All the Grays

via Daily Prompt: Gray

Grey. It’s a simple word, that describes the color of the sky on an overcast day.

But wait! Grey is not the WordPress Daily Prompt I’m responding to here. The prompt is Gray – a fact that is quite telling, because gray is a word which does not have meaning in the English language, outside of the United States of America. Which is where I live. Outside of the United States of America, that is – ie, in that place known as the rest of the world.

Before I go too far, let’s just double check that I’m not making things up here. Maybe there are, universally, differing opinions on whether the word is grey or gray?

According to the site grammarly.com:

By the twentieth century, “grey” had become the accepted spelling everywhere except in the United States.

Here’s what Dictionary.com says about the two spellings:

….gray is the more popular spelling in the US, while grey reigns supreme in the UK. For centuries, the one letter difference between gray and grey has left people wondering if the two have different meanings.

They don’t. It’s the same word, spelled differently. As Grammarly goes on to say:

Here’s a tip: Gray is more common in the United States, and grey is more common in the rest of the English-speaking world.

Okay then. Or maybe that should be okey, depending on where you live.

So this is an interesting prompt. Given that a one word prompt is supplied with no context, what is someone who is not from the U.S.A to make of this word? That it’s grey, spelled wrongly? What’s the best way to respond to this if it’s not actually your language?

Of course, the strange thing about my reaction to this “misspelling” is that there are lots of English words that are spelled differently between English speaking countries – usually, between the U.S. and other English-speaking countries. Take colour, for example, which is spelled color in the U.S. I accept that these are just variations of the same word. If WordPress had put color up as a prompt, it would not have occurred to me to comment on the spelling at all.

So what is it about grey v gray that got me seeing red?

I think it’s because it’s only four letters long, so the variation in the spelling seems more significant. As noted above, Dictionary.com says the one letter difference between gray and grey has left people wondering if the two have different meanings. 

I think that’s quite reasonable. After all, one letter can make a big difference: try mixing up pray and prey.

So no, grey and gray don’t have different meanings. I understand that in principle, but I’m attached to grey being the correct spelling of the colour that’s half way between black and white. I don’t like replacing it with gray, because that just feels like bad spelling. But the prompt was gray. So I will write about gray.

Here in Australia, gray can be a name, and I do know of a few Grays.

*

Gray was the name of the family Doctor I used to visit when I was sick as a child.

Imagination and memory crash together as one gets older, so I am not sure now if it’s because of his name that I picture this gentleman with a neat grey beard. Perhaps his beard was actually dark brown, or black. In any case, I’m 99% sure that he did, at least, have a beard, whereas I’m also 99% sure that he didn’t wear the black top hat that, for some reason, insists on popping itself on his head in my mental image of him. Apparently in my mental image of this doctor from my childhood, a frock-coat and a hansom cab would not be out of place. It seems that I picture Dr Gray looking as if he had stepped out of a Dickens novel.

Is this all conjured up in my faulty memory because his name was Gray? Who can say?

What I can tell you is that the doctor’s offices were in a little double-fronted Victorian cottage, and that he kept dingoes as pets. When the breeze blew the right way, we could hear them howling in the evenings. The doctor’s surgery was only a block or so from our house, which was convenient for my mother, since she couldn’t drive, and whenever one of her six children was sick, this unfortunate news would most often be uncovered around 8am when they woke up, and Dad, the only person in the family who could drive, would have left for work at 6am.

Therefore, no matter how sick we were, if we were certain that we were too sick for school, we’d have to get up and walk to the doctor’s surgery.

No wonder I never take sick days.

I can also tell you that in Dr Gray’s waiting room was the most interesting thing I’d ever seen in a house up to that point. It was a huge aquarium, at least 3 feet long and about the same in height, that hummed and bubbled, pumping air for fishes of various sizes and colours that flurried around in the water. I was too young to have any interest in the women’s magazines on offer, but my time in the waiting room was amply filled in by simply staring at the fish.

When you have a bunch of brothers, as I do, there are always other stories on the peripheries of your memory, stories you were told second or third hand, sometimes years later, tales of the things that your brothers got up to, that you never saw and so have only ever pictured in your imagination. I feel as if there is a funny story that involved my brothers and Dr. Gray’s car, or his sons, or his dingoes, or his surgery, or a combination of all the above, but I can’t recall any more than that.

*

The other Gray I know of is an Australian Artist from the post-war period, Gray Smith. The only reason I recall the existence of Gray Smith is not because of his art, however, but because he was married to Joy Hester, an Australian modernist artist who is reasonably well-known within Australia.*

In an unusual gender reversal, which probably serves as an indication of their relative status as artists, there is not even a Wikipedia page for Gray Smith, while there is a brief entry for Joy Hester.  Hester’s body of work is unusual in that she worked mostly in brush and ink on paper, a medium that was not valued as highly as oils, and may be one reason why her work was not as well known as that of some of her male contemporaries such as Albert Tucker (her previous husband).

