Saturday, 31 December 2011

Ring in the New Year!

2011 is drawing to a close and I am feeling relaxed and content after a lovely celebration lunch with family at the Willow Tree Inn restaurant, Graze, situated halfway between Tamworth and Scone in country New South Wales.

My last meal for the year started with a chilled beetroot soup and sourdough roll to awaken my palate.  For entree I chose a twice cooked souffle of gruyere and caramelised onion.  My main meal was a beef rib cooked in a sticky chilli and black vinegar sauce.  The plan was to resist dessert, but then I saw the words "peanut butter bombe with caramel sauce and home made honeycomb" and the plan changed. An espresso saw me out the door.

It was a fitting meal actually.  2011 has been a year of transition, direction changes (hence my ability to quickly ditch a plan at the last minute), consolidation and finally, a positive trajectory.  These patterns define the years since 2008 and I feel that 2012 will be more focussed on consolidation, development and deepening. The first few months are already looking good.

Starting divacultura was a great step taken in 2011.  My initial impulse was to create and embed a daily writing habit, which has happened, but it's also enhanced my powers of observation and helped me develop my voice.  Creating a discipline around my creative practice was also a way for me to be productive during the times when other (paid) work was a bit quiet.  I call these troughs "mini retirements" and learning to value and use this time has been an important lesson in 2011.

Optimism and confidence are essential to well-being when self-employed.  I've always easily harnessed these traits and I've learnt their importance in creating the right "vibe" to attract people, work and opportunities to me.  I'll be continuing to cultivate these in 2012.

There will be more writing, more music and further development as a performer, perhaps with my own material, in the coming year.

My knitting resolution for the year is to tackle a really complicated lace pattern.  It's a technique that I haven't really practised much and it's time I did.  I will also find another charity to devote a month of knitting to as I did this year.

At the start of lunch with the family today I asked about resolutions and no one had any.  I was a bit surprised.  Everyone seemed too busy to have spent time in contemplation.  I don't approach the new year with resolutions, but rather a mindfulness about my intentions for living.  The same thing I guess, but they tend to be less prosaic if I think about them this way.  (Although "sort out the spare room" is still a work in progress which I do hope to achieve this year!)

(For more inspiration, you may like to visit my friend Rose's blog.  I love her idea of spending more time with the people who make her feel anything is possible.)

divacultura is not yet a year old, but the end of this year is still a milestone worth marking.  The top ten posts of 2011 are:

  1. MYKI: it's your key to bureaucratic frustration
  2. To knit or not - it's my choice
  3. The love rug
  4. Love in the letter box 
  5. Beginnings (my very first post)
  6. Taking to the streets of Melbourne
  7. The rejection letter (companion piece to "Love in the letter box)
  8. The glee of singing
  9. Singing with the nuns
  10. 4 inches of love

Are your favourites here?

Happy New Year from divacultura.  Thank you for reading in 2011!  I wonder what your intention is for 2012?

Thursday, 29 December 2011

A trip into vintage recipes - or for goodness' sake, don't get sick!

As the bananas rapidly moved towards the stage of ripeness known as "they'll be good for banana cake", I looked through some cookbooks in my mother's cupboard for a recipe.  I felt certain that the Country Women's Association Cookbook or Common Sense Cookery would have what I needed, but they did not.  Instead I stumbled upon some truly stomach churning delights.

In the twenty-second edition of the CWA Cookbook, published in 1965, the banana section of the index reveals  a recipe for "Banana Steak (Baked)".  This sounded interesting, but was unlikely to lead to a tasty banana cake or bread.  Boy, was I right about that.

At first I thought it was a mistake that it was the second recipe in the beef section of the book, but it wasn't.  You basically take a piece of steak and split it open ("like a book") and put the bananas on the meat.  Season with pepper, salt and grated nutmeg.  Don't forget to sprinkle the bananas with sugar before you close the meat book and bake it in the oven.  I'd need more than the recommended parsley garnish to rescue this travesty!

Flip forward a few pages and you're in the "M" part of the index.  In this case, M is for "mock".  There are several options for mock cream but keep going through the list to find:

  • mock brains - cold, leftover porridge, egg, onion and thyme formed in a ball, dusted in flour and fried.  As if real brains weren't challenging enough.
  • mock crab - a sandwich filling made from grated cheese, worcestershire sauce and mustard.  Could be okay, but I fail to understand what it has to do with crab.
  • mock duck - steak with herbs, pounded and rolled in breadcrumbs.
  • mock goose - fried onion layered in a dish with potato and then baked in the oven.
  • mock schnapper - potato, eggs, cream of tartar and flour fried in "plenty of boiling fat" and served with lemon.  The wedge of lemon would convince me I was eating fish don't you think?
  • mock tripe and eggs - Why? Why? Why? It's just the tripe that's mock - the eggs are real.  This is basically onions stewed in milk.
  • mock tripe and mutton - as above but also stew the mutton in the milk.
I'm perfectly terrified when I venture further into the M's to find a listing for "monkeys" but am relieved to discover they are a normal sounding spiced biscuit.  Why they are called monkeys, I do not know.   At least there is no recipe for mock monkeys. 

The foreword to the previous, twenty-first, edition is included in this edition.  Merle Simonsen, the State President in 1963 tells us that the book was revised "to meet the challenge of the changing times and newer cooking methods".  We are assured that the "old proven" recipes have been retained and new ones added.  Who was needing to do all this mocking?

Useful lists of quantities are included at the front of the book to assist in catering for numbers of people.  The list for fifty people includes "5 fowls" and "2 tongues".  Fruit salad features heavily on all the dessert menus and there is even a list of what to do if you need to serve lunch to 300 adults at a public stock sale, whatever that is.

The recipe for curry for 50 people is intriguing.  The only spice listed is a small tin of curry powder.  The other ingredients include bananas, pineapple, sultanas, half a tin of plum jam and almonds.  Very strange when I consider how many spices I include to make even a basic curry these days.  Curry powder isn't one of them!

If the thought of mock brains was enough to turn your stomach, wait until you take a tour through the section on invalid cooking.  After discovering such delights as "beef tea custard" (it is a custard made from beef tea), raw beef juice and raw liver sandwiches, I started to wonder about the purpose of the recipes in this section - restoration or certain death?  If anyone served me the raw liver juice I'd be certain there was a plot to get me.   In fact, I think I'd plead to be smothered with a pillow.  Perhaps I'd muster one last bit of strength to do it myself.  (Raw liver juice is more complicated than you may appreciate - you squeeze the liquid out of the liver, pass it through a mincer twice and then push it through a wire sieve.  You put the pulp on ice for an hour or two and then mix it and the juice up with orange or lemon juice.  Oh, my, god.  Don't forget to serve it in a ruby glass!)  I don't think the ruby glass would be enough to disguise what was being served.  It sounds like something that would be force fed to a contestant on one of those bizarre Japanese game shows.

The Common Sense Cookery Book was published in 1964 and seems to have a less aggressive approach to cooking for sick people in its chapter on convalescents' children's cookery.  There are a few options for making beef tea, but also things like apple delight and various versions of barley water.  Then we meet the brains - brain cakes, fricasseed brains and scalloped brains (served with a quantity of "masking sauce" - perhaps the masking is necessary when we're not mocking them).  Next step into Dickens to find out how to make a cup of gruel.  The best part of the gruel recipe is the instruction to "pour it into a fine china cup within half an inch of the top, and serve very hot on a daintily prepared tray".

All I can say is that I'm very glad that I wasn't trying to recover from an illness in the mid 1960's!

For the last word on entertainment turn to the advertisements at the back of Common Sense Cookery and be persuaded by the ad for "Small's club chocolate for men".  I'm not sure what that's all about at all.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Season's Greetings (and publication schedule)

This post is the 134th for divacultura.  I started writing at the end of July this year with the commitment to write daily with a view to toning up my writing muscles and creating a habit.  I've done pretty well on this commitment and on the odd occasion when a couple of days have been missed (usually due to interstate work) it's been lovely to receive enquiries from friends of divacultura, noting my absence and checking that I was still alive.

