Thoughts in a Shopping Centre

I believe American writers have a steady date with Starbucks – we have one on the Gold Coast but it’s too small for any serious pencil chewing, so I just head to my local shopping centre, order a cappuchino and a very good ham and avocado sandwich and just hang out for a while, watching the world go by and occasionally scribbling madly in my notebook. It’s a very nice notebook, with horses on the cover. My daughter bought it for me.
My shopping centre sojourns are very enjoyable. After all, if the muse refuses to bite, I can always go shopping.

Here are a couple of pages of shopping centre meanderings.

Shopping Centres as Social Centres

The shopping centre has replaced the market place (clue: this one is actually called the Market Place) and the village square as gathering places. The shopping centre is more impersonal with its high tech gleam, but man is a social animal and likes to be wherever there is life and movement.
Back in the day, well meaning social commentators used to tell us that life in the future would be blissful and thoroughly hygienic. We’d all live in our own germ free cubicles, totally self sufficient with everything delivered to us, and no mneed to step outside into the dirty and disgusting germ ridden world outside. Well, obviously that would never work.
The truth is, we don’t want to crouch in four walls with only and elecronic window on the world outside. Only sad specimens do that. The rest of us still seek the noise, the energy and the bustle of the market place. We like to watch other people going about their business. The internet is a lot of fun, but it can’t beat wrapping your hands around a cup of coffee and letting the sensory experiences of real life wash over you.

The Noise in a Food Hall

Noise – not exactly white noise, but many coloured, rainbow noise. Lots of colours, tones, accents and notes, rising and falling – continuous.
The noise doesn’t seem to match the faces – you can see the lips moving but the noise doesn’t seem to be emanating from the people around you. It is a thing apart, divorced from the faces and the moving mouths as if all their voices have gathered somewhere above our heads and are darting about like birds trapped in an aviary.
Noise travels up in food halls, like heat. What comes back to you has no sense or meaning – individual words cannot be defined, but it has a busy quick tapping rhythm, like hundred of beaks clacking together.
Now and then an announcement from the speakers tries to break through, but it is completely pointless since it comes out as a discordant drone, like a lonely bassoon trying to make itself heard over the strings. It’s not even in key.

Note: I believe a shopping centre is called a Mall in the US.


She was the child of Leto and Zeus – because of Hera’s jealousy her twin brother brother Apollo was a difficult delivery. Artemis, born first, assisted her brother’s birth, which took nine days and nine nights.
Not surprisingly, when Zeus offered her a reward for saving her mother’s life, Artemis chose eternal chastity. Watching your mother give birth for more than a week will do that to you.
But she did once fall in love and would have given up her vow if her jealous brother Apollo had not tricked her into killing her lover. The Greeks and their tales of the Gods and Goddesses were clearly an early form of The Bold and the Beautiful.

Nevertheless, they invariably inspire you to write something:

And my father asked me,
What can I give you
For saving your mother’s life?
Just to run free and to hunt the stag
With my sisters at my side.

