Sweet Sorrow

I remember sitting with my young son once, watching a movie, a sad movie about a dog. I knew the scene was having an effect on him because it had a similar one on me. I watched him for a moment, feeling for him as the tears began to flow. When he realised I was watching, he turned and said he had an onion in his eye. It’s an excuse I’ve used myself since then.

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Photo by Steve Buissinne

Sometimes, emotions get the better of us, even when we try to control them. They set the tone for each of us in our daily lives. We wake in an emotional state, be it happy, sad, stressed, angry or relaxed, and head out into our day, reacting to the world and coping with our many moods. But these feelings can change in an instant. You awake to the sun shining through your window; the birds are singing; life is good. But then you glance at the alarm. Why didn’t it go off after you set it? You’ve overslept for crying out loud, and now you’ve missed the bus to work. Disaster has struck, and all because you lay there thinking happy thoughts. We’ve all been there. A letter in the mail to say you owe back-taxes just after getting a pay rise. A bump in your brand new car even though you never got a scratch on the old one. Emotions have a way of swinging with the breeze and with the events surrounding us. And, of course, they can play out in the opposite direction; you start off irritable but the day keeps getting better. By evening your floating on air. Bring on that bottle of wine before dinner; life is great. (might not be in the morning when you regret the second bottle of wine) Emotions play a significant part in our decision making; they affect everything from impulse buying to picking a partner, job decisions to which shoes you should wear. It’s impossible to go through life without experiencing an emotional response to everything in it.

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Photo by Gino Crescoli

There are generally recognised lists of emotions that include all the usual suspects. Anger, joy, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise. There are others like embarrassment, shame and pride. And what’s clear is that we can experience different, even opposing emotions simultaneously. The anxiety we feel on the first day of work, for instance, is usually accompanied by excitement, perhaps even pride, along with terror at the thought of failure. Scientists have all manner of explanations to tell us what, how and why emotions evolved in humans, and why they play such an essential role in daily life. Many of those explanations go back to basic survival instincts, like fight-or-flight, getting pleasure from eating certain foods, or the need to jealously protect your mate from intruders. Science can explain the physiological responses by talking about neurotransmitters and chemical stimulation. They’ll highlight the importance of hormones like cortisol, adrenalin, and melatonin. These all play a part in our emotional state. To most of us, however, it’s merely a question of how we feel at any one moment and how we interpret the emotions. We also need to react to the feelings of those around us.

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Photo by John Hain

Understanding body language is vital in our interactions with others. How we express our emotional state helps us communicate our state of mind. A smile can bring instant ease when confronted with a stranger. But subtle changes in that same smile can turn it from a greeting to a smirk, and in an instant to an aggressive warning of contempt or bravado. Tears are a display of pain, but also a way of saying to others that we may need help. We learn these cues from birth.

Sometimes we cry for no reason at all

Of all the physiological responses to emotions, tears are perhaps the most telling, but once again, they can be the result of very different emotions that can run side-by-side. We cry for many reasons, and in recent years, we’ve been encouraged to use tears freely as a vent for our emotions, especially when it comes to men. There are still those alpha-males who think tears are for the girls, but more and more men feel free to express their feelings by letting the tears flow. It’s long been known to have a therapeutic effect, a powerful way to get past grief. Sometimes laughter brings us to tears, and again, this brings conflicting emotions into close relationships. We cry when we are overwhelmed by emotions at either end of the scale; joy vs pain, despair vs happiness. We cry at weddings and funerals, at winning and losing, and we sometimes cry for no reason at all. I recall a moment when driving alone one day. I switched on the radio just in time to hear a boy chorister singing a requiem at Westminster Abbey, the sound so pure, I felt suddenly overwhelmed and brought to tears. I’ve heard of such instances before, but to be affected to such extreme emotion, purely by the beauty of sound, was indeed something I’ll never forget. I’ve been reduced to blubbering many times in my life, times when nothing could hold back the need to weep, though I’ve often felt the need to hide it. Perhaps the younger generations will feel less inhibited, but I’ve a feeling they’ll have a lot more to cry about.

