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02 04 10
stomping through my attic
06 08 12
16 19 22 24
04 cabernet sayer 06 what lies beneath
12 oriental treasure 16 cultural creatives 19 accidental art 20 know thyself - toddler art 22 interview 24 mid life jam
08 why i love john updike 10 the paralysis of choice
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FOr All ITS FAUlTS – FOr ALL ITS FAUlTS – I Am VerY FONd OF mY hOme TOWN. I WOUld NeVer dreAm OF reTUrNING There TO lIVe, NOT leAST BeCAUSe mOST PeOPle GO There TO dIe.
Stomping through my
But it is hard not to harbour some affection for a town which shaped so much of my early life, a life spent on lush greenswards, pristine beaches and clean, trouble-free streets, in quaint churches and old-fashioned sweet shops where they still weighed winter cough mix in quarters from a jar. If that sounds a little too idyllic for the troubled and cynical 80s, it’s because it was – a gloriously innocent childhood spent in the sheltered english outpost of Frinton-on-Sea, with a manuallyoperated set of railway gates keeping the real world out. And the wonderful thing was, as people would always tell you, it was quiet. So quiet. On an overcast afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I typed ‘Frinton’ into You Tube. It was more through curiosity than dewy-eyed nostalgia - I was back there as recently as last Christmas, visiting all my haunts and friends and reminiscing on late afternoon walks along the Walings in the gathering dusk as the wind whipped in off the North Sea. But my illusion of a perfect little world had been punctured long ago by a growing awareness of the staidness, cynicism, snobbery and sheer bloody-mindedness of many of the local people.Years before I fled the nest for university and eventually settled in Australia, I had realised that there was a malaise deep at the heart of Frinton. A commendable collective desire to preserve the town’s rich Victorian heritage and resist the popular trend to modernise was being tarnished by the rancorous bitterness of a people who were conservative not only with a capital ‘C’, but also a very large small ‘c’. I couldn’t wait to leave. And on my occasional trips back there it is impossible to shake those memories. So it was with some trepidation that I settled down at my computer to watch Wonderland, a documentary broadcast in 2008 and purporting to be about a group of residents fighting to save ‘The Gates’ from being torn down and replaced by automatic barriers.
No single gesture could symbolise the death of old Frinton more than the removal of those iconic gates, and as Frintonians gathered en masse to protest this outrage, a BBC crew arrived in the town to capture the mood. This wasn’t news to me – I was already aware of the program, and the furious debate that followed, via friends who discussed it at length on Facebook when it first aired. And it certainly wasn’t news to me that Frinton residents were opposing something. In 1992, the unsuccessful protests of a vocal minority to the opening of the first fish and chip shop inside ‘the Gates’ – this is a seaside town, remember – made national and international headlines. In 1998, shortly before I left the UK, I was working in a health food shop in Connaught Avenue at the height of ‘Pubgate’, a fiercely-fought battle against plans to open the town’s first pub.
Customer after customer would wail about the Frinton’s imminent demise at the hands of the ‘riff-raff’ and ‘scum’ who would be drawn inexorably to the town by the whiff of Greene King beer, leaving mayhem and destruction in their wake. I came to relish the predictability as my ageing but refreshingly progressive boss would try to reason with them before giving up and chasing them out almost Fawlty-esque, tearing up their petitions and posters behind them. Watching your town being ridiculed and exposed for all the world to see is a disconcerting experience. Imagine an old friend who you care about dearly but wish privately that he would get just a little comeuppance for some of his wrongdoing and bad behaviour, only to see him reduced to abject humiliation before a baying audience. That is what Wonderland does to Frinton. A clutch of individuals, some sad and lonely, some eccentric, some clearly in the grip of mental illness, are used to illustrate an obviously pre-conceived idea of a depressing, narrow-minded little town. The clue is in its selection as part of a series on the quirkier side of British life. The film-makers didn’t come to meet normal, everyday folk, and given the town’s reputation as being one big retirement village, they only wanted the elderly. So totally are the under-60s airbrushed out of the picture that you could be forgiven for wondering whether there’s even a school.
It’s, simultaneously, horrific yet compelling viewing. Watching margaret, the ‘never been kissed’, socially awkward owner of the dickens Curios giftshop, confess her unrequited love for her male friend, is heart-wrenching. The camera stares at her like a child would, and she in turn stares blankly at the floor, shuffling nervously. I feel proud of her as she maintains a quiet, dignified sadness in the light of the interviewer’s probing, almost mocking questions about her friend’s interest in his dancing partner. Another character, gay Charles, could be paranoid, lonely, hated, or a combination of all three. It’s hard to tell, yet is not hard to imagine a homosexual man in his senior years getting the cold shoulder in Frinton. As he eats alone, swims alone, and mutters about his neighbours alone, you wonder whether his oft-referred to deep secret is really something perfectly innocent, yet it could just as easily be something very sinister. And then there’s the sweet old Irish lady who stands on the corner outside the bakery, looking out towards the gates, waiting for her sister. her sister never arrives, yet still she waits. She worries that she might be in the cameraman’s way, blissfully unaware that she is his subject. Still she waits. We are meant to laugh at her because she is an eccentric Frintonian. But she has dementia, it is clear. This, more than any other aspect of the film, feels like intrusion and exploitation of the most appalling kind. The main business – the battle to save The Gates – is little more than a distraction from the stories of these characters, yet this is the one part of the film where the camera lens exposes the genuine madness of many elderly Frintonians. I’m torn, watching it, between wanting to preserve the iconic structures and the fact that I can’t bear to see these people win. The woman who, down her nose, implores the camera to “go away, go away” once argued with me over our failure to stock enough pitted prunes. Another man decides that he can’t bear to have the new automatic gates operated by “some lunatic from Colchester.” The main campaign chant – “What do we want? Safety! Where do we want it? The Gates” is not likely to have Barack Obama’s campaign team beating a path to Frinton for inspiration when the next election comes around.Yet they were adamant that the bastards at Network
rail would not take their gates away and they would stop at nothing to prevent it from happening. An urban legend, never verified but highly plausible, has it that a woman was once stopped by a policeman while driving inside the gates, and was asked to produce her licence. “But officer, I don’t need a licence,” she says. “I live inside The Gates.” Growing up in Frinton, it was common to hear these kinds of stories and jokes and to laugh. The laughter was always laced with a little vitriol at the knowledge that, although maybe not quite to that extent, such pompous and deluded attitudes really did prevail among so many of the local geriatric population.Yet they were our jokes, our stories, and it was our right to deprecate our town. Then someone came along with a camera and a prejudice, and all of Britain (and anyone in the world who might stumble upon it online) saw Frinton, laughed, maybe cried, and thought ‘thank God I don’t live there.’ Just like they might if he had turned up in any other town, found four or five oddballs, mocked their idiosyncrasies and afflictions and then plastered it all over their television screens. It made me want to throw my arms around the whole of Frinton because it’s mine and for All its faults, it didn’t deserve that. And did they win, those brave, vocal protectors of the Frinton Gates, who risked and received – ridicule in front of the nation? A few weeks ago The Gates slipped silently into history, replaced in the small, dark hours as they slept. Probably by someone who only ever wanted a quiet life. david mitchell
IT WAS AN ePIPhANY. ONe OF ThOSe mOmeNTS WheN YOU STOP, leAVe YOUr BOdY FOr A mOmeNT ANd lOOK dOWN ThINKING “WhAT ON eArTh Are We dOING? hOW dId ThIS hAPPeN?” I hAd BeeN PerSUAded BY FrIeNdS TO meeT UP AT A WINerY, IN A FAmOUS AUSSIe WINe reGION, TO dO WhAT YOU dO WheN YOU GO TO A WINerY ACT. Yes, convincingly play your part in the whole performance. I was actually sucked in for a while, genuinely enjoying the manicured gardens and admiring the barrels and machinery. Because of course, “You’ve got to go to hunter Valley”. “You’ve got to.” It’s not important that I was in NSW, the same pantomime is going on in Barossa,Yarra and our own esteemed margaret river. So there I was, in the tasting room, or cellar door as it’s known, alongside a runway length counter, with a wine waiter laying on an array of reds for the room’s intense scrutiny. I had just begun to swap those ridiculous commentary phrases to my partner when I had my moment of clarity. Suddenly feeling like the only one in the room who knew we were in a game, I began surveying the scene.
