A short play for two people

Scene: a kitchen.

Two elderly people – we’ll call these characters Mum and Dad, are seated at the kitchen bench looking through a pile of photos from their son’s recent wedding.

A third person, looking to be in her forties, is drying dishes nearby. We’ll call her Daughter.

Mum: (squinting as she peers closely at a photo) Who’s that?
Daughter (steps in and looks at the photo): um, that’s your husband of, what….nearly 50 years now?
Mum: (tone of surprise) Oh! (directs next question to Dad, as if trying to get her head around a complex scenario): So…..you were standing next to [son] and…….his friend was standing on the other side of him?
Dad (takes photo to verify): It sure looks that way.

An Artist’s Impression of the unbelievable scene that took place that day.

PS: on formatting – if anyone on WordPress knows how to insert a nice amount of space between the text and the image please let me know. In the Editor it looks as if there is a nice amount of space before and after the image, but the final version does not look any better, no matter how many times I hit the return key, or try to write some code on the Text tab, or sip more wine.
PPS: (I don’t know any code and making it up is not as easy as I thought it would be.)

Who Are You This Time?

If I felt like it, I could neatly sum myself up, in bland, statistical data, the sort of stuff that can be filled out into neat boxes on a beige-colored form. I could sum you up, too, with information like your date of birth, Tax File number, and middle name, if you have one. Such information is used by organisations like the Bureau of Statistics, the Tax Department, the Government and the National Criminal Check Authority to create a file that is used to identify us, but they are not the things that make us who we are.

The jobs of staff who do the data entry, (I’m pretending for a moment that it’s not done by robots) or file those forms, could be so much more interesting if the forms included questions that really asked us to reveal something about ourselves. What songs make you cry? Do you have any friends that you’ve known since primary school? What was the last book you read that you simply had to tell someone else about? Sadly, these are not things that the ATO or Centrelink are interested in keeping on file.

What constitutes a unique identity? Ask a forensic scientist, and they would say it’s the DNA that they analyse from samples of human blood, hair, saliva, semen, and skin. Ask the police, they’d say it’s our fingerprints. Ask a bank – they will accept our Drivers Licence and a utilities bill showing our current address.

But these are not the things that make us who we are. What are the defining traits that make us who we are, a completely unique human being, living in a world currently populated by nearly 7.5 billion humans at time of writing?

Each of us will probably have a different answer to that question – our opinion about that is part of what makes us who we are.

Each of us places value on certain aspects of ourselves, the things that we use to define ourselves. Some people are very definite about how they see themselves, while others – and I count myself in this lot – are not as clear about our defining traits.

Two compliments I’ve received that I remember most fondly are: that I’m good at bringing people together (this, or something to this effect, was said in the context of keeping conversation going between two or three parties who did not know one another at a social event), and that I use people’s names a lot and thus make them feel at ease. What it says about me that I value those more than any other compliments I’ve received, I’m not sure. (Actually, to be honest, there is a third, which was that I am a fantastic dancer! I was pretty chuffed with that, since this was only about 5 years ago and was passed on by my daughter, from a mum who’d been at a social event with me on the weekend!)

Perhaps those compliments pleased me most because they surprised me, and revealed something about myself that I did naturally, without any conscious effort. In contrast, I received a compliment just this past weekend, from a woman who laughed quite genuinely when I casually remarked that I wasn’t cool enough to drink in a certain bar, and told me that I was totally wrong. Her assessment had to be based solely on my appearance since we’d only met about 15 minutes earlier. That was nice, but I processed her compliment differently, because I am aware that looking cool is something I consciously aim for (within reason – I’m old enough to know what would just look silly and what is “not me”). So I received that compliment by thinking it was nice she thought that, not as confirmation that what she said was correct on any empirical level. (After all, as we know, what is cool is a relative judgement.)

How would I define myself? I struggle with these kinds of questions, for example when they are asked in job interviews, although obviously I try to plan answers in advance. What are my strengths, what are my weaknesses? And more interestingly, though never asked in job interviews, what has led me to being the person I am today?

Some may say (as I believe Dumbledore did in one of the Harry Potter books) that we are an accumulation of each choice we make as we go through life. I think this is close to my thoughts on how our identity is formed.

