The sound of music

This post is in response to A Word in Your Ear’s Word A Week Challenge—Music

"The Musician", pastel painting of Vorn Doolette, by Caron Eastgate Dann

“The Musician”, pastel painting of Vorn Doolette, by Caron Eastgate Dann

I once interviewed one of Australia’s most successful performers, who had started as a folk singer but moved on to stand-up comedy. He was equally good at both, and I asked him why he chose the latter over the former.

“Well, if you’re good at stand-up, you can always get a gig and it’s possible to make a living,” he said. “But with music, you can be the most talented musician in the world, better than everyone you hear on the radio, and still not be able to pay your bills.”

Although choosing music as a career is about answering a calling, of course it has to be treated as a business if it is to be a source of income. I like the way musicians and other performers, and their supporters, are inventive when it comes to forging a career.

Late last year, my friend Sally organised a music concert in her apartment, featuring her friend Vorn Dolette, a wonderfully quirky folk-with-a-twist singer-songwriter from South Australia. Twenty of us attended the event, paying $20 each for the concert and substantial nibbles, and everyone bringing whatever they wanted to drink.

The result was an intimate performance, highly professional yet much more personal than going to a commercial venue. All the money collected goes to the performer, instead of most going to middlemen.

Afterwards, I did a pastel painting of Vorn during his concert, using a photo I took on the day as a reference. I gave the original to Sally to thank her for hosting such a special event.

Pets for Peace

Lucy Locket stars as "A Bookish Cat" in a pastel painting I did of her this week.

My pastel painting of my cat, Lucy Locket, who sits with me while I work

"Maggie", by Caron Dann, 2012.

“Maggie”, my brother’s dog, rescued from an animal shelter

These two pets don’t know each other, but my mother calls them her “grandchildren”. The dog is Maggie, who lives in the US with my brother and his wife. The cat is Lucy Locket, who lives with me in Melbourne, Australia. I share my paintings of them in this post, in answer to Kozo’s Bloggers for Peace challenge this month on raising children so they know the value of peace.
In order to truly promote peace in the world, you have to be a person who knows inner peace. I believe there are few experiences in our everyday lives that give this sort of peace as much as owning a pet does.
The undying love of a dog who thinks you are perfect, no matter what; the companionship, elegance and spirit of a cat who thinks you are part of its litter (or perhaps its servant); the sweetness of a small bird that will sit on your shoulder and mimic your sounds: these are pets I have known.
I’m a cat person. I’ve owned cats since I was very young. Times have changed since I was a child and we put the (un-neutered) cat OUT for the night. These days, my cat is an indoor being, perfectly happy in our townhouse. She has an enclosed courtyard to play in, and to wistfully watch birds strut across high-up roofs. She could, if she wanted, climb the fence and run off—but she never does.
As for Maggie, my brother’s dog, she’s an American rat-terrier. They acquired poor Maggie from an animal shelter. When she had been brought in, there were signs she had recently had puppies, but no trace of the puppies. Her claws were very long and she was malnourished. After that awful start, Maggie now has an idyllic life and is devoted to her owners.
If you have a pet, you have responsibilities to look after it, to keep it safe and to give it the affection it deserves. In return, this pet will be your greatest companion.
It doesn’t matter what you look like, whether you’re fat or thin, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you did well in school, whether you are popular or not, or whether you are talented at anything. As long as you look after it—which means training, of course, especially for dogs—your pet will love and respect you.
These are good lessons for children to learn: that love and care given will result in love and care back, and that life is about much more than material things.

Living in Tomorrowland

I have a long time to work before I could consider retirement—around 20 years—and I probably won’t be able to afford to retire then anyway. I’ve always hated the word “retirement”, and thought it would never apply to me.

Instead, I’ve decided that I’m not going to wait until I retire to do the stuff a lot of people take up at that time. I’m going to somehow find the time to do it now.

Two years ago, I took up painting. Instead of sitting in front of the TV in the early evening, I now get out my easel and paints, or whatever other medium I’m using. I’ve just started an online art course from the London Art College, and I hope this will help me improve.

