Gentle dreams and sacred things … tribute to Michael White 2008

May, 2008

Yesterday I took a very fast train between Basel and Den Haag.  I would like to share with you what came to me on that journey …

I am taking a very fast train from Basel to Den Haag to pursue my cello dreams.  I closed my eyes listening to Kate Bush singing Big Stripey Lie from her Red Shoes album.  Some words jumped out at me,

”your name is being called by sacred things that are not addressed or listened to, sometimes they blow trumpets”

and my thoughts wandered to the voices in our lives – the useful ones and the disturbing ones. Then to people who have difficulty with the voices that disturb their thoughts and that have a grip they can’t seem to break.  I think of the voice in my life that affirms me.  I thought about Michael’s work. (I had the privilege, even pleasure, of sharing a 5 day intensive with Michael White in November, 2007).

I contemplated my life and the other voices that have affirmed me and was taken back to the discussion we had on Imaginary Friends.  The topic in the course facscinated me. I remember Michael asking who had Imaginary Friends and many of us put up our hands.  I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of Imaginary Friends have been marginalised in our society. Their usefulness is suspect, their role possibly destabilising and existance certainly questionable.

I thought of my Imaginary Friends, Peter, Paul and yes, Porgets who I used to greet at the front door and invite inside to play with me when I was a child.  I wondered what role they were playing?  I like to think they were urging me to keep my light alive, to trust myself, to be confident in myself, to believe that I am worth it.

I have read the contributions of all of you who have generously shared your sadness, musings, wistful yearnings and at times anger about the sad news of Michael’s death.  I haven’t had anything to say until now.  But I must share this, because his voice rekindled my flagging spirit and encouraged me to never accept when the still, small voice of hope, joy and love is not addressed or listened to.

As I write this, the tears are streaming with the words and these are finally tears for Michael – the first after a month.  This seems like slow-acting grief.  But the ache that the loss of such a committed human being, carer and activist, is deep.  As I depart Bonn, I know that I will be bonny again and I know that he would be touched that it was a song with poignant words that brought his memory and meaning to me in my life, back to life.  I re-listened to Kate’s song so I could write down the words, and more jumped out at me

 “all young, gentle dreams drowning in life’s grief, can you hang on to me?”

I honour my young gentle dreams and I hang on to them tightly.  As the grip gets stronger, the confidence to follow them gets stronger too. These words, by Kate Bush, great wordsmith, remind me of the wistfulness and curiosity that were rekindled in me during the course, and that Michael had this amazing way of looking at things, with a gentle curiosity, almost amusement.

Quotations provide such a great inspiration to me, and two of my favourite come to mind:

“Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.  Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light”.  Albert Schweitzer

and

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born”. Anaïs Nin

I believe that Michael was saying, and is still saying, let us all nuture gentle dreams and sacred things in our own lives and in the lives of others.

With deepest thanks Michael, for your example, your encouragement, and your patience.

Greetings to you all from Den Haag, let us keep Michael’s voice alive in our activities and relationships – work and personal.

Love.

Click go the shears – February 2017

Staying at Naracoorte for a three week holiday earlier this year, I took the opportunity to go and visit my cousin, Graham, who now runs the farm at which I spent many of my childhood holidays. Not much has changed, except the pine trees out front are taller.

img_7469

Out the back, over the hill, with large gums standing looking on silently from the wheat-coloured paddocks, I drive up to the shearing shed. It has been raining all morning, but it is a January kind of warm and muggy.  I hear the radio first, AC/DC Highway to Hell, then smell the sheep and climb the aging ladder up to the nerve centre.

It is 8:30am and they’ve already been at it for an hour. The thick oily-urea smell of sheep gets in my nostrils and before I know it I’m wiping my nose with the irritation.

Two shearers, Hayden and Corey, repleat with double-layered dungarees and quick-grip moccasins are bent nearly double (partially supported by a padded and sprung shackle which hangs from above) holding the sometimes un-cooperative sheep still, while they remove last year’s coat. The shears, no longer the clicking variety, make a mechanised shrill buzzing sound, glide through the wool, separating it instantly from the sheep, leaving a discarded pile on the floorboards. The number of fleeces is clocked on a small silver counter and they earn $2.94 each one (double for a ram).

To the uninitiated, it is a pile of wool. To the roustabout, Mykia, jetting around the floor in her tennis socks, the pile contains many distinct possibilities. The rectangular section of belly wool is separated, the cruddy bits discarded and a sample is taken (from a spot originally found close to the ribs of the sheep). Then with an action akin to collecting up bedsheets you’re taking to the wash, it is swept up into a big heap to be weighed.