What makes us unique is a complex blend of our lived experience with our perspective on that experience, and the meaning we make from it. It’s a concoction that will never be the same for any two people. For example, on the surface it might appear as if my siblings and I had very similar childhoods, but we each experienced the very same events with an autonomous consciousness, making our own meaning from what went on around us.

When our mother had her first nervous breakdown, and was hospitalised for a few weeks, for example, I was about six, and my siblings were approximately 4, 3, and newly born. My brother F, the newborn, couldn’t have had any conscious thoughts about what was happening at the time, but will have been affected by the event in a very different way than I was because we were at different stages of our lives. Conversely, when each of us were at a particular age, there were differences in the environment and people around us. When I was a teenager, for example, I’d incite the wrath of both parents, resulting in hitting, shouting and heated tension that permeated throughout the whole house, if I dared to try and watch an afternoon  TV show as innocuous as Young Talent Time, but by the time the sixth child was a teen, my parents would say goodnight to him as he sat up watching TV into the night, and leave him to watch whatever he wanted. All of those moments and our individual experiences of them, contribute to the large and complex picture of who each of us are today.

Outside of beige paperwork, in the real world it’s those other aspects of people that we find most interesting. It’s those things that draw us to them, often without even knowing it. I have friends I’ve known for decades without knowing their middle name. There are very few for whom I would know their birthday, until Facebook reminds me. In most cases, I don’t even know my friend’s addresses although I might know how to get to their house – I’ve just never needed to register what number it is in the street.

The sorts of things I’ll probably know about my friends is whether they are someone who is decisive or someone who mulls things over, or someone dealing with so many difficult things going on in their life that I have to be patient because their decision-making is dependent on a whole lot of other unpredictable people. I’ll know if they are someone who is naturally compassionate to others, or someone who is lacking in real empathy. I’ll know if they are funny, fun-loving, easy going, or perhaps intense, and only fun in small doses. I’ll know if they are the overly confident type that likes to sit in the front row at a theatre show advertising “audience interaction” or whether, on seeing that notice, they, like me, skuttle quickly up to the middle of the back row and cower in their seat, hoping to blend into the crowd.

Those are things that I register, and file away, about people I know.

Reverse Living

All around me every day, fantastic little phrases woosh past my consciousness; things that, as an aspiring writer, I know I should grab onto immediately. Write in a notebook, type into Notes on my phone, take a photograph of (if that is possible). Most of the time, I don’t bother, and they slip away.

When I say fantastic, I’m afraid I’m not talking today about poetic or beautiful phrases. I’m talking about advertising slogans that strike me as so utterly silly that they tickle my sense of the absurd and make me itch to write something silly. Or, on other occasions, it’s badly written, poorly-spelled copy that brazenly invites an outpouring of sarcasm from anyone who aspires to produce good writing.

Every day I encounter examples of these, in electronic newsletters, billboards, magazine advertisements and TV advertising. Recently I was so intrigued by the stupidity of a TV ad for fish fingers that I managed to write a whole post inspired by their very silly tag line, and at the time I suggested this topic could become a series, so I guess, in an astounding first for this blog, we could consider this as the second post in a series.

(Phrases that are beautifully written, poetic, wise, or moving, do come my way too, and sometimes I write those in a notebook, but those types of phrase provide a different kind of motivation to an aspiring writer, and are not what I’m referring to today.)

Today’s focus is – and where else would you start, really? – a pamphlet full of Real Estate listings. Real Estate listings are a great source of generating righteous indignation from anyone interested in good writing, and they also often have the effect of make me yearn, not for a new house, but for a job where I could write copy for a Real Estate agent who was happy for me to go totally overboard with ridiculous claims, adding a conscious level of absurdity to rhetoric that is already bursting with hyperbole.

This particular pamphlet exhibited writing skills of a higher level than a lot of Real Estate copy I’ve seen, but after I’d read a few of the listings, I suspected the copy writer had recently attended a Real Estate Copy Writing seminar at which she, or he, had taken a strong liking to the word, and concept, complement.

This light filled home is complemented by a stunning new kitchen….

A sun drenched Merbau deck that makes entertaining desirable complements the downstairs proportions where polished concrete floors…..

The investment credentials of this bright one bedroom apartment are clearly complemented by the quality of its location literally less than a minute or two from [local] Park’s green expanses……

Commencing in [local area] – from either first home buyer or investor viewpoints – is a strategy significantly complemented by this sought after pocket’s proximity to [local] Park and [local] Road bus routes.