Many of the images she depicted were of women, or were about relationships between men and women, another reason why her work could have been viewed by some, particular given the period, as merely the frivolous doodlings of a lady artist.

Joy Hester, Lovers [II] 1956

Image: National Gallery of Australia

As for Gray Smith, I can’t tell you anything more about him, except that he fathered some children with Hester. Unusually, Smith suffers the fate that so many women throughout history were subjected to – to be remembered by the history books mostly because he was married to someone more famous.

*

So that’s it I guess. All the Grays I know of.

 Gray

The Notebook

A while back, I wrote a post about the pile of books next to my bed, and where they sat on the continuum of not having been opened/being partly read/being almost completely read/will probably never be read. But did I mention the notebooks that were also in that pile of books? There’s about 5 of them. (Honestly, the pile of books next to my bed is the saddest pile of books anywhere, in as much as it’s an indication of a wanna-be writer who never does anything more than write a post on her blog.)

Anyway, after looking through one of them, today’s post is this:

All the Ideas listed in one Yellow Spirax Notebook. (2007 – 2011)

I first used this very ordinary, spiral bound notebook to take notes in when I started a new job back in 2007. It opens, therefore, with some uninteresting notes: which printer prints in color, procedures for locking up, file paths to certain files – information I no doubt quickly came to know by heart, as I spent the next seven years working in that same organisation.

A few pages later, it’s become a writer’s notebook. Perhaps there was nothing more I needed to write in a notebook in the course of my day-to-day job. In any case, the diversion to a writer’s notebook is intentional, because I’ve used it for an exercise from The Memoir Book, (Patti Miller, 2007, Allen and Unwin) called Brainstorm Circles. The instructions in this exercise are to start by drawing a circle in the middle of a page, and writing in it a topic you want to write about. Then, creating a visual kind of “flow-chart”, you write the first word that comes to mind from that one, and then, the first word that comes to mind from the second word, etc. Importantly, the author notes, you are free-associating each time from the previous word, NOT from the original word. When you reach the edge of the page, or run out of ideas, go back to the middle and start again. Spend about 20 minutes – this will give you an idea of how rich your idea is.

Writing exercise from The Memoir Book, by Patti Miller (Allen & Unwin, 2007)

(I like this exercise and employ it every now and then. As it happens, from this very first exercise, I developed a piece of writing that I liked and have sent to a few literary magazines in the past ten years, but so far no-one else has liked it enough to publish it.)

The next few pages contain my ambitious ideas for books (never started) and more versions of the same writing exercise, using different topics. Book ideas under consideration were: a book about an organisation I was volunteering for at the time, a book on people from regional areas now living in the city, or a book about careers in the arts. Next are pages of research for an article I was writing about the value of arts education in schools. (That article was published, at least!)

Abruptly, this train of research is interrupted with a note scribbled down when I received a phone call from ANZ bank in 2008. Some of my siblings were travelling overseas, and the bank called me out of the blue to say that my brother’s credit card had been the subject of fraud and had been stopped. I’ve scribbled instructions about calling the bank using a reverse charge number, and below that, credit card cancelled.

That innocuous little memo signifies drama for others, although that mostly played out in Berlin. My part was done with after I passed on the message.

Underneath this, there are notes to myself on possible chapter ideas for a non-fiction book on arts education (never written). Then some research on funding opportunities for the organisation I was volunteering with.

Turn another page, and there’s another sudden shift in the function of the notebook. We were moving houses, (dating this to late 2008) and my use of the notebook has become purely pragmatic. Instead of writing, or even thinking about writing, my spare time, as well as the notebook, were used to keep track of what needed to be done. The evidence: an extensive, hand-written, checklist of all the companies (phone, electricity, etc) I’d need to inform of our change of address when we moved. Judging by a few boxes left unchecked at the end of the list from seven years ago, it appears that the local library and Dinosaur Designs may still have my old address. Woops!

In the chaos of packing and moving house it must have been the only paper we had at hand. That’s the conclusion I come to when I turn the next few pages, which contain lists of words written by my daughter, who was about 8 years old at the time – apparently spelling tests, corrected by me.

Seems pretty good for a grade 3 speller!

Next: a scribbled quote from Budget Truck Hire, on the cost of hiring a truck with a hydraulic lift. The truck was to be driven by my younger brother John. Back then, John was the go-to every time one of his siblings moved houses, as he had a licence to drive trucks and was always only too willing to give up his time and help out. It would have been his instruction to make sure the truck had a hydraulic lift, as I would barely know the difference between a hydraulic lift and a hydroponic tomato. Following on this theme, next comes a list of items to be put into storage.

