Archive for August, 2011

Escape the Madness

August 11, 2011

Okay, so it’s a bit rough out there at moment, riots and economic melt-downs surround us. If we’re not careful the state of the world will bring us down and crush any remaining joy out of us.

Time to chill, to escape it all. But how? If you can get away, physically, then do so. Hop on a plane, catch the Eurostar and get away to some place foreign where you barely speak the language and can’t read the papers even if you wanted to! Get on the beach, hike in the woods, be oblivious to it all. If only for a short while.

For longer lasting escape mechanisms have a look here. I’m sure there’s a creative easily accessible, cheap escape route that suits you.

Read. Find some fiction that really takes you away from it all. Fantasy is the obvious choice, but don’t overlook adventure, romance, sci-fi, or even some classic fiction. I’d suggest something you can fully immerse yourself into, something where you can be there with the characters, completely in their world. A series would be best wouldn’t it, or some very long book that takes the rest of your life to read. By the time you’re out the other side everything will seem okay again. I’d try out War and Peace – long ago, far away and very-very long.

Movies. Get yourself a stack of DVDs, close the curtain and be anywhere else you want to be. A thematic approach would probably help. Clearly something like the Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter films (as well as the books obviously) would help. Or a season of Kevin Costner (or whoever floats your boat). Perhaps films of the ancient world, eg Troy, Alexander, The 300, Gladiator, Clash of the Titans. Get the idea?

Paint. Immerse yourself in your art. Find a landscape you want to be in, be there, paint every detail. Portraiture can work the same way. Or any sort of image that will take some time to transfer to canvas/paper because of the intricate details you need to focus on to make this picture vibrant and mesmerising. You need a big canvas, a detailed image/idea – something to keep you focussed and obsessed for ages. Think Sistine Chapel in your living room.

Writing. Yes, go off and live in your head. It’s a great escape. If you’re creating characters, you have amazing places to go. You need to sort out all the details of their back story, where they live, what they like, who their friends are, what clothes they wear, what their bedroom is like, do they drive a Jag or a BMW? All the details you need to know so you can write about them with complete confidence, as if they are your friend. Then you have the joy of setting – what are the places like where your story happens? If you’re creating your own fantasy or sci-fi world then this job can keep you employed for ages and ages. All those new languages, tribes and places to invent – what bliss!! For all stories you have the problems of plot to work out, the correct sequencing of events, the minutest details that create a convincing story.  A big story, a story you want well written will take an inordinate amount of thinking time. It’s the best place to escape the trials of the real world. The problems of your characters and stories are so much more fun to deal with than the helplessness you might face in the real world.

So, go on, escape. Too much reality is not good for us. Travel far, read widely, watch movies – bloody great box sets; paint murals as grand as anything done by Michelangelo or Leo; write your own epic, or series – we need a new JK. We’ve got to find a way to push some bits of reality as far away as we can, otherwise we go mad too.

Oh, and indulge in your favourite tipple and lots of chocolate or carbs. Life is too miserable for diets at the moment.

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London’s Burning

August 10, 2011

London has been burning and across the country the damage continues. You have to ask why? You have to think that this is not just criminal, wanton damage but a deeper far more disturbing unrest within British society.

Last night the police were out in force. FB is full of comments of outrage. My old high street was trashed, not as bad as some but most unsettling had we still been there. My eldest daughter was sent home early from work in Crouch End as the police advised shop owners to shut up early and securely.

Yes, we are outraged by the mindless violence, the opportunistic looting; horrified by the Croydon girls who thought it was fun and that the rich deserved it anyway. Of course, they don’t understand that most of the independent high street shops are not run by rich people, but by ordinary working class people making a living the best they can. We know too about mob mentality that can fuel the fires of unrest – we know of the story of the American girl who was gang-raped outside her prom while hundreds of people watched and did nothing.

Is this just mob mentality, bored youths on their holidays smashing up an uncaring and hostile world?

Across the world people are rising up against oppressive regimes – Egypt, Libya, Syria: in Greece the ordinary people protest severe cuts to their living standards, while the rich remain rich and find ways not to pay their taxes, to move their money off-shore. In the UK these sorts of people protests are applauded – in other countries. When it happens here the rioters are criminals and some want to bring in the army.

