Get your chilli on, Brisbane!

Briz Chilli Fest supports Cystic Fibrosis Queensland.

As the organiser of Brisbane’s first Chilli Festival – BrizChilli Fest – on Sunday 10th June,2018, I am rapidly discovering a whole new world of culinary quirkiness out there!

The festival is a foray into that peculiar and particular gastronomic delight that is the hot chilli pepper.

Thanks to ushotstuff.com website for the following information:

Chilli (or Chile) peppers are native to South and Central America. Having been introduced to South Asia in the 1500s, they soon came to dominate the world spice trade. Few could have imagined the impact of Columbus’ discovery of a spice so pungent that it rivaled the better known black pepper native to South Asia. India is now the largest producer of chillies in the world.

There are about 25 species in the genus Capsicum and they originate from Central and South America. Several species have been domesticated to produce many cultivated types, ranging from mild and sweet to hot and pungent.

Chile peppers are perhaps the first plants to be domesticated in Central America, where there is evidence that they were consumed in 7500 BC.

Mexico and northern Central America is thought to be the centre of origin of Capsicum annuum, and South America of Capsicum frutescens. These were first introduced to South Asia in the 16th century and have now become the two most important species in the region.

Pungent varieties are the most valuable and frequently grown chiles in South Asia. They were introduced to South Asia in the 16th century by Portuguese and Spanish explorers via trade routes from South America. In the 16th century the celebrated musician Purandarasa described chillies in lyrics as a comfort to the poor and the great flavor-enhancer.

Exactly how the plant spread from South Asia to China and Southeast Asia is not recorded in much detail, but it is assumed that local, Arab and European traders carried the chiles via traditional trading routes along the coasts and great waterways such as the Ganges.

Chiles were readily incorporated into local South Asian cuisines perhaps because people were already familiar with pungent and spicy flavors. Mounds of red chile powder and yellow turmeric powder give splashes of vibrant color to every food market in India today.

Many varieties of chile have been developed with names such as Dhani from the north east and Sannam, Nalcheti, Todappally, Jwala, Mundu and Kanthari from the south. In India distinctions are mainly made between color and size.

So, now that I’ve passed on that bit of chil-education to you, what is it, you may ask, that would entice an otherwise normal human being to inflict upon themselves the unbearable hotness of a truly hot chilli pepper?

Since joining a number of chilli growing and fanatic groups on Facebook, I’ve discovered that this is one area of food that attracts particularly passionate people.  Starting off eating chillies, they soon become addicted to growing their own fruit so as to have an endless supply of their favourite gastronomic torture food.  Well, to me it would be torture, but lo and behold, there are bunches of people out there whose lives would just not be worth living without the addition of chilli to just about everything they consume.

My good friend Wayne Taylor of Rocoto Chilli Farm north of Brisbane, Queensland, is not an avid fan of eating chilli, yet is bound for glory now that he has started research and development in his own bio-tech laboratory, setting a course to cloning and propagating the hottest chilli in the world, no less.

Then there are the sauce-makers like Rob Dunn of Australian Extreme Chilli Condiments or Patrick Beresford of 13 Angry Scorpions, or Andrew Dover of Shashemane Spices, Vaughn Henry of Cobra Chilli, Steve Bonham aka Steve the Chilli Man, Liesl Herbert of Gourmet Outfitters and her “Chilli Chick” range, and Alex and Dave of Clem and Frank’s Sauces (no, the pugs do not taste-test the sauce…).

Not to mention the culinary delights of  Jason Seaton and his Seaton Fire chilli chocolate range, and Mallory Tocino’s chilli jerky range, and Brett Sharwood with his Gourmet XCellence range of smallgoods including chilli specialities.

As festival organiser, I am privy to getting to know these wonderfully talented people who choose to dedicate their life’s work for the production of a range of amazing chilli relishes, sauces, spice powders, chocolates, jerkies and seasonings.

I have found that each of these people has a story to tell. Whether it’s overcoming hardship and physical disability and having to start all over in a new career in their forties, or just deciding that a niche in the market had to be filled.

