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Sunday, December 4, 2011

If it's too loud you're too old

The video of these cars being torched, bashed and painted was mesmerising - KidZoom moved with the power and grace of a parkouriste and entered into a dance with these vehicles that was exhilarating - the man slid over burning cars and allowed his spray paint to ignite in a requiem for the relationship between Aussie youth and overpowered cars - it seemed he was farewelling his past like a viking longship being torched on its final voyage - whoever was behind the camera was as much part of the dance as the images flowed and ebbed revealing the mixture of affection, excitement and contempt which the past arouses

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The best things in life are not things

Further to my last post I find myself forced to look more closely at my own capacity for violence, for abusive, manipulative and intimidatory behaviour. I recall with the shame the moments when I have chosen the easy option of repeating the behaviours forced into me as a child rather than the more difficult and rewarding path of taking responsibility for how I am and choosing to make the good overrule the bad.

My body tells me that this struggle is never ending as I pace a silent early morning house unable to tell where the screaming comes from or if it is audible to others. I feel the noise as a slicing sensation, weasels ripping my flesh, scalpels turning me into sashimi. Sometimes I realise I have let out an audible moan or squeak or if I have managed to stay asleep for more than a few hours I burst awake unable to breathe, my lungs too full to get any air in and too paralysed to let any out. Fortunately this has happened enough that I can disguise the appearance of it if I wake anyone as I drown, clasping my neck and gulping ineffectively for - I don't know what - it's air of course, oxygen, nourishment, sustenance but more it's a desperate desire to be seen but not hurt to be loved but not smothered to live feeling free and safe.

So I lie there perhaps clawing at my neck, my back arched, my face a rictus smile of need knowing that unless I help myself I will die. I wake in a house where I am coccooned from reality by the warm embrace of my wife and daughters' love and over time the terror recedes and I can reassemble myself to pass for normal for every hour that I feel compelled to leave the house.

And then reality bites, every car journey involves encounters with angry aggressive motorists competing for their space on the road to nowhere, their need to get to their destination 37 minutes late rather than the 41 it will be if they drive as if other people matter. The streets of Sydney are lined with beggars, junkies, broken arses and backpackers smirking when I will not sign up to give monthly direct transfers to support charities they've worked for for four days. Yes, I say, I have worked 14 paid hours in the last eleven years - you're welcome to all of that money. I worked for charitable trusts for the last eight years of my career you're welcome to the difference between their wage rates and what I could have earned if I'd remained a seat-warmer in a government department. Take, I say, the $A11.50 an hour I earned as a residential care worker at an adolescent rehab centre along with the dysfunctional management team and the constant abuse and occasional death threats - you're welcome to all of it - spend it well. And I smile and nod my way through the day dreading the arrival of night when my family one by one falls asleep and the people I e-know are busy or offline so I must calculate the balance of coffee and whisky and how loud the music can be so it disturbs no one else and do I go to Coogee for dawn and feel the sand abrade my feet and draw me home into the earth and the wind come off the water and the waves play and tease with their ever changing shapes and patterns and the light, the dawn bringing warmth, illumination, safety to the day and where the sea meets the land but before the land turns into property and I remember Peter's rules for approaching the sea and I recall a song my children sing "the earth is our mother, she will take care of us" and the sea a fickle lover and demanding parent reminds me it is there and on the edge there are bits of building and of ceramic and glass and other gifts given by the sea and remnants of what has been taken - and I recall people taken, and with the city at my back and the sea facing me and the light increasing I stare loss and loneliness in the face and know that it is all right that there is pain and with it joy and the sea takes my howls and my screaming and lifts it from me and in its passion and fury it washes me clean and from the loss comes the the reminder yes they are gone and you don't have them but remember they are here and they were there you did have them so think on what you got what they gave and how the world is a better place and you are a better person for having known them and so go now clean and strong back to the city and wrap your loss in a blanket of forgiveness and joy thank you for your tears the sea is a better place for them thank you for your howling the wind is stronger and cleaner for it and as the rising sun lifts the light off your wet cheeks it is brighter fresher so thank you for all that is good and bad about you and thank you and thank us for being ourselves we will always be here think on Michael and his ho'oponopono chant and in your forgiveness allow in other's forgiveness and as the sand appears later on and out of your clothes remember that the sea and the edge always remain and always change - come again soon and surrender to the sky your heart of anger.

The bullied become bullies - hurt people hurt people.

 Re-visiting this post almost two years after I first wrote it I've decided to delete it as it was so very much of the moment when I wrote it that it seems indulgent to prolong its existence. I think I need a "This too shall pass" delay button that strongly encourages me not to post in haste.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Crown Lynn at the Gus Fisher Gallery

As Ed Hillary is reputed to have said "that's knocked that bugger off".

I did the speech on Friday night at the official opening and then the floor talk on Saturday. Both were nervewracking - the speech mercifully short, the floor talk endless but more or less finished on time.

I got to meet some interesting people and the events were more fun than I remember openings being in my National Art Gallery days.

I had a lot of conversations about Crown Lynn and Richard Quinn and not everything I heard was inaccurate. One of the people I met was Alan Topham General Manager at Crown Lynn up until 1962. His anarchic view was the company mainly manufactured dinnerware. We were standing next to a shrine of Dorothy Thorpe pieces at the time and he had a few amusing anecdotes about going to the US with Tom Clark to recruit her. He thought that a couple of the pieces in the case weren't Crown Lynn and the colours unlikely to have been selected by Ms Thorpe. Later they were upturned to show they had the same backstamp as they pieces they were displayed next to. Alan had been a buyer for McKenzies when Fiesta was commissioned to their specifications.

As well as a visit to Limeburners Bay with a few Quinns I also saw an impressive private collection of New Zealand ceramics. The owner is even more appealing than his collection and is clearly very passionate about fired clay and its variations. Two of the pieces he thought were late-nineteenth century pieces turned out to have been made by Clays of Calico at Caldwell, Montana ca,1970s but I'm not sure how to break the news to him. Earlier he had been very relaxed about joking about other miss-attributions he'd made.

