Our stories.

A couple of days ago I, my husband, my three sisters and brothers-in-law scattered my parents’ ashes into the sea. The day had been a long time coming. My father has been dead for nine years and my mother for three. Their ashes had been residing in a cabinet in my kitchen all that time. Why so long? We kept dad’s ashes waiting until my mother passed away, and she took a lot longer than any of us expected. Then, we girls had trouble reaching a mutually acceptable decision. We all had different opinions on where and how, and each of us felt very strongly about our viewpoint. We wanted to find a solution with which we could all be comfortable. Word to the wise: don’t just decide whether you want to be buried or cremated, also choose where you want your remains placed and tell your children in plenty of time!  We finally settled on a place which had historical significance for my mother’s family. It was near the Port Adelaide wharfs, in the historical part of the town. My maternal grandfather, great grandfather and great, great grandfather had all worked there on the docks, and the family had lived in the area. We did it on the day that would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. It was also the day on which our nation commemorates the men and women who have served their country in the armed forces and, in particular, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The motto for this day is “lest we forget”. It was a sun-kissed day; the light glinted on the water; a pod of dolphins swam past; a pelican stood watch and it seemed as if the universe was singing its approval of what we were doing. We gave thanks for parents who loved each other and stood by each other regardless of what life threw at them and who loved us in the same way. Over the lunch table (in a hotel built in 1878 right near the docks) we shared memories, laughed together, passed photos around and talked and ate and talked… All in all, it was a very good day. Before we did the scattering we stood on the sand, in a circle, with the ashes in the middle. It seemed strange to me that my parents’ were now reduced to such small containers. My parents were big people, with strong personalities. It didn’t seem right that all that life, was now reduced to a couple of plastic boxes. But, their memories are strong within us and their stories are now part of our family’s story. Being in that place, redolent with our state’s history and my family’s history, in particular, I had a strong sense of being another chapter in a grand narrative. The story goes on. I hope and pray that my part of the story is worth reading and I want it to end well. It would be lovely to think that my grandchildren will one day tell their children, “I remember Granny Noble really well. She was an interesting old bird. She made us laugh, she read to us, she slipped us lollies when Mum wasn’t looking and she loved us to bits.”  That’d be cool. Note to self: start slipping lollies to the kids when their mother isn’t looking…because I don’t do it now. Honestly, dear daughter, I don’t. Well, not often.  ...

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Is it art?

A few weeks ago I happened upon a conversation (via facebook) about the work of the recently departed American artist, Thomas Kincaid. He apparently died from ‘natural causes’ at the ripe old age of 54. (What kind of ‘natural causes’ takes out a healthy bloke at 54? I’d like to  avoid them! He hadn’t been ill; it wasn’t suicide; he wasn’t an alcoholic or druggie… I mean, what the hey? But, I digress.) For those who are unaware of his work, Mr Kincaid did the sort of painting that probably belonged on Hallmark cards in their “Victorian” portfolio. It is sentimental, often sugary sweet and hopelessly romantic. Almost every painting includes some type of building or street light pulsing warm, golden light into a dark or snow-laden world. (The light was very important to Kincaid.) Every autumn leaf glows with rich jewel colours of cocoa bean chocolate, log-fire russet and hit-you-in-the-face amber. Snowy fields are traversed by couples in horse-drawn sleighs. Creeks gurgle and burble under stone bridges that lead to gingerbread cottages. (For those at risk, please stop and take some insulin.) In the aforementioned conversation one of the participants said, “The artist in me celebrates the end of a tide of endless kitsch”. (Of course, if it came to an end then technically it wasn’t “endless” but I restrained myself from pointing that out.) She went on to say that enjoying Kincaid’s work was similar to ‘eating McDonalds’, whereas “the feeling that art appreciation gives you is the feeling of eating prime Beijing Roast Duck…Once you’ve had that, you won’t go back.” I guess she doesn’t like Mr Kincaid’s art and, clearly, anyone who does like his work is a burger-eating, kitsch-collecting ignoramus who wouldn’t know real art if it smacked them in the face (in a similar fashion to the amber autumn leaves). Now, I happen to enjoy a good burger as much as a plate of spicy plum duck. I have an eclectic taste in music. I even (rarely) enjoy the occasional rap song if it’s got a singable chorus and isn’t about killing the mo-fo cops. I read autobiographies, crime, reference books,  fantasy, historical fiction, theology, sci-fi, thrillers, horror, comedy and anything else that has a story or topic that draws me in and keeps me engaged. I love some of the work of the great artists – eg; Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Picasso – and some of it, I don’t. Picasso’s Guernica is brilliant. His weird, side-on, melting-nose lady leaves me cold. Some modern abstracts are intriguing – eg; Pollock’s Blue Poles – and some of it is vomit on canvas. A number of years ago, while visiting Texas, the Old Boy and I happened upon a little gallery holding an exhibition of Kincaid’s artwork. A lot of it left me unmoved, apart from reminding me of some so-so-ho-hum wool tapestry kits that are often found in the craft section at K-Mart. But there were a couple of paintings that resonated with something deep within my soul: that longing for a place where truth, hope, love, peace, warmth and home still existed unsullied by the darkness in the world. The light pouring out of the little house in the woods said, “Come home. All is well.” What is art? When is it great? Is it just technique or is it that indefinable something that stirs a visceral, emotional reaction on the behalf of the viewer/listener/consumer? For me, true art must connect with someone other than the artist. Mr Kincaid wasn’t in the same league as the ‘greats’, but in that little gallery south of Austin, Texas,  for a fleeting moment, I had a glimpse into his heart. If he was the McDonalds of the art world, then so be it. A constant diet of Beijing Roast Duck, would make anyone long for the occasional McCafe coffee and fries....

