Saturday, December 26, 2009

Doing the dog paddle




A dog in a life jacket .... whaaaaaat!!! I hear you say. Like most people I have been under the mistaken impression that dogs are born with innate Ian Thorpe like tendencies, i.e. all you need do is point them towards the sea, or chuck 'em into the nearest creek, lake, dam, or whatever and off they'll paddle like the proverbial ducks, not a care in the world, budgie smugglers not required, let alone life jackets or other such flotation devices. However on a recent stay with my brother in Kadina I was well and truly disabused of such notions.
Graham has been taking his border collie, Darcy, to weekly swimming lessons for some time now in a therapeutic pool designed especially for dogs. On boxing day Fergus and I accompanied them on the pool visit, ostensibly as observers. The woman who runs the facility explained that dogs are not natural born swimmers. Quite the contrary, some dogs are afraid of being submerged, panic and sink to the bottom like stones. Not only is it therefore good for them to learn, in case they find themselves in water, but dogs who suffer any form of injury or arthritic problem can benefit enormously from a little swimming in a controlled environment, as of course can their human friends. This is why Darcy was originally introduced to the pool, as a while ago she suffered a minor injury that restricted her ability to maintain her normally maniacal workout regime. She has since developed a passion for the pool and while we were there zoomed up and down like an Olympic champion for three quarters of an hour.

Although Fergus looked decidedly sceptical about the prospect, he was offered the chance to have a go and I accepted on his behalf with alacrity. So with no say in it at all, he was duly buckled into the smallest size doggie life jacket. On being introduced to the water at the shallow end, his face took on a look of appalled disbelief, as if to say .... what the hell!!! With hysterical encouragement from me on the sidelines and cries of "good boy, you can do it..." and other such patently manipulative blandishments, he bravely launched himself into the depths, where he thrashed about like a drowning rat, drenching me in the process. On turning around at the end to face the shallow end again, he did manage a few clumsy dog paddles, enough to keep himself afloat. I think this was, rather than natural born skill, an attempt to save face in front of the dolphin like Darcy, who was showing off like mad, gliding past with a superior smirk on her face.

To give him due credit, Fergus did labour on with a few more thrashings interspersed with frenzied paddlings. However there's little chance that he'll become known as Fergus the fish. Eventually I took pity on him and lifted him out. Once safely back on dry land and divested of his life jacket, there was lots of vigorous shaking. After a few baleful backward looks at the pool and Darcy streaking up and down, he sidled off to the farthest corner of the enclosure, giving me a look that said, "try that again Mum and you'll be history".













Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Little Dog


Yesterday I sadly had to say goodbye to my dear little dog Scully. As I wrote in a post a while ago, she started having seizures a few months ago, for unknown reasons. Since then she has been taking barbiturate medication to prevent them, which worked until a couple of weeks ago when she had another couple of seizures. These events, as anyone who has ever witnessed them would know, are extremely distressing and frightening, for the animal and of course for their owner. The vet advised the only alternative was to increase her medication which I did. The downside of this is the possibility of side effects, the worst of which is liver damage. This is ultimately what happened to Scully and she began to be quite ill and yesterday went into liver failure. I had no alternative but to give her a merciful escape from pain, suffering and fear. We are very fortunate now to have mobile vet services and I called one of these. The vet who attended was kind, compassionate and sensitive and we were able to give her a quiet peaceful farewell in the comfort of her own home with me and Fergus near her. I know this was the best thing to have done for her, but it breaks my heart to lose such a dear little friend.


Compared to boisterous, gregarious Fergus, Scully was a quiet, docile and almost anti-social little dog. Not having been brought up as a pet, she was always very shy with people but once she became comfortable with me the bond that developed between us was a very special one. She loved being with me, would sit by my side for hours while I worked at the computer, occasionally putting her paws up on my knee as if to say, hello. Or if I was lying in bed she'd come in to the bedroom and look for me, her little face appearing around the corner of the bed, just wanting to make sure I was there. When she'd have to go out at night for "calls of nature" she would rush back inside, running down the passageway, anxious to be back with her little "pack". Food was one of her greatest joys and she would become so excited at the thought of imminent dinnertime, dancing around on her hind legs waiting for the bowl of goodies to be placed on the floor, so she could gobble it up at lightning speed.


She was a darling little dog and I will miss her gentle quiet presence every day. Fergus is a little lost now without his other "mummy" as she was his birth mother but we will both adjust in time. We are glad she is at peace now. Goodbye dear Scully. I will always miss you.



Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happy birthday Andrea!



Thirty-five years is a long time to have a friend. They have to be pretty good to last that distance and my dear friend Andrea certainly fits that category.
We first met because she was a close friend of my boyfriend, at the time, and had come back to Adelaide for a flying visit from a sojourn in France. Fortunately (for me) she didn't stay in France and even though the boyfriend of the time and I went our separate ways, Andrea and I got to know each other well and became great friends.

Today is her birthday, so happy birthday Andrea, may it be an enjoyable one for you. I hope you get at least a bit spoilt, you deserve it. Life has been a bit too free with its slings and arrows in your case lately, my dear and I hope it lifts its game well and truly in the coming year.

This photo was taken at my sixtieth birthday and you can see just how gorgeous this gal is when she gets frocked up!

Much love and bon voyage for your trip which is coming up soon. Have a wonderful time.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Women Writers









I was in the library the other day looking for a particular book which I found, but then I noticed, sitting on the shelf near it, the book "At Eighty Two: A Journal" by May Sarton http://great-writers.suite101.com/article.cfm/may_sarton_biography.

When my second marriage ended and I moved into a tiny cottage on my own, I felt very alone. Returning to the single life after seven or so years of being in a marriage, despite the fact that it was my choice to do so, was a major life transition. Although small and cosy in atmosphere, that house felt very empty and silent for quite a while. Around that time I found in a secondhand book shop May Sarton's book "Journal of a Solitude" and as it seemed so apt, I bought it.

My introduction to the world of this delightful woman writer was a joyful one - I felt so much in common with her, as do legions of her women (and men) fans around the world. So when I found another journal of hers in the library I had to borrow it. Once again it was a delight to be transported to the world of this woman, who even though grappling with the infirmities, indignities and debilities of age, creates a world rich with wonderful insights and descriptions - her beautiful house in Maine overlooking the ocean, her many fascinating friends, books she is reading, poetry, food, her beloved cat, flowers and so much else. I found with this book, as with the earlier one of hers, you quickly feel as though you know her so well, and slip into her life like an old friend. It was only a few months after she finished this book that she died, so sadly there will be no more journals. But there are earlier ones I haven't yet read, as well as novels and poetry, so I can add them to the endless list of books to be read.

One of the colleagues she mentions is Carolyn Heilbrun, a well known feminist and author, who was also an amazing character http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/people/n_9589/. In reading about her life, I came across this quote about her, which sums up so well what I find inspiring about so many women writers and of course hope to re-create in some way in my own writing, eventually
..."She argued for the importance of the uniquely feminine experience of reading in clear, candid language: "Women, I believe, search for fellow beings who have faced similar struggles, conveyed them in ways a reader can transform into her own life, confirmed desires the reader had hardly acknowledged, desires that now seem possible. Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read, and women call the bearer of that courage friend."





Monday, October 5, 2009

A Literary Lunch









A few weeks ago I attended the Salisbury Writers' Festival at which one of the speakers was Olive Senior, a Jamaican born woman, former journalist and historian, and now successful publisher of fiction and poetry http://core.ecu.edu/engl/deenas/caribbean/senior.htm.

She was a fascinating and inspirational speaker and during the break, my friend Nina (who had accompanied me to the festival) and I introduced ourselves to her. Nina followed this up with a longer chat later in the day during which they arranged to meet for lunch as Olive (who now lives in Canada) was to be in Australia for several weeks.

