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Friday
Apr132018

Putting away summer

Autumn is almost half over, and daylight saving has come to an end, as all good things must. But the forecast for the next few days includes more than one 29 degree day, so it’s clearly not yet time to put away the accoutrements of summer.

These are the post-Easter, seasonal tasks in our household.

Re-ignite the pilot for the heater in our family room, hoping it doesn’t smell too pungently of dust the first time we use it. Pack away the trusty pedestal fans that make sleep possible all through the summer months. (I slip bin bags over the fans before storing them in the attic; they look like a sinister gathering of Ku Klux Klan members or something gruesome from Abu Ghraib.)

Open the blinds in the morning to let warmth in, rather than shutting them to keep it out. Bring in the garden furniture and harvest the last of the basil, converting it into enough pesto to keep us going well into the colder months.

I cover my legs for the duration. From October till April my lower limbs are unconfined; shorts are my weekend garment of choice, and at work it’s frocks. My legs need to breathe, and get claustrophobic in pants or tights unless the weather is decidedly chilly.

My reluctance to drag out the winter wardrobe doesn’t mean that I don’t like the cold weather though. Indeed, winter is my favourite season, when Melbourne comes into its own.

There’s the footy, of course. But for those of us completely uninterested in that particular brand of religion, winter is the time for fires and robust soups and creamy hot chocolate. A time for reading and watching fabulous television series (of which there seems to be a never-ending supply) without feeling guilty that I’m not outside enjoying long summer evenings. Winter is for experiencing hygge – that Danish word for cosy and so much more – for being early to bed and snuggling under the doona.

Winter is a time for live music gigs in tiny, grungy Brunswick bars where they serve mulled wine, for forays into art galleries, for movies and concerts, for all the indoor things that Melbourne does so well.

So yes, I do love winter, and I enjoy the clothes associated with the season too – beanies and scarves and gloves, jackets and jumpers, jeans and boots and furry slippers. But I can wait. This year, we might be into June before my summer wardrobe goes into hibernation. Before I put away my summer things and batten the hatches for the cold ahead.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 8 April 2018

 

 

 

Thursday
Apr052018

Women, men and saying sorry

It seems to me that elite sportsmen are often among the least evolved human beings on the planet, so I was surprised when Steve Smith’s recent public apology moved me profoundly.

There have been too many apologies of the, ‘Okay, I’m sorry if I’ve upset anyone,’ variety from sportsmen discovered doing less than honourable things (and in my book, sexual abuse is a far graver offense than ball tampering). The impression these blokes give is that they are sorry that they were caught, or that they have been told it is in their best interests to at least mouth the sorry platitudes, to keep the politically correct brigade happy.

Many would agree that Kevin Rudd’s finest hour was when he said sorry, on behalf of the nation, to the stolen generations. The spectacle of a powerful man apologising with apparent sincerity was startling and seemed to bode well for the future. Maybe we could look forward to the day when men would learn to apologise more often, and woman would learn to stop over-apologising.

My husband, a deeply decent man who is both personally and professionally (he’s a man of the cloth) convinced of the transforming power of confession and forgiveness, will say quite openly that it took him 20 years of marriage to learn that his partner would not think less of him if he admitted he was wrong. The culture he was raised in (school, media, advertising, literature, sport, the legal system, the worlds of business and politics) all gave the impression that to admit culpability was a sign of weakness. For my part in this deeply flawed system, I grew up imbibing the assumption that for a female, relationships were the most important thing, and we were responsible for them. If this meant always placating, peace keeping and saying sorry way more than necessary, so be it.

As a couple, over decades of commitment, communication and good will, we have learned that a man’s willingness to apologise is a sign of strength, of true manhood, just as the ability of a woman to say, sorry mate, that’s your responsibility, and I’m not going to fix it for you, is a sign of inner resolve and confidence.

I note that the young men I know best are not afflicted with the pathological fear of the ‘s’ word. I hope that Steve Smith’s genuine devastation at what he did might model a humbler and less belligerent pattern of behaviour to generations of boys and men.

 

Tuesday
Apr032018

Dog porn

We were in no doubt that the dog had to be put down. Somehow, he had escaped from our place and caused havoc followed by injury in the local park. But oh we miss him! He was a rescue dog, a handful, but we were training him conscientiously and he was getting better every week. And he adored us – a big, warm, cuddle-machine of an animal.

It’s ten weeks since he died. And we are nowhere near ready to replace him. But that doesn’t stop us looking. Our guilty pleasure, these days, is checking out dog rescue websites.

