Sunday Blog 86 – 28th May 2023

Last week at our Saturday morning yoga class, we did a lovely flow sequence where we began and ended in a kneeling position. We cycled through a range of mantras such as “I reach with trust”, “I move forward with enthusiasm”, “I open myself up to possibilities”, “I surrender to peace”, and finally, “I honour life”.

It is so easy to forget that life is a gift. So many pressures and distractions morph into a sense of immortality, as if death is something that happens to other people.

I’m on another Howards End jag, marinading in the discussions in the novel that I love. “Death destroys us, but the idea of death saves us.” In other words, we’re nicer people when we remember that all this is impermanent.

I’ve dedicated the last few days to birthday lunches, a quick writing getaway and scrolling through kind birthday messages. (Sometimes I think I like Facebook best when I have a birthday.)

And I haven’t forgotten to feel so very grateful for another turn around the sun.

“You were robbed”

Sunday Blog 85 – 21st May 2023

Every family has their little sayings. “You were robbed” was something our father would say to us whenever we, say, got 90% in a test. It was always said in jest, and wrapped in a general cocoon of his pride and kindness.

Recently and rather impulsively, I decided I would try my hand at the RTR Radio presenter’s course which is run regularly. I wanted to test out some of the ideas I have had about podcasting. Mainly I wanted to learn more about writing for broadcasting. I wasn’t so sure about all the techie skills required but I figured I could work it out. I mean, it all looked simple when we went through it with the tutor. I have been using computers since the 1980s after all and consider myself a relatively geeky person. But when I found myself alone at the desk, all alone, I just couldn’t do a single thing. The manual from class just wasn’t helpful and I couldn’t seem to get the You Tube videos to work.

I’m not sure when the last time was for you that you were learning a new skill and hit that boiling point of frustration. It has been a while for me because I’m generally doing things I have done many times before. That’s one of the benefits of being older. We have Experience behind us.

Faced with the presenters desk, I knew I was stumped. I mean sure, I was over-tired but I was surprised by how much the frustration pushed at my chest, dredged up the tears until they stood out on my lashes. The hour of studio time elapsed with me no further ahead except in being able to access my inner three year old.

I took myself and my inner child over the road for a bite to eat and a glass of wine, pulled out my journal for some catharsis. The tears were liberated by this and my napkin was soon quite soggy. That’s another benefit of being my age – not you’re experienced, but you’re also invisible. You can cry in public and no-one will ask if you’re OK.

The waitress delivered the food and wine and retreated after a quick look at my face. Then I remembered I had booked another session in the studio in an hour’s. I opened up my laptop towards me to cancel. I knew I was beat.

Then I saw the email.

I had placed second in a writing competition.

After decades of writing in the dark. 8 years alone on have been lavished on the last manuscript, with thousands of words written and abandoned and written again. In recent months I’ve been submitting regularly. Every entry has disappeared into the ether, with occasionally a “thanks but no thanks” response.

This particular submission was for the Fremantle Roundhouse. It was a thought-provoking prompt about the European executed in the colony of Western Australia. A 15-year-old boy John Gavin who had only been in Western Australia a matter of months, after having been sent out from Parkhurst Boys Home on the Isle of Wight.

The intense discomfort of my failed studio session was suddenly flooded by the intense excitement of this news. I was pressed my soggy napkins to my eyes and sobbed even more energetically. It was amazing how the frustration and the joy felt, well almost as powerful as each other.

When I awoke the next day I’d largely forgotten about the discomfort of struggling with learning new skills. But the delight in having placed in the writing competition was as strong as ever.

Then I could just hear my Dad’s voice in my head. He’s been gone three years now, but I could swear I heard him say “You were robbed!”

You can click on the link below if you want to read the winning entries:

Minds Went Walking

Sunday Blog 84 – 14th May 2023

This is the chapter I would have written for the Minds Went Walking- Paul Kelly’s Songs Re-imagined book if only I had been asked to contribute. Australian singer songwriter Paul Kelly is our Bob Dylan. Our Billy Bragg. Perhaps they sent me an invitation via email and I missed it. Certainly the song I wanted to cover isn’t in it, so perhaps I might squeeze into a second edition? In anticipation of this unlikelihood, here goes with my entry.