Nina is one of those delightfully gregarious and charming people who have a knack for making friends wherever they go, and such was the case on this occasion. They had lunch, one thing led to another and Nina subsequently attended another function at which Olive was speaking and where she met yet another author, Ranjit Ratnaike. Ranjit is a Sri Lankan, retired Professor of Medicine at the University of Adelaide and now published author of his first science fiction novel,

The upshot of this was that Nina and her husband Peter hosted a lunch one Sunday afternoon for Olive, Ranjit and his wife, another friend, George, and I. As the photos above show, it was a great success and a veritable literary feast of delicious Malaysian food, fine wine and sparkling conversation. Many topics were discussed, including of course books, reading and, the trials of trying to write and get published, at which Olive is an expert and Ranjit has had recent success. If Ranjit's penchant for the science fiction genre ever palls, he could probably successfully take up humour as he had us all in stitches with his hilarious anecdotes.

Not that I'm any closer to publishing my first novel, but this was a delightful diversion and a fascinating look into the private world of that exalted breed (for us struggling wannabees) of the published author! Thanks to Nina (who will one day be one of that breed too I'm sure) for this memorable afternoon!



Monday, September 7, 2009

No Woman is an Island Either


Apologies for the length of this post. It's an article I've written for submission but thought it would make a good blog post as well.




I’ve been single and I’ve been coupled. Both states have their pros and cons of course and the characteristic perversity of human nature usually ensures that when we’ve been in one for a while we start to wish we were in the other. However I’ve been without a relationship of any substance, by which I mean one that lasted more than a few weeks, for around six years now and quite frankly I’m ready to say, with no apology, being single sucks.

My delight at all the alleged benefits of singledom has palled. I’ve exhausted the joys of freedom and independence, such as the chance to eat baked beans or cornflakes for dinner when I couldn’t be bothered shopping or cooking, uninterrupted monopolisation of the remote control, having sole executive decision making authority on everything from holidays to how often to do the washing, but now I’m over it. In fact I’d relish the chance to consult a significant other on a major life decision. No, more than that, I yearn for it. I’m sick of being totally responsible for all the lapses of judgement, crappy meals, financial blunders, dearth of clean underwear and other rotten choices in my life. Someone else to blame for a change would be great.

This of course is just another way of saying I’m lonely. Admitting to such a state however is something I’m fairly sensitive about. Overwhelmingly these days, to judge from much of the self help genre of literature and pronouncements of various experts in the field, we are made to feel that this emotion is at best a weakness and at worst a reflection of our total inadequacy as a person.

In an article I read quite recently, the writer observed in a tone of some perplexity that people living the life of a single person sometimes, unaccountably, express dissatisfaction with that state. The writer went on to not only deplore this foolishness but condemn the misguidedness of these solo self-pitiers in thinking that if they found someone, they might be happier.

To add insult to injury, with the total confidence of the singularly enlightened, the writer said that if a person admits to being miserably single, all it means is they are simply a miserable person. Presumably, according to this view, even in the remote chance that they luck out and land a partner, this pathetic excuse for a person will stay miserable and probably make the partner’s life a misery into the bargain. This sort of equates to stating that if someone is starving and has the gall to announce they’d feel happier after a bit of a nosh-up, they are just pathetically dependent on food and no matter how much they gorge themselves, they’ll never fill that psychic hole within.

The commentator is clearly speaking from the giddy heights of one who has surpassed all earthly longings and one can’t help but gasp at their superior understanding. It is truly helpful to realise that feeling a bit fed up with one’s own company and believing that life would be enhanced by sharing it with a compatible partner, means that we are in some way dysfunctional. What could be taken as self righteous pontificating, but is obviously educated insight, suggests that unhappiness with one’s lot as a single person is an indicator of emotional and spiritual poverty, lack of balance, poor self esteem, insecurity, or whatever pop psychology definition you care to pluck out of the air and berate your miserable self with.

Should this pathetic bumbling mess that is you have the audacity to imagine that having someone meaningful in your life would be great, you are kidding yourself. You are not looking for love, you are looking for a bandaid solution, a quick fix, or in the worst case scenario, if you are a completely hopeless case, an extreme makeover. The flaws are not in the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that have left you for whatever reason washed up on a desert island of solitude, they are glaringly, blatantly and incontrovertibly in you.

The logical progression of this line of thinking is that you must fix yourself before you can even contemplate in the vaguest most theoretical way, the prospect of attracting a mate. You must create your own harmony, balance and serenity. As you ascend the psychic ladder of karmic fulfilment, presumably you will start to find happiness within, tossing off all thoughts of needs, wants and desires as so much uncouth brutish baseness. In fact if you are good enough at this inner journeying and manage to reach the nirvana of complete self actualisation, people not only will start to call you God, or Buddha or Mighty Sage or something and fawn obsequiously at your feet, you will be in the exalted position of not needing anyone, ever, not even your Mum.

Hang on though. What about humanity and its (to use a nauseatingly ubiquitous term) sustainability? How would it be if we all declined to look for a mate until we had transcended to the plane of complete inner harmony and serenity, content in the certain knowledge that we were perfectly complete and whole both in and of ourselves, and no fleshly joy on earth could compete with the bliss of knowing ourselves to be at one with the universe? We would just live out our peerless days contemplating the perfection of our navels and not bother to get into all that messy reproduction or heaven forbid copulation, the two being of course somewhat interdependent. We would pretty soon become extinct.

And besides what’s so terrible about a bit of self-dissatisfaction? How else do we get motivated enough to make changes in our lives, perhaps take on new challenges, pursue new dreams, get out more, than by coming to the conclusion that we are not perhaps sufficient just to ourselves. Sometimes the blinding realisation that if this is all there is, we’ve been short-changed is just the impetus we need to get up off our butts and get out there and look for what we want. Too much inward focused contemplation often reveals things that are better left hidden, things moreover which we can do little to improve. I say forget the quest for elusive self-perfection, give it up as futile. Besides after a while, I don’t know about you, but I get bored with myself, sick and tired of hearing all that inner moaning about what a balls-up I’ve made of it all, how I’ve wasted all my latent genius on foolish misadventures and ended up in one of life’s fruitless cul de sacs, otherwise known as my day job. Yes perhaps I could have done better and regrets I’ve had a zillion, but I can’t turn back the clock and the enormity of fixing myself now utterly defeats me. Better to take it as given that most thinking people feel the same and get out there and find another flawed flounderer and have a bit of fun before it’s all too late, I say.


Mouldering away in miserable seclusion just because we have a few psychic flaws is moreover counter-productive. General malaise, if left untended in the belief that it is a sort of hair shirt we have to bear with equanimity while we strive for greater personal growth, can potentially ignite into anxiety, morbid misery or full blown depression in those who are susceptible to such frames of mind. In the acknowledged hierarchy of human needs, the need to love and be loved is pretty much up there with basic survival requirements. A longing to belong is not anything to feel ashamed of. While eschewing any suggestion that a sense of ownership should form any part of a mature loving relationship between consenting adults, I do believe a fundamental part of a successful partnership with an intimate companion is the feeling that you belong together. Whether or not it is openly acknowledged between you, if things are working well, you should reasonably expect to feel that here, with this person, is where you are supposed to be and that if you weren’t, you would both be missing something.


When you are alone, by choice or circumstance, you are lacking that connection. There are ways of compensating for that lack of course, and many do and must and can keep it up quite successfully for long periods of their lives. It is however not perhaps what they would choose, not over the long term in any case, and not, I boldly suggest, the way we, as the very social beings we humans are, were meant to be.


There is, it must be said, a difference between normal need and neurotic over-dependency on another person. If a person’s sense of self worth is not just a bit skewed but seriously out of whack, they can be lured into thinking that someone else will fix them. Here is where that inner psychic hole yawns so deeply that the sufferer is ready to grasp at anything that might make them feel a bit better, no matter how momentary or how self-destructive that panacea ultimately proves to be. Such behaviour tends to manifest itself in the development of dysfunctional relationships where one or both partners are so insecure that they end up basically tearing each other apart. That is a whole other horrifying but all too common ball game and I would not venture to suggest how best to deal with it, except to say that if you see one of the afflicted coming, run for your life.