I even have the Pink Fairy making me some chilli fairy floss on the day…..best keep that one away from the kids…

For those whose stories I’ve been able to glean in order to include them in media releases, I thank you for sharing them. For those I’ve yet to discover, perhaps for Briz Chilli Fest 2019, I will be able to learn a little more about you!

As for me, I don’t intend to change my wussy-chilli-eater status any time soon – I think I’ll probably be sticking to something around the 1 or 2 mark on the Scoville scale of chilli heat….

As a festival organisation team of one, I have designed every flyer, poster, banner, ticket, booklet, program, website, facebook and instagram post, and even sewed my own chilli costumes for promotional use, been the video-grapher for the promotional videos, and found myself sewing a tiny costume for  our newly-minted Briz Chilli Dog – Noodle the Dachshund (he has his own instagram page #noodle.the.dachshund) for a photo shoot tomorrow.

I am proud to be donating 10% of net tickets sales to Cystic Fibrosis Queensland who will be there on the day to raise awareness of this debilitating disease which receives no government funding towards finding a cure.   All stall-holders will be making a discretionary donation, we will have lots of rafflfes, and the big raffle will be a “sit” in the Ignite Broadband Lamborghini when it fires up its amazing engine!

As a long-time supporter of the Big Issue magazine, I warmly welcome the Bulimba vendor to our festival and hope he has a brilliant day of sales.  He may well be able to take a long holiday after the festival. Let’s hope so.

All of this creating, planning and implementing PR represents many, many hours of work for this humble music entrepreneur and festival-organiser, and more than a few anxious mornings lying in bed wondering what on earth I am doing….. but for the most part, I enjoy the creative process which is bringing to fruition an idea that might just grow into something fantastic.  I am indeed a serial entrepreneur.  No guts, no glory.

Sometimes all I have is the knowledge that I pulled it off – even if there is not much  money in the bank to show for it.   Festivals, as with many things in life, start small, need lots of nurturing and a sensible approach, and when done properly can reward the creator ten-fold.  At the embryonic stage, it’s sometimes a little daunting and over-whelming, but in the true spirit of the entrepreneur, we take the fear and do it anyway.

As Winston Churchill said….. “Success is not final.  Failure is not fatal.  It’s the courage to continue that matters,”  and continue I must.

So, won’t you join me on Sunday 10th June at Bulimba Golf Club for a full day of fun, crazy, chilli entertainment.

We have some live bands – Eddie Gazani and Forro, Canta la Tumba, and the brilliantly talented Mr Sean Mullen closing out the day with his blues guitar.

Thanks must go to my Megahot Sponsor, Ignite Broadband, who will be bringing their CEO’s sleekly flame-wrapped Lamborghini to thrill the crowds.  For those wanting some horticultural help, Chris Faast of Aqua Gardening will be showing us the wonderful world of hydroponics.

Thanks must go to Shannon Harvey of Place Realty at Bulimba, and Garry Price of Ray White East Brisbane for their spicy sponsorship too.

Well, it’s off to plan next week’s social media posts, and check my media releases.

I hope to see you all at the festival – Brisbane, let’s get our chilli on!

 

 

 

When the escalator stops…..

escalators

How does it makes you feel?

I’m always amazed at how a simple thing like a non-rolling escalator can suddenly throw you completely off-balance and make you feel really weird.

It got me to thinking about life and how we cope when things suddenly change or stop working the way they should.

It could be a sudden health issue, job loss or sideways transfer, relationship challenge or breakdown, children leaving home – any one of a myriad of things that we human beings are subjected to in our daily lives.

So, one minute we are all hunky-dory, coasting along going about our business. The up escalator takes us up, the down escalator takes us down. We hop on and off, effortlessly, not thinking for a minute about what we are doing. Everything’s on auto-pilot.

Then one day, something happens. Life as we knew it has stopped. We are faced with sudden change. It may not be a permanent blot on the landscape, but it is something different. How do we feel.

I know that when I come across an escalator that isn’t working, my brain wants to approach it the same way as when it was working. My foot goes on the tread, and I’m meant to glide upwards. My brain is expecting an upward trajectory but…what the?? I suddenly lurch forward, sideways, wobbling, grabbing on to the handrail – looking around to see if anyone is watching this little sideshow while I wait for my brain to adjust to the fact that I have to now put one foot in front of the other and get myself up on my own steam.

