Sunday, 18 January 2015

Mum's Neighbour died.

I just heard that Mum's neighbour, Margaret, has finally died this morning at 8:30am. She was 85 years old. Her husband John died (also from a heart attack) back in 2007 - several months before my own Father. 

Both Margaret and John died from a heart attack. I only say this because a curious thing happens when someone dies. We are instantly reminded about our own mortality. My knee-jerk reaction, even before consoling the family is, "How did she die?" or, if feeling a little more empathetic, "I hope she died peacefully." The short of it is that we really want to know what happened. How did the person die? It's almost instinctual and while most people don't ask the direct question, I personally feel the need to know. Why so? I'm not sure. I also want to know how a person "lost their leg" or "caught a disease". It's a stupid, selfish thought, but we all ask it. Internally if not overtly like myself. Not asking would be inauthentic for me, so I ask. Heart-attack was the answer.

Dying Suddenly or Dying over time

Dying isn't great. But there are really only 2 ways to die. Suddenly, or over a time. Heart-attacks, to the living at least, feel very sudden. The living are left with half-answered questions and unfinished arguments. I shouldn't have said [this] or [that]. I should have told her I loved her. We should have hugged more. I didn't give her this [gift]. 

When someone dies over time, the living adjust and then accept the idea of death. My father died over a period of 9 months (oesophagel cancer, if you need to know why as I do). We got to say "I love you' and "Goodbye" and, as he was going "It's okay for you to go."

I held Dad's hand as he went from 36.7 degrees to room . . . cold.

But in some ways, I wish he'd gone suddenly. For his sake mostly. When someone is dying over time, it's often in pain. There's a lot of indigantion. I remember Dad saying, "I used to wipe your bottom when you were a child and now here you are wiping mine." It kind of wasn't good to hear that. The whole process was slow and awful. One day it looked as though he'd stay alive and live longer (although with a lot of pain), the next day his $85 (invoiced) 1 minute consultation consisted of one sentence bad news, "I'm sorry but the cancer has spread to your lungs." It just wasn't good. For anyone. 

Going quickly is best for all in my opinion. The dying get to die and the living get to mourn realistically - instead of protractedly while your loved one's body dies protractedly, suffering abeited by hallucinogenic drugs, altered realities and yoyo-prognoses.

I'm writing a story that is loosely based on Margaret. Margaret was a lovely, church-going lady who struck me as a woman with a firm grasp on (some parts of) reality. They were an educated and very pious couple who both took turns playing the organ for their local church.

Rest in Peace Margaret. I hope both you and John get to play the organ or whatever the after-life world equivalent of it is in the Heaven that you now reside in. God rest your soul.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Malvern Avenue Junior School 1975

Digital footprints in the playground of my mind

I had a birthday breakfast yesterday with Mum and a few friends. I met my friends in various places here in Western Australia. High School, University, during my poor years as an Australian Filmmaker. I love my Mum - and my friends. Most of my mates are mostly 45+ males and we have a lot in common. I live with my best friend - also my fiancee. But my 47th birthday breakfast made me think back - to the much more exciting, early birthdays.

Neurons Outlive Our Bodies

I was pretty sure we fake most of our childhood memories by looking at family photo-albums rather than the actual re-firing of old neurons, but this article begs to differ. And to me makes sense.

Accoring to the article, both neurons and olfactory smelling cells are the only cells in our bodies that live as long as we do. In fact, if we were to migrate our neurons into longer-living bodies, they would easily outlive us (all this science suggests to me that we have a greater purpose, but enough of that in another post).

Without the assistance of childhood photos, and the distinct recollection of being constantly bullied (because I looked like a girl) I'd probably remember nothing about Liverpool. Some friends lived in the city centre where there were still huge bombed-out rubble pits from WW2. I remember playing with them - in the bricks, balancing on walls. Who knows what unexploded we were toying with.

But I lived just outside the CBD and had a middle-class sort of bringing up. My mechanic father and secretary mother were keen to "jump class." So, our neighbours were teachers and policemen.

Neuroscience aside, our memories are very fallible. Reality can be so much more tragic.

Liverpool 1975

I was born in Liverpool, but not by the docks. I grew up in Huyton with Roby.

Childhood friends are like shadows to this 47 year old. In my case, all relationships were severed when I moved to Australia at the age of 10. My memories of other children belong to the mind of a child that is no longer me.

I'm talking about life in 1975.

Thanks to the internet, I could pretty easily seek out and find children who I used to play with and what they are up to now. If you can't remember names, check out the back of your school photographs and Google their names.

