Friday, December 30, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: No Expectations

I am enjoying my holiday and doing quite a bit of thinking-as you do. I'm a very contemplative person.

I'm also a planner, an organizer and a motivated target setter. I'm a dreamer with high expectations of myself and others, and life in general. I'm a realistic optimist who embraces disappointment and failure as equally instructive and fulfilling as euphoria and success.

I have not yet learned the secret of contentment. I'm still searching for peace: for a proper connection between what I know is true and how I feel about it. Despite the possibility of this 'ultimate' dream of mine being unattainable, I press on. Why? Because I want to grow. I want to learn. There is only growth or decay. Nothing remains the same. Change is certain and I do not fear it. I want my mind broadened and my heart opened wider. I want to be generous and gracious. 

I'm a work in progress: a masterpiece of the Almighty who daily adds brush strokes to the canvas of my life. The life he has given me. The gifts he has given me which he wants me to use for His glory and the good of others.

In 2017, I intend to live. To grow. To enjoy moments. To be quiet. I will plan less, but expect more from life without needing to define what 'more' will look like, or quantify how much of it will satisfy me. I will enhance the significant and demote the superfluous. 

In approximately thirteen and a half hours from now, when the numbers change on the life will go on -if God wills it so - and for this I am grateful beyond words.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Welcome Forgetfulness

From the moment I said good-bye at the airport on August 5 to begin the new Darwin chapter of my life, I began dreaming of my return home for Christmas. As hard as I tried to not wish my life away, I could not resist the emotional pull of family and familiarity. And so, it was with joyful expectation that I counted the months, the weeks, the days and finally the hours until I packed my suitcase and headed for the airport.

It is said that three weeks is an ideal length of time for a holiday. The first week is winding down, the second relaxing, and the third gearing up. I haven't had enough holidays of more than a couple of days duration to properly test this theory, and this time has not been at all normal, but I'm beginning to feel something. Today is day 10 of my holiday-the half way point, and a vague forgetfulness is creeping over me.

The alarm has not, but once, rudely interrupted me from slumber. I have driven my XR6, which I missed, everywhere I needed to go, but the imperative to go has diminished. I eat and drink whatever I want whenever I want - late dinners, early lunches, multiple lunches. Planning for the day happens that morning or maybe the night before. I don't exercise except for spontaneous walks around the beach at Kiama or bicycle rides. There is nothing I have to do. No place I have to go.

I can almost not remember that I live in Darwin, that I have a job there and that I don't know when I will return home for good. The memory of strict routines, buses, gym work outs and continually oppressive heat have faded. The loneliness, and the symptoms of Hug Deprivation Syndrome have disappeared. I feel lazy and unenergetic, and I'm happy to go with that because I am on holiday. I can almost forget that I'll never see my dad again.

It's a beautiful sunny morning. We'll probably go to the beach, but we don't have to. I'll watch some more cricket on TV, swimming in the languid sea of rest, falling all over the lounge in various positions of repost. I might even have a beer before lunch. I don't have any real plans. I'm in week 2 of my break, and I feel calmer than I have for quite some time. To achieve this tranquility means choosing to forget, but not in the sense of not remembering; it's more like letting go.

Photo sources:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things

On the day I wrote my last post, less than an hour afterwards, Dad died in hospital. He'd been released the day before and slept in his bed one last time, before he suffered two cardiac arrests which were the result of the strain put on his heart through lack of oxygen from his his barley functioning remaining lung. The other was full of cancer and already useless. His wife and family were by his side when he died. I wasn't.

It was a quick and painless passing in the end: a shock to us, but a blessing for Dad. His funeral was yesterday. What follows is the draft of what I said at the service. My actual speech was more organic. I spoke from my heart, using a few notes to make sure I said what I wanted to say.

I consider it a great privilege and a blessing to have had Alan Cairns as my father. I know so many people have bad or non-existent relationships with their father; I never took for granted how special our relationship was, or forgot how hard we worked to make it so. I thanked God for my dad every day and mentioned his name in Heaven where is intimately known.

I remember calling Dad from Thailand saying I was stuck in Thailand with no money and nowhere to stay. I remember how he offered to pay for my ticket home and said I could stay with him. I remember how there was nothing in his tone or his actions that said anything accept that he loved me.

There was footy. Dad loved rugby league and in particular, the Bulldogs. They won the premiership in the year he was born, and his love and passion for the Doggies rubbed off on me, and the contagion spread to James and with each generation the madness swelled. Dad would often shake his head as James and I waxed lyrical about the mighty Dogs. He loved them but they drove him mad.

We had sport and we had politics, but the thing which really bound us together was work. I think through  most of his life, Dad prioritized work over everything else. I think he defined himself within whatever job he was doing and over sixty odd years, he had quite a few jobs. During our meeting with the funeral director, we were all stumped by the simple question of ‘occupation’. Eventually we agreed on salesman. Dad could sell stuff because he was easy to talk to and he knew how to connect to people’s needs and wants. People liked him. And they trusted him.

Dad and I worked together on all sorts of building jobs from garden sheds to renovations: paid jobs, and love jobs at his place or mine. He loved a challenge. Loved to mull lover a problem and analyze it from all angles until he found a solution. I think his love of work was one of the primary drivers of his life.

