And so ends another puzzling day…

Tram

This is so cute, I had to post it. For those who don’t know, this is a classic Melbourne tram. Well, it’s a miniature model I made today with the Japanese micro block brand Nano Block.

These W-class trams were designed in the 1920s and built for decades, but they have been largely superseded now by sleeker, bigger, quieter models.  However, it’s the old clackety-clack tram, like this one, that is most fondly remembered as synonymous with Melbourne life. We had conductors on them, too, who would wear change belts, sell tickets, and dispense all sorts of information.

I’ve written before (here) about my new model-building hobby. This is the biggest model I have made so far (though it can fit in the palm of my hand). It came with a formidable set of instructions, but they are precise, every block fits and there are always enough blocks and more. Imagine if one tiny block were missing…

TramNano

 

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“Don’t wish your life away”

CalMy late father had a few wise sayings, and one of them was “Don’t wish your life away”. He would say this whenever I said “I wish it was my birthday”, or “I can’t wait for the holidays”, or “only two more weeks to go until Christmas”, and on and on.
“Don’t wish your life away,” he would say.
When I was young, I used to think this was quite funny. Being immortal at that stage, of course, I would constantly be in a state of wild anticipation of The Next Big Thing that would be happening in my life.
Now that I am older, I understand what he meant. Instead of wishing days, weeks and months away, we should try to enjoy each one as they come and for what they are.
Retailing and media conspire against us doing this, of course. Not two weeks after Christmas, Easter stuff was in the shops in Melbourne. Easter is not until late March! And in the week after Christmas in NZ, where I had a short vacation, the TV was full of ads urging people to sign up for some ghastly hamper service that you pay into every week to have food delivered for next Christmas.
The result as I see it is that so many people seem to be lurching from one consumer-driven “celebration” to the next, and life passes by in a flash. Before you know it, Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate is here once again and “Where did the time go?”, we exclaim to each other.
“It’s been a long day” is not usually a sentence you utter when you’ve enjoyed a day. But it should be. I want to take each hour of the day as a gift, as a separate entity in which something wonderful can be achieved, thought or read.
Even though most of the year I work around 60 hours a week, I have plenty of time for leisure, because I make it a rule not to work past 6pm, unless I’m absolutely desperate and have a deadline that can’t be avoided.
Otherwise, I have this time every day to relax as I want to, and perhaps to cook the evening meal (my husband and I share the cooking).
Actually, I used to be a TV junkie. I would watch up to eight hours a day, and if I wasn’t working next morning, would stay up watching until 2am. And we didn’t even have pay TV!
But when we moved houses in April 2014, I stopped watching so much TV. I stopped watching most commercial news broadcasts, trashy ‘reality’ shows, game shows and soaps. Now I watch great dramas, comedies and the occasional movie. I watch interesting or entertaining documentaries. I even watch the occasional reality show if it can tell me about something I didn’t know or can entertain me. I watch only about two hours’ TV a night, and often less.
I do play computer games, often for hours at a time. But I find that I can play them while thinking about other things at the same time. I get lots of planning done and think up new ideas when I appear to be pushing buttons on a computer game. This is my secret weapon!
But from time to time, I find myself still trying to speed up days, weeks, even months. It’s good to have stuff to look forward to, I know, but I have to keep reminding myself: “Don’t wish your life away”!

The 1940s media technology nothing can better

Radio

There is an adage that says, don’t try to reinvent the wheel: that is, if an invention is perfect, leave it be. One of these perfect inventions, I believe, is the transistor radio. That’s because

  • It is light and portable, and you can buy one small enough to fit in a pocket;
  • The battery lasts for months, perhaps years, depending how much you use it;
  • It always works, as long as you’re in range of radio waves. No electricity, recharging, modem or internet capability needed;
  • When the weather is very hot or very cold, it still works;
  • You can do other things while you’re listening to the radio—you can drive, garden, cook, whatever;
  • There’s a world of entertainment for everyone, young, old and in between, and broadcasts available in almost every language. There are music of all types, dramas, news, advice shows, arts shows, science shows, chat and talkback.