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Photo by Cheryl Holt

Loss is a common reason people tear up and bawl. Like most people, I’ve lost family, friends and loved ones who’ve passed away, and, my family and I have said goodbye many times when we’ve migrated around the world, leaving behind those we hold dear. But the loss of those close to us is when those darned emotions start playing tricks again. Our tears are full of mixed feelings, and sadness is tinged with the happy memories we’ve shared. In grieving a loss, we experience all manner of emotions, and they are often at odds with one another. This is because you can’t have grief without knowing the joy of love, and if you never had love, you can never know the real tragedy of grief. That’s why parting is such sweet sorrow.

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Photo courtesy of S. Hermann & F. Richter

 

That’s why parting is such sweet sorrow

A Special Kind Of Lady

When Gundungurra Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Val Mulcahy, describes her life growing up on a mission reserve, she’s not complaining, she’s merely telling it how it was. And neither will you find her feeling sorry for herself; she’s a fiercely independent and proud Australian woman.

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Velma (Aunty Val) Mulcahy at the Order of Australia Awards

I first met Aunty Val after seeking help with the cultural aspects of my new novel, Black Bones, Red Earth. Set in 1950s rural Australia, the story follows the life of Katherine, an English child migrant and her relationships with Aboriginal station hands. I never intended this novel to be about black Australia; it is, after all, the story of an English orphan. But I soon found similarities between Katherine’s story and those of the Aboriginal stolen generation, and that led me to learn more. As the writing progressed and characters emerged, I found it impossible to overlook the hardships suffered by Aboriginals as a result of government policies. As a result, the novel delves into a traumatic period in the lives of First Australians who were taken from their families and separated from their ancestral homes by British and Australian governments.

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Aunty Val (right) with family at La Perouse mission

Eighty-four-year-old Aunty Val was born and raised under protection law on the Aboriginal mission at La Perouse, south of Sydney. After being taken to live on the mission, the Protection Board separated Aunty Val’s mother, Ida, and her children from her husband, Reg. He was arrested and beaten every time he tried to see his family. Val saw her brother ejected from the mission when he reached 18 years of age. Life on the mission was difficult, and racial prejudice rampant when the residents strayed beyond the reserve.

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La Perouse mission reserve south of Sydney

‘We had different rules to white Australians,’ Aunty Val told me. ‘We didn’t have freedom of movement. We didn’t have a vote. We weren’t allowed to go to see a doctor or go to the hospital until Thursday. If you were very sick and it wasn’t Thursday, you died.’

If you were sick and it wasn’t Thursday, you died

Aunty Val says that babies died in numbers on the reserve because of gastroenteritis. ‘Women were not allowed to breast-feed on the mission. Instead, they were given bottles of milk to feed their babies. But they didn’t teach them how to sterilise the bottles, so babies got sick and died. Schooling was inadequate. We got to paint pictures, listen to bible stories, and sing hymns. There was no reading or writing, and we were not allowed to talk our own language or talk about traditional ways.’

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Aunty Val’s parents Ida Amatto and Reginald Russell in the 1930s.

Aunty Val had no idea why she and her family had to live on the mission. ‘My mum told me we had to stay because we were special. It was only when I was older that I learned the truth and that we had been forced onto the mission. I was sent out to work when I was thirteen, and that’s when I discovered we were treated differently to white kids. Even at work, we had different rules; we had to give all our wages to the mission, and they gave us sixpence back.’

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An early photo of the La Perouse mission house

Despite coming out of the mission, ill-equipped for the world, Aunty Val vowed to gain a university education. She was fifty years old when she achieved her dream, studying at the University of Sydney for her degree. Aunty Val worked in Aboriginal health and services and is passionate about educating others. ‘Education is the key for our people if they are going to thrive. If you’re not getting children educated, they will always be disadvantaged.’ Aunty Val has seen too many kids coming out of school, unable to read or write. ‘They need jobs, but they don’t stand a chance if they’re not getting educated.’

