Archive for the ‘Live Strong and Well’ Category

The Importance of Things: The Joy of Possessions.

March 18, 2018

The Importance of Things: The Joy of Possessions.

There’s a lot of emphasis in our world on consuming, on buying things – either being exhorted to buy more and more, or to eschew the whole thing entirely and go for experiences and a life well lived; not basing our meaning or reason for being or status on having things, increasingly expensive and pointless things.

Anyone who looks at land-fill and visits charity shops on our high streets or is sickened by the amount of plastic in our oceans cannot help but be appalled by our greedy consumer based society. Indeed, there are endless memes about how we wish to be remembered, for the person we were but not for our fabulous collection of shoes – Imelda Marcos, anyone???

But we all consume, we all buy things, useless things, expensive things when cheaper ones will do. Is our rampant consumerism about status, about greed, about a selfish need to have more and more?

There’s nothing wrong with liking sparkly shiny things. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to surround yourself with beautiful things. What’s wrong is making the acquisition of possessions the focus and thrust of your life. It’s not good to compete or keep up with the Joneses; it makes for a life of empty soul destroying avarice. You’ll never win, you’ll always be behind, second best: a loser. You’ll end up in a stupid amount of debt, in a house that is devoid of love and the rough and tumble of life, in a suburb full of people you actually despise, driving a car that costs too much to insure, that loses value the moment you set foot in it and isn’t really the car you actually wanted.

Now, consider for a moment the possessions you hold dear. There is probably a reason why an object or collection of objects means something to you.

I have several things that have travelled the world with me; things from my childhood, things that have not been destroyed by fire (1967, Hobart), cyclone (NT x 4) or floods or snow-storms or smashed or lost by various removal firms. Yes, they are toys – my panda bear who at the time he was given to me was almost as big as me, a gift from my grandparents, who knew how much I wanted it; my Paddington Bear, the last gift from my mum that I still have. Yes, I have her WW cook-book (as mentioned last week) and a few items of jewellery but the only thing left that she gave me is Paddington.

For the last Christmas before she died she gave me a glomesh wallet. Do you remember those? Quite sophisticated items at the time. It was my first wallet, a step up from my cheap Indonesian leather purse. It had all sorts of compartments, as well as a coin purse and a place to keep your notes without folding them origami like to fit inside your small purse. I loved it but it became more important when she died – the last item, the last gift, the last connection.

You know what happened, don’t you? It got stolen. Twice actually – once from the Uni Rowing sheds in Newtown Bay, but recovered from the rivulet whence it had been abandoned. And then again many years later in Darwin after we’d moved back from Alice. This time it was never found. The lost was deep and compounded by the fact that inside the cream lining I had secreted the plastic hospital baby-tags belonging to the Dragon and Phoenix. I lost a couple of hundred dollars too – right before Christmas – but the loss, the heart-breaking loss was that of things that cannot be replaced: gifts from a dead parent, and once only identification tags, irreplaceable mementoes of birth. Thus Paddington can never be abandoned or given up as something from childhood that should have been put away years ago.

But now I have another special wallet that has a story with it. It is beautiful, functional and makes me happy every time I use it. I smile when I look at it, remembering the agonising I did over buying it. I have struggled to buy things for myself over the years, especially if it is a tad on the expensive side. And so this pink leather wallet on sale in an up market department store near our hotel in Barcelona caused a great deal of anguish. Which shade of pink, which style – this one at this knock down price or this one – more originally expensive, or this not quite as nice but more reasonably priced one? I looked, contemplated, went away, spent the day at the various beautiful attractions that Barcelona has to offer and then went back with Pallas to agonise again. Finally, as all good children do, she made me choose and ‘allowed’ me to buy myself something lovely. It was a bargain and we all love a bargain; it’s why all the discount web-sites thrive – we all think we’ve got a steal of a deal and it makes us feel better. We have made good purchases at a more than reasonable price. You can never knowingly over-spend ever again!!

People rush into burning buildings to collect possessions – photos and other trinkets, worthless things that seem like junk to the wider world but are worth a fortune to the possessor. Yes, because they are full of all that stuff that is beyond measure, beyond any rationale calculable worth. During the Tropical Years in Darwin I had our photos boxed up and wrapped in heavy plastic ready to grab should we need to head for shelter during a cyclone. My box of writing over the years was similarly readied for emergency matters. I knew what was impossible to replace; I knew what I needed to keep and yes, all of those things are with me still.

Of course, people and relationships matter more. Of course, possessions are not more important than the living. But when the living are gone or far away it is fair and reasonable to keep things from them, or related to, them close by. The other precious things in my life are to do with my children – photos of them across the years, things made by them (yes, Pal – your Garfield and penguin will be with me until the end of time); cards and gifts from them (yes, Phu your ‘Zanzibar’ and polar bear and elephant watch over me as I sleep); and I wear the heart necklaces (one rose quartz, one Murano glass) from the Dragon every day. Sentimental things, lovely things that when you use them, wear them, look at them, fill you with love and warmth.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to own nice things. Why shouldn’t you have a good set of cast iron pans, or an extensive collection of scarfs? Why shouldn’t you have a nice car, that Jaguar F-Pace, if you want and you can afford it? Why shouldn’t you expand your collection of vinyl, rare books, elephants? Life isn’t about being frugal or mean, or without pleasure.

The point is that materialism, rampant consumerism, isn’t doing the planet or your well being much good. Buying things to be in fashion, to keep up with some sort of imagined standard is pointless. Buying things instead of putting time into relationships or doing things, traveling, having experiences, is counter-productive – what are you doing with your life? Amassing a load of rubbish for others to just throw out when you’ve popped your clogs?