In fact, radio was the world’s first live interactive media. When talkback started in the 1960s, the law in Australia had to be changed, because it was illegal to record phone calls, and radio stations needed a slight delay so they could censor inappropriate callers.

When I was about 9, my parents bought me my first transistor radio. It was a palm-sized red one with silver buttons. Back then, my favourite show was the children’s story request program on Sundays, starting at 6am.

In those days, also, I can remember my grandparents still had a ‘radiogram’ that was a big piece of cabineted furniture, in a polished wood that my grandmother would put a vase of flowers and family pictures in silver frames on top of. They called this piece of furniture the ‘wireless’, and it used valve technology rather than transistor technology. No doubt they thought the radiogram a superior being to the transistor, which was invented in 1947.

When I was a teenager living in Auckland, New Zealand, the soundtrack to my life was the cool music on Radio Hauraki, so called because it had started as a pirate station broadcasting from a boat out in the Hauraki Gulf from 1966-70.

By the time I was listening to Radio Hauraki, it was many years after those pirate days, and it was well established as a legal land-based station. But it still had that edge of being rebellious and even a bit dangerous, with Kevin “Blackie” Black (1943-2013) the coolest of all DJs in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Imagine my excitement when, as a young newspaper reporter in the 1980s, I actually got to interview the great Blackie himself at his house.

These days, of course, you will tell me that radio has been modernised and that I should stream it over the internet using an app on my phone. Yes, I can do that. But somehow it’s not the same: it eats my phone battery charge, for a start.

And I rarely listen to the radio for the music these days, because I can download any song I like and play it whenever.

But in today’s new environment of music on demand, something has been lost. I remember how, as a 14-year-old, I used to sit eagerly by the radio, finger poised on the red ‘record’ button of my cassette player, ready for when a favourite song happened to be played. It felt like winning a raffle when a song you’d been waiting for actually came on.

I still like a transistor radio. My current one is a retro-styled powder blue, which I did an ink and watercolour painting of, as you can see above.

I’m getting another one soon, a digital pocket-sized number. But essentially, it’s the same perfect invention even in the 21st century: simple, easy to use, strong, and lasts forever.

The secret of everlasting youth

Image from allfancydress.com UK

Image from allfancydress.com UK

I was travelling one recent morning on the shuttle bus that takes me from the train station to the university where I work. I was standing, because the bus is always packed and I rarely get a seat.

“Right, that’s it, you others will have to wait for the next bus!” the driver said to the long queue of students still waiting to board.

Off we went, maybe 40 students, all of them young, and two staff members, including me.

Incongruously, the driver was playing an ABBA hit from the 1970s, Dancing Queen, on the sound system. Some of these kids’ parents wouldn’t even be old enough to remember this in its own time, I thought wryly.

That song brought back memories, to when I was in my mid-teens, had my first after-school job and believed that every day had the potential for something exciting to happen. As I was often told by older family members, I had my whole life ahead of me.

Meanwhile, back to the future, on the bus in 2015, it suddenly occurred to me that that was the difference between being young and thinking old: hope and expectation.

I haven’t stopped hoping for exciting things to happen, and I know they still can and will. But when I was young, I not only hoped they would happen, I expected them to. If I went for a job, I expected to get it, and I usually did, for example.

These days, when I apply for a job, though eminently qualified, I know not to get my hopes up. Even the ones I think I have in the bag…I don’t, usually! Quashed expectations abound, until it seems futile to have any.

Health-wise, I have led rather a charmed existence, so far. I’ve never had a serious illness, I’ve never broken a bone, never cut myself so badly I needed stitches. The worst illness I’ve had in recent decades was a bad back for a few weeks in 2008, which had no lasting implications. I’m robust and spring back from most things.

Nothing hurts except my feet after I’ve been on them all day, while most of my friends in their 40s and older complain of any number of aches and pains.

Most of all, I’ve never suffered from mental illness. I feel down some days, but I’ve never been clinically depressed. I feel anxious often and have certain trigger points but never to the point of becoming a serious problem. This is a major stroke of good luck, as so many people I know have been affected by mental illness.