As someone who I like to think falls within the range of the usually normal, or at least minimally neurotic, I can only look at things from that perspective. And it is from that perspective, as a single for too long person, that I have resigned myself to the fact that I must be a tad more proactive about my state of affairs than sitting around feeling fed up. As a result I have cast my principles to the wind (look where they’ve got me anyway, useless things) and decided to give online dating another go. I could tell you this decision was motivated by a need to extend the body of research for my forthcoming book on the subject, worthy ulterior motive though that is, but let’s get real. I freely admit I need to get out more. Well not get out so much as get in – into a meaningful relationship, before that old sun finally sinks below the horizon and I ascend to that nirvana in the sky, where you can bet they don’t have broadband.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Watch Dog's Work is Never Done


Here is Fergus taking a breather from his watch dog duties. The mad koala took his leave of us a couple of days ago and will not be missed.
Although the coast appears to be clear, the wise Fergus knows one can never be too careful and has been patrolling the grounds with commendable zeal ever since.
Too much zeal perhaps as one of the after effects of the koala capers is that once night descends, he goes on heightened alert and at the sound of even a leaf falling to the ground springs to his feet and hurtles outside to check it out. A couple of times I've spotted him perched on the outdoor chair, gazing balefully up at the pergola, or the gum trees, his eyes peeled for the flash of grey fur. As a result, come morning, the poor chap is exhausted and succumbs to a well earned sleep.
Hopefully this will subside in time and peace will once more reign. That is of course, unless the magnetic powers of attraction that I seem to possess for native animals continues and we are visited by another species. I do hope it's not an emu.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kenny K rides again





Just when we thought it was safe to expect a night's sleep uninterrupted by close encounters of the animal kind, Kenny K decided to drop by again. Hell hath no fury like a koala given the cold shoulder and this time he decided to give us that message personally.

The happy trio were peacefully slumbering en famille last night. Me snoring faintly and doubtless dribbling, Scully snoring loudly in her bed and Fergus on his/my bed not snoring but emitting pollutants from his posterior of sufficient strength to render our personal methane footprint the size of an elephant's.

Suddenly all hell broke loose. Fergus gave a clarion cry like a pack of hounds to the chase and burst from the bedroom into the loungeroom, from which there shortly came not four but eight clacking claws pounding the wooden floor. To this was added the cacophony of ferocious growling, yapping etc. as noted in my previous post, and another indeterminate sound which soon turned out to be .... wait for it .... Kenny K - having a very bad fur day and at large, and I mean large, in the bosom of our home. Whether he thought he'd drop by for a spot of quiet TV viewing while the coast was clear, or what I don't know. He had apparently slipped through the aperture of the back screen door left open to cater for urgent canine calls of nature in the night and then forgot which way was out.

Fergus already somewhat embittered by the previous confrontation was not about to do any turning of blind eyes, other cheeks or similar wimpish stuff. The scene that met my eyes was not a happy one. I had to decide in a flash what to do and being both a dog and and a koala lover there was a decided conflict of interest. The potential for flying dog and koala parts was high though. So what could I do but leap into the fray, feet protected by the trusty holy bedsocks but hands sadly not. Like the proverbial mother throwing herself in front of a truck to protect her beloved brood, I prized the creatures apart, seized Fergus and hauled him off into the bedroom slamming the door behind him.

I was then left to face Kenny K, alone, as is my lot in life. By this time he was in a state of advanced panic galloping about, as if to the strains of the William Tell Overture, scrabbling up armchairs, blundering into furniture and so on. Having the presence of mind of one who is expert in emergencies, or in other words doing the first thing that leaps into my mind, I threw open all the doors and windows and kept out of the way. Kenny eventually cottoned on that freedom beckoned and gallumphed his way out the door and off into the night, apparently uninjured.

On subsequent inspection Fergus also proved to be unscathed, which is more than I can say for myself. My passage through the house was marked in classical chain saw massacre fashion by large drops of blood on the floor and smears on the walls. This alerted me to the fact that I was wounded, messily but not mortally, now evidenced by some impressive looking medical dressings along one arm and finger.

Fergus when allowed out of the bedroom was bent on vengeance and spent the rest of the night seeking it. A glance at the bedside clock radio revealed the time of the incident to be 2.00am so there was a sizeable bit of night remaining. Sleep was but a dream as Fergus tore through the house in a frenzy for the next four hours. An excitable dog at the best of times, he outdid himself on this occasion. Scully slumbered on through the whole uproar. Deafness has its advantages.

What happens next who knows. I will be barricading the dogs in the house at night from now on at least until the coast is clear of the mad koala. If you don't hear any more from me, you'll know I've either gone bonkers from sleep deprivation or have started a new career as a taxidermist of native animals.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Another brush with an Australian fauna icon



I’m moving – somewhere – anywhere where the innocent populace is not plagued by rampant marsupials running amok.

First it was Skippy the kangaroo or one of his relatives, blundering into my car and causing one hell of a mess. Now it’s Kenny the Koala decorating my backyard with the fruits of what must have been a veritable orgy of pooping, and then to add insult to injury rudely awakening me from my well earned rest last night.

To be fair it wasn’t Kenny K who woke me. It was Fergus, my trusted terrier, conscientiously fulfilling his watchdog duties, who must have heard the plop of koala excretions hitting the ground or something (his hearing being very keen). On being alerted, he leapt to attention, sprang from his bed (unofficially my bed, but he sees it as his), tore outside at top speed and erupted in a frenzy of hysterical yapping interspersed with ferocious growls – both loud enough to wake the dead, let alone the peacefully slumbering neighbours. I gave it ten minutes or so, in the wishful hope that he might have just had a bad dream and on realising there was nothing there calm down and come back inside. No such luck though. The barking and growling if anything escalated in volume and intensity. There was nothing for it but to drag myself up and go outside to investigate, bedecked in all the splendour of my winter season night attire, complete with holy bedsocks. A vision that can only be imagined.

There was Fergus in full cry, springing up and down, tearing around in circles and generally acting like a mad dog. Above him, perched precariously on the pergola was Kenny, the giant koala. Judging from the state of his figure he had clearly been feasting on those special gum leaves beloved of koalas which I suppose are now flourishing because of all the nice rain we’ve had. Hence the voluminous poops. Despite his bulk, he managed to trot back and forth along the beams of the pergola quite nimbly, occasionally glancing down at Fergus in a taunting sort of way as if to say “come on dog – make my day”. Which I’m sure he would have – and his breakfast, lunch and dinner as well. No cute cuddly teddy type this one I can tell you.

Needless to say, it was mother who had to save the bloody day, as far as one can in the dead of night. After a few fruitless efforts to tempt Fergus inside with calls of “bickie, bickie” I realised this was useless. Normally no matter what the alternative temptation, Fergus is such a glutton that this feeble ploy actually works. However in this case a cartload of bickies wouldn’t have done it. There was nothing for it but to try and catch him. Easier said than done. Despite lots of plunging and lunging as he sped past, he managed to slip through my fingers. Eventually though as he was attempting to climb the wall to get to his prey, I grabbed his collar and hauled him inside. Of course I then had to haul him all the way to the other door that was still open in order to close it before he could slip through and escape again. Quite a test of strength it was too. Even at the risk of strangulation, the little bugger kept surging ahead, desperate to make a dash for the exit. But I prevailed and with all the exits blocked, decided it was safe to go back to bed.

Back to bed I went but not to sleep of course. Foiled in his attempt to get up close and personal with Kenny K, Fergus was not happy. He made this very clear throughout what remained of the night by rampaging through the house, pummelling at the doors to get out, whining and yelping and otherwise carrying on. The only one who slept was Scully, who luckily for her is stone deaf.

Aroused to another day of work by the clock radio, I dragged myself from my bed in an even more advanced state of stupour than usual. Fergus having momentarily lowered himself into a prone position for the space of a few minutes just before dawn, immediately jumped up again ready to burst into the outdoors – that exciting realm of furry nocturnal invaders. I made him wait until at least I’d had a shower and got dressed, thoughtful enough not to inflict my night-time sartorial ghastliness on any neighbours who might be abroad. Once we did venture outside, thank goodness there was no sign of Kenny K. Presumably he’d moved off to partake of another serving of leaves somewhere else, or after the excitement of the night, was sleeping it off amongst the branches.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t decide to pay us another visit tonight.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kangaroos and Cars don't Mix




This is the story of something that happened to me a couple of months ago. I had lunch yesterday with Mme Benaut, dear friend and inspirational blogger, and she suggested I should recount this for the edification of others. And to serve as a cautionary tale.