Guitars and Voices

As you would have guessed from my earlier blog, I love guitars and I love bands – I love the blend of guitar, drums and voice and the many ways that simple equation can go. Music is essential, I have always told my children – they have listened to music from the womb. Now I watch my newest grandson lie happily in his day bed while guitars and voices wash over him. Yes, he’s one of us – he’s only weeks old but music can already sooth and distract him.
On Christmas Eve, when it was almost impossible to get the kids to bed, we played James Galway to them, filling the house with flute music until they finally settled. I love all the instruments, many different kinds of music, but it is always the simple combination of guitar and voice that I come back to, time and again.
I love the range of emotional experience that can be wrought from that basic combination. Give Mark Knopfler a guitar and a mike and he will tell you tales of war, touring and a band he saw playing in a grotty little club somewhere. He will call on his Celtic heritage to move you to tears or laughter, he will mesmerise you with his guitar playing, those long elegant guitar fingers flowing over the strings.
The Australian band Powderfinger, with the same simple set up, will remind me who I am, and where I live, tell me stories of places and people I know and make me yearn for Queensland skies, wherever I am.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers, in spite of their name, will tell moving tales of loves lost, of the sights and sounds of their lives – and I could go on. The bands I love are each unique, the songs all drawn from life as I have known it too.
Watching Nirvana in their acoustic MTV gig is always a bittersweet thing – to see that humble but divinely talented young man joke that he has to clean up his language because Mum and Dad are in the audience (and then a shot of proud Mum and Dad – it breaks my heart) – Nirvana captured a whole disaffected generation with one phrase – “here we are now, entertain us”. Laughter and tears – only the finest artists can do that. When I heard the song that Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl wrote for Kurt Cobain the first time they met, I was deeply moved. One line – “when he sings, no one speaks” – is so true every time I watch the acoustic performance. What is there to say when someone is saying it all for you, taking you places you don’t want to be, but can’t bear to leave?
Of course, even that has been beautifully said in a song – Aretha Franklin’s “Killing me softly with his songs” was about Don Mclean but I think of it when I hear Shawn Mullins.
Music is essential, and people who shrug off modern music as `incomprehensible’ or `that awful noise’ don’t know what they are missing. To these people I say, just listen to it. These people are the new poets, they speak for all of us, not just the young.


My children are fond of boasting about their “cool mum” – I listen to their music and like the same bands – Linkin Park, Staind, Godsmack.
Some may think I’m just a baby boomer hanging on to my youth, but the truth is that I was brainwashed at a very young age by a father who loved the Guitar in all its forms, from the laments of the Spanish guitarists to the pounding of rock music. His own instrument was the banjo, but the guitar always held first place in his heart. He hoped I would learn to play, but I don’t have `guitarist fingers’ – they are kind of long and spidery and mine are on the stubby side.
I grew up listening to jazz and blues on the American Forces Network in Europe. He was always dragging me backstage to listen to a particularly fine guitar rift. When we worked with young musicians he was in seventh heaven, sitting around their dressing rooms and gigging – usually he was playing the banjo.
Back in the 60s we fell in love with Manitas de Plata, the gypsy guitarist who virtually took over British TV and the charts. The Concerto de Aranjuez could reduce us to tears.
My kids know they only have to turn up the volume on a haunting guitar riff to have me pounding in to listen. My son did this with me once when he first heard Gary Moore’s Still Got The Blues For you. He says I was fast asleep in bed but got up, sticky eyed and bed haired, saying “Who is THAT?”
My kids know I am a sucker for a good guitar, whether it is the incredible fingering of Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits or the orchestral sounding arrangements of Metallica.
Being so steeped in rock music, I was a natural for the job of entertainment reporter later in life when I worked on a newspaper in Penrith. One of my most enjoyable tasks was giving up and coming local bands a bit of publicity.
Recently I revisited Penrith and ran into Adam Rawson, a local rock artist. I had been mighty impressed with Adam’s band Normal Day while I worked at the Penrith Press, and jumnped at the chance to watch him perform on stage again.
I had always seen in him the true musical spirit that will defy anything just to play for the love of it – but when he got up on stage I saw a man who was perfectly at home there, a relaxed, skilled, knowledgable performer who could connect directly with an audience. It felt great to see how he had grown into his music. I used to predict a big future for Adam, now I am sure of it.
Even more exciting – my daughter Lucia also performed that night with the band Blacksmith’s Daughter. She is making a dream come true performing with a rock band (another one brainwashed!) and she and Tim and Andrew are pulling together a great sound with their own original music. I am so proud of her I could burst.
But I have to smile sometimes when I think it all started with the tinny, wavering AFN broadcasts and my father twiddling the radio dial to bring the station in late at night, so we could listen to the blues guitars.

Things that pass through our hands..