I also got a lot of practice smiling and nodding as people spouted demented nonsense at me with knowing looks on their faces. I think I smashed a few molars gritting my teeth. The wacky world of Crown Lynn continues unchecked.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Kauri Foreshore Hotel

I got barred from this delapidated shithole last night. The landlazy had switched the All Blacks/France rugby game over to league ten minutes before the final whistle. I reminded her that the poster outside said that all Rugby World Cup games were going to be screened live and that she was obliged to do so. She said no. I informed her that as she'd advertised that it was going to be screened live it was a breach of the Commerce Act not to do so. She replied "Ain't going to happen, mate".

I wittily quipped "You're managing a fucking toilet" and she reposted "Don't come back" as I walked out. I realised she thought that being in this rundown messy dive was a good thing and that by agreeing that I won't be going back she was causing me some inconvenience rather than confirming my thoughts and feelings about the place.

On my way home I walked past the guy who runs Cafe K coffee shop in the pub as he is attempting to set up a cafe serving midday and evening meals at the hotel. He is a friend of the licensees so I told him of my experience. As I've been helping his mother set up the coffee shop most weekdays for the last couple of months he seemed concerned and wanted to go back with me to talk with the woman. I told him I'd been barred, that his friend didn't give a shit and his wife was a drunk. I gave him my estimate that the business probably had another six months at most. I'm hoping for less - the rubbish and cigarette butts that constantly flow into the gutter are doing damage somewhere.

I'll miss early morning contact with the woman making the coffee, she was honest, hardworking and enthusiastic - she'll end up on her feet somewhere else soon.

Monday, September 19, 2011


For a long time - 30 years or so - I've been attracted to Ganesha - I've never known why but on Friday I walked into a shop where Ganesh was playing - I was given a CD called 'Ganesh - He Listens, He See, He cares' and a prasad ladoo Ganesha's favourite sweet - I bought some red mukhwas and some ganeshania and then went to buy some clay-based paint for the outside of our home

Saturday, August 27, 2011

On gratitude

My sister-in-law posted on facebook:

I love my 50 year old husband, my new job, my adorable three children, my extended family and my doggie! Life is Good.

echoing Sri Prahlada's recent newsletter on gratitude. He starts kirtan sessions by asking "Who are the special people (mentors, friends, teachers, parents, God) who have been instrumental in inspiring you on your spiritual path? How have these people helped bring you to this moment?" This reflection on kindness and inspiration instantly awakens within the audience the "great-attitude" of a "maha-atma".

Although this quote is specfic to yoga practice it has more general application. These days I often think myself lucky and am surrounded by people who also realise that their lives are mostly great - because of the people they love and the people who love them. The little things fade in significance.

Also via Sri Prahlada: "Gilbert Chesterton (1874-1936), an English writer and poet, similarly stated, "I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder""

I too have a loving and tolerant partner, children who delight me and a life that causes me way more joy than sorrow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Loss and the sea

Does the sky weep tears for the earth and the sea knowing what humans do to the three of them? My friend Peter is a man of the sea, a writer and a mark maker. He gives me permission to be better at being all three. Here I write to him about the business of living:

The large part of me that is cliche likes the moment in 'Strictly Ballroom' where the Roma grandmother says "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived" and she dances a Passo Doble (?) that makes a short, stout slow moving older woman into an elegant graceful passionate beauty - her son transforms from a Gypsy bum into a matador the instant his heels stamp on the floor and a cluttered backyard in working class Melbourne becomes a bullring, the stage at a grand opera house - in a hand gesture, a glance, a foot movement we are reminded of all that is noble and passionate about being human, about working out what it is to be human, to risk loving and risk being loved

now I've gone off - I'm thinking about your marriage and how very very lucky you were and how very very unlucky - I'm thinking also of my friend Richard where similar kinds of luck applies
you'll surf again and it may not be in the sea but you are surfing, it is you, you write on a sea of words and you draw on and of a sea of images and words - I realise you're not a painter you're a mark maker and sometimes brushes and paints are the medium that chooses you and sometimes not - and the possiblity arises that even if you were not physically capable of moving you'd still be drawing, carving a track through the sea, on the page, on the canvas, on the wall and in the marks left - maybe a wake, maybe a poem, maybe an image - we'd read "Peter was here - and it was good" and if he was here, and good so too can I be, can we all be - and the world of possibility of all the good that humans do and all the good they can do gets larger and more expansive - and the world of hurt and pain and damage gets smaller and less powerful - the dark creatures become less threatening - they are muzzled by glory, chained by possiblity, their dark bad balanced by a shimmering good

and when I go to Coogee and am mystified by the movement of the waves and the changing shape of the beach and I see the distant dawn breaking I feel you there and the people we have loved and lost there too and it is very sad and very good and beneath the tears there is a warm glow, a celestial humming that comforts the bestial howling and we sob and laugh and throw our heads back in the wind and our tears are flicked away to wet the ground and we are not alone and we howl as if the moon is our mother or a memory of an older mother as we sit and the sky and the sea and the earth are our mother and our father both and we lie back and look at the sky anger and pain drain from us into the cold sand and hot tears flow into our ears and we're very sad and very happy and poems and paintings hover around us like bats or butterflies waiting to be plucked from the air and pinned to the page and we are not alone

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July steaming to a close

Things are steaming along - the new pottery tutor is great - I'm encountering some excellent music some creative projects and family life is purring along - fingers crossed.

The shop is settling down into a routine though volunteer staffing is stretched thin.

I've been invited to talk about my friend and mentor Richard Quinn at an exhibition in Auckland later this year. The show is based around a small portion of a large research collection he'd amassed while trying to record a history of fired clay in New Zealand. There are also ancillary collections of popular areas of Crown Lynn collecting - something that has blossomed over the last ten or so years. Richard's Crown Lynn collection, now under the custodianship of the Portage Ceramic Heritage Trust, should allow informed reasearchers the chance to balance some of the dubious claims made about Crown Lynn over the last quarter of a century - let the objects speak I say.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kirtan Yoga with Sri Prahlada @ Yoga in Daily Life Kensignton

we went to this event - it was lovely - this man shone - if you think you can't sing and you think you can't dance then you're right and if you think you can sing and dance without being able to you're right - at some point my chest started vibrating with aum and the sound was me but not made by me - had become a conduit for something that was uniquely me and also part of something else -and in a week that had been about disappointment and conflict and loss the well of sadness I was often tipped into became surrounded by a bigger warmer blanket of happiness - by the time we left everyone was so beautiful - we glowed

I usually use the apparent beauty or ugliness of strangers to judge where I am on the bi-polar spectrum continuum but an evening of kirtan freed me from this - there was just me, us, and the universe of possibility.