In the two years since I started my new hobby , I have completed more than 40 paintings. Except for the last month, when long work hours have had to take precedence, I’ve painted on about five nights a week. You can see lots of my work on other posts of this blog tagged “art”. The pictures at the top of my blog pages are all detail from paintings I’ve done, too. Here’s a charcoal drawing I did recently:

© Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

Charcoal drawing by Caron Eastgate Dann, featuring the first native-American ballerina, Maria Tallchief, as Firebird for the New York City Ballet in 1949. The reference was a black & white photograph in the 1987 book Ballerina, by Mary Clarke & Clement Crisp.

The Retiring Sort, a blogger I follow who has just celebrated her first anniversary free of work, has issued Future Challenge – Enjoying the Fun Stuff to ask bloggers to consider what they would like to do in the future or in retirement, no matter what age they are now. I think it’s a worthy topic to think about, whether you’re 20, 40, 60, 80 or older.

I say that the future is here and you shouldn’t put off these things to some far-off time when you will be “retired”. I’ve known people who have then missed out on their greatest desires, because in the meantime they’ve become ill or even died, or their circumstances have changed (such as having to become carers for grandchildren, for example).

The thing is, we never know what we’ll be able to do in future and how long we’ll be able to do it for.

One of my other ambitions was to write a blog. I had been introduced to this world by my friend Kenny at Consider the Sauce, and I wanted to try it. Despite being paid to write all my adult life, I shook off the shackles of professionalism and jumped in to the blogosphere…and here I am.

Of course, we are all time poor, and it’s hard to find time to do the basics, such as cleaning and maintenance, let alone the fancy stuff. It’s amazing though, how it is possible to find this time if you have to. Here are some ideas for clawing back some time:

*Cook in a more simple way. Not every meal has to be a “recipe”. Even if you have guests, as a friend of mine advises: “Throw some steaks on the barbecue, make a salad and bake some potatoes in the oven. They all love it”. Provided they’re not vegetarians, of course. I have lots of simple but wholesome meals I can do in a jiffy. Here’s another: slice some zucchini and fry gently in olive oil until brown on both sides; throw in some garlic and chopped fresh chilli (optional) towards the end of frying; meanwhile, boil some pasta until al dente. Combine the two, season with salt and pepper, and serve with parmesan and parsley. Sometimes I add low-fat salami to the zucchini.

*Watch less TV. I even stopped watching the news closely on some nights, though it is still on in the background. I found that the TV news wasn’t telling me anything new that I hadn’t read on line already.

*When you are watching TV, get up EVERY ad break and do something. I often paint in the ad breaks. It’s amazing how a dabble here and a dabble there can turn into a painting eventually.

*Get off line. Limit your Facebook and other internet access to certain times of the day. I do not always practise what I preach here.

*If you take public transport, get a tablet computer and use part of the commute time to send emails and so on.

*If you drive to work, consider swapping to public transport. I did that this year.  Even though I have to take two trains and a bus to work most days, it takes about the same time all up as driving. The huge benefit, besides being cheaper, is that the time is my own, so I use it to read books—I can get up to 50 pages a day read—and to do my emailing and keep up with social networking.

I really want to finish writing my second novel, too. I don’t like to write at night, so somehow I’m going to have to find the time to do that. I’m thinking that less TV late at night would be the smart thing to do so that I could go to bed earlier, get up earlier on the days I’m not working, and get that novel written.

But I really like staying up late when it’s not a work night. So, I have a decision to make, don’t I?

Letter FROM my 17-year-old self

Magazine columns, websites and blogs lately have taken up the idea of asking a columnist to write a letter to their teenage self, given the wisdom they have today. My version of this is a bit different: it’s a letter from my teenage self, caught in a time warp and forgotten about for 30 years, a surprising blast from the past.

The occasion was the 30th reunion of graduates from my one-term journalism certificate course at Auckland Technical Institute (now AUT), which I was travelling to New Zealand to attend. My former classmates were coming from throughout New Zealand, from Australia and the US. From memory, about 18 of the 23 graduates were there.