Please note that this post deals with sexual assault and a respectful trigger alert applies. If this is not a topic you want to engage with just now, scroll on by.

God’s Hotel

Early June 1990 I was leaving Perth for London. On a one-way ticket. By then I had a degree and professional working experience under my belt. Also, I had nurtured my unbreakable vow to myself made in 1979 that I Would Be Back to London, Europe. I had been so very bloody lucky to go to Europe with my parents in 1979 as a 14-year-old. It was like going to the moon and looking at the earth, everything in its realistic proportions. I just didn’t think it would take me eleven years to fulfil this vow. But here I was at 25 years of age and all those career and travel dreams were ahead of me.

Being the 1990s, Paul Kelly happened to be playing in Perth. Back then, I was able to nip in to see him at the Herdsman Hotel, no queue. Just a final listen to this wondrous song maker in my home town before my heroine’s journey began.

Even though I was never one to have much of a record collection, I made sure I packed my Paul Kelly CDs. Post. Gossip. Under the Sun. I set off to London to make my fortune, bobbed around precariously from house share to house share and snagged myself a job that kept me just above the poverty line.

About 1991 I got to see Paul Kelly in London, this time there was a queue, a cover charge. I stood up above and noted his bald patch. How could the ever sexy, youthful Paul Kelly be ageing?

By then I had been settled into my new London life, and was even blessed with a colleague who became a flat mate for the next few years. She is the kind of friend you can see after years and the time and distance disappears. While she and I were aligned in many ways, I could not get her to see the wondrous beauty of Paul Kelly’s ballads. To be fair, my CD collection was limited so he did get a bit of a flogging.

I’d continued to follow his new releases, add them into my Paul Kelly discography. Wanted Man in 1994 was a particular favourite. Paul followed me back to Perth via a three year detour in Greece. I returned home for good a decade after my departure, in 2001. By then I was the mother of a delightful half-Greek toddler.

And then came 10th May 2002.

When you’re lucky, privileged, like I’ve been, you can go about your life right into your 30’s, thinking life is fair. That bad things can’t happen when you live your life well and do good works. And bloody hell, Perth is a small country town. Ten years in Europe and no mishap, I was convinced the whole Perth crime scene was a media beat-up.

Until 10th May 2002. I heard a noise in the night, got up to investigate. In the early hours of that day, a faceless man broke into my home I shared with my beautiful toddler daughter, sexually assaulted me and left.

10th May 2002 taught me that life is random, brutal shit happens and we need to find our way back to positivity and belief in the general (if not absolute) goodness of most people. Somehow.

I’d bought into a social housing suburb, on the leading edge of its gentrification. I’ll never know for sure, but I think he attended parties in the house I’d bought, back in the day, with my university education, European work experience and independent financial means. Apparently there were a few car bodies in and amongst the rubbish she’d left behind before it was chi-chi’d up for the likes of me to move in.

My beautiful little home, my new start for me and my daughter was blown apart. We moved out so I could learn to sleep alone.

I wanted to understand why someone would do something like that. Completely unprovoked. I wanted to forgive, avoid the poison chalice of resentment. But there was no-one to forgive. This anonymous assailant had disappeared into the night.

By the time he was caught fourteen months later through DNA I’d almost become used to the unknown perpetrator story. I’d even survived a few more little crimes – a purse taken from a shopping trolley. Kids smashing the back door of the house just a few weeks after I had tentatively moved back in again after eight months away.

The same policeman who had helped out about the smashed back door incident was on my doorstop again a few weeks later. But he wasn’t there with any news of the young kids who’d broken in as I had expected.

He was “here about the 10th May 2002.”

It’s like his words were a blow to the back of my knees which nearly buckled. Shakily I let him and his colleagues in. The assailant was now identified. I asked if there had been other rapes in the year he’d been at large. There hadn’t and I cried with exquisite relief.