And so it may be with life. From time to time, circumstances demand we need to change the way we think and approach our lives. It’s how we adapt to this change that is the crucial thing.

We are so used to everything going as we planned, envisaged or forecast. Our brains get conditioned to our car being in the carpark when we return to it, our credit cards working, our power being on all the time, our computers working, our internet being connected and our phones having all our information neatly stored in them. Effortlessly.

But, when change comes around, we are so surprised. We are so un-ready. We are suddenly faced with the need to make a new plan, a new forecast, a new trajectory – something that our brain can absorb and work with.

Every day, most of take our health for granted. We get up, we do all the things we know we can do. We think about maybe eating better, exercising more, drinking less, managing our stress better – but does it get beyond “thinking”. So often it doesn’t. And we coast along, thinking that life is always going to be this way. But, all our habits form our lives. Whilst living a healthy life doesn’t guarantee longevity, it certainly increases the likelihood of reduced health issues and a life lived happier and with less stress. Yet, why don’t we make those changes while we still can. Why do we wait for the sudden “lurch” and “wobble” when we are suddenly told news by our doctors that we really don’t want to hear. We seem to prefer the sudden “jerk” into reality than to take matters into our hands to reduce the unpleasant, sudden surprises and required brain re-wiring.

Every day, we take our living circumstances for granted. Our home, our comfortable environment, our cars. What if we could no longer afford to keep any of those things due to failing health, loss of income, a terrible accident or some other life-changing loss. Do we even stop before we get on the escalator and wonder about taking the stairs?

Yes, stairs. These are things that get us to the same destination as escalators and lifts but require a really conscious effort. They make us face things like our fitness, our health, our thoughts as we put one foot above the other to reach our goal.

Perhaps we should all do more mental stair-climbing instead of gliding along on mental escalators or lifts. Maybe being more aware of our every day “steps” will give us more insight into the value of our daily habits, blessings and otherwise.

Next time you step onto a moving escalator and gaze around you, or look at your phone – take a minute to think about your life. Are you on auto-pilot?

Next time you step onto the non-moving escalator and you get that “wobble and jerk”, think about how maybe you are also taking your life’s trajectory for granted.

Start taking the mental stairs every day – you’re body and mind will thank you.

Choosing a Diary……what’s the secret?

diary

“Buy diary” it said on my to-do list.  Such a simple-sounding task, right?

Wrong.

My local stationery store dedicated one side of a long aisle to the mysterious process of diary-selection.  As I arrived to tackle this task, there was already one other young woman looking confused and tired in her quest for the perfect day planner.

“It’s a bit confusing, isn’t it?” I joked with the young woman.  She smiled broadly and started to laugh about it, “Oh my goodness yes.  How can you choose from so many?”

We exchanged anecdotes about how we would make our decisions, and then went about trying to choose a diary.

Naturally, all the colours I liked were only available in diaries that were too heavy, too big, too expensive, too something.

I was looking for a small, week-to-a-view diary, with a colourful cover, that weighed just a few hundred grams. Again – easy right?

Wrong.

More people arrived in the aisle – all looking for the perfect diary.  Men, woman, young, old, conservative, creative – which one would they choose, and how long would it take for them to choose it?

I felt that we could have created a “diary-buyer support group” right there and then.   We’d sit in a circle of chairs, sipping on water or green tea, looking worn out and hopeless, saying things like, “last year I thought I’d bought the perfect diary, but it turned out to be all wrong.  Too big, the font was too small….”

Or, “I thought a week-to-a-view would be enough, but I ended up scribbling all over the whole page just for one day.  So, in the end I just gave up and started scribbling on blank pages and pasting them in.”

Or, “You know, I feel like such a failure, because I bought a “day to a page” diary and then at the end of the year, so many of those pages were just blank.  I felt like I’d just had such a non-event of a year.”

Or, “I chose black for the colour, but it just kept disappearing into my handbag, and whenever I needed to refer to it, I’d spend ages digging around looking for it, looking so unprofessional and ultimately giving up and scribbling on my hand.”

Or, “The edges of the plastic cover were so sharp, I cut myself so many times, I ended up with blood on the pages, it was revolting looking back on all that dried blood on the paper.”

