Saturday, 30 December 2017

[ the pen is mightier than the stylus ]

Walking through MYER recently, a friend of mine mentioned how small their collection of fountain pens was. Even being xmas time, he was disappointed that such a lovely tradition was dying out. 

You see, when he was a younger man, a good fountain pen was a highly regarded gift. People not only signed their name with it; they wrote letters and cards, did their Sunday crossword puzzle, and if you were especially lucky, they might lend it to you - briefly! - to sign something yourself. 

Don't get me wrong, this friend isn't that much older than me, so it got me thinking; there are so many things that are either becoming obsolete or going out of fashion, or even sadder still - both. And the things we have to 'replace' them really aren't that great. 


With almost every new laptop tablet you can get a stylus, and for those of you who haven't had the dubious pleasure; it's a pen for your computer. You use it much the same way, except you write on the screen. Most computers will let you use it to add to what you type, some even 'translate' the written text into font. 

Which, to be fair, sounds kind of cool. It's crafty and techy, and oh-so-convenient. You also realise two things though; no-one really writes anything anymore, and we no longer really need actual pens. 

If you were born after 1990, this may not seem like such a big deal. Pens take up a little space, need ink, and may not always work. Here's the thing though; your grandparents only ever wrote letters to each other. Sweethearts scribbled sweet nothings on scraps of paper with their elegant Mont Blanc, something they probably got from their parents as a birthday gift. And these gifts meant something. As did the letters and notes they wrote them with.  


Which leads me to paper. We all know I'm very much about the paperless office, saving the forests, and general, all-round, save-the-planet stuff. 

But, the above notwithstanding, I still write notes. On paper. Delicately detailed notepaper that I keep for special occasions, thanking people for gifts; quirky coloured squares for sending friends little well wishes; even scraps of recycle for doodling my thoughts. 

But it's not fashionable to do this anymore. Why would you, when you can text, email, or even instant-message-with-added-emojis? Why indeed...


Hands up those of you who own a Kindle or love a good eBook? Thought so; nearly half the people I know do, and the other half - well, isn't that interesting - they'd rather not. 

Why not, you say? They're great! You can hold thousands of books in one place, eReaders are light, easy to carry and use, and these days, you can buy them for nix. The titles you buy can be bought for even less. 

I'll admit it might be hard to explain to someone who never really got into them; but you can't recreate the experience of a new book. The shiny, exciting cover. The back blurb, tempting you with a story not yet read. The pages; smooth and scratchy at the same time. Clutching it to your chest as you pause in contemplation between chapters. 

Let's be fair, folks; the cold, smooth surface of your Kindle isn't exactly going to evoke such emotion. Particularly if you plan on pressing it into a loved ones' hands, compelling them to read it too. 

It just doesn't have the same frissom to it really. 

About this point is where I was overwhelmed with a mini-avalanche of other things, not yet gone, but already starting to be missed.

Online music such as mp3's have replaced CD's, your phone has replaced the good old wristwatch, and forget keys - we all have electronic access to everything.

No one has playing cards anymore, all your games are in cyberspace, we don't need maps because Google provides, and the humble candle has been replaced - not with a decent torch - but again with your phone, which now comes with its own handy, multi-purpose flashlight in the camera.

And I started to feel wistful and nostalgic, and wondered where this might leave some our most treasured possessions, things that some of us have been collecting and preserving for our whole lives. Where would they all be in ten years time? Twenty?


On account of all these thoughts, with all gloom that we might be seeing the last scented candle, the last minted coin, the last colour photograph...

I smiled. Because the lights will not always stay on (sorry South Australia), Google will not always be at your beck and call (honestly, not that way!), and eReaders do not dry out well if you accidentally dip them in the bathwater.


So, never fear, my old-school-cool chums, it might seem like books are getting passe, candles are considered a bit lame, and a deck of cards the height of being square. However, think on this...

When power fails and the lights go out, when everyone's latest tech toy dies in a gurgle of dishwater, when the boredom kicks in and there's just nothing to do...

We'll still be here; beeswax candles already on, books stacked on the coffee table, and pens jotting down the score of who's winning at Scrabble. We might even have room to share our toys with others.