Moanaroa Krysia Zagrobelna

Fifi Colston drew my attention to Matariki and I found there's a kapa haka concert/competition in QLD later in the month but no local celebration that I've discovered yet. Now some mornings I take my putorino down to Coogee for dawn but when I think about doing it this Sunday - ie 24 hours away - all I can think of is that two of the people who got it for me are dead.

And this Saturday was the unveiling for one of them in Petone. And her sister suggested I write something to be read out at the unveiling. And I all I can think of doing is screaming out "I wish you were'nt dead" which might sound better in Te Reo but still doesn't need to be said. And I don't want to think remember hearing father at the Tangi crying in the rain and saying over and over "this is wrong - you shouldn't bury your children". And he is right - it is wrong. And the sheer bloody wrongness of it all tears at me.

And the madness of it all, and the memories of her, and her family, and where we worked, and parties, and a clever little daughter - and finding her again via the net 17 years after we last spoke and emailing her new work place to find she'd died the week before, on holiday in Malaysia, after cut-price cosmetic surgery and a whole world of wrongness opened up to me then.

I realised too late that I've been thinking that the unveiling was planned for Sunday. I sent my message to Ewa too late - about the time she would have been heading to the urupa arther than the day before. This is what Ewa might have read:

"I miss Krysia.
When I met her and soon afterwards Moanaroa and Eddie and Ewa and Keri-Mei I was very lost.
I'd talked myself into a job I couldn't really do properly at the Shop at the National Museum.
I was Krysia's boss.
Yeah right!
While I wandered around for three years
pretty much not being able to find my butt without using both hands
Krysia ran the Museum Shop,
and me,
and bought up Keri-Mei,
was a daughter
a sister
a friend
and did all the many other things that she is loved for.
When Taonga Maori opened at the museum Alan Baker the Director was sidelined by a mob of new middle managers
- he was a marine biologist and out of his depth amongst sharks in three piece suits.
He gave a brief speech and as it finished a quiet mumbled waiata began in Kiwi-reo
and then from the kitchen came this huge voice and through the entrance came Krysia
- like a yacht in full sail
- and she sang and strode towards the Director
- and everyone who knew the waiata joined in behind her
- and everyone who respected, Alan, the Museum and the taonga also joined in
- and suddenly this awkward Department of Internal Affairs off the shelf - paint by numbers powhiri became magnificent.
The Museum became magnificent,
Alan Baker became magnificent,
the air was electric with the staffs' respect for Alan,
words like aroha and tautoko became feelings not ideas
and the world was a better place.
Krysia knew that what was happening was wrong and she stepped out to change it
- not caring about how others reacted.
And we all got behind her
so pleased
and so proud to be part of what she'd started.
When Ewa suggested she could read out some words from me all I could think was:
"I wish you weren't dead - this is wrong"
but now I'm also thinking
"Krysia you were always beautiful,
you were often so strong,
you often knew what was right
and what was good
and you made a difference to the people around you.
and you made a difference for the people around you.
The world is a better place
because of who you were
who you are
And I am a better person
because of who you were
who you are
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you""

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Go West

I've been spending a lot of time at Parramatta lately working on our PCAI shop across Church Street from St John's church - in the Connections Arcade. Nearly there despite some road blocks both human and practical.

We're hoping eventually to build our studio/workshop at a site across the river from Rangihou Reserve. This park was recently renamed to recognise links going back to 1814 when the first CMS settlement was established at Oihi or Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands.

Marsden's Maori Seminary (also named Rangihu) was located here. It's sometimes described as New Zealand's first school and New Zealand's first brickmakers were trained here. Young Maori men, the sons of chiefs, were trained in a range of mechanical arts. This could be seen as Marsden spreading his version of the Word through demonstrating superior technology or more simply as the holding of hostages to ensure the safety of the CMS personnel in New Zealand. Typically Marsden assumed a superiority of intelligence and ability to strategise that was to later see many British soldiers and carpetbaggers fall in to traps in New Zealand. As Marsden went about gathering his Maori flock iwi acquired tame Missionaries for the access to guns, iron and other European goods that came along with the CMS settlements. I think more Pakeha-Maori were converted to heathen ways than Maori people were converted to Marsden's version of Christianity. It was clear early on who were the more sophisticated and who were the more naive.

I always get lost in Parramatta - I don't know where or what the landmarks are and my inability to relate what's around me to maps I've seen leads to chaos. I get lost finding the Westfield carpark, I get lost in the Westfield carpark, I get lost in Westfield and can't find my way out or my way back to the right floor of the right carpark.

A state of irritated frustration. of being lost, out of my depth helps me blend in with the locals as I make my way to the Connection Arcade.

On Friday I got lost driving back to Sydney. Just where I was expecting Jame Ruse Drive I found a suburb I'd never been in before. I stopped realising I needed sustenance and saw ahead of me the Tres Bien Fresh Coffee and Nuts Shop in Good Street. Call me a gubba or a skip if you like but I saw the name and thought "That's French - it must be Vietnamese - I'll get some rice paper rolls".

Turns out I'd found a very good Lebanese grocery store quite by chance. It looked good and smelled better, and the people working there or just dropping in were funny, friendly and helpful. 600 ml of Al-Rabih pomegranate molasse for $6.80!!!!! A 1.9kg jar of gherkins, a can of houmos, and one of okra in brine, foodie heaven at local prices.

I started off back to the big stinky eating sweets as I drove and almost turned the car around at 90kmh they were so good. There was a roll with apricot paste around it that was almost to die for at high speed on the M4.

The next day I was talking to the people who run the new local coffee bar. They're Lebanese and I could sense them struggle not to laugh out loud or seem patronising as I described my exotic adventures in Granville. They used to be amazed to see Australians buying groceries in single items, two apples, one banana, a can of tomatoes etc they always bought in bulk. At the moment buying bananas in bulk seems an act of stupidity - or showing off at $A14.99 a kg (or $A11.99 at Parramatta!).