We had two tutors: the formidable Geoff Black and his younger sidekick, Colin Moore. Geoff had died years before, but Colin was in his 60s, still writing and very active.

Colin was delighted to be invited to our reunion, and had made plans to attend. Sadly, just a few weeks before the reunion, he was killed in an accident, crushed between his boat trailer and his van on a boat ramp at Taupo Bay in the Far North (not to be confused with Lake Taupo).

When Colin’s children were going through his belongings, they found he had kept some of his materials from his one term of teaching at ATI so long before. Among them was an exercise we had done at the end of our course, when we’d been asked to write a paragraph about our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes during the term. Colin’s children kindly contacted us and said they would send these papers to us, which would be even more poignant given it was our reunion.

I looked forward eagerly to receiving mine, written by manual typewriter on a piece of old-size journalist’s copy paper. When I received it, I was disappointed that mine seemed so juvenile. My feelings were easily hurt, I said, and I hated the thought that people might be gossiping and laughing about me—though there would have been absolutely nothing in my life for anyone to gossip about in those days, to be sure!

I thought of myself as grown up then, but instead, I reveal myself as a typical mid-teenager. In fact, I exhibit the same characteristics for which I find myself criticising young people today: lack of interest in or knowledge of current affairs, won’t watch the TV news despite wanting to be a journalist, dislike of formal tertiary study (such as lectures and exercises), and an over-emphasis on obtaining money.

My description of myself as putting on a “sweet little reporter act” to “grease people up” was perhaps something I had seen in a movie and was romanticising about: most politically incorrect, these days, but I had done a lot of acting training as a child, after all.

This is what my paper said, strengths and weaknesses on one side, likes and dislikes on the other:



Practical work, quick writing, good at greasing people up when the need arises, i.e. the sweet little reporter act, get a kick out of seeing stories in print; naturally tidy and orderly, deep thinker (or perhaps that’s a weak point)


Can’t stand people hassling me or making jokes about my private life; don’t take in current events – they go in one ear and out the other – I need to concentrate more when reading and perhaps listen to
TV news; feelings are easily hurt; want revenge on nasty people; never have enough money to settle my enormous appetite, therefore am miserable; or miserable cos I don’t have any of my own money.



Field trips, newspaper layouts, lunchtimes, writing stories

Don’t like

Court reporting, boring lectures, exercises (Altho’ I realise these are important. [sic]

The hand-written marks on the paper show my tutor did actually read it. Oh, another thing it reveals: contradictions. In “strengths”, I claim to be a “deep thinker”, yet in “weaknesses”, I say information goes “in one ear and out the other”. Colin was clearly perplexed at this, and circled it.

It seems strange that I typed this all in capital letters. But perhaps it shows I felt like shouting with frustration, as many teens do. At 17, I wanted to get on with my life, leave home (to the dismay of my family, though they supported me) and be the best journalist I could be. I knew that to do all that, I would need a living wage. I also had a weakness for beautiful and expensive clothes.

I really did wish for more than money in those days—for a start, I thought that one day, I would be a top broadcaster with my own news show, or editor of the New York Times, or a famous actor, or a scriptwriter of films. As a teenager though, perhaps I was too embarrassed to write these things. Teens often give ridiculous or non-descript answers to adults’ questions. For example, when my brother was a teenager, if my mother asked him what he’d done at school that day, the answer would be “Stuff”.

So, if I could write to myself today, what would I say? Well, I’d probably give myself the same sort of advice my parents gave me back then…to which, for the most part, I refused to listen. As my mum says, although “they don’t know what they don’t know” you can’t tell them—young people have to make their own mistakes.

Although I was disappointed at first, all those years later when I was older and wiser, in what I’d written on the scrap of copy paper, now, a couple of years later, I think it has more to say to me than I at first thought. More than anything, it teaches me to be more tolerant of young people, because once upon a time, I was just like them.

New York, 1968: “Love, Daddy”

NY1968 NY1968_0001

My mother recently gave me some old cards and letters she’d kept, and among them was this wonderful postcard that my late father had sent me when I was a little girl, in 1968. Dad was in the New Zealand army, but we were living in England where he was doing some research at York University, and he had gone to New York on business. This might well be the first piece of mail I ever received addressed to me personally.