It's not just about me though and I've been pleased to receive great regular feedback which has been supportive and encouraged me to keep going.  It's so satisfying to know that I've tickled your funny bone, poked your sense of outrage, caused you to nod your head in agreement or shake your head is disagreement.  Whether you've commented on the blog, liked on facebook or followed me on Twitter, thank you for joining the conversation and for inspiring me.

Merry Christmas to all of my readers.  I wish you safe travels and joy, however you spend the time.  I look forward to continuing to share my stories with you.

Publication of divacultura will be less frequent than daily over the Christmas period.  Just putting it out there!

Monday, 19 December 2011

A little Christmas music

Last night I had a little burst of Christmas music.  The vocal group I sing with (Living out Loud) hosted a concert and party for our friends and family.  I don't have any family living in Melbourne, so it meant a lot that friends came and shared the evening.

And it was an opportunity to glam up for the occasion.
You can see the white flower which I had to hunt for in the crush of  Christmas shoppers.
(and yes, it's another self portrait with iphone.)


I have previously written about the enjoyment of singing in a group - this group in particular.  Last night felt very good and relaxed.  I could tell we were sounding good because the tingle-ator was working overtime.  What's a tingle-ator?  When the harmonies and the energies of the group are working really well together you can feel it on your skin.  Goose flesh might rise, hairs stand on end and everything goes tingly.  This happened to  me several times last night.  What an endorphine rush!

One of the things I love about singing with this group is the relaxed approach to performance.  A relaxed approach does not mean that we're not serious about making beautiful music together it just means that we allow our personalities to shine through in the performance itself.  There was banter (some may call it sledging) between the singers last night and it made the audience laugh and enjoy the show more.  To cool the room down during interval we had turned on a very large fan.  It sounded like a jet engine and was also playing havoc with the hair styles of the (female) tenors. They were beginning to remind me of Phyllis Diller when she did her hair with an egg beater.  I'm sure you get my drift.   Across the other side of the stage was the bass section, all of whom are follicularly challenged and were therefore unruffled.  The request to swap sides of the stage seemed fair.  We turned the fan off instead.

The second half of the concert was an opportunity to share some Christmas music.  Our conductor led the audience and choir in an improvisation which sounded fantastic!  The looks of concentration on the faces of audience members was something to behold but the pay off came at the end when they all beamed with joy, surprise and satisfaction at the glorious sounds they had just made together.  Perhaps their tingle-ators were also working and they were able to experience the feeling of singing together with other human beings.

The improvisation was the warm up for choir led renditions of the "Coventry Carol" and "Silent Night" as well as the joyful African song "Ho-no-no" and a bit of retro chic in "Feliz Navidad".

Food and drink brought by the singers was shared by all and it was a truly lovely finish to our singing year.

They say that a measure of the strength and quality of a community is the number of choirs that it has.  I'm not surprised!  People who may otherwise not cross paths come together for the intense and magical experience of harmonising together.  It's a deeply bonding and emotional experience.  Some Saturday mornings I resent having to wake up and drag myself to rehearsal, but I never drag myself home.  It's the ultimate pick-me-up.

If you've never done it, why not find a group to sing with in 2012?  It can change your life.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Suburban shopping with a dose of karma

My confession for today is that I willingly entered a suburban shopping centre to complete my Christmas shopping and satisfy my need for a white flower (part of my costume for this evening's vocal group performance).  Today of all days!  The last Sunday before Christmas Day.

Preparation was the key and I arrived five minutes after the opening time of 10am.  Already the prime parking spots were taken, but I was able to park within a few minutes of arriving.  Determined shoppers made a beeline for the entries.  They looked like they had a plan and knew exactly where they were going. Just like me really.  In and out was the plan.

I managed to complete my shopping within 90 minutes of arriving and was feeling pleased enough to observe the place.  It was no longer easy to zoom through the pedestrian thoroughfares.  It was now an obstacle course of aimless wanderers, people too absorbed in their phones to notice the real people within their vicinity, people with prams flanked by an emu parade of energised toddlers and slouching teenagers and people flogging beauty products.  Standing in the middle of a shopping centre is exactly where I want to have my nails buffed by the miracle buffer or be manhandled by an ugly 20 year old man trying to flirt with me as he tries to rub moisturiser onto me.

The kids at Boost juice were having fun by turning up the music to drown out the sound of the blenders (that is, loud enough to make your ears bleed) and showing no awareness of the resulting cacophony assaulting passers-by.

As part of a Christmas promotion, any purchase of more than $10 entitled shoppers to go in the draw to win $10,000 (handy at any time).  In a clever marketing strategy, you could also see if you'd won an instant prize. In most cases this required spending more money in a particular shop.  I swapped a jewellery voucher for a coffee voucher and gave a maternity voucher to a woman who clearly needed it more than I did.  The coffee voucher was a two for one and as I was on my own (and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible) I stalked the line of people waiting at the relevant store.  Two sad looking men were standing there.  I walked up and smiled and offered the voucher to the first man.  He looked  at me as though I had just offered him an envelope of anthrax.  The second man in the queue nodded, took the voucher and didn't meet my eyes.  I wished him merry Christmas, he said nothing in reply and continued to avoid my eyes.

I figured I may as well give the vouchers to someone who might use them rather than just put them in the bin. The least they could say is "thanks".  Actually, the least they could say was nothing at all; this is the option they chose.

These shopping centres are quite like airports in their vibe - closed in, bustling environments with a hum of constant noise bouncing off all the hard surfaces.  And people wandering around.  At least the airport is just a jumping off point in the journey to another destination.  The shopping centre seems to be the destination itself.

When I walked out to find my car, many more cars were driving in circles trying vainly to find a place to park.    I felt their eyes lock on me as soon as they saw me as a shopper with bags heading away from the shopping centre.  They started to drive very slowly behind me, trying to read my direction from slight twitches in my body language.  The trouble was I wasn't completely sure of exactly where I had parked the car, so a few people may have misread my twitches.  I didn't hear the sound of crunching metal, but I did hear the sound of screeching brakes when I tripped over my car.  She was so excited, you'd think I'd just told her she'd won the $10,000.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

1800 SARONG

For the first time in about eight years, I will not be attending Summersong, an adult music camp located at Lennox Head on the NSW north coast.  A lot of people look at me like I'm weird when I first tell them that every January I go and spend time sleeping in a bunk bed in a dorm with shared toilet and shower facilities and strangers in the same room.  And that I do this willingly.  And pay for the privilege.

Summersong is one of the greatest gifts of creative, supportive music making that I have been fortunate to receive in my adult life.  It sounds corny, but it's true.  A fantastic community of musicians and writers has grown and there are people whom I only see there once a year but I count them as important friends.  I even found work through the Summersong network.

It's not just music making, rehearsing, creating, practising and doing homework!  There's also party celebration night.  The women dress gloriously - think tropical beach adorned with flowers - and the men, well the men wear no pants. Instead they wear sarongs (or any variation).  Some of the fellas go all out and frock up in a way to rival the women.  They look great!

The sarong is not without its dangers for people who have never worn them before.  One year I was in a cabin with a woman from Scotland.  She wasn't really up on the whole sarong thing, so I lent her one of mine. She went very quiet for about 15 minutes and I asked her whether she was ready to go.  She was still standing there examining the sarong.  The sarong is hardly a staple of the average Scottish woman's wardrobe, especially if she usually lives in Scotland.  I swooped in, wound her around, tucked a bit here, folded a bit there and tied it all together.  Voila!

She looked nervous.

"What wrong?"  I asked her.

"How will it stay on?"

"Oh it will stay on."

"But how will it stay on?  How do you know it will stay on?"

"Ok.  Listen to me.  At the fresher toga party at university I tied my best friend so securely into her toga she was still wearing it three days later."

The Scottish woman breathed out and decided to trust me.  She was fine.  Although I have been suddenly abandoned by a succession of men on the dance floor clutching the only thing between them and complete freedom as they dash to find privacy.

Getting ready for the party reminds me of the frantic crowding around mirrors and fighting for showers that used to happen at boarding school.  The fresh dimension at Summersong is semi clad blokes wandering around trying to find a frock or get help with their sarongs.  (This usually only happens in the first year - after that they're packing a frock and certainly are well versed in the liberation of sarong wearing.)

