Creating the Cat Race

024 (2)

Tauriel, being the light at the end of the self-isolation tunnel…

I have been doing a lot of pondering since I wrote my last post, when I railed against returning to the rat race in the post-iso world. My words seemed to gain traction with many people who read the piece, though the most frequently asked question I received in response to my musings was quite simply: How?

How, exactly, do we do things differently now that we are experiencing life, rebooted? How do we put into context and practice what we have learned during this, the craziest of years in living memory? How do we stop ourselves from falling back into old patterns and habits when we know there are alternative ways to do so many things?

Well, one of the more outlandish suggestions I received in response to my rejection of the rat race was that we create the cat race instead — and this, folks, is something I believe I could get behind.

As an aside, I have often said if it turns out reincarnation is actually a thing, I could do a lot worse than returning to this world as a cat. More specifically, if human options were definitely off the table for me, I’m pretty sure I’d be OK with reincarnating as a domestic cat in a comfortably appointed and well-managed home.

052

Living with Tauriel has reminded me of the many things I have learned from cats.

In all seriousness, however, there is a surprising amount we can learn from cats and apply to our daily lives.

For starters, cats never over-commit: they exercise occasionally, eat moderately, eschew unnecessary interaction, and resolutely stick to their own schedules. Cats say precisely what they mean to only when they need to, are masters of saying “No” without uttering a single syllable, and fastidiously ignore anything that fails to capture their interest. Even so, cats consistently present well, most probably because they — very wisely — prioritise sleep and self care, and they appreciate the comforts of home. Finally, cats whole-heartedly embrace spontaneous pleasures, even if these involve pursuits humans deem spurious or frivolous, such as speed-scampering up and down hallways at peculiar hours.

I ask you: what’s not to like about the cat race so far?

Quite simply, it’s not so different from what I am attempting to do in my life now self-isolation is over.

I am committing to being less committed. I’m working out what is important to me and my family and making room for those, and only those, things. I’m shopping only once a week, which means I’m planning more and buying less. I’m making more conscious decisions about the projects I take on, and better predicting how these will impact my week and my interactions with my family.

I am sticking to my schedule. Even though I am committed to doing less, I am scheduling more. We all knew there were 24 hours in a day before self-isolation, but I now have a better appreciation of time and how I spend it. By sticking to a routine I can accomplish what I need to and still make time for things that make my soul sing, and for much needed restorative sleep.

I am appreciating home. Yes, we all saw a lot of the same four walls during self-isolation. But I’m far more appreciative now that I have four walls around me (even if I’m also far more aware how much they need re-painting), and a roof over my head to keep the winter weather out. By extension, I’m also making sure that I am supporting businesses close to my home, such as my local beautician, bakery and bookstore.

I am embracing spontaneous outbursts of fun. It’s easier than you think to say no to things, but sometimes — particularly when you’re overcommitted — it’s harder to say yes. I have discovered that when I combine the three things I’ve mentioned above, I have far more space in my life, my head and my heart to say yes to unexpected delights. During the past week, for example, I went on a long walk with my elder daughter and in two hours learned more about how she was feeling and what she’d been doing than I had in the two months. I played a game of Scrabble with my Dad, The Professor, which — given he has dementia — is something I will cherish as I don’t know how long his ability to play will last. I bought a bunch of flowers chosen by my younger daughter and they are still brightening our kitchen today. And most days, I sat and relished the luxury of a large cup of hot coffee.

These, my friends, are the cornerstones of what I am calling the Cat Race, and anyone — I mean anyone, is welcome to join in.

066 (2)

Tauriel suggests spontaneous delights can also be encountered in a bookcase (which may or may not include enticingly tasselled mala beads, as well as books).

 

 

 

Easter Delights

Easter has come and gone for another year, the difference being this year we didn’t go away. Of course, the bigger difference is why we weren’t allowed to go away, but I’ve had just about enough of anything to do with Coronavirus and am preferring to focus instead on delight.

