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?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Four more weeks.

With only four weeks until Christmas, shoppers are out in force and the blaring Christmas music provides a soundtrack to the push-and-shove shopping experience.  Is it any wonder online shopping is doing well?  You can click and buy from the comfort of your own home over a cup of tea and fruit mince tart with pleasing music to accompany.

Why then, did I think a visit to Federation Square's Mark It would be a good idea?

In the Atrium and BMW Edge, at least it was safe from the unpredictable spring weather.  Most of Melbourne was crowded into this space and most of Melbourne had missed its manners today.  From the glimpses I caught over dandruff sprinkled shoulders and through the crook of elbows and past enormous ears, there appeared to be some very fine wares for sale.  How one made a purchase was not clear to me.  As soon as I thought I would be able to make it to the front and have an unimpeded view, a woman with an enormous bag or boobs would shoulder charge to the front.

I didn't get to fondle and I didn't get to see.  I didn't get to smell and I didn't get to dangle.  So not a single purchase was made.  At one point a woman behind me commented that she wanted to get the business card of a particular stall so I snaked my hand through and gave her a bundle.  She asked me if I worked there and I replied that I just felt her pain.

Shoppers' faces were frowning.  The smell of anxiety hung heavy.

As I stood locked in by people and bags on all sides a moment of catastrophe came into mind.  What would happen if there was a fire?  I would surely die.  We would surely die.  Except those people with the giant bags and boobs who seemed to be able to get to wherever they were going.

I think my consideration of other people is what works against me in this setting.  I don't say this to sound like some kind of angel - I'm not - but rather I work with awareness of people around me.  I think that everyone else does too.  This is not true.

I returned home empty handed and had also endured the bus replacement service.  No trains are running on my line today because of track work.  This will lead to improvements at some unspecified future time.  At this current time, it's a gigantic pain.  The buses are unpredictable in their arrivals and departures.  The drivers are ill-tempered.  The passengers are frustrated and lost.

Studying the signs on the various buses lined up and waiting at Footscray station, I opted for one that said it was stopping all stations to a station far down the line and then was express after that.  As I boarded, I stated my station to the usher who was supervising all comings and goings.  He looked alarmed and said no.  This bus was express from where we were standing.  I pointed out the sign to him.  He agreed it was confusing.  I disagreed that it was confusing and said that it was just plain wrong.  He considered this.  He came back five minutes later and told me he agreed with me about the sign.  He made no move to correct it.  I imagined lost people at the mercy of ill-tempered bus drivers on the expressway to some outer suburb they'd heard of only because it was the end of the line.

This conversation was peppered by a hard-faced woman and the ferret featured man accompanying her making accusations of abuse against one of the ill-tempered bus drivers.  I had heard the ill-tempered bus driver in question speak to her and thought he had a "tone" that went with being ill-tempered, but I didn't think he was abusive.  I considered her as ferret features tried to pull her away.  They had the look of people strung out for their next hit.  People probably steered clear most of the time, so I could understand why she would assert herself by then yelling at the line of large men wearing bright orange vests announcing that they belonged, somehow, to Metro trains.

My ill-tempered bus driver shook his head and put out his cigarette.  He hoisted himself into the driver's seat and flung the bus into gear, driving wildly through the narrow back streets of Yarraville, straddling tiny roundabouts and riding the kerb.  Several signs and markers were lying flattened on this route and I wondered if the streets would ever recover from this episode of track work.

As I left the bus, I heard the driver's response to questions from people about whether this was the bus to the city.  "No," he said in a tone that made it a four syllable word.  "City's on the other side," and "side" took on the rising scale of frustration.  He may as well have just called them idiots and been done with it.

One last stop before heading home and I was confronted with Christmas music playing through a radio turned up too loud and hidden behind a cheap tinsel Christmas tree.  The fact that Santa Claus is coming to town sounded like a menacing threat, rather than happy news.

And there are still four more weeks.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Happiness is...the small moments.

Browsing in the book store the other day, I saw Snoopy and Charlie Brown out of the corner of my eye.  They were on the cover of a book by Charles M. Schulz called "Happiness is a warm puppy".  It made me smile and I thought to myself, "Isn't it though?"  On this grey Melbourne day, here are some things that I've caught myself feeling happy about today.

1. Happiness is waking up to the sound of rain and the knowledge that it was right to cancel our outdoor choir gig today.

2. Happiness is knowing that the weather bureau was accurate with the weather forecast.

3. Happiness is realising my dress was on inside out before I left the house.

4. Happiness is not being the driver of the vehicle facing the wrong way after coming off the road and crashing into the safety railing.

5. Happiness is the satisfaction of doing the washing and drying it on the line in yesterday's lost sunshine.

6. Happiness is a series of green lights that allowed me to arrive fifteen minutes early when I expected to be five minutes late.

7. Happiness is not having an addiction that requires me to sit in my wheelchair in my pyjamas in the rain outside the hospital so I can smoke a cigarette.

8. Happiness is having pyjamas that I wouldn't be embarrassed to wear out if the situation required it.

9. Happiness is meeting a parking inspector who told me not to hurry back as he was just finishing his shift and I shouldn't worry if I went "a bit over".

10. Happiness is taking some time to think about the small things that are good.

My brother has just moved house and I spoke to him on the morning after the move.  He told me: "I'll pay you a million dollars if you can drive up from Melbourne and find the kettle."

It's the small things really.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Solitary vs social

Today's prompt for NaBloPoMo is "Do you enjoy being alone? Would you rather be around other people?"

I feel the question is around the wrong way.  As it stands my answers are "yes" and "yes".  

Anyone meeting me would peg me as an extrovert.  I'm quite happy to walk up to people I've never met and strike up a conversation.  I seek people out and enjoy activities that require me to play with others.  I'll happily chat to the tram driver, the person behind the counter at the post office, the person who serves me my coffee.  I've also had my extroversion certified through the Myers-Briggs type indicator.  The first time I was profiled I was deemed ENTJ (the E stands for extroversion).  The second time I was revealed to be ENTP.  So that's that.

Once I was at an event and a friend rang me up to see if I could find a particular person who was attending the same event and deliver a message.  I had never met the person whom I was to find and there was a hint of hesitation in my friend's voice as the request was made.  Without hesitation I agreed.  My friend thought this was amazing and quickly gave me the information I needed to be able to find the recipient of the message.  Off I went.  I quickly zeroed in on the person I thought it was and walked straight up and asked whether they were such-and-such.  

Two women were sitting together and the woman sitting next to the woman whom I approached answered in the affirmative.  I told the story and delivered the message.  The women then wanted to know what information I had which allowed me to find them so quickly.  Now this was awkward as aspects of the description were unlikely to be considered flattering.  So I didn't reveal, pretending that I had special powers that enabled me to identify strangers in any setting.  They were charmed and satisfied.