It was, as they say in the classics, a dark and stormy night. In fact it was the night before I was to leave for a weekend in Sydney to celebrate my friend Nina's birthday. Being away from home of course necessitates putting my canine children (Fergus and Scully) up in a boarding kennel, much to their disgust. We've become accustomed to using a very good one at Mylor, (Top Spot Kennels) which although some distance away in the wilds of the Adelaide hills, looks after the dogs really well.

This particular night saw the onset of the autumn rain, with a vengeance. It had been raining steadily all afternoon and by the time I'd dropped the dogs off and turned back towards home, it was already pitch dark at six o'clock or thereabouts and absolutely teeming. While the rain was like manna from heaven to this driest of dry cities, it made driving conditions hazardous in the extreme. This wasn't helped by the fact that the stretch of road between Mylor and Aldgate, the next hills town, is very narrow, winding and dark.

My night-time eyesight is not all it could be, along with all the other failing faculties, so I was peering myopically through the windscreen and feeling fairly anxious already when a huge greyish white apparition loomed up out of the blackness to my left. With an enormous thud it smacked straight into the passenger side of the car knocking it off course and then seemed to disappear. There was nowhere to turn off the road and cars were right behind me so somehow I managed to keep driving, but very hesitantly as I didn't know how badly the car was damaged. I was also in a state of panic because I didn't know what I'd hit. For all I knew at that stage it could have been a person or a child. Visions of being convicted as a hit-run driver flashed before me. A bit further down the road there was a muddy turn-off to the left so I managed to pull in off the road and stop, very shaken. The drivers of two other cars behind me both stopped also to see if I was alright, which was kind of them.
One of them, a young girl, came over and I tried to open the passenger side door but it was stuck. She told me I'd hit a kangaroo as she'd seen it bounce off my bonnet and disappear over the other side of the road. The other driver who stopped was a young man who was really kind and thoughtful and had a very close look at the car for me to see whether it was driveable. He was soaked to the skin, it was raining so hard, but he still got down in the mud and looked under the car to see whether any oil or fluid was leaking out. He then offered to drive in front of me until we got to Aldgate, as by now I only had one headlight. I don't know who he was but I am very grateful for his help. It seemed like the car was alright to drive, in that it had no mechanical problems. Just the slight problem of a busted headlight and missing rear view window on one side, which had apparently been sheared off by the kangaroo.
I felt pretty bad about the kangaroo and was afraid that I might have killed it or at least seriously injured it, but there wasn't much I could do. Subsequently quite a few people told me they are actually pretty tough and unless you hit them full on with a vehicle with a roo bar attached, they often survive without too much ill effect. So I hope that was the case with this one.
It was a hair raising drive home as although I'd negotiated the rest of the narrow, winding hills road I was on, the remainder of the route was not much better and of course it was still raining heavily. Visibility with only one headlight was appalling so I had to keep the working one on high beam, which the approaching drivers probably didn't appreciate.
Finally I got home in one piece, which is more than I can say for the car. I still went away for the weekend and left the disaster locked up in the garage to deal with on my return. It needed quite extensive repairs as it turned out, although fortunately the insurance paid for them, all except the unavoidable excess.
Running into a kangaroo was the last thing I would have expected to happen so close to the metropolitan area, thinking they would only be a concern out in the middle of the outback. But apparently they are not uncommon in that area, and of course there are also lots of koalas. It made me realise that wherever you drive where there are trees and bushland, it's important to be aware of the wildlife that may be around and keep alert to the possibility of an animal getting onto the road. Of course in the case of this one, as it seemed to literally launch itself out of the bush on the side of the road straight into my car, there was little I could have done to avoid it. But I will be a lot more wary driving through those parts in future.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Nieces


On Friday my sister Rosemary and I had a girls' lunch with my two nieces, Renee and Melissa, ostensibly for Renee's birthday but also just to get together, the four of us, for a gossip and a catch up. We do this all too rarely and it was great fun.
Both girls have grown up into lovely young women and although they're both currently single, I'm sure some lucky bloke will be smart enough to snap them up some day.
They take after their aunt slightly I think in that they were a bit unsure of what direction to take in their lives when younger (in their aunt's case she was completely all over the place!). But they've now both found their way and are doing really well. Renee (in the middle) is a very dedicated primary school teacher and Melissa after quite a few years working, decided this year to take on a science degree at Flinders. She's done very well in her first exams and is enjoying learning again. Although it's a big challenge, I know the family attitude of persistence and industriousness will ensure she gets there and will then be able to look forward to an exciting and rewarding career.
Rosemary can be very proud of her girls, which she is of course!!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

To Plot or Not


I've recently been reading quite a few books on writing by writers of varying degrees of accomplishment. These are not so much "how to" books as advice from those who may be expected to know, in so far as they have had books published. As an aspiring writer, I am eager for all the advice I can get, although as with any field of learning you must take some and leave some.

There is a common theme among a lot of such material that emphasises the indispensability of plot. This premise is based on the notion that in today's world of instant gratification, audiences have limited attention spans. As well, because film and television have become the entertainment of choice for the masses, being accessible, cheap and undemanding, people have become accustomed to a fast pace, quickly unfolding events and a speedy resolution to the drama. They are therefore not willing to hang around waiting for something to happen. Writers who hope to engage their readers are as a result encouraged to hit them between the eyes within the first couple of pages, or risk having their book unceremoniously consigned to the dustbin, or worse put back on the shelf.

I don't necessarily disagree with this. An exciting unputdownable book is a great way to while away the time, hence the popularity of airport paperback outlets. But the corollary to this, propounded by at least some of these advice givers, is that fiction that is not plot focused and escapist in nature, that is instead too much like "real life" is boring, tedious and not worth the time spent in writing it. Why, this school of thought suggests, would we want to read about something that could happen to us, who cares, yawn yawn? Most people's lives considered in this way are I suppose predictable and humdrum. And if one was to catalogue in detail the minutiae and trivia of day to day existence, no-one would be terribly interested least of all the writer.

But life is not all about that. There are highlights, lowlights and moments of great drama within the ordinary. People I am convinced like to identify. They like to find their own experiences in the lives and words of others. They like to know that others have felt the same emotions; frustrations, anger, joy, sorrow, whatever as they have. We can even find solace in reading about how someone has handled a tragedy in life that we have faced or may face. There is a place for this stuff.
As the writer Anne Tyler said in a recent interview, "the whole purpose of my books is to sink into other lives .... I would love it if the readers sank along with me." And plenty of readers have, considering her hugely successful body of work, recognised by the Pulitzer Prize no less. Possibly it's a way of portraying our shared humanity.

So there's no place really for an extremist view about plot driven fiction. There's room for both kinds. Some people love Harry Potter and anything by J.R. Tolkien, some love Virginia Woolf. Some just love anything that keeps them awake or helps them to nod off, whatever.

I like books of all kinds but I especially love books where I can relate to the protagonists and what happens to them, and they're the kinds of stories and books I hope to write. Equally there is great skill in writing good science fiction, suspenseful cliff-hangers, blood curdling thrillers or passionate bodice rippers. Horses for courses, as they say and anyone who is reckless enough to issue imperatives about what should and should not be written, deserves not to be read!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dodgy (and other) gates

It seems Marty and Mal haven't learnt anything from the fate of the quintessential Artful Dodger*, immortalised by Dickens in the following description:


He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man. He was short of his age: with rather bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes. ..... He was, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four feet six, or something less, in the bluchers.


(Nothing personal guys).


He of course ended up being caught red handed with a stolen silver snuff box and was ignominiously despatched to the penal colony at Port Arthur.

No such fate is likely to befall either of these protagonists however, whether or not they deserve it. Not that any of the players in either saga comes off unsullied, even the pair most self-righteously proclaiming their indignation at the aspersions cast upon them - Prime Minister Rudd and Premier Rann respectively. Of course it's all in the game as they say, politics being almost as laughable a game as that of love and we have learnt to have fairly low expectations of the integrity of the main players in both the Federal and State ball games. You'd think though they would have learned by now that casting aspersions is rather like casting stones. Let he who is without sin cast the first one. Or beware the fate of being hoist by one's own petard (or one's own ute or dodgy documents as the case may be).

Red faced they may be and deservedly so, but repentant, probably not. Whether the sting in the tail as these events have proven to be for the Libs at both Federal and State levels is venomous enough to do them lasting damage, either in a leadership spill (as seems imminent for the State crowd) or at some future ballot box, remains to be seen. It is however a pretty shabby display in both houses and one wishes they'd for once just get on with what they were elected to do, rather than wasting our time, trying our patience and clogging up the newsprint with this childish puerile nonsense. If I hadn't already lost faith in politics, this would have been the straw that did it.


*Colloquially - someone who tries to avoid taking responsibility for his (usually nefarious) actions.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Life is a Picture


In my quest to become a writer, I attended a writing workshop last weekend at the SA Writer's Centre. It was entitled "Writing from the Inside Out". Although only three hours in duration, it was a very rewarding experience. As it was a practical workshop, we got to write (what else!) and read the fruits of our labours to the class. Although potentially exposing one's vulnerabilities, this is an invaluable task for a writer, aspiring or experienced. Writing, although an engaging and at times satisfying activity, is essentially a very isolated one. One labours away, waging a war with the blank page and hopes that what emerges from the intellectual wrestling match is something half way reasonable. You never really know though, at least not until you get to the stage of submitting work to a publisher I suppose. The capacity for self-delusion is alive and well in every one of us, and there is always the nagging fear that what may seem flights of rhetorical brilliance at the time, will be little more than self indulgent drivel on re-reading, or worse on reading by someone else.

Be that as it may, it's not really what I meant to say. The theory behind the topic of the workshop was that to write well, we should be able to draw upon images and develop the ability to translate them as settings for our stories. In other words, it's not enough merely to create believable characters, a compelling plot and a well structured account of something (piece of cake though all that is!!), it needs a setting. It is in the setting that we have the opportunity to use what we know as well as what we can imagine. As an exercise, we were asked to bring along photos or images of a scene that meant something to us. Using this as inspiration , we then had to write a short piece in or around or somehow related to this scene.

What I found intriguing about this was how similar it was to painting. It was creating a landscape through words, rather than through the medium of paint. The method practically of course is different, but the creative process is remarkably, uncannily similar. So, for me because I have done some painting, this was an exciting and invigorating challenge.

I don't think you have to be particularly artistic in any medium to appreciate this. The human mind is naturally creative and imaginative and if you just sit and look at a scene, a picture, an image, whether it be a beautiful landscape, a person or a still life, I think you will find it speaks to you. This is of course the great joy of art, our eyes and ears and senses are captured by a skilful writer, painter or musician and transported to another world. It's nothing less than magic.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sisterhood


In thinking over the past week which has been quite a stressful one for me with Scully's problems, I felt so grateful for having a sister who is always a rock of strength and support whenever life gets a bit difficult for me. I haven't written anything previously about my dear sister, Rosemary but I would like her to know she is loved and very precious to me.


We are different in many ways, however I like to think those differences complement each other. We also share many traits, in particular our devotion to animals, especially our precious dogs. Rosemary and her husband Len have three, all of which are thoroughly doted on. Of course as fanatical pet lovers, she and I have both had our share of heartbreaking times, when a beloved pet gets ill or passes on and it is at these times that because we understand so well the grief that this entails, we are able to support each other.


Rosemary is brilliant at this. Last week when Scully got sick, she came to visit all the way from Murray Bridge just to see if I was ok as well as phoning and emailing regularly to check on things. There's not a lot of tangible things one can do to help when life's downs come along, but just to know there's someone you can talk to about anything is wonderful. God knows I've moaned and whinged to her endlessly over the years but she never complains, never judges and is just there to lend an understanding ear, whatever the problem. Things were different when we were kids of course and as we shared a bedroom familiarity bred not only contempt but some raging rows from memory. But that's all part of the family experience and it certainly hasn't marred our relationship as adults.


I look forward to us growing into old ladies together grumbling about the indignities of age and infirmity, the intransigence of men and children, the frustrations of work and trying to make ends meet, the parlous state of the world and where will it all end and so on. It's really good to know that whatever befalls me, there's someone who'll always be in my corner, backing me all the way. Thanks to you dear sister.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A little girl in trouble










My little dog Scully has had some very worrying health problems just recently. She has suffered several convulsive attacks, which although fortunately short lived are alarming and distressing, both to her and to me. She has been thoroughly examined by the vet and had a full set of blood tests done. There don't at this stage appear to be any specific causes for the seizures and she doesn't have any other symptoms. One possibility is a brain tumour or similar neurological problem, but until further investigations are done, if they prove necessary, we won't know. In between these episodes she has been perfectly well, and as far as can be seen, her normal self. Her normal self is a sweet, quiet and serene natured little dog, so the thought of anything serious being wrong with her fills me with dread. At the moment we just have to wait and see if further problems occur, and take whatever action is recommended then.
Scully is 12 years old, so not in the first flush of youth and health problems therefore don't come as a surprise. But whenever they come with a loved pet, they are never welcome. One desperately wants to spare them pain and suffering of any kind, and to protect them at whatever cost, but it's such a difficult experience. Although inevitable, it's virtually impossible to prepare oneself to deal philosophically with the concept of their illness, incapacity and eventual death.
Fergus is worried about her too and senses something is wrong I think. He's giving her a comforting kiss in the above picture.
I am hoping this doesn't mean I'm going to lose her just yet, but if I do I must just hope to deal with it in the best way possible, for her sake and for mine. In the meantime she is getting lots of hugs and love to make sure she knows she is a special girl.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Decision Time




As someone who is always rushing into a discussion saying "life is short", "seize the day", "you can't take it with you" and so on ad nauseum, I have been strangely reluctant to follow my own advice. However after a week that began with a severe, verging on terminal,case of Monday-itis, which hadn't really improved by Friday, I have decided to do something about the ho-hum nature of my current existence. No, I'm not going to jump off a tall building or run away with a dashing stranger (I wish), I am simply going to go on an overseas trip. Not until next year, so I have about a year and a bit to save up, which for me will be the greatest challenge. However I can be fiercely self-disciplined when I want to, and heaven knows I have enough clothes, shoes, books, cosmetics, household trinkets gadgets and sundry paraphernalia to last me if I live another hundred years, so I should be able to tighten my belt quite a number of notches and not feel the strain.

Having wanted to travel to Ireland all my life to see the land of my ancestors (my great grandparents were Irish) I am booking a tour of England, Scotland and Ireland in August next year with an organisation that I am reliably informed is very good and specialises in tours for small groups of single people. And no it's not a match making agency - if it's anything like most similar ventures, it's bound to be overloaded with women in any case, but that's not the point.

In order to give myself an inspirational goal and set myself on the road to rigid frugality, I am letting myself get all excited about this now, even though it's some way off. And being the ultimate eager beaver for learning all about things I will no doubt be poring over books, photos, experiences of other travellers and whatever else I can find to make myself as well informed although hopefully not boringly so, as possible.

And the way time whizzes away these days, it won't be all that long before you can all wish me bon voyage. Only problem is it might be a bit difficult to smuggle a couple of small hairy and noisy dogs along in the suitcase!




Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ecology can be a health hazard


There I was yesterday staggering to support the weight of my vibrantly hued ecologically aware cloth shopping bags filled to the brim with the fruits of the supermarket, when two things happened.

First, I remembered when long ago at the very beginning of the enviro-bag revolution, I used to scoff at the greenies who would turn up at the supermarket each week religiously spurning the plastic bags offered to them and producing from the voluminous folds of their rather "aged hippie" weekend attire, their precious green bags. For some reason, perhaps my fondness for sticking a pin in the pompous and politically correct, this species of shopper always seemed to me to be inordinately hairy as well as decidedly unattractive. But now, I thought, here am I humbled at last, albeit through the coercion of the law, laden with my own greenie bags. So I sent off a mental apology to those vanguard greenies, so unfairly maligned.