It’s still possible, as I noted last time I wrote, to find moments of delight in this crazy world of self-isolation. Despite it sometimes feeling like the four walls around us are closing in, there have been a number of things that have kept me going over the Easter break — particularly since we’ve not been able to share it with friends and family as we usually would.

So here, in no specific order, are four things that brought me delight over the four days of the Easter long weekend:

The Hilltop Hoods Restrung Albums

Easter 1I love the Hilltop Hoods and the raw honesty of their hip hop. But I also grew up in a house where we listened almost exclusively to classical music, and have an abiding appreciation for many things orchestral. Operatic, not so much…despite my eclectic tastes.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that I think one of best things the Hilltop Hoods have ever done was re-release a few of their albums with a new “band” — the Adelaide Symphony — referring to the revamps as “restrung” works. The result is simply brilliant: a mixture of glorious horns, lush strings, great beats, phenomenal lyrics and a lexicon that will truly blow your mind. Check out The Hard Road restrung as an example…you can thank me later.

Opening the Peppermint Tea Box

Easter 2Initially I wondered whether I should include something in this list that appears, on the surface, to be completely mundane. But then I realised this is exactly what finding delight in life is all about: when the minty scent rushes out of a freshly opened box of peppermint tea, I never fail to smile. I feel enormous contentment. My heart sings.

These are the sorts of everyday delights that become a recurring pleasure, things I look forward to even though they seem, at first, to be so…ordinary. These are the small things that bring great joy to our lives, if we look for them and let them.

Bare Feet

Easter 3It is a truth universally acknowledged, to paraphrase Jane Austen, that an Australian is in possession of a pair of feet is only ever in want of a pair of thongs. Or ugg boots, as the season dictates. Part of the great wonder of living in the Land Down Under is our love of informal footwear — surpassed only, I suspect, by our preference for going barefoot whenever possible. During the summer, this phenomenon extends in the beachside suburb where I live to clothing: it is not unusual to see people down at the shops wearing wet swimmers and, at best, a towel…definitely no shoes. After all, they’re probably only at the shops to pick up a Golden Gaytime or a Chocolate Paddlepop, so what’s the point in getting dressed?

In the current “climate” — which could be called autumnul with a dose of pandemic — one of the unexpected delights of having to stay home is that I am able to indulge my love of going barefoot the vast majority of the time. On the rare occasions I venture to the shops I wear thongs. Sometimes, now that the evenings are cooler, I get my uggs on. With shorts. Because that’s how we roll, and we love it.

But being barefoot? It’s the best.

Jacinda Ardern

Easter 4Staying in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s high time I acknowledge one of the great delights of the Asia-Pacific Region: Jacinda Ardern. Let’s face it — she sorted out Easter for concerned citizens the world over when she answered a question in a press conference regarding the current employment status of the Easter Bunny. Clearly stating the Easter Bunny was performing an essential service and would be able to deliver multitudes of chocolate eggs set the minds of many small people at ease, and explaining there might be a slight delay in delivery due to current social distancing measures was a masterstroke appreciated by parents who hadn’t quite managed a supermarket run in the leadup to Easter Sunday.

To follow up this classy performance with a Facebook post including an Easter Egg template she encouraged Kiwi kids to colour or decorate and display in their window so everyone in the neighbourhood could do an Easter Egg hunt on their daily walk showed just how much Jacinda Ardern gets it. And inviting those kids to email her the finished product directly? Genius.

From where we’re sitting across The Ditch, Jacinda Ardern looks like a bright ray of sunshine we’d like to bask in.  Watch out New Zealand…as soon as they open the borders we might all just move over.

So there you have it, folks: four Easter delights.

If you’re feeling so inclinded, let me know what made your Easter delightful this year.

BJx

Isolated Delights

Hello from the inside…

Like many of you all around this wonderful world, I’m stuck at home riding out this awful COVID-19 pandemic. One would think it was an entirely delightful thing for an introvert like me to be stuck in the house, and that I would be completely au fait with such arrangements given I happily work from home three days a week.  When my usual routine has been combined with (or has, more accurately, collided with) home schooling, however, I am finding that I am yearning for time ALONE rather than time AT HOME.

