Will You Make Time To Stop What You Are Doing And Read This?

book cover about reading

This is a review of a book written to promote the importance of books and reading.

Even if you don’t work with words or are not a self-interested writer like me, it is well-worth reading –  if you are a bibliophile, you already agree with many of the points the authors make, but their reasoning, experience and arguments may challenge or change your thinking.

High levels of literacy help communities function well – and in this era of ‘digital natives’ we need to encourage reading for meaning and understanding, taking the time to absorb, contemplate, question, perhaps transform…

Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!, a lovely ‘thank you’ gift from Denise, a student in my Writing Creatively Class at Chelsea, who knows all about the value of reading, being a retired Primary School teacher and a current volunteer teacher of ESL at U3A.

Grab a Tea or a Coffee – This is Reading Not Skimming…

As a writer, and a teacher of creative writing and life stories and legacies, I may not be the target audience for the publishers – that would be preaching to the converted – however, I enjoyed the essays immensely, gleaned some wonderful quotes and ideas for prompts to use in class, and have excellent fodder for debate if anyone challenges the importance of reading, not just for knowledge, but also for pleasure.

This book is also a timely reminder to reflect on the value of novels, poetry and the range of non-fiction literature that helps our society to progress.

Maybe give you a break from working out what is ‘fake’ news and what is real!

mechanics institute library with quote.jpg

The essays give insight into the lives of the writers as they explain how important reading and books have been and still are to their personal growth and their professional development.

Journeys fascinating and enjoyable – some poignant, others humorous, all interesting.

The importance of literacy and literature is a conversation we need to have, especially in the digital age where so much of learning is now visual. Instant gratification expected but not always achieved.

Stop What You’re Doing And Read This! published in 2011, in the UK by Vintage, after a report revealed:

that there are thousands of children across Britain who cannot read competently…One in three teenagers reads only two books a year, or fewer, and one in six children rarely reads books outside of the classroom. Many parents do not read stories to their children, and many homes do not have books in them…

If you keep up with reports regarding literacy in Australia, the issues raised in this book merit discussion in 2018, especially since the writers touch on how and what we are taught to read as well as the benefits of reading widely.

Reflecting what language and literature, plus books and reading mean to you personally, your family, and to our culture, should be done often – especially in our “fast-moving, dislocated technology-obsessed world.”

bookshelf with Nicholas Carr quote.jpg

My passion for words, writing and reading no secret. I’m glad I also influenced my husband to read more for pleasure as well as his job-related material because when he became very ill, reading and discussing books something we could still do together.

As a parent, I attended workshops about reading and writing, volunteered in the school library, reading recovery programmes and encouraged my children to love books just like my parents did for me.

Unashamedly the family ‘bookworm’,  I’ve produced two bookworms!

Most of my close friends are just as passionate about books and reading as I am, but living in this ‘mutual admiration society’, it is easy to forget there are lots of people who don’t read.

Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!, may not specifically be aimed at people like me but I think it relies on and encourages all bibliophiles to become proselytisers, to exhort as many people as possible to read a book, be inspired, and become an ambassador for reading:

“The book is a manifesto. In a year of rude awakening to low levels of literacy and a widespread apathy towards books and reading, this book demands an interruption… these essays… aim to convince you to make reading part of your daily life.”

I recognised many but not all of the contributors.

The ten essays by award-winning and lauded writers, researchers and industry professionals in science, technology, and publishing are as varied as their writing and professional life.

But they are all advocates of the transformative power of reading whether to encourage you to see different perspectives, introduce different worlds and ideas, entertain, improve knowledge, relieve loneliness, soothe a troubled soul and enrich living.

However, perhaps the book’s appeal could have been expanded if some genre or ‘populist’ authors had been included so that when the blurb or inside pages are scanned it won’t be dismissed as ‘too academic or highbrow’.

The essays are all well-written and rich in revealing the layers of a single book, story or poem have an impact, influence, power, perspective, resonance, and can be a trigger for remembering… 

As usual, I wear several hats:

  • as a reader and lover of books
  • as an essayist interested in writing style, content and engagement
  • as a teacher of creative writing interested in the use of language, the application of craft techniques, references and evidence of research
  • as a teacher of life stories believing in the power of story, seeking the authenticity of personal experience, language and style, use of quotes, the books and research referenced, the emotional impact of the story
  • as a writer and a poet passionate about words who wants to be immersed in different worlds and awed by images, language, clever use of words and the senses

Read a novel… to travel in time and space… quicken your sense of ordinary existence… Read a poem… it might help you uncover and articulate a thought or a feeling previously buried deep… Read a story… it imposes a unique period of peace and concentration into your busy life… Read out loud, to your children, to a partner… reading together casts a potent and intimate spell…

 bookshelves jeanette winterson quote.jpg

The Contributors – A Stellar Line-Up!

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith authored the novels: White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty and NW, as well as The Embassy of Cambodia and a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is the editor of The Book of Other People, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and listed as one of Granta’s 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. 

White Teeth won multiple literary awards including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award. The Autograph Man won The Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize. On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Orange Prize for Fiction and The Commonwealth Writers’ Best Book Award (Eurasia Section)

Zadie’s essay Library Life shares her journey from a bookish, working-class, immigrant family and extols the virtues of libraries, their importance to marginalised sections of our community, and their necessity in helping to establish some sort of equity in society:

It has always been, and always will be, very difficult to explain to people with money what it means not to have money. If education matters to you, they ask, and if libraries matter to you, well, why wouldn’t you be willing to pay for them if you value them?

They are the kind of people who believe value can only be measured in money, at the extreme end of which logic lies the dangerous idea that people who do not generate a lot of money for their families cannot possibly value their families as people with money do…

Like many people without a lot of money, we relied on our public services… as a necessary gateway to better opportunities… paid our taxes… to establish shared institutions from which all might benefit equally.

This essay reminded me of being at university in 1971, only there because I won a Commonwealth Scholarship despite being one of only 500 students throughout Australia chosen by the Australian National University in a pilot program designed for those most likely to succeed academically. My migrant parents had six children and no way could they find money to send me to university, never mind support me living away from home!

The scholarship paid fees and gave a modest $22 a week living allowance but no book allowance. I lived on campus for $21.50 a week, food and board only. I can’t remember if I even got the 50cents to spend!

Needless to say, the campus library was my second home.

Thank goodness, it was one of the best-resourced university libraries in Australia, and I got to know the staff very well, pestering them for books and always being the last to be chased out the door each evening.

bookshelf in ballarat.jpg
This is a free mini library I saw in Ballarat and a homeless man I spoke to used the service all the time!

We are lucky to have a fantastic group of public libraries in Kingston and also a small subscription library that promotes local authors by holding regular events.

Blake Morrison

Blake Morrison is the author of bestselling memoirs, And When Did You Last See Your Father? (winner of the J.R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography and the Esquire Award for Non-Fiction) and Things My Mother Never Told Me. He wrote a study of the Bulger case, As If and the novels South of the River and The Last Weekend. He is a poet, critic, journalist and librettist.

Blake’s essay Twelve Thoughts About Reading covers almost everything reading and books can mean to people but also to those who write them. There is plenty of food for thought and discussion.

In The Great Escapehe illustrates how ‘lives are transformed by books.’ They can influence your choices and what direction your life takes. Books can be a ladder to freedom.

In Giving and Taking, he states ‘All writing depends on the generosity of the reader.’ And in Ownership, he argues ‘once it is out there in the world, the book has a life of its own: Authors may flinch and protest… but they have to let go.”

early school novels.jpg In Ownership: an extreme case of appropriation, Blake tells a story from the memoirs of Tobias Wolff when as a young writer “Found guilty of plagiarism and of bringing the school into disrepute, Wolff is expelled. yet he commits his crime in all innocence… an extreme case of a common phenomenon: reading as ownership, reading as appropriation. As Horace said, ‘Change the name and the story is about you.’

I haven’t read Wolff’s memoir but even the teaser mentioned in Blake’s essay would initiate a very lively debate among writers. Methinks it is a case of what is omitted is more interesting than what is shared!

Blake teaches creative writing in London and in Daring to say ‘I‘, explains most of his students are life writers, working in prose, however, “the poets and life writers have something important in common: the use of the first-person pronoun. Speaking in one’s own voice – ‘daring to say I’, as one student put it – is no easy thing.”

In Blake’s thoughts Why poetry matters and Another reason why poetry matters he talks about reading poetry as solace and refuge (a point expanded by contributor Jane Davis). Its association “with profundity – with the uttering of thoughts that lie too deep for tears.”

He warns that early drafts must be reworked and shaped. “The therapeutic element in writing doesn’t come from pouring things out or ‘washing your dirty linen in public’, but in finding the right words, ordering the experience, and making the story available to others.”

In Reading catatonically Blake quotes Francis Spufford’s The Child that Books Built and reminds us there are times in life when losing yourself in a book helps us cope.

bookshelf 1.jpg

Blake prefers to read in solitude and quietness but in Company and solitude, he observes that “literature creates a sense of companionship… we meet characters… And as a result, we feel less lonely.” He also acknowledges the importance of sharing a book with others, especially if you have enjoyed it!

His thoughts Forbidden pleasure, and The canon, almost flipsides of the same coin. “Forbidden is the keyword. Just as some of the most powerful books ever written have been samizdat (works banned…) so the experience of reading is often most intense when it is surreptitious – when we feel we shouldn’t be doing it…”

Regarding set texts and books the literati say are must-reads, Blake admits “Some books are simply better than others. Or last the course longer. Or grow richer the more they are reread.”  And the canon is ever changing or should be…

Blake’s final thought, The more, the merrier the mantra of writers and publishers regarding books “We’ve no investment in keeping them to ourselves. Let the whole world have them. The world will be better for it. And the words will remain the same.”

Carmen Callil

Carmen Callil, born and educated in Melbourne left for the UK in 1960. In 1972, she founded Virago Press and ten years later became Managing Director of Chatto & Windus. In 1996, she chaired the judging panel of the Booker Prize. She is the author (with Colm Toibin) of The Modern Library: The 200 Best Novels in English since 1950 and the highly acclaimed Bad Faith. 

Carmen’s essay True Daemons truly engrossing, and triggered memories of childhood reading choices and the influence the different reading habits of parents can have and is  forthright declaring, “Books are shields against a terror of boredom, the curse of most childhoods… if the human race was separated from words and thoughts and stories, it would die.”

She touches on the digital revolution in the publishing world,

A machine can never look like a book: books are far more beautiful. Books are like gardens; a Kindle or an iPad like a supermarket – it makes life easier, but one doesn’t want to loiter in it. You can fiddle with books. Like gardens, they can be wonderful to look at. You can cuddle them and use them like a hot-water bottle; a machine can’t do any of these things…

… the human race has been telling stories and trying to record them on papyrus, on manuscripts, on stones, since the beginning of time. Whether we read on the printed page or on a machine is beside the point. It is the ideas and stories that count.”

shelf of books about scotland 2.jpg

Tim Parks

Tim Parks lives in Milan after moving to Italy in 1980. Author of novels, non-fiction and essays, including – Destiny, Europa, Cleaver, A Season with Verona, An Italian Education, Dreams of Rivers and Seas, Teach Us to Sit Still and Italian Neighbours. He has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, won the Somerset Maugham Award, the Betty Trask Prize, The John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the John Florio Prize and the Italo Calvino Prize.

Tim’s essay, Mindful Reading, explores why we read certain books – in childhood, they are often chosen for us, also chosen in school; then there’s peer pressure, being sucked in by marketing hype and the desire to be fashionable – “Can’t remember the name of the author. Who cares?”

He reminds us of the importance of context, the wonder of enchantment, the pleasure of awareness, the rhythm of language, the power of words to enthral and most importantly, “You have every right to put a book down after a couple of pages, which is why it’s always wise to read a little before buying. Life is simply too short for the wrong books, or even the right books at the wrong time.”

Ah, yes – we all have those piles of TBR books by the bed or in the study! Or, ones started but never finished and we guiltily cling to them, telling ourselves they will be read ‘one day…’.

bookshelf with secret opening.jpg

Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon is an author, illustrator and screenwriter who has written fifteen books for children and won two BAFTAs. His bestselling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won seventeen literary prizes, including the Whitbread Award. His poetry collection, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, was published by Picador in 2005, and his last novel, The Red House, was published by Jonathan Cape in 2012. His most recent title is short story collection The Pier Falls. 

Melbournians are currently being entertained by a stage adaptation of Mike’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and his essay The Right Words in the Right Order is as memorable as the title of his novel.

The essay is refreshing in its honesty. He contradicts many of the statements the others say. Despite having award-winning children’s novels to read at twelve he can only remember avidly devouring Erich von Daniken’s pseudoscientific overhyped Chariot of the Gods! and books about man’s fossil ancestors.

This reminded me of being a teenager at home with my brothers in the kitchen as one read passages from von Daniken’s book. In the discussion that followed we offended my mother by poking fun at claims in the Bible. Of course, the claims in Chariot of the Gods questionable but the style of the writing a lot more readable than the King James Bible.

