Anzac Pride

April 23, 2016

Anzac Pride.

One hundred and one years ago a collection of young, brave and shockingly naive young men set foot on a foreign shore to protect our home shore. Yes, many of them paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives for ours on that skinny strip of sand in Anzac Cove in 1915. But their sacrifice made us into a nation. We may have been united under Federation a few years earlier but it was Gallipoli and WW1 that made Australia into a nation. You may consider that romantic foolishness but it is part of our mythology and I am happy to subscribe to that.

Today I want to consider what that means for Australians. There are no Anzacs left. But we cannot forget Anzac Day – April 25 – and the way I am commemorating it today is by looking at our cultural place on the world stage. Forget politics, forget economic power-house but cast your eyes around music, performing arts, literature and you’ll find an awful lot of Australians at work, doing us proud; doing our Anzac tradition proud.

Koala

Once upon a time in order to make something of yourself you had to leave Australia (and or NZ, if we’re being truly Anzac-y today) and establish yourself OS – usually England but latterly the USA. Thus in the 1960-70s luminaries such as Germaine Greer, Clive James and Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage to you) left home seeking more than was to be had Down-under. These people have established loud and large personalities on the world stage, and regardless of their politics or yours they clearly established Oz as more than a place for convicts and surfers.

In Hollywood we had a few who had their toe in the waters early on, but their numbers were few. Errol Flynn, Peter Finch, Rod Taylor, but not Merle Oberon – oh, no, she was never ours. It was all smoke and mirrors to disguise where she really came from. Her exotic skin and luminous beauty hailed from the sub-continent and a sleazy beginning, not from obscure and far-far away Tasmania.

Many of the rock and rollers of the 60s and 70s got as big as they could and tried their hands OS but most returned bloodied and bowed. Who broke through: The Bee Gees (but they were British in the first place); The Easybeats had one colossal hit (Friday on My Mind); Helen Reddy (I am Woman); LRB were quite successful for quite some time; Air Supply did very well; Rick Springfield left Zoot and was a huge hit in the States; Olivia Newton-John was one of our biggest stars – she is forever Sandy in Grease, isn’t she? Peter Allen married Liza Minnelli to help things along, but he was an amazing performer. But our failures were greater.

But things changed, as they often do and slowly but surely there were more of us on the big screen, on the radio and various music channels, TV shows; winning prizes in literature. We were taking major roles, not just character parts; we were headlining tours, filling theatres. Our accent stopped being a problem. We arrived. Being Australian is not embarrassing, we have lost our cultural cringe. We have stepped up to our Anzac heritage in more ways than those young men could possibly have imagined.

 

Who are our world players now?

We have Oscar winners and actors who command some of the biggest salaries in Hollywood. Nicole Kidman may have ridden off on Tom Cruise’s coat-tails but she has stood on her own for years as a fine actress. Cate Blanchett is simply gold – everything she does is amazing – perhaps she is our finest actress ever? Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman earn small fortunes and are two of the best looking men in Hollywood, and reputedly the nicest guys too. We have a string of excellent actors: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Naomi Watts, Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Debicki and the wonderful Eric Bana. If we go Anzac, we can include Sam Neil and Russell Crow, who did bag an Oscar and was stunning in Gladiator.

Books2

Kylie rules as our music queen these days but AC-DC are still going strong and as popular as ever. Why else the upset about Axl Rose joining the band? INXS were absolutely huge, as were Crowded House (yes, NZ again but this is about Anzac Day). Yothu Yindi owned the world there for a few years. Neighbours and Home and Away still run home and OS. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was one of the best movies ever and is now a West End stage production. Jason Donovan still performs regularly and Adam Hills has his own comedy show on UK TV. Ozzies pop up all over the place and these days, because of the amount of talent and ability we have you may not instantly recognise them. This is a good thing – we are as good as the rest.

Books1

Peter Carey and Richard Flanagan are our stellar writers. Both have won the Booker – Carey twice. Both write of our experiences and all manner of things that show that any notion of inferior literature being automatically associated with Australia is a notion that belongs in the dark past. Other writers have international impact, including Christos Tsiolkas and The Slap that sold phenomenally and was made into an excellent TV series. The Rosie Project has been an international hit and of course Eleanor Catton, from NZ, was the youngest ever Booker Prize winner with The Luminaries. Don’t forget other stars like Markus Zsusak (The Book Thief), Tim Winton, David Malouf and Thomas Kenneally who wrote many wonderful things but notably Schindler’s Ark which was made into a harrowing film.

This Anzac Day don’t dwell on the less acceptable side of our nation, the treatment of refugees and Aboriginals; ignore the vile exploits of Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart and their ilk. Ignore the idiot politicians, the division in our society that doesn’t need to be there at all. Remember our fallen soldiers, on that memorable day so long ago, so far away, and all the others who have fought for us, to make us into a great nation. We may not be as good or as kind or as clever as we should but we do have a great deal to be proud of and it is timely to be aware of the good things we are and do.

SDC13984

We have come a long way since April 25, 1915, and indeed we have a long way to go, but we can pause and be proud of our cultural giants. We are no longer lone men riding the outback, surfers or convicts: we are world players. We compete. In fact we really punch above our weight. (Images from Private Collection)

Dreams – gateways to well-being

April 9, 2016

Dreams – gateways to well-being.

The quest for a life well lived is all around us. I sometimes think the constancy of memes with lovely pictures and philosophical truisms from Buddha and Ghandi and Einstein, etc, etc is designed to keep us distracted from the escalating evil and nonsense of the world. It’s a way for us to deal with all the things that make us feel like crap: Panama papers, increased pension payments, idiot politicians, on-going wars, humanitarian crises and a new term where failure lurks, and some ‘expert’ who knows jack-shit about education is waiting to pounce with their latest diktat about what teachers need to be doing.

Well-being isn’t just about physical health, although we can’t under-rate that. It’s about the whole person: the mind, body and spirit interface. Well-being is at heart your ability to know yourself and heal yourself. It means listening to your body, trusting your intuition, knowing what works for you in all parts of your life. So many of us have given up trusting ourselves that we end up miserable and unhappy with wretched lives.

road to ...

There are many pathways to well-being – meditation, retreats, education, action. But one of the simplest ways back to yourself, to enhance well-being, is through your dreams. Laugh not: dreams are the window to who you really are. Freud, for all his lunacy, was onto something – dreams are the gateway to the truth, to who you are and how you could be living your life. Freud said that dreams were “the royal road to the unconscious.” His theories on many things have been rejected, but some of his thoughts on dreams still have relevance. He suggested that during dreams, the preconscious is more relaxed than in waking hours, but still alert so images in dreams are often not what they appear to be, and need deeper interpretation if they are to inform us on the structures of the unconscious. He also floated the idea that one simple symbol or image presented in a person’s dream may have multiple meanings. He went onto divide dreams into three sorts, but the one that is most useful in our quest for well-being is the symbolic dream which requires deeper interpretation.

