Mercurial Melbourne

From not posting for 4 years, to posting daily, is me struggling to work out the possibilities of blogging – the old adage ‘practice makes perfect.’ I have now worked out how links work properly (thanks again Liz!), but still have some way to go to feel comfortable navigating the intricacies of the bells and whistles of this site.

However,  writing triggers are everywhere…

What a night we had in Melbourne! The city put on a storm like no other: heavy rain, thunder and lightning and even an earthquake in the Eastern suburbs. This photo is courtesy of the Victorian Storm Chasers fb site:

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Along with my daughter Anne, I spent a sleepless night calming our nine year old dog, Aurora,  so spooked she ran between our bedrooms panting. Not content to be comforted in the normal way she tried to burrow under the quilts and into the back of our necks. Plenty of midnight cups of tea and frustration at the Neil household last night, which even with the curtains drawn,  lit up like a shopping centre, as the sound and light show played outside.

Anne said she resorted to a Youtube video at 3.00am, playing music to calm puppies, after trawling the Internet in desperation, for tips on how to help dogs scared of storms! Anne has been away for 3 years travelling North America, living and working in Toronto, and checking out the UK, but now realises what hard work her gorgeous and temperamental dog can be on stormy nights. Aurora’s fear increases as she ages, poor love (not the endearment I was saying under my breath last night), so let’s hope mercurial Melbourne won’t deliver weather like that too often. We are all exhausted – even Aurora:

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The weather and various seasons are fabulous fodder for writing and when the girls were small I wrote a lot of poetry and stories to entertain them. It was a period of wonderful inspiration. Here are a few triggered by the girls’  reactions to storms.

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When I gave author talks, I confessed the girls were the reason why I wrote, and often the reason why I didn’t write – parents, especially mothers, understood!  I published two books of poetry: small talk poems for children, Employ Publishing Group, 1994, and more small talk poems for children, BEST(Inc.), 1995, paying  for some illustrations and using Anne’s kinder or school artwork for others. My husband, John always supportive and encouraging my passion with an amazing faith in my ability.

For a few years, I enjoyed being a productive writer, presenting workshops at local schools and libraries, plus running a holiday program at the local neighbourhood house, for children aged Prep to end of Primary, combining Creative Writing & Craft. The children made a puppet and wrote a poem or short play, they made a pirate’s map or treasure box and wrote poems and stories about pirates, or the sea, they made animal masks and used them for inspiration – many activities to adapt from wonderful craft leaflets the Playgroup Association produced or from the school library at Mordialloc Primary. Sometimes mothers would stay in the sessions and enjoyed releasing their inner creativity  as much as the children.

My daughters participated in all the workshops often as helpers and of course as cleaners. It is amazing how messy glitter, glue and scraps of paper and material can be. Anne and Mary Jane are both talented writers in their own creative fields (Media Arts & Stop Motion Animation and Film & Television).  I hope their memories of that period in our lives are as happy  as mine – a time before their father became ill and life took an unexpected turn…

Who hasn’t experienced plans falling through, being struck from left field, or the totally unexpected? The Neil family has big time! The Scottish poet Rabbie Burns, said it in a few words, quoted and paraphrased around the world:

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley’

My childhood was littered with proverbs, wise sayings, Bible texts and Celtic wisdom. I don’t think there was a day that passed without my wee Irish mum exhorting us that ‘if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well,’ or ‘a stitch in time saves nine,’ but most importantly ‘do unto others as you’d have them do unto you‘ and many similar pieces of advice!

Dad shared his wisdom and values too, but through anecdotes,  parables like The Good Samaritan, and more often recitations of the poems and songs of his favourite bard, Rabbie Burns. If he was alive he’d be thrilled that Scotland now has a poetry library, and one specifically for children – it may be a country with a small population, but it respects the written word and poetic form and finds the money to fund these public institutions.

Although Burns only had a short life (he died at 37), his  insight into humanity and human foibles, relationships, society and the natural world, produced a prolific creative output astounding for the eighteenth century. He certainly understood the human condition and produced hundreds of poems and songs in the Scottish dialect to challenge your emotions: you weep, you laugh, you yearn, you get fired up, you love!

Rabbie (sometimes referred to as the ploughman poet), spent a great deal of time working the land and observing the natural world. He respected animals, and exhorted  mankind  to understand and appreciate their contribution. They too deserved a protected place – even the humble mouse.

To a Mouse (On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785)

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty not,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murdering pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
An’ fellow-mortal!

Challenging the power of the Presbytery of the Church of Scotland and the way the law favoured the wealthy also a  favourite theme for Burns.

Epistle to a Young Friend. May, 1786

The fear o’ Hell’s a hangman’s whip,
To haud the wretch in order;
But where ye feel your Honour grip,
Let that ay be your border:
It’s slightest touches, instant pause—
Debar a’ side-pretences;
And resolutely keep its laws,
Uncaring consequences.

Burns often poked fun at pretentiousness and stressed the commonality between people regardless of their position in society. Here when sitting behind a posh lady in church he noticed the nits in her hair!

To a Louse, On Seeing one on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
And ev’n Devotion!

Auld Lang Syne is now a staple throughout the world to be sung on New Year’s Eve and romantics love his My Love is Like a Red Red Rose, but Burns revealed his burning desire for equality, tolerance and freedom for everyone in:

A Man’s a Man for a’ That

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

When I read Burns, or listen to others reciting his poems or singing his songs I’m transported into delightful memories of growing up in a warm, loving, noisy household with five siblings. I can hear Dad quoting Burns, or singing one of the many songs he loved, in his magnificent tenor voice .

I teach memoir and life stories and advise my students to put on their favourite music, or listen to a song that evokes a particular time in their lives – it’s amazing what thoughts will be triggered, how the words will flow.

I think I’ll go now and follow my own advice and leave worrying about sidebars, categories and working links for another time. The sun is shining, last night’s storm is a memory, Aurora is curled up asleep, and my garden gleams, reinvigorated by nature’s liquid gold.

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