But buying things keeps a whole range of people in work – especially if you buy lovely original items – a range of artists able to keep on working, adding beauty to the world and your living room. Buying a new kitchen is reward for your efforts and keeps a whole retinue of people gainfully employed. Buying things when we travel brings the story with it, recreates that experience (hence the pink purse from Barcelona). Buying something expensive or simply something that you just love that you’ve worked hard for and saved for brings a feeling of accomplishment too: I earned this, here is a testament to my efforts. It makes the grinding and sometimes unrewarding realm of work worthwhile. Why shouldn’t you have a crushed velvet Chesterfield sofa? It’ll probably last a life-time and be beautiful as well as functional.

I now have a collection of 57 elephants. They come in all shapes, sizes and materials. They are quite lovely and give me a great sense of pleasure. When I clean and dust them I think about who gave them to me (being a collector of things helps others in the gift-giving dilemma; thank you, Dear), or where I was when I got that one, and where will I put them all when I eventually get home again!

Possessions for the sake of possessions is pointless. Possessions that mean something, that have an emotional richness, that bring you pleasure and comfort are important. Don’t feel guilty about spending money on yourself or others. But make sure that what you buy is worth it, that doesn’t add to our throw-away, mindless, avaricious society. Buy things, own things but buy wisely and well.

Possessions should be about connections and stories, utility and beauty – they shouldn’t be about competition or expense or acquisition for the sake of it. Remember that and you’ll not make foolish or wasteful purchases, and you’ll have things that are worth having. (Images from Private Collection)


Comfort Food – for when you need something to make you feel better.

March 11, 2018

Comfort Food.

In the midst of the snow last week and being (sadly and oh so reluctantly) forced to stay at home instead of going to work I had a sudden odd yearning to make scones – fruit scones to be exact. And so I did. Hunting out my mother’s old, battered, world travelled Women’s Weekly Cookbook I made scones. It was a bit of a challenge, given it is years since I’ve made scones and given the age of the cook-book it was all imperial measures, so some time was spent converting with the help of the internet – oh, helpful & wonderful thing that it can be.


My first batch were more like rock-cakes: the mixture rolled too thin with old SR flour, still they tasted fine enough. The second batch were a marvel and a delight. And it set me to wondering what is it about scones that is so comforting, indeed it set off a whole train of thought on comfort food. Which, as I publish on Mothering Sunday here in the UK, seems entirely appropriate.

Scones are things connected to my mum and nans – ladies who belonged to the CWA (Country Women’s Association) for whom baking was a part of life. Mum was only a so-so sort of cook but still she could manage a decent batch of scones and a few basic cakes; so making my scones, using her book made me feel close to her again and it was a comfort to me – even now, after all these years it’s nice to feel close to her.


Perhaps this cosy feeling we have from baking – either baking ourselves or receiving the fruits of the baking – explains the run away success of the Great British Bake Off, and many other cookery shows. Indeed Nigella springs to mind.

Home make food is a comfort. I am of an age when a home-cooked meal was the norm, and for my own family it was too. We associate home-cooking with love, care; with home and feeling safe. We are comforted by home-cooking, by the smell of baking, by the aroma and taste of freshly cooked meals. Who doesn’t love the smell of baking bread, of roasting lamb, of pumpkin soup? Even the simple smell of brewed coffee and toast – who doesn’t feel better with those aromas in the vicinity?

Food has become an area of danger and politics, of fashion and trends, and obesity is the newest disease and every day some new study warns us about sugar, or fat or bacon. Governments set out healthy eating advice, legislate against sugar and fat and push for honest labelling. We can’t escape food – be we thin, fat, poor or rich.

We all have our own comfort food – our go-to bit of nourishment when we feel crook, or unhappy or tired, or even for celebrations. Comfort food is exactly what it says it is – food that comforts you, that makes you feel better, that lifts your mood, or makes you feel a bit less wretched about yourself or the world.

When I’m sick I want tomatoes on toast, with lots of butter and salt and pepper. I have no idea why, but every time a cold sweeps in, even post-migraine, I want fresh fat red tomatoes on toast. It’s wonderful. And every time I do feel better afterwards. It puzzles me as I am not usually a great tomato eater … clearly my body knows something my brain doesn’t!


Comfort food is simple, plain honest food. It’s easy and quick to prepare. It hits the spot in moments and so you feel better in minutes.

I have a list of things that make me feel better… the afore-mentioned tomatoes on toast, scones, fresh and warm with melting butter or jam and cream; peanut butter on toast, vegemite and toast, jam and toast (there’s a theme here!), melted cheese on toast, ham and cheese toasties, sardines on toast; soup – chicken noodle, tomato pumpkin: packet, tin or homemade; plain Cadbury dairy milk chocolate; eggs and bacon, egg and bacon pie; cold lamb sandwiches with tomato, and sausages – especially thin beef Australian sausages (although I just love the simplicity and honesty of sausages, be they English French or Australian), barbecued and in a slice of white bread with tomato sauce. Actually there is a lot of tomato in a range of guises herein…


Mostly this is winter stuff – I guess that’s when we get sick the most and the need the most comfort – snuggled up in bed, or by a roaring fire, feeling sorry for ourselves, needing lovely simple food stuffs to make us feel better. But in Summer there’s nothing more comforting on a stinking hot day than an icy glass of coke, a chilled slice of watermelon, a lemonade icy pole – the cheap ones! And, of course, the most comforting drink of all – champagne, because it comforts and celebrates and is good with so many food stuffs, especially the wantonly naughty and comforting KFC and pizza (homemade or take-away – thank you Pizza Hut) and at any time of the year. Stick a frozen strawberry or raspberry in your bubbles and you have an utterly blissfully comforting drink for all occasions.

So, have a think, what is your go-to comfort food – is there only one? (Images from Private Collection)


Don’t bring your difference to my table: a poem.

January 27, 2018

Perhaps something suitable for Australia Day, but for many other days and places too. A poem to help us consider and reflect on much of the nonsense of our world.

