Saturday, June 26, 2010

PLAYING CAN BE MORE THAN JUST FUN




Wednesday nights here in Poatina village, our population of around 130 can be seen wandering the streets heading in all directions to somebody’s place for dinner. Ten households are hosts for the night, everyone brings food to share, and for a couple of hours you get a chance to catch up with each other in an informal atmosphere.

Even in a small village like this where no one is a stranger, it is still easy enough to go through your daily routines without really getting to know your workmates, neighbours or those around the corner. Community doesn’t just happen, and as the whole purpose of this village is to provide a safe place where marginalised young people can come to start over, it is sometimes helpful to structure things which facilitate the building of a sense of community.

Last week I headed off into the rainy night with my fried rice, this week I was a host, and greeted my group after going flat out for an hour and a half whipping up herbed potatoes, garlic bread, a pasta dish, yet another fried rice, and blackberry and apple self saucing pudding. I tend to go a bit overboard when I host, but I love the Wednesday night meal to be something of a celebratory feast.

Most of the time we just chatter away, though there is a conversation topic offered if needed, but this week’s suggestion was to play a game. I’m not good at organising such things, so dragged out the Lego, the one and only thing besides books which I kept from the stash of toys my boys once had. There were only two kids in our group, but you should’ve seen the adults get into it.

We decided to collaborate our individual efforts and make a village, ending up with a playground, airport, and outdoor drive-in theatre among other things, structures every small village obviously needs. Interesting how simply having a bit of fun together can change the way you see those you might normally just pass in the street and say hello to.

Through casual chatter you discover a little more of who these people are that share your part of the world, and what could seem like an imposition in terms of structure, actually serves the community by bringing people together who might not normally seek each other’s company. We have the luxury of a small village in which to do it, but it’s certainly not beyond replicating in any suburb, high rise or inner city community.

Like dragging out a game from the cupboard, it can feel like a bit of an effort at times, but in hindsight the benefits go beyond simply the activity itself, and at their best become a lasting investment in each other’s lives.

Go on, make the effort.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

HARPING ON AT "HIGH TEA"

My friends Bev and Cheryl and I went out today to “play ladies” for Cheryl’s belated birthday outing at Fitzpatrick’s Inn in Westbury. Not just your ordinary afternoon tea for a latte and caramel slice, but “High Tea” no less. Sounds very sophisticated, and when I saw the dining room decked out in its starched white linen tablecloths and fine china in a multitude of floral designs I wondered whether I should’ve dressed up a little more for the occasion, and if it was necessary to lift your little finger while sipping from the pretty china cups.

No need to worry, all was very low key. Besides Fitzpatrick’s Inn being a B&B and regular lunch and dinner venue, High Tea is a monthly event which offers not only delicious fare but the added treat of local harpist Joanne Michelson. Some book into High Tea for the chance to catch up with friends or celebrate special occasions and enjoy the music, whereas others come mainly to listen to Joanne and enjoy the afternoon tea as a bonus.

Weaving their way between the tables, our hosts delivered finger sandwiches fit for a Queen’s garden party (minus the cucumber), mini quiches, frittatas and other savoury delicacies, traditional scones with jam and cream, a mini melt in your mouth lemon meringue pie to die for, meringues like they’re supposed to be made, cupcakes topped with cream, shortbread topped with hazelnut chocolate and orange, and the list goes on. Sounds like a sugar overload, but with a glass of red or white or bubbly, and done leisurely over two hours with constant chatter and the delivery of tea via silver service to keep us topped up, it was a very pleasurable interlude from the normal routine.

Harpist Joanne Michelson told us a little of her story and it was amazing to hear she has only been playing the harp for little more than five years. Made from walnut and with beautiful decal detailing, Joanne’s new harp from France made its first appearance at Fitzpatrick’s. Though a large and cumbersome instrument which Joanne transports around on a trolley, the sound it produces is so sweet and soothing, haunting and relaxing, that if you closed your eyes it was not hard to imagine you might have been in the Inn in mediaeval times. From the traditional Greensleeves on harp to Danny Boy on pan flute, Joanne entertained us the whole time, a perfect accompaniment to an enjoyable afternoon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

LAMENTING "THE LADDER"

Well, I thought by halfway through the AFL footy season I might have regained some of last year’s skilful insights to arrest my quickening descent down the tipping ladder. But no, 12 rounds have now been completed and I seem to slip a further few thousand places each week, relegating me to my current position of 62,950 with a score of 59.

