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Who’s that?

A cousin who lives overseas recently sent me some photos that she had unearthed from her mother’s (my father’s sister) collection. 

Some people in the photos were instantly recognisable. That must be dad. That must be dad and his siblings. That must be nan when she was young. Look at her gloves – what the groover she was. 

That must be dad’s family at the seaside in Wales. I mean who visits the beach (we don’t do seasides) in Australia dressed up like that? And rides donkeys?


But who is that? And that? And this little round thing?


My father died when I was a teen. He left us years earlier. I don’t have much to do with his side of the family for multiple reasons. Even if I did, there are not many people who would know who the people in the photos are. My aunt is 80 and has Alzheimer’s. There’s only one other sibling still alive. She is significantly younger and may not know the people either. 

Then I helped my mother with a couple of entries on her blog. We uploaded some photos. Again of people I didn’t know. 

All this got me thinking. What is the point of family photos?

Are they just for those who take them, and their immediate family, to recollect or celebrate events in their lives? To act as decorations around the house?

Are they records for family history? 

Are they for future historical and cultural references?

Should we keep old photos? Should we bother keeping all our own photos? What now that we take thousands on our phones? Should we treat photos as ephemeral?

Is it better to have one photo with a record of who is in it and where it was taken and other contextual information than thousands of unknown people and places?

Now that I know who some of the people are in my mother’s photos, the photos mean more to me. But will my offspring care?

 

French Lessons

Whenever I share with friends some new little thing I’ve been doing, whenever I say, “Did I tell you I [insert minor new thing – not minor like I’ve bought a handbag, unless it is an absolutely amazing handbag or I’ve bought a super expensive handbag of the Hermes or Chanel price range and then it would be more about having thousands to spend than about a handbag, so not minor but more a major thing such as how I won millions – but minor like I’ve taken up yoga again (which I haven’t) or I get up half an hour early and go for a walk (which I’m contemplating)] I think of a scene in the sitcom, Will and Grace. I think of this scene even more so when a friend tells me of some new little thing they’ve been doing for ages. 

See, Will and Grace lived on the same floor of a block of flats (when did we start saying apartments like the Americans, or is there a difference, like price?) and they were close friends. They shared all the minor tooing and froing of daily life. Then Grace moved away. Catching up becomes a big thing. Grace finds out Will isn’t eating cheese anymore. She’s devastated. 

Grace: You gotta call me when you go off cheese. 

Grace and Will – though I prefer Jack and Karen


It’s not about the cheese. It’s about not sharing the little things, the truely little things. 

When you have a friend with whom you interact daily, say at work, and then you don’t cause you move, you stop sharing those little things. You wouldn’t phone just to say, you’ve started morning walks. Then the gaps in knowledge of all the minor things become bigger. When you catch up, you talk about the big things and not the minor things. 

Later someone might say to you, “I’m thinking of joining X on her morning walk.”

“What?” you think. “When did that start?” You begin to question your friendship, “I don’t know X anymore.” And maybe that little jealousy creeps in. “Why does this other friend know more? Is she a closer friend than me? Why wasn’t I asked to go on morning walks?”

Yeah, so I’m doing French lessons on a Saturday morning. Now you all know. 

After French lessons I’m going over to a friend’s place for lunch. A friend with whom I used to chat all the time but work and busyness got in the way. She invited me over for a morning cuppa but I had lessons and she didn’t know. Soon she’ll be moving north and there’ll be even less sharing. 

So tell me if you give up cheese. 

More on caveats 

Do you use a rating system for books or films? If so, do you give full marks?

 

I don’t think most people would think 2 stars means the book is OK. Then again, I know people who won’t give five stars. (Just as I’ve known English teachers who wouldn’t give full marks for an essay!)

Well besides the fact that if you have a scale, say one to five, and you leave off the ends, haven’t you just made the scale one to four? 

I find the fact that on Goodreads you can’t give half marks so by using one to four difficult. It limits you so you have to capture books together that you may not have lumped together on your satisfaction rating. You’ve only got four groupings!!!


Anyway, put aside those queries on the logic of not giving top marks, to deal with my main objection. 

Giving any mark is dependent on contexts and caveats. 

