One hundred years of silence

For most of her life, Mr B's grandmother lived in a mud-brick cottage that a previous family-member had built 160 years before. It was set behind the more recent family home in which Mr B grew up and, for the children, Nan's house was a second home, a happy place that seemed stuck in the previous century, where a never-ending supply of old-fashioned cakes and Sunday roasts issued from the wood-burning stove in her tiny kitchen. 

After Nan passed away, they found among her things a broken old Edison phonograph that had once belonged to Mr B's Grandad, and a big collection of cylinder records in beautiful old cardboard canisters. Mr B never knew his Grandad, who had died several decades earlier, and we don't think Nan or Grandad had ever played the phonograph. It was missing several important pieces. Instead, we think the phonograph had most likely belonged to his father in turn, and was just one of those things that never got thrown out. 

For a hundred years those old cylinders, whose only purpose was to make music, lay silent and forgotten in a cardboard box in the family home. Unplayed records are a lonely thought, don't you think? Like old postcards never sent. I picture the records resting all through the decades, guarding their music and waiting, still waiting, for another chance to sing. So we sent Grandad's old phonograph off to be repaired. 

And on Sunday afternoon, for the first time in a century, they made music.

Each cylinder contained only one track and, as far as we could tell, most of them were hymns. The very first one we managed to play was an old hymn called "Shall We Meet Beyond the River," which had been released as the Edison Gold Record we were playing in 1906.

I'll be honest, it's not Mozart, but to us it didn't matter. Mr B eased the record into place, wound the crank on the side of the phonograph, and slowly but with growing strength a crackly, slightly-distorted old tune broke one hundred years of silence and proudly entered the day.

To us, the music felt as though it hovered in the air like a time-traveller. A visitor from yesteryear: not ghostly, but as real and present as you or me. Layering one age upon another as if to prove, in a simple hymn, Einstein's theory of time relativity. 

And then the crank ran out of puff, the long-dead singer and his orchestra slowed and deepened and distorted further, and eventually the old record slid back into silence once more.

Why wait?

old First, this memory.

I am seven or eight years old, and my parents' friends Sue and Ian have come to stay. After dinner, we all sit cross-legged on the carpet in the lounge room and sing. Folk music, mostly, from the 60s and 70s, as well as some of their originals. Ian pulls out his guitar, Mum pulls out her flute, everyone sings. Ian is super-cool to me, a bit like Bob Dylan, but Sue’s voice is more like a soprano version of Karen Carpenter: all strong and smooth, with a gently undulating vibrato. As she sings, she bends her head forward and her long blonde hair falls over her shoulder like a single sheet of water. Like an angel.

This is what I think about as I sit on the carpet with them all, listening and admiring and sometimes joining in, and I feel like I have been allowed into something special and mysterious and grown-up. I also think, "I want to be Sue when I grow up.”

They were playing Cat Stevens in my local cafe yesterday morning while I waited for my bagel and coffee. “Too emo” muttered the barista, and switched to something else, but the damage was done. Like osmosis, I had already absorbed the song under my skin and, once there, it made its way into my blood-stream and within a nanosecond had tickled a long-neglected corner of my prefrontal cortex, awakening the memory of this late-night singalong from its decades-long hibernation.

Holding my coffee, I walked back along the footpath in the bitter cold and spitting rain, thinking about friends and music and, because Cat Stevens was still on my mind, I also thought about the Harold & Maude soundtrack. Especially the two songs that Cat Stevens had written just for that movie (this one and this one), which are both about stepping up and being proud of who you are, and embracing your life. Scout loves these songs, and asks to hear them often.

I thought about that scene in which Maude sang “If you want to sing out, sing out” and it made me smile. I started humming to myself as I walked through the rain, which was sweeping sideways by now. My hands were so cold I couldn't feel my fingers around the coffee cup.

I thought, “I want to be Maude when I grow up.”

And just at that moment, in the wind and rain, a woman drove past me on a beat-up old Vespa motor scooter. The woman would have been at least 80 years old, maybe more. She was wearing an ancient helmet that looked like one of those WWII aviator helmets, and was squinting against the icy rain that must surely have been piercing her cheeks like needles. Across her face was spread an enormous smile of pure joy.

And I thought, "Why wait?"

Image credit: Ismael Nieto, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons


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I'm a little late to this party so forgive me if I'm sharing old news here and, if that's the case, feel free to skip right on past this post... but I finally just watched the Sia/Maddie Ziegler music-video trilogy back-to-back, in order, and it broke my brain.

In a good way.