When Mark started reading ‘proper adult novels… The words remained inky shapes on the paper…” he didn’t understand ‘the importance of taste and timing‘ and that ‘a vital part of loving literature is hating certain books and certain writers… “

bookshelf by bed.jpg

For Mark, writers must push boundaries, love language and be humane and generous even with flawed characters. Virginia Woolf captures ‘the texture of life itself‘ like no other writer. He can’t read Chekhov or Flaubert in English without feeling that he’s ‘missing something of vital importance, rather as if I were listening to a symphony rescored for piano.’

He challenges the assumption that reading has a special power to soothe the troubled mind… “when my mind is troubled, like many people, I find reading hard, if not impossible, and fiction, in particular, becomes a country from which I feel painfully exiled…”

Mark acknowledges the speed of technological change but praises Faber’s iPad app of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land –

which includes a filmed performance of the poem by Fiona Shaw, synchronised readings by Eliot, Ted Hughes, Sir Alec Guinness and Viggo Mortensen, original manuscript pages, academic interviews… It is the most wonderful thing…

Books can piggyback on these huge technological changes in a way that other art forms can’t, because they’re digital, and have been from way before Gutenberg, a string of symbols, that can be transmitted in any medium.

One of my daughters was recently commissioned to do artwork for a company in Melbourne that makes short films to explore classic texts on the school curriculum. The approach to Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein, one I am sure will not only enliven the experience for the students but open the possibilities for teachers to encourage fabulous discussions.

Embracing the digital age in this way extends and not limits, the relevance of books.

Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen was Children’s Laureate 2007-09 and is well-known in the children’s book world. A poet, performer, broadcaster and scriptwriter, he visits schools with his one-man show to enthuse children with his passion for books and poetry. As an author and by selecting other writers’ works for anthologies he has been involved with over 140 books. He lectures and teaches in universities on children’s literature, reading and writing and set up The Children’s Funny Prize which gives awards to the funniest children’s books of the year.

Michael’s essay, Memories and ExpectationsI found delightful and warm as he illustrated the pleasure of reading aloud and the power of a story to stay with you when you identify with or recognise the characters. Stories by writer Charles Dickens rich with memorable characters.

michael rosen quote.jpg

 

Michael remembers his local library as ‘a place that opened a window on the world and a door to a future life away from the area.’

He related how his parents quoted and referred to characters in the novels as the family went about their daily routine. It wasn’t necessarily an accurate quote but the essence suited the situation. This made me smile because my dad often quoted characters from RL Stevenson novels especially Long John Silver from Treasure Island. We knew a situation was dire when he’d say, “Them that dies will be the lucky ones!’

We learn a lot about Michael and his father in the essay, and his family.

“Part of the power of stories is the way in which we can see facets of this or that fictional person in the people we know, and scenes for the fictional world have echoes in the events of the real world.” 

Jane Davis

Jane Davis is the Director and founder of The Reader Organisation (TRO), a national charity dedicated to bringing about a reading revolution by making it possible for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to enjoy and engage with literature on a deep and personal level. Their ‘Get Into Reading’ read-aloud groups reach people who may not otherwise read, including people living in deprived areas, the mentally or chronically ill, older people living in Care Homes, prisoners, recovering addicts and excluded children. The organisation started on Merseyside but has since expanded across the UK and beyond. Jane enjoyed writing as a hobby for a number of years but gave up her full-time job to dedicate more time to it and published the novel Half-truths & White Lies.

Jane’s essay The Reading Revolution details the history of the group she founded based on people being prepared to read aloud in an inexpert, exploratory way.

the text, poem, novel, short story, play or whatever is read aloud, in its entirety, by one or more members of the group. The group talks about the book as it is read, freely interrupting the flow of the reading, with personal responses… a short poem might take half an hour, a short story two hours, War And Peace eighteen months.

The proceeds of  Stop What You’re Doing And Read This! go to Jane’s organisation and shared reading is now mainstream. It is not just for the sick, unhappy or economically deprived people in institutions.

Jane argues a compelling case for shared reading – a reading revolution –

We must reposition literature in settings – such as workplaces, mental-health services, dementia care homes, looked-after children services – where its profound worth will be seen for what it really is: the holder of human value, human meaning, and, yes, even the secrets of the universe…

shelf of shakespeare books.jpg

When I started the public Readings By The Bay I was astounded by the response and how hungry people were to share their poems and prose, but also to sit and listen to others read aloud. Sadly, Mordialloc Writers as a group is no more but there is a wealth of places now in Melbourne where you can go and read and listen to others read.

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson OBE authored ten novels including The Passion, Sexing the Cherry and Written on the Body, a book of short stories, The World and Other Places, a collection of essays, Art Objects as well as many other works, including children’s books, screenplays and journalism. Her writing has won the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, the E. M. Forster Award and the Prix d’argent at Cannes Film Festival. In her first novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit based on her own upbringing she placed herself as a fictional character. She scripted the novel into a BAFTA-winning BBC drama and later re-visited that material in her bestselling memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? She writes regularly for the Guardian.

Jeanette’s essay, A Bed. A Book. A Mountain, a beautifully crafted piece using reading Nan Shepherd’s book, The Living Mountain, ‘a geo-poetic exploration of the Cairngorms’ as a metaphor to prove ‘There is no substitute for reading.’

A book lets you follow a writer’s mind,‘ states Jeanette. ‘Books work from the inside out. They are a private conversation happening somewhere in the soul.’

Jeanette is quite adamant that “Attention Deficit Disorder is not a disease; it is a consequence of not reading. Teach a child to read and keep that child reading and you will change everything. And yes, I mean everything.”

As I mentioned before there is plenty in this book to start discussions, incite debates, and keep dinner conversations interesting! She justifies her assertion about ADD –

The consequences of homogenised mass culture plus the failure of our education system and our contenpt for books and art (it’s either entertainment or elitist, never vital and democratic), mean that not reading cuts off the possibility of private thinking, or of a trained mind, or of a sense of self not dependent on external factors.

A trained mind is a mind that can concentrate…

Reading stills the body for a while, allowing rest without torpor and quiet without passivity. Reading is not a passive act. Engaged in the book, in company with the writer, the mind can roam where it will. Such freedom to roam reminds us that body and mind both need exercise and activity and that neither the mind nor the body can cope with confinement.

And if the body has to cope with confinement, then all the more reason to have developed a mind that knows how to roam.

 laptops and winterson quote.jpgNicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr writes about technology, culture, and economics. He is the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, a 2011 Pulitzer Prize nominee and a New York Times bestseller, but also wrote The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (2008) and Does IT Matter? (2004). His books have been translated into more than 20 languages. (www.nicholascarr.com)

In his essay, The Dreams of Readers, Nicholas admits his ‘life has been punctuated by books.’ Boyhood favourites opened frontiers ‘ to wander in and marvel at far beyond my suburban surroundings.’ The ‘tumult’ of teenage ‘put into perspective‘ by a variety of books and then in his twenties some ‘were the wedges‘ he used ‘to prise open new ways of seeing and feeling.’

What a way with words!

I must explore his reading list and perhaps his word power and engaging use of words will rub off!

Pondering all the books and poems that have made an impact on me, I agree with his statement: ‘Who would I be without these books? Someone else.’

A great part of Carr’s essay deals with the effect on our mind when we read stories, he cites the work of cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley of the University of Toronto and his colleagues whose experiments suggest that ‘the emotions stirred by literature can even alter, in subtle but real ways, people’s personalities.’

Another researcher Nicholas quotes is Norman Holland, a former scholar at McKnight Brain Institute, at the University of Florida, who argues the mind we read with “is a different mind from the one we use to navigate the real world. In our day-to-day lives, we are always trying to manipulate or otherwise act on our surroundings…

But when we open a book our expectations and our attitudes change drastically. because we understand that ‘we cannot or will not change the work of art by our actions.’, we are relieved of our desire to exert influence over objects and people and hence are able to ‘disengage our (cognitive) systems for initiating actions.’ That frees us to become absorbed in the imaginary world of the literary work.”

open diary Nicholas Carr quote

Dr Maryanne Wolf & Dr Mirit Barzillai

Dr Maryanne Wolf & Dr Mirit Barzillai. Dr Wolf is the Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in the US, and an Associate Professor of Child Development. She is the author of Proust and the Squid and has published hundreds of articles on reading and learning disabilities. Dr Mirit Barzillai, I assume is her colleague.

The final essay by Maryanne and Mirit is Questions for a Reader and begins with the assertion already covered by some of the other contributors. “Reading transforms the human brain, which transforms the mind, which transforms the life of every reader.”

They make the point:

“We were never born to read or write anything. Unlike vision or language, reading has no genetic programme that unfolds to create an ideal form of itself…

learning to read lies outside the original repertoire of the human brain’s functions and requires a whole new circuit to be buily afresh with each new reader.”

A scientific explanation that explains why each child is different. Some struggle to read and others don’t… some enjoy it, others don’t… and

“The specific factors that affect the formation of the reading circuits take on special significance… as we move from a literacy-based culture to one dominated by digital tools and a digital sense of time.

Immersed and shaped anew by varied technological mediums, the reading brain as we know it will be changed and to some degree supplanted by a different reading circuit.

We are still going through this historical transition period and we must ask critical questions now ‘before the reading brains of the next generation are fully altered.”

We have all read warnings about the time children spend ‘on screen’, the alarm that perhaps their first reading experience is with an iPad, the substitution of films of books in schools instead of requiring the reading of the text, the difference reading on screen to hard copy can make to memory and understanding.

There are myriad arguments for and against but many educators and literacy experts are concerned, including our own celebrated children’s author Mem Fox.

Maryanne and Mirit refer to Socrates, Proust and cognitive neuroscience and remind us to be unquestioning and that there are ‘no pat answers’…and ‘Technological innovation is critical to all of us if we are to advance… It is clear that today’s children, not tomorrow’s, require a new set of intellectual tools and capacities if they are to become productive members of their culture.’

Lots to think about in this book – definitely worth stopping what you are doing to read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smile and Dance Into 2018 with The Greatest Showman

MV5BYjQ0ZWJkYjMtYjJmYS00MjJiLTg3NTYtMmIzN2E2Y2YwZmUyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk5NDA3OTk@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpg

I don’t go to the movies as often as I’d like but the long summer holiday is a chance to indulge – if there is something that appeals. Unfortunately, I’m not the demographic most filmmakers try to please so it is often a fruitless search for a good movie at Southlands Village Cinemas, the easiest place for me to reach by public transport.

On Boxing Day, a traditional new movie release day, I went to see The Greatest Showman with my daughters. One of the stars, Michelle Williams, is a longtime favourite of my oldest daughter, Anne, and we have developed a ritual of going to see her film releases as a family.

Michelle plays Charity, the childhood sweetheart and later devoted wife of PT Barnum played by Hugh Jackman, the greatest showman referred to in the title.

The movie has had poor reviews from those who consider themselves professional film critics yet to date my friends and family who have seen it, absolutely love it.

It is not historically accurate (what film truly is?) but does not shy away from Barnum’s character flaws either. We see his selfish and cruel exploitation of everyone to pursue his idea of success. To be honest, I may not have gone to see the release of The Greatest Showman if Michelle Williams hadn’t been one of the stars because what I have read about the real Barnum is not complimentary.

Also, I’m not a great fan of musical movies and like most people, the bad ones (Russell Crowe’s dreadful part in Les Miserables) tend to be more memorable than the good ones. 

As a lover of history, I prefer books and if on screen, choose documentaries or serialised dramas. Inevitably, there will be creative choices made condensing a life into what makes good entertainment rather than what may be accurate, especially if you only have an hour or so to do it.

But, taken at face value as a film, The Greatest Showman is entertaining – well worth suspending disbelief! It is freedom from the bombardment of doom and gloom from current media.

download.jpg

To sit in a darkened room enthralled by an imaginary world is great escapism. A bonus is a film for family viewing – no gratuitous violence or sex – and no hurt animals because they are CGI or animatronic.

I’m not surprised about the disparity in reactions and reviews – professional critics often look through an academic or superior lens, many demanding standards the movie-going public doesn’t particularly care about.

We bring our emotional and cultural baggage to any art form so healthy differences of opinion should occur but as much as I loved listening to Margaret and David, Australia’s ultimate film reviewers, their ‘star’ ratings never influenced whether I saw a film or not.

Since I was a teenager and reading Jim Schembri’s reviews in The Age Green Guide, I’ve been out of step with mainstream critics of any genre and prefer to make my own judgement. In fact, if some critics dislike a movie or a book, it almost guarantees I love it! (Surprisingly, I’m in step with Schembri on this one.)

Showman-600x400.jpg

It’s not often I leave a cinema uplifted and with the music and song lyrics in my head, but The Greatest Showman, a biopic on the life of PT Barnum of circus fame, written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon and directed by Michael Gracey, did just that for me.

