These Precious Things

Every time I wash my kitchen windows, a memory comes back to me, of an unhappy, self-conscious 13 year old girl, washing windows in a classroom. Of course that teenage girl was me, and the window-washing in question took place decades ago.

Kitchen window Oct 2015


At the all-girls Catholic secondary college I attended, the well-worn tradition of dividing students up into “Houses” lived on. Divide and conquer, so they say.

Unlike more famous schools – like, say, Hogwarts – our “Houses” did not determine our class groupings, or our lodgings, or really much at all. They remained largely symbolic, a reminder of their namesakes, who were all women, probably nuns, who had founded schools for girls, or done commendable charity works in poverty-stricken countries. (As a side note, one of the few good things about that Catholic education was a strong social justice message combined with a powerful message that women could lead all sorts of things, including social change. That seeped into my consciousness without me realising it at the time.)

As far as I can recall, the main, and almost only, time our division into Houses came into play was in the lead up to, and on the day of, the annual sporting carnival, where they achieved their main function: to harness our natural sense of competitiveness and focus it into fierce loyalty for our respective teams.

The only exception to this is that in my first year of high school, students were assigned classroom duties on a rotating weekly basis, broken up into small teams based on Houses. I assume that we must have got points for our House for doing all tasks satisfactorily. So, for example, when it was the week for our House – let’s call it Gryffindor – the next three girls on the class roll, who were from Gryffindor, were nominated as responsible. We would then work out between us who was going to clean the blackboard, dust the shelves, water the plants, wash the windows, etc.

Actually, to be honest, I just made up most of those tasks. I don’t remember ever seeing shelves in our starkly boring 1980s classrooms, which still had blackboards at the front, and nor can I recall any plants, not just in the classroom, but within the entire grounds of my Year 7-8 campus, which, in my memory at least, was constructed entirely of asphalt. The only variation in the asphalt landscape was that part of it was underneath the school building, filled with lockers, and as an area to hang around in, it had all the ambiance of a dingy underground carpark you wouldn’t want to be stuck in after dark. The remainder was just one big open space, where, in the warmer weather, the sun’s hot rays could reflect off the shiny, dark asphalt and burn you a second time. Which was a bonus for the many hopefully optimistic 13 and 14-year-old girls, who would lie flat out on the asphalt at lunch time, their dresses hitched up as high as they could get away with, their legs smeared in coconut oil, in the hope that this would assist them to burn faster and turn an attractive shade of brown.

Of course, in this endeavour I was unable to join them for very long, as, with my white, freckled skin, all I would gain from time spent in the sun, coconut oil or not, would be a painful, bright red sunburn. I would have to leave the enticing surrounds of the hot asphalt yard, and retire with the other fair-skinned social outcasts, to the shaded, gloomy, undercover locker area, or alternatively, naturally, to every lonely teenager’s haven, the library.

But to get back on track, the only task that I’m certain we were allocated is the one that sticks in my memory all these years later. Yes, I remember washing the windows.

What I remember about washing the class room windows is how I felt when I was doing it. I felt ashamed and incompetent – feelings that were a common experience for me back then.

What strength of feeling I must have had, to have etched such a mundane moment into my brain for so long! Even now, 30 or so years later, I can still see myself at the window. It was a warm Friday afternoon, and I was scrubbing away at the glass, choking back my rising dismay as I tried vainly to get rid of the smears I’d made. It seemed as if the glass looked worse than when I started.

The background to this memory can be filled in from what I know about myself back then. I know that I was a timid, anxious girl, who, when forced to take part in any kind of “team” discussion, would allow the others to do the talking, and make all the decisions. I would have let the other two girls, both confident, assertive types, decide who did what, and allocate me to cleaning the windows if they so chose. I know that I had a severe lack of confidence in executing any task that others could see me do, and that lack of confidence was multiplied if it was a task I was unfamiliar with. I know, therefore, that I would have approached cleaning the windows with the same level of dread that a normal adult might approach the task of climbing down onto a railway track in front of a crowd to retrieve an object, in full knowledge that a train was shortly due to arrive.

It’s significant that this sense of complete incompetence applied to physical tasks that others could see me do.  There was an area of life in which I was confident, and that was in my abilities to do my school work. I was “bright”, and got mostly As and Bs all through school in all academic subjects – and in drawing or painting, which I was also good at, and received constant compliments for. What I liked about school work, or art, was that much of the “work” was done in my head as I drew, or wrote, so even the action of putting pen to paper was the second step in the process – and even that step could be executed on a piece of paper in private, without others’ scrutinising my work as it developed. In that zone I was comfortable, whereas I was highly uncomfortable undertaking a physical task that meant exposing the entire process to others’ scrutiny. Subjects I did not do well in at school (though perhaps for other reasons as well) ranged from sewing to sport, and any subject where a team project or a presentation was a large component of the assessment – and both were a major part of the assessment in my final year of English, unfortunately for me.

As an adult, I’m not the most confident person around, but compared to my poor, pitiable teen self, I’m doing fine. I’m still not fond of tasks that people can see me doing, particularly anything that requires me to know the right steps to take and the right order to do them in. For example, I don’t like cooking in the kitchen with dinner guests standing around talking to me, so I always plan meals that can be ready to go when guests arrive.

It is so often the case, when you expect to do something badly, that invariably, you will do it just about as badly as envisioned. Particularly, of course, if someone else is watching you do it.

