Walking, Writing – Is there a Plan? Hello, 2019!

flame tree mentone.jpg

On a walk with my dearest friend, Lesley, we paused by a beautiful Illawarra Flame Tree to listen to rosellas, ravens and wattlebirds in conversation – perhaps squabbling over the best branch or sharing neighbourhood gossip birds enjoy.

It was a fitting end to 2018 – especially since the New Year has begun with an ‘unprecedented’ heatwave right across the continent.

A visual metaphor perhaps, a warning about global warming?

nz319.jpg
LabInitio NZ cartoon

However, being a glass-half-full person, I’d rather accept the experience as an amazing gift from Mother Nature and a reminder there is countless beauty in gardens around the neighbourhood, and in the wild, for all of us to appreciate and share.

The glorious flaming tree emphasised how important the neighbourhood and nature is to me.

The number of wonderful species of plants and animals we have already lost is a worry especially when the bumblebee was added last year to the ever-growing list of endangered species overseas such as the grizzly bear, the northern spotted owl, the grey wolf, and nearly 1 in 3 of our unique Australian mammals are at risk  – mainly through habitat destruction.

But with a Federal Election coming up and climate change always in the news I am full of hope there are people, like myself who value and will work towards changing attitudes and our current Federal Government.

There is only one Earth to be respected, nurtured and shared, not just dug up, mined, fished, dredged, drilled and concreted over.

Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior docked in Melbourne in November to remind us there is a community of people who care and are prepared to act.

… as a writer, I am dependent on scientific inquiry for information. If I am going to write coherently – about polar bears, for example – I am dependent upon the scientists who work with polar bears for solid information of a certain sort. And yet I am troubled by this because of the way we approach animals as scientists.

Barry Lopez, from a discussion with Edward O Wilson on ‘Ecology and The Human Imagination,’ University of Utah, February 1, 1998.

Let’s celebrate the natural world

We have much to learn from the animal and natural world.

Birds are constantly adapting to changed circumstances, adversity and catastrophe. Recently, I’ve been entertained by the songs of a butcher bird that decided it likes my garden. I noticed the baby bird a few months ago so move over magpies and wattlebirds.

I am one of the few houses in Albert Street that still has a reasonable number of trees as apartment blocks and townhouses mushroom around me. A self-confessed dendrophile I will be planting more trees this year and spending time cultivating the garden with flowers and vegetables. (Even if the possums ate my broccoli and are munching their way through the top of the five photinias protecting the back fence.)

Indulging the senses

There are lots of inspirational ideas from walking around the suburbs – a mixture of indigenous, imported, practical and ornamental trees and plants attract a variety of birds, butterflies and insects.

Lesley and I have already made a pact to share more cuttings and encourage each other regarding our gardens. We are both transitioning to retirement, so my writing will indubitably reflect either success or failure!

I’ll take a leaf out of Thoreau’s practice of walking, observing, pondering and writing…

… we begin to see the whole man as we follow the crowded, highly charged, and rapidly evolving inner life that accompanies the busy outer life and reveals the thoughts behind the eyes of the familiar photographs.

Robert D Richardson Jr: Henry David Thoreau: A Life of The Mind.

Will I be inspired to be more creative and productive and take the advice I’ve meted out to students over the years? Thoreau mined his journal jottings and got essays and books out of his copious notes – not sure I’ll be so talented…

As a person who likes to ‘join the dots’ I value connectedness when memories spring to mind as I walk or travel by public transport. I have a pile of notebooks to be typed up and documents already on the computer to finish or add to and way too many photographs. (My oldest daughter banned me from ever opening an Instagram account!)

bless garden sign.jpg

Will 2019 be the year I use time wisely or perhaps discover a niche other than writing and teaching?

Do I write up and polish, start afresh, a bit of both or ‘now for something completely different’?

Maybe just luxuriate in reading and gardening…

my garden early spring.jpg

Tales of Our Lives
Mairi Neil

If you want to record your stories
consider what and ponder why –
list all the events to be remembered
and ask, ‘Who for?’

Is that a sigh?

If wondering ‘who’ don’t worry
there’s joy in a manuscript for one
reflecting on life and lessons learned
gives satisfaction when writing done!

Do we need to record our stories?
Some question the wisdom of revisiting years
but most of us have lived experiences
to prompt laughter as well as tears.

Ordinary people live extraordinary lives
an observation you often hear said –
so concentrate on the who and what
think how your stories will be read.

Will you write with pen and ink –
forming copperplated words
or tap myriad computer keys
that easily erase the absurd?

You may even take recording
to another level of authenticity,
digital voice and video programs
reproducing ‘you’ with simplicity.

