Tuesday, 29 June 2010

On The Beach

I don't know about you but I have a heap of cassettes (old technology, kids) and CDs that have been with me for many years. Some of the cassettes are pre-recorded and some are blank cassettes upon which I recorded favourite vinyl (more old technology, kids, but still going strong amongst DJ culture). I did buy and own the vinyl records I recorded onto cassette so don't send the Copyright Police around to my house to bust me for historical crimes!

Imagine the scenario: door kicked in, Copyright Police enter, guns drawn, "Are you that slimy, lowlife, mother$#@% who taped Frank Zappa's Sheik Yerbouti in 1981?"

Shades of hunting Martin Bormann or Idi Amin!

Anyway, I digress, as I am wont to do.

I was listening to an old, pre-recorded cassette of On The Beach by Neil Young in the car. I hadn't listened to this album in years and I was struck how all the lyrics came gushing out of my subconscious so that I was able to sing along with Neil in the car as I drove along.

One lyric from the title track really struck me: "Though my problems are meaningless, that don't make them go away". Isn't that so true? You are late for some appointment or other and when you turn the key, the car won't start. Not up there with starving in sub-Saharan Africa, but nevertheless, crucially a bummer for you!

We are lucky to live in a democratic country (although the National Party are working to overcome this) where we can work, live and play in relative comfort and ease. I'm not turning a blind eye to our own people in poverty, but life here is better than in many countries of the world.

But problems are still problems, microscopic or gargantuan.

So, maybe next time I have a problem which seems overwhelming, I'll think of good old Neil Young, but I'll also think: "Hey, I'm not buried under a mud landslide or running from murderous thugs who have displaced me from my home because of my ethnicity."



He wanted it to be perfect,
for the words to fit together
like a well-oiled…
scratch that…
he’d heard that some Muslim women
(in Turkey or were they Moors?)
purposely wove a mistake
into their intricate tapestries
because only God is perfect
and they were right of course,
but he felt perfect just now
sitting still, warm
in a buck-fifty’s worth
of sunshine.

 Copyright Andrew M. Bell

Acknowledgement is made to Valley Micropress in which this poem first appeared in Volume 12, Issue #7, September 2009.

Shower Stall Flotsam and Jetsam

Recently I was at a public swimming pool and when I was about to leave, naturally I wanted to have a shower to rinse that chlorine smell from my skin as best as I could (it seeps into your pores and is emitted for a few days).

When I stepped into the open shower stalls area that is common to public swimming pools, I spotted a large, plastic bottle sitting forlornly on the floor. I picked it up and it was Radox shower gel and obviously quite full. So I used some for my shower.

Then, being a fine, upstanding citizen, I took it out to the changing rooms when I had finished my shower and asked the two gentlemen there if it belonged to one of them. It didn't. They'd both seen it there in the shower stalls, but had chosen not to bother with it.

Someone had probably gone home earlier and, at some point in their evening, had thought to themselves: "Bugger! I left my shower gel at the pool and it was near new. What a waste of (insert appropriate $ cost of said shower gel here)."

Now, call me old-fashioned, but I still use a bar of soap when I shower. I never buy these fancy washing/hygiene accoutrements. Soap was good enough for countless generations of human beings who came before me so why should I want to wash with anything else?

But like a Japanese glass fishing-net float or an oil drum fallen off some merchant ship in stormy weather, this shower gel has washed ashore. Not on some lonely actual beach, but in the shower stall of a public swimming pool.

Like Robinson Crusoe, I'd be mad not to use what the Universe has deigned to send my way. Hey, I'd bet if Tom Hanks had come across some shower gel washed up on his Castaway beach, he'd have used it, even if he couldn't get it to foam in the salt water!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Rudd-eeee Hell!

I have just heard on the radio news that the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, has been dumped as leader and replaced by the Deputy PM.

Having lived on two occasions in Australia, in the late 1970s for 13 months and for about 8 years in the late 1980s to early 1990s, I know that the ALP (Australian Labor Party) is ruthless with their leaders. They have a history of putsches and purges. They circle like sharks in the water at the slightest weakness. I'd rather surf Sydney's notorious Shark Island than be an ALP leader!

Rudd didn't even complete one term as PM. He won the election with immense popularity, but has stumbled recently over immigration and mining. Aussies don't like foreigners boating up to their shores and trying to get a piece of the Lucky Country. They are one of the most multicultural countries on the planet, but they still cling to very Euro-centric ideas of Australia where the white man is king. They fear Asians will swamp their society and they like to sweep their dealings with indigenous Aboriginal Australians under the carpet.

