On A Nostalgic Note

It might be due to a sense of nostalgia but recently I found myself looking at record players online. The sum total of records in my life at this time? One: Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday. I recently bought it for a dollar at a community fete. I had flicked through the other offerings which included a bewildering number of tartan-inspired tunes celebrating Scottish heritage as well as a couple of spoken albums including an all-cast version of The Little Prince. Maybe I should have bought a couple more.

I had been tempted by some of the compilation albums featuring some of the big names and groups of the 1970s whilst smiling at the cover art. There was even an album in the stack celebrating James Cook with a mixture of jigs, classical music and poetry, the inside of the album containing drawings and exploratory maps.

Although I am wary of gathering more stuff in my life, there is room for records. I love listening to music and usually have the radio or an iPod shuffling in the background. A huge variety of music is available on various devices at any time. I still have boxes of CDs which I’m reluctant to let go, although most of my music is now digitalised. There are also old cassette tapes squirreled away too, mainly mix tapes carefully compiled for long trips or created by friends.

There has been a vinyl comeback in recent years with some artists embracing the format more than others. A browse on eBay turns up iconic albums re-released on vinyl.

So what is the appeal? Better sound quality. Listening to an album in the way it was intended, without the cherry-picking or just listening to the top-rated songs. To listen to the songs in order instead of ceaseless flitting from one thing to the next, even though compilation albums mix it up. To rediscover songs and memories on old albums discovered in future travels.

It is also to revisit, or attempt to revisit, my own musical history and memories. The first record that I can remember as a Christmas gift was Corroboree by Split Enz, the cover brown and black and white. Buying Crazy for You by Madonna as a 45 after seeing ‘Desperately Seeking Susan‘ with teenage girlfriends. A whole range of music embedded in my memory from childhood from some of the hundreds of albums owned by parents, family and friends. The art of lining up the needle with precision on the desired track, the hiss and crackle of motes of dust. Cover art still vivid in my memory, including the helicopter shot on the front cover of ABBA’s album, Arrival.

Do records tap into nostalgic memories for you?

[Photo: front cover of the Billie Holiday album, Lady Sings The Blues]

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The Reading Hour

Whilst catching up on some podcasts recently I discovered that I had missed the inaugural annual reading hour. This event, promoted by the Australian Library and Information Association, called for Australians to spend one hour reading. One of the activities was to encourage parents to read to their children for at least 10 minutes a day over a week. There was also encouragement for anyone to make a date with a book. It  made me reflect on my reading habits and what reading means to me.

It is hard to think back to a time when I didn’t read, when the words were merely scribbles on a page, yet to be deciphered. I remember some early reading books such as Dick and Jane (anything that had my name in it assumed greater importance) and books of fairy tales. There were illustrated versions of the childhood classics, including Black Beauty and a book of Aboriginal legends. I delighted in odd compendiums of facts, like The Big Book of How and Why or something similar.

A lesson learnt early on was the incredible power of books to transport me to another time or place, to parts of the world both familiar and strange, to characters that seemed as real and complex as any that were in my daily life. The pleasure of being so caught up in a story that it slips into your mind whilst you’re doing other things, as you ponder on what might happen to this character, or how this seemingly impossible situation will resolve itself – these are some of the many joys that reading provides.

In the podcast, a few writers were interviewed to see what reading meant to them. For Chris Womersley reading takes place anywhere and it is difficult to imagine life without it. Sometimes life is understood more through literature than real life, and books play an important part in his internal narrative about what was going on in his life at a particular time. Kevin Kwan spoke of the pleasure that reading gives him – more pleasure than just about anything else, opening up a world of possibilities. For Kamila Shamsie, happiness is being in a hammock, reading. Reading means you never have to be alone, or that your life is limited to your own experiences. According to Shamsie, it enables you to develop empathy and imagination.

It is often claimed by many writers that to write, one must read. Reading widely is encouraged, not just in the genre that you write in or your particular field of expertise. Reading widely offers insights and approaches that can complement various styles, and I’ve heard interviews where some authors deliberately read non-fiction whilst writing fiction, for example.