I saw a sea of couples, city day trippers playing their part in the bizarre ritual of instant expertise. husbands were uttering things like ‘subtle oaky aftertaste’ ‘vibrant acidity’ and ‘surprising citrusy hues’ while wives played along solidly, revealing the full depths of their overnight, supersensitive palate. One that can spot a 1997 riesling at 20 paces and distinguish the clear gulf between a smoky clearskin and a tannin heavy Chambertin les echezeaux. It was all of a sudden, totally hilarious. The room echoed to the comparative notes of spicy palates, full bodies, zesty lifts and floral finishes. All cajoled and encouraged by the wine waiter, smiling away, secretly conducting the whole show. Supportingly pouring and nodding at all the metropolitan blow-ins, the weekend connoisseurs whose wallets get leakier with every nip of burgundy.
I looked around and saw people holding glasses up to the light with an expression of a lab scientist looking for signs of the ebola virus on a microscope slide. I heard people give themselves away by talking about ‘merr-lotts’ and ‘semmallon’. People were attempting to do the wine swirl, rolling their wrists like a russian gymnast warming up, topped off with a ‘threading a very fine needle’ face. People were inhaling the vapours off the liquid with the concentration of a safe cracker. They held the liquid in their mouths to determine the precise viscosity, pulling the look of a 7 year old, full of a dentist’s mouthwash. Other couples were looking slightly anxious, with pensive looks that said “If I spit this out will it really look like I know what I’m doing? or perhaps, “If I don’t spit it out, will he think I’m an alcoholic or at least a closet beer drinker?” everyone was so earnestly following the script, even though after 5 glugs of anything they could be convinced red wine vinegar was Penfolds Grange. I reckon the wineries are having utter hysterics with us. They probably fill up some of the ‘exclusive family Shiraz’ samples with mongolian cask wine just to see if anyone notices. At the end of the dance of course it would seem absurd and churlish to not then make a purchase. “hell let’s get 6, its better value isn’t it darling?” “Oh why not 12 or even 24, let’s start a bit of a cellar shall we? We’ve got that space under the stairs, next to the ironing board and disused ab-roller.” Then of course, suitably disarmed, the staff somehow manage to convince everyone that it would be insane to come to their winery without doing a spot of follow-on cheese tasting, before heading home with some of their $86 a kilo, smoked cheese. Of course! how silly of us to almost forget!
Photo by TheBusyBrain on Flickr
Slowly emerging from my eureka moment, I drove away in hysterics at the bizarre play in which traditionally normal people enter a winery, leave their senses in the car, spend $300 in an hour and then head home buoyant, discussing how perhaps they “should have gone for the blackcurranty one.” despite the literal and emotional intoxication, none of us usually return for a while, at least until the winery owners, chuckling in our wake, persuade us to pay the price of a small car to hear michael Crawford or elton John whisper ballads through the vines.
What lies beneath
eVerYONe hAS A STOrY TO Tell. SOme OF The STOrIeS ThAT mAKe UP YOUr exISTeNCe Are emPOWerING ANd VerY UPlIFTING, SOme CreATe ShACKleS ThAT KeeP YOU STUCK Where YOU Are. WOVeN WIThIN YOUr STOrIeS Are YOUr BelIeFS, WhICh CreATe YOUr reAlITY.
A popular pastime is to carry stories around like a badge of honour, bringing them out in a show-and-tell fashion as a means of defining our reality. expressing past experiences is a good start to the process of clearing pain from past traumatic events. however, when this story is told over and over again it only reinforces your belief system and creates your reality, by digging a deeper grove into your neuro-pathways. most do this unconsciously, without realising that they are just keeping stuck in the groove they desire to be free from. They can change their stories, create new stories and unplug from the matrix, the treadmill of life that keeps going around and around. You get attached to your stories without being aware that they keep you from changing your life. They will hold you in a comfort zone, the grey zone, where you are never too happy or too sad, giving you a ‘Groundhog day’ experience, day after day.
Your internal bio-computer is programmed from your stories and beliefs, and this is what you become. It’s not a matter of waiting for the wind to change direction or for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: everyone knows you never get there. It’s about telling a new story, choosing a new design, so that you create what you want. When you build a house, you do it in stages. The first thing that happens is that either you or an architect design it, then draws up the plans and from there the building takes place. The average person spends a great deal of time consulting their ‘mental guru’ in an attempt to figure out their problems, hoping to make improvements in their life. This in itself becomes a story that gets in the way of really knowing what’s going on, or more importantly understanding it. The only reason you will want to figure out your old issues again is because you are planning to hang onto them. Nothing remotely positive can come from rehashing old ground.
One of the most powerful ways to dissolve the issues you struggle with is to let go of wanting to figure them out. morbid analysis only serves to hold onto that which you desire to be rid of. You have this problem and you will start to wonder why you do, what it means about you and why it is there. You will often create all sorts of explanations about why, and yet you still have the same problem. When you have had a true insight about any problem, and taken steps to transmute the underlying feelings, it simply disappears. So all the reasons why you have the problem are simply excuses to hold onto it. They become your life stories. This act of justification only strengthens the stories and embeds them deeper. The more you tell the story to yourself and others, the bigger the stronghold it will have in your system, the more you will become it and the harder it is to let it go. On the other hand there is nothing wrong with understanding your patterns. I’m not suggesting that you don’t have insights. I am just advising that you stop chasing them. When you are willing to let go of wanting to figure out the problem with your mind, the answers come. But when you are trying to figure it out, it acts as a barrier to that knowing. The answers come from your heart, not your head. There is a big difference. energy is always moving and changing. It takes one form, then another, but it never stands still. everything we see, hear, taste, touch, or smell is in a constant state of change. In fact change is all there is. People sometimes say, “let’s wait until the dust settles after all this change before we do anything” or “I just want this change to hurry up and be over so I can get back to normal”. They don’t understand that change itself is what’s normal. every cell in your body is replaced in less than a year. You aren’t even the same physical person you were a year ago. You can go back to your old house or your old town, but it won’t be the same, you won’t be the same, and your relationship with it won’t be the same as it was. In fact, the whole world as we know it is gone the moment we know it! To embrace and leverage change, ask yourself: what stories am I hanging on to in my life that no longer serve me? letting go of your stories will mean creating a space within you for the new to come in. It may mean you going into the void, a space of nothingness and infinite potential, for a period of time in preparation for the new. You can’t just layer the new over the old. You need to clear a space for the new to come into being. You may have to go through some discomfort, and this is the step that most fear. let go of the fear of the unknown. When you understand the process it becomes much easier and you can move through it without taking the phenomena that may arise for you personally. Courage often comes before joy, so the discomfort is well worth it. Just apply effort, perseverance and courage.
For anyone who feels that they can’t change, it’s well worth remembering that you stopped using nappies because you became toilet trained. Nature hates a void so when you focus on what you want, allowing yourself to let go of the old and step into the void, you will create a better future for yourself.
