Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Celebrity lookalikes

Do you ever have that experience of walking along the street and almost doing a double-take because you think you've just passed a celebrity, only to take another look and realise that it isn't actually Adam Sandler?

The human mind has this amazing capacity to pick the resonances.

Occasionally, however, it's just a momentary look that does it.

Can you tell which actor Elisha is channelling in this photo? Post your guess in comments. Caelan also offers his homage to a celebrity now deceased. Any guesses?)

(If no one has guessed it within a few days, I'll post the answers. But I think Elisha's is an easy one. Clue: it's mostly in the wild eyes and eyebrows.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Honouring a history of deception

I'm generally a big fan of books as gifts. Especially good books.

My brother-in-law - a farmer by trade - has the knack of picking really good, deeply interesting books.

The gift he and my sister gave to me this year is typical of his ability to choose well. It is a book that honours a long history of deceit: The Fly-Fisher's Craft: the Art and History.

There is nothing simple about deceiving a trout with a fly. And yes, it is an art - I've tried my hand at it a few times, most memorably with my father on the Snake River in Idaho in 1985, and I can verify that whatever it was I did with the flyrod, it was not art.

Wetting a line is a bit of fun, but I have a heap of respect for those who've mastered the art of deceiving a trout; it was my uncle who first aroused my interest in the field, and he knows the art.

My respect for those old guys with straw hats, whippy rods and handmade floats who chase luderick is somewhere in the same league.

There is a long and honourable history attached to both - especially the pursuit of a trout with hand-tied flies - and this is a history that I am certain will fascinate me.

Here is a history of deception that rewards only the most attentive, the most observant, the most patient. It's a history worth honouring.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An idea fed and watered

Occasionally a humble seed germinates. And you don't even know it till after the event.

Many moons ago, I purchased a pair of hiking / outdoor joggers from my fave house of [cool yet strangely daggy] Melburnian fashion, Rivers.

I love Rivers - did I mention they're a favourite of mine?

Anyway, I bought the joggers. Loved them. Roamed all over the countryside in them. (They're still going strong after five years.)

There was a weak point in the design, however. Water passes very easily through suede leather.

My love for this clothing chain (which has provided short-sleeved button-up semi-casual shirts to almost every thirty-something man in Australia) led me to think and to act - both extremely rare courses for me to pursue, I know.

I was visiting a Rivers store in Bowral one day about four years ago, and began discussing my joggers with the staff, saying how comfortable they were, and how they could be improved. They assured me that Rivers HQ was interested in my feedback.

They gave me a sheet of paper and asked me to diagramme out my proposal for the improved shoe, and to make some notes on it. This I promptly did. They then it was faxed off to Victorian HQ. End of story.

Until about three weeks ago. I was cruising around Rivers in Launceston (those of you who shop at Rivers will understand this phenomenon of turning every holiday into an excuse to cover off as many Rivers stores as you can), and noticed the shoes you see in the photo above.

I almost did a double-take: these were my shoes. This was my design - the significant improvements I'd suggested had been incorporated into a new, revamped model.

It was really cool to see one of my ideas actually birthed into something tangible by someone else. The seed had germinated without my knowing, and was already a tree by the time I found out. Simultaneously weird and cool.

Now if they would only offer me a free pair ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

There's a fine line ...

... between discipline and addiction.

Things have gotten a little flaky around here lately - perhaps you've noticed.

Since returning from Van Dieman's Land, I seem to be going to seed. It's hard not to when everyone around you appears to be selling out to the inevitable maƱana attitude that accompanies the orgy of Christmas parties and long lunches at this time of year.

When I was in the pattern of blogging daily, it was ocasionally hinted at that my obsessiveness dedication bordered on compulsion. My retort was always that it was a discipline for me to blog daily, and not an expression of some high-dependence dysfunctionality whose crack cocaine was a nightly entry.

I trust the laxity of the last week has established the facts of the matter. So I now return to the discipline of blogging - for tonight at least. We'll see how withdrawn I'm feeling tomorrow night.

Is there some sort of behaviour that has a place in your life which some would consider addiction or obsession, but which you regard as a discipline?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas among the nails, glue and sweat

We wish you a hand-made Christmas
We wish you a hand-made Christmas
We wish you a hand-made Christmas
And a AA-battery-free New Year

A few years ago we finally drew a line in the sand with Christmas spending. We felt it was getting out of control, and that it was also loaded with the potential to become a festive competition.

It was at this time that we began to explore the realm of home-made Christmas presents. It's now become a bit of a ritual in our house: panic sets in around the start of December when we discover that there's a pile of presents to make, and no elves to execute the work (just two dumb bunnies).

It's normally a combination of arsty-crafty (painted and glittered this-and-that for the kids) through to recipes in a jar (if you're a friend, you've been warned) through to wooden productions (stools, bowls, chopping boards etc.) through to gifts of time (our gift to you is that we come around to your place with two screaming children and eat your food - for a whole day).

So how do you keep it fresh? Does anyone else out there do the home-made present thing? We try to make sure our presents aren't entirely useless (unfortunately no one in the family will give us an honest opinion on that one!), but we want our Christmas gifts to be creative and fun too.

So if you're digging through old boxes, visiting the craft store, warming up the pottery wheel, chopping down trees, eyeing off unused birthday presents - throw us some suggestions. How do you make it creative?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pushing through the pain

This evening a small gathering of friends was treated to a classical guitar recital from two accomplished musicians.

It was delightful. From Paul Simon to Django Reinhardt to Bach, these guys sparked musical energy off each other and whetted our appetite for more.

A couple of years ago - on a whim - I purchased John Williams' CD El Diablo suelto (loosely translated - 'the devil is free'). It's an album jam-packed with twenty-eight tasty Venezuelan morsels. The more I've listened to it, the more I've loved it, appreciating its complexity and attention to detail.

Many moons ago I took up lessons in classical guitar, but it has sadly amounted (eighteen years later) to about 12 chords and one expensive guitar.

It was tiresome, and frankly, quite boring. As a fifteen-year-old I could see no translation between Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana and having to sit in a pooncy, uncomfortable way with a nylon-stringed guitar covering my teenaged groin.

As I sat there this evening, wowed by the talent of these men and blessed by their music, I couldn't help thinking that maybe it would have all been worth it.

Maybe it would have been worth pushing through the uncomfortableness, and the poonciness, and the endless scales, and daggy tunes. I mean, there must have been a time when Django could only play Smoke on the Water (or its equivalent - whatever that was in 1930).

I guess the reality is: no one gets much good at anything without practice and without pain. And you can't build a monument on a pile of flimsy nothing. There is no guitarist that thrills and delights others without a lot of personal discipline, boring scales, and pain.

And how grateful I am that these guys were willing to weather what I was not. Grateful - and blessed.

Love this guy too, by the way. Sure, he looks like the local imam, but his playing is a kind of funky fusion of Tommy Emmanuel and Michael Hedges (and there was a stunning talent taken away too soon).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Putting a sock in it

If you’re talking to me, there’s every chance I’m not listening.

My boss and I sat down for an annual review yesterday. Lots of positive stuff came out, but one fairly big 'black mark' also got flushed out: I don’t listen well.

People who’ve known me for a long time know this already. I think I knew it already – deep down – but perhaps hoped that no one noticed. Or something silly like that. But apparently my boss notices. So does my wife.

Is what I have to say really so compelling that it must block out the ability to hear others? Is it really so important that it must be heard?

Perhaps you remember the brief exchange that takes place between Marla and the Narrator in Fight Club when they connect with each other at a therapy group for cancer sufferers ...

Narrator: When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just... Marla Singer: - instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?


I was chatting this afternoon with a wise friend who has done a lot of consultancy work in some pretty challenging places. I asked him what opens a conversation up after it has become locked down. His reply was immediate: “What liberates a locked-down situation is people being listened to.”

When I read the parables of a certain Nazarene carpenter, I am reminded of the culpability of those who have ears but don't listen.

It is fine to think of oneself as an observer of patterns or designs. But it is folly to think anything of wisdom can be truly grasped without the willingness to really listen (and I think it is a question of the will; poor listening does not make me a 'victim' of bad genetics or entrenched habits).

I guess I'd better shut up now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Designed too well ...

A problem you run across occasionally ... a superjumbo that's too quiet.

I seem to remember Lexus having a similar criticism leveled at them a while back.

Is there a piece of equipment etc. in your possession that is executed so lavishly that it actually becomes a drawback?

(An example: as a woodworker I am aware of a chisel company that polishes its premium chisels so highly (and in doing so rounds off the sharp corners) that a lot of woodworkers opt for their basic model instead - they find it an easier chisel to 'tune up' for use.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wine-ish wisdom

Last week, as our holiday drew to a close, we travelled with a friend up the Tamar River (near Launceston) to check out a few wineries. The area has wonderful cool-climate wines, and is especially well-known for its pinot noirs.

The first little winery we dropped in on was Goaty Hill.

I never expect to find stunning value-for-money at a cellar door - that's not why you go.

Occasionally, you'll stumble into some cheap bin-ends, but really, if you want cheap alcohol, go to Dan Murphy's. Or crash someone else's party. Or marry someone Italian.

It was our first tasting of the morning, and Tony offered to take us through the wine list. Our friend recommended we accompany the tasting with the cheese platter - which we did.

Talk about great value! Twelve bucks for a platter loaded down with premium crackers (Tony offered to give us more if we wanted them), quince paste, lovely sweet dried pears and peaches, and locally-produced cheeses (blue, double brie, and smoked cheddar). The photo above was taken when we got about halfway through the platter.