I remember when I announced to mum and dad that I wanted to drop out of high school, dad took me, his then 17 year old son to the pub and bought me a beer and we walked it over. After listening to me patiently, he said he would allow me to drop out, but I had to get a job. I have never forgotten his  words. Get a job, or get out of my house. That was 31 years ago and I have never been unemployed. I knew this was a great source of pride to dad.

Which leads nicely into the other driver of his life. Family. As the years rolled on Dad became almost obsessed my the need to keep the family together and to keep it strong. Good relationships only required good communication and I’ve got to say that although it took him a while, he eventually achieved mastery in personal relationships.

Many of you will have heard of Dad’s famous/infamous CRAM,(courtesy, respect, attitude and manners), philosophy. I thought it was stupid and simplistic and I told him so, but that was dad: a simple man with a simple philosophy.

We were all beneficiaries of that. That simplicity and tolerance. His good communication skills. But I suspect the greatest beneficiary was Andrea. I have said this to Dad but I want to say it here to Andrea, especially. I regret not recognizing  and appreciating how good your relationship with Dad was earlier than I did.  I know how much Dad  loved you and how happy you made him. Thank you
Dad was a proud man: a self made man who did the best he could with what he was given. He was a little vain, and the hairpiece years have become the stuff of legend. I’ll never forget the night he came home with ‘it’ and how Justine and I, too young to know how to respond, simply laughed at him. His pride caused serious problems at various times, and especially for me and him, it meant that we finished our time on earth together in strong disagreement over a particular issue. That said, the disagreement had no impact on ability to talk, to share and to love and encourage one another. Of all the attributes dad possessed, I think the thing I most admired was his resilience. Things never quite worked out for him, despite his planning and hard work which meant that as he stormed into his eighth decade he was still working harder than he should have had to. Dad was physically strong beyond his years, but also mentally tough. That toughness came from his father.

For a man who professed to not believe in God, he had a remarkable capacity for forgiveness. To keep moving forward and not wallow in past mistakes is one of the many valuable things I learned from him. Again, and also surprising was how he saw his role as father. I mean as a father to adult children. He once said this to me, “I sometimes think that God has given me this wisdom to pass on to you.’ I was stunned at the time that he would even speak about God as though he was real, but I could not, nor can I now, argue with the truth of what he said.

I began by saying that I lost my father and my friend. I lost my ‘go to guy’. During the week I went to buy a tie, this tie/Jessie Rose was with me, and after we had selected a nice tie, she reminded me that I don’t know how to tie a tie. When I needed that job done, I went to dad. I neatly lost right there in Myer. Jessie Rose asked the sales guy if he could tie the know for me.

I’ve  lost the physical presence of my father and my friend. I can’t call him to speak to him, now, I can’t sit down beside him and talk to him. I can’t shake his hand and give him a hug of thanks or love or whatever. His physical presence is gone, but as I thought about it, I realized that he’s not gone. Every time I watch the Dogs play, he’ll be there. When Labour is returned to government, he’ll be there. When I have a beer, he’ll be there. When I watch a James Bond film. Through the highs and the lows of life, he’ll be with me. He’s in my blood. He’s my father. I’m his son. Always will be.

 Three generations of Cairns men: me, Dad and my son James.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Gratitude reigns!

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but gratitude is the panacea for my mental health. For me, at this time of year, it is hard not be overflowing with thankfulness. There is so much for which to be grateful.

It was my last day at work yesterday, and we finished with an early mark and a nice staff lunch. We played (is that the right verb?) bad Santa. It was my first time and it was a lot of fun. Then my boss dropped me in town where I did all of my Christmas shopping. I made a list and I checked it twice. (smiley face)

Moving to Darwin four and a half months ago was a risky move which has paid off in spades. The job is great, I love where I live and my new church home at C3 Darwin, and I am getting on top of my debt. I also sold 24 books this month which is a record.

Tomorrow, I'm flying home for Christmas and I can't wait to see my fiance and my family. I just received a phone call from my brother-in-law to inform me that my dad was taken to hospital by ambulance last night. His heart stopped en route, but the paramedics revived him and he is in a stable condition now. He was only released from hospital two days ago after spending a couple of weeks there with breathing difficulties. He has lung cancer and I know I am going to lose him soon. I'm grateful for the wonderful relationship I have with him, and even as he struggles to breathe, I am thankful to God for him, and for the breath in my lungs.

Merry Christmas everyone. Peace and blessings to you all in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Scylla and Charybdis

Dilemmas come and go: some invited, others not, and some self inflicted. Dilemmas are choices on steroids. By their very nature, dilemmas can be excruciatingly stressful. Whether they are actually life or death conundrums, or they merely feel like they are, we must all confront, at some point in our lives, difficult decisions. If you have never been on the horns of a dilemma, (or even more painfully, a trilemma- yes there is such a thing), then you surely will. This is another of life's certainties.

Roughly, four or five weeks ago, I started a new blog called I Don't Cook. As a reflection of my reality-living alone in Darwin- it is accurate. As a means of amusing myself with all the time I have on my hands, it is effective. I understand myself: specifically that I enjoy attention. Apparently this desire for and love of the limelight is a characteristic of Leos, of which I am one. In any case, I not only blog for personal satisfaction, but I am also continually seeking attention. (Not always-to be fair to myself, but frequently.)

I Don't Cook has been moderately successful, (670 page views in November including 120 views from Russia and 111 from Poland. ???), although Square Pegs, my main blog, my seven year old baby, received 1619 page views in the same period. I would like these numbers to be higher-much higher, but they are what they are.