Pete, on 66 who leads our local tipping comp with 17 participants, is in 3,856th position on the official AFL tipping comp, and my son Kris who is on 67 and equal first in his school’s staff comp, is sitting in 2,919th position on the AFL site. Very impressive you guys.

We’re all a bit behind the leader on the AFL site who has 75, but positions chop and change every week, and the fact the teams keep insisting on playing unpredictably isn’t exactly helping.

Have submitted my efforts for this weekend, will probably end up regretting my choices, we’re all very wise in hindsight. As ever, go Doggies. Woof.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

SHOWERING WITH CHARLOTTE......AND OTHER INTERESTING VISITORS

Wiping the water out of my eyes in the shower recently, there she was, right in front of me. I say she, otherwise Charlotte would hardly be a fitting name, but suspended on a thin wisp of web right in front of my face was a Daddy long leg spider. So, I guess it could’ve been a Mummy long leg spider, not sure why we always refer to them in the masculine, but there she was, just checking me out I suppose in case I meant to take over her territory.

There are only two places I don’t wear my prescription glasses, in bed and in the shower, so to have even recognised the fact I was being perved at in my altogether by the skinniest of arachnids was quite an achievement. Now, if you’ve been following my ramblings over the past few months with any sort of regularity you’ll know I’ve had more than a few run ins with members of the creepy crawly kingdom (Dec 20, Jan 23, Jan 31, Feb 7, March 14).

Seeing as I was visiting elsewhere at the time, I thought I’d leave Charlotte to the owners to either dispose of or leave in peace, but it reminded me yet again that the contract put out on me earlier in the year was still active. My run ins with Huntsman spiders was becoming so regular I didn’t even report the one from a couple of months ago, a carbon copy of my January ordeal, where I glanced to the right while driving to find yet another hairy beast staring back at me on the driver’s side window. A double take confirmed it was on the outside which was in my favour, but having to negotiate bumper to bumper traffic and a right hand turn at the traffic lights while trying to track his progress was somewhat distracting to say the least. Succeeded in pulling over as he sped across the windscreen, whereupon I leapt out, raced around to the passenger side where he was lurking, whipped off my shoe and managed to whack him off the car. Very relieved as I wasn’t looking forward to another drive where I had visions of a crawling sensation up my leg or some such horror.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the wood heap can always be relied upon to produce a visitor now and again. Mostly, little sun lizards run in and out of the logs, which is fine by me, them I like, but the other day a scorpion greeted me as I picked up the next log off the back porch. Typical standoff. I stared at him, he stared at me, I made a move, he twitched his tail, ready to strike. Hmm, what to do. Sweep him off the porch? Take him down the back yard? Squooshed him instead.

So, I guess the contract still stands.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

PARENTS ARE PEOPLE TOO!



My Mum and Dad, Percy and Doris Penford in one of their many gardens



Writing about a period in Christina Booth’s family’s experience the other day caused me to reflect on my own, and for most of us the stories which enrich our family history are so easily lost. It seems that only as we get older do we see our parents and grandparents and those even further back as individuals with their own dreams and passions and goals for their lives. Programs like Who do you think you are? where celebrities delve into their family trees to discover all manner of previously unknown details highlight just how little we know about our forebears.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, Mum and Dad were simply Mum and Dad. While I was busy getting on with what I wanted to do, and trying to work out who I was and where I fitted in the vast scheme of things, I probably gave little thought to what my parents might have wanted out of life and whether or not they felt they were on the right track to achieve that.

To discover late in my mother’s life that as a nursing volunteer in the early years of World War 2 she would hop on her pushbike as soon as the air raid sirens went off and pedal like fury to the local hospital to start work, made me see her in a whole new light and admire her for her courage. And the fact that pushing ninety she could still remember word for word great long poems she had learned as a girl in school, made me realise there was more to her than simply the person I knew. She was ‘somebody’ before I came along, but like many women of her generation her own needs were relegated to the back burner while the business of being a mother and caring for the home and family became her central role.

