The Real Pengilly

Lollipop hero

The Lollipop Man — or Crossing Guard, to you non-Australian types…

Every now and then, a person pops into your life who brings a smile to your face just about every time you see them. They might not be someone you’re particularly close to, but you see them often enough to know their name and to stop to have a quick chat about the state of the world when you see them, instead of just passing them by with a smile and a nod. These people are positive presences in the world — the kind of folks who restore your faith in humanity, and who make this planet a better place to live.

Today, I want to salute a man whose smiling face and cheery welcome brightens our lives — twice a day, Monday through Friday: our favourite Lollipop Man, Drew Pengilly.

For those of you who are unused to the unique way in which Australians name objects and occupations, the term “Lollipop Man” does not mean that Drew works in a candy store — as if I’d let my kids anywhere near a lolly shop twice every weekday.  It means he is the Crossing Guard who stops the traffic at the pedestrian crossing near Marvel Girl’s school and Miss Malaprop’s preschool. He’s the guy who keeps us safe.

Why “Lollipop Man”? Well, the stop sign Drew carries looks like a giant red lollipop. Obviously. (And, equally obviously, Australians don’t feel the need to name things quite as literally as they do in North American other countries — which is also why we drive our cars through roundabouts, walk on pavements, ride up and down in lifts, dry things with tea towels and wear thongs on our feet.)

But all this is beside the point. Drew, our Lollipop Man, is our hero in a high-vis vest — and here’s why:

Drew remembers all our names — and I mean all our names, including children, animals and sometimes even teddy bears —  and he greets us every morning with a welcoming smile that makes you forget, momentarily, the massive struggle it was to simply get out the door (you know the one, where you yell random words like “teeth”, “shoes” or “schoolbag” to unresponsive children in various states of dishevelment while holding an increasingly cold cup of tea).

Drew also notices details: he spots recently lost teeth, merit awards, band aids on injured knees, new shoes, haircuts, and all manner of minutiae at ten paces, and celebrates these little things with a high five or commiserates with a sympathetic word or two.

Drew is remarkably adept at picking which child is hiding within which costume come Book Week every year, and he’s also very good at remembering kids’ birthdays — which may or may not have something to do with the fact that he gets reminded exactly how many sleeps it is until the birthday of the child in question every time they cross the road (and yes, I do mean every time).

Drew is also brilliant at offering words of encouragement and praise — particularly to the preschoolers who visit his crossing each afternoon, proffering whatever artistic (and I use that word loosely) creations they have fashioned that day in his general direction. It doesn’t matter whether it is a stick covered in glitter, a page covered in random blobs of paint, or a couple of boxes and cardboard tubes taped together, Drew is always ready with an enthusiastic comment or an admiring remark…and those little people walk off that crossing feeling ten feet taller than when they stepped onto it.

October 2015 027

Thank you Drew! Goodbye and good luck!

But now, alas, our days with Drew have drawn to a close: he and his lovely wife moving house, and today is his last day of being our very own Lollipop Man before they head south.

Needless to say, Drew will be sadly missed.

Drew, thank you for brightening our mornings and afternoons, for being one of those people who makes a this world a happier, more positive place to live. And thanks for the multitude of “lollies” you have pretended to dispense to the my kids and their little mates — you’re the Lollipop Man they will never forget.

Move over McCoy — we’ve had the Real Pengilly.

UPDATE FOR FRESHIE PEEPS: Don’t despair…Drew’s last day is actually next Friday…so y’all still have time to say so long! Apologies for the error — Blue Jai 🙂

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Jacaranda Dreaming

Jacaranda Trees...these ones are near The Bloke's work.

Jacaranda Trees…these ones are near The Bloke’s work.

It’s Jacaranda season in Sydney — signalling the time of year when our city begins the swing into summer and lets loose its inner show off. All around this harbour town the treeline is splashed with blossoming bursts of colour, and before too long the streets will be carpeted in thousands of impossibly blue petals.

The Jacaranda tree (Jacaranda mimosifolia) is not native to Australia, but like all good things from not-so-distant places — Phar Lap, the Finn Brothers and Russell Crowe immediately spring to mind — we’ve claimed them as our own. The trees are actually of South American origin, and the word “Jacaranda” was first described to the English speaking world in the first edition of A supplement to Mr. Chambers’s Cyclopædia way back in 1753, more than thirty years before The First Fleet even arrived at Farm Cove. But claim them we have, and their spectacular blossoming in late October or early November each year heralds the coming of our splendid sub-tropical summer and, for many Sydneysiders, often triggers other memories as well.

