“Stupid” award of the week

drawersWhat’s wrong with this picture?

Yes, there is a drawer missing. There wasn’t a drawer missing when we put these two sets out in front of our house this afternoon, free to a good home.

We’re moving, so we’re taking the opportunity to give away what we don’t need. These two little sets of drawers have served me well, but it’s time to update and get a proper dressing table.

So out they went. In our area, good used furniture placed out on the nature strip usually lasts from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. I like the thought of someone coming across it and taking it home to be useful again.

But when we looked after a while to see if the drawers were gone, we saw this: some bright spark had taken away just one drawer, meaning that chest of drawers is now useless for anyone else. Stupid as all get out!

Boys’ toys, girls’ toys: really?

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 7.22.57 AMBoys, you are astronauts, pilots, detectives, scientists; girls, you are mothers and baby minders, and you like pretty things for your hair.

Boys, you will build things, go places, blow things up, conduct scientific experiments, see the world; girls, you will stay at home, heating bottles for the baby, doing craftwork, wearing beautiful clothes and dreaming of being a makeup artist, while dressed almost exclusively in pastel pink.

I could hardly believe my eyes this morning when I saw how an online shopping website I subscribe to was advertising toys based so much on gender stereotypes. Like something out of the 1950s, it told me that boys had the whole world to explore, while girls had better stay home.

For boys, the Crazy Forts Construction Toy offers imaginative play in which you create a cave, igloo, pirate ship or castle. To be fair, this toy also has a girl pictured on the box cover with two boys, so it’s unclear why it’s marketed only for boys. There is also a build-a-fort set for girls—the “Princess Play Set” in…you guessed it, pink… “perfect for your little princess”. No mention of pirate ships, caves or castles, though.

My mum was a neuro-scientist, and she says that to a certain extent, boys naturally gravitate toward more adventurous, rough and tumble toys. But the almost complete demarcation in the media seems unnatural, as if we are choosing for our children what their roles will be before they’ve even had a chance to explore these things for themselves. No wonder there are still so few female plumbers, carpenters or mechanics.

When I was a kid, my favourite toys were Lego and my brother’s case of tiny cars, plus our cowboy play sets with hats, toy guns in holsters (very un-PC now) and sheriff’s badges. I also loved my dolls (though I couldn’t understand why my cats would never consent to being dressed in bonnet, dress and booties and wheeled around in my dolls’ pram). My hero was Georgina (“George”), the fantastically independent girl in Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series of novels. In those days, a girl like George was called a “tom boy” because she didn’t conform to the normal idea of what a girl should behave like.

There’s nothing wrong as such with giving girls dolls and encouraging them to nurture babies: many girls do become mothers, after all. But boys become fathers, and in these days of equality, shouldn’t we also then be giving boys dollies with dummies, feeding sets and nappies? See how dumb that sounds? While personally, I have always loved dolls (and still do), I think we can leave the parenting accessories out when children are young, particularly if you’re only teaching parenting to one sex (girls).

I suspect (well, I hope) that advertisers are hopelessly out of date when they market toys in such a way. In most homes, I’m sure, children end up playing together with many of the same toys. We shouldn’t limit girls to home-based toys and boys to adventure toys: let them make up their own minds what they will be.


Life on Mean Street

monkeysI see meanness all around me: mean employers trying to make their poorest employees work harder and harder for less and less money; mean local councils cutting back on maintenance of community streets and venues; mean people in car parks crashing into other cars and then just leaving, or nipping into a park to beat someone else; drivers not stopping for pedestrians on crossings; mean governments making the rich richer and the rest poorer; mean countries trying to invade and take over other countries; mean institutions making everything into a competition that participants must fight in to the (figurative) death.

Yes, it’s a mean old world out there. My late father once told me, “Life’s not fair”, but so much unfairness (just another word for meanness) need not be so.

Here’s my list of how to make the world a kinder and more peaceful place just by not being mean:

*Governments: you are the servants of the people. Your most important loyalty is not to the party, but to those whom you serve. Your priority is not a career path for yourself, free travel, or becoming so power-hungry you forget your real role. Your job is to make the country better for the people, not worse. Your job is not to make a few rich people get richer. It is to promote equality for all, and a decent life in which people are safe, comfortable, educated and treated humanely. Warmongering is not on.

*Employers: don’t try to make people work for less and less. Hire good people, reward industrious workers, give them proper jobs with holiday and sick pay. They will reward you by wanting to work harder (as opposed to being forced to), because they will love the business they’re in. Instead of fearful drudges, you will have an enthusiastic, happy team with you who want your company to be profitable.

*Drivers: just chill out. No matter how much you speed, weave in and out of traffic, toot your horn, monster the car in front or rip through a pedestrian crossing, you’ll probably only cut one or two minutes off the journey. Also, you might crash, and at the very least, you’ll make life miserable for others. There’s a great Greek word that covers this: “endaxi!” (relax). And if you happen to dent a parked car, own up and leave your contact details on a note.