Bio Jenny Parker has studied the healing process and accelerated human change for over 25 years.This knowing and wisdom is put to good use with people worldwide in her work as a coach and mentor, teacher, writer and inspirational speaker. For more info go to www.heartforce.com.au or email jenny@ heartforce.com.au
I dON’T lIKe ShOrT SeNTeNCeS. PlAIN ANd INFOrmATIVe. ONeS ThAT hAVe TO Be STrAIGhTFOrWArd, leSS ANY reAder GeT lOST. The NATUre OF mY PrOFeSSIONAl lIFe meANS I Am CONSTANTlY dIreCTed TO USe SImPle eNGlISh IN eASIlY dIGeSTIBle ChUNKS. APPAreNTlY IN WrITING, PlAIN IS BeAUTIFUl. lONG SeNTeNCeS ANd PArAGrAPhS dON’T hOld PeOPle’S INTereST. Well NOT AlWAYS. GOOd WrITING CAN Be COmPlex, BeAUTIFUl, lONG WINded, FlUCTUATING, meTAPhOr dreNChed, meANderING JOUrNeYS OF ImPreSSIONS.
At home I crave good writing. I want beautifully crafted sentences that shine. I don’t care if they are more than six words long. Not everything can be reduced to six words. Not everything needs to be. I think good writing is text that you can’t even conceive of putting to paper yourself. It is new territory. Unchartered landscape. It is startling, shimmering combinations of sound, image and meaning that create indelible impressions. At its best, it is completely removed from the abundant received thought and phrasing we recycle in our daily discourse. It is perhaps this personal prejudice that inevitably led me to discovering the prolific works of mr John Updike. Updike died in January this year and his passing brought me a far higher bout of melancholy and introspection than the much lauded passings of diana, Steve Irwin or the moonwalker. he was 78 and with no warning, his prolific pen was suddenly put down for good. I first heard the name back in my college days in the late 80’s. A period where I was preciously obsessing over the brief catalogue of Jd Salinger and in particular, his Franny and Zooey masterpiece. The only book in my life that made me stay in bed all day until it was finished. In this period, whichever room a particular housemate landed in, (we were rotating each term for equality) one of his anchors was 3 dog eared novels, forever precariously balanced on his mantelpiece. I forget everything about the first two and the name of the third, but distinctly remember its spine and thinking that John Updike was a curious name, especially for an American writer. It was not for another twenty years that I would learn how the dutch family ancestry intertwined to create his idiosyncratic title. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties until Updike came into my sphere again. I was devouring the quirky novels of Nicholson Baker and found out that he had written a book about his obsession with Updike. Baker delved deeply into prose that left him in awe. he highlighted Updike’s metaphors such as “the cool margins of the bed”1 and “flowers… the first advertisements”2. he was particular enamoured with a sentence Updike crafts on a sleeping character named Peggy, “her shoes, lying beside her feet as if dislodged by a shift of momentum” 3. my favourite bit was when Baker recalls seeing Updike on TV at his mother’s house fixing storm windows. “he tossed down to us some startlingly lucid felicity,” said Baker, “something about ‘these small yearly duties which blah blah blah,’ and I was stunned to recognise that in Updike we were dealing with a man so naturally verbal that he could write his fucking memoirs on a ladder.”4 Before I completed Baker’s oblique homage entitled ‘U & I’, I thought I best check his subject out. Thus I came to my opening literary meal from the Pennsylvanian master. And what a start. Couples. The 1968 novel that detailed the suburban lives of an educated American clique in a New england town. Characters that could have strolled into the movie ‘The Ice Storm’ without any jolt in the plot.
Updike locks a comprehensive focus on all our acting, role playing, chest beating, pining, tenderness, spite, guilt and passion. I am sure his arena is too confronting and too stark for some, especially those who don’t want the romantic veil lifted too high and those who would rather look anywhere than at themselves. Anyone seeking pure escapism in literature would probably jump ship very rapidly on reading the unflinching way he describes us all, mind, body and action. I still have so much of his work to get through. I’ve barely scratched the surface with his short stories – the medium for which he is most praised. he is most well known for his ‘rabbit’ collection of books, charting the life of a harry ‘rabbit’ Angstrom, from school basketball star to the grave. A gloriously ordinary character full of nobility and flaws, strong opinion and confusion, like we all are. harry can be an oaf and yet touchingly tender. he gives into his impulses and sleeps with people he shouldn’t. he has fitness campaigns that fade and always ploughs into a second slice. You cannot help but love rabbit, for he is the everyman and the language and phrasing Updike uses to weave the fabric of his life linger long in the memory.You never tire of following his story. For me, it’s not so much the images Updike’s use of words creates in your mind, but more the sheer accuracy of his observations. In a YouTube interview I saw, he responds to criticism that he is overly stylistic by stating that he aims to “write with precision about what his mind’s eye conjures up”. A job he nails. Though the results can sometimes be searing (“her thighs fill the front of her dress so that even standing up she has a lap”5) their essential frankness and truth are often uplifting. Almost an exoneration of homo sapiens. In ‘U & I’, Nicholson Baker’s wife dares label him as being obsessed with Updike, though he deftly deflects with “For though I think about Updike a lot I seldom read him: surely a true obsessive would read all the available works”6. If this holds up as a defence you must forgive this long gush, for evidently I am as innocent as the man who penned the 179 page dedication that dwarfs this one.
It’s just that I don’t think I have ever read better writing than the closing few pages of his memoir ‘Self-Consciousness’, a window in which he attempts to review his life and advancing years. One in which his elegance and eloquence are free to soar… “Also like my late Unitarian father in law am I now in my amazed, insistent appreciation of the physical world, of this planet with its scenery and weather – that pathetic discovery which the old make that every day and season has its beauty and its uses, that even a walk to the mailbox is a precious experience, that all species of tree and weed have their signature and style and the sky is a pageant of clouds. Aging calls us outdoors, after the adult indoors of work and love-life and keeping stylish, into the lowly simplicities that we thought we had outgrown as children. We come again to love the plain world, its stone and wood, its air and water. “What a glorious view!” my father-in-law would announce as we smirked in the back seat of the car he was inattentively driving. But in truth all views have something glorious about them. The act of seeing is itself glorious, and of hearing, and feeling, and tasting. One of my dead golf partners,Ted Lucas, said once within my hearing to another dear departed fellow golfer, John Conley, “Life is bliss.”7 references
1- 4 & 6
There were so many partnerships introduced in the first few chapters that I paused and drew up a ‘couples character map’. Without it, I would have soon lost my way among the bed hopping antics of the hard-drinking hedonists. This addition was ridiculed years later by a friend who borrowed the now-collapsing book, before a quick grasp of its necessity transformed her scorn to gratitude. When it returned, I noticed her librarian mother had kindly extended its life through a great repair job on the cover. Within 50 pages of Couples, I knew I had made a great discovery. One of the moments when you know you have unearthed one of your personal diamonds from the world of the arts. It was one that would nourish my obsession for stories that were plausible and dealt with nothing more than lifting the lid on human behaviour. Crime, sci fi and fantasy leave me cold and despite the odd detour, the Updike catalogue has been a gloriously comprehensive essay on the fundamental things that we do. he is the master of putting suburbia under the microscope. All our joys and losses, fumblings and aspirations, quirks and weaknesses and it’s all done with a painters touch. John Updike writes magnificently. even the most mundane of activity gets expressed with dense, lyrical, poetic brilliance. Style triumphs, but the content does not lag behind. his sentences are a treat. I’ve not come across anyone who better maps out our stumbling, hazardous journey to maturity and our desperate attempts to foster happiness and bring meaning and significance to our lives. he scrutinises the zone where we are all hopeless addicts – relationships.
