Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Mysteries of modern life

Where does the packet with the staples go?  I can never find it when I need to refill my stapler.  Even the smallest packet has 1000 staples.  How many staples can I expect to need in a lifetime?

What am I supposed to do with all the boxes for computers and the associated paraphernalia?  Why do I have to keep them?  (apart from because the warranty says I have to - I think this is a practical joke played by computer manufacturers.)  At least I can live in them if I ever become homeless.

Why does someone need to tear my ticket when I go to the cinema or the theatre?  It has the show and the date printed on it, as well as the venue.  If tearing a ticket is some kind of security measure, I'm really pleased these people aren't in charge of national security.

How did we live before they started putting those little stickers on fruit?  And why are they only on some kinds of fruit and not others?  I suppose the next step will see them on individual strawberries, grapes and blueberries.

Why are pads of post-it notes designed so that the last couple in the deck are never going to stick?  The backing falls off, they get all manky and end up going in the bin.  They should change the label to say there are 47 post-it notes in a packet.  Everyone knows the last 3 are unusable

Who buys pens anymore?  Why do I buy pens anymore?  I get free pens all the time.  Pens arrive at my front door in formation.  Oh, and why do free pens never work for more than a week.

Why are there five opened packets of frozen peas in the freezer at any given time, each with about a dozen peas inside?

Where did all those electronic cables come from?  Cameras, phones, printers, scanners, speakers....and why do none of them fit or work or connect to anything else that I have in my house?  Maybe I'll sculpt with them.

How do you keep the top of the fridge clean?  Or that skinny little crack between the stove and the bench?  Does anyone know how?  Will I be judged on these things?

Why does the last cough lolly in a packet always get forgotten about and eventually seep into the lining of your handbag?

Does anyone ever use any of the buttons that come in the tiny packet when they buy clothes?  Can you find them when you need them?  Where the hell do you keep them in the meantime?  I need to devote an entire drawer to buttons!

Why am I thinking about these things?  I just got to thinking.  What do you think?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Are we there yet?

Preparation for a course I will be facilitating shortly led to some interesting discoveries about technology, the pace of change and its impact on our world.  Here's the discovery that particularly resonated with me:  in 10 years' time, 80% of the jobs that young people will enter the work force in, do not yet exist.

Think about that for a moment.  A child of the future will not be able to answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?". They won't be able to plan their education around fulfilling that dream either. Unless they're going to be an artist of some sort - writer, actor, musician, painter, dancer etc.

I think this is amazing.

Looking back over my time in education and the workforce it's interesting to think about how things have changed.

In primary school (ok, I was there during the 1970's) we learnt maths by counting and using Cuisenaire rods.  I'll confess that I also used my fingers and toes where necessary.  There were no calculators in sight - not until Maths I and Maths II in secondary school.  People who know me well may consider this method to have been a failure when they consider my mathematical nervousness.

We had whole lessons devoted to learning how to actually write - form letters on the page with a pencil first, and then a pen.  Once printing had been mastered, we then graduated to "running writing" or cursive.  So much attention was paid that when I moved interstate in the middle of primary school, I had to learn a whole new style of cursive script.  Assignments and exams were written by hand, so readability was a pretty important characteristic to achieve.

In grade 3, I had a very enterprising teacher, Mr McMahon, who brought his own computer into the classroom for us.  It was a Commodore 64 and I think we did some very basic programming on it as well as things like quizzes.  It seemed very special at the time.  At that same school there was a photography program which meant there was a fully equipped dark room for us to develop our photographs.  No need anymore - kids are rivalling Max Dupain and Olive Cotton the minute they can work out the camera app on mum's smart phone.

In music classes, recording a rehearsal was a major logistical feat, requiring separate microphones and blank recording devices, like reel to reel or cassettes.  Now we just pull out our iphones, press record and we can upload to itunes, put it in a web based file sharing system, even edit it and cut it to fit some vision and upload it to You Tube for broadcast to the world!

Doing an Arts degree majoring in Journalism at university meant that there was a lot of writing.  I was fortunate to have my mother's portable Smith and Corona typewriter to write them on.  I'd learnt to touch type early on, so my fingers flew, sometimes so quickly that the letters would get bunched and stuck and progress would stop until I manually restored the keys to their correct position.  It had a ribbon with black and red so I could do colour printing.  Accuracy was everything.  A slip of the finger and a whole page would need to be retyped.  Then someone invented little tabs of solid liquid paper.  You backspaced on the typewriter so that you were over the character you wished to correct and you held this tab of solid liquid paper above the errant letter so that the key would transfer the liquid paper onto the page; thus "whiting out" the error.  Such painstaking work.  And copies?  Carbon paper!  Oh the lining up.  Oh the black and blue fingerprint smudges on desks, chairs, white sheets....

Such a typist was I that I typed other people's assignments for money.  They paid $1.50 per A4 page.  I typed essays for engineers, medical students, dentistry students and rarely any fellow Arts students.  I discovered all kinds of things - including that I really did belong in the Arts faculty and would have been lost anywhere else!  It was good pocket money though.

I lived on campus in a residential college.  There were pay phones on each floor with a roster where you booked your space to call home.  Because of cheaper long distance rates, Sundays were very busy days on those phones.  People who wanted to call in could just forget it during busy times.  We had no mobile phones!  Gasp.  How did we live?  We couldn't send a text to make last minute arrangements (or cancel plans at the last minute).  A few people had laptops, but they were out of reach for most students and were huge and unwieldy.  I was envied because I had a little portable colour television in my room.  Now the rooms are probably Wi-Fi enabled.

In the School of Journalism, we were learning the principles of page layout on early desktop publishing systems, but still did a fair bit of cutting and pasting using actual scissors and glue.  That said, editting the College magazine was a gargantuan task of photocopying and cutting and pasting.  Radio journalism saw us using reel to reel tape and marking edits with a chinagraph pencil and then acutally cutting the tape with a scalpel and using special sticky tape to join the reel to reel tape back together again.  There was real skill and art in making the cuts and joins so that they couldn't be heard when played back.  Precision was the key, or the beginnings and ends of words could be lost.  And in the television journalism subjects, we recorded onto Betamax.  Can you imagine?

Email hadn't been invented yet.  Well, it probably had been, but only geeks who were doing doctorates in computer programming or working for the military had access to it.  None of us knew what the internet was and without google, we had to use the library or ask people.  Hours of researching newspapers was spent looking at microfiche, which was considered pretty amazing at the time.  It used to give me motion sickness.

When I took my first "proper" job in a large commonwealth government department we had a thing called Wang Mail.  (I can't even find a link for further exploration so you'll have to believe me.)  It was an early form of email.  While we all had PCs at our desks, email was still not in common usage.  This is the early 1990's.  Sending a Wang Mail was a serious business.  Permission had to be granted, following the provision of a properly researched business case.  Once permission had been granted, a slot for the actual sending had to be booked and it took overnight to arrive.  It seems incredible now. Especially when we already see a trend away from email now and towards social media (eg Twitter, facebook etc) as the growing preference for communication.

I've skipped completely over fax machines! Faxes were something that I found completely amazing - just short of teleportation that I had seen on "Star Trek".  I ended up rocking in the foetal position once when I thought too hard about how they worked.

And here I am today, writing and publishing all from my kitchen table.  Earlier today, I facilitated a course in presentation skills where I used a tiny camera to "film" people and then play back to them on a large flat screen television.  They will later receive their own DVD copy, all edited together on a PC somewhere.

I wonder what will come next?  Perhaps the paperless office that all of this was supposed to deliver.  Beam me up Scotty.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Around ACMI on Sunday - weird women and writers.

While waiting to order a coffee yesterday morning, I watched an interaction between an elderly woman and the young man behind the counter.

It began with the familiar format.  The woman placed her coffee order and then also ordered two muffins.  All of it to take away.  The server then asked for payment.  This is where it went off script.

"Why is it that much?" the woman asked.

The man behind the counter went through the prices for everything.  He was very nice, helpful.

"But I don't have any money," she said.

Here we go, I thought.

"You'll just have to trust me.  I don't have the money on me and the film is about to start."  We were at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

I was ready to step forward and offer to pay when the question took strange twist.

"Why did he tell me not to bring my bag?"

I could see the man behind the counter get "the look" in his eye, while keeping it all together.  His next question showed a great deal of bravery, I thought.

"Who told you not bring your bag?"

"The man I'm with," she replied.

There was no one with her. He shifted a little; looked like he'd rather be colouring in his tattoos.

The muffins were taken back.  Apparently the coffees were part of a voucher deal with the movie ticket.  It made a little more sense now.

Off she went.

Off I went to see Steve Hely at the Melbourne Writers Festival - author of the funniest book I've read for a long time (see my recent post The Book is Dead - long live the book!).  Joining him at the session on the "Satire of Publishing"  were Peter Salmon as host and Peter Barry as a guest.