Through most of my life I’ve woken up with what I refer to as the “bubble of happiness”. It’s a new day and anything can happen!

Mostly this year, for me, the only thing that happens is work, though. I’ve been putting all my energies into my job, then wishing I had time for play as well. I paint and sew and read, but I’ve let the first two go because I always have so much work to do. Not to mention writing that next novel, which I believe is my real work, but for which I need to make a new plan and squeeze the time from somewhere.

I know that on my death bed, I will never say, “I wish I’d taught more classes and written more lectures”. But I might say, “I wish I’d seen my friends more often, painted more pictures, written another novel.”

I see so many older people around me who have so obviously lost the hopes and expectations of youth – for good reason, usually. Life throws us a few too many challenges from time to time.

Yet, we all need to rise up with those bubbles of happiness once more and think like a young person again: exciting things not only can happen, they WILL happen!

The “away child”

The "away child": I was 13 and living with my grandparents for a year when this picture was taken.

The “away child”: I was 13 and living with my grandparents for a year when this picture was taken.

How thrilling it must be for parents to raise children to become independent adults who go off and do their own thing. They might travel, study, work, marry, even immigrate somewhere else.

But how bittersweet that must be: on the one hand, being proud of that child’s achievements, and on the other, not being able to see them regularly, perhaps not for years at a stretch.

I call this the “away child” phenomenon.

By “away child”, I mean a person who lives in a different city or country to their parents, and this applies to a person at any age. If you’re 80 and your mother is 100, but you live in different cities, you are still an “away child”. As my mother says, she will always be my mother—age is irrelevant.

Mum and Dad always encouraged us to be independent, to aim high and to travel the world. We started travelling internationally as a family when I was 5.

I was an “away child” first at the age of 12. My parents and brother went back to Los Angeles to live for another year, and I stayed behind in Auckland, New Zealand, with my grandparents.

When they came back the next year, it was exciting to meet them at the airport: I got the day off school and Mum wrote a letter to say they had decided to keep me home that day. I think it was a Tuesday.

Just a few years later, I was leaving home “for good” to take up my first journalism job at 17 in another region. Mum and Dad said I shouldn’t leave home so young, but I insisted, and my grandparents drove me to my new town—actually a place my father had lived in 40 years before and my grandmother had lived on her family’s farm. Some locals even remembered them.

It was in Waipukurau, in Central Hawke’s Bay, about five hours’ drive from home (not that I had a car). In those pre-internet days, we couldn’t be part of each other’s daily lives. Communication was by letter and the occasional expensive phone call, and I travelled home for a weekend every six weeks or so. I didn’t go home for Christmas that first year I was working.

It was such an exciting adventure for one so young that I didn’t think much about how my parents would feel. My mother revealed to me only recently that it was sad for them and that she felt almost as if I’d died: the empty room, what to do with the old toys, whether to repurpose my bedroom or leave it as it was. (Three years later when my first brother actually did die, I moved home for a year to be close to them; then they had a new baby, a second brother for me, and I visited as often as I could before moving to Australia. They followed, not long after, and then I moved to Thailand! But that’s another story).

Social media has made the phenomenon of the away child much easier to bear, I guess. My international students tell me this helps them deal with homesickness, the thought that they can actually see and hear their families daily (even if they don’t).

Now my mother and I actually live in the same city, and last year I moved suburbs so I am only 18km from her, not 72km. But my much younger brother lives in the US, and although that is great—a happy marriage, an amazing city to be young in, a career, a dog—it’s hard to get used to seeing this “away child” only every couple of years.

On the other hand, I have quite a few friends who live in the same town they were born in, just down the road from their parents. Some have been “away children” for long periods, but others have been happy just to stay.

I wonder what that’s like.

Where has the time gone?