Let’s use TripAdvisor as an example. I might stay at a cheap place that’s a bit down at the heels but give it four, because  it was good FOR the price and expectations. Conversely if I stayed at a five star resort but felt it didn’t live up to the price, even if the accommodation and included activities were better than the cheap down-at-heels place, I might give it three, or even four stars. The latter rating doesn’t mean it is equal to or the same as the down-at-heels place but that it is not the best expensive place to stay. 

Does this make sense?

Here’s another example. I ate out at our recent trip to Canberra. One was an expensive restaurant. $150 for two without wine. (And I had two entrees rather than an entree and a main which would have bumped up the price.) I gave it five stars. The food was divine and the service friendly and attentive. The service at the other restaurant, a modern Indian, was also friendly and attentive, but without that finesse from the expensive restaurant. The modern Indian was cuts above your average suburban Indian, and priced accordingly. I gave it four stars. You want something nice and tasty and above your normal butter chicken and beef vindaloo? This is it. But if you expected, and prefer, your normal suburban Patak style Indian, you might be shocked at the price and give this restaurant two stars. Alternatively, if the Indian restaurant was priced higher, say at the same as the expensive restaurant, my rating would drop from four to three, maybe even two. 

Films have contextualised expectations too. It could depend on whether I watched it for free on TV or paid for it at the cinema. Or my expectations. Let’s say I paid for a movie, I might give it five stars, even with caveats, because it spoke to me, made my heart sing, or made me laugh a lot. 

And books? Books that I read and say, “That was awesome. I couldn’t put it down,” they get five stars. 

But beyond caveats and contexts, I get to the heart of star ratings. I hate them for books and films. How can you compare a self-help book with a work of fiction? A piece of literature with some Woman’s-Weekly-stickered, trashy, quickly written novel? (Yes, I’m a book snob.)

And at the heart of it, how can you sum up a book or a film in a number? I need to explain my caveats. I loved it but … It was good but … It was OK but … It was shit but …  

I give it five stars but

Assaulting our senses and sensibilities

Shop windows loud with placards so exclamatory they make one’s eyes jump. (Thank you J.B.Priestley for that phrase. I love the “with placards so exclamatory.)


I’m not a frequenter of shopping centres. The noise, the crowds, the commercialism rankles me. I tend to limit myself to my minor Westfield shopping centre – it has enough choice for me – and within that centre I tend to limit myself to one department store. The one that plays gentle music and has more open space and fewer people. Even so, going once every ten weeks is enough for me. Add to this going once every ten weeks into the city. 

I hate the visual pollution of shouty shop signs. 

I could never work in sales. I’d be telling people they don’t need to buy. And, indeed, they shouldn’t go into debt to buy whatever it was I might be selling. This product wont give them happiness. Go out and do something. Go for a walk somewhere nice in the fresh air, close to nature. Read a book. Talk to family friends. 

Though all this aside, I can shop with the best of them. And I just bought a CD of a local up and coming artist (Alex Lahey, listen to her on YouTube) from the shop in the picture above.  Ahhh, inherent inconsistencies, I embrace you. 

But let’s make a start and not buy from any shops with shouty placards so exclamatory. 

Down with visual pollution!

The day I thought I was choosing a blog title but was actually choosing how I was going to live.

I was chatting via text with a friend. I asked her… actually here’s the conversation thread. Why bother retype it?


Now in her defence, we had been discussing the book I was reading and how it provided food for my blog. And she did provide a couple of blog titles:   A Perfect Day for Scones and Assaulting our Senses and Sensibilities. 

So how are you feeling today? Active with the activists? Or would you rather be like Mercester and choosing a blog title? Or would you rather be disappearing in a good book?

I do so have good intentions in being more active in my local community. Protecting the trees. Protecting heritage sites. And so on. I know if I commit, I just won’t have the time and energy to sustain a commitment. 

One day. 

Peace – curses to the internal combustion engine. 

I love watching the English TV show “Escape to the Country”. Like many millions of others around the world, I imagine myself in any number of “character-filled” homes near a lovely village. 

But I am always amazed that even when they are seemingly in the middle of the countryside, you can hear the roar, sometimes distant, sometimes close by, of a busy motorway. 


Why would I want to live in the country and hear the constant noise of traffic?

Is there nowhere in England that the peace of total quiet can be heard? 

My current friend, J.B. Priestley (OK, he’s not my friend but I really like his book that I have referred to before) opines that quiet “is the most luxurious commodity on the world. I doubt if wealth can buy anything better than a little extra privacy and quietness.”