Yes, we all dream: some of us simply don’t recall them and/or aren’t that interested in what happens behind closed eyes. You just need to know how to tap into all that wonder and magic tucked away inside your head, deep in your subconscious, buried in your dreams.

Many years ago during my first degree I majored in Psychology as well as English and the very best part of my degree was the third year Psych unit on Dreams. It was magic. We skated across Freud and Jung and learnt how to retrieve and interpret our own dreams and I am here to tell you, dear reader, that you too can do this and cast a bright light on your own deepest feelings, fears and desires. This will tell you more about yourself than any other sort of pop-psychology ever can!

dreams book

Dreams are our sorting-house. Dreams help us solve problems and find solutions. There are many stories of people finding solutions to areas of their life and work in dreams. I blogged on this aspect of dreams some time ago. If you are open to your subconscious, and able to catch and keep your dreams you too can solve problems and understand yourself on a whole new level.

We dream several times a night, usually on a 90 minute cycle and usually during REM sleep. If you awake after one of these periods then you are likely to remember your dreams. Often in the morning you will wake with several threads in your head, making little sense. But this is because you are recalling the trails of several dreams, not just one. But dreams do not necessarily make sense, they’re not neat well structured stories popping out of your brain’s type-writer. They are messy and confused and sometimes scary. But they are all about you. Some facet of your life, your day is in there. Your head, your dreams: you are the star.

 

How do you access your dreams and their message?

1.You have to practice – you have to actively try to keep hold of your dreams, you have to train yourself to remember them. Once you have the knack of capturing fragments you will find that usually the full dream follows. It’s a bit like hooking a fish and then reeling it in – slowly, steadily, stealthily.

2.Keep a dream journal – this is the only way to capture dreams and interpret them sensibly. Get yourself a lovely little note-book and keep it beside your bed. As you wake, before you get out of bed, keeping your eyes closed, try to recall your dreams. Usually they come in fragments, but that’s fine, it can be enough. Usually there will be little sense when you begin but you must persevere.

3.Note your recurring symbols – people, places, things – this tells you a great deal and your own symbols are far more important than a generalised book of dreams full of symbols: for example, my baby girl always means joy, if my mother appears then I know things will be all right, if I am on the water then I automatically feel okay and there can be no danger.

4.Note your feelings during the dream and especially on waking – this part is the key to understanding yourself – take the feeling from the instant of waking, then examine it later in the day – does that feeling stand up – why did you feel like that? Feelings can be warnings, don’t ignore them.

5.Keep your journal regularly to build a picture of what you dream about – are there patterns; do you have reoccurring dreams, do the same people re-appear? Be aware of key dates in your life – do your dreams reflect these times?

5b.The only way to fully interpret your own dreams is through building up a regular picture over time so you understand and know your own dreamings, your own patterns of making sense of your world.

dream journal

After a while keeping hold of your dreams will come naturally to you. You will find too that as you write down your dreams (or tell them to a sympathetic soul) that they make sense. A brief interrogation of your dreams, your subconscious, will tell you all sorts of things – what you are worried about, what you fear, what makes you feel good, how you can solve problems. It’s a neat trick to go to sleep with something bubbling that you can’t quite fix in your waking life and let it do its thing there at the back of your mind, your deep self looking after your day to day self.

 

Here’s an example of a dream from this week and how I came to its meaning.

I am on top of a large shelf, it is broad and very high up. I am a bit uncertain about why I am there, especially as I’m not keen on heights. In the corner my beloved sleeps in a comfortable bed. But I am working – directing people below to do things, fetch things for me. Mostly books it seems as I am reading beautifully illustrated stories and then arranging them on a high shelf opposite where I am on my high ledge. I was worried about getting down as it was so high but when I wanted to return to the ground I got down all by myself in a couple of easy steps.

Hm… I thought when I woke up, what was that all about? I examined who was there, only my husband who was safe and tucked away: the people below me were faceless but benign. I seemed to be working and happy in my work, but it wasn’t a place I knew – and I have particular places that represent work, so I knew it wasn’t one of the ‘real’ work places of my dreamscape. Then the feeling came to me: I was fine, I was on top of things – literally and then of course, metaphorically. This is clearly a good message and was quite reassuring to a person juggling quite a few things.

bed

Your dreams are as Freud said, the road to your self: to your deep self, your true self who, like a friend tells the truth when they are drunk. Your dreams tell the truth about yourself when you are asleep. Tap into this vast reservoir of knowledge, wisdom and wonder and you will find many ways to live a better, more authentic life. You will be more buttressed against the evils of the world. Your well-being will be enhanced. (Images from Private Collection)

Reading Takes You Many Places – Forgotten & Reclaimed

April 2, 2016

Reading Takes You Many Places – Forgotten & Reclaimed

In the midst of holidays one should be in the midst of reading but I am struggling with books these days – not a confession a writer and English teacher should make! However, as I re-opened To Kill A Mockingbird last night I was reminded of many things, not the least being what a fabulous book it really is and why I do not want to read Go Set a Watchman.

Moreover I was taken back to a previous time of reading. To a place I barely remembered but on beginning the novel I found myself in a sparse room in Larrakeyah Lodge on Myilly Point in Darwin, on one of my first trips into Darwin from Nhulunbuy. Larrakeyah Lodge had many incarnations – then it was a hostel type accommodation for visitors from far flung parts of the NT – usually teachers on PD courses. Then it became the student accommodation for NTU, and now it is gone – well it has been gone for many a long year, in the name of progress and expensive town-houses. But I remember lying on my single bed in my stuffy room reading into the night, reading about an equally hot and stuffy place, troubled by racism, trying for justice in an unjust world.

Illywhacker

So I got to thinking that this is not an uncommon phenomenon. If I think about Peter Carey’s Illywhacker I am instantly transported to my verandah on Klyn Circuit in Nhulunbuy, sitting in an old cane chair, behind the privacy of the cannas and tomato plants reading one of my favourite books of all time. I am hot and sweaty, but still and happy as I read and sip iced water and escape to Bacchus Marsh and a 137 year old liar. If I recall Oscar and Lucinda (also by Carey) then I find myself poolside in a Bali resort, my baby boy splashing at the edges of the pool with his father, while I’m on a barge with a glass church in outback Australia.

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner is a modern Australian classic and something about Melbourne, not just the setting resonates in my head as I read. I suspect I was there for the first reading of the novel. But I read it again when I was in hospital just after having Pallas. Indeed her name came from the novel – a small section where Pallas-Athena was mentioned and the name hooked and took and so our baby, who very nearly became Paris, ended up Pallas-Athena, all from reading in Darwin hospital in the quiet time between sleeping and feeding.

