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.