Which brings me to my dilemma. I am facing a very difficult decision related to my blog. Agonizing over this matter is prematurely ageing me, depriving me of  sleep, and robbing me of joy. You see, I Don't Cook is not just a blog, it is a mission statement. So here is my question. Perhaps you can help me. Perchance you can carefully dislodge me from the horns of this awful dilemma.

If I cook eggs in the microwave, will I be breaking my rule, and will I then plummet headlong into the murky waters of the sea of No Integrity?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Reptilian Friends

My backyard is teeming with wildlife. It's a real menagerie inhabited by all manner of creatures...mostly small, and all very interesting, and many quite noisy.

Ever since I was a boy I have loved reptiles. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve chasing and catching lizards from garden skinks, to blue tongues, bearded dragons and frill-necks. I remember one day, when I was in junior high school, I decided to build a herpetarium in the backyard. I recall how horrified my father was when he came home to discover the massive hole I had dug in the middle of the yard which was stage one of the awesome reptile enclosure I planned. Needless to say, my construction permit was denied and I was forced to fill in the hole.

I still love reptiles, and find lizards especially fascinating. My backyard here in Darwin has garden skinks and water skinks with which I am familiar, but I've also met a couple of new reptilian friends: Gilbert's Dragon These are cute little things with an unusual upright posture and an endearing habit of nodding, and also waving. It is from this latter gesture that this lizard derives its nickname: The 'ta ta' Lizard. These guys probably don't know I exist, busy as they are flying around the yard hunting for bugs, so to call them 'friends' is a bit of a stretch.

Not so unaware of me is my other little mate, who comes inside each evening, under the door and climbs the walls and ceiling. I watch TV while he watches me, and occasionally attempts to catch flies. Let me introduce to you...

The Asian House Gecko, Australia's only non-indigenous gecko. One of the reasons I like them in the house, apart from the company, is that they eat spiders, and I don't like spiders. This gecko also has a distinctive barking sound which is nowhere near as annoying as the cacophony caused by the Green Tree frogs outside.

I really love these lizards. They're so cool, and they make me happy. That's what I'm thankful for today.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Ashmore Grief/Darwin Joy

A box of books arrived at my workplace this week. I wasn't expecting the delivery for at least another week or two. I was reminded of two previous occasions on which I had waited for books.

Before my very first book signing, after the release of my first novel, Devolution, in paperback, I waited anxiously, hoping that I would in fact have books to sell and sign at the event which was hosted by the local bookstore. The non arrival of those books resulted in the world's first invisible book signing, and said signing resulted in my appearing in the local newspaper under the heading of The World's First Invisible Book Signing.

On the second occasion, a nameless person who owns and operates a nameless publisher, failed to deliver copies of my book, (at all, let alone on time for the signing), despite repeated assurances that they were variously 'on their way', 'should be there soon' and 'I'm going to the post office today. What's your address again?' I avoided a second invisible book signing by purchasing my own copies through a third party. (long story)

The Book Shop Darwin and Readback Book Exchange are the only

two book shops in Darwin CBD, and two of only three in greater Darwin. The Book Shop will host a signing on December 10, and Readback has copies of Ashmore Grief in stock already.

Obviously I'm very proud of Ashmore Grief, and also grateful to the management of the above mentioned bookshops for their interest and support. You see, I'm a considered a local author. Ashmore Grief is largely set in Darwin, but I had never been to Darwin when I wrote it. Now I live in Darwin, and hopefully I'll sell a few copies on the 10th. Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Tale of Disappointment

Over the last couple of years, I've racked up a little credit debt, both through carelessness and recklessness, but my Darwin sojourn is largely about rectifying this self imposed financial mire.

Recently a few lights appeared in the distance, on the highway to Christmas, which gave me a little hope.

I thought I was in line to receive some back pay from my former employer, and a financial company offered me a very good debt consolidation package. These two combined, or even one or the other would have made things a lot easier for me. Then a third opportunity popped up which would have allowed me to move some of my debt onto a temporary interest free credit card.

Things were looking up. I would be comfortably able to handle Christmas and receive a boost to my already accelerated debt reduction program.

Then, my former employer decided I was ineligible for the back pay because I left before the arbitrary cut off date they selected. I missed out by a month. The finance company revised their offer to less than half of the original offer despite rabid assurances from the salesperson. The new offer effectively rendered the arrangement useless, and of no benefit to me so I told them to 'never again darken my doorway.' Finally the credit card company which pre-approved my application (as did the finance company) advised me, after I was on hold for twenty minutes, and was further subjected to a ridiculous set of questions (see below), that my application had been denied.

So, I'm back to square one. Oh well. At least, I know I'm on the right track.

Here is the aformentioned conversation:

Bank representative: Do you have an account with us?

Me: No. I'm a new customer. I received pre-approval for a new credit card.

Bank rep: Do you have a credit card with us?

Me: (I sigh and repeat what I just said.)

Bank rep: I need to ask you some security questions, if the answers don't match...blah, blah, blah.

Me: No problem.

Bank rep: Can you tell about the last transaction you made, either to or from your account?

Me: I don't have any accounts.

Bank rep: Can you tell me how many different types of accounts you have with us?

Me: I don't have any accounts.

Bank rep: Can you tell me the name of the branch where your account is held?

Me: I don't have any accounts.