My mum said I was special

Aunty Val was awarded the Order of Australia for her work in the community, but she says there’s so much more to be done. I asked her if she was bitter about the treatment she and other First Australians have suffered. ‘I’m not bitter,’ she says. ‘but I get angry at governments that refuse to move the country forward. We can’t change the past; what’s done is done. We’re not stupid; we know we can’t turn the clock back. But Australia needs to recognise the truth and admit what happened in the past. This land was not empty when the whitefellas came. It was our country and had been for thousands of years. What happened was an invasion, followed by genocidal attacks on our race, segregation and outright discrimination. The protection laws were brought in to breed out our Aboriginal blood. Until Australian history recognises what really happened, and until we start teaching it in schools, we can’t move on, and our people will continue to suffer. We need a treaty, and we need to be recognised in the constitution. Then, maybe, we can have a chance at reconciliation and start to heal.’

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Having a yarn with Aunty Val at the community centre she helped create

Aunty Val would be the first to say her story is unremarkable; she’ll tell you that every Indigenous Australian has a story to pass on and that there were a lot worse off than her. But after listening to her tales, and learning of her past and her accomplishments, I can say without a doubt that her mother was right, Aunty Val is indeed very special.

Big Little Lies

without so much as a game of whack-the-piñata

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Photo by Hello I’m Nik

Little lies, white lies, little untruths, have a habit of becoming big lies when they’re repeated and spread on a wider scale. Dig yourself a little hole and pretty soon you’re preparing your own grave. I remember going away on our family’s summer vacation–I was about ten years old at the time. We returned home two weeks later to find a number of neighbourhood kids and school friends, waiting on the doorstep. Dressed in party frocks and Sunday best, they had arrived, as invited, to my birthday party. It was a surprise party! Mum and Dad were not impressed as they were the ones surprised. I had to watch in total misery, as my guests departed without so much as a game of whack-the-piñata, taking the gifts they had brought with them. I was in the dog house–paddling in doggie doo–for weeks. What was I thinking? Well, it started out as a little lie; I was having a party, I told my best friend, then very soon… Well, you know how it goes, and give me a break, I was only ten. The least Mum could have done was to let me keep the presents before sending everyone home.

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Photo by Social Cut

Of course, there are bigger little lies, conspiratorial lies deliberately spread until they become the truth–Just ask Donald Trump–and these lies can have a serious effect on our lives. Take this one for instance: Fat is bad for you, sugar (refined carbohydrates) is good. Who wouldn’t believe that one; everyone loves carbohydrates, right? And dieticians told us to eat them in bulk; just take a look at the dietary pyramid they’ve been using for decades. Except, this is a lie that became so big, it’s lasted for fifty-odd years. And there are still some who try to keep the lie going. What’s worse is that this one kills people by the thousands. If you wanted to find a way to kill off half the population, this would be the perfect weapon. I have a picture in my mind of Dr Evil, sitting in his secret hideaway beneath a Pacific Ocean volcano, saying, ‘Let’s feed them sugar and say it’s good. Ha, ha, ha, ha!’ Cut to his evil grin. The worst thing about this lie is that as conspiracies go, this was probably the most successful conspiratorial lie of all time. Dr Evil managed to brainwash all the doctors, dieticians and researchers to go along with his evil plan. Some didn’t even need brainwashing, because they did it for payoffs, bribed by the drug companies who were part of Dr Evil’s secret empire. Profit above all else is his motto.

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Mike Myers as Dr Evil

You don’t need to be a health professional to understand the effects this lie has had, in fact, it’s probably best that you’re not in the health industry, or you’d be feeling the guilt by now. Dr Evil–better known as Big Business–has profited from making us sick, and just like the cigarette companies of the past, they knew exactly what they were doing when they told us they knew best. Food companies have consistently laced our food with sugary poison; to the extent that–unless you have raw produce–it’s in everything we eat; just look at the labels. Then there’s the drug companies, multi-billion dollar organisations, reaping the profits by treating the addicts they helped create. These mega food and drug companies fund all the health research so that the outcomes favour their vast commercial interests. And when you have organisations like The Heart Foundation and Diabetes Foundation (receiving funding from big business) towing the company line, you know you have a big, big problem. Just drop into their websites to see that they are still making excuses to justify sugar (refined carbohydrates) as an essential part of the diet, despite proof to the contrary. These are the organisations supposed to protect us.