And if you do go digital –
recording voice and visuals – remember
mobile phones, Youtube, Facebook
retain the serious and the trivial…

Stories have entertained us
from the beginning of humankind
witness Stone Age drawings and
precious artefacts archaeologists find.

Storytelling fills a need and
links the present to the past
by exploring our human story –
we ‘nail our colours to the mast’!

magpie on clothesline.jpg

No More Travelling To Bentleigh

It will be strange not going to class Wednesday mornings and catching up with the students in my Life Stories & Legacies class.

As I considered the final anthology, I looked around the room and realised some of the students had journeyed with me for the five years the course has been running. The women scribbling in their notebooks and tapping an iPad now friends, not students. All are amazing writers whose authentic prose and poems from the heart, were written from a depth of experience spanning decades. Edna the oldest will be turning ninety in a couple of months and Anat, the youngest in her thirties.

I watched them grow in confidence as writers, bond and trust each other, learning to be true to themselves and their stories. They shared personal and family secrets, opinions (not always politically correct), anecdotes, and many entertaining and heartbreaking tales of life’s sorrows and joys.

The class established for people who wanted to leave a written legacy. The questions each one had to answer:

  • Who am I writing for?
  • What information do I think they need to know?
  • More importantly, what do I want them to know?
  • What will they remember about me?

anthologies 2014-18.jpg

I published 8 class anthologies over the years and if the students finished a semester or year they contributed work. The students who shared their stories 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018:

  • Melissa Quigley
  • Jan Wiburd
  • Annie Crane
  • Edna Gaffney
  • Nora Boghikian
  • Anat Bigos
  • Helen Thomas
  • Donna Hellier
  • Mary Robinson
  • Suzanne Dillon

Some of the students were childless but have dear friends and family to think about or aimed to publish their life stories for the general public.

No students in the final class had a partner – they either never married, were divorced, or widowed. Therefore our stories had a definite female, some may say feminist, perspective.

I am constantly awed at the resilience and determination displayed when journeys are shared – the overcoming or ongoing struggle with illness, disease, disability; the grief and mourning for loved ones touches us all, as well as the additional losses – of country, of culture, of employment, of partners, of children, of health, of pets, of self-esteem… the list can go on.

Writing is appreciating and trying to explain/understand the human condition. Yet a strong aspect of writing classes has always been laughter – not only do we love to laugh with each other but at ourselves.

Another aspect has been the delicious morning teas and birthday celebrations – on Wednesday mornings, Anat’s carer, Jill an integral part of our class family and birthday cake maker extraordinaire!

The tapestry of my life has been so much richer because of Wednesday mornings and although looking to weave new threads, or even have a rest from weaving, I’m going to miss Life Stories & Legacies where I was truly blessed with a wonderful class.

The poems and stories of all past students are important to me and when I read their words I hear their voices, imagine them in class… memories I value.

I have a bookshelf of class anthologies from Sandy Beach, Mordialloc, Bentleigh and Chelsea and reading the poems and stories I can recall the writers:

class anthologies.jpg

Not Everyone is A Digital Native

We are in the digital age and the demands of readers have changed – there are websites, blogs, e-books, podcasts, audiobooks – stories experienced on a variety of devices with different screens and parameters.

If writers want to reach a variety of readers methods must change.

How to adapt is a  personal choice, and for many people, the traditional printed paper is still what they want to read and how they want to be published.

I found most of the students coming to my classes were not digital natives and preferred to keep learning the craft of writing and learning computer skills separate. Some struggled with basic formatting, some were not on email, many had ‘hunt and peck’ keyboard skills.

Fortunately, all were happy to be lifelong learners and even if it was a struggle they’d attend computer classes too, which most community houses or libraries now provide. Coping with a wide range of skills, or lack of skills a fact of life if teaching in community houses and it’s important not to leave anyone behind.

However, whether you write with pen and paper or prefer to tap your laptop or iPad you benefit from regular writing. Writing classes or workshops can be a first step to discovering not only what you want to write while learning the tools of the craft, but also how you want to be published.

Writing helps you reflect on your life and changes you’re making. … Writing regularly makes you better at writing. And writing is a powerful skill to be good at in our digital age. Writing for an audience (even if the audience is just one person) helps you to think from the perspective of the audience.

Leo Babauto

More importantly, writing classes can keep you motivated.  Writing courses proliferate online as well as bricks and mortar but for convenience and cost, community houses are hard to beat. They throw in ambience, friendship, sharing of stories and ideas, and a lot of love and caring so I’m glad the classes are continuing at Bentleigh with other teachers.