Second, I put my back out. Thanks to the improved tensile strength of the new enviro bags, the checkout attendants have it seems embarked on an experiment to see just how much they can stuff into one bag. Or perhaps they are just being thoughtful and saving their customers the expense of buying two bags when one will do. Anyway while the quantity of bags is less, the weight of them is now such that even Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime would be challenged to lift one. Of course I could tell just from grappling to get them, newly packed, into the trolley, let alone from the trolley into the boot of the car, then from the boot into the house, then up onto the kitchen counter, that they were far too heavy for me to lift. However, rather like the aforementioned Arnold, I saw this as a challenge. Having been getting into the weights at the gym with more enthusiasm than sense, I thought "how hard can it be?" I quickly found out as an ominous click presaged a spasm of pain that I know from experience will drag on for some days.

Sensibly, what I should do from now on is ask politely at the checkout for them to only fill the bags halfway. However rather like having to ask someone to give you a hand crossing the road, that risks having them think of me as weak, or getting on in years and of course that would never do. Far better to strain and heave, with dignity intact, and then spend the rest of the weekend limping around the house bent over like a crone.

Regardless though of whether common sense or ego wins out in my case, the enviro bags are a jolly good idea and I'm all for them. Especially when you realise how destructive the old plastic bags have been. Not only do they clog our drains and waterways, they are serial killers of our marine creatures. And unlike me, they don't break down.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day






Happy Mother's Day to all us mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law or whatever other title we bear that entitles us to be specially acknowledged today.

Today has evolved in an interesting way. Originally it was "Mid Lent Sunday" or "Refreshment Sunday" (because the rules for Lent were relaxed to commemorate the biblical story, the "Feeding of the Five Thousand"). Pity the poor mother that confronted that task. Another theory is that it evolved from a day about 400 years ago when people ritually visited their closest big (or "Mother") church. The big church, or cathedral was considered to be the mother of all churches in an area. Hence the term "big mother" perhaps? The congregation so gathered at the big mother were said to have gone "a mothering".

In Britain servant boys and girls were allowed only one day a year to visit their families, which was usually Mothering Sunday and were often allowed to take a cake or some other gift from the household home for their mothers. They also usually collected flowers from the fields to take home to Mum. No roadside stalls in those days.

Mother's Day was also termed "Simnel Sunday" after the cake of that name - a fruit cake decorated with marzipan. Hence Robert Herrick's poem of 1648:

"I'll to thee a Simnell bring

'Gainst thou go'st a mothering,

So that, when she blesseth thee,

Half that blessing thou'lt give to me".

Being a mother is indeed a blessing, albeit often a mixed one. Our children hold within their hands the power to bestow on us inexpressible delight, pride and joy, on the one hand and on the other unfathomable hurt, frustration and disappointment, seemingly at whim. As Anne Lamott writes in her book "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" in talking about her small son; one day he would look at her quite seriously, take her face in his little hands and tell her he loved her, only to become within a few hours the most unendurable little monster.

No other relationship so enslaves us from the first instant of our mutual existence until the last breath, but no other relationship holds within it the potential to teach us so much. We finally come to understand the agonies to which we subjected our own parents, we discover an amazing capacity within ourselves for self-sacrifice and selflessness and we come to appreciate the meaning of all those painful life lessons we had to learn ourselves in trying to re-interpret them for our children.

Mother's Day doesn't make it all worthwhile, because we already know it is, but it is an opportunity to recognise the role we play in each other's lives and how important we are to each other. So mothers, enjoy!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Happy birthday Nina!

My dear friend Nina turned 60 on Saturday, not that you would ever think so from looking at her! Always the soul of elegance, she looked even more gorgeous than usual! We had a wonderful celebration to mark the occasion - not just a great night out, but a great weekend as Nina's lovely daughter Melisha (in the photo below) decided her mother deserved a very special event and arranged a cruise on Sydney Harbour. A small group of close friends and family who come from all over and among whom I was lucky enough to be included, were therefore invited to get ourselves over to Sydney for the weekend where accommodation was arranged for us at a hotel right on fabulous Darling Harbour and join in what turned out to be a fantastic and memorable two days with Nina and her husband Peter (the hunky one with the beard!). The cruise was quite a night as it turned out and as the rain came down we ate, drank, talked, laughed and enjoyed each other's company like a little group of marooned sailors in a leaky boat! As well as making it a birthday which I'm sure Nina will never forget, it was a great experience for her friends and family members, many of whom had not met before in person, to finally do so and understand why they are people who are so dear to Nina. Her three children, Melisha, Aaron and Mark are all very different, but delightful and special in their own unique ways. Nina I know was very touched by all the thought, effort and generosity Melisha devoted to making her 60th such a unique and enormously enjoyable event for everyone who was there. Peter, Nina's gorgeous husband, very generously contributed also and it's clear to see from the photograph how much he enjoyed himself.

Happy birthday dear Nina and I look forward to celebrating the next special one. We both decided waiting until our 70ths for the next big one is too long, and a half decade big celebration is the way to go, so in my case there's a little less time to wait for that, but it will be definitely one to remember, like this one was for Nina!










Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lest we Forget


The scale of the homage this country pays to its men and women who served in times of war is deservedly huge and seems to grow with each successive Anzac Day commemoration. It is a very public tribute, but made up of millions of personal stories. There would probably be few Australian families who do not have a link in some way to a relative who served in one or another of our wars, in particular the First and Second World Wars which involved by far the greater proportion of young men and women. It is a collective message of gratitude and respect that the nation offers on this day, but simultaneously an opportunity for individuals to honour and remember grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and other distant or close relatives who fought not just for their country, but for us, their descendants.

In my case I remember first my grandfather who fought in the horrors of the trenches in France in the First World War. I don't remember him well as I was still a child when he died, but I'm told he suffered from shell shock, so he returned with his body intact but his mind and spirit unalterably changed.

My father, a quiet self effacing man in person but a towering presence in my life, served in the Australian Army in the Second World War from July 1940 to January 1947. He was a Staff Sergeant in the 2nd 48th Australian Infantry Battalion, Australia's most highly decorated unit of the Second World War. The battalion trained at Woodside in South Australia and then sailed to the Middle East. They fought memorably at Tobruk, then in El Alamein, returning to help staunch the onslaught of the Japanese in New Guinea where they battled in the mud of the infamous Kokoda Trail. They later served in the jungles of Morotai, Borneo and Tarakan, before being disbanded following the Japanese surrender in 1945.

My father saw action therefore in conditions of searing heat, desert, tropical jungles, mountains and God knows what other hostile and unforgiving terrain. As a result, being a fair skinned man, he bore a permanent legacy from this time, which was skin damage, ultimately manifesting in a melanoma which killed him, but not until the ripe old age of 92, so he was nothing if not tough.

He never spoke much about the war, despite our curious questions as children, provoked occasionally by coming across faded and tattered old photographs of skinny young men in khaki, usually laughing and looking like they were having a jolly good time. Opportunities for laughs were probably all too few, but the camaraderie that existed in the Australian troops was legendary and the fierce loyalty these old soldiers sustained towards their mates all through their subsequent lives is testament to that. Several of them, although clearly frail and weakened by age and illness, were there at my Dad's funeral and moving as the playing of "The Last Post" was to us, I can only imagine the memories it must have stirred in them.

In looking through some old photographs recently, I came across this one of my Dad as a young soldier in his uniform. I suspect it was one he sent to my mother, as they became engaged and were married while he was still on active service. On the back in his distinctive handwriting, which never varied throughout his life, he has written"This is me (underlined). Not at my best but near enough."

He is a serious looking young man, wide, guileless blue eyes in an open freckled face. Above all, he looks vulnerable - so young, so boyish but obviously so steadfast in his determination to live up to what he sees as his duty - to do his best for his beloved country, his mates, his family, his sweetheart, and his as yet unborn children. We, his children, are middle aged now and he and most of his comrades are gone, but we bear an unpayable debt of gratitude to him and all the others like him.