Now if you clicked on the link, you will have discovered that the session was actually called "The Comedy of Publishing".  Satire isn't mentioned.   Unsettling isn't it?  Well the panel host got the name of Steve Hely's book wrong every time he said it!  I couldn't believe it.  The book is called "How I Became a Famous Novelist".  Its alternative title is "How I wrote a bestselling novel".  Wrong!  And Steve Hely was too polite to correct him.  I would have!  Especially since the follow up questions were about how he, Steve Hely, had now become a famous novelist.

This was a very funny and engaging session where they even talked about the necessity of a daily writing habit.  That if you lose the habit, the muscles forget how and it is hard to write.  And Steve Hely shared that he has a sign above his workspace which reminds him that even bad work is work.  I find it very reassuring that I as a writer, sitting at my kitchen table, am having the same struggles as the writer who has written the latest publishing sensation.

And yes, I did meet Steve Hely.  I'm getting better at this.  I told him that people have been glaring at me when I guffaw on the train and look jealously over to see what I'm reading. And that when I purchased the book, I didn't realise it was a novel.  I thought it was a genuine memoir.  Maybe even a "how to" bible.   He thought this was hilarious too.

He was very nice.  Shaped a bit like Beaker from the Muppets.  But with brown hair.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Neighbours - everybody needs....

Anytime I hear one of those stories on a television tabloid current affairs show about the person who died 4 years ago and none of the neighbours noticed they were missing, I worry.  It's not that I worry about myself dying alone in my apartment and it taking a while for anyone to miss me.  I mean I've got this blog now, where I write daily.  So you, my audience, would notice if I wasn't writing.  Right?

I have had moments of panic in the middle of the night when I've got up to get water and become entangled in the wide-legged pyjama pants that seemed like a good idea at the time.  Pictures of me falling and cracking my head open as I fight to grab hold of anything I can reach and finally pulling a heavy mirror on top of myself and slashing myself to pieces, leaving me hideously scarred if I do survive, flash through my mind - like I need seven years' bad luck after that - as I miraculously manage to stay upright and sleepwalk my way to the kitchen.  The apartment downstairs is empty at the moment so there's not even anyone to hear the thud.

I think about this because I have an officially strange man as a neighbour and I have contemplated the scenario where he is found dead after a long period and we uncaring neighbours are caught by the tabloid cameras as we continue to live our nonchalant lives.  Look, there they are, emptying their bins like nothing has happened.  Hanging out their washing as if nothing has happened.  Drinking coffee and reading the paper, like nothing has happened.

This man lives downstairs from me and I was warned about him when I first moved in.  On the night I arrived I pulled up my car at the foot of the stairs to take a load of stuff inside.  My lovely neighbour across the landing warned me that he, Gottfried*, would be very upset if I parked in his spot.  She also warned me that he didn't even have a car to park in the spot, but that wasn't the point.

Sure enough, as I returned downstairs to the car, I was confronted by this man with skin that hadn't seen daylight for a long time, dressed in what I can only describe as 1940's German Stasi leathers, complete with goggles and leather hat.

"You can't park there," he railed.

"Hello!  You must be my neighbour.  I'm Tanya."  I didn't offer my hand because frankly I was a bit scared to touch him.

"You can't park there."

"Oh, sorry.  I'm not parked.  I'm stopped.  Sorry if it's meant you can't park your car."

"I don't have a car, but you can't park there."

Right.  So he was one of those control freaks who exercises petty power wherever he can.  But then I didn't see - or hear him - for months and months and months.  The blinds on his windows were never open.  His door never opened or closed.  No lights could be seen at night.  He had a piece of metal bolted across his mailbox.  I started to imagine all kinds of things inside his apartment. Like lamps made from human skin. A coffin in which to sleep. And then something magical happened - I heard him playing the piano.

Marvellous, complicated and...happy...ragtime!  How incongruous!  If music was to be played, surely it would be an organ with the music of death.  If he hadn't been wearing that full leather get-up during summer, maybe I wouldn't have been so quick to frame him in the Gothic.  I opened my door to share in the music.

One morning as I went past his door, I noticed a card pushed through the mesh on the security door.  Naturally I read it.  It was from the Department of Housing advising that their plumber had been around as requested, but they were leaving this card as no one had been home when they had called.  I couldn't imagine Gottfried not being at home and noticed that the card was there when I came home.  It stayed wedged in the mesh security door for about three weeks.  It was then that I started to worry about tabloid television.

It was hard to know what to do.  He was never to be seen normally.  Occasionally we'd hear the piano, but not often enough to notice when it wasn't there.  I began to imagine I could hear ghastly sounds from within.  I was certain there was a smell in the neighbourhood (turns out that was from the notorious local pet food factory).  There was no reason not to believe he wasn't enjoying a beach holiday somewhere in the Pacific, trading his World War II costume for Hawaiian shirts and sarong.  Well, there was plenty of reason really.

I studied the card the next time I went past and discovered it had a phone number on it.  It was for the Housing Department.  I wrote down the number and decided to call.  Of course I didn't have his last name, but when I mentioned his first name and address to the harried sounding social-worker-type-woman on the end of the phone, I'm certain I heard a snort of frustration.  She asked me what I wanted her to do about it and what business was it of mine anyway?  She asked for my name, but I chose not to give it to her, saying only that I was a neighbour, concerned that no one seemed to have been in or out of the apartment for a number of weeks.

The next day the card was gone and I ran into Gottfried at the organic food store in the village.  During daylight hours!  He greeted me, using my name 75 times in the space of 90 seconds.  He knew something.  I could have said it was good to see him (alive) and that I'd been concerned that something had happened to him, but none of that was really true.  Truthfully, my concern was for my media image.  So, I'm shallow.

The next time I saw him was earlier this year when I stopped the car in the forbidden spot to unload luggage that my companion and I had in the car.  The engine was still running and as we pulled the bags out of the car, Gottfried arrived on a push bike and started yelling, "You can't park there!  You can't park there!"

"Hi Gottfried, " I said casually.

"Oh, it's you, Tanya." It freaked me out that he used my name so consistently.  Why?  "You can't park there.  If I let you park there, everyone will want to park there and I'll have to let them because it wouldn't be fair if I was inconsistent."  He was talking to me like I was five.  My companion went upstairs with the bags.

"I'm not parked.  I'm stopped.  Just so we can unload the luggage.  You don't have a car anyway.  Look I'm moving the car now."  And I got in the car and drove to my spot.

That was in January.  I haven't seen him again.  But I have heard the piano.

*Not his real name, but only just.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Spring awakening

The city is throwing back her winter coverings, stretching and yawning smilingly, as the trees blush with blossom buds and the sun plays for longer.

People on the streets are showing some skin, walking just a little slower, with their faces up and looking at the world.  On the patches of green where the sun touches there are people sitting and doing nothing more than enjoying the novelty of the sun and each other's company.  They are smiling.

Weddings are happening.  Spray-tanned brides with ultra white teeth, hair extensions and fake fingernails are accompanied by their entourage of bridesmaids, teetering on ill-fitting shoes in dresses which suit none of them.  I wonder if the groom recognises the woman in the dress for she surely doesn't look like this all the time.  In the street, people still turn to look at the bride.  Then they see her smoking.  Doesn't quite fit with the princess image.

Children are exuberant, freed from their layers of clothing.  A little girl climbs to the top of the fence at the train station.  Her father issues a warning.  She is to be careful or she will have a terrible accident.  He is calm.  Standing nearby with his arms folded.  She confirms that she will be careful.  I hope that it's not like a Roadrunner cartoon where Coyote goes over the cliff and is fine until he realises that he's gone over the cliff.

Old ladies are walking in my street, on their frames.  I smile and say hello.  The greet me in a rush and comment on what a lovely day it is as they put one foot carefully in front of the other.  They tell me that they always try to get out for a walk, but it's much easier to do when the sun is shining.  I wonder if I'm the only person they've spoken to today.

The whole city seems to be smiling and stretching.  I almost collide with a man as we cross paths in the street. He smiles, apologises and puts his hand out to give me right of way.

I am knitting during my train trip home when two young girls sit opposite me.  I can feel them watching my hands.  They ask me what I'm doing and how long I've been knitting, admire my work and then are gone.

And now, the city hunkers down for the night as the darkness creeps into every crevice.  She is pulling up the covers to protect herself from the chill of night.   But it feels different now. Hopeful.  Spring is nearly here.

Today I met my favourite author

It's a sign of the times that the first few minutes of the session I attended at the Melbourne Writers Festival today were taken up listing and thanking the sponsors.  The announcement also asked us to switch our phones off (how will we tweet?) and asked us to welcome our guests - without naming them!

Of course we knew we were there to hear one of my favourite authors in the world, Jane Smiley, but I had no idea who the bloke was who was in conversation with her.  Turns out he was David Francis.  He then talked for about 10 minutes.  To be fair, a lot of this was relevant to listing Jane's achievements, but I was there to hear her.  Then we were reminded the venue we were in was the "BMW" Edge and then our host said this: "Let me first read the indigenous acknowledgement."  Talk about reducing this important symbol to a tick-a-box piece of process.  And then he surprised me by saying that as someone who no longer lives in Australia, he found it quite affecting.