One year I heard one calling out for help with his sarong.  I called back "1800 SARONG.  Hello, how may I direct your call?" It's become a running joke.

I just received an enquiry via the facebook page worrying that the 1800 SARONG helpline had been disconnected as I would not be attending this year.

Of course it hasn't closed!

"I appreciate your concern.  1800 SARONG has not been disconnected.  Your call is important to us.  Our operators are busy helping other people with their sarongs.  You'll appreciate the difficulty of providing this guidance by telephone.  There will therefore be a longer wait than usual.  Please hold the line. Or for only 3 tiny monthly instalments of $99 you can receive our printed help guide.  As a bonus we'll throw in the DVD which shows not one, not 2, not 10, but 25 different ways to wear your sarong.  For a tiny extra  amount you can receive the extended mix with 400 ways to wear and tie your sarong.  That's right, for only $150 per month over 3 months, you'll be able to wear a sarong all summer long.  If you take up this offer today we'll even throw in the sarong.  And some glue. And maybe a staple gun."

Apparently the staple gun is enough to convince clients to put their fears of being recruited to Scientology aside.

And that's the other wonderful thing about places like Summersong - you get to play and be silly!  When was the last time you got down in the sand pit and allowed yourself to be playful? And laughed your head off?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Presenting - are you memorable for the right reasons?

This morning I presented the findings of a survey I had conducted at the commissioning organisation's annual conference.  I had to be up early as I had an hour's drive to Geelong and my session was scheduled for 9:15am and I wanted to get into the room well beforehand.

I'd spent a lot of time thinking about the people (most of whom I had not met), the organisation and the issues and how I was going to tell the story revealed by the survey.  Presenting the findings of a survey could be dry, repetitive, boring, and lengthy.  Who would want to sit through that?  I had already provided a written report to the CEO, so that could easily have been provided direct to the staff instead of having me present at the conference.  I needed to communicate something else, something that couldn't be conveyed just by reading the report.

The trip was trouble free and I arrived with about half an hour to spare.  I sat in the room during the morning's first session.  They were already well under way and it was only 8:45!  I took this as a good sign.  During that time, I put on my deep facilitation hat and started to take in the "data" that the room provided me.  Who was talking?  What were they talking about? What was the vibe in the room? Were people engaged? Bored? Resentful? Asleep? What else was there in the room that could tell me something?

I paid attention to the conversation taking place before my session and listened for anything that was relevant or could be linked to the story I was about to tell.  There was a lot - a press release from the future (the year 2015), photographs, copies of the good looking and informative annual report and most of the participants were wearing shirts proclaiming the organisation for which they all worked.  So much information!

I'd provided my formal biography for the conference papers, so didn't flinch when the CEO suggested he would give me a tabloid newspaper style introduction.  He asked me for keywords.  The first one that sprang to mind was "blonde" and the other was "dead" (neither true).  Oh dear.  I decided to keep quiet.

As a professional communicator I am confident in my ability to tell an engaging story and my reputation relies on this.  Feedback after the session confirmed this.  But there was other feedback expressed - there was a level of surprise that my presentation had been interesting, engaging, entertaining even.  General expectations were set at a very low level.  I was shocked to discover that people expect to be bored by conference presentations.  This was no reflection on the organisation that I was working with but was an expectation grounded in lived experience.

How sad!  Presenting at a conference (or anywhere!) is such a great opportunity, whether the audience has 20 people, 200 people or 2000 people.  Why would presenters not set out to engage and provoke their audience?  Sometimes I think presenters can be so caught up in the subject matter that the focus of a conference presentation becomes technical expertise rather than communication.  I would argue that the primary purpose and focus should be communicating a message, telling a story, provoking some kind of emotional response, moving people to action.  This takes skill and these skills can be learned.  Awareness, preparation, practice and coaching are the keys.

Next time you're in the audience for a presentation think about how you're feeling.  Are you engaged by the presenter?  Are they communicating with you?  Or are they so focussed on the 77 slides in their carefully crafted Powerpoint presentation that you, the audience, need not even be in the room?  What would you do differently?  What do you notice this presenter doing that might also be habits of yours?

Spend some time thinking about presentations that have really rocked your world.  Why?  What happened? What was the presenter doing?  What words would you use to describe how you felt and what you observed?

If you have a presentation coming up, don't take the actual presentation for granted.  You need to spend time practising and rehearsing before the "performance".  This means doing more than writing out Powerpoint slides.  What is the purpose of your presentation?  How do you want your audience to feel?  What do you want them to do?  Consideration of these often forgotten questions will influence how you approach the presentation.

Nothing frustrates me more than slide after slide, heavy with text, with the presenter reading them to the audience.  Pretty soon I'm thinking about how else I could spend my time.  Just give me the slide pack and I'll read it over the coffee break.  I'm sure I'm not alone.  So often, presenters sabotage themselves and forget about what it's like to be in the audience and what they need.

What will you do differently when you prepare and deliver your next presentation? How can you make sure you are memorable for the right reasons?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Time for work.

As things wind down in preparation for Christmas, I have more time on my hands.  As a freelancer I am subject to the rhythms of the business world.  On one hand, it's helpful because I have time to do my own preparation for Christmas and holidays.  On the other hand, it's potentially a financial wilderness.

Working and living this way has its challenges.  I've really learnt that if my anxiety levels about work and money go up, the chances of work and money coming my way go down.  I think it's probably because if I'm anxious I'm less likely to be able to see opportunities and also I'm less capable of creative problem solving - something I'm usually good at.

One of my other personality traits that I need to be aware of is my ability to get stuff done is directly proportional to the amount of stuff I need to get done.  If I'm flat out busy I get everything done.  If I'm not, things linger until the very last minute and I struggle.  I still get everything done, but find the process is not as enjoyable.

These peaks and troughs were one of the reasons I started to write "divacultura", and made a commitment to write daily.  During the flat periods, without a clear focus, time would just slip by if I wasn't careful.  I was a very productive knitter and I read a lot of books, but I also recognised the potential to do nothing but watch my favourite shows on DVD.  I needed to recognise that I was blessed with something that I hadn't had enough of for all of my working life: time!  How dare I squander it!

As a creative person working in a corporate world, being able to focus on my creative life and practice was something I often sacrificed the moment the phone rang or an email flashed on the screen.  On reflection, it seems incomprehensible to me that I would not fight fiercely to claim that space for myself.  It was a matter of priorities.  And now I have them straight-er.

Tonight, I felt the compulsion to write, but also the lure of bed.  I am feeling mentally exhausted after a day working in an academic environment, co-teaching about simulated patients in health care and medical education.  My daily writing habit won!  Here I am honouring my commitment to my daily writing habit.

I knew when I set my parameters for this blog that they would be important: I was setting priorities in my life.  "divacultura" is a high priority each day for me; it must be written.  There have been days when I have not been able to honour this commitment because I've been interstate and not had the facilities.  The strength of the ingrained habit on these occasions has been very strong.  Where I have been unable to do the publishing, I've often hand written the post and typed it later, or turned up my thinking so that the words would flow when I was next at my computer.

This is a good thing that I have done.  Not every post has been a winner.  Sometimes that's not the point.  And in any artistic or creative pursuit, bad work is still work.  I heard writer Steve Hely (author of "How I became a Famous Novelist") talk about this at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year and it has really stuck in my mind.

Today's work has left me struck by the synergies I keep finding in all my different worlds of work.  Today I heard the concept of "practise, rehearsal, performance" presented.  As an artist, I'm incredibly familiar with this cycle and am aware that a tiny proportion of my time is spent in performance.  In the world of medicine, it's the opposite.  Most of their time is spent in high stakes performance and the opportunities for practise and rehearsal are limited!  I had never thought of it like that before.

What luxury I have being able to put the work in first.






Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Life lessons from "Love is in the Air"

Listening to Libbi Gorr on the radio tonight and she's playing John Paul Young's song "Love is in the Air" a hit from 1978. I wasn't very old in 1978 but I know this song very well because it featured in Baz Lurhmann's 1992 film "Strictly Ballroom".

"Love is in the Air" suited the daggy, romantic melodrama and the song had a second life as a hit.

It's also familiar to me because in 1994 I attended a music theatre summer school in Brisbane.  Todd McKenney was the dance teacher and he had us all doing the rumba to "Love is in the Air". I hear the opening bars and I'm back there on stage at the Lyric Theatre, ready to rumba.  It was such a good time! There were about 80 of us I think.  We had all auditioned for one of the hotly contested places.  High profile music theatre producers, directors and musical directors were our tutors and the focus was on audition techniques.

We spent a week being put through our paces as singers, actors, dancers and putting it all together in an audition situation. I worked on Miss Hannigan's song "Little Girls" from "Annie"  It was exhausting and wonderful.  And always so much easier for the blokes because they were so scarce.  There were plenty of women and so every audition was very competitive.  The cattle calls were such a brutal process.

I remember queueing for hours outside a night club in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley for an audition for the musical "Rent".  I was very well prepared after the summer school.  The line was moving really fast - never a good sign.  That meant that people were being dismissed on the basis of their look or the sound of their first two notes.  I walked into the room and had the opportunity to start my song.  I started to sing and expected to be dismissed with a "thank you" at any moment.  It didn't happen!  I got through my entire song! I wasn't called back, but I was thrilled that I'd been able to sing my whole song, rather than just being dismissed on my look.  It was like being a writer and having my manuscript rejected, but at least this time, they'd read it!  A lot of it was because I'd learnt how to walk in, claim the space as mine and make people pay attention.

I learnt my most important lesson as an actor out of this.  I always walk away knowing I've given my best possible performance.  If I don't get the job it's because I'm not what they're looking for and I don't take it personally.  This is a handy thing for life in general!  So is the ability to grab the attention of a room.

I do my best and the rest is out of my control.

Christmas cake - done!

The cake is out of the oven.  Smells fantastic!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Neighbourhood blooms

As I walk around my neighbourhood I'm often struck by the beautiful flowers in the gardens.  The summer colours are beautiful.  Today I particularly noticed the pinks and purples.  Join me for a wander through the gardens?


 

Eco friendly gift wrapping ideas

Most of my Christmas shopping is now done.  So is the wrapping.  This is down to two reasons:

1. I have limited financial resources.
2. I used the free gift wrapping offered in store.

Usually I go for a united theme in my gift wrapping so that anyone looking under the tree can tell what's come from me.  One year I spent hours wrapping everything in brown paper then clear cellophane with a sprinkling of Christmas star confetti in between, topped with coordinated curling ribbon.  They looked beautiful but made a mess when opened and there was such a lot of waste!

This year my united theme is "someone else wrapped it".

There are lots of options for this.  Many stores offer free gift wrapping as a matter of course. Sometimes you have to have the branding of the store on the outside of the parcel.  Often this is quite lovely if done thoughtfully.  The white parcel in this photo is an example of this - purchased and wrapped at the wonderful local treasure, Sedonia.
The navy and gold one is a particular favourite, not because the wrapping particularly fancy, but because of the precision with which it was wrapped.  My favourite city book store, Reader's Feast, is open again and offers this stylish and fuss-free gift wrapping.

The young man providing the service was reading a book about oceanography in between wrapping.  He was Japanese and sprang into focussed action as I presented the item for wrapping (and the receipt to prove that it was actually now mine to have wrapped).  He sized up the article and then precisely cut the exact amount of paper.  He very carefully and squarely, placed the gift in the exact spot on the paper and then proceeded to fold and crease and tape.  His head was bent very close to this work.  He didn't just fold the flap of paper over, he folded and creased and caressed with the level of attention an engineer would use to build a bridge.  The corners were a work of art in themselves, symmetrical and neat.  He quickly cut the smallest amount of tape and placed it just so.  A beautifully wrapped square.  He's probably an origami master in his other life.

I thanked him for his beautiful work and wished him Merry Christmas.  His face broke into a wide smile and he bowed slightly.  I could have watched him all day.

I guess he has it made, working as a gift wrapper in a book store.  I mean everything is going to be square or rectangular and pretty easy to wrap.  No lumpy bits, soft bits or weird angles to contend with in a bookstore.

I do love thinking of different ways to present gifts as I think the presentation of the gift is as much a part of the gift as the gift itself.  However, I just don't want to have to purchase more stuff that I then have to store somewhere for a whole year before I use it again.  And I am concerned about packaging generally as a waste of resources, so I now try to apply this to my personal packaging.

So here are my eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas:

  • Don't wrap at all.  Just present the gift. Wrapped in love of course.
  • Reuse wrapping that you've retrieved from gifts, shopping, packaging.
  • Buy reusable bags and place gifts in these.  The bags then become part of the gift and can be used over and over by the recipient.  One year I bought a whole lot being sold as a fundraiser for the Royal Children's Hospital.  They came in a range of gorgeous colour combinations and were only a couple of dollars each. 
  • Choose gifts that don't require wrapping or are impossible to wrap - plants, food, vouchers.  
  • If you're a cook and giving your goods as gifts, choose a reusable tin, cannister, bottle or other container to put them in.
  • Use the gorgeous pages from last year's calendar as wrapping.  I also use this throughout the year for birthday gifts.  It's often particularly appreciated where the correct month is used.  This is never possible in June!
  • Pillowcases make excellent Santa sacks.  I remember as a child we each had our own with a Christmas picture on it which was instantly recognisable, usually with a jolly image of Santa on a roof carrying a big sack of presents.  If you're handy with a needle and thread you could personalise these with initials, names or other appliqued images or use fabric paint and get artistic.
  • A pretty tea towel, fine handkerchief, table cloth, apron or face washer make excellent wrapping that also have useful after-lives.
  • Depending where you live and quarantine rules, big leaves can work as natural wrapping. They can be composted in the garden afterwards.

How do you wrap your gifts for giving?  Do you consider the planet?  What's the best idea you've had or seen?

Editted to add (9:20am 14 December 2011):

Overnight I thought of some other wrapping options for things that can have an afterlife:

  • sarongs
  • scarfs
  • wall paper 
  • magazine pages 
  • newspaper (thanks to Angela for this suggestion 
  • brown paper bags can be decorated (thanks Kellie) - even better if you can re-use rather than buy
  • re-purpose a shoe box (or any other box).

Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas cake and a child's wisdom

Call me a cliche, but I got right into the Christmas spirit this afternoon.  I cranked up the Christmas music (vintage jazz versions, no Mariah Carey here), opened the brandy and mixed up the cake.  It's my  Mum's boiled pineapple fruit cake.


Before mixing and boiling.


During - it's a bit fuzzy because the steam fogged up the camera.
After - in all its sticky, fruity, delicious, Christmassy goodness.  The yellow bits are the pineapple (not corn!)

I'll leave the fruit overnight and mix in the flour and eggs and bake it tomorrow.

I was worried that I might have left it a bit late.  Nothing like having a knock down fight with a little old lady to secure the last packet of dried fruit or glace cherries!  Thankfully, the supermarket in the village was very well stocked and I was able to buy everything I needed without resorting to dirty tactics.  If you do find yourself in this situation, stealth and swift movements are the key. Think ninja.

As usual my three year old nephew was able to provide wisdom as he solemnly explained his approach to Christmas preparations, via Skype today.  

He provided full details about what is required to provide sustenance for Santa (biscuits) and his reindeer (carrots), but it didn't end there.  His plan was to lie in wait so that he could then catch Santa!  I suggested that Santa wouldn't be very happy about that and that he was pretty hard to catch, but my nephew was convinced the plan would work.  

"Santa wears boots," was his firm, final comment on the subject.

To change the subject, he then advised me that he was drawing me some pictures for Christmas.  He would be coming to visit me and would bring them with him.  When I asked him how he was going to get here (I'm in Melbourne, he's in Queensland) he said that he would walk.  I admired his generous and determined spirit and told him he had better get cracking - it would take a long time to get here because he'd be carrying all those heavy Christmas presents for his favourite Aunty.

I love kids' thinking - it's so imaginative yet literal.  He was quite prepared to walk a very long way to see me, but said that paper wasn't very heavy and he had no heavy presents for me.  I insisted I wanted lots and they needed to be very heavy.  He came back with bigger pieces of paper repeating the phrase "heavy presents" over and over.

