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.

 

 

Mandala People

Mandala 1November, it seems to me, is something of a forgotten month.

Not that it means to be, of course. Here in the Great Southern Land, November kicks off in style and ceremony, with all the pageantry (and absurdity) associated with the Race That Stops the Nation.   But once the Melbourne Cup has been run, all the celebratory elements somehow disperse, disappearing into the seven week slog towards the summer holidays and Christmas.

November, however, is not a month to be underestimated.

I have learned this, the hard way, in years gone by — and that’s why it seemed apt to made Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for November the most challenging I’ve selected all year: INTEGRATE.

Because it’s time, people.

It’s time to put all the pieces together.

At the year’s outset I wished my nearest and dearest (and anyone who happened to stumble across this small patch of cyberspace I call my own) strength and ease. And as time went one, we explored a different theme together each month, focusing on a specific concept. I invited you to connect and reimagine. To set your intention and find momentum. To seek alignment and focus. To know and understand your habits. To appreciate the value of honesty and perseverance.

Now don’t panic…I’m not about to start spouting stuff about “journeys” or “spiritual awakening” or “discovering your destiny”.

And please — feel free to insert an eye roll or three here. Seriously.

Mandala 3If you’ve read any of my posts during the year, you’ll know that’s not really my style.  Life is far too full of unexpected twists and turns (of both the totally awesome and not-so-crash-hot variety) for me to seek refuge in fluff and bunkum.

That said, nothing’s going to stop me from having the temerity to add the Mandala as a Symbol of the Month for November.

The mandala, despite its recent and frequent appearance between the pages of apparently calming colouring books, is an ancient symbol with its roots in Buddhism.  For Buddhists, the mandala represents nothing less than the whole universe — and if you’ve ever seen Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala, you will know how well this symbol fits with the concept of integration. It is incredibly beautiful (not to mention meditative and downright humbling) to watch as the monks use grains of coloured sand to form intricate patterns and pictures, working harmoniously together and producing a single unified whole out of many intricate and interconnected pieces.

Mandala 5If you haven’t had the privilege to see a sand mandala being made, you can watch one being created here. For me, it’s almost like watching a life unfold, which is why I believe it to be such an appropriate symbol for integration: it’s what we do, all our lives.  We take the pieces we have within our reach and we arrange and rearrange them until they fit in a way that looks and feels right for us.

In Jungian psychology, dreaming of a mandala represents the dreamer’s search for completeness and unity — those important, intangible things we are all searching for. We are all familiar with the niggling sensation when the pieces aren’t quite fitting together properly, or that the colours are somehow clashing. But we also know the feeling — the utterly glorious feeling — when they do fit, perfectly, and the colours seem to sing.

We are Mandala People.

All of us.

Anyone who is running a business or raising a family or generally trying to succeed in life is a Mandala Person. We are all trying to bring together — to integrate — all the separate parts of our existence and striving. We are all working on our own internal mandalas, making the picture as whole and complete as we can.

mandala 4It’s worth remembering, at this point, that the word integration comes from the Latin word integrus, meaning renew or restore. Each day is an opportunity to renew our commitment to bring all the pieces together, to restore our faith in the knowledge that every last grain of sand we add to our own internal mandalas counts.

Each day is a new beginning until, of course, we reach the end of our days. And once again, the sand mandala provides us with an exquisite reminder of our own impermanence: in the Buddhist tradition, as soon as the final grains of sand are added to complete the mandala, a lama takes his dorje and runs it through the sand. The bright colours fade into grey, resembling ashes or dust, and the sand is swept into an urn. The sand is then poured into running water, so that the healing powers generated by the mandala’s creation flow on and are extended to the whole world, so that it may be re-energised and healed.

Each grain of sand ultimately becomes part of something much larger, just as we are all small — but important, and individual — parts of a much larger whole.