*Neighbours: if a tree from the property next door drops some leaves on your side, it really doesn’t matter. Learn your neighbours’ names, say “Hi” to them, don’t leave nasty notes on their car like you own the road if they happen to park in a spot in front of your place.

So, to answer this month’s B4Peace challenge from Kobo at Everyday Gurus, How would you teach children to promote a more peaceful world?, my answer is that I would teach them not to be mean. This starts at the most basic level in the playground: share your toys, don’t hit others, coming first is not the most important thing, and if you see someone fall down, help pick them up. And here is some more great advice on how to make a more peaceful world.

Young or old? Here’s how to tell

photoSince last year, something strange has been happening to me. Younger people occasionally get up in a full train or bus to offer me a seat. It doesn’t happen every day, or even every week, but perhaps once a month, whereas before last year, it never happened.
Last year, I was gracious, but firmly declined any offers of seats, being secretly mortified that anyone would deem me less able to stand than them. This year, I’ve started to accept. Well, I’ve only been offered a seat once this year-that was this morning-and I was glad to have it. It was on a bus full of mostly students carrying us from the train station to campus, so there might have been something about respect for staff in it, too. Another student also offered the older, grey-haired but fit-looking lady standing beside me a seat. She graciously declined.
Is this the beginning of the end? I said to myself. Is this the beginning of the time when I begin to think of myself as “older” or no longer young, by any stretch of the imagination?
I know that people under 25 think anyone over 35 is ancient. In my (admittedly unscientific) questioning of young people, many have shown that they can’t recognise the difference between 40 and 60 or 50 and 70. They’re all just “old people”. My parents were quite a bit older than the norm when they had my brother, and when he was a mid-teenager and they were in their early 60s, one of his friends said, “How old’yer parents—about a hundred?”!
But who they perceive as being “young” is interesting and not necessarily about years. It seems to have something to do with “coolness”. I once asked a group of students, mostly aged 18-20, to decide whether a list of famous people I named were young or old. They had only those two choices, nothing in between.
I asked them about the then-Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd. “Old,” was the verdict. Then I asked them about the President of the US, Barack Obama, also in his 50s and less than four years Rudd’s junior. “Young,” they said emphatically. “Because he’s cool,” added one bright spark.
Perhaps I’m just not cool any more. *Sigh*

Coincidentally, this week’s Daily Post Writing Challenge is about ageing. You can read more here.

What Not to Resolve on New Year’s Eve

OK, this was actually taken at the fireworks display for July 4 this year over Oahu, Hawaii, but fireworks are fireworks! Image by Gordon Dann, 2013.

OK, this was actually taken at the fireworks display for July 4 this year over Oahu, Hawaii, but fireworks are fireworks!
Image by Gordon Dann, 2013.

It’s New Year’s Eve in Australia, and all through the land, people are making grandiose declarations, commonly known as New Year’s Resolutions.

“I’ll go on a diet and lose 30kg. I’ll never drink calorie-laden fizzy drinks again”;

“I’ll read a book a day, every day”;

“I will never eat ice-cream or chocolate again”;

“Instead of coffee or tea, I will drink water only”;

“I will go to the gym five times a week”.

And on it goes. Sadly, we are just setting ourselves up to fail when we make such sweeping resolutions. (Very important note: I am not talking here about when people are addicted to a harmful substance and they need to give it up forever—that’s a whole different story).

So, instead of making ridiculously unattainable goals, make a tiny change or goal you can stick to. Mine are going to be:

1. Try to read more books than last year;

2. Try to cut out unnecessary foods/beverages and lose 5kg during the year;

3. Exercise more. Instead of a daily 15 minute walk, try to extend it to 30 minutes a couple of times a week.

Writing-wise, I have only one main goal, and that is:

1. Finish the draft of the novel I’m working on now.

Of course, I have other goals each week, month, year. But those are the main ones, the ones I want to concentrate on. I suffer from a lack of focus in that I’m often trying to do too many things at the same time, and I end up finishing none of them.

So happy New Year, everyone, and we’ll meet again in 2014.

My (un)natural enemy: Old Father Time

Tick tock, tick tock...time is getting away. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann

Tick tock, tick tock…time is getting away.
Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann

“Time has got the better of me”

“Time got away on me”

“Where has the time gone?”

“Look at the time!”

In my bid to live a peaceful life, I am constantly assailed by this most human of ailments: worry about time, both long-term and short-term. There is, it seems, never enough time to do all the things I have to do as well as all the things I want to do.

This column is written in response to this month’s Bloggers for Peace challenge over at Everyday Gurus. Kozo asked participants to confront their greatest enemy. You can read more on that and what others thought here.

The truth is, I think Old Father Time is best not confronted at all: ultimately, we will never beat him. So let’s just ignore him. Some enemies are best unfaced, unacknowledged, uncredited.

I saw a wonderful story on a current affairs show this week. It was about a group of seniors aged 67-97 who do hip hop dancing: yes! The group, Hip Op-eration, have this year competed in the World Hip Hop Dance Championships in Las Vegas. These people are so full of life, it gave me a great boost. If you want to see more about the challenge, click here. One of the responses I particularly liked was this one, from Breathing Space, about the enemy within.