I've met a few Liverpool friends over the last 10 years, brushed digital shoulders with others and more weirdly, found still others in articles of archived newspapers - often in terrible circumstances. Reading some stories make me wonder if tragedy is the natural order of things. My own life has been simple and for the most part, blessed. I've pretty much been able to do exactly what I've wanted and I'm now making a good living in Perth with my fiancee as a website developer.

My Childhood Friends

Gillian

Before my sister was born, we lived next to Gillian and Joanne. I remember going over there to play with the two sisters. Joanne was a few years older. They had huge poplar trees down the back of their (much longer) garden. We played hide and seek in those trees. There was something about a witch back there. Weirdly, I think about Kate Bush when I think of those poplars - swaying in the breeze. They were so huge and as a kid you have a much closer relationship with nature.

Gillian's parents were Lucy and Joe. I was three. We never played with her sister as she was 5 (I think) and much more mature.

One day I had a falling out with Gillian. I accidentally spat on her hand. I'd taken to spitting as I felt it made me look tough. The adult males around me often did it. It was thing in the 70s. I could very rarely muster any spittle so it was purely a modified affectation designed to make me seem older. But from the time I accidentally spat on Gillian's hand, relationship with the sisters were strained. I wasn't allowed to play with the girls next door because their Mum said I "was dirty." Okay.

Soon after this incident, the family moved to New Zealand and I was never to see Gillian again. But Mum was having a baby, so at least I'd get a little sister.

The other day I read that Gillian had become an English language teacher in the North Island. Sadly, Gillian was killed in the New Zealand earthquake of 2011. Her sister Joanne works as a GP and is the only surviving family member.

Lee Evans

The comedian.

Well, weirdly I saw Lee Evans in Something About Mary, so I'm happy to reveal his name as he's a big Hollywood comic. I didn't know that while I was watching him at the cinema, though. His Mum used to catch the bus home from work with my Mum and I remember going 'round to his house to play before the mums got home.

I have a faint memory of Lee being a bit out of control and jumping all over the couches. I can even remember a picture on the wall in his dining room. A sort of balck felt with maybe a cheaply embroidered picture of a tiger on it. 

In an interview on TV when Lee recalled his life as a child I remembered our connection. In the interview, Lee said that his father was an entertainer and worked away from home a lot. When he mentioned living in Liverpool with his mother for a spell, it was clear that this was the same guy. He even looks the same now as he did as a child. I have a class photo of him somewhere.

This isn't a name drop. A few people from my past have found public success and in some cases, infamy. Neither is necessarily related to personal happiness - a quest I've been pursuing since reading Alain de Botton's Consolations of Philosophy about 10 years ago.

Paul

One person I met less than 10 years ago at a backyard BBQ here in Perth was Paul.

Paul was one of my play friends - even though he was about 4 when I was 8. He'd knock on the door and ask "Can Edwin come out to play?" I think he looked up to me because I was older, but I probably didn't understand that at the time. We used to listen to a lot of 45 singles records on Dad's record player. Dad's younger brother (Freddie) was a teenager and bore a huge influence on my musical taste. Unlike Dad, Fred listened to contemporary music such as Queen, Slade, Thin Lizzy and Smokey. These also became my adopted faves.

At the BBQ, Paul told me how he recalled us listening to Elvis Costello's "Oliver's Army." He still knew all the words. While I do remember that song, I currently have "Watching the Detectives" on my phone's random play (alongside Baker Street) both of which make me smile.

I remember Paul standing on the dining room coffee table during an excited birthday party exclaiming "I'm big, I'm big". I'm not sure if it was his birthday or mine.

Paul is now quite tall. More than six feet. He's also a private ship's Captain who cruises the oceans. I don't really know him now but I got on with him. Strangely enough I recognised Paul immediately. His face was the same. 

I wrote a song about Paul's new life. That wasn't the intention, this just reminded me of his work.

Damian

Damian was my best friend at Malvern and he was also top of the class in Maths so I suspect he was a lot of boys' best friend.

Malvern Avenue Juniors school, 1975. I used to hang out with Damian and Kirk and I'd often fight with Kirk for a chance to sit next to Damian at school lunch. That might be a false memory, but I do remember Kirk being the type of friend who'd give you a good punch in the arm. Our fight might have more to do with the newspaper articles I just read than any kind of remembered reality. More about him later.

I suspect Damian's popularity had something to do with my own desire to be good at Maths. I've since learned, during my moonlighting as a lecturer / Tutor at Curtin Universtity, that it's not so much the subject or the child's perceived ability, but the teaching style. If the teacher is good and the child engages, learning will happen. That's my POV anyway.