From this highly extroverted situation, I can adapt to enjoy being alone.    There are many things I enjoy doing which are solitary activities, but I have managed to also extend them into social activities with other people.

Reading is part of my daily life.  I always have at least one book on the go and my e-reader makes packing to go on holidays much easier as I have room for things other than books in my luggage! Spending time reading is a great pleasure, but I'm not really on my own.  There are many characters whom I have encountered in the pages of a book who feel like they are part of my life.  Holidays from boarding school meant going home to western Queensland where there was only one television channel.  I would spend hours lying around, finishing huge novels with astonishing speed.  I read Peter Carey's "Oscar and Lucinda" over the course of a day, followed closely by "Illywhacker".

When I first moved to Melbourne over eleven years ago, one of the first things I did was establish a book group.  I wanted to expand my network in my new home town and thought that doing it through my passion for reading was a good way to go.  We've been meeting about once every six weeks ever since.  People have come and gone from the group but there are still two members from the early days in the group.  It's a lovely way to combine the solitary pursuit of reading with a social gathering in a cafe or bar to share ideas and food.

Knitting is the other thing I love to do.  My Grandmother taught me and I spent many happy hours knitting side by side with her.  I find it hard to just sit and watch television; instead I knit while I'm watching.  It makes the time feel more productive.  I occasionally attend a stitch and bitch group - again making the solitary activity a social one.  A group of women from various backgrounds meet once a week in a Richmond cafe for dinner, chat and knitting.  It's a great way to get help and share the satisfaction of completing a piece of work.  

I have learnt to happily spend time with myself.  I also know that there's a limit and I'll start to crave the company of other people.  That's when I head out into the world to see who's available to make friends.  But if I had to choose one or the other for the rest of my life, I would choose to have people around me.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ombudsman report covers MYKI debacle

When I wrote this post I didn't know the Ombudsman was about to hand down a report on State Government IT projects, including MYKI.

The full report is available here.  Reading the case study about MYKI, I sit here and think it's no wonder they can't do simple stuff like handle a refund efficiently.  And I've discovered from reading on Twitter about other people's experiences it's a convoluted manual process that has to be endured if the credit card which is providing your automatic top up expires.  From what I can gather, this requires you to post your MYKI to them where they will "unlock" it.

I have no words to question the stupidity of this.  Unless I'm wrong and there is actually a tiny lock that only they have the tiny key for and the physically have to do something with the card.  I don't buy this.  It's a smart card!

Based on the contents of the Ombudsman's report, it seems incredible that MYKI is in place at all.

Recommendation 350 chills me a little:
"In my view, the TTA [Transport Ticketing Authority] focus in the short-term must be to ensure the
operational efficacy of myki as soon as possible and replace Metcard. I
can see no reason why the TTA cannot immediately commence planned
transition from Metcard to myki on a station by station, line by line basis.
This will minimise the significant costs associated with running parallel

They'd better fix the problems first!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The one about the television sales guy

It's been five days since my television blew up.  When I say "blew up" I mean everything went black and there was a terrible smell.

I don't have the money to buy a new television right now and have decided to wait and see what happens.  Maybe I'll like not having a TV.

In the meantime, I decided to visit a TV shop and see what's happening in case a rich benefactor decides to make a donation.  There's so much to consider now and this makes me very nervous as I famously invest in the technology that seems like a good thing but disappears with a whisper minutes after I have it installed and have become attached. A lot like men, really.

Television sales guys (and they are all guys) seem like they used to be PE teachers at high school but had to leave because of a scandal involving one of the senior girls.  Or the accounting teacher.  The either call me "ma'am" which I hate, or "miss" which I also hate.  And they shout when they talk, listing features that you didn't even know were relevant to televisions with an urgency that instills a low level of anxiety.

Me: Something happened to my TV the other day. I'm not sure, but I think it might be dead.

TV sales guy: What happened to the TV.  (note the lack of a question mark - this has been done deliberately to recreate the exact tone of the conversation.)

Me: I was watching the Seinfeld episode about the Junior Mint? And the mint was about to be tossed? When the screen went black? The on/off switch started switching on and off?! Then there was a terrible smell.
(I know, I know.  I was compensating for his lack of an upward inflection.  All those muscles encased in a shiny, polyester polo shirt were making me nervous.)

The TV sales guy got out a black arm band and put it on over his polo shirt.  He pulled out a handkerchief and offered it to me: I'm afraid it's dead.  There's nothing to be done.


TV sales guy: So you want another TV. (no question mark again)

Me:  Well it's been twelve years since I bought a television (knowing smirk from TV sales guy) and I want to know what I'm dealing with if I decide to buy another one.

TV sales guy: Narrow it down. How much do you want to spend. What size do you want.

Again, so similar to men.

I wanted to him to help me with this.  In the end I pointed at something and named Sony as my preferred brand.  There were two models which looked identical, except for the $200 difference in the price tag.  I asked TV sales guy what the difference was.

Me: So what's the difference between these two televisions?

TV sales guy: Oh this one is better.  (Points at more expensive model.)

Me: Why?

TV sales guy:  This one is faster. (Points at more expensive model.)

Faster.  It's a television!  Where's it going?  If it can actually buy milk and have it in the fridge when I return from a business trip, then speed is worth having, but for something that sits in the lounge room all day, every day, I don't think speed is on my list of television selecting criteria.  

TV sales guy: It's to do with the picture.  If you look at a still shot on both models you wouldn't notice the difference, but if the picture moves, it can look at bit choppy on that one.  (Points at less expensive model.)

If it moves.  Well it's a television.  It's all about moving pictures these days.  

Me: Is this something I would notice if you hadn't told me?

TV sales guy: Do you watch a lot of sport.

The look of resignation on his face as he made this statement told me that he already knew the answer and there was no way he was squeezing a couple of hundred extra out of me!  I asked him to write down the details.  As he did this I asked whether they install the television as part of the service.

Me: Do you install the television as part of the service?

TV sales guy: We can get a guy to deliver it. To your house.

So it's quieter than usual around here at the moment and I have plenty to pass the time.  The one thing I am grappling with is the impact the lack of a television has had on my knitting output.  I knit in front of the TV.  With no TV it feels weird to just sit and knit.

Monday, 21 November 2011

MYKI: it's your key to bureaucratic frustration

I received a cheque in the mail today.  I had been waiting for it for five weeks.

(c) divacultura 2012

That's right, it's a bank cheque for 94 cents!  I called Westpac Bank to find out how much they charge to issue a bank cheque.  The call centre operator advised me that they charge $10 for a bank cheque regardless of who is purchasing the cheque.  $10!  More than ten times the value of the cheque itself.

The story of this 94 cent cheque starts at the beginning of this year when I took up the opportunity to try out MYKI, the new "smart card" ticketing system for public transport in Melbourne.  An offer of a free card was made as an incentive for travelling Melbournians to make the switch from the paper Metcards to the smart MYKI.  Usually the card costs $10 to purchase and then money is added online, over the phone or at machines at stations.