And that is what happened in when I washed those classroom windows. I’d probably never been asked to clean glass before, and had no idea how to tackle it. No-one gave me any advice on the method for cleaning glass. And when it became obvious that it wasn’t going well, I assumed, as always, that the rest of the world knew how to clean glass properly and I was the weird misfit who obviously did not, or was too incompetent to get it right instinctively.

So there I am, at 13, despairing as to why the glass is all streaky. My cheeks are burning with a familiar sense of shame, because yet again, I’m unable to do a task that, to my mind, anyone and everyone else can do. Shame because I’m letting down my House. I’m not just a failure, I’m a liability. It’s just another reason to feel like a social outcast – what team would want a quiet, fair-skinned, non-sporty girl who can’t even clean glass properly? I look anxiously around to see if anyone is witnessing my incompetence. Sure enough, I see the other 2 girls on my team watching me and talking in low voices to the teacher.

I knew what they were saying.

Creepy crawly fluffy bunny

In a change of pace this week, we are looking at sea slugs.

Sea slugs??, I hear you repeat, in a tone of wonderment – or is that disbelief? – I can’t be quite sure, and your raised eyebrows are not helping.

Anyhow, before we take a closer look at those frisky little critters, we first intend to address our Editorial Policy, by way of explanation for why we feel it is appropriate, here on this blog, at this particular moment in time, to talk about sea slugs.

As any regular reader will know (I deliberately use the singular, as our polling indicates that there is approximately one of you out there!) here on Blathering About Nothing our team of intrepid reporters do their very best to deliver every single day – or, on average, once every 2 to 3 weeks –  an article deemed educational or newsworthy, whether that is a study on the behaviour of socks, an investigation into the history of a moustache, an opinion-piece on the revoltingness of milk, or just for something different, an examination of the potentially lethal dangers of yoga mats.*

You’ve probably gathered from the above topics, that part of our editorial policy on this blog is to avoid, wherever possible, simply jumping on the bandwagon of whatever topic is the latest craze to go viral on social media. Socks, moustaches, milk and yoga mats are examples of topics we brainstorm in the editorial offices, and deem to be, not only newsworthy and educational, but also, very safe bets in our strategy to avoid joining in on any social media frenzies. So if you are looking for the latest dumb thing said by Tony Abbott,* done by Kim Kardashian, or worn by that young female celebrity whose name I can’t remember, you will not find it here. If, on the other hand, you like moustaches, socks, yoga mats, celebrity ears, or hate milk, then there is something here for you, my friend.

An artist's likeness of former Australian PM Tony Abbott

An artist’s likeness of former Australian PM Tony Abbott

(Note that in the Sliding Doors version of writing this post – where we see the alternative-universe version of the direction this post might have taken if I smiled more, chopped my hair into an elfin, page-boy cut and had it dyed blonde – the previous paragraph could have been cleverly placed as an introduction, allowing me to fill this current paragraph with a long, amusing list of idiotic things you theoretically wouldn’t find here. What a missed opportunity for a gag-within-a-gag! Unfortunately as I don’t  generally follow those kinds of news items, I can’t even begin to imagine what they might be, so we are stuck with the sad-faced Gwyneth Paltrow with the boring brown hairstyle.)

So when brainstorming in the office this week, this reporter recalled an image that flitted momentarily through her Twitter feed many months ago, only to pop up in her memory again recently when she was filling time on a long train journey by trying to think of something to write about.

That image, which apparently went viral for a short time in the middle of 2015, was of a particular species of sea-slug that, on first glance, looks for a moment like a cute fluffy bunny rabbit. After that first moment, you realise that the cute fluffy bunny has no nose, mouth or eyes that you can discern, and suddenly its cuteness is kind of undercut by a somewhat alien, slightly creepy, quality.

No doubt it was this cute-but-wait-a-minute-it’s-kind-of-creepy look (which was all the rage in Paris this summer), that caused pictures of the sea-slug to go viral on social media in about July of this year. However, as it’s now late September, our Editorial Team decided that the sea-slug is safe for us to cover, since it’s clear that we missed the bandwagon when this going to viral land. (We didn’t even make it to the bandwagon departure point. Where do bandwagons depart from these days anyway? It’s no wonder we are never on them – it’s very hard jumping on bandwagons in modern times, when it seems the only way to catch them is to take a running jump as they go past at high speed, with a high risk of landing in the middle of the brass section and knocking out the tuba player’s teeth.)

If you still doubt our editorial integrity, you only have to look back at some of our past posts to see that we have, from time to time, expressed a particular fondness for primitive creatures who reached their evolutionary peak many millenia ago, and have stayed pretty much the same ever since then. We’ve published pieces about jellyfish and other deep sea creatures, cockroaches, and parasites (in the form of large hairy moustaches), for example. So its clear: here at Blathering About Nothing, we are fascinated with the primordial.

As a last ode to our integrity – or a perverse desire to ensure we never use cheap tricks to get extra hits on this site, we’ve made the editorial decision not to link to any of the pictures of the slug that were widely circulated. But we are not leaving it entirely to your imagination – we commissioned an artist to do a portrait of the slug for us. I’m sure you can appreciate that this was an expensive venture, given the cost of the deep-sea diving gear and the underwater pencils that work at depths of more than 4 metres.


An artist's likeness of a sea slug (fig 1.) and a cute fluffy bunny (fig 2.)