Damian has only recently taken to LinkedIn and kept a pretty low profile on the net - which is quite admirable considering the high-powered banking positions he has held. Damian trained as an accountant and is now a banker. He deals with mergers and acquisitions and sits on the boards of about 6 companies with a number of personal share portfolios. Damian contacted me around 2004, but we lost touch and let's just say "we swimin different circles" these days.

Kirk

Well, life deals out unusual blows and this one is perhaps the worst I could imagine. I'm not even going to talk about Kirk. This horrific links says enough.

This horrific article says it all and looks to be the top of yet another very unhealthy British iceberg. This really shocked me and was actually the sad inspiration for this piece of writing. 

It's hard enough to get a hold on one's own personality, to find peace and happiness within without resorting to comparing yourself with people from your childhood that you haven't seen in 37 years.

Luckily Kirk's horrible infamy has nothing to do with this final story . . .

Cousin Stevie

On my final day in Liverpool (actually the last day I was ever there as it happens) my Mum's 2nd cousin Ronni was about to burst with a new baby. This isn't really my memory but Mum's. Apparently I asked if I could listen to the baby. I leaned in and heard - well, whatever my 10 year old ears heard. 

And then we flew to Australia.

In 2010 I heard, from Mum, that my 3rd cousin (the baby is listened in to) was living here in Perth somewhere. When I was told the address, I was gobsmacked. He was literally living on the same road, about 30 doors down. I invited him round and we went for a run on the river.

Steve is now married to the lovely Hayley and they are having their first baby together.

I wonder if their baby daughter will have the same curiosity about her childhood and, more importantly I guess, I wonder just what digital footprints she will find when it comes to researching her own history?

Time will tell. But by digging into my past, I realise just how lucky I am and what a good decision my parents made moving from Liverpool to Perth back in 1978.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Drug That Killed River Phoenix

This article was going to be about a new drug I'm on called Duomine, but as I knew very little about River Phoenix (aka the vegan Jimmy Dean) I thought I'd swat up on what's really going on behind that brain-worm ditty. I'll talk about Duomine another time.

The song line I'm on the drug that killed River Phoenix is from Aussie alternative band TISM's tasteless 1995 single (He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River - and it's a bit cheap, frankly. The single's cover shows a mock-up of River's tombstone and was released shortly after his death. TISM were well-known for criticisin Imperial Hollywood and US pop culture, but they were masters when it came to borrowed interest marketing. More about these guys later.

River Bottom's Awkward Life

In 1944, River's mother Arlyn was born to a Jewish family living in the Bronx. When she finished school, she married a computer programmer but quickly grew bored of her secretarial life. In 1968, at 24, Arlyn dropped everything, deciding to hitch-hike her way across the US to Hollywood. Whilst hitch-hiking, she met John Lee Bottom, a lapsed Catholic from California and in 1970 River Jude Bottom was born. Seeking spiritual guidance, they got involved with the Children of God movement, a cult centred around the dubious practice of flirty fishing). The Children of God practiced Flirty Fishing AND the less subtle activity of Escort Servicing from 1974 until 1987 (when AIDS hit Western TV). When River was 7, the couple left the cult, saying that it had lost its way (!). During this time River never attended school. Nor did he ever go to school. Instead, he tap-danced and sang songs with his brother Joaquin and sisters Rain and Summer on the street corners of Westwood, LA - to earn money for the family. River became quite the tap-dancer. Arlyn got herself a job as a secretary working for NBC where she befriended Hollywood child agent, Iris Burton (nee "Burstein"). Iris happily represented the Bottom children (plus Drew Barrymore, Tori Spelling and later, Kirsten Dunst) and before long the tap-dancing and singing child actor career was generating most of the family's income.
"What's it going to take? Chernobyl wasn't enough. Exxon Valdez wasn't enough. A bloody war over oil wasn't enough."
~ River Phoenix
Besides a string of TV and film credits, River's 23yr life were also dedicated to various social, political and humanitarian causes. River won multiple acting awards and accolades and came to be known as "The Vegan Jimmy Dean" around Hollywood. One Halloween night, on a come-down from his last gruelling film shoot, he decided to hit the town. Not before snorting a massive combination of cocaine and heroin did he head for Johnny Depp's LA nightclub The Viper Room. As he approached the club door, River fell, suddenly convulsing on the sidewalk in full view of the crowd. Depp was inside, playing bass for his band, P. People tried to revive River, but couldn't find a pulse. He was gone.

Every Halloween up until 2004 (when Depp sold his Viper Room share) Depp closed the Viper Room in honor of River's passing. People blame his drug binge on the come-down from a shoot and excitement at heading for the most popular club in LA on Halldween. But River had already started dabbling with white drugs.

Enter Australian 80s Indi Band - "T.I.S.M."