Monkeygrip

If I think of The English Patient then as well as the locations of the novel – pre-war desert and war riven Italy – I am in Shanghai at the time when Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese. Re-reading the novel takes me there, as does any thoughts about Schindler’s Ark – so many rats in the book, so many rats in the school!

As you would expect I read a great deal at uni – well you have to with an English degree. Two sets of reading stick in my head. DH Lawrence’s Women in Love and The Rainbow. I loved those books – dense and intense, full of fecund images and words and when I think of reading them I am at ‘the farm’ – a family place in the deep south of Tasmania, on the banks of the wide deep blue Huon. Then it took some time to get there; there was no internet of course but also no telly and only a scratchy radio. I’d set the fire and read for the weekend, late into night, barely able to tear myself away from the intensity of the relationships in the books. I had a boyfriend who promised to visit me there. He never did, but like Ursula and Gundrun I believed in the centrality of love and passion in my life.

At the end of every year at uni I read The Thorn Birds. It was a guilty pleasure, but one I indulged for several years. It was summer, exams were over, the sun was out and the cricket was on. I’d set myself up on the banana lounge, slather myself with sun-cream and settle for a day of indulgent reading, another story of passionate love but not so intense writing. I figured a bit of pulp fiction was deserved after the year of reading academic and classic fiction and writing less than wonderful essays.

venice

And I did read Death in Venice when we went to Venice and it felt the right thing to do. I certainly recalled the large cold rooms of HMC (Hobart Matriculation College) as I re-read the slender volume. But it was quite wonderful to sit on the beach that von Aschenbach had sat on to gaze upon Tadzio and be reminded of his desperation, his unrequited but deadly passion. So now when I think of the novel I am again in Venice and it’s a beautiful place to be.

When I finally go home a large list of books will take me to France, because that seems to be my main reading place these days, not just books for study but a bit of Agatha Christie, Geoffrey Eugenides (you must read Middlesex) and the wonderful Night Circus. Of Mice and Men will forever take me to classrooms and a variety of students, as will Macbeth and bloody Romeo and Juliet.

bookcase

Books are transport machines – inside them you are in different worlds in different times, exploring, experiencing, imagining. Outside, the where you were when you were reading is another place you travel to as well – a place where you remember who you were, what you were doing and feeling at the time of reading. Who’d have thought a book was better than the Tardis? (Images from private collection).

Easter Message: Sacrifice, what have you done lately?

March 26, 2016

What does Easter mean in an increasingly non-Christian world? What is the message you take from this long weekend? Is it only about a break from work, an excess of chocolate shaped like eggs and bunnies (or Bunyips at home), that still manages to confuse us. How does a man dying on a cross equate with chocolate, eggs and bunnies? No, it still remains a mystery.

choc bunnies

As you know I gave up God and religion some time ago but I’m not sure that I’ve given up Christianity, the ideas promulgated by Christ. Here is a neat summary of the best bits of his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:1-12) found at http://thirdway.com/love-jesus/key-teachings/

The pity is that so many Christian religions and too many ‘Christian’ people I’ve worked with over the years do not subscribe to these views. It’s probably as well to remember that Jesus was a radical, he was preaching against the status quo, he was seen as a trouble-maker, an outsider. Something tells me he might not like how his message and his person have been hijacked by organized religion. Perhaps Allah feels the same about what is happening in his name at the moment?

So, Easter, Jesus, holidays – what is the essence here in a modern world? As we know many pagan festivals were hijacked by Christianity in order to take hold in people’s lives. Thus Easter occurs in the Northern Hemisphere at the beginning of Spring. Honestly so much about Christianity and other bits of the world make sense when you live in the Northern Hemisphere. What does Spring signify – new life, new growth as we emerge from the darkness and cold of winter. There is more light, there are buds on the trees, bulbs blooming in the earth; the world is coming alive again, readying for re-birth. How handy that Jesus dies at this time of the year, so he is linked to this idea of re-birth, of life renewing itself again and again. In Oz, this bit of the puzzle doesn’t make sense, but over here it is abundantly clear. Eggs = life; bunnies = new life. Jesus = the chance to be reborn. See it does link up. Very handily too, as a cynical youth mused in class the other day, that Easter is about chocolate so people can give it up for Lent and then buy shit-loads for Easter. And do it again and again, every year. He was not that aware of the real meaning of Easter at all – seeing only the raging commercial side of it.

But I want to turn away from chocolate and cynicism for a moment and think about this idea of sacrifice; that Jesus lay down his life for us, to take our suffering so we could more easily pass into the Kingdom of Heaven, where we all want to ultimately be. Regardless of whether you subscribe to that or not, I want to consider sacrifice. We see the crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice: that a man knowingly and willingly gave up his life for others. This is not unique but it is pretty special. This is what happens in war – men fight in foreign places (usually but not always), knowing full well that they might die, that they are fighting for us, so that we will be saved.

Sacrifice is both big – like Jesus and soldiers and small – like us. Like you and me. Consider your own life, what sacrifices have you made? For your career, your health, your family. What have you actually given up for the greater good? Because that’s really what sacrifice is about, the greater good.

fencing

Being a mother, a parent is a major area of sacrifice. Many women give up their careers, or put them on hold, never quite regaining their place on the promotions ladder. But the wonder of your own child, the joy of your own family cannot be measured. We sacrifice career, sleep, our figures, our sex lives, sometimes our sanity but for the vast majority of us, it is worth it.

Being successful in life, in your chosen career also involves sacrifice. We study hard, don’t go out on the town, get by on a meager existence in some hovel or another, work in some desperate part time job to get our degree, to qualify. We watch other people out and about, having money already, not being limited and restricted in their lives as we slog our way through our degree. But the sacrifice is worth it – we have a worthwhile qualification, we have the best chance to have the career we want and the life we want.

Doctor Jac

Sacrifice here is medium term pain for long term gain. We reap the benefits of our sacrifice and our lives are usually much improved for it. The same is true for athletes who perform at the highest level – intense work and sacrifice while they strut the world stage at their magnificent best. Achievement, awards and accolades born of hard work and sacrifice.

Short term pain is something we find much harder. Giving up smoking, alcohol, dieting – sacrificing the small things of life for healthy changes seems much harder and many of us fail here. But if we can get into that zone where we see that sacrificing trivial and often damaging pleasures will lead to a long term gain then we can sacrifice these things for the greater good – for our own health.

History is littered with those who have sacrificed their lives for their beliefs, for saying things that went against the status quo, that upset acceptable wisdom. We admire this in people, the strength of their convictions, that they would rather be outcast, suffer abuse, or accept the final sacrifice – death in the name of the cause. We think of people like Nelson Mandela who sacrificed his freedom for so many years, of the suffragettes who starved themselves for the right to vote.