TimeDear February: who are you, and what have you done with my friend January, who has suddenly disappeared, seemingly without warning?
Which is just another way of saying, Where has the time gone?
Remember when you were a kid and the summer school break seemed to go on and on and on? In New Zealand, ours coincided with Christmas and, two weeks later, my birthday.
I remember endless days of playing outside with the neighbourhood kids, rolling down the sloping grass lawn in my grandparents’ garden, travelling by car with my parents to Palmerston North, via a day fishing at Lake Taupo, to see my great-grandparents and loads of great-aunts, great-uncles and second cousins.
This summer break stretched almost to infinity, so that when it was, finally, time to go back to school, I was ready and willing.
Now, time speeds by so quickly, there is no such thing as an endless holiday. Even three or four weeks off goes like wildfire, and in a flash, it’s time to start work again.
This disparity is probably in part because as adults, we have so much more responsibility. The annual clean-out, biannual dentist visit, tax return that should have gone in months ago but there was no time… We leave it all to this mystical period when we, seemingly, will “have the time”. We don’t, of course, and in the blink of an eye, it’s gone.
Add to that the complication that when I don’t work, I don’t get paid, so I’m always short on cash during this time, trying to eke out the last of my pay and looking forward to that regular fortnightly input again.
In addition, leisure time flying by is about attitude. When I’m on holiday (vacation) now, I seem to spend the whole time counting the days, saying, “Oh no, only three weeks and four days to go…oh no, only three weeks and three days to go…how will I ever get everything done? I haven’t even started to write that new novel yet!”
In comparison, when I was a child, every day was what it was: up at sunrise, enjoying the time for itself, not even thinking about the next day, because there was so much of this one ahead, never worrying about where the time went, how little was left of the holidays. We took each day as it came.
Perhaps that is the way adults should live, too, at least during breaks from work.

Nothing lasts forever

IMG_2532

I have a couple of possessions that have been part of my everyday routine for a decade or more. They are not necessarily valuable or one-of-a-kind, or even very unusual.

One of them was a Capricorn mug I got in Thailand when I was living there in the late-1990s. Almost every day since then, I have had at least one cup of tea from this mug.

IMG_2535Although the gold leaf that used to decorate it has almost gone, it seemed to be going strong. But a few days ago, it broke when it fell into the sink. Just broke, just like that.

Now I have to throw it away, and I will. But I will miss it.

Knowing it couldn’t last too much longer, I recently searched for another on the internet, but there is not one to be found, it would seem, although these mugs were available in a shop at a particularly popular shopping centre in central Bangkok for six years or more.

A couple of years ago, I even emailed the factory that makes Royal Bone China in Thailand, hoping they might have some remainders. They replied very cordially, but no luck: the cups had all been sold years before.

So now all I have is these pictures. If ever you see one, let me know, won’t you?IMG_2531

That book, that book…what was it?

The other day at work, some of the ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers were trying to think of the title of a great English-teaching text they remembered from the 1990s. It incorporated stick-figure drawings on flash card-like pages that were ring-bound.

There used to be a copy hanging round the old staff room, one said, but we had moved to a new building, and the little flash-card book had been forgotten (and had probably been thrown out). No one could remember the title or author.

It made me think of a book I had as a child to help me learn German. My father had visited Munich in Germany not long after the 1972 Olympics and had brought me back a poster for my wall. I was very young and thus didn’t know anything about the violence that had occurred there. But I had become entranced with teaching myself German (and went on to study it at high school and university).

The book I’m thinking of was a small paperback and it was part of a language series. It has long gone from my library, unfortunately. I also had a hardcover Berlitz book that I loved.

In my final year at school, I won a prize for German speaking from the Goethe Society. The prize was two lovely volumes of German fairy tales and songs. The song book was illustrated, with music, and I had it until recently. Now I can’t find it anywhere. I can only think that I must have given it away with a lot of others, in a fit of needing to make room in my bookcases. Why does it always seem that the book I give away is the very one I want not long after?

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 8.20.10 AMThere are websites that can help you identify books whose titles and authors you’ve forgotten. One is What Was that Book? Many of the postings on that are novels people read as children and half-remembered.

