Tea for three

Today I noticed…the sunlight bouncing delicately off a ridiculously large number of boxes of tea in our kitchen shelves.

I notice this array of tea every day, actually, and weird as it may sound, I quite like the view. The three residents of this house, with our different tastes, have managed to amass a mad array of different teas – surely there must be at least 6 boxes of tea per person on that shelf! Piled together the various boxes make a colorful display (apart from the Liquorice Legs, which is in a very classy black box, usually shoved at the back and not able to be seen.)

I find this shelf of tea a very satisfying example of functionality with a pleasing aesthetic. Where some houses, perhaps those with far more room for benches and sideboards and cunning little shelves placed strategically at eye level, might create a charming display of ceramic shepherdess figurines, vases of dried flowers, or photographs of distant relatives at their graduation ceremonies, we, confined to a very small amount of space, have to make do with displaying our cookbooks and boxes of tea to liven up our surrounds while also – well – performing the practical function of storing them somewhere.

 

A tidied up version of collection of tea

A tidied up version – untidy boxes removed for photo shoot

Well, you know what, I don’t mind that, to be honest.

Space is like time, my friends: the more of it you’ve got, the more of it you waste.

That is a piece of wisdom I’ve felt very certain of, ever since I thought of it, which was just as I was writing that previous sentence. What’s more, another gem of wisdom has just struck me: space and time are polar opposites, because if you have more space, you simply have more cleaning to do, whereas if you have more time, a graph tracking the amount of cleaning done will probably not show any noticeable increase, because you’ll simply find other things to do.

Of course some people with large houses employ someone to clean the space for them, which then impacts on their time in a different way, because they need to work in order to earn money to pay the cleaner.

In short, space and time have a very complicated relationship which many scientists have attempted to explain, (see Stephen Hawking for more information) although I note that none so far have addressed the issues that I’ve raised here today. But that’s an issue for another post, today we are talking about tea.

Now it strikes me that these days, some people have a theatre room, or an indoor rock climbing wall, but perhaps a shelf of colorful teas is the poor person’s equivalent. (Please don’t attempt to climb our kitchen shelves, as enticing as they may look to the amateur rock-climber, as they are cheaply made and freestanding, and sure to topple down under the weight of a full-grown adult attempting to scale them. You would be at high risk of sustaining a cook-book related injury, and let me tell you, being hit in the face by Stephanie Alexander’s Garden Companion  is sure to result in a deformity for life.)

To be totally honest with you, there was far more tea on this shelf than what is in the photo. When I stopped to admire the shelf in the first place, it looked higgedly-piggedly and rambshackle, (both things at once!) but I took about 8 boxes of tea out for this photo, mainly so that you could actually see the boxes properly and determine the wide variety of types. Similar to the way that people remove all their furniture, clothes and objects from their house when it’s open for inspection, so that the house looks open, spacious and minimal, and you wander through and picture yourself sitting on the one chair in the loungeroom, sipping a glass of champagne, but when you remark afterwards how nice it all was, your practical, sensible partner says, “There was no wardrobe in the bedroom. There was no laundry. There was no fridge in the kitchen.” Oh yeah.

So yes, I admit it, I extracted boxes of tea for this photo shoot – but my goal wasn’t to make it appear tidy and spacious. It was to enable you to see the wide variety of teas on offer. Some of the teas I removed were double ups of teas already represented there – obviously, the ones we are so attached to that we need a back up box ready. Cinnamon tea is on sale this week? Let’s buy two boxes!  

Of course, as I’m sure you can guess, some of these teas were bought on a whim. When shopping in the darkened, slightly luxurious atmosphere of a T2 store for example. Apple Crumble tea? Cinnamon tea?  I had not purchased anything else a 2 hour shopping trip in a  noisy, crowded and brightly lit shopping mall, and then walked in to the exotic-cave-like feel of the T2 store to find they had a buy-2-get-1-free offer! It felt positively restrained of me to come home from the shopping mall with only 3 boxes of strangely flavoured teas!

As for drinking them, why….well, I think I tried the Apple Crumble tea once. Liquorice legs? I believe it was a gift from my daughter to her dad. Lemon and Ginger? Well, that’s a staple, the one I drink with honey, when I have a sore throat (today, for example.) Lady Grey? Delicious accompaniment to any sweet biscuit that is good for dunking.  That floral tin you can see at the front? That’s actually got Cookies and Cream tea in it.

Woah – stop right there. Cookies and Cream tea? Surely the only evidence we need that the world, and the residents at my house, have all gone slightly hyper-crazy about tea. (Can you go slightly hyper? To be discussed another time – Ed.)

Another confession: for the purposes of this photo shoot, I discretely removed any imposters that usually hang out brazenly on the tea shelf, but are not tea! A tin of Chilli-Cocoa and a tin of decaffinated coffee were hastily whisked away – both, strangely enough, items that have proved unpopular and have sat on the shelf for a few years now, trying to fit in with the teas that come and go around them.