Number Nine Godfrey Street

Mairi Neil

The garden a delight from someone’s green fingers
a profusion of pastel colours glistening
while sunshine smiles and fickle autumn spits rain
I watch visitors stream inside the nondescript house
their footsteps echoing on shaded verandah
walkers scrape and stroller wheels squeak
a magpie trills in dinner-suited elegance,
preening glossy feathers and strutting the footpath
as if ushering passersby to enter stage right ––
the Isadora scarf or Hitchcock cigar missing.

A young woman, nursing a toddler on her hip,
grins a welcome to the elderly gent
clutching a chessboard and secret moves
their families farewelled to independence,
seniors care for themselves in exercise classes
small talk in craft sessions produces big results
delightful aromas drift from the kitchen ––
homemade pumpkin soup, sweet chocolate cookies,
spicy curries – recipes shared with curiosity and love
sauced with tales from distant lands.

Oil paintings and pastel drawings, the fruit
of nurtured local artists decorate the walls
this house celebrates learning, laughter and leisure …
friendships bubble, overflow to the neighbourhood
no need to cruise the retail choices of Centre Road,
sup lonely cafe lattes amid chattering conversations
or sit mesmerised by mobile screens
a house in Godfrey Street plants seeds
and grows friendships, welcomes newcomers,
encourages indigenous and immigrant to bloom.

In the house singsong voices of children tinkle
while mellow murmurings of writers’ words
capture imagination, life experience, and wisdom.
pens scratch notepads as the sewing group
across the hall coax machines to whirr into life,
garments appear patterned by creativity
wordsmiths spin sentences for pleasure
every room thrums and hums as
people connect, care, and communicate
a commitment to lifelong learning

I accept the marching magpie’s invitation
submit to being ‘led up the garden path’
and follow a thirty-year trail to discover
like the vibrant blossoms in the garden
community and harmony flourishes
at Number Nine Godfrey Street, Bentleigh.

download.jpg

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

 

 

 

Walking the Neighbourhood – Friendship, Familiarity, Foolishness – Fun and Fitness a Bonus!

walking and happiness.jpg

I try and factor a routine walk every day, and feel lucky to have a walking buddy for the times when I’m not with one of my daughters and Aurora, our dog.

Walking helps keep me fit. I stay connected to what’s happening in the neighbourhood. As well as the comforting silence of companionship on our walks, there can be sharing of confidences, chat, and laughter.

Jillian is a writer too and puts up with my exclamations and snapping photos, also random commentary, and imaginative ramblings on everything from unusual-shaped trees,  abandoned furniture (it’s hard rubbish collection at the moment), unsightly redevelopment, gorgeous gardens (ain’t Spring wonderful), beautiful cloud formations, and politics (where do you start or finish?).

love is love sign albert street.jpg

Last year, I volunteered for a project at the Arts Centre, where ‘The Walking Neighbourhood’ brought adults and children together to look at the importance of walking to help understand your community and society through the eyes of children.

The world, beyond community and comfort zones, is often a sad place and it takes an effort not to absorb the doom and gloom, particularly enormous tragedies like the recent shootings in Las Vegas, the massive hurricanes, earthquakes and threatened volcano eruptions, and neverending wars.

The 24-hour news cycle and the portability and pervasiveness of social media constant reminders that make switching off difficult.

But for sanity’s sake, switch off we must, and walking the neighbourhood does it for me. It’s my equivalent of meditation, helps free the mind, and encourages staying connected to a place I love, even if I do see changes that I don’t like…

I appreciate the beauty, bump into friends and acquaintances and get ideas for writing.

  • Note to self, finish that mystery novel set on Mordi Creek!
  • Thank you, Ellie, my past student who ran towards me smiling and with open arms when I met her a couple of days ago.
  • How I love the cacophony of twittering birds each night settling to nest in the palm trees lining Main Street – a signature sound of Mordialloc!

modi creek - boat

The last few days we’ve walked down to the foreshore and along by Mordialloc Creek and experienced Melbourne’s famous ‘four seasons in a day’ – every day!

When I walk, I often automatically step over the cracks in the pavement, shortening or lengthening my stride, sometimes giving a little hop.

Why?

It’s a throwback to childhood and proof of how a combination of words, ideas and a catchy tune is effective and retained by reader, viewer or listener – ‘the audience’.

I remember following the leader or pretending to play hopscotch (called ‘beds’ in Scotland) and chanting, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” Perhaps adding other rhymes like, “Step on a line, break your mother’s spine.”

(oh yes, definitely, gender stereotyping and/or misogyny at work in the 50s!) In fact, if you want to read an academic explanation of the rhyme, here is a link! 

However, it may still require you to think for yourself, do your own research and dig deeper! Maybe even question this interpretation. For many childhood rhymes, there is a host of meanings or historical reasons put forward, most still subject to debate.