Sunday, 24 December 2017

[ laughing and sleeping - just quietly, you're not doing enough of either ]

Every weekday morning, my alarm goes off at 6am. I'm usually in bed by 9.30 the night before, but wake around 5.30, and rolling over for that extra kip is extra nice.

On Sundays, I used to get up at 7 for archery, but my routine has changed a little so I don't go as often as I'd like. Still, my body wakes me up between 6.40 and 7.20 most of the time anyway.

Saturday is my only sleep-in day. Depending on how my week has gone, what season it is, or whether I have anything on that day, I consider anything past 8.30 pretty great. It's over an hour more than most other days, and even if I do wake, I can lie there dozing and daydreaming without a bother.

Doing the maths, you'd think I was averaging 7-8+ sleep a night, right? Which is quite respectable, and within the daily recommended amount.

Except, I'm not. Literally half my time is run on 4-6 hours a night, large amounts of caffeine, and the ability to work hyper-efficiently on autopilot for a few hours, at least until the caffeine kicks in.

How does that work? Hold that thought for a moment...


My partner tells brilliant dad jokes. My mum has a wicked sense of humour and excellent timing. My brother and I send each other various cheeky memes and videos which basically demonstrate we're siblings through our sense of humour. 

Most days, I get a decent laugh out of life. I find badly translated street signs, commuters morning behaviour, and Sydney-siders dress sense hilarious. I like to think of myself as moderately funny, and able to make people crack a smile even in dismal circumstances. 

You'd think then that I was getting sufficient doses of chuckles in my life. That I was having enough stress relief - because that's what laughter is - to be pretty chillaxed, correct?

Not so much. I get stressed about traffic, cranky at rude people in transit, and overwhelmed in shopping centres. I find all sorts of large crowds intimidating, tech failing overly frustrating, and teenagers in general annoying. 

No, I'm not unwell, I'm just a little anxious and overly serious. But how come? Well, back to the sleeping...


One of my very favourite people used to tell me this old saying. He passed away a few years ago, but I never forgot it, and I think of it a lot these days. 

Coming from a people who have known some serious hardship, it's tough not to take this on board and have it sink in. Or if you paraphrase it a bit, there are few things a good laugh and a long sleep can't fix.

For it's true really; we don't sleep enough, and we sure as hell don't laugh enough. We spend all our time busying ourselves with randomness and worrying ourselves with trivia. 

Some people would say that obviously laughing and sleeping can't fix everything, and these people are clearly neither laughing or sleeping enough, so we're going to use their pedantic cynicism as the rule example. 

And there it is; you're not sleeping enough because you're not laughing enough, and you're not laughing enough because you're not sleeping enough. 

If you think I've over-simplified things, then you haven't been listening, and that mindset is part of the issue. 

We're constantly trying to find time to relax and stressing ourselves out about finding that time, so we squeeze ourselves into every, little, single hour and minute of every day, desperately trying to make make time. 

We sleep less because we think we have less time, but get tired and burned out by having less sleep,  and so crash at unfortunate moments... At which point, we're not really getting quality sleep, per se, our bodies are just pulling the plug because they've had enough of our exhausting nonsense.


One more time, if you think I'm over-simplifying, you haven't been listening. Take it from the pot here, who spent a lot of years calling the kettle a decidedly dark shade of black; not everything in life is simple, but this bit is. 

There will be days when you can worry over money. There will be nights you cry over family. Certainly, endless months, maybe years, feeling underappreciated at work or in your social group. 

And I don't have all the answers to all those problems. We all have to find our own way in this world, fight our battles and win some wars. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

But I do know this; while that's all happening, while we are busy making plans, there are still going to be beers to be drunk, naps to be had, and animal videos to watch. 

While we make plans, all the fun stuff still happens. And while the fun stuff still happens, plans still get made. 

What I'm saying is this; take a nap at 3 o'clock on a Saturday. Watch rubbish television for five hours on a Tuesday night. Go to work, be productive, follow all your set ideals - but make some room. 

Not room in your day, or room in your schedule. Don't force it like a dentist clamp keeping your jaw open for root canal.

Room in your head. Just a little space, enough to fit a dad joke or two, a sneaky nap on the train, or even a silly meme you send to your besties.