Don’t bring your difference to my table

Don’t bring your otherness into my room, don’t bring it to my door, into my home, my country

Don’t bring your arrogant aged, patronising wisdom

Don’t bring your cocky youthful ignorance

Don’t bring your God of war and hate and intolerance

Don’t bring your colour, your gender, your fatness, your beauty, your out-dated misogyny, your vitriolic feminism

Don’t bring your pointless, damaging shit to me

Be silent when I speak

Listen with your heart

So you hear the sameness


Look into my eyes, beyond the blue, the brown

Peer beyond my skin, whatever hue

Ignore my hair – whatever colour or texture it be

Ignore my external appearance, the distracting packaging


Gaze deep inside, into my soul, my heart

Is it not the same as yours?


Don’t look for differences

Don’t proclaim your otherness before all else

Don’t make enemies where there are none


Wherever we come from

Whatever we believe in

Whatever we eat

Whomever we pray to

Whomever we love

Whatever we speak


We are the same

We are human

We are sisters and brothers

We originate from the same one mother

Stop judging

Stop hating

The old, the young, the fat, the rich, the poor, the stupid, the black, the clever, the informed, the wise, the dumb, the hopeless, the sick, the homeless, the immigrant, the refugee, the victim, the lesbian, the homosexual, the transsexual, the foolish



Don’t bring your differences to me

I only want to know how we are the same

How we care about the same things


How together we can make a difference (Images from Private Collection)

Life is Precious: Honouring Ferida.

January 14, 2018

Life is Precious: Honouring Ferida Tasholi.

This is not the blog I had prepared for today but I need to honour one of my friends, one of my former students; someone who was responsible for keeping me writing my blog, to whom I felt honour bound to write something for her to read on a Saturday morning as she had her coffee. I’ve let her down over the last few months and now she’ll not be there to keep me honest in my renewed quest to post regularly again.

Vale Ferida Tasholi, whom I taught in the very first year of my teaching career, who latterly became a dear friend. I am saddened beyond belief. My heart breaks for your family, for your beloved boys and husband. I am angry with a world that takes the likes of you and leaves behind so much rubbish, so many people who do no good, who cause so much damage and pain, who do not add to the planet. You added to the planet: you did that, as a mother, wife, teacher and friend: you were a force for good, you had a positive effect on many people, you made our world a better place. Your death is one of the cruel ironies of life – where once there was joy and sunshine, now there is pain and loss.

I will miss your responses to my blogs, the interactions that ensued; your intelligence, humour and engagement; our recent FB chat about the loveliness of flowers, my orchids that I am managing not to kill! I will miss you nagging me when I miss a week or month. But most of all I will miss having you in my head, as I write, wondering: what will Ferida think of this, will she find this interesting, will she like this? I feel quite bereft and can only imagine how those who were so much closer to you feel. Yes, I have some inkling how your boys are: my mother died too soon as well. You were the same age.

It is cruel. A death like this – sudden, unexpected, unnatural – is hard to take. I sometimes think a lingering death, the struggle with disease, with the likes of cancer is somehow easier: you have the chance to get used to the passing of your loved one. You are preparing for it and when there is a great deal of suffering, as there often is at the end of such diseases, there is also relief at their passing: the suffering is over.

But the death of those before their time is always hard, no matter the cause. Death stalks us all. It is the single common denominator of everything – we are born and we die.


So, here’s the thing, the thing we need to remember as we travel through this life. Some things matter more than others. Let Ferida’s death cause us to pause and remember the things in life that are most important:

*Family matters more than work.

*Friends matter more than money.

*Love matters more than anything.

So, take the time to be with those you love, to tell them how much they mean to you, to be kind and patient, to answer that text, to keep in touch, to forgive and make up before it’s too late.

Make sure you look after your own health. Have the check up; lose that bit of weight, keep moving, stay active; don’t ignore that nagging cough, that lump, that persistent pain. Look after yourself in the world – drive carefully, walk carefully, get off your phone, be alert to the dangers of others; keep your mind active: don’t die when you don’t need to. Don’t die before your time. Don’t leave a hole that will never be filled.

And don’t forget that those who are gone, those we really love, are always with us. They live in our hearts, we see them in our children; we remember them when a song is played; when a smell unlocks a memory; when we hear ourselves speaking their words, intoning their wisdom, wondering what they might have done in this situation. And if we’re lucky, they’re watching over us, loving us still.

While we should ‘show our friendship for a man when he is alive’, as Meyer Wolfshiem advised Nick in The Great Gatsby, we should also honour the dead, as the ancient story tellers like Homer did, through stories and songs told over and over again at the fireside, repeated and retold forever. Tell your own stories of those you have loved and lost so others know them too, so they are not forgotten, like Achilles and Hector and Odysseus, the heroes of Troy.

So tell your stories of Ferida; mourn her, honour her and do not forget her. My orchids are for you, Ferida, one last time. (Images from Private Collection)

Music Soothes the Soul and Inspires the Mind.

April 9, 2017

Music Soothes the Soul and Inspires the Mind.

What is your favourite song? Can you name just one? No, probably not – it would have to be a personal top ten, maybe a top twenty. I’d struggle to keep to twenty, wouldn’t you?

On Friday driving home from Tesco’s in the bright Spring sunshine the radio played something cheerful and rhythmic – can’t recall the tune but it made me tap my fingers and wobble my head as I waited for the lights to go green and it reminded me how important music is to most of us. That it soothes and inspires, brightens and saddens, and without it we are lesser beings.

And then my mind jumps to the lunacy of an Education system that doesn’t value music or drama or Art or anything creative; ignoring the fact that Britain, London especially, thrives on culture. There are galleries all over London; the West End is full of tourists and locals going to shows; literary festivals populate the country: music festivals sell out fast wherever they are (Glastonbury) and the O2 and other concert halls remain in constant use.

What sort of madness is it that says Music and the arts don’t matter? How short sighted is it to side-line these subjects in school?