Having lots of desert, the country is a miner's paradise and mining employs a lot of people. Despite the fact that mining is usually an exploitative process run by huge multinational companies which siphon a lot of the economic benefits offshore, Aussies are very sensitive to anyone buggering around with mining. To quote that wonderful Australian rock band, Midnight Oil, on the title track of their album, "Blue Sky Mining": "Nothing's as precious as a hole in the ground."

So a proposal to start taxing mining profits was probably Ruddy's death knell.

Goodbye, Ruddy, you came across like the class nerd, but you seemed like a decent bloke with a bit of a moral compass. I don't think they should have jettisoned you so callously.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

She may want a "World Without Tears" but she doesn't want a world without music

I love music. Those two people who read my blogs have probably picked up on this by now. I wanted to be a famous musician, but I was too darn lazy to learn an instrument probably.

In my brief rock career, I learnt the value of good songwriting partnerships, but I also learnt that if those partnerships hit the doldrums, lyricists are washed up if they can't play an instrument well enough to write their own music and go solo. That realisation was extremely frustrating for me.

Both of my young sons learn the guitar. My oldest has been learning for four years and he's getting pretty damn good. My youngest has been learning for only three months, but he hadn't even learnt that many chords before he was writing his own songs, both with lyrics and instrumental! He loves U2 and he probably wants to be the next Bono but with Edge's guitar chops as well thrown in. Good on him!

I never forced either of my sons to learn guitar. The eldest expressed an interest when he was 7 and the youngest probably wanted to ape his older brother. So I'm not living vicariously through my sons. Maybe neither of them will try to make a career of music, but they'll have a skill which will give them and others lifelong pleasure. The youngest is a born performer. He already has several busking gigs under his belt and he's made some reasonable money. He knows he has the "cuteness factor", we call it, so he wants to milk it while he's got it. "Cuteness" is all washed up by about age 8 or 9. He already makes more money than his brother if they busk apart, but simultaneously, because his brother, although handsome as all get out, has to rely on his skill because, at 11, he is all washed up for "cuteness".

But I digress (as I often do). I love music. If you ask me who my favourite artist is, I cannot say because I love so many and when one is right for one listening mood, one other artist may not be, but will come into their own on another day.

But it often strikes me, when listening to music, how few musicians reference other musicians in their songs. Writers often seem to refer to other writers. Perhaps not in their poems or stories or novels, but often in essays and other non-fiction.

Lucinda Williams, one of my musical loves, often name-checks other musicians in her songs: Howlin' Wolf, ZZ Top, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and a host of others.

Lucinda Williams knows deep down in the marrow of her songwriting bones that art doesn't exist in a vacuum. One of her albums is called World Without Tears and she sure seems to have some sadness and disappointment in her love life, but she knows she'll never have to endure a world without music and neither should any of us.

Do you want a heart attack with that?

I was thinking about the subject of obesity the other day.

I'm not sure if they still do it, but McDonalds used to have a staff training policy that whenever a customer placed an order without french fries, the staff were instructed to subtly upsell by asking' "Do you want fries with that?" Lots of times the customer will be persuaded to add fries to his or her order. Now all these fast-food outlets are trying to position themselves as offering "healthy choices". Have you ever had a McDonald's salad? It tastes like it was made by a lion or some carnivore that had no idea about fruit or vegetables. And it's plastered with some sauce that will make you gag.

When I go to our local swimming pool, I see a lot of people who would fit the obese spectrum from mildly obese (can you be mildly obese?) to very obese. I saw a woman one day who looked to be in her 30s and her thighs were as round as the trunk of my body. I am not a thin little supermodel either. I weigh 88kg, am 1.83 metres in height ( 6 foot in the old system) and have a solid but not fat build. I have seen several people at the swimming pool whose feet are constantly in the shade of their bellys.

Now I have no wish to be harsh or judgemental, but you do not go to bed one night as thin as a Hollywood starlet (unhealthily anoxeric in some cases) and wake up in the morning obese.

When I'm putting on a few extra pounds/kilos, I workout more and try to eat a bit less and get more exercise. Don't these folk, who are headed down obesity highway, ever stop to think: "I'm starting to expand, better rein that in."

I know people say obesity is driven by emotional problems and low self-esteem and I won't argue with that, but if you want to live longer for yourself or your partner or your children or just to be plain cussed, you gotta stop chug-a-lugging the soft drinks or the alcohol and eating Maccas or KFC.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Whale Meat Again (with apologies to Vera Lynn)

I cannot believe that today in Morocco the IWC (International Whaling Commission) is meeting to discuss the possible renewal of commercial whaling!

Wake up, people, it's the 21st Century, 2010 to be exact! We shouldn't even be having this discussion any longer. I think our scientific knowledge has reached a point where we know that whales have the largest brain of all mammals, that they have complex social systems, that they communicate with one another over vast distances through the use of whale songs, that said songs have an immense vocabulary and that, generally, whales are highly sentient beings whom we should be doing everything we can to preserve.