Let's not ever allow the memory of war to be glorified in any way, because there is no glory in killing. Let us always remember though, those who fought and suffered and died that we might have a chance of living in peace.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Moon fish with candied olive crumbs anyone?


I've just finished reading the new foodie supplement in the Weekend Australian, claimed to be the take on the "essential Australian eating and drinking experience" by those in the know, that is those at the cutting edge of the gastronomic coming of age of the Australian eating out experience.

I know we had a lot to learn, starting as we did with our closest things to multicultural cuisine being tinned spag bolognaise and sweet and sour pork from the local Chinese. That was back when I was a kid, so quite a number of years ago, and we have broken considerable new ground since then (and no doubt broken other things in response to various kitchen experiments). We have certainly prospered and profited enormously from the injection of European and Asian influences into our basic chops, snags and 3 vegs dining table offerings. Not only have we reaped the benefits taste-bud wise, but nutritionally the emphasis on fresh ingredients, lighter cooking styles and smaller quantities has doubtless been very good for our health, in some cases, the obesity epidemic aside.

However there is an unfortunate pretentiousness that has accompanied this foray into new food frontiers, where an element of the foodie fraternity has become totally preoccupied to the point of absurdity with experimentation for the sake of displaying their creative brilliance it seems, rather than for the sake of simply producing wonderful food. What is defined as molecular or avant-garde gastronomy has taken some countries apparently by storm, although digestive storm is more likely to be the result of such dishes as the above for example, or "black pudding with sour sherry-vinegared chocolate ganache and pickled cherries", or "luxe passionfruit custard with beetroot, yoghurt and mint". So maybe I'm a peasant but half the stuff trumpeted about in restaurant reviews these days sounds totally weird to me, that is when I actually know what it is, as at least half the vocabulary on such menus is comprised of terms I've never heard of.

I am all for experimentation, up to a point, but not just for the sake of novelty. And when you take the wonderful quality and variety of produce in which this country is abundant and combine it with inspirational recipes from countries all over the world, the result is often sublime. However let's not get so carried away that eating out becomes an exercise in snobbish one-upmanship and self-aggrandisement, at the expense of what it's supposed to be - relaxed and satisfying enjoyment of food, wine, ambience and if you're lucky pleasant company.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dog Rage and other things


I was going to write something here about the quiet Easter I've had and how much I enjoyed the opportunity and time to reflect, contemplate, and complete a few undemanding activities without the constant intrusion of obligations, commitments and externally imposed timetables. It can of course be great fun to take a trip at this time of year, as the weather is usually good and it's often the last bit of warmth and prolonged sunshine we get before the chillier days and grey skies set in. Still there's something pleasant about not joining in the lemming like exodus from the suburbs with all its attendant traffic hassles, rush and bustle. Then, I thought maybe this just makes me sound like a boring old recluse, extolling the joys of peace and quiet while secretly jealous of everyone else out there having a good time. So forget that.


We've all heard about various types of rages in recent times ... road rage, phone rage, shopping rage, etc. and perhaps been unfortunate enough to be victims of some belligerant person who thinks the best way to deal with the stress and frustration of their life is to take it out on someone else. If this development is indeed a symptom of the inability of 21st century man to deal sanely with the challenges of the world, then it's a very regrettable reflection on society. There are clearly lots of things in life which are worthy of rage - war, cruelty to animals, child abuse, domestic violence ... the list is a long and sorrowful one. But personally I don't believe there's a lot of justification for aggression against someone who has simply inadvertently inconvenienced you.


It happened to me the other day. I was walking my dogs down a street near my home, past a large ostentatious house, while a man with a rather vicious looking Alsation was approaching from the opposite direction. As he neared me he yelled out "Don't let your bloody dogs piss on my plants if you don't mind." I hadn't noticed that they had, but as Fergus tends to lift his leg at almost every vertical object we pass, it wasn't a great surprise to me that perhaps he had dribbled on a piece of shrubbery. The man continued, "Yes, this IS my house," which by now I'd gathered, and turned into the drive with his unpleasant looking dog.

A number of retorts came to mind, such as "Would you like me to put a nappy on them?"; "Think yourself lucky it was only number one's", "I suppose your dog doesn't piss anywhere."

The latter would probably in fact be true as the poor dog was probably completely anally and urinally retentive, living in constant fear of punishment for even breathing.

However having had this demonstration of rudeness and completely unwarranted aggression, I thought it better not to incite any further chastisement, given that this bloke looked just the sort to set his dog on mine and stand back and enjoy the sport. So I kept silent but was left feeling that this incident had marred what was otherwise an enjoyable activity for both me and my dogs.

What this man gained from his outburst, I can't imagine. He is obviously under a great burden of stress and anxiety for whatever reason, although can't be doing too badly considering the size and grandeur of his house.

It all seems so futile and pointless though, to behave this way. As with other such displays of misplaced anger, all the perpetrator does, if they only realised, is make a public exhibition of the total ugliness of their character.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Body / Brain Interaction




Having reaped the benefits of a year of pretty regular exercise now, in terms of being a lot slimmer and fitter, I am enthused about the idea of keeping on with it. As I might have mentioned on my blog a while ago, I joined up with Healthy Inspirations - a place devoted to "reshaping" women, not only bodily but also in terms of reshaping their ideas about healthy nutrition and the very real benefits of regular moderate exercise. Probably because it is a place for women only and the staff are very understanding and supportive and about as far from your intimidating "gym bunny" type as you are likely to get, its clientele is largely women of a certain age.


However having gone about as far as I can go with what they have to offer, I decided recently I needed a change and so have bravely decided to join a real gym - with men!! I will be starting there next week and am looking forward to the experience, albeit a little apprehensively. There is a greater range of offerings in terms of classes, as well as the full complement of cardio and weight resistance machines so I will be well and truly challenged. Just scanning the names of the classes is somewhat challenging in itself. For example I am given the opportunity to partake of such hedonistic delights as "Body Attack", "Cardio Blast", "Body Pump" and one I know I just won't be able to resist - "RPM" - a studio cycling class that threatens to "lead you on a journey of total calorie destruction".


So think of me sweating it out and hopefully not killing myself. Whenever the flesh weakens in regard to exercise though, as it does from time to time of course, I need only remind myself of some fairly amazing (if not new) information I read recently in a fascinating book called "Brain Rules" by John Medina, a molecular biologist. His passion is trying to identify ways to translate what we know about how our brains work into adapting our educational institutions and workplaces so that better outcomes are achieved.


There are several major factors in life that have a fundamental and undeniable influence on the efficiency of our brains, which he terms "Brain Rules". One of these and perhaps the most elemental is exercise. Exercise boosts brain power. We, by virtue of our evolutionary history, are just not meant to be sedentary beings. Physical activity, it has been well and truly proven, enhances our cognitive skills, and helps slow down the ageing process (both the mental and physical aspects). There is in fact one major factor that predicts how people will age - the presence or absence of a sedentary lifestyle. Empirical evidence indicates that consistent and regular exercise results in an elevation in cognitive performance. Experimenters measured the cognitive abilities of a group of couch potatoes, exercised them consistently for a period of time (only a few months), and found on repeat testing that all kinds of mental activities had become strengthened. When the exercise levels were decreased again, the levels of cognition correspondingly fell.


For anyone who wants, needs or just likes to use their brains (which is pretty much everyone I guess) and would prefer not to end their days vegetating in a nursing home, what this means is we have to keep on sweating it out. Even if aerobics and spin cycle classes are not for you, substantial benefits can be gained just from several brisk walks a week apparently. So anyway I am inspired enough to keep on and will keep you posted on the new gym and the scenery!!


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Oh where did I go wrong?

"Why he didn’t call you back" / "He’s just not that into you"/ "You lost him at hello" .........