It feels a bit like looking at porn. My husband and I confessed to each other, in hushed tones, the very same day, that we had started looking at dog sites, even though we knew it wasn’t good for us, that we would be tempted into a relationship we weren’t ready for. We are sneaky about it. I catch him, furtively checking out strays on his iPad, and I join him. ‘Please, can we just watch that clip again, just once more, you know, the one with the puppy in her paddle pool?’

We’re aware, at this point, that it needs to be look, don’t touch. We know, from experience, that once you ring up with an expression of interest, you’re committed to visiting the creature. Once you clap eyes on them, you might as well sign the adoption papers right away. Once they look at you with their pleading eyes that say, ‘You’re the one, you alone have the power to rescue me from this hell and restore my happiness,’ you’re a lost cause. That’s what happened with our last fellah and look where that got us.

‘You guys,’ sighs our older daughter, herself a passionate dog lover, ‘Just stop it! You know you won’t be able to resist!’

She’s right of course. And our life, post-dog, is so much less complicated. Liberated from his outsized paws, the garden is flourishing. We can get away whenever we want without making complicated arrangements. Ongoing health issues are easier to manage without a dependant creature waiting at home.

But love conquers all. Sooner or later, we will succumb to the allure of a pair of melting eyes, a warm, muscly body, a cutely wagging tail. We are dog people; we can never stay dogless for long. Till then, we’ll just have to get our sad jollies sighing over dogs on the internet.

 

We were in no doubt that the dog had to be put down. Somehow, he had escaped from our place and caused havoc followed by injury in the local park. But oh we miss him! He was a rescue dog, a handful, but we were training him conscientiously and he was getting better every week. And he adored us – a big, warm, cuddle-machine of an animal.

It’s ten weeks since he died. And we are nowhere near ready to replace him. But that doesn’t stop us looking. Our guilty pleasure, these days, is checking out dog rescue websites.

It feels a bit like looking at porn. My husband and I confessed to each other, in hushed tones, the very same day, that we had started looking at dog sites, even though we knew it wasn’t good for us, that we would be tempted into a relationship we weren’t ready for. We are sneaky about it. I catch him, furtively checking out strays on his iPad, and I join him. ‘Please, can we just watch that clip again, just once more, you know, the one with the puppy in her paddle pool?’

We’re aware, at this point, that it needs to be look, don’t touch. We know, from experience, that once you ring up with an expression of interest, you’re committed to visiting the creature. Once you clap eyes on them, you might as well sign the adoption papers right away. Once they look at you with their pleading eyes that say, ‘You’re the one, you alone have the power to rescue me from this hell and restore my happiness,’ you’re a lost cause. That’s what happened with our last fellah and look where that got us.

‘You guys,’ sighs our older daughter, herself a passionate dog lover, ‘Just stop it! You know you won’t be able to resist!’

She’s right of course. And our life, post-dog, is so much less complicated. Liberated from his outsized paws, the garden is flourishing. We can get away whenever we want without making complicated arrangements. Ongoing health issues are easier to manage without a dependant creature waiting at home.

But love conquers all. Sooner or later, we will succumb to the allure of a pair of melting eyes, a warm, muscly body, a cutely wagging tail. We are dog people; we can never stay dogless for long. Till then, we’ll just have to get our sad jollies sighing over dogs on the internet.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 1 April 2018

 

Thursday
Mar152018

Reel to reel

When we were kids, reel to reel tapes were the very latest in technology. It was the 60s, we were in India; things might have been a little more sophisticated in the ‘Western world’. Mum and Dad listened to the BBC news on a little ‘trannie’, but the only music we could access came from reel to reel tapes.

These were painstakingly created for us by one of our Uncles back in Australia, who taped classical music, packed the big reels in their orange and white boxes and posted them out, surface mail, in a big, slow boat to the Subcontinent.

Mum loved those tapes. Music abounded on the radio in Ahmedabad, the bustling city where we lived, but most of it was of the Bollywood variety, and Mum was more a Bach, Beethoven, Mozart kind of gal. I remember, in the years after The Sound of Music came out, being on a picnic, surrounded with happy crowds of locals listening to a boom box belting out movie tunes and mum saying, grimly, ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’.

Our tape player (I don’t think it was called a tape recorder back then, as recording was not one of it functions) was big and boxy, metallic green and silver. I loved threading the blank end of the tap around the empty, right hand spool, slotting it into the slit in the middle and rotating it until the tape held, then pressing play. There is a distinctive metallic smell that I associate with those ancient tape players that I’ve never smelled since, but it tantalizes in my memories, evoking a powerful falling back into the feel of my childhood.