An artist’s likeness of a sea slug (fig 1.) and a cute fluffy bunny (fig 2.), note similarities.

Now one thing that this slug-bunny, as we like to call it, reminds us of is Wittgenstein, a famous philosopher, who wrote about the phenomenon of seeing something as something else. His example was an image of a duck-rabbit – on first glance you may see a duck’s head, then when you look again, it’s a rabbit’s head, on its side. Woah, right? (To see what I mean, check out an art work inspired by this idea, called The Duck-Rabbit Problem, by Australian artist Kathy Temin, which you can see here or in the contemporary collection at the National Gallery of Victoria.) The equivalent in 2015 is the slug-rabbit problem, a philosophical problem which can be encountered by anyone in their own home with time on their hands, by Googling “sea-slug with rabbit ears.”

The other thing that we like about the sea slug is, as mentioned, that it reminds us of deep sea creatures who look as though they did all their evolving a few millenia ago and then sat back – or slithered around, as is more usually the case – and let the rest of us various species gradually appear, and then blunder along doing our best to evolve, losing casualties along the way, trying to work out who was the fittest, etc etc. Take jellyfish for instance. According to the Smithsonian, they have been drifting aimlessly around in our oceans for more than 500 million years. In comparison, homo sapiens appeared around 200,000 years ago, a mere blip at the end of that time period.

A rigorous search by our intrepid research team has so far been unsuccessful in establishing just how long the particular species of sea slug in question, the Jorunna parva, or “bunny-rabbit slug”*, has been around for, so any insinuations that it has been crawling around on the ocean’s substrate for as long as jellyfish have are purely conjecture on the part of the writer (ie, me), made in order to ensure that the theme I’d decided is not spoiled by the presentation of evidence to the contrary. This, of course, is common practice in any tax-payer funded research project, so if you have evidence to the contrary, we will thank you to keep it to yourself, or write your own post on sea-slugs, which we will read with great interest.

As a final note, if you’d like to see lots of pictures of the bunny-rabbit-like slug, check out this website. If you’d like to ask a sea-slug a question you can go to the sea-slug forum. And if you have no interest at all in sea slugs, well, I guess you stopped reading a while ago, which was probably a smart move.


* Although we usually try to avoid topics that are popular on social media, we have actually written posts about cats. We hasten to point out that our cats were not falling off/into toilets, or speaking in a dumbed-down pigeon-English. Ours were far more diverse in their activities, which included hiding under the bed and doing star jumps. Despite that, one of our cat posts did go viral – relatively speaking, meaning that it got about 1000 more views than any other post on this blog has. Except for one about socks, which turned out to be our most popular post ever. Go figure.

*Similar to Donald Trump but with less money and more of his own hair

*the latin name probably does not mean bunny-rabbit-slug, although I suppose it might.

The things about grief

I have a plastic A4 sized folder that sits on a shelf in my wardrobe. It contains papers that I threw together when we cleaned out my little brother’s room, after he died, 4 years ago.

Some of those papers include a signed annual leave form, for annual leave that began on 11 September, the day we found out he had passed away. There is a work review, with comments written by John and his supervisor, and incident reports John had kept copies of.

These may seem like odd things to keep, but I had a strong desire to keep these pieces of paper on which my brother had written, because I don’t have a single piece of written correspondence from John that I could treasure – no hand-written letters, no emails, not even a text message. (I got a new phone about 4 weeks before he died, and old texts did not transfer over.) He had only just set up his very first email account, a day or two before he passed away, for purposes of the course he was to start on the Monday.

I kept these pieces of paper also because of my writer’s love of the little incidental details that make up a life – again, something I have no other records of, in the life of my brother. These pieces of paper give me dates – the date he signed his leave form, the date he had his worker review.

What’s more, I can interrogate them for evidence of my brother’s personality and character. I detect these traits in the criticism he – someone who had left school at 16 – wrote in his work review (“my PD says in part exactly the opposite of what it is intended to convey”) and in the incident reports he filled out. These reports are, in my opinion, concrete evidence that my brother was a compassionate, thoughtful person with integrity and personal ethics. He took the trouble to fill out an incident report, to formally raise it as an issue that the elderly residents in his care are not given hats to keep them from being burned in the sun when taken out into the garden. And when I read his incident report outlining in great detail an event where a staff member subjected an elderly resident to taunts and humiliation, until John kicked his co-worker out of the room, I can sense his level of anger and disgust at that behaviour, as well as his determination that the elderly man be treated with dignity and respect.

There are other papers shoved into this folder: a photocopied page of the local newspaper of our home town in the late 1990s, featuring a fresh-faced John in a promotion for the business he worked in at age 17, and the obituary pages from the days following his death, torn from the same local newspaper some 16-odd years later.

In addition to papers, I collected some of his CDs and books, but I can’t name the CDs and books, because they are all still in a box in our ceiling storage. At that time, I couldn’t bear to look at that box of his things, but I didn’t want them to lose their identity as “John’s” by integrating them into our CDs and books, so up in the ceiling they remain 4 years later. Up in the ceiling also, is a bag with his work shirts in it. I took that because they smelled like John.

When you are left with so little of someone, outside of your memories, you’ll grab anything you can.


I have written many posts about my brother’s death, and about my thought processes when I was grieving, but when last Friday came round, and it was 4 years since he had died, I suddenly felt a strong desire to not write a thing. I just didn’t want to sit down knowing that I was going to scrutinise, analyse, and write about my grief, all over again.