Bank rep: Your answers do not match what we have in our system. You will have to attend a branch to verify your identity.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Celebrate the small things: Life's little pleasures

I work late on Fridays because I have so much marking to do, and I also need to prepare for the following week's class. When I finish work, I head into town for my Friday grocery shop, and I return via the bottle shop, here in Parap, where I purchase my reward.

Life is full of little pleasures, little treats: a rest, a break, a reward. I am not even close to being a workaholic. Work has never been my priority. I enjoy work, and I am not lazy, but I work to live, not vice-verca. The beer and the nuts reward is just one of the many ways I chill in order to keep as calm and relaxed as possible. 

Chilled is not my normative state. I'm inclined to be a worrier, and a stress head, but as I sipped my Boag's draught from the beer stein my son bought for me when he was in Germany, and chewed on those crunchy, salty nuts, I was thinking about nothing except the pleasure those things were giving me.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Celebrate the small things: Flattery might get you somewhere.

Unfortunately flattery has a bad reputation. It is seen as disingenuous and manipulative, even though it works sometimes. Using words of praise merely in order to get something from someone is morally questionable, but most people do it, or have done it. Although I belong in that group called 'most people', more often than not I use complimentary words to encourage people and to express genuine feeling.

When I tell my partner I think she looks beautiful, I mean it. Despite what she thinks of herself, she is beautiful to me and I tell her so. Everyone likes to receive compliments, and words of praise and gratitude. Words are much more powerful than most people realize. The only danger with compliments is that they can be unhelpful: just as damaging, potentially, as insults.

Both compliments and insults can distort our view of self. They can disguise lies as truth. We need to know ourselves and ensure we are honest and humble about who we are, what kind of people we are.

This week I gave my class an opportunity to express their opinion of their English course; the course, the school, the management, the facilities and naturally, the teacher. It was a writing assessment. They do one every week. I advised them to be honest and to use this as an opportunity to express any feelings they had, either good or bad. I also told them they would not receive lower grades for negative opinions or criticism.

The results were very illuminating. Some of their concerns I knew about, others I did not. Pleasing personally was the fact they were highly complimentary of me: both my personality and my methods. Earlier the same day, one of the senior managers popped in to see me, and he too was full of praise for the work I have been doing for the school since I started back in August.

I received all this praise, safe in the knowledge there is much upon which I can improve. Words of praise are certainly nice and encouraging and I am thankful for them, but I know myself. I know who I am, and I always carefully reflect on and evaluate my performance as a teacher. Self awareness and humility are crucial human faculties.

Flatter me or insult me: I know who I am. I know the truth about myself, and I am thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Security Blanket

Most people like to maintain some degree of control in their lives, or at least hold to the illusion of control. There are many things we can control, but there are many we cannot. Attempting to control every aspect of our lives has major pitfalls, and the truth is that such a goal is unattainable.

The illusion or impossibility of being the complete master of our own destinies, does not stop many from trying. One of the main problems is that we share the world with other people-lots of them, and people cannot be controlled without infringing on their rights. Our choices are seldom made in isolation from the choices of others.

Enough of the philosophy. I accept that to a certain extent I am powerless, and at the mercy of other people's choices, and 'accidents'. However, I do like to control what I can. Enter my security blanket: routine. 

I live alone at the moment, so my home environment is a controlled one in which I stick to certain routines. Moving to a new state meant, among other things, establishing new routines. I did it quickly, or as quickly as I could, and then kept tweaking the plan to make it more efficient. I have a tight rein now on my spending now, for example, because I am here to save money and pay off debt. Last week I came in $50 under my budgeted spend for food and entertainment for the week, and I am still rejoicing.

I feel safe with my routines, and whilst not in bondage to them, I am, in most cases pretty loath to break them. If my routines were a person, I would hug them each night as I lay down to sleep.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: a little shower

One thing I have noticed since moving to Darwin is that the weather is not usually a small talk topic, except for the month of October which is known as 'the build up'.

It's hot here. I mean it ranges from hot to hotter. Overnight temps hang in the mid twenties (celsius), while maximums are mid to high thirties. It's pretty much been the same since I arrived. When the weather is so entirely predictable, there doesn't seem much point in talking about it. People don't say, 'It's hot today' because it's always hot. Mark Twain's famous quote is meaningless in Darwin because no none complains about the weather.

October is called 'the build up' because it is the month leading into the wet season and is therefore characterized by ridiculous humidity: 96% yesterday, for example. The temperature stays the same pretty much, but the humidity? Whoa. Try stepping off an air-conditioned bus and having your glasses instantly fog completely because of the heat. Yes, that's steamy!

A peculiar weather event happened last Saturday and it had everybody scratching their heads. It rained overnight on Friday which is not terribly unusual, but the next day it kept raining-lightly mind you, but it rained all day and the maximum temperature only reached 26. It was in fact the coldest October day ever recorded in Darwin.

I set off on foot for gym that Saturday morning in the light rain, and briefly contemplated using the umbrella which I carry with me everywhere, in case of a sudden tropical downpour. There was a nice cool breeze blowing and the rain felt so nice and smelled so fresh, I decided to not use the brolley. I did get a little wet, but what  a joy it was to walk in the rain. It was magical.