Nicholson Baker, 1991, U&I, Granta Publications
John Updike, 1960, rabbit run, Penguin Books John Updike 1989, Self-Consciousness, random house
Pho pph y Sa to b ireb lue on Flic kr
IN A ClASSIC FrY ANd lAUrIe SKeTCh FrOm The eArlY 1990S, hUGh lAUrIe PlAYS A GOVerNmeNT mINISTer eATING AlONe AT A reSTAUrANT TABle. A waiter, played by Stephen Fry, recognises him and greets him warmly. he then recites, like a devoted fan, the words of a recent speech made by the minister in the house of Commons to push through a new broadcasting bill which would pave the way for multichannel television. Upon finishing, he is horrified to notice that the minister is eating with silver cutlery. “Oh but I’m terribly sorry,” the waiter says, wrenching the knife and fork from his grasp. he returns with a bag of plastic coffee stirrers and pours the entire contents onto the table. “Well at least you’ve got the choice now, haven’t you?” he cries, angrily. “I mean they may be complete crap but ThINK OF The ChOICe!”
We are surrounded by choice. Nearly 20 years on from that prophetic piece of satire, choice is still regarded widely as a virtue, almost without question. The more things we have to choose from, the richer and more varied our options, the better the life - surely? But look behind the veneer and there is much evidence to show that the abundance of choice in modern society poses as many problems, perhaps more, than it solves.Yes, choice can excite and invigorate. The concept of limitless possibilities can’t fail to be attractive.Yet the world of smorgasbord buffets, information overload, satellite television and cheap travel may, ultimately, bring us less satisfaction than the eat-what-you’re given, believe-what-you’retold, hancock’s-half-hour and a-fortnight-inSkegness world of previous generations. I’m going to use food and television because, while they might be trivial matters in the grand scheme of life, they illustrate the dilemma of choice perfectly. most of us make decisions about one or both of them daily. Think of the last time you ate a meal from a buffet, perhaps in a hotel or at a wedding. The array of diverse temptations can be so overwhelming it messes with the taste sensors in your head. If you thought you fancied a piece of fish tonight, think again because there’s duck curry, roast pork and vegetable frittata on offer as well. Can’t decide what to have? Then have them all! This sort of thing happens to me regularly, to the extent that I have a little of everything but enjoy the value of nothing. I feel dissatisfied, yet how could I have felt otherwise? had I plumped for just one dish, would I have been wondering what the others tasted like? Would I have felt that nagging sense of unfulfillment at failing to make the most of all the choices available?
Photo by zaphodsotherhead on Flickr
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F on ho aw ak
Some of the dissatisfaction also lies in the reality that more choice does not necessarily mean more quality – in fact, it almost invariably means the opposite. Channel-hopping has become an international pastime. Whether or not we have access to satellite television and its myriad channels, most of us have known evenings where we’ve watched a fraction of eight shows, yet all of none of them. On one hand I am thrilled that I can choose to watch my favourite sports, 24 hour news from the UK, Australia and the US, multiple movies, light entertainment, documentaries and more, any time of day or night. But once again, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that amid all that choice (plus the many shopping, quiz and ‘lifestyle’ channels I have absolutely no difficulty in switching off) the quality is diluted. how could it not be? Twenty-four hour news is really about 20 minutes of news repackaged and recycled over and over until something new happens, entertainment and comedy channels consist of a few select shows repeated to death. As Jeremy Paxman wrote in an insightful article for the Guardian in 2007, “the more television there is, the less any of it matters.” having more choice not only means that we are statistically less likely to stumble upon that gem of a television program that enriches our lives and makes us rejoice in the medium; it also means that gem is less likely to be made in the first place, anymore.
Photo by The Consumerist on Flickr
So why, given the complexities involved in making these multiple daily decisions, do we not make it easier on ourselves? do away with the things that make us choose? The truth is that I am, like many people, addicted to choice, and like any addiction one can become paralysed by it. despite its pitfalls we still see it as a virtue because theoretically it gives us control, even if in reality it doesn’t. Imagine myself, a single man living alone, coming home to a meal made for me and one channel on television. my control is gone, I’m at the mercy of some other force. I’d be yearning to have my choices back. Of course there are more important choices in our lives than the relatively trivial ones I’ve listed. What course to study, what career to pursue, whether to buy that house near the coast, or that duplex in the city, or that ramshackle cottage in the country. Whether to propose marriage, leave things as they are, or leave her. At some point in the fairly near future, I’m going to have to make a decision about where I live next. I could easily restrict myself to two choices – stay where am in Australia or move back to my homeland. Yet what does a man do when he is single, relatively affluent and has literally a whole world of possibilities to choose from?
Some people leave all their important life decisions, and even the trivial ones, to the arbitrary toss of a coin. I think a little more backbone is needed than that – the ability to make at least some decisions is a fundamental aspect of being a functioning human being. But it can be refreshing to introduce a certain randomness to your life. recently I began eliminating choice by writing down the first thing that came into my head whenever I had to make one. The liberation is extraordinary. You have to follow it through by sticking with your ‘choice’ when all the other possibilities are entering your head. And the best thing? The satisfaction levels are so, so much greater when you convince yourself that you never really had the choice at all. And if I didn’t know that some smart-arse would say ‘Baghdad’ or ‘Scunthorpe’ I might even let readers make my next important life decision. I do know when to draw the line. david mitchell
I COUld NeVer See mYSelF OWNING A reSIN BOOmerANG WITh ‘AUSTrAlIA’ IN GOld TYPe SUrrOUNded BY FAKe WATTle FlOWerS WITh A ‘mAde IN ChINA’ STICKer ON The BACK ThAT SITS IN A PlASTIC STANd ABOVe The TV, BUT A ‘hellO KITTY’ hOldING A hAlF eATeN BlACK eGG WITh A SmIlING FACe deCOrATIVe ThING FrOm JAPAN ThAT YOU CAN ClIP TO The COVer OF YOUr NINTeNdO dS IS A TOTAllY dIFFereNT STOrY - SO mUCh mOre USeFUl, SO mUCh mOre INTrIGUING! The interesting thing about Japanese souvenirs is that they are predominantly made for the Japanese and are predominantly made in the country that they are souvenirs of - now there’s a concept. One of the great things about travelling for me is finding interesting crazy stuff that I don’t need, but must have. Trips to tourist sites are always sweetened by a long slow browse of the shop afterwards.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t spend as much time, or more, in the shop as I did touring the site, whatever it may be. Not always to buy, mind you, but to peruse the array of souvenirs that are always so much more fascinating than the debris I could buy at home. On previous trips overseas I’ve bought extra suitcases - a necessity not a souvenir - to put all the goodies in. In my defense, being part of a big family does not help. So in Japan in 2008 I was determined to go for the items that would pack relatively flat and were lightweight. despite the restrictions, I acquired a great many things for myself and I even managed to complete my Christmas shopping – make the overseas gifts count I say! As previously mentioned, I bought the hello Kitty decorative thing and the shoes but also yukatas (dressing gowns) and Japanese pyjamas; a crazy sweater featuring Uittg, the world famous monkey, which surprisingly enough I have never heard of; a key ring featuring a small clock with Japanese numerals; fans; chopsticks; table cloths; combs; face washers; mad, mad boxer shorts for brothers-in-laws; a Pokémon t-shirt for my nephew (I should mention that there is a store in Tokyo that just sells Pokémon and nothing else); fridge magnets – a must; earphones and a wet suit cover for my mp3 player; a bag; two traditional Japanese lunch boxes; puzzles; Tokyo Bananas; and more I’m sure.