Barnum, as mentioned is played by Hugh Jackman – a talented showman extraordinaire using the full range of his acting, singing and dancing skills. He plays a man you want to succeed despite his weaknesses and flaws. You fall in love with the people around him and if they’re prepared to forgive his foibles so can we.

He is ably supported by some stunning performances from a cast who deliver an engaging story and catchy, memorable songs. A couple of scenes in a bar are fabulous.

music quoteAnne went straight to JB HiFi and bought the soundtrack after leaving the cinema – the last time I remember any of us compelled to do that was when we saw The Lion King!

There will be debates about sugar-coating Barnum’s story, but the film portrays a man who came from a poor, powerless family and who rose to fame and fortune by gathering even more disadvantaged outcasts (people labelled freaks) and creating a show that ultimately led to being presented at the court of Queen Victoria.

In the film, visionary Barnum realised he needed someone to help him to appeal to more upmarket clientele and those with money to spend on lavish entertainment. He goes into partnership with a successful young playwright, Philip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron. This character is an imaginary persona not to be confused with James Anthony Bailey, the partner in the legendary Barnum & Bailey circus.

Efron’s character falls in love with Zendaya’s character, Anne, and allows the script to explore the endemic racism and class divisions of the period just as the cast of so-called  “freaks” explores gender, diversity, acceptance of the ‘other’, prejudice, intolerance, mob violence, and the meaning of family and friendship.

All relevant themes in this deeply disturbing time but they are not new. Like all good art, the film attempts to explore the human condition but it is a feel-good musical. If you want historical accuracy please research and read – there is information on Barnum available.

The story has plenty of dialogue that is not singing (one of the failings of previously mentioned and aptly titled film adaptation Les Miserables) and strong performances from others in the cast, particularly Zac Efron and Zendaya’s relationship.

The pacing is excellent and the 105 minutes disappears too soon. My favourite is a cleverly choreographed dance scene on a rooftop reminiscent of Mary Poppins (another musical film I enjoyed). It concludes with a magical light show. Aptly, this scene shows the romantic love between Charity and Barnum and the love they share with their two daughters.

The attention to historical detail regarding costumes and setting captures the essence of another century but the razzle-dazzle, upbeat music and meaningful emotional numbers are the best modern Broadway can offer.

I particularly love the scenes with the whole cast and the bearded lady (Keala Settle) leading the performance – amazing vibrancy and energy with a magnificent voice.

It was a fantastic and fun way to end the year  and in the words of Jackman’s character, Barnum, when accused by a snooty critic (Paul Sparks) determined to expose him as offering fake entertainment with a cast of stage personas like ‘General Tom Thumb’, Barnum pointed to the rapturous audience and said, “Do those smiles look fake?

My smile and enjoyment not fake either – go see the movie because what the snooty critic eventually realises and writes is Barnum’s show is ‘a celebration of life.’

And that’s how The Greatest Showman felt to the cinema audience as they spontaneously clapped at the end.

images.jpgAs the credits are announced, we see the making of the film employed 15,000 people and gave thousands upon thousands of hours of work. 

An industry and movie worth supporting despite the critics!

Nightmare On Albert Street

images-9.jpg

The season’s festivities now dissipating, life is beginning to return to routine. I caught up with my walking buddy, Jillian, and as we made our way down to the foreshore we stopped beside probably the ugliest of the many housing developments observable in the neighbourhood.

I can sympathise with one wit who suggests it is ‘Welcome to Hell‘ by the building surveyor ‘Satan Himself“!

welcome to hell

People want to live here because Mordialloc has the historical reputation of a beautiful seaside village but at the rate of development, that persona may soon disappear. Another sign of the horrible development is laced with unintended irony!

ironic sign

A Growing City Needs Houses

Melbourne’s population has grown and continues to grow at an amazing rate and people need somewhere to live but density development should be sensible and evenly spread. Most planning permission is provided by councils and for many of them, multi-storey development means the multiplication of rates without worrying too much about the quality of life of the people confined to ‘pigeon coops’ which many apartments are unless you are fortunate to afford “luxury”.

 

townhouse develt 1
I don’t know anyone in my circle of family or friends who can afford to pay this rent in Mordialloc, which is still a considerable distance from the city!

These ‘luxury’ townhouses next to the railway line have a huge concrete wall as a noise buffer and whether occupants will be able to even smell the sea is doubtful because the area just behind is where the trains shunt and park, plus the train line hosts diesel as well as electric trains.

The land used to be a timber processing yard and later a hardware wholesaler – sometimes there is a good reason why land is zoned and used as industrial!

 

 

The Times They Are A’Changing

I realise the quarter-acre block like mine with a house and backyard is rapidly becoming obsolete and the demand for townhouses and apartments increases. However, despite the rising cost of electricity and gas, we still seem to be reluctant to move away from ‘McMansions’- with a lot of them built in Mordialloc in recent years.

A friend pointed out increased development brings jobs, cafes, services… and I know the ideal is to live, shop and work within a 20-30 minute commute.

I don’t disagree with this and it wasn’t luck that brought John and myself to Mordialloc to live within walking distance of Main Street, schools and the train station. (I’ve never driven or owned a car.)

Development, if managed properly and attached to a vision of a decent lifestyle is magnificent. This is how we progress as a community.

But the higgledy-piggledy mushrooming of private developments around what was considered ‘old Mordialloc’ has destroyed any neighbourhood character we can claim as well as a lot of our history.

The horse stables I wrote about in the 90s have disappeared, along with beach ‘cottages’, many Edwardian and Victorian homes, and Californian bungalows. (One of the last of those next door to me. Although it had been renovated it was bulldozed out of existence in 2009 and replaced with two double-storey townhouses. )

Not only houses are lost but trees too. Habitat for possums and birds who must relocate just like their human counterparts. Neighbourhood ambience forever changed.

Sounds Of Albert Street
Mairi Neil 1993

In the morning, at dawn break
in a dream-like state
I begin to wake…

some noises make my senses jar
the electric train’s whistle
the whine of car, after car.

In the distance, a noticeable rumble,
the roar of the sea
as the white caps tumble…

I can picture the waves crashing,
spewing debris on the beach
against pier and rocks splashing.

On the pavement, the horses make
a constant clip-clop
as daily exercise they take…

this familiar, steady tapping
announced in suburbia
by family dogs feverishly yapping.

The dawn chorus as birds begin to sing
curlews, blackbirds, thrushes
all heralding Spring…

twittering, screeching, whistling
magpies, sea-gulls and crows
their dewy feathers glistening…

 

old Mordi house
One of the few Edwardian houses left in Barkly Street – but for how long? ‘For Sale’ signs proliferate from one end of the street to the other along with massive developments. Two beautifully renovated houses now the site of soon-to-be 24 apartments, while another two removed for a large corner development almost completed.

Increased density living also brings increased traffic congestion and new people may decide to eschew public transport and still rely on their car.  The assumption that increased buildings near transport hubs will take cars off the road is a big leap for a society that loves the car.

Permit and resident parking seems inevitable.

People may choose to shop, eat, and holiday locally but they might also go elsewhere and if visitors can’t find a park they may bypass the place too. There is not a lot of capacity for Main Street to expand and in the 34 years, I’ve lived here the variety of shops has shrunk.

In Europe, many places have learnt from the post-war building of Stalinist-type monoliths and there are some nice designs of apartments that don’t look like matchboxes or toilet blocks.

At the moment, in Mordialloc,  it all seems haphazard or potluck – do Kingston Council or the State Government care about the plans they approve? We have two level crossings to be removed at a yet to be determined future date – hopefully there has been thought as to how current development will fit in.

Houses built since I arrived have been or are being replaced!

  • Where are the functional and aesthetically pleasing design solutions?
  • Who is safeguarding standards – not only of decent living quarters but ensuring a quality of life and a balance between buildings and nature?
  • The development pictured above is not where I would choose to live and I haven’t heard one positive comment about it from friends, family or visitors.
  • Why are councillors and politicians allowing dwellings to be built that I am sure they would not choose to live in?
  • Is there enough attention paid to parking and the opinion of residents in nearby streets?
  • What of access to Emergency Service vehicles – even general access to get in and out of the site?

tree growing to avoid power lines poem.jpeg

We need trees to breathe, and flowers to please. We need communal courtyards or mini parks – areas where residents can meet, become neighbourly and grow a community. Yes, the foreshore is nearby but this can be an impersonal space used by residents and non-residents alike.

Since coming to live in Mordialloc I’ve lost count of how many consultations and council workshops I’ve attended over the direction development will take and protecting the Green Wedge. I went to a recent consultation on neighbourhood character just for my local ward and it was attended by hundreds of residents.

Councillors know the pace, style, and consequences of development is an important issue in more than Albert and Barkly Streets…

What is The Future?

This is the 21st century, architecture and design must always be inclusive of people living with a disability. It can also be sustainable and add to the rich cultural heritage of Melbourne that we see on Open House Melbourne weekends.

images-16.jpg

 

I discovered an old photograph I took and a poem I wrote in the 90s – another boom period for developers that soon turned to bust as happens in economic cycles when the pendulum swings. The Crown Casino was being built amid controversy but is now an established part of popular Southbank.

crown casino december 2017.jpg

A young Irish girl living with us at the time and travelling into the city each day with John mentioned an incident on Kings Way and said,

‘It was near the bottle.’

‘Where?’ I said.

‘You know, that big building that looks like a bottle…’

The nickname stuck and as each decade rolls by, ‘the bottle’ experiences makeovers, the surroundings may change but it still looms large and makes me smile.

I took a picture last week and pointed it out to family visiting from the UK.

Developers Can Drive You To Drink!
Mairi Neil (August 1994)

In Melbourne there are buildings
stretching towards the sky.
Great towers of glass and concrete
swaying hundreds of feet on high.

The Rialto being the most famous,
eclipsing well-known Nauru House,
Twin Towers, Menzies on Collins and
the Exhibition Buildings so grouse.

But in 1994 a city development
caused lots of consternation,
when the Crown Casino expansion
exceeded all expectations.

Entering the city through King Street
used to be over a scenic bridge,
quiet Yarra waters muddily flowed,
Polly Woodside’s masts full rigged.

Now an ugly, solid concrete mass
blocks out views on either side,
a neon-lit concrete tunnel
provides a hideously boring ride.

I dread driving into Melbourne
and viewing the Casino folly
but thankfully enroute, King’s Way
still has buildings unique and jolly.

There’s one viewed from a distance,
a recognisable, imaginative shape,
tall and straight for fifteen floors
and topped by wonderful nape.

Grandiose developers like the Grollos
I often could cheerfully throttle
but 222 Kings Way makes me smile
it could be a giant’s bottle!

Perhaps someone will smile and write a poem about the development at the end of Albert  Street when it’s finished – or maybe a horror story!

If you have nicknamed a building or have a special memory attached to a building, please share. I’d love to know I’m not alone in my ponderings.

’Twas The Season When Ho, Ho Became Oh, Oh!

broken lid.jpg

I haven’t blogged for a few weeks because of an unexpected health hiccup requiring a coronary angiogram and a host of other tests. I’m on the medical roundabout with some questions still to be answered and other specialist visits lined up, but at least feel more energetic.

I’m lucky to have a GP who is caring and thorough even although answers are elusive. However, broken bodies and minds can be healed and ageing bodies may need some help but they keep functioning! The philosophy of kintsukuroi good to remember. 

Several of my students have also struggled with health issues this year, most are dear friends as well as students – maybe our bodies are in sync as well as our writing minds!

Here’s to a healthier 2018.

streak of red in st kilda sky.jpg

Stress versus Sense

In Australia, the end of semester two coincides with the festive season and the long summer break. As usual, I was busy organising class anthologies, submitting A-frames to secure funding for next year, and at Longbeach Place, in Chelsea, we held our first Open Day.

I prepared some of the work of current students to display and also offered a couple of workshops to encourage people to enrol in 2018. This year has been a wonderful class with some of the students from Mordialloc joining us for the second semester.

Writing Creatively Towards The Future
a featured class at Longbeach Place
learning all-important techniques of writing
to stay ahead in today’s digital race.
Words matter – they entertain, educate, even heal –
we write each week to practice skills with zeal!

There has been the inevitable Christmas get-togethers and catch-ups, shopping for presents and food, preparations for overseas guests, and the annual clearing of clutter for the new year…

I’m too busy to be sick was my first thought, but as my normally low blood pressure wanted to hover around 150-60 after soaring to over 200, and a Stress Echocardiogram indicated my heart ‘never slows down’, the cold whisper of Fate reminded me that heart attacks and strokes can be fatal!

I did some serious thinking.

Reflection – Rejuvenate or Retire?

In Life Story Class we discussed how genetics, personality traits and talents present themselves in families. I look back at what I wrote last year and wonder if, at 64 years of age, this latest health crisis is part of my inheritance!