The troubling side of sacrifice is creeping into our work places. More and more employers are expecting their work-force to give up the rest of their lives for work, for their career. The idea of the 8 hour day, the 40 hour working week is being eroded – well the concept seems completely dead in this country! In surveys we find that teachers routinely work 60 hour weeks, nursing staff are regularly expected to work unsociable hours that do not match with a family life; young doctors are on strike because of the excessive hours they are being asked to work, and less pay and poorer conditions. There are many other professions too, which is deeply worrying. Why are so many of us being asked to live a life based on work? Why are people expected to give up their friends, their hobbies, sporting pursuits, their families for work? What sort of a world do we have if people are expected to sacrifice their lives for work – for a boss who will very quickly turn on them and leave them on the street the moment they under-perform or displease the powers that be in any way.

Sacrifice has many faces. Christ on the cross taking away the sins of man, so we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven; martyrs dying for their beliefs, soldiers at war, women sacrificing their careers for family; people sacrificing their family for work, giving up smoking for your health. But giving up chocolate for Easter is not really one.

chox

What about you, then, what sacrifices have you made to make your life, or those you love, better? Be they big or small, a personal sacrifice to help others is never wasted. This is my Easter message. Go in peace. Enjoy your chocolates too! (Images from Private Collection)

Chocolate – I still love thee: let me count the ways…

March 19, 2016

From time to time I revisit posts from the past – today is one. When the world is upsetting and things go a bit pear shaped, there’s always chocolate… so as you parade the aisles at your local supermarket deciding what to purchase or not this Easter, consider a few points about the benefits and joys of chocolate, and make sure you get some for those you love and for yourself.

Chocolate – do I love thee: let me count the ways…

Valentine’s Day is behind us, Easter is to come – both times celebrated with chocolate. If you’re the tiniest bit Catholic and guilty it’s Lent and the time to give up things and many people (mostly women, I bet) give up chocolate. So be it, I am not so inclined. Why should you give up one of life’s simplest and purest pleasures because of some out-dated notion? Anyway, most people I know take up the forsaken ‘sin’ as soon as Lent is over, so what is the point, exactly?

Let us consider the benefits of chocolate. It is now established beyond doubt that chocolate, especially dark chocolate helps you to feel good – it excites all those chemicals in the brain that keep you feeling happier and calmer. It does, in fact, help depressives. Some chocolate every day keeps the Prozac at bay.

Chocolate is not in short supply, nor does its harvesting damage the planet. So you can indulge without worrying about the Ozone Layer, the melting of the polar caps, drowning polar bears or water levels rising.

Chocolate doesn’t have to be expensive. Sure, you can spend a fortune on expensive Belgian chocolates and some exclusive hand-made brands (yes, you can tastes the difference), but you can just as easily spend less than a dollar/pound on your daily/weekly indulgence. At the moment Malteaser bunnies are 3 for a £1 – now really, that is a bargain.

chox

Chocolate is a one-size-fits-all sort of present. Very few people are unhappy to receive a box of chocolates for their birthday or Christmas. And if they are, then someone they know will help them out. It’s hard to offend someone with chocolates. Always recommended for dinner invitations.

Chocolate addiction is not a crime that blights our society. Too much chocolate does not incapacitate you, incline you to violence, kill your liver, or induce you to hurt others. At best it makes you chubby: possibly it hastens diabetes, but I don’t believe that for a moment.

Chocolate comes in many forms, to suit many situations, permutations and perturbations. Chocolate bars, shells, oranges and a plethora of confections. Chocolate biscuits cannot be overlooked – the queens being the Gaiety and the TimTam- all others are shabby wannabes. Chocolate cakes of too many varieties to list. Chocolate ice cream, of course. Hot chocolate to sip by the fire. And if you must be healthy then dip your strawberries in it!

mars cake

You can and should eat chocolate everyday. You can eat it any time of day in any quantity. But the best, I think, is at night, your little treat at the end of a long or enjoyable day – a morsel of what YOU like best.

My advice is to have a bar of Toblerone or a box of Ferrero Rocher, or a bag of Crème Eggs, or whatever you love best, hidden away somewhere from those in your family who have to eat the whole packet at once. Then you can, in quiet moments in the evening, have enough to make you feel good, but not guilty, and feel the reassuring texture and taste of chocolate warm and melting in your mouth. It’s guaranteed to give you good dreams. (Oh, but do clean your teeth properly or you’ll need to surrender your mouth to the dentist too often. Re-read  an older blog on the ‘joys’ of dentists if you need convincing.)

 

Travelling Girl … 55

March 5, 2016

Travelling Girl – the latest in an occasional series.

Travelling Girl stood in her latest London lodgings, hands on hips, surveying its cosy comfort, its sweet views of the gnarled trees in the front yard, the cars parked cheek by jowl on the road, a brisk ten minutes from the mainline train station right into the heart of the metropolis. Was it home? Well it was sanctuary at the end of another day at the interface between civilization and brutality, where she toiled relentlessly with faint glimmers of hope. Hope that was all too often overwhelmed by the idiotic edicts from government mandarins who really hadn’t the first fucking idea about what she – and armies of other like-minded endurance machines – had to deal with each day.

New flat9

Not for the first time in her life, as she looked at her belongings, did Travelling Girl wonder about her life. A small but not entirely sad or hopeless sigh escaped her lips, which at least were not pursed in anger or annoyance. No, that seemed to have passed. Although when she looked in the mirror there were worryingly deep furrows above the bridge of her nose. She didn’t like them at all. She had, she noted with some relief, arrived at a place approaching contentment. Was that simply age, she wondered, or had some sort of karmic calm found her at last?

From time to time she wondered about paths and choices and how she really came to be here, just exactly here; not really where she had expected, nor, in truth, where she wanted to be. But who was? How many of her friends and colleagues were where they wanted to be? Lunch time conversations around the ‘ladies table’ focused on frothy things like children, houses, holidays, the latest BBC drama; but always returned to the dire nature of their shared profession, the decline of it, and the encroaching darkness of their professional futures. Too many days too many of them speculated about what else they could do, what other jobs could they turn their hands to?

In idle moments she thought about home. Home was a difficult word – operating on multiple levels at once. Home had been Hobart and Darwin all at once. She had cried when she’d left her house in Darwin, house of her children, swimming pool and palm trees, fruit bats and green tree frogs. But always she’d held her home in Hobart as home as well, or was it her dad’s place on the Huon; was that her natural Tasmanian home? Home was now this bright and airy flat, but so was Tasmania. Home was constantly shifting –London, Tasmania (including that terrible flat in Queenstown – never quite a home at all), the NT, even a cottage in France. But they were physical entities; bricks and mortar, weatherboard and corrugated iron: chunks of land with trees and flowers, vegetables and animals. Home was more than that. She knew that. She also knew her speculations were far from original.

deviot view

Ideas about home had changed, hadn’t they? Once they were simple, when the kids were young and the houses were homes full of noise and mess, love and tantrums. Home was easy, it was about love, about being together with the ones you loved best in the whole world. But travelling had unhooked home, unmade a natural physical base for the growing kinder to return to.

Home was here and now. This flat full of her things, put together and arranged exactly as she wanted. Home was an old cottage in France, where an important and special man made gardens and fixed plumbing and tiled all sorts of things. Home was with him. Home was when her children were with, when they all gathered for celebrations of one colour or another. But true home, real home was far away on the other side of the world, on riverbanks in white weatherboard houses, where memories and love lived and waited patiently for them to return.

Home was there. In her heart, she knew that. She had travelled across the world, had a family, seen and done a lot of things, with still more to do, but she needed to be back there – on a riverbank in a tiny obscure state on the edge of the world. She needed to stop moving, to face some facts, and find her way home, to the place, the physical place where she felt at ease, where it was warm and comfortable and she could sit on her verandah, drinking wine, nibbling Twisties, eating BBQ beef sausages and corn fritters, watching the river run; sitting with her family, whom she loved and missed more than anything in the world, until the end of time, until she was no more.

Travelling Girl knew it was time to make plans to get home – sooner rather than later. (Images from Private collection)

Love Your Children Well

February 27, 2016

Love Your Children Well

There’s no point having children if you’re not going to love them or do the right thing by them. Many people can’t have children and spend their marriages or reproductive years in torment trying everything they can to have children, so for those of us lucky enough to have children it is incumbent upon us to do the right thing: to love our children well, which does not mean indulgently, but right.

dad, dragon ,phoenix

Children can be simultaneously the best thing about your life and the worse. They can hold a marriage together or break it. Often children are not what we expect them to be, they do not do what we expect either, but we had them, we (mostly) wanted to have them, so we must do right by them and by extension our society.

In the course of my working world all too often I see the consequences of children who have not been loved well, in fact, who have not been loved at all. And while some teenagers are indeed terribly difficult to love, mostly the horrid ones are a product of their upbringing. This is an inescapable fact. I’m not going to embark upon a mother or father bashing tirade – Heaven knows I know how hard it is to be a parent. But we are all the products of our upbringing: like it or not, our parents made us who we are. Through love, neglect, fear or indulgence, we were all made by them. Of course we have the choice to unmake some of what they have done, but it is hard to fight against Nurture. Nature plays a monster part too but Nurture cannot be overlooked.

How do you love your children well? Would a list of do’s and don’t’s suffice?

Don’t

Be helicopter parents – let them simply be once in a while; they’ll never stand on their own two feet if you are always hovering, hovering creating all that down-draft, that simply keeps them down!

Be tiger mums – we don’t need to achieve through our children, they need space just to be

Buy them off with toys and gadgets – really, is that how you show love, is that how they learn the value of things?

Abuse them – either with words or fists or implements- shouldn’t even need to say this but children are still beaten by parents on a regular basis and it doesn’t work at all

Neglect them – it is a form of abuse and perhaps the worst – they feel the lack of love, affection and attention deeply- it does untold psychological damage

Allow them to eat so much shit – really, can’t you manage to cook, to provide them with the basics of care that is a diet that nourishes them and helps them grow? There’s nothing wrong with Maccas and KFC once in a while and a bit of chocolate or some Coke on a hot Sunday afternoon never killed anyone. Ah, but the everyday consumption of food laced with fat, sugar and all sorts of chemicals will.

nice in greece

Do

Let them know you love them – tell them, hug them, kiss them, show them

Spend time with them – this is the biggest act of love – be with them, do things with them, that they like, watch their favourite movie, play Lego, dress-ups, etc, etc

Take them places – go to museums, parks, the beach, travelling, show them the world through your eyes

Teach them things – how to cook, how to clean, how to mend things, how to plant a flower and look after it; how to build things; with wood, wool and all sorts of materials. Share your love of things with them, let them feel your passion for the ocean, for drawing, for fishing

Make them responsible – make them tidy up after themselves, clean their rooms, make their own lunch, pack their school-bag, do their homework, do some chores around the house

Read to them – right from the start! This is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Then read with them, keep them reading, talking about books – readers are better people – all the studies say so!

Listen to them – oh yes, another biggie. Always take the time to listen to them. You must start when they are little, ask about their day, how was school, how are you – then let them talk and listen. If you do this when they are young they will talk to you through the difficult years, or at least, the difficult years won’t last quite as long. Listen to who they are, what they want from their lives. This will ensure that they are part of your life long after they have left home and have lives of their own.

Know who their friends are – this becomes very important as they get older. Remove undue influences from their lives when you can – don’t allow the sly under-hand child who ignores your instructions back in the house, don’t let horrible children be a part of their lives. If you know who their friends are, if they come to the house you meet them and can see if your child is keeping the right company. Believe me this is a crucially important matter as they get older – dubious friends are the gate-way to drugs, school refusal and failure and you could lose them altogether.

Respect their privacy – don’t go snooping in their rooms, on their devices (although there is a fine line here and you do need to know that they are safe in cyber-space) – allow them to be themselves, to have some secrets. But make it clear about time alone in rooms, time on devices – be aware of the dangers there.

Discipline them – you have to. Don’t beat them, but a well placed smack when they are old enough to understand is important. They need to know right from wrong. They need to know how to behave, about manners, about respect and decency. If you don’t teach them how to behave when they are young you have no hope when they are older and bigger than you. Set your lines in the sand and keep to them.

Just say no – they can’t have everything they want, or do everything they want. You can’t afford it and if you indulge their every whim you will create a monster that you don’t like, that nobody else likes much either.

Let them take risks – you can’t wrap them in cotton wool, why would you? Children run too fast, skin their knees, fall of their bikes. Teenagers take drugs, drive too fast, hook up with stupid boy/girl friends who break hearts. But you have to let them be, have to let them make their own decisions and take those risks. It makes them an adult and hopefully they learn from the stupid things and besides, do you really want them too spooked to try anything new, to never travel, never try new experiences?

my 3

I love my children, they are the best things about my life but they were made into people I like (as well as love) and want to be with by many years of effort; by my beloved and I taking care with them. Yes there were tears and regrets, sulks and the odd tantrum, a few disasters, but overall we have triumph. I think I am a good mum, but you have to ask the kinder, they are the only ones who really know if they have been well loved.

If you’re going to have children remember to love them properly. And that means taking care of them: they are not toys or pets, some accessory to drag out and display, not some prize or way to feel better about yourself. Having children is a serious matter, it is a life-time commitment, it really is and if you can’t do the right thing then don’t have them. Don’t make the world a worse place by creating children who have been abused and neglected because you can’t move beyond your own selfish needs.

