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Monthly Archives: September 2017

‘OK, this is a secret, but I think that nursery rhymes are the most relaxing and fun songs.’ Karisma Kapoor.

Last Sunday Maudie came to me and dropped her little black Sheep onto my lap.  It’s not what you’re thinking.  She has not suddenly chosen Sheep to be a replacement for her beloved (and rapidly disintegrating) Ball.  Nor did she even want to play.  It’s just that, on occasion, Maudie will appear at my side carrying one of her many (many) toys and nudge me with it until I take it from her. Once I have done so (and thanked her profusely) she will smile happily and wander away.  I am not sure why she does this. Perhaps she just thinks I look like I need a toy to play with  . . .

Anyway, on this particular occasion I decided to indulge her and play with her toy. Or at least make a quick sketch of it, which is kind of like playing.  As I sketched, I sang the old nursery rhyme ‘Baa baa black sheep . . . ‘ to Maudie (she likes me to sing to her—honest) and that set me to wondering . . . is there anyone around who doesn’t know that nursery rhyme?  I mean, it feels like it’s been around for.ev.ah.  (Well, not quite.  I looked it up.  It was first published in 1744 in what is believed to be the earliest surviving collection of nursery rhymes—’Tommy Thumbs Pretty Song Book’.  Perhaps forever’ was overstating it somewhat.  Suffice to say it’s been around a loooong time.)

I remember hearing a while back that there was talk of banning this nursery rhyme in some kindergartens because of it’s ‘racist’ overtones.  Well, I am not even going to go there (good grief) but when I researched where the rhyme originated it seems that it was actually written as a bit of a diatribe on the harsh tax on wool in feudal England—one-third would be taken for the king and nobility, and one-third for the church, which consequently left very little for the farmers . . . or the little shepherd boy ‘who lives down the lane’.

On further reading I discovered that other nursery rhymes (like many fairy tales) also had pretty gruesome origins. Take the lovely ‘Mary Mary quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells And pretty maids all in a row’.  Sounds like a lovely little ditty about a girl and her garden doesn’t it?  Nope.  Many believe the original Mary to be the Catholic Queen ‘Bloody Mary’ and her garden was actually a graveyard which she filled with unlucky Protestants.  The ‘silver bells and cockle shells’ were instruments of torture and the ‘. . . pretty maids (or maidens) all in a row . . .’ were guillotines!  Lovely.

And there’s ‘Ring around the Rosy, a pocketful of posies. . .’  What harm could there possibly be in that?  Well, only that you might actually be singing about the symptoms of the bubonic plague which included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin. People often filled their pockets with sweet smelling herbs (posies) due to the belief that the disease could be spread by bad smells.  ‘Ashes, ashes, we all fall down . . . ‘  Eeerk.

After reading a few more of these origin stories I have decided I am not going to do at any more research on this subject.  Karisma Kapoor’s ‘relaxing and fun songs’ now seem a tad disturbing to say the least.  I won’t be able to sing nursery rhymes to Maudie ever again without wondering what the hell I am really singing about.  Never mind.  I’ll go back to my old standard instead.

There couldn’t possibly be any troubling undertones in ‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . . ‘  Could there???

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Life is simple. Just add water.’ Anon.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

Ahhhh.  If only that were true . . .

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.’ Stephen King.

I have just had a trailer pop up on my computer screen for a remake of the movie based on the Stephen King novel ‘It’.  Now I love Stephen King’s books (although the man is obviously seriously strange) and I read this book many years ago.  I remember it as being very long (over 1000 pages), descriptive, convoluted, and, as you would expect, incredibly creepy.  I also remember that the villain of the book liked to show up dressed as a clown . . .

Stephen King obviously knows his business.  Clowns are weird—that’s a given.  I don’t remember ever being actually full-on freaked out by a clown (not even in the book—sorry Stephen) but I do understand why some people might be.  I mean, they really are a bit ‘off’ aren’t they?  Familiar maybe—but not quite right.  And it’s not just me that thinks so—a quick conversation in the college this morning today confirmed it.  A lot of people think clowns are down-right disturbing.  And it starts early.  Various studies over the years have found that many children really don’t like clowns either.  One study went as far as to say they were ‘universally disliked’.  (Whoever came up with ‘Ronald MacDonald’ possibly never read this study.)

I assume people aren’t born having a clown-phobia (or are they?) so you would think that some sort of traumatic event in childhood concerning a clown would have to occur to bring on such dislike or a fear of them, but that can’t always be the case, can it?  (Everyone in our college who doesn’t like clowns was traumatised by one as a child??  I doubt it.)  I certainly don’t recall any such clown-trauma happening to me, but I still don’t like them.  I wonder why that is?  Maybe it’s as simple as just not being able to ‘read’ them like we can other people.  Clowns’ facial expressions are fixed (and exaggerated) so it’s near impossible to gauge their true feelings.