A photograph of my paternal grandmother sat on the mantlepiece throughout my childhood. Granny died at 63 years of age during WW2. Her demise sudden, and in some people’s opinion, a happy death – if there is such a thing.

My grandmother was attending a ceilidh and sat beside her brother, John, who was stationed in Greenock because he captained a minesweeper. Granny’s daughters, Chrissie and Mary, were dancing a reel while Granny clapped and sang in Gaelic. Mouth music a common accompaniment at Scottish dances organised by Greenock’s Highland Society.

Granny turned to her brother and whispered, ‘I’m going, John,’ and slid to the floor. This massive, fatal heart attack a tragic shock to everyone even although Granny suffered ‘with her heart’ most of her adult life.

No wonder her heart was strained. Birthing thirteen children (Dad was the last) in twenty years, coping with the grief of losing many of them as infants, she also carried too much weight because treatment in those days involved ‘lots of bed rest and taking it easy’ – not the best advice for a heart condition that probably needed regular exercise and fresh air.

Chrissie, Dad’s older sister suffered angina and was 59 years old when she died of a heart attack. She was in her tenth year of living with a mastectomy.

Dad was in his 60s when he had his first heart attack, later followed by a stroke and then dementia.

anthologies 2017.jpg

I love writing, I love teaching writing and I love all the volunteer activities I do in the community but as I head towards retirement and a choice of whether to stay working or not, I realise life must change if I want to reduce stress and be healthy. 

My daughters, wonderful as ever, demand I stop thinking negatively. In the words of Simon & Garfunkel, I’m told I just need to “slow down, you’re moving too fast”…

Some choices were made for me – my job teaching at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House cancelled via email in July after almost 18 years teaching. The brave new impersonal world in action…

I withdrew from coordinating the Mordialloc Writers’ Group last year – I needed a break. However, the numbers attending dwindled and in December the group decided to stop meeting. I won’t be reviving it – my energy will be focused on finishing numerous writing projects, including writing about the wonderful three months I spent travelling through Mongolia, Russia and the UK.

Perhaps that mystery novel will be finished and not end up a cold case, or my Mother’s life story woven into an entertaining memoir to do justice to her amazing fortitude and extensive legacy. Boxes of scribbled notes, short story outlines, ideas for children’s books and poetry — all need to be revisited, rewritten, expanded, edited and perhaps published!

dark night clouds tinged with apricot.jpg

 I also decided to stop facilitating Chat ’N Chuckle a social group for people with ABI I’ve been privileged to work with since 2016.

I admire all the ‘chatty chucklers’ and their carers, their courage, resilience, and sense of humour. How would I cope if faced with many of their daily challenges? They kept me grounded and humbled; a reminder to count my blessings and not complain about minor physical ailments, breathe deeply of fresh air and give thanks for health. Make a choice to be happy.

The opportunity to meet this group of people and reflect on how quickly life can change an unpredictable but amazing gift, reaffirming I must indeed live and cherish the moment!

The group is now ready for those who attend to take turns facilitating and although I will miss those Fridays I’m glad for the small part I played in helping establish the group, encouraging friendships to flourish, and most of all, empowering participants to take charge!

Each time I look at the beautiful orchid the group gave me my spirits lift.

orchid from Chat n Chuckle.jpg

The support of family and friends made my breast cancer journey bearable and I am truly lucky having many people care about me. I know whatever problem scheduled tests reveal I’ll rejuvenate!

 

 

Unexpected, Unplanned, and Unpredictable but Marvellous Melbourne!

mairi melbourne museum

On Saturday, I met my older sister, Cate at Southern Cross Station. A quilter, she had come down from Albury for the weekend to attend a Stitches & Craft show at the Exhibition Buildings in Carlton. We discussed attending weeks ago but no definite arrangements were made until she knew she could get time off work and a seat on the train.

I’m catching the train at 6.00 am – see you at 10.30.”

‘The weather’s forecast to be hot and humid – don’t overdress!”

In September, when Cate visited for the Dior Exhibition at the National Gallery we experienced a warmer than average spring day and she regretted wearing too heavy clothes while I worried about her increasingly flushed face and a shortage of breath.

Yes, we are both at that age where warnings about blood pressure, heart strain or breathing difficulties loom large and prescription pills rattle in our bags!

Don’t worry,’ she said, “I’m prepared this time.’

Plans, Preparation – and the Weather!

We caught a tram up Collins Streets and walked through the gardens at Carlton admiring the lush greenery and bright blooms. Lulled into peaceful serenity by the azure sky and fluffy clouds, families having fun, and tourists snapping selfies.

We shared pleasantries and the promise of a wonderful day catching up and enjoying the exhibition.

 

The 138-year-old Exhibition Building a new venue for Stitches & Craft but a magnificent setting. Cate and I had last visited here when some of her work was shown at the quilting show.

The Exhibition Building feeds my love of history and depending which entrance used, I learn something new every time – like this snippet of history and the monument I’ve dubbed ‘the protest sculpture’.

I’m sure the debate of the day mirrored many we still have about imports being favoured over local products but how many of our current MPs would put their money where their mouth is like the Hon. John Woods?

 

When we rounded the corner, we were relaxed and comfortable – and surprised the entrance silent and deserted.

  • Where were the queues of excited participants?
  • Where were the clusters of crafters discussing techniques, products, and great bargains?

The beautifully carved doors shut tight and no huffing, puffing or pushing or whispering magic words like ‘open sesame‘ made a bit of difference.

We met a couple of young women who were also confused. At first, I thought they were just admiring the architecture but then discovered they were itching to stitch and craft…

doors to exhibition buildings

Cate, who is more computer savvy than me quickly Googled.

The venue correct – the date wrong. ‘It’s next weekend...’

The girls looked crushed. The surrounding water from fountain and lake a metaphor for tears.

mini lake carlton gardens 2

We just felt a little like ‘Dumber and Dumbest,’ but recovered instantly. After all, we were standing beside another fantastic venue and reading the advertising signs, the Victorian Museum offered several new exhibits, as well as the bonus cafe.

Within moments we had cloakroomed Cate’s bag, and clutching entry tickets we enjoyed a cuppa before wandering through what must be one of the most delightful, airy museums in Australia.

I appreciate the improvement more than most because in 1974  I was a research assistant attached to the library at the museum when it was housed in Russell Street.

The modern layout and approach to exhibits and the knowledge shared absolutely amazing compared to the archaic and ancient displays of the dark, drafty building where I used to work.

Weaving A Story

On the first floor as you walk along feast your eyes on The Federation Tapestry designed and made by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop to mark the centenary of Australia’s birth as a nation.

Murray Walker, the principal artist/designer, collaborated with more than 20 artists to develop the tapestry around the theme “One People, united in peace“.

There is a short video that tells the story of how 24 weavers worked an estimated 20,000 hours to create the 10 panels. It was woven at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne 2000-2001.

The tapestry presents some of the great themes of the Australian story: dispossession, settlement, adaptation, the land, celebration, hope.

There are household names to recognise – Patrick White, Henry Lawson, Mirka Mora, Bruce Petty…

The artists set out to trigger memories and inspire reflection about the future of our land and as a writing teacher, I know students could spend hours here using the various frames for inspiration.

My favourite has to be the drawings and words from indigenous children and their aspirations for the future:

  • People should care about each other.
  • I want Australia to be happy.
  • And I want my family to be happy.
  • I want the animals to be free.
  • I want us all to be happy all of our lives.
  • I want all the trees to grow happy.

children's tapestry.jpg

The talent and cleverness of the artists and weavers truly a wonder to behold.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Women Of The Land

A collaboration between the Invisible Farmer Project and Her Place Women’s Museum Australia celebrates rural women who work, protect and heal the land.

We farm to feed those we love and our communities. Within my community, I have an amazing tribe of women that I surround myself with. They’re the ones that buoy me in times of need and celebrate with me. Women supporting one another is a primal and magical thing.

Amy Paul, Ruby Hills Organics, Walkerville.

The Invisible Farmer Project acknowledges and records the diverse, innovative and vital role of Australian women in agriculture. The project involves a national partnership between rural communities, academics, government and cultural organisations.

Launched this year in March, several of the stories feature in a mini exhibition, along with artefacts like one participant’s hat, which embodies the important role she played in leading farming communities and rural organisations.

There is great detail about the first four women interviewed for the project and more information  can be found at invisiblefarmer.net.au

What an invaluable resource for any writer researching contemporary Australia’s female farmers! And the stories a wonderful learning tool for us all, whether we need to use the information or not because the project aims to:

  • Create new histories of rural Australia
  • Reveal the hidden stories of women on the land
  • Learn about the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in agriculture
  • Stimulate public discussions about contemporary issues facing rural Australia and its future
  • Develop significant public collections that will enable far-reaching outcomes in research, industry and public policy

A Gathering was held for women on farms and I snapped Cate appreciating the sewing and design of the squares making up a commemorative banner of those organisations that participated.

Her Place, Women’s Museum Australia

Her Place celebrates the social, civic, and entrepreneurial achievements of Australian women and their role in shaping our nation. Three exhibitions have been curated this year to tour regional and metropolitan Victoria.

Her Place is still working towards the creation of a permanent public space that will collect and preserve women’s records and archives so that the distinctive achievements and contributions of women can be acknowledged and written into history.

(As opposed to herstory being ignored for centuries!)

Four Victorian women strongly bound to the land are honoured. You can listen to them tell their story about living and being committed to the land and their communities, as well as enjoy a display of personal artefacts:

  • Aunty Fay Carter (Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung Senior Elder)
  • Maisie Carr nee Fawcett (pioneering scientist)
  • Pat Bigham (farmer and firefighter)
  • Val Lang (farmer and agricultural mentor)

Lunchtime came and went and we could easily have spent all day appreciating what makes Melbourne marvellous in an exhibition that allows you to meander through replicas of arcades and streets of inner Melbourne of the past.

I have a little book somewhere bought from Cole’s Book Arcade and can remember being fascinated by the shop.

Well done to the researchers and writers for all the information made available to the general public and presented in such palatable chunks. Thanks too must go to the designers, tradies and staff who helped create delightful exhibits.

Cate and I decided to head down to the city but found ourselves trapped in the foyer waiting for a very heavy downpour of rain to subside.

The marine creature display apt – even to the look of surprise or is it excitement on the shark’s face? And yes, there were people getting soaked voluntarily so they could take photographs.

One little boy ignored the thunder and had a great time splashing in puddles!

Flash Storm Flushes and Flusters
Mairi Neil

Who will be the first to drown seemed the
challenge from the heavens as clouds exploded
and torrential rain cascaded down.
Not me,’ said everyone with umbrellas held high
Nor me,’ said others huddled inside, and dry.

‘I don’t care,’ cried the little boy with glee as
he splashed in puddles, yelling, ‘Look at me!’

Thunder roared and growled –
was that a lightning flash?
Braving the downpour, some people
made a dash – finding cover in bus shelters
snuggled close to strangers – while others
recklessly crossed streets ignoring dangers.

‘I don’t care,’ cried the little boy with glee as
he splashed in puddles, yelling, ‘Look at me!’

‘Any port in a storm’ a cliche so true
as doorways and porches became home
for much more than a few.
Downpipes sagged and gushed
collapsed under watery weight –
surging water made rivers of roads and
too much rain meant every tram late!

I don’t care,’ cried the little boy with glee as
he splashed in puddles, yelling, ‘Look at me!’

Soaked, sodden, and shivering
commuters crowd tram, train and bus
meteorological or seasonal confusion –
‘It’s Melbourne and no surprise, to us.’

‘I truly don’t care,’ cries the inner child with glee
‘splashing in puddles looks really good to me!’

Despite the rain, we managed to get to Spencer Street and catch a train home.

‘I really enjoyed myself,’ said Cate.

‘Me too,’ I said and quoted Dad’s favourite poet Rabbie Burns, ‘The best-laid schemes … Gang aft a-gley…’ before adding, ‘ but our day was rainbow and never grey!’

 

Poetry In Motion Captures Daily Joy

 

Tinsel Aurora
 Aurora loves Christmas tree decoration time!

 

I love Mary Oliver’s poetry and have been enjoying sharing the poems from Dog Songs, published by Penguin in 2013 a gift from the USA from my daughter, Anne.

Fortunately, most of the students in my classes are pet lovers and on the last count, the dog lovers outnumbered cat lovers.

Regardless of preference, the keen observations of the talents and quirks of dogs and owners in Mary’s poems and prose, the detailing and expressions of love, the bonds created, and how dogs capture your heart can be appreciated by everyone.

Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?

page 119-120

In a lovely short short story, Ropes, about Sammy, an escape artist known for chewing through ropes and a dog Mary ‘inherited,’ there are a few tales about his wandering and the consequences. The reflection in the punch line a beauty: –

This is Sammy’s story. But I also think there are one or two poems in it somewhere. Maybe it’s what life was like in this dear town years ago, and how a lot of us miss it.

