Archive for January, 2016

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).

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Finding Joy in the Small Things

January 23, 2016

Because a colleague noted this week that there was no longer any joy in teaching I was contemplating exploring this issue – in the wake of OFSTED many of us feel this way. But instead I’ve reached into the archives and found an old post about finding the joy in our lives. Methinks it’s a timely reminder for us all – OFSTED survivors and the rest of us making our way in this increasingly dark world of ours.

Joy is there, just make sure you look hard and make it so, yourself.

Happiness can be hard to find at the best of times, so in hard times it can be harder still! But look around, notice the minutiae of your life and you will find there is joy. “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him,” says Nick Carraway of Jay Gatsby. Thus, a series of small moments of joys can lead us to happiness.

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Try these on for size

A warm smile from someone you love

The smell of fresh coffee

A meal cooked by someone else

Cooking something for others – a cake, dinner

Chocolate

Sleeping in of a weekend

Walking your dog – doing anything with your dog!

Zanz

Having chickens (for you Phu)

Watching a silly movie

Laughing out loud

Listening to your favourite song

Singing out loud

Fresh flowers

The sun in the morning

Rain, when you’re inside and snug, looking out

Snow – especially snow days

A beautifully cleaned kitchen – or bathroom, etc

Putting the laundry away

Kindness of strangers

A good book

Writing your blog!

The Sunday papers

QI

Top Gear (I confess I love it)

Being with your friends, your family, your beloved daughters & son

An unexpected email from afar

Skyping with the far flung kinder

Someone ‘liking’ you on FB or your blog

Friday evening, with the weekend ahead…

Summer evenings

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I’m sure you can add many, many more. But it’s a start and a good idea, don’t you think – look for the small joys and the big happiness will find you. Joy is still there, it’s up to you to find it again! (Pictures from Private Collection)

 

Celebrity Death: David Bowie, still a hero

January 16, 2016

I was gutted to hear of the death of David Bowie. I loved him growing up. On my wall was a decent sized poster of him in his Aladdin Sane regalia, alongside equally large pictures of Queen, plus a few of Mark Spitz – even then, eclectic heroes. Like many others I’ve loved Bowie all of my life – loved him before others in my crowd knew who he was, so he was special to me, almost like he was mine. His songs form the backing track to my life, from buying records, (vinyl!) to play in the solitude of my room and escape to his strange and wonderful worlds, to a computer full of tunes from up-loaded CDs and Youtube clips.

Bowie

Bowie, along with the likes of Freddie Mercury, Roxy Music and many other musicians in the 1970s changed the way we dressed, the way we behaved, the way we described and considered ourselves. Men wore make-up and satin and velvet and looked more beautiful than women. Women became wild animals, sinuous and strong – remember Jerry Hall in various Roxy Music video clips? Sexuality became fluid and free and fun. And the music was stunning – it became operatic (Bohemian Rhapsody), transformative, quirky, mesmerising (Avalon) – all things were possible. Even Punk would not have been possible without Bowie et al to rage against, appearing like a puss-filled pimple on the backside of a pierced and tattooed youth with outrageous hair.

Punk faded into history but Bowie survived, he changed and mutated. He created new characters and somewhere in there he became himself, stopped being Ziggy, Aladdin, the Thin White Duke and became finally but not absolutely human. Some comments are noting that he was never really one of us anyway and has finally gone home to the stars – he was our Starman, all those years ago when we only had Five Years, experiencing all our Changes, about the time he was The Man who Sold the World.

Consistent creative people, like Bowie, who push barriers, define moments, change them and keep on growing, are heroes. He struggled to break through, he was not an over-night success, certainly not spawned from the monstrous talent shows that infest our television channels. Remember the Laughing Gnome – how could that lead us to Space Oddity? But it did and then we inhabited all sorts of worlds and experiences through his musical journey. We went with him into film- The Man Who Fell to Earth, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, and of course, Labyrinth. My girls, especially my eldest girl is devoted to all things Bowie, because of listening to him all her life and because of that amazing, wonderful ageless film. Like the Princess Bride it is and will always be a classic – great stories, well told, great acting, suitable for children and adults alike.

Bowie was a chameleon, always changing, evolving, suiting his landscape, the ultimate survivor: the greatest performer. Yes he had dark periods, he was promiscuous and drug addled, but why not? Rock n roll is about hedonism and the 1970s with Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Stones and Bowie, et al was all about excess.

In the end his final act was a tour de force: the final album, with the prophetic title: Dark Star and the amazingly beautiful poignant picture taken on his birthday only a few days before he died. The words on Lazarus, his farewell single, ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’… He knew he was going and he went in style, as he had lived his life for so many years. He also died with dignity. Did we know he was ill, did we know he had cancer, was it splashed across the media? No, it was not. No it was kept private, as it was with Alan Rickman.