To call these videos controversial is somewhat of an understatement, considering the kinds of criticism heaped upon them from some quarters, especially once the second video (the one in which Maddie plays some kind of inside-the-mind wolf opposite Shia LaBeouf) was released. (And then I came across a website that was going on and on about something called monarch mind control. What even?).

On the other hand I read this piece about what Sia has created on Noisey and I have to say, I agree:

"Sia’s album campaign—the videos, the performances, the responses and the counter-responses—has in itself been one of the most spectacular pieces of contemporary populist art, personally revealing, visually sensational, and entirely functional, as it served, at least in the first place, as a way for Sia to disguise her own face."

I found the videos disturbing, too, but entirely in the way that (I believe) they were intended to be. Each video features pre-teen dancing prodigy Maddie Ziegler portraying... I guess... an inner Sia? An inner Sia battling - often physically - with her inner demons, the thoughts and voices that twist and torture her. Their musical collaboration is profoundly moving, pared back, confronting, and truly beautiful.

And oh my goodness, the video for the third and final track (Big Girls Cry) is something beyond. That torturous battle: the voices within, her gradual descent, all played out on the outside and exposed for us to see... it is astonishing.

Honestly I'm a bit breathless.

Aaaargh! Heathcliff!

kate-10 copy This is actually happening! In Melbourne! And I can't even begin to tell you how happy it makes me.

What is "this," you ask? Why, only a gigantic, public group-dance to Kate Bush's classic Wuthering Heights, that's what. There is so much silly joy right here, it's palpable. These screen-shots are from the first dance, in Brighton in the UK, in 2013 (watch it here - I laughed out loud).

Since then, ladies and lads in red dresses and bad wigs have been dancing to Wuthering Heights all over the world and finally, finally this event is coming to Melbourne, on 15 July. There's an event page on Facebook if you want to follow along.

Flash mobs are so 2000s.

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UPDATE: I just learned that this will be a world-wide simultaneous event. Eek! 

What are the words to that song?



Let's talk about song lyrics, for a minute. Specifically, song lyrics that you get wrong, with somewhat hilarious consequences. I'll start.

1. In high school, I thought Madonna was singing "Dress you up in Milo" rather than "Dress you up in  my love." (Non-Aussie friends, Milo is a kind of chocolate drink powder that you mix with milk. It's a bit more crumbly and a lot more delicious than normal chocolate milk powder.) I thought it was particularly gross when she sang "I'm gonna dress you up in Milo / all over, all over / from your head down to your toes." I mean, how would you ever get that stuff OUT? (Don't answer that.)

2. Once my friend Rachael told me, her tone dripping with derision, that her little brother had thought John Travolta's lyrics in 'You're the One that I Want' included "I got shoes, they're multiplying." Picking up on Rachael's tone, I said "Pshaw, what an idiot," but that was just to save Rachael's feelings. Secretly, I was pretty sure Rachael's little brother was right. I mean, it made perfect sense! "I got shoes, they're multiplyin'" (because, you know, he was dancing SO FAST) "and I'm losing control" (well of course you would - if your feet were moving so fast they looked like they were multiplying, you probably WOULD lose control at some point. It's just physics, Rachael.)

3. When I went through my Jem phase about 10 years ago, I could have SWORN that after the chorus in 'Them,' some children started singing "Ooh Jackie Chan, dum-de-dum-dum-dum Jackie Chan." You know exactly the bit I mean, don't you. Don't you?

Ok your turn. What song lyrics do you get wrong?


ps. I am not alone. Behold!


Fred & Lorraine

Lorraine This love story made me cry a little bit. In a good way.

When 96-year-old Fred’s wife of 75 years, Lorraine, passed away, he sat in his front room and started to hum a tune, then he wrote down some words for her. “Oh Sweet Lorraine,” he called his song, and he said “it just fit her.”

He saw an ad for an online singer-songwriter contest and thought “why not, I’ll just send it in.” But Fred didn’t post his song online, he posted it old-school, in a manila envelope, to the studio. And he wrote a letter explaining the song, adding “I can’t sing. It would scare people HA HA.”

The studio was so touched by Fred’s story and his love for Lorraine, that they produced the song for him. Here's a little video about that process. And LOOK at Fred's face when the song starts!

(ps. There's something going on with the video I've embedded. If you can't see it just below this text, you can watch Fred's story here)

A Letter From Fred from Green Shoe Studio on Vimeo.

How I overcome creative block

photography How do you overcome creative block? Here is a trick that always works for me.