So this month, and every month, I invite you to embrace the spirit of integration. Know that you, like everyone else, are a work in progress. That the only person who knows how the pieces really fit together for you, is you. That it’s perfectly fine to take your time — indeed, to take a lifetime — with the process of putting it all together. That every day is an opportunity to restore and renew.

We are Mandala People.

Mandala 6

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Melbourne Cup 2014: Triumph, Tragedy and a Touch of the Tawdry

Ryan Moore rides Protectionist to win the 2014 Melbourne Cup (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Ryan Moore rides Protectionist to win the 2014 Melbourne Cup (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The Race that Stops a Nation.  I mentioned it in my last post as marking the final stop of the crazy train before it makes its reckless descent into the Silly Season, with its whirl of office parties and pre-Christmas drinks.

This year’s win, by Protectionist — the first German horse to win the great Australian race — was undeniably convincing.  British jockey Ryan Moore rode brilliantly, timing his run towards the post perfectly to finish the 3200m race a full four lengths ahead of Red Cadeaux, who placed second in the big event for a record breaking third time.

At our house, the win was celebrated with enthusiasm by Miss Malaprop, who had drawn Protectionist in the two dollar sweep at The Bloke’s office, and by Marvel Girl, who had picked Red Cadeaux in her classroom sweep and won points for her school colour house for placing second.  Yep — you read that right — her classroom sweep.  That’s how big this race is in Australia: at 3pm on the first Tuesday in November, just about everything stops as the vast majority of the population crowds around television screens, radios, or any other handheld device you care to mention, just to find out who will win the Melbourne Cup: schools, shops, businesses — everything but the betting agencies.  It’s so big a deal in Victoria that the metropolitan region of Melbourne has a public holiday.

Now, the Melbourne Cup wouldn’t be the race it is were it not for a spot of controversy, but this year it was for all the wrong reasons.  It wasn’t just about the use of horse whips, or about the fact that Australia lost over a billion dollars in a single non-productive afternoon, or even about the sordid Instagram feeds depicting inebriated young women passed out face down on the grass or vomiting into garbage bins track side.  It wasn’t even about the (very) public marriage proposal made by a canary yellow clad Geoffrey Edelsten to his (very) much younger partner Gabi Grecko in the presence of his estranged (but not quite divorced) wife and a bunch of bemused reporters.

No, this year it wasn’t until after the race was run that controversy — closely followed by its near relative, tragedy — came calling.

Here at home things went slightly awry when Miss Malaprop finally understood that she had won Daddy’s office sweep, not a horse, and that she wasn’t going to get to ride Protectionist at all. (Fortunately she’s a bit too young to realise that she is not likely to see her winnings from the sweep either — I’m still waiting for The Bloke to bring mine home from last year.)

But down in Melbourne, a much bigger drama was unfolding in the yards and stalls of Flemington Racecourse: Admire Rakti, the Japanese horse who had started the race as favourite and placed last, died of a massive heart attack, and Araldo, injured after being spooked in a post-race incident by a couple waving an Australian flag, had to be put down.  Two horses — two incredibly beautiful, gloriously honed, impressively muscled and impeccably trained creatures — were dead.

No, this year’s race didn’t just stop the nation.

This year, it made us pause.  And reflect.  And wonder whether our armies of once a year punters and frocked-up flutterers might have got this whole horse racing thing slightly out of perspective.

This year, I suspect many Australians realised — painfully, perhaps — that the big race, with all its pomp and pagentry and talk of track conditions and trifectas, simply cannot happen without the horses.  And that it might be time we took a long hard look at what life is really like for these superb equine athletes all year round, and not just on their day in the November sun.

Because if the Melbourne Cup is going to remain relevant as a national obsession, I think many Australians would not want Admire Rakti or Araldo to have died in vain.  Hopefully, in future years, we will look back at 2014 as a turning point in Australian horse racing, and we will honour both of these magnificent animals with a lot more than a minute’s silence.