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Wait a minute, who's the PM again?

The last time the highest office in the land changed with bewildering rapidity, my husband had a neurological incident in the middle of the night; blacking out in the bathroom, giving himself a hefty knock on the head on the way down. To be on the safe side, despite having been a nurse myself in a previous life, I rang ‘nurse on call’.

She took me through the familiar drill. No, I didn’t need to rush him to an emergency department at this point. Yes, I should check him through the night; take his pulse, shine a light in his eyes to check his pupils were responding appropriately, ask him who the Prime Minister was. Really?

It’s one of the questions they ask not only of people with possible concussion, but as a tool for diagnosing Alzheimer’s. These days, however, it’s not just those with dementia who forget who is at the wheel in this fine nation of ours. Six PMs in nine years has got to be some kind of record, at least for stable democracies.

On Friday, the family What’sApp group was running hot. Our two older offspring were watching the whole drama unfold, laying bets for who would win. Our oldest, a high school teacher, wrote, ‘I’m watching it with my year 12 class, riveting!’

‘Julie more popular, smarter, and more likely to have a chance at avoiding complete international ridicule’ she continued, to which her brother responded, ‘She’s also a woman though. And these people are absolute dinosaurs.’

Our youngest, who works in a job where you run all day and have less opportunity to tune in to current events, weighed in at this point. ‘By the way. Wtf? I only just started remembering that Turnbull or whatever was Prime Minister. Do we have a new one?’ I’m with her. I’m still stuck in antiquity – whenever I hear the words, ‘Prime Minister Malcolm,’ I expect them to be followed by the name Fraser.

Late afternoon, my other What’sApp group, my step-siblings in the UK, woke up and chipped in.

‘What’s going on in Aus politics?’ was the opening remark, and the final line was ‘What can Australia teach us about how to change a government?’

I guess, thanks to Donald Trump, we won’t be the biggest laughing stock in the democratic world. But it’s a close thing.

Meanwhile, the circus in Canberra continues. And in this county, we really need to devise some new questions to diagnose brain damage.


This was published in The Melbourne Age on 29 August 2018


Subtle signs put a spring in my step

While the northern hemisphere swelters and burns its way through a broiling summer, Melbourne is still deep in the cold season. I continue to resort to my trusty hot water bottle at night, and in the city church where I sometimes go to sit quietly of a lunch time, there is still a population of homeless people sheltering themselves and their meagre belongings from the elements; their gentle snores punctuate my meditations.

But signs of spring are everywhere if you care to look.

I’ve been acutely aware of these this year, having spent five of the last 12 weeks in other countries. I buried my father on the Summer Equinox in Edinburgh; the dawn chorus woke me at three, but there was no dawn really, and no dark, just a pale green kind of luminescence that bordered a pale sky between the hours of midnight and four am.

Upon my return, the first thing I notice is that I now walk to work in daylight, and when my train deposits me at Brunswick station each evening, it is no longer pitch dark. Which is good, as it means I can see the deep pink magnolia tree that is budding there, prompting me to notice my neighbours’ white one, and then I see them everywhere, those so-briefly blooming trees that are so spectacular but that you miss if you fail to pay attention for a fortnight at this time of year.

Once I’ve noticed the magnolias, I start seeing jonquils poking their little blunt heads up into the sky and their big cousins the daffodils are appearing too. The blossoms of various fruit trees are making their presence felt as well – all over city streets delicate white and pink flowers dust leafless branches. My tiny front garden is a carpet of violets.

The harbingers of spring in Melbourne are less showy than their counterparts in the UK and other countries where everything seems dead and grey until, almost overnight, the earth explodes with green and colour. Here the transformation is much subtler and more gradual. Sings of spring start as early as July with the heavy gold of wattle and continue, little by little.

So, particularly in late winter, it pays to be attentive to the natural world that is so evident, even in our bustling, concrete-heavy, traffic laden city. Before the calendar decrees the official start to spring, spring is on its way. It’s worth keeping an eye out for its shy and subtle signs.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 20 August 2018



Life after life

‘Going to heaven’ or ‘avoiding hell’ has never been a reason for my being a Christian. What happens to us after death is something I don’t worry about. Whatever occurs is wrought by the God who loves us more than the best parent, so it will be okay.

But ponder it I do, from time to time. Like now, when I have just lost my last remaining biological parent – a lovely man who lived a rich, full life and died at the age of 94, knowing, if not where he was going, then certainly who he was going to.

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled,’ John has Jesus saying. ‘In my father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?... so that where I am, there you may be also.’

I have no idea of the shape of life after life. I like to imagine it as somewhere that all the people I have ever loved, and all the places I have ever belonged and felt homesick for are together and accessible, with no time constraints. My idea of ‘heaven’ in unashamedly taken from C.S. Lewis’ beguiling portrayal of the next life in The Last Battle, final book of the Narnia series. But I’m aware that’s plain old wishful thinking.

I think of life after death as a state in which we can perceive, commune with and be filled by God more easily – a lot more easily. A state where we can simply be with God in sheer delight, the way a child sits on a loved grandparent’s lap and doesn’t have to say or do a thing except enjoy being with them. I like to think of it as an existence in which all not only are our griefs and heartbreaks healed and every tear dried, but our hang-ups disappear. I love to think of Mum minus her formidable reserve, Dad no longer plagued by inappropriate guilt, able to revel in the fact that he is utterly loved by the God he served so faithfully through his long life.

Of course, I have no idea what happens after death. But I am convinced that the God who made us and became Jesus loves us so much that God will not simply snuff us out, once this life is done.  All I can do, for my departed loved ones and as I prepare for my own demise, is to trust that the God whose unstinting love I have experienced all my life, will keep loving us after death.

One of my favourite Bible passages in any circumstances is particularly apt when we are thinking about death and what comes after. ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life… nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’. That’s all I need to know.

This was published in the August issue of The Melbourne Anglican





The zen of the long-distance jetsetter

I seem to have hit a sweet spot in my ability to travel with equilibrium. I’m talking here particularly of plane travel, including the dreaded long-haul flights we all love to complain about.

I travelled a great deal as a child, teenager and young woman and then, submerged in jobs and children and strapped for cash, I went nowhere un-local for two decades. The first time I travelled to the other side of the world after this hiatus, I emerged shattered and sick, wondering if I might just stay in the Great Southern Land for evermore.

In the intervening 18 years there have been a few trips and, contrary to expectations, each seems to be easier than the last. I suspect this is an attitudinal shift more than anything, as I grow up (not before time!) and start appreciating how incredible life is.

Okay, so you have 24 hours plus in cattle class. Reframe it this way. You get on a plane one afternoon in Melbourne, and after one day – one day – you emerge for breakfast in Edinburgh. This is a voyage that, not so very long ago, took three months, and you were likely to die of the plague, or shipwreck or some other nasty on the way. So, you’re weary for a couple of days. That seems a small price to pay for the miracle of modern travel.

Also, as I meditate more, I am better able to disappear into a zone, into a little zen bubble as I strap myself into my cosy airline seat. No one can reach me here, no one can expect anything of me, there is not a damn thing I can do for anybody. There are movies. There are pleasant people bringing me meals at regular intervals. I don’t sleep, but then, when I get to the end of my trip there is that blissful falling into deep, deep, exhausted slumber which is one of life’s most luxurious experiences.

About that sweet spot I mentioned. I’ve grown out of youthful impatience and am not yet ancient. Before too long, I imagine I will start to feel my age, something I rarely do yet. Everything will slow down and start to ache, and travel to the other side of the globe may well become a trial again. Although the genetics are promising. My dad only stopped long haul trips when he turned 92. So, maybe I have a few more years to practice my jet setting zen.


Don't be a duffer, wear a puffer

The Winter Solstice is almost upon us, and Melbourne has just had the coldest start to June in three decades. Time for the annual appearance of the Melbourne winter wardrobe staple, the ubiquitous puffer jacket, so iconic that Michael Leunig featured it in a recent Saturday cartoon.

At first, the vast majority of puffer jackets were black. They still are, as befits our black-clad city, but gradually some grey crept in. This year there is a welcome change; a bevy of fuchsia pink, burnt orange and sunshine yellow puffers have appeared like a flock of tropical birds to brighten our gloomy streets.

For a long time, I resisted the acquisition of this handy garment. It was everywhere, it was boring, it was less than flattering (particularly the ones that reach almost to the knees), I don’t feel the cold, Melbourne isn’t that cold anyway. But then I got older and my metabolism slowed, and I started suffering more in the winter months. And began to see why just about everyone possesses one of these feather-light, warm as toast pieces of clothing.

A puffer jacket is perfect for someone like me who walks endlessly. These early mornings, I start off shivering, zip my puffer to my chin and after a kilometre or two, when I am warming up, I take it off and shove it in my backpack, where it takes no room and contributes no weight whatsoever. The days of either freezing at the start of my walk or carting a heavy garment over my arm, are gone.

What really sold me on the puffer jacket, however, is my penchant for travelling, no matter how long the trip, with cabin baggage only. Mostly I travel to Scotland – a notoriously chilly country, for which I couldn’t possibly travel light if I depended on leather or wool for protection from the elements. With my puffer jacket scrunched up into a miniscule, almost weightless ball in my hand luggage, all I need is to wear a heavy jumper on the plane, and I’m set.

So, I have eaten humble pie in my assessment of the puffer. I’m a complete convert; their convenience and efficiency utterly outweighing the fact that they are as daggy and as common as muck.

And when I’m in the UK, I notice that there too, the puffer jacket has become de rigeur. If they’re good enough for my cousins, direct decedents of generations of hardy kilt wearers, they’re good enough for me.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 22 June