The most logical for this one is that in the days of cobblestones and poorly made roads you’d get covered in mud or rubbish if you weren’t careful where you walked. This gave mothers extra washing. 

In the days of hand washing or communal laundry facilities, bending over a washing tub or river could certainly be back-breaking work. The rhyme a strong commonsense message for children not to trip and create extra dirty clothes for mothers.

Or maybe avoiding stepping on the cracks, was just another superstition like avoiding walking under a ladder. Superstition and Education, a book published in 1905 suggests stepping on a crack brings bad luck or missing out on a nice surprise at home – or even more disconcerting as superstitions go,  returning home to a nasty surprise.

After A.A. Milne published his poem “Lines and Squares,” kids decided you’d be chased by bears if you stepped on a crack, but like all childish chants, I doubt anyone in the UK ever took it seriously… 

… yet, some days I still avoid the cracks and find the rhyme from childhood is playing in a loop. Jillian admitted, she too has the occasional urge to play ‘don’t step on the cracks’ and feels a sense of achievement if she makes her destination unscathed!

albert street.jpg

Don’t Step On The Cracks
Mairi Neil

Don’t step on the cracks
when you walk along,
Don’t step on the cracks,
I hear my childhood song…

Bad luck will come and make you feel sad,
If you step on the cracks, the Devil’ll be glad!

He’ll steal your happiness
everything will go wrong,
Don’t step on the cracks
insists the childish song…

Not stepping on the cracks silly, I know
but my childhood memory still tells me so!

lines and squares.jpg

Some days there’s a lot happening – and not all of it is cause for celebration…!

This morning I woke to the whine of a chainsaw – again – and wondered which block was being cleared for redevelopment.

Which house liveable yesterday is now transformed into a building site? I didn’t have far to walk – just around the corner into Powlett Street.

This house, probably only 20 years old. It had a wonderful garden mixture of trees, shrubs and flowers, black wrought iron fence, tiled verandah, oak doors, a gem in the street …

… reduced to rubble; to be replaced by nondescript townhouses – as many as the developer can squeeze on the corner block.

Empty for some time, it was sad to see windows deliberately smashed, roof tiles heaved into shattered lumps and doors and garden trashed – to ensure I suppose that squatters didn’t move in, or perish the thought scavengers may try to salvage some of the tiles, bricks and wooden frames.

Apparently, nowadays it costs more to recycle and reuse – bash and trash the norm.

John and I renovated our old Edwardian house with recycled and secondhand materials because that was all we could afford. Our journey valuable (and fun), teaching us to be innovative, imaginative, and thrifty. We upskilled and adapted plans to save money, lived within our means, and all the time considered the character of our home and respected our neighbours.

renovating important

On another of my walks, I met a friend in nearby Eurythmic Street. After being retrenched from her job, she and her almost-retired husband decided to ‘cash in’ on the high city house prices and move to the country.

She was astounded when the buyer said he proposed to develop her weatherboard home and ‘average’ sized block and build 7 double-storey townhouses!

Melbourne is growing and the increasing population need somewhere to live, but some suburbs (including Mordialloc) are bearing the brunt of this growth because we live in an area controlled by a council too pro-development, or other councils are refusing to play their part in the State Government’s overall plan for Melbourne.

In my opinion, the City of Kingston, in the last few years has let the residents down as certain councillors cared for their own interests or political affiliations rather than the wellbeing of the residents.

For too many years we’ve had to fight for height restrictions, a limit on backyard density – even struggled to maintain the Green Wedge and some local parks.

When John and I arrived here in 1984, the first public meeting we attended was to stop the rezoning of our street to allow 4-storey development – conflicted visions about what residents and authorities want has been around a long time!

After that meeting, the Council was forced to accept a 2-storey limit, but with various changes of government at state and local level, the area is now earmarked for high-density development.

We are within what is classed as ‘an activity node’! And 3 or 4 storeys are probably not out of the question depending on the overall height.

As evidenced by some of the ugly new buildings, the loss of heritage ‘old Mordialloc’ and the craftsmanship and quality materials of bygone days, has led to streets crowded with traffic.

We could definitely do with a planning department with a better long-term vision regarding aesthetics and quality of life for residents.

 

The big changes occurring at the other end of Albert Street have taken many people by surprise. A string of 3-storey units being built alongside the railway line where a timber yard and other light industrial sites used to be is turning out to be a huge development.

This involves the construction of huge concrete baffle walls, but I doubt that will stop the noise or vibration from the goods trains that ply the line to Hastings. The concrete walls are monstrous and ugly and can be seen from the pier as you look up from Mordialloc Creek.