I like to read a couple of books at any given time, and over the years this has evolved into a mixture of books, ebooks and audiobooks. I’ve just finished reading The Dunbar Case by Peter Corris as an ebook from the library after listening to The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman for my book group. Next on the book group list is The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy, an author I haven’t read in decades since I toted War and Peace around at the end of my teens. Recently I finished reading The Museum of Words by Georgia Blain, which was beautiful and devastating. I’m also reading Where Song Began by Tim Low. A friend has given me a couple of books on meditation and I’m also keen to read a couple of Australian crime thrillers that have been in my reading pile after reading some enthusiastic reviews lately.

What does your reading life look like?

[Photo: detail from my favourite reading chair]

Wild Windy Weather

There seems to have been a resurgence of windy weather atop the Blue Mountains lately.

After one particularly windy spell, I was in a cafe when I heard one of the staff explain the wind phenomenon in the mountains. Well, her theory of it at least. The location of villages along the ridge of the mountain top – roughly along the original road and trails crossing the mountains – meant that the impact of gusty winds are stronger and more localised.

The past week has been peppered with days of high winds, which are trying enough, but then there are the wind gusts which literally knock you sideways. Walking around the main and side streets of Katoomba, there are funnels of wind that spin about, making it a challenge to walk down a steep incline due to the force of the gusts.

This weekend there has been a couple of days of reprieve – gorgeous spring weather full of sunshine, the scent of blossoms and the promise of warmer times ahead. I am trying not to dwell on the forecasted return of the winds later this week.

One of my memories of primary school involved the notorious winds of August and September in Sydney. There had been a huge wind storm and we were all gathered into the assembly hall to keep us safe from flying objects. This was exciting enough, then part of the roof blew off. For days afterwards there were stray bits of roofing, fences and other miscellany scattered around the suburb. I don’t recall anyone being injured, thankfully, but it was a big deal at the time.

High winds were pummeling the mountains on the day I moved in to my new home. I was moving incrementally, and had a fold-up bed, chairs and card table in my car, along with blankets and a kettle and enough bits to keep me going for a few days. My uncle had given me a box of firewood so I had the wood heater going which was lucky as the electricity went out overnight with trees falling across lines during the wind storm, and it was the warmth of the stove that kept my spirits up the next morning when I was without power in a strange place with wind buffeting the windows and doors, wondering just what I’d got myself in for this time.

As with other instances of wild weather, it makes me appreciate the relative calmness of the every day when it returns.

[Photo: plush toy spotted in the main street of Katoomba – not a wind related incident!]

Neighbourly Thoughts

Recently I came across a Chinese proverb in a magazine: Love your neighbours, but don’t pull down the fence. It made me think about neighbours in general and the act of being a neighbour.

Growing up in a Sydney suburb, we knew our neighbours in part because there were other children in our street. Neighbours on one side kept an eye out for us and there was a doorway in the fence to allow easy movement back and forth. These neighbours were older than our parents, and there were grandchildren of a similar age who visited regularly. There was a golden Labrador called Cleo who never seemed to mind being roped into various games and activities. Other delights included a steering wheel attached to a fence, a mulberry tree in a corner and for some reason that I can’t recall, a poker machine in the kitchen. It was an old-style machine that was played with shillings or ten-cent pieces, and what a thrill it was to pull the handle and ‘win’ the occasional jackpot.

I’ve lived in villas, in student accommodation and on a property with acreage as well as in country towns and now in the mountains, and I’ve had a mix of neighbours along the way. The farming neighbour was usually spotted at a distance, and there were sensory delights at cropping time, especially with a paddock of coriander close to the property boundary. Living with an abundance of space made it a bit challenging to get used to people living close by when I moved into town but I’ve been lucky to have had good neighbours.

Neighbours can be a friendly presence, someone to keep an eye on your place if you are away for a while, to collect mail and newspapers and give you peace of mind. A wave and a smile can be enough to make you feel at ease, and it feeds into a sense of being part of wider community. Neighbours share news and plant cuttings, turn up with extra servings of food and even Christmas gifts for my dog. They know what is going on in the neighbourhood, and a quick catch up can be most enjoyable. Neighbours keep an eye out for each other without infringing on each other’s space.

My neighbours are one of the reasons why I love mountain life. From my arrival here I was made to feel welcome, and there are many small gestures of kindness shared between us without any sense of expectation or reciprocation required. During weather events – such as heavy snowfall or the bushfires in 2013 – we keep an eye out for each other and share news and updates. It is impossible to put a value on the peace of mind that comes with having good neighbours.

