piece of learning, a cute expression, a copied action, it was all too wonderful to comprehend.

"When does that phase stop?" I enquired.

He looked me square in the eye, and if it hadn't been a sissy sort of observation, I would have sworn I saw the makings of a tear forming in one of his, and he replied:

"I don't know. It hasn't yet."

It was simply the nicest, mushiest thing he'd ever said in my earshot, and now, almost thirty years later, with the merest hint of blurred vision as I recall that moment, I can confirm he was absolutely correct!

Happy Father's Day kiddies!

Monday, September 01, 2008

I love this place because...

Last week on a whim, I entered a competition.

It must be a sign of my advancing years or something as until earlier this year, I'd never done that before, and my inexperience tells in the way I scrupulously abide by the rules as published.

In the first one, I got an honourable mention for writing about the computer I was using at the time, but I made the mistake of getting my entry in at the very last minute, just before the competition deadline was mysteriously extended, when I could have taken more time and entered a week later. I didn't actually want the prize in that affair, so I was fortunate when the judges decided to award it to an entrant whose circumstances turned out to be such that they were quite deserving of it, though that entry was well over the word limit set in the rules and entered beyond the original deadline.

There are some absolutely brilliant entries in the current one as well, which require a photograph containing an element of the built environment and a maximum of 100 words explaining "why I love this place", and while I'm not for a minute expecting another honourable mention, I must admit in an effort to further my "art" I might have rather pushed the context of "love" in one or two of my entries to the extent that had I enough spare words I should perhaps of added "and of course I'll respect you in the morning".

Things don't bode well for success either. Three hundred odd entries including mine were happily lodged on Flickr exactly on time, only to see the competition extended by a week, allowing a further four hundred of what turns out to be the cleverest photographers and writers in the country sufficient time to finely hone their hand crafted masterpieces while effectively preventing the punctual among us from last minute changes of heart.

Perhaps the organisers have been inspired by Fiona O’Loughlin's response when she was asked why she had so many children and she replied "we're not stopping until we get one we like"!

We really do like Joan and Ian's place (pictured) quite a lot though!:

I love this place because it provides a refuge not just from the subtropical climate of our own home but from the present time itself.

Burnbrae was originally a guesthouse in the Blue Mountains. It isn’t a grandly restored manor but an honest building preserved by the sympathetic stewardship of its few successive owners, each providing modest concession to their current time without disguising the patina hard-won over more than a century of passing guests.

This view of the library, it’s interior distorted through ancient glass, exudes the warmth that is within.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

I’m fairly certain that Taxi drivers the world over are given a handbook with the same old stories, and the same contrary political views in them no matter what flavour of government is in power in their particular slice of the world.

They even have the same accents. No matter which country they reside in, inevitabley they can neither speak fluently in my language of choice nor the vernacular of whatever country it is in which they choose to reside.

There are of course some regional differences. In Japan your driver is likely to be wearing white cotton gloves and the door will open for you as if by magic.

In Jakarta, the supervisor at the airport will rather ominously hand you a complaint form already filled in, complete with a number to call as you get INTO the cab.

Indonesian Taxi drivers are the fastest in the world I think. 180 kilometres per hour is the norm in a rattly ford Metro between two lanes of traffic until one reaches the freeway, and then they put their foot down.

London cabbies have a mystical reputation for friendliness and honesty, which in our admittedly limited experience seems to be entirely proportional to the size of the tip offered, or confined to the pages of picture books.

But it is the blokes in Sydney and Melbourne that really capture the imagination, with their tales of derring do, sleep deprivation and dealing with passengers who may have overindulged.

I think I had the same driver on the same week day in both cities once, which rather heightened my sense of deja-vu.

Not more than two hours between journeys I was told the same tale of the difficult customer they’d had the weekend before.

It was two AM when his mates poured their rather fluid and non comprehending associate into the back seat of the car, giving the driver his home address.

Said passenger remained lifeless in the back seat for the entire journey, and both drivers assured me that they’d tried to talk to him on several occasions during the trip. On arriving at the address, they couldn’t rouse their passenger sufficiently to elicit a fare, nor for that matter to get him out of the car.

Both swore that they’d helped him out but he’d simply fallen in a crumpled pile on the footpath.

Being decent human beings, they took their passenger under their arms and half carried, half dragged them to the front door, hoping to wake someone who had enough to pay the fare. The walk up the front lawn was a difficult and frustrating one apparently, with the passenger doing little if anything to aid in the journey.

In both cases the door opened after a short delay, and a bemused spouse greeted the driver supporting an almost lifeless passenger with;

“Thanks. Where’s his wheelchair?”

It must be true, they both swore it was, and I'd never doubt a cabbie!
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