This is what we learn from David Bowie and Alan Rickman, men who were beyond the cult of celebrity. Both were immensely talented men, both are being mourned on all the social media sites of the planet. They were not really celebrities – vacuous no talent creatures who have infected our souls and screens with their unmitigated crap (shall I mention Angie Bowie’s disgraceful carry on on Celebrity Big Brother- she is the epitome of a sad wannabe – once she was famous by association but that was many-many years ago). Bowie and Rickman were stars, men with talent. Rickman was a fine actor much loved by many of us for his brilliance as the nasty man, the evil one, the cheating husband. Bowie was the consummate artist – writer, musician, singer, actor – performer.

Roses

We will not see his like again. And so the tributes roll on – Brixton had its night of song, Beckenham High Street has its floral tribute outside Zizzi – the former Three Tuns Pub where Bowie first performed. Sydney Festival held a tribute evening. Tributes flow, events are planned but thankfully the funeral will be a private affair. Bowie was not a celebrity – he was a star, he was from the stars and he has gone back.

David Bowie was important to me, as he was to many others, he was a hero for so much more than one day – how could you not love a man who wrote

Under the moonlight

The serious moonlight … from Let’s Dance

6 Reasons Why Reading Literature Matters More than Ever

January 9, 2016

Obviously as a writer and English teacher I would believe and promote this statement: that reading books matters. But why more than ever you may ask?

GG

Well, as we also know the world has turned very dark – threats, lies, rampant untruths, offence, dissent, violence and death abound. We are bombarded with a litany of disasters every day on the news – wherever we get it – and while some might argue it is no worse than it has ever been it simply does seem to be worse. Our senses are assaulted almost minute by minute by the latest disaster, the latest atrocity.

Indeed, Ted Turner (winner of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race and the America’s Cup, but significantly here, the man who brought us CNN) has a lot to answer for in making the news a 24 hour event – giving us trash and trivia as well as doom and disaster on a never-ending loop.

books

There are six compelling reasons why reading literature is more important than ever:

1.Escapism. Have you noted the rise of thrillers, fantasy, erotica and romance? They are all escapist fiction, allowing us to enter a world nothing like ours, where we can forget the rest of the world, its ugly big problems and our own worrying smaller problems. Other fiction has the same effect – we like to immerse ourselves in different worlds, escaping to the problems of others, which invariably make us feel a bit better about our own life. Series fiction is so popular because of this – we get caught up in the characters’ lives and we want to stay with them for as long as possible. (Yes, films too, and Peter Jackson understands this better than almost anyone else on the planet!)

books

2.Truth. There is, to be clichéd, more truth in fiction than anywhere else. Writers of fiction are freer to tell their truth through stories and characters, than reporters and journalists. Through stories we learn the truth of relationships, of how the world works, how things don’t tie up in neat bows – think of Jay Gatsby, Gone Girl, Madame Bovary. Great Expectations tells us how foolish it is to hold onto bitterness all your life – that it kills you.

3.Knowledge. We can learn about things in fiction – how the world was – history and bits of it, how different cultures operate, how people behaved in certain eras and that some behaviours were okay then but not now. Think of Of Mice and Men, where Crooks is called the n* word repeatedly which leads to a discussion of how racism works and how language shifts and changes. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas tells us about the idiocy of the Holocaust. Xavier Herbert tells of the challenges and problems of life in early northern Australia in Capricornia. Hilary Mantel gave us a whole new insight into Tudor times and Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall.

pal studying

4.Thinking intelligently. Reading good literature that explores ideas and issues – like The Life of Pi, The Slap, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, The Kite Runner, The Satanic Verses, 1984, Lord of the Flies, etc – challenges our views of the world. Reading makes us think and consider ideas that make us feel uncomfortable, enable us to accept different views of the world – which is vitally important at the moment. Discussing ideas and searching for the evidence in the text to support our ideas enables us to think at a deeper level, it takes us from the emotional response to the considered intellectual response – which we really need at the moment. Which is why literature in schools cannot be under-rated.

5.Reading makes us better people. You may laugh, but there are several studies that show that people who read fiction – especially literary fiction, where the writing and ideas are more complex – are more empathetic, more attuned to others, and more successful in their careers and relationships.

6.Reading is a simple pleasure. Reading is one of life’s best bits. You can do it anywhere, anytime. It pleases me to travel on the trains and see the amount of people reading – novels, kindles and the papers. Reading is cheap and easy – it needs nothing special for it to work – just you and the book and a comfy space. Do it now!

Life Happens

Reading teaches us how to think, how to move beyond our own experience, how to engage with the world in a considered, thoughtful way. People who don’t read really are missing out on so many things. Parents who do not encourage – no, parents who do not MAKE their children read should be put in jail. Reading fiction – picture books as kidlets, then the various age appropriate books (see previous blogs for books for various ages) on the way to bone fide adult fiction – is not something to be brushed over or given up at the end of primary school. It is a vital experience, an essential skill for life.