Look around you, at the plethora of refugees and asylum seekers in our increasingly divided, destructive world and note how many children are in those terrible camps, on those sinking boats. Why are they there? Those children are in such terrible places because their parents care for them. Their homes and countries are destroyed, there is no life there anymore, only danger and death. Parents in Syria and other war-torn places who care about their children have no choice but to get their children out. They take terrible risks but they are good parents doing all they can for their children, hopeful that they can still have a good life. Wouldn’t you do the same thing for your children? (Images from Private Collection)

Misogyny and Feminism – A View from the Side-lines

February 20, 2016

Misogyny and Feminism – A View from the Side-lines

Misogyny is a real and present danger. It’s just not where the Twitter-sphere and hopped up PC driven university campuses want it to be or say it is. The fight for equality and fairness is not won, not for women, not for many sectors of society. Look away now if you want an easy Saturday morning read – this is a bit of a rant and may well cause offence. Be warned, this is cross as shit-Swiftie. Cross because this is not a world I want for my children, especially for my girls, who should be free to do what they want, be what they want and go where they want without fear of danger and limitation; shaming, trolling or violence.

3 bewsherswans

Let’s start with some definitions.

Dictionary online says: A misogynist is a person who hates or doesn’t trust women. Misogynist is from Greek misogynḗs, from the prefix miso- “hatred” plus gynḗ “a woman.” The English suffix -ist means “person who does something.”

Wikipedia says: Misogyny (/mɪˈsɒdʒɪni/) is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, hostility, male supremacist ideas, belittling of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.

Cambridge English Dictionary says: feminism: what is feminism: the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men

Dictionarycom says: feminism: a movement for granting women political, social, and economic equality with men

Feminism is not about hatred of men and inciting a war between the sexes. Too many women refuse to count themselves as feminists because they do not subscribe to the us v them notion of militant feminism and because they think that because so much has happened in terms of gender equality that the fight is over. But look around you, look at the real misogyny in the world, the causal, the deliberate and the violent misogyny and you must accept that the work of feminism – the heart of feminism, as simply defined above – is far from over. If you want to read some more interesting takes on modern feminism swing by here: http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/all/2015/09/what-does-feminism-mean-today/408616/

It’s pertinent to remember women have only had the right to vote for 100 years or so in the West. That’s not that long ago really and in many parts of our world women’s rights are being eroded on a daily basis. In parts of the world women have no rights at all. How can that be in the 21st century?

Misogyny is tolerated across the planet. We see it every day, just as every day we witness racism and homophobia. Women face varying levels of misogyny on an almost daily basis. There are degrees, of course, but it’s there, all the time and this post only scratches the surface of what women face. I haven’t even gone into the may ways women are treated at work, or casually in their life, but here’s a taster.

 

Media Misogyny. Watch the commercials closely and you will see that while much has happened in terms of racial representation and in attempting to balance men and women being seen as connected to certain products and pursuits, you’ll still see most women cooking in the kitchen, doing the washing and the hoovering. Yes, there are women changing tires on moving cars and going on adventures, but men drink beer, women do the weekly grocery shop, and babies and their futures are highly gendered – boys go mountain climbing, girls become ballet dancers. Women eat yoghurt. Certainly the gendering stereo-typing of commercials is much-much better than it was, but it is still there. It’s casual and probably not ill-intended but still there.

Don’t forget the sports coverage, mate. How many women’s sports are televised, how many are given many column inches in the papers? How many professional women are paid the same as men? Serena Williams is the best tennis player in the world but does she earn what her male counter-parts do?

Shall we touch on Hollywood? Jennifer Lawrence bravely stepped up to the podium on the wages gap between men and women in Hollywood. She was applauded and lauded for speaking out and then slammed. But why shouldn’t she speak out, why do male actors earn more than female? Why isn’t there an Avengers movie about the Black Widow? Why are so many films made for the male audience? Not much equality there, eh?

 

Misogyny of Power. So, the Brits had Margaret Thatcher, Germany has Angela Merkel, there have been other female political leaders but still we can count their numbers on our fingers. Julia Gillard was Australia’s first and only female prime minister and it is hard to argue that had she not been a woman she would not have been hounded out of politics in the vile and detestable way that she was by a macho-blokey misogynistic Australian media and culture. Yes, we’re not into tall poppies but we tolerate far more shit from a bloke than a Sheila and it is to our detriment.

In business, in multi-nationals, in the Tech giants, the real power is in the hands of men. And, in religion too – all of the world’s major religious leaders are men. And most of them don’t seem to like women that much either. The Church of England has had massive issues with ordaining women and I won’t even begin on how the Catholic Church has treated women over the years. Not to mention where Islam sits on the fate of women. But more of that later.

 

The Misogyny of Rape and Rape Culture. Whatever its causes, power or sexual desire, rape is a violent act that is mostly (but not exclusively) committed by men against women. Yes, women can be violent too, and some women do cry ‘wolf’ about rape, but the stats sit on the side of men acting violently against women. What is more disturbing about rape is Rape Culture, the belief that somehow the woman – the victim – is to blame. This idea has been around for a long time and is part of the reason women don’t always report the crime and somehow learn to live with it. Rape is an act of brutality, of violation, both physical and mental. It screws you up, literally. How can you have a successful and loving intimate relationship again, when your most intimate and vulnerable physical space has been violently and deliberately violated?

The power of rape is seen in its use in war, especially recently where Moslem women were raped by invading soldiers, which is bad enough in itself but made worse by the reaction of the returning fathers and husbands, who then rejected their wives (who had somehow allowed this to happen), and abandoned daughters who were no longer virgins and now worthless. Rape is a heinous thing.

Rape Culture is simple: the woman is to blame. Rape Culture reminds us that women are not free, they must behave in certain, socially accepted ways to protect themselves, to avoid attracting the wrong attention. So, women must dress in a non-provocative way, they must not drink to excess, they can’t be out on their own, they can’t flirt a bit too much, they can’t change their minds. (If you want a bit of insight about consent and sex Google the Cup Of Tea analogy) Women have to control their behaviour so as not to inflame or encourage some poor weak man to rape them. Now, the key here is that both sexes lose out. Women are denied the freedoms that men take as writ, and men are painted as being incapable of controlling their baser desires and not being able to understand when women don’t want their attentions. It’s bullshit, isn’t it? I know many men who do not subscribe to this madness either.

Here are some scary stats related to Rape Culture (courtesy Kalavai Venkat at http://indiafacts.org/indias-daughter-and-richard-dawkins-racism/)

*71% of British women and 57% of British men blame the victim of rape.

*Of the younger generation of British, aged 18 to 24, 33% blamed the rape victim if she was provocatively attired.

*A Christian advisory service for women in the USA teaches that a woman who is provocatively attired is as culpable as her rapist.