Perhaps the notebook went into storage too, because on the next page, it’s apparent that at least a year has gone by. It’s now a writer’s notebook again, and I’m drafting ideas for a blog post about Beckett. This signals that it’s now late 2009. We were settled in our new house by then, I started this blog around October that year, and one of my first posts was about Beckett. Following this are more notes, on a book called The Lost Art of Sleep, by Michael McGirr (2009, Picador, Pan McMillen Australia), perhaps thinking I may refer to them in a blog post, or maybe just because I had a strong personal interest in the topic, as I was still, at that time, a constant insomniac. It’s a memoir of sorts, and passages I copied down include this lovely paragraph:

We fall into bed. We fall asleep. We rise in the morning. That’s what we do. Over and over. Falling and rising. Rising and falling. We fall in love. We rise in it too. The rising takes longer. (p248)

After this, the notebook must have been misplaced or left aside again for 2 years, as the next turn of the page reveals a list of scribbled descriptions of photos of my brother John. I guess that, once again, I grabbed the first bit of paper that was at hand, and this particular notebook seems to have been in the right place at the right time whenever that was required. On this page I’ve written headings, indicating different photo albums, and under each, a description of each photo of John taken out of the album. This means it’s September 2011, because I took those photos out of those albums to compile them for my brother’s funeral when he died suddenly on 11th of that month.

At the time, I scribbled that list with the intention of putting the photos back in each album after his funeral, but then after his funeral, it didn’t really seem important to bother putting them back. I think those photos of him remain together in a folder with other papers related to his life.

Following that is a scrawled first draft of the eulogy I wrote with my sister and youngest brother.

Incredibly, straight after the eulogy – surely the most significant and heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to write – the remaining pages full of mundane notes are a testament that the small details of life relentlessly carry on even after someone dies, and require attention.

These final, trivial notes include log-in details for a student portal, reminding me that I was actually studying part time at RMIT when my brother died. Then, prices of various options for holiday accommodation follow, because I had a strong desire to go away over the New Year break that would fall only a few months after my brother’s death and would also overlap with his birthday.

The rest of the notebook – only a few more pages – is taken up with similarly utilitarian notes: a confirmation number from a bill paid, a quote from a telephone company.

In my pile of notebooks, I’ve got writerly-looking notebooks, with luxurious, leather-bound covers, or floral designs and beautiful soft writing paper inside them. This one is the notebook you get out of your office stationery cupboard. It’s cheap and functional and not made to look like a writer’s notebook. It begins and ends with practical, trivial, and mundane memorandum – but it’s inadvertently also a missive that demonstrates how, in between the mundane, and in the course of four years, lives were irrevocably changed.

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover

 

 

Panic on the dance floor

It’s time to solicit some crucial advice from the combined wisdom of readers.

The question is – should I go to my 30 year school reunion?

Yes, 30 years! Apparently that’s how long it’s been since I was lying around languidly in an asphalt courtyard at lunchtimes, discussing boys, or INXS, (specifically Michael Hutchence) or teachers, or who was at the nightclub last Saturday night and who’s going this Saturday.

When the time came for the 10 year reunion, I didn’t go – not through any deliberate desire to avoid it, but because I had an exhibition opening the same evening, if you don’t mind. Why yes, those were the days when I was a twenty-something artist.

When the next one (20 years) came around, I didn’t go because, well, I hadn’t been to the 10 year reunion, and by the 20 year mark I’d basically fallen out of contact with every single person I’d been friends with at high school. I’ve written about this before, but it seems that I haven’t tended to retain friends for a lifetime as some people do. Instead it seems that by mutual agreement in some cases, or not in others, I lose contact with people and move on and make new friends so that I end up having a past series of friends who are associated with specific periods of my life. This has worked ok so far, but I do hope I’ll start retaining friends for longer, because I can see that opportunities to make new friends become less as you get older.

Anyway, when the 20-year reunion came along, I was a 30-something, working in the arts. Working in the arts sounds less glamorous than being an artist, but in the end it suits me better to be doing practical tasks that contribute towards the creation of art (theatre) by a company, and for that reason, I feel satisfied. Sure I’m creative, and, oh boy, do I love ideas! – why, I can ramble on about them for hours, as this blog proves! – but it turns out I’m not very good at self promotion, or at staying focussed and motivated when left to drive myself along to develop abstract concepts into physical works of art. I’m easily overwhelmed by broad, undefined goals.  “Continue to develop a body of ideas and work that may end up being exhibited, or may simply be research and development towards your whole oeuvre” was a little too vague to help me decide what to do from day to day as I attempted to produce work in my studio.

But back to the looming 30-year reunion. This is happening in the near future, a time when I’m a 40-something, still working in the arts. (At least there has been some consolidation on the career front then.) I am still not in touch with anyone from school apart from two people that I am now Facebook Friends with. Of those two, I’ve caught up once, in person, with one of those people.