Finally, an observant reader may well ask, do we actually drink ordinary black tea? I’m glad you asked! In fact, there is a box of that hidden somewhere in behind the Lemon and Ginger, but I never touch the stuff. It’s mainly there for visitors, like my parents, who, when offered a cup of tea and invited, with a generous sweep of the hand, to choose whatever they like from our shelf full of exotic teas, say:

Have you got any ordinary tea?

 

 

 

The Elgin Street scenario

Today I noticed an old, dilapidated car parked on Elgin Street in Carlton.

This car was from another era, reminding of those huge old American cars still being driven around in Cuba. I tried to check out what type of car it was, and after a few surreptitious glances, decided it was a Ford.

Even to me – someone who takes little notice of cars – it was obvious that it dated back to the seventies. What exact shade of green it had been originally was hard to say. Now, it was a pale, faded, metallic green, the sheen long gone, the paintwork matted, mottled, stained and even peeling.

A 1970s Ford. Pic: Wikipedia

A 1970s Ford.
Pic: Wikipedia

The reason I am short on details is that I did not stare too hard as I walked past, because an elderly person, almost as dilapidated as the car, was absorbed in trying to break in to the car. He was working away at the passenger seat window, using a long piece of wire. I didn’t feel any sense of alarm – there was no question in my mind that the car belonged to this man, since they seemed perfectly matched, in era, in degree of decay, and even in color. (In my memory now, it seems as if the man was attired in a greenish-grey outfit.)

There was a shabby grey hat on his head, which was bent and absorbed in the activity at hand, so I can’t provide any more detail since I was reluctant to stare, stop to write a note, or take a picture.

But even as I walked past this scene, the thought had already flitted through my mind that I could write about it tonight.

That’s how we writers are: only in the moment for a spit second – the next moment, we are already thinking about whether the previous moment would make a good story.

Sometimes I wonder what comes first – the tendency to step back and turn experience into a potential sentence that will be written in a diary, journal or blog, or the drive to write, that leads to a tendency to view everything as potential material.

Yet even that is not quite accurate. Perhaps I’m not wondering which comes first at all. Maybe what I’m really wondering is whether it’s a good or bad thing, this tendency – or shall I be generous and call it an ability? –  to step back from an experience and start structuring a paragraph about it in our heads. I wonder why some people need to get their experiences down on paper while others are content to just live them.

I wrote diaries for years, right through high school and until I was in my mid 30s. It felt cathartic to write about my private thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it combatted a sense of loneliness, the universal teenage experience of not having anyone who really understood me. As an angst-ridden teen, writing in a diary was the closest I could get to having a really honest conversation with someone who cared about how I felt.

Many years later, here I am, still writing. Fortunately, I’ve matured at least a little bit since the days of writing copious pages in my diary after the end-of-school party, and my blog posts are not always about my feelings.

I’d love, however, to be the sort of writer who carried a decent camera everywhere they went, and who would, in the scenario above, stop and take a photo, and then talk to the man to find out what was going on. If I was that kind of person, I’d no doubt accumulate some very interesting stories.

But unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who worries that stopping to talk to a dilapidated old man attempting to break into a decrepit old car, could lead to a messy or awkward situation. He would probably want my help, I think to myself. I don’t know how to break into a car! What if it’s not his car?? Do I want to be seen on a main street in Carlton, aiding someone who could be a criminal for all I know, with the theft of a car? I don’t want to be held up here all night! I’m  hungry and it’s cold.

So, lacking the required sense of adventure, I walk on past that scene. And because of that, the story I’m able to tell you about him is almost nothing at all, just a very hastily-formed picture of an old man, as he fiddled with a piece of wire in Elgin Street.

5 years or no time at all

Writing

On 1st September this year, I happened to be in Byron Bay, a beachside location on Australia’s New South Wales eastern coast. I was sitting outside with a cup of tea, on a mild, sunny afternoon, that was not quite warm but definitely not cold, and therefore a vast improvement on Melbourne’s recent weather. From where I sat, I looked over a view of a permaculture organic garden and, beyond it, a clearing and behind that, the edges of a forest of gum trees that bordered the property I was visiting. Lucky me.

As a soft breeze rustled through the leaves, I pulled out my writing journal to do my easy, never-fail, writing exercise, “Today I Noticed….”

I like this exercise because I don’t have to think about it to get started. There is always something one will have noticed in a day, and often – if you are me, anyway – this small observation acts merely as the opening of a gateway, and usually a flood of abstracted ponderings proceed to pour out, filling up a few pages in a loose, unplanned way until the timer goes off.

Did I mention that for this exercise you are meant to time yourself and only write for 10 minutes? I like that restraint as well. This means that I don’t stop to rewrite sentences to make them sound better, but just keep going to get the ideas down. So, intermittently, I end up with a few pages of blurted-out thoughts, in a non-publishable form. Of course lots of it ends up being pointless but the theory is that I can mine the pages of this journal later on when I need something to write about.