The weather anomaly ended the following day, but I will never forget the invigorating respite that little bit of a shower provided. So today I am giving thanks for rain.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

There are no lines

I note with interest, not surprise, that Channel Ten's 'comedy' show, Have You Been Paying Attention, received an official dressing down from Thailand's ambassador in Australia, who said the panel of comedians was "very inappropriate, disrespectful and certainly not amusing." Read the full story

I happened to be watching on October 17, but only because the show I was watching (Todd Sampson's Body Hack - a great show by the way, unlike Have You Been Paying Attention) had finished and I had nothing else to watch. I don't watch shows like HYBPA, or The Project or any of the other myriad shows which attempt to make fun of anything and everything in the news. Good taste, respect, and cultural and religious sensitivity get thrown out the window for the sake of laughs.These shows are quite popular, but I don't like them, 

Nothing is sacred. These people will say anything to try and get a laugh. They don't know where to draw the line. There are no lines. I avoid comedians in general for the same reason.

On HYBPA they showed a woman crying over the death of the
beloved Thai monarch, with one goose suggesting she had a problem with her backpack. I thought it was unbelievably disrespectful. I know a lot of Thai people, and I have lived in Thailand. I doubt any of them were watching which is good, because no one in mourning deserves to be ridiculed.

The other problem I have with these shows is that the viewer can get sucked in to laughing at everything. They find one comment funny, and the next, and keep laughing at the third even if they don't think its funny. Even if they think it's sick or offesnisive. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm weird. I mean I hate Funniest Home Videos because I don't think watching people get hurt is funny.

It's further evidence to me that I do not belong. So much of what is 'popular' nowadays is of such low morality it makes me sick. People like me get ridiculed for not having a sense of humour. So be it. I guess humour, like beauty, is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Tick! Tick! Tick!

Short and sweet is my post this week because I'm pretty busy enjoying the weekend, during which a number of little things have brought me pleasure and relief.

I'm enjoying a getaway from my neat little granny flat and living it up at The Ramada Zen Hotel in Darwin. I checked in yesterday, and sat on the lounge. Yes! A lounge. It's the first time in nine weeks that I have had the joy of sitting, and reclining on this much taken for granted piece of furniture.

I hired a car for the weekend for convenience sake, and to have a
little break from the buses. It's so nice, and kind of strange to drive myself around the now familiar streets of Darwin. We go where we want to go, whenever we want to go. I haven't driven a car for nine weeks either,, and although the little Hyundai i20 is no match for my mighty Falcon, it's a lovely little luxury.

The reason for the hotel and the car? The arrival of a special guest, and when I picked her up at the airport, we hugged. As you know I've been suffering from HDS (Hug Deprivation Syndrome), so the first hug for ten weeks - exactly ten weeks in fact since we parted at Sydney airport - was immeasurably wonderful. We've had many more since then, and there are many more to come before I have to say good-bye once again.

Today, I'm thankful for lounges, cars and hugs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The not so magnificent 7

Released in 1960 (eight years before I was born),The Magnificent Seven features a superb ensemble cast led by Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, and is is one of my top ten films. Curiousity took me to the cinema last Sunday to see the 2016 re-make starring Denzel Washington.

Let's start with the good stuff before I rip in and tell you why this film is a 'fail' in my opinion.

The final battle scene was a lot of fun. Superb choreography, bullets and arrows flying (with incredible accuracy from the weapons of our heroes), and even a Gatling gun. Vincent D'Onofrio was almost unrecognizable and terrific in his supporting role of Jack Horne, and Emma Cullen made a very sexy damsel in distress.

Here's why I didn't like The Magnificent Seven 2016:

  1. The village of poor farmers being regularly plundered by Calvera's bandidos (1960) became a mining town being exploited by a business tycoon. (2016)
  2. None of the original characters were included in the new film. 
  3. Yul Brynner's ice cold, man in black, mercenary cowboy, Chris, was replaced by an angry black man with an axe to grind named Sam Chisolm.
  4. Awkward insertion of classic lines from 1960. Vin's (Steve McQueen) story of the man falling from a building, for example.
  5. More style than substance (a common problem with modern action films)
  6. A series of lame attempts to explain the motivation of the seven.
  7. The insertion of a random Comanche Indian in the 7 who cuts out and eats a deer's liver or something. Why did he join this gang of white men? Ridiculous.
  8. Sam Chisolm being motivated entirely by revenge. The original film is a redemption story, and has nothing to do with revenge. I guess the makers of the film thought revenge was sexier than redemption. 
  9. Number eight was the second worst thing about the film. The worst thing was the ending. I literally scoffed out loud when I heard the sexy damsel in distress voicing over a shot of four crosses on the hill with these words: "They were magnificent!" Get me a bucket! 
1960: As they look one last time down on the village they rescued from its oppressor, Calvera, Chris says to Vin: 'We lost. We always lose," and they ride off. That's an ending!

If you haven't seen the 1960 version, you might enjoy The Magnificent Seven (2016),  but I could only give it 3 stars. If not for the aforementioned positives, it would have only been 2.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: The Classics

I cut my teeth as a reader on Stephen King's horror stories: Carrie, Salem's Lot, Christine, Pet Sematary etcetera, and from there it was on to thrillers, sci-fi and more horror. The movies I watched and the books I read were basically in these genres. I read some other stuff at school including some really old stuff by a guy called Shakespeare, and I remember reading and studying The Crucible, but for entertainment I read pulp horror fiction.

At some point in my journey as a reader, which I suspect coincided with the beginning of my writing 'career', I broadened my reading to include everything: and I mean everything. Everything from bumper stickers and public toilet graffiti to classic works of literature like Don Quixote.