So basically, attending the reunion means attending an event where I don’t know anyone very well, but sort of know everyone just a little bit. In my opinion, for a shy, introverted extrovert (that is a self-diagnosis), this is far worse than attending an event where everyone is a complete stranger. And finally, even worse again, some are people I used to be close friends with, who dropped out of contact about 20 years ago.

Now, if you are not a massive extrovert, it’s actually hard to socialise with people you know just a little bit. An event full of strangers is preferable. If everyone is a stranger, you can wander around on your own, making it obvious that you are alone and don’t know anyone, and hope that some of those strangers will notice your plight, and converse with you out of courtesy, or pity. (As they are strangers, it doesn’t really matter which.) And, if they don’t, you can cut your losses and leave without any real loss of dignity or hurt to your feelings.

At an event where everyone knows who you are, but you are not close chums with anyone, you sidle around the outskirts of chatting groups of people, smiling and hoping someone you’ve met before will take pity on you and make eye contact so that you feel welcome to edge your way into their little group, and pretend to take an immediate and passionate interest in whatever topic they are discussing, even if it’s the renovation they are doing to the ensuite in their holiday house.

And if no-one makes any attempt to give you an opening, then you’ll probably slink away early and – YEAH YOU BET your feelings will be hurt and your dignity will sink to a new low!

(As a self-diagnosed “introverted extrovert,” by the way, I’m not a totally hopeless case socially. My self esteem in general is quite ok – certainly a hundred times healthier than when I was a high school student – and I LIKE socialising with friends – but it’s easily trampled on in a situation like this.)

Ok, it’s pretty obvious that I’m wavering on the side of not going.

But let’s get down to the real issue here. Surely the only question that matters is – will the music be good?

Because I do love dancing, as I think we’ve covered in previous posts.

So much so that, despite fear of not being able to make small-talk, and the possible humiliation of scuttling around the edges of the function room on my own all night, the possibility of dancing could, in itself, be a temptation to go! In the unlikely event that the music was good, if it turned out to be the worst case scenario where I was milling around with no-one to talk to –  I could just join the dance floor!

(That is, of course, only if at least 12 other people were already dancing, as I am too self-conscious to jump up alone, or when there are only two extraverts doing the bumpsy-daisy together out there.) But if there’s enough people dancing for me to blend somewhere into the middle of the crowd, then I can lose that self-consciousness and dance the night away, or at least until Working Class Man* comes on.

But sadly, it seems unlikely that the music would be good. I say this because my generation’s musical taste has forever, and quite erroneously, been labelled as Seventies disco in some kind of timewarp that wasn’t accurate. Although we were indeed alive in days of 1970s disco, we were in nappies, and then pre-school, and then the early years of primary school for most of that decade and were therefore more interested in what was playing on the Looney Tunes cartoon hour on TV than what was playing at Studio 54. I have never even seen Saturday Night Fever. Maybe this explains a lot about me, but to put it bluntly, I have no emotional connection with Seventies disco, which was the music most frequently played at school fundraising events I attended as a parent at my daughter’s school.

At an event where a selection of music is to be played for my personal entertainment, ideally I would request a good dose of music from the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s (or whatever the current era is known as). Anyone taking notes at home may include music from the Seventies too, by all means, but please make it punk, or folk, or rock, or Motown, just not that over-played Seventies disco.

Despite the stereotyped notion of parents as a particular breed of adults whose musical taste stays rooted in the nostalgic past, I have always enjoyed discovering new music. That includes discovering music from the past that I hadn’t listened to at the time. But official events of any sort usually opt for safe choices with music, on the premise of pleasing the majority, and safe, for my generation, seems to be to play the music that was playing on the dance floors when we were learning our multiplication tables and how to write in cursive.

Of course we all think our own musical taste is superior to everyone else’s, don’t we?**

In the end, I should thank you for your input, dear readers, because as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve come to the only conclusion that seems obvious, and will avoid the need to make small talk AND ensure the music will be good.

I won’t attend my school’s 30-year reunion unless I can DJ.

*

 

*Working Class Man is a song by well known Australian Band Cold Chisel. I’m clearly a bit of a snobby purist when it comes to what music I am willing to dance to, and it’s my personal opinion that this song should never come anywhere near a dance floor, but when I was growing up in the country, the djs were less picky, and it usually did come on at about 3am, signalling to me that it was cattle-call time at the meat market, and a good time to go home.

**(Or is that just me?)

***Update: thanks to those who said I must go and then write about it here. I didn’t see you offering to accompany me and pretend to be someone everyone else had forgotten. If only I’d thought of that earlier. Airline tickets could have been arranged.

Anyway, the reunion happened, I didn’t attend, and I don’t think there was ANY music at all. It was a daytime tour of the school that so many of us were thrilled to leave at the time, and then a luncheon. How alarmingly sedate. And how demanding of small talk!! I think I made the right choice, so I thank you all again.

These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You

My little brother died in 2011, but I think of him every day.