Spot the irony:

The developer’s sign reads A Celebration of Mordialloc ” a suburb rich in history“!

albert and bear street 1

Do we laugh or cry at the absurdity?

A lot of Mordialloc’s history is disappearing along with houses and traditional backyard with Hill’s Hoist. Our links to horse-breeding and racing reduced to a statue and occasional sign and many don’t know about the market gardens and our fast disappearing arable land.

images-1.jpg

Let’s hope the quality of life people expect when they move bayside doesn’t disappear too.

  • Where are all the cars going to park?
  • How long are people prepared to wait at intersections?
  • Are we ready to adjust to the increased noise levels?

I discovered this old poem I wrote when I first started Readings By The Bay on Sunday afternoons.

The Day Of The Trees (1995)
Mairi Neil

I read about trees today,
they made headlines in the newspaper.
Rainforest areas in South America
are being cleared at the rate of
a football field a minute.

I heard about trees today,
they made the news on the radio.
Greenies stopped loggers
destroying unique species of possum
in our native forest in Gippsland

I discussed trees today with a neighbour,
they made the nightly news on television.
The Premier ordered hundreds of trees
to be chopped and cleared to make way
for a Grand Prix at Albert Park.

Trees are even in the local news.
Council workers trim the trees
along the nature strips in nearby streets.
The electricity wires must be protected
No Bushfires for Victoria!

I hear the scream of dying trees,
as cruel chainsaw teeth bite deep.
I close my eyes, but can’t close my ears.
Persistent wailing and spluttering,
grumbling, howling and whining.

The sap seeps slowly at first,
oozes thicker, spurting and sticky
covering the wicked teeth
but failing to clog and stop
the cuts slicing deeper into flesh.

Trees made the news today,
but many people didn’t notice.
These givers of life, providers of shelter,
courageous ancient sentinels
abused, and destroyed once again.

Trees grow towards the sun
while roots remain firmly planted.
An example to us all –
reach for the sky but remain
grounded. Attached to this earth.

We ignore their example and
ultimately it will be our loss.
Taken for granted, more than a news item
trees should be appreciated and valued
We can reach for the sky together.

I wake up each morning and look across the road and can see and hear the magpies and noisy miners in conversation planning their day in the giant gum trees. Depending on the season, they might be joined by wattlebirds and lorikeets or a couple of vocal r avens.

In the evening possums hitch a ride on the electricity wires and visit me.

Imagine the shock when after workers for the Level Crossing Removal Authority trimmed the trees a few days ago, private tree loppers returned today and systematically removed the remainder of the majestic gums from the garden of the house adjacent to the railway line!

We need improved public transport and I’m glad level crossings are being removed. I have no objection to Sky Rail, but the price paid can still be upsetting. Our actions impact on others – sometimes people we don’t even know!

 

By the end of the afternoon, as I walked out to meet Jillian, the trees were gone.

trees gone

I hope most of the wonderful trees I see on my walk will remain to delight for years to come – not only for me, but for the birds, and other creatures that rely on them.

I intend to enjoy and respect their presence, and continue to record their changing shape and seasonal finery.

Thank goodness I have the foreshore and over the years, we have resisted two attempts from Windows by The Bay restaurant to expand.  It is sad that vigilance is necessary. The battle over sacrificing foreshore vegetation to widen Beach Road a running sore that polarised residents and no doubt there will be other conflicts as people’s visions differ of what makes a liveable and sustainable environment.

I hope to remain healthy enough to enjoy my walks and continue to be inspired and know despite changes, I am blessed to live here. This photograph, looking back from Parkdale towards Mordialloc taken ten years ago.

The sea a constant – wild and unpredictable, calming and healing – who knows what the next wave will bring ashore?

Rebirth.jpg

Memories Enriched By Love

pictures of mum and me me and mj.jpg

I can’t believe it is seven years since Mum passed away, and as usual, on anniversaries of a loved one’s death or other special occasion, thoughts drift to the past.

I love my Life Stories & Legacies class at Godfrey Street, Bentleigh because each week I can conjure a memory and reflection as well as record family stories and history: growing up, studying, working, having my own children, and all the incidents, major and minor events,  coincidences,  and occurrences that weave to make the rich tapestry of our life.

This morning, my older sister sent me a message to say ‘thinking of us all today’ and as messages flew back and forth, we shared memories of Mum and her legacy – so different for each of her six children and fourteen grandchildren.

No matter how old you are there can be something special about a mother’s love – here’s a memory I had one day on the train going to work.

Shelter From The Storm
Mairi Neil

Bruised clouds sweep the sky
a gloomy ominous pall.
I remember your voice
a thunderplump is on its way.’