If it wasn't for TISM's single, I wouldn't have remembered River. The catchy reference was modus operandi for This Is Serious Mum and like any self-respecting 80s rocker, TISM's front man "Ron Hitler-Barrassi" embraced controversy. Titles of TISM's songs were often wordplays created by mixing pop culture references with academic critique.

In 1993, Ron released the album "Australia The Lucky C@*t" which featured a Koala sucking a syringe painted on the cover in Australian artist Ken Done's style. The pop artist's lawyers threatened legal action over the artwork (signed by TISM in Ken Done style) and the matter was settled out of court. Ron's album was re-released with new artwork and titled Censored Due To Legal Advice.

Rock On, Ron!

After reading about River Phoenix's tragic demise, I feel some guilt. His legendary name, forever trapped in Ron's brain-worm is also how this bit of fluff started, too. I've done exactly the same thing as TISM by borrowing River's name for my title.

Actually, I've doubled the greed. I get to keep River's name in my blog title AND borrow TISM's lyrics. Touché... :)

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Doing things the old way

When Dad died in 2007, he left Mum his old wooden boat. Suffice it say that my Mum's not the most mechanically minded person (God Bless her) so the upkeep and maintenance rests with me and my brother-in-law.

The Pisces now sits awkwardly on Jetty #2 at The Swan Yacht Club in East Fremantle.

The hull rim needs replacing, the boat needs sanding and painting and now the engine's stopped working. I go down there every 2nd Friday night to give 'er indoors a bit of peace and quiet and spend time with my mates. One of the members was going to have a look at the engine, but after a few missed appointments and several un-returned phone calls, I went somewhere else.

The Swan Yacht Club has operated in a certain, "charming" way for over 100 years. Mostly this is a club built on the back of working tradesmen and small businesses. These men have built the club into what it is today. Need a new wall? "Member Bob will fix that." Engine kaput? "Hand me that old spanner, I'll give it a turn." Broken window? "Get a bit of tape on it." Everything done the old fashioned way, on the cheap or even for free by devoted and loving members.

But the old way of doing things is wearing thin. The Swan River Trust are concerned about pollution and in a bid to raise revenue, the East Fremantle City Council wants to turn a 100yr old peppercorn lease into a real lease. Several other Working Mens' Clubs are being ousted from their old haunts and are now on the hunt for new premises. Because Associations aren't allowed to turn a profit, they come with assets and the promise of financial injections to rebuild the SYC anew (providing other clubs' needs are also catered for).

It's the promise of a fresh new spring for Working Mens' Clubs in Fremantle. But there's a problem.

If not kept in check, the problem could spell the systematic end to all old gentlemen institutions. Unlike gracefully maturing ladies, old gents tend to get grumpier in their old age. The SYC membership is 90%+ male and they are aging. Old men like to voice their concerns, stand up for their rights and garner "the respect they deserve" by having their opinions heard. Perhaps their kids, now grown up with families of their own don't listen to Dad's rhetoric. They've heard it all before.
"When I was a boy, we . . ."
"Sure thing, Dad. See you next weekend."
With insurance companies, lawyers, environmental lobby groups, tax and financial institutions needing to see a paper trail for just about everything, all these concerns end up in writing and could spell the end for this bygone generation. "Getting in a mate" in to fix it "next Tuesday" (if he turns up) is sadly, not be the way things get done in our time-poor world.

Yesterday I had Richard, a marine engine mechanic with years of experience look at the Pisces' old Perkins engine. Unlike the club guy, he was 2 minutes early, wore a pressed shirt (with pen in top pocket) and handed me three business cards to give to my friends. He announced his credentials, handed me three business cards (for my mates) and was very by the book. He wouldn't commit to a price until he'd been right through the old girl with a fine-tooth comb.

I signed his Terms of Agreement and now await the quote with some apprehension.

While I wasn't super keen on Richard's crossing of Ts and dotting of Is, I know that this bloke will fix Dad's old boat properly. He'll do it next week and I will pay $X. I also know that it will be done legally and with all the associated paper-trails, safety clearances and insurances in check.

To be honest. I didn't like the experience.

Like Dad, I love the idea of getting my mates to chip in here and there, wrapping a bit of lecky tape around wires and using re-purposed car batteries instead of proper marine batteries. But if this old boat is to stay afloat and allow me and my mates to have a bit of fun cruising down the Swanny every 2nd Friday night (while rewarding girlfriends and wives with a "night off" at home) it all has to be done properly.

Sadly, perhaps, by the book.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Flatbar Roadbikes

They are making a lot of bikes, but not any of them are flat-bar bikes designed for riding long distances. In fact, if you go check out a shop, you may not see even one on display.