One of the reasons for that is because a strange, and, sometimes, seemingly random range of commonplace items can remind me of him, out of the blue. Here are some of them:

A pair of boots I own – because he was with me when I purchased them. He had stayed at our house overnight, it was a Saturday morning, and I had planned to buy some boots. In his typical easy-going fashion, John accompanied me by bus into town, and to go shoe shopping. He hung around patiently while I deliberated over boots, probably had a cigarette out the front of the shop, and even bought himself a cheap pair of black sneakers (trainers – his signature shoe) for work while he was waiting for me.

We hear that men are not big on shopping, and even less keen on accompanying a woman when she shops for clothing. Surely there are not too many guys who voluntarily go clothes shopping with their sister, but I also have a skirt that was purchased while shopping with John on a separate occasion, so it seems his good-natured personality allowed him to be unfussed about roaming with interest around a shop and then amusing himself as he waited outside and watched the world go by.

An old, dark green couch, that was ours, now given away to my youngest brother. This was a gift from my parents many years ago, and the purchase was organised by John, who held his first job, in a furniture shop, at the time. He was probably about 19 when I visited him at the shop and poured over the fabric samples, before selecting one for our couch.

A receipt, found amongst old papers, for removal truck hire – John drove it for us. From the time he held a licence until he died, I don’t think any member of our family ever moved houses without enlisting his help, usually to drive a truck for them, since he had a licence to do so, and was always so happy to help out.

The storage facility on a main road near our house. John drove our stuff to, and from, this facility, and helped us stack and unstack items into and out of it at the appropriate times. Perhaps because of his early career in a furniture shop, he seemed to be particularly skilled at judging spaces and shapes and knowing exactly how to manouvre a piece of furniture through a door or into a tight space without any mishaps.

My new nephew and niece.* That’s because, of all my siblings, John was the one who spent the most time hanging out with my daughter, his niece. His first job at the furniture shop had come to an end when the owner, an elderly man, had passed away and the business closed, and after that, there was a period where he found it hard to get any long-term employment, so he went from one short-term contract to another, working on jobs ranging from telephone linesman to doing maintenance on railway lines. This might not have seemed like an ideal situation for him then, but in hindsight, there was an upside for us, which was, that in between contracts he often spent time staying with us for a few nights at a time, and hanging out with his god-daughter.

A particular hoodie jacket I have, with holes in the sleeve, because John notoriously wore the same brown hoodie everywhere despite the state that the well-worn sleeves were in.

Other things that make me think of John:

Turning on the air-conditioning in the car – because I remember he had some theory about how to maximise the efficiency by opening the car windows first.

Hedgehog slice (he ate a lot of it)

Pear cake (he was so impressed with my pear cake that he learned how to make it – the sincerest form of flattery)

Satay chicken (his signature dish)

Sonic Youth (his favourite band)

Massive Attack (a band we both liked and should have seen together but fate intervened and I had to give my ticket away.)

Certain men, usually younger than me, both in real life and in films, can at times remind me of him.

and

My other brothers, for obvious reasons.*

 

*

*not commonplace items.

 

Summertime

Setting: A suburban back garden, a Summer* evening, Melbourne, Australia

Time: 8pm – approximately the time of sunset at this time of year in Melbourne

Temperature: warm

Wind: none discernible

Set:

  • a back garden, comprising of pot plants on a door step, cobblestones, and greenery around two sides of the perimeter, created by some trees growing too close together, a small hedge, and some climbing roses on the lattice on the back wall. The garden is neat but not abundant. In the centre is an area that used to be a small patch of lawn but is now just a patch of dirt, with a scattering of recently mowed weeds.
  • The back of the house faces onto the back garden, and we can see through the windows into the kitchen, and, as indicated by a flickering light beyond the kitchen, a room with a TV on.

Lighting: 

  • the sky, and the light generally, a sort of twilight: first, pale and almost no colour, then changing slowly to grey as the sky darkens
  • a slight pink flush across the lower part of the horizon, that also fades and disappears into the descending grey
  • warm, yellow, electric light glowing from the windows of the kitchen that faces onto the garden

Special Effects:

  • water arching out from a hose and onto some lush greenery, as our protagonist takes the opportunity to enjoy the warm, balmy evening by taking her gin and tonic outside with her while she waters the garden

Props:

  • a hose is required

Sound:

  • the swishing and trickling of water, as the hose rains water down on plants and the excess runs away on cobblestones
  • the hum of crickets. (Director’s Note: Usually the sound made by crickets is described by default as a chirp but that suggests a staccato sound, with a crisp beginning and end. This sound, the sound that epitomises all the warm summer nights in our protagonist’s memory, just goes on and on, so she thinks of it as a hum.) It’s a soft, low hum, telling us that it’s a warm, balmy night.
  • the distant sounds of football players calling out, their voices carried on the breeze. The setting is about half a kilometre from the local suburban football ground, and we can gather, from the sounds travelling very clearly in the still night air, that the local suburban football team must be doing some pre-season training tonight. If our protagonist hadn’t damaged her hearing by attending bands playing at outrageously loud noise levels, she’d probably be able to hear what they were actually saying, but as it is, her best creative interpretation is a cacophony of voices all calling out over one another, with urgency “come on, come on, come on, come on!”
  • the soft swoosh of traffic on the nearby highway
  • from the house, the sounds of high-pitched voices coming from the TV, indicating melodrama on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!
  • occasionally from the house next door, the pounding of footsteps as a small child runs from one end of the house to the other
  • occasionally from the trees, a rustling of leaves and the weird, high-pitched screech of possums

Smell:

  • the smell of wet, freshly drenched dirt, and of water dripping off greenery

Characters:

  • the main protagonist, a 40-something woman with a gin and tonic in one hand and a hose in the other
  • a cat, whereabouts unknown as Act 1 begins
  • about 1000 worms, in a worm farm under one of the trees
  • a teenager, hidden deep in the depths of a teenage bedroom. She does not emerge during Act 1.
  • a male adult, absent from the house for the duration of Act 1 as his Italian lesson conflicted with the rehearsal schedule.

Synopsis:

Officially, it’s now Autumn in Melbourne (since the beginning of March is officially the designated change of the seasons), but due to the absolutely glorious weather Melbourne has had over the past fortnight, our protagonist has decided to remain in denial about this, and just keep pretending that it’s still Summer. She is determined to try to make the most of every remaining beautiful sunny morning, and every remaining delightfully balmy evening. In her mind, this means making the effort to go outside, where one can more fully appreciate the warmth and light, wherever and whenever possible, and, when not possible, (for example on the days when she is working in her office job) to at least open a window, and take the time to appreciate the sunny morning outside.

Director’s Note: It’s a simple story but simple things can bring a lot of pleasure if you take the time to notice them.

 

Sunset in the suburbs, Summer, Melbourne 2016 (no filter! – I wouldn’t know how!)

© The Antipodean Blatherer 2016

 

Some velvet morning

The start of a new day can be a quiet, beautiful thing.

This morning: a start that was unusual. Beautiful, but only in a quiet and unassuming way. It would mean nothing to anyone else.

I left my brother’s house at 8am this morning to drive to work.

Already, this is out of the ordinary, as my brother lives an 85 minute drive from where I live, and also, as it happens, about an 85 minute drive from where I work, which, from his place, is in an entirely different direction from where I live. So it was the first time in my life I’ve got up on a work day, set off from a country town, to drive about 100 kilometres to work, on an unfamiliar route I’ve never taken before.

A sense of novelty gave the morning a particular gleam, but the golden sunlight streaming through the window at 7am was also a culprit in creating this effect. Without both things, I may have been feeling a little sorry for myself at having to rise at 7am, after a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gig the night before, to go to work.

But as it was, it was a glorious summer morning, and I was in the country! On a workday!

I was woken by the sounds of birds singing right outside my bedroom window. I feel obliged to comment on how lovely this was, and yet, I should also note here, for anti-city skeptics like my country-loving father (in case he ever reads this blog) that we do have birds in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, where I live; in fact, they regularly chirp noisily in the tree close to my window. (I can hear at least three different varieties chirping away as I write this).

But – blow me down if birds singing outside your window first thing in the morning, in the country, doesn’t somehow just feel so much more….countrified!

So the Country Birds Community Choir did their duty, and I ate my vegemite toast with extra enjoyment as a consequence of their efforts. Being in close proximity to my gorgeous 21-month-old nephew while I ate breakfast added another layer of joy to the morning that would have applied regardless of the location, weather, or presence of a choir, whether human or bird variety.

Breakfast over and goodbyes said, I stepped out the front door of my brother’s house at 8am. The sun was already shining  brightly, with a forecast temperature of 30 degrees (Celsius) expected for the day. The sunlight felt warm, but the breeze was still cool, making it a delightful morning to be heading off on what almost felt like an adventure – if I ignored the fact that work lay at the end of it.

After only two minutes of driving, I was on the freeway doing 110m. I’ve heard there have been increases in the number of people commuting from regional towns to work in the city these days, so I was expecting something like in Melbourne, where, at peak hour, there are lights at the freeway entry ramps, which flash green for a split second every 20 seconds or so, to indicate that the next 3 lanes of stationery cars may accelerate and enter the freeway, but the numbers of commuters in the country have obviously not taken off quite as much as I had imagined. A lone car overtook me just after I joined the freeway, and after that, I and the small handful of other vehicles on the freeway that morning shared our personal space out pretty evenly. There was no need to crowd in.