It is about the classics that I wish to write now because I have fallen so madly in love with them, I can confidently say it is my favourite genre. Interestingly, I think my writing style could be termed neo-classical, because I am heavily influenced by both the vocabularic breadth and syntactic complexity of the classics.

Having arrived at the classics party quite late, I have much catching
up to do, but I am attacking this deficit in my life with relish. I just finished reading Moby Dick, and as I usually am, I was struck by how amazing the writing is. Melville's novel of obsession is famous, but I wonder how many contemporary readers have taken it on. 19th century literature is not light reading. I loved it. Read my review on Goodreads

So today I am giving thanks for great works of literature like Herman Melville's Moby Dick, and I'm grateful for the fact that you can get many such classic novels for free on Kindle.

Next up: Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Bring it on!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Hug Deprivation Syndrome

I love Family Feud because it's funny and it makes you think. It's really great entertainment in my opinion. Anyway, I was watching last week and the question was - this was during fast money at the end of the show where the winning family tries to score 200 points in order to win $10000 - the questions was: what's something you do to show you love someone?

The first guy said buy them flowers, and the second guy said buy them chocolates, but neither of those answers scored more than 20. My quick answer was hug them, and surprise! surprise! (thanks Gomer) hug them was the top answer followed by kiss them.

Although there is much which could be said about this, I simply want to say that I like hugging, but I did not know how much I liked hugging until I moved to Darwin. One of the things I miss most is physical touch. I've shaken lots of hands because I'm often meeting new people, but I haven't hugged anyone or kissed them. Nearly two months without a hug!

Today I am giving thanks, in advance, for all of the virtual hugs that people are going to send me as a result of my sad story about HDS: Hug Deprivation Syndrome (of course it's a real condition). I'm also thankful that I only have to wait 13 more days until I can actually hold someone I love in my arms. I might not want to let her go.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

One Way Ticket to Mars

Everyone knows seats are available on Virgin Galactic for a quick trip into space and back again. $250K will get you on board. Needless to say, I am unlikely to ever be on a such a flight even if the price came down a little (or a lot).

Now I see on the news that billionaire, Elon Musk, who I had previously never heard of, has a plan for the colonisation of Mars. You can read all the details here: Elon's Mission to Mars Around $200K will get you on board for the journey to the Red Planet, except unlike Virgin Galactic's space jaunt, the trip to Mars is one from which you will not be able to return.

Knowing that seats on both of these flights will be booked out, started me thinking about the money. Two hundred thousand dollars. I'll say it again...two hundred thousand dollars.

Naturally I went to the fathomless depths of knowledge on the World Wide Web.

According to the IMF, $200K is roughly equivalent to the GDP of New Zealand, eight times the GDP of Latvia and 200 times the GDP of Samoa. One internet sage suggests that you could live like a king in Nepal for 14 years, and elsewhere I found the suggestion that 10 million people could be fed three meals for one day. So would you feed the people or fly to Mars?

What a dumb question! People spend money on all sorts of things that other people wouldn't even consider. What business is it of mine, if a billionaire wants to go and live on Mars? How does it concern me if my neighbour spent thirty thousand dollars on a boat which he uses once a month or so during the warmer months? Why should I care if someone buys Mills and Boon books?

I sponsor a child in Thailand, but I spend three times as much per month on cigarettes. I workout four times a week at a gym, but I give more than twice the cost of my membership, to my church. Up to me right? Exactly.

Meanwhile I'll be limiting my interactions with Mars to regular repeat viewings of the sci-fi classic, Total Recall. I bought my own copy of the mad is that?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: the NBN

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is Australia's largest ever infrastructure project and was initially planned and commenced by Kevin Rudd's Labour federal government. It has been the subject of much political and community debate. Both the costs, and the timeline for completion have blown out significantly, but I for one, do not care how much it costs or how long it takes to build the network (although sooner rather than later would obviously be preferable.)

Australia is a bit behind the times with technology. Although we love the latest stuff and are quick to adopt new technology we always have a bit of a wait for it, and we always pay much more as well.

We have unlimited ADSL2 broadband with iPrimus. They contacted me yesterday with the good news that the NBN was no available in our area and we could now upgrade with no additional charges. We had to have a new modem which they would give us for free if we paid the postage charge. When I complained about that, I was offered a $50 credit, so we will apparently have a smooth transition to a faster and more reliable broadband service plus $35 credit (taking off the postage charge for the modem) I spent twenty minutes on the phone with the salesman, going over all the details.

The salesman could not say when exactly the upgrade would occur, but told me that we would be notified in due course.

Today I received a text message from iPrimus saying the NBN will not be available in our area until at least December...maybe. I laughed.

I do have NBN where I am living now in Darwin, and I love it. It is faster and more reliable, and thus far I have no complaints at all. So today I am thankful for my internet service.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Are humans animals?

When I first saw this footage, I instantly thought how unfair it was. One jackal could easily kill a seal pup by itself, and according to the narrator, one in four pups born every Spring in this area suffer such a fate. This is the way nature works: the strong prey on and kill the weak. There is an order, an ecosystem, a food chain. That's the way it is. Population control. There has to be enough food to go around, and sufficient numbers of seals are born each Spring so that the jackals and hyenas can eat and feed their young, and the seal population is not affected.