(And, on a personal note, I worry about people who smile too much.  Honestly, can you ever really trust anyone who smiles all the time?  (Tom Cruise are you listening?)) 

The history of clowns is long and fascinating, but here is a quick snapshot.  Court ‘jesters’ may not have worn the floppy shoes and a red noses of today but they were often the only ones around who could laugh at and ridicule the monarch and his court without fear of losing their heads (literally).  Over the years these jesters evolved into harlequins.  The harlequins were more theatrical—morally bankrupt pranksters who travelled extensively and wore strange costumes and masks.  Many also became mimes as this meant they had no need to learn the languages of the countries they visited.  (Silent, masked and freakishly dressed—nothing to worry about here folks . . . )

It was during the 19th century that the colourful, friendly, white-faced clowns we recognise today started to gain popularity.  These clowns performed mainly for children and were meant to make us laugh.  And for the most part they did.  Until, somewhere along the line someone said, “You know, clowns kind of freak me out” and lo-and-behold movies like ‘Funland’, ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘Killer Clowns from Outer Space’ (and of course the original ‘It’) were born.  If ever you had the tiniest reservation about how you felt about clowns any of these movies would have been enough to send you into full blown coulrophobia.

So, now I have you all thinking about killer clowns—how many of you are going to watch the new ‘It’ movie?

Me?  No way.  Not at the cinema anyway.  I am much braver reading horror books than I am watching horror movies.  I will probably wait until it (ha . . . ‘It’ . . .  see what I did there?) comes on the telly.  Even then it will probably be on very late at night and I’ll actually have to record it so I can watch it in the full light of the next day . . . along with a big glass (or three) of wine, the ‘pause’ button of the remote at the ready, and my own little killer dogs close by to protect me . . .

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.’ E. O. Wilson.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

The same could be said of seed pods—if you have seen one, you have definitely not seen them all . . .

I have absolutely no idea what kind of pods these are.  They look a bit like gumnuts, but as I am notoriously bad at identifying plants (and birds . . . and fish . . . and any song written after 1980 . . . ) I am not even going to hazard a guess.

Suffice to say that I had previously given fair warning that there might be more seed-pod sketches in your viewing future, so here you go . . .

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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“. . . and remember, the next scream you hear may be your own!” The Birds. (1963)

Well, it’s definitely Spring—the girls and I have just been ‘swooped’ by our first cranky magpie . . .

For the average Australian that statement needs no further explanation.  Australia—Land of deadly snakes, humungous spiders, man-eating sharks . . . and homicidal magpies.  September and October is swooping season for the native magpie. This black-and-white bird with the spooky red eyes can become highly aggressive during the nesting season, attacking anything it feels poses a threat to its chicks. The fact that anything that isn’t another magpie is usually blissfully unaware there are even any chicks in the area is obviously totally irrelevant to the average man-of-the-house -magpie . . .  

Signs are already appearing around the place warning people of aggressive birds and I daresay it won’t be long before we also start to see people parading about wearing ice cream containers on their heads, bike helmets with long wavy plastic antennae sticking out of them, or hats with eyes drawn on the back . . .  (Spoiler alert . . . )

Magpies belong to the family Corvidae, which also includes ravens, crows, jackdaws, and jays. They display a range of intelligent behaviors that not only surpass that of other birds, but most mammals as well.  They mate for life, can live up to 20 years in the wild (which I guess is why the ‘teenagers’ stay goofy for so long), form close knit communities and they have the ability to solve complex problems (like how to still get at you in spite of the fact you are wearing a silly hat, a mask, or are hiding under an umbrella!)

Magpies and I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship.  I love them because they are inquisitive and hilarious (especially when still babies), they sound fabulous when they come and sing to you, and they are wicked smart.  And magpies remember.  That much is clear.  They remember people who have been nice to themand they also remember those who haven’t . . .

You may recall I wrote once about my little magpie family who regularly came tap-tap-tapping at my office door to get their daily treat.  Occasionally, if I saw them before they saw me, I could go outside and call them and Mum and Dad would immediately come gliding gracefully down and the two babies would waddle on their fat little legs towards me, squarking and gurgling with their mouths agape.  They would all four sit happily at my feet as I fed them their treats. Those babies have already moved on but I fully expect Mum and Dad to be back at my office door when their next batch of babies arrives.  (Sally = Food)

But then there was that other incident which happened, not at the office, but in my front garden—the attempted murder of Little Bird.  There is no doubt in my mind that those two magpie youngsters would have killed that little injured bird without a moment’s thought if I had not got in their way.  They were mean and vicious and it took all my courage (and one of my shoes) to face them down and send them screeching on their way.  I can still remember the look one of them gave me as I made off with his prize. That ‘I’m-gonna-get-you-for-this . . . ‘ kind of look.  (Sally = Food-thief and shoe-wielding lunatic . . . )

Remembering that look got me thinking—perhaps the magpie that attacked us today was that same youngster I chased so unceremoniously from my garden and he is now all grown up and bent on revenge! Perhaps he has never met his magpie relatives who live near my office and so they haven’t had the chance to tell him that I really am quite a nice person (‘No—you must be wrong.  Sally’s lovely—and she feeds us.  You must have just caught her on a bad day . . . ‘ ) 

Worse still, perhaps he will never meet them and so never change his mind about me and continue to see me only as a dangerous shoe-tossing mad woman for the next twenty years!!

Gulp.  Suddenly some of those silly head-gear options aren’t looking quite so ridiculous . . .

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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“You can’t make footprints in the sands of time if you’re sitting on your butt. And who wants to make buttprints in the sands of time?” Bob Moawad.

I confess—I have been making some serious ‘buttprints’ all over the place during the last few weeks (in the sands of time . . . on my couch . . . in my bed . . . )  In fact, I have spent so much time sitting (or lying) on my (rather ample) behind that I can no longer even make a pretence of any kind of forward momentum.  Actually, I can’t make a pretence of movement in any direction at all reallyforwards, backwards, up or down . . .

In my defence I should point out that I am at the moment recovering (dear God, please let me be recovering) from my second (or is it my third?) bout of that really nasty flu that has been rampaging around the country this winter (apparently the flu shot I had earlier in the year was only effective for last year’s model) but even for me, who usually needs little or no excuse to do the absolute bare minimum, my current state of inertia is at a whole new level.

Normally when feeling somewhat under the weather I do what so many of us do—suck it up and soldier on.  I mean, it’s just a cold, or a cough, or the sniffles.  No big deal.  Right?  Well, not this time.  This time my body made it perfectly (and painfully) clear that we were having none of that ‘carry-on-regardless’ crap.  We were going nowhere.  Consequently (and because I really had no other option) I decided to be kind to myself.  I had some time off work.  I took the tablets, drank the medicine, wrapped myself (along with a trio of incredibly solicitious puppies) in blankets and slept.  And slept.  And slept.  I literally had no energy for anything else.  I did no reading, no writing, no sketching, no exercise.  I don’t think I even did any thinking (or at least none that I can recall . . . )

Two weeks later and I finally seem to be coming out of the other side.  I am on my feet again but apart from that there still appears to be little discernible sign of movement.   I feel like someone needs to wind me up to get me started again.  I mean, I should be doing something—anything—again by now.  Shouldn’t I?  (I should be writing, although I can’t think of a thing to say.  I should be sketching, although I can’t think of anything to draw.  I should start exercising again, although just getting the dogs across the park and back in the afternoon seems to be stretching me to my limits . . . )

You know Isaac Newton said (paraphrasing here) ‘‘An object at rest (i.e. me) will remain at rest until acted on by an outside force.”  And really—who am I to argue with Isaac Newton?  So, perhaps all I really need to do is take a few more days and wait for that inevitable intervention from an ‘outside force’ . . .

That sounds good to me.  That sounds like a plan.  And if I happen to make a couple more buttprints around the place before that happens . . . well, I guess the sands of time and I will just have to live with that . . .

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.’ Cicero.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

When I take the girls for their walk in the late afternoon Maudie and I often play ‘ball’ with one of the many banksia seed pods that litter the park floor.  It started because I never remembered to take an actual ball with me when we went out (getting three dogs out of the house with them and me still intact is often enough of a challenge) and continues now because Maudie really does seems to enjoy chasing the pods.  They bounce around at weird angles, are (apparently) eminently chewable, and, if she loses sight of the one I threw, there are plenty more of them lying around to start the game over. (In case you were wondering—Mabel and Molly are above all this sort of nonsense and tend to watch these antics from a disdainful distance.)  

Apart from our game I can’t say I had ever really given the banksia pods much more thought.  When they are lying on the ground amongst the other leaf litter, they don’t seem all that special.  They’re kind of dark and dingy and unremarkable looking.  But, when doing some reading last week about seeds, I also came across some amazing photos of seed-pods and this really opened my eyes to just how extraordinary these banksia pods are.  And beautiful. They have have all sorts of cool nooks and crannies and weird little nobbly-bits . . .

. . . and it’s not just banksias.  I have discovered there are so many amazing seed pods out there (see here for some amazing pics) . . . and it seems completely obvious to me now that I have spent the last 58 years of life walking around with my eyes shut!  How could I not have known about all these gorgeous things before?  And how could I not have sketched them?  Well, Spring’s finally here . . . so no more excuses . . .

(Fair warning.  You may be inundated with sketches of seed pods from now on.  I am completely enamoured . . . )


 
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Posted by on September 1, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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