lastly, I picked up a print of an artwork by Takashi murakami in the mori Art museum shop in the roppongi hills Complex. Some time before travelling to Japan I watched a documentary on Takashi murakami. I had never seen his artwork before and was fascinated. What fun and imagination! And the marketability of it all - reminiscent of pop art and a blur between high and low art. The show on at the mori Art museum that night was a modern confronting thing involving dead animals, stuffed toys and strange installations. So imagine my joy when I found the print in the shop afterwards. It wasn’t until I opened it at home that I realised it was more of a souvenir than I first thought. The tall shiny building featured in the lower right hand side is the roppongi hills tower. I can look fondly on the print when framed and hung knowing that I saw Tokyo at night from this building, was confronted by some interesting modern art and my husband and I had our first heated discussion as a married couple (a big night out!). looking for interesting souvenirs will always be high on my traveling agenda – for the wonder and strangeness of them and for the stories that get attached to them. I get to re-live parts of my trips when someone asks “hey where did you get that?” Grace lovejoy
Three souvenirs that stand out for me though are a Japanese puzzle box, the toothpick holders and a print featuring the roppongi hills towers. I bought the Japanese puzzle box during a one day tour that included a bus ride up mt Fuji; a pirate ship cruise on lake Ashi, hakone - which was a whole story in itself; a ride home on the Shinkansen; and a ropeway trip to visit some hot springs where you can buy boiled eggs. Boiled eggs do not sound that extraordinary except for the fact that the hot springs turn the shells black. Surprisingly, most of the travellers on the tour bought a bag of the eggs and ate them. Odd when you could also pick up a ‘hello Kitty holding a half eaten black egg with a smiling face decorative thing’ I rest my case. I love the puzzle box because I love a good puzzle and the work that has gone into creating it is astounding. It is intricately handcrafted and it takes 21 moves to remove the lid. I had never seen one of these before or since and I got very excited when one featured ever so briefly on an American sitcom. The only down side could be that there is only a very small space for treasures inside but really, that detail seems so insignificant.
The toothpick holders I bought in beautiful Kyoto. I bought lots of them for all the wonderful females I know. I have often been out with them when someone has asked “have I got something between my teeth?” which is quite often followed by a trip to the toilet to dislodge the offending piece of food. (except of course for when we are being ridiculous and have smeared our teeth deliberately with food stuff – chocolate cake is great for this!) The question and the trips are no longer necessary for my female friends for in their bags they have a very pretty, discrete, toothpick holder complete with a mirror. A very practical gift and so quintessentially Japanese, from the size and the fabric to the quirkiness. disappointingly, I miscalculated and did not get one for myself - I should have perhaps kept the one I bought for my mother-in-law and given her something else as she seemed to not really appreciate its true value…
“roppongi hills” Copyright 2003 Takashi murakami/Kaikai Kiki. All rights reserved.
Cultural Creatives: the
We’ve often heard it said, if enough conscious individuals come together to form a critical mass, they can create a tipping point that potentially could shift the planet away from pointless ruin and towards an optimistic, sustainable future. “IF eNOUGh PeOPle reAlISe ThAT TheY Need TO STArT lOOKING FOr NeW WAYS TO lIVe TOGeTher ON ThIS SmAll PlANeT, ThIS CAN TOPPle The PreVAIlING SYSTemS. We Need TO mOBIlISe CreATIVITY. CreATIVITY ThAT reFUSeS TO ACCePT The exISTING Order ANd ThAT WANTS TO dISCOVer ThAT There Are OTher WAYS TO lIVe.” - Kamp & Laszlo 2004 Currently we may well be standing at that edge of a precipice, where we have the choice to either breakdown or breakthrough and experience a rare shift in evolutionary consciousness - something that may only happen once or twice a millennium. This tipping point may be closer than we think, with the wave of the newly emerging ‘Cultural Creatives’ (a term first coined in 2000 by sociologist Paul h. ray and psychologist Sherry ruth Anderson in their book ‘The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing t he World’). They are the ‘lifestyles of health and Sustainability’ (lOhAS)2 market, representing one in four adults or $209 US billion, in a growing marketplace for goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development and sustainable living. There is evidence to show that as consumers they are the future of business and of progressive social, environmental and economic change.Yet, their power as a consumer market remains virtually untapped. 3 As the vanguard of today’s cultural transformation, the ‘Cultural Creatives’ share a concern for social, ecological, spiritual, and personal development. Courageously questioning the status quo and daring to arouse social creativity in mainstream culture.
Who are the ‘Cultural Creatives’?
You may recognise them, perhaps even know them personally. The ‘Cultural Creatives’ are ordinary everyday people, like you and me, they are teachers, artists, parents, spiritual guides, scientists, business people, activists, feminists, environmentalists, social entrepreneurs etc. In 2000 the ‘Cultural Creatives’ made up nearly 25% of the population. This translates to over 50 million adults in the United States and more than 80-90 million in europe, a subculture that share ‘Cultural Creative’ worldviews, values and lifestyle. 1 They are the ones we see when we shop at natural food stores; they use alternative medicine and/or have solar panels on their roofs. What’s important to the ‘Cultural Creatives’ is a more authentic way of living, that is healthier, sustainable and more compassionate.
enlightenment 700 – 1000’ Peace 600; Joy 540; love 500; Fear 200;
In ‘Power vs Force’, david hawkins6 states that if 1/10th of one percent (.1%) of the world’s population, were to unify around a single cause, they could change the planetary consciousness. According to david hawkins, ONe person vibrating at level 500 (love)7 can counter-balance 750,000 people of a lower vibration! And one person vibrating at level 700 (enlightenment) can raise the consciousness of 70 million people! Therefore, each time one person shifts into a higher state of awareness it causes a tidal wave effect on the mass population.6
‘Cultural Creatives’ Values
The values of ‘Cultural Creatives’ are at the core of everything they do and how they chose to live their lives as they embrace diversity, ecological sustainability and a specific quality of life. By their very ‘being-ness’, their love for humanity and the planet, they are bringing about a cultural shift of newly emerging (integral) values, such as: • Personal Authenticity • engaged Action and Whole-Process learning • Globalism and ecology • Idealism and activism • The Importance of Women • Green living • rejection of old paradigms and outdated systems • Altruism, Self-Actualization and Spirituality With these unique values and lifestyle choices, the ‘Cultural Creatives’ are weaving a new cultural tapestry of how we see ourselves within the world today. What’s interesting is 60% of the Cultural Creatives are women, whose collective presence, may perhaps initiate (as some have suggested) the potential re-awakening of the global feminine energies, the goddess archetype. They seek to create more conscious communities; providing people with a sense of place and belonging; to come together and share authentic dialogue. Thus creating an opportunity to heal the planet by inspiring it to evolve and transform.
In their daily lives they embrace the practice of spiritual values that are outside of conventional everyday religiosity, seeking a more personal experience in relationship with ‘God, Allah, Buddha,Yahweh, Source, etc. The ‘Cultural Creatives’ want more universal, practical, spiritual principles with intrinsic values, rather than depend on the authority of any specific dogma or ordained individual.4 What is most amazing about this subculture is that the Cultural Creatives lack one critical element: they have no awareness that they are an emerging and already strong force within their society and more importantly within the world. The immense potential power lying dormant within such a movement certainly shouldn’t be underestimated, as they themselves, the business community and political world underestimate.5 When this group becomes fully conscious and aware of its size and potentiality and starts to form a conscious web of connectivity, it’ll be like a butterfly effect of bright lights turning on across the planet, which could change the world in a very short span of time.