Is the Cameron-Clegg government an oppressive regime? Has the conservative government under-estimated the anger and simmering resentment in the community? The London riots occurred by and large in the poorer parts of the city, not in Kensington or Hampstead but Tottenham, Peckham and Croydon amongst others. Here there are significant pockets of poverty, unemployment, welfare, gangs and unrest. Why are we surprised when disaffected youth use one simple catalyst – the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of the police to give themselves permission to run riot? Why be surprised that Notting Hill restaurants are ransacked and customers terrorised? Because the rich are the enemy and so are the police.

Remember this is not the first sign of hostility towards this government. We’ve already had the student protests that turned ugly as tempers frayed and protesters were ‘kettled’ for hours in the city as student fees for uni were raised to £9000 pa. Charlie Gilmour has been jailed for 16months due his public affray – swinging from the cenotaph, harassing Prince Charles’s Jaguar. Public servants have taken strike action as their pensions (not even remotely generous) are under threat.

All of these groups have felt the full force of the politicians’ venomous rhetoric. Public servants are lazy and out of touch with the realities of real workers, students are privileged and have no respect for our war dead and now the rioters are criminals.

The real criminals sit in Westminster unable to face what really is adrift in modern British society – the gap between the rich and poor is monstrously huge and growing every day. In this current economic climate the poor and lower middle classes are being squeezed – benefits are being reduced for the poor and costs on transport, food, heating, VAT, petrol (if you can possibly afford a car here) are all rising, well ahead of any cost of living increases as wages are frozen. How can gas and electricity companies all increase their prices by 11%+ while enjoying huge profits? Where is the customer service? Where is the competition that was meant to keep prices affordable for the ordinary person? Where is their accountability? Why isn’t the government looking at that issue instead of spending so much time on Rupert Murdoch and the phone hacking that really is of the most ephemeral interest?

As more and more people find they cannot make ends meet there will be more violence. Yes, some cuts must happen, some of the Welfare rorts must stop, but what about dealing with the swag of people and companies who pay as little tax as possible? As the government strategies to fight the banking sector meltdown induced economic crisis bite there will be more people forced out of their homes, higher unemployment, and more crime and civil unrest will occur. People will feel less safe on the streets and in their own homes. Confidence in the police will continue to fall. Education will not save the day: C’s in Maths and English GCSE was never going to be enough to bridge the poverty divide and neither will keeping students in school until they’re 18, forced to do Maths!

The world is on a precipice – first world countries as well as dictatorships and the poorest parts of the planet are in crisis. Money rules all. It makes the world go around – or at the moment stop. The sad thing is that there is enough money for most of us to make ends meet, to have some treats. Much has been made of celebrity culture, of the bling society and expectations from that unreality. So, why are football players paid so much money? What does Jordan actually do? Why do bankers get such huge bonuses for spending someone else’s money? How can families afford to send their children to Svalbard for adventure camps when some don’t even leave their suburb? How can you blame the poor and ignorant for wanting more and thinking they should have it?

What should surprise the politicians is not that there is unrest or deep and abiding resentment within vast sectors of the population but that there has not been more unrest before now. We cannot look to other parts of the world and be smug: Britain is a mess. It’s a nasty place; it’s racist, homophobic, narrow minded and arrogant. There are too few haves, and too many have-nots.

This week’s riots will not solve anything: they will deepen divides. However, what will be of interest is how the mopping up occurs, how those who are tracked down and prosecuted are dealt with. Let’s see what the government does in the wake of this mess. That will tell us how Britain will fare over the next few years as the economic crisis deepens, as it will. Let’s see if Cameron has any idea about how to make society work before he even has a go at his Big Society.

In the Bath

August 7, 2011

Supposedly most Poms used to keep their coal in the bath, hence they didn’t wash and smelt a lot. Cleopatra bathed in assess’ milk and was renown for her fabulous complexion. Indina Sackville (the Bolter) used to receive guests while in her green onyx bath and of course Archimedes famously determined the volume of an object while in his bath and then ran naked down the street shouting ‘Eureka!’ – Greek for I have found it.

Most of my life I’ve been a shower girl, that’s how we wash in Oz – especially in the far North, but there was always a bath in the houses I’ve inhabited over the years and a bath was a thing of indulgence, not a basis for basic cleanliness like the timed shower we had under my father’s water watching regime. Do you remember Save Water Shower with a Friend? And did you?

