Archive for June, 2014

It’s Time to Consume Less –Eschew the Clutter

June 28, 2014

Stop! Before you click buy, consider how much you really need the item you are about to purchase from the comfort of your home, from the ease of your computer. Do you really need another pair of shoes, a new coat, the latest iPhone and all its accessories, more knick knacks? The truth is you probably don’t need to buy anything non-essential ever again.

Look around your home. Is it full of things – of possessions that you simply have to have to feel good about your life, to feel as if you live in a lovely home, have taste or just enough money to buy whatever you want, whenever you want it?

If you’re like me, then your house is full of lovely little things that you just had to have, that made you feel better simply by buying it. But, the truth is for most of us we have homes full of stuff that we don’t use and don’t need. In fact some of it we never use. It just takes up space and clutters our life.

We live in a consumer society – it’s called an economy and an economy is all about money, about buying and selling, money and goods changing hands forever, so producers and manufacturers keep in business and people keep their jobs and we keep spending our money and keeping the world turning.


Spending money feels good. It’s lovely to walk into a shop and leave again with your brown bags replete with some special item you simply had to have. It’s lovely to get your little packages from Amazon, etc in the post. It’s wonderful to wander a market and find amazing bargains.

We’re also bombarded with advertising at every turn. It is worse than it was. Buses, tube stations, trains, newspapers, magazines, not to mention the invasive web advertising that is now wonderfully linked into your latest search so that when you’re reading your stars or the latest news, there, in the corner is the ad from John Lewis, or Jaguar or ASOS, reminding you that you want to buy, you really-really do.

But, do we need half of what we buy these days? Do we thoughtfully replace our old coat with the new one, throw out the shoes that are worn, or do we simply keep things forever, because – you never know when it might come in handy… Here’s the big hint from this blog- IT WON’T.

Several things remind me of the need to de-clutter our lives. One is moving again (a separate blog to come about the joys of moving) and the other was cleaning out my father’s things after he died last year.

My dad loved to shop. He had a house full of things and some very recently bought: some new books and a very nice selection of clothes. Which is fine, you are saying. But when we cleaned out his life – never an easy thing to do – we sent a small truck’s worth of clothes to the charity shops. Nice clothes, but so many and from when he was a much younger man! We did the same with books – sort the historical worthwhile and the pulp quick reads – why wasn’t he a library member? The kitchen was the same –there were still items from when I was a child – a kettle and toaster from the 1960s alongside a cavalcade of kitchenalia bought over the years. Why not sort and clear? Why did he need a house full of things, of clutter? Why do any of us?


Jeremy Clarkson wrote recently of the loss of his mother. You know Jeremy, loud mouthed brash, trouble prone, man-boy from Top Gear. He wrote a touching article about the loss of his mother in the Sunday Times – she was the creator of the Paddington Bear toy. His fear, after his sadness was having to go into her home and sort through her life, making those terrible decisions about sorting and keeping; about having to be sensible not sentimental. And you know what? He didn’t have to. His mother, who had known she was dying, had sorted through her own life and de-cluttered it before it was too late.

So, this weekend, have a look around your home. Do you really need and use all that you have? Are you hanging onto things for no sensible reason? Sentiment has a place, comfort and indulgence has a place but perhaps you should be concentrating more on the other things in your life that matter and not the stuff that clogs and clutters your home?


Remember, charity shops are there for a purpose, so is the tip! (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Karma and the Wheel of Fortune

June 14, 2014

Allegedly a former senior colleague of mine (and others) endured an incident of humiliation and distress at the hand of an innocent recently, as reported, and then confirmed, on one of the more reliable social networks.

I must confess dear friends that this small defiant action by one person against another, and sadly I do not know the full details, thrilled me to the core. I did feel a tad guilty about my pleasure at their displeasure and distress. But then I remembered only too well what the ‘victim’ had visited on me and many others.

Indeed I feel as if Karma, taking her sweet bloody time, had finally smiled on me and I found myself unusually cheered in the wake of the news.

As we know it is unutterably hard to cope when the Wheel of Fortune is stalled at the bottom in the mud of despair and powerlessness, sometimes at the hands of another, sometimes because of our own foolishness and stupidity. But, if you know your Shakespeare and your Tarot, wheels are always going around and he who rises also falls, just as he who falls also rises.

King Lear was “bound upon a wheel of fire”, having been the king who gave it all away, he went mad and lost his beloved youngest daughter. He didn’t quite manage to get everything back but he had grown from his suffering and it could be argued he died in peace; certainly order was restored to his ravaged kingdom.

Macbeth began as a hero, lauded across the land. Like Lear he began his play at the top of his Wheel of Fortune, but oh did he fall. His act of regicide was only avenged by Macduff , at the end of the play, who completed the karmic circle for Duncan’s sons. Thus the kingdom was restored and all was right in the world again.


This is the heart of Karma, that what goes around comes around – believing that injustice, that your unwarranted suffering at the hands of another will be dealt with, will be avenged. The problem with Karma is that she takes her time and appears in deceptive disguises. It is unlikely that you will be the instrument of your own Karma, especially in our context, that of revenge. And this is what makes keeping the Karmic faith difficult – you have to be patient and you have to trust it will happen.

You are always the instrument of your own Karma when you act for good. While you wait for the evil-doers in your life to get theirs, go about your own business doing good, being good. It will distract you from your suffering and make you a better and stronger person in the meantime. And if you spread good about it will come back to you.