Before my dad retired, he drove country roads all over the state in a truck for a living. This morning, I could see why he chose this occupation over the factory work that he started and quickly discarded. Beginning a journey on a glorious sunny morning in the country is an entirely different experience to starting out on the busy city roads I normally drive on. Your view is not filled with buildings and other cars – instead you can see more of the sky. Trees grow close to the side of the roads, causing a pattern of dappled light and shadow to fall across the road at that time of morning, and you have almost the whole freeway to yourself.

On a morning like that, in the country, it feels like an hour or so of driving is something to look forward to.

The drive turned out to be just as enjoyable as was promised by the golden sunlight and light breeze I encountered when I first stepped out the door. After about twenty minutes of trundling along the freeway, I turned off onto a country road, the C141. The Ballan-Daylesford Road was empty. A sign told me I had 73 kilometres to go, and for the next 45 minutes of driving, I passed one truck, and one other car passed me, and disappeared swiftly into the undulating curves of the road ahead.

2015-paddocks-from-geelong-train

 

Pic: © The Antipodean Blatherer

I drove through the countryside, with paddocks on both sides of me. There were sheep grazing in dry, yellow fields, right up close to the road, and in yet another paddock, bales of hay, piled up into what looked like small straw-colored cubby houses. I rounded a steep downward bend with eucalyptus trees on each side, to see a cool green dam spread out only a few feet away from the road.  Browns, golds, and yellows everywhere I looked. In some cases, the color signalled a crop, but in most cases, the beiges and light browns spread out before me were just the dry landscape in this part of the state. That’s just the color of the grass. Everything was just part of the ordinary, Australian countryside, yet all these things seemed quite wonderful, in a way, on such a lovely morning.

The slight sense of wonder stayed with me for the whole trip. Here I was, a lone vehicle driving through a landscape I’d never driven in before, way out in the countryside on narrow country roads, at 8.30am in the morning, and yet at the end of this strange and unfamiliar trip, I’d be at work, just like on any other work day.

It was the sunlight, it was the morning, it was the countryside, and it was the unfamiliarity of the trip.

I think it is a worthwhile exercise to take a different route to work occasionally.

 

 

We Float

Float

It’s a top rating story that has made world news  – the number of deaths by drowning  in Australia that have occurred since Christmas Day 2016. Consequently, there is talk of reinvigorating the push for parents to take kids for swimming lessons as early as the age of four, in order to increase their safety in the water.

I’ve had swimming lessons, but I’m not much of a swimmer. In Australia, for my generation, weekly swimming lessons in grade 6 and 7 were a standard part of the Physical Education program at school. By the end of those, I could float, tread water and swim backstroke and freestyle for 25 metres, no doubt accomplishing all those tasks with a resoundingly poor-to-fair rating.

Since that time, any time I’ve been in a large body of water, all I’ve done is frolic with my daughter (when she was a toddler), or “muck around” a bit in the waves at the beach. In other words, I’ve not had to physically exert myself to swim 25 metres for about 30 years, so whether I can swim or not these days, or how capable I am at swimming, is a matter purely for speculation.

Fortunately for me, I’ve never been stuck in a rip, or had to rescue anyone else who was.

*

In the little country town where I grew up, we were fortunate to have a busy community hub for young people that opened up every summer, in the form of the local pool. Given the size of the town, local council would have been unlikely to fund the building and maintenance of a man-made pool – a twenty-minute drive would bring you to various pools in the larger town up the road. However, luckily for us, a large local lake existed with no effort from council, and only required that they fit it out, to turn it into a local community pool.

So one side of the lake was given concrete bleachers, a wooden jetty was built to divide the “middle” pool – where the water came up my shoulders at its deepest point – from the main part of the lake, an ambitious, three-tiered diving tower was built, and a concreted, chlorinated pool for toddlers was created higher up the hill, in the shade of the eucalyptus trees.

When you are a kid, you take for granted everything you come across, so I didn’t think there was anything unusual about having a lake for your local pool. Of course, in the past, there was nothing usual about it, but these days we are a lot more risk averse than previous generations were, and generally in any populated area there will be a man-made, concrete, chlorinated pool, complete with lifeguards, Duty Managers, and lockers you can pay extra for, within a twenty minute drive.

In contrast to how they might have felt at an ordinary, 25 metre pool, with clear, transparent water and the depth marked at the bottom for all to see, this natural pool must have afforded the thrill of adventure to the 16 – 25 year olds who hung out at the lake in large numbers. Those who were 16-25 were my elders, and as such were afforded the appropriate respect and fear by me, a fearful kid. The local pool was definitely the only place in a small country town, where a child, or young teenager, could hang out in the same space as a bunch of older peers, and witness them all having a good time together.

There was added risk in swimming in a natural swimming hole. The water in the local lake was not clear, it was brown and murky. If you opened your eyes under water (we did!), you could see your own legs, and maybe those of someone standing quite close to you, but you wouldn’t see much further than that. And, right out in the middle of the lake, the depth was unknown. Unknown.