When I was at Tres Bien the owner was negotiating the purchase of something - dried goods, fruit, spices, I don't know what but he settled for an order of a ton of it/them if the price stayed at $6.

Sometimes having no sense of direction and getting lost is a good thing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Coogee mourning

On Sunday morning I heard that Gil Scott-Heron had died on Friday. He hadn't had an easy life but has produced some of the pivotal music of the last twenty five or so years.

Later that day I got an email telling me that a female relative, one I have only a vague and unreliable memory of having met, had died after a three year battle. Her children are 13 and ten - too young to be mourning your parents.

Mooring posts disappear and we are left adrift.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life doesn't frighten me at all

When very little sometimes I was so scared and so lonely that I'd scream, for company. The echoes of those screams accompany me still.

They waken me in the night and delay my return to sleep. I realise quickly that the scream, my scream didn't happen in the now, the echoes troubled no other in the now, and the reverberations have died out - leaving a trace of a memory of a half forgotten....something. I know that now is OK and that then was then.

I think on Roy Williamson's words:

Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

For me this is not only about Proud Edward's army but about every tyrant., every bully.

And we are an army, the bullied. And we are not alone. And sometimes before we die, either the living death of those that have lost hope, or the slow death of those whose bodies turn against them, we recognise each other. Sometimes in that recognition there is succour and at others fear and contempt. In our mutual acknowledgement of the terror we do risk disappearing, we do risk losing sight of all that is good and noble and joyous about being human but when we're lucky we embrace in the warming, calming, energising pulse of survival.

Alone we are born
and die alone
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
over snow-mountain shine
upon the upland road
ride easy stranger
Surrender to the sky
your heart of anger.

Sometimes in the high country we'll pause briefly and glimpse a distant stranger. We see in the set of his shoulders and the palpitating jaw muscles that his big anger, his old anger remains. But as our eyes meet over an impassable gorge there will be a brief flick upwards of both eyebrows. I know you we'll not say. You're going to be all right. It's OK - life doesn't frighten us anymore. You are OK and You am I. And the anger will dissipate into the glowering sky and dusk will become dawn.

We nod an embrace of departure and move on homewards. Alone but not lonely. Seen and heard.

And with each meeting on the high road the screams lose volume, intensity and frequency until finally....there is but one finally. The more scarred fellow travellers we share a story with the freer life becomes as if in acknowledging the many small deaths we defuse the the power of the spectre.

Other times - as close to never as we're strong enough to manage we slide into the maw and become the bully ourselves - so in our bond with the bullied is also our knowing that the easy choice is to bully - understandable but not excusable.

Meeting the shadow is the start not the end.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fear of a black planet

"The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice" MLK jnr

My wife and daughters are Australian and I don't pretend that NZ doesn't have similar problems and doesn't struggle daily with the wrangling between the tangata whenua (people of the land, first nations?) and those whose families have arrived since 1816 or so. Health, justice and education statistics all over the world reflect the problems that arise when large groups of people move from one region to another: Who is in prison, who is sick, homeless, educated to less than their potential, earns less, lives a shorter time?

Recently my concern about this has gone from a theoretical quandary to an urgent problem because I now have daughters approaching adulthood, too quickly. What kind of world will I have allowed them to grow up into? What futures am I denying them by being overwhelmed by the size of the problems the planet faces? By feeling powerless in the face of greed and cynicism?

My daughters have Maori cousins and have more connection with them as individuals, as relatives, as people like them than they do with the Aboriginal people they encounter - Caz the local begger a poly-addicted homeless woman with mental health issues - Mazza the feral urchin who sprays racist homophobic abuse everywhere - The intimidating gangs of kids who loiter menacingly nearby with barely concealed clubs and the hint they have knives and that they do not see us as like them - my daughters are afraid of Aboriginal people and see them entirely as other - junkies, thugs, crims, losers
  • Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.
    • Stride Toward Freedom : the Montgomery Story (1958) MLK jnr
When she was little Little Bear who is now seven regarded Caz the begger as a friend because she was friendly and three year olds assume everyone is going to like them. Caz not sure whether Little Bear was genuine or just playing a whitefella game was really, really pleased when she realised Little Bear saw her simply as a friendly person. White middle class three year olds know nothing of history, of racism, or prejudice - they have two mobs; people I like and who like me and: the others. It didn't occur to Little Bear not to like Caz. It didn't occur to Caz that Little Bear might like her, for who she is with her, for how she behaves. Little Bear made it OK for Caz to just be - that there was nothing innately wrong with her and how she is. The opposite of the racism and prejudice she encounters every day.

Four years later Little Bear has learned to be wary of Aboriginal people, to see them as potential threat. This same reaction applies to the homeless, to beggars, to junkies. I've let this happen.

The challenge now is to change this - day by day.

"Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care"

I do not rise slowly from Morpheus' restorative embrace like a wary but excited child but am instantly awake in a new phase full of the unfocussed creativity of the erratically alert.

Words, images, ideas spring effervescently from the meeting place of Id, Ego and Super-Ego. The wire in the blood is already fizzing its exciting dangerous zing, part energy source part burning fuse. I'm ready, always ready to start great things with the alertness of Bambi and the focus of the substance addicted. One eye on potential predators the other on the fabulous futures that wait not too far off. And have waited for half a century.

There is a Henry James story about a man waiting for an incredible event or fortune to land at his feet. His anticipation is so great, his want so strong that he neglects the present and misses the good he has within his grasp. He has lost the fabulous future by looking forward to it and not considering that it could have its genesis in the past and the present. He is, like the users of Blackberries etc, unable to be anywhere because there is always a better somewhere else, something else. Unable to be fully present in his desire not to miss out. Here is simply the place we wait for our next txt msge, our next FB status update, our next tweet.

I thought of Twitter as I administered to sick daughters this week. What if instead of discarding every used tissue, every sheet of toilet paper, every sprayed sneeze and trail of drool they tweeted them? So all their followers, their facebook friends would be up to date on the status of their various irritated mucous membranes? The responses might suggest that that they're not Samuel Pepys but Paris Hilton's chihuahua's pedicurist. Or not - their viruses might go viral.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fresh and local

This plant, Warrigal greens, has quite the history. I cooked some I was given when we were just out of town for a family Mothers Day lunch. Like spinach as they say but coarser and firmer than the English variety as you'd expect.