Even so, there are still moments of delight in these self-isolated times, little gems that have kept me going as my dear children have driven me slowly but surely around the twist.  It’s true that we’ve had a lot of laughs, including when Marvel Girl decided to christen me “Catnip Everdeen” when I volunteered to run the grocery shop gauntlet and our list included cat food and litter. I also had a life-changing moment of glory when I managed to find not one, but two display books to keep the kids’ many home school materials separated and corralled.

Looking back, there have been several things that I have found truly delightful in the past couple of weeks, and I share them in the hope that you find some in your own self-isolated exile.

Our Tibouchina Tree

TibouchinaIn the corner of our back yard stands a Tibouchina tree. Most of the year it is an ordinary, stock standard tree — you know: green leaves, brown trunk, sometimes bits fall off it, other times there are birds in it. But every year in February and March, the Tibouchina tree transforms itself into something truly resplendent, crowned with beautiful purple flowers. Every year it brings a smile to my face — and this year, believe me, it felt extra special.

Paper Towels

tibou 2I never thought I would live in an era when hoarding groceries became a Thing. The silver lining to this unexpected (and more than likely unethical) behaviour, however, is that when I found a four pack of paper towel on the supermarket shelf while doing my aforementioned Catnip Everdeen impression, I felt like I had won Olympic Gold.

I might have even sent my mother a picture of it…

Passionfruit

Tibou 4Yep, you read that right. Passionfruit. On another of my early morning Catnip Everdeen runs (and believe me, I do them far less frequently than this post is seeming to indicate), I found a whole pile of passionfruit: large, plump and — most importantly — heavy.

I bought six.

Three of us have eaten one so far.

We are all in agreement — passionfruit this good is an unmitigated tropical delight.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive

Tibou 3It’s no secret Australians are completely, perhaps catastrophically sports mad, and the fact that Coronavirus made its unwelcome appearance in our country just as winter sports seasons were kicking off could be described as…unfortunate? No, let’s be honest, here: it’s been devastating — particularly for Miss Malaprop, who worked super hard to make the A Grade team in our local netball competition, only to have the season scrapped before it started.  At least I was able to tell her all the professional sportspeople have been affected, too. The Sydney Swifts won’t be playing either. The Olympics have been postponed. The Melbourne Grand Prix was cancelled…

And that’s when I remembered seeing something about car racing popping up in my Netflix home screen — Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Needless to say, in the absence of any other televised sport, I am devouring it. The ups and downs of Formula 1 racing are so far removed from my daily grind the show is providing me with much needed mental relief. I get so caught up in watching it I don’t think about anything else — and that, at the moment, constitutes pure delight.

Ten Thousand Views

Tibou 5Another moment of delight also came via screen this week…by the very screen I’m watching these words appear on as I type. This, my little blog, the patch of cyberspace I escape to every now and then to make sense of this crazy old world, ticked over 10,000 views — and this Daydream Believer was delighted.

I honestly never expected for anyone to really read this — but apparently more than 7,000 of you out there decided to prove me wrong, and some of them obviously came back for more. It’s times like these I feel most grateful for the opportunity to write, and they take me back to a post I wrote some years ago called The Wellspring, which is as close as I have ever come to writing a manifesto describing what this blog is about. It also reminded me of how I have often used this space to try to make sense of things that confront me (like restlessness), or confound me (like the treatment of refugees), and comfort me (like reading cookbooks, of all things).

I also want to say thank you for being one of those ten thousand views…whoever, wherever you are.

I hope these words, in turn, bring you delight.

BJx

 

 

First Steps on the Road to Delight

Last month I began my journey along the road to delight, and it’s having some surprising results. In a short space of time, noticing the moments, feelings, things and experiences that delight me is becoming increasingly second nature. And as I become more attuned to the delightful in my life and my world, I am discovering a corresponding increase in the gratitude I feel.

These are some of things that I have found delightful over the past couple of weeks.

The Libby App

postcard 1Anyone who follows this blog with any degree of regularity will know I am a bookworm. Nothing makes me happier than curling up with a book in my favourite armchair: a deep blue velvety wingbacked piece beside my bedroom window, which places me within easy reach of a sill to put a hot mug of tea on and in the path of the beautiful sea breezes that grace the Sydney seaboard at this time of year. And while my beloved armchair (quite obviously) qualifies as an object of delight in my life, so does the recently acquired Libby app on my iPad.

I’m not sure what size or manner of rock I have been living under, but it did not occur to me until the (recently ended) summer holidays to investigate the online borrowing prospects from my local library. What an Aladdin’s cave of treasures I have encountered since! So far I have plowed through three or four books on the iPad, borrowed in seconds and returned with equal ease from the comfort of my favourite bookreading snug spot. I’ve also read more widely than I would usually, depending on what was available to borrow at the time. Who knew an app could bring me such joy? Libby is my new best friend.

I suspect Scheherazade would have approved, too.

The Ice Cream Artiste

postcard 2Ice cream — particularly, in my case, the non-dairy variety — is generally delightful.

But a beautifully crafted scoop of ice cream in a cone? That’s downright magical — especially if it’s from the artisan ice cream parlour that has miraculously opened at the end of my street. There, a man we’ll call Theo (because that’s his name) serves astonishingly delicious home made ice creams he sculpts — yes, sculpts — onto cones and into cups.

There is something truly wonderful about watching someone make something for you with such care and deliberation.

It’s also somehow humbling.

And did I mention it was delicious?

The Sound and Smell of Rain

postcard 3Summer in Australia has been marred this year by destruction and devastation on a scale so vast the word “unprecedented” has nearly been worn out. Parts of our extended family have been directly affected by the bushfires, though mercifully their homes and most of their properties have been saved.

After days and weeks of high temperatures and thick smoke smothering Sydney, however, the arrival of rain a week or so ago was more than welcome. For someone who has taken to listening to the Night Rain playlist on Spotify to get to sleep, hearing the sound of the real thing on the roof and smelling the difference in the air was unbelievably comforting. And with more of the good stuff due in the next few days, I am hopeful it will bring delight wherever it falls.

My Cat’s Response to Yoga

postcard 4Now that the kids have gone back to school, I’m turning my attention to achieving some of my goals for the year — including timetabling and prioritising regular exercise. Getting out for a walk during the cool of the early morning was something I enjoyed doing with the girls when they were on holidays (well, mostly…when they weren’t whinging), but now I have more time to myself I have been getting out my mat and doing some yoga via YouTube.

Exercise itself could be listed here as a delight — who doesn’t love an endorphin rush? But the unexpected upside of my living room yoga sessions is the way my cat responds: no matter where Tauriel has been curled up sleeping or snoozing (I’m so reincarnating as a cat in a comfortable home), by the time I find myself in savasana she is there beside me, circling around me, brushing up against me and purring loudly, no doubt drawn by the positive energy that yoga just about always brings.

So there you have it! Some postcards from my first steps along the road to delight. I’m sure there will be many more to come.

BJx

 

All Perfect Light and Promises

cloud 1Delight!

Even the word is delightful — to my ears, at any rate. It conjures images of warm golden sunbeams, of huge and happy smiles, and sounds of burbling streams and joyful laughter. It’s also what I have chosen to focus on this year: to notice the experiences and things that bring me moments of delight.

My inspiration for embarking on this project came from listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being, when she interviewed the American poet Ross Gay about his Book of Delights. In that collection — which I have not yet read, but hope to soon — Gay presents a series of short essays written just about every day over the course of a year about what brought him delight.

Challenge accepted, I thought. What a wonderful way to find positive things in and about my life. And so, I decided to start looking more carefully at interactions and experiences I might have otherwise tuned out to, or have previously relegated to the purlieu of the mundane.

Beginning my quest, I discovered that the word delight has a Latin derivation from the verb delectare, meaning “to charm”, which is unsurprising since delightful moments tend to spring from things we find enchanting. These moments are probably happening around us all the time — if we only take the time to observe them.

My first moment of delight came came very early in the New Year, shortly after I had watched the first half of the documentary Mystify: Michael Hutchence. Not only did the film remind me how brilliantly mesmerising a frontman Hutchence was, but it also prompted me to listen to some INXS. I found myself travelling down an aural memory lane, listening to the soundtrack of my childhood, when “New Sensations” started playing.

I suspect it is just about impossible not to sing along and dance to that song. It’s infectiously upbeat and in your face (in a good way), and it’s also got great lyrics. I’ve heard it hundreds of times in my life, but this time — which was sometime around New Year’s Day — one line in particular popped out at me and made me pause (despite the fact I may have been in full raucous singing along/daggy dancing mode at the time).

All perfect light and promises. 

I know that light. I’ve written about it before, some five years ago now, because I love it so much, just as surely as I love the sun rising over the sea.

cloud 2But it also struck me, in that moment, that it summed up my way of looking at the beginning of 2020, in all its bright shiny newness and with all my bold resolutions.

These moments of delight really are everywhere. They’re in songlines and skylines, in the cheerful chattering of my children, in the sinuous sprawl of our cat in the sun, in the first sip of hot Earl Grey tea in the early morning, in the scent of sweet peas and in the smell of rain and even in the stars.

Especially in the stars.

May 2020 be a year of delight for us all.

 

 

 

2019 in Song

OK folks…strap yourselves in — it’s time for my Top 5 in music for 2019!

Only rule that applies to this list is that the song had to be released in 2019. No more mucking around — let’s jump straight in.

1. Harmony Hall Vampire Weekend

Who can fail to be happy when one of their favourite bands releases their first single in aaaaaages on your actual birthday? This was a present I didn’t expect and one that kept giving the whole year long. I love everything about this song, from the catchy beat to the genre-jumping progression of muscial styles — especially when they go from what sounds like a classical piano solo into sliding country guitar. For what it’s worth, the snake in the video is super cute, too.

2. The Barrel Aldous Harding

I’m not going to lie — I have no idea what the lyrics to the song are about, but this was one of the tunes I found myself listening to over and again in 2019. It’s whimsical and somehow magical and proves you don’t have to be playing klezmer to include a clarinet on a track. Aldous Harding is a Kiwi folk singer-songwriter whose work I will definitely be checking out more regularly — though the video does prompt ever so many questions…not least of which is do I need to wear platforms to dance like that?

3. Firesmoke Kate Tempest

I read Kate Tempest’s book The Bricks That Built the Houses a few years ago and it remains one of my favourite reads of the past decade. I suspect this song will also be one of my favourites of the decade. It is an incredible, personal love song, a raw and searing portrait of intimacy. It’s Firesmoke.

4. All I Want Broken Social Scene

This one needs to be listened to up loud! It’s as bold and brash as Firesmoke is quiet and contained, but the sentiment remains the same. Canada’s indie rock darlings delivered this around the same time Vampire Weekend released Harmony Hall — it must have been quite a week for great tunes, because this one rocks and I love it.

5. Summer Girl HAIM

There is not, in my humble opinion, enough saxophone being played in songs these days (or clarinet…as The Barrel proved at No. 2 above). This song from HAIM is a poppy classic with a sax riff that gets stuck in your head in all the best ways. I love the video too: the idea of stripping off all we no longer need as we head into summer — not to mention the next decade — it one I can get behind.

Honourable Mentions this year go to James Blake for Don’t Miss It, and also to a few tracks released in 2018 than didn’t really make it onto my radar until 2019: Fireworks by First Aid Kit and No Roots by Joshua Hyslop.

And my Top 5 Throwbacks for the year (other than anything by the inimitable and still very much missed David Bowie) are, in no particular order:

  1. Love and Peace — Quincy Jones (1969)
  2. Heads Will Roll — Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2009)
  3. Kiss Them For Me — Siouxsie and the Banshees (1991)
  4. Where Is My Mind? — The Pixies (1988)
  5. Grateful Song — Villagers (2013)

Stay tuned for my best of 2019 in Movies/TV and books!

 

 

If Only I Was Barack Obama…

future

Clearly the former POTUS follows my humble blog and can’t wait for MY Best of 2019 Lists….

Barack Obama tweeted his best books of 2019 today.

Because he is Barack Obama (and even though we live a considerable distance across the Pacific, don’t we wish we were still seeing a whole lot more of him), he simply put up a list of what he thought were his best reads of the year. No doubt book sales will hit stratospheric heights momentarily…

Now, as any of you follow this blog with any semblance of regularity may know, this is the time of year when I, also, typically put fingers to keys and let you know what my favourite books, songs and viewings were of the year. And while I cannot even begin to pretend to operate in the same league as Barack Obama (I suspect it sufficient, at this point, that we reside on the same planet), those of you who follow this blog already know that this year had not entirely gone to plan. That said, previous years did not exactly go to plan, but sometimes we need to learn lessons more than once to make them really sink in…

So far, December 2019 has brought us the end of the school year, more Christmas parties than we care to mention, a special outing to Cirque du Soleil (magnificent and something we would highly recommended were it not for the fact that we saw their final Sydney show of Kurios), and a godawful lingering case of the flu — which has now metamorphosized into equally lingering head colds that require us to take a family sized box of tissues wherever we go, even if it is only to the beach less than one kilometre from our front door.

Meh.

And so…yes, I know, I’m running late on all these posts and won’t get them done in the next day and a half before New Year’s…I will be letting you know what my Best Of 2019’s were in — yes, you guessed it…

2020!

Because good things come to those who wait.

hey

Happy New Year, y’all!

And I have lists. You know I do…lists of my final top 5’s and shortlists and even thematic lists (though they may not make the final cut — you’ll just have to wait and see).

With every best wish and several tenterhooks to hang off,

Blue Jai x

 

 

The Year of the Odd Sock

sock 3

Expectation…

As 2019 draws to a close, I’ve been looking back on the past twelve months and trying — as I tend to do in this little patch of cyberspace — to make sense of it all. Like all years, there have been moments of achievement and moments of challenge, but if I’m totally honest there’s one thing that symbolises 2019 for me: the Odd Sock.

I’m an organised person, which is both a gift and a curse to those who live with me. For the vast majority of my life, socks of all kinds have been carefully kept in pairs. Some of my friends have been known to tease me for hanging socks with their pairs on the clothes line.  Needless to say, those same friends find it endlessly amusing that I have designated rows on the clothes line for each family member so I can sort the laundry as I fold it into the washing basket, which quite obviously enables me to get the family’s laundry sorted much faster than they can mutter things like “anally retentive”.

Now, I would normally be completely comfortable with being an object of house-keeping ridicule were it not for the awful fact that I currently have an entire drawer full of odd socks in my house.

sock 2

…and Reality.

Never have I ever been beset with such a proliferation of single socks! Some are sports socks, some are ankle socks, most are white socks, and none of them are my socks. And yet, there they are…more than a dozen of them, a collection that would liberate a small army of house elves from servitude were they to discover them.

My sense of order is somewhat offended by the presence of an entire tribe of single socks residing in a drawer usually reserved for stationery and postage stamps, but after my initial dismay wore off, I have to admit a part of me is quietly relieved.

For some odd reason, at some point during this year the sight all the odd socks reminded me of a quote from Melinda Gates’ powerful book The Moment of Lift:

I suspect most of us, at one time or another, say “I quit”. And we often find that “quitting” is just a painful step on the way to a deeper commitment.

This year has thrown a bunch of changes and logistical challenges at me, and I’ve had to find ways to adapt and adjust. I’ve had to let some of my (probably too high) self-imposed standards slip a little, and find new ways of caring for myself so I can care for my family. I’ve had to encourage my kids to step up and do things for themselves, which has had the flow on effect of them becoming increasingly self-confident and self-sufficient.

I’ve also had to let the odd socks stay single.

At the end of the day — and the end of the year, for that matter — I am at peace with the odd socks in my life. I can laugh at the irony of so many socks being unpaired, despite my desire to “keep it together” on every personal and professional front. I am content to embrace the odd sock as a symbol of my deeper commitment to my family and myself, and to know that the way we measure success — in happiness and time spent together — is what works best for us.

And if an odd sock is the worst thing I have to put up with in life, then life must be pretty darn good.

Blessings for the holiday season,

Blue Jai x

sock 1

…and finally, Peace.

 

 

 

 

Chiko Rolls and Passiona

Milk BarI’ve been living in a bit of a news vacuum lately, largely because The Bloke and I took the family north to Fraser Island during the recent school holidays and road tripped back via Noosa, Kingscliff and Port Macquarie.  It was a nostalgic trip for both of us, particularly as we got to share many childhood memories of summers spent at Fingal Head and Rainbow Bay, separated only by the Tweed River and the many years it would take for us to finally meet.

In all honesty, I can’t say I missed not hearing or reading the news while we were away: in some of the places we stayed mobile coverage was patchy (at best), and I soon discovered it did not take me long to disconnect from the 24 hour news cycle.  Instead, I found myself realising how much news — and many other things — have changed since I was a kid.  During my childhood, news was something you got from the radio or from a newspaper you were sent to buy from the corner shop.

For me, remembering these things conjures up images of the local Milk Bar, with its signs advertising Streets Icecream (still allowed) and Winfield Blues (before cigarette advertising was banned). Outside there were metal stands displaying the newspaper headlines for the day in big, black block letters, and the door was shrouded with a faded plastic strip curtain — a vaguely successful attempt to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay.  

Milk Bar 4Inside the Milk Bar was an Aladdin’s cave of multicoloured sweets — Redskins, Milkos, Curly Wurlys, long plastic straws filled with sherbert, even fake candy cigarettes (also long since banned).  There were Chocolate Paddlepops and Cool Sharks in deep freezer chests, cartons of milk and cans of Passiona in noisy refrigerators, loaves of bread on wire racks, and a bain marie beside the counter containing Chiko Rolls and other dubious delicacies of questionable provenance. A insect zapper cast a weird blue light from the wall behind the register, which was filled otherwise with packets and cartons of cigarettes.

On the floor near the door were the stacks of newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror. I learned the hard way that the copy of the Herald on the top of the pile (which was usually weighed down with half a brick) was always a bit worse for wear. Better to take the second or third one down than to risk Dad getting tetchy about rips.  They were huge broadsheet editions — twice the size of today’s paltry offerings — with the TV guide printed on pale blue newspaper (or was it pale pink?) and the form guide on pale yellow.  I loved reading Column 8, with all its quirks and urban myths.

Milk Bar 2I don’t really remember a time when I couldn’t read, since my mother started teaching me when I was about three, but one of the earliest things I recall reading in a newspaper was a huge article about one of the appeals in the Azaria Chamberlain case.  Azaria was taken by a dingo at Ayres Rock (now known by its much older name, Uluru) in 1980, when I was four years old, but some of the appeals against Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction were heard in 1983 and 1984, when I was about seven. I devoured that piece of writing with morbid curiosity, simultaneously fascinated by details about camera cases and missing matinee jackets, and horrified by the idea of a mother — anyone’s mother — being in jail.

Our radio, and old National model plugged into a power socket on the kitchen bench, brought news bulletins about the Falklands War, of Prince Charles getting engaged to Lady Di, of petrol strikes and of planes being hijacked in the Middle East.  We were always warned to be silent during the news (Dad again), and especially when they read the weather, which often forecast rain on the adjacent ranges.  I always wondered as a child where the Adjacent Ranges (or as I heard it, the A-Jason Ranges, which I imagined had been named after one of the kids up the street) were.  Perhaps they were near the Snowy Mountains, I thought. Or maybe they were part of the Great Dividing Range? It wasn’t until years later that I corrected my own misunderstanding.

Weirdly, though perhaps not unexpectedly, most of the news stories I remember from childhood were unpleasant reports, not just of Azaria Chamberlain being taken by a dingo but, slightly later, of appalling murders: Anita Cobby, Sallyanne Huckstepp, Samantha Knight. I was intermittently aware of poltical doings — it was hard not to be with Bob Hawke as Prime Minister and Paul Keating as Treasurer. Being an ordinary Australian child, I was also swept along in a running undercurrent of anything related to sport, from the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982, to the Melbourne Cup every November, to Australia II winning the America’s Cup, to all the times Parramatta appeared in the Rugby League Grand Finals in the 1980s and cemented my undying support for the Eels.

Milk Bar 3I miss the Milk Bar of my childhood.

There are a few left, here and there, remnants of a world that existed long before I could check breaking news by glancing at my phone.

But what I realise, writing this, is that I don’t miss the Milk Bar itself: I miss the simpler times in which I lived. They weren’t golden days, by any means — my memories of murders and wars and all manner of mayhem make that clear.

They were simpler because I was a child, and did not have to shoulder the adult burden of living in and responding to the world and all its imperfections.

passionaFor me, disconnecting from the news means setting that burden down for a while.  It means identifying how important it is to preserve, where possible, the simplicity of life for my own children. It means allowing myself to remember the broadsheets and broadcasts of times gone by, to see the many things have changed since then.

And some things, strangely enough, remain just as they always were — just like Chiko Rolls and Passiona.

 

 

Breaking Up Is Too Hard To Do

2014

2014: Tropical Vibes Christmas in hot pink, tangerine and gold.

I’m a happily married woman — let me state that, straight up, seeing as though the title of this post clearly implies otherwise.  The Bloke and I have muddled along together for the better part of two decades, and we’re planning to do so for a lot longer yet.

But there are two other men, other than The Bloke, who have made me the happily married woman I am today. Two men who, like my dear husband, have seen me at my best and my worst.  Two men who have witnessed me lose it with my kids more times than I would like to admit, but who have also seen those same children grow to be the beautiful, self-sufficient and (mostly) polite creatures they are today. Two men who have have seen my house look like a tornado has just swept through or like a sparkling jewel where everything is clean and in its ever-so-right place.

2015

2015: Traditional Christmas in red and forest green.

And now, dear friends, (sob….choke…splutter) the time has come for these two men to leave me.

These two men — architects of my continued happiness and transformers of my humble home — are, of course, are my Cleaners.

(Apologies if my tears have actually permeated cyberspace and are pouring through whatever screen you are reading this on…)

To be fair, The Cleaners and I have broken up before. There were a few weeks here, sometimes a few months, when they were too busy, or needed a break, or whatever it was — but this time, this time, it’s for real.

(Extended wail….)

Don’t get me wrong.

2016

2016: Nordic Christmas and the first appearance of the Angel Shazza.

I know in my heart the time has come for The Cleaners to move on. Truly.

Just as they have witnessed my kids growing up (OK…and me…they had to see me doing a whole pile of that growing up business, too), I’ve seen them transform, too.

I’ve watched them grow up, get real (other) jobs, ride rocking rollercoasters of relationships, come out, get promoted, break up (luckily that one wasn’t for real), reunite, get clearer and clearer on what they want in life, get promoted again (and again), and go back to studying. I’ve seen them do difficult things, like navigate visa restrictions in the era before marriage equality, and bury parents and loved ones, and do so with grace and courage.  I’ve seen them succeed in becoming amazing, well-rounded, successful and brilliant young men.

2017

2017: Tiny “We’re Going to Fiji” tree in rainbow ombre to celebrate Marriage Equality

And I guess that’s where we come to the heart of the matter: they are not The Cleaners any more.

They’re truly awesome human beings, one of whom is even more obsessed with Christmas (specifically: themed decorating) than I am.

Seriously — we begin discussing possible colour schemes in October and send each other slow-motion video reveals of our fully decorated trees…and let’s not even get into our long-standing debate over real versus artifical…

And that is why this post is adorned with the trees of the past five Christmases in all their radiant glory, under which there has always been a gift for each of them, and there always will be.

Because they’re not The Cleaners any more. They’re part of the family.

2018

2018: Thrice-decorated (because it fell) gigantic tree in orange, turquoise, silver and lime.