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Photo by Freestocks.Org

Then there’s the other half of the same lie, cholesterol is the cause of heart disease and other medical conditions, and is caused by fat in the diet. Ask a doctor, she’ll tell you. But in reality, just like cholesterol itself, fat is essential for our health. It promotes satiety and protects against heart disease, the exact opposite of what they’ve been telling us all these years. Refined grains, on the other hand, make us want to eat, eat and eat again, play havoc with our blood sugar, and make us store fat by the bucket full. Meanwhile, these same health experts have been selling us cholesterol-lowering drugs to the tune of billions of dollars in profits. Add to that that they promoted so-called good oils in place of natural fats–margarine, canola and corn oil–all of which have a toxic effect on the body, and they had even more reason to dish out the drugs to correct it.

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Photo by Victoria Shes

Why has it taken over half a century to wake from our sleep and start discovering we’ve been lied to? The answer is that we trusted those charged with our welfare. When doctors and dieticians blindly aid in promoting the lie, what chance has the truth? When research is funded to make us believe in false data, are we supposed to know any better when even the doctors are fooled? There are those better positioned than me to sift through the disinformation and find honest answers. People like the Canadian, Dr Jason Fung, who brilliantly talks about the obesity problem, hormones of the gut and the conflicts of researchers and doctors who promote the lie. Ivor Cummings talks about cholesterol and how hormones form an essential part of the picture, and Dr Michael Mosley’s Blood Sugar Diet, explains how things can easily be improved by how and when we eat, how we can take back control of our health.

There are better ways to look after our health

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Photo by Jafar Ahmed

Listening to these people with an open mind quickly brings any rational person to conclude that we’ve been living a huge lie, while all the time the truth has been right in front of our eyes. The proof is in the pudding–literally–and living a healthy life is sustainable once we’ve broken free of the sugar addiction (easier than you could imagine). Eat fat, cut out the sugar. I’ve seen the proof first hand, where the right change of diet and lifestyle has reversed medical conditions, brought weight back to healthy levels and allowed drugs taken for years to be discarded. We don’t have to give up the sweat treat completely, but like any drug, we have to recognise its power and understand that there are pushers ready and willing to kill us for profit.

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Photo by Katie Smith

Our weekly shopping trolley now looks much like it would have done in the 1950s; it’s full of fresh produce, meat, fish, eggs and dairy. It’s a Mediterranean diet; and oh, I’ve got news for you; the Mediterranean diet is not bread, pizza and pasta. I went to see my doctor to get the results of my latest blood tests after months of cutting refined carbohydrates out of my diet, eating within an eight-hour window, and cutting out snacks in between meals. ‘Good news,’ she said, ‘you won’t be needing that cholesterol-lowering medication after all. All your results are excellent.’ I wonder why?

As little lies go, Fat is bad, sugar is good, is a DIRTY GREAT BIG ONE!

Unconditional Love

I started to write a very different blog

I started to write a very different blog but was distracted by the tap of a paw on my knee. My ever-present writing buddies wanted my attention. Whenever I sit down at the computer and start writing, it’s usually a signal for Charlie and Ruby–our King Charles Cavaliers–to stretch out and sleep, only to stir at coffee time, when they know they’ll get their morning treat.

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Photo by Rick Lee                                                                        Charlie and Ruby

They don’t need to smell the coffee; they don’t even need to hear the coffee machine buzzing or the fridge door slapping shut; they have an impeccable built-in clock that says, it’s bikkie time. It’s incredible that they can tell to the second, just when they should be eating, sleeping, or going out for walks. Not only that, they are psychic, knowing long before I don my coat and grab the car keys that I’m planning to leave without them. Try sneaking out of the house; it’s impossible. Not only are they psychic, but my furry friends are mind-benders. They sit and stare for hours if necessary just so I’ll get up and clean the dinner dishes of potential food scraps. Look into my eye, my eyes. The movie can wait; you will get up and feed me. Look into my eyes; you are mine to command. And it works. I find myself drawn to those big baby browns and the sad, neglected expression. Who could resist? It’s like I’m sleepwalking to the kitchen.