Our evening meal included a salad with Warrigal greens, rocket, tomatoes, avacado and basil.

My lunch - red miso instant soup with udon noodles - both of which I suspectare not late eighteenth century convict recipes.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A fresh local start

Dawn at Coogee is always spectacular, often transcendant. Everyone I see there at this time of day has an enormous look of gratitude and relief and joy on their faces. On the radio I listened to the man who was going to have a surfing lesson with Tony Abbott. He seemed pleased to be in Australia too.

I've been thinking about nature and our relationship to the planet and ourselves much as Werner Herzg did in Burden of Dreams. Herzog doesn't approve of many things I take succour from. Including self-reflection and herbal tea but as I like to say or think I like to say "there is no I in team but there is one in ginseng".

Friday, May 6, 2011

I have to go for another glucose tolerance test tomorrow. They're a bore - hours long and sometimes inconclusive. The last one somehow resulted in me having to have a colonoscopy. Couldn't see it myself - the sweet bone's connected to the bum bone?

I'm hungry and can't eat. I'll want coffee in the morning and can only have water. And this is healthy? Might try and get some happy snaps to post. I made the mistake of quoting Yoda to my daughters "Try there is not, only do there is"- that's come back to hit me in the face too often. And "Do as I say not as I do" hasn't flown since the 1960s.

Serendipitiously I made contact with two people via facebook that I'd not seen for years, 15 and 25 to be precise. One of them has Al Jazeera English as a favourite and the other works there as a Beijing-based cameraman.

Thirty Years of Tears

Looking towards ANZAC bridge - the roof of the Kauri Foreshore Hotel in the middle ground - at dusk.

Via the curate's egg that is the life online I've linked up with friends from the glory days - 1978 to 1982 - when every thing seemed possible - we reminisce and discover that we remember differently - the past is a different place - and we are attached to it differently - so many people that energised us then have died since yet the strongest memories endure.

I've tried to revisit those days but find my version of them didn't exist or if it did it was parallel to but separate from the versions/visions of others that were there. I went to Upper Cuba Street about a year ago and it is as Peter McLeavey says a Disneyland version of itself. They paved paradise and put up a motorway. It's like a lot of things that are re-worked - someone who wasn't there recalls something they didn't understand and produces a Stepford Wives version of it - think of the "new" VW - like something from Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons

Upper Cuba Street is now a wikipediased version of its earlier grittier incarnations. So too the "Wellington Punk Scene" - romanticised versions of which are cropping up on the net - it was dumb and ugly and fun and glorious - some of the best musical experiences in my life took place back then - the Wallsockets on one of their perfects days: the rhythm guitarist relatively straight, the drums and bass locked in like Sly and Robbie on sensi, the lead guitar cutting through like something from Jefferson Airplane and the lead singer like a cross between Debbi Harry and Poly Styrene with a hint of ancient passion

Or the Gordons every show or Mike the Cripple in his homemade Charlie Parker t-shirt gallumping across stage to sing the Endless Sea with the Androidss. (I thought the t-shirt said BIRO) - the now legendary New Wave Special at the town hall at the same time as buddha sticks hit town - the possibilities were endless - I coulda been a contender. I was heading for a career as an art director or "something in graphics" but then came to believe art was too important to me for me to be able to make money out of it (childish or what?) plus I discovered fun - being dopefucked and thinking I could levitate - "dropping" acid and seeing the black dull twigs on a tree outside the window arrange themselves into a grid and the cat with the deep deep abcess on its neck that could act like a vortex and suck me in unless I intwined my fingers in the carpet and the formica bathroom walls running and turning into caverns and crevices and being what-is-now-known-as-P-fucked and seeing Roger as God bursting through the sun at Makara beach as birds dived into the sea and the wind whipped our voices away and the thrown stick tumbled through the air and hit a carload of hoons who laughed at it and us and Roxy the dog and everything was good and Tony tooted at the horse to see if it would rear and buck off the rider and then we were in town and fucking protesters were blocking the roads and we wanted to drive some more and had forgotten about the Springboks and Void leapt on the car knowing we were totally wired and we screamed and laughed Amandla Ngawethu and the marshalls made him sit down and then it gotbad. People started dying and ordinary hoons dressed as skinheads committed their dull suburban atrocities scaring women and children and things fell apart - the centre could not hold and fun was no longer enough and the chemists must have changed or lost the recipe and windows were being smashed and lives shattered and love lay limp and people escaped into nostalgia. And now nostalgia is not what it used to be.

Coming back to NZ later I stopped in Sydney and went with friends one old one new to see Dogs in Space. Though set in a different town in a different country it captured those days. The lead singer was gorgeous and my friend Jeff said he's a famous Strayan muso in a famous band I forget who and the teenage Aussie chick behind us said "INXS" like we were the dumbest people she'd met since she left home. That's how I like my nostalgia - by people from another place who can say well this isn't your reality this is ours.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bran Nue Dae

So the doctor said let's sort out the blood sugar thing first, and the sleeping patterns and then look at the heart and weight stuff once we know what we're dealing with. I've outlived one grandfather by 16 years and have eleven years to go before I catch up on the other.

I bought a milky macchiato this morning. Ziad's mother runs the place. I told her that her macs were milkier than I was used to but my stomach appreciated the difference. "I know, darling" she said "I can make it the other way if you like." Macchiatos like a good mother. They're normally like a slightly scary cousin. The one from out of town who smokes and wears AMCO Peaches too tight. Dangerous but exciting to be around.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The start of the day

I'm on two macchiato's a day. The first, now, comes from Cafe K (top pic) and the second from Sappho's in Glebe Point Road. The Sapphic mac is shorter - the milk lesser in quantity and liveliness. The atmosphere at Sappho's, the vibe, the decor is more appealing. Cafe K sits near a corner of the Bridge Road rat run, opposite a mediocre apartment building and close to a cement dispatch yard.

Trucks start arriving for cement early in the morning and the dispatcher announces well I'm not really sure what "Come in number seven. Your time is up", "Security to hardware please", "Cathy, price check at register three please"? The industrial equivalent of an early rising bird. Been part of the aural landscape in Blackwattle Bay for at least the fifteen years we've been here.