I fully expect him to turn up here with an art portfolio and a bag of rocks.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The longest line

Wandering through the Bourke Street Mall today after having a long lunch with two friends at the Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder (do try the Rodriguez Eggs) I had to break my way through  the long line of people waiting to look at the Myer Christmas windows.  Security guards were on hand should the band of toddlers and their harried parents form a fringe Occupy movement, but they did little to ensure entry and exit to the Myer department store itself.

I felt the pain of the people as I found a gap and excused myself through it.  I've written before about how my position in a queue marks the space for people to find a thoroughfare, even if I'm somewhere obscure, like the back corner.  They all looked so unhappy and bored as they stood in the line.  Deep down they must have known they were queuing to gain access to walk past some department store windows.  I don't get it, although standing in this kind of pointless line is good training for when they go to Spain and need to buy a train ticket to somewhere.

I travelled with a friend to Spain in 2003 (was it really that long ago?) and had a blast.  We travelled around for about six weeks starting in Barcelona and ending in Madrid after spending Easter week in Lisbon over in Portugal.  We'd been learning Spanish before we went and relied on the trusty Lonely Planet Spanish phrase book when we were lost for (Spanish) words.  We were planning our itinerary as we went and were having trouble finding somewhere to sleep anywhere in Spain during Easter week.  Easter is a very big deal in Spain and we discovered it's big in Portugal, but not as big.  We managed to find accommodation in an apartment within a big house in Lisbon so decided to catch the overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon.

Train travel in Europe is famous as the best way to get around.  What they don't tell you in the guide books is about the requirement to wait in long, slow, never ending lines.  And that at the end of these lines are surly unhelpful people who view you, the travelling public, as an unwelcome interruption to their endless cigarette smoking.

We decided to get the organisation of travel out of the way early and so made our way to Madrid's central train station.  We arrived mid morning and found it packed.  It was as if the whole of Europe was on the move and required to stop over in Madrid.  After some reconnaissance we realised there was a queuing system just like the one at the local deli - you take a paper ticket with a number and wait for your number to be called or come up on a screen.  We took a ticket and the number on it was something like 143.  We then looked at the screen and discovered that ticket number 43 was now being served!  That explained the large number of people hanging around.  Surely that couldn't be right!  It was.

It was time for some strategic decision-making.  Firstly, we needed to observe what was going on so we could work out how fast the queue was moving.  This was our first error.  We needed to observe how slowly the queue was moving.  The technical answer is it was moving very slowly, somewhere between the speed of continental drift and that ice shelf off Antarctica.  We decided to wait it out.  Perhaps other people would get tired of waiting and drop out of the queue.  We didn't want to miss our slot and end up having to come back another day or end up back at the end of the queue.

To pass the time, we found out all our possible travel options from Madrid to Lisbon, refined our choices and then practised asking for them in Spanish.  With the amount of time we ended up spending in that queue, I should have been more ambitious - I could have read "Don Quixote" in the original Spanish if only I'd shown some imagination and ambition.

The other thing we could do was watch the officials behind the ticket counter.  We became fixated on the man in the green jumper.  He looked impatient and unhelpful. Under no circumstances did we want to be served by him.  He also smoked at his ticket desk which contributed to long pauses in the service he offered; finding the next cigarette, taking it out of the packet, finding something to light it with, raising it to the lips, lighting the cigarette itself, inhaling and exhaling were all activities that required his undivided attention.  Was it any wonder the planet was warming faster than this queue was moving!

After about four hours, we became hysterical.  It was just too funny for words.  Perhaps we were on Spanish "Candid Camera" and a smarmy host would jump out at any moment and say in speedy, unintelligible Spanish that they'd never seen people prepared to wait so long in a queue!  And only to buy tickets to go to Portugal! Hilarious. Or maybe it would be the Australian Government using hidden cameras to gather footage to prove to the Australian public that the waiting times in a Centrelink office, or on hold to talk to Telstra, were nothing.  Nothing!

Our number came up and we jubilantly stood up and looked to see which counter bay to go to.  The only one free belonged to the man in the green jumper.  We could smell the sneer of his disapproval as we approached.  All the Spanish I'd ever learnt went out of my head and my heart started to pound.  I'd never be able to book these tickets.  We'd find ourselves in the middle of Russia before we knew it and I had even less Russian.  We'd be abandoned at a remote station somewhere in the Ural Mountains!

I took a breath and said hello.  The man in the green jumper grunted back and lit a cigarette.  I managed to get my first question out.  He looked at me, disgusted.  I had started with my standard conversation starter - "do you speak English?" Of  course he didn't.  He looked like he did really, but had smelt our fear and decided to be difficult.

I launched in with the request I'd been rehearsing for the past four hours.  As my communication became more deliberate (a slip of the tongue, an inflection the wrong way and who knew what I'd be saying?) he became more and more taciturn.  He glared at me as though my attempt at Spanish was an insult to all Spaniards.  My attempts to solicit information from him were met with silence or monosyllabic grunts.  At times he would laugh and joke with his colleagues and then turn back to us with his steely yet impatient stare.  He broke his silence only to shower me with rapid, detailed Spanish as he handed over the tickets.  I had no idea what he was saying to me and just hoped that the tickets were what we wanted.

It turns out that we did purchase tickets to Lisbon on the overnight train from Madrid.  We even managed to get seats in a non-smoking carriage.

I will never forget the man in the green jumper and the moment we realised that there were 100 people ahead of us in the queue. Come to think of it, that publicity footage could be very handy for the Government.

What's the longest line you've ever waited in?  What was it for?

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Christmas cheer, Christmas chunder

The Christmas crowd is out in force with all its nuances and faces.  Some of it is happy.  Some of it is stressed.  Much of it walks very, very slowly, in fat, wide lines that form an impenetrable  barrier.  And a lot of it is drunk.

As I made my way through the city this afternoon, I crossed the road and heard a man singing "It's now or never".  It wasn't recorded and it sounded pretty good.  I looked around to find the singer and saw a young guy standing right on the edge of the road, millimetres from the passing traffic, singing his heart out and searching the eyes of the nearby people to connect with his audience.  In his hand was a can of Jim Beam and he also was doing some moves to accompany his tune.  The showmanship was pretty good and he asked me if I wanted to go and sing karaoke with him.  His big sell was that he was the "best" - at karaoke, I assume.

I didn't have the chance to answer.  As he hit the line "It's now or never" he stepped fully into the traffic.  Cars slowed down as he dodged between them and finally took refuge on the island in between the lanes.  He played the clown, sneaking around like a naughty child who was trying to not be seen.

The love ballad took on a fatalistic, apocalyptic quality.  I really hoped the answer was "never" as I squinted and hunched in anticipation of what I was sure I was about to witness.

He made it to the other side and went on his merry way, bringing impromptu music to the shoppers.

In contrast was the train ride home last night after I'd been to a Christmas party.  The smell of stale alcohol was heavy in the carriage as I opened the door.  People were quiet.  It had been a hot couple of days and it was just starting to cool down.  I heard the sound of a large volume of liquid hitting a hard surface somewhere behind me.  No other sound.  I looked around and saw a number of people silently get up and move quickly to another part of the carriage.  Nearby was a man bent double looking at the people around him.  He had vomited.  Right there on the train surrounded by people.

I turned back disgusted and tried not to think about it.  I'm a sympathy vomiter - the mere thought is enough to make me gag.  I had to focus somewhere else.

When I arrived home I felt bad for the man.  I had judged that he was drunk, but I didn't know for sure.  Perhaps he was really ill and needed help.  No one gave it to him.  The next time I looked around, he wasn't on the train any more.  What if I had taken ill on a train during Christmas season?  Would the few beers I'd had at the party I'd been to mean that I too would be abandoned with a sneer of disgust?

I wonder if my initial reflex was correct?  I wanted to yell "It's public transport, not a public toilet."   I said nothing.  I was too busy focussing on the gag I was trying to suppress for the next three stops.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Banker from hell

I hope that I've just completed the final chapter of a transaction with my business bank.  This transaction started in May and involved something that I thought would be relatively straightforward - opening a business bank account linked to a trust.