So, ultimately, I found my “perfect diary” – it was orange, week-to-a-view, spiral inside, but smooth covered, and less than $15.  I felt like such a champion!   I was leaving the diary aisle – in under 30 minutes!  I walked out, leaving four other people still staring at the selection of diaries, fingering the books, feeling the covers, comparing the prices.

I was out of there.

But, then when I got home, I realised – THERE WAS NO RIBBON.   I had failed in my quest for the ‘perfect’ diary.  Now I had to find a ribbon in the drawer – you know, the second kitchen drawer where all the “good stuff” is kept – and make my own.  I knew there was a reason I kept that piece of ribbon……

So, I’ve jotted some things in my diary, dutifully christening it and making 2017 “real” and active.

Now all I have to do is work out a way to use a paper diary in conjunction with an electronic phone diary.

Has anyone  mastered that yet?

I kidded myself last year that I would go big-time into the paper diary world but, really, who was I kidding.  There were too many blank pages as evidence that my experiment had failed.

So, this year I’ve downsized to a much smaller version and I hope that I can make it work.

I kind of like the ritual of diary-buying at the beginning of the year, and judging by the folk in the aisle with me, there are still a few of us who like it too.

I open my new shiny orange diary, full of hope and ideas for 2017 and I wish you all the best for your new year.

Don’t forget….if you want to make it happen, PUT IT IN YOUR DIARY.

 

Got a Minute to Lose?

pondering

As I left my mechanic’s workshop at 8.15am having dropped off my car for a service, I walked calmly across the driveway of the adjacent service station, wondering what I’d do next – sit at the local coffee shop and wait, or hike back up the hill to my house nearby.   Suddenly, I felt a swish of air behind me.

Turning  to see the source, a small silver hatchback whizzed impatiently by.  When I asked him, “what’s up with you?”, the grey-bearded middle-aged looked highly agitated and flipped me the bird out the window.

Clearly, the driver was offended at me for not walking faster and for impeding his hurried exit from the petrol station.  Very clearly, he had no respect for women and was yet another in a long line of male bullies encountered by me in the past few years, both in business and personal life.

I listened yesterday to Madonna’s acceptance speech as she was voted Billboard’s Woman of the Year for 2016.  It really was an emotional but extremely well-written and rehearsed outpouring of the hard yards so many women in the music industry have had to plough in order to reach and stay at the top of their game.   Bullying is rife in society – towards children, women and those perceived to have a lesser worth.

So, Mr Silver Hatchback felt it necessary to bully and insult me with his driving and his gesturing.  Off he raced to his job, leaving behind a person left wondering why his aggression levels were so high at 8.15am.  Mondayitis at its worst.

I crossed the road and sat at a café and read Sunday’s paper for an hour or so, made a telephone call to a lonely friend, and then made a business call as I walked up my hilly street.  I was determined to make today a day where I made time to ponder.  Not anything in particular.  Just ponder.

It seems pondering is not allowed or encouraged in this society.  I was sort of pondering as I walked across the petrol station driveway and look where that got me?   I guess I should have been marching purposefully towards my next goal.

But what do we miss in our non-ponderous march to the finish line?

I guess the Christmas season adds to people’s already chronic state of agitation in our modern, busy and overworked lives.  A trip to your local shopping centre will more than confirm that something bad happens to people’s brains around this time.  Add to this, the stultifying heat and humidity in our sub-tropical home of Brisbane, and you do find some fine examples of “going troppo”.

Last night I watched again the very funny 2004 movie Christmas with the Kranks  and my all-time favourite scene is when Jamie-Lee Curtis’ character, Mrs Krank, dives desperately for the very last tin of ham in the supermarket, competing for this ‘prize’ with another desperate shopper.  She fails spectacularly in her attempt, but eventually manages to secure another ham by begging another shopper to sell her their’s at an inflated price.  Sadly, in the car park she drops the ham and it rolls away onto the road where it is hideously splattered under the wheels of a lorry.  This is sometimes how we feel when we have spent a long time chasing something, all to see it come to nothing, or worse, end up in disaster or woe.

So, is the chase worth it?   Should we walk and ponder, rather than march and lurch and dive towards the object or outcome of our desire?

My resolution for 2017 is more pondering, less agitation.  I shall try each morning to read the newspaper, or catch up on weekend newspapers, rather than diving headlong into a full schedule of chores and “must-dos” in the life of a freelancer. For, as Kathleen Noonan points out in yesterday’s Sunday Mail, “reading offers you a space that is utterly yours”.

I am going to claim some  “utterly mine” space in 2017.  Heck, I might even play my grand piano for a half hour each day and brush up on those scales and favourite bits of Mozart and Beethoven.

How many of your favourite things have fallen by the wayside as you march towards your life goals?   Do you have any “utterly yours” space in your days?

Too many of us go through our days as if we have “no time to lose” whereas we have in fact lost the ability to use our precious time to nurture ourselves, which in turn makes us a better nurturer of others – our spouses, our children, our ageing parents, our colleagues, our gardens, our pets, and even strangers.

Make a point in 2016 to “amble” instead of walking briskly, stare out the bus window and “ponder” instead of reading your emails or picking the next tune on your ipod.  In fact, how about taking out the earbuds and actually talking to someone on the bus?  Talk about the weather, give someone a compliment about their shoes or dress or hair – a bit like the good old days.

The first step to detaching from your digital devices is to re-learn how to do “nothing”.  It’s harder than you’d imagine, but well worth the effort.

The good old days may have meant a lot of elbow grease washing clothes and scrubbing floors – but it did also allow for a bit of a yarn across the back fence, or down at the shop……  There was a bit more time to lose.

And that’s the time we need to find back.

 

Go Fearlessly Forward

As I sit here one hour early  In the school hall of my only child, my son of 17 years, for his year 12 graduation ceremony, I have ample time to reflect on the years that have flown by, have swallowed up a little boy and churned out a young man.

Th first six  years of Philip’s formal schooling offered wonderful opportunities to be greatly involved in so many ways – tuckshop, school fetes, fundraising, newsletters, parent helpers, special presentations etc.  But after that initial flurry of volunteering, I felt I’d earned my parenting stripes and proceeded to step back and allow some fresh blood to step up.

 

So, for the past six years I have barely set foot in school grounds, in part because I know my son preferred it that way, in part because school P&C committees are not for the faint-hearted or creatively inclined.

It’s been a strange time watching him progress through the stages each child must navigate in order to matriculate. There were issues with minor bullying, low self-esteem, anxiety and despair from time to time but largely the past four years have been smooth sailing.

I was even spared the usual parent pain of having to stand over their child to ensure homework and assignments were done on time.  I was one of those lucky parents whose child chose to be organised and measured in all they did.  Free time was of great value to Philip so he determined early that homework was best done in class rather than dragged home to eat into precious  leisure time.  Similarly, assignments were deftly planned and executed without any fuss – i sometimes feel guilty that I didn’t have to go through the angst that so many parents go through in their child’s final two years of schooling.  The most challenging aspect was waking up to the smell of hamburgers frying as Philip made his own elaborate school lunches in the morning.

As I stare up at the WELCOME TO YEAR 12 Graduation slide projected onto the huge screen on the podium, I say goodbye to my little boy, firmly and sadly.

All the baby photos of Philip have been staring out at me extra hard from the walls where they have hung for 8 years…… those  little eyes smiling out from that big round baby face, that podgy young  boy face smiling up as he cuddles his pet cat, the handsome lean 16 year old sitting staring into the distance, on the cusp of manhood.

So the time has come, the walrus said….. to imagine a new era where my 17 year old is free-wheeling around the house, enjoying a gap year before heading off to uni overseas.

Never again will I see him in those grey flannel trousers, that grey and green shirt and tie ensemble, opening the garage door at 745am to walk to the bus stop, barely stopping to kiss his mother goodbye.

His father is bound to be uncontrollably emotional at this event, and My eyes will no doubt well up with tears at some point. And now my mind turns briefly to contemplate the utter desolation a bereaved parent would experience,  knowing their child died without reaching this milestone.  How blessed we are that we sit here tonight with the luxury of crying for a different reason.