Because it seems to me as if focussing on how his death made me feel requires me to actually distance myself from the immediacy of those feelings. As we know, you can’t be in the moment, and also be writing how you feel about the moment. As soon as you start observing how you feel about the moment, you are no longer in the moment.

I guess this tendency to observe and write about my feelings is probably a curse that comes with having the urge to write in the first place – because of course the flip side is, that to write about your feelings, you need to be able to take a step back and observe them! This makes me ponder what causes me to be inclined to step back and observe my own thoughts and feelings – something I’ve done since I started a diary when I was about 11. It also causes me to scrutinise my motivations when I write posts about grieving.

When my brother had just died, I constantly felt a desire to tell complete strangers – the waiter in a cafe, the client at work, any one in any trivial interaction – that my brother had just died. And on any occasion when I did tell someone, including friends who didn’t know my brother, I wanted that person to reel backwards in shock. I wanted tears to come to their eyes. I wanted them to be speechless with emotion. I wanted their eyes to well with tears. My sister expressed something similar at the time, writing in an email that she felt like she wanted to accost strangers and say “look, this is the gist of it….”

What drives that desire to scream the news to the world when someone you love dies? AT the time, I felt like I understood why people in other cultures wear black arm bands, or something to indicate to the rest of the world that they are mourning.

Back then, I definitely wanted other people to also be devastated at the loss of my beautiful brother. I wanted others to fully grasp the enormity of the situation, so that they could empathise with me. But also, I’m sorry to admit, I wanted to inflict the pain that I was going through, onto others.

Last Friday, I felt weighed down by all the posts I’ve already written about my brother’s death and my own grief. I knew the answer to what my motivation is in writing them – it is always, to try and convey the depth of the shock and grief that I felt. And, yes, there is also a desire to make the reader feel some pale imitation of that grief – at least, to make the reader feel sad, as I’ve felt moved to tears when reading others’ writing.

I would like to think that, at least as time has passed, my desire to move the reader is not motivated by anger and hurt, and a need to pass on the pain, but by the hope that my writing might occasionally be good enough to illicit an emotional response in a reader.

In any case, after 4 years, last Friday even that noble literary-minded goal did not motivate me. I decided I couldn’t sit down on the day of John’s anniversary to write about the milestone. It felt contrived – wallowing in grief for the purposes of writing a post. I decided instead, that I’d just be in the day, instead of writing about it.

(This is not to say I won’t write any more posts about grief – I suspect that I will – but for some reason, on that day, it felt important not to.)

As it happened, it was a glorious, sunny day last Friday, and that seemed to confirm that after 4 years, it was time for me to celebrate John’s life, instead of focussing on my sadness at him being gone. So that’s what I did. The day held a mixture of mundane, pre-planned chores, as well a few indulgences to mark the day (enjoying a coffee at a favourite cafe by myself, buying a bunch of flowers). Of course, there were a few moments – buying the flowers, listening to a particular song – where I choked up with tears for a few moments, but strange as it may sound, I had a lovely day, and in the back of my mind all day was John.


Since John died, I’ve started a new collection, based on my new interest. It’s a collection of words – words that make up lists:  lists of songs, poems, stories, and plays, with a common theme – grief.

Perhaps I’ll write more about that collection another time, but today I thought I’d end this post with some lyrics from a song from my “Grief” collection. It’s by Clare Bowditch, an Aussie singer/songwriter, who was 5 when one of her older sisters died, and it’s titled The Things About Grief.


The thing about grief is

It knows what I did, and it knows what I did not say

it sentenced me to a long, long life of excavating

things my little head can not yet understand

but I patch it all together with string and rubber bands……


The thing about grief is

few people know if the i comes before the e

and it’s hard to give away cos it’s the last thing you gave to me

Worlds above and worlds below

Is it just me, or does everyone, visiting a town they have not been in for, say, 11 years, walk around town recalling moments from their previous visit with a slight sense of melancholy? Does everyone – or just me – walk past a park in the middle of the CBD and spend a little too long trying to imagine the ghost of their former self still sitting there?

I used to have a tendency towards indulging in nostalgia quite a lot. This was unsympathetically pointed out to me years ago by a teacher at art school – I was about 22 years old at the time. One wonders what could make someone nostalgic at the age of 22.  I’ve certainly wondered about that quite a bit, and have some ideas on the matter, but I’ll save those for another post.

At 22, my tendency to feel melancholy about the passing of time, to the extent of mourning the past, as if it was always better than the present, contributed to me frequently feeling depressed. Or perhaps it was the other way around.

As I got older, I was able to recognise that this thought pattern was illogical. I didn’t have a particularly happy childhood, so there was no sense in feeling sad about it being over. Even taking into account that I wasn’t exactly upbeat every moment of my twenties, given the choice I would definitely have stayed there rather than go back to my miserable childhood.

My flawed thinking was brought home quite clearly one time in my early thirties, when my daughter was about a year old, and I found myself thinking with melancholy back to a year earlier, feeling overwhelmingly sad that it was in the past.