A piece of the hand made rug in my room

“If my life is for rent, and I don’t learn to buy, I deserve nothing more than I get, and nothing I own is really mine…”
Dido’s song seems to have special meaning for me. I believe than none of us owns anything – that everything is rented, or on loan, for the duration of our lives and no more. And that has held true for me all my life – so much has passed through my hands, and gone on to God knows where – various possessions, some valuable and some not, homes, books and things I would have liked to held onto – but none were really mine and some even ended up at the bottom of the ocean, but that’s another story.
Everything we create with our hands, buy with our money or receive as a gift eventually passes on somewhere else, gets left behind as we move through life and beyond.
Today, as I spend hours creating art, I try not to think of this – after all, art is something you do in the moment and what happens to it eventually should not be your concern. I am sure nothing of mine will end up in museums, but I know that my family will treasure whatever is left.
No, I should not think of posterity, or even next week, when I am are creating art. I don’t own what I make, I work with the mind and the hands and the dreams that I was born with, and then move on to the next thing. It is the act of creation which is briefly mine, that I hold and possess until the thing is done.
But sometimes in my rummaging through garage sales, junk shops and other foraging grounds, I come across a piece of hand made art that was clearly made with love if not great skill.
One lies on my bedroom floor today – it us a hooked rug, not quite finished because long strings of yarn still hang from it. It shows the sun rising behind tall reeds, in wonderful autumn colours. I don’t know who made it, or why it came to be bundled into a box at the Salvation Army shop. But I brought it home, because the artist deserved to be honoured. Of course I do not own it, but I hope it continues to find loving custodians.
Little framed pictures of pressed flowers, home made dolls, handmade items of all kinds – I have come across many in my rummaging. The artists are all unknown – they were likely women like me who enjoyed arts and crafts and never thought of passing their work on to someone else, or even being remembered after the item left their hands. These things connect me to generations of women who loved to create something beautiful for no more than the joy of doing it.
We leave much behind us as we move on – most of it is lost, destroyed, never to surface again, but sometimes something waits for a new temporary custodian, and I like to think that someday, something of mine will turn up this way…except, of course, that it is not really mine, it is simply an expression of the creativity that makes this planet and all its creatures, plants and wonders hum.

Exercise as Penance

Opening my bleary eyes on the world yesterday, I was watching the morning news when they flashed a short piece on the latest exercise craze – yoga in a `hot room’.
There was the commentator, sweating like the proverbial, surrounded by people in varying degrees of undress and cardiac arrest, yoga-ing like mad (isn’t this supposed to be a gentle exercise?) in what looked like tropical conditions.
Is this a new form of penance? Monks used to flagellate themselves with leather whips to beat the sin out of their hides – today, we exercise. The more brutal, uncomfortable and miserable an experience it is, the better we like it. No pain, no gain, we say. I bet the monks used to mutter that to themselves as well when they started drawing blood.
The commentator quite seriously offered advice to anyone thinking of joining in this self mutilating madness – check that your instructor is insured and knows CPR. No, really, I’m sure he wasn’t joking.
In fact, the Touchstone Yoga center warns that hot yoga can be extremely dangerous and should only be done with careful guidance – with an instructor who knows CPR, presumably.
Exercise used to be a fairly simple business. If you were the sedentary type, you did your `daily dozen’ in front of an open window every morning and made sure your leisure time included some sport, like tennis or golf. There was a fair bit of walking involved in daily life anyway, and most young people had bikes or ponies on which to work off the peanut butter sandwiches.
I grew up in the circus, so life was anything but sedentary for me – when we were touring, the day usually started with putting up the circus tent and a million and one other tasks. I learned to equate exercise and sweat with work – and expecting to be able to show something for the effort.
But I’m not sure the shift in perceptions of exercise as daily work, or a pleasant change from sitting around in an office chair, to something the most sadistic drill sargeant would reconsider, is just about keeping in shape.
There is a deep vein of guilt running through these people – they seem to think they need to suffer to look good in lycra. They seem to need to hold up this suffering as proof their lives are not as shallow as some others might think. So they talk about their work outs as if armed men forced them into it every day, or the economy depended on it.
They embrace more and better ways to feel excrutiating pain, and regard those who prefer to avoid these excesses as letting the side down, proving what a poofy bunch we westerners are.
Ah, it’s very sad. The monks whipping themselves in their lonely cells at least had a deeper goal in mind than killer abs. But it’s the same fervour – no wonder they say they have a `passion’ for exercise – since that word means to suffer, it seems most appropriate.
But I’ll save a discourse on the misuse of the word `passion’ for another day…