There was another quote on the page of proverbs that I read: A stranger nearby is better than a far-away relative. There is truth in this Korean saying.

What are your neighbourly experiences?

Proverbs spotted in Issue 3 of Breathe Magazine Australia.

[Photo: snowfall in July 2015]

Short Story: Five Dollars

Christmas comes around at the same time every year, but some years it seems to arrive quicker than others. In the festive spirit, I have dug out a short piece that I wrote in response to a prompt in which all you have left in the world is five dollars. This is what I came up with.

It’s gone. All gone. The last gold coins in my pocket, tossed with feigned carelessness into the open guitar case. I pause, waiting a long moment for some sort of acknowledgement, a little recognition. But his eyes are shut, he’s lost in his music, his fingers nimble on the frets as the notes echo and pulse along the tiled entrance to the station. People are bustling past, buffeting me with the tips of handbags, nudging me with their luggage. Snatches of conversation clatter around and still he plays, his eyes closed, his expression borders on bliss.

Someone bumps me forward and I’m caught in the flow, barely able to glance back at him, my gold coins insignificant against the notes and shrapnel massing in his case. I let myself be moved along, barely registering my surroundings. My feet move of their own accord whilst my head throbs in a staccato beat. Gone. Gone. Gone.

How could I be so stupid, throwing away the last that I had into the case of a stranger? It was his handwriting that undid me, lessening my resolve. He was playing Christmas carols, not the usual mainstream drivel, but the sweet, melancholy songs that I haven’t heard since mass on Christmas Eve, several lifetimes ago now. The sign said he was making music to pay for his trip home, that he had miles to go and only music to get him there. The letters were messy, his spelling jarred my attention, and I was wondering if it was a deliberate ploy when the music overtook me, taking my breath away, shifting my mind to the place I called home when my life meant something and I had everything that mattered.

I’m suddenly free, separate from the jostling crowd. I’ve somehow shuffled to the side  and I slowly walk up the sloping gradient towards the platform. There is a almost a hush, now I’m out of the bustle, and I feel my heart settle into a steady rhythm. The platform is nearly empty, just a few people gathered in clutches on the scattered benches. I make my way past a family, two children holding bright helium balloons. One is marked with ‘Merry’ and the other ‘Christmas’ and I can’t help but smile at their obvious excitement. Their mother smiles at me and for a moment I forget, forget I am broke and alone on Christmas Eve. I close my eyes, hearing again the sweet notes of the guitar, smelling the rich tang of incense, my eyes drawn towards the candles at the altar, my hand held tight by my mother. I am home.

{Previously posted on Writers in the Mist}

[Photo: one of my favourite Christmas shop window displays in Katoomba]

Imagine

This is such a powerful word. It immediately conjures up a collection of images, of worlds both real and invented. It can take me to another time or place, and makes me think of a life with less limitations. That place in your head where simply anything is possible.

Imagine doesn’t have to be a fanciful word. It can hold elements of what is possible, even if what is possible is yet to be realised into actual existence. Creativity. Uninhibited possibilities. The abandonment of realism. Reality: who needs it? Imagination offers resourcefulness and inventiveness, the opportunity to delude, to believe, to create, to fantasise and to think.

It also brings to mind early writings and creativity. When does it start, this compulsion to imagine other worlds into existence, to create something out of nothing? Perhaps it is the short creative writing exercises in primary school, those stretches of time when it was just a ballpoint pen, a lined exercise book and a prompt. I had early forays with elaborate tales involving tennis balls and hamburgers. These were separate stories and although the detail is lost to me now, the story where I was somehow metamorphosed into a tennis ball is still vivid to my younger brother, who surprises me with snatches of it occasionally.

There is also the pure joy of losing yourself in someone else’s imagined world as a child, from tales such as Blinky Bill and The Magic Pudding to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There are so many places to explore, vivid destinations with memorable characters and some life lessons along the way.

Words have always mattered to me. They have weight and substance when required. I used to tote around a rather large pocket dictionary as a child, and have a collection clustered about me now for dipping into and exploring words and their varied uses. Words are the gateway to my imagination, and for that I am eternally grateful.

What are your early memories of creations from your imagination?

[Photo taken at Mona Vale on the northern beaches of Sydney]