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Photo by Paolo Nicolello

People like to own pets and they come in all shapes, sizes, species and breeds (people and pets). Some keep reptiles, snakes and spiders. I know people who love mice, ferrets and rats. There are even people who keep cockroaches, though I’ve got to say, that really bugs me. I’ve got four chickens, and they have a special kind of character, and I’d love to keep horses. I wouldn’t have pigs; they live like animals. I like cats. We’ve had plenty over the years. But dogs are different, aren’t they? Once you’ve had dogs in your life, there’s no going back. So what is it about dogs that makes them man’s–or woman’s–best friend?

I wouldn’t have pigs; they live like animals

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Photo by Rick Lee                                                                                      Charlie & Jay

 

Unconditional love; that’s what dogs give that other animals–or humans–don’t. They’re there when you call–even when you don’t. They’ll risk their lives for you, and you for them. I remember the time they pulled me from a burning building… Okay, maybe I dreamt that one, but they would if they could. Dogs never judge you, even when you feel judged by everyone else. And they make you smile, even when you don’t feel like smiling.

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Photo by _-Drz-_

Dogs will sit for hours, waiting at the window for your return. Give you cuddles when no one else understands how you feel. They do poop a lot, and I am their faithful pooper scooper. It’s like that Last Emperor movie where the loyal servant stands waiting for the poo to arrive, picking it up and inspecting it for irregularities. And talking about poop, they love to indulge. Total bliss for Charlie is a good roll in a pile of Wombat poo, just to get rid of that nasty rose shampoo smell. Ruby, on the other hand, enjoys nothing better than a good munch on chicken poop. It sweetens her breath before she showers me in licks and kisses. Sorry if you’re trying to enjoy breakfast while reading this post.

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Photo by Rick Lee                                                                                      Ruby

Total bliss is a good roll in a pile of Wombat poo

Like most who have dogs, I find myself talking to Ruby and Charlie like they’re humans and understand every word. But it’s always in a squeaky voice, like when you’re talking to a baby.

“I’ve had a bad day today,” I say sometimes.

“Ruff,” they answer sympathetically.

“Yes, it was,” I reply. “A dog of a day.”

They understand what I’m going through, and when I need to take a break. Which brings me to that tap on the knee. It’s Ruby, and she figures it’s a good time to shut down the computer and enjoy the day while the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Both she and Charlie will curl up contentedly at my side, with one eye on the world passing by, the other on that internal clock that says when it’s dinner time.

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Photo by Nathalie Spehner

Dogs; you’ve got to love em.

The Music of Life

Hey Google, play some 60s rock!

I don’t usually listen to music when I’m writing; I can’t concentrate because I’m either listening to the lyrics or sitting back to admire the funky melody. But I’d taken timeout the other day, just to chill. “Hey, Google!” I said. “Play some 60s rock.” Google duly obliged and within seconds I was tapping my fingers and singing the words to some obscure Manfred Mann number. How is it that after fifty-odd years I remember every word? It’s crazy that it’s been there, lying in wait for the right prompt to come along and set it free. Music can do that; it can stick in your head and resist all attempts to shake it free. And it’s often the worst of songs that linger, like… No, I won’t even go there in case I dislodge some annoying song like the Macarena and end up singing it all day. (D’oh!)

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Chilling to the groove                                                                               Photo by Holger Link

 

Anyway, it got me to thinking about how music shadows life. It’s always there somewhere, either up-front and centre or playing in the background. It’s like the backing track to your very existence. Think back through the years, even to childhood, and there’s usually a song or two that stand out as significant memories. Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight? Now, that was a classic for a young boy with a fossilised collection of gum stuck behind the bedhead. Mum didn’t like it. It’ll tangle round your tonsils, twist from left to right, does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight?