I haven't yet finished reading Jane Smiley's latest novel, "Private Life" (I got distracted by another festival guest, Steve Hely who I will see tomorrow), but I've read nearly everything she's written.  She's the author of my all time favourite novel, "Horse Heaven" which I have given to several people as a gift and I regularly return to.  Honestly, I've been struggling a bit with "Private Life" but having heard Jane Smiley talk about this novel, I'm reinvigorated and inspired again.  I found it really interesting that she sounded like it was a bit of a struggle to write at times.

Here's some of my favourite things I heard from Jane Smiley today:

Her novel "10 Days in the Hills" is one third graphic sex.  She said her definition of pornography was that you read, you read, you read, then throw the book down and go and have sex.  She hopes that you'll keep reading her book!

Asked about her process for writing, she said her usual way is to "read a lot of books and then write a novel."  Makes it sound so easy.

One of the characters in "Private Life" is a ladies' man.  She said a ladies' man's biggest advantage is that he gets along with women and is genuinely interested in talking to them.  The ladies' man in question is Pete, so named because a man paid $25,000 at a charity auction to have naming rights to be in Jane Smiley's next novel!

In discussing the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction, Jane Smiley said that writing fiction is harder because you're using your emotional self, while non-fiction uses the intellect.  Non-fiction flows, then you fix it, flows, then you fix it.  Fiction resists if you get it wrong and won't progress until you get it right.

Lastly she said that the source of America's problems is corn.  Apparently every civilisation dependent on corn is impoverished by it. The only way to get rich on corn is to feed it to the hogs or turn it into whiskey.

Afterwards I met my favourite author when I went to get my copy of "Private Life" signed and also her non-fiction work, "A Year at the Races".  She was lovely.  I remained calm.  There was no repeat of the k.d.lang debacle.  No one had to take me away.

the k.d.lang debacle of the mid noughties.

In the 1990's before I'd heard of k.d.lang, I saw her on television.  She was wearing a black dress and singing the Roy Orbison classic, "Crying".  I came into the room halfway through and didn't hear the introduction.  I thought her voice was incredible.  Who was she?  As a singing student myself, I could hear her power, range, control and lyricism and just knew I had to find out more.

About five years passed before I actually worked out who she was.  This was before the internet had really made it big, and I'm sure we - or at least I - had not yet learnt to consult the modern oracle, Google, whenever there was something we needed to know.

Fast forward to the mid noughties where I've put in a pre-order at my local music store for her latest album "Hymns of the 49th Parallel".  The store, Discurio, was doing a promotion - my pre-order put me in a draw to win the opportunity to meet k.d.lang at a private cocktail party.

I forgot all about that bit until one day I got a call from Max at the store who asked me if I'd like to meet k.d.lang on Thursday night.  And I could bring a friend.  It was Wednesday at this point, so I had to act really fast.  It was really difficult to find anyone available at short notice on a school night, but I got there in the end.

The party was in a very funky bar.  There were record company people, some music store people and me and my friend.  Oh, and the waiters.  I had had the worst wardrobe dilemmas I had ever had.  It was winter, so a wool turtleneck and leather jacket and jeans did the trick.  kathy dawn arrived in a less than hip outfit and had Birkenstocks on her feet.  This was a woman in sensible shoes.  And very tall.

The time of my meeting arrived.  She was my musical idol.  In studying singing and learning various techniques, listening to her was where I heard them mastered.  Now, I'm an outgoing person and have no trouble starting a conversation with someone I haven't met before.  In this case I had a great deal of trouble stopping.  I opened my mouth to say hello and the words just tumbled out, one after the other.  And then more came out.  And some more.  I had so much to say to her.  It was an important moment in my life.  Not sure if it was such a big deal in her life.

I remember her getting a look in her eye.  At this point she started to lean back.  My friend grabbed my arm and shook me back to reality, then she physically removed me from the scene.  She then explained that I needed to be reset - I had just started gushing.  It may have started with "I always wanted to sing" and 20 minutes later I was still talking.  I have a photo of me and k.d. somewhere.  I'll post it when I find it.  I really hope I'm wearing a turtleneck and leather jacket or you'll never trust me again.

I was very glad to have had this experience when I went to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer convention and had a conversation with James Marsters who played the vampire Spike.  I was able to keep my enthusiasm in check.  I've come a long way since the day I forced my mother to queue with me to meet Humphrey B Bear. We had queued for hours and finally got to the front (I must have been about 3 years old).  When I discovered how big Humphrey was I ran away crying!  He looked much bigger than he did on TV - I had envisaged a bear I could put in my pocket.

Since technology has advanced as far as it has, I'm very pleased to provide you with the link where you can view the performance that made me a k.d. lang fan  Here you go.  I love her spoken introduction too.  Extraordinary.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Maintaining a safe braking distance.

Driving is something I quite like doing.  I don't do it very often as I only drive when it's necessary out of concern for the environment.  (I've got great access to public transport mostly and it's cheaper and less stressful to use.  To give you an idea, my car was new in 1994 and today it has just over 81,000km on the clock.)  Another consideration is the difficulty of reading a novel when driving.  Although when I see the variety of things that other people do in their cars while driving, I really need to lift my game.

Today, an emergency trip to the hairdresser* necessitated me driving so I would get there in time.  I believe that I am calm and even-tempered when driving.  I don't get impatient when in a traffic jam (what's the point?) but I am concerned at other people's traffic habits.

So my hairdresser is in Toorak and for those of you unfamiliar with Melbourne, Toorak is a wealthy established suburb.  In other words, there are lots of women (and they are women) driving big expensive cars.  Very slowly.  As I tried to exit the car park, I was detained by a woman gripping the steering wheel trying to park a very large Audi sedan.  You know how it goes.  Edge it forward. Slam on the brakes.  Put the car into reverse.  Turn the steering wheel a smidgen.  Edge backward.  Slam on the brakes.  Put the car into drive.  Edge forward. Slam on the brakes. Rinse and repeat as many times as it takes to get the car parked, or for 45 minutes, which ever is longer.

I think her driver must have been on his day off and she had to buy food herself.

After extricating myself from the car park, I hit the open road.  By open road, I mean the streets around a suburban shopping village with lots of big expensive cars and bigger 4 wheel drives being driven by people who drive at an average speed of 5 km/hour.

It was one of those days on the road.  Cars were either going so slowly they may as well have been going nowhere at all or they were weaving in and out of traffic, changing lanes suddenly and nudging in front of me where it made it impossible for me to obey the signs instructing me to  maintain a safe braking distance.

I will admit that city driving is a different kind of driving from country driving where I had my first driving experiences.  Growing up on a farm meant that we could drive and hotwire a car before we'd learned running writing.  We were always driving up to collect the mail from the letterbox out on the highway. Or feeding sheep from the back of the Toyota during a drought.  My brother and I were doing this one day - he usually drove even though he was younger.  He told me that he would get out of the cabin and onto the back of the vehicle so he could throw the feed to the livestock.  My task was to use the hand throttle and point the vehicle  in a particular direction so it would move very slowly without needing one of us to drive.  I would then get out and help with the feeding.  While his instruction was meticulous he neglected to mention the hand throttle was very sensitive.  I just pulled it out and he nearly flew from the back of the truck.  There was a lot of yelling.  Doing a test and actually having a driving licence did seem like a bizarre ritual in this context.

In western Queensland there aren't many hills and I was concerned about how I was going to be able to practise doing a hill start.  My (younger) brother showed me how on the banks of the dam.  Looking back, the consequences of failing were dire.  I've never had problems with hill starts - perhaps the fear of ending up in the dam with the vehicle and the inevitable conversation that would take place with my father helped.

The test itself was booked in with the local policeman in town and took about 5 minutes.  We drove around town a couple of times so I was able to demonstrate my ability to obey the one stop sign and the one give way sign.  He asked me if I knew how to do a hill start (I explained the teaching methodology) and then asked me to do a parallel park outside the police station.  Because it was over so quickly, I was certain I had failed.  I was wrong and I've been driving ever since I got my provisional licence that day at the age of 17.

In my overseas travels, I've noticed the different personalities that the traffic has in different countries.  In Spain it's loud and pushy.  Horns are honked incessantly.  Drivers get out of their cars and yell at other drivers.  The traffic goes nowhere at all.  The taxi drivers smoke right next to the "non fumar" sign on the dashboard and get their revenge when you complain by taking you the long way round to the airport.  Or if you're in the mediaeval city of Toledo, they navigate the narrow streets with great pragmatism, pulling the car up next to a side street to allow a door to be opened on one side of the car and then pulling up to the next one  so a door can be opened on the other side of the car.  A traffic jam occurred in these streets one day and brought the whole place to a standstill.  Tourists in one of those gigantic campervan Maui things had decided to cruise the streets of Toledo and had become wedged at the back of the cathedral.  I don't know how they got it out, but I doubt they were getting their deposit back from the rental place.