Into that space will be giggles and snoozes, chillaxing and calm. Into that space will fit things you didn't know you liked as much as you do, because you never made space for them

To finish off, I'll leave you with a lovely cliche that I always thought should be a mini-motto; from a tiny seed, great things have grown. 

Think about it. Maybe after you've watched some Comedy Channel and had a catnap on the lounge...


Thursday, 21 December 2017

[ Hating Hallmark isn't cool and you all need to shut up about it ]

During the holidays last year, I watched Die Hard, Love Actually, How To Be Single, and What To Expect When You're Expecting. These were all interspersed with a variety of sitcom reruns, a few more actions flicks, and some cooking shows (ok, a lot of cooking shows - how great is Jamie Oliver?!).

Also, quite a few Hallmark movies. I know; I can hear you all groaning from here. I will be watching them all again this year, but trust me, I do understand where you're coming from.

Every Hallmark movie is formulaic, to say the least. And the xmas ones are even more so; some well-coiffed girlie from the city with too much corporate and not enough grassroots needs to find herself in the country. Or the snow. Or a little country village with snow. At xmas.

Anyway. The small town that said heroine ends up in ('stranded', 'escapes to', 'has-a-last-minute-errand-for-her-father-in', whatever), obviously has a hunky male love interest who alternately irritates and helps her throughout the storyline.

Which is quite thin, to be honest (the storyline, that is, not the girlie. Though she's generally on the trim side too...). That's the other part I get that you all loathe just a little more every time a new film gets released; plotlines with holes like a good Swiss. Nobody's that clumsy, that lucky, or that clueless.

Oh, but they are, my friends! This is Hallmark, after all.

You can probably also lay the blame for the xmas bulge at Hallmark Channel's expansive feet. I know the last thing I need to see during the holidays is what basically amounts to a two-hour long infomercial for xmas treats. But that's essentially what you end up watching.

Glistening fat turkeys with bowls (ehem, buckets) of gravy and cranberry sauce. Colossal legs of ham like works of art, dotted with cloves and smothered in glaze. Potato salad, bean salad, pasta salad, cheese salad; pretty much any salad that may or may not actually have vegetables in it, but usually as an afterthought.

Then there's the desserts. Given Hallmark's penchant for films that feature an unlucky-in-love but plucky baker, we were all doomed from the start. You've never seen so many cookies, tarts, pies, pastries, petit fours, tortes, or cakes in your life.

No, I mean really; you probably haven't. To be fair, Anna Polyviou probably hasn't either, and she's worked at it.

During December, I tend to be able to space out my holiday eating, dividing my day into a decent breakfast, a dubious second breakfast, a healthy lunch, another possible dubious choice in afternoon tea, then pure 50/50 chance at dinner. Each meal may or may not have a festive addition, such as pudding, some custard, or ham anything really, and so on.

Once the break starts - as does the xmas viewing - so does the excessive binging. Really, I'm generally ok until I see our spunky leading lady get stuck in a snowstorm at the huge, yet picturesque, B&B that just happens to be serving the xmas fare already - because they do that for ya'll All Through The Holiday Season! (obviously) - and I'm done.

Suddenly I'm stuffing gingerbread into my face like no ones business, stripping slices off ham off the bone every hour, on the hour, and quaffing custard from the carton like it's Verve Clicquot. It's really rather unladylike...

Then there's the Scenery. Because you can't call what Hallmark does just plain old set-dressing.

Stunning little cottages trimmed in lacy ironwork that would make a Spaniard weep. Log cabins brimming with furry rugs and heavy chairs and roaring fireplaces and did I mention the furry rugs? Stately family homes that haven't seen a speck of dust, like, ever, with maids who clearly pride themselves on being the best of the best in service, as it were.

Then there's the castles. Oh, but the castles. Which we all really need to take a moment of silence to truly appreciate...

Hallmark find the most extensive, detailed, wondrous castles you can imagine; glorious towering structures in shimmering splendour, displaying workmanship not seen since the 12th century. These things are barely short of a full-on, utterly-decked-out, Disney castle, complete with twinkling fairy lights by the thousands.

In fact, I'm not convinced Disney and Hallmark aren't the same company, they've just been keeping it secret like a Hallmark plot-twist for the last 50 years...

