Monday, 30 November 2009

That Ordinary House 14 Secrets

For continuity purposes you'll need to go back to June 2009 for episodes 11, 12, 13 of 'This Ordinary House' - the story of a simple abode and the tale of two sons selling the family home.

14 Secrets

Standing there with my brother and two strangers felt odd. The room was empty. I was sure the four of us were seeing different things. There was no point in describing the once present furniture to the invaders. They were already filling it with new items, removing the Venetian blinds, repainting the walls in colours more a part of their world than that of my parents.

All I could see and smell was my childhood and the musky smell of my mother’s foundation. The secrets were safe. Safe with my mother and father, taken to the grave, converted to ashes. I could only guess.

And yet. I was still curious. I suspected that there were aspects of my family and my parents’ lives that I had no knowledge of. Conversations I had never been privy to. Tensions I had been protected from. Stories never shared.

To my friends our family was near perfect. A handsome caring and loyal husband married to a devoted wife. A family which was discrete but not secretive, open but not carelessly so, friendly without desperation. To my mother, especially, family was all important. For her family, there were no limits to her love. Friendships were, however, restrained. There was a reserve in her level of commitment; in the level of trust she invested in friends.

My father on the other hand was naturally gregarious. His great skill was his ability to listen. He drew people to him, both men and women. He was quiet, calm, focused and charming. A charming extroverted man married to a family focused and, at some level, shy woman. I suspected that here lay the germs of a secret life. Here lay the tension. My forensic tendencies scanned their fifty years of married life for clues.

My mother did not trust other women. What was that about I wondered? The mother of two boys, she was the lone woman in her household. Strangely, she had embraced the arrival of the young women her sons brought home as they grew older.. These young women were girls who had been educated through the prism of the feminism of the 60s and 70s. Family gatherings were joyful plain-sailing events until the topic of women’s rights was raised - as it was at every gathering through the 70s.

It was in these conversations that my mother’s inner life leaked through. She was of another generation, one which valued traditional values, where roles were clearly defined; where everyone knew their place; where women supported their husbands, no questions asked. The daughters in law to be, challenged her long held stable view of the world.

It was not that she resented their choices – to live in de facto relationships with her sons, to want to be mothers and have careers; she delighted in that. There was something deeper that she had never come to terms with. It gnawed at her.

She did not trust her own gender. There was reason for her to suspect other women’s motives. Her husband was unusually handsome; her husband was charming. And being my father’s son I recognised myself in him. My father was a flirt. But he was blameless. It was the women who were not to be trusted.

There were clues. There was the episode in my teenage years when the wife of one of my father’s work colleagues made certain claims about his relationship with her. This was the only time this secret part of their lives played out in my presence.
The scars on the cream enamel of the Kelvinator bore testament to this explosive episode.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

That Ordinary House

It's been a long time but I'm going back to see how those brothers are faring in selling the family home. Last time I was there we were in the main bedroom and my head was spinning with flashbacks spanning fifty years of history from that Secret Room.

Big Fish, Big Ocean, Big Julian Pepperell

Julian Pepperell (Jules/Big Julie/Jaws/Big Fish) is in print. Again.
His new Book is Fishes of the Open Ocean. 266 pages of magnificent colour illustrations, scholarly information about hundreds of BIG Fish (accessible to the average joe/jill or non game fisherman/person - its exhausting being politically correct). It's coffee table size and ten years in the making - about how long it would take me to make a coffee table.

What's in it? Fish. Big fish of the game fishing type and of the predatory type. My daughter particularly enjoyed the shark section. Jess is 27 and has a fascination with the idea of swimming with the big ones one day. For mine I am convinced I could walk on water if ever i find myself in the same ocean as a man eater. Man eater - it's not a subtle tag.

The shark section is one of seven in the book. I thought I'd share a couple of thoughts about them rather than do the whole book.
1. There are lots of them
2. Many of them have very big teeth, jaws, appetites
3. They have cute names which are a dead (did I say DEAD?) giveaway to their personality types Tiger, Thresher, Hammerhead, Bull, Cookiecutter
4. Some prefer to keep a low profile with names like Silk, Salmon, Blue, Dusky, Basking Shark.
5. The largest (Whale Shark) is a filter feeding shark which gives me some hope. I'm looking to be part of what gets filtered out.
6. Many are threatened as they are slow to mature and thus breed and are victims of long line fishing and other by-catch processes of the large industrial fishing industry.

The one which unnerves me the most is the Bull Shark. It is one of the three most dangerous fish on the planet says Julian and it frequents rivers and estuaries.
As I sail on the Brisbane River (so does my daughter) and they have been sighted (and had a nibble on people) as far upstream as Ipswich (probably 40 km from the mouth) I am always a litt;le nervous on Saturdays. Moreover, visibility in the Brisbane River is about 20 cm on a good day so there is no way of having any warning of their presence. Perhaps this explains why the sailors of the South Brisbane Sailing Club are renowned for their ability to right their crafts in record time following a capsize.

Julian gives some comfort to victims and potential victims by saying: 'its attacks on humans are thought to be random and accidental' . Reassuring!

So if you're into Sharks, Rays, Billfish, Tuna, Mackeral etc etc this is the book for you. It's beautiful and a beauty.

I highly recommend it.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Wry Cooder

Wry Cooder. Who is Wry Cooder? Sadly I have had to clumsily explain to a number of people old enough to be my children who this Ry Cooder dude is.