Or maybe it’s about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you.

page 45

spring bush purple.jpgEach day is a precious gift and like most writers, I carry a notebook to jot down observations, ideas and feelings. 

I’m lucky to have a job I love teaching in community houses and to be passionate about writing.  However, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always sing “Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to work I go” as cheerfully as the seven dwarfs in Disney’s Snow White!

But I do try to be a glass half full person…

Here’s one of last week’s jottings, influenced of course from absorbing the lessons from The Gathering of Kindness

Feeling Joy – The Small Stuff Matters
Mairi Neil

Friday morning, on the way to work
I kept a lookout for some joy, and
it wasn’t long before I witnessed –
the love between a father and his boy.
Two peas in a pod’ they dressed alike –
matching smiles, strolling side by side.
The loving bond between the two
seemed as strong as a rhino’s hide.

The child’s face lit up at a noisy digger
munching and crunching on concrete,
and the audience of fluro-vested men
standing mesmerised by this feat.
But the toddler refused to be side-tracked
‘It’s the trains he’s after,’ said Dad.
They followed me to Mordi Station
where trundling trains made him glad.

Aboard the train approaching Parkdale,
a clump of ‘red hot pokers’ delight,
planted to greet weary commuters,
the orange sentinels glow in sun’s light.
The next stop was Cheltenham Station
how uplifting and joyous to see
beautiful art brighten graffiti-free wall –
possum, parrot, and magpie trilogy.

Highett Railway Station the next stop
along a track lined with grey-green trees
until a bottlebrush blooms blood red
and Noisy Minors serenade to please.
The tunnel into Moorabbin is next
a dullness failing to darken the day,
momentary shadows before sunshine
a courteous student a smiling ray.

Not long to reach Patterson Station
passing homes simple and grandiose
traditional backyards disappearing for
townhouses that house the most.
And right at the Station’s doorstep
from a third floor balcony, quite unaware
a sleepy man plumps blue pillows
we watch him inhale morning air.

Too soon, I’m at Bentleigh Station
and striding along busy Centre Road.
There are shoppers, school kids, workers
negotiating others in relaxation mode.
Old men gathering outside cafes to chat
over Turkish coffee and sweet cakes
weekly reminiscing, current politics too –
get-togethers a community makes.

Benn’s Bookshop appears on the horizon
and I turn into Godfrey Street
delicious aromas of chicken and coffee
at close quarters my regular greet.
An octogenarian shuffles her walker
a shopping bag ready for weekly refill,
guarding fiercely her independence
a faithful fox terrier follows at heel.

Turning into the Community House
prepared for the delightful writing class
spring flowers a brilliant scented rainbow
amidst freshly-trimmed green grass.
A young mum pushes an empty stroller
her daughter dancing fantasy behind
in a lurid pink tutu and glittering tiara
a more joyful princess you’ll never find!

fairy ring.jpg

Please share any daily moments of joy or note them down to savour for later.

The Gift of Story Creating Care And Compassion

quote about storytelling.jpg

The Narrative Initiative

On the last day of the Gathering of Kindness Week Dr Lorraine Dickey, Neonatologist from The Narrative Initiative outlined her journey to explain the importance of

Understanding the story – focusing on care and compassion through narrative.

Lorraine is the founder and CEO of The Narrative Initiative and an Advanced Narrative Facilitator as well as being a neonatologist with experience leading a large Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the USA.

She established The Narrative Kindness Project after she had a catastrophic ski accident and experienced the healthcare system as a patient. Her recovery was slow and arduous with three years of rehabilitation. After she was told she would never work as a physician again because of the traumatic brain injury she did an MBA in Health Care Management.

“She had the privilege of returning to the profession of medicine in 2004 though returning with a vastly different perspective… Armed with the new philosophy of Patient and Family- Centered Care she embarked on leading changes that truly matter to patients, their families, and healthcare staff.”

Health professionals don’t get special care when they’re sick – they have varied experiences like the general public. She changed direction and promoted self-care in the profession after getting burnt out with her new career and developing breast cancer.

She had to personally invest in the culture of self-care! Not necessarily just to be kinder to herself but to understand how it happens.

mordi sunset .jpeg

“Lorraine works to bring people in health care together to address staff-identified barriers to providing high-quality health care experiences for patients, their families, and healthcare staff using research-based, published, facilitated narrative techniques.”

Some topics include:

  • resiliency,
  • the wounded healer,
  • compassion fatigue,
  • professionalism,
  • dignity therapy
  • principles of Patient- and Family-Centered Care.

Enhancing listening and communication skills through the use of personal story

In 2013, Lorraine entered a second Fellowship in Hospice & Palliative Medicine and now cares for babies and children with serious illness or life-limiting conditions, also their families, facilitating the alignment of parental goals of care and medical goals of care while also providing complex pain & symptom management.

“ It is critical to know what brings a person joy, both as a patient and as a parent. Family-centered care is honored when medical therapies match and enhance the goals a parent has for their child while helping them make decisions under the most difficult of circumstances. Physicians and other healthcare clinicians need to understand that providing therapies that match parental values and family culture IS providing good medical care. Practicing with this philosophy in mind supports what we as physicians got into this profession to do: Help someone do what they cannot do for themselves.”

Dr Lorraine Dickey

In 75 minutes we were given a taste of what is normally done at either a cafe workshop (12 participants) where people attend one or several sessions over a period of time or a half-day for larger groups with narratives focused around a topic of choice.

pond or river.jpg

The experience of care triggers a powerful biological response in the patient… and emotional memories of care last a lifetime.

Lorraine wanted the forum to address the barriers to kindness and develop ways to overcome them. She talked about communication as perceived by the listener and drew a pie chart showing  absorption was

  • 40% from the tone of voice
  • 55% from non-verbal actions (stance etc)
  • 5% verbal – the actual words spoken.

It is emotionally hard to fathom what is said if there is lack of tone and non-verbal indicators but to have people concentrate and remember what you are saying you must tone down actions and how you say it.

People are motivated to achieve certain needs and some needs take precedence over others.

 

Maslow hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. 

In a hospital situation, if you need the toilet, are hungry or traumatised, these needs will affect your listening skills. Plus ‘a difficult patient’ may not have coping skills.

The same will go for professional needs – often staff are tired, hungry and stressed.

  • Maslow shows emotion trumps logic every time.
  • People must learn to treat each other with respect.

In a hospital, it may be as simple as staff sitting down beside the patient or family member, not standing over and facing them. Staying calm and asking how the person is doing and remembering to use their name.

You cannot reach people’s logic if they are in pain.  When a patient is in pain, self-actualisation is their logic. Kindness lives in the love/belonging space.

Clinicians sometimes need to act to put patient welfare first even although they may be tired, worried and stressed themselves: 

‘I will smile’                  ‘I will be open-minded’

a smile from Anne.jpeg

People perceive acts of kindness differently.

You see someone in a wheelchair and you open the door for them, a natural instinctive courteous and kind act.

But what if the person in the wheelchair can open the door themselves or wants to exercise their independence? Instead, we should ask, ‘do you want me to open the door for you?’ or ‘would you like me to open the door?’

There are probably many kind acts of omission that are never recognised as such. For example, the doctor is ten minutes late and the patient doesn’t mention or complain about the lateness – and vice versa.

Efficient, effective communication happens when words and logic meet and both parties walk away understanding the same thing. We often don’t realise the collateral damage of our actions or our words.

The importance of writing

The act of writing makes us slow down. Writing gives form and shape to experiences that seem formless and shapeless, even chaotic. Writing helps us translate complex experiences into a form more easily grasped such as an obituary or eulogy.

While some participants are talented and accomplished writers it is important to note that these narrative sessions make use of informal writing.

  • Informal writing is not designed to be correct, artistic or accomplished in any special way.
    Informal writing is designed to capture the writer’s honest reaction to a significant experience.

The simple act of reading this type of informal writing aloud, word for word, to an interested and informed audience can itself be a powerfully validating experience.

Write Read Renew

We were given three minutes to write a personal experience of a kind act: spoken or physical gesture. It could be from a professional experience with a patient, their family member or a colleague or a kind act of omission.

This kind act that was either particularly difficult or challenging or alternatively uplifting or inspiring must then be read without changes to the person sitting beside us.

I shared my story with Angela, a Charge Nurse at the Austin Hospital.

My 3 Minute recollection of an Act of Kindness – written without editing:

When my Mother was dying, a nurse suggested we bring a quilt from home my sister had made to brighten the starkness of the bed sheets. I thought that a very kind suggestion amidst the grief of my very big family (six siblings plus partners and children) and friends crowding the room.

In the trauma of Mum dying in hospital, she realised we would have preferred to have her at home and went out of her way to encourage us to replicate some of that familiarity. She had previously arranged a bed for me to stay 24 hours with Mum.

Angela wrote about her daughter having an unplanned emergency causing Angela to leave work for some time. When she returned to work, staff had left flowers, chocolates and a welcome back card with kind words of support. She had no idea how they valued her up until then.

Angela and I discussed our feelings and the incidents we had written about in closer detail, which transformed us from being total strangers sitting at a table together to human beings with empathy for each other.

Empathy is about understanding each other’s needs and not just smiling sympathetically. It is emotional and thrives on good communication.

gathering of kindness forum

 

Several people shared what they had written with the whole room. Our excellent facilitator, Lorraine pointed out specific use of language and wording plus the images and tone of the narratives, as well as encouraging further exploration of the story.

The experience similar to what we do in my writing workshops and classes, especially Life Stories & Legacies

  • encouraging the getting it all down first,
  • the reading aloud,
  • close listening skills,
  • absorption of story
  • understanding of what the writer wants the reader to take away
  • what should be edited.
  • or added!

It can be painful writing about harrowing or life-changing experiences, particularly when it comes to illness and grief, but often these difficult stories are the important ones to share. You still feel the loss and pain, but it can be a therapeutic release and also help to enlighten others.

A story shared about a young woman’s brother who died of brain cancer was very moving. Her mother did not speak English and the doctor didn’t speak her language but despite a sad outcome, their empathetic relationship eased the pain. She talked of brain cancer ‘winning and an earthly miracle not realistic.’

Lorraine noted that winning is everything in medicine and society doesn’t like losers and often the language we use reflects this attitude.

Everyone appreciated how difficult that personal story was to tell and felt privileged and moved. The young woman’s tone of voice quiet and natural, the simplicity of words and detailed imagery mesmerising. We listened.

The stories made us feel connected to each other – and this is how I feel in my writing classes when people share stories of their life.

Lorraine then drew two columns and in a quick-fire room participation, people said what they thought were barriers to kindness and methods to overcome these barriers.

Perceived barriers:

  • not wanting to be kind, selfishness
  • overwork, overtired, and stress
  • ignorance and misunderstandings
  • lack of humility and bad manners
  • insecurity and task focused
  • burn out
  • vicarious trauma – disoriented
  • busyness and lack time
  • lack of training in how to respond
  • not connecting and/or fear of connection
  • inequity, and custom and practice
  • fear of how it will be perceived
  • pressure from being overwhelmed
  • arrogance
  • lack of a role model
  • friendship – wanting to belong and seeking saviour in silence
  • funding model – cut corners because of a shortage of time
  • not being able to forgive
  • the faker
  • cultural differences
  • not actively listening
  • lack insight
  • lack professional boundaries

Methods to overcome barriers:

  • modelling
  • be kind to staff
  • value and acknowledge kind acts
  • self-care
  • be a role model
  • celebrate the small stuff
  • accept feedback
  • value your people
  • reward kindness
  • pause and reflect
  • educate and model
  • value and celebrate difference
  • forgive and learn

gathering of kindness table deco

Lorraine pointed out there was a tiny origami crane among the flowers decorating each table and attendees could agree who takes it home – her act of kindness to us.

Angela asked if she could have it for her daughter and I said of course.

A small act of kindness at a critical point can have an unimaginable impact. Sometimes we need to be kind by breaking rules. Celebrate kind acts, not kind people, talk with, not to people.

What a wonderful day I had and I left with a challenge ringing in my ears:

Remeber to do something different – kindness to self and to the people around you. Bring joy and a giggle to life. 

Focus on what can be done, not what you can’t do.

What is Gathering of Kindness?

 Kindness matters.  There is a direct correlation between organisational negativity and staff wellbeing and effectiveness.  

 The Gathering of Kindness aims to redress this by building, nurturing and instilling a culture of kindness throughout the healthcare system.

 We bring together people from inside and outside the healthcare sector – actors, clinicians, artists, musicians and innovators – to imagine that kindness, trust and respect are the fundamental components of the healthcare system, and that bullying is unacceptable. We look for creative pathways to a more compassionate model of health care.

 This first public Gathering Of Kindness has encouraged the broadening of participation. I’ll pass on a challenge… Be kind and do random acts of kindness at home and at work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018, is World Kindness Day

  • Smile at strangers and do kind things for them.
  • Give up your seat on the bus/train to someone else.
  • Buy someone a coffee.
  • Volunteer your time at the local op shop or some other charity.
  • Leave a kind note for someone or send an uplifting message.
  • Kindness should not only be reserved for our fellow human beings. Be kind to the animals and to the environment as well.
  • If you have children in your life, teach them the virtue of kindness by practising it in your daily life.