Sure, I get there's only so much belief you can suspend. I get that there's only so much schmaltzy dialogue you can stomach. And I really do get that your actual stomach's sugar-coping abilities are pushed, even when it comes to *imaginary* goodies.

This is the thing though folks; this time of year is a bit of a mixed bag. At best, a merry-go-round of shopping, eating, working, and socialising. At worst, a general anxiety-fest-free-for-all for your emotions. I won't assail you with all the depressing details (that's the previous post), but I will say that it can be pretty exhausting either way.

At the end of the day (or the middle of the afternoon, as we say in my house), is it so hard then to understand why people want just a few hours of blissful relaxation? Where everything goes gratifyingly right, where everything ends up in its place, where we all get - however briefly - a happily ever after?

We forget about political bickering in our nation, unrest in the Middle East, violence in the streets, and all other manner of horrors - just for a short while?

Come on, you know the answer to this one.

This year, obviously, I will again be watching as many schmaltzy, decked-out, situationally unbelievable Hallmark specials as I can cram in. And all I'm asking is that you don't rain on my parade here, or anyone else's.

Besides, who knows; maybe if you try watching one, just once, you may even like it...

All the blessings of the season to you, lovelies!

*Picture credit to Terri Pringle Wood, who clearly watches oodles of Hallmark. Follow her delicious work on instagram here.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

[ xmas rant ]

Stay calm. Move slowly. Breathe deeply.

I know, I know. It snuck up on us again. Without warning, without fanfare. Shock. Horror. *Gasp*

Or not, rather. That'd be like, 12 years in a row now, right?

It's xmas*. It's 8 days away and everyone is losing their proverbial shit. To be fair, the CBD is feral, the humidity has gone up, and no one has had a good nights' sleep since October.

A little panic is not unjustified.

But that's where my patience ends, good people. That's where I draw the line and start to think about real stress, real anxiety.

Going a little serious on you, here it is; this is not a great time of year. People are spending every waking hour at the office trying to get things done so that they can spend the break with their family.

Health workers are doing shift work and getting hammered by incidents mainly involving drunk twits, while desperately trying to help nanas who've had falls in their kitchens.

Retail workers are pasting on their brightest smiles, and using their chirpiest voices, to deal with aggressive idiots while listening to carols on repeat for 9 hours.

It's tense, it's full-on, and it's really, really hectic.

At the same time, there is this pervasive and insidious weirdness to the season. An enforced jollity and creepy cheer. You know the one; where we all pretend to be shiny happy people holding hands,  celebrating the 'joy' of the season.

And being judgey-McJudge-judges on each and every way that people like to spend their holiday season. But in a passive-aggressive way, and delivered with that horrid, jokey laugh we put on when we're being awful.

Oh, you're doing a beach xmas this year? How quaint!

You're going to get them that for xmas? That's...nice...

Sit around and watch xmas movies? Gosh, wouldn't it be nice to have the time!

Xmas isn't festive. Xmas is torture wrapped in tinsel with a side of pavlova. 


Every year, scores of parents tell their spouses that they will be the one taking the kids to the shops, or the one doing the xmas shopping this time. Grandparents say they'll come to the kids place this year. Cousins and close friends arrange holiday houses, where you can all get together for a special xmas catch up. 

Every year, scores of these same people - these generally reasonably-mannered people - turn into nasty, rude, occasionally violent nutters who inflict their displeasure on all and sundry, as if everyone in a 100m radius is set on doing them wrong. Set on challenging them to an argument.

To be fair, some of them don't. Some of them actually potter through the season, hanging out with family, giving and receiving gifts, and generally having a decent time.

Half of latter do it purely to avoid a confrontation with the former...  


Which leads me to something I'd like us all to keep in mind this time of the year. Just a moment of contemplation. Be warned; it's not pretty, it's not festive, and it sure as hell isn't wrapped in novelty holiday paper.

December is a tricky time for people emotionally. Add that to our increasing suicide rate throughout the country, and you have a seriously worrying trend. And I'm going to say something really blunt, so brace yourself. 

Xmas makes some people want to kill themselves. 

There, I said it. 

Pretty shocking, right? You thought I was being dramatic, building tension. I wasn't. I stated a fact, an inconvenient truth that we make concerned faces over, but don't really do much about. Xmas is a lonely, stressful, and anxious time of the year. And some people will listen to and put up with the most appalling behaviour just to get through it.