As the oppressive Queensland humidity bears down prematurely upon the 1000 or more people in the hall tonight, we have a distraction from our sad thoughts.  The occasional sea breeze that sneaks through the louvred gives us all a brief reprieve before we embark on this emotional night of farewell to childhood.

The hall is buzzing with the chatter of young men and women, excitedly waiting for the evening to commence so they too may commence their new journey into adulthood.  I barely recall my own graduation more than 35 years ago, suffice to remember that I won the French Dux prize.  The layout of the state school hall is the same, only the time and uniform is different.

I’ve been sitting here now for 40 minutes, having been the very first person here to keep seats for family members.  The noise is louder, the air thicker with anticipation.

I see boys that I knew as freckly five year olds, wearing man-buns, possessing bodies lean with muscle and sweaty hormones.  Young women whose pigtails have given way to flowing, fragrant hair atop lithe young bodies ripe for adventure and sometimes trouble.  All that collagen….. I think enviously!

My son didn’t even want to attend this night, being of the rather more introverted variety who prefers things low-key unless on his terms.  I of course chided him for even considering evading this wonderful occasion.  He had a haircut yesterday, so that’s a good thing.

Philip is one of those rare birds for whom schooling and school buddies have come secondary to the rest of his life experiences.  He has enjoyed 10 overseas trips since birth and discovered an amazing world outside suburban Brisbane.   Consequently, he sometimes struggles with his relatively small-town existence, when compared with cities such as London, LA or Amsterdam.  This is a boy who discovered wings early in life.

So, there he goes up to the stage in the first part of the alphabet.  A shake of a hand, certificate clasped tight, he strides back down the other side of the stage, like the other 500 or so kids in his graduating class.

After all the speeches and the singing of the school song ( which did make me cry just a little), the gathered peel off in different directions, eager to escape the oppressive heat of the hall.  Young hearts run just a little freer after tonight..

We celebrated with dinner at the local Thai restaurant over a colourful conversation about family and the perils therein, and all agreed that at least we as a family could talk to each other, thanks to the lack of TV in our household.  There was always something to do besides passive consumption of  offerings on the flat screen.  Like, for instance, having a really funky jam in the living room…..

Here we are, back at the house, stage lights set up, a groove backing  track off YouTube pumps out of the PA system permanently set up for rehearsal ( oh did I mention we are part-time professional musicians?) and Philip on guitar and his step father on bass are getting it on down.

And so marks the start if his new life outside school.  Lots of music, advice, love and a new learning curve about how to stand on a stage and entertain.  No more schoolbooks for a while.  Just the warm, hot and cool tunes as a backdrop to his young manhood.

The  world awaits you and I, as your mother, will watch with love as you take your steps into my world.  For when everything in life lets you down, you will always have your instrument to keep you company, long into the night, when times are hard, when people let you down and hurt you, when life deals you a hard lesson – have faith in the beauty that is music.  He gift that came from me, my mother before me, my aunts and cousins who also play and sing  – a long line of which you are now a part.  The gift that chose you and will always be with you.

Rock on Philip.

 

Uke Odyssey takes wings to the far north

So, as we gear up to leave for the far north of Queensland – Cape York and the Torres Strait, we are surrounded by 40 ukes in our living room.

We need to tune them almost daily to get them used to staying in tune, and also label them with a message and photo of the donor who put up $20 or $40 to buy a half or whole uke.

Craig Claxton of Guitar Brothers at Red Hill kindly donated a further 10 ukes as well as selling the balance of 30 ukes at cost price to us.

As well as the ukes, we need to have enough money to buy enough spare strings and tuners to keep everyone happy as well as try to cover the cost of the excess baggage fees we will incur at Qantas check-in.

So far, we haven’t been able to reach anyone at Qantas who’s willing to do this, but we live in hope!

It’s been a fun journey of seeking donations and it has reached as far as Dubbo, NSW, to a small group of enthusiastic uke players from Red Earth Ukes Band who got together and donated $170 to our cause.  It’s this kind of outreach that really makes you smile.  When people can converge for a cause that makes them put their hand in their pocket so someone else can find out how much fun it is to do something that they are passionate about already.  A big thank you to Di Clifford for arranging those donations from Red Earth Ukes.