The above are just three titles of a growing genre of “self help” literature aimed squarely (but not fairly) at single women. On the assumption, presumably, that they are hapless lost souls searching in vain in the mysterious world of dating for a bloke to fancy them. The second simplistic and faintly insulting assumption is that these poor gals are constantly missing the boat because they are too befuddled to pick up on the glaring gaffes they are making in the game of attracting “Mr Right” or even “Mr OK for Now” (which one of them seriously suggests is a reasonable option when the pickings are slim).

The latest offering, “Why he didn’t call you back”, is claimed to be a collection of “exit interviews” conducted by a woman researcher with 1,000 men exploring their reasons for failing to follow up after a date or “online flirtation”. She allegedly wheedled from these guys “unabashedly honest and raw answers”, refusing with steely determination to accept any lame excuses such as “there wasn’t any chemistry”. Fairly reasonable explanation I would have thought. Still one must admire the gal. Most attempts to get at the raw unabashed truth when it comes to men are singularly unsuccessful, prone as the delicate chaps are to cut off their right hands rather than deal straightforwardly with anything remotely emotionally confronting.

I have yet to be enlightened as to what specific justifications for summary dismissal these chaps listed, however the none too tactful implication is that every single cotton pickin one of them is the result of subconscious “signals” that us poor silly women are apparently sending unawares. These glaring sins (whatever they are) are apparently as blatant as if we had neon signs plastered to our heads flashing “unworthy” and completely turn off these otherwise almost certainly perfect for us guys. Who would of course, but for these little behavioural quirks of ours, be just hanging out to offer us love, devotion and life long commitment. Stupid stupid us.

Fortunately though, all is not lost, we are about to be regaled by practical advice that will fix these unfortunate problems and send those nasty little off putting signals packing. We are promised a virtual deluge of men slavering to get it on with us if we just buy this book and learn from it.

Apart from the fallacious notion that every time a couple meet and don’t click, it just has to be the woman’s fault, I take issue with the proposition that any half intelligent woman could possibly be consistently behaving so doltishly that she would be incapable of fathoming out why she was turning off desirable men on a regular basis. I can believe this of men, certainly, and from unfortunate personal experience know several who go through their whole lives in blissful ignorance of their basic repugnance to the female race.

The other aspect of this line of “helpful” advice that I object to is that it reinforces women’s already strongly ingrained tendency to take the blame for things that don’t run smoothly in romance, or any other personal relationship for that matter. We as a gender are far too quick to turn the beady eye of criticism onto ourselves when things go wrong and come over all conciliatory and apologetic, thereby letting the other person (usually male) off the hook.

It takes two. If he doesn’t call back after the first date, email, sleepover or whatever, too bad. It wasn’t meant to be. If you have to draft a strategic plan to make him want to see you again, well yes he’s obviously not that into you, but I don’t think you’ve lost much. I'm not recommending that you act like a desperate fool of course and rush headlong into a date with your heart not only on your sleeve but plastered all over your face - we all do better if we play it a bit cool at the start. But, if you have to consciously manipulate someone into liking you or wanting to be with you, or just having the decency to phone you when they said they would, then it seems to me it’s not a great basis for a relationship. At the end of the day, everyone has to drop the games and grow up if it’s going to work, and these sorts of books are pretty light on about how you deal with that eventuality.

But if in the interim women are conned into thinking the promised pearls of wisdom just might change their lives, what are they to do if they don’t? What if they rush out in droves to buy the latest book of revelations, slavishly follow the instructions contained therein to the letter, practice their new found man-magnet behaviour on the next few blokes that hove into view, and then, shock horror, it still doesn’t bloody work? Are they going to go home and lash themselves, slash their wrists, turn lesbian, or what?

Hopefully not. Hopefully they will concentrate on living their lives as well and fully as they can for themselves and if someone comes along and likes them for that, great. If not, well they could just stay home and write about the 1,000 reasons (or more) why a woman might reject a man!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Autumn



It's officially autumn here in Adelaide, although today is uncharacteristically hot and humid. Earlier in the week though the weather was decidedly autumnal with a distinct and welcome chill in the air in the early morning and once dusk fell. I think this is my favourite season of the year as after the ferocious heat, blazing sun, dust and dryness of a South Australian summer, coolness brings great relief. I'm not sure who it was who so poetically termed it the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" but it's a wonderful expression, conjuring up as it does colours of scarlet and gold, the soft haze of wood smoke, the crisp shininess of new season apples and the rich ripe smell of fallen leaves crunching underfoot.
Particularly at this time of year my Anglo-Irish ancestry betrays me and I long to be in a cold climate country where the season brings even more brilliant colours, mists that linger over lakes and rivers and deep mysterious woods where paths carpeted in gold disappear into the distance. But even here the new softness in the air and the lengthening shadows that come earlier and earlier in the evening bring a serenity that is healing to the overheated wearying long haul that summer usually becomes by the end of it.
Here in this hottest driest part of the country we are hoping and praying that the cooler days also bring some life-giving rain to heal our parched and drought ravaged gardens, dried out river beds, burnt out towns and the vast brown and yellow thirsty landscape all around us.









Sunday, March 15, 2009

Happy Endings


Maybe I am becoming an old cynic, but much as the world might be easier if there were more happy endings, life is rarely an experience that brings neat, tidy and prettily parcelled up finales. Such is not the case though in certain types of fiction. I recently read (or I should say listened to, as it was an audio book) a Danielle Steel novel. The reason I did so, was its title, which was "The Dating Game". Not that I was hoping to learn anything about this particular sport, having endured such a wealth of personal experience in the field that I could, and perhaps will, write my own saga. Perhaps I was hoping to get an idea of how a phenomenally successful novelist handled the subject, in order to inform my own as yet somewhat embryonic project.


Anyway I haven't read any Danielle Steel novels or novels of that type for many years and either I had forgotten how bad they were or my taste has improved. Apologies here to anyone who is a devotee and I don't mean to impugn your taste in reading - horses for courses as they say. But in my case I fell off this particular horse very early in the tale. If the test of a good writer is how well their readers can suspend belief and be persuaded that the world they are being asked to enter is at least a credible one, this writer failed dismally in my case.


Now I know the writer in question as aforementioned is hugely successful, so her vast output clearly appeals to a big audience, so much so that the production and marketing of her work has become an extremely lucrative commercial enterprise, providing a good livelihood no doubt for many people. Perhaps that is the problem though; the money making aspect of the writing has overtaken all else to the point where no-one, not even the writer, seriously expects to create anything of any real worth - or cares. If it sells - hell, sell it and reap the rewards.


I won't bore you with the plot which is fairly straightforward - perfect wife married to perfect husband in a perfect house with two perfect children suddenly gets the heave-ho from the husband who turns out to be having it off with a younger woman. They get divorced and the wife suffers, for a while, until she moves to another perfect house in another part of the country, a dream job falls into her lap, she has a few dates, a love affair with a younger man (perfect too except she decides he's too young to marry, so dumps him). After at the most 3 blind dates, she goes on and on ad nauseum about how terrible and painful they were and how she could never bring herself, ever, to date again - all men are hopeless wankers and she must therefore be alone for the rest of her life having reached the ripe old age of 48 (but of course still radiantly beautiful). Embracing loneliness is too hard also, so she decides to adopt a baby to keep her company (get a dog I feel like shouting by this stage!). The perfect baby soon appears, the adoption goes off without a hitch, she manages both her perfect job and the baby without even smudging a nail. The perfect daughter then marries a perfect older man, who just happens to have a best friend who, you guessed it, is perfect for our heroine in every way. He is so impressed by her great humanity in adopting the baby that he falls in love and whisks her off to a life of more endless luxury and perfection. In all this saga, she remains beautiful, even if sad, money is never an issue - everyone is rich, every residence is gorgeous, every holiday glossy magazine fodder and in the end - everyone, and I mean everyone - loves each other. Except for those nasty old blind dates of course but they are consigned to the dust-bin where they belong.


OK, I am not becoming - I already am an inveterate old cynic - and maybe in this disastrous world we live in, a bit of escapism is harmless. But please, if you're going to write about the dating game, let's at least write it about real people and real life and don't try and convince people who are really struggling with pain, rejection and loneliness that they should expect to fine a facile solution and one day live happily ever after!