I'd waited a while before actually using the card because I'd heard there were still lots of problems.  Shortly after I started to use MYKI I became eligible for concession travel.  To pay only the concession fare, I needed to have a concession MYKI.  I went to the myki website to find out what I had to do.  I had to download and print a form, fill it out by hand or type it and print it and then take it to the "discovery centre" at Southern Cross Station.  At the discovery centre, I handed over the form and the card with its balance of around $20 to an aqua clad woman and was given a concession MYKI with a zero balance in return.  I was given a handwritten receipt noting the date and details of the card surrendered.  The $9.80 administrative fee was waived because the change of card and consequent refund was due to a change in concession status.

Given the smart card technology and the world we live in, I expected that the balance on my old card would be topped up onto the new card on the spot and then the Public Transport Ticketing Authority would complete whatever process they needed to follow on their own.

My expectations were soon found to be ridiculous.  Here's what actually happens:  the forms and cards are sent by post to somewhere else in Melbourne to be processed.  The date on the receipt acknowledging surrender of the card is meaningless when it comes to counting the quoted 21 business days it takes to process the refund - they only start counting once the form has been processed at the place where it was sent to and even if it was processed on a Saturday, the clock doesn't start ticking until the following Monday.

Once that has happened they buy a bank cheque and send it to you in the mail.  My bank cheque is dated 15 November and I received it today, 21 November.  I'll bank it tomorrow and it will take another 5 business days to clear, so if I'm lucky I will have access to my 94 cents by next Monday, 28 November.  I originally requested this refund on 18 October!  That's 42 calendar days, 30 business days, before I get my own money back.  Lucky I didn't need it to pay the rent.

Here's what the Public Transport Ombudsman wrote to me in May this year about the process:

"Currently the quoted time for a refund cheque is 21 days which accounts
 for processing of the refund form, two levels of approval, sending the
 details to the bank, having the bank create the cheque and delivery to your
 address.  Ideally, the cheque will come quicker than the 21 days quoted
 but the reason this length of time is quoted is in case there are any delays
 in the process."

I was amazed that the usual fee to administer this Byzantine process is only $9.80!  If the fee isn't waived, they deduct it from the balance that is owed to you.  In other words you have to pay to get your own money back.  And having been through the process twice now, the process never takes fewer than the quoted 21 days.

I was also surprised that the Ombudsman didn't tell me that they have to cut the card open to get the money out.

Being an activist by nature I made a complaint to the Public Transport Ombudsman.  I had also participated in a series of pointless conversations with the MYKI call centre and was left with the impression that everyone agrees the process is ridiculous, but no one has the will to do anything about it.  Or they've been worn down by the System, the Process, the Bureaucracy and are resigned to a state of being best described as "that's just the way it is".

The Public Transport Ombudsman wrote:

 I am pleased to advise that in the near future, the balance of a myki
 that is replaced due to change in concession will be transferred to the new
 myki card.  As myki is currently under review by the government, I am unable
 to provide a timeframe when this will be in place, but can assure you this
 is a change that is being looked at to be implemented in the near future.

 The reason the previous myki balance is refunded as a cheque is due to
 the process that was initially set up where a replacement for a change of
 concession was processed as a refund.  As advised above, the TTA has
 since realised this is not ideal and hopes to change this in the near future. 

This was written on 10 May 2011.  It's now the middle of November and the near future has not yet been reached.  Indeed, the future looks bleak.  

The Public Transport Ombudsman also advised in July this year when I enquired further:

As it stands the process for a change of concession remains the same as it
was previously.  The TTA recommends if at all possible for you to use up as
much as possible of your remaining balance on your myki card before
undergoing the change in concession, as the balance of your myki card will
be refunded as a cheque.

The TTA sincerely apologises for any inconvenience this may cause.

"TTA" is the Transport Ticketing Authority.

So I followed this advice and was left with an unusable 94 cents on the card.  

As a committed and regular user of public transport, I'm very happy with MYKI - as long as I never have to phone the call centre or use the website to top up the card.  Touching on and touching off happens smoothly and swiftly.  I've never been overcharged.  I always have a ticket.  I can download a statement of my travel and keep track of GST and business related travel which means I can actually claim these costs against my business.  

BUT, the back end processes are wasteful and outdated.  I'll believe that they are committed to harnessing the technology to streamline inefficient processes when I see it.  I'm waiting.

Editted to add:  On looking at my account online, I've discovered that $9.80 was added to my card by the MYKI people so that it could then be deducted as the administrative fee.  That's how they waived the fee!  They DO have the technology.  Why won't they use it? (8:30am 22 November 2011)

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Trains, skateboards and shoppping trolleys

The peace of the small suburban train station late on Sunday afternoon is shattered by the arrival of six teenage boys, all with skateboards and ipods.  About eight of us are strung along the length of the platform enjoying the spring sunshine after yesterday's grey wetness.  The boys are all talking to each other in the boisterous way of boys but the effect is magnified by the fact that they have to compete with the music playing in the heads of the people they are talking to.  The skateboards hit the pavement, clattering as they lift them and then slam them. I shudder as one boy tries to change direction and loses control. He and the board go in opposite directions.  Is there a train coming?  I look away.  I don't want the image of a teenage boy being slammed by a train seared into my memory.  I don't even want the sounds of danger there.

They are oblivious to the fact that they are inches from death.  Careless with their lives and immune from harm, they go ever closer to the edge of the platform, tracing its imperfect edge with the imprecision of the skateboard.

Their tribe is decked out in too new Converse hi-top sneakers, washed out t-shirts large enough to be a dress and drop crotch skinny pants.  Their hair looks like it has been paid much attention with more hairspray in it than I have in mine.

The stories of prams running away from parents who have turned their backs for a split second and ending up under a train go through my mind.  Things with wheels seem to be a dangerous thing to have on a railway platform.

I ponder this on my journey into Flinders Street.

As usual, it's a battle to get off the train.  Today there is a little old lady with an enormous shopping trolley ready to board the train.  Her fragile wrists have the trolley tilted and ready to lever onto the train regardless of passengers attempting to alight.  I ask her - and everyone else - to stand aside and let us off.  She glares, but she does obey and we surge off the train.  For a moment I think she's going to have me and then the logistics get the better of her.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

No unauthorised mail please.

The "no junk mail" sticker on my letterbox went missing a couple of months ago.  I had wondered whether it would really make a difference, as the endless catalogues and advertising flyers are usually dumped in a pile on top of the letterboxes for my apartment block, rather than distributed to individual letterboxes.  Sometimes a rubber band keeps them in the bundle so they can dissolve in a soggy mass while remaining in a manageable pile.  Usually there is no rubber band and the slightest breeze leafs through and blows the pages all over the neighbourhood.