Well, I’ll mine it today, because this is how my entry began on that breezy afternoon on September 1.*

 

Journal

01.09.16

Today I noticed, as I wrote that date at the top of the page, that it’s already the 9th month of this year. That Winter has ended. That it’s Spring. That it’s September. That it’s the month that my birthday falls in. That it’s 10 days until the 5th anniversary of John’s death.

And I notice, as soon as I write that last sentence, how quickly a heaviness can land in the stomach; when it was light only a moment ago. 

Of course, I can’t recognise that it’s September without also being aware of this anniversary. It’s just there; a heavy, sad thing, that adds some weight to the start of Spring, and to September, which was always my favourite month. In fact I wouldn’t even say that I dislike September now. I still have some affection for it, which maybe goes to show just how important our own birth date is to us. Even when my birthday is weighed up against the death date of my little brother, I still can’t hate September. But I wish he had died some other time – in the middle of winter, at the start of July – that would have been more tonally appropriate than at the start of Spring, a time when we are meant to feel hopeful and optimistic because the temperature is losing its chill and the blossoms are out.

*

Anniversary

In September in 2011, the fact that my brother died was terrible and nothing else really mattered – but the terribleness of his death was still new and raw  two weeks later when it was my birthday, so that made my birthday an awful, sad affair that year. But after 2011, the closeness of this anniversary to my birthday matters very little to me.

There is a month long period where I think more frequently about John, and reminisce about the time immediately before and after his death, but that period of grieving, if that’s what it is, starts on August 13 and subsides after the anniversary of his death, which is September 11. It starts on August 13 because on that date in 2011, I was with my daughter in the Emergency ward at the Royal Children’s hospital, and John phoned me to organise to come and visit us that week. In hindsight it always feels as if that day, which, at the time, was quite distressing and exhausting, was just a taster for what was to come. And John’s phone call out of the blue that day led to his visit for dinner that week, and thus to the next significant date, August 16, the last time I ever saw him, hugged him, or, for that matter, spoke to him.

In reality, I guess there is no cosmic alarm that goes off to signal that it’s time to start quietly observing that month-long period of grieving, so in fact, it starts when I remember the significance of the date. This year, I was driving to work on 18 August when the significance of the date struck me. Suddenly, with dismay, and considerable sadness, I realised that the anniversary of the very last time I ever saw my brother had come and gone, two days earlier, without me noting it.

Grief

But you know what? While feeling sad that morning, at some other level, I also felt relieved – to realise that I could still feel that sad about my brother’s death – as strange as that sounds.

Because the worst thing of all when someone you love dies, is to think that at some time in the future you might reach a point where you’d never feel any grief when you thought about their absence.

Intentionally, or unintentionally, that is the concept that is conveyed by well-meaning people who try to comfort you when you’re grieving, by offering phrases such as you’ll feel better with time. In the days and weeks after John’s death, that piece of wisdom achieved nothing more than to make me very angry. Angry at the person who said it, and angry at the very thought of it. I didn’t want to feel better. I didn’t want to contemplate the possibility that I would ever feel better.

Last night, I went to see One More Time With Feeling, the film commissioned by Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave on the release of his latest album, basically to fill the role of publicity for the album. The artist doesn’t wish to do media rounds and answer questions about the album’s relationship to the tragic death of his 15 year old son just over a year ago. In the film, Cave remarks on the meaningless platitudes offered by others, who say things like he lives on in your heart. No he doesn’t, says Cave to the interviewer, He is in my heart, of course, but he doesn’t live anywhere. 

I am mindful of what I say to someone who is grieving. I refuse to buy sympathy cards that offers these kinds of cliched phrases. Grieving is important. It’s honouring the beloved person who has died. It ties you to the person who has died. Why would you offer comfort to someone recently bereaved by telling them that eventually they will lose that too, the grief that binds them to the person they loved?

Better, surely, to say what a wise friend who had lost both her sisters, said to me at the time: grieve for your brother!

Death

I’ve written a lot about the death of my brother – there are plenty of posts on this blog about John, and my grief when he died. There is one specific post that, due to the specificity of its title, must come up in search results when people search relevant terms, and every now and then on that post, I receive a comment from someone whose brother has recently died; quite often, in a similar way – in his sleep, from no known cause. Every time, it breaks my heart to hear this person struggling with immense sadness, pain and confusion about why this has happened. I received another such comment only a few weeks ago, and it was long, and filled with confusion, pain, and anger. My heart broke all over again. I read this young man’s comment and cried for him, and his younger brother.

And when I read his comment, I was reminded again, that all around the world people are dying. Someone dies every moment of every day. And that each time, other people are left behind, confused, angry, distraught, distressed, and anguished at their loss.