“6.4!”  Kilograms that is, the weight of one fleece.

The figures are being carefully recorded and matched with numbered ear tags to assist with selecting the strongest potential breeders for the following year.  This pile of wool is then flung across the wool table – a waist high collection of spanned metal rods that let the dags drop through to be efficiently swept up with a flat plastic-swivel-headed broom, known as a sweep.  It is like magic to see how the fleece expands and contracts like a rubberband and when it lands, moving as one entity.

img_7474

Now the edges, the parts that come from the legs and tail, get separated and thrown over onto separate piles, to keep the quality of the wool high. The wool classer, Ron, similarly gathers the fleece into a loose pile to pluck a strand which he then flicks – the closest thing to clicks you hear in a shearing shed these days.  If it fails the test, the wool is classed as tender, and the fleece joins a small pile (around 3% in this shed) of wool which is not so strong – where the sheep may have suffered stress during the year. Then the pile of wool joins the 180-204 kilograms of other fleeces in the baling machine, where it gets compressed under pressure.

img_7463

Behind the red metal swing gates, Matthew, pen-er-upperer (I think that’s a word) and his red dog, Rusty, continue to herd the flock closer to their disrobement.  The rams wait patiently in separate corrales, they will get their turn at the end. Graham takes a turn at shearing, but assures me his skill is in taking care of the sheep rather than getting the wool off. To my untrained eyes, he looks enough like a pro.

Graham’s is a fairly small concern, however Ron, a veteran in the district, speaks highly of it’s quality.  He’ll get a good price for the wool at sale, but not so much this year for the quality, but more due to the high market value; such is the seemingly arbitrary nature of the commodity market.

Over smoko, the shearing shed gossip of shearers coming and going, travel stories and local personalities continue while Lizzy the kelpie surveys the shed.  I joked later that I only managed to shear 60 sheep, but actually I am in awe of the physical endurance required to do this work. Click go the shears, seems such an upbeat ditty to describe such a back-breaking vocation.

British Museum Treasure Hunt

From a diary entry 10th December, 2013: London

One of the joys of international research is that often you get to have quite lengthy email back and forth discussions with the managers charged with gatekeeping collections. Sometimes all the way down in the Antipodes, one doesn’t quite realise just how many gates one must pass in order to be admitted to the inner, hallowed sanctum of a reading room.

With such an established institution as the British Museum, this should come as no surprise though. Millions of items dating back through antiquity and beyond are now even more precious than they were to the Georgians who began collecting them (through sometimes less than savoury means – but that’s another story altogether).

The conversation began by email between myself and a staffer of the Prints and Drawings Room, as I was interested in seeing what they might have collected as a background to the famous goldsmith, Peze Pilleau.

It culminated with the directions:

“We are limited to 12 places so I would suggest that you try to get here as close to 10.00 if possible. It is best to come via the North entrance which is at the back of the museum in Montague Place – take the lift to the 4th floor, you will come to a set of double doors leading to our exhibition gallery (Room 90), turn right & behind the Michelangelo cartoon is the entrance to the Print Room -please ring the bell. Please bring some form of ID with you.”

It was enough to make me feel like my visit would resemble an episode of Get Smart.

So the day came. As I was to enter through the back door of the Museum, I thought it best to disembark the Tube at Russell Square, closer than Holborn which is nearer the front of the Museum. Conveniently (not), that had 176 stairs to street level, no options.  Then I went on a 10 minute adventure through a children’s playground and several parks that weren’t Russell Square as I had expected, but in the opposite direction to that intended, making me late for my 10am appointment. But even when I’d got to the back door, there were many more gates to pass through.

Note to self for next time you’re running late: when you find the two Aslan lions lackadaisically sentinel with paws crossed, as if guarding the ark, enter with caution. Do not presume to leave your cloak conveniently just inside the back entrance, because that Cloak Room is for ‘members only’ and you’ll need a member’s card.

Then, use the accessible toilet because it is the only one within a waterbag-walk of where you are at present. Then, know that Room 90 is an active rotating exhibit gallery which will probably have an exhibit entitled ‘Japanese Art of Sex and Pleasure’.

Also, know that the Michelangelo ‘cartoon’ takes up a full tall-door sized wall.  Oh, and you can rattle the door to the Prints and Drawings Room all you like, but unless you press the top doorbell – brass (of course) you will stand there ALL DAY.  Bring a time-piece – the clock in the reading room maybe incorrect as it gets wound only once a week!!

