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Tuesday
Feb062018

Power outage outrage

Following the most recent heatwave, there were the usual disgruntled complaints about having to endure power outages and exhortations to power suppliers to upgrade their infrastructure.

Privatization of power may be an issue, but there’s something else going on here. Apart from people on life support systems, most of us could stand a few hours with no electricity.

Yes, it’s inconvenient and hot without air con and fans and some of your food may need throwing out if your fridge is off for long enough. It’s hardly life threatening.

Anyone who is older than 50 or has lived in a ‘developing country’ knows that for much of the world, power is an unpredictable amenity, even a luxury. Where I grew up, black outs, and the occasional brown out, were a nightly occurrence.

In the privileged west, we consider unfettered access to power a basic human right. We assume that we can cook, work, entertain ourselves and keep warm or cool at the touch of a button. If the power to that button is unavailable, even for one night, we are at our wits end.

It’s okay, relax. Next time there’s a power cut at your place, try these basic things.

  • ·         Make your cup of tea on the gas, if you have it. If not, no one has cut off your water supply, which makes you luckier than a lot of people on the planet.
  • ·         Forget the warm shower and have a cold wash. It’s a heatwave, remember?
  • ·         Your phone has run out of charge. Try not to worry. It is unlikely anyone will die from this.
  • ·         Your computer’s run out of charge. Ditto. Think how liberating it is to have an evening where you don’t feel obliged to check emails.
  • ·         Cool down with one of those elegant Jane Austenesque hand fans or, failing that, a folded piece of paper. Spray yourself with a bottle of water and feel it evaporating deliciously from your skin. Sit with your feet in a basin of cold water – magic.
  • ·         Read a book by torch or candlelight.
  • ·         Chat to a housemate, partner, friend or neighbour. In person.
  • ·         Enjoy the quiet. No fridge humming, no machines beeping, no dishwasher churning. Bliss.
  • ·         Sit quietly and watch the dying of the light.
  • ·         Light candles. They are romantic, contemplative, atmospheric, calming. You’ll probably sleep better than when you are up till all hours with bright lights and machines.

Who knows? You might even get a taste for electricity-free living.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 1 February

 

 

Tuesday
Jan302018

Sport v music

When my significant other and I moved to a small Victorian country town in the mid-80s, he was set, socially, being something of a sports tragic and a determined and ferocious footballer. He also happened to be the Uniting Church minister, but because he played footy for the local team, he was in.

Not so much his wife, who was, at the time, a paid-up member of Keith Dunstan’s Anti-Football League. In a desperate effort to meet kindred spirits, I joined the local recorder group (the fact that I didn’t actually play the instrument wasn’t going to stop me), because it seemed to be the only organisation in town that didn’t revolve around sport or children.

Times have changed. Even the tiniest hamlet these days seems to have a book group, an expresso machine and a film festival. In a recent issue of the Age Entertainment Guide, Marty Boulton wrote: ‘Yes, we love our sport in Australia, but more people go to live music every year in this country than sporting contests’.

That’s surprising and encouraging, but for someone like me, Australia still feels like a sports mad nation. Over the last fortnight, in the blistering heat of a Melbourne summer, we have hosted the Australian Open, where the temperature on the surface of centre court alledgedly hit 69° on one day. Asking players to continue under such conditions surely constitutes some kind of human rights infringement, but on they go.

If you tire of the tennis on television, there are two types of cricket on offer: Big Bash and One Day (male and female), now that Test Cricket is done for the season. Aforementioned husband’s idea of chilling bliss is to sit on the couch, flicking between the tennis and the cricket. In the winter months, of course, it’s all about footy (and with pre-footy these days, the season seems to last about nine months). A multitude of other ball games is on offer, especially for those with a dedicated sports channel on tap.

I missed out on the competitive games gene. I’m woefully uncoordinated and I don’t enjoy watching, although my love for our offspring exceeded my lack of interest as I trailed around watching them undertake various sporting endeavours. I was genuinely happy that they were keeping fit, meeting other kids and learning the physical skills I so embarrassingly lacked. I am chuffed that my family is sporty, as long as I don’t have to join them. Along with a good many Australians, you’ll find me at a music gig instead.

Monday
Jan222018

Grounded

My older son, who travels a lot, tells me the latest theory about overcoming jetlag. As soon as you can after arriving in a new time zone, you take your shoes off and walk barefoot on the ground of the place you are in. Not on concrete or bitumen but right on the earth: grass or dirt or rock or sand.

It’s called ‘earthing’ apparently. Or grounding, which meant something altogether when I was a teen. The theory behind the idea is that the earth’s surface has a vast supply of electrons. Direct physical contact with these, it seems, is good for us.

Over the last month I have spent many hours of each day walking barefoot along the beach. I certainly have a vastly increased sense of well-being, but that could be more to do with the fact that I haven’t set an alarm in that entire time, or done anything more stressful or demanding than playing a game of scrabble.

But the concept makes a lot of sense, and puts me in mind of a line in my favourite poem, God’s Grandeur, by Gerard Manley Hopkins: ‘Nor can foot feel, being shod’.