The famous Sydney Uni Jacaranda (1927-)...it holds a special place in my heart, and that of many other alumni.

The famous Sydney Uni Jacaranda (1927- )…it holds a special place in my heart, and that of many other alumni.

One of the most famous Jacarandas in Sydney stands in the Quadrangle of Sydney University, my alma mater and my father’s as well. The tree was planted in 1927 by E G Waterhouse, a professor of comparative literature who also popularised the growing of camellias in many Sydney gardens. University folklore has it that if you haven’t started studying for your exams before the Jacaranda blooms in the corner of that incredible Gothic quad, then you’re doomed to fail.

My memories of the Sydney Uni Jacaranda are overwhelmingly positive: the cloisters beneath the tree were a beautiful place to sit and read, to soak up the atmosphere, or to feel the palpable sense of history that pervades those elegant sandstone buildings. There were days when we would sprawl beneath the blossoms before lectures, unperturbed by the “Keep Off The Grass” signs, secure in the belief that they couldn’t possibly apply to us. And if we were asked to move — well, it was probably time to get to tutorial anyway.

Jacarandas in Grafton, Northern NSW

Jacarandas, Grafton NSW

My other Jacaranda memories are much older.  As a child, a giant Jacaranda tree grew outside my second-storey bedroom, and every November the blossom-laden branches outside my window transformed my room into a lilac bower. It was easy to believe in flower fairies looking out into that spreading canopy of mauve and blue. I was utterly heartbroken when the tree grew into the sewer line and had to be removed. They are, after all, spectacularly beautiful trees.

Nowadays, I get my Jacaranda fix wherever I can: there’s a gorgeous one at Marvel Girl’s school, and you see plenty just driving around the neighbourhood. I wish I could plant one in our own yard, but our narrow Northern Beaches block doesn’t have the space for such a specimen. And besides, I still have those special trees — those of my childhood memories and my student days — and they will stay with me forever.

Saltwater People

I Will Never Turn My Back on the Ocean...

The Surfers’ Code: I Will Never Turn My Back on the Ocean.

One of my life’s greatest joys is living close to the ocean.  Smelling the briny air each morning, feeling the salt on my skin after a swim, hearing the waves crashing onto the shore while I’m drifting off to sleep at night — these are all things that I love. Things I would have trouble giving up, or even trading for something else.

I don’t need to be in the sea, I just need to be near it. To see it, at the very least, every day. I love being able to bear witness to the ocean’s varying colours and moods, and I find security in the knowledge that the stormy grey chaos I see one day could very well be sun-tipped sapphire saltwater the next. Like life itself, the ocean is ever-changing.

When I see the ocean, I see power. I see a potent, expansive presence. We may speak of the good green earth on which we live, but it is no accident that anyone who has seen our world from space refers to it as the Blue Planet: more than seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by sea.

The ocean is a force to be reckoned with.  It is teeming with life, but is just as capable of taking life away. It gives and it takes, it ebbs and it flows. The ocean has hidden depths, far beyond our reach. There are mysteries beneath the waves that we may never see. The ocean, with all its power and its wonder, has my utmost respect.

The Bloke's rule of thumb...it's a good one, and he's sticking to it.

The Bloke’s rule of thumb…it’s a good one, and he’s sticking to it.

The Bloke has a different relationship with the sea to me: he needs to immerse himself in it. He rejoices in it, revels in it. My husband is happiest when he is swimming, surfing, snorkeling, or Scuba diving. Being in the water is his downtime, his exercise, his release — even his hangover cure. Given half the chance, I suspect he would live underwater if he could. Yet while we may connect to the sea in different ways, we both have a love of the ocean that is as strong as it is lifelong. And when we’re no longer here to see and ride the waves, our Wills specify exactly which part of the sea our ashes should be scattered over, so the ocean can claim us one last time.

Jacques Yves Cousteau once said that “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever”. Our children have already been well and truly captured by the ocean, though perhaps, with the parents they have, they didn’t have much choice but to become saltwater people too. And while they may not yet know exactly what they need from the sea — to be in it, to be near it, to see it, or something else entirely — we are all loving the experience of allowing them to explore the ocean, inside and out. I don’t just mean they are learning to swim in the sea or in an oceanside rockpool, different as those experiences are from swimming in a backyard pool, they are also learning to negotiate waves, to understand tides, to recognise rips, to go with the flow.

Shaun Thompson...surfer, father, environmentalist, actor, author, businessman, legend.

Shaun Tomson…surfer, father, environmentalist, actor, author, businessman, legend.

And as they learn more about the ocean, our kids are also beginning to appreciate the Surfers’ Code — or my preferred version of it, which was set down by Shaun Tomson, the former world champion surfer who was an integral part of the Free Ride Generation, and a person I greatly admire. The tenets of the Surfers’ Code are as much lessons for life as they are for living with the sea, and the first of them is as simple as it is powerful: I will never turn my back on the ocean.

It was gratifying to hear one of the kids call, “Never turn your back on the ocean!” to her sister the other day, just in time to stop her getting wiped out by a wave. It might have only been shorebreak, but knowing that the principle had been absorbed brought a smile to my face. One day, hopefully, they will take this and the other precepts set down by Tomson and apply them to their lives as much as they do to being in the surf: I will take the drop with commitment…I will watch out for other surfers…I will paddle back out…There will always be another wave…

After all, as Anne Morrow Lindberg wrote,”The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea”.

Then again, for some of us, the sea itself is a gift.

Lux Veris

Spring 2015 021

Morning on the Corso…this is Spring in Sydney

I love the light at this time of year, when bleached skies and metallic seas signal the onset of Summer. There is something uniquely Australian about the quality of that light: an intrinsic brightness with a shine and sheen that we recognise — instantly — as being the light of our homeland.

Pilots call it ‘severe clear’, a term used to describe conditions of unlimited visibility, but it’s a remarkably accurate expression. There is nothing subtle about the light in the Antipodes: here the sun blazes, the heat blinds.

In Sydney we appear to have skipped straight past Spring, with the temperatures in recent days soaring into the thirties. Around here, the beaches have been packed and the Manly Jazz Festival has been in full swing. It’s great weather for jazz, and for Jamiroquai too. While Winter might make us head for the mellow tunes of Milky Chance, Spring and Summer have us cranking up the car stereo, and reaching for Robin Schulz and Ministry of Sound Annuals. At this time of year my rear view mirror often provides glimpses of Marvel Girl busting out her best dance moves (quite a range, considering the confines of her car seat) while Miss Malaprop sings along — in her own words, as usual — thinking she can rap just as well as Nicki Minaj (she so can’t).

It’s been fantastic weather for footy, too, with last Sunday going down in the history books as a golden day in Australian sport: first the Wallabies won at Twickenham and sent the hapless Poms packing out of the Rugby World Cup, and then the North Queensland Cowboys took home their first NRL premiership in spectacular fashion with Johnathan Thurston kicking them to victory over the Brisbane Broncos with a field goal in extra time. It was a Grand Final for the ages, and one I won’t forget.

But then again, the October Long Weekend always has a touch of enchantment about it, because every year at 2:00am on the first Sunday of October, a magical thing occurs: Daylight Saving Time begins. Well, that is to say, it begins here in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania — for some obscure reason (still unknown to the rest of the states and territories along the Eastern Seaboard) Queensland doesn’t participate. To be fair, they always have done things a bit differently up there…though not even I am game to mention the Bjelke-Petersen years…

Still, for the rest of us, the beginning of Daylight Saving Time means longer days and lingering twilight. It means trips to the beach after school, it means barbecues and a few quiet beers at dusk. And for a lot of Australian kids, it means going to bed when it’s still light.

Strangely enough, some of my most vivid childhood memories are of lying beneath my window in my bed as the golden light of day slowly faded into the deep tropical green of evening. I can still hear the last raucous squawks of roosting lorrikeets, and the rhythmic thunk of the filter in the neighbours’ pool after someone popped in for one last swim. I can still see the inky silhouettes of trees on the horizon, and the first twinklings of the stars high above. Only when I had seen the Southern Cross wheel its way above my head would I close my eyes and sleep, secure in the knowledge that I was truly home.

Ahhh…that light, again. Severe clear by day, warm and inviting by night. And while Dorothea Mackellar may be justly famous for summing up what Australia is like in “My Country”, I think — oddly enough — that it was Wordsworth who understood just what I experienced as a child, even if he felt it a few miles above Tintern Abbey instead of in Sydney:

My local rockpool...photo credit Yury Prokopenko

My local rockpool…photo credit Yury Prokopenko

         …And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.