I took the opportunity to go to the shunga exhibition later. It was full-on.  I have never seen (as you’d expect), so many over-sized penises assembled in one place. There was flesh everywhere – nothing left to the imagination.  It seems that the masculine inclination to hyperbole made it onto limited edition Japanese prints too – the features of porn are apparently everlasting. Men’s and women’s genitalia were equally displayed in all their glory – a democracy of erotica. It was quite a revelation and it seemed, considering the number of couples being caught in flagrante delicto through the wide open doors of Room 90, that the gatekeeping might have more appropriately been re-assigned.

Library tragic at the British Library

Diary entry 30th December, 2013: London

On Saturday, I made my debut at the British Library by requesting two books in French that contain details about our Hemer (Mathews) ancestors, the Pilleaus and Pezes from Le Mans.

As I was standing outside at 9.30am in the brisk air with twenty or so others, waiting to be ‘let in’, I wondered “have I just joined the ranks of the library tragic”?

Armed with nothing but our lead pencils, clear plastic bags and locker keys we race into the Rare Books and Music Reading Room to secure our seats. Wanting to be at the front of the line is only slightly less futile than wanting to be first in the queue for a plane trip, those books aren’t going any where fast, and some have been extant for several hundred years.   I suppose some positions might hold better Feng Shui or closer access to requests desk or the microfilm or the photocopier, but it still makes me smile. 

Mrs Dalton-Morgan, Librarian from Hawthorndene Primary School, would be proud of me. At the time when I visited, there was an exhibition showing. Where would we be without our Georgian ancestors? With fewer libraries and other ‘collections’ apparently!

Has a more poised and elegant ballerina ever been found curating an exhibition … ? Enjoy this window on Georgian life.

I hope to publish an article on one of the notable Georgian ancestors this year – look out for it.

 

Protected: Interactive Rangoli at JLF Melbourne

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Beyond Borders in Blois

A child of the city of churches, I grew up visiting Adelaide’s pre-eminent ‘Sunnyside Mall’ at first with my mother in our school holiday Myer excursions, then later of my own volition.

I remember the buzz and excitement (from some) when the multinational Borders Bookstore graced the Rundle Mall with its presence. Riding the tidal wave of coffee popularity, the business traded on the promise of being able to browse books whilst sipping on coffee, which, amongst other things, for some years made it a successful business. Its enormity for Adelaide could be measured by the fact that this bookshop had several levels and internal escalators. Up until then only large, long established retailers boasted this. Then ebooks and the internet seemed to make it impossible for such behemoth businesses to continue and as soon as it came, it was bought up by bigger (or more secure fish), then eventually disappeared.

When I say some were excited, I like to excuse myself, because I’m cynical about the perfect storm of a US multinational in a small local market with many rival booksellers, and I worried for the future of the small bookstores in Adelaide.

So you can imagine the pure joy, when on my 2013 trip to Blois, France, while pursuing the long line of my Chartier ancestors,  I happened across the answer to the coffee/book browsing dilemma in the form of Liber.Thés, a clever, quintessentially French play on words for a librairie/salon de thé (bookstore/tea salon).

The less intrepid tourist might not find this little gem, sited on the rive gauche (left bank) of the Loire, and away from the popular attractions like the Royal Château de Blois and for me the Archives départementales de la Sarthe.  But once on the other side, it is difficult to walk past it, as the atmosphere is both bookish and artistic – an altogether bohémien little nook. In weighing up whether to go in, I was reassured by 1. lots of customers, 2. lots of books and 3. a très cool look.

imgp9536

I was searching for a feed, but I took the opportunity to search the shelves as well, and providently found a book which mentioned my ancestor’s name. (I had been shown this book earlier at the Château Royal de Blois when speaking to their collections manager about my ancestor).  It was a limited edition book, 16/155 – Deville, Les Horologers Blésois – a bargain (not), at €180. There are many other second-hand treasures here.

imgp9531

I seated myself in the the room with all the books, and took the opportunity to have a flip through the large volume. I was accompanied by the industrious bibliophile/barista who whipped up gorgeous pumpkin soup with croutons and a salmon and avocado tartine.

Are two martinis too much? Well, I had them too – not usually a martini drinker, but then also not usually in Blois! Abstract art covers the walls, a very french mosaic the floor and the bar is covered with a mosaic even Giulio Cesare (the reputed founder of Blois in 100-44BC) would be proud of.

If I was ever interested in the multinational bookshop, I’m certainly beyond Borders now, and much happier sitting in a local icon, catering to antiquarian book-hunters and which will most likely be here forever.

 

liber.thes@free.fr – 21 avenue du Président Wilson 41100 Blois 0254781478