As a child, I found the concept that this lake went to unknown depths, absolutely thrilling. Rumour was that the lake had formed from an old mine-shaft. A bookish child, I’d read The Famous Five, and The Three Investigators, and some other great book about a girl who discovered a colony of dinosaurs still existing and living under a lake. So I knew that a mineshaft at the bottom of a lake of unknown depths signalled secret activities, shady figures, or at the very least, mystery.

Others were clearly more nonchalant than I, about the mystery in our midst. On hot summer afternoons, the pool was overrun with happy, carefree teens and younger adults, and an air of freedom and exuberance wafted across its surface in the warm, chlorine-saturated breeze.

I’m transported back for a moment, to a hot summer afternoon very much like today (it’s 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, and 37 degrees), in 1983, when I was 13.

I’m sitting in the middle of the wooden jetty that divides the middle pool from the wilds of the main part of the lake.

The middle pool is behind me. If I look straight ahead, I see some guy give a jubilant whoop as he dives from the 10 metre high, Top Tower. There is a queue of people chatting and laughing as they wait their turn to do the same, and queues at the lower towers, and still more people climbing the ladders to join them. I look a bit further to my right, along the wet concrete landing, to another diving board, this one lower than the towers. There’s a queue there too, and someone is doing a bomb off that board, just as I look in that direction. In other places on the concrete, people sit at the edge of the pool, or lie on beach towels.

Further to my right again are the concrete bleachers, which lead up to the public toilets and a kiosk, all permanently shaded by massive pine trees which drop their spikes all over the bleachers.  If I’m lucky, Mum will have given me enough money to buy a Peters Drumstick – my idea back then of the most heavenly thing one could eat.

peters-drumsticks-maybe-from-60s

Cake? I didn’t know there was cake as well!

Pic: Pinterest

Right behind me is the Middle pool, beyond that is the concrete landing that borders two sides of this pool, and then, up some concrete steps and fully fenced in, the man-made, chlorinated toddler pool. Behind that is the perimeter fence. If you stand up near the fence you can hear frogs and birds in the wetlands on the other side of it.

To my left, I look along the rest of the jetty, built to cut the Middle Pool off from the main pool. After performing that function, continues on around the edge of the main pool for a while, running along next to the perimeter fence, creating another surface around that edge, where people can hang out. That last section of jetty, where it’s not dividing the two pools, is an unofficial hangout for older teens, so I never go that far along. Even though they are only visiting, my older cousins can read the lay of the land, and they disappear for hours, hanging out there, sunbathing on their beach towels, or taking a dip, with the sounds of the wetlands on the other side of the fence behind them.

A map is provided for your edification. (not to scale.)

A map is provided for your edification. (not to scale.)

At this time, it’s a mysterious world to me, the world of older teenagers. All I recall is that a cousin about 8 years older than me – so almost an adult in my eyes, at any point in my childhood –  had an unfortunate incident where she dived in off the jetty and when she came up from under the water, her bikini top did not come with her.

One year my mother booked myself and some of my siblings  – maybe it was the oldest three of us – into lessons run by Vicswim (a program run during school holidays and funded by the State government) at our local pool. The lesson attendees comprised basically our family and one other local girl, and were run before the pool was open to the public, so we had the whole quiet pool to ourselves.

One busy weekend, there was a kerfuffle in the main poole, and it turned out that an unsuspecting platypus had swum too far and found itself in the midst of a bunch of humans frolicking around in the water. The poor creature continued to paddle along, into the middle pool, where I had a good view of it. Like everyone else, I wasn’t quite sure whether to be scared of the animal, or what it would do if I got too close, so I steered clear of it.

platypus-underwater-animal-profile-web620

Pic: Zoos Victoria 

*

I imagine lots of Australians have a similar relationship to water as I have. We learned to swim as kids, and have fond memories of spending time at our local pool or beach, then as adults we only ever muck about in waist high water at the beach, between the flags. For us, water at a pool or beach has been a fun-filled place to hang out. We are probably not equipped to deal with getting caught in a rip, or assisting someone else when they are.

Despite my fair, freckled skin, and tendency to sunburn, I do love the beach when the temperature soars past 30 degrees. Not in the daytime – I’m not a total masochist. But it’s a lovely place to be in the morning before the sun has heated up, or in the evening when the hot sun is losing its bite.

But because of the publicity around this spate of recent drownings, I felt an unusual sense of concern last night, as I watched my daughter head into the waves at my local beach. It was unpatrolled, but very calm, and filled with people. What would I do if I saw her get into difficulty? There was no question that I’d rush in to help her, but would I be any use or would I just make matters worse? At Australia’s rivers and beaches there are frequently tragic stories of people who drown trying to save others.

Fortunately, she was fine, and the night will become, for us, part of our blurry, happy memories of spending warm, summer evenings in the water.

*

P.J. Harvey – We float, take life as it comes.

via Daily Prompt: Float

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