And what do you know? Today, I did a search for my German Through Pictures book and found it straight away! It was by I. A. Richards, I. Schmidt Mackey, W. F. Mackey and Christine Gibson. Itwas first published in 1953, though mine was a 1972 edition. Amazingly, I found a blog post  which reproduced some pages from German Through Pictures here. Thanks, Mary Caple from Montreal!

I could also buy the book via Amazon, priced from $7.92-$221.95, depending on quality and collectibility, if I wanted.

I think we should bring back the  series, as it’s so easy to learn from. There was also a French version—and perhaps there were other languages available, too.

Oh, and if anyone remembers the ring-bound English flash-card book with the stick-figure drawings, please let me know!

 

Long-ago interviews No. 3: David Soul and the difficult question

My TV Week story from August 6, 1994.

My TV Week story from August 6, 1994.

When I was a child in the 1970s, one of the cool American shows we all loved was Starsky and Hutch, starring Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul as Southern Californian detectives who were an unbeatable team.
I always liked Kenneth “Hutch” Hutchinson (Soul) best, though Starsky was the more stylish of the two with his chunky belted cardigan.
Starsky was the envy of young men everywhere, as was his Ford Gran Torino: one of my friends even bought a car painted like Starsky’s car, bright red with a white vector stripe along each side.
Anyway, many years later, when I was a reporter at TV Week magazine in Australia, I had the opportunity to interview one of my idols: Hutch—actor David Soul—was coming to town.
It was 1994 and Soul was no longer a big TV star, though he was still acting in films, still singing and writing. He had moved into directing, with episodes of Miami Vice, Hill Street Blues and China Beach to his credit.
Multi-skilled Soul had also gone into stage work, and at the time I interviewed him, was touring Australia and New Zealand with the play Blood Brothers.
Anyway, to me, he was still the star of Starsky and Hutch, so for the TV Week interview and photo shoot, I had a problem: though our amazing photographers always somehow made the stars look glamorous, our “studio” was a dreary, makeshift garage with a roller-door, in a back street behind our building’s car park.
There was no fridge, so you could only make instant black coffee or tea, though there was a shop over the road (which meant we then had to pay for refreshments ourselves).
The studio was cold and uninviting, and the door to the bathroom didn’t close.
Anyway, I had been told Soul and his PR person would meet us at the studio at the appointed time. I wondered if they’d find it, so, in case they came to the front of the building, I alerted the security guard at reception.
“If a guy comes in here looking for me, he’s an actor I’m interviewing and we’re round in the studio, so could you please direct him round there?” I said.
“Sure,” he said. “What’s his name?”
“David Soul.”
He laughed. “Well that’s a name I won’t forget,” he said. “What a coincidence. Like the Starsky and Hutch guy.”
“Not only that—he really is that David Soul!” I said. The security guard saw all the stars come and go and was usually nonplussed, but he was suitably impressed by this name.
Anyway, at the time Soul was due to arrive, I was back in the studio as the photographer set up for the shoot. The hair and makeup artist also awaited his arrival.
I thought I’d duck out the roller door to see if he was coming.
He was. In true Hutch style, he was strolling down the street in a black shirt and blue jeans, jacket slung over his shoulder, sunglasses on, and smoking a large cigar.
Yes, this was certainly a bit of Hollywood in West Melbourne.
I was quaking in my high heels a bit, as I knew I had to ask him some difficult questions about his history of alcohol abuse and violence (he had been ordered by the court to stop drinking and undertake two years’ therapy in the 1980s for assaulting his then-wife Patti Sherman).
I asked that the room be cleared while I conducted the interview. So it was just him and me.
What I found was a personable being who answered all my questions openly and candidly. It was and is quite unusual, for a start, for a big-name actor to agree to an interview without a minder being present.
Anyway, I asked him about alcohol and his violence, and what he had done to change his ways.
“The problem was never really alcohol,” he told me. “It was anger, hurt, loneliness, being misunderstood. Alcohol never dominated my life, but it is a mind-altering substance. I think I can honestly say I’ve become much more circumspect and much less desperate a man. With that, the problems themselves become easier to deal with.”
Then aged 50, Soul had four ex-wives and six children aged six to 30. He has since married for a fifth time, in 2010 to Helen Snell, whom he met in 2002 while working on another play, Death Trap, in the UK. I can’t find anything much about her, so I’m presuming she’s not an actor. Soul emigrated to England not long after I interviewed him and became a British citizen in 2004. Hilariously, he and Glaser returned to the screen in cameo roles parodying themselves in the 2004 adaptation of Starsky and Hutch as a feature film starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.
But back to my interview with Soul in 1994. He had some interesting observations about fame, which he had experienced not only as an actor, but as a singer of mega-hits in the late 1970s such as Silver Lady and Don’t Give Up On Us.
“Celebrity is a bunch of crap, because it keeps you from seeing who you are as a person,” he told me.