I'd called first and almost completed the process over the phone.  I was given very clear instructions about what I needed to take in to a branch to complete the process:  identification, tax file number, ABN for the business and the deeds for the company and for the trust.  The guy on the phone told me it would take about twenty minutes to complete the process of opening my account.

I had a couple of hours one morning as I went through the city on my way to various other appointments and errands and thought that would be plenty of time.  The particular branch I visited had an electronic queuing system which required me to identify that I needed a business banker and my business was about opening an account.  It then spat out a numbered ticket and invited me to wait in the lounge.  The wait wasn't very long and from the moment I met the person who would be in this transaction with me, I knew it wouldn't go well.  There was something in his eyes (fear?) that told me he didn't know what he was doing.  I was right.  I should have run at that point.  But how could I?

After I'd introduced myself, I told him that I was here to complete the process of opening my business account which I had commenced over the phone the night before.

"What do you mean over the phone?  You can't do that over the phone," was his less than confidence-inspiring response.

"Well I did and here's the account number." He begrudgingly took the details and looked suitably awestruck when he discovered that the process had indeed been commenced over the phone.

Oh no.

Two hours later, I was still there battling with him.  I had 1.5kg of trust documents and company deeds and he dismissed them as being "just pieces of paper from your accountant - they don't prove anything".  I tried to reason with him, suggesting he take a copy of some of the key pages, just in case.  He wouldn't have it.  I cancelled my hairdressing appointment which I had no hope of making in time. When I reached the one hour mark I knew that I would have to stay the distance if the time I had already spent was to count for anything.

My confidence in my choice of bank was waning by the second.

Finally, I was released.  I went straight home, called the customer complaints line and told them the story.  They made all the right noises, apologised and said that they would get my personal banker to call me.  I panicked.  Was the guy I'd spent a quality 150 minutes with now my personal banker?  Were we tethered for life?  This would be a disaster.  Turns out my personal banker would be his boss.  This made me feel no better.  Where there are problems in an organisation, always look at the next level up to diagnose the problem.  To this day, I've never heard from that guy.

Here's some of what went wrong:

  1. My account had been incorrectly opened and would not allow me to withdraw any money.  The customer service complaints people fixed this.  
  2. My mailing address had been recorded, but all mail was tagged to go to my home address.
  3. Three debit cards were issued with the wrong business name on the card before I found someone who could get the problem fixed.  That took several phone calls of no less than 40 minutes each and the insistence that if I wanted a new card issued I had to visit a branch.  The distinction between needing a new card and needing them to fix their error was lost on the people I spoke to.
  4. The account is supposed to be a business cheque account (with no cheque book).  According to the bank that's the rule.  The first time I used my debit card, pressing "cheque account" on the ATM keypad, the machine told me I was wrong.  I now know that I have to press "savings account", even though it isn't.
  5. The account is supposed to be recognisable under my universal customer identification number.  It isn't.  I always end up in the wrong call centre when I call.  Fixing this is unbelievably hard.  So I don't bother.  I just have a script that I read out when we get to that bit of  the conversation.
  6. Details of my trust have not been correctly gathered.
Number 6 above caused me to receive a letter  from the bank the other day.  In bold at the top of the letter was written We need some more information for your Trust Account.  I had quite an emotional reaction when I read this.  I remembered the 1.5kg of paper I had lugged into the bank that day, only to have the pages dismissed as being "just paper from your accountant".  That 1.5kg of paper was now lodged securely with my accountant and I just couldn't be bothered.  

The letter went onto say, "When you established your Trust Account with XXX we didn't collect some details that we're required by law to have on our records.  It's easily fixed.  Please send us a copy of the following items from the Trust Deed:."  A list of four items followed.  

The letter was well worded, carefully putting responsibility for this problem on the bank rather than on me.  But when I reached the bit that said they were sorry for the "hassle" and appreciated me "taking the time to help us with this" my blood reached boiling point again.  What risk was my business at because the bank had failed to fulfil the relevant legal requirements?  What would happen if I didn't provide the documents?

I called my friends in the customer complaints area again.  They were terribly sorry. They didn't know what risk I was at.  They didn't know what would happen if I didn't provide the documents.  Had I spoken to my personal banker about this?  If only he would call me.  I don't think he knows I exist.

The next day, the person who had failed to do his job in the first place called me.  (Perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh.  Perhaps I should refer to him as the person who was expected by his employer to do a job for which he had not been trained.)  My heart sank.  Nothing would be resolved if I had to deal with him.  He offered me his personal email address and phone number and said I could call him any time.  He apologised profusely and realised that he should have listened to me when I tried to get him to take copies of the relevant trust documents five months ago.

I responded very directly and said that I would prefer not to deal with him.  I appreciated him calling and taking responsibility, but it didn't change the fact that I had spent a considerable amount of time cleaning up the mess he had made of my business banking arrangements.  

I've now sent scanned copies of the documents to him.  I'm waiting for another letter to come advising me that they need the originals or something.  

Before I sent the documents - which I took my time about - I would receive random emails from the banker.  Once he actually asked me when I would be providing the documents.  I told him that it was on my list of things to do, but was not a high priority under the circumstances.  He didn't respond.

Is it too much to expect that people know what they're doing?  It seems incredibly unfair to put someone in a customer facing role as a "business banker" when they don't seem to have the faintest idea what that means.  As long as I don't have to deal with anyone, my relationship with the bank is fine.  For now.  One more thing going wrong will tip me over the edge. 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

What I heard

"They've had a new baby called Salad.  I've sent them a bowl as a gift."  These are the words my friend spoke over the mobile phone.

Wow, I thought.  That's a little bit cheeky.

For a few seconds I considered "Salad" as a name for a girl.  Quickly I decided that she need not worry because she'd be given any number of nicknames by her school mates.

"Leaves".
"Caesar".
"Greek".
"Dressing".
"Side".
"Waldorf".
"Garden".
"Fruit".

The list went on.  Being called Salad was probably the least of her worries.

In these days of unusual names (think "Apple", "Blanket" - I even heard of a "Pod" closer to home) Salad seemed a little safe.

Turns out, I had misheard completely.  Her name is Charlotte and he sent her a doll!

What unusual names have you heard lately?  What name-appropriate gift would you give?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Knitting behind bars

I came across this article online the other day about a woman who teaches knitting to male prison inmates. I love this!  It's seems incredible that such a thing could happen in a world where airlines had banned knitting needles as potentially lethal weapons in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers.  As if any knitter would sacrifice the knitting, no matter how simple the pattern or the garment.

The 67 year-old Lynn Zwerling must be a very compassionate person (as my mother pointed out) as well as a visionary.  Putting male criminals together with the gentle art of knitting doesn't seem like an obvious thing to do, but it actually makes perfect sense.

As I've noted before, knitting was originally male work, so reintroducing modern men to knitting is a great thing to do.

Knitting is a meditative past time.  The steady repetition can be hypnotic and you find your breathing steadies to fit with the easy rhythm of stitches and rows being made.

Knitting creates focus and banishes idleness.  I imagine that having something other than time to focus on would be useful for some inmates.  Being busy with something worthwhile is great for self esteem and a sense of achievement and satisfaction.  You need to pay attention to the details when you're knitting - every stitch is important.

Creative expression is important for human beings.  Knitting can be a form of creative expression.

Being useful is important for human beings.  I like the way the Knitting Behind Bars project gives something back to the community in the form of comfort dolls for children who have suffered in their homes because of domestic issues and then moved onto hats for children in the local primary school.

Looking at something that you made with your own hands is wonderful in this time of mass-production.

I wonder if there are any programs like this in Australian prisons?

Edge of reality

Yesterday, I was just too tired to write.  Imagine!  I had spent the day playing a person with paranoid schizophrenia.  I'm glad that I don't suffer from this illness.  It's exhausting.

During the course of the day I had the opportunity to hear a fellow actor play the same role. We had no script, but rather an outline of key thoughts and features of the illness, so the characters were slightly different.   It was interesting to hear that the character sounded strangely rational.