It looks to me as if the workers there are starting to appreciate good coffee two minutes from work. If I'm at Cafe K early enough I'm the only customer not wearing serious working clobber, hi-vis polos or bomber jackets, "I'm walkin' here" boots, can-double-as-an-ashtray trousers - not a chisel toe or pant to be seen.

The macchiatos differ greatly as well. The Cafe K one is smoother richer, the extra milk and air gently aiding the caffeines passage into my bloodstream. By the time I get to Sappho's with its more genteel opening hours I'm ready for a if-it's-too-strong drink a warm mikshake instead mac, or mach, or mack. My stomach has survived the early morning onslaught of a breakfast I craft to suit the aging digestive system. (Nobody told me that having children late in life meant a very very brief gap between my world being dominated by their digestive systems to it being ruled by the various indignities of the march of time - try and tell a 23 year old that with luck the worst part of a colonoscopy is the purging diet or try and tell an NRL player that a DRE is a medical procedure not a kind of tackle).

I've stopped eating breakfast at Sappho's. If they had a kilo of lukewarm spinach sprinkled with two cups of bran and Goji berries on the menu I'd be there but no, it seems they'll only make things people actually want to eat - go figure. Once they get the quirky antics of the night staff sorted it'd probably be worth popping in then as well. No one likes to walk into someone else's family squabble. You want that in Glebe you stay out on the street for a few hours. Or go to any bar about 3am.

The macs at Sappho's have been consistently good since I first started going to the new location when my oldest daughter was doing a pre-kinder course at GlebePS late in 2006. Her sister and I would wait at Sappho's before we picked her up. I'm pretty tolerant about coffee - simply put if you can't make a good short you shouldn't be allowed near a coffee machine - make instant or get a plunger, don't waste the coffee. The strongest coffees I've ever encountered were at Sappho's. A roaster/barista had the wheels of steam so tight and so finely calibrated that you were drinking hot coffee paste with a stain of water. This was fine for the people too dim to access the local illegal substance dealers but not so good for the people who drink why-bothers - the various buckets of slop that American chains have perfected. If it's got bean juice, de-anythinged anything and /or fruit of any sort it's no more a coffee than a marshmallow-laden chocolate sprinkled spoiltbratino. Drink water.

It's no wonder the Cobra had a sting in it's tail. You can run a cafe like a Fawlty Towers theme restaurant or the Soup Kitchen in Seinfeld but not every daytime customer got the joke. New coffee supplier, new baristas. Strong,narrow opinions will get you a blog but not a publishing deal or successful cafe. The customer is always right- especially when they're wrong. Service industries and retail outlets always have an element of amateur individual or group psychotherapy to them. It's not just stuff to eat and drink you're selling.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Family Day

We spent most of Sunday at Lovett Bay. The weather was better than forecast. The barbecue'd meats more delicious, and we paddled about in the water.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

On death and dying

image: Points of Departure - Margaret Elliot. Tony Carr Collection - Sydney

An email from a friend:

Before I Forget…


We are all born with a ticket in our hand. It says ‘Destination: Death.’ It does not state how long the ride will be, whether we will travel first-class or third, or whether we will get a window seat or not. Just the facts: we are born and from that second on, the only other certainty is that Death will ultimately clip our ticket. We’ve all got a ticket to ride. One way; non-refundable; delivery guaranteed.

Message From a Fellow-Traveller:

Gidday. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know me, I’m Richard. I’ll be 62 on June 26. I have prostate cancer with metastasised tumours throughout my skeletal structure; terminal. Also, I have ischemic disease of the brain, (in the white matter), mainly affecting my memory. It too is both progressive and irreversible. Them’s the breaks.

Every day, chunks of my memory break off like great ice floes from a frozen continent and crash irrevocably into the sea of nothingness and unknowingness, there to melt into useless slush; cold, deep waters indeed. I know this is happening because people talk to me about things I should know of and remember, but don’t and can’t. It’s a frightening thing – and tinged with sadness, too. Memory is much of ‘who we are’. If I lose all or most of my memory, who will I be then? I don’t know – but certainly not the ‘me’ that is sitting at the keyboard right now typing this message. I hope that the cancer kills me before the ischemic disease progresses much further.

I’ll use ‘TIP’ as an abbreviation for ‘terminally ill person’ (or people).

TIPsters like myself devote a fair amount of time to thinking about death – though often, not in even a slightly morbid fashion. It engages one’s intellectual interest. What will it be like to die? I don’t know and I may never know. I do know that all the genuine experts on the subject are already dead. We all have to fashion our own path to death. But I am very curious about it all. How could I be ‘me’ and not be curious? It is the very last and greatest adventure, I guess … but one with an unknown ending: Indiana Bones and the Temple of Whom? Or where.

The body accepts the need to die before the mind does. Resolution comes when the mind accepts that simple fact of life and death – or goes mad denying it. Once accepted, TIPsters can get on with the business of living well and dying better.

Believers in a deity might be happy to die in the belief that they will get their reward in a life hereafter. Atheists – and I am one – cannot or do not share that belief. This has a sad corollary: we do not have the comfort of believing that life’s wrongs are all neatly remedied in the hereafter. How sad. But, having given it all much thought, I can only see the concept of divine justice as a convenient human construct. Frankly, the Universe, my dears, couldn’t give a damn. What we have is what we get, then finis.

Well, maybe not. Surely if we have lived, no matter what we have done with our time or life, we have certainly changed what would otherwise have been? The very fact of our existence is a guarantee of a kind of immortality: the world would be different had each and every one of us not existed. I find quite some comfort in knowing that. But I do believe that death marks the end of all consciousness, for ever, in every dead individual. I know, of course, of the stories of ‘near-death’ experiences. Classically, the person experiences a tunnel-like dark environment, with a blinding white light at the exit end. Often, they see white-clad figures who speak encouragingly to them as they approach the light. To me, it all sounds remarkably like a baby’s trip down the birth canal. The white-clad figures are probably the medical staff who orchestrated our birth; the encouraging voices are probably saying ‘push’ to an exhausted mother-to-be. So it seems to me. Having been born stupid and worked assiduously at graduating from being a halfwit to a complete idiot, I’ve had a few near-death experiences of my own, by the way. They usually involved things like cliffs, power lines, deep water, etc. Life is for living, after all!