Waiting for Harry

8.30am, July 16 2005, a small town in Queensland, Australia and a bunch of happy strangers are waiting for Harry…
I preordered Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince over a month ago, $10 down and the promise of a `magic price’ on HP Day. Since I had bought Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix through the same sellers two years ago, I was happy to go the same route again. For one thing, they always made a bit of an occasion of it.
This year was no exception. There were lots of little Hermiones and Harrys in the queue, including a young Daniel Radcliffe lookalike with glasses, but with dark blonde hair. He was getting a lot of covert glances from the Hermiones.
The staff rose to the occasion in pointed hats, and even dressed one of their number up in Harry Potter robes and glasses to keep the crowd amused. This he did, cracking jokes, casting spells on the other staff members and handing out lollipops.
The atmosphere was terrific – all over the world, at this time, HP fans would be doing exactly what we were doing, waiting for the boxes to arrive and the first books to be handed out. The sense of camaradie, even among older relatives just there to pick up a copy for a loved grandkid or nephew or niece, was heartwarming. It’s wonderful how a book can bring people together.
The lookalike situation got a little spooky – a dead ringer for JK Rowling, trailing two children, walked in and joined the queue.
Then came the big moments, as the boxes were carried in and lined up on the counter. We all craned our necks to see the first one opened. The store manager started handing out free Harry Potter caps to those who had preordered. No, I won’t be wearing mine – I have a grandson who will love it.
And best of all, the price was magical – all I had to pay on top of my $10 AUSD deposit was $12.50!
I won’t be publishing any spoilers as I read it – except to say the the illustration on the inside of the dust jacket is VERY intriguing…

101 Things a Book Can Do

When I was about 11, I had a book called 101 Things a Girl Can Do. As it was published in the 30s, the authors were surprisingly optimistic about the things a girl can do, exhorting readers to get acquainted with hammers and nails as well as crochet hooks and knitting needles. But the one thing I remember most from that book – and enjoyed making the most – was the portable writing desk.
The basis of the desk was a small cardboard suitcase. I had to cut a section from the sides, and open out the flap of the case, so that the lid would settle into the right sloping position for the top of a writing desk. Inside I put holders for pens, writing paper and other paraphenalia, then covered the whole thing with wallpaper.
My writing desk probably didn’t turn out that good – at least, not as good as I remember it. But it was faithfully used, and I carried it everywhere so I could open the lid and start writing when the muse struck. It made me feel very sophisticated and businesslike. Most of all, it made me feel capable of anything, since I made it myself.
My father insisted that I start learning to read when I was very young – before I ever set foot inside a school, my mother was teaching me the beauty of words.
“As long as you can read,”‘ my father used to say, “you can learn anything – someone will have written a book about it.”
How right he was, when I look back and think of the things I have learned from even the lightest reading – how my first dip into the world of Tove Jansson’s Moomins taught me to make a leafy windmill, how my tattered collection of I Spy books taught me to look carefully at the world around me (even at manhole covers), and how a book like 101 Things A Girl Can Do challenged me to find new resources in myself.
It was all very matter of fact, of course – there was no such thing as a `self help’ section in the bookstores. It was literally self help – if you found something in a book and it helped you, you adopted it. But you had to seek it out, there were no signposts, and on the way you read a lot of books and learned a lot of other things you weren’t even looking for.
I lost 101 Things A Girl Can Do long ago, alas, but I can still remember how to make the writing desk – now, all I have to do is find an old fashioned, cardboard suitcase…