I came to the real joy of baths when I was at uni and took possession of my Nan’s house and her green and magenta bathroom – I kid you not. After long training sessions on the river (I used to row) I would retire aching and exhausted to the bath, accompanied by glass of wine, book, record playing outside, and Siska the cat, who managed on several occasions (unable to learn her lesson) to slip on the green ceramic surface and scratch me to pieces as she clawed her way back out of the water, only marginally frantic. I needed my sunglasses too as there were no curtains and the afternoon sun just poured into the room.

For years after that I only showered, cold showers for 20 years in the NT – well you didn’t need hot water for anything other than the washing up. A shower cooled you, cleansed you: was a functional experience necessary to deal with the constancy of sweat.

And then I had a home with a spa bath. Oh, it was wonderful: triangular, two person, jets, bubbles – indulgent heaven. Once more I retired to the soothing pleasure of a long bath, with wine, some chocolates, a book and music, except now it was at the end of a long working weak – a treat for surviving and a nice place to be away from the off-spring and to sometimes ‘play’ with the other half.

Once again over here, a bath is both functional and indulgent. The shower attachment was rendered useless by the girl-child, who managed to wreck the curtain and attachment in one go – still mystified by this feat – and beloved other half refused to fix, as it was flimsy and not robust enough for us. Now I have bubbles and bath every time I wash and I take my time and luxuriate at the end of my very long day.

The beauty of the bath is not to be over-stated. It is like entering a time-capsule. As long as you are in that contained space you are free to be anywhere it seems. My mind wanders a great deal. I listen to old songs, the dog pops in to say hello – very much to big to join me – and I unwind from my day. Pleasurable stuff.

But good stuff as things float in and out of my mind, I think about problems, half find solutions, think of things to blog about, how to solve the problems of my book. It seems as if the steam and aroma of bath salts and oils (and cute little bombs from Lush) seep into my brain and enhance the vision, give colour to shade, meaning and solutions to the imponderable.

Just like Archimedes I find solutions in the bath. Just like Cleopatra I indulge my skin and person in the bath.  Unlike Indina I do not have an onyx green bath, but perhaps one day I’ll have something as beautiful, but never to greet my friends from – that would be as useful as keeping coal there!

10 Best Oz Bands

August 4, 2011

This is an entirely subjective and I imagine somewhat dated list, but Youtube can take you anywhere anytime any place in the world of music. So see how this list goes with you and then check out your own music collection and swing by Youtube – I know these guys are all still there, waiting for new and old audiences to find them.

In no particular order – my best Oz bands:

Australian Crawl – I just loved these guys when I was at uni. I had all their albums, saw them live and was quite besotted by James Reyne. Do you remember their first appearance on Countdown? There he was with two broken arms singing Beautiful People – an iconic moment. Check out Downhearted, Errol, The Boys Light Up, Man Crazy and most of all Reckless – their only no 1. They were devilishly handsome and their songs had better than average lyrics, some caustic comments on Oz society. They were a bit beset by tragedy (Brad and Guy gone too soon) but a brilliant band.

Cold Chisel – another band that saw me through uni. Along with the rest of the under 30s population I bought East and knew every song by heart. My mate Ross (who had an uncanny resemblance to Richard Gere) and I would sit in the ref and sing Cheap Wine and Forever Now to each other across the cappuccinos. You couldn’t beat Jimmy Barnes growling vocals, Don Watson’s lyrics and Ian Moss there with the alternative edge to Jimmy. Check out East and then listen to Khe Sanh, Bow River and Flame Trees – all very different, all utterly awesome.

Divinyls – somewhat under-rated in my opinion but oh were they in your face. Chrissie Amphlet with her Chrissie Hynde fringe but voice from where? And that silly schoolgirl’s tunic but they were a band to be reckoned with. They looked like sex, they sang of sex – was there anything else to think about when you were young? How can you forget I Touch Myself, Pleasure and Pain and the Boys in Town?

Dragon – okay, so they’re not actually Australian but they too were gorgeous to look at, great to listen to and suffered along the way. I loved Get That Jive, Are You Old Enough, Still in Love with You, Dreams of Ordinary Men, Speak no Evil and then later Young Years, when Todd and Marc had chubbed up, but before Marc sadly died of throat cancer.