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Photo by Matthew Brodeur

I have three older brothers who blazed the trail before me, so my appreciation of music was well and truly entrenched by the teenage years. Everything was groundbreaking through those years, and so many artists were going in new directions and making an impression on me. I remember watching Roy Orbison singing Pretty Woman. The performance had such an effect that for months after, I donned sunglasses and wore black, even when going to bed. I sang songs into a hairbrush using his baritone style while watching myself in the mirror looking cool as. That was where my musical ambitions finished. The endeavour was there but the rhythm wasn’t. Music evolved quickly during those years. It was such an exciting time for someone with eclectic tastes; I didn’t know where to turn or who to follow next.

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Photo by Paulette Wooten

As a Liverpool boy, The Beatles were naturally kings of the strings. They had so many truly great songs, it would be hard to pick out one in particular, but I definitely thought we were going to change the world when we grew our hair and sang along to Love, love, love.  It was the late sixties when I met the love of my life; like most teens of the era, we lived for music, booze and dance. I recall us crammed into the Victoriana Club in Liverpool, a tiny venue with wall to wall people, and live music every night. There was barely room to get the band inside. We grooved there to Marvin Gaye live, singing: I Heard It Through the Grapevine. It was like having him in our living room.

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Photo by Edward Cisneros

Like most teens, I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do with my life. So when The Graduate came out in cinemas, I identified with Dustin Hoffman’s restless and confused spirit. The songs of Simon and Garfunkel that accompanied the film echoed my own feelings of uncertainty, and still bring to mind the crossroad decisions I faced at the time. There are other important songs and artists that reflect my teen years and cause me to remember those days. Songs like Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blues, Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, and Cat Stevens’ Wild World.

With the days of youth fading fast, David Bowie’s Life On Mars marked the preparations for our wedding, (Perhaps it was an omen.) and life was never the same again. In the early years of married bliss, Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road hardly left the turntable, and I could only look back on the good old days of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting with nostalgia. Every song on that album reminds me of our first steps at building a home together. And who could forget the house parties and everyone dancing in a line to Saturday Night Fever in the back yard?

Who could forget the house parties?

John Lennon released Starting Over as we prepared to leave for Canada. It seemed an appropriate song to mark a new life abroad. Not long after arriving in Canada, we bought a new turntable and our very first new album was Men at Work’s Business As Usual, not realising that one day we would live in the Land Downunder, and it would virtually become our theme tune.

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Photo by Ana Grave

There soon came a time when the music that marked important events were not always of our choosing, but those of our kids. Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer reverberated from the bedrooms, and though I do like the occasional heavy metal session, I have to admit we started looking for homes that would take the kids on a permanent basis. Heavy metal became the staple diet and I began to think that the devil had moved in-house. I recall waiting outside a theatre in Toronto for our son who had gone to a Metallica concert. The doors opened, spilling the exuberant, bare-chested crowd onto the street where they mobbed our car, jumping on the hood and banging on the roof, screaming Seek & Destroy, and, Kill Em All, with all the accompanying facial expressions of angry young men. (I knew we weren’t going to die, really I did.) Thankfully things mellowed at home as the kids discovered Pink Floyd, Guns & Roses and Bon Jovi, and other more moderate forms of music followed. Dark Side Of The Moon accompanied many a camping expedition, and Life Is A Highway played on every road trip across Canada and the States.

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Photo by Alessandro Porri

Life is a highway!

Life in Australia had a different rhythm and an Aussie flavour, as we embraced all things unique to the big Southern Land. We immersed ourselves in all the classics, like Sounds of Then, Flame Trees and Beds Are Burning. Once again, our kids had their own favourites at the time, from bands like Green Day, Tragically Hip and The Offspring, but soon it was their own songs and their own music we were listening to, songs written and performed by our own kids, like Six Degrees and Sandalwood by Paper View. Music is in their blood and will be as important to them later when they look back and put together their own compilations to mark their paths through life.

