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

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

 

Lord of the Ring – My Precious!

 

This is an amazing story about luck; it’s entirely true.

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Photo by Dylan Nolte

I watched one of those Facebook videos where they show near misses, the ones where people escape car crashes by milliseconds and millimetres, and it got me to thinking about luck. Some say we make our own luck, but this is only true to a point. We all need a bit of dumb luck in our lives. You see it all the time in sports. Take football for instance. You can have the best team in the world, multi-million dollar players who for the most part create their own luck by practising hard all their lives to be the best. Do they still need luck? Of course they do. We see it week in week out, the odd bounce of the ball, a deflection, a referee’s poor decision or an unfortunate injury, these are the sort of things they have no control over, no matter how hard they train. And life is like that for all of us; we all get the unlucky bounce from time to time.

Luck plays a part in our health, even down to which genes we inherit, the bugs we breathe and the unfortunate accidents in life. Then there are the sliding door moments, where luck plays a part in timing. A few seconds here or there and we either find or miss a partner for life. Most of us need a bit of luck. We buy lotto tickets and scratchies in the hope of the big win, against impossible odds, yet still we buy them in the hope we’ll be lucky. But where does luck end and divine intervention begin?

Where does luck end and divine intervention begin?

Sometimes in life, the odds against us seem impossible. We look at the mountain facing us and fold at the wayside before we even begin. If the mountain is Everest, we need a special kind of belief if we’re going to reach the summit. It takes a lot to have faith in the impossible because we see the odds stacked so heavily against us, we often don’t even try. One such moment occurred in my life.

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Photo by Jeremy Bishop

First, you have to imagine the scene. I’m with my better-half, Chris, two hours out to sea, anchored off a remote reef on the Great Barrier Reef. There’s nothing above water level– no islands, just ocean– and there’s a heavy chop on the surface with ocean currents. We are with a group of about twenty, snorkelling over an area the size of a football field. The reef below us is thick with colourful corals and exotic fish and varies in depth from ten to fifty feet, and in some places, we stare even further into the depths of the abyss.

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Photo by Alexandra Rose

So here we are, miles from land, our initial fear of open ocean has dissipated, and we are enjoying the magnificent view below the surface. The water is cold however, and while we spot some large turtles swimming, I know one little turtle that has disappeared almost entirely into its shell in the frigid water. My fingers also shrink, and I watch in horror as my wedding ring floats off my finger and dances to the depths of the reef like a puppet on a string, except there’s no string. I try to dive after it, but I’m not the strongest of swimmers, and the salt water keeps me quite buoyant. I can’t get down the twenty feet needed to recover the ring, even if I could see where it landed. A drop in the ocean, needle in a haystack comes to mind. Chris seems to think I’m showing off and starts to take photographs of my deep water aquatics with her waterproof camera, as I dive for the bottom.

The ring
My Precious!

I finally surface and tell of my misfortune. When I put my face back in the water, we’ve already drifted from the spot, the corals are too thick, and the ring has disappeared forever. Chris swims back to the boat and asks one of the professional divers to see if he can help. It’s ridiculous I tell him when he arrives ten minutes later. Did I mention we are in the middle of the ocean? Let’s try, says Flipper (not his real name). I laugh at his enthusiasm and eventually give in and agree to swim back and forth across our football field size reef, in a grid pattern no less. This is how the cops do it when looking for clues, though I’ve never seen them do it in the ocean. Did I mention we’re in the middle of the ocean?

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Photo by Jan Traid

Twenty minutes later, feeling cold and stupid for even trying, I see a tiny glint of gold on the seabed. Flipper, (not his real name) does his best impression of Golem, and dives for the bottom. He returns minutes later with my wedding ring, my precious!  I guess, just like in Lord of the Rings, a power higher than I, decided my wedding ring and I should be reunited against all the odds.

I see a tiny glint of gold

There’s probably a moral here, though I’m not sure what it is. Don’t give up, maybe. Someone once said, ‘difficult always takes a while, impossible takes a little longer.’ Perhaps it’s a lesson in belief; anything is possible with a bit of dumb luck.

We Lived In’t Shoebox

In my last blog, I talked about moments that define our lives, turning points where decisions are made that impact us forever. One such moment came back to me while watching good old Monty Python, the episode where the old guys compete to see who had the toughest upbringing. You know the one, right? ‘When I were a lad, we lived in’t shoebox at side o’t road.’ Then the response. ‘Luxury, pure luxury!’ When I finished laughing, I thought about how every generation must compare their early lives to those of their children’s. We all like to think we had it tougher.

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Photo by Ida Kammerloch

After emigrating to Canada, three small children in tow, and just the clothes on our backs, we found that the only accommodation we could afford was a tiny room above a strip bar with live music in the venue below. Our ‘shoebox’ measured around three metres by two metres and we shared a bathroom down the hall with other seedy looking hotel patrons. We had a kettle in the room but that was the extent of our kitchen facilities. Music shook our room, literally, until one o’clock during the work week and three a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. We were blessed with a respite on Sunday when the bar closed at midnight. This was not what we had in mind when we gambled our lives on a new life in Canada.

Live rock & roll until 3a.m.

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Photo by Edward Cisneros

It would be an understatement to say that we thought we had made a huge mistake. With heavy hearts, we looked at our young family and wondered what in the world we had done. I felt like crying. It would have been easy then, to admit our error, pack up and return to England, where I have no doubt we would have stayed, lesson learned, for the rest of our lives. But we didn’t and fortune favours the brave. We endured the hardship and before long had managed to get enough money to rent a house. We furnished our new abode lavishly with three single mattresses and one double (no bases), an old sofa someone gave us for free, and a rusting Hibachi grill. We managed to buy a cooker and fridge, and with the addition of various second-hand kitchen items, our home began to take shape, the world suddenly seemed brighter, and we were on our way.

Looking back now, these were pivotal moments, when life could have taken us far from our destiny. Did we have it tough? A little maybe, but certainly not as tough as some, and these are the treasured memories our lives are built on, stories to pass down with pride to the next generation, who will no doubt think we’re full of it.

We lived in’t shoe box o’t top of a strip club, luxury, pure luxury!