Will we be like the stupid humans in Douglas Adam's book and watch as the last whales head off for a much friendlier planet with the farewell ringing in our ears: "So long and thanks for all the fish."?

I always imagine the whales must be swimming around the oceans thinking: "What did we do to these humans to piss them off so much?" Because you wouldn't normally hunt someone down over a vast area and fire explosive harpoons into them unless they'd really ticked you off!

The Japanese can't even sell the whale meat. They just seem to have this blind agenda as if the whales had personally insulted them. "Hey, Japan, Emperor Hirohito was a big girl's blouse!" "Hey, Norway, your breath smells like rotten cod!"

It just doesn't make sense, people, and it has to stop. It's bloody and it's bloody-minded and only Inuits have any legitimate claim to having whale meat on the menu. Japan, Norway, you don't need whale meat, you've both got McDonalds.

So I hope Dame Vera Lynn doesn't have to sing:

"Whale meat again, I know where and I know when,
but I know Japan and Norway want whale meat again
some shameful day."

Watch out for "The Quill", my friends, every Tuesday

Tuesday Poem

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A Poem for Mary McCallum, Tuesday Poem Curator, to check out


wistful child,
within the spiral framed.
Upward into encroaching shadows
where each rung
steals another colour
from the blossom of your days.

Copyright Andrew M. Bell

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Irony Free Zones

I am often walking along and I'll see an SUV parked somewhere and, invariably, the cover over the spare tyre makes some outlandish claim about the environment or nature along the lines of "we care about Nature".

I can't help but laugh because they are usually great big vehicles that probably get about 10 miles to the gallon of petrol.

Don't the manufacturers see the irony that their vehicles contribute more to global warming than your average sedan and while driving through Nature (for the perhaps one in ten that go offroad) they are probably crushing and mutilating the environment their tyre covers profess to love?

Are You Looking for a Soul, Brother?

I read in the newspaper a few days ago that Prince Charles was making a speech to some Islamic organisation and he said that he saw the current environmental crises as a "crisis of the soul" for Western civilisation.

Now the media and others like to poke fun at Prince Charles, but he strikes me as the only real intellectual in the British Royal family. He actually thinks deeply about things and cares about things and is passionate in his views.

His comments struck a chord with me because I have often being mulling this over myself in recent years. I don't think I'm all that materialistic. When people ask me what I want for birthdays or Christmas, I never really know. As long as I have my wife, my sons, a surfboard, a wetsuit and a car of some reasonable reliability to get me to the surf, and I suppose a computer to do my writing on, then I don't really want for more. Sure, my sons are getting bigger by the day and we may need to buy a bigger home to accommodate them, but I'm happy in the ordinary three-bedroom weatherboard house we do own (in partnership with the Bank). I sometimes fantasise about being able to afford a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to the more remote surf spots, but it doesn't faze me that I don't possess such a thing.

But Prince Charles is right. Western society has been geared to consumerism for so long that it has undermined our spiritual values. As he said, the environment seems to be seen as only a "what's in it for us" scenario. Often we don't see the value of things just as they are.

The Native Americans saw themselves, human beings, as just one strand in the web of life, no more or no less important than any other life-form. Western society has elevated us to the Master and we have not been very good stewards of the natural world.

I was brought up a Catholic, but I don't subscribe to any organised religion. I don't think you have to be religious to be spiritual. In fact, many so-called religious people don't seem all that spiritual. There is a lot of evil done in the name of religion.

I think Prince Charles is right. We need to bring human spirituality to the fore in order to reverse the terrible environmental destruction going on globally. It is like many campaigners say, we see the value in saving cuddly things, but we don't put our hands up to save an endangered spider or the endangered Great White shark.

We need a sense of real perspective. Everything from the smallest beetle to the tiniest flower to the mighty Kauri tree to the Blue Whale needs our protection. I'd rather walk through pristine wilderness alive with birdsong any day than buy a Plasma TV.

We need to find our souls again, brothers and sisters!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Young at Heart

Along with my family, I watched a DVD yesterday called Young at Heart. I think it was on at the cinema two or three years ago.

It was so moving and inspiring. It was a documentary that followed this choir called "Young at Heart", who were based in Northampton, Massuchusetts, USA, as they prepared to give a concert. The choir is led by a man in his 40s or early 50s, but the choir itself is composed entirely of senior citizens, the oldest being a sprightly woman of 93. The choir director gets them to sing all sorts of modern pop and rock songs by groups like Sonic Youth, The Clash, Coldplay and The Ramones and solo artists like Dylan or Allan Toussaint.

Two choir members died within one week when the group was only two or three weeks out from giving their concert.