But in order to complete the arrest, they just needed me to go back down to the station… So back to the police station I went, more than a year after I had done the statement and forensic examination. The table in their office was gritty from the previous interview, and horrid memories washed at me as I completed the confusing piece of evidence gathering they needed so they could finalise the arrest warrant. I just had to look at a mug shot of 16 faces and say on the record I didn’t know any of the men. I knew he was one of them, but not which one. It was all done and dusted before I had to pick my girl up from kindy.

All weekend I knew he was going to be arrested. He didn’t.

Friday. Saturday. Sunday.

Yes I wanted the streets safe. But prison.

Prison is the place where we send people away, exile them. I couldn’t put it into words this piercing, tortuous sorrow. I wept alone. No-one except my Buddhist friend could contemplate why I would feel sad.

I couldn’t find the words, but Paul Kelly had them for me. I knew what to do. I got out God’s Hotel (co-written with Nick Cave) and played it on repeat. And over again.

And somehow there was a place for everyone, inclusion and empathy.

Everybody’s got a room in God’s Hotel.

Blame it on the moon

Sunday Blog 83 – 7th May 2023

This week I marinaded in a shame bath. Monday morning started too early, 4am to be exact. I was glued to the memoir manuscript a dear talented friend had sent me to read after I had begged her. I was following along her teenage travels, heart in mouth. My kind offer to take my sister-in-law to the airport for 7am was something I was quite committed to, but I fell into a strange early morning time warp. Like two adults who think the other was looking after the toddler, I thought she would prompt me, and she was taking her cue from me. The toddler wandered into trouble.

I squashed down my consternation on seeing the time when we finally left for the airport but breezily took off with confidence, drove us to the Roe 8 where abruptly it turned from a hundred kilometre per hour freeway into a car park.

“We’re going to miss the plane,” she said.

I didn’t want to admit this horror hostess-fail, and turned off the car park-freeway and drove as fast as I could down side streets, roared into the airport as soon as I possibly could get us there.

Had she been unencumbered with a bike box and large backpack, technically she could have boarded the plane. It was still saying “Go to Gate.’ We’d arrived at the check-in desk, breathless and with the nasty taste of stress chemicals in the mouth. But our worst fears were confirmed. For that amount of luggage, we were too late and she had indeed missed the plane.

She recovered relatively quickly given it was her plans that had been scuppered. She even enjoyed the extra days and headed off safely midweek. I on the other hand kept watching the horror unfold on playback in my mind’s eye. Not just that day, but several days later. It was deeper than the feeling of discomfort of being over-dressed or under-dressed for a function. My skin didn’t fit right.

Eventually, I reminded myself of the things that help me to feel better. Yoga. Sunset walks. Writing. Somehow the week had been bare of almost all of them. Down to the beach I went, and saw the culprit. This giant moon on Thursday night. Suddenly it all made more sense. Maybe I wasn’t having a mental breakdown after all. Blame it on the moon.

And I turned the other way and looked at the every day miracle of a sunset over the sea.

Two very heavy suitcases

Sunday Blog 82 – 30th April 2023

Between deciding to go and leaving, there was a two week period. I packed two very heavy suitcases for that brief trip to the UK to “lift my spirits”.

It had been a long eight months, and after Summer had waned I’d endured Winter in snowy Thessaloniki in Greece with my baby daughter in a one-room flat with no backyard. And parents-in-law upstairs and a very distant, unavailable partner. My skin was tinged with the grey of a long winter of being cooped up with a toddler, bathing in the neglect and contempt of her father.

Packed in those heavy suitcases were also Summer clothes for Australia, as I was fleeing home, taking my girl with me.

I had arrived eight months earlier, with my seven-month-old daughter. I was cautiously optimistic I could coax a partnership from the chance relationship with a Thessaloniki local that had resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. I had met him when teaching English as a Foreign Language and then had proceeded with a pregnancy that Was Not Properly Sanctioned. He didn’t really want to be rushed into fatherhood. I went back to Australia to birth her there and planned a return to Greece to at least give the relationship a try.

