Noni Did NZ: Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

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(I am running out of location-based selfies at an alarming rate.)

It’s been a little over a month since I touched down for a week of wonder in Wellington, and I’m still raving about it. This post is one in a series where I tell you how bloody great it was, from the brilliant buses to the incredible individuals I met, and plenty of other stuff that was absolutely positively delightful. 

If you want the full list of #NoniDoesNZ posts, this is the place to find them.

*****

Most of the time I had in Wellington was spent sleeping, mathematically speaking. But a significant proportion of my waking hours were spent wandering up and down the streets of the city without a guidebook, seeing where the roads would take me… you know, all the clichés writers use when they’re talking about visiting a new place. I did them all.

It wasn’t really my intention to head to the usual tourist stops, but somehow I ended up doing it anyway; they’re just so delightfully accessible that I ended up running into one after the other. The list below is nowhere near exhaustive as to things you should see in Wellington, nor are they the full list of things that I saw on my trip, they’re just the first ones that spring to mind for a myriad of reasons.

Te Papa

Source: NZ Museums
Source: NZ Museums

WARNING: do not do what I did and try to get around this beautiful place in half a day. Unlike the National Museum of Australia, doing a quick whip around of this incredible museum is absolutely impossible. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and make sure you’re well rested before you start – there’s a lot of ground to cover, and my feet were screaming at me by the end of the day.

When I say Te Papa is incredible, I bloody well mean it. The scale of some of the exhibits is absolutely breathtaking, and the sheer amount of stuff I learned was amazing. (This includes discovering that the kakapo is adorable and being brought back from the brink of extinction by some awesome people, some of the ways you can reduce damage from earthquakes, and that New Zealand is home to Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transexual MP.) There is no doubt that when I eventually head back to Wellington, I’m jumping in for a second visit, and I’ll be far more prepared this time!

Although if this happens again, I don’t know how I’ll cope:

https://twitter.com/NoniDoll/status/478745499579600897

https://twitter.com/NoniDoll/status/478749441910771712

https://twitter.com/NoniDoll/status/478753417171435520

Hey, Te Papa. You’re pretty damn great. Keep on being awesome.

 

The Embassy Theatre and The Roxy Cinema

The Roxy Cinema, Miramar
The Roxy Cinema, Miramar.

It seems Wellington has a thing for having really goddamn beautiful movie theatres.

I initially thought it was just a one-off when I went to The Embassy Theatre for the What We Do In The Shadows premiere, but then Jane recommended that I head to The Roxy Cinema in Miramar for my second viewing the Saturday before I left.

Walking into both is like wandering back into the Golden Age of film. I am very glad that both times I was wearing a nice-ish frock, because otherwise I would have felt thoroughly underdressed. Everything about them was absolutely gorgeous. The seats were comfy, the sound and vision was remarkable… I think I’ll have to travel a long way to find a city lucky enough to have one cinema this beautiful, let alone two.

Inside The Embassy. Source: Specialty Cinema
Inside The Embassy. (We sat in the row before the railing and walkway.) Source: Specialty Cinema

It’s a bit tricky trying to remember the things about The Embassy that weren’t completely intertwined with the premiere, but I do remember the sweeping staircases in the foyer absolutely taking my breath away, and being absolutely lost for words at the detail in the bathrooms! (And sure, the chances that you’ll run into Wellington’s mayor in the loos is quite slim, but somehow that happened to me? She had a lovely dress on.) That was before we even got into the cinema itself, which is also phenomenally beautiful. Even in the closer seats, we had a fantastic view of the film.

The most notable features of The Roxy were easily the art deco statues and decor that ran through the interior, but I couldn’t help being tickled by some of the little things, like how lollies come in little paper bags just like the old days, and how cute the little ticket office is. It seemed like more of a community hub, and is easily the fanciest building in the area for a fair stroll, like a grand and glamourous matriarch looking over her little ones.

It may seem strange to spend a couple of hours of your holiday watching a movie you might have been able to see at home, but trust me, this is a Wellingtonian experience you have to have.

The Cable Car-Garden-Parliamentary Stroll

Okay, so that isn’t an official title, but it is really easy to run these different attractions into each other, because that’s exactly how I did it, mostly by accident.

If you would like to replicate my experience of this Thursday afternoon walk, follow these simple steps:

Aaaaah-mazing.
Aaaaah-mazing.