And what about Dad. A true Englishman, and conservative to boot, he was always particular about how he presented himself, never venturing out unless he was fully kitted out with pressed pants, shirt and tie, waistcoat and jacket, and dapper hat to top it all off. But being a garden lover he could get down and dirty too, and lovingly coaxed whatever patch of dirt he called home to produce a prolific array of colour. We were always working class, and I wonder if the brightness he liked to create was a way of compensating for the mundane everyday routines.

Because of their conservative nature, one of the things which amazed me most was their decision to leave England and migrate to Australia early in 1961. Of course, a lot of other Poms were doing it too, but here they were, almost fifty years old and with three kids, a time of life most of us wouldn’t contemplate such a huge move. Uprooting themselves, leaving everything familiar behind and heading half way round the world to forge a whole new life for the family at their age took some guts. For them, it was supposedly an opportunity for a brighter future for the whole family, but for me the trip itself was a right royal adventure.

Five weeks on an ocean liner, stopping off at foreign ports which felt exotic and exciting, spending the days exploring the ship with my brother, and finally landing in a new country to be housed temporarily in army huts until Dad could find work and we could find our own accommodation. Like living in a permanent caravan park, but with everybody eating together in a huge mess hall, there wasn’t exactly much privacy. More than a few interesting stories could come out of that period of my family’s life. Temporary became 18 months until we finally moved into a modest rented suburban house in Melbourne.

My parents are now gone, and sadly I wonder how well I really knew them. It’s one thing to reconstruct a family tree, to compile who married who and when and who their children were and work backwards to see just how many people are part of the fabric of who we have become. What’s missing though are the stories that family tree represents, the lives behind the names and dates, the rich inheritance waiting there to be uncovered. Old photo albums hold a wealth of information, but too often really only have significance to those who were there at the time.

So, it’s prompted me to begin an autobiography of sorts, not a boring tome to be shelved and never read, but the story of my life in little snippets, complete with photos, so my grandchildren, and even my children who know me but don’t know everything about me, can discover something of what makes this old girl tick. Could take a while.

Monday, June 7, 2010

DANCING TO POTATO MUSIC

Christina Booth (R) celebrating the music







Who would’ve thought the simple question of “how come we have a piano stool but no piano?” asked many years ago would one day become Christina Booth’s latest children’s book Potato Music. I had the pleasure of being at the launch last Friday of this poignant new story from the Launceston based children’s author and illustrator. Stories Bookshop hosted the event, a wonderful venue if you ever want your children to develop a love for books.

Beginning as an illustrator, writing her own stories came later, and like most authors, Christina’s stories are based on her life experiences or events and situations from which she can draw ideas. Potato Music however is the first one in which she has delved into her own family history to reveal what was a disturbing time for her grandparents during World War 2 in Europe. The piano was at the centre of the family’s enjoyment, where singing and dancing were part and parcel of their daily lives. To have to sacrifice the piano as the war dragged on would have been a wrenching decision, but to trade it for two sacks of potatoes to feed the family became a necessity.

The story brings out the importance of family, love and integrity in the face of fear and oppression, deprivation and starvation. Keeping the family spirit alive, keeping the music alive despite the absence of the piano, was what warmed their souls and kept them going, values which are relevant no matter what circumstances we face.

So why am I singing Christina’s praises? She was the tutor for the Writing and Illustrating Children’s books course I did a few weeks ago, so there was no way I was going to miss the big launch. Michelle O’Byrne did the honours, even getting up to dance as the piano beat out some lively tunes as people chatted, munched potato wedges and queued for their signed copies.

Check out Christina’s website www.christinabooth.com for more information and other titles, including Kip which has been shortlisted for this year’s Book of the Year – Early Childhood.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

THE IBOYS......FAR FROM INVISIBLE

Kris, Daniel and Ben - Invisible Boy





There are moments in history when we remember exactly where we were when either tragedies, victories, catastrophes or celebrations make headlines around the world and are flashed across our TV screens. Like the landing on the moon, winning the America’s Cup, Princess Diana’s death, Nelson Mandela’s release, Cyclone Tracy, the 9/11 terrorist attack, the Boxing Day tsunami, and the list goes on. For each of us there is a memory, an image, an emotion that is triggered by these events.