I don't have an answer to such a mammoth issue, and I certainly don't expect any of you to. Mental health is still blushed with taboo in our culture and the times are changing, but ever so slowly. 

What I do expect however, is compassion and love. And yes, dammit, goodwill towards your fellow beings. And yes, I do expect it a little more of it at this time of year.


Having to take your kids to the shops isn't stressful. Just because little Timmy is screaming his lungs out for a Batman action figure, and little Alice is pouting her bottom lip in a fashion a Kardashian would be proud of, does not make you hard done by. 

The woman in the corner of the cafe, quietly trying to get her sick baby to feed, looking sleep deprived and close to tears; she's doing things a bit hard. She is heroically trying to keep it together, and deserves our sympathy.  

Not getting the park you want, even after you waited 10 minutes behind some fool in a 4WD, is not a great burden on your day. Circling around for another 10 is not, in fact, going to utterly ruin your life as you know it. 

Grandpops, in his little Mazda, beetling along slowly, deserves a break. He's a polite driver, he doesn't get out much, and he certainly isn't as quick as he used to be. So when he accidentally pinches your spot and gratefully waves to you enthusiastically, he hasn't earned your aggression. He hasn't earned you calling names out your window, or worse, fronting up to his car and Hulk-ing out. 

If I haven't quite made it clear, let me put it this way; your problems are not insurmountable. They are not earth-shaking, they are not life-altering. And what you think you deserve at this time of the year - let alone any other time - is not actually what you're justified in getting.  


All the little things we enjoy, all the ease with which we sail through life, suddenly becomes more apparent at xmas. At least to me. With all the hard times I've been through, there is someone having a harder one. And that's certainly not the platitude it sounds like.  

Can't afford the holiday to the UK you wanted? Whining to the family the only reason you are coming to xmas lunch is because the airfares were just so expensive? There are people who haven't had a holiday in years; they can't afford to go to the Gold Coast, let alone international. 

Cranky because, yet again, you have to schlepp all the way down south to the parents' place, where you will eat too much, drink too much, and fall asleep in your childhood bedroom, still dressed in your party gear? How embarrassing...

But better than the woman who barely gets to see her kids, has to beg to spend time with them, and then spends a fortune she doesn't have on a xmas day she's not sure her family will end up coming to. 


Not to sound like a broken record, but xmas is hard. It's depressing. And it goes on for weeks.

In the end, I'm not asking a lot, and I'm not asking anything that I'm not already doing myself.

Stop taking your kids to the shops. Plan your day so it's not going to be feral, the kids aren't going to go mental, and you're not going to lose your mind. Get public transport, arrive early, take a friend if you need moral support. Spend less on crap, more on stuff you want to, and have the cajones to tell the family we're you're at. 

You're all grown ups, you know how. 


During the holiday season, no matter what your faith or inclination, you reflect on all you're grateful for. You perform little traditions to show how thankful you are for the people around you, the privileges reap, and life you lead. Some of them are fun, some of them are lame, some of them are both.

But some people don't. They don't have family around, they don't the time or the money to go somewhere to relax and celebrate. Some people aren't appreciated for all they've done; in fact, they are openly taken for granted. 

So for those of you who want to tell me how much you miss your family right now, or how this time of year makes you sad because that someone special isn't around; come here. I have a hug, some spiked eggnog, and many hours of comfort at your disposal. 

But for the rest of you, those of you who whine that Aunty Mary is only going to give you socks again, or Cousin Dave is just going to tell you the same story, or even that your parents are making you travel again, I have something to tell you.

This year, I'm giving out candy canes and smack-downs. And I'm plumb out of candy canes... 


*To avoid the inevitable; I spell it like this out of respect. Not because I'm an illiterate tween who thinks this is how it's actually spelt. 20-odd years as a pagan and bought up a Catholic, I still want to show my respect in my way for religion by not using names, terms, or even curses really, I don't have faith in. Little odd, sure, but respect is still respect. We all have that in common.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

[ The Rise of the Breakfast Biscuit* ]

A few years ago, some bright spark invented the breakfast biscuit, which is ostensibly a more modern version of a breakfast bar, which is again basically a healthy/morning version of a muesli bar.