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Photo by Jernej Graj

So what’s in the background now, you may ask? What new gems are marking this phase of life for me? Well, the eclectic taste is still there, but there’s a leaning to mellow and melodic. You’re more likely to hear Sam Smith or Ed Sheeran than Five Finger Death Punch. I guess it’s an age thing. As for the tracks on my life album, I hope there’s plenty more to come before I reach the final tune. Maybe the needle will slip on the turntable and I’ll be forever waiting for the album to end, or maybe it will just skip to the beginning and start all over again. I could live with that.

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Photo by Jace Afsoon

 

Citizen of the World

The world has always been a tribal sphere, a place of kingdoms, borders and empires. Throughout history, borders have changed, lands have been occupied, won and lost, or simply decimated by invaders. The dominant forces have changed over the centuries, but the stories have remained the same; the strong, bully the weak and hold all the power until someone stronger comes along.

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Photo by Ali Yahya

That pattern looked like changing for a while. Relative peace took hold between old foes, East and West. Walls came down in Europe and new friends were embraced, taken into the wider community. China looked beyond its own wall, becoming part of the narrative, even if it had a long way to go before it could truly be called an open society. Borders came down between nations, and alliances replaced grievances, trading agreements replaced ceasefires. The world looked like it may, at last, be moving towards global cooperation and mutual respect on an unprecedented scale. John Lennon imagined it; “a brotherhood of man.” At the same time, global, affordable travel bridged gaps between people of far-flung nations. It was easier to live, work and trade overseas. Along with the internet, this era allowed us to interact and understand each other, despite our differences. We were becoming citizens of the world.

A brotherhood of man

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Photos by Rick Lee

Perhaps it was naïve of me to think the world had slowly been changing, that we were embracing cultures of every colour and creed, and creating a new world order. Like so many travellers who hop the planet, I had come to think of myself as a global species, a nomad who found a home wherever I hung my hat. I’ve spent more time abroad now than in my native England, calling Canada home before settling here in Australia. I’ve worked for Germans, French Canadians, worked with Italians, Spaniards, Dutch, Americans, and Chinese. I have friends of every colour and faith–real friends–in countries all around the world, eaten and slept in their homes in Japan, China, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan and more. I cherish these relationships because they go beyond borders, there are no barriers between friends.

There are no barriers between friends

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Photo by Duy Pham

Of one thing I’m certain, people are the same the world over; there’s good, bad and indifferent, no matter what the culture, no matter how distant the lands. I’ve seen enough to know that good, loving, generous people come from all walks of life. All we have to do is open up our arms and greet them. So it makes me mad to see so-called leaders, turning the clock back. Putting up new walls, isolating countries that have previously preached freedom, and leaving friends behind as a consequence.

All we have to do is open our arms and greet them

The new America promotes self above all others, suspicion above trust; it wants to block its borders, build barbed wire fences and concrete walls to keep the world at bay. Britain wants to go back in time, live behind its moat and dream of the glory days. Forget the community of friends beyond the channel, a community that’s done more for European peace and unity than any army over the preceding years.

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Photo by Humberto Chavez 

No one is saying that life was on the road to perfect; true global unity is a lengthy, ongoing process, one that needs work and cannot be taken for granted. Open markets bring their own problems, rampant consumerism for one. But I’d rather have to deal with that than war and the destruction it brings. When leaders whip up sentiments of division and hate, create enemies by conjuring up unwarranted fear and suspicion, the sheep amongst us follow enthusiastically, convinced by fast-talking popularists, and those good at heart soon find themselves outnumbered.

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Photo by Marc Pell

When the so-called leader of the free world sees dictators and despots as wonderful people and shuns partners who strive for inclusion, compassion and friendship, it’s time to start worrying.

I for one would rather be a citizen of the world than holed up in my castle.

Bookworms

My father once gave me a dictionary for my birthday; I couldn’t find the words to thank him. Boom, boom! Sorry, that really is a lame dad joke, but I couldn’t resist the temptation.