It was so poignant and uplifting to see how these older folk led their lives and how the choir gave them a powerful purpose and a tremendous bond to share. It reinforced what I've always felt about the power of music and the joy of singing. Humans were meant for music and music was meant for humans.

I remember in my 20s during my brief six years as a rock singer that there were quite a few times when I felt a kind of transcendence as though my body had been overtaken by something more powerful than myself. Sometimes I'd be belting out a song into the microphone and I'd feel chills down my spine. It seemed like there was this moment of primal connection between myself, the rest of my band and the audience. It's a powerful magic when that happens.

Friday, 4 June 2010

A Double-Edged Sword

I have just been up to New Plymouth to visit my elderly mother who is in a Rest Home there. She elected to go into the Rest Home herself five years ago when she realised that she could no longer cope living alone in her own home. She has been widowed for nearly fifteen years now.

She has good genes for longevity as her own mother lived to be 100. She herself is 86 and she used to be a very physical, active person playing golf and bowls and swimming in the surf during the summer. But about five years ago she started having these things called by the medical profession, TIAs. This stands for "transient ischaemic attack" which is a kind of "mini stroke". These started affecting her memory, firstly short-term then progressively worse, then her long-term memory and also gradually her mobility. When she went into the home, she could walk and then she needed a Zimmer frame and now she is wheeled everywhere in a wheelchair and has great difficulty standing up.

I love my mother very much. When I was growing up, my mother taught me a lot about caring and compassion and fairness and social justice. She has a good, loving heart and is very empathetic. Living far away, I don't get the chance to see her as often as I would like so I cherish the time I spend with her.

But I always feel sad after a visit to see her because I guess I yearn for the mother who could drive and walk and play sport and travel to see her grandchildren. Now even sustaining conversation is difficult because she has nothing much to talk about. Her days are spent having meals and sitting around and she seems to do very little else. She was once a voracious reader, but I don't think she reads at all any more because she lacks the concentration.

She does not have dementia to the extent that she doesn't recognise anyone. She knows who everybody is and knows her grandchildren when she sees them. She luckily has her faculties reasonably intact, but she cannot remember what happened ten minutes ago.

I don't know if she will deteriorate to the point where she no longer recognises me. I hope not, but seeing my mother is bittersweet. I am pleased she is content and well cared for, but I miss the mother I used to know.

Breeding for Bleeding

Quite often we read in the news about some Pit Bull or vicious breed of dog attacking some child or adult and terribly disfiguring them. Often the attacks are completely unprovoked and some innocent person gets horrifically mauled.

If I had my way, I'd round up all these vicious breeds and have them put down. Quite often their owners will proudly proclaim that they are Vicious A crossed with Vicious B crossed with Vicious C. For maximum viciousness, it seems. All this cross breeding is just for angry breeding if you ask me.

The people who like to own these kinds of dogs will always defend them, but the truth is how many savage attacks by Fox terriers or Spaniels or Collies or Labradors do you hear of?

A lot of owners seem to be the kind of people who think that having a tough dog makes them tough by extension, but really they are just sad, pathetic people with low self-esteem.

Born to Rule or Born to Fool

As I have stated before, I'm a born leftist. Probably will be until the day I die unless I win vast amounts on the Lotto. I have noticed that the richer people become the more right-wing views they seem to develop.

I am disturbed by the right-wing party, the National Party, that is presently our government. We had nine years of the left (pretty watered down and centrist left really) and at the last election all these people were saying it was time for a change, but I knew that a change doesn't necessarily mean an improvement. It wasn't long before National's "born to rule" attitude surfaced. 

They got rid of a democratically-elected set of councillors at Environment Canterbury and installed their own puppet "commissioners" who will green light all the water consents for their rich dairy farmer mates so Canterbury's braided rivers can be sucked dry and polluted with dairy effluent just so farmers can raise dairy cattle on land that has naturally low rainfall and it more agriculturally suited to raising sheep and growing wheat as it did for decades before the dairy "boom". The next "boom" you hear will be Canterbury's ecology going up in a cloud of profit.

They want to mine in the most precious conservation areas we have and despoil the very beauty that tourists come to our country to see. Pristine wilderness ain't so pristine with toxic mine tailings floating down every stream.

Despite the very disastrous Gulf oil spill off the southern coast of America, our government gives Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company with a dubious environmental record, the all-clear to explore and drill in very deep water off our northeastern coast.

They just gave tax cuts to people, but guess who benefits most: the rich. At a time when our schools and hospitals are crying out for more funding, they'd rather piss in the pockets of their rich friends.

Well, I hope all those so desperate for change who voted them in are pleased with their choice when our beautiful country has been raped and pillaged by overseas corporations aided and abetted by the National Party's "develop and damn the consequences" ideology.