Nearing sixty,
I wish to be six again
to feel comforting arms
gather me close.

Cushioned against your chest
my anxious heart
working overtime
Pit pat, pit pat, pit pat

Until attuned to your
gentle breathing, and steady
ba boom, ba boom,
ba boom.

To relax, as your hands
usually burdened with chores
keep me safe
in rhythmic caress.

mum and mairi.jpg

Last year, in class we talked about childhood games and memories of the parks and places where we’d play. Children haven’t really changed but childhood has and oldies like me notice the change – the way we parented and the way new generations parent.

We were certainly left to our own devices for more hours in a much less structured day!

trace of butterfly on window

Parks and Places to Play

My first nine years were spent in Greenock, Scotland. I can’t remember much of the first three years living at number 2 George Square, a tenement, in the centre of town, but the move further out to Braeside and starting school at Ravenscraig Primary, provides plenty of material and memories.

Despite the rustic name (brae means hill in Scots), there were no parks as such for us to play in. We spent a lot of time in back gardens (‘back greens’ as they were called) and playing games in the street. Traffic minimal in the 50s and early 60s with Dad being one of the few in the street to own a vehicle. He had a motorbike at first, then bought a Bradford van. We played on pavement and road rarely disturbed by cars. In those days it would be rare not to see children playing in the street.

images-1-2.jpg
Yours truly with ‘the big girls’ wearing mums’ shoes

Our games were rowdy affairs: hopscotch (called ‘beds’), skipping with lengths of rope salvaged from washing lines, football (soccer), rounders – often with homemade bats, and the exhausting body-bruising but fun British Bulldog and Relievers (an equally physical game).

We also roamed the hill opposite and the farmer’s fields at the bottom of the road. The housing scheme stretched on a steep hill. Our house at number 35 Davaar Road in the middle of the street’s curve. Davaar Road the topmost homes in the scheme. Across the road from us, behind the last row of grey Corporation houses, the hill climbed high to view or walk to Gourock and the River Clyde on the other side.

This brae devoid of tall trees, but spread with scrub, granite boulders, and heather. Enough natural flora to keep us entertained with games influenced by episodes of popular shows broadcast by the fledgling television industry: The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Robin Hood and his Merry Men (my favourite, Maid Marion), and whatever wonderful land Walt Disney invited us into when we wished upon a star on Sunday evenings.

Up the hill, I learned how to make daisy chains and to check who liked butter by waving buttercups under their chin and was shocked when a neighbour’s six-year-old asked if I wanted to see his ‘willie’. I shared Saturday night baths with three brothers, so couldn’t see the point!

A memorable part of the long summer holidays we spent collecting twigs, branches and anything that would burn in preparation for bonfire night in November. We never forgot Guy Fawkes or the rhyme, ‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot!’

The hills also experienced children roaming in hordes, buckets and jam jars in hand, seeking blackberries when in season. The taste of Mum’s delicious bramble jam a great incentive to risk getting scratched and clothes torn picking the hard-to-reach ones, which always seemed the fattest and juiciest.

Blackberries.JPG

At the bottom of the street spread the farmer’s fields, where we weren’t supposed to go. His bull known to be a danger to life and limb. Of course, we incorporated a deliberate dare in some of our games.

There must be a guardian angel for stupid children.

The other reason the fields were off-limits was because the Tinkers (or Gypsies but now correctly referred to as Travellers) used to camp there.  Mum and Dad didn’t practise overt bigotry or prejudice against Travellers like some people. Mum, in fact, helped them whenever she could: letting them do mending and other odd jobs, and buying some of the goods they hawked (like wooden clothes pegs).

She often repeated a story of the ‘Gypsy Woman’ who knocked on the door when she was a little girl in Belfast. Her mother bought clothes pegs but also gave extra money and food. In return, for the kindness, the woman offered to tell her fortune but being a devout Christian Grandmother declined. Instead, the old  woman took Mum’s hand and prophesied that she would travel across the sea, not once but twice, and the last journey would be far away across a large ocean. Mum would also bear seven children.

images-4-3
The surviving six of us with Mum 1961

 

You cross The Irish Sea to get to Scotland, so all of us knew the first part of the prediction was right! (It wasn’t until much later that we found out Mum gave birth to seven children and my older sister’s identical twin died soon after birth. Of course, the largest ocean was the journey to Australia by ship when we migrated.)

Mum also believed you don’t go ‘looking for trouble,’ stranger danger not indoctrinated like modern times and we were not made overly fearful, but we were warned to be careful and obey the limitations placed on us, ‘no visiting the Tinker’s camp.’

Again, rules we chose to ignore!