I can watch a video like this dispassionately because I am looking at animals, and animals do what they are programmed to do. They don't have choices, and they don't moral quandaries.

However, it struck me as interesting that my reaction to the scene of the attack immediately made me think of bullying. The jackals were picking on the poor pup. Imagine how terrified it was, but it wasn't bullying of course, because animals can't do that. Bullying is a human thing.

Most people abhor bullying, especially those who have been victims of bullies, because it's immoral. We humans know intrinsically, that for us such behaviour is not acceptable: it's wrong. The conclusion I draw is that although humans may act like animals, and sadly that happens a lot, we are not animals.

The naturalist will argue of course that we are simply more highly evolved animals. I disagree. We are made in the image of God: not physically, but in every other way. Watch the video again and ask yourself if you think a human doing that to an animal, or to another human would ever be considered acceptable.

The survival of the fittest is not a concept which should be applied to people, because we are more valuable than animals.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: A Long Awaited Flash

Some time ago - I deliberately decided not to remember - I launched my own short story e-zine. The prime reason for doing so was to create another marketing avenue for my novels. I have tried a plethora of tricks to draw attention to myself, and my work, and to gain followers, but when most of my family and friends have not been able to find the time or the willingness to do it, the results have been unsurprisingly poor.

Square Pegs E-zine was another idea for increasing my exposure. I also, as a veteran of sending stories to various print and online publications, wanted to offer a short story market with a difference. Very simple guidelines which I present in text and video formats, a condition (not a fee) of publication, which is that the writer has to follow me, and a reward for publication (not cash) other than what most markets offer which is 'exposure': a free copy of one of my novels.

I'm very happy with the product, but far less happy with the outcome. I listed with Duotrope who have contacted me twice already to make sure I am still active. I have received three submissions and published one, although the author has still not indicated his preference of which of my novels he would like. (Indicating clearly that he doesn't want any of them - ouch!)

I've put some of my own more 'celebrated' stories in the e-zine: a couple which have been published multiple times since I wrote them.

This morning, I awoke to find a submission to Square Pegs in my inbox, and it made me happy. I like the story. A tight little tale with a sweet touch of irony at the end. I will publish it as soon as the author adheres to all of the submission guidelines, but in the meantime, I will just feel happy about it.

Also happy this week to hear from Forge journal who have accepted my alternate history story The Death of Issac for publication in the October edition. This will be the third time they have published a story of mine.

I'm chipping away, working on staying thankful when sometimes I feel quite the opposite.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Women's fashion, milk and cars?

I’m based in Darwin now, but still doing the same job: teaching English as a Second Language. I now work with international students who are a completely different kettle of fish from the adult migrants I previously taught. My class is mostly comprised of Taiwanese students, with a couple of Koreans, and a young man from Hong Kong, and a young lady from Spain thrown in to disrupt the flow of conversation in Mandarin.

Today we were working on the phrase ‘I’m surprised by…’ As we’ve been tackling present perfect tense, I asked the students to think about what has surprised them about Australia since they moved to Darwin. None of the students have lived in Darwin for more than a year, some for only a few weeks. Their answers to the question were very interesting so I thought I’d share some of them with you, in no particular order.

Since coming to Darwin, what has surprised you?
  1. How many people sit on the grass, or on the ground.
  2. How early the shops close.
  3. How big the houses and the land are.
  4. How cheap cars are.
  5. How cheap milk is.
  6. How behind the times women’s fashion is.
  7. How many traffic lights there are on highways.
  8. How bad pork smells.
  9. How relaxed people are.
  10. The bad behavior of Aborigines.

 Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Celebrate the small things: My legs work

The incidences of me missing buses has decreased dramatically thanks to the Bus Tracker app about which I have previously raved. However, there are occasions when I still miss out. Like this morning for example, when I arrived on time-meaning before the bus was due-only to discover that I had left my towel and headband behind.

I considered my options. 

1. Go to the gym for my first ever pump class without a sweat towel and my headband.
2. Run home and grab the items and run back to the bus stop.

Option 1 would mean having to hire a gym towel because if you don't have a sweat towel they don't let you train. Option 1 would also have meant using the aforementioned hire towel more frequently than I would have used my own towel because my headband absorbs most of the perspiration produced from my chrome dome.

Option 2 meant running the risk of missing the bus, and generating additional pre-workout sweat and muscle fatigue in the process.

I took option 2 and missed the bus by three hundredths of a second. So I walked to the gym. It took half an hour, but I arrived on time for the class. After the class which hurt quite a bit-in a good way-I walked to the bus stop, but decided a fifteen minute wait was unnecessary. As I had walked to the gym, why not I thought, walk back. And that is what I did.

My legs were a little shaky immediately after the pump class, but certainly more than capable of carrying me home. Today, I am grateful for healthy, fully functional feet and the similarly robust legs to which they are appended.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A lounge, a bed and a manuscript

I started sending out query letters for my manuscript, Lovesick, at the end of June. As every writer knows, the sending of query letters and the waiting for responses is a tedious and somewhat angst ridden process. One day I am filled with glorious visions of publishing contracts and modest advances, while on other days I worry that no one will like it-not exactly that no one will like it, but that no one will like it enough.