So accordingly I had arrived in Thessaloniki with my seven-month-old daughter and some tender dreams. I knew within twenty-four hours of arriving that I had made a hideous mistake, but I persisted for eight months. Until the letter from a concerned friend woke me from the forlorn spell I was under. The letter touched a resolve in me.

In the two weeks between receiving the letter and fleeing, I cried a little about him, but I wept and wept at the unfairness of it all for her Greek grandparents. This perfectly beautiful baby would be their only grandchild, and I was taking her away. A child is a blessing, a grandchild is a double blessing, the Greek saying went. I packed and wept, packed and wept.

There was no room for honest conversations and dignified exits. There was too much risk I would be prevented from leaving. So the two of us left for the UK. It was a strange, sad farewell tour in the UK before we boarded for Australia.

The two of us made our life back in Australia and yes, we have always remained in some kind of touch with the Greek relatives. But it was not the same, of course, as it would have been if we’d stayed.

This treasured baby has grown into a woman who, among many other things, is a talented signer song-writer. Last weekend, I bathed in the excruciating sweetness of listening to her sing about the person she would have been if I hadn’t fled.

Her version of herself looks much the same. The green eyes which are a delicious blend of his velvet brown eyes and my bright blue ones. But the other her confidently navigates the streets and nooks of Thessaloniki. She is bilingual – not like the grandchild who had to endlessly apologies to Ya Ya (Grandma) and Papous (Grandpa) that she is sorry she can’t speak to them or understand what they say.

My sliding door moment was necessarily her sliding door moment too. That is the powerlessness of the child. And yet she’s transformed that into a beautiful song.

I listened and cried, listened and cried.

The Glass Window

Sunday Blog 81 – 23rd April 2023

For something a little bit different I thought I might share some of the rejected submissions I have been doing, adapting them to the Sunday Blog platform. Gets them out into the world somehow!

“I think I’m done,” she said. Until that moment, she was my boss. She was leaving the office, leaving the organisation, handing the baton to me. From that day on, I would be the manager of the Perth-based childbirth education non-profit we had nurtured. Much thought and care had gone into the succession plan to ensure that it would be a smooth handover. I had had an entire year working alongside her in a nominal role of Business Development Manager, but in reality, I was Manager in waiting.

I walked her down the steps from her office, now my office, to the front door. With more to do (there’s always more to do) I was going to head back upstairs and keep on working.

Our protocol was the last person in the office locked themselves in. The front door had a glass panel. She hugged me one last time and walked through the door. The key turned in the lock, and she was on the outside, I was on the inside. Without thinking, we both put our hands up to the glass and smiled into each other’s eyes.

In truth, the handover year with my colleague had dragged at times. There was an edge of triumph and excitement for me as I stood on the inside of the office, my hand up against hers on the glass.

Then she was gone.

I was Manager.

Locked on to the bucking bronco ride. The terror of giving media comment. The hard work of keeping government funders happy. Providing members (i.e. mothers and others), our most important people with what they needed. Keeping staff happy. Keeping the Board happy. An endless tightrope walk.

Three years later I got off that bucking bronco. I came out as an author with my self-published memoir Not My Story. I felt like I could no longer run and organisation and be an author. I felt like I needed to move on. For the next year I moonlighted in a non-profit, still working in health, but now I was three rungs down the hierarchy.

And I didn’t like it. Not being able to make decisions sucked. I forgot about the tough parts of being a leader, and just before my 50th birthday, I landed the opportunity to run our state’s patient advocacy non-profit.

As I have written elsewhere, this came to an end over a year ago, and I am back to moonlighting in the non profit world. I’m closing in on book number two, but now my writing practice is much more deeply embedded. I keep walking the labyrinthine path towards full time creative, taking many pragmatic job opportunity pit stops along the way.

It’s all Greek…

Sunday Blog 80 – 16th April 2023

I still remember when I was just about to leave London for Greece in 1996. So lucky to get a five year contract at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in 1990, I had seen that out and had started on the next.