Tangatours in Brisbane, with John Sharpe CEO at the helm, also felt it was a nice “practical” donation to participate in and they sponsored $200 (5 ukes).

Councillor Jenny Breene of Logan City Council also contributed $200 as did Billy Gordon MP up at Mareeba.  Very grateful for those donations too!

We are conducting a free concert at Beenleigh Town Square this Saturday 2nd July from 5pm in the hope that the large ATSI population in the Logan catchment might throw in a few more gold coins to help us buy some more goodies for the kids.

So, from Sean and I, it’s a big thank-you to all who supported our little philanthropic journey and we’ll be sure to post some videos of the kids all playing a tune together with the gorgeous new ukes.

Our tour itinerary for the “Making Waves in the Strait” Tour:

11th July – Wongai Beach

14th July – Thursday Island Bowls Club

15th July – Bamaga Tavern

17th July – Cape York Lodge – Punsand Bay

 

Conversations – are we losing touch with our real world?

 

As I took the bus to the city last week, I saw three groups of elderly women chatting happily to each other.  Even though I was standing in the crowded bus, I was amused by them – smiling, laughing, regaling and just doing what comes naturally to women and, more specifically, people over the age of 50.

It was such a refreshing sight, amidst a sea of heads either looking down at their smartphones or staring blankly ahead with pods in their ears, lost in their own private musical world, oblivious to those around them.

There is usually one person reading a book, the good old-fashioned way.

Conversation as an art is still relevant today.  Successful business dealings require it, social events demand it, and life is a lot more interesting when the skill is engaged.

The bus ladies didn’t grow up tethered to any devices, other than perhaps the washing machine or stove, and viewed interaction with others as something to look forward to.  A natter across the fence, an exchange of pleasantries with the grocer, a cuppa after church, an animated conversation about the cut of meat best suited to that night’s menu – these are all mostly things of the past with domination of supermarkets and the decline of religious worship.

I saw how their eyes sparkled, these grey-haired elders – their genuine enjoyment of the moment and how central to their being was the art of conversation.  What would they make of the rest of the bus passengers, sitting silently or busily texting their conversations?

That brings us to the art of thumb-conversation.  Texting.  Messaging. I’m a bit old-school and text with my index finger – racing across the virtual keyboard much to the amusement of the younger generations.  It’s a dead giveaway of one’s age, no matter how young one might appear.  But, it struck me that the younger generations are still very busily engaged in conversation, in fact even more so, than their parents’ generation.   In fact, they are almost constantly in conversation, for better or for worse.

I’m also guilty of spending way too much time on social media and engaging in texting when I could call. But somehow, it’s become the norm. The desire “not to disturb” someone by actually calling and speaking to them.

When did speaking to someone become “disturbing” them?  And how much is too much texting?

Does this busy preoccupation with constant interaction leave any room for one’s own thoughts and feelings?    As much as putting one’s “two-bob’s worth” forward in a real conversation was sometimes a bit annoying, is the digital conversational world creating more angst in its participants because of the abundance of input from all directions?  All done so quietly…. But there in print, for you to read, re-read and, so often, misinterpret or be misinterpreted.

These ladies could speak to each other and make pretty clear what their viewpoint was, leaving no doubt at all.  The digital cohort, on the other hand, runs the gauntlet of constant misinterpretation, being held to ransom for a throwaway line, and the ultimate punishment, having their words shared in a public forum in order to mock, shame or embarrass.

I recall how happy I felt being watching those talking women……I saw humans doing what they do best.  Interacting face to face, sharing stories and passing the time with genial exchanges – a remnant of a slower time when engaging others in discussion was a real part of one’s day.

I believe that those little earphones are actually a blocking device to stop anyone talking to you.  Sitting next to an ear-phoned person one is not likely to ask them, “what do you think of the new development down on the corner of our street?”, and even if you got through, the reply would likely be, “oh, I haven’t noticed,” as their gaze returns to their MP3 playlist.