It was divine. 10am on a Wednesday morning, watching the kids play on the grass near the vines, sipping a fruity riesling, and chipping away at the local munchies - three adults soaking in the pleasure of the experience for the measly sum of twelve bucks. It felt like robbery - and not only because of the price of the platter (which is apparently about to go up ... still worth twice the price anyway).

Tony was the perfect host (we were the only ones there). Friendly (not all vintners are), non-pretentious, courteous, chatty, and non-intrusive. Nothing was too much trouble for him. It was a pleasure to relieve him of a couple of bottles before we left.

You see, the great value went well beyond the platter. It went into the enjoyment of the whole experience.

You come up here to northern Tassie and you get to sit in this wonderful, wonderful vineyard, hanging with people you like, being served by people who love what they do (and who make you feel important), and enjoying great wine, great local food, a delightful view, and pleasant background music. You savour this kind of moment. You fall in love.

In a recent interview with Andrew Denton, Jerry Seinfeld was talking about his 'three rules of life' (bust your ass, pay attention, and fall in love). He expanded a bit on 'fall in love' ...

SEINFELD: 'Fall in love' wasn’t, isn’t really a romantic love; it kind of gets back to a George Burns thing ... one thing I did get from him is if I get a really good cup of coffee I like to just go, you know, what, just hang on a second. (LAUGHTER) This is a fantastic cup of coffee. (LAUGHTER) Isn’t this a great, and I’ll ask everyone, isn’t this great coffee? Cos you know, it’s not always great. This one is great, you know. (LAUGHTER)

And that is one of the things that I really did learn from him. And why I had such respect for him is that I will stop and make that moment, you know, you will enjoy life more if you do that. You know, you get a great parking spot, just go… (LAUGHTER) Hold it a second, I mean look at that spot. (LAUGHTER) I mean it’s, we could have been blocks away and we’re right here. (LAUGHTER)

ANDREW DENTON: See, that to me is wisdom.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A peaceful exterior

Hard to believe that these calm waters have claimed numerous lives over the last 150 years.

A walk around the village of Stanley, surveying its monuments and graves, tells a story of savage waters and human tragedy. The stories of children, wives, fathers, mothers drowned off this part of Tasmania's coast is truly heart-breaking.

Everything here can change so quickly from tranquility to tempest. This is a tenuous, a volatile, peace.

It's a pattern we see duplicated across so many areas of life.

Today's stability is tomorrow's uncertainty. We've seen it on the share market recently. We see it in relationships. We experience it in the car that has run like a dream for 15 years, but wouldn't start this morning.

We walk into this pattern so many times across our decades, yet it almost always seems to throw us. The severity of the contrast can make it the harder to deal with.

What are the 'millponds' of your world - those things which look so dependable, stable, safe? And what would you do if tomorrow morning your millponds turned tempest?

Monday, December 1, 2008

On being a keeper

Transmission resumes.

After a lengthy (and I will say it, enjoyable) hiatus, my daily blogging addiction discipline kicks back in.

Today was my first day back at work. The out-of-office autoreply came off the email, and my voicemail no longer lists seventy-five survival options that allows clients to cope with life in my absence.

If any doubt remained, I guess this blog entry tells the world that my parousia is no longer imminent but realised.


I was half-tempted, I admit, to allow my blog to lapse.

Two weeks in obscurity turns into two months and into two years before anyone even bats an eyelid. Finally, at your fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration, a concerned friend asks, "Have you been posting any blog entries lately?" Life is like this.

After a dramatic evening of screaming children and a bolognaise explosion in the kitchen (which successfully splattered the kitchen and dining room floors, the dining chairs, the fridge, almost every cupboard and drawer in the kitchen, the rubbish bin, the spud bin and even the ceiling), blogging was about the last thing I felt like doing.

Yet the fingers itch and pull of the little plastic keys is irresistable. This is because I do more than blog at convenience or when something interesting turns up (though there's not a thing wrong with either of these modes of blogging); I am the keeper of a blog.

I like to tend, poke, prod, agitate, stir, feed, play with, lounge with - even sup with - my blog.

George the horse - or as I ought to call him (and I know it's a 'him' because Caelan pointed that out for all of us) 'George, watchman / watch-horse and keeper of the home paddock, Stanley' - reminds me of this home truth. Every time we go to Stanley, he is there, watching.

I have a little field to guard, a turnip-patch to keep and to till. Celebrating Design tugs at me to exercise an instinct that sits deep inside the heart of humans great and small: that urge to shepherd, to renovate, to cultivate. To camp on something and build there a mansion (or at least a measly, cobbled-together cairn).

Tonight, I dawdle up the stairs of my own private lighthouse, flickering flame on lighted wick, and once again place the fire to the lamp. The art of 'keeping' begins again.