Let me make this crystal clear: reading makes you a better, more rounded, educated and thoughtful person. And we desperately need more thinking people in the world today.

What are you reading these days? Are you reading or have you stopped too? (Images from Private Collection)

Habits Maketh the Person

January 2, 2016

Indeed the New Year is upon us, and felicitations to all. Have you begun with a list of resolutions or sensibly just accepted that really it’s a list that is moot within a very short period of time?

celebrate

I gave up lists and resolutions so long ago I can hardly remember the moment. I also gave up sitting up til midnight some time ago too. My excessive New Years were many years ago, many miles away around Constitution Dock with millions of dollars worth of gorgeous yachts and a generous sprinkling of handsome yachties. Ah, me, youth…

But a New Year is a time to take stock and consider our recent past and where we want to go. It is the idea of a new beginning that attracts us, a chance to start again, to make amends. Each new week has a similar cache, as does the new month. But the New Year is that much bigger, isn’t it? Thus we are tempted to all sorts of extravagant gestures about improving our lives.

My advice for the year is about habits – the things that you do every day. Habits can be small, from the way you get going in the morning to how you study or achieve your goals. Habits have the potential to empower you as well as destroy you. Smoking is a habit gone wild, drinking every day a habit gone feral. But cleaning your teeth every day, walking to work, reading the papers with your morning coffee – well, they are good and useful habits that make your life that bit better.

Farm dec1 2015

I have my own habits that need to be re-instated. Since the completion of my PhD (submitted in May, finalisation in September, awarded this January) I have not been able to write or read anything of note or length. I have lost the habit of writing. It is something of a worry to me and I must get it back before it is gone for good. There is an argument that I have been drained of words and drowned in reading for the last seven and half years of study and I need a rest, need time for the field of imagination to lie fallow and regenerate. But I am becoming afeared that if I do not make some effort to change back to my habits of reading and writing everyday that my ability to write will be gone forever. And if I do not write then who am I?

Yes, our habits define us. Some habits do lead us down the OCD path – always parking in the same spot, only drinking your coffee if it is made in a certain way, only using the one special spoon for your morning yoghurt. Some are damaging us – sugar in your tea, sugary drinks at break, a pastry at lunch – you’re on the way to diabetes and no teeth by 35.

Habits begin small and grow and define us. Resolutions on the other hand tend to be large grandiose things that cannot be achieved, even by the most determined individuals.

So, to make a change, begin small. Look at what you want to change. How achievable are your goals?

Habits are changed through small steps.

Let’s start with health. Sugar is a good example and a popular choice given the catastrophic explosion of Type2 Diabetes and the obesity epidemic. Sugar needs to be reduced or eliminated from your diet. But if you try it all at once you will fail and after a few weeks you will be back where you were. This is the classic diet trap – shoot for the moon, not even hit the stars and crash and burn on the earth.

Small steps to better health

1.Identify how much sugar you actually consume – it will most likely be more than you realise

2.Read food labels – become aware of how much sugar there is in ALL foods

3.Choose one point of attack at a time – say one teaspoon of sugar instead of two in your tea, or none instead of one

4.Once that is conquered move onto the next area – sugary drinks, etc

5.Repeat and proceed.

*Once you no longer need to think about putting sugar in your tea and you lose the taste for sweet things your habit is broken.

 

This principal can be applied to other matters. The increasingly popular event NaNoWriMo event – where people write a novel in November expects people to write every day and complete a novel of 50,000 words in thirty days. It is an interesting project in kick starting regular writing habits in people. Attending classes once a week can also enable the creative habits – other people can help here, inspire and support you (yes, Weight Watchers runs on this idea too).

 

Apply the small steps principal to creative endeavours

1.Identify the activity you want to pursue/improve

2.Find a regular time to create – be it every day or once a week (no less)

3.Create a dedicated space where you can be quiet/alone

4.Don’t let anyone interfere with your time or space

5.Allow yourself to do little things at a time, allow yourself time to get moving

6.Make sure you are in that space dedicating your thoughts to that pursuit during your designated time.

*Once you are no longer forcing yourself to sit and create but are doing it because it makes you feel good then your new habit is established.

Pal art

 

We all want changes in our lives, in ourselves. It can be hard to find the time, the will to do this but small steps to a better you are eminently possible. You can be healthier, more mindful, stronger, more relaxed, more creative, more the person you want to be.

Changing habits does mean effort and it does take time but the rewards are worth it. Try a small step change in one habit and see how you go. I’m doing it right now – blogging again to get my writer’s groove back on.

Out there in the wider world of the web are a range of people have more advice on changing habits. You might like to have a read of their ideas too:

http://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change

http://www.sparringmind.com/changing-habits/

http://charlesduhigg.com/flowchart-for-changing-habits/

Happy New Year, dear friends and readers. J

me nails

(Images from Private Collection – thanks P-AA Bewsher & PAM Bewsher xx)