It truly can be a wonderful world.docklands panoramic

A Day Spent Gathering Kindness

kindness wall prompt.jpg

It began with an email from the Health Issues Centre, where I’ve attended many workshops and forums as a consumer representative. The sender was Safer Care Victoria, an organisation I imagine few Victorians outside the health circle know much about unless they listen regularly to Radio National’s Life Matters.

You are invited to attend a day of kindness – bringing together a wide group of influences and change agents from across the health service sector, to focus on activating engagement at the local organisational level. The theme of the event is: “Continuing the Conversation” – kindness between everyone in healthcare.



Re-imagine a healthcare system that has kindness, trust and respect as core components. This is based on the evidence that there is a direct relationship between staff well-being and patient well-being.

An interactive day, featuring inspirational local and international experts such as:
• Dr Lorraine Dickey; Neonatologist The Narrative Initiative
• Dr Catherine Crock AM; Chair and Founder of The Hush Foundation
• Assoc. Professor Michael Greco; CEO Patient Opinion Australia talks
• Mike Farrar; former Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation
• HUSH Kindness Play “What Matters” facilitated by Dr Catherine Crock AM
• Internationally renowned performers, the Grigorian Brothers
• Dumbo Feather – a platform for storytelling

Friday marked day five of a successful Gathering of Kindness Week.  A day, full of thought-provoking conversations and activities, designed for a better way forward for healthcare.

I lost no time in registering because not surprisingly they had a waitlist of people who wished to attend this complimentary event which included catering, entertainment and thought-provoking conversation.

A bonus was the venue at the Docklands, a part of Melbourne I don’t visit very often. There was also the opportunity to catch up with health professionals and consumer reps I’ve met at other events.

Consumer Voices Important

In recent years, I’ve had more experience with the health system than I’d like, which motivated me to become involved and do what I can to improve the quality of care.

It is important to applaud what is working and the good outcomes achieved as well as criticise failures.

There was so much packed into the day at Docklands, it’s difficult to know where to start so I’ll share the highlights that appealed to both my hats – the writer as well as health consumer representative.

Time and again speakers emphasised the power of individual stories to change procedures, attitudes and perceptions. The forum was about patient experience and there is a variety of ways the stories can be told.

Being in hospital is like being in a play you haven’t read. There’s bewilderment, you’re on stage and don’t know the outcome.

John Clarke

The opening segment, a film of Clarke & Dawe used humour to start the conversation about the different perspectives of a hospital experience for staff, administrators and patients. The two satirists are renowned for their great play on words and they didn’t disappoint:

gown, discharge, night register, waterworks, running at low cost

Take a few moments to ponder the different interpretations and uses of these words…

A fitting introduction to begin a conversation about the perceptions of all the players in a health system and the need for empathy and kindness.

Everyone has a role to play: kindness starts within all of us.

One of the key people behind the Gathering of Kindness Week is Dr Catherine Crock AM, Founder of the Hush Foundation.  A medical pioneer, she is a longtime advocate for culture change in hospital care and has put into practice what she preaches!

I bought these CDs years ago when coping with caring for my dying husband – they work!

Working with patients, families and healthcare professionals, Hush transforms the culture of healthcare by harnessing the power of the Arts to educate, inspire and create change for better outcomes for everyone.

She developed a music collection to reduce stress and anxiety felt by both patients and their families in hospitals, transforming the environment through the use of carefully curated music from some of Australia’s foremost musicians and talents.

Working at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Dr Crock said repeated surveys showed parents valued kindness and care. The atmosphere improved when the creative arts (musicians, composers, actors) were harnessed to improve the well-being of families, patients and staff.

The Gathering of Kindness aimed to build, nurture and instil a culture of kindness throughout the health care system. The key theme being “The Power of Kindness”/”Continuing the Conversation” to better understand how to improve the healthcare environment for all stakeholders, including staff and consumers.

Three CEOs discussed and shared stories of why and how they initiated change in their organisations:

Dr Sue Mathews, The Royal Women’s Hospital, Frank Evans, Central Gippsland Health and Adj Professor David Plunkett, Eastern Health.

Women's Hospital sculpture

Remodelling is required to meet today’s patients’ needs

Dr Sue Mathews told a story that was a turning point for her to rethink her attitude to hospital administration and rules.

Like many working on hospital wards, she said, her favourite announcement was “all visitors go home” until one evening a man sitting by his wife’s bed explained they had just lost their baby after trying for seven years and spending $35,000 on IVF treatment.

I can’t grieve with her?” he asked.

Sue has introduced leadership walks around the hospital asking patients in real time how their experience is to learn how to design a toolkit to draw out information from patients and improve the system.

For example, she discovered that for one woman who works full-time when the hospital calls regarding appointments within working hours she will always be busy to take the calls or miss them, and vice versa if traditional business hours are adhered to as far as women contacting the hospital when they may be available to speak.

Health is a policy-driven sector and many policies are 25 years old or more – hospital culture had to change.

The Women’s Hospital employed a Chief Experience Officer who has guided more than 600 staff through a course that uses videos, workshops and discussions to remind them why they are in healthcare.

By watching or listening to patients about their experience the staff go through what they ask female patients to do. They then list what needs to change whether it be policies, visiting hours, outdated and stupid rules preventing good patient experience or rules that create staff problems.

They discuss what rules are broken or need to be.

The Women’s Hospital is bringing kindness into everyday practice and Dr Mathews works hard to be a good role model. For example, it is important to remember people’s names so people feel valued.

She uses the model way – show how kindness can be and help staff and patients to see and behave in a positive and kind manner to improve everyone’s wellbeing.

“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.”

Alan Alda

Unpack Your Assumptions

Over lunch, I experienced one of the exercises the Women’s Hospital has used to change their culture: Unpack Your Assumptions.

It was a working lunch – we had a few minutes to digest our food and then down to work!

We teamed with a partner and I was with Ruben, a young man from the Department of Health whom I’d never met.

Choices, Choices Choices.

The exercise designed to challenge our own beliefs and choices and the assumptions we make about others solely on appearance:

Are they like us? If different, how and why do we think so?

PART 1 – instructions to be read and carried out in silence

The situation: You are an expert camper. You love camping and have camped every summer for as long as you can remember. You are packing for a week solo camping trip at a site with no electricity. You will be able to park your car at the site so the weight of what you pack is not an issue however, you will not be allowed to use your car to go and get anything for the entire week. As you finish packing the car you realise that you have room for 5 more items.

The task: select 5 items from a list of ‘extras’ that you would choose to bring with you. (There was a list of 13 items including mobile phone, book, e-reader, alcohol, extra clothes and food, batteries, matches…)

PART 2 – The situation is the same but this time it is your partner who is going on the trip. You are not going together. They are also going alone.

The task: Maintaining the same assumptions you select 5 ‘extra’ items for your partner to take on their trip. (From the same list of 13 items)

PART 3 – without speaking to your partner, consider the following questions:

  1. Is what you chose to bring for yourself exactly the same as what you chose for your partner?           (a)  If yes, why?       (b) If no, why not?
  2. What was it like to make choices for your partner without consulting with them or knowing their story?
  3. How did it feel to consider yourself an expert?

PART 4 –

  1. Compare lists with your partner
  2. If there are differences between what they chose either for themselves or you – justify your choices to each other
  3. Discuss the questions in Part 3.

The facilitator, Sherri Huckstep, the Women’s Hospital Experience Officer, led an interesting discussion encouraging people to share their choices and reasons.

Ruben picked 3 out of 5 correct for me and I picked 4 out of 5 for him. (Maybe writing all those character profiles helps?)

  • We both agreed we did not pick the same items for the other person as we chose for ourselves because we considered gender and age differences. (He is younger so I chose more tech-based items, he said he considered my gender and age and added more warm clothes!)
  • We both found it difficult to choose extra items for the other person while not knowing anything about them. I felt unskilled and nervous.
  • We both felt uncomfortable setting ourselves up as experts and making decisions in the dark with limited knowledge.

Sherri then read aloud the poem The Cookie Thief, from Chicken Soup For The Soul, edited by Jack Canfield.

The Cookie Thief.jpg

Assumptions can be wrong and are the source of much of the conflict we experience in our lives. We may all have assumptions we need to question!

The lady in the poem attributed the cookie thief’s behaviour to rudeness never considering he may have had a good reason to take the cookies. She never gave him the benefit of the doubt or considered she may have been wrong. He never stopped her helping herself.

How they both reacted to the situation speaks volumes about attitude and how to deal with certain events and people.

It pays to keep an open mind! Do what you can to discover all the facts.

People want to be called patients, not clients.

The CEO of Eastern Health, Adj Prof David Plunkett said that time and time again patient surveys said courtesy and kindness was what really mattered. They focused on improving communication and customer service but still, patients said courtesy and kindness: “If I’d just been treated with kindness” a common response.

Eastern Health has 5 million pieces of data to say that kindness must be an organisational value – they don’t need any more surveys to measure!

Accountability and humility core values.

He asked the 10,500 staff and volunteers how they could support each other and how to create a safe working environment.

They got prompt cards “I will smile”.

When the staff discussed how they treated each other and made a commitment to kindness, respect and excellence, it led to kindness with patients.

All in it together!

Prof Plunkett suggests questioning the data – it’s qualitative information about what is going wrong but when you go past the data argument and use stories from patients’ experience and effect change, it works.

They collated 400 stories; they didn’t resonate with all staff but the good and bad feedback worked to motivate and accept kindness as an organisational value.

gathering of kindness tree
The Kindness Tree at the forum where you could write suggestions on how to show kindness

 

Leading with Care

Frank Evans from Sale explained that in 1997-1998 there was a conflict that divided the community, families and staff at the hospital. One afternoon there was a knock on his door. A man had a petition to get rid of the hospital CEO. He asked Frank to sign, completely unaware that Frank was the CEO.

Frank invited the man in for a cup of tea and they had an interesting chat. (I’d like to have been a fly on the wall!)

Another turning point for Frank was the sad, powerful, personal story of “Claire” who wrote a book Dying For A Chance. He bought a copy for all staff, and also had Claire address staff. His philosophy is to engage with people and try and understand them, accepting there are difficulties providing quality care.

They now have a new model for their integrated health service and are trying to build a culture of caring and kindness. There is more conflict this year with the push for change.

  • All staff are involved in writing a Communications Charter.
  • There is a new leadership framework – “Leading with Care” and they are preparing a leadership matrix.

never stop learning sign

Aas a consumer, it was heartening to hear from CEOs who are listening to the patients and their workforce before implementing changes and actively trying to alter the culture of decisions from being only financially or resource driven.

It was an ideal time to watch the Hush Kindness Play – What Matters, written by well-known writer and actor Alan Hopgood.

Alan and his team of actors aimed to make kindness matter to staff and patients and through this Hush Project after the play is performed, they have talked to 9000 people about the particular issues it raises.

There have been over 140 performances of health-oriented plays raising issues such as

  • the devastation of a medication error
  • different aspects and challenges of aged care
  • and this latest one – focusing on small acts of kindness that make a difference, or what happens when kindness and empathy is lacking

Ironically, the role I remember Alan Hopgood for was the small town doctor in Bellbird, an ABC 70s soapie my mother wouldn’t miss!

I recognised him straight away when he appeared on stage, especially his deep but softly reassuring voice.

He has wanted to make a difference in the area of men’s health with his writing and has written several plays and a book in 1996, Surviving Prostate Cancer – One Man’s Journey. He often gives talks using his wonderful sense of humour to tell his story and encourages others.

Alan and the players thanked the audience restating the strong message of What Matters that kindness is not elective, not a weakness but a choice we make.

And it doesn’t stop in the confines of a medical setting.

The value of and sharing stories of kindness often doesn’t rate because positive news stories don’t get traction.

Fiction writers know this too well – we are taught from day one that it is conflict that sells, and it doesn’t have to be resolved to make a book a best seller!

However, when you are ill, perhaps fighting for your life, perspectives can change. Or when you are a health professional burnt out or traumatised. (Read a transcript or listen to the podcast about compassion fatigue and mental health.)

Even the smallest act of kindness makes a difference.

A doctor stepping outside boundaries with “Mother Theresa” actions or advice should not be accused of ‘being too kind’ and ‘unprofessional’.

Patients taking the time to write a ‘thank you card’ or leave flowers or chocolates for staff: doctors, nurses, administrators, cleaners, volunteers – all the people who have a part in making our health system function – are sadly rare, but do make a difference.

The Power Of Story To Engender Kindness Within Organisations

The impact of kindness should never be underestimated and discovering how many people and organisations are promoting positive changes in behaviour, attitude, and workplace culture is an uplifting experience in itself.