In Portugal, I thought I would die in the beige Mercedes Benz taxi as I left the train station in Lisbon to find my accommodation for the week.  The driver went at 90km  per hour through narrow winding city streets and then slammed the brakes on and reversed up a hill when he realised he'd gone past my destination.  I'm still recovering.

And then there's traffic in India.  Arriving at about 10 o'clock at night into Chennai airport was an extraordinarily sensual experience - every sense was challenged, stimulated and in overdrive.  The number of people outside the terminal was incredible and I was very pleased to locate the driver from my hotel.  Miraculous! Navigating the volume of vehicles was one thing, but then there was also the variety - cars, trucks, buses, cows, bicycles, motorcycles with five family members piled on them, tuk tuks  and pedestrians and dogs and more cows. At first glance it seemed chaotic - lines marked on the road seemed to be there only as decoration, travel did not move in lanes.  Horns were used, but they sounded friendlier than the Spanish - more a happy sounding "I'm here" than a grumpy "get out of my way".  There was an overall feeling of cooperation and I never saw an accident.

One day I had to get some cash out of the automatic teller.  The nearest one was located just across the road from the hotel.  The words "across the road" filled me with dread and fear as the concierge uttered them.  How would I cross the road?  There was no crossing and the traffic never stopped.  I walked a little way and spotted some locals who were going to cross the road.  I'll follow them, I thought.  Their strategy was to walk out into the traffic.  I watched them reach the other side untouched as the traffic flowed around them.  The law of the land seemed to be a combination of "have faith" and "hesitate and die".  Another pair of locals looked like they would cross, so I went in their wake.  It was terrifying, but I made it across and back!

To get to a special conference dinner one evening, we would travel in buses.  We reached a huge roundabout.  Entered and then stopped.  And then the bus reversed.  We needed to do a u-turn and instead of going all the way around the roundabout the bus driver did a 47 point turn at the entry to what seemed to be the busiest roundabout in Chennai.  We made it out alive.

I thought of this experience of Indian traffic when I saw something on a main road near my home.  A bus pulled in to a stop in front of me.  As I drove past, I noticed an Indian man a block and a half a way start running for the bus.  He was short of stature and wide of girth and carrying a load of heavy plastic shopping bags.  "He's never going to make it," I thought to myself, but secretly I wanted him to win!  Then he showed his strategy - he left the footpath and started running on the road, against the traffic, towards the bus.  Ingenious!  the bus couldn't go anywhere without running him down.  As I drove further from the bus stop, he looked more and more like a bug that had been squashed on the grille of the bus.

Have faith or hesitate and die, indeed.

* I should mention Jared does the best blow wave ever.  You can see him at Tremayne in Toorak.  Emily and Damien do the colour and Desley cuts the tresses.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have a team.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The book is dead. Long live the book.

One of the reasons I love to catch public transport is that it builds reading time into my day.  I never travel without a book to read and love that people will acknowledge my reading choice and often engage me in conversation about what I'm reading.

That all changed when I received an e-reader* for my birthday last year.

On one level I was delighted with the gift.  It was very generous.  It felt good to have the latest geek chic.  I could carry around hundreds of books in my handbag without noticing it. Packing for holidays would be a dream.  I could borrow e-books from the library!  I wouldn't be constantly using more of the world's resources.

On another level, I grew anxious.  Would it be as satisfying to read the final page?  How could I lend books to my friends?  Browsing in a book store (remember them?) would never be the same again - there's something great about the sensual experience of physically feeling the heft of the book and hearing the pages turn.

Some other great things about the e-reader - the ability to manipulate font size on a page!  No more squinting over tiny print.  What a wonder is the built in dictionary!  The meaning of words need be a mystery no more.  Falling asleep with the 1000+ pages of David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" no longer risked death when I suffered concussion or suffocated amongst the pages.

But I noticed with the e-reader that no one knows what I'm reading any more.  That's ok, except that also means that random flirting opportunities on the platform at Flinders Street with literature as the great unifier are GONE!

I'm thinking of two occasions.  Once I noticed a (quite attractive) man  reading the aforementioned "Infinite Jest".  It is quite an accomplishment to have read this book and I decided to offer this (quite attractive) man some encouragement to finish reading.  So I spoke to him about the book.  He changed plans for which train he was catching and I gave him my card in case he wanted to debrief when he finished.  Just to be clear, by "debrief" I mean "debrief".  Ok, so in this case study I was the one approaching the other person, but if the (quite attractive) man had been reading "Infinite Jest" on an e-reader, the conversation never would have happened.

On the second occasion I was travelling on a crowded peak hour train in the morning.  I was reading "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy.  Diagonally across the aisle from me, a (very attractive) man caught my attention.  He had dark curly hair, brown eyes and a Spanish accent.  He was swarthy.  He asked me how I was going with the book and was I enjoying it.

I responded: "Yes.  I'm really enjoying it.  To put it in context thought, I'm only 30 pages in, so there's a lot more to go."

He said he hadn't been able to get into it at all and then we established that he didn't have the new translation**.  I gave him the details and he skipped off the train.  He didn't look as attractive when he skipped.

Now, if I'd been reading "Anna Karenina" on an e-reader, this conversation never would have taken place.

My friend who gave me the e-reader says that I shouldn't discount the possibility that a (very handsome and intelligent) man will strike up a conversation with me about my e-reader.  Well, that could happen.  But talking about my screen resolution doesn't seem as romantic as David Foster Wallace's extensive use of footnotes or farming methods in rural Russia before the revolution.

Or we could talk about the  fact my e-reader froze 10 pages before the end of one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels.  Literally as Sookie was about to be drained.  Or something.  THAT would never happen with an actual book.

Feeling this loss of real books, yesterday I decided to read an actual book while travelling.  I intentionally chose the book because it is hilarious and I wanted to do the public laughter test during peak hour.  The book is "How I became a Famous Novelist" by Steve Hely***.  It is very funny - laugh-out-loud funny in fact.

So there I am sitting in the middle of a bank of 3 seats facing a fully occupied bank of three seats. Knees were touching.  I started to giggle over my book.  Then I let rip a chuckle or two and at one stage I tested things with a laugh, then a sharp intake of breath which resulting in the snort.

On the first sound, the man opposite me looked up.  Then he continued to read.  On my next chuckle, he looked up again, longer this time, the people sitting either side also looked up.  The man was now frowning.  I could see he was trying to get a look at the title of my book.  I remained engaged in my book.  A wave of laughter emanated again, this time he shrugged, shook his head and glared at me!

Why would someone glare?  What's the problem with laughing in public?  Then it occurred to me - he was jealous of my book.  His book was clearly very serious and he didn't need to be reminded of it thank you very much.

I snuck a glance at his book.  It was "The Great Train Robbery".  Perhaps he was doing research and planning a heist.  Clearly a very serious business.  Lucky I wasn't laughing over my e-reader, he may have snatched it from my hands and run off into the night.

*It's a Sony if you need to know.
** The translation in question is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
***Steve Hely is one of the writers for TV shows "30 Rock", "The Office" and "American Dad".

Monday, 22 August 2011

Who wants to be a millionaire? or my love hate relationship with game shows.

My dirty secret was aired a couple of years ago.  To people who knew me well, if they thought about it, it wouldn't have been a surprise.  In fact they would have been complicit in feeding my secret passion.  A trivia night here, a trivia night there.  All in the name of a good cause of course.

I love game shows.

It all started when I was in high school and the local television station decided to produce an afternoon game show for local students.  I can't remember what it was called - something like "Academic Challenge"? - but I do remember that the prize was an atlas, a dictionary and a thesaurus.  I know because I still have these prizes.

The school took it very seriously.  We had to sit a written test as part of the audition.  I'm sure there was some kind of behind-the-scenes character assessment that would have been done as well.  A team of four girls was selected and I was given the role of team captain.  This became important later during the "battle of the team captains" round where I had no help and had to win on my own.  Which I did.

Being a voracious and precocious reader with one of those brains that retains stuff and the possessor of quick reflexes, I was always going to be handy in a trivia setting.   (To illustrate the point, in grade 3 we had to bring a new word to class to test everyone's spelling.  The word I took was "vulcanise".  Not even Miss Hoolihan knew what it meant.)  And as a born performer, I wasn't going to freak out when the lights went on.

Ah the wave of glory on which our victorious team rode back to school, having slain the opposition.  We even had a chapel service dedicated to our school spirit.  Ok, I might be making that bit up, but it's not beyond the realms of possibility.

After this stunning success on channel 10-4-5a (that's what it was called), I would watch "Sale of the Century" with my family to a background chorus of "you should go on that show", "you'd be marvellous on that show", "that girl has no idea what she's doing, but you'd know what to do" as we all yelled the answers at Tony Barber.   The same thing would happen during "Wheel of Fortune" but the real danger with that show was the risk of winning a holiday that required you to take an 18 hour bus trip to get to the destination.  Or a cupboard full of saucepans.