One of the features of this character's delusion was that they had a direct line to God and that they had been chosen.  This got me thinking about belief and religion.  There's that old quip that when you talk to God, that's called prayer, but if He talks back, that's schizophrenia.  I wonder why it's considered perfectly sane (by believers) to talk to God through prayer, but get a response and you'll be committed?

Another feature was auditory hallucinations that were telling me the person I was talking to was a demon and not to be trusted as well as visual hallucinations of demons in the shadows.  This is challenging as an actor.  I've never knowingly encountered someone in this state and have not had the experience myself.  I knew I'd nailed it when several students I was working with looked around to see what I was looking at and identified that I was hearing voices.

That's how I spent my day.  What did you do?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Good, honest jazz.

I'm all jazzed up.  And so inspired.  I went last night to support my friend and fellow blogger Rose Wintergreen as she made her maiden voyage as a jazz vocalist at the Paris Cat.

Rose was performing at the graduation concert for students of jazz legend Bob Sedergreen.

My other motivation for attending was research on my own behalf.  I'd been hearing people talk about the course which is about being a jazz singer and singing music which was written by actual jazz musicians.  Bob was very clear about this in his introduction.  He explained that a lot of the standards sung by jazz singers are Broadway show tunes that have been given a jazz treatment.

Supporting the singers on the night was a professional trio - Bob on piano, Ivan on double-bass and Sonia on drums.  To satisfy our craving for show tunes, they played Cole Porter's "Night and Day", Victor Young's "Stella by Starlight" and Harold Arlen's "I could write a book".  Whenever I hear music performed in an intimate setting I just love it.  There's something magical about witnessing human beings work together (or should I say play together?) to create music!  And the trio of piano, bass and drums is perfect.

The singers represented a range of ages from the twenties up with varying levels of singing ability and stagecraft on display.  It's always interesting for me to see how much easier it is to forgive a technically mediocre performance if the person performing gives it everything they've got and makes an effort to connect with the audience.

I introduced myself to Bob at the end of the night and commended him for his commitment to bring live jazz music to us.  I also told him that I was on the list for the first course next year.  He told me that the course isn't about turning anyone into a superstar.  He said it's about people making honest music and being free.

Sounds good to me!

So much of my exploration as an artist these days is about honesty and freedom, whether as a musician, actor, writer.  Even as a corporate facilitator it boils down to honesty and freedom.  All right, I'll go a step further - honesty and freedom are fundamental to my life.  Being able to marry that and explore that in my artistic and creative life is just wonderful.

Gaining clarity about what's fundamental to life or particular practices is hard work, but so important.  How clear are you?

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Chevron stripes

Here's how I spent this wintry Sunday: knitting and talking to friends on the phone.

I'm having a rest from socks for a while and am enjoying knitting this chevron striped sarong designed by Jo Sharp.  I picked up the bamboo and merino blend using a loyalty voucher and some cash which was a birthday gift. (Thanks Mum and Dad!)

How do you like the colours I have chosen?  I quite like the original colour scheme, but couldn't get the yarn, so designed my own.

 The colours from left to right are Petal, Mandarin, Kingfisher, Vie en Rose and the dark purple is called Dover.
 I'm loving the chevron stripes.  It's the first time I have knit a pattern like this.  It took some concentration to get the hang of it, but now that I'm using stitch markers to define the pattern repeats, I'm finding it quite meditative.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The taxi queue.

Stupidly, I neglected to factor in a delayed arrival, Friday night and Christmas party season to my usual travel plans, so I found myself at the end of a taxi queue at 12:45am today.  These days when I travel to the airport, I use the very efficient and affordable Skybus and then catch a taxi home from there for a fraction of the cost of a taxi from the airport.

Usually I step straight off the bus and into a waiting cab at the rank right outside Southern Cross station.  Not last night/this morning.

I'd spent a couple of days in Perth on business and made it to the airport by the skin of my teeth (3 minutes until baggage check in closed).  The flight was delayed taking off and then was slower than usual due to a lack of wind or something, so I wasn't at the baggage carousel in Melbourne until after midnight.  I was like a zombie, my body clock not sure was going on after spending two nights on a schedule which was three hours behind my usual time zone.  This meant that I'd been awake since 5am Perth time.

Anyway, I had my return ticket for the Skybus and only needed to wait for a couple of minutes before one came along.  I managed to get a seat and twenty minutes later was walking out to the cab rank where there were about twelve people in front of me.  After fifteen minutes only one cab had pulled up. Drastic action was needed.  I started talking to people in the queue and discovered that quite a few of them had destinations within the CBD.  They were getting frustrated and the trams were still running so I gently suggested the tram as an alternative solution.  I managed to get eight (grateful) people out of the queue this way and was soon second in line.

The guy in front of me was making calls to see if he could get a friend to come and get him.  He said that I could have the next cab that arrived.

Behind me in the queue was a group of six people who looked to be in their sixties.  They had been out on the town - the men were in black tie and the women were wearing shiny things.  They were also carrying wine glasses and screaming for a maxi taxi.  They'd only been waiting for a short while when they started to hoot and wave at any passing vehicle that vaguely suggested it would be a suitable mode of transport for their merry crew.  In my exhausted state, they were too much for me.

At one point I noticed another man had joined the head of the queue and was standing there looking like he was trying to be inconspicuous.  He was plastered and was falling asleep on his feet.

"Mate, that's the wrong end of the queue," I said, choosing a friendly tone.

"What?" he replied in an equally friendly tone.  Good, he wasn't dangerous.

"You're standing at the front.  You need to go down the other end," I said pointing in the distance.  It was no longer possible to see the end of the queue.

"Nah," he said unconvincingly.

"Yes," I said firmly, smiling.

"I'd be better off walking."

"Probably."

And off he went.

Then a taxi appeared.  I pounced and called out to the queue my suburb to see if anyone wished to share the cab.  Two women were quite a way down the queue were going past my suburb.  They looked okay, so I agreed to share the cab with them.  They were very grateful, saying how lucky they were and they never would have thought to ask.

Hopefully they will ask next time and I'll be in the queue!

The driver said that it was a very busy night and he hates it when it's busy.  None of us could believe he would say such a thing.  He explained that on a night like this fights break out at unsupervised ranks and on the streets as people become more and more desperate to get a cab ride home.

Note to self, catch a cab from the airport during the Christmas party season!

Head on pillow and lights out at 2am.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

One of those flights to the wild west

As I walk around the city streets of Perth, I notice several men with crazed eyes.  They look at me and probably notice the woman with crazed eyes and wild hair.  It's eight hours since I walked out my front door in Melbourne and I haven't even left the country.

There was one thing after another.

Initially everything was running like clockwork.  The train arrived one minute after I did.  Perfect.  After a stop at the ATM, the airport bus was waiting and I walked straight on.  The traffic flowed smoothly out to Tullamarine.  I went straight to a kiosk and checked my bag in.  So far, so good.  Time to get some lunch and walk around before being sealed in the plane for four hours.

(This proved to be a good move.  At the end of the story it was more like six hours in the plane.)

Looking at people in airports is one of my favourite things.  People have a lot of stuff.  People are running late.  People need to go back and forth through the security point three or four times before they believe they really do need to take the change and keys out of their pockets, confess to the carriage of aerosol shaving foam or deodorant, or reveal what they are hiding in the folds of their nifty mini-umbrella.  As a frequent traveller, I've got the process down to a fine art.  I know which jewellery and which shoes set off the sensors -  I don't wear them.  My umbrella is packed in my checked baggage.  If it would help, I'd have the fillings in my teeth popped out before I went through.  (That's never been an issue - so far - although there was an incident involving a particularly sturdy under wire bra sometime last decade.  Canberra airport, I think.)

The other thing I love about airports is the bookshops.  And there's time to browse!  I don't buy anything (my e-reader is well stocked) but I never tire of browsing.  There is a very enticing bookstore in the Qantas domestic terminal in Melbourne, if you're wondering.  Turn left after clearing security.

Anyway, boarding commenced on time.  People wrestled their stuff into their tiny space allocation.  The people already seated beside a spare seat hold their breath waiting to discover if they will remain in possession of the extra space.  You can feel their will to live seep out through their toes as you smile and say the fatal words:  "I'm in there."