Remember, just like the river, you cannot push Karma against her will, and know that the Wheel of Fortune is ever turning, always falling and rising. Smile, go about your business, be patient. If you believe in justice there will be justice. (Pictures courtesy Private Collection)

Reading Lists for students… dare you write your own?

June 7, 2014

Aftre Michael Gove announced the ‘banning’ of several iconic books for GCSE students a predictable and not entirely unwarranted torrent of abuse ensued and then alternative lists popped up – including the Guardian’s selection from notables. Oh, dear, what lists – full of self indulgence (Russell Brand) and complete ignorance of the teenage beast (nearly everyone else except for Hilary Mantel).

It is worth considering – what books should be experienced during the high school years, what should you read and know about as you grow and become who you are? After all those of us who dwell in the world of books know how we learn about ourselves and others from reading, as well as all the osmosis language skills we acquire simply from reading.

Should we agree with Michael Gove and eschew books from other countries, other cultures and be utterly xenophobic in our canon for the kiddies? What sort of citizens would we be brewing if we follow such a path? Others are asking this question and it is an important one to consider, given there is more truth in fiction than in history, given there is mandated focus on socio-historic-cultural baggage of the texts studied in school.


In my time in Australian schools we taught a broad range of texts from writers across the world, although perhaps we could have done better. But, there were a slew of excellent YA American novels by the likes of SE Hinton, Paul Zindel, Robert Cormier – so many kiddies loved The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese. I taught To Kill a Mockingbird alongside The Lord of the Flies. We had Animal Farm and Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy. But some of these dated – notably Colin Thiele and Lord of the Flies, or perhaps it became too English as we became more Australian and hade more home grown stuff to choose from, including Nick Earls, John Marsden, Isobel Carmody, Sonya Hartnet and Nadia Wheatley.

We were not starved for choice and indeed many of my happier moments were raging arguments in my departments about which books needed to go and which ones we now wanted in our book-rooms. Yes, schools where I chose what we would teach and then my teams chose from the range. Good times.


So, what might an All-Australian list look like?


For the term

For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert

We of the Never Never, Jeannie Gunn

The Eye of the Storm, Patrick White – there must be one White at least, as he is our only home-grown Nobel winner, no matter how inaccessible you think he is!!

A Fortunate Life, AB Facey

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay

Walkabout, James Vance Marshall

The Harp in the South, Ruth Park

A Town Like Alice, Neville Shute

The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

Ride on Stranger, Kylie Tennant

Poetry of AB Paterson

Short stories from Henry Lawson


Modern Classics

Monkey grip

Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey

Gould’s Book Of Fish, Richard Flanangan

Monkey Grip, Helen Garner

Lilian’s Story, Kate Grenville

Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Unreliable Memoirs, Clive James – entertaining memoir

My Place, Sally Morgan – important memoir

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Carpentaria, Alexis Wright

Poetry by – Les A Murray, Gwen Harwood, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Bruce Dawe, Judith Wright, AD Hope, John Kinsella, John Tranter, Dorothy Porter




The One Day of the Year, Alan Seymour

The Club or The Removalists by David Williamson

Radiance, by Louis Nowra



looking f Al

The Obernewtyn serties, Isobel Carmody

48 Shades of Brown, Nick Earls

Looking for Alibrandi, Melinda Marchetta

Tomorrow when the war began, John Marsden

Lockie Leonard – Human Torpedo, Tim Winton

Sabriel, Garth Nix

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak


Classic Films (because films should be included too…)

rabbit proof

Rabbit Proof Fence (based on true story)

Gallipoli (based on letters from the front)

Mad Max (just because…)


What would this highly personal selection tell us about being Australian? That women are valued in our canon, that there are Aboriginal voices (although there is an argument there should be more). There are few immigrant voices, but I have been away from home for a while and not as up to speed with recent developments… What would these stories tell us about ourselves? Do we not need texts from other countries, other voices in our heads to tell us about the world and how to live?

When I taught English Lit in the NT the texts were King Lear, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night and 1000 lines of poetry, which was taken from an Australian anthology. So there was representation from three countries, different times and places, classics and moderns. Perhaps there should have been more classic Oz-Lit at that level, perhaps there is now. When I taught English Communications in Tasmania we embraced other cultures much better and taught The God of Small Things and Jhumpa Lhahiri’s collection of short stories alongside Radiance and some non-fiction texts.


From my list – extensive but not exhaustive you can plainly see we have as Australians a rich and long standing literary heritage from which to create a bespoke English curriculum but I am not sure this is wise. I think it would shame us in many cases, it would reinforce some of our less admirable characteristics and much and all as people might breath a sigh of relief at the absence of Shakespeare or the Romantic Poets, or Dickens, what would an English education be without a smattering of good writing, of the classics from across the world?

It is always wrong to ban books, or attempt to modify people’s reading, be they teenagers or adults. Reading books, reading fiction is one of those activities that is dying fast amongst the young. What is beholden on the powers that be is to promote texts that engage and excite and mix in the classics, from across the world. A country like the UK should be outward looking, to learn from reading, to be anything but xenophobic and nationalistic in your curriculum.

Remember there is more truth in fiction than in any other book, perhaps that’s why people want to burn them and ban them and why writers are often considered with suspicion…

What do you remember from your school days? What would you want students to be reading in High School? (Images courtesy Google Images)