So I went to a concert on Saturday night where a man in his prime spent an hour and forty five minutes visiting his back catalogue of never-were hit songs. This man who plays slide guitar like no one else; a man who leaves out so many notes it's like a meditation on the unspoken, the invisible, the insubstantial; a man who plays his guitar much better than he communicates in the spoken form - shut up Ry and just play.

How do you explain to people who were't born in the 70s, the significance of a musician who never had a hit; who is better known for his collaborations with Cuban musicians and African guitar maestros like Ali Farka Toure (love saying that name); thirty somethings who haven't heard of the Buena Vista Social Club and for whom Cuba only conjures up images of over proof rum, Bill Clinton's unusual habits with cigars and, well, it's part of America isn't it? ; who've never heard of Castro or the Cuban missile crisis or perhaps even JFK; who ask where Paris Texas is, assuming I've become very confused about my geography.

Am I getting old?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Chipbark Fashion Bravery

Sunday. Carted 20 barrow loads of chipbark from the front yard to the back yard this morning. The two year front fence project is almost complete. The neighbours were starting to talk. One has even moved to a new suburb. I can't be sure it's because of our footpath chaos but my guilt feeds my paranoia. I have now created 20 new opportunities for the local brush turkeys to destroy my backyard.

Celebrated by visiting GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) to see the 20 year retrospective of the Easton - Pearson fashion design collaboration (still going strong). Wow, have they had a great time? 20 years of dreaming up fantastic designs and watching them be created in India, China, Brisbane... Yes they still manufacture some of their pieces in their home town. While there was lots of stuff I couldn't relate to I was impressed with their bravery. They just take their ideas and go for it. Andrea loved it and drew my attention to the two early Easton/Pearson pieces she has - News to me! I drew her attention to the fact that Lydia Pearson swims her Saturday laps in the lane next to me at the local pool. One all. click on image above for link.

Confidence and bravery. Two great characteristics for anyone to embrace.
I am pussyfooting around about working less at my Council job and giving myself more time to do other things. Like writing, photography, having coffee, going to galleries. What's holding me back? Fear of the unknown. Loss of connection with people and work I love?

On the other hand what would a brave decision deliver me. The next phase in my pattern of reinvention. By my calculations my working life has been a series of seven year adventures - 1. Uni and Canberra Public Servant - Bureau of Census and Stats (1967 - 1973)(Luckily I failed a year at Uni otherwise the pattern would have been ruined from the outset) 2. Teaching primary school (1974 - 1980) 3. Working in Community Theatre companies (1981-1987) 4. Teaching drama at tertiary level (1988 - 1994) 5. Community Arts Worker with Brisbane City Council (1995 - 2001) 6. Team Leader of Councils Youth Team (2002 - 2009). Hmmm overstayed my last one by a year. Is there a message in that?

PS I got an email from a young man I taught in 1980/81 at Ascot State School - my last year of teaching before running away to join the circus. He'sd heard me on Life Matters. He remembered the year as one of his fondest. We did lots of arty stuff. He has gone on to be a professional musician, one half of the jazz duo Stringmansassy, for those who know the Brisbane music scene. He's now teaching music in Bathurst. Teaching, its a great career. One learns so much about people and communication. And sometimes you make a difference. click on image for link

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Life Matters

Welcome. Old and new visitors. I had the opportunity of speaking to Richard Aide on the Life Matters program on ABC Radio on Tuesday.

I was their "Meet the Listener" guest for this week. It's a great concept. Everyone has a story to tell and by profiling ordinary listeners they unearth the hidden stories of people's lives which are every bit as rich and often more authentic in their simplicity than the celebrity list that gets done to death.

And thus here we are on my blog: "My Missing Life'. Quite apt really as the inspiration for this blog has been to capture simple stories from the present and the past and tell them in a story format rather than as a journal.

Why? I like writing and it's a challenge to take an ordinary memory or incident and try to capture its essence. I reckon sometimes I do it well and other times I miss the mark. But that's the risk and the excitement. When it works its mesmerising and surprising and even when it doesn't I learn something. So what might you find on this blog?

Family stories -
1. "Journey" (March - June 2009) - The amusing and touching tale of taking my father's ashes back to his home village as the final homage to a simple man.

2. "That Ordinary House" (December 2008 - February 2009) - the saga of my brother and my attempt to sell our family home which unearthed a pile of poignant and funny stories associated with that tiny two bedroom war-service home in the suburbs of Brisbane. (More rooms yet to explore)

Travel stories -
Two stories from a recent trip to the Kimberley in Western Australia.
1. "Hummer Envy" (July/August 2009) - the tale of four people in a black Hummer travelling the dusty roads of NW Australia in anything but anonymity.

2. "Kimberley" (August to October 2009) - lost luggage; camp stretchers that don't fit into tents, camping gear that doesn't fit into hire cars, and bold faced bullshit artists.

Two stories from a trip to Europe last year.
1. "Haircut from Hell" (November 2008) - my attempt to connect with the locals at a hair dressing salon in a remote French village in Brittany.

2. "Beware of Breeding Swans" (October 2008) - a hapless swimmers story. The men's bathing pond on Hamstead Heath in London as experienced by an outsider.
Two Barcelona stories (October 2008)
Tell tale signs of an obsession with water (Stradbroke Island Feb 2009 etc)
Even a piece about tea cosies (October 2008)

I hope you enjoy browsing. I certainly enjoy writing.

Let me know what you think.
Click on the photo to link to my Facebook page