TIPsters watch people a lot. Do they treat us differently now that they know we are dying? Yes, they do. It’s almost like we are already dead at times. Some folk hold conversations in which the TIPster, though present and the subject of the conversation, is simply ignored. How extraordinary! People also tend to get a bit tongue-tied at talking about death or dying; especially with or to TIPsters. It’s the last great taboo. How odd, because it’s the only thing I know for sure that every other person on the planet will share with me: death. Still, maybe if we don’t talk about it, it’ll just go away, eh? No chance. As I am now so you shall be. The bell tolls at the right time for all of us. So even if you go like the clappers (sorry!), death will find you when it will. Given enough rope, even campanologists eventually die.

Some folk have asked me if I’m angry about dying at a relatively young age. No, I’m not. What possible good would it do? And who would I be angry at? Sure, I look at my family and friends and regret that I will be leaving them, but no more than that. No bitterness, no ‘if only’ rubbish or mad attempts at weird diets, faith healers, novenas, charms, witch doctors of any and every kind, alternative healers, or any hocus-pocus at all. I’m dying. I know it and accept it. Anything else is madness.

I mentioned watching people. TIPsters have to be careful. There are people who care for us, who hurt on our behalf. We must reassure them that ‘everything’s okay’ and that we are not in too much pain. If we cannot ease pain for ourselves, we can at least do so for others. We can also talk about dying and death and make friends realise that we have come to terms with it, so that they know it’s okay. I tell some appalling jokes about death and dying, the whole purpose being to make people lighten up and laugh a little. But I’m a Celt, and we find it hard to take much seriously at the best of times. As I often say, I’m only dying. It’s nothing serious like becoming a naturalised Australian. I have also said that when Death comes for me, I’ll look him in his spectral empty eye-socket and say “You’ll never take me alive, you know.” Well, what else can I or should I be doing? Crying? No thanks.

But seriously, other people will still feel pain after we TIPsters have ceased to feel anything. It behoves us therefore to be kind – and thoughtful - to those we will leave behind. Reassure them, hug them, let them know that it’s all okay with and for you. Be an adult. Care. Lie a little if you must.

People who die suddenly are sometimes perceived as lucky. “He went to bed at night and didn’t wake up in the morning.” Well, luck is how you see it. Certainly, such people avoid a lot of physical pain by dying in their sleep. But they lose too, the opportunity to hug those dear to them and say “I love you” to them. Who is to say which one is the ‘better’ death? The price of foreknowledge of death is paid in coin of a harsh currency; but it has its compensations, too.

A reflective state is one of the recognised steps in the protracted dying process. A weighing and balancing of weights, an accounting in and of life’s ledger; a summation, if you will, of one’s victories, losses and draws. As an atheist, I find it easy to thank Mother Earth for sheltering me for 62 years. She has given me everything. Earth can happily survive without people; people can’t survive without Earth. She is the perfect landlady par excellence. But in the end, even she calls for the quitrent to be paid: death is the quitrent. Thanks, Earth, for giving me a home. I sometimes have sneaked into parks and reserves and planted things (no: not that stuff!). Earth needs us to help pay the rent properly; each and all of us, often. If we don’t we’ll lose our home; simple, brutal and factual.

Should I forget you, friends, family, acquaintances, it will not be because I choose to. I already know that you know that. I feel sure that, though the memory slate will be progressively and irreversibly wiped clean on its exterior, deep within my damaged brain, the paths of love that memory has scoured out will remain, though they will be unable to be accessed. Perhaps – and I certainly hope so – in a coma before death, I shall walk those paths again. But even if I cannot do so,

be assured: the love and goodwill remains strong and indelible inside me. It anchors me.

I can’t and don’t bleat at what life has dished out to me. Why should I? I have lived and still am living. Every day and in many ways, some old, some quite new; but all part of an exciting life. I do weep, rage and rail at a God I no longer believe in for the damage little children undergo, in body, mind or spirit. Oh, suffer the little children indeed! It is so cruel and so obscene. No God either could or would allow such dreadful things to happen to children. So I am an atheist. How could I not be? It is either that or accept an unjust God. I cannot do so.

Would that memorable, immortal and novel words of wisdom could flow from my fingers and mind into this keyboard. They can’t and don’t. I know only this: if you would truly find salvation, seek it within yourself. We are real; there is no act of blind faith necessary. We exist: We are who are. Be gentle to yourself; be gentle to others. Be gentle to the planet. Never stop learning, enquiring, marvelling, wondering. Be brave, for as long as you can, as much as you can; all things end - in itself a benison and a blessing, surely? Pain ends, just as life does – and often at the same time. Pain is an inevitable part of life. Life itself is a wonderful, ongoing adventure, all the way through: enjoy the ride. I know of no other one.

Now, here comes the conductor. All tickets please!

7 June 2008

PS And Before I Forget: I love you.

- an old email from an old friend

Friday, April 29, 2011

Burn, baby, burn

I made it back to Kerrie Lowe's whimsically named Kerrie Lowe Gallery this morning.

The works continue to enthrall. I hope the pictures speak for themselves - in a calmer more coherent way than I do.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cafe K at the Kauri Foreshore Hotel

Not long after six in the a.m. I go down each day to get a macchiato from Cafe K. This morning I took a glass to transport it home. A better option than the usual paper cup or to wait and drink it when it reaches the right temperature.

The cafe is a venture that I hope succeeds. Many have tried at that spot and all have failed. When we moved to Glebe there was a very good restaurant at the Kauri. I don't think it had a name. It was run by Joe and the sandwich board on the corner said Joe of No Names. When Joe was asked about No Names he'd consistently say either "I don't have anything to do with those people anymore" or "I don't talk about those people anymore". Joe worked for No Names and then he didn't. Our gain.

We'd take people used to fine dining all over the world to Joe's and they always enjoyed the food. It was Oztalian in style, well cooked and generously proportioned - much like Joe. Our Catalunyan nephew once sat under the table drawing while we feasted on grilled seafood. I think he was wondering why we were eating before 10pm. His mother asked me whether because I was a New Zealander I was able to eat prawns easily with a knife and fork. When I left NZ prawns came in tins or frozen from supermarkets in Asian enclaves in the bigger cities. I hadn't seen a fresh one.