When I was a kid, my religious parents said a prayer (they probably still do) in which the world was referred to as a valley of tears. If I dwell for very long on the idea of death, I can see how someone came up with that poetic description for a place that, I now realise, is full to the brim with sadness. It becomes apparent that at any moment, there are so many people in the world either dying, or deeply affected forever by the death of someone they loved, that those innocent few who do not yet know how it feels to deal with the death someone they loved are in a distinct minority. I was one of those lucky few until September 11, 2011.

 

 

 

 

*Journal entry slightly edited.

It’s fun to multi-task: how to keep busy while watching TV.

Welcome back, it’s good to see you again!

You may recall that just the other week, we discussed how excited we all are, in the advent of streaming services like Netflix™ and Stan™, because we can now deposit ourselves on the couch and watch series 1 through to 27 of our favourite show in one hit, with almost no need to even move off the couch for a week unless the chips run out.

After our little chat, many of you wrote in with questions. I’m sorry that I can’t answer them all personally, due to a lack of postage stamps, but I will answer the most common question here on this blog. That question was, could I suggest any activities suitable for undertaking while bingeing on television?

Now, at first I was puzzled by this request, but then the penny dropped. See, as I’m a Generation X-er, the kind of activities I’ll do while watching TV are those that require very little concentration. For example – eating, drinking and chatting to other people. But to the younger generation, this is a huge waste of potential multi-tasking time! Surely (thinks the younger TV viewer) I, or any other viewer, could be increasing the productivity of our time spent watching TV, by doing something else at the same time – such as undertaking a personal training session, buying and selling shares on the stock exchange, or notching up some part-time hours as an air-traffic controller.

Bearing this in mind, I’ve come up with some activities that you could easily do while watching TV. The usefulness of these activities is dubious but at least you’ll be multi-tasking.

Run on a Treadmill – activity best suited to viewing House of Cards

This activity is good for those with an interest in health and fitness, or equally, for those interested in anger management techniques.

Not an episode goes by without a scene of Claire Underwood furiously jogging on the treadmill, often while her caring husband Frank angrily pumps away on the rowing machine in the next room. As a pair of conniving sociopaths, I guess this is a harmless way for them to vent their pent up anger and frustration when there is a temporary set back in their plans to walk all over everyone else in their quest for power. The bonus for you is that the physical activity will nicely balance out all that time spent watching TV – at least you weren’t sitting on your arse for the whole series. It’s a great way to watch a whole series in one sitting, without sitting.

One hitch with this activity is that it is probably not practical for those living in small studio apartments, or those without a lot of spare space in their house; but if you can afford to have an extra room built on to accommodate the treadmill then away you go!

Other thematic activities that can easily be done while watching House of Cards could be: cyber-bullying your friends or colleagues, or drumming up support for a cause that you don’t believe in, in order to undermine a rival.

 

Make your own methamphetamine – activity best suited to viewing Breaking Bad

This activity is useful for those with an interest in chemistry or thinking of starting up a small business.

It may surprise some readers to hear that I have no experience whatsoever with making methamphetamine, but it’s true. The closest I’ve ever come was when I made some smelling salts, using a recipe from an Aromatherapy book. They were meant to be therapeutic, and counter the symptoms of hay fever. I’m not quite sure how successful they were in that endeavour, but I’m fairly sure that they didn’t make the hay fever symptoms any worse.

So I’m afraid I’m not qualified to provide a recipe or suggested procedure for making your own methamphetamine at home, but I’m sure that you could do a quick search on the amazing interwebs and educate yourself on the correct process fairly quickly, if you wish to take up this activity.

The benefit is that you could set up your TV or computer screen in your Meth lab, however, based on my memory of high-school chemistry, be mindful that concentration on the task at hand will be required at certain points in the process. I seem to recall that precision is important in chemistry, so you may need to switch your concentration from your favourite show for a moment when measuring out the various chemical components, as well as when timing steps of the process, and when checking temperatures. Chemistry is all a little bit pedantic that way, and that’s probably why I did not pursue it as a career.

 

Mix up cocktails for yourself and your friends – activity best suited to watching Mad Men 

If there was an episode of Mad Men that did not feature at least one scene where someone, in a bar, by the side of a pool, in their lounge room, or, most often, in their office, poured a bourbon on the rocks, or mixed a cocktail for themselves and their friend/lover/wife/husband or new client, I must have missed it.

Again, this activity is ideally suited to doing while watching TV, since in most homes it’s not hard to find a way to bring the television and the cocktail-making paraphernalia into the same general location. If for some reason you are having trouble with this, a trip to IKEA will probably solve the problem, as you are sure to find some kind of mobile bar/entire miniature kitchen that you can wheel into your lounge room when needed; or alternatively, an entire miniature lounge room including TV, that you can wheel into the kitchen.

Gather together a variety of different types of liquor, a few mixers (eg. soda water), some stylish drinking glasses, and a small ice bucket, preferably filled with ice. Try experimenting with some of the cocktails from the era – look up the recipes for an Old-Fashioned, or a Manhattan, for example. I found these two cocktails here but I’m sure there are heaps of places you could look.