I know, I know, people in glass houses etc etc. The car has given me wonderful holidays and access to quiet, peaceful areas. And my two huge road trips in the last two weeks’ break obviously come at the expense of someone’s peace and quiet, not to mention all the pollution. 

I live near one of the noisiest roads of Sydney. I no longer hear it or the trains that run between me and the noisy road. Unless there is an especially noisy train or truck. 


I do love to escape noise. Hard to imagine that in the early 20th century, according to Priestley, they thought modern transport was too fast for humankind to deal with. Too noisy and too fast pace. They feared mental distress. And there was Priestley, never thinking we’d get to over a hundred kilometres an hour. And how prescient is Priestley with this idea:  No that we are whizzed about the world, there is no time for absorbing and adjusting. Perhaps it is for this reason that the world that the traveller knows is beginning to show less and less variety. By the time we can travel at four hundred miles an hour we shall probably move over a dead uniformity, so that the bit of reality we left at one end of a journey is twin to the bit of reality we step into at the other end. Movement but no real travel. 

Anyone stuck in airports will know this is so.

But back to cars. 

On our road trips, I hate it when Mr S stops for a tea and sandwich break by the side of the highway. I’d rather drive a little off the main road, and drink my tea without the sound of traffic. 

So my dilemma is: where to live when I love the culture, restaurants, libraries, theatre, people watching of urban life but hate the noise of traffic. 

My recent trip to the northwest of the state was heaven. Peace and quiet. But I know while I dream of living in such a peaceful place, after a few days I’d dream of leaving. 

Are you suffering nervous distress from the speed and noise of modern transport? And where do you sit on the Quiet Country/ Busy City dichotomy? 

Tell me your thoughts. And if you live on the east coast of Australia, or even better close to Sydney, where should I live?

Work

Is it exchanging toil for so many dollars or is it the full expression of yourself? Is it the sign that you are you, the teacher/the builder/the nurse/the librarian/the engineer/the whatever, and still at it. 

I’m reading J.B. Priestley’s English Journey, with the rambling subtitle: Being a rambling of what one man saw and heard and felt and thought during a journey through England the autumn of the year 1933. 

From the start this book has given me much food for thought and reflection. And the concept of work is one with which I grapple. 

Priestley encounters Old George, the mason, who is building a wall. Old George knows he can do something better than most everyone else and enjoys his work. Work is the sign that he is Old George, the mason. George does not feel he is a cog in a machine and is not robbed of “dignity and sweetness of work”. George takes his wages home and is content, having left a wall of substance, of quality, one that will stand for a long time to come. 


When I started work in my 20s, I enjoyed it. The social aspect. The sudden income that made things possible. The feeling of making a contribution to society and a difference to the lives of individuals. Admittedly, there were many years of not working in my 20s; years spent finishing uni, backpacking around Europe and on maternity leave.  

In my 30s I worked as I needed to provide for my family. I was worn down by the amount of marking required as an English teacher and by some of the structures of the different institutions (non-gov) I worked for and fitting this in as a perennially tired working mother. But in the main, I enjoyed work. My identity was wrapped up in it. It gave a structure to my life. I felt satisfied that I was making a positive impact. I wanted to stay in teaching but without the marking. So I returned to study to become a teacher-librarian. Not working wasn’t a choice. I needed to pay for things, there were many things I wanted to buy; I couldn’t see myself doing anything outside of teaching. Not working was an alien a concept as atheism was in the Middle Ages. 

I no longer feel that satisfaction, that drive. I’d happily not work. (But with the same income.) My identity has become less about my work. I rarely answer with total accuracy about my job. Not because I am ashamed of it. Rather, to avoid preconceptions and because it is not who I am. Though if I stopped working, I’d probably say I was before I retired. Maybe to cash in on the kudos or maybe in final acknowledgment that my job is part of my identity?


It isn’t that I don’t have daily moments of enjoyment and fun at work. I do. I think I just want to have more time and energy for other things – travel, socialising, gardening, learning a language. And there’s many more things I’d like to buy.  Actually, I think I’ve just worked for long enough. 

Lucky George. Or is his contentment a sign of being of simple-minded, unable to question deeply one’s purpose in life?

Of course, questioning the role of one’s job in one’s identity sure beats the alternative. Being unemployed and without income. 

What does your job mean to you? Is it part of your identity? Or a means to earn income? Have you changed your views on work as decades have passed?