Now, it’s not unusual for parents to feel poignant from time to time at how quickly their child grows up, but the specific memory I was projecting all that melancholy onto was a memory of myself walking my daughter in the pram, around and around in the back yard, crying, because I couldn’t get my daughter to go to sleep and I was so utterly exhausted myself. It wasn’t a happy memory, and what’s more, it wasn’t a once-off moment – it was indicative of a whole year where I suffered from insomnia, usually lying awake most of the night while my baby slept, and then struggling through the days on maybe 2-3 hours sleep while she would not sleep at all, or at most for maybe 30 minutes once or twice – not long enough for me to doze off if I tried, being as tightly wound as I was.

When I found myself idealising that specific moment of crying from exhaustion a year earlier as if it was better than the present moment, I knew I had to do something about that mindset. I went to counselling – for a variety of reasons – and learned to use cognitive behavioural therapy to work on not automatically feeling nostalgic and sad when I thought about the past. That seemed to work for me.

Since that time, I haven’t been victim to overwhelming and illogical melancholy about the past – at least, no more than any other parent. I’m sure all parents occasionally feel a little bitter-sweet sadness when we notice that our once dependent, adoring child is now a surly teenager, complete with independent thought and the tendency to roll her eyes when anything is asked of her!

And, for most of us, visiting a town we were last in 11 years earlier probably is going to bring back memories, memories not just of being in that town, but also of how we were “back then.”Memories of whether we were happy, sad, depressed, single, in a relationship, whether our child was then a toddler and is now a teenager – all of that is normal. Perhaps also normal is the tendency to mark the first time you see, do, or go somewhere that you last saw/did/went to when someone now dead was still alive. Or perhaps that’s just me.

This week I went on a short trip to Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, Australia’s smallest and most southern island state, separated from Victoria, the state where I live, by the cold waters of Bass Strait.

Hobart is a picturesque little city, (population of the entire greater Hobart area is only around 217k), Australia’s second-oldest city, after Sydney. Its age is illustrated by the lovely old sandstone buildings in the CBD, and down at Salamanca Place, that probably date back 200 years or more – that’s pretty old architecture in Australia!

Hobart is also picturesque from a distance – travelling along the river on the ferry, or into town from the airport, I felt as if I was seeing what Sydney might have looked like about 120 years ago. Hobart’s suburbs are little pockets of houses built into the foothills of mountain ranges all along the Derwent River. It’s not over-developed – in all cases, buildings peter off about half-way up, leaving plenty of bushland around and above them. It’s a town that is still very closely connected to the bush, the mountains and the water. Looking along any street in the Hobart CBD, your view will almost always end with water, or a mountain range, or both. The city is snuggled up to Mount Wellington(Kunanyi), which towers in the background, 1269 metres (4163 ft) above sea level. Drinking coffee in a cafe in the CBD I could clearly see the remnants of snow on its peak, glistening in the winter sun, as if it was just a few blocks away.

Winter afternoon sun in Salamanca Place, Mt Wellington in the background.

Winter afternoon sun in Salamanca Place, Mt Wellington in the background.

I relished having two days to myself to wander around this pretty little town, which offered all the luxuries one expects in a city (good coffee, and great corn bread!) while feeling as friendly, and as close to nature, as a country town.

The other time I was in Hobart was about 11 years ago, with my partner and daughter, when she was about 4 years old. Thinking back to that time, it’s as if I was another person back then. I was still struggling with all my own insecurities, with being a parent, married, in my thirties, not having any career – basically any cliched anxiety you can name. I was still much closer to the slightly depressed person I’d been in my twenties. Perhaps that’s why, of all the memories I have of that trip 11 years ago, a negative incident stands out – we ran for a bus, and our little 4 year old girl, running, tripped and fell on the footpath. She cut her lip and nose, blood gushed from her nose and all over her clothes, and she howled – all difficult to deal with when you are tourists in an unfamiliar town. I felt terrible, and guilty, though probably not with any good reason.

But I know that we had fun, too. We took a ferry ride, and rode a double-decker bus to the Cadbury chocolate factory. We shopped in the local op (thrift) shop. We ate out at some nice cafes, wandered around the Salamanca market area, went for walks and, on at least one occasion, we rested on a bench seat in one of the parks in the CBD area.

I only recall that last detail because we have photos of us sitting in a park, although as I walked around Hobart this week, I couldn’t identify with certainty which park they were taken in.

So in an effort to take stock of the changes in my life in the past 11 years, I decided to take the time to sit on a bench in a park for a few minutes. Perhaps with the ghost of my past self beside me, who knows. I wanted to think about layers of memories  – because of course, in contemplating the change in my life since I was last in Hobart, I’d need to contemplate the fact that my younger brother was alive when I was here last, and now he is not.

I chose a park at the edge of the CBD, before you go down to the piers at the water’s edge. The park seemed a little run down and uncared for, and a group of young men were hanging around doing skateboard tricks. I have nothing against young men skateboarding, but a combination of factors, including the time of day and their attire, made me feel that it would be better to sit as far away from them as possible, so I chose a seat half-way around the park.

With a view to writing something on my blog about this trip, I started to make some notes on my phone. I had just enough time to write, Sitting on a bench in the park with the fountain, off Elizabeth St – when, glancing up, I saw that one of the men was approaching me – clearly he was going to ask me for money. I’m not scared of people asking me for money – sometimes I give it to them. My policy is to decide quickly, and if giving money, to give it respectfully, making no judgement about what they are going to use it for. But his approach ended my hardly-begun reverie.