Occasionally smaller leaflets would make their way past the no junk mail sticker into my letterbox.  The usual culprits were real estate agents begging me to list my (rented) apartment with them; local restaurants trying to entice with a copy of their takeaway menu; carpet cleaning offers; business "opportunities" and glossy newsletters from local politicians.  I don't understand why businesses would think you would be likely to use their services when they've ignored your request about junk mail.  On occasion I've also found advertising from Scientology and shocking anti abortion propaganda - you can read about that here.

Without the sticker as a deterrent, the junk mail being delivered to me is now out of control.  Every time I remove the contents of my letterbox, I make a mental note that I must get another sticker.  I didn't know where to get one.  I think the last one was found, ironically, on a table of promotional material for an environmental organisation at an event I attended.  "No junk mail" sticker never made it onto the shopping list, so I just didn't think about it.

Today I was at the post office and on the counter where I was being served was a display of stickers.  I had a choice between the traditional "no junk mail" or "no unauthorised mail".  They were $2 each and a useful impulse buy.  The woman who served me told me that they had been selling like hotcakes today.  Is it the pre Christmas advertising rush that has people buried in a pile of cheap colour printing or the fact that suddenly the stickers are easily available and in a place that jogs the memory?

I lashed out and bought the traditional sticker and will apply it tomorrow, or whenever it stops raining. I thought that the request for no unauthorised mail left too much room for doubt.  I wasn't even totally sure what it meant.

I'd love there to be a penalty for advertisers who ignore the sticker, but it would probably just mean that the distributors would dump their excess elsewhere to become litter.


The capacity of art to move people is one of my constant meditations.

Last night I went to the Malthouse Theatre to see cabaret diva Meow Meow in her latest show, "Little Match Girl".  Cabaret is one of my favourite live art forms mixing song, comedy, drama, politics and poetry.  I'd heard of Meow Meow but had not seen her perform or heard her sing.

Entering the theatre, I was struck by the beauty of the stage set - Celtic tattoos bordering the edges of the thrust stage, coupled with footlights and a huge chandelier glittering above.  Lighting and tricks of light were playfully integrated into the show and used as a way of interacting with the audience.  Simple ideas executed with humour and warmth.

The first glimpse of the star was perfectly cabaret - red glittery dress slit to there, shiny, high red shoes, wild black hair, glittery eye shadow and red lips rumpled on a disgusting looking bed next to a man tied to the bedpost with a stocking.  We discover the man's name is Vladimir.  Of course it is.

And then she sings!  A marvellous voice, rich yet vulnerable, coupled with her instincts for comedy and story telling take us on a wonderful ride for over an hour.

I left the theatre feeling that I may have just seen the perfect show.  I read this morning that the show is different every night.  How lucky was I to be there, last night, for that one!

At the other end of the spectrum, I lay weeping in bed this morning as I read the last twenty pages of Patti Smith's memoir of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe, "Just Kids".

I was reading this book because it was selected by my book group. My heart sank a little when I heard about the selection because I didn't really know anything about Patti Smith and had no particular interest in finding out.  I knew of Robert Mapplethorpe's work, but again, had no particular interest in devoting time to reading about them.  What a wonderful thing book groups are!  Opening you to read things you may otherwise have left or not known about.

This book is a wonderful meditation on friendship, love and art set in the 1960's and '70's in New York City. Supporting cast includes Andy Warhol, Sam Shepherd, Alan Ginsberg, Janice Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, William Burroughs, and the Chelsea Hotel - it's a building, but really, it's a character in the story too.

Even reading the foreword where Patti describes receiving the news that Robert had died from AIDS was deeply emotional.  By the time I'd spent time with them and become attached and fascinated over 200 pages, reading about his end left me crying buckets.  Beautifully and tenderly written with what feels like deep honesty.

The power of art in all its forms to move.  Where would we be without it?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Then it all went black.

When I'm working at home, I like to take a defined lunch break.  One of the things I enjoy doing is eating my lunch over an episode of "Seinfeld".  I have the box set of the complete series.  An episode is a good size to accompany a toasted sandwich and cup of tea.  I can even watch all the extras that go with an episode and be finished within 45 minutes.  Boundaries and discipline are the only way I can make sure I get what I need to do done when I'm working on my own at home.

I loved the show when it was originally on television and have seen random repeats of episodes on TV.  It still makes me laugh even though I know the punchlines.  I can identify with all the characters: Jerry who exists in a world where things generally go right for him; Elaine, the ultra expressive queen bee, who holds her own as the only woman on the "inside"; Kramer with his optimistic acceptance of the way the world is; and George the passive aggressive, mean little opportunistic man who is somehow endearing, perhaps because he represents the dark thoughts that we all have but don't express.  George says what we're all thinking and then goes a little bit further.

Today was no different.  The episode was "The Junior Mint" from  the breakthrough fourth season which provided so many classic episodes.  Kramer and Jerry were watching a live spleenectomy from the public viewing gallery of an operating theatre.  Kramer was approaching the experience as if he was at the movies and pulled out a packet of Junior Mints to munch on.  (Kramer had even asked a date along, but she had cancelled so he asked Jerry to go with him.)  The surgeon was blocking Kramer's view of the action and Kramer was hissing and asking the surgeon to move so Kramer could see what was going on.  If you've seen the episode, you will know what happens next...

I didn't get to see what happens next because my television stopped right before the crucial moment which from memory sees Kramer leaning too far forward to improve his view.  He drops a Junior Mint which lands inside the patient on the operating table.  There was a click, the screen went black and then the on/off switch started to flick on and off, but the screen remained black.  Then there was a horrible electrical smell.  I'm waiting a while, but I suspect it may be D-E-A-D.

My heart sank.  What would I do with no TV?  Then I felt okay.  I think it might be nice to live without a TV for a while.  I'm going to give it a try - at least until the post Christmas sales when it will probably be a good time to get a bargain.  I will see if the TV can be fixed first.  It's twelve years old, so it's possible.

Here's to one less screen in my life.  For the time being.  Kramer and his Junior Mint, will need to wait in suspended animation before they can finish telling their story.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Man on the train (language warning)

The young man was noticeable as he circled the platform.  He had the energy of a fighter - up on his toes, tightly wound, watchful.  Something in his body told the world that he was ready. If he needed to be.

He stood in front of me as the train pulled into the station and didn't budge from his spot, forcing the people getting off to change trajectory.  He said nothing.  It just seemed better to not be in his way.  There was much confusion as people on the train realised that the ultimate destination had changed just as we started to climb on board.  Eventually I made a general announcement to everyone about where I understood the train to be going.  It was more efficient than being asked a dozen times.  It was clear that I had unwittingly been designated as Chief Information Officer for today in keeping with my propensity to be one of those people.  At least the fourth carriage from the front was well informed.

The young man took his seat in a bank of four, immediately stretching out and putting his feet up on the seat opposite.  Although he was slouched as much as a human can slouch, he claimed his space and no one else sat in that bank of four.