Associate Professor Michael Greco who worked with Father Brosnan to bring kindness into Pentridge Prison interviewed two CEOs from the UK with experience of improving patient experience of the NHS.

He quoted the definition of civilisation as being a slow process of society learning to be kind.

Perhaps he offered the best quote of the day –

Kindfulness is fundamental to human growth.”

A more civil society is society being kind and unfortunately, we have too many examples in the wider community where our political leaders and the general population are not being kind or civil.

How we treat asylum seekers and refugees only one example that has been in the news recently!

quote about loss

Participants at the forum expressed again and again, through fantastic examples from their workplaces or life experience how powerful the gift of stories can be.

The importance of listening and recording stories whether positive or negative to learn from them.

These stories from staff or patients when aided by the creative arts  – whether by poetry, plays, film, memoir or short story – can hurry along the all-important change towards  ‘kindfulness’.

  • The Narrative Kindness Project my next blog!

Ten Pound Poms – Privilege At A Price!

Ten Pound Pom poster.jpg

There are advantages of being a senior in Victoria, especially in October each year during the Seniors Festival when so many free and fun events are scheduled.

This year was no exception, the delight magnified when I shared a day out with my sister, Rita.

We attended Melbourne’s Immigration Museum to enjoy a sneak preview of their latest exhibition: British Migrants: Instant Australians?

An exhibition close to our hearts because we were part of the assisted migration program when our family migrated from Scotland in 1962.

– yes, the Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh were labelled ‘Poms’ too!

identity yours and mine.jpg

Migrant Myths and Memories

I love the Immigration Museum and have attended many special exhibitions, as well as frequent visits to the permanent reminders that more than nine million people have migrated to Australia since 1788. 

Immigration is about us all – those who were here and those who came.  Everyone has a story to tell – about ourselves, our families, friends and ancestors. It is in the telling of these stories that we can begin to understand Victoria’s rich histories.

The exhibition includes objects, historical film, images, and innovative multimedia experiences to explore the personal stories of British migrants and the contemporary perspectives of migrants and commentators.

(It)… incorporates a rich and diverse range of voices to explore narratives at both a national and personal level, focusing on questions of identity and impact on contemporary Australia.

There are plenty of well-known Aussies who were ‘Ten Pound Poms” or whose family were:

The Bee Gees (English), Hugh Jackman (English), Kylie Minogue (Welsh), Olivia Newton-John (English), Jimmy Barnes (Scotland), Bon Scott (Scotland), George Young (Scotland), Noni Hazelhurst (English), and cricketers Harold Larwood and Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson…

And of course two ex-Prime Ministers: Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

Not to mention a few other politicians caught in the recent Constitutional conundrum over dual citizenship and the right to sit in parliament.

immigration facts.jpg

Picture gloomy, weary post-World War II Britain — England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Imagine the prospect of distant, sunny, booming Australia. Where would you rather be?

… Australia that was predominantly white and British — it had worked hard to be so.

Newcomers from Britain had all the advantages of a shared language, culture and history. So fitting in should be easy.

But reality is never that simple.

What did the British actually experience?

What did this mass migration mean for Australia at the time?

What does all this mean for us today?

Dr M McFadzean, the Exhibition’s curator talked about the methodology, research and work that went into putting the exhibition together. Several people shared their stories and visitors can listen to or read firsthand accounts from British migrants who travelled to Australia as part of the scheme.

  • 300,000 paid their own way
  • 80% of the 1.5 million from the UK were English
  • British migrants were the preferred migrants and didn’t have to be citizens to vote. (This changed in the 1970s)
  • British migrants could vote after 6 months, become citizens after a year and obtain an Australian passport – non-British had to wait 5 years.
  • British migrants could receive social security – they were considered lucky
  • Yet 25% returned within the two year period required for the assistance scheme and had to repay their fares.
  • Of those who returned to the UK, 25% came back to Australia!

The Tribute Garden

… the Tribute Garden is a public artwork that pays tribute to 7000 people who have made the journey to Victoria. 

The Tribute Garden features the names of immigrants who came from over 90 countries, from the 1800s to the present day.

The region now known as Victoria is represented by the people of the Kulin Nation as traditional owners of the land and records the names of languages and dialects spoken by Aboriginal communities.

Melbourne-based artist Evangelos Sakaris designed the original artwork, which was launched in 1998. Gina Batsakis led the design for the following stages of the project. The project concluded in 2002

 

I donated to the original art project so that my parents’ journey could be acknowledged.

tribute wall.jpg
Our family recorded as coming across the sea: George T & Annie B McInnes and Family

Our family came under the auspices of the Personal Nomination Scheme because Dad’s sister Chrissie nominated us and guaranteed accommodation for the family, and to support us until Dad found a job.

Chrissie and her husband Bill arrived here 14th July 1952. He was an electrician and she was a tailoress. They came out to cousins whose family roots went back to the exodus from the Isle of Skye in the 1850s. We were lucky to have their support but childless Chrissie was so desperate to have immediate family join her she ‘gilded the lily’ and never foresaw the many adjustments our family of 8 would have to make.

origins.jpg

Many British migrants were accommodated in government hostels. These were usually a collection of corrugated iron Nissan huts left over from WW2, uncomfortable and unpleasant whatever the season, proving assumptions about the privileges of British migrants deceptive.

Breaking the Myths The Brits Got It Easy

Some migrants came out to jobs in the shipyards, railways or electricity commission, but most had to find their own employment. Even if eligible for Social Security many would not take it because of pride, others found the money inadequate and constantly struggled and worried about their poor prospects.

They often discovered their qualifications not accepted, their particular skill set not acknowledged, or required, or in my father’s case, he was considered “too old” at 40 to be an engine driver.

Vic Rail offered him a job as a cleaner, which he refused.

He had to abandon the idea of working on the railways and became a truck driver. In those days, more so than now, men were the breadwinners, their identity and self-esteem tied up with their employment.

For the first few months in Australia, my Father said he drove to work with tears in his eyes and sometimes streaming down his face as he adjusted to the sadness of no longer belonging to a railway community and doing a job he loved. He hated the ‘old house’ we rented with its ‘dry’ toilet down the back and a tacked on bathroom with no bath. He worried about the decision to migrate and our future.

He had worked for British Railways for 25 years, his father had been a railwayman. Both were proud to be train drivers – Dad competent with steam, diesel and electric. Like many migrants, the thought his skills would not be recognised or not needed never crossed his mind.

However, Dad said the Australian Government knew what it was doing when it insisted that assisted migrants remain at least two years or pay back their fares. Homesickness and culture shock genuine problems as many of the stories in the exhibition illustrate.

  • Some people took longer to adjust than others.
  • Some never adjusted.

sum of our parts

  • Family were left behind – loving grandparents, aunts and uncles
  • Established friendships abandoned or broken whether it be  at work, school, or neighbourhoods
  • The British thriving arts and culture scene – the Beatles, Mary Quant, Carnaby Street… was missed by many children and teenagers who had no choice but to follow their parents

A family arrived in Adelaide to be told by one of the ship’s crew, ‘Put your watch back 20 years…’

  • the city was ‘dead’ on a Sunday
  • no shops opened on a Saturday
  • pubs closed at 6.00pm

Two teenage migrant girls went to a dance dressed in latest gear from trendy Liverpool. The local hall full of girls with ’50s style frocks. You couldn’t dance unless a boy asked you.  The music outdated. The girls shunned for dressing weirdly.

They spent the night as ‘wallflowers’.

But Dad did adjust and although he had a series of blue collar jobs and ‘chased money’ to educate, house and clothe us all, he never had any desire to return to Scotland for a holiday and loved the weather and our home in Croydon.

The journey out to Australia by ship at least gave families a month to acclimatise. Many considered the trip a great holiday.  For some, it was the first holiday they’d been able to afford and they established new friends although many were parted at Australian docks depending on their destination.

  • Friendships made and lost
  • Exotic places visited
  • Teenagers sulked but most got ‘over it’ because of many onboard activities
  • Food and cabins either thrilled or disappointed
  • Marriages made, others destroyed.

Once here, migrants realised telephone calls were expensive, as was postage, especially packages.

The 12,000 miles distance from Europe made Australia seem isolated and ‘the end of the world’.

Even for British migrants the change and adjustments were huge. Christmas a shock – too hot – yet cards pictured snow and reindeer – absolutely no relationship to reality.

In Melbourne, they discovered winter is cold and some days the promised sunny Australia seemed a myth. The weatherboard houses referred to as bungalows by the migrants, not as substantial as the brick houses of the UK. There was no double glazing, insulation, or central heating – common attributes in post-war Britain.

Some migrants expected everything to be modern and new, or ‘bushy’. Established cities like Melbourne an initial surprise or disappointment.

I remember my Dad commenting when our ship pulled into Station Pier that Melbourne, “looked just like Glasgow!”

We’d left cold foggy London, travelled through the Suez Canal and stopped at Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and arrived to an extremely hot summer.  Heat haze shimmered above melting bitumen, joined by a smoke haze above the ‘blue’ Dandenong Ranges ravaged by fire January and December 1962.

 

bum boats Port Said.jpg
A picture Dad took of the ‘bum boats’ that pulled alongside our ship at Port Said, Suez Canal. The Arab merchants spruiking their wares called every English woman “Mrs Simpson’ and every Scots or Irish “Mrs MacGregor”!

 

Life operated at a slow pace in our new home, semi-rural Croydon on Melbourne’s perimeter. Dress codes relaxed. Dad loved not having to wear a tie most days.

Aunt Chrissie walked to the mailbox in dressing-gown (housecoat) and slippers and no one seemed to mind. She even ran Uncle Bill to the railway station in their old Consol,  still in her nightie – and when she broke down one morning she was helped to start the car (crank handle in those days) by a passerby who didn’t seem surprised!

Mum couldn’t get over the meat trays in butcher shops, or the fruit shops with their plentiful melons, passionfruit, oranges and other fruit, but she sweltered in an old house cooking meals with a wood-devouring Raeburn stove.

Any money left over from Dad’s early pay packets used to buy an electric kettle, electric frypan and electric pot as a matter of urgency!

No matter when they arrived, all immigrants are linked by the common experience of a journey.

Over the past two centuries, the immigration journey to Australia has changed from a perilous sea voyage of up to 3 months to a routine flight lasting up to 24 hours. Changing transport has not only shortened the journey but made it more comfortable and affordable.

The journey remains one of the most memorable aspects of any immigration experience.

journals of a lifetime.jpg

Finding Ten Pound Poms in the National Archives & Public Record Office Victoria

The Immigration Museum invited two experts to explain how much easier it is to research your ancestry in the digital age and answer family history questions.

Terrie Page, National Archives of Australia demonstrated how to access the records of British immigrants. Personal and medical records available from the interviews conducted in the UK of those on the assisted passage scheme.

Go to the website naa.gov.au 

The first access point Terrie detailed was adverse publicity re Immigration scheme. There was plenty of criticism the publicity enticing migrants painted too rosy a picture and ‘facts’ were untrue. (For example, the offered wages were too high – stated in Australian pounds, not British pounds.)

This series is A445, Barcode: 247865 and you can read letters between the Australian and British Governments addressing complaints and articles in the press.

Series No. MP195/1, ( 1948-1958 basic information) MP210/2 (1952-1955) and MP250/2 (1958-1962) holds personal records of the interviews. Type in the name and year of your family and you may discover a copy of their acceptance letter (not every family has one).

Often there was only 2-3 weeks notice given to people. Not much time to pack up and sell goods and chattels and prepare yourself for the journey ahead.

In 1958, the Australian Government chartered the Fairsky for many voyages and although most people came by sea, the first aeroplane carrying assisted migrants arrived in 1959.

The Nominal Roll lets you type in the name of the ship and the date of departure and arrival and you can access Welfare Reports of the voyage, (A446 1962/67618) for example:

  • quality of food
  • entertainment provided
  • education provided
  • if there had been outbreaks of disease
  • if anyone had died

Searching for Melbourne Passenger Arrivals check if the ship came through Fremantle and put in the year of arrival. Items Series No. B4397

  • tick digital list box
  • enlarge to full screen
  • check multiple pages – look for the month (click pages, go up by 100)
  • hover over and find page number (Downloads are slow)
  • type into the box ‘jump to page’
  • remember the last page of every list has births and deaths
  • check passenger lists for a different class, boarding at different ports
  • the lists may not be alphabetical!

Stories Abound

Public servants were not as politically correct as today and many made handwritten notes on the official forms: “applicant obese but seems intelligent enough“, “five-year-old precocious and very bright”

There was a dock strike in Fremantle and migrants sent onto Melbourne by being off-loaded in Adelaide and put on the train. A young boy remembers waking up as the train trundled past Sunshine Station. The sun was rising and bathing the countryside in its glow, ‘What a lovely appropriate name,’ he murmured.

First impressions count.