Joe's did so well that eventually even the asleep-at-the wheel landlord of the pub noticed and demanded a huge rent increase. Joe packed up and left. The aatw landlord converted half the dining room into a pokie den and there's never been a successful restaurant at the Kauri since. They come, they fail, they go. The pub changed hands a few years ago and is still finding its feet.

Under the last management the upstairs accomodation area was little better than a doss house. I unwisely booked friends into it for two nights without looking at the room. The cleaner advised Robyne not to use the upstairs bathroom because the "men" were none too finickety in their hygiene and little concerned how their actions affected others. The pub was like a Fawlty Towers themed venue with a lazier and less interested host. I don't know how or why he ended up with the job but he stayed too long. When my friends asked about the possibility of a fan to disturb the cloud of mosquitos they attempted to sleep in the barman said he couldn't help, didn't know the manager and didn't know how to contact him. Turned out he was the aatw landlord's son. You can't buy publicity like that - word of mouth can lead to return business - or not. Suffice to say artists and designers from Christchurch didn't start booking the place out.

The coffee is now good, opening at six is good and the bloke running the cafe isn't expecting to make a fortune in three months, retire and move to the Gold Coast. Good luck.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


We had lunch with friends yesterday - another Easter ritual. Often during the day they complimented us on how great our daughters are - funny, clever, articulate, and good company. It is gratifying as parents to get immediate feedback on your children - particularly when you've seen what is being commented on and know that it's not the biased praise of grandparents or the guarded language of teachers.

My friend Richard has nine children - that's right - count 'em, nine. Over the time I knew him he was voluble about their achievements, their talents, their beauty. Increasingly his pride in them and love for them cropped up in our conversations. He was quick to deflect any suggestions that he was at least partly responsible for this. Similarly he ignored any implication that because of who he was with them they were able to be who they became and are becoming.

He had a number of projects going at any one time and his heightened sense of what was right and wrong, what was fair and unfair often lead him to a point when he abandoned his dreams. Sometimes only temporarily. In his expression of his hurt and fury at the insult or slight he perceived he could cause damage of many types.

The world of ceramic heritage or industrial heritage research in New Zealand is very small. Despite the lack of depth and breadth there are piranhas and parasites aplenty lurking in the shallow pool. Most people seeing a sign saying "Caution Crocodiles In Area" would find another swimming hole. Richard said "What's a caution crocodile? I'll jump in and sort the feckers out!" He'd be correcting the spelling on the front of the bulldozer as it came at him.

As he encountered petty tyrants, ego-driven politicians, grandiose self-appointed experts, rag and bone merchants masquerading as curators - the whole motley conga line of bottom-feeders that lurk anywhere discards can be turned into lumps of cash [see the Australian mining industry to watch these Gollums run wild and free] he never took a step backwards. He won many a Pyrrhic victory. There's a scene in a Monty Python movie of a knight still fighting after he's lost all his limbs - Richard would've regarded that knight as lacking commitment.

In his youth he ended up under lock and key in what is known now by various euphemisms but was known back then as the naughty boys' home. These places hung over 1950s and 1960s New Zealand like a vague threat - a bogey man. They were and to a lesser extent still are presided over by sadists and staffed by bullies. Early on his fellow "clients" realised he was a fighter who had or at least displayed no fear. Then and throughout his life people used to getting away with things because of their size or because of delusions of having real power learnt that he didn't stop fighting until he was physically unable to. He was known in borstal as "Boxer".

Once when television was still a novelty and only broadcast things people wanted to see Richard and one of his daughters were watching a boxing match from the pavement outside an appliance store. I think he said it was a title fight. A large man pushed his daughter aside to get to the front. Richard interceded on her behalf and the large man with his ego bruised as well decided he had an appointment somewhere else. The small crowd's attention had switched from the TV to Richard's explanation of streetside etiquette, he taught in the action method. The crowd applauded and the large man, like many large men do, scurried off looking smaller than the wee girl he'd pushed aside. Today he'd be saying "I'm the victim here. I'll sue". In the simpler morality of those times he was wrong, he was punished, balance was restored. [NB - this is my garbled version of what I recall of a long ago phone conversation - it is no more accurate than a Wikipedia entry].

Richard's simple black and white moral code and the manner in which he expressed it could result in conflicts that ended up in entrenched stand-offs. He was often right but the broad armory he could draw on to support his view meant a lot of collateral damage was possible. The fight often became about the fight and how it had been enacted. He left a trail of upset people all believing "I'm the victim here". It's a handy out for them because the trigger for his grievance gets lost in the distress generated by the people hurt by the way he responded to his awareness of some act of bastardry. His behaviour rather than theirs becomes the focus. He is the problem not the revealer of it.

In his version of the Emperor's new clothes he leaps down from the tree, kicks the Emperor in the shins and calls the crowd gullible fools for believing the spin doctors. In their shame they turn on him. He is satisfied but exhausted and alone. His family and friends pick him up, dust him off and carry him home to live and fight another day. St George having slayed the dragon or Don Quixote having charged the windmill?

He designed a tour for me of the signifcant sites of the West Auckland fired clay industry - he called it Clay-otearoa. Witty but mostly a bad pun - again. This tour was part of a larger dream for long overdue acknowledgement of all aspects of cultural and industrial heritage preservation. The most significant site has all but disappeared under a property "development" that proceded regardless of the legislation intended to preserve New Zealand's cultural heritage. By then Richard was dying, exhausted by his struggles and his unwillingness or inability to pick his battles, to channel his energy, to identify which victories would earn more than they cost. He wept over the fate of Limeburners Bay but had to walk away.

Aucklanders will get a chance to see the results of some of Richard's efforts when Crockery of Distinction opens at the Gus Fisher Gallery next November. His more prosaic research collection may sit alongside the flamboyant displays representing the brief periods when Crown Lynn's output married solid production values with cutting edge creativity. Ironically it is the commercial failures atypical of the company's mainstream wares that most excite the appetites of the hoard accumulators. The icing on the cupcake rather than the meat and three veg.