Music is for the soul and the heart – it can make you feel better, it can make you feel worse; it can transport you to different times, different places: a different life. It doesn’t matter if you can’t play or sing, you can enjoy music on your own terms wherever you are.

Art and stories make you think, challenge your views of the world, broaden your understanding and give you beauty – of an image, of words. Images and words are incredibly powerful things.

Stories can tell the truth when no other medium can. Art makes us face who we are. Music makes us feel things and rouses our emotions and makes us feel connected. Is this why the powers that be want to shut down the Arts in schools; why they blissfully ignore the plethora of evidence that shows how important music is for learning, for healing, for being human?

 Plugged in- zoned out!

I like the diversity of all the art forms but Music is the one that lives with me every day – yes, even more than writing, believe it or not! The first thing I do every morning is turn on the radio. In the car there is music – radio or CD (is that terribly old fashioned now?). When I am writing there is music – ah the joy of iTunes and a personalized selection on Youtube. I play certain music for certain pieces of writing – stuff to sooth and block out the extraneous rubbish in my brain, or stuff to cheer me up, or take me to a specific time or place – hello Australian Crawl, Split Enz, The Police!

Music can be devastatingly simple or awesomely complex – the Beatles love you, yeh, yeh, yeh and a simple but devastating hook that infects your brain. And then we have the complexity of Stairway to Heaven and Bohemian Rhapsody – in lyrics and musical movements. We have the grunt of AC-DC’s Highway to Hell (even sung by John Farnham – it’s brilliant, find it on Youtube), the madness of Florence and the Machines’ Dog Days are Over and the joy of John Paul Young’s Love is in the Air. Whenever I hear Christina Anu sing My Island Home I well up and suffer terrible longing pangs for my own island home, thousands of miles away.

John Denver has just come on the radio: back I go to sunny days in Tasmania and to thoughts of my father who loved him (we had a dog named Calypso for the song) and to my step-mother struggling to cope with her estrangement from my father and then his sudden death, and playing John Denver as we had our own farewell ceremony after the funeral.

My mother was musical – she could play the piano and I recall a reasonable singing voice. I was useless, only managing the opening of the First Noel on our piano. But all of my children can play – clarinet, flute, saxophone and cello. My mother’s despair over my lack of musical ability would have been salved by the fact that her grandchildren had all acquired her musical skills, unlike her dullard daughter. I like to think she’d have been enormously proud of them, coming to concerts and soirees all the years they were in school bands and orchestras. There you go, a little musical sadness, that she never saw them play, never saw her musical genes living on.

Chris Rea has a special resonance for my beloved and me. The Macarena will always be the song for my big girl; memories of her teaching the moves to girls in Shanghai when we were there on exchange. My baby girl is Shiny Shiny by Hazee Fantasee; a Romantics CD on constant play when she was young that made her sing along and bubble and smile. My boy is forever Sting’s Fields of Gold from when he was in all sorts of musical ensembles at school and sang this.

And my favourite song of all time? Is there such a beast? Can I choose from Bowie, Queen, Zeppelin, Oz Crawl? Yes: it is the wonderful and obscure Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins. It has the most marvelous beat and brilliant sax. It is my ring tone and it must be played at my funeral as the fires consume me.

We take music for granted; few of us can play a musical instrument, but like Fran from Black Books, we must be musical because we have hundreds of CDs, or tunes on our various machines: we take music with us wherever we go. It is part of our soul, our being, our lives. Don’t let anyone tell you the Arts don’t matter, that music is pointless. Got to a live performance of any sort and you will be transplanted to another place, deeper feelings, and an appreciation of the wonders of the world. (Images from Private Collection)

Be Nice: It’s More Important than Ever.

March 26, 2017

Be Nice: It’s More Important than Ever.

There is an epidemic of nastiness in our world. It was evident in this week’s London attack at Westminster when an innocent Muslim woman who walked by the injured/dead pedestrian on Westminster Bridge was trolled for being callous and indifferent to the suffering around her. She wasn’t being anything of the sort but the immediate and vile on-line spewing of vitriol was as ever a knee jerk reaction to an image that suggested a great many things, but was positioned as something to react negatively to. And so people did.

Why are we so happy to take the nasty position? To attack instead of saying nothing? Why do we prefer to be unpleasant instead of kind? Is it simply the anonymity of the cyber-world or is there something deeper and blacker lurking in us all?

What is disturbing from my point of view is that this epidemic is becoming more evident in the young beasties I interact with every day. There seems to be something in the air that is infecting them too. Yes, students have always had a robust relationship with each other: bullying is not a new problem, there have always been cliques, the cool kids, those on the outer. But there seems to be an increasingly callous nastiness to each other: interactions that go beyond teasing, beyond banter. There’s an edge to how they interact at the moment. A harsh disregard for the hurt that is being inflicted on others – be it physical or verbal. If I say something they look at me as if I am mad – it’s okay Miss they know I don’t mean it.

Is this true? Am I missing something here? Is it okay?

If it is okay then we are in a terrible way. Young people who don’t know how to treat each other, who think being casually rude or unkind is acceptable, who don’t actually care about someone else’s feelings, even if it is a friend. But it’s not just young people at school, it is people of all ages, from all over the place. You’re on-line, you read the articles and the comments sections. You know how rude and aggressive people have become. It’s almost expected, isn’t it – get on-line and make as outlandish a comment as possible and wait for the responses so you can get even more outraged. We saw this at its worst (best?) during the recent US election when the comments about Hilary especially were completely beyond the pale. We know of women on Twitter and other places who are trolled with comments wishing they were raped or their children killed.

When did we become some vile, so reprehensible?

The anonymity and comments boards have unleashed a monster that is now utterly out of control. The lack of accountability of these people is clear. Yes, some get prosecuted but the vast majority does not. Freedom of speech is a two edged sword and we have allowed the dark side to over-take us. We seem to have forgotten that being free to speak does not equate with being free to abuse all and sundry.

What should we be doing about this?