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Photo by Ben White

It was on my dad’s lap that I first fell in love with books. One of my earliest memories is sitting with him by a blazing winter fire, as he read to me the adventures of Toad at Toad Hall. There were always pictures to accompany the magical tales, and I would be transported to fantastic worlds beyond reality, before being carried to bed to dream. Books have the ability to do that, to make us dream, and to carry us away to far off places. I remember receiving the first volume of a children’s encyclopaedia, A to B, and being mesmerised by the chapter on Australia, never imagining at the time that I would one day live in that strange and wonderful land. It was another book I credit with stirring in me the hunger to travel. On my first day at school, not yet five years old, our new teacher read from a book while we sat cross-legged on the classroom floor. She told of a boy and an elephant, and an exotic place where they lived, called India. The pictures painted by the teacher’s words were inspirational, and from that day onwards, I was determined to see the world and all its wonders for myself.

Books have the ability to make us dream

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Photo by Fahrul Azmi

 

Somewhere along the way since early childhood, rock music, parties, booze and friends took precedence, and there seemed little time to spend reading books; after all, the exuberance of youth needed my complete attention. Work and family responsibilities took over where parties left off, and once again, reading was pushed to the backburner. It wasn’t until I began travelling for business that I rediscovered books and their incredible power. Long flights and too many airport lounges were made bearable by packing a paperback, and from there, there was no turning back; my appetite for the printed page became insatiable.

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Photo by John Michael Thomson

Someone once said that the invention of tablets and kindle type devices would mean the end of printed literature. Didn’t someone say that about computers once, that we were going to live in a paperless society? In the meantime, paper use has gone up 120% since 1997. Instead of 92million tons per year, consumption is now 208 million tons annually. Take into account that we don’t write letters and put them in the mail anymore, and we get most of our news from the internet instead of newspapers these days, and the results are even more surprising. The fact is, we all own a computer; there’s one at every desk, but we still print everything out just so we can read it properly. There’s an inherent need for hardcopy, even when everything is saved to hard drive. There are many who have embraced digital reading technology, but according to industry book sales data, digital has plateaued at between 25% and 30%. Those reading for pleasure, still prefer paperbacks and hardbacks to digital. I’m one of those diehards, though I’ve tried digital and do read the occasional novel on my Kindle, but there’s something mystical about hardcopy books that you just don’t get from the digital format.

I can’t help turning the pages

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

I find it hard not to read books in one long sitting; I can’t help turning the pages. I can’t sleep without a few chapters at bedtime, meaning books are consumed very quickly. I finish one and can’t wait for the next, which can get expensive, so I buy lots of second-hand books as well as new. I can’t bring myself to throw books away. Books are tactile and timeless things to cherish. I love to look at them and hold them. A great cover gets me every time and I’ve a small collection of antique books that I began collecting while on my travels. I think about the people who’ve read them and wonder what they thought of the words. I picked up one such set of treasures from a little antiquariat in Minden Germany.  The first English translation of Arabian Nights Entertainments. There are four volumes in all, and they are dated 1704. In each volume, there is a handwritten inscription that reads: Lady Anna Maria Stanhope’s Book, Feb 19th1760. Later research brought to life the owner’s identity as the Duchess of Newcastle, great-great-granddaughter to Charles II of England. Her second husband, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Gregan Craufurd, was an officer in the 1st Dragoon Guards. He studied and served in Germany and Austria during the war with the French. I’m guessing that he took his wife’s books to Germany for his off-duty entertainment, and left the books behind there. I read those books occasionally, and imagine the Duchess reading them to her friends over tea at court, or her husband taking time out from the front line in Europe, and reading those very same stories to take his mind off the battles.

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Photo by Rick Lee

Like the books themselves, libraries and bookshops are places of pleasure. Browsing can take hours. It’s just not the same, trolling through book listings online. Some of these venues have places to sit and read, coffee shops and surroundings that encourage one to sit and take the time to enjoy. Pleasure from books comes from kicking back and relaxing on a beach, in a lush green park or by a cosy fire while the snow whips up around the windows. Try it with a Kindle and you don’t get that same satisfaction somehow.

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Photo by Ben White

There’s so much to say about books, I could write a book about it.