The Cultural Creatives are post-modernist and post-industrialist. If mobilized, they could wield enormous moral, social and political influence, and shape elections. This is probably what we witnessed during the US election campaign, for President Barack Obama. The very people who elected him were the ‘new progressives’, a population that’s more interested in idealism than practical realism. The key for the Cultural Creatives is to bring a much needed solutionoriented mindset to assist them in translating that idealism into reality.8 In march 2008, after further study and research, ray found that politically, 36% or more of the population no longer identify with either the political left or right. Instead they are forging a new ideological dimension, the new ‘Political North’, the basis of a new political compass; a synthesis of melding the best of the modernists (47% of the population) versus Traditionalists (29% of the population) or Conservatists.9
Cultural Creatives: the
The election of President Barack Obama could symbolise this synthesis, the merging of opposing views to form a new (political) quality within our society. eight years ago when George W Bush became president, Obama’s election was unimaginable. even when Al Gore went for the presidency, there wasn’t enough of a critical mass of the new progressives, the new ‘Political North’ to forge a path big enough to make it happen. however, just a few years later, the political landscape became very different. A significant number of socially conscious ‘Cultural Creative’ Americans came together to elect the first African-American president. This act alone has made a mark in history’s pages, whilst also leaving a note that the efforts of the ‘Cultural Creatives’ are already changing the very fabric of our society in many, as yet unknown ways. This growing subculture within our society understands the interconnectedness of everything, they take a different view, they see society as an organism, a living breathing creature that we are all a part of. They understand that whatever is happening anywhere else in the world affects us individually and collectively; knowing if we do harm to others, we do harm to ourselves. A single organism, an organism that causes harm to itself, is unsustainable. Increasing numbers of us are choosing to live more authentic lives. We are slowly discarding old paradigms and old ways of struggling for survival, wealth and power. We are abandoning centuries old rules, systems and behaviours that have completely failed to take life on earth in the right direction. As we go forward this Cultural Creative group know things can be different and continue to choose lIFe transforming it whenever possible into lOVe and thus transforming the planet one creative impulse at a time. Vesna Sampson co-founder of the Institute of Sustainability & Social Innovation (ISSI) If you identify yourself in any way with the values, lifestyle choices and world views of the ‘Cultural Creatives’ and feel you have the desire to make a difference in this world and be a catalyst for positive social change, then please contact the newly formed Faculty within the Insight Foundation, the Institute of Sustainability and Social Innovation (ISSI). Ask us about our new unique program the Advanced diploma of management (BSB60407) in (Social) entrepreneurial leadership, a new (Australian) nationally recognised qualification. As a cultural creative and social innovator, with a desire and passion to make a difference in the world, let’s ‘transform the planet, one creative impulse at a time’. To find out what ISSI is about, go to our website at www.issionline.com.au. If you have questions then you can contact Vesna Sampson via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile: +61 409- 445- 631.
Paul h. ray & Sherry ruth Anderson, 2000 lOhAS online 2009
‘The Culture Creatives: how 50 million People Are Changing the World’ lOhAS Background: A history of a Sustainable marketplace www.lohas. com/about.html
Kamp, J., & laszlo, e 2004 dr. hawkins, d., 2005
‘Any day without a new idea is a day lost’ Ode magazine Power vs. Force: The hidden determinants of human Behaviour Veritas Publishing The New Political Compass: The New Progressives are I n-Front, deep Green, Against Big Business & Globalization, & Beyond left vs. right Cultural Creatives: Cultural Creatives making a difference for the Future in Global Oneness The Chaos Point: The World at the Crossroads, hampton roads Publishing Company
Paul h. ray, Ph.d. 2002
middendorf, 1999 laszlo, e 2006
IT WAS TIme TO SeNd mY GrANdmOTher her 89Th BIrThdAY CArd. I WANTed TO INClUde A reCeNT SNAP OF mY Three YeAr Old dAUGhTer TAKeN IN The FrONT GArdeN. Alas I seem to perpetually forget which way up the blank photo paper is supposed to go. I got it wrong again, but with error came an impressionist pastiche and the latest fresh slice of accidental art.
It’s amazing how powerful the simplest painting by a child can be. Just a few lines of a drawing, or a few splashes of colour, can bring the toughest of souls to tears. recall the final scene in ‘About Schmidt’ when Jack Nicholson receives a drawing from his sponsored child in Tanzania. he is disarmed by two simple stick figures holding hands, a splash of coloured sky and a heart searing representation of unconditional love.
Children’s art is powerful in many ways. Granted it hits home immediately through the lack of pretension or any notion of trying to impress. The artists have yet to develop the hindrance of self consciousness. They paint what they see. They draw what is important to them. So often this cuts straight through to us because we lead meandering lives that take us far away from what’s important. If we are not careful, we live drone existences of house cleaning, supermarket lists, the gas bill, insurance, internet trance, getting the car serviced and soul-less television.
Artwork by Poppy, aged 6
If unchecked, the endless maintenance and repetitive drudgery of urban life can seem a relentless conveyor belt. hence why a 5 minute rough drawing of mum and dad, with big grins, a dog, a red house and a mammoth yellow sky can bring us straight back to ourselves and unveil stifled emotions. You don’t have to have had children to be hit in the heart with these drawings and paintings, though genetic links will amplify the power and probably bring about new gallery space on a fridge door. most of the power is through the simple fact that the figures are always smiling. The two dimensional figures are traditionally bright, shining and loving life, a path adults have been known to stray from!
The kids are not trapped into getting it right, or paralysed by what others think. They are not concerned as to whether they are good at it, whether it’s the right colour, to scale or in perspective. They are not afraid to fail and don’t give a critic much to pontificate over other other than “This is my world” and “All you need is love.” Now that’s art.
hOW Old Are YOU? 37, although I was recently accused of looking 38 – oh the nonsense that spews from the mouths of children. WhAT’S The BeST ThING ABOUT BeING The AGe ThAT YOU Are NOW? I could rabbit on about how much more mature I am now and how I can more readily find fair perspective in the tribulations of my day. But that would only serve to raise a furrowed brow of condescension from readers who are 38 or older and cause those younger than me to think I was a self righteous twat. honestly, as I get older I am becoming more cynical, more brazen and far less tolerant of ditherers. I love it. I use the word “fuck” a lot more (often when I talk to ditherers) and I am comfortable walking away from people if they have not captured my attention in the first 30 seconds. I am at ease with culling those stragglers that I have somehow accrued over the years that have miraculously made it onto my ‘friends’ list but who contribute nothing to my happiness. As I skip through my 30’s, I am becoming increasingly comfortable as an atheist and an anti-theist. I see no reason to politely respect the delusions of a Jew, a Christian or a muslim. As I age, I feel more and more comfortable shedding the dutiful tolerance that I was raised with as a child. If it looks, feels and tastes like horse shit, chances are there is a religious person in the room. dO YOU ThINK meN Are CUT OFF FrOm The WOrld OF emOTION? Perhaps not ‘cut-off’ but they are certainly blunted to the experience – homosexuals and hyundai drivers excluded. Whereas women will readily express and imbibe emotional experiences (their own as well as the emotions of others) men tend to be more reactionary. This is not to say that we (men) are driven purely by limbic urges, or that we have the emotional depth of a cowpat. I cried like a baby at the end of James Bond Casino royale – she was a very attractive woman and they’d only had sex once or twice. But I think men tend to treat emotions rather pragmatically – the very way emotions should not be treated. On one hand, men have successfully evolved to realise what a hindrance emotions can be to making rational, informed and critically valued decisions. On the other, they are often oblivious to the drawbacks of not expressing emotion. All too often men express pent up emotion in very unhealthy ways – they beat their wives or name their sons “Jayson” or “Sasha”. Occasionally (very occasionally) I even feel that men miss out on some of life’s little joys because of their inability to acknowledge and act upon more subtle emotional events. I, for one, get no joy out of painting my toenails with a gal-pal or watching Gilmore Girls. For the most part I am content to not fully understand the delight that such activities can bring. But then there are times, (usually when I have one foot hoisted up onto the bathroom sink, toe nail cutters at the ready and my scrotum dangling aimlessly in the breeze like a pensioners grin) when I think “This might be more enjoyable with a girlfriend by my side”.