PROV – Public Records Office Victoria

Charlie Farrugia, the Senior Collection Advisor explained that key records regarding immigration are Commonwealth therefore with the National Archives, but these are easily accessed from PROV State archives. (www.prov.vic.gov.au)

The State archives hold Department of Crown Land and Surveys information and records of statutory authorities such as the office of Valuer-General, School Councils and Courts etc.

  • What happened to peoples lives after migration and the great leap of faith to start afresh?
  • any activity involving State Government can be researched.
  • the key page is Family History
  • records are of a personal and private nature so not everything is kept
  • indexed by Family Name.

Exploration and Self – Discovery – Records May Have  a Key…

Charlie invited everyone to explore PROV’s collections and archives by topic: Wills & Probate (if there was a will required to be lodged for probate), Family History, Births, Deaths & Marriages.

Also inquests and other coronial matters. Land records, Census records (unfortunately rarely kept prior to 1973), some Cemeteries, pupil records from schools now closed (if the school still exists then they hold previous student records), and electoral and municipal voter rolls (in the past you had to own property to vote and not all councils have or kept voter rolls.).

British Migrants: Instant Australians?

Diary Date:

The exhibition opens on 25 November. There’ll be tea and traditional British fare and talks by historians and curators, as well as the personal stories of British migrants.

Rita and I are looking forward to the full exhibition and will be revisiting the museum. We looked through the current exhibitions and left with plenty of food for thought and itching to check out the available records for our family – the months ahead will be busy!

If you have a migration story – please share.

“And it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are here, where we come from, and what might be possible.”

Alan Rickman

 

Make ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose’ Reality – Please!

hard rubbish 1

Organising topics for my Life Stories and Legacies Class this term, I was inspired by the notion that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. What makes some of us collectors or even extreme hoarders?  How does that contrast with the modern penchant for minimalism and a spate of books on decluttering?

There are popular television shows about collectors and hoarders, and government brochures with encouragement to downsize. Information about over-consumption and the need to recycle can be found in many places. And despite our ex-PM Tony Abbott’s delusions, I’ll go with expert scientists and agree climate change is affected by human pollution and behaviour.

We are at a tipping point and need to consider our carbon footprint.

Planet B Doesn’t Exist
Mairi Neil

There only is one planet Earth
and we need Plan A to save it
There is no Planet B for us to live –
no matter how eccentrics crave it!

Mountains of waste at danger level
a throwaway culture created mess
built-in obsolescence’; ‘shop ’til you drop
bad habits to abandon – let’s confess!

Less packaging to be disposed of
Less plastics that poison the sea
Less chemical interference with food
Less consumption from you and me!

More recycling goods stopped working
More repurposing products useful still
More local retail and farmers’ markets
More thoughtful behaviour, the general rule!

Think before buying or disposing
Do you really need to use a car?
Can you grow, compost, and share
homegrown food better than afar.

McMansions a blight on suburbia
and planned density now a necessity
but let’s replace lost backyards and trees
because green spaces, not a luxury!

Pollute and Perish,‘ more than a catch-cry
Climate Change promises an unpleasant fate
concerned effort and beneficial action
needed NOW  – tomorrow is really too late!

mordi p.s hens 2017.jpg

Close friends have died recently and that’s always confronting as well as heartbreaking. Friends not only die but some downsize and may move away. Nearing retirement age, I find talk is not of building, renovating or celebrating new homes, but of shedding the accumulation of years, moving into retirement villages, trying a sea or green change!

 ‘Collector’, ‘hoarder’, ‘minimalist’ transforming  abstract to reality.

What particular description or category suits me?  Hint – minimalism doesn’t get a look in, especially when it comes to books but I have been known to cull some!

Motivated by the annual hard rubbish collection, I’ve made another attempt at cleaning out the shed and other rooms in the house with the encouragement and help of my daughters.

The introspection and soul-searching traumatic as I examine everything rationally, discover long forgotten items,  unachieved dreams, good and bad experiences and try to emotionally and physically discard lots of memories with the mementoes.

old memorabalia.jpg

Memories stirred by old concert tickets, boxes of photographs, postcards, political leaflets, baggage tags and souvenirs.

It’s definitely easier to go through the wardrobe and face the fact that even if the youthful 10-12 figure returns, certain items will never be worn again.

Culture Change Needed To Face Climate Change

A report about clothes and landfill recently made me consider the habit of retail therapy, indulged in at various times.

After my mastectomy, a lot of favourite clothes were rendered useless because my cleavage disappeared, but hanging in the wardrobe are rarely worn clothes bought on impulse, or because they were a bargain.

These statistics from last year make sobering reading:

Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard about 23 kilograms* into landfill  – and two-thirds of those discards are manmade synthetic/plastic fibres that may never breakdown.

Sustainability consultant Jane Milburn said Australians are the second-largest consumers of new textiles after north Americans who annually buy 37kg each, and ahead of Western Europeans at 22kg while consumption in Africa, the Middle East and India averages just 5 kg per person. These figures are sourced from north American magazine Textile World

There’s been a transformational shift in the way we source, use and discard our clothing which has major social and environmental implications. Fast fashion produced from global supply chains is driving purchasing of excessive new clothing, often discarded after a few wears

Like many people, I grew up in the era where hand-me-downs were common, mending or altering clothes, darning socks and even fixing shoes, valuable skills many parents or grandparents possessed. At school, we learnt sewing by making practical items such as aprons and pyjamas before venturing to make embroidered placemats and doilies.

Maybe it is time to return to sewing on buttons, replacing broken zips, refashioning garments and thinking twice before grabbing that sale item!

I know many friends and a lot of young people who ‘op shop’ for clothes so that’s a step in the right direction but perhaps the biggest change will come when the people who make the clothes are paid decent wages and the price will inevitably rise. Nothing like ‘the hip pocket nerve’ to drive change or a social conscious.

no sweat shop tshirt

There’s History In Old Writing

I’ve uncovered lost writing notes, scribbled poems and stories, and hard copy from computers long dead and abandoned. The poem below, written after I experienced my first ever car boot sale at Mordialloc Primary School ties in with the theme of this blog.

Car Boot Sales a popular way of raising funds. They sometimes replace the traditional school fete, and for a tiny school like Mordialloc Primary, in an era where parental volunteers are shrinking because both parents work outside the home, inviting the wider community to pay $5 – $15.00 to sell items from their ‘car boot’ is less effort and less labour intensive than organising a fete.

car boot sale.jpg

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Mairi Neil (1992)

For a glimpse of our consumer society
The values some people uphold
Visit the local school’s Car Boot Sale –
And observe what’s bought and sold.

The secondhand clothes and bed linen
Some charities used to receive
Preloved stuffed toys and old hats
Perhaps all harbour nasty disease…

“Spoil Yourself” a sign above decrepit shoes
Makes you wonder at the vendor’s sanity
But no trace of humour marks his face
As he stands proudly beside the inanity!

The dealers arrive when stalls are setting-up
They rummage and poke to find treasure
Greedily grasping valuable items they spy
With their experience of commercial measure.

Mums wander around, children in tow
Conscious of a near-empty purse
Offspring demand toys, or food to eat
Whingeing children every parent’s curse.

Crafty folk proudly arrange their goods
Aware their creativity is on display
But people are hunting for bargains
Not rewarding talented work today.

A spectre-like man haunts every stall
Mr Black Moustache with checkered shirt
Tussled curly hair frames his bald patch,
Trousers reveal shoes caked with dirt.

He fills a black bag with various loot
Purchased at haggled, rock-bottom prices
Videos, cutlery, BBQ tools, chipped Esky,
Jaded jacket; a contraption for making ices!
Disappearing like steam to offload booty
Perhaps to a nearby parked car…
Returning to fossick and buy a sun lamp,
Then quibble earnestly for a pottery jar.

Suddenly, it’s anything on wheels
That catches his discerning eye –
Collapsible cot, battered suitcase,
Ironing board, old heater dragged with a tie!

Mr Checked Shirt returns again and again
Flush with an endless supply of cash
No doubt he’ll sell his purchases
Transformed treasure out of trash.

Sizzling sausages tantalise customers,
And baked potatoes scent the air
Joining musty clothes, potting mix
Perfumed spices strange and rare.

The sun drifts behind spreading cloud
The breeze from sea promises a gale
Startled stall holders little time to pack –
The fickle fortunes of a Car Boot Sale!

discarded vacuum.jpg

Do you like collecting things? Are you ever surprised by the things people pick up, collect, keep?

The annual hard rubbish collection for our area of Kingston was picked up on Tuesday, the regular rubbish collection day.

People were asked not to put items on the nature strip until October 9th, however, unsightly piles of discarded stuff gathered for weeks.

The early piles rummaged through with people taking items deemed useful.

I came across a group of tradies excited over a bunch of toy guns they’d ‘rescued’, exclaiming what good condition the collection of twenty or more was in as they divided the booty up.

plastic gun

It was the day after the horrific Las Vegas rampage and they looked sheepish when I suggested maybe the household had a rethink of the appropriateness of giving children replicas of sub-machine guns, revolvers, rifles et al.

Unfortunately, some scavengers often scatter piles leaving nature strips to resemble the aftermath of the hurricanes in recent news broadcasts.

pile of rubbish chelsea

The comforts of modern society are many but there are drawbacks aplenty

How sparingly can we live?  True minimalism, a balancing act with everyone having a different idea of what are bare essentials. 

What possessions can we reduce that will not affect the basic functionality of our lives?

It never ceases to amaze me what people throw away – wooden furniture whose only crime is being unfashionable or needing a coat of varnish or paint.

Solid sofas that could be refurbished, ubiquitous plastic toys needing a soak in hot soapy water to make almost new, and lots of small items easily disposed of via the bins provided for weekly garbage collection.

A walk around the streets at this time shows we really are a society in love with consuming. Maybe we can lose that reluctance to reduce as well as adopting reuse, recycle and repurpose.

Some would rather buy new and buy more, sucked in by the constant bombardment of advertising, lured by the bargain, and the ‘must have’ latest gear, technology, clothes, design – whatever.

Yet a quick survey of my Life Story Class and the students 

  • have a worm farm on an apartment verandah
  • wear hand-me-downs or op shop bargains
  • grow own vegetables, compost and keep chooks
  • make and repair own clothes
  • refashion, repair and repurpose clothes and accessories
  • buy organic when possible,
  • bake bread and cakes,
  • bottle fruit and make jam
  • recycle furniture,
  • take own shopping bags
  • have already downsized
  • nurture trees and plants
  • have discovered secondhand bargains

 

We may be grey-haired but in our hearts we are green!

Apparently, there is a law (although I’ve yet to hear it has been enforced) carrying a fine for taking stuff from the nature strips because piles of ‘hard rubbish’ are council property.

Others suggest councils hope scavengers will collect as much as they can leaving less for contractors to do because the cost of discarding rubbish is high.

The Council sends out a leaflet with a list of items not to be dumped – old paint and chemicals should be taken to a special recycling depot. Old fencing and building rubble are also not allowed. Yet walk around the streets and it’s as if community literacy is non-existent.

Kingston Council even has a place for old computers, televisions and other bits and pieces of technology. A quick check online shows they are not alone  – many councils and other organisations want you to recycle.

I’m glad of the hard rubbish service, especially the opportunity to be rid of white goods and mattresses – and there are always plenty of those discarded.

The safety message of removing doors from fridges and freezers still stipulated to avoid tragedy, whereby a child locks themselves inside an abandoned fridge and the interior magnetic release is broken, or absent.

Although, not many children play in the streets nowadays or have the unfettered freedom I had in childhood.

In this world of readily available toys,  a mountain of abandoned stuff is not an opportunity to explore and play make-believe games – they leave that to adults!

Council Hard Rubbish Collection 2017
Mairi Neil

Utes circling like crows,
four wheel drives and cars with trailers
dedicated kerb-crawlers…
people out walking, slow to a stroll, stop.
A hungry flock pick over the carrion.
The annual hard rubbish collection
reveals scroungers and scavengers,
is anyone immune?
Under the guise of repurposing,
and reusing, even recycling
we rummage and speculate about
the lives of others – frugality, luxury, stupidity, serendipity…
Hoping in their discarded trash,
we find a treasure!

I found various writing prompts on the subject so be inspired:

  1. Sit down in your character’s office or bedroom. Glance in the wastebasket. What’s inside? A photograph? An orange rind? A half empty bottle of whiskey? What we throw away can reveal surprising things about us. Write flash fiction describing the contents of a character’s rubbish bin and why it’s important!
  2. Discuss and write about bargain-hunting.
  3. Did rampant consumerism receive a shot in the arm with the Internet (eBay, websites like Gumtree) or does it encourage more reusing and recycling? Do you remember the days of ads in the local paper, The Trading Post, garage sales, car boot sales and Swap Meets?
  4. Do you donate everything to the Salvos or give to needy friends and family? Have you noticed a change in attitude by charity organisations?
  5. Are you ‘green’? What steps have you taken to live a sustainable lifestyle or do you think the human contribution to climate change is tosh? sculpture in lake.jpg