“Fame is a fleeting thing. It can be here today and gone tomorrow. I’m still around.”
And that dreary photographic studio-garage I was worried about? He liked it! “I’ve been working in the theatre for years,” he said. “There’s certainly no glamour in the theatre and I don’t expect or want it.”

Long ago interviews #2: the celebrity who cared

 

There's my interview with Tim Ferguson for Don't Forget Your Toothbrush. You can just see it on the upper left of this collage of stories I did for TV Week in the 1990s

There’s my interview with Tim Ferguson for Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. You can just see it on the upper left of this collage of stories I did for TV Week in the 1990s

You know when you’re miserable with a cold, but you either can’t take the day off work, or you have something so important to do, you couldn’t possibly stay home unless you were unconscious?

Through much of the 1990s, I worked as a journalist for TV Week magazine, which was then Australia’s highest selling entertainment weekly. One day, I had an interview scheduled with Tim Ferguson, a comedy star who had been part of the very famous and edgy group The Doug Anthony All Stars, which had toured nationally and internationally and had appeared regularly on TV.

DAAS had broken up, but Ferguson now had his own quirky game show series, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. Modeled on the hit British show of the same name, it involved cheesy games and random travel destinations. Here’s a picture from the very kitsch launch party at Channel 9. I’m the one in the middle. Ferguson, smart man, does not appear in this photo.

Toothbrush-1995Anyway, in conjunction with the launch of this show, on another day I was to do an interview with Ferguson. This particular day, I had a heavy head cold, but we needed the interview for the next edition, and I couldn’t really get out of it. So I struggled on.

The interview was difficult: the cold was at its peak, and I had to keep leaving the room to blow my nose and cough. This was mortifying for me, such is the vanity of youth. I was rarely ill and saw it as a failing on my part. If only I’d known then what I know now about what Ferguson himself was going through privately.

Now, most celebrities, if you turn up with a cold, will look horrified, because they don’t want to catch it themselves. Witness the reaction of Katy Perry to Australian interviewer Jackie Frank when Frank reveals she has a cold (“Are you *gulp* contagious?”):

Ferguson, however, was different. “You poor thing,” he said. “I think you need Lemsip.”

He couldn’t believe I had no idea what this was. For the record, it’s a concoction of lemon-flavoured medication you add hot water to and drink. (This is not product placement, by the way, but it still does exist!).

Anyway, later that day, a package arrived for me: it was a packet of Lemsip and a cartoon by Ferguson that I still have, of me trying to do an interview with a cold. Well, I know I still have it somewhere. Unfortunately, with our recent move, lots of things whose whereabouts I thought I knew are not where I thought they were. Well, if I find it, I will update this post.

Little did I know back in 1995 that just the year before, Ferguson had been diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis), and of course had a huge upheaval in his life at the time because of it, including having to break up the fabulous group DAAS, because their touring and stage performances were too physically demanding. Beside what he was going through, my silly little cold seems just an embarrassment.

Ferguson kept the condition to himself and didn’t reveal it publicly until about 2010. But in his typical way, he has made the best of it, writing, lecturing and speaking, and even making light of his condition, performing a one-man show about life with MS called Carry A Big Stick. You can read more about his inspiring story here.

So thanks, Tim Ferguson: besides your talent and tenacity, you are officially the nicest, most empathetic celebrity I ever interviewed.