For Daniel Townsend, one such event was President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech. There he was, sitting in his PJs (Daniel that is) across the table from his daughter Willow eating her breakfast, listening to easily the most presidential oration to come out of the US in many a long year. The sense of hope he felt as the incoming president shared his dream for the future of the American people, his country and its place in the world instigated the creative process which resulted in Such a Time as This, the title track from acoustic band Invisible Boy’s latest EP.

What began for Daniel as an idea ten years ago from to-ing and fro-ing at social gatherings where people got together but never really ‘got together’, has evolved into the present day incarnation of Invisible Boy’s ‘Living Room’ gigs. Besides regular pub gigs, the Launceston based band have recently returned from a successful and eventful Living Room tour of Melbourne and Adelaide, and are now regularly receiving requests for their unique style of performance in lounge rooms of every size and shape around the State as well as other small venues, plus events supporting such charities as Oxfam and Make Poverty History.

You might get a buzz from attending a concert of one of the planet’s supposed megastars who have fans by the millions and dollars to match. The last time I managed one was U2 back in ’89 when BB King toured with them, a great night, but attending an Invisible Boy Living Room gig last night, at the bass player’s place actually, it became obvious why they have such a loyal support base.

They are not just performers. They don’t just get up there, sing their songs and expect accolades. Sharing the stories behind the songs brings home the issues and emotional ups and downs we all deal with on a daily basis, recognizing we’re not struggling along in isolation, that we’re not alone in the universe, nor are we the centre of it. Immersing yourself in the music and the lyrics which resonate with powerful integrity along with a small bunch of people who have chosen to share the experience, breeds a palpable intimacy.

Having metamorphosed from a fivesome to a foursome and the current threesome of Daniel Townsend and Ben McKinnon on vocals and guitars, Kris Adams on bass guitar, and accompanied by others at times depending on the occasion, they have an infectious rapport and humour with each other and their audience which instantly relaxes you and draws you in. The fact they don’t just up and leave at the end, but sit around half way through the evening and participate in sharing some good grub and stimulating conversation, adds to the enjoyment of the whole night. With seeming ease, they create a sense of community where you are left believing there is yet still hope for this planet we all inhabit, and that there is the capacity within us all to connect and care for the lonely and isolated ones we often choose to ignore.

Check out their website www.invisibleboy.com.au for upcoming events, blog entries, YouTube postings and suchlike. Well worth the visit.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

TIME IS TICKING, TICKING..........INTO THE FUTURE


How did the little bloke get to be a year old so quickly? I have this theory about time, how the older you get the faster it goes. I mean, for my little grandson who turned 1 today, one year is 100% of his life, whereas for me who is pushing sixty in a few months, one year is only a sixtieth of my life span, an infinitely smaller percentage.

So, as the years increase the fraction of your life for each year that passes decreases correspondingly, culminating in those moments like when Christmas decorations appear in the supermarket you stare and think “didn’t we just have Christmas?” or when tax time rolls around it feels like we’ve only just completed last year’s return. I guess for many that could be true anyway, but it feels increasingly like the years are passing in a blur, and if you don’t take a breath and stop to take notice, life can easily pass you by and you miss those special moments which can become lifetime memories.

So, with camera in hand and sporting a Thomas the Tank Engine party hat I delved into Zandar’s initiation into the birthday ritual, and like all typical one year olds he took more interest in the packaging and balloons than he did in his presents. Mum and big sister Bella were very keen on getting the Thomas ride on train so he had something to zoom around the house on, but his Dad won out and went for the more butch all terrain vehicle. He reckons the girls can choose the girly stuff, but now that Zandar’s getting bigger he wants to have a say in choosing the fun blokey stuff. No sex role typecasting round here, not half, but being a little bloke the fascination with anything involving wheels seems to be inbred and can’t be denied.

Birthdays come and go, and we tend to give them less recognition as we get older, probably as an act of denial as to how fast the years are flying by, but to be remembered and affirmed and recognized as a special individual is a gift in itself. Making the effort to do those little things which reaffirms that more often than simply on birthdays is an added bonus and can be a real blessing, both for the giver, and the receiver.