The carriage was quiet.  People were reading, playing with their phones, doing the puzzles in the newspaper or listening to their ipods.  Some were staring straight ahead, probably contemplating the day they'd just had or the evening that lay before them.  Into this contemplation the young man dropped his domestic drama as it played out over the phone lines.

"What do you mean the council came around?"
"What do you mean they've fined me?"
"What do you mean they knocked on the window?"
"What do you mean they want to see me?"
"What do you mean when will I be home?  I'll be home soon.  I'll deal with it then."
"What do I have to clean up?"
"Who says?"
"I don't believe you Mum."
"You will not slash my tyres.  I'll slash your tyres.  Then you won't be able to go anywhere."
"Fuckin' council workers.  Cunts.  What do they do anyway? Drive around in cars all day. Maybe I'll slash their tyres."
"I'll be home soon."

I'm sure his mother would be eagerly awaiting his return.

He made another call.

"Hey mate.  Do people from the council fine you if there's mud in your gutter?"
"Mum! She told me they knocked on the window of the house and everything! She's such a liar. She just told me that to get me to clean it up."
"Out the front. Of the house. In the gutter."
"I know. It's shit man."

In the course of the eleven minutes we shared the train carriage, he made six more phone calls and repeated this investigation.  He was obviously unaware of the amplification powers of modern telephonic devices and felt it necessary to shout to be heard.  His mother seemed quite creative in her deceit to get her son to complete a domestic chore, but she also underestimated her son's powers of investigation.

The woman sitting opposite me told me she had encountered him before in the streets of her suburb.  She questioned whether he was "all there".  She said she had seen him pulling roses off bushes in gardens and throwing the petals up in the air as he skipped through their rain.

I tried to picture the man with his pugnacious attitude revelling in the scattered petals.  It was hard to conjure, but I was not prepared to take this image to mean he was somehow mentally deficient.  Perhaps he just liked to stop and smell the roses.

Monday, 14 November 2011


While I was out walking this afternoon, I passed one of the houses I usually pass.  It is an ordinary looking cottage with a tiny front yard.  The verandah is cluttered with ornaments, furniture and potted plants.  Wind chimes hang at regular intervals, their music ringing out in response to the wind.  The front door is painted a vivid, glossy red, in contrast to the pale blue of the rest of the house.

There was a woman in the front yard.  She looked to be about 60 years old and was Asian.  I assume Chinese because of the red front door.  She was in the front yard playing with a yo-yo!  She was grinning wildly as she left the routine of up and down and tried for an around the world loop.

I said hello and she greeted me enthusiastically.

She was well dressed for her afternoon yo-yo work out:  neat tracksuit pants, teamed with coordinated polo shirt, tennis visor and bright white running shoes.  On her face she wore what appeared to be safety glasses, like these but with a lime green frame, instead of the black.

Safety when playing with a yo-yo hadn't been a big consideration for me in the past.  My main focus then had been not suffering punishment for inadvertently breaking the Royal Doulton with a wayward trick when doing the forbidden and playing inside, or being walloped by a sibling's yo-yo when they were doing something crazy, or having the loop on the string too loose and hitting myself in the face when the yo-yo flew off.

As I contemplated these hazards, the 60 year old Chinese woman looked like she had failed to consider deeply enough her safety when dressing for her yo-yo session.  She needed a full face shield, not just safety glasses.  Elbow pads and knee guards would be a good idea too.  They would save her joints when she had to dive to get out of the way of her own yo-yo.  And you never know when someone else could turn up and want to play, but just not be at the same skill level.  I couldn't see if she was wearing a mouth guard, but I think she should.  Teeth are not to be taken for granted and a yo-yo travelling at average velocity and trajectory could leave you looking like someone on the public dental waiting list.  She heard me say hello, so she must not have been wearing ear plugs and she certainly wasn't wearing ear muffs.  The whirring sound of the yo-yo on the string can crank up the decibels.  We need to protect our hearing - once it's gone, it's gone.  Depending on her core strength, I'd also add a hernia belt and some strapping for her ankles.

Lastly, I'd add sunscreen and a full sun hat - a visor just doesn't protect the tops of the ears.

She looked like she was having such fun.  It was lovely to come across her.  But that's when someone will have an eye out and there will be tears before bedtime.  Safety first!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Singing with the nuns.

Yesterday I spent the day in a decommissioned convent with my choir.  Usually we rehearse for about two and a half hours once every fortnight and this six hour block of time was a much anticipated luxury.  We were in a room which had previously been a dormitory in the Abbotsford Covent.  At one end the walls were pink with an area of pink tiling, clearly indicating where the bathroom had once been, marking it out from the institutional green of the rest of the room.

The room was on the first floor, light and airy with wonderful views of the gardens.  We sounded fantastic in this room with its live acoustic.  There was a festive feel as we had all brought food to share for lunch and afternoon tea.  This didn't feel like a rehearsal.  It felt like a party!  The grounds were busy with people breakfasting in the nearby cafes, fortifying themselves for their morning shopping at the nearby farmers' markets. They would have live music to accompany their repast.

From our warm up improvisation, it was clear that this day was going to be a special day for our singing.  We took the word "alleluia" and sang for the nuns who had lived within the walls.

I've written before about some of the bizarre behaviour that can hold choirs hostage, but yesterday there was none of that evident.  Human beings singing together in harmony and unaccompanied is miraculous.  The energy and bonding that occurs with this kind of singing is palpable and invigorating.  There are no stars, yet the whole sound is only possible because every individual is contributing and taking responsibility for their part. It's the ultimate team effort.  Looking around the room at the faces of my fellow singers, I felt deep affection for these people whom I've known for about a year and see a couple of times a month.

Sharing food together for lunch was a fitting thing to do.  We were blessed with a magnificent array of delicious food which had been generously and thoughtfully prepared and we had time to speak to each other.

We learnt four new songs and polished up the rest of our repertoire.  It's amazing what can be done with focus and commitment.

At the end of the day, we headed over to see Handsome Steve for an end  of day drink.  I asked the man behind the bar if he was Handsome Steve.  He met my eyes.  I felt the need to tell him I hoped he didn't mind that I'd had to ask.  It was awkward, so I introduced myself as Beautiful Tanya!

I went home feeling refreshed and joyful.  Those endorphins are powerful things.  If you haven't discovered the wonder of singing in a group regularly what are you waiting for?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Treading the boards.

I've seen some things lately.  Things that fascinate and make me wonder.

The other night I went to a local comedy night with a friend of mine.  We dabble in comedy, talk about comedy, work on writing comedy and improvise comedy.  We've cowritten some comic songs too.  Our conversations are hilarious and when we're together we have a lot of fun.  What a great combination for a comedy night.  We're generous audience members and want success for the people on stage.

I went along knowing nothing except where I had to go and what time I needed to be there.  This is my favourite way to do things.  I like to just turn up and have the experience naively, without thinking about all the things I've read or heard.

The MC for the night was fun and high energy and quite good looking.  He made a good choice for this kind of evening.  The next guy who came on was easy to spot in the crowd (there's no backstage at these kinds of comedy gigs).  He was, er, funny looking.  Funny looking is a great thing to be if you're a comedian.  If you're happy to put yourself completely out there and talk about the obvious, the audience will love you for it.  And we did.  He brought me to tears - laughing tears.

The next act was a guy who stood out while he was waiting - for all the wrong reasons.  He looked unhappy and he didn't look funny.  I don't mean physically.  I think I mean energetically.  He looked as if his mantra was "I'm going to bomb tonight".  You probably don't need to even keep reading to work out what happened.  Firstly, he was dressed like a dodgy accountant or one of those suburban conveyancing solicitors that work out of a space above a shop in a strip of shops in a suburb that will be up-and-coming in about ten years.  His material wasn't that great, but there was some reasonable stuff in there if only he had believed in himself.  He would do his material and before he'd even given us a chance to laugh or think about it, through his body language he told the audience not to laugh.  So we didn't.  He thought he was terrible; so we did too.  I wanted to go up to him afterwards and tell him that if he wasn't expecting himself to be funny, he'd better forget comedy as a career.  Imagine being a comedian saddled with the knowledge that you're not funny!  How far can you go with that? And why would you want to go anywhere with that in your head?

The MC did a magnificent job getting the audience happy again after that guy had finished.

Later in the week I saw another live performance.  Some elements of it were wonderful, but others were terrible.  The most startling thing was the apparent difficulty some of the actors had of walking from one side of the stage to the other. It was a crowd scene on stage and so people had to "mill" and walk around the stage as if it was the town.  I'm sure these people can walk normally in real life.  What happens when people are asked to take two steps across the stage with feeling?  They turn into puppets whose stride follows the "same arm, same leg" pattern - as I call it.  That is, as they step with their left foot they swing their left arm - same on the right side.  Who walks like this?  When has anyone ever walked like this?

In the same show there was a scene with people carrying very heavy sacks and boxes.  Obviously if you're the director of the show, you're not going to actually give people really heavy stuff to carry around the stage. They're going to be given empty suitcases and directed to remember they are carrying their manuscript to their unpublished novel, a typewriter and a bottle of whiskey.  Some people were doing a good job of looking like they were lugging really heavy stuff.  One player in particular was labouring intensely under the weight of his sack.  When he arrived at his spot on the stage he threw the sack down on the ground and it landed with a heavy thud.  No, that's not what happened.  He floated the sack down to the ground where it lightly touched the stage and would have blown away if a strong wind went through the theatre.  Like a tumbleweed.   One of his fellow players was carrying a "very heavy box".  It really looked like the box was heavy, even to the point where he put it down.  Until something else was put on top of it and it sagged!

It's really distracting when people on stage aren't convinced about the reality of themselves being there.  Whether they have the smallest role on the stage or are the lone stand up comic, looking like you're meant to be there is  a great place to start.  Oh, and if you're contemplating doing any work in front of other people, spend time practising walking!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The voices in my head - Coach or Critic?

Lately I've been thinking about the voices in my head and what they say to me.  I think about the voices often; not because I'm crazy but because I'm in dialogue with myself.  We all are.  I say "voices" (plural) because in different situations we might encounter the Critic or the Coach.

The Critic is probably quite familiar.  This is the voice that tells us we've done a bad job even before we've started.  I see people listening to the Critic in their head regularly when I'm working with them to develop communication skills.  The basis of this work is practising new skills often and reflecting and receiving feedback from others in the group.  I've noticed how hard people are on themselves.  When asked what they did well, they will skip over that and jump right to what didn't work - in other words what the Critic has to say.  This Critic has a loud, powerful, persuasive voice.  

How about the Coach?  This is the voice which notices what you do well and encourages you to keep going.  The Coach acknowledges your efforts and supports you to continue to develop.  The voice of the Coach can be much more powerful than the Critic - if only we would listen to it.  In fact, the Coach can silence the Critic - if only we would let it.

And it's not just after we've done something that the voices can be heard.  As we prepare to do something the Critic can already be minimising our chances of success rather than being our own personal cheer squad.

In the communication development work, I'll ask people to think about what their objective or intention is as they approach a particular piece of work.  I'm amazed at how often people will frame their objective using the voice of the Critic rather than the Coach.  They'll say things like "I want to stop...", "I don't want to...", or "I want to not...".  The Critic is immediately recognisable and I will ask people to reframe their intention as a positive statement.  Their responses show just how hard it can be for some people to silence the Critic when they're not aware of it.  I've had people say the same thing again with a smile or repeat the same statement more emphatically.  They often don't know how to state their intention positively until they are shown.  

The Critic can also be sneaky and come out with "I'm going to try to..." or "I hope to...".  The Coach would be definite and say "I am" or "I will".

Imagine if you were working on nerve management and stated your intention as: "I want to stop being nervous and not get jittery and stop my voice shaking."  I believe that your mind will be programmed to a negative set and then you will focus on the key words "nervous", "jittery", "voice shaking".  That Critic isn't very helpful!  

Get the Coach to reframe this and suddenly your intention is: "I will be calm, serene and in control."  What do you focus on when you listen to your Coach?  "Calm", "serene" and "in control".  

The other day I noticed a great opportunity to share my Coach with other people.  I participated in a two day professional development program and at the end of the second day we each had to give feedback to the others in the group.  There were 20 people in the group, so the direction was short and succinct rather than deep and detailed.  I thought of it as a fortune cookie, rather than a paragraph.  As the exercise was explained I listened to my Coach.  My Coach urged me to frame my feedback positively and give people the best possible experience and chance of listening to it.  Here are some examples of feedback I gave:

  • give yourself permission to play
  • share that twinkle in your eye with the wider group
  • trust that others want to know what you think
  • allow yourself to show your emotions
  • use your breath to create a calm centre
As I listened to others' feedback and also received my own, it struck me how often the statements were framed in terms of "stop" or "don't".  I noticed when feedback of this kind was given to me, my Critic wanted to answer!  But when the feedback was framed positively, it was much easier to accept and reflect on.  The Coach was shaking its pompoms and doing a great job as my cheer squad.

I used to struggle with my Critic.  My Critic was pretty sophisticated and would run all kinds of justification for why I should pay attention.  Other people's reactions to me and my choices would reinforce that my Critic was right.  I have worked hard to put the Critic in its box and the voice I most often hear - and therefore listen to - is my Coach.  Thanks to a teacher I have had in my adult life, these behaviours are well instilled and most days my Critic is silent. I have learned that the Critic is at risk of emerging when I'm feeling hurt or vulnerable in some way.  Just when I really need my Coach! Knowing this helps me dismiss the Critic quickly.

Which voice do you tune into? Which voice is louder?   What happens if you consciously silence the Critic for a day and create space for your Coach?  I'd love to know your thoughts and experiences.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The storm is passing over.

A storm is building.  We knew it was coming. The weather bureau, the state emergency service and police have been warning us for the last two days.  It was expected to hit Melbourne during the afternoon's peak travel time, but has not yet arrived.

The last couple of days have been sultry.  Not what we're used to in Melbourne, which usually has heat that is oven dry.  My hair has acquired a halo of frizz which reminds me of life in the tropics.  Fellow travellers on their way home had a sheen of sweat on their faces and a demeanour which was set to ensure they were touched by no other people.  The air had the feeling of being underwater in a heated swimming pool.  As the overcrowded tram pulled up at each stop, waiting passengers showed their frustration and dislike as they faced the prospect of armpits confined to the airless metal tube of the tram.

The wind has picked up and there's a cool breath blowing through.  The light outside the window is eerie.  Straight above my home the sky is blue with a few friendly white billows to one side.  Directly out my front window I can see the storm coming in.  Grey clouds are moving in front of a greenish backdrop and flashes of lightning show through.  There's no thunder yet, but that can't be far off.

At this time of a spring night people are usually out walking dogs, walking themselves, jogging, picking up provisions for the evening meal.  Tonight  my little patch of street is deserted.

The treetops are really moving now and the shrubs at ground level are also blowing about.  I've just caught the first smell of rain on the air.  Thunder is rumbling in the distance now and the light has changed to a brighter, whiter shade.

From my balcony I can see the cranes of the docklands.  They cut the sky in half.  On the left, there is blue sky and a few clouds.  On the right, the black sky and rain has obliterated the usual view of the city skyline.  I shudder with thanks that I am safely home and not travelling through the city on my way home.

The first drops of rain have splashed the windows.  No television tonight.  Instead I'll watch nature's program.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Captain Clean

Looking out my lounge room window, I regularly see one of the women who lives in the apartment block opposite.  She lives upstairs in the front apartment.  The three windows which face me have six blue and white, china ornaments.  They look like ducks wearing bonnets.  The blinds are always closed.  She recently had a new security door fitted.  The difference between the old one and the new is hard to spot from over here.  There was great excitement when it was put in place. The tradesman who installed it looked bemused.

I've never met this woman.  I've seen her many times.  Whenever I see her she is wearing elbow length rubber gloves and carrying a cloth.  She wears beige pants and a variety of pale blue striped polo shirts with runners on her feet.  She has short, blond, permed hair and wears small gold hoops in her ears.

She comes out of her apartment and dusts the outside window ledge. She sweeps the tiny length of cement outside her place, stopping at the invisible boundary of the next apartment.  She picks up the doormat and shakes it over the balcony, then sweeps the cement again.  Then she vigorously wipes her feet on the newly cleaned doormat and goes inside.

A short time later she re-emerges with a spray bottle.  She squirts the windows and then wipes.  She does the same with the front door, then she cleans the wires and lattice of the security door, paying special attention to the door knobs.  She repeats the foot wiping ritual and goes inside.

This time she comes out with a garbage bag.  As she walks along the first floor walkway to the stairs she wipes the handrail.  On arrival at the communal bins she places her rubbish inside and then turns to the bank of letter boxes.  She spends time dusting and wiping.  The bank of letterboxes is under a conifer which sheds sap and needles.  Dusting and wiping here seems futile.

She purposefully strides back up the stairs, wiping the rail on the other side as she goes.  On reaching her apartment she wipes her feet again and then spends about five minutes in this small square area wiping the vertical bars of the balcony.

I wonder about this woman.  Is she a clean freak or does she have something deeper going on?  I've never seen anyone else come or go from her apartment.  Looking over, her place seems to glow and pulsate with cleanliness.  I imagine the interior of the apartment would be austere with no decoration; clean, clear surfaces that suffocate life.  The ducks wearing bonnets in the window seem out of place in such a place.  Music, television, even conversation are never heard leaking from her place.

If she looks over at my place she'll see all the doors and windows flung open.  There may be clean washing piled on the couch waiting to be folded and put away.  She'll see my latest knitting project in progress on the couch, books piled from floor to nearly ceiling, birthday cards on display.

She may be sitting inside writing about the woman who lives opposite her who lives in chaotic disarray.  I can feel her judgement when she looks across.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Colour your world.

Colour is so inspiring.  I just went out for a walk.  It's a beautiful day here in Melbourne.  Have a look at this:

(c) divacultura 2012
Clear blue sky and bright, bright green leaves.  Nature puts blue and green together, so I wonder why someone said that "blue and green should never be seen, unless there's a colour in between"?  I think the colours are glorious together.  In real life, the leaves on these trees are almost fluorescent green.  There's a row of about six of them and they look so alive.

Some of my favourite colour combinations are ones that would generally be thought to clash.  I bought a new umbrella the other day:

(c) divacultura 2012
Pink and red!

I also love pink and orange or red and orange together.  They really make a statement.

My couch is red velvet with purple piping and I have an ottoman which is the reverse - purple with red piping.  Check out the funky geometric red and purple cushion (by Nicola Cerini.

(c) divacultura 2012

This ottoman was a 30th birthday present from my friends.  It's not quite vintage yet.

(c) divacultura 2012

The socks I'm knitting at the moment are skinny stripes of purple and turquoise.
(c) divacultura 2012

There's so much colour in the world and I love to have it in my house and wardrobe.  The other day I wore a purple dress with orange sandals and was paid compliments all day on the joyful colour combination!  I just put it on because it was clean and ready to wear.  It was so lovely to have the colours noticed.

When asked whether particular colours would go together, my mother would always respond by saying "if you put it, it goes".  I guess I have taken that advice completely to heart.  I put colours together all the time without fear.  They go!

I've often wondered why certain colours are appealing to one person and not to another.  My aversion to yellow is well known but I know many people love the "sunniness" and cheerfulness of yellow.  I look at yellow and the word that comes to mind is "rancid".  I can not wear yellow - it makes me look like an 87 year old Greek widow or someone with a very bad case of jaundice.  Perhaps that is why I don't like it.

How do you colour your world?  What colours or combinations make you feel happy?  What's your "yellow"?

We made it!

Just a quick post to let you know that we just reached our $500 fundraising goal!  As I wrote yesterday the money is needed to send fifteen handmade blankets to support women who are patients at the fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Thank you so much for your generosity and helping us reach our goal so quickly.

Edited to add: I've just heard from our coordinator - any extra funds raised will be donated directly to the hospital.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

I need your help.

Back in August I shared with you my contribution to supporting the work of the fistula hospital in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in my post 4 inches of love.

I thrilled to let you know that the Stitches for Sisters group has 15 blankets ready to send to Ethiopia.  Each blanket comprises 150 knitted or crocheted squares.  The squares have been made by women all over the world and sent to our enthusiastic coordinator in NSW.  From there they have been distributed for the squares to be stitched together and made into gorgeous, functional blankets.