Parents must be more responsible for their children’s moral education, for making them into decent citizens, who know right from wrong and the importance of thinking before speaking or acting. Parents need to monitor and restrict their child’s on-line interactions. Not just because it is dangerous out there, but because it is de-humanizing them. The more time a child spends on-line, the less they are able to interact effectively with others – they lose the ability to read and understand emotions. They lose the ability to converse effectively, to listen, to share, to understand that the world does not revolve around them.

Those who run the various social media platforms need to do a great deal more about how they police and punish what is posted on-line. Hate-crimes are all very well, but the everyday hatred that is spewed on various platforms needs greater attention. I’m not sure why Zuckerberg etc don’t get it, why they obsess about breast feeding mothers and turn a blind eye to the myriad other vile and abusive images and messages on their platforms. They need to step up and exercise more moral integrity and not just concern themselves with getting richer at the expense of the moral and ethical decline of the population.

We, ourselves, need to be more vigilant. Challenge young people about their behaviour. Make them read. Yes, I know you are not surprised by this coming from me, but there is a huge amount of research that links reading fiction with being more empathetic and better at getting on with people, and more successful in life. Reading matters more than ever. As a parent take that iPad out of their hands and put a book there. You could even read along with them. Perhaps you need to read more too, more fiction not just shit articles on line that do nothing for your neurons either.

We need to turn away from the noise of hatred ourselves. We need not to support it – call it our where we see it. Not engage in on-line battles; not accept the bias of the media.

We need to be nice – a terrible soft pastel word, much under-rated but incredibly important now. We mustn’t just think that we are, as many people do, but act as if we are. Indulge in acts of kindness, for strangers, but especially for those you love. Say something thoughtful, something kind.

Be positive, see the good in the world as much as you can. (Yes, I know it’s hard but it’s worth trying.) Smile, believe that things will get better, actively work towards making things better; grow things, encourage others, read more; be fully informed, don’t make snap judgments.

If we don’t do something to stem the tide of nastiness, of hatred and vitriol then the world will drown in violence and fear and that’s not a world I want anyone I love about to live in. (Images from Private Collection)

Time to Read, to Know and Understand

February 19, 2017

Time to Read, to Know and Understand

Reading is always the way to knowledge and wisdom – often there is more truth in fiction than in anything else you read – especially in these worrying days of alternative facts and fake news. Yes in this post truth world you will find more honesty and truth in novels. So now is the time to remind yourself of the classics you should have read, or to reacquaint yourselves with those novels from your past that have – perhaps sadly – more resonance now than ever before. Here’s a rundown on some of the more pertinent classics that reverberate even today.


Dystopian ‘Realities’

1984, George Orwell

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

The Handmaiden’s Tale, Margaret Atwood


Now, more than ever you need to take on the brilliance of Orwell – too much prescience for one writer. Return to 1984 and Animal Farm with horror at how the world changes and shifts and learns nothing. Too much has come true, too much of what we thought was outrageous fantasy is coming true. Revisit the under-rated Brave New World (an easier read that 1984, as I recall) and Atwood’s classic and tremble. There is, of course, The Hunger Games and many other novels who explore ideas of totalitarianism gone mad but these are excellent and relevant starting points.


What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens


Not going to say that these are my favourite reads of all time but they tell classic tales of desire, love, lust, abandonment, injustice and the excessive amount of suffering love causes us all. You need to know the classics of love and loss – at least they should make you feel better about your own love life. Emma Bovary will certainly cheer you up, as will Anna Karenina – none of us could be as miserable and bereft as those two, and you need to get over Colin Firth as Mr Darcy and actually experience the original 1813 version. And if you’re going to read only one Bronte, Wuthering Heights is the one: you need to see what a bastard Heathcliff is and how unworthy Cathy was too. You can’t go passed Great Expectations for one of the bitterest spurned lovers in literature – the demonic and manipulative Miss Havisham: if you want to know about revenge she is the go-to oracle. Poor Pip, he never had a chance with Estella. No, what we think love is from the classics probably isn’t …


Angry (lost) Young Men

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis

Hamlet, Shakespeare


We have too many angry disenfranchised young men in the world at the moment – they’ve always been there, a lot of them going off to die in war, or flinging themselves about recklessly on the sporting field. Now they have grown up and are running the world. Remind yourself of what happens to boys alone on an island without rules, adults or girls in Lord of the Flies; how utterly bereft and miserable Holden Caulfield is, almost as mad as Hamlet, but none as mad as Patrick Bateman. Yes, American Psycho is a difficult and offensive read, but it shows a chillingly dark side of men gone seriously off-course and what damage can be done by those who think they are above the law!


Shitty Pointlessness of War

All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

Catch 22, Joseph Heller

Sophie’s Choice, William Styron

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Poetry of Wilfred Owen

Gallipoli – yes, I know it’s a film but it is bloody brilliant


War is shit, war is stupid, war kills and destroys and never solves anything, yet war is one of the enduring features of mankind. We are aggressive, destructive creatures, we would rather wage war that negotiate a peace. War rages on our planet still, we learn nothing from history and despite this literary collection from different wars and countries, we keep on going. Read and recoil with horror – war may have led to technological advances and helped the status of women in some countries (and absolutely screwed them over in others), but mostly it leaves a trail of intergenerational damage that echoes and reverberates over time and place. Watch Europe implode in the wake of Brexit, forgetting the very reason for the European Union in the first place.


Stolen Generations (Oz)

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert – don’t just watch Australia

Radiance, Louis Nowra – great play and excellent film too

Rabbit Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington Garimara – based on a true story, watch if you don’t want to read it

My Place, Sally Morgan – personal history but you need to read it!


All Australians need to know more about their history – yes we do have a shameful past and we need to know about it and acknowledge it. Capricornia is Xavier Herbert’s classic story of the far north, of how Aboriginals were treated, how we built our national character – the lone, tough bloke of the outback. Have a read, it’s not the novel you think it is. Radiance is a brilliant play about the complexities of the Stolen Generations issue, and Rabbit Proof Fence and My Place give the issue heart and substance.