To start, I go for a walk while listening to music (the music can be Tracy Chapman, or Bob Dylan, or Lamb, or something classical. I don’t tend to choose anything else because for whatever reason, for me these artists/genres don't get in the WAY of other creativity - do you know what I mean? This is also the ONLY music I can stand listening to while I’m writing creatively).

Anyway, I let my walk take me to the art gallery. When I’m there, I wander around looking at the paintings and sculptures and thinking about them or not thinking about them as the mood takes me. I don’t force anything. But (and this is very important) I keep the music going. I have it turned up loud enough, inside my headphones, that the other sounds of the world and the gallery all but recede into nothing.

I don’t know what it is, something perhaps about the combination of music and art and exercise I imagine, that triggers the creative side of my brain. So far, this trick has never failed me. I always walk home creatively unblocked, and brimming with new ideas.

If I'm not close to an art gallery, I still go for a walk while listening to music, but instead I bring my camera and take photographs. I notice different things through the camera lens when I'm inside the soundtrack of my walk.

How about you? How do you combat creative block?

Image credit: photo by S Zolkin, licensed under Creative Commons 

You make my heart sing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I feel a bit sheepish admitting this in public, but Mr B is a huge country and western music fan. I know! Right?! Anyway he is, and I might not love his music but I do love Mr B. So I decided to write some tongue-in-cheek snippets of lyrics from three of his favourites (Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley) onto these heart biscuits, then packed him off to work this morning with a very pink box of Valentine’s Day biscuits under his arm.

What I wrote:

“know when to hold ‘em” (uhuh Kenny) “love me tender” (thanks, Elvis) “all decked up like a cowgirl’s dream” (ah, Dolly: Mr B in cowboy boots? The mind boggles!) “don’t take your love to town” (this is good advice Kenny) “I will always love you” (awww, Dolly!)

Actually the point of this post is to give a bit of a shout-out to the Melbourne-based company that made the biscuits, Blank Goods. Not because they’ve sponsored me or anything (they haven’t) but because they made it SO EASY to personalise this lovely gift. I ordered the biscuits online and in less than a week they arrived, beautifully iced and amazingly unbroken, along with a food pen (!!) with which to write my messages, and all the pretty packaging accoutrements you see in these pictures.

I think food pens might change my life.

Anyway, happy Valentine’s Day for tomorrow, all you lovers. And you too, beautiful strangers.






Joyful, joyful

joyful-flashmob-1joyful-flashmob-2 joyful-flashmob-3 joyful-flashmob-4 joyful-flashmob-6 joyful-flashmob-5 joyful-flashmob-7 joyful-flashmob-8(Alt. title: THE BEST FLASHMOB YOU WILL EVER SEE OR HEAR) How was your weekend, friends? Mine was pretty average, to be honest. I am happy it's over and ready to start the week fresh.

There were some good parts, especially catching up with some lovely friends who dropped by on Saturday afternoon. But mostly, it was taken up with sleep deprivation and taking care of an increasingly-sick little girl, culminating in a visit to the hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning. She will be ok, but right now she is SO sick and SO miserable. Poor little Harry has been incredibly patient and sweet. I am just praying that by some miracle he won't catch whatever Madeleine has.

On Sunday night over a late dinner with both kids finally asleep in their beds, I looked across at Mr B and the bags under his eyes just about reached the table, as did mine. I felt a surge of love for him. You have never met a man who works as hard as this man. He is phenomenally dedicated to his job, which by the way happens to be a job that helps thousands of hospital patients every year get the care and treatments they desperately need. At the same time, he is also phenomenally dedicated to his family, so we get all his love and all his loyalty and incredible levels of self-sacrifice. There isn't much left for him after all that, and the exhaustion of these past few months with two children so very young has taken its toll on his health. He seems to be catching every little thing lately, just like Madeleine. We had both been awake since 2am that morning and, at at 4am when Madeleine's fever still wouldn't come down despite taking both Panadol and Nurofen, he'd taken her off to the Children's Hospital. After they returned, he spent most of the day with a sweaty, vomit-smelling, unhappy little girl asleep on his chest. Then after dinner he made the two of us the famous Bulger Family Chocolate Pudding as a treat. All of this was despite the towering piles of work he had intended to do on the weekend, meaning the alarm went off at 5am today. Again. And it will probably continue for the rest of the week. I really need to think of some nice things to do for him.

Anyway, while nursing Harry in the midst of all this blah on Sunday afternoon, I saw this video on a friend's Facebook profile (thanks Matt!) and, call it exhaustion or whatever, it brought tears to my eyes. It was a little moment of happiness and goosebumps in my sad and sickly weekend, so I thought I'd share it with you, too. I hope it makes your Monday joyful!

And now for the video: