A Firstborn’s Thoughts on Being Remembered

I was born in the Emerald City, a sparkling harbour jewel on the eastern edge of the wide brown land of Oz. It had been an unseasonally wet summer, full of drooping humidity and cicada song, and the day I was due to make my way into this world came and went, sweeping past like a sudden southerly squall. For two full weeks the rain fell, until — finally — a day dawned, full of light and promise, and the clouds disappeared. And so it was, in the golden light of late afternoon on that first fine day for a fortnight, that I was born.

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Firstborn problems…

Ah…there’s nothing like a bit of fullblown firstborn child mythologising, is there?

I mean, it’s all true — all that stuff I wrote up top, however much I might have embroidered it.

But it’s also true, as any firstborn will know but will be equally unlikely to admit, there’s nothing quite like knowing that (for better or worse) the moment of your birth changed your parents’ lives forever. It sets you apart. It marks you as different from your siblings, whether you are followed by one or an entire busload of other children.

Being the firstborn makes you special.

There…I said it.

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Seriously, we firstborns barely flinch…

However, as most firstborns will tell you, this ain’t necessarily a good thing. It’s a bit like being the Queen of England (no, seriously…bear with me here, and not just because the Queen has obviously been far more affected by birth order than most).

Firstborns are expected to be responsible. To show leadership. To set a good example — or, failing that, to have every misdemeanour bookmarked forever after as a reference point of what not to do. And all of this happens, like Her Majesty, just because you were born.

Like the Queen, some of us appear to shoulder the burden lightly. In fact, you’d hardly know we were eldest children unless you asked. We barely flinch when reminded of certain (glaringly obvious) historical inconsistencies between curfew times, basic standards of acceptable dress, and the general application of rules. We don’t bat an eye when our younger siblings get away with doing things we would have been instantly grounded for and saying stuff we always wish we could have. We remain unfazed by the age old and as yet unresolved conflict regarding whether it is the person on the dealer’s left or the youngest player who goes first.

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Firstborn means you’re always older…meh…

And yet, there can come a day — which, for me, came only yesterday — when you wonder whether the simple fact of being firstborn is sufficient. When you question whether being the child whose birth, years before, changed your parents’ lives will prompt them to remember you on your birthday.

What? I usually prefer to let this ridiculous birthday stuff slide straight under the radar…I’m a firstborn, and that means that the oldest child is always, well…older…

Being the responsible, rule following, respectful firstborn that I am, I spent part of my birthday yesterday beside my mother’s hospital bed, where she was recovering from back surgery.

No, I don’t need a medal. Really — I’m a firstborn; we do this stuff all the time.

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Hippo Birdie Two Ewe, in full.

What I did need, was for my Dad, The Professor, who has dementia, to remember that it was the anniversary of the day his firstborn child came into the world.

And you know what? He did. Not that actually wished me, “Happy Birthday,” mind. Rather more amusingly, and in keeping with long-standing family tradition, he quoted Sandra Boynton and said, “Hippo Birdie Two Ewes”.

And so it was that on another hot, humid day in the Emerald City, which remains the most glittering of jewels on the edge of the wide brown land of Oz, this firstborn was remembered.

And it really was special.

 

 

 

2017 in Review: And That’s a Wrap

It’s that time of year when I’m charting my personal Top Fives of 2017, with a few honourable mentions thrown in for good measure. Yesterday I looked at books, and today I’m switching to what I’ve seen on screens, big and small.

Much like its literary counterpart, I’ve decided that the Viewing category is open to any movie or television series made at any time, but which I watched 2017.  I managed to list the books chronologically, but this list — like my viewing habits generally — is far more haphazard. There are (hopefully) no spoilers here, and definitely no full reviews.  These are just five of my favourites for 2017…feel free to leave me your suggestions of what to watch next year, or your thoughts on what should have made the list.

BLUE JAI’S BEST MOVIES & TV OF 2017

1. Sound City (2013)

2017 Sound cityI’m kicking this list off with a feature-length documentary about the history of a recording studio in Van Nuys, Los Angeles — a description that sounds somewhat bland and boring until you realise that the recording studio in question is Sound City Studios, and the director of the film is Dave Grohl. It might sound even more banal if I described this movie as Grohl’s love letter to the Neve 8028 analog mixing console at Sound City but, again, once it becomes clear that this was the console he and a previously little-known band called Nirvana once used to record an album called Nevermind that went on to change the musical world as we know it, the whole thing begins to make a lot more sense.

2017 DGThe list of rock music luminaries who recorded at Sound City is astonishing, as is the sheer number of them who shared their memories of making music there: Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, Trent Reznor, Butch Vig, Josh Homme and Paul McCartney are but a few of the artists associated with the studio who agreed to be part of the film. (Then again, given it was Dave Grohl asking them, perhaps it’s hardly surprising at all.)

Much like the Neve console itself, this movie captures a moment in time, a particular sound. It’s like a trip down memory lane in a leather jacket, and while the  film — much like its director — wears its heart on its sleeve, it manages to steer clear of sentimentality when discussing the closure of Sound City and, instead, celebrates old school technology being given a new lease of life as the Neve console is moved to Grohl’s own Studio 606, where it will no doubt be used well into the future.

If you’re a music fan, this one’s a must see.

2. GLOW, Season 1 (2017)

2017 GlowSo we’re still in the San Fernando Valley, but my second pick for 2017 is the televsion comedy series GLOW — which stands, of course, for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.  I never thought a comedy about the making of a 1980s syndicated women’s wrestling show (it is fiction, by the way) would interest me in the slightest, but the writing is as tight the ladies’ leotards, the costumes and soundtrack are so tacky they’re great, and some of the scenes — Sheila the Shewolf’s birthday bash at the roller rink springs to mind — are unexpectedly moving.

2017 Alison BrieI absolutely loved Alison Brie as the semi-desperate, struggling actress Ruth Wilder (particularly when she’s in Soviet mode), and Marc Maron’s portrayal of Sam Sylvia, the sleazy, disillusioned director who discovers he might actually care, is completely convincing. GLOW is laugh out loud funny, with some cutting edge social commentary to boot.

Bring on Season 2.

 

3. The Crown, Season 2 (2017)

2017 The CrownSpeaking of Season 2, I’ve just binged on another Netflix series — this time, the sumptuous historical drama that is The Crown. The second instalment is every bit as enjoyable as the first, and while political drama plays out on the wider world stage in the form of events such as the Suez Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination, for me the most interesting episodes are those depicting Queen Elizabeth II (played brilliantly by Claire Foy) navigating the complexities and challenges of her personal relationships — especially those with her husband and sister.

Vanessa Kirby very nearly steals the show as Princess Margaret, particularly in one powerful sequence that captures her volatility and unhappiness.  In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Kirby described the scene:

She does this melancholy dance. You rarely saw her on her own, and I always imagined her alone in the house, grieving for her father — her sister preoccupied with a husband and kids and so busy being Queen. She would feel redundant, isolated; ostracised. I just imagined these dark nights of the soul, rattling around in Clarence House.

It’s compelling, if not a little voyeuristic, viewing.

4. Avis de Mistral/My Summer in Provence (2014)

2017 provenceThis French film is one that has been panned elsewhere, but I still wanted to see it.  I’m not entirely sure what it was that first drew me in, though I’ve always been a Jean Reno fan and I’m yet to meet anyone worth knowing who doesn’t harbour a soft spot for Provence.  Perhaps it’s also because, as the grandchild of divorced grandparents, I was intrigued by the the possibility that a cantakerous old man might eventually be won over by the three grandchildren he has never met — despite the best efforts of just about everyone involved to be difficult and objectionable.

The generational struggles are played out over the course of a long, hot summer, and despite the disputes between the characters being occasionally petty (two of the grandchildren are teenagers, after all), the ultimate benevolence and humanity of the characters and the strength of the bonds between them are never really in doubt — particularly in relation to the youngest grandchild, Theo, who is deaf (and is played, beautifully, but Lukas Pélissier, who is also deaf). One of the things I loved about this film is that whenever the action is seen from Theo’s perspective, there is no sound — which serves not only as a reminder of his condition, but also as a respite from the boisterous, dischordant world of his older siblings.

If I’m perfectly honest, this is a predictable, safe and sentimental film: the vast majority of the action is telegraphed well before it happens, including the inevitable happy ending. But sometimes, in life, we need movies like this — things that blow in like the mistral, and blow straight out again…and it’s made my Top Five because at the time I watched it I needed such a distraction, and My Summer in Provence served its purpose very well.

5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

2017 last jediYou knew there had to be a big-hitting, blockbuster of a franchise movie in here somewhere, didn’t you? Well, The Last Jedi is it — and a big part of the reason why this film makes the list is that I watched it at the cinema with my family.

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing about the possibility of introducing my girls to Star Wars, when in reality it was two and a half years ago.  During that time, they have become committed fans of the Star Wars universe, have watched all the films, every episode of Clone Wars and Rebels ever made, and have had hours of “Jedi Training” in the back yard with their father. They even insisted on making their own light sabers (purple — just like Mace Windu’s) at Disneyland.

I suspect half of what was written on the internet during the past month was devoted to The Last Jedi, so I’m not going to add to it any more here, save to say that I aboslutely loved this movie. And best of all, I got to see it with Marvel Girl, Miss Malaprop and The Bloke sitting right beside me.

Honourable mentions for other viewing in 2017 go to Thor: Ragnarok, not only because I can’t go past any Marvel movie in which Tom Hiddleston plays Loki, but also because I think Taika Waititi has brought a really fresh (not to mention funny) approach to the franchise; Anne with an E (and a PTSD?), which turned an old favourite on its head in a way I’ve decided I really liked; and Lucifer, Seasons 1 and 2 of which I believe to be the very best sort of trashy television, complete with clever lines and a one very handsome Devil.

Coming soon: Blue Jai’s Best Viewing and Listening of 2017…hit the follow button and don’t miss a thing!

At the Going Down of the Sun…

ANZAC

There was once a man who loved to sail…

It’s Anzac Day here in Australia today — the day we commemorate the continued service and sacrifice of our armed forces, the day we remember those who gave their lives to make this country the safe haven it is today.

For me, Anzac Day is a solemn occasion. It brings to mind of the sharp scent of rosemary, the sound of harbourbound fighter planes overhead, and the comforting feel and weight of the two brass buttons from my grandfather’s naval dress uniform that I took into every exam at the end of high school and throughout university.

I have no memories of my grandfather speaking to me of his war service: not of surviving the bombing of Darwin, not of the time he spent at sea during the war in the Pacific, not of being one of the first Australians to set foot on Japanese soil after the signing of the surrender in Toyko Bay. And yet, the photograph I have of him on top of my piano is one that was taken at sea during that awful time, and it is of a slim young man leaning casually against the ship’s rail, immaculately dressed (as always) and smiling — and reminding me of my younger brother more than I’d like to admit.

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…he was my Grandfather…

Somehow, the sight of that photograph often prompts me to imagine what he and his mates went through — a bunch of blokes thrown together as the crew of a small ship on a vast ocean, facing a determined enemy. In all honesty, however, I know I can’t really imagine what it was like. Not the exhaustion. Or the feeling of being constantly threatened. Or the battles at sea. Or the kamikazes. And even though I will always be proud of his service, my overwhelmingly emotion is one of relief that he came home.

That he had a family.

That I got to know him and love him.

And as I write this, I am acutely aware that in a matter of days it will be the 25th anniversary of my grandfather’s death.

Anniversaries are strange things. At first they often feel so raw we wonder whether we will make it through them, and worry that the sorrow and anguish will never go away. Because loss literally makes our hearts ache — and I suspect Queen Elizabeth II was absolutely right when she once told her young grandsons, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

But even as time goes on, anniversaries can fill us with a welter of conflicting emotions, and can sometimes surprise us with the  intensity of our residual grief. Only two years ago, I used this space to write about my grandfather when those feelings crept up on me once again. And, perhaps because I am at heart a reader and writer, then as now I tend to draw comfort from the words of fictional characters whenever grief rears its shaggy head. In the Harry Potter series, for example, Albus Dumbledore offers these comforting words:

Ddore dead do not

…and he’s never really left me….

To have been loved deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.

Elsewhere, Dumbledore also reminds us that the ones who love us never truly leave us, and that even when they have the continue to influence us in our everyday lives — in the thoughts we think, the decisions we make, even in the turns of phrase we use.

I try to pass those funny little things that my grandparents said on to my own children.  My Welsh grandmother, for example, used to say “Golly Gosh!”, which my kids, for reasons known only to them, find utterly delightful. My globetrotting gypsy grandmother was famous for asking, “Where’s Beulah?” every time she hosted a dinner party — referring to an imaginary kitchen maid who supposedly shot through every time guests arrived, leaving Grandma with all the work. And my grandfather? Well, any success, no matter how big or small, was always celebrated by him as being a “true triumph”.

I am grateful I can refer my children to the words of their ancestors as well as those of Albus Dumbledore when they are in need of comfort, though there is one other thing I told them when they were small that they have latched onto: that when someone we love dies, we see them again every night because they are up with the twinkling stars. They reminded me of this only recently when, after we finished reading The Hobbit together, we sat down as a family and watched all three Hobbit movies. Not surprisingly, both my girls have become particularly fond of Tauriel, the Sylvan Elf who does not appear in the book, but who has a minor role in the movies.

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…and he never ever will.

When Thorin Oakenshield and his company of dwarves have been imprisoned by Thranduil, The Elvenking of Mirkwood, Tauriel has a discussion with Kili, one of the younger dwarves about Mereth Nuin Giliath, the Feast of Starlight.

“All light is sacred to the Eldar, but the Wood Elves love best the light of the stars,” Tauriel tells Kili, who says he always thought starlight was cold, remote and far away.

But Tauriel, it seems, has a similar view of the stars to mine:

It is memory, precious and pure…I have walked there sometimes, beyond the forest and out into the night. I have seen the world fall away and the white light of forever fill the air.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

At the going down of the sun, the twinkling stars shine.