The American Dream

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald


We all need to understand the American Dream, it isn’t just part of the American consciousness but ours too, given how dominant American culture is. The American Dream is akin to the Oz idea about being The Lucky Country. It is a capitalist construct, a belief in the power of the individual – if he (usually it is he) is driven enough, ambitious enough and hard working enough then he can have the life he dreams of, no matter how big. America is built on being the New World, the place where you can begin again, re-make yourself and be whoever you want to be. Status and class (fixed entities in European and especially British society) do not matter: hard work and ambition does. Witness true life American Dream winner, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gatsby is the best known example of the AD, but you need to read Of Mice and Men too, it shows the other side of the coin; men with small dreams but destined for failure. Is the AD simply an illusion, something used by the powerful to beat the weak with? If you worked harder, believed more then you would be successful… so if you fail it’s your fault too, despite the massive amount of entities ranged against you. It takes away the responsibility of the state, of government to look after anyone. If your life is a failure it is your fault. Read both novels, they won’t take you long, but they’ll give you a handy insight into what makes large bits of the US tick.


The System Always Wins

1984, George Orwell

The Crucible, Arthur Miller

Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn


Perhaps this is the nastiest reading list for modern times. Justice and fairness and the truth are not part of these sad stories. The hero loses, every time. The system is ranged against them – not interested in truth – definitely not in The Crucible, where hysteria reigns and common sense is outlawed, or in 1984 where there is only Double-speak, and the Ministry of Truth, simply isn’t. Fairness and justice is never on the table for Tess or the characters in The God of Small Things. Ivan Denisovich will die in the gulag, after being beaten, starved and worked to death. You just can’t stick it to the man, when he has everything on his side and you are the size of an ant.


There are other classics you should know and read – a whole raft of Shakespeare, one for every occasion! To Kill a Mockingbird springs to mind as does Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. All relevant to the difficult times we are currently experiencing. This is just your set to start with.

What will you re-read to help you make better sense of our sense-less world? What would you add to this list? (Images from Private Collection)

Silly (Sound) Advice for Serious (Scary) Times

November 13, 2016

Silly Advice for Serious Times – up-dated in light of recent events

It’s dangerous out there, so take care. Watch your back, shut your mouth, don’t post and be as kind as you can. If you can’t then here’s a few bits of advice, some silly, some worthwhile …

Don’t swim with the sharks (or the crocodiles). They can take nasty great chunks out of you, rip your limbs off and kill you. This occurs in deep water, shallow pools and on dry land. Dry land sharks are the most deadly, especially ones at work and in the pub – you should avoid wolves too. The problem with swimming with sharks is if they don’t eat you, you could just as well become one of them and that maybe much worse.


Don’t play in the traffic. Keep to the paths, avoid cyclists, women with prams, teenagers with iPods, hoods, scooters, old people who dodder along and get in your way, anyone with a phone. Don’t cross the road without looking, use traffic lights but still look, listen, look again. There’s too much traffic, most of it going too fast and not remotely interested in pedestrian rights. Navigate skilfully and you will not get hurt. Get off your phone – look up once in a while and you’ll see what’s about to hit you and get out of the way.

Don’t pet strange dogs. All dogs other than your own are strange and can be relied upon to behave strangely. Always ask the owner if you can touch their dog before doing so. Don’t presume anything. If you are a post-man keep clear of all dogs, they know you hate them. If you are a representative of any religion or political party and you get too close to a strange dog then expect the worse. Dogs have an uncanny sense for shit people and will bark and bite, as they should.


Don’t tweet, email or FB rudeness about your boss or colleagues, or use your work email for other ‘stuff’. Oh God it is so tempting but you will regret it, sooner or later. So slag them off in the pub, loudly and then claim you were drunk and can’t remember. The spoken word can be denied; the written one will always bite you on the bum. Nothings changed here – keep your work-place nice, keep your electronic communications relevant, and keep your thoughts and fingers under control. Think about how much trouble emails have caused poor old Hilary.


Don’t work with children, old people, sick people or criminals. The caring professions suck, you don’t get paid enough, are blamed for the ills of the world and you are more likely to be abused by your charges than appreciated. You have no authority, are constantly told what to do by others and are expected to take responsibility for other people’s shit – literally and metaphorically. Don’t be a banker either, find something that makes you happy and keeps you afloat, financially speaking and doesn’t cause the planet any more pain. And for God’s sake don’t be a politician – yes, they have becomes the scum-bag profession of our time.

Pal's pals@GCSE

Don’t believe that books are dying. The publishing industry is alive and well, just diversifying. People will want to hold a book in their hands a bit longer; students will want to scribble and underline key points; people like to unwrap books on Xmas Day. Video did not kill the radio star or the movies so e-books are not killing real books. So, as you start to gear up for Xmas put some books on your list and save the life of an impoverished writer.


Don’t believe that the end of the world is nigh. It’s been grim for some parts of the world forever – think Africa and Indigenous peoples of the world. It is a time for caution, for not being greedy or reckless. It’s a time to take stock of what you’ve got, look after what’s important, shed the rest. The world is rich enough for all of us – it’s greed that’s killing us and the planet. Do your bit to make your corner of the world a kind and hopeful place. Grow flowers, help others when you can, always be kind – small words of care go a very long way. Don’t under-estimate your own power to do good and make a difference.

nice flowers

Trump is not the end of the world. But he needs to be the end of the way political campaigns are run – on lies and sound-bites and hostility. I do not recognise this as the world I was expecting to grow old in. Politicians and the Media need to be accountable. They need to take responsibility for the mess we are currently in: for the divisions in society, for the hatred that has been unleashed on both sides of the Atlantic in the wake of Brexit and the US election. Now it’s time to make those in charge, those who make decisions for all of us, accountable. We need to shout at our law-makers, our politicians and demand better. Bravo Lego for disassociating yourself from the Daily Mail because you no longer will be associated with their Hate.