Apparently, we are all so time poor that we need to have our first meal of the day delivered to us in a convenient, processed, hand-held parcel. One we can carry on the bus or train, or even while we're driving (which is ridiculous and dangerous in and of itself, but here we are).

To be fair, conceptually, the original idea had merit; when muesli (or granola) bars were invented in the late 19th century, they were a way for hikers to carry light-weight, nutritious, high-fat snacks good for such activities.

They also quickly became a popular way to get kids to eat more fruit, nuts, and grains; by packing them into a fun, hand-sized rectangle, slathering them in yoghurt or chocolate, and packaging them in bright colours, you had a much more appealing snack than a piece of fruit. Putting aside the high levels of sugar and other preservatives, it was still a success in terms of getting kids to eat regular, reasonably-wholesome nibbles between meals.

Jump forward a few decades, and 'museli bars' today are like the difference between '80's and '00's Stallone; 20 years of steroids and too much time on your hands. Somewhere in that time, things got a little bit weird...

What used to be a grainy bar of goodness is now some sort of hybrid; it looks like something astronauts from the future will eat, and is designed to inject more nutrients, more energy, more stuffinto our busy lives and bodies.

And then we took it on a strange tangent; into the world of the humble biscuit. Suddenly, we are all being encouraged to eat a monstrous, oversized wheat oval, halfway between a muesli bar and a cookie. Except not. At all.

Biscuits are primarily a flour-based product, classified mainly as a type of bread or soft cake, eaten in small, round discs. Generally also considered a dessert snack or confection.

Not, obviously, what nutritionists would have us eat for breakfast.

But because industry likes to treat society like children, the breakfast biscuit was formed as a shiny, convenient, and endlessly tempting way to have a wholesome start to the day. And sadly, we bought it.

Equally sadly, we did not shun the continuing homage to our dying ability as capable adults, able to manage our own sustenance, without being spoon-fed, or rather, teething rusk-fed. As if we were too inept to gather and create a healthy meal. No, we fell all over it like ants on spilled cordial.

But I may have gotten a little carried away here. Over zealous in my dislike of such things perhaps. Except, well, there's the other things...

Like leaf blowers.

Leaf blowers are the yard equivalent of pursing your lips and blowing on a house fire. And just as effective. A more useless 'tool' I have not yet encountered.

What appears to be a time saver in terms of cleaning up your yard, just moves the leaves and soil from one place to another. Especially as people appear to think that is all that's required in garden work, now that a piece of machinery has been invented that does half the work for you.

Our townhouse complex has a young lad turn up at 9am every Friday to do just that. He wanders in, turns up the leaf blower to industrial-noise-level, and proceeds to move all the leaves from the walkway into all our courtyards...then he makes like a tree himself, and buggers off.

And yes, that's all he does. There's no sweeping, no collecting of garden waste, nothing. One wonders how much this sort of job pays, but personally, I still like the idea of being employed in a job that requires more skill than a trained monkey.

When did we all become so weak and un-able-bodied that we needed a machine to work for us? When did a bunch of brushes on the end of a stick become so passe, that we abandoned it for a environmental pollutant about as useful as Trump's hairdresser?

Are we so completely devoid of necessary survival skills that this is what we've come to? Have we forgotten all the basic expertise of our ancestors, and handed our lives over to technology and time savers? Apparently so.

It's best not to get me started on mobile phones, social media, and auto-pilot-self-parking cars. I'm confused by this, frankly baffled by this, and completely underwhelmed by this.

In an age where I haven't had to correctly spell the word 'convenience' for at least a decade (dubiously thanking autocorrect here), I feel we might have taken things just a little too far.

Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Black Mirror, maybe the machines won't rise up against us, maybe we will survive after the apocalypse with all our natural aptitude intact...

The point is this; if we're all so busy that we can't put some cereal in a bowl and add milk or juice (it's a thing, shut up), or toast some bread and slather on a spread, or - gods forbid - actually cook something, then sit and eat said prepared meal...

Well, let's be honest, humanity has a lot bigger issues than whether you can handle your breakfast biscuit and watch cat videos at the same time.


*and other appalling 'time savers'.