WhAT’S The mOST USeFUl ThING YOU hAVe eVer BeeN TOld? I recall being told not to sneeze whilst urinating. I can appreciate that this is not the sort of wise Buddhist proverb that will span the generations, but nonetheless I urge every man who takes pride in their aim to try it at least once. It’s an achievement worth taking the time to stage. Picking your nose whilst jogging is another skill worth acquiring. WhAT’S The hArdeST ThING YOU hAVe eVer hAd TO dO? I had a kidney stone once. That was a rough day. I also recall having a crush on my dentist in the mid 1980’s – she looked like linda Carter minus the golden lasso and the invisible jet. She was giving me a filling – one of those lead and krypton alloys which are now outlawed except in death-row inmates. She had the freshest listerine breath and told me what a brave boy I was. That was a rough day too. more recently, I gave a eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral. Kidney stones and fillings aren’t so bad really. WOUld YOU lIKe A PArTNer WhO IS WISer ThAN YOU Are? my partner is far wiser than I will ever be. She is wonderfully intellectual, spectacularly altruistic, humblingly empathetic and embarrassingly beautiful – embarrassing to stand beside. Above all else, she has managed to clothe such qualities in a stunningly feminine package. I embrace the many ways in which she unintentionally outshines me and everyone she meets. I consider such huge inequalities in our relationship to be empowering, not belittling.
WhAT dO YOU GeNerAllY dO WheN YOU Are FeelING BlUe? One 30ml serve of scotch with 2 ice cubes and a good dash of vanilla (don’t use vanilla essence. You’ll lose the effect). let it stand for a good 3 to 5 minutes until some of the ice has melted and give it a reasonable stir before you sip. Failing that I try to share the misery. I am lucky. I am yet to encounter a problem that cannot be resolved (or at least dramatically lessened) by communicating – discussing your thoughts and concerns with someone else. But I have a very nice life. I have nothing to really complain about. I love my work and I love the people around me. I have seen how truly crippling depression can be and I have worked alongside people with far less to be thankful for – people that have every right to feel blue, or downright miserable. If they can put on a brave face and brighten the day of others around them then so can I. don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those happy, clapping Christian types. I find the permanently cheerful in desperate need of a slap. But I do think that the claims of so many people to be stressed, depressed or anxious, belittle the genuine sufferers who need all the help and respect that we can offer. WheN dId YOU lAST GIVe YOUr ABSOlUTe All ON SOmeThING? Bloody hell. I’m not sure it’s ever happened. You know I don’t think I can honestly say (with the benefit of hindsight) that there has ever been a situation in my life where I couldn’t have done better, where I couldn’t have prepared more thoroughly or where I simply had nothing more to give. I’ve certainly tried very hard at a lot of things and in many of those I have failed dismally. But I can’t honestly say I have ever found a time when I truly had exhausted all of my options. how pathetic is that? hOW WOUld YOU deSCrIBe A FUllY rOUNded AdUlT mAle? (WhAT ATTrIBUTeS dO TheY hAVe?) A fully rounded adult male is called a female. We know that the female brain functions better at most tasks than a male brain. Females acquire language earlier and with greater depth than males. Women multi-task and make decisions based on numerous and complex interactions better than most males could ever hope to. They make better doctors, lawyers and politicians. They are better listeners and communicators than men. They have nearly two-thirds more nerve cells connecting their cerebral hemispheres and when their brains are viewed by functional mr imaging, they light up like a Christmas tree to the same stimulus that barely evokes a solitary blip in a male brain.
So when I am asked what constitutes a well rounded male, I feel like you’re asking me to sculpt fine bone china out of a dog turd. A well rounded male knows when he has had too much to drink. A well rounded male takes time out from talking to listen for a change. A well rounded male continues to learn throughout their life from any source possible. A well rounded male asks for directions and can apologise without losing his dignity. But perhaps above all, a well rounded male accepts that they are not the superior gender and nor have they ever been. They acknowledge that being physically stronger, or able to yell louder, does not make them right and they are content to be as good as they can (given the lacklustre brain they’ve been dealt) without putting down others in order to make themselves look better. WhAT IS YOUr INTerNAl dIAlOGUe GeNerAllY lIKe? Continuous and unrelenting. I relive conversations I have had, or conversations I would like to have. I debate people I have never met and I make acceptance speeches at The Oscars. I am always being caught speaking to myself and I have stopped trying to hide it. WhO hAS BeeN The BeST TeACher IN YOUr lIFe SO FAr ANd WhAT hAVe YOU leArNT? my 4th grade teacher. She drilled home the basics – reading, writing and math. ‘Failure’ has also been a remarkably thorough teacher, although I have not always learnt well from just one lesson. WhAT Are YOU GOOd AT? Knowing when I am wrong and acknowledging it. I wasn’t always good at it mind you. Such an attribute goes hand-in-hand with being good at apologising. WhAT’S The mOST reCeNT ThING YOU hAVe leArNT ABOUT PeOPle? education is not the sole antidote to religion. It is a big part of the solution, but sadly not the entirety. It has taken me a while to appreciate this fact and I am saddened by it. Because there are so very few ‘intelligent’ happyclapping Christians or multiple-virgin seeking muslims, one is seldom challenged in the belief that intelligence and the psychotic delusion of a deity can be anything other than mutually exclusive. dO YOU ThINK We CreATe OUr OWN reAlITY? Of course we do. We wake every morning and dress in clothes that we think makes us look good. We present ourselves to the world each day in a manner that we think may appeal to people (or at least minimise the offence we cause). We laugh at other people’s jokes when they are not funny and we choose to believe that people are good at heart and will usually do the right thing. We turn off the television
if the news is depressing and we consume diet cola and organic food because we think it will make us look good, or live longer. We invent Gods and religion. We create a reality to make life interesting, to settle our fears and to shelter ourselves from the harshness of a world that doesn’t come with a filtered lens. deSCrIBe The BeST hOlIdAY YOU hAVe eVer hAd? In 1989 I spent a year in the United States. Great people, great food and for a 17/18 year old it was an intense, life-changing experience. money spent travelling is money well spent. But being someone that appreciates this but hates hearing the travel stories of other people, I’ll spare you the details. IF YOU COUld, WhAT WOUld YOU Tell YOUr 18 YeAr Old SelF? 1. Women are not scary to talk to. They are far easier to interact with than men, they make far better conversationalists … and they listen. You don’t have to look like Brad Pitt or smother them with witty banter, just talk and listen and learn from every woman you meet. 2. Follow every project through to its completion and ask for help any stage along the way. 3. Get directions. All the time you spend stressing and faffing around when you’re lost can be alleviated by asking the nearest nonbikie looking stranger. 4. Unattractive checkout chicks are usually the fastest. This rule only applies to late-night shopping and Saturday mornings. 5. learn to dance and don’t be shy to be the first on the dance-floor. It will always serve you well. 6. Always buy the best wine you can afford. WhAT dO YOU WANT FOr ChrISTmAS? lasik eye surgery. Seriously.