In this case I didn’t even consciously think about whether to give him money or not, possibly because, being seated, and alone, it was a no-brainer as to which course of action would bode better for me. Before he had even opened his mouth and begun the speech I had anticipated – about not wanting to ask for money but needing to catch a bus – I was reaching for my purse. As I gave him some coins, and chatted about where he was going on the bus, I stood up, making it obvious that I was getting ready to leave. That was another unconscious decision – it was only as I walked away that I realised I’d chosen to get up and leave. I guess instinct told me that that staying seated there was no longer an attractive option.

So that little interaction brought an abrupt end to my short-lived moment of pondering the layers of memories that were swirling around me as I walked the streets of Hobart. I never did quite see the ghost of my past, who may or may not still be hovering around on a park bench in Hobart.

Perhaps she didn’t want to be discovered.

Hobart, seen from a ferry on the Derwent river, Mt Wellington in the background.

Sunny Hobart, this week, from a ferry on the Derwent river, Mt Wellington in the background.



  • for those playing at home, the title of this post is a lyric from a song by New Zealand band Crowded House. The song is Four Seasons In One Day (which, I think it’s fairly safe to say, is an ode to Melbourne.)

A Hazy Shade of Winter (Sunday morning in Melbourne)

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me

yesterday morning it seemed I had such possibility

– where did the week go, please?


I look around, it makes me frown,

cos the kitchen is

still a mess from dinner


Hear the music of Grinderman

Blast from my stereo, I chop oregano

and marinate lamb

Carry a wine in my hand…


I look around, it makes me frown,

the sky is grey, it feels like it’s still winter

Hang on to your hopes my friend

It’s Melbourne 10am, might be warm by 2pm,

so simply pretend

the weekend won’t come to an end


I look around,

dishes piled high

they touch the sky

the dishwasher makes me cry***


Aaaah, the week flew by and little was achieved

Might as well be doing tapestry

Writing terrible poetry

Or just blogging to fill in time.

Funny how my memory slips,

looking over my manuscripts,

emails and silly rhymes.

Drinking my vodka and lime.


I look around, the internet’s down

and we need

a new cartridge for the printer

Look around, I’ve just found

cat vomit on the ground

Look around, it’s not profound

but this post’s the best I could expound.**


(location shown may not be Melbourne)

(Due to laziness, actual city depicted may not be Melbourne)




*Apologies to Simon and Garfunkle.


**I have cheated on a few levels with this post, as I first wrote it (or pretty much it – I’ve changed a few words) in 2011. That was back when no-one read this blog (except a handful of people who knew me). As I am short on ideas and can’t get inspired today, I’ve reblogged it – with a few alterations. Complaints may be sent to the PO box address at the top of the page.


***At the time that I wrote the original post, our dishwasher didn’t work. I wrote posts about that too, believe it or not.


Well I heard it on the radio

Ah words, and their slippery meanings.

Sometimes, exploring the meaning of a word can prompt some philosophical pondering – such as when I wrote a post about cool, in which (typically), I got caught up looking at the history of the word, it’s changing meaning since the late 19th century, and an attempt to analyse what cool means in contemporary times.

I came to the conclusion that cool is a word with a very fluid meaning, as it’s always open to interpretation, because cool is used in all sorts of ways within language, and at any point in history, different people will think that different things are cool. 

Cool can be used to describe an activity, but saying it’s cool is not the same as saying the activity is fun. In most cases it probably is fun, but it’s something else as well.

For example, I might think that listening to public radio is cool, while someone else might think that public radio is dull, and that listening to a commercial radio station that plays the Top 40 is cool. We would both be employing the concept of cool to mean, an activity that has currency and keeps us abreast of the music, issues, conversations and events that we want to know about. The funny thing is, we’d both be right. Cool can apply to different things, for different people.

Cool has become a replacement for value judgements about what is good, or right, in a moral sense. For example, you may think it’s totally cool for football supporters from all teams across Australia’s national Football League (AFL) to systematically band together week after week at matches, to boo a specific Indigenous football player, any time he makes contact with the ball, over the course of an entire season of football matches.

You may say that’s totally cool, and if you did, I’d interpret you to mean, not that it’s a great thing to happen, but that as far as you could see, there’s nothing wrong with doing it. You may agree with some of Australia’s deep thinkers, including ex-Cricketer Shane Warne, and shock-jock/singing canary Alan Jones, who have commented that being booed at is just a part of being a sports person.

Perhaps you think that it was really uncool of the player, Adam Goodes, to call out a football supporter who called him an ape during a game, a few years ago.* Perhaps you’d agree that Goodes is asking for it, and should toughen up. Perhaps the lack of sportsmanship that’s displayed by football fans in booing incessantly at one specific player every week doesn’t bother you – you’re cool with it and think that he, and everyone suggesting that it is racist behaviour, should just chill out.

But my idea of what is cool might differ from yours. I might think it’s incredibly uncool that anyone could continue to engage in that behaviour, (the booing) or defend those who continue to boo, and not see, or at least not admit to understanding that, even if the intention was not originally racist, that subjecting one specific Indigenous player to humiliating booing week after week just condones and empowers racist attitudes.

No doubt it’s true that some sports people do get booed, but when an Indigenous player with a record of standing up and calling out racism is being systematically targeted and booed at, I think there are some people booing for the wrong reasons, and too many other people falling over themselves to defend them.

Call me crazy, but when I hear anecdotes about people who have called out “go back to the zoo” or called Goodes an “ape,”  the picture I form of those people does not equate with my idea of cool.