Funnily enough, this week I lost my watch. It’s in the house—somewhere—yet it is nowhere to be found. Is someone trying to tell me something?

How do you interview a hitman?

The news that one of Australia’s most notorious underworld figures, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, 58, died of liver cancer today, has prompted me to reflect on a series of interviews I did with him 10 years ago.

At the time, and then known as Caron James,  I was Melbourne Editor of Woman’s Day magazine. The story was to be about his wedding to childhood sweetheart Margaret.

At first, I was reluctant to do the interview. My editor asked me if I would like a body guard! I declined, saying it wasn’t that I was in any way scared, just that I had problems with the ethics of doing such a story.

Anyway, I did do it. I met Read and Margaret at his favourite pub in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood.  He was personable and insisted on buying me a gin and tonic. Carefully, I called him “Mark”.

My interview with Mark Brandon "Chopper Read' and his wife, Margaret, in 2003.

My interview with Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read and his wife, Margaret (centre), in 2003.

“Aww, call me Chopper,” he said, “Everyone else does.”

I turned to his wife and said, “Margaret, do you call him Chopper?”

“Of course not,” she replied. “I call him Mark.” So Mark it was.

This was a true love story. Margaret had met Mark in a fish and chip shop when they were teenagers, before he turned to crime. They went out for a while, but separated. But she always loved him. She waited for him for decades, never marrying anyone else or having children. Margaret lived a blameless life, working hard and buying a little house for herself. But she never forgot her first love.

Finally, in her 40s, they got back together again, after he had married (then divorced) another woman in Tasmania and had a child, Charlie. Mark and Margaret had their own baby, Roy, in 2003 when she was 43.

After the Collingwood pub interview, I met them several more times, attending the launch of one of his books and even going to their house to see their baby. I witnessed Mark as a tender father and loving husband, and it was hard to reconcile that image with the more commonly known one, the violent criminal who spent 23 years in jail, during which he cut off his own ears.

His life of crime was covered in the 2000 movie Chopper, starring the excellent Eric Bana, which in turn helped take Bana from Australian comedian to big-ticket Hollywood movie star.

I guess, at the end of the day, you have to give Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read credit for being rehabilitated, for joining society as a writer, artist, performer. Cynics would have a lot of criticisms.

Tonight, though, I feel sorry for Margaret, who has lost a man, a husband, the father of her only child, rather than the mediatised “former hitman” and later “colourful character” as the media depicts him.

“I’m late! I’m late!”

IMG_2072It seems we’re constantly rushing in our stressful world. There’s never enough time: we’re always “running out” of it or it is “getting away” from us or “catching up” with us.

I had a friend in the 1990s who was constantly late for everything. When I asked him why this was, and asked if he didn’t think it was rude, he said he found it very strange to see people rushing everywhere constantly. “Because, you rush rush, rush to get somewhere, only to sit down for hours when you get there,” he said.

He had a point, and I’ve never forgotten it. You rush, rush, rush to get to a restaurant, then sit down for a leisurely meal; you rush, rush, rush to catch the train, then sit down for the journey just filling in time;  you rush, rush, rush to get to a social engagement, then when you get there, you just sit down or stand and chat to people over a drink or a cup of tea. It goes on and on.

While I still think it’s rude to be late to an appointment, in pursuit of a peaceful life it’s worth thinking about how our perceptions of time intrude to heighten our stress levels. The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270BCE) said the recipe (no pun intended) for a peaceful life included freedom from fear of death. But when we’re constantly measuring time, freedom from this fear doesn’t seem likely for many people today.

In his novella The Time Keeper (2012), Mitch Albom notes that humans are the only beings who mark the passing of time and thereby dread mortality. Here is one of my favourite quotations from the book, one that so clearly expresses the angst at the centre of almost everyone in western society today:

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping.

“You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie.

“Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays.

“Man alone measures time.

“Man alone chimes the hour.

“And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralysing fear that no other creature endures.

“A fear of time running out.”

We humans are so obsessed with counting seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years, and running our lives by the boundaries they impose, that sometimes we forget to stop along the way. Life seems tumultuous and anything but peaceful, because we’re constantly looking at our watches and hurrying along to get to the next place “on time”.

Lewis Carroll  used this idea in the character of the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” he cries as he runs down the rabbit hole. In the Disney film, this becomes a song with the lyrics “I’m late! “I’m late! For a very important date!”

So what’s the best way to a peaceful life? I think we need to do less time-keeping and more living.

Another thing to think of is that we’re not the centre of the universe. In fact, we’re rather insignificant, as Sir David Attenborough so cleverly put it in Life on Earth, I think: if you imagine an entire beach, the earth is equivalent to just one grain of sand on it.

In the blogosphere, Goldfish has put life on earth in perspective with her post on finding peace through this insignificant position we hold, in which our petty ticking seconds with which we time our days mean absolutely nothing in the vastness of space. You can read her post here.

Funnily enough, this post is the result of being almost late—for this month’s Bloggers for Peace challenge to write about quotations that bring peace to the world. I’m in today in the nick of time. Whew!