It is dated 24.6.68, and he writes:

Dear Caron,

My hotel is just along the road from this big building, and after lunch today, I am going to go right up to the top. I will take some movies, and you will be able to see them when I get home. Love, Daddy.

It reminded me of a much earlier letter I have, from another father to his young child. It is addressed to “My dear little man”, and it was written by my grandfather, Captain Freddy Eastgate, to his son, my father Harold Eastgate (later Captain as well). Dad was 5 when this letter was written to him by his dad, who was a career army man. Years after this letter was born, my grandfather would be away for seven years at the Korean War and with the army in Japan.


Hut 150
Trentham M. C.
Saturday 16-5-42
My Dear Little Man,
I thought you would be almost better by now. I sent you a small parcel last Sunday but it doesn’t seem to have arrived there yet. There is nothing in the camp much to buy or send to little boys. I hope you are getting better. Try and be a good boy and help Mummy as much as you can. I am going to try and get home to see you next week end. You try and get better by then aye.
Cheerio for now.
Lots & lots of love from
Daddy xxxxxx

I wonder now what was in the parcel and if Dad received it. Dad kept quite a few things from when he was young, so it’s possible whatever it was is still among his possessions, most of which my mother kept.

You’re never too old to dance

juke boxI went into a gift shop at my local plaza, and ahead of me was a very old lady on a walker. She was little and stooped, and didn’t appear to take much trouble about how she dressed. She was wearing an old cardigan and her hair was a little dishevelled.  She handed over some money, then turned to make her way slowly out of the shop. I noticed that her eyes were shining.

The assistant had to tell someone. “See that electronic juke box in the window, the one with all the flashing lights? She’s put it on layby and she’s only got two more payments to make. She’s saving money each week from her pension.”

Is she buying it for a grandchild or something?” I said.

“No—it’s for herself, she says.”

The juke box was $999, an enormous amount of money for a pensioner to pay, even by layby (paying it off in fortnightly instalments).

The old lady was, the assistant said, the most unlikely purchaser for such a thing, and not only because of the expense. “I think she’s suffering from dementia a bit—we couldn’t believe she’d actually see all the payments through.”

I took a picture of the juke box that day, the one at the top of this post.

A few weeks later, I visited the shop again. The juke box was still in the window. “Has she paid it off yet?” I asked.

“Not yet—one more payment. She asked us to put some music on it. I used a flash drive to download a whole lot of songs, which I’ll give to her and all she needs to do is plug it into the juke box,” the assistant continued. “She says she’d like all the old hits from the 1940s and 1950s.”

Another few weeks went by. I walked past the shop and noticed the juke box was gone. I had to know.

“She paid it off today and it’s being delivered to her flat,” the assistant said. “Now she wants more music.” She rolled her eyes.

I have an enduring vision of the old lady young again and accompanied by a handsome beau, playing her juke box and, in her mind, dancing the night away to  Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, and the Platters.

Rock on—you’re never too old to dance.

A White Sports Coat...And a Pink Carnation

A White Sports Coat…And a Pink Carnation

My friend and former colleague, Kenny, makes some great points about suburban newspapers.

consider the sauce


My appreciation for and reliance on our suburban press for finding out what is going on in my community have both deepened significantly in recent years.

This process has been hastened by my metropolitan newspaper career fading to memory, at the very time those newspapers fight for survival and seem often to be pre-occupied with major sport, federal politics, shock/horror and click bait.

And, until recently, I was even working on either a regional newspaper (Geelong Advertiser) or its free, weekly “giveaways”, and even (more recently) for the proprietors of one of our three suburban titles.

As well, doing Consider The Sauce has really heightened my desire for information about what’s going on in the greater western suburbs. And I’m not just talking about restaurant reviews – reading the suburban press has hipped me to many festivals and community events, as well as providing information about local politics…

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This is a brilliant piece about the way renters are treated by letting agents, especially when they have been instructed to sell a property. What is it with these people? Why can’t they be nice?

A Word in Your Ear


About a week before I was due to go on holiday I received a phone call.