But something wasn’t right. I didn’t love objects so why on earth was I working in the museum sector? I had an itch to go, and I threw in the job to become an English Language teacher.

My farewell party at the Museum was held in the Queen’s House – perks of the job – and I remember sharing my fears about what it would be like to lose my super power of words, of being articulate. I was reassured that I would prevail. But in truth, I floundered.

I still remember my very first morning in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second biggest city, wandering around the streets feeling very unsure of myself. Looking up at the Greek street signs, puzzling out the names stirred up some old memory in me. A past life?

It was clear the headmistress of the school I was teaching at spoke very little English, and had a very poor opinion of English Language teachers. She asked what my name was, but found the diminutive “Pip” not to her taste. She asked through a cloud of smoke if I had a real name, and deemed I would be called Philippa from then on. Too frightened to argue, I went by my full name. In turn, I called her the Gorgon, but not to her face, obviously. It turns out that Pip is Greek for Blow Jo b so she was doing me a favour

Perhaps it was having to focus on English all day every day and pick it apart in a way I’d never had to before. Learning Greek was a slow and dilatory process. My time living in Greece – two years as an independent professional woman, and eight months as a dependant mother of a half-Greek infant – were not enough to ensure fluency.

My Greek has remained stubbornly elementary to this day. To non-speakers I can sound quite good, navigating around in a taxi and ordering food on the menu. But anything more than that and it all unravels quite rapidly.

I have just confirmed my decision to travel to Greece again this year, and have become quite determined to brush up on my Greek between now and then. It’s never too late to go for fluency, I have decided. I have become obsessed with my new language app. I have started Greek at Elementary. Sigh. However it assures me I have a better accent that 90% of the people on the app. I’m going with that…

Transfer papers

Sunday Blog 79 – 9th April 2023

It’s fair to say my father loved life, and left it reluctantly just before he turned 95, nearly three years ago now. Even two weeks before his death he was fairly adamant he would get behind the wheel again on discharge from hospital after another health setback.

The family meeting prior to discharge prompted his announcement he would probably get back behind the wheel by and bye. The gerontologist was firm.

“You can’t drive Gerard. You don’t have the strength in your legs!”

He looked slightly mortified at this aspersion cast on his capacity, but it seemed to sink in. He’d never listened to us telling him (again) that he may well kill someone while out and about in his car and how would he like that?

His red car gathered more scrapes and dings in the last years of his life. Once so fastidious about getting every dent repaired, he’d started to let them go.

Two weeks after his gerontologist told him he didn’t have the strength to drive, he was gone.

For the next two and a half years, the car largely sat in the driveway, only taken out now and again for a spin to the local shops. It had a very sensitive accelerator and roared rather unpredictably up the driveway as if keen to be back on the road.

And suddenly, this weekend, it was the right time to sell.

Mindful of the importance of a clean car on sale price, I took the red car out of its driveway for the last time and straight through the car wash. I then drove 30 minutes to my home to sell it from there. The wind and sun would dry it out to a car yard sheen.

Alone in the car for this last drive in our family, I found myself talking out loud. “What a beautiful day for a drive!” I reassured the car, or Dad, or myself.

It was. The stunning river to the right, the car sailing smoothly along to remind me what a beauty it is to drive.

Once I arrived at my home there needed to be a certain amount of vacuuming before any ads could be posted. Last bits emerged from under seats and in glove boxes like archaeologist finds:

  • Not one, but two UBD (Urban Business Directory or Map Book) – one from 2009 and one from 2011. Memories of navigating in the 1980’s swamped me when I opened one up. Where you wanted to go was always in the impossible-to-read crease of the map.
  • A holy medal to protect the driver (he never left home without one)
  • A tin of barley sugars with a best-before date of June 2020 (although clumped together, darling husband confirmed they were still delicious)
  • His trusty chamois in a Cottee’s jam jar – always in the glove box
  • Glass wipes for the winder (also permanently housed in the glove box)
  • Two unidentifiable bits that I hope weren’t vital for the car to operate
  • A notebook with his spidery writing with a list of plants and chores
  • A one-word shopping list, more spidery now, just asking for “Porridge”
  • A crumpled mask to mark the pandemic

Losing the ability to drive was such a curb to his independence. He would have dearly loved to have mastered the art of catching an Uber. He always called them “Yubers” and the only time I rode in one with him he was entranced by the magic of alighting without handing over any cash or card.