Sending the blankets to Ethiopia will cost around $500 and I'm asking everyone I know to help make sure these wonderful blankets reach their destination.  After women recover from surgery to repair their fistula they walk back to their homes and are each given a new dress and one of these blankets which is also worn as a shawl.

Our coordinator has set up a fundraising page on the Pozible website.  This site enables crowd funding for creative projects.  We have 30 days to reach our $500 target and pledges are only acted upon when we reach $500.  Your pledge and donation would be much appreciated.  Lots of small contributions will help us make sure our work benefits these women.

If you do decide to support us please post a comment back here on divacultura and I will match your pledges up to $100.

There's a short film about the work of the hospital here.

If you're on facebook you can visit Stitches for Sisters here.

If you're on Ravelry the Stitches for Sisters forum can be found here.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Fifteen minute sound bath.

Silence.  I tune into this silence.  

Right now I can hear the click of the keys on the computer as I type.  The fan of the laptop whirring.  There's a bird, a cheerful little chap chattering away.  The bang of a door in a nearby apartment.  A car door just shut.  A car drives by on the street outside and the engine of the fridge starts humming.  The fridge makes layers of sound - there's a clicking sound and then something that sounds like a frog in a drainpipe after rain.  A tap drips.  Once.  An aircraft flies in the distance - it sounds like a small one, perhaps a helicopter - it's flying closer now.  More birds have joined the conversation. The fridge has lulled.  It is a helicopter and it's hovering nearby. Coming closer now.  Another car door closes outside.  The fridge is playing a different tune now.  A hum which fills the space.  A car - the same car? - drives off.  The chair on which I'm sitting creaks as I change position.  My feet make a squelching sound as I move them on the lino of the kitchen floor.  The fridge stops just as bottles are tossed into the bins outside.  Nothing but the click of the computer keys and the whirr of the fan.  Another small plane approaches from behind me.  The fridge belches. I get up.  The chair scrapes on the floor, bare feet on lino and I hear the sigh of the seal on the fridge as I open the door.  Gas escapes as I open a bottle of mineral water and there's the happy sound of fizz and bubbles and the ascending scale of liquid being poured.  I can hear the spark of the carbonated bubbles popping, first in the glass and then in my head.  I hear myself swallow.  A car drives up the driveway.  Coming in, I think.  I've just become conscious of my breath.  I can hear it now and it makes me yawn.  A car drives on a street a little way away.  Distant laughter.  A dog barks and a child whines.  The lid of a garbage can clanks.  My nails click on the formica table top as I put my glass back down.  The bangle on my left wrist occasionally bangs against the table.  Someone else's telephone rings.  The mineral water makes me burp and my stomach gurgles.  The aircraft is on approach again and the fridge chimes in on queue, this time with a percussion section. A cheerful car horn announces someone's arrival, somewhere, to someone.  

There's a lot of noise in fifteen minutes of silence.

Friday, 4 November 2011

How's your Russian?

There's tension in the air today.  None of it at my place.  My place is an oasis of calm.  Except when I have to speak to a call centre.  There's also beauty and creativity. And aromatherapy -  I've loaded my diffuser with a "focus" blend and Bach is pumping out of the stereo.  I ventured out.  I had some errands to run and decided to get them done in the morning.

Things were calm enough on the way in.  The usual round up of strange, ordinary people going about their strange, ordinary lives.  The tension started to build when I tried to get off the train at Flinders Street.  There was a large number of people trying to get off and a large number of people trying to get on.  For a few seconds there was a Mexican standoff as the people trying to get on formed a solid wall facing the doors.  Then one of us on the inside made a break for it. She made her way out of the train and then stopped. Standing, thinking about which way to go, oblivious to there being anyone else in the world.

I snaked my way across the crowded platform.  It quickly became clear that I was having one of my invisible days.  People were walking into me, standing in front of me, stopping suddenly in front of me, cutting across my path.  If we were driving cars it would have been a pile up.

This would be a fleeting, purposeful visit to the city.  In and out.  If I was invisible today then no one would even know that I'd been there.

I waited to cross the street at traffic lights and saw a man driving a white van.  He was two cars behind the front of the queue to cross the intersection when the light went red.  From where I was standing I could see that he was in a hurry.  Frustration showed on his face and he hit the horn as the car in front obeyed the red light and stopped.  He sat shaking his head; his jaw tense and his eyes blazing.  I made a note to stay out of his way.

Back onto the train and I found myself in the relative peace of a middle-of-a-week-day train carriage.  About a dozen people sat by themselves in their very own bank of seats, reading, listenening to their ipods or playing with their phones.  The peace was shattered by the arrival of a bustling, fluster of a woman.  She rushed in and sat heavily, arranging her bags and sighing loudly as she did so.  Having arranged her bags she then started fussing and rustling in one of them until she found a tiny scrap of paper.  Satisfied, she then turned to another bag and revealed her mobile phone.  I sighed then.

She rang the number written on the tiny scrap of paper, hunched over and watchful.  Someone answered and she started to whisper-shout, highly agitated and in Russian.  Russian sounds great when it's whisper-shouted by a highly agitated woman in an otherwise quiet enclosed space. It sounds like you would need to do whatever she tells you.  To speak into the phone she moved it away from her ear and held it in front of her face.  She would then move the phone back to her ear.  When this became too much effort to co-ordinate, she put the phone on speaker.  Now we could all hear both sides of the highly agitated, whisper-shouted Russian conversation with a male voice.

I'm not fluent in Russian.  My vocabulary is like that of John Cleese's character in the film "A fish called Wanda" and consists of the following words: "vodka", "nyet", "da", "pravda" and "borscht" so I struggled to follow the conversation.  As I looked at the agitated woman wearing a red cable-knit cardigan over her flesh coloured t-shirt and black knickerbockers I wondered what conflict she was in.  Was she due to make a payment to her drug dealer, but the multi-million dollar cleaning deal had failed to come off and she was begging for more time?  Had her daughter ended up as a white sex slave and she was organising a hit squad to rescue her.

A second voice came on the phone.  A younger woman.  Knickerbocker woman was rubbing her forehead.  Things were not going according to the plan.  The Asian woman sitting directly in front her kept turning to look at her.  As if merely glaring at someone whisper-shouting in a dangerous, high-stakes situation would stop them talking!  The young guy sitting behind her caught my eye and smiled - he and I were both wondering what was going on.

As I left the train, I decided that the situation was more mundane.  She had a big family gathering to cook for on the weekend and she had not been able to source enough beetroots for the borscht.  Or else her idiot son whom she had stupidly allowed to convince her he should be in charge of the shopping had misread the shopping list and bought eggplant instead of beetroot.  What was she going to do with all that eggplant?

I was relieved to step out into the beautiful day. Away from all the other tense people in the world. Perhaps I'd have a shot of vodka at cocktail hour.