“Hello Sue, my name is Nadia and I’d like to arrange a meeting to talk to you about selling the house”.   After 2 years of renting, this was how we found out that the landlady had decided to put the house up for auction!

Since that call we have had nothing but trouble.  Nadia did not turn up for the initial meeting (which I left work early for), correction she did turn up, put a ‘For Auction’ sign up on the fence, got in the car and drove off without even a  knock on the door tell us what she was doing or to cancel the meeting.    When I rang to complain she tried to tell me that I’d got the date wrong then tried to rearranged the meeting for the bank holiday Monday.

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“I’m not very smart”

I walked up to the counter today of my local wine shop and noticed there was a new face serving: a young man with a beaming smile, but obviously nervous and trying hard to do the right thing. He was on his own at the counter.

My purchases came to $22 and I handed him a $50 note. He was taking a while to collect the change from the till.

“It’s my first day,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “Take your time.”

Eventually, he gave me my $28 change.

“I think the machine might tell you how much change to give,” I said, trying to be helpful.

“Oh yes, it does,” he replied. “But I’m not very smart.”

I started to say “Awww, I’m sure that’s not—”, and he shrugged, and said, “It’s OK,” as if to say “It is what it is”.

After wishing him a good afternoon, I left the shop, feeling sad for him. Not sad that it took him a while to count the change—he got there in the end. But sad that this young man goes through life thinking, “I’m not very smart”. He didn’t say it as I would: “I’m not good at numbers” or, “maths is not my strong point”, because I know I have others. He said it as a whole-life thing: “I’m not very smart”.

Now, children aren’t born thinking they’re not very smart. Somewhere along the line, he’s got this idea. Was it a parent, teacher, sibling, friend, bully…who gave him the idea that he is “not very smart”?

My friend and fellow blogger, Bryan Patterson at Faithworks, wrote a post this week on the different types of intelligence (read it here), and how it’s not an exact science. As I walked home today, I wanted to say to New Man at the Wine Shop:

1) You have a job—they picked you, which means you’re good;

2) You are kind, personable and helpful to the customers, without being overbearing. In my books, that makes you smarter than many people I know.

Good luck to him, and I hope that, someday soon, someone tells him he is smart.

My sentimental journey

Space is at a premium in our house. When we married, we blended two households. Well three, actually, since I had both city and beach residences. We are lucky to rent a three-bedroom unit—most are two bedrooms, so we have the luxury of a study each.

We both had lifelong collections of books; archives of clippings from our long careers as journalists; music collections; clothes we thought might fit us again one day; memorabilia from many travels. A couple of years ago, I copied all my CDs to my computer, then took most of those CDs to the op shop. Cassettes had been thrown out by 2006.

There’s a problem, though: sometimes, I throw out the wrong thing. Many years ago, I discarded all my notes from journalism school and all my assignments from my bachelor’s degree. Now that I am a tertiary educator—something that when I was young, I would never have imagined myself—I would be interested to read them again as artifacts of a generation ago. Mind you, would I have wanted to cart them between three countries and 25 addresses? Not really. Now I’m looking at the three massive tomes in my bookcase that are copies of my PhD thesis. You have to submit quite a few, but you get the two examiners’ copies back. I don’t want them, and neither does anyone else! But it seems wrong, somehow, just to bin them. Perhaps I should use the blank backs of the pages for drawing practice.

Often, you save things for posterity because you think your children might be interested in them when they themselves have children. But if you don’t have children, there seems little point. For example, I recently went through and culled my clippings from three decades: the only person in the long-term future who will be interested in reading my old published stories is me! So I kept only the ones that interest me.


Just because you don’t still have the souvenir, doesn’t mean you don’t have the memory. I have a collection of snow domes from my travels, but I throw them out when they lose their water. I also collect books and ornaments depicting mermaids, and I bought this retro reproduction from a great vintage shop in Hawaii about 10 years ago. They are salt and pepper shakers!

Poor little mermaid: damaged ornaments with no sentimental value have to go.

Poor little mermaid: damaged ornaments with no sentimental value have to go.