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Charity begins at home.

Since we gave refuge to Cheeky the cockatiel I’ve discovered some less pleasant aspects of my character. Before I go into detail, please understand that I love all creatures great and small (except for cockroaches) and I wouldn’t deliberately harm any of them unless forced into a situation that required it. At least, that’s what I used to think. Cheeky was homeless and we had an empty cage. (Jenkins the Eastern Rosella went to his heavenly reward three years ago.) Cheeky moved into Jenkins’ empty house and once more we awoke to early morning bird song (or, in Cheeky’s case: screeching). Ah bliss.He/she’s a dear little lad/lass (I have no idea how to determine the sex of a cockatiel) and he loves our company so Cheeky is a welcome addition to the family. For a while he lived inside the house, as did Jenkins before him. But then… One day I had a brain spasm. I had swept up one too many piles of the seed casings that Cheeky threw around the kitchen with gay abandon. I had washed up one too many bird-poo splatters. That’s it! I cried. He’s going outside. I felt mean but consoled myself with the thought that birds were designed to live outside and, besides, the cage is right next to a glass door so he can still see and hear us. But then the wild birds discovered they could slip in through the bars of his cage. Suddenly I’m feeding hordes of hungry sparrows, starlings, honey eaters and even the occasional pigeon. Now look, I’ve got three water containers in the garden for the wild birds and I’ve been known to leave them some seed and bread crusts, so I’m happy to help. But, the greedy beggars raid poor Cheeky’s cage, freaking him out (the screeching!!!) and eating up copious amounts of seed so that I’m going through mega-boxes every week. And now the mice have moved in. They established a base in the garden but then they realised: The woman comes out of that giant cage behind the bird’s place. She brings the food. We’re going in! I have always prided myself on my charitable nature. I’ve always said we should help the poor, the homeless and the refugees. I think the way we treat asylum seekers is a disgrace. But, I’ve always said such things from the safety and comfort of my quiet home. Now I’m beginning to think that if this is how I feel about some birds and mice, invading my space and placing demands on my limited budget, how would I feel if the refugees and the homeless wanted to move in with me? Would I be as charitable, as compassionate then? I’ve got some soul-searching to do. Meanwhile I’ve discovered that when push comes to shove, I can wield the dangerous end of a broom, set traps laden with peanut butter, and slaughter the innocent like any other killer. I have dark, dark corners in my...

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A chocolate Easter…

As I sit here waiting for inspiration to kick in for my special Easter Saturday blog, I’m sipping a coffee and munching on a chocolate rabbit. I began with its ears and I’m now down to it’s belly button. It’s been a while since I’ve consumed this much chocolate in one sitting, so I’m beginning to feel rather queasy. Perhaps I’ll let it sit on my desk, topless, until my stomach can regroup. Now, I know the purists among you will be shaking your heads at my wanton disregard for tradition (hot cross buns on Good Friday and eggs on Easter Sunday) but in my defence let me point out, it’s only a rabbit. We all know that eggs are a symbol of new life and therefore it’s been easy to adapt that symbolism to fit with Easter: new chick hatching out of egg = Jesus, breaking out of the tomb; new life in egg = new life given by Jesus etc. I’ve really missed having a piece of choccy with my coffee. Stupid diet. Perhaps I could risk a little bit of… Nope! My stomach needs a bit more time. I’ll just sip the coffee for now. On the other hand, rabbits are an ancient, pagan symbol for fertility (no prizes for guessing why). In the northern hemisphere Easter coincides with spring. Rabbits and eggs, both of which flourish in spring time, are natural symbols for this season. They represent fecundity, lush new growth and new life popping up after a dark, cold winter. In the southern hemisphere this symbolism is rarely appreciated. First of all, Easter heralds the beginning of autumn, which leads us into winter not out of it. And, secondly, rabbits are rampant, destructive pests. (Except all those cute fluffy bunnies that are my friends’ pets.) So, I feel no guilt whatsoever for eating a chocolate rabbit on Easter Saturday. (I’m back on the diet on Tuesday.) Almost two-thirds of my coffee is gone! Come on stomach; show some stamina. The big question is, what would Easter be without decorated eggs and chocolate rabbits, seafood on Friday, family barbecues and, here in Australia, a long weekend? I read somewhere recently – probably the internet – that Easter without chocolate would just be religious. Heaven forbid! That would mean all the non-believers would be forced to either contemplate their spiritual condition or, at the least, do without the mid-year camping trip. Why, then it would be all about Jesus: his crucifixion and resurrection. It might actually mean something a little more substantial than chocolate. The coffee is gone and half a chocolate rabbit is still sitting on my desk. It’ll keep for another day. I think I’ve had more than enough. I wish you all a happy and meaningful...

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