*An American government agency even advertised that the victim of rape should be blamed if she had consumed alcohol.

The New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne (and in other parts of Europe recently) feed into this culture, this belief that women bring rape, or unwanted physical attention, on themselves. One of the worst aspects of this incident, which was initially hushed up, was that the female mayor of Cologne was happy to blame the women, she was happy to excuse the men, as this type of behaviour was not part of their culture; the poor things were not used to women being out, socializing and enjoying themselves and so saw them as fair game. No. This is shit. This is men violating women and then blaming them for the violation and the misinformed West excusing the behaviour because of culture or religion. This is rape culture at its best, misogyny at its finest. Indeed, not all misogynists are men.

 

The Misogyny of Islam. Why is this being tolerated? Why is the movement against women within Islam going unchecked? I agree with Richard Dawkins, where are today’s feminists on this issue? I don’t normally wade into contentious issues, as you know, but I do wonder what the world has come to when we let so many people, especially women, be taken hostage by out-dated, dark ages thinking and attitudes; where one sector of the population is completely subjected to the desires and whims of the other.

Whilst I lost my own faith a number of years ago, I generally subscribe to the live and let live, tolerant view of the world. I am of the democratic, liberal (small L), left. I am accepting of others and their beliefs and customs. How other people choose to live is fine by me, as long as they don’t force their views and customs on me. But my mind was changed some years ago watching a documentary about somewhere in the Middle East and the treatment of a young girl of 14, who had gone out with a boy and brought shame on her family. But instead of her family treating her with any kind of kindness, or compassion, dignity or justice she was hung from a crane and left to die. I found it impossible to understand what it was that this girl had done that was so terribly wrong, that resulted in her own family, not only rejecting her, but killing her.

I lost my tolerance for Islam watching that program. My tolerance has turned to horror and disgust, and yes, I am talking essentially about extreme, fundamental Islam. What is the world doing about the subjugation of so many people? What did we do about all those Nigerian girls who were captured by Boko Haram to become sex slaves or worse, whose promising lives were taken away from them? Where was the feminist outrage about that? Where are the accusations of misogyny against Islam for the treatment of women, who are being denied education, health care, freedom of speech, of choice, of equality, the ability to vote; who are owned by fathers, brothers and husbands? Why are we so quiet about this? Why are we not more outraged by this? Why is this abhorrent treatment being ignored, or worse, tacitly supported?

The word Misogyny has become a casualty of the PC madness that infests the modern world. Feminism, as a word, has also been hi-jacked – a word too many women shy away from, because to be a feminist now means to be radical and man-hating and to take offence at the slightest breeze of dissent. And now misogynist is bandied about without any care, losing its currency and value. Stephen Fry is not a misogynist, no more that Germaine Greer or Richard Dawkins. To make jokes about women or call them out on issues is not misogyny. Misogyny means very particular things – quite terrible things that we should be fighting against – and when the Twittersphere and other online publishers make trivial matters into battle issues barely worth 5 minutes of anyone’s time we lose absolute sight of where the battle should be occurring.

lion

Rape Culture and the increasing march of extreme Islam is where the battle front should be for modern feminists, that is where the true misogyny lies – where the real hatred of women is, where women are oppressed, de-humanised, silenced and brutalized. They have no voice and no-one much in the West is speaking out for them either. I can only wonder why and fear for my own daughters in this increasingly anti-female world. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Don’t Abuse Our Staff: Teachers Excepted

February 13, 2016

Have you noticed the signs all over the place, asking the public not to abuse the staff, not to take out their frustration on the people dealing with them? There was one on the bus the other day; I’ve seen them in council offices and hospitals. But they’re not in schools. Think about that. And consider now the recent findings about the most abused professions – those jobs where people are verbally or physically assaulted during the course of their working day. It’s not the police, or nurses, or even those who work in jails. It’s teachers.

A recent survey found that over 40% of teachers have been abused during the course of their working day and many have witnessed abuse of colleagues – verbal and physical. Teachers routinely have chairs thrown at them, are barged, pushed, sworn at, shouted at; each day brings low level contempt, rudeness, aggression, sneering and refusal to follow simple instructions.

Jac-work1

Recently in London a teaching assistant was attacked by a father outside a school because the TA had the temerity to admonish the child for poor behaviour. The father was having none of this, so he followed her and beat her up, knocking her unconscious, resulting in horrifying facial injuries and long-term damage to her neck. This violent man was given a 12 month suspended sentence, to wit, he was let off. What sort of message does this send the public and the profession?

It doesn’t really matter what the causes, what plethora of excuses exist in the world for poor behaviour, the fact is the behaviour of children and young people in schools has dramatically deteriorated over the last thirty years. Blame the parents, blame the teachers, blame food additives and electronic gadgets, blame the governments – it matters not, teachers are not safe at work and most people don’t really give a shit.

It works like this. All schools have behaviour policies. All schools have the right to exclude/expel on limited or definitive bases. All schools have a shit-load of paper-work to jump through for this to happen. Ofsted judges schools on their expulsion rates and if there are too many you get black marks – because excluding students is a mark of failure. The paper-work trail is a nightmare. For a student to be permanently excluded you need a file as thick as your arm. Unless they’ve brought a knife into school in which case it’s all over. But violence or aggression towards a teacher, well that may or may not result in some form of exclusion, it may or may not mean that child returns to your class, you may or may not have to deal with them again. You have to provide all sorts of witness statements because your word is not good enough. I understand there are untrustworthy teachers out there who do things they should not, but most of us do the right thing, yet we are treated with suspicion.

I had an incident recently with an aggressive boy who barged me in my room. I wrote my statement but his version was that I had attacked him. Fortunately for me there was another adult in the room, a TA, who clearly saw what happened and verified my version of events. But really, why would I lie about such a thing? I’m in a position of responsibility, the incident occurred in front of the whole class and had to be reported. In fact, this boy had been increasingly aggressive and defiant over weeks, had been removed, counselled, but his poor behaviour kept on escalating. He was not interested in behaving appropriately on any terms. In the past this boy has committed similar physical ‘attacks’ on other members of staff. Yet he is still in school. His parents support him. He is their angel. So here is an example of what happens to entitled pampered children – they don’t behave, they are ‘consequenced’ as much as the school can, the family does not support (or often is the cause of the behaviour) and so the child returns from their exclusion, is removed to another class and will undoubtedly offend again.