The beauty of this activity for many of us is that, unlike making methamphetamine, precision is not very important. So if, while laughing your head off at Roger’s wisecracks, you slosh an extra few shots of bourbon into the drink you’re about to pass your friend, and forget to add the soda water, I doubt that anyone will complain.

Other thematic activities that could be done while watching Mad Men could be: smoking. This can be done even if you’re watching TV from your bed.

Cocktail photo (Cuba Libre) by Richard Aufreiter

 

Inputting coordinates into your device – activity best suited to viewing Dr Who

This activity is good for increasing mathematical skills and understanding of astronomy, as well as developing the capacity of your imagination.

For this activity to be any fun, you should input galactic coordinates if possible, for the exact location of where in the universe you would like to go. You can input these into any device you have at hand – an iPad, iPhone, android or even a good scientific calculator, but best results will be had if you input them into a GPS device or into an online map. One thing is for certain, that is, no matter what device you use, the result will be similar; that is, you won’t suddenly be whisked to that point in the universe, but you can have a lot of fun pretending that you are in the Tardis and now on your way to Gallifrey – or Mars, if that’s your preference, and watching TV on your way there.

With this activity, precision is only important if you are the sort of person who really cares about whether or not you would really reach your imaginary destination. Remember, when we are talking about the distances covered in space travel, one small miscalculation at the start could result in you accidentally travelling light years out of your way and ending up in some totally wrong part of the universe. But if you’re the kind of person who likes surprises, then by all means, type in the coordinates absent-mindedly while you are engrossed in a particularly scary episode of Dr Who, and away you go!

input your galactic coordinates into your calculator

    You can input your galactic coordinates into your calculator if that’s the only device handy

 

Eat so much food that you almost explode – activity best suited to viewing Scooby Doo or The Simpsons

This activity is good for people with an interest in food and nutrition.

If it’s hard to find an episode of House of Cards where Claire does not go running on a treadmill, it’s damned near impossible to find an episode of Scooby Doo where Shaggy and Scooby don’t eat their own body weight, and then some more, in hamburgers, hot dogs or maybe, if they are in Mexico, tacos, until they are almost comatosed. They’ve been steadfastly eating their way through mountains of fast food since the 1970s, but these days, when asked who is most likely to eat until they explode, 9 out of ten viewers nominate Homer Simpson, which just goes to show our short memories. Or perhaps that’s because Homer doesn’t run off the extra calories later on as Shaggy and Scooby always did.

Either way, this activity takes some pre-preparation. Of course, as always, if you have a TV in your kitchen, all the preparation could be done while watching TV as well. Simply make up enough hamburgers/hot dogs/sandwiches/(fill in the blank) to fill the back of a large moving van, and then somehow get them all into the room where you will be watching TV. That part is important, because once you’ve eaten about half way through that truckload of hamburgers, you won’t be capable of walking to get the rest. Then, once you and your food is all ready to go, simply sit down and start watching TV. Easy!

Other thematic activities you could do while watching Scooby Doo include: creeping around the room on tippy-toe, hiding behind the couch. Keep in mind however that if you were really in Scooby Doo, that is where the bad guy would also be hiding. Doh!

Just a small entree to start with.

                                            Just a small entree to start with.

 

Pics:

Cocktail: Richard Aufreiter via a Creative Commons Licence

Calculator: Josueth Acevedo via a Creative Commons licence

Scooby Doo: Pintrest

 

A small selection of books and magazines I’m (mostly not) reading.

The Poetry of List-Making

This post is in response to a Wordpress prompt, which I think, to my shame, is more than a week old now, on List-making. The link is above – clicking the link will take you to all the posts written in response to this prompt.

Poetry is beyond me if I’m going to get this post published today, so – look, behold! A non-poetic list of the books piled up on my bedside table, for all the world as if I’m reading them, and then, another list, providing a bit more information about where they sit on the scale of being read or not being read, or something in-between.

List 1: Books on my bedside table

  1. In Fact – The Best of Creative Non Fiction – Edited by Lee Gutkind
  2. Olive Kitteridge,  by Elizabeth Strout
  3. An Intimate History of Humanity, by Theodore Zeldin
  4. The Memoir Book, by Patti Miller
  5. Raising Girls, by Gisela Preuschoff
  6. Wassily Kandinsky – Concerning The Spiritual In Art, translated and with an introduction by M.T.H Sadler
  7. The Artist’s Way (A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self) – Julia Cameron
  8. 2 different copies of The Monthly, an Australian magazine focussing on “Politics, Society and Culture”
  9. 1 copy of Believer, an American literary magazine
  10. 1 copy of The Canary Press, an Australian “story” magazine

Books on bedside table

 

List 2:  Notes on the books on my bedside table:

      1. In Fact – Time spent on the bedside table: about 4 weeks so far. I just started reading this about a week ago. The essay that made the greatest impression on me so far is the first one, Three Spheres by Lauren Slater, a piece about a psychologist who finds herself treating a bi-polar bulimic woman in the very same unit where she had been treated for the same disorders a decade earlier.
      2. Olive Kitteridge has been there only about a month. It was given to me by my partner (who constantly finds and buys cheap books at Op Shops/Thrift Stores) so went straight onto the bedside table. It’s a novel, and winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, so must be worth reading, right?
      3. Half read, has been there about 3 months. I was ploughing through An Intimate History of Humanity and enjoying it’s unusual, and, yes, intimate, take on history, with chapters entitled How some people have acquired an immunity to loneliness, and Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex, but then came to a grinding halt, suddenly felt bored, and decided to read some fiction, so that’s what I’ve done over the past few weeks. Planning to go back and read the rest…sometime soon.
      4. Time on the bedside table: a couple of years. It’s there for guidance: I read bits and pieces of The Memoir Book intermittently when I need inspiration for writing, as it contains some good ideas for writing exercises. Have never read through the entire book from start to end.
      5. Raising Girls has been next to my bedside table, possibly since my daughter was in primary school. She is now in year 11 and I have yet to open it. At this stage, my modified plan is to wait until she is 21, and then read it to find out just how much I got wrong.
      6. I love Kandinsky’s paintings – but then again, there are a lot of paintings I like. My interest in Kandinsky is no stronger than my interest in any other artist of his era. Nevertheless, about 3 years ago, completely unprompted, a work colleague brought this book in to work to lend to me. I have to admit, I have not made much headway with it. It sat there for about a year before I opened it. At that point, I gave it a try, and got about as far as the end of the introduction. It’s kind of awkward now to give it back and say that I haven’t read it, so it continues to sit on my bedside table. We stare at each other sometimes, that book and I, but then I pick up something else.
      7. The Artist’s Way is another book that my partner found in an Op Shop and brought home for me, sometime within the last year. He obviously thought, very sweetly, that it would be inspiring for me, so I put it on my bedside table. I have not opened it yet.
      8. 2 old copies of The Monthly were purchased for about $1 each in an Op Shop, probably 5 months ago. I picked one out because I mistakenly thought it had a portrait (the written variety) of our previous prime minister Julia Gillard in it. My interest in that was mainly because I needed to write a portrait of someone, as part of a writing course I was doing online, and I thought it would be useful to read an example. But the article turned out to be a general one about sexism in politics in the time that Gillard was prime minister – not what I was after. The other copy was their Summer issue, with a long list of authors on the cover, so I bought it on the assumption that it would include lots of short pieces of writing to read and learn from. So far I have not opened it.
      9. About 2 years ago, my partner gave me a subscription to The Believer magazine for my birthday, knowing my interest in reading essays and pieces of non-fiction writing, or perhaps mainly because Nick Hornby writes the music criticism and we both enjoy Hornby’s fiction. There seemed to be some kind of stuff-up with the subscription though, so it took about a year before the issues actually started arriving. This must have been the final issue, which probably only arrived early this year. I’ve read most of it but perhaps didn’t finish it. It includes a short story by Miranda July, a contemporary artist who dabbles in all sorts of media, including films, and writing short stories. I’ve enjoyed any of her writing that I’ve read so far. I found some articles in Believer were a bit too dry and intellectual for my (very average) tastes/abilities, and there are a lot of interviews with people I’ve never heard of (eg in this issue, Michael Schur, Ronald Cotton, Jerry Stahl, Megan Rapinoe) so of course, that has the effect of making me feel as if I’m not the culturally aware (and American) intellectual they are writing for. Has probably been there about 6 months.
      10. The year before that, my partner gave me a subscription to The Canary Press for my birthday. It was  a risk on his part, because the magazine only publishes fiction, and my interest in writing lies more in non-fiction.  I read fiction, although not normally in magazines, where I mostly look for non-fiction articles. Still, as it was a gift, tentatively, I gave it a go. Well, to my surprise, I fell instantly in love with this magazine. It’s the best literary magazine I’ve ever found, largely because the editors have such a sense of humour about their endeavour – which is definitely NOT to say that all the writing they publish is humorous, nor that the magazine should not be taken seriously.  I loved it so much that the following year when my copies of Believer were steadfastly failing to arrive, I found myself thinking back fondly to the days when I had a subscription to The Canary Press. Eventually, I just took out another subscription myself. (It was surprisingly well priced!) The stories constantly surprise me with their creativity and are unlike anything I’d ever think to write, yet if I aspired to writing fictional stories, I could do worse than aspire to write something suitable for this magazine. Each issue usually includes one piece by a well-established writer, such as Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proux, which I re-read in a previous issue with great pleasure, having completely forgotten that it was a short story, mis-remembering it as a full-blown novel. I think I finished reading the issue that’s on the bedside table, so I’m not sure how long it’s been there, or why it is still there, either. I put it down to laziness. Or fondness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Television, Man.