mISSION, CAlmYrNA, AdrIATIC, KAdOTA, ABOUKOUNIS, BAreSe, ChIOS, KAlAmATA, PASqUAle…. BlACK, WhITe, red, TAWNY, dArK red, CrImSON ANd GlOrIOUS… FIGS. my dNA strands must contain dominant fig genes. I am attracted to figs and they to me. This is no figment of my imagination. One of my earliest childhood memories is the red path leading from the back door to the laundry shed and to the left of that grandpa’s tool shed and next to that a square, smelly, dirty incinerator. Near the incinerator was a sugar fig tree. I don’t remember eating figs as a young child, but I can still remember the smell of the tree. my mother was my fig-eating etiquette role model: by her side I watched as she plucked a fig, broke it in two, rubbed the halves together and then pulled the flesh off with her teeth leaving the skin stripped bare. As a teenager, I cycled through back lanes of Cottesloe and Peppermint Grove foraging figs from trees overhanging back fences—or even sneaking inside fences—then packing them in the little esky which was ockie-strapped to the back of my bike. Off season I would go to Kakulas’ Brothers continental shop in North Perth and buy a string of dried figs and have them and the farts before I arrived home. On Saturday mornings I would pick up a package of dessert figs in juice from the dried fruit section for mum’s shopping basket. Christmas holidays meant see-through plastic glace fruit packs containing figs along with the rest: pineapple, apricots, pears, peaches and red maraschino cherry. Using the tiny plastic fork I’d always lift out a sticky, glistening fig. By the age of 17, my modus operandi was in place. I had a mental map, a kind of Fodors for figs, of fig trees in and around Perth. Thirty years later this knowledge has expanded to Beverley, Busselton, margaret river and Flinders in WA and to Warrandyte, Kew, Blackburn, and Churchill Island in Victoria. I’ve procured fresh figs from Fairfield and Floreat to Fremantle and Florence. I’ve enjoyed fig jam, fig and ginger jam, fig relish, fig chutney, fig newtons, stuffed figs, dried figs, glace figs, poached figs, fig kebabs and my friend diana’s famous cream, yoghurt, brown sugar and fig dessert. my husband-to-be once sent me a rapturous letter from delhi describing the fig and honey ice cream he was served at the dasaprakash hotel. I must admit that I have yet to throw one on the barbie.
Several years ago in Perth I placed an advertisement in our local paper: “Figs wanted. Will pick and make jam in return.” I had five responses. Three or four yielded a good supply but one was supreme. ‘Figaro’ left a message on my answering machine inviting me to share his daily harvest. his days as a Victorian orchardist have borne fruit in the west, thanks to cuttings smuggled into WA from Victoria years ago. The two trees behind his house are well and truly mature, near perfect specimens, and the fruit are large, luscious and abundant: a genuine mother lode. The main tree has been pruned low and wide for easy access, although a ladder is required for the upper limbs. Figs out of ladder reach are for the birds. I was entrusted to fig-sit while he and his wife went on holiday. I would clock in about 9am, slip on the fig picking shirt, collect the plastic buckets and start. Picking requires fine discrimination. Some figs are at the perfectly ripe pinnacle and call out to be popped directly in the mouth. Others are better left for a day or two. Some are very soft and good for jam. The few destined for the reject bucket go sloppy in your hand and dribble down your arm and deep into the weft of your clothes. In an hour the buckets had filled a box and any figs with fly were left to cook in Figaro’s specially designed solar oven (a metal tin with a piece of glass covering.) For weeks the tacky car steering wheel reminded me of the white sap of a fig. more remarkable fig trees are near Northcliffe, on the way to Albany. Friends invited us to stay with them in their holiday house and while enjoying one of the obligatory tractor rides we discovered a huge tree laden with fruit near the stock yards. This is fig radar in action. At moments like this, I go into a kind of fig trance, not exactly fig channelling, but definitely singleminded. After half an hour, I reluctantly left with hat, shirt and cheeks full.
In February, when the season is peaking, I would cruise by a nondescript office block in mosman Park on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. If the parking lot was empty, I would pick the large purple skinned figs up to the fence, climbing up the rocky landscaping to reach the top ones. One weekend I was horrified to discover that there were still some workaholics at the office when I arrived. I went in to ask permission and was given a look of “you weirdo”, and a shrug of “all right.” The limbs hanging over the fence are just a fraction of the tree. The remainder lies on the other side in someone’s back garden. Several times I have breathed deep and attempted to approach the door of the house on the other side, but the whole place is a bit too creepy— overgrown, falling down, broken windows, the lot—and it seems a long way to the front door and back. There are a few memorable trees along the Swan river. my favourites are near a sports clubroom in Bicton. One tree is outside the fence and gets picked by locals on their walks. Another tree is within the fence and, incredible as it seems, appears to be ignored by the club members. I have worked out a scheme for this particular tree. I quickly pick any remaining ripe fruit from the outside tree. Then, with empty plastic bags rustling in my pockets, I nonchalantly but confidently march into the sports grounds and without looking left or right I pass in full view of the windows of the conference rooms (wondering if bored participants are staring out the window as I move by.) I put the figs into the plastic bags and then pass the bags through a small gap in the locked gates next to the tree and into a box that I have strategically placed there. When I am finished, I march back empty handed past the windows and collect my full box of figs outside the gate. Over the years many friends and family have been startled, surprised and embarrassed by my obsession: the sudden turning off of the car and knocking at some stranger’s front door or “yoohooing” over the fence of unsuspecting fig tree owners. Never have my friends or family openly suggested professional help as I spend my fifteenth consecutive day in forty degree heat fig picking and then standing over the stove making jam.
my godson was just five months old when I took him and his mother for his first hunt in his pusher through Claremont’s streets and reserves calling in wherever we saw fig trees. We met a wonderful elderly woman in a very gracious home, whose son was quite suspicious when he came home and found us there on such a flimsy-sounding pretence. Walking along a trail in Kew while staying with a friend’s daughter, I spotted a fig tree through the trees and knocked on the door of an Italian family gathered for lunch. After some charade-like explanation, papa smilingly went to get his son and some english translation. Soon papa and mama and the last of the year’s crop were offered to me along with an invitation to come earlier next year. last summer I bought figs from an elderly Italian lady at the monthly Warrandyte market. About two hours and quite a few figs later, I realised it would be a month before I could buy some more. After a few phone calls to the market organisers I located mrs mazzone. I have no Italian, but we share a universal language. I usually drive over after I make out “want you figs”, “3:30”, and “I’m a home”. She is an experienced grower and a shrewd seller and I always leave with at least five kilos.
last summer while walking near our state park I spotted figs in the back garden of a nearby house. I cast my line across the fence: “hello, do you like figs? [some people do have the recessive fig gene, Could I buy some? pick some? or make you jam?” I would be welcome to a few, and to check back in a few weeks, she replied. When I dropped in after what I felt was a decent interval, I was pulled in through the gate with exasperated noises and shown a hand-lettered sign that had been posted outside: “would the lady enquiring about figs please call in.” I was told how the park ranger and her daughter had been notified to alert me if I was seen on the trail. Waiting in the fridge were two full grocery bags. That load gave my triceps a workout as I headed for home. At my age such load bearing activities are highly recommended for building strong bones. mid life is no crisis. my appetite for figs is hearty. my fig radar is undiminished. my physical stamina on a fig hunt is robust. my fig jam reputation has not been formally challenged. Whatever the season, my cupboard contains jam and bold friends even ask for refills when their allotted birthday jar is empty. I am considering giving myself an honorary degree and putting Phd (Fig) after my name. Although a republican by nature, I am born to rule as a fig queen and wear eau de toilette de figuier. (Note: Some of the names and places have been altered or omitted to protect the trees.) Patti roberts
Photo by lepiaf.geo on Flickr
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