The flow of passengers down the aisle thinned and we were all strapped in.  It was right on 3pm when when we should have been pushing back from the terminal.  Instead, the Captain tells us that a passenger has failed to board and has checked bags.  This means that we're waiting for either the passenger to turn up, or for the bags to be found and removed from the cargo hold.  Thirty minutes later there's another announcement telling us the passenger has been found and will be with us in five to ten minutes.   A low rumble goes through the cabin.  "I wouldn't like to be that person," I thought, as people craned their necks to catch of glimpse of the offender.

The passenger seemed oblivious to the glares of her fellow passengers as she walked down the aisle.  She was resplendent in a white gypsy skirt, royal purple blazer and chunky knit beanie and scarf in cream.  She was seated in 45A, just across the aisle from me.

The flight passed smoothly and we landed in Perth where we spent another fifty minutes sitting on the tarmac.  There had been a security breach of an unspecified nature in the airport.  As a result, we were stuck where we were and didn't have a time frame for release.  "Better out than in," I thought, under the circumstances.

People are strange.  We stand up, even though we can go no where. We become very tense, even when there is nothing to be done.  One man cracked my elbow with his knee as he climbed over bags in the aisle to find a long lost friend who was at the back of the plane.  When it was announced that we were free, he started to push his way back to the front of the plane with the compelling statement, "I need to get back to my seat."  Really?  Why?  We're leaving now!  You'll get there soon enough.

Thank goodness for the iphone.  I was able to tweet about my predicament and was pleased to hear back from a friend who acknowledged my plight.  At least someone knew where I was.

Suddenly the man beside me shook his phone and said dramatically: "They've shut down communications!"

I looked at him.  I looked at my phone.  Mine was fine.  Oh no, I was next to a panicker!  I hoped we'd be out before we needed to decide who to sacrifice.

Luggage arrived and then I joined the long taxi queue and drove off just in time to hit peak hour.  It took an hour to get to my CBD hotel.  It wasn't all wasted though.  I saw a man driving a red car change his pants while he was behind the wheel.  The traffic was moving so slowly there were several reasons why he may have needed to change his pants right there and then. I decided not to think about it.

I have a walk in wardrobe in my hotel room and the lighting in the bathroom reveals a woman who is in her late twenties.  Good lighting is just what I need after a day like today.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

MYKI campaign: contact local members

I've just written to my local state members of parliament about the Myki debacle.

There was a letter in the Age newspaper yesterday, a man rang ABC radio today - on different issues, but all on the theme of the complexity and manual handling which has been designed into the system.

They can't change the system if they don't know!

Copy of my email here:

Dear [Local Member]

I am a committed public transport user. I have made the switch to Myki, which works fine as long as I don't have anything to do with the "back office" processes.

Last week, I received a refund cheque.  The refund was as a result of changing concession status.  I swapped my cards over at the Southern Cross Discovery Centre on 18 October and on 21 November I received the bank cheque.  The amount of the refund?  94 cents. The cost of buying a bank cheque from Westpac?  $10.

The process is wasteful and unnecessary.  I contacted the Public Transport Ombudsman in April this year when I was first subjected to this convoluted waste of everyone's time.  I was assured that the state government was looking at the process and that it would change in the "near future". They would not provide a more specific time frame.  It's now six months later and the process has not changed.  

I have written about this experience in more detail, including the response of the Ombudsman, on my blog - copied below.

What is the plan?  When will this waste and frustratingly long winded and old fashioned process be abandoned and procedures that are compatible with a SMARTCARD be implemented?  

I look forward to your response.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Hot night in the city

Twenty-eight degrees Celsius at 10:05pm.  It's going to be one of those long sleepless nights that feels like day with the curtains drawn.  The sheets on the bed will be hot.  I'll put some spearmint oil into the diffuser to cool things down and read my book until I fall asleep, which will be god-knows-when.

The hot cup  of tea I'm drinking is surprisingly refreshing.  They say that about tea.  I can drink it and drink it and drink it, regardless of the weather.  A bit like a good hot Indian curry - the best thing of all to eat in really hot weather.

It feels like the tropics tonight. A few things are missing.  The sound of air conditioners providing the bass drone to accompany the chirruping of the crickets.  The smell of jasmine hanging in the air.  It wasn't even there earlier, at dusk.  A translucent gecko running up the wall to decorate the area just below the architrave.  The dentist's drill whirr of mosquitoes. I don't mind about that one missing.

To escape the heat I went to a 5pm movie.  (Also justified by the lack of a television at the moment and it's cheap Tuesday.)  I love the lingering coolness of my skin after I being held in refrigeration for a couple of hours.  It's not lingering anymore.

My ears feel hot.  My skin feels tacky. My eyes feel squinty.  My feet feel swollen. My eye lids are sweaty.

I'm going to have an icy cold shower and lie in front of the fan.  Like a line of toothpaste squeezed onto the brush.  Inert. Waiting...

The Bureau says (I love that term, "the Bureau", sounds terribly official) there are storms coming and temperature will drop when they arrive.  I expect that I will have just succumbed to sleep when they hit.  I may not notice.  I received a telephone call on my mobile the other morning at 3am and didn't notice a thing.

Hope I didn't answer.

Flowering fuschias.

Spied these beautiful flowers around the neighbourhood today.  I think they are fuschias.



Monday, 28 November 2011

In service

If I could have a servant come to my house every day for an hour, there are many things I would have them do.  I have too many other interesting things to do to stay on top of non-essential housework.  This is where the argument usually starts.  My definition of non-essential is often what others see as core business.

I'm not a filthy pig.  I am untidy.  I have lots of books and music and clothes and I know where everything is.  I'm getting better at having systems in place to stay on top of my paperwork - going electronic with as much as possible has been a lifesaver.  And I suffer from a lack of cupboard space.  Some would say it's not the lack of cupboard space that is the problem, but I wouldn't be me if I didn't have more books than I may ever finish waiting for me to pick them up.

Some people see tidying as essential housework.  That's on my non-essential list.  Unless I have friends visiting.  I am an artiste at making things look like the artistic clutter of a creative, crafty, musical, intellectual type.  That's what I tell myself anyway.  Most people would probably consider I'd be a great candidate for some reality TV show that has untidy, interesting people at their dramatic heart.  Nothing like the voyeurism of other people's shortcomings to make other people with the same shortcomings feel superior and entitled to judge.

On the essential list are things like keeping the toilet clean.  Very important.  I've even received compliments.  Never letting the washing up go for more than two days, even though I have enough crockery to last for weeks.  I can't let myself think like that; it could be the road to ruin. My clothes and linen are washed, dried, sometimes put away and ironed if required.  The bins are emptied regularly and the bathroom hand basin is kept clean.  The fridge has a good rotation of food.  Nothing mouldering in there.  I make my bed everyday.  An unmade bed is another direct path to damnation.

And that is probably the end of the essential list.  Judge me if you wish.

So what would the servant do in their daily hour?

1. Clean the oven.  You can do that in an hour right?  I usually pay someone at the end of tenancy.  It seems like such a redundant activity.

2. Vacuum.  I do vacuum but probably not as often as I should.

3. Dust.  What is the point?

4. Wash the floors, walls and windows.  I do the floors and windows, again not often enough.  I've never done the walls.  People do, I hear.

5. Clean the car inside and out.

6. Deal with the bathroom and the shower.  I don't use the bath and it attracts filth like you wouldn't believe.  I give the shower a going over while I'm in it, but there are parts of the sliding shower doors that I've never been able to get to.

7.  Clean the pool.  (I don't actually have a pool, so this could present a practical problem.)

They can rest on the seventh day and then start the whole pointless and ridiculous cycle again.

I'll be putting my energy into plumping cushions, alphabetising my CD and DVD collections and shredding documents.

All of this is evidence as to why the quest to reclaim my spare room has stalled.  That's what I should get the servant to help with - running my online garage sale through ebay.

Or, I could get them to be even more useful.  How about a massage?  My hair is always better with a blowdry.  I sure could use some help getting the red nail polish to go on neatly.  Have you ever tried waxing your own legs?  It's harder than you think.

Now where do I find this multi-skilled, affordable service.  And can they look like George Clooney?