Unfortunately, as a consequence, for years a vivid nightmare recurred, of being terrified and running in fear of my life, yet unable to ask for comfort because I played in the forbidden fields.

Sometimes we live to regret not obeying rules!

I must have been seven years old and had wandered away from the usual gang of playmates, including my older brothers and sister. Always inquisitive, I decided to explore the fields at the bottom of the road. I discovered the remnants of an army camp – underground bunkers abandoned at the end of WW2 and no doubt used by the Travellers. Perhaps I’d heard the more adventurous boys talk about it – I can’t really remember. I do remember spending most of my childhood playing with my two older brothers and their friends because we were all so close in age – only 13 months separated me from George and 17 months separated him from Iain.

In the campsite, there were the usual discarded items: an old army boot, rusted tins, broken furniture, and piles of accumulated recent rubbish, including the ubiquitous empty whisky and beer bottles. Exciting finds for a curious child.

this very similar to the camp.jpg
An abandoned camp similar to the one I remember

 

I never heard or noticed a movement from a bundle of dirty, grey blankets.

Without warning, an unkempt man reeking of alcohol made a grab for me. I ran for my life and didn’t stop until I was home, safe behind the gate. Davaar Road was steep but my little legs pounded the pavement without a pause.

The drunk maybe didn’t mean any harm, my presence probably surprised him as much as he startled me. I vaguely remember him murmuring about a match. Perhaps he woke up craving a cigarette – the two addictions of nicotine and alcohol often go together. All I remember is knicker-wetting terror; the sound of panting breath and thudding heart in my ears.

The proverbial wild horses would not pull me into the farmer’s fields! I didn’t care if I was accused of being a scaredy-cat because I was after that encounter. The smell and fear of the abandoned army camp forever part of my nightmares.

A more pleasant memory is playing near the secret lake. We’d walk along the Aileymill Road, a country trail linking the new housing scheme with isolated cottages on the way to Inverkip and Skelmorlie, tiny seaside towns further down the coast.

The hedgerows home to Willow Tits and Warblers singing their delightful ditties, the Golden Ringed dragonfly patrolling and the final goodbyes of the Swallows and Cuckoos before they left for Africa.

Cotton Grass swayed in the breeze and the heather’s vibrant colours bright amongst scented summer foliage not found in our home gardens with their neat rows of dahlias and roses. The hedges camouflage for lizards and beetles darting at our feet and the hilarious attempts of the boys to capture them.

We fished for tadpoles, and hunted frogs and toads, in our secret lake. Logs and stones upturned along damp paths. Bumblebees buzzing and Blue Bottles humming and maybe a hare or deer spotted, fleeing our noisy play. Sojourns to the secret lake a highlight of the long summer holidays as we ventured further afield than allowed.

I revisited Braeside in the 70s and like everything else seen through adult eyes, the secret lake had shrunk. More a puddle really, just as the farmer’s fields seemed a small tract of land with plenty of cowpats, but not a bull in sight!

However, the hillside and view to Gourock was still a scenic wonderland and looking across the sparkling River Clyde revived memories of delightful Sunday School picnics at Kilcreggan and trips ‘doon the water’ to Millport and Dunoon. Children’s laughter still echoed and with a deep breath and strong imagination I could smell Mum’s blackberry jam.

Youth And Reaching For The Stars

youth-review.jpg

I love this still from Youth; it’s a great metaphor – are we all in cages waiting for the inevitability of death? Are we there from choice?  Do we talk ourselves into being ‘old’? What will it feel like to take flight, defy assumptions?

When you see the movie, you’ll understand the significance of this scene.

When I was invited by StudioCanal to the Premiere of Youth at the Classic Cinema, Elsternwick, I didn’t have to think twice about accepting because Sir Michael Caine was one of the main characters. I can’t say I’ve seen every film he’s ever been in, but I’ve seen many, and he rarely disappoints.

Youth is billed as a comedy/drama, written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, and it has won several awards already in Europe, including the trifecta of Best Director, Best Actor (Caine) and Best film!

The storyline revolves around two elderly friends(70s/80s) on vacation in an elegant hotel/health resort at the foot of the Swiss Alps. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) are linked since adolescence, but also as in-laws – Mick’s son married Fred’s daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz), but at the beginning of the film we learn that marriage has broken down.

Fractured relationships and how you cope with them, a major theme of the film.

images-5.jpeg

Fred, a famous composer/conductor, is retired from the music world. Mick, a well-known film director, is working on his last testament, a final masterpiece and is surrounded by a bevy of young screenwriters thrilled to be near and to learn from ‘the master’.

There is laugh aloud moments, and several others when quiet chuckles ripple through the cinema. The movie is shot in the eastern part of the Swiss Alps; the magnificent mountainous scenery used to good effect with excellent camera work.

