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God the crazy creative

Twenty years ago, a mate and I were chatting idly over a drink at a beach resort where we were attending a writing workshop (as you do). We gazed appreciatively over the sparkling waters of the bay before my friend said, ‘It’s a shame the water doesn’t come right up to the shore. It would look even prettier’.

I asked her if she was serious, when she said yes, I told her that if she just waited six hours, the view would be better with all the mud flats covered tidily over, nothing but turquoise wavelets as far as the eye could see. ‘Really?’ she asked. ‘How does that work?’

My friend was a city girl (doubtless she had a whole bunch of street smarts that I lacked), unfamiliar with the ever-constant, ever-changing pattern of the tides.

Observing her incredulity got me thinking about how remarkable the system of the tides is; something I ponder every time I walk beside the sea, as I’ve been doing for at least two hours each day in my Christmas holidays.

Who would have thought of tides – where the view of the ocean alters utterly every six hours, so that if this morning the waves are big and close in  and full of exciting churn and power, this afternoon they will be are way out and benign, leaving a vast expanse of gleaming sand to walk and play on?

And that’s just the ocean. What about the seasons? For weeks we shelter from the sweltering sun, worry about bush fires, enjoy the balmy evenings. Next thing you know, the parks and paddocks are rich green again and we are donning scarves and lighting fires to be cosy.

And what about the endless variety in the length of days? As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:

In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candle-light.

In summer, quite the other way,

I have to go to bed by day.

Then the there’s the mad variety of colours, sounds, smells and species in the natural world. Every night in the history of the planet, the sunset has been unique. We have flowers of every hue imaginable, far more than is strictly necessary.

God must be crazily creative. We tend to imagine God as stern and proper, but maybe God is like a kid with a new set of finger paints just going nuts, mixing colours and trying designs that no one else could begin to imagine (kangaroo anyone?)

Now that I’m back from holidays, in the office each day, running the household, reengaged with friends and commitments, I hope to retain the sense of wonder that is easier to cultivate when you have no time pressures and are profoundly rested. The sense of wonder that sees a flowerbed, or a cloudy sky, or a beach and thinks how incredible it is that God made it all so extravagantly, wildly beautiful . To be filled with wonder, gratitude and awe.

This was published in the February edition of The Melbourne Anglican


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




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.



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.


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

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