Split Enz – another imported NZ band that made it huge in Oz. A bit off the wall, not as handsome as some contemporaries – yes, looks did count – but the music was brilliant. There were nights in the pub when everyone was singing I Got You. We all knew Message to My Girl and History Never Repeats. They were always melodious with great lyrics. Odd that NZ bands had pairs of brothers…

Skyhooks – when I was at school you were either into Sherbet or Skyhooks – there was no in between, it was war. For me it was Red Symonds and his tongue and the dressing up and other anarchic stuff. Sherbet was sweet good looking confectionary and Skyhooks were posing cross dressers and hard edge. They sang of life now, especially in Melbourne, of sex and money and finally love. You must remember Living in the 70s, Balwyn Calling, Horror Movie (about the news), You Just Like Me Coz I’m Good in Bed, Ego is Not a Dirty Word and finally All My Friends Are Getting Married. It was a bonus that Red was actually an educated boffin and sad when Shirl died in a plane crash.

Midnight Oil – the first band that made politics and music mix in the Oz-rock firmament. They were ferocious in their lyrics, fierce in their music and no-one in the whole world dances like Peter Garrett. Pity he lost all his balls when he went into politics. Anyway get your ears around US Forces, Blue Sky Mine, Beds are Burning and you’ll feel the fire in your belly too.

The world beaters

Crowded House – of course spawned by Split Enz, this one went onto conquer the world. Neil Finn now the master of the hook and kill you melody. Did you watch the final concert at the Opera House? People were crying – they were brilliant because you do always take the Weather with You and Don’t Dream It’s Over too.

INXS – more musical brothers, more death; still there were years of excellent tunes and great performances, when Michael Hutchence was our very own Mick Jagger, before he got so caught up with being famous and the Paula Yates lerv-thing. We all thanked him for making Kylie cool. You can’t overlook Never tear Us Apart, Need You Tonight, New Sensation and all of Shaboo Shabah – especially Don’t Change and The One Thing. They were a great band: excellent reps on the world music stage.

AC-DC – I was not hugely into them as a teenager, mainly because my brother used to play them at full volume in the morning to get himself moving for the day. But they grow on you and you find yourself knowing too many lyrics to too many of their songs. And even end up happy to be in pub sing-a-longs to It’s a Long Way to the Shop if you Want a Chicko Roll (sic). I was saddened by Bon’s untimely but classic rock n roll death and not sure of Brian for a while but hey they keep going and while there’s Angus there’s AC-DC. You can’t be Australian and not feel some pride about AC-DC be-striding the world.

Where do you go to, my lovely, to write your words of wonder?

August 3, 2011

JK had the local coffee shop. Virginia needed a room of her own – insisting that women writers needed a room of their own to write. Di Morrisey has her shed down the back of her tropical garden. Some love the local library, some have an office away from their house, some have a space the size of an airing cupboard, some no space at all but the kitchen table after – or before – the day is done.

Where do you write? Is it important to have a dedicated space to weave your wordly magic? These days with the wonders of modern electronics and technology you can take your lap-top anywhere and write. Well, even in the pre-tech days you could take your pen(cil) and paper anywhere and write. It is one of the glories of Art – you can do it anywhere, anytime – and really you should.

But how important is it to have a space of your own? I would say it’s essential. I’m with Virginia Woolf, you need your own space to be in, to be undisturbed in, to think, plan and create in. You can’t have other people in there, interfering with your papers, your notes, your drafts: your carefully arranged mess, wherein you know the order and sense which defies logic and anyone else’s idea of reason.

You need space to be quiet or to play music, to smoke or drink endless cups of coffee, glasses of wine. You need your things around you – books, photos, paintings, reference tomes: the things that mean something to you. These are the things that inspire, create the ambiance for you to begin, to continue – to write. You need a space where you won’t be interrupted. A room with a door that locks. A room that is away from the telly, away from the kitchen, away from the action of your home.

As a teenage writer I had my own room, a desk, where study was meant to take place but poems and stories had the upper hand. Then I had my Nan’s house and took over the front room over looking the city and the river. I could move from table full of notes and scribbles to cosy chair by the window and watch the world swirling away below me and write. My first big stories began life in that room.

From then on I lived with others and the ability to write became harder. How to remove yourself from them without seeming rude? How to write in the same room while they watched the tv and chatted to you? It wasn’t possible. In fact it wasn’t possible to get others to take my writing seriously until I won a prize and my stories were published in anthologies. Then I could disappear from the fray, allowed to indulge myself in my now worthy pursuits.