We need to take a step back from the noise and the flashing lights and the hysteria and breath. Things need to change. We need to take personal responsibility for that change too – protest, lobby, get involved in positive actions. But you know, sometimes what seems to be a disaster turns out to be a new beginning.


Fingers crossed, world. xx (Images from Private Collection)

Stop. Think. Don’t press ‘Send’ just yet …

October 29, 2016

Stop. Think. Don’t press ‘Send’ just yet …

I am compelled this week to consider the state of electronic communications and the ease with which people take offence, misread information and then, and this is the killer bit, post some excessive, out of all kilter bit of vitriol that somehow – somehow – is okay because we all know it’s okay to be offended and outraged and to say so in the strongest possible language.


Many years ago when on-line forums were new and before FB really got going; there were no Blogs, no Twitter or Snap-chat, etc etc, I joined an on-line writing community. I thought this would be a good thing – post some of my stories, the odd chapter of an odd novel and get some feedback from like-minded people. It was a reputable organization over-seen by someone big and respected in Hollywood. In order to get feedback you had to read and comment on three stories. The more you commented the more you could expect feedback on your stuff. All good, I thought. But you know where this is going…

I dutifully read my quota of stories. Most were pretty ordinary, some had potential and some should not have been published, even in such a forum – they weren’t ready for the light of day. I read some erotica, well it was presented as that, but it really was some horrid bit of porn masquerading as erotica. I ummed … I ahhed … and then I commented, saying that perhaps for it to be more appropriate to the genre it needed to be more nuanced, more subtle, less objectifying of the female character. I cannot tell you how bad it was but how kind – relatively speaking – my commentary was. I did the teacher thing and said what worked in the story, what didn’t and what I thought could be done to improve. I thought very carefully about what I wrote.

And then the gates of hell opened.

This guy, and it was a guy, and it was not clear from my non-de-plume that I was female, accused me of all sorts of things; of being some up-tight frigid bitch who’d never enjoyed sex and had no idea how a real woman might feel, and that I had no idea about men or writing, was clearly miserable in all aspects of my life, so why was I commenting at all. I was clearly too stupid and sexless to understand his wonderful work. Yes, he had missed most of what I’d said, which was that the sex was fantasy cliche, the characters were wooden and the situation was not remotely credible – but in nicer, more helpful words.

He had, as often happens, attacked me personally instead of engaging with my critique. I had responded to the work, he had responded to me, his ‘attacker’.

Needless to say, I got off that forum before he could look at any of my stories and rip them to shreds in a revenge-response. It cured me of on-line writing clubs and taught me a salient lesson, which has stayed with me through my later and current on-line writing. I keep away from the personal criticism unless they are public figures like Gove and Wilshaw and I am pretty much unidentifiable on places like fan-fiction and some of my e-books. Yes, this is to protect my professional life but also to protect me. I do not want to endure the merciless self-indulgent, vile criticism of strangers ever again.

shennay a ‘balanced’ student critique!

I have been reminded of this matter this week through the unfortunate story of the Oz Mummy-bloggers bitch-fest. Notorious Mum posted, what from my reading, was quite a fair comment on the ‘queen’ of the mums-sphere, Constance Hall. Now, I am well out of the demographic for either blog but from the side-lines it has been a sad story to watch. Notorious Mum didn’t say anything outrageous; she was quite complimentary about Hall but then made a couple of fair and soft criticisms that unleashed hell for her. I do think it is disingenuous of Hall to write about panic attacks and collapsing and not realize that her posse will respond, will take the high ground and attack on her behalf, which is what they did. Rather like wolves circling in an ever increasing pack they went for Notorious Mum and trolled and spited and vitrioled her beyond belief.

This is the ugly side of the internet, the dangerous side of tribalism; this is like football hooligans going on a rampage after their team loses, smashing and trashing all in sight. This is the anonymity of groups, of the herd; the danger of the pack, that lets terrible things happen. One person wouldn’t do this; one person face to face would not say the things that are said on-line. This is mob-rule and it is incredibly dangerous.

We need to talk about this. On-line bullying happens all the time. It is the dark-side of electronic communications, of all of them. Adults bully adults – on Face-book and Twitter. We all know that the lovely but sensitive Stephen Fry takes himself off Twitter when the bitching gets too much and who can blame him? Children and teens bully all the time – indeed it may be less in the real world but it is greatly increased in the cyber-world. Have you not read the tragic stories of teen suicide from on-line bullying and trolling?


Why do otherwise sane and normal people think it’s okay to be as vile as possible on-line? Is it because you can’t see people’s faces? Is it because you are hidden in another place behind another name? Is it because electronic messages (texts and emails can fall foul here too) can be so easily mis-read – that humour, or banter, or something nuanced and subtle cannot be judged effectively?

Is the meaning lost because people are too busy reacting and feeling hurt or out-raged to read the text/message/blog correctly? Are we not allowed to make valid criticisms of some people or subjects? If the language of the text is reasonable, if the comments are sound but simply offering a different point of view, are we not allowed to say such things anymore? Are we not allowed to respectfully disagree?

Why is it okay to be as bitchy as possible about Clinton and Trump – how does the plethora of cruel memes and unsubstantiated stories about both of them add to the debate, to electing the right person? How has everything become so personal and vindictive? One only has to think of the Brexit campaign to know that facts and reason were lost in the face of the personal and unsubstantiated bullshit flying from both sides.

Why are people so ready to react with nastiness and venom? Have we all become Edward Hyde, our dark and mutated selves full of blackness and evil allowed full reign by the anonymity of the internet, buy the lack of face-to-face connections?