Such great convenience complements inviting proportions including living and dining areas…..

Hmmm. An impressive display of uses for the word complements. The writer throws it around with flair, even delving from the safe model of describing features of the house as complementing other features of the house, and making a brave foray into a crossover, where the investment strategy itself is described as being complemented by the area around the house! Bravo! Points for ingenuity – although I’m not quite certain that, outside of copy writing, a strategy is accurately described as being complemented by elements that make the strategy a smart plan in the first place. Surely if the meaning of complement is:

combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other 

then the sought after pocket’s proximity to the local park and roads should also be enhanced by the investment strategy, for that phrase to be correct. But now I’m just being picky.

On its own, however, over-use of the word complement would not have been enough to catapult this Real Estate pamphlet into a post on this blog. (Never fear, our standards for inclusion are stringently high. Applicants must submit a 3-page CV and answer a series of multiple choice questions written in invisible ink, before they are given the location of our secret clubhouse, where submissions for this blog may be dropped through a slot, in hardcopy only.)

It was this that caught my imagination, under the heading INSTANTLY INVITING DUAL LEVEL DIMENSIONS:

Comprising two downstairs bedrooms, a stylish bathroom, reverse living, enjoying an abundance of natural sunshine….

Wait a minute. Reverse living?

Now that is a feature I have not previously seen in a Real Estate listing. It’s all the more intriguing because Reverse Living sounds like an alternative lifestyle choice, and Real Estate copy makes ample use of suggestion about the kind of lifestyle you could attain if you live in a certain house, or area – yet here, Reverse Living is listed as a feature of the house itself.

How can this be the case?

I didn’t have to ponder this for long before it became clear that the only possible explanation is that the house is in some kind of space-time continuum.*  A clue can be found in the heading for this listing – have another look at it (above.) Dual Dimensions.

The Real Estate agent obviously doesn’t want to scare anyone by stating it too clearly, but the enigma becomes clear when one realises that the house exists in dual dimensions, or dual level dimensions, depending on how technical you want to get about it. (For the sake of my readership, I will avoid getting too technical about it.) It may be located in a black hole, or very close to some massive body that exerts its own gravitational pull, and I’m not talking about the obese neighbour up the street.



Pic: Wikipedia

I picture a family living in this house: everyone walking backwards at high speed (high speed for no reason other than because those two things go together in a nicely entertaining way, like an old-fashioned black-and-white film). There they go, heading backwards out the door at night (step inside this spacious abode), stepping backwards onto the bus (proximity to nearby bus routes), travelling backwards to work or school (ideally situated to enjoy [local school]), walking backwards with their dog, from the local park (close to significant park expanses), and all the while, the days go by, from night through to morning, and they are gradually getting younger, until at last the children disappear and the parents become children, then babies, and after crawling around backwards for a while, finally they also vanish.

Of course, as I’m sure you’re aware, if the property is in a space-time continuum, time will be slowed down inside the house. That means the process of getting younger will actually take thousands of “Earth” years to eventuate, but to the family, it would feel as if it was only a few years going by. So it shouldn’t really bother them, other than to cause them to wonder why their friends are getting older and dying while they, in contrast, seem to get younger. They would probably also exclaim occasionally as the years go by, that the rate at which Apple launches new iPhones seems to have become ridiculously frequent these days.

All in all, the reverse living feature is not necessarily a negative aspect to the property in question, but I think the writer is right to underplay the significance of the feature. In fact, I think he or she has done a good job of a challenging Real Estate listing, by including information about the more unusual aspect of the house in a neutral way, and leaving it open to the buyer to decide for themselves. Well written.


The house, viewed through gravitational lensing, allowing us to see through dual dimensions

The house, looking washy because we are viewing it through gravitational lensing, allowing us to see through the dual dimensions.


Pic: © Blathering



For another exploration of advanced scientific theory on this blog, see The Behaviour Of Socks

*All my knowledge of the time-space continuum was gained through many years of study, of this page: Can Someone Explain The Time-Space Continuum In Simple Terms? 

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


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.*




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.



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.


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!


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.



Cocktail: Richard Aufreiter via a Creative Commons Licence

Calculator: Josueth Acevedo via a Creative Commons licence

Scooby Doo: Pintrest


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