There’s another problem.  Does anyone actually look at their surroundings anymore?  I mean, REALLY look?  When not busy texting or scrolling through their music collection, is there time to notice the new trees that were planted on the median strip, the artwork in the public space, the shop that’s closed down, the old lady struggling to get off the bus, the person with tears in their eyes, the child about to step perilously close to the 3 lane roadway, the glorious sun reflected off the river, the spring blossoms peeking out from sleepy tree branches, the aroma of the rose garden in the dilapidated front yard of an ageing house, the birds pecking at the crumbs in the Maccas carpark, the lonely man desperately in need of a conversation, the great orb spider hanging in its spectacular dew-sprinkled web?

These and other things are what keeps me wanting to put down my smartphone when I’m out.  It doesn’t always work as I, too, have a busy life and want to utilize my time as best as I can.  But the feeling I get when I put it away and take the time to look around me at the people and things that make up this world, with all its imperfections, is still worth the effort.

These days I have to escape on camping trips to places with no phone connection in order to have real “digital detox” as they say.  Why is it we cannot simply switch the darned things off?

Next time you’re out, take a look around.  Who is sitting beside you?  If they are over 70 years of age, they will probably have a story to tell you that’s more interesting than any digital conversation you’re likely to have that day.

Switch off….and switch on to the present

smartphones and babies

As I sit in three lanes of thick, crawling traffic on the way to the city one morning – something I rarely have to do, thankfully – there’s always time to look at what’s going on around me on the roadsides.  Strangely, traffic jams do sometimes give us headspace to just “nothing” and to be alone with out thoughts (providing of course we are not having a tantrum about the traffic).  Most of us are intensely connected via our digital devices and being in our car is one time when we are (or should be) disconnected from anything but driving safely.

I see a boy of about five years old, wearing a Bat Man cape, holding his mother’s hand as they walk towards school.  Impulsively, he stops and plucks a tiny flower growing from a bunch of weeds poking out from a rock wall.  Just about everyone who walks by this unattractive wall would fail to notice this tiny little flower attached to a seemingly unattractive, brown grassy weed.  I was pleased that his mother didn’t drag him away from his childlike curiosity.  She talked to him and they went on their way together.

I got to thinking about how little time parents have these days when they are not connected to their smartphones, laptops or tablets whilst in charge of their offspring.  When I had my son in 1999, smartphones were not yet invented, mobile phones were still fairly new and there was still lots of time.

And the result was, much more engaged time actually TALKING, teaching, showing, guiding and living in the moment with my young child.  Even a simple trip on the bus would be a delightful half hour looking around at the things we passed, plants, trees, people, landmarks.  This is how a child gets to know their community – by being made aware of it through their guardians.

The recent spate of child drownings and near-drownings in the press prompted me to write this article to spread the message ‘WATCH YOUR CHILDREN’.   My father always said, never let them be more than arm’s length from you when they are very small.  And how right he was.  Anything can happen in a very short time.  One distraction and your child may be under one of the many 2 tonnes of metal passing for “family cars” in the ever-busy carparks frequented by ever-faster-mover morons behind the wheel in small environments.

Recently, I was in the pool myself when a child about 2 years old appeared in the land next to me, in water 1.3m deep, unsupervised and unable to be seen by her guardian due to the old-fashioned design of the pool edges.   I was not prepared to have an unsupervised tiny person potentially drowning with me anywhere in the vicinity, so I told her she had to get out of the pool and get her mummy.   Off she went.

There are huge signs up everywhere at this pool outlining the various levels of supervision required for different age groups.  Still, we see small children left to their own devices around deep water.  If they cannot touch the bottom and have their head above the water, it seems to me negligent to let them play unsupervised.

So, back to smartphones.  Are they a blight on the parenting landscape. Do children have to fight for their parents’ attention in even the most basic scenarios?  How can parents even do their job when they are constantly able to distracted by messages, calls, Facebook posting (just stay there darling while I take a photo……..).

A few weeks ago I actually saw a small child walking the streets with her head in her phone – she was all of five.  With their attention fully on something other than their immediate environment, I am concerned at the level of risk  to we are exposing our young charges.

Parents of young children – enjoy every moment of their young lives.  Cherish the times you have together rather than see everything they do as an interruption to your digital pursuits.    The only reason I have my phone on is when my child is not with me, lest I need to be contacted .  But as soon as we are on an outing or activity together, my phone goes off because THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD IS RIGHT NEXT TO ME.

So, Switch Off and Switch on to the Moment.