Apparently, when foot was shod in leather, and when less of the earth’s surface was covered in concrete, this wasn’t such a problem, but now we are shod in rubber and plastic and all manner of artificial products. The two common styles of contemporary footwear that keep us furthest from the earth, in my view, are sky high stilettos, and the thick engineered soles of expensive running shoes, that deprive the delicate, multiple, custom-designed bones of the feet from doing exactly what they are designed to: be perfect shock-absorbers as they articulate around the different surfaces we traverse.

There is now a market in artificial ways you can become earthed if you aren’t able to walk barefoot, such as investing in bedsheets that are wired in such a way that you get the same effect. That seems counter-intuitive to me: surely the whole point is that lovely quasi-spiritual sense you get, when barefoot, of being connected to the earth, from which all good things come.

I guess that if you live in Iceland, or even Scotland, walking outside without footwear isn’t as realistic as it is for a beach dweller in the middle of an Australian summer. So I count myself lucky, being able to shuck off my shoes and place my bare soles deliciously, therapeutically and happily on the surface of my planet.

Thursday
Jan182018

Keeping it short

Nine o’clock on a lazy holiday morning. I stumble out of bed to put the dog out, and meet my cousin, who has the house next door, before I have so much as washed my face or put the kettle on. She looks as though she’s been up for hours, pottering on her part of the family block.

She asks me back to her place for a cup of tea; I demur. ‘I’m still in my PJs,’ I say apologetically. ‘There’s not much difference down here though, is there?’ she says, laughing.

How right she is. On summer holls, I wear shorts and a T-shirt all day long, and change into boxers and a T at night. I enjoy frocking up for an occasion as much as the next girl; I also like donning grown up clothes to go to work. But one of the things I treasure about summer holidays is the fact that I can wear the same daggy, comfortable gear 24/7.

I wonder if sartorial formality has any correlation with cold weather. I have it on good authority that medical consultants in far north Queensland go on their ward rounds decked out in shorts, Hawaiian shirts and flip flops. But then why are Indians among the best dressers in the world; immaculately turned out no matter what the occasion or lack thereof, no matter what their socio-economic status?

I suspect Aussies are among the more casual dressers in the world. Sydney is known for its young men wandering city streets topless; Melbourne is a little more circumspect. Working in the city, I see the more formal side of Aussie-wear. Take a walk down Collins or Williams St any weekday lunch time and you see them streaming past: perfectly coiffed, besuited, well-shod legions of city workers. But I wouldn’t mind betting that even these intimidatingly glossy creatures dag out when they’re at the beach.

When it comes to packing for my summer holidays, I inevitably bring too much, just in case. Just in case we have to go somewhere fancy. Just in case it gets really cold. Just in case our antique washing machine finally pops its clogs.

I never learn. All I need is bathers, a couple of shorts and Ts, trackie dacks and a hoodie for cooler evenings, and PJs. My cousin is right, I ponder, as I head back to make my pot of tea and swap my night attire for my interchangeable day wear. It doesn’t make much difference here.

Published in The Age 15 January 2018

Tuesday
Jan092018

Old school cool

Members of my family have been known to bag me (gently and with affection I’m sure) for my summer-long obsession with regulating the temperature of our place without benefit of electricity.

It’s not rocket science, but it is old fashioned. Every morning, if it’s going to be remotely warm, I go around shutting every last window and pulling down the blinds. I keep an eye on both the internal and external reading on the thermometer and the second it is cooler out than in, up come the blinds and the windows.

My grand-mother, I’m told, loathed the strong north wind. On a day when it was blasting Melbourne, she would sit at a window disconsolately keeping an eye on what direction the trees were blowing so that she could tell the instant the cool change arrived. Like her, on the hottest days I am on the constant lookout for signs that the wind has swung around to the south, whereupon, I whip everything open and the cool air floods our house.

I suspect my fanaticism stems from growing up in a ferociously hot place where inadequate ceiling fans were the only artificial method of cooling. In our house, which was built to withstand temperatures of over 40 degrees for four months each year, the walls were thick, the ceilings high and the verandahs wide. High up on the wall of the living room was a hole where, for decades before the advent of electricity, a rope passed through, attached on one end to a punkah – a large, flapping rectangle of canvas that hung from the ceiling, moving the stifling air. At the other end, it was attached to a small boy, whose job it was to pull the rope. It was an utterly different world, when I was growing up, from that of the British Raj, but these little reminders of past practices were everywhere, and I was very glad that our cooling depended on an intermittent electricity supply rather than the labour of a child who really should have been in school.

My detractors claim my manic manual temperature regulation doesn’t make that much difference,. ‘Maybe a degree or two,’ my husband grudgingly concedes. But I beg to differ.

In a world where we all consume too much electricity, I feel that maybe I occupy the moral high ground on this one. Try using the age-old methods of keeping cool before you flick on your aircon. Your hip pocket will thank you, as will the planet.

This was published in The Age on 8 January 2018

 

 

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