While my current school is pretty good on serious offenders, the truth is these children return to school, very rarely having learnt any sort of lesson. Teachers tread a dangerous path. We have to maintain our cool and calm under extreme duress: we have to remain the adult at all times. Often behaviour management comes down to some sort of mystical dynamic on behalf of the class who decide whether they will or won’t co-operate with you. Rules and procedures only go so far, some students simply don’t care: their purpose is to disrupt, defy and destroy. If you are lucky as a teacher it will be only one student and you will be able to manage them. But if the whole class goes along with the one, or there are many, you’re sunk and you can’t have half of your class removed because they won’t behave. Because if that’s happening then it must be something you’re doing, mustn’t it? If only you’d follow the behaviour management guidelines, you’d be fine…

 

This is what happens. A classroom is a bit like a pack of wolves. If you can establish yourself as the Alpha-wolf, or if you have the Alpha-wolf of the kid-pack on side then you can manage your class, teach your lessons and be safe. If you struggle for authority and the pack smell your vulnerabilities (you’re new to the job or the school, you’re supply, they know the hierarchy don’t support you) then you become fair game. You will face defiance, aggression and abuse. You will not be able to do your job. There won’t be any learning. The students will not make progress and you will be blamed. There is no win here for anyone.

lion

Teaching is in crisis. Young people are not staying in the profession, older teachers are retiring as soon as they can, or moving to other professions. More and more of those of us who remain wonder what will happen. We are blamed for the ills of the modern world, we are berated by students, parents and Ofsted; tricked and wrong footed by exam boards; dictated to by government ministers who really don’t know the first thing about education; expected to do more with less time and less money, and somehow, somehow remain sane and devoted to the job.

Students take less and less responsibility for their learning and their behaviour. Teachers are expected to bear it all. If a student fails to make progress the teacher is asked why. If a student won’t behave the teacher is asked what they have done to make the child behave. Successive governments have created this situation.

Once upon a time the poorly behaved child was a rarity, now they are common-place. Once upon a time the failing child was held to account for his own failures. Now it is the teacher who hasn’t taught or managed well enough – it is not the child who has failed to learn or own their behaviour.

Perhaps it’s time to switch things back again – to place higher expectations on students for all aspects of their life in school? Learn, behave, bring a pen, become a decent citizen. And let teachers be safe at work, like most other professions. Before there are no teachers left… (Pictures from Private Collection)

Guilty pleasures: Top Gear

January 30, 2016

I have a confession: I love Top Gear. I know I shouldn’t, I know they’re reconstructed dinosaurs, who manage to offend all and sundry, and front such an unapologetically blokes’ show but I love it. I do. Let me count the ways.

I have come to the show late – so late it no longer exists in the Clarkson-Hammond-May format on the BBC. But, as you will know, that means nothing in the new era of TV where shows are endlessly repeated and on some days they run end on end on end. So Christmas was a boon period for anyone wanting to watch Top Gear for hours.

Top Gear, is as we all know, about cars. And I love cars. Have done ever since my second car, a 2.5 PI Triumph that caused all sorts of woes and troubles and expense but could drag off a motor bike at the lights. Then there were the Jags. Yes, dear reader, 3 of them. I am Three-Jag-Jac. The blue V8 saloon was the most beautiful car in the world but my favourite was the maroon V12 5.3 XJS. Which had more traumatic days than happy days, who cost a fortune but went like a rocket and dragged off the odd policeman. It also only started for me and even my mechanic was awestruck by the engine, if nothing else about the car.

Jag Front close up

So, it’s easy to see why I would appreciate a show that worships cars, their beauty, their style and doesn’t just give me a ‘guide to’ made mainly to soothe the manufacturers or sponsors. I’ll never own 95% of the cars on the show but I like to watch them being driven hard in differing conditions and I like that the boys are honest in their appraisals. Personal and quirky but honest and that actually matters these days.

The dynamic between Clarkson, Hammond and May is magic and it is why the show works and it is why Hammond and May jumped ship after Clarkson was fired. Okay, Jeremy should not have punched the producer, he should not have caused so much offence and so many complaints but surely that was/is part of the attraction of the show. It is the biggest money earner for the BBC, licensed all over the world. It’s impossible to think that Chris Evans can manage to make it work. But the world is a funny place.

The three men play off each other, tease other, bait each other, but the banter is what we love. They are horrid to each other, they fall out during their challenges and have a plethora of not-so-nice names for each other. James is Captain Slow, Richard is the Hamster and the Rural Simpleton/Idiot, Jeremy is the gorilla, the dinosaur and Jennifer. Hammond and Clarkson are Pinky and Perky. They revel in this and we love it too. The show works because they know each other inside out, have different knowledge banks, different approaches to motoring and somehow, just somehow they work together brilliantly.

Top Gear

I love the challenges. They are ridiculous and can’t possibly pass Health and Safety regulations. How on earth was Hammond allowed to be winched up the side of a damn in an old Land Rover? My favourite was the polar challenge. Clarkson and May living the life of Riley in the Toyota Ute (for those of us in Oz) with their meals of wine and foie gras while Hammond was on the dog sled and freezing in his tent. The differences are extreme but fun and of course Jeremy drove too fast and nearly killed the car and James nearly killed him too. I love that they genuinely fall out. But they forgive too.

So, they are offensive. Jeremy regularly says things he shouldn’t. I’m not sure that that’s such a bad thing. Increasingly we are being curtailed by the speak-police, the PC Nazis gone mad. Say something someone disagrees with on any sort of media and you will be trolled. Speak out about an issue and you will be vilified in the media, possibly receive death threats, be banned from speaking at universities (Germaine). So, in many ways, Top Gear is refreshingly unreconstructed in these terms and it is a shame there will be no more of this freedom of speech on free TV.

I have to mention the cinematography too. This is an amazingly shot show. You see the cars from every conceivable angle, but the close ups and angles and all of it actually are works of art. The camera guys, who are regularly mocked for their inability to shoot any wild animal effectively, are masters of their craft and clearly love cars as much as the hosts. If for no other reason you should watch for how beautifully filmed this show is.

But the main reason I love Top Gear is because these guys are literate, verbal acrobats, not always mangling a metaphor but speaking lovingly about the cars, about what they do. I love Jeremy most for this. I could listen to him for hours, with his poetic language, his historical and literary references, his inspired metaphors. These are not ignorant idiots on our screens, these are quite clever men, doing what they love, having the time of their lives. Perhaps that’s what the world-wide audience of men and women love.

Mum and Car

Finally in the spirit of the show, where we decide which of these three cars are the best, we need to decide which of these three presenters are the best. Or, to take it down a level, which one would you sleep with? Many years ago when I was the only female member of senior staff I would, during the more boring moments, consider each of my colleagues and wonder what they might be like in the sack.

Who would you choose? Jeremy, lanky, expanding gut, thinning on top, but with words to woo and long artistic fingers: James, with his gentle smile and kind eyes, his tousled mop and gentlemanly ways: or Richard, with his impish smile, his sparkling eyes, his fit body, his joy in what he does, his vigour and cheerful disposition? (Top Gear picture from the Guardian, other pictures from private collection).


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,023 other followers