So what is my idea of cool, as it’s used to describe a person, as if cool (or coolness?) is an intrinsic character trait? It appears that my personal interpretation is someone who is compassionate, and generous of spirit. The opposite to cool, therefore, would be someone who is mean-spirited and has no empathy for others. In that case, when describing character, perhaps the best antonym for the word cool is the word redneck.

Another quality that I admire, and think cool, is courage – particularly the variety required to be willing to stand out and be different, or to stand up for others who are unpopular.

In this sense, I think that the young Indigenous player, Lewis Jetta, who stood up for his team mate Goodes last week by performing a traditional Indigenous war dance after kicking a goal, showed great courage. It took courage to stand up for his colleague by doing something that was unpopular when Goodes did it (allegedly, a war dance performed by Goodes at the Indigenous AFL round in May was the catalyst for ramping up the booing he has been receiving ever since.) It’s courageous for someone in the very early years of their potential career as an AFL footballer to risk alienating fans. To me, the courage required means that was a very cool thing to do.  However, many commentators thought that Jetta’s wardance was confrontational, and questioned why he would exacerbate the situation by doing it. Clearly they did not think it was cool at all.

While writing this post, I looked back at footage of Jetta’s wardance, and then at footage of the wardance that Adam Goodes did. Watching, I thought both performances were cool, in and of themselves – completely aside from any courageous statement being made by the player.

But what do I mean when I say that the war dance was cool? Well, dance is an important part of Aboriginal culture, and these two men know how to skilfully execute some traditional moves. Watching the footage, this is what I saw: after kicking a football through a goal post, an athletic man, still running, does not slow down, but alters his gait, to incorporate rhythmical movements of the shoulders, arms and legs as he runs towards the fence, in such a way that it’s a dance while also mimicking running towards prey with a spear. It’s powerful and graceful and I think it’s cool to see such an expression of traditional Aboriginal culture that normally, as a white person, I’d have to go on a tour to the outback, or pay for a ticket for Bangarra Dance Theatre, to see.

Is the war dance confrontational? Well, yes, of course a war dance is confrontational. So is a Haka, a traditional Maori war dance. I’ve always thought the Haka was cool –  if you have never seen it, check out this clip on Youtube of New Zealand team the All Blacks doing a Haka before a Rugby match with France – it takes about 1 min 31 secs. You’ll see aggressively poked out tongues, and upraised fists being punched in the air. Again, it is cool because it is powerful and part of a traditional expression of culture.

Speaking of upraised fists, isn’t it common for most sportspersons to do an aggressive but celebratory air punch in the air while facing opponents, or opponents’ fans? – I’m picturing most tennis matches I’ve ever watched.

Usually, those kinds of “up yours” gestures are forgiven, or thought to be cool,  in that context, because it’s understood that the players are in a ‘zone’, that they have to stay in that zone to maintain their fierce competitiveness, that the actions are done spontaneously, and that they are done in a celebratory mode (probably even more so if the team or player has been losing up until that point.)


Some readers may think it is uncool of me to write about very specific, local/topical/political issues on a personal blog that is read by people who won’t have followed, or have any interest in, this very local story, but now and then, some attitudes in society bother me too much not to vent about them.

For those who know or care nothing for the very specific events described, I tried to also make this piece of writing an exploration of the many different shades of meaning given to the word cool.

So I hope that was cool with you.


*Well I heard it on the radio is the first line of the song Treaty, by Yothu Yindi.

*the fan who was kicked off the ground for calling Goodes an ape was a 13 year old girl, but I doubt that in the heat of the moment that Goodes heard her abuse and pointed her out, he was thinking about her age. (And doesn’t her young age make it worse in some ways?) Those who keep bringing this incident up as justification for why they don’t like Goodes conveniently ignore the footage from a press conference held the next day where he said that he was heartbroken to find out that she was so young, and that the person who needed help “through this” was “that little girl.”


The Centre Cannot Hold

I was about 6 or 7 the first time my mother was rushed to hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown, so I don’t remember anything about it.

Her condition was referred to as a nervous breakdown for the convenience of everyone else. I was never one to question adults, and, at that age I was as likely question my father, or the other adults that promptly began to arrive at our house bearing casseroles, on the diagnosis, as I was likely to question them about the existence of God.

I thought that whatever adults told me was true, and as for what they didn’t tell me, I never thought of that at all.

When I was about 9 or 10, Mum was rushed to hospital again, with another nervous breakdown. For the adults around me, it must have been easy to believe in the convenience of a nervous breakdown, after all, by the time of the second one she had five children, with the nervous breakdowns occurring in both cases shortly after the births of numbers 4 and 5. She never had been a confident, capable person so it was easy to see a cause and effect.


Of course, you could question how I could know that my mother wasn’t very capable back then. I was not old enough to make that judgement. Even now, looking back, my store of memories from primary school days are a few unconnected scenes, that don’t reveal anything about my mother’s personality, abilities or confidence levels.

Memories from back then, with my mother in them: there’s Mum, breastfeeding a baby (my brother G), and me being told by a relative to leave the room. There’s Mum, swatting at a dragonfly that had got inside the house. I think Dad was away that night. There’s Mum, with a scarf tied over her curlers, having washed and set her hair as she did every Saturday afternoon, before baking scones.

An actor could play those scenes in many different ways – brimming with confidence and a sense of fun, filled with doubt and anxiety, or conveying listlessness and emotional removal. I cannot say how my mother played them.