Perhaps it’s time to think long and hard before we comment on a post, before we reply in haste to a text that has upset us, before we send off some hastily composed email that might not be read in the spirit it was sent. Perhaps it’s time we took ownership of our words as well as our actions. Perhaps it’s time we realized the power of communication and took responsibility for what we write and how we write it, with a heightened awareness of how those words might be received. And yes, I am with Notorious Mum, grammar and spelling do matter, especially if you have a large on-line presence.

So, comment fairly, dear friends … (images from Private Collection)

The New 3R’s of Education

October 16, 2016

The New 3R’s of Education.

As the world shifts and changes and becomes both more amazing and more disturbing we need a new focus in schools, a big focus on becoming decent people; citizens of an ever-changing world, able to survive, manage and even thrive in whatever is to come. So today’s schools must focus more explicitly on Respect, Responsibility and Resilience. Once upon a time this used to be the covert curriculum, and much of this rested in the hands of parents. But now it needs to be front and centre in schools too.


Respect covers a range of sins and must be paramount as we become a more uncertain world with borders shifting and changing, identity and gender being more fluid and more open, with religious and cultural differences more defined as we become a global community. It is as simple as respect for yourself and for others. But it is so much harder in practice.

There was a time where we embraced the ‘live and let live’ ethos of a more tolerant and accepting view of each other. But now we seem to feel free to abuse, vilify and attack on the slenderest of reasons. Indeed Social Media and the constant streaming of ‘news’ has to take some share of the blame for the rise in hate in society, but it can’t be that simple, can it?

Why do we feel free to berate and abuse others? Where did that ‘freedom’ come from?


Schools must be vigilant about respect, and in truth, many are trying to address the constancy of social issues that ever creep into our crowded curriculums. Respect is about tolerance, patience, consideration and kindness. It is being aware that others have different beliefs, customs, ways of living, attitudes and ideas. This is important as we don’t really want an homogenous society where we all think the same and parrot platitudes and dangerous ideas that are never challenged. Oh, yes, too much agreement and similarity is a very dangerous thing.

Thus instilling respect as a central tenant of how to live a decent life is crucial. 1.Respect for yourself, so you keep your body safe, so you can express your ideas freely but thoughtfully without hate and vitriol.

2.Respect for others, so they can get on with their own ways of life, be it of a different colour, different religion, different sexuality, different beliefs and ways of doing things.

3.Respect means understanding that there is no right way to do things, that there are many voices, many ideas, many people and we all have the right to exist peacefully in this world.


Responsibility is perhaps the thing in schools and society that does my head in most. For fuck’s sake, get a pen, learn how to cook, stop buying sugar-laden shit and expecting to be healthy, vote in elections, accept when you make a mistake and stop blaming everything and everyone else for your shitty life.

Being responsible for yourself, for your life can start early. Simple things like making your bed, putting your clothes in the wash, doing your homework, packing your school bag for the day ahead. Parents do need to build in these little pathways to responsibility early and naturally. It doesn’t mean you make them self-sufficient by 11 but by the time they get to secondary school most kiddies should be able to do a great many things for themselves.

Responsibility means being responsible for what you say and how you behave – under pressure and under normal circumstances – organizing your own life; owning it and making things happen.

Not being responsible is to expect all sorts of other people to make things happen for you and blaming them when things don’t fall the right way for you. So teaching responsibility early is vital for a human being who is self sustaining, accepts that sometimes things are their fault and doesn’t spend their life blaming, in no particular order – their parents, their teachers, the government, politicians, God, ISIS, Pauline Hanson, Trump, Clinton, etc, etc – for all that is wrong with their lives.


Loving parents and good schools (even when the system is against them – whose GCSE results are they??? Just ask a failing school…) ensure that young people take responsibility for what is theirs and do the right thing in owning both the good and the bad that they say and do. Responsible youngsters become responsible citizens who take on more than just managing their own lives, who take responsibility for making the world a better place.


Resilience became a fashionable term a few years ago and there were various programs designed to help make students better able to cope with their worlds when things went wrong. For my mind responsibility and resilience go hand in hand. A responsible person can accept their own short comings and face up to them and do something about them. They are able to work through the tough times and stay afloat.

A person who blames others, a child who is so cosseted by their parents (and yes, schools too) that they cannot cope with slights, or failures is going to have a very tough life. All this helicopter-parenting, this Tiger-mothering of the young does them no good in the harsh light of the real world.

Resilience is perhaps more important than ever in this world of cyber-bullying, trolling and stalking. Young people are more vulnerable than ever to the slings and arrows of others, piercing their young feather-light hides with barbs and poison that stings to the core. Teenagers are horrendously sensitive creatures, their self esteem balancing on a pin head. Of course they are vulnerable and in the glow of their screens, in the dark of their rooms they are more vulnerable than ever. Recent studies deplore the levels of self-harm and unhappiness that young people feel, not to mention the constant stress of exams and that old faithful, peer pressure.


If there was more respect for others, more tolerance of difference, of the outsider; if we took responsibility for our words and actions from the youngest age, there would be little need for resilience training for the young. But we must be aware that not all of us have the capacity to deal with the tough times, that not all of us have people who care enough to hold our hands and keep us steady through failure, rejection, self doubt, illness, bullying and harassment.

Resilience doesn’t make you callous, it doesn’t stop you feeling, it allows you to deal with the darker side of life and we need to prepare students in dealing with those things, the things that de-stabilise young people – lack of friends; ill, dead or absent parents, abusive families, drugs, bullying, failing to get the grades we expect, or into the uni course we so desperately want.


As a parent and a teacher I can bring these three elements to my teaching, to my dealings with young people. Honesty, integrity and authentic relationships with young people matter enormously. They need people they can trust – parents, teachers, coaches, other adults; people who will listen to them, be there for them, tell them the truth, and offer support in a practical and useful way.

Surely at the end of every day what we want is a better world, full of people who care about each other and themselves and are bringing good to the planet. God knows it needs it! (Images from Private Collection)