When my older sister left for boarding school I was three and had to learn to entertain myself. I would put on the classical music tapes and dance, dressed in one of mum’s oldest frocks, which reached my toes, making me feel like a princess. On my head, I draped an old nappy (which we kept, for rags – for dusting and polishing) which made me feel that, princess-like, I had long, flowing locks, not the short back and sides I actually possessed.

I would dance for hours, floating around the room in my outsize dress and nappy-hair. One time I remember suddenly realising that I was being watched, and whirling to see Mum, leaning quietly on the doorframe, gazing at me with silent pleasure.

As the sixties progressed, my sister and I became aware of movies. Three, to be precise; in my childhood I can only ever recall three films. They were My Fair Lady, the Sound of Music, and Mary Poppins, and we knew every word of each by heart.

We did see them at some point – these films were so universal they even made it to Ahmedabad (I can remember the local lads whistling and hooting at the very tame love scene between Fraulein Maria and Baron von Trapp) but even better, mum and dad acquired tapes of all the songs.

Maybe at this point in our development, my sister and I wanted to branch out from the classics, in any case, we took to these musicals with wild enthusiasm. I don’t know how those tapes survived, we played them so often, singing along. All these years later, I still know all the words to every song in those three movies.

We didn’t simply sing; we acted out entire scenes. One of our favourites was when Liesl, the oldest von Trapp, meets her boyfriend Rolf in the summerhouse and, holding his hand, runs lightly around the seats at the side in her frothy pink dress. Being smaller, I was Liesl, my sister was Rolf and I ran around on wobbly benches, holding my sister’s hand and trying to imagine I was a beautiful teenager.

We extracted weeks of pleasure and entertainment from those three old tapes. In the 70s, when we moved to Melbourne, it was the hit parade on 3XY that became the sound track to my life, and it still surprises me how well I know the words to hundreds of trite songs from that period.

Sometimes I wish my head were full of the psalms, or Shakespeare, or TS Elliot, something a little more highbrow. Mostly, though, I treasure the fact that in a girlhood that was pretty earnest, and at times lonely, I had these charming bits of fluff to keep me happy and light-hearted.

In an era were millions of movies and shows and songs are available to anyone at the touch of a button, I marvel at the delight two little girls mined from oft-repeated renditions of a total of three clunky reel to reel tapes.

 

Monday
Mar052018

There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence

‘Words words words, I’m so sick of words, I get words all day through, first from him, now from you, is that all you blighters can do?’ So sang Eliza Dolittle in My fair lady, the 1964 movie I loved best as a child.

I wonder if God sometimes thinks that. (Or maybe God is just so happy to hear from us at all that she isn’t likely to be complaining!) If you search the internet for quotes about the holiness of silence from religious legends around the globe and throughout history, there is a plethora of results, and sometimes disagreement about attribution.

‘God’s first language is silence, everything else is a poor translation,’ is attributed variously to 13th century Persian mystic and poet Rumi, and 16th century Christian mystic St John of the Cross. Mother Theresa says, ‘God speaks in the silence of the heart; listening is the beginning of prayer. Then there’s the German theologian from the 13-14th centuries, Meister Eckhart, who apparently wrote ‘There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence’.

There is the famous story in the first book of Kings where the prophet Elijah, who is in hiding for fear of his life, experiences a great wind, an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in these mighty things, but in ‘the sound of sheer silence’. And Jesus allegedly spent a significant amount of time on his own in prayer.

Of course, there are different kinds of silence. Silence can be the refusal to acknowledge abuse, can be coverup of corruption, can be lack of courage to name wrong doing. And it’s not enough to say there is nothing in the universe as much like the Divine as silence. We need our stories, our traditions, the sharing of our experience to flesh out our picture of God. Christians are a community gathered around the character of Jesus of Nazareth, through whom we claim to most clearly see God. One of our best-loved metaphors for Jesus is, in fact, the Word.

Might I venture to suggest, however, that in our religious traditions, we might have had a surfeit of words. This Lent, well on its way by the time you read this, consider giving up some of your words. Practice listening to each other, with calm attention. Listen to your own deepest longings, which may well be in complete harmony with what God wants for you. Listen to the sounds of the created world.

Most of all, take time to listen to God: to the dear, loving, inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. There are tried and true Christian ways of doing this, many of which are explored in the pages of this publication from time to time. Centring prayer, focus on the breath, use of a prayer word – many devout Christians find these things invaluable.

This Lent, consider giving up some of your words. And be surprised at the God you may meet in the silence.

This was published in the March edition of The Melbourne Anglican