Recently though, when I was cleaning the shelf they sit on, I accidentally knocked the set over and the nose of the mermaid chipped off. It’s always been a difficult set, because there is nothing to hold the mermaid and seahorse together and the mermaid doesn’t stand on its own, so you couldn’t really use them as salt and pepper shakers at a table. So they must go: they have gone. But I have this photo, so I won’t forget them.

What to do with broken stuff
I have two elephant bells that I bought in Chiang Mai in 1991, while I was living in Thailand. The bells are mounted on wooden frames so you can sit them on a shelf. About 10 years ago, one of these flimsy frames broke. I always meant to fix it, but didn’t, and now, some of the pieces of wood have been lost. I realised this week that I will NEVER fix it. Out goes the old frame. I’ve kept the bell itself, which has become a handy doorstop. Meanwhile, the other one’s frame is fine and I’ve put it back on display in my living room (it had been hiding in the hall behind a set of golf clubs).

The remaining framed elephant bell. The other bell, minus its frame, is now a perfect doorstop.

The remaining framed elephant bell. The other bell, minus its frame, is now a perfect doorstop.

Stuff that’s not broken
It used to be that you’d never throw out something that wasn’t broken; even if it was broken, you’d try to fix it first, or keep some bits that might be useful.
We have 15 coffee mugs and about 30 wine glasses, plus probably 20 other specialty glasses. For the two of us. I don’t think we need that many. These glasses take up an entire cupboard, two shelves, plus another small shelf. We don’t have a big kitchen.

Crayon Files

Do two people really need this many glasses? And this is not counting the special set from Venice or the martini glasses more often used for shrimp cocktails.

It seems wrong to throw out glasses when they are perfectly good, but we have to do it. We plan to cull them shortly. I reckon six wine glasses is enough for a household of two. I always use the same one, anyway. And six tumblers should be ample, don’t you think?

Sheets and towels
I recently counted our towels and found that we had 13 sets—for two people. Now, colour coding aside (Mr Style-Master likes everything to match), two people do not need 26 towels, 26 face washers and 26 hand towels. There is no linen cupboard in our house, so the Style-Master had to make one and it takes up a whole corner of his study.

Two people need two towels for the bathroom, two for the wash, and two for the cupboard. We could accommodate no more than two house guests at a time, so that’s another two of each. That’s a maximum of eight towels needed, or four sets. Thirteen sets is excessive and we are getting rid of the old ones. Well, some of them.

Photo albums
Remember when people used to put photo albums together of their travels and special events? Mine were complete with typed captions and dates. You would have an album or two on the coffee table so guests could view your most recent trip. But people don’t do this any more. They have electronic photo frames that continuously rotate the photos. And everyone travels these days, so people are not that interested in your snapshots. Even if they don’t travel, they can view any place they like via Google. They don’t need you to show them.
I once had about 10 big albums. They were one of my favourite things. Now, as I dismantle those albums and digitise the images that matter,  I look back and see excess. Yes, I travelled on the Glacier Express train across the Swiss Alps. But I don’t need 100 photos of the journey, icy peak by icy peak. Twenty would be plenty. I used to take loads of pictures in the days of analogue cameras because you couldn’t tell how good the shots were until you had the film developed. I would always be thinking in terms of taking photos for publication, as I used to be a travel writer.
I do still keep the best prints from the old days, but I no longer ever bring them out to show visitors. My visitors no doubt thank me for that.

In my view, this is a valid reason for keeping some things you no longer use, or that are even broken. My mother has a lot of things from when my brothers were young (in different decades). My first brother was killed in a road accident in 1981; my second brother is now married and lives in the US. So I can understand why she holds on to the books, soft toys, games and so on. Each one has a special memory attached.

Mum also kept a lot of my things that, as a young person, I would have thrown out. I left home at 17, not taking much with me and definitely not wanting to be loaded with childish possessions. Mum recently gave me back some birthday cards I’d treasured as a child, my old music box, some primary school assignments I did and a postcard sent to me by my late father a long time ago (which will be the subject of an upcoming post). I’m really glad now that she saved them all this time, across two countries and five house moves.