I loved a delightful scene with Fred in a field observing the rhythm and musicality of nature. He begins to conduct the cud-chewing cows, Swiss cowbells tinkle, there’s a rush of a flock of birds taking flight… the music throughout the film another delight.

David Lang’s score integral to the film, especially the emotional development of Englishman, Fred, who refuses a request from Queen Elizabeth II, to perform his most famous piece, Simple Songs. He’s told; it is the only music Prince Phillip listens to, and the Queen’s emissary is persistent and insistent that Royalty does not take no for an answer.

However, Fred wrote the piece for his wife who we discover has senile dementia and is in care. He hasn’t visited her for ten years but is determined he will not conduct or have anyone else conduct another diva singing the piece.

Fred’s memories haunt him. His past behaviour is a source of conflict with his daughter who accuses him of neglecting his wife and family. Fred finally admits, ‘You were right. Music is all I understand…’

The difficulties yet the importance of communication reinforced nicely in a scene where a young masseuse at the resort massages Fred. Few words are spoken, and she mentions the power of touch and what you can say without words. Fred understands.

Multifaceted human beings are another constant with scenes of the development of various characters (including the young masseuse) needing no words. I enjoyed the visual feast of many of the scenes and how the notable cameos and subtext were interspersed throughout the main story arc. (Watch out for Paul Dano, Maradona and Jane Fonda.)

The expository dialogue in a couple of major scenes, done I assume to reduce the film’s length, but no doubt some pedants in the industry will be quick to criticise. This is where I differ from screen purists. I just love the power of story, regardless of the method of execution and being a writer for text, not screen; I’m more forgiving.

Caine’s facial expressions, his body language and the delivery of some pithy lines like ‘intellectuals have no taste’ are brilliant. We empathise with the inner turmoil of a man coming to terms with ageing, dealing with the present while reflecting on the past, contemplating the meaning of life and wondering how, or if, to make amends. He mentions several times that he’s been judged ‘apathetic’.

Death is inevitable but the quality of life is important, and it is not about trying to reclaim an idealistic ‘youth’. A quote by one of my favourite poets, Rabbie Burns,  springs to mind ‘nae man can tether time or tide…’ 

There are several threads of humour and running gags in the film. One is the daily conversation Fred and Mick have about whether they’ve managed to pee and how much. (It will raise a smile for all of us oldies obsessed with signs of deteriorating health!) The other is a Buddhist monk (Dorji Wangchuk) meditating each day trying to levitate. (For all of us still reaching for the stars and determined never to give up!)

If you’re wanting an escapist entertainment experience like the latest Star Wars release, Youth is not for you. Apart from the fact the films are vastly different genres, Youth has few special effects. You have to pay attention to each character to discover their story arc; there is no assumption of backstory knowledge like the huge Star Wars fan base.

In Youth, there are scenes where nobody speaks nor appear to be doing much yet another layer of intrigue is added to an engrossing story. One poignant mini story that had my writer’s imagination working overtime is the young escort taken to the resort by her mother.

STARWARSWEB2-articleLarge.jpg
Harrison Ford in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For me, there are similarities with Star Wars: The Force Awakens – and not just because that movie has another of my favourite actors, Harrison Ford. In both movies wit, humour and dialogue are delivered with panache, and you’ve been entertained. What going to the movies is all about, first and foremost.

I went to see the latest Star Wars release with my daughters at 12.20am and the sleep deprivation was worth it. I loved the buzz inside the cinema complex and the enthusiasm of the audience that spanned several generations. So many had turned up in costumes.

None of the seductive sedation of Youth at the end of The Force Awakens as the audience chattered with energetic excitement reliving scenes, discussing minute details. Moviegoers were deeply moved by Youth too, but we sat and pondered in silence.

The appreciation of what you have just watched on screen is something Youth and Star Wars: The Force Awakens have in common. They both share themes of fractured relationships, ageing, relationships with children, yearning for lost passion and celebration of talent and achievement.

I took along a younger movie buddy to Youth, and she loved it – the hour long tram and train trip home (Elsternwick’s on a different line to Frankston) certainly gave us plenty of time to mull over the 124 minutes of the film. I put Youth in the same category as Still Life, another movie seen this year that I loved.

We deconstructed the dialogue, the scenes, the characters, the music, the metaphors, the message – there is a lot packed into Youth, and the contemplative silence at the end was not just the reluctance of people to leave the extremely comfortable seats in The Classic.

See it when it is released and let me know what you think. I’m happy to hear about Star Wars too – a step out of my comfort zone (I did see the original movie, but don’t consider myself hooked). However, my daughters are educating me…

images-3.jpeg