The red car’s new young owner seemed very happy with his purchase. He may even get rid of all the dents and scratches and the red car can ride again in all its glory.

Only connect

Artwork by Gerard Taylor

Sunday Blog 78 – 2nd April 2023

“Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”

Howards End, Chapter 22

Howards End began life as an Edwardian novel before being made into a movie with Emma Thomson, Helena Bonham Carter and co. Perhaps not everything from this book has translated well across time, just as not everything from the book made it across to the movie.

I first read this book in 1987 as a 24 year old and it is still a favourite. Every half decade or so I re-read it because it tackles death, class, money, social justice. What’s not to like about that?

The book worries away at the conundrum of how we tackle living in this practical world. Is doing well in the world and amassing wealth the only thing that matters? Or is there something more? The most idealistic character Helen asserts “We have to die… Injustice and greed would be the real thing if we lived for ever… Death and Money are the eternal foes.” (Chapter 27) It all seems very bracing to me in this death-denying culture Western culture we live in.

One year ago, fresh from leaving my Executive Director role I was keen to rush off hatless to the tattoo parlour to mark the occasion. A wise colleague once told me to think carefully before getting a tattoo. Put a picture up on the fridge for a few months and if you still like it three months later, do it. And choose your tattooist wisely.

Certainly I have had many different ideas in the last year, and pictures have come and gone on the fridge. One with a feather pen and concentric circles with this quote “Only Connect.” But in the end I kept it simple. It was also going to be on the inside of my wrist, but in the end it went on my right shoulder. The woman sitting next to me on the plane on the way over the Melbourne on Thursday last week confirmed the wisdom of a shoulder tattoo to test the waters. Clearly I take advice from all comers, not just wise colleagues. To be fair, she had quite a few very nice tattoos on. I was very blessed to have my own nephew finish the design and ink me for the first time.

This quote reminds be of why I love the central theme of Howards End and keep coming back to dip in. To connect all the different parts of ourselves into a whole, to see and respond to the humanity in others.

Now I just need to hide it from my nonagenerian mother…

Sunday Evenings

Sunday Blog 77 – 26th March 2023

I’m still not sick of that glorious Sunday evening feeling when I realise that I don’t have to go to work on Monday. One year in and it still hasn’t got old. I get excited that I can just do my semi-vagabond creative thing. My working from home thing. My writing thing.

This week though a shadow fell over my days. My manuscript is out for comment so I need to scrabble around with other writing projects. Like the transition stage of labour perhaps, as I get closer to finishing the manuscript I’ve been working on with the Emerging Writers Program, the more doubts and insecurities plague me. What’s going to happen to my writing practice once my Emerging Writers Program mentorship comes to an end? When oh when am I going to get this book done? Will it take the next step towards publication? Does it suck?

And then there’s the parallel work life – because I do need to keep on working at least a bit. How much income is enough?

I dreamt last night I had gone back to my old workplace, and (I hasten to add, none of my real-life colleagues were in it) the dishes hadn’t been done. The staff kitchen was a mess. I realised I was going to have to put up a sign to make sure people did their own dishes. Then in the dream I found myself asking why on earth I was back at the day job?

I awoke to my real Sunday morning. Stretched in bed, made a cup of tea. Here I am, time rich but a modest regular income. A wise friend told me that if you want to work less, you need to tighten the belt. This is true, and it has thrown me back onto the simple moments of every day life. Making time to go down and watch the sunset at night – and not just when the sun dips down behind the ocean, but about half an hour later when it lights up like in this image.

As the saying goes, the best things in life, aren’t things. Happy Sunday evening, and I hope it is a gentle one for you.