My first real writing room was my own purpose built study under the big house in Darwin. In the extensions it was the first room completed. It had a wall of floor to ceiling louvre windows, a wall for the bookcase, a wall for the desk and bar fridge (need to keep my own supplies down there so no need to leave the room for refreshments) and the double glass doors that opened onto the garden, the expanse of vivid green grass, the palms and the pool. The door locked and the kids were not allowed in. I wrote into the night on my jellybean pink Apple, blissfully happy, completing stories and the odd novel and a prize winning essay.

Then, in the house in Tasmania I ended up in a thoroughfare – a nice space at the front of the house, that opened up onto the deck and looked out on the river, but was the space between the living areas and the bedrooms of the house. I was lucky if I got twenty minutes of continuous writing in. Beloved baby girl could not pass through without stopping to chat and while she is the joy in my life she was not the joy in my writing. Still a few stories, another novel completed – even a prize won.

Now I have a room again. In truth it’s about the same size as my thoroughfare and it’s not as beautifully situated. There is a garden below, but no pool and no river just a few yards away. But I have my desk, my bookcase full of novels, CDs reference texts for study and work, iMac and printer. All my notebooks and cuttings; all my bits of ephemera: mementos from all bits of my life – cuddly toys, golden moon mobiles, Papier Mache stars & moon mask from Venice, Winged Victory from Athens; pictures of beloved boy and woof, of us on the Great Wall of China; even my wedding photo when I was young, gorgeous and in love.

These are things I gather around me to write. This is my creative space and here I can be me and write whenever the time is there, for as long as I need, without interruption. Into the night I can go, until the chapter is nutted out, the first draft completed, the revision done. I can re-read work at my pace, waste time in thinking, dreaming, finding bits of useful and useless information on the net. I can leave things open, things in a mess. I don’t have to clean up for anyone else or explain myself. This is the freedom a room of your own brings you. I can write in other places – I do write in other places – I will write in other places again. But I’ll always want a space to myself, to re-create my writing room to suit me. Selfish I guess, but no-one would question the painter, the sculptor or the potter their right to a studio.

Where do you go, then to create your things of wonder and beauty? Do you have a room of your own?

What’s It All About?

August 1, 2011

What is it all about – life, the universe, everything? Why are we here, what are we doing? Is there a higher reason or no reason at all?

I realise if you are a God-botherer then these sorts of questions are almost moot. But even when I was still at one with He-in-the-Sky, I did wonder what it was all about – especially in those darkness filled excruciating teenage years, and ever still, quite regularly, I wonder: what I am doing, why? There are so many of us leading quiet lives of desperation that you have to wonder what is the point of it all – what is it all about. If life is such a precious gift – regardless of your belief in God or Science, being alive at all is one of those outrageous odds against things – then why do so many of us waste it in stupidity, sloth and nothingness?

In the light of last weekend’s deaths (and the on-going slaughters across time and the globe and in books and films – death and waste of life is constantly with us) then shouldn’t those of us who are here and surviving life’s slings and arrows of misfortune and mis-health make more of our lives?

Ask yourself a few things about your own existence:

1. Who would miss you when you’re gone – who will mourn for you and remember you, keep your time on the planet alive through their stories and memories?

2. Do you do anything useful with your life? Do you have a job that makes a difference, wether directly like teaching or health care professionals, etc or indirectly? Does your daily work add to the good of the planet? Do your hobbies and interests add to your life and to others?

3. Do you bring beauty to the world – through being an Artist, through being able to see beauty and celebrate it – are you beautiful – on the inside as much as the outside?

4. Do you love others? Do you exist in a relationship with others that brings them comfort, support, joy and love? Do you have love in your own life? Look after your family and your friends – they are the ones who will remember you when you’re gone and keep your love and laughter alive long after you’re cold.

5. If the Inquistor (from Red Dwarf) came to see you would you be able to keep your spot on the planet, justify why you have life and someone else doesn’t? Look inside yourself: are you who you want to be? Are you having the life you want, one that is worthwhile and meaningful, no matter what you do or where you live or who you are? This is not about money or status but a matter of our own worth and willingness to live well, to make the most of the opportunities that life gives us.

Life is precious, yet too many of us waste it. If you’ve lost someone you love, if you grieve for the waste of life last weekend and across the world, if you have survived something life threatening then do the right thing – live large and bold, embrace all that is there so that this life – your life – is not small or wasted.