All I can rely on is a pile of memories accumulated after these events, that, compiled, build up a sketchy picture of my mother’s personality and state of mind. Those memories are augmented by the way she describes herself when talking about the past. In any stories she tells us, she always describes herself, with some amusement, as hopeless and incompetent.


As I was so young, I remember little about my mother being hospitalised, just that we kids were shipped off to my mother’s sister. My aunt had about 7 kids then (she went on to have 9), so in taking us in, she had about 12 kids to look after. Unless this was during school holidays, (she was a teacher), she would have been working full time. Some of my cousins were a few years older than me, and in families like hers,  kids know how to make dinner for 12 people by the time they are about 10 years old, so I guess we ate many dinners of 2- minute noodles. As far as we were concerned, we were just having an extended holiday while Mum was in hospital.

My only other memory of those events is that after one of my mother’s trips in an ambulance, a friend and I developed a new game to play at lunchtime at school. We ran around on the asphalt playground, holding a basketball between us, making a noise like an ambulance siren. In case you are wondering, we were an ambulance and the basketball represented my mother.

Nothing was ever explained to me or my siblings about this when we were young, and it was only as I got older, that I began to suspect that nervous breakdown had been code for something else. Mum took regular medication that was linked with the issue that was never spoken of, and I knew that every second Friday afternoon she saw a psychiatrist. It was hard for my parents to hide this, because when we were younger, we’d have to wait outside the psychiatrist’s office in the car with Dad, while she had her appointment. Mum didn’t drive.

When I became old enough to question it, my private diagnosis was Depression. (There was no internet in those days, so I couldn’t look up the symptoms of clinical Depression. This was just a teenager’s interpretation.)

Depression, as I imagined it, seemed to explain Mum having trouble getting up in the morning, usually not making it out of bed until after the older kids, myself included, had already left for the bus. It seemed to explain arriving home from school at 4.30pm to find the blinds drawn and Mum asleep in bed, my younger siblings watching TV in the lounge room. Or to explain the dinners that were frequently ruined, because after putting vegetables on to boil, Mum would go back to bed, and the dinner would boil dry on the stove.

Blinds were often kept down, and my mother slept a lot.

Mum was hospitalised one more time for a nervous breakdown, when I was in high school, but in my memory it seems that occasion was less dramatic. Perhaps it didn’t involve a sudden departure in an ambulance. Maybe we visited her in hospital on that occasion. I can’t recall any detail. It seemed to have less of a coat of shame and silence than the earlier incidents, although that doesn’t mean that any more information about it was shared with us.

In any case, that was the last time Mum was hospitalised for a nervous breakdown. After that final hospitalisation, and the treatment that followed, other strange behaviours that we, as a family had been resigned to, dissipated, and we were able to feel a little more normal as a family. Back in those days, there was a huge stigma around mental illness – even more than today – and although we kids knew nothing about what was going on, I imagine I wasn’t the only kid who internalised a deep sense of shame that there was something about my Mum that was so mortifying and unthinkable that we couldn’t talk about it.

Since that time, I’ve learned bits and pieces about what my mother’s condition was, and more bits and pieces about how she was treated for it, but I will leave that for another post, because all of this was actually inspired by a line from a poem that I haven’t even got to yet.


A little while ago I wrote a post that was partly about poetry, and since then I’ve meant to come back to that topic.

Recently I went to a gig in Melbourne that was a tribute to the poet W.B. Yeats. Various musicians did sets, performing songs that included lines from Yeats’ poems or were in some way inspired by them. I have never studied Yeats, so didn’t expect to be familiar with any of his poetry, but I liked the idea of a rock gig paying tribute to a poet, an Irish one at that. The decider, however, was that in the background of the ad for this gig, I could hear a song being sung by a musician I like, David Bridie, and it was the words that captured my attention: the centre cannot hold.

I must have heard this song before, having been a big fan of bands that Bridie was in years ago, but I’d forgotten about it. Hearing that simple fragment of a sentence this time, I was compelled to look up the poem.  It’s called The Second Coming, and these are the first four lines:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

These lines are up there with the lines from Macbeth that make the hairs on my arms stand up. In those lines, Yeats successfully conveys a fatalistic sense similar to the one that Shakespeare conveys (earlier) in Macbeth – that the natural order of things has been broken, and Man (in Shakespeare’s case, Macbeth) has lost any sense of control. In Yeats’ poem, Nature has taken back the reigns and cannot be controlled by man – anarchy reigns. Yeats, and Bridie, use the line to refer to an inability to control elements of the external world – Bridie’s lyrics, and the clip for the song, are about war and its victims, countries being torn apart, and people being displaced from their homes.

When I read Yeats’ poem, or hear David Bridie sing those lyrics, the centre cannot hold conveys those meanings about the outside world, man, nature, and the struggle for power. But taken out of context, and heard, or read, on its own, the line holds another meaning for me. It’s not about the outside world, it’s about the internal world. It’s about how unstable our sense of self can be. Its about how for some people, it can be a struggle to contain that within them, that sense of who they are. It can be fragmented or lost, the boundaries between self and other unclear.

It reminds me that when the health of someone with a mental illness is deteriorating, they gradually lose, or are incapable of caring about, our usual sense of social boundaries, that sense of holding it all in for show. It makes me think of someone much like my mother.


clip from timcolesoundart


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