So far, I have received two rejections and three offers of joint venture contracts. I rejected the latter. I was offered traditional publishing contracts for each of my last three novels, and in the case of the most recent, A Muddy Red River, I had a number to chose from. When I read words like 'we think your manuscript is well written, raw and engaging, and we believe it deserves to reach general readership, but...' I immediately think the editor who wrote such words is full of you know what. Words of praise ring hollow when accompanied by offers of joint venture publishing deals. Such offers say 'we like your work, but we don't think we can make any money from sales of it so we want to make money off you (the author) instead.'

One day. I will tell the story of a catastrophic (slight exaggeration) joint venture deal I signed up for, but for now, I'll just say this: I believe in the quality of my work, and I am not going to pay anybody anything to publish it. Therefore my wait continues. In the mean time I have begun work on novel number six, entitled Scorpion's Breath. I'm currently working on chapter 6.

In the famous words of Monty Python's Flying Circus: and now for something completely different, it has been approximately four weeks since I sat on a lounge or sofa, or even in an armchair, about four weeks since I drove a car, five weeks since I slept in a double or queen sized bed, and also thirty five days since I had a hug. There's no need to tell you what I miss most of all.

This is my life, I chose it and I'm living it.

Photo sources:

Friday, September 2, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Retired from Cooking

It's not that I can't cook. I have a small collection of recipes that I do well, and I can handle meat and veggies with no problem. Once upon a time I even liked to have a weekly dabble in cooking something different, from a cook book-although the results of these experiments were mixed.

Back in the day, I didn't mind sharing the cooking duties. My fiance and I decided that 3-4 home cooked meals and the rest in take-aways and left-overs would be just the right mix for us. These days, it's just me, and I just don't want to cook. Even if I had a stove and an oven, which I don't, I still wouldn't cook. I've become a big fan of Lean Cuisine microwave meals, and I still love take-away food. Not junk like McDonalds. I'm talking about Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican etcetera.

Microwave meals are cheap, tasty and if the boxes are to be believed healthy. For between $4 and $6 I can have a satisfying meal after just 6 minutes in the nuclear oven. When I started eating these meals, I found the portions were too small and I would occasionally double up, but now my stomach has adjusted to smaller serves which is great except when I eat out and I can't finish the big meal for which I paid, and over which I salivated.

My system now prefers small meals, so when I order take-out, it will usually provide two meals not one. For example, if I spend $20 at Prickles Mexican, I get two dinners for $10 a pop.
In order to satisfy my penchant for variety, I'm working my way through the menus at my local take away restaurants and sampling all the different varieties of microwave meals in the supermarket freezer.

You might think I'm missing out, but I'm as happy as Larry. I don't know who Larry is, but I'm thankful for cheap, convenient and tasty food.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Joy of Soap

I am a Neighbours fan. This long running television show is very well known in both the United Kingdom and here in Australia where it is produced, and although not as popular as it once was, it maintains a legion of fans who live for their daily dose of this most celebrated soap opera.

There are of course many things Neighbours could be criticized for, and even fans join in sometimes, but there must be a reason why it has survived for over 30 years.

The thought has occurred to me numerous times over the many years I have watched the melodramatic lives of the residents of Ramsey Street, but of late it has made me laugh. Convenience. Father Jack arrives at the coffee shop on his way to church and asks his ex girlfriend, Paige if she wants to join him. Guess what? She has just finished her shift and she would love to. Gary breaches his AVO by not only approaching Cooper over the assault of his daughter, but threatening him. Guess what? Ramsey Street's resident cop, Mark, is there to stop any escalation and arrest Gary.

If someone gets hurt, Ramsey Street resident, Dr Karl will be there to assist. If someone breaks the law, or is in trouble Mark will come to the rescue. Jarrod 'Toadfish' Rebecchi lives in Ramsey Street and he's a lawyer so guess who makes his legal services available whenever, wherever and to whomever?

Ah, convenience. Imagine if life was like a soap opera. In real life, no one could handle the drama load dumped on the actors by the scriptwriters, and the good guys are not always around to help, but just for a moment, consider such a life...or not.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Celebrate the small things: Anytime Fitness

In the previous volume of the book of my life, the last few chapters were marked by a lack of emotional stability and physical exercise. Moving to Darwin has not made any immediate impact on the former, nor had it improved the latter situation until very recently.

My search for peace continues, and I must confess to being a tad naive in thinking a change of location would facilitate any alterations to my state of mind. I understand the theory of peace, and I know where to find it, I simply haven't managed to take hold of it yet.

Exercise, on the other hand, is an easy shift. I enjoy exercise. I simply had to make time, and work out how to work out. While I was searching for my own place, and figuring out the intricacies and vagaries of the bus system, I was doing a lot of walking, and at the end of most days I was beat. I was rising at Sparrows and getting home late, so there really was no opportunity to tune the machine which is my body.

I pass a couple of gyms on the way to work and into town, so I decided to check them out: primarily I mean cost, but also the atmosphere. I'm not a gym person, and I didn't want to be surrounded by a crowd of beautiful, albeit sweaty bodies. I maybe 48 years old, but I am still a little self conscious, so if I felt like I didn't 'fit', or I sensed a repellent vibe, then that gym was not going to be for me.

Happily I can report that Anytime Fitness has afforded me a free 14 day trial of their facilities. The gym is not packed. It doesn't smell. It's cool, and the staff are very helpful and friendly. Three days into my new regime, I feel comfortable there, and I am learning how to use the various machines. My arms hurt, but I am very happy and grateful to be once again partaking of regular exercise. I feel better already.