I dreamed of one day going on a grown up game show.  And then 2006 came along.  Living in Melbourne, meant I was on the doorstep of where the shows were made, so I decided that I would go on as many shows as I could.

Auditions for these shows consist of completing a form which has at least as many pages as the Melbourne phone book.  You're meant to complete this standing up in the queue to go in and sit the written test.  Never mention anything that you're not completely happy to have air on television.  The most fascinating thing about these auditions is that there is a true cross section of people there, most of them some equipped with a tragic tale that ties in nicely with what they would do with $1 million.  I didn't have a tragic tale, but I do have the gift of the gab and ability to "sparkle" in 90 seconds.  Plus I do pretty well in the written test.

The first was "Deal or No Deal".  A game show, rather than a quiz show, which is all about playing the odds.  One of my friends refers to me as the smartest person she knows who can't count, so this was always going to be tricky.  The day of filming always starts ridiculously early and involves herding large numbers of star struck people in a space that is far too small for everyone.  There's a lot of waiting around, but you are well fed.

I was on the show and held a suitcase.  I opened the suitcase without fumbling, but failed to predict the value of the case.  After a ten hour day, I left with nothing except a sore backside from sitting on a tiny folding chair all day.

Next was "Temptation", a rebranded and relaunched "Sale of the Century".  This show is all about being quick on the buzzer and smart about when you spend your money on prizes in the gift shop.  I was up against a carry over champion who was on the brink of winning everything - the cars, the jewellery, the holiday, the gold and the diamond studded key ring from Bruce and Walsh.  I played to win and on the final gift shop was $1 ahead and so had the opportunity to purchase a holiday in Fiji for $15.  I quickly thought through my options and tried to haggle the price down.  They wouldn't budge.  Was I playing to win a holiday in Fiji or playing to win the night?  I decided it was the latter.  So I went home without a holiday or the chance to come back the next night.  The carry over champion came back the next night and won everything.  He got his picture in the Herald Sun and they told his hard luck story.  I was left scraping the makeup off my face and 10grams of gold from the Perth Mint.  I should find it and put a deposit on a house.

I tried many times to get on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" but it worked on a lottery system and my name was never drawn but I did get on "Millionaire Hotseat". *

Then came "1 vs 100".  A gladiatorial battle where a lone contestant slugs it out against a mob of 100 to win the $1 million prize.  I was selected to be one of the lone contestants.  I did very well, finishing my first night with about $96,000 in the pot, only 17 people left in the mob and two lifelines still in play (I'd used one on the inevitable and terrifying question about cricket).  I came back the next week (which was really 20 minutes later with a wardrobe and hair change) and was stumped on the first question  - what kind of a thing is a snottygobble?  a) tree  b) fish c) mud pool?

I had no freaking idea.  I used a lifeline to eliminate mud pool as one of the answers.  I answered fish.  It's a tree.  Two people in the mob split the $96,000 between them and I went home with a bottle of champagne and a good story to tell.

I filmed about three months before the episodes were televised, so had nursed the secret in accordance with the contract for quite a while.  People regularly tried to break me, but they would give up when I told them I hadn't even told my mother.  The week between the two episodes being televised was challenging.  Work colleagues were so hopeful and certain that I had won big money.  Any time I arrived at work with a new handbag or different dress, they'd point to it as evidence that I was now a millionaire.  To illustrate the amazing reach of television, I was walking down the street in the city, talking to a friend on the phone when a woman pointed at me and yelled out "that's that lady from 1 vs 100!  GOOD LUCK!!!"  It was nice, but I knew I hadn't won.

The day after my loss was aired, I was travelling to work on the train as usual eavesdropping on two people sitting behind me.

"Did you watch 1 vs 100 last night?"

"Yes.  Wasn't it awful?"

"Yes.  I felt so sorry for her.  She played really well and then that question was really unfair."

"I know!  Who's ever heard of a snottygobble?  Pfft."

"I really wanted her to win.  She seemed really nice."

"I know.  Imagine how that would feel?"

The station had reached my stop.  I stood up, smiled at them and said "thank you".  They were beside themselves - lucky they'd been saying nice things.

It was a great experience.  Of course winning a large sum of money would have been fantastic, but I didn't and life goes on. The law of game shows is that all questions are easy if you know the answer.

A lot like life really.  Now I've got to go and watch "Letters and Numbers" on SBS.

* I went on to come back on 1 vs 100 later as a pod of "loved losers" (previous lone contestants who had been well liked by the audience, but failed to win).  I won $4500 on a question about Phar Lap. I felt very Aussie.  I only knew the answer because I'd watched "Phar Lap" the movie on the weekend.  I also went on "Millionaire Hotseat" and knew every question before I was in the hotseat and every answer after I had been eliminated.  The question I got while in the hotseat was about basketball.  No hope!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

To knit or not - it's my choice.

You may notice if you've visited the "what I've made" page of this blog that I finished knitting a pair of socks today.  It's nothing unusual.  I do this quite often.  Of my own free will.  In fact knitting is something I really enjoy doing.  It makes the time I spend watching television productive.  Knitting also calms me and keeps me on an even keel. You've got to keep breathing while you knit or the work will become tight and unmanageable. The rhythmic repetition of movements, the feel of beautiful yarn in my hands, the joy of beautiful colours and the thrill of seeing something take shape are all things I really like about it.

As I was looking around the web today, I came across this blog post called Tough gals: do they still exist?  which has a bit to say about women like me.  Because I like to knit.  Apparently it's some form of feminine subjugation against which I should be railing.  (The author takes time to talk about people who make cupcakes and like gardening too.)

Let me be clear - I don't knit because someone tells me to.  I don't knit because my life depends on it.  I don't knit because I'm not allowed to do anything else meaningful in my life and I'm searching for some way to pass the time.  I do it because I like it.  It's my choice.  As a grown woman who makes decisions for myself and doesn't need permission from my husband or father to do things, I find it amazing that there are people in the world who would characterise my hobby as some kind of anti-feminist statement!

Men can knit too.  Knitting used to be a masculine pursuit and there's a quick summary of men and knitting over at Yarnboy.  I don't hear claims questioning their choice to do this.  Although there is a male character, played by John Batchelor, in the film "Red Dog" who secretly knits and doesn't want to be discovered.  There's a facebook page for men who knit and various online communities dedicated to men who knit.  And I think this is fine.  Fantastic, even.

I think one of the main points of feminism is to recognise that women are whole humans with an intellect and will and feelings and should be able to determine their own lives.  So where does someone get off being critical of women doing stuff they want to do?  Or men for that matter.

My Granny taught me how to knit. (And crochet and sew and cook.)  I was about five years old (!) and I was started on squares to be put together to make a blanket.  I must have been staying with my grandparents and the project needed to be finished before I went back to my parents.  So I was working on my squares, Granny had several going on her needles and Grandfather also got in on the act and knitted some squares.  I remember being thrilled that Grandfather knew how to do this too.  Granny crocheted them together and then around the edges.  The first thing I knitted - although in reality I probably contributed only four or 5 completed squares.  I did choose the colours though.  We still have the blanket.

Whenever I would stay with my grandparents Granny would supervise some kind of project.  I crocheted giant granny square rugs for me and my brother and sister.  We still have them too.  It gave me an edge when in my first year of highschool when we were all required to knit a scarf in the school colours as a project for Home Economics.  This was a gift for me and I got a mark of 20/20 for my effort.  Other girls looked at my growing scarf jealously.

Granny was of a generation of married women who worked only inside the home.  I remember asking her what she would have chosen as a career if she had had the opportunity to work.  She said she would have loved to have been a home economics teacher.  Her hands were never idle and she was happy to share her knowledge, patiently fix mistakes and admire my latest work.

My grandmother's reasons for taking up and continuing to practise these crafts would have been completely different from mine.  Necessity of providing clothing for her family would have been a main driver.  If I don't knit socks for myself, my family and my friends, they will still have socks to wear because they are available commercially.  But they are a much appreciated gift when they are received.

It's 3 years since Granny died, aged just short of 96.  Towards the end of her life I was grateful for the busy companionship we had, sitting together knitting and crocheting.  It's three years since we sat together and knitted - Granny knitted and crocheted right until the end of her life, producing many squares for charity blankets and Trauma Teddies for the Red Cross.  After she died, I inherited her knitting needles and patterns.  In her work bag was an unfinished hand towel.  I finished it and gave it to my mother.

So what's wrong with that?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

You're not wearing that.

Driving home last night, we went past a bar in St Kilda where a group of people were congregated outside on the street.    It was about 11:45pm and probably about 10 degrees Celsius.  A woman caught our attention.  Or rather the pants she was wearing did.  We think they were pants, her legs may have been painted in shimmery red paint.  It was hard to tell.  With these amazingly tight pants which she would have "applied" rather than put on, she was wearing a strapless top.  The woman next to her was wearing a skirt so short it looked like she'd forgotten to put it on.

The discussion in the car transformed us into a group of four women who could easily have been at home having a shandy after our Saturday afternoon bowls match.  When did this happen?  When did we turn into people who sound like our parents, where everything is couched in terms of being sensible?  Or comfortable?

I have always liked to think I have a young outlook on life and people, but I will confess, just between us, that there are some things I really don't understand.  Like those tight skinny jeans that are slung so low with a dropped crotch that makes them look more like a pair of thigh high socks.  I really don't understand.  They look so uncomfortable.

And there in lies the truth - there's an age where dressing to be comfortable suddenly matters.  I now understand what was going on when my grandmother would proclaim on arrival home from anywhere, "I've got to get out of these clothes".  If she was wearing a full suit of armour I could understand, but from the outside they just looked like normal clothes to me.

The generation gap in clothing was always most evident at boarding school on the nights of a school social. We were segregated by grade and the rules were laid on more thickly than the gel in our hair - and that's saying something because this was the eighties.  Thirteen-year-old girls are generally awkward in the style stakes and looking back it must have been hard for the boarding house mistresses to keep straight faces. The rich girls would look good and lend all their other clothes to the rest of us.  Lipstick was banned, hairdryers forbidden, but there were systems and ways of overcoming these constraints.  If you were at the top of the pecking order it was possible to pass inspection, but arrive at the dance with hair that looked like you'd been electrocuted and face makeup that would make a drag queen proud.

We were all required to endure an inspection before boarding the bus to take us up the hill to the boys' school.  In the absence of our parents, the school staff had to step in and monitor our wardrobe choices.  There would be tears and back chat as some girls were sent back to the dormitories to get a longer skirt, remove their make up, take the tissues out of their bra, take the bra off if it was clearly superfluous.  And we just thought we looked so good. It had taken HOURS to get to this point.

All the boys of the corresponding grade were already locked in the assembly hall for our arrival (there must be no opportunity for fraternising unsupervised in the dark when hormones were wildly raging and George Michael is singing "Careless Whisper").  The boys would be standing around talking and then we girls were supposed to just walk in and the dancing would start.  It was never like that.

After all the anticipation of the opportunity to mingle with the opposite sex, there had to be some trigger to get things going.  In grade 8, my first year of high school, some fool thought this would be a good idea:  the girls had to put their left shoe into the centre of the hall.  Each boy was to select a shoe and find the girl it belonged to in some crazed reinvention of the prince bringing Cinderella her glass slipper. It does nothing for your self esteem when you're already a size 9.5 and a tiny boy who hasn't started to grow yet comes over lugging your shoe.  Or wearing it as a ski on the polished floor.  Then he called me Helen for the rest of the night, despite the fact my name is Tanya.  It may have been because I was wearing another girl's shoes and her mother had named them on the soles with thick black marker pen.

I wonder what the hired DJ thought of this tragically hilarious scene as we paraded before him with teeny bopper song requests.  I suppose he was getting paid and that was better than nothing.  Just like the staff who were there to supervise us.  God it must have been awful spending your Saturday night at a school dance like that.

We loved them though.  Couldn't wait for the next one.  It gave us something to talk about other than ourselves and Simon Le Bon's hairstyle.

So I try to bite my tongue and keep my head shaking to a minimum when I see what today's yoof wear when they go out.

Brief encounters

The promo came through from the Prince Bandroom a couple of weeks ago - Tex Perkins was doing a free gig with his Band of Gold to launch is latest album.  I'd be in that!  I had followed Tex Perkins since his days in The Cruel Sea when I'd swooned to his sexy swagger, the the Beasts of Bourbon and Tex, Don and Charlie and more recently in his incarnation as Johnny Cash in his show "The Man in Black".   I had high hopes for the evening.

My friend and I popped into the Malaysian restaurant near the venue for a quick seafood laksa and made a detour via a convenience store before heading in to the venue.  We were the only people in the store - she was selecting chewing gum - and the bell at the front door tinkled and a tall, solitary, black clad man strode in.  If we had been in a western saloon the piano player would have stopped playing.  I turned to see this arrival and noticed it was Tex himself. 

Knowing how to control myself with musical idols after the whole k.d. lang debacle of the mid noughties (that's another story), I calmly stated:  "We're going to see your show this evening."

He was gracious and normal and laughed and said thanks and then said he'd never get on stage if he didn't have a shave first.  I said he should get that sorted because we were looking forward to the show and hoped he would have a good one. 

Then he asked me if I was sorted to get into the show.  I was, but I had the feeling if I wasn't he would have sorted me out.  So to speak.  

My friend finished her chewing gum transaction.

We left.

I love encounters like these.  To be confronted by a man you've swooned over from your twenties and beyond, under the convenience store fluorescent lighting and discover he's humble, charming and human is wonderful.

Sadly, I didn't enjoy the gig so much. The stage was set with a chandelier and granny lamps and vases of flowers.  It started with a duet version of Kris Kristofferson's song "Help me make it through the Night" which sizzled with sexual tension and chemistry between Tex and Rachael Tidd (she played June Carter Cash in "The Man in Black").   And that was the highlight.

From there the tempo never changed except to slow down a notch and add a bit more slide guitar.  The drummer didn't break a sweat.  The band looked bored and Tex and Rachael looked like they had their own thing going on.  They were playing for themselves and had forgotten to let their audience in.  Afterwards we speculated whether there was heightened vulnerability for the rock god now singing the sensitive country songs of the broken hearted man - or the man who was just out looking for a woman.  Somehow I don't buy it.  As a musician, who are you playing for if not for your audience?  If the pulse of the gig was to be low key and loungeroom-ish, then we were in the wrong venue.  Standing up for hours on end while everything is at the same tempo and the word "lonely" appears in every song is enough to defeat even the most dedicated fan.

I did not expect that the highlight of the evening would be buying gum and disposable razors with a friend and a rock god in a convenience store in St Kilda.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Lurking in the letterbox

Since my "no junk mail" sticker came off (was removed?) from my letterbox, I open it with trepidation.  I have a post office box and so don't check the one at my home very often.  When I do check it, it's to scrape out the rubbish that has been left in there and turned to paper pulp in the rain.

Today there were only two leaflets.  One for "pressure washing".  For a moment I fantasised that this was a service that would allow me to vent my pent up anger at someone while they did my washing.  "You call that clean?"  "Take the tissues out of the pockets!"  "What do you mean, you're using hot water?!" "Hurry up - I need to wear that dress in 2 hours!"  "Scrub!!"  I was about to call the number when I realised that it's actually for washing my house using high pressure water.  No need for that.  I can barely get around to washing the dishes, let alone the house.  I always have pressure washing whenever visitors are expected.

The other leaflet had a picture of a waterfall and the word "purification" caught my eye.  I thought it was for a water purification system. Think again.  "Are drugs and toxins making you less yourself? THINK CLEARLY. ENROLL ONTO THE PURIFICATION PROGRAM."  (If you read too quickly "purification" and "putrefaction" can easily be confused.)

Wow.  I turned the leaflet over and was confronted with a quote from L. Ron Hubbard.  Hope I don't get into trouble for writing his name here.  The fine print on the bottom of the leaflet informed me that "SCIENTOLOGY, L.RON HUBBARD and THE SCIENTOLOGY SYMBOL are trademarks and service marks owned by Religious Technology Center".  The capitalisation is theirs, not mine.  What on earth is "religious technology"?   A nail gun for crucifixions?

I find it fascinating that anything can be advertised.  I also find it really interesting that Scientology is only mentioned in the very fine print at the bottom of the leaflet.    My theory is that the more vague or oblique the message is, the worse the grammar.  Did you know "The planet has hit a barrier which prevents any widespread social progress - drugs and and other biochemical substances."  That's not even a real sentence and I think that when L. Ron wrote it he hadn't done the Purification Program and wasn't thinking clearly.

Now the program consists of a "precise regimen of sauna, physical exercise and nutrition".  I can get that from my gym and personal trainer, nothing wrong with that.  What I really don't like is dishonest preying upon people.  As if anyone would be able to sit in the sauna and not have Scientology pushed on them!  If Scientology is something that you believe in, then that's terrific.  If it's so good that you want me to believe in it too, talk to me about it honestly.  Don't sell me a gym membership that is actually a front for some kind of religion.

The last time something in my letter box got me cranky was when I discovered a sealed envelope that was addressed to the "Householders - over 18 years of age - do not open if easily offended".  Being over 18, curious and not easily offended I decided to open the envelope.  Inside were graphic images of abortions.  Again, the conversation was started on a dishonest note.  It wasn't about being offended by the contents, it was that I wasn't given a choice about whether I wanted to see graphic images of abortions.  I could only make the decision after I'd seen them.

On my list of things to do tomorrow is to secure another "no junk mail" sticker.  And take note advertisers, ignoring my request will not result in me wanting to do business with you.

Now, I've got an Officeworks catalogue to read.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

One of those people

Two separate encounters today reminded me that I am one of those people.  It is noteworthy because today I was one of those people in my own city.  Usually I am one of those people when I'm somewhere else and can't help.  No matter where I am, I am one of those people other people approach for directions and advice in the street.  I'm also the person in a queue where a thoroughfare for passing traffic will form no matter where I'm standing - but that's another story.

Within minutes of arriving in a country or a city someone will approach me and ask me "how to get to..." or "where to go for...".  Today, it happened in my own city and the end of the discussion was really interesting.

I was on the tram in the middle of the day having finished a business meeting and as I boarded I overheard two young women talking about whether they should "ask someone".  I smiled at the one wearing the fur coat.  She looked a bit freaked out and then asked "how to get to..."  AND "where to go for..." in the one question.  They were visiting from Sydney and looking for the best non-generic, uniquely Melbourne shopping experiences.  They didn't want outlets, they had money to spend.

I gave them a few ideas including details of which trams to take and where to catch them.  They said they wanted Italian food for dinner - I explained Lygon Street to them.  Nothing extraordinary so far.

Then one of the women asked me if I was available over the next 3 days to be their paid shopping guide!  They were expensively dressed and looked like they would be able to pay.  I checked my diary, but have an acting job tomorrow and a couple of other pieces of freelance work over the next couple of days.  If I had been able, I would have said YES.  Instead, I gave them my card.  Who knows who they are and what they might need but I liked their entrepreneurial spirit.

Having done my errands I was heading to Flinders Street station to catch the train home when a young Asian woman came straight up to me at the traffic lights and asked where Victoria University was.  I knew this one too.  Once on the train, another person asked me to confirm whether this was the right train to catch for a particular station.

But one day in Melbourne I was mystified by the request made of me.  Two girls approached me holding hands and said something in what I can only imagine was a thick Icelandic accent.  When I said I didn't understand in a voice that made it clear I had English as my first language they looked at me as though I came from another planet.  They kept repeating this one word and then just gave up as I frowned and stared and tried to comprehend their question.  They left.  I kept thinking about it.  We met again at the traffic lights.  The penny dropped:

"Backpackers?" I said.  (In retrospect I  imagined the word they said to be spelled something like "byikpyikar".)

They nodded, relieved.

I directed them.

On my Sydney trip a couple of weeks ago I was asked for advice on which train to catch (I had no idea) and also where to find a toy shop (I had no idea).  I was friendly and apologetic and directed them to other places/people whom I hoped would be able to help.

I wonder what makes me one of those people?  I like to think it's because I look friendly and have an air of authority that inspires confidence!  Or am I deluded and we're all one of those people?  It's just a matter of who is nearby.  I've tried to notice and be aware of what the people I approach for help are like, but the truth is, I don't do it often.

Are there other people out there?  Meanwhile, I'm waiting for a call so I can start my work as a personalised shopping guide for visitors to Melbourne.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The art of uncertainty - or flying frequently.

With Qantas being in the news today, I've been thinking about my flying career.  There was a time in my life when I flew so much I was a diamond frequent flyer and was greeted by name as I entered the business lounge at 5:30am on a Monday.  Those were the days.  Where my relationships with my regular cab driver, airline staff and work colleagues were more often nurtured than those with friends, family and lovers.  I really related to George Clooney's character in the film "Up in the Air" as those frequent flyer points added up and I could trade them for upgrades and flights home at Christmas.

As someone required to travel regularly for business, there were some benefits of recognition.  I always got my preferred choice of seat.   I was never bumped from a flight. I was once invited to the cockpit by the Captain for an evening landing into Canberra (pre September 11 of course).   I wish I could say the benefits included never having your luggage lost in transit.

The odds of something going wrong must increase with the frequency of engaging in an activity.  For example, the chances of ending up with a broken leg from skiing greatly increase the more I ski.  I manage this risk by not skiing.  Simple.  If we accept this mathematical likelihood of luggage being lost, it doesn't explain how bags on a direct flight from Brisbane to Sydney end up in Adelaide.

I have arrived without my luggage on four separate occasions and had to engage with the poor person whose job it is to be at the baggage counter.  The sign says usually says something like "baggage services" but that is a misnomer.  Can you imagine what that job would be like?  You would know before anyone said a word that every person approaching you would be less than happy.  I always try to be pragmatic in these situations, but sometimes it's very hard.  That's when I just start laughing.

First there is the unanswerable question of how bags from a direct flight have gone somewhere completely different.  Then there's that laminated card they hand you where you select the characteristics of your bag in an effort to describe it: identikit for luggage. Like identikit for suspected criminals it ends up bearing no resemblance to your actual bag and it's a miracle if something rectangular with wheels finally turns up.

Everyone looks uncertain.  There are no guarantees about when the bag will arrive, if it will arrive or whether it's your bag when it does arrive.  The staff must go through a very special form of avoidance training to achieve this level of uncertainty.  When my bags have gone missing, it wasn't a big problem, more of an irritating inconvenience.  I mean, I wasn't getting married and waiting for my wedding dress to arrive.  I wasn't ill with my expensive and life sustaining medication in airline limbo.  I wasn't about to pitch my invention to the big dollar investors with no idea of where my prototype was.  And I wasn't smuggling contraband.

However, it is amazing that delivery of the missing luggage has always been in the middle of the night.  By middle of the night I mean the time when the nightclubs close and the joggers are getting up.  How or why?  I begin to suspect that they knew where the bags were all along and they randomly select some bags to go "missing" so they can try out their systems and my patience.

In 2007 I went to live and work in Darwin for six months.  I was organising the community Your Rights at Work campaign as part of the federal election and had never even been to Darwin.  I was full of anticipation and had a lot to organise on my arrival.

As I entered the airport after deplaning (it is actually a word - thought I'd try it out), I was being paged to the baggage services counter.  My heart sank.  I was barely off the plane and they already knew something was wrong.

My encounter was to set the tone for many "service" interactions during my time in Darwin.  I loved Darwin.  It has its quirks.  I was about to learn this.

A woman who looked to be about twelve and very scared was at the counter.

"Hello.  I'm Tanya Edlington  (it would have been weird to refer to myself as divacultura).  You paged me?"



"Oh, yes.  Um.  Your bags aren't here?"

"I don't know.  I just got off the plane and came straight to you.  I haven't been to the baggage carousel."

She looked at me.  I looked at her.  It clicked.  She wasn't actually asking me a question; she just had the most persistent and perplexing upward inflection that I have ever encountered.

I tried again.  "Where are my bags?"

"Um. We think they might probably perhaps be in Melbourne?"

She must have graduated top of the class when they taught the art of creating uncertainty.

"Well are they in Melbourne?"  Blinking.  "Or are they somewhere else?"

"As I said, we think they might probably maybe perhaps be potentially in Melbourne?"

She defeated me.  I retreated.

"What happens now?'

"Um.  Well they might maybe be on the next flight from Alice Springs? "

Alice Springs?  I suppose someone was walking them up from Melbourne to Alice?  I was like a cat with a mouse, but got bored and decided to go easy.  I reframed the question.

"When can I expect my bags?"

"Um.  They'll potentially be delivered when they maybe arrive?"

That upward inflection was getting to me, but there was truth at the heart of her statement.  My eyebrows were so high levitation was likely any minute.  I sighed.  I gave her the details of my apartment in Darwin, my mobile phone number and walked out looking like a movie star who travels great distances carrying nothing but a mobile phone, a credit card and the keys to the Ferrari.  It was too hot to be loaded down with a pashmina.

So my plans to unpack and settle in to my new digs were lost and I had no cooler clothes to change into.  I'd left Melbourne winter and arrived in the tropical dry season.  So I drove around town in my (airconditioned) car and got my bearings.  I bought food for dinner. I bought nail polish (that's another story) I cooked dinner.  I ate dinner.  I washed up.  Still no sign of the bags.  At about 2am, I ran out of things to do and decided to have a shower and go to bed.  I'd just lathered up when my mobile phone rang.  A cranky sounding taxi driver was downstairs with my bags.  Naturally.  It's like they're monitoring you and know the precise moment of maximum inconvenience.

About six weeks later I had to travel back to Melbourne for a week.  I arrived at the luggage carousel.  My bags didn't.  In Melbourne they didn't pretend to know where the bags were or what would happen next or when/if they'd be delivered.  But they gave me a meal voucher.  As if I was carrying a five course meal in my suitcase.  Or even a sandwich, which was more in line with the size of the voucher.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The plastic abstinence dilemma

I have a dilemma.  A very modern dilemma.  I have been so diligent in using reusable shopping bags for my groceries (and other shopping) that I now have no plastic bags left with which to line my garbage bins.  I'm not at all sure what to do.

As a person conscious about waste, the environment, minimising my footprint (sometimes hard when your feet are used for Fred Flintstone's stunt doubles) and reusing where possible, I've adjusted what I use and how I use it.  So instead of plastic bags, I have dozens of the reusable supermarket bags.  Now that they have taken over my life I'm getting better at remembering to actually take them with me to the supermarket.  They are probably contaminating the air I breathe with some evil pollutant that will be linked to some as yet unknown health concern....STOP IT!

When I had a supply of plastic shopping bags I used them to line the bins in my house.  This saved me from having to buy (plastic) bin liners and meant I was reusing or "repurposing" (who comes up with these words?) and I thought that was reasonable.  On top of that, I work to minimise the waste that I put into landfill anyway.  I have a reusable coffee cup.  I have a reusable water bottle.  I'm conscious about the packaging of items that I buy.  I recycle, time my showers, catch public transport or walk as much as possible and have low energy light bulbs.  I switch things off at the wall and wash my clothes in cold water and only use the dryer when it is absolutely necessary (which is rarely if I plan).  When I lived in a house I composted everything that could be composted.  I even have a knitting pattern that shows how to knit a shopping bag using plastic shopping bags as the "yarn"!  I haven't been able to wrap my head around that; it seems a shame to put all that effort into something that will disintegrate - now that the plastic bags are biodegradable.

Now I've reached this point where I need something to line my bins I seem to have two choices:  buy plastic bags to line my bins or carry my groceries home in plastic bags for the next few months so I can build up a stash again.

I don't think I can bring myself to do either thing.  After all this time of plastic abstinence, the thought of leaving a shop with my purchases in a plastic bag is impossible to contemplate.  How would I walk down the street with this mark of shame visible to the world?  The glares and judgement from other people at the supermarket check out would be too much to bear. And paying for this weapon of mass destruction just seems ridiculous.

This domestic dilemma is playing out against a backdrop of residents in my apartment block who do not/can not/will not recycle correctly.  The reason I care about what other people do with their garbage (apart from the general social well being concerns) is that we have collective giant wheelie bins - 6 shared amongst 28 apartments.  The local Council regularly sends information about what things can and can't be recycled - I even have a fridge magnet - but my neighbours regularly lovingly wrap their stack of newspapers in a plastic bag before placing it in the recycling.  I have suggested to the body corporate that some education in a variety of languages is needed, but I despair.  How is the Government ever going to succeed in explaining the carbon tax as part of the strategy to address climate change, when people can't even sort their rubbish and put the recycling in the bin with the yellow lid?

I was heartened tonight to hear that electricity consumption in Australia has recently declined.  This is being attributed to a combination of rising power bills, switching off and switching to renewable energy sources like solar.  Fantastic!  If price has motivated a change in behaviour, then the market can actually work, I thought.  But of course it's not that simple.  We live complex lives with an increasing need/desire/demand for consumables, including electricity and fossil fuels.  Unless people are lying in bed in the dark all day to save on heating and lighting.

To stop myself walking around in circles and feeling bad that I'm not doing enough, I try to live my life based on an ethical framework and good intentions. I'll advocate and educate, but I'm not into judgement - except when someone is smoking near me.   I can't solve the world's problems by myself.  I can't even work out how I'm going to line the bins in my house.  Any suggestions?

Private Life by Jane Smiley

I am seeing Jane Smiley at the Melbourne Writers' Festival.  I'd like to finish her latest novel before I do.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Laws of the universe

All the discussion about confidence and the notion of self-fulfilling prophecies got me thinking about the things that I have learned to be true.  Until now, they haven't been written down anywhere that I know of.  I have decided to document the practical truths that I know.  Think of it as a community service.

I have couched these laws in terms of "inverse proportions"; that is, the higher the chance of one thing, the lower the chance of another.

1.  The volume of a conversation on a mobile phone in a public place is inversely proportional to the intimacy of the subjects being discussed.

2. The price of the underwear is inversely proportional to the amount of flesh it covers.  This also applies to bathing suits.

3.  The chance the train is running on time is inversely proportional to how late you are running.

4. The amount of credit available on your credit card is inversely proportional to the necessity of the purchase.

5.  The chance of picking up the letter Q at the end of a game of Scrabble is inversely proportional to the number of "U's" you already have on your rack.

6.  The life of the battery in your iPhone is inversely proportional to the importance of what you use it for.

7.  The chances of your rent being increased is inversely proportional to the security of your income.

8.  The chance of being able to put pantyhose on without putting a ladder in them is inversely proportional to:
          a) how many other pairs you have available.
          b) how late you are for the train. (see also #3).
          c) the length of your skirt.
          d) the cost of this particular pair.

9.  The chance of picking the winner is inversely proportional to the size of the bet you placed.
(This law also applies if you thought about placing the bet, but didn't actually do it.)

10.  The chance of making money in the current market is inversely proportional to how much you have invested on the stock market.  (See also #9 above.)

11.  The interest in cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming the floor is inversely proportional to the amount of time left on your deadline.

12.  The chance the plumber sent by the emergency plumbing service will fulfill all your day time television fantasies is inversely proportional to whether you're having a good hair day and how long it is since you had your legs waxed.

What do you think?  I'd love to know your truths.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Beware the Banksia Men

I took this photo today in the street where I live.
The gum nut babies are in bloom.  The little ragged blossoms are showing their petticoats.  Spring is coming!

As I child I loved May Gibbs' books about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.  And every time I see the gum nuts and the blossoms I think of these characters.  What a gorgeous imagination she had - to see these little characters in the Australian native flora and give them names and personalities.

Little Ragged Blossom - you can see where she came from.

Like all good stories there has to be a villain and May Gibbs created the Banksia Men.  Hairy, with multiple mouths and very, very wicked, chasing gum nut babies and stealing them away.  I was terrified of Banksia plants because of the Banksia Men.

Perhaps you can see why I still look over my shoulder when I walk past a Banksia.  I wouldn't want him to follow me.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Time for an upgrade

When the train arrived at Flinders Street today, the announcements said that it was the 5:47pm to Williamstown. Nothing remarkable about that.  But the destination plate on the front of the train said the destination was "Data Version 3.0".  Now having watched "The Adjustment Bureau" today and read all the Harry Potter books, I hesitated to board the train.  There was no Lonely Planet guide for Data Version 3.0 and I wondered what happened when you got there.

Earlier this morning, a message from Twitter told me that I'd been using Twitter longer than 91.43% of all users.  And I only started at the end of 2008 (I think.)  This prompted me to think about my virtual self and where she is present.

I'm on facebook.  Have been for a while.  Prompted by my friend G who now rails against all sites that require him to log in (including my blog).  I use facebook to play Scrabble, share photos, engage in conversation and promote gigs I'm involved in.  I also use the We Read application to keep track of the books I read.  (I flirted briefly with Library Thing, but it seemed pointless to have two places that did the same thing.)  I still have friends who aren't on facebook; others have recently succumbed.  I am only friends with people I know on facebook.

I never was on myspace.

I tweet.  Sometimes a lot.  Sometimes a little.  And often not at all.  I love to participate in community discussion during television shows like "Insiders" and "Q & A".  Other times, I use it as a microblog, making observations in 140 characters or less.  I find the restriction is a real boost to creativity.  My tweets feed to my facebook status too.  I'll follow back, unless you're a spammer or promising me access to hot girls or a religious zealot - probably the same thing.

Then there's Ravelry.  Ravelry?  If you're not a yarn lover who feeds their passion by knitting or crocheting, then you may not have heard of this one.  It's a project notebook, an educational resource, a pattern and stitch reference and an inspiration.  A recent Slate article sang the praises of Ravelry as being better than facebook because it catered specifically to a niche and is loved by its members.  It's true.  Apparently there's no bad behaviour in Ravelry.  There's a secret shared language amongst users.  When I walked into my local yarn store today I was wearing a scarf that I finished knitting today.  The woman in the shop admired it and said:  "Wollmeise?  Lacy Baktus?  Lovely!"  I understood every word.

Here's a picture of what she was talking about.

Lacy Baktus in Wollmeise!

I'm fixing up my Linked In profile.  It's been languishing for a while.  I've just joined Etsy.  I've got an ebay account and of course I'm now here on Blogger.  My goodness, I'm connected!  My virtual self is apparently close to omnipresent.  Does that make me a nerd? A geek?  What does this mean for my flesh-and-blood self?

With the arrival of the train to Data Version 3.0 I wondered if my time was up.  My imagination took flight...Perhaps my real self had become obsolete and it was time to be upgraded.  With each expansion of my virtual self, my real self was being gradually diminished.  Until she ceased to exist.  At this moment the doors sighed open.  It was time to take the trip.  My friends and family wouldn't notice my absence because they'd be chatting and networking with my virtual self.  The needs of my physical self, would cease and I would exist only in cyber space.  On the day I received notice of a rent increase of $113 a month, this seemed like an attractive option, so I boarded the train.  Turns out the train was really only going to Williamstown.  The homeless freestyle rapper was on board again collecting change and still not doing any rapping.

Destination Data Version 3.0 remains a mystery.  I hope it's warmer and the people are real.