Not many CVs include it under Hobbies, but a popular pastime these days – amongst people over 30 with nothing better to do, anyway – is to binge-watch entire series of television shows all in one sitting.

Way back in the prehistoric era – that is, when I was in primary school – we’d have to wait with bated breath, from 9pm Sunday night right through to the next Sunday night at 8pm, to find out if Laura and Mary Ingalls would finally get a cute puppy to guard their little house on the prairie from ferocious wolves and bears. Oh, the anticipation! (Others apparently had to wait a whole summer to find out who shot JR, but we were never allowed to watch television shows with Adult themes so we were spared that agony.)

Whole decades later, not much had changed in this regard, or not in Australia anyway. Right through the 1990s and first decade of the 2000s, viewers without Foxtel (by the 2000s, this was possibly just me) were still kept on the edge of their seats, waiting a full week for the next episode of NYPD Blue, or CSI Miami, or sometimes even a show that wasn’t an American police drama, such as The X-files. Sometimes the show wasn’t even American, believe it or not, in fact, I never watched any of the shows mentioned above, but I did sometimes turn to SBS and watch Austrian police drama, Inspector Rex.

Things only changed recently in this regard, in Australia, at least, with the arrival of streaming services over the internet (I hope I’ve got that terminology right. If you have a complaint about incorrect terminology  please send it to the PO Box address at the top of the page, allowing up to 4 weeks for Australia Post to deliver, but only if you live in the next street. If you are further away than that, we recommend carrier pigeon, which is cheaper and more reliable.) Of course, everyone with an internet connection – basically anyone except my parents, who still enjoy sitting back to watch an episode of Ma and Pa Kettle on VHS – has access to streaming services like Netflix™ or Stan.™

Ma_and_Pa_Kettle

Ma and Pa Kettle, still going strong in the Ma and Pa Blathering household.

Pic: dvdclassicscorner.com

Released from the shackles of free-to-air TV, no longer do we have to wait a whole week to find out what disastrous conniving Frank Underwood will come up with next. In fact, there’s nothing but but sheer self-discipline to stop us from succumbing and watching through a whole series of our favourite show all in one sitting, so completely absorbed that we even forget it’s bin night, only remembering with a shock the next morning, when we are woken by the clank of the garbage truck, realising in that same moment that we’ve missed the garbage collection, and, what’s more, that binge-watching TV is destroying our lives and the lives of those around us, who now have to put up with an overflowing rubbish bin for a whole week.

Overflowing_bins_1672021c

After a few weeks of binge-watching TV those bins can get out of hand.

Pic: The Telegraph

The only hitch for me in this delightful new model of leisure-time activity is that I seem to have trouble fully succumbing. I’m still bothered by a niggling need to be doing something. Of course, in this context, I use the term something fairly loosely. Since something pretty much means anything that is not nothing, then I guess I could blow my nose and that would suffice, but I am driven by the need to something that feels just slightly more useful, or productive, or meaningful, than nose-blowing. Only slightly, mind you.

Even reading a novel fits my category of something that’s more productive than watching TV, since reading a literary book these days feels as virtuous as engaging in any other equally quaint and archaic pursuit might do. In terms of how virtuous I feel about doing it, I may as well have with baked my own bread from wheat that I’ve grown and harvested in my tiny inner-suburban backyard, or sewn my own clothes, from fabric that I’ve previously woven on the loom I keep in the attic. All the above activities involve using technology that is slowly dying out, to achieve an outcome that – some would argue – can be achieved through much more efficient means.

If a book doesn’t feature a celebrity chef, celebrity sportsperson, or celebrity celebrity on the cover, or promise to supply you with the tools to change your life, then reading it seems to be an activity that is looked on with bemusement by most people. This vocal majority cannot fathom why we bother, when there are so many games available to download from the App Store, feeds to follow on social media, and shows to stream on Netflix. Plus, the Olympics are on, or so I’ve heard.

But I digress.

Because of this annoying compulsion to be productive, my absolute threshold for bingeing on television shows is 3 episodes in a row of House of Cards, after which time I feel compelled by forces beyond my control, to go and do that useful something. Up I rise, from the couch, and off I self-righteously trot, probably straight to my laptop, where it’s likely that, although intending to write a witty post on my blog, I’ll spend the next 45 minutes idly scrolling through social media posts, or trying to locate someone I haven’t seen since 1976 (not actually with any intention of contacting them, you understand, more out of curiosity to see if they still have any hair).

After a good part of the next hour has been lost for ever, I’ll be overcome with guilt at all the time I’ve wasted, and scramble to do some hurried edits on a half-written post that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere – most likely, deleting a comma and then, with a flourish, inserting a dash instead – before packing up and going to bed, with a sense of satisfaction at another day put to good use.

But, as regular readers (hi Mum!)* will know, I do binge occasionally, only, it’s usually on music. In fact, this very blog is to blame. Yes, that’s right, as far as blogs go, it may look as though butter wouldn’t melt in it’s mouth*, but it’s been the cause of more than a few musical binges before, during, or after I’ve mentioned some music while writing a post. Maybe I used a lyric as a title to a post – next thing you know, I’ve listened to an entire back catalogue four times while writing the post, and had a particular song stuck in my head for about three weeks until I can’t bear to catch myself humming it yet again.

But, my friends, those musical binges will have to be a tale for another post. Today’s post, which has been slowly written over a week, including sessions where I probably did do little more than delete some commas and insert some dashes – hopefully with outstanding results – was really about the major conflict experienced in modern life: being torn between indulgently binge-watching our way through a whole TV series, whilst also experiencing an annoying urge to be creative and/or productive.

The moral of today’s tale is, quite clearly: those who binge-watch too much TV will end up with a row of overflowing smelly garbage bins, and those who are all smarmy about how they don’t watch much TV at all, are probably lying; or just have really bad memories – and, furthermore, likely to be the sort of person who drastically overuses the dash.

 

*

*I’ve never understood what butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth really means, or rather, I get that it means that someone looks innocent when they are not, but I don’t understand how the analogy of butter melting in someone’s mouth came to be used to convey that concept. If you know the history to how this became a common turn of phrase, please write to the PO Box at the top of the page, or if you don’t trust Australia Post not to return your mail by accident, then please write your answer in the comments section. All correct answers will receive an honourable mention in next month’s newsletter.

*Observant readers will have picked up that my mother does not have internet at home, so for her to be reading my blog regularly, it would need to be available as an animated version transferred onto VHS tape. That in itself is a fantastical option, and if you add in the need to post them to her via Australia Post, you will realise that whenever I refer to my mother reading my blog I am cracking a halarious inside joke, which never fails to be amusing to at least one of the persons writing this blog.

 

The Australian 2016 Census, now with prompts from Talking Heads

Census can handle 1000000 pings per hr

It’s time to play your part in shaping the future of Australia by filling out the Australian 2016 Census of Population and Housing. Since the first national census in 1911, the census has played an important role in charting Australia’s history and shaping its future.

Times have changed since that first census in 1911, and this year’s census will reflect those changes. Firstly, it can be done online. And secondly, the Australian Bureau of Statistics is bored with hearing the same old analytics – numbers of occupants, occupations and incomes, BOR-ING, so this year, we have structured the survey like a game of Jeopardy!™.  Below we have provided you with lyrics from Talking Heads songs. For each lyric you must respond by devising a suitable census question.

We encourage creativity, however please be aware that wrong answers may incur a fine of up to $180 per day. For those filling out a paper form, please use only a black, ballpoint pen to write your answers.

Census experiencing an outage

 

psycho killer  Please enter your password

Say something once, why say it again? Enter your password again for verification

psycho killer  Enter your password again for verification. 

Television Man  What is your name?

I’m not lost but I don’t know where I am. What is your address?

Give us time to work it out. How many people are present at this address on 9 August 2016?

Who took the money, who took the money away? Do you agree that large corporations deserve tax cuts? What is your annual income before tax?

I turn myself around, I’m moving backwards and forwards, I’m moving twice as much as I was before.  How often do you engage in physical exercise?

I’m driving in circles, come to my senses sometime  Do you live in Canberra?

Census error code 9 -the system is busy

People on their way to work say baby what did you expect? Are you ever confused or caught out by the MYKI card system?

I feel nice when I sing this song, and I don’t mind, whatever happens is fine. Do you enjoy your life? Are you on any medication?

Come on, come on, I go up and down, I like this curious feeling.  Do you enjoy sex? Are you satisfied with the new speed humps your local council has installed in your street?

Watch out, you might get what you’re after. If you were British, would you have voted for Brexit?

What’s the matter with him? He’s alright!  Did you agree with the critics of the latest Jason Bourne film?

the world was moving and she was floating above it and she was   Are you aware that former Liberal Speaker, Brownyn Bishop, billed taxpayers for a chartered helicopter to fly 80km from Melbourne to Geelong?

 

Census site - there will be no fines for completing after Aug 9

 

Sometimes the world has a load of questions. If you were former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, would you have chosen a different method of answering this question?

uh-oh, uh-oh, here we go again, sometimes I don’t know what I’m saying  Surely no-one can be the suppository of all wisdom?

Qu’est-ce que c’est?  Did you use a MAC to fill in the online survey? Please locate a PC and start again.

 

Census Wikipedia entry on Aug 9

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For those playing at home, the Australian Census 2016 was supposed to take place on 9 August but, well, computers collectively said no. The Australian Bureau of Statistics website apparently crashed (see screenshots above) and people were unable to submit their surveys. There were concerns ahead of time about the security of data and there are now rumours that the data has already been hacked, but because I have not read anything more than headlines, I can’t verify if that is true. I’m just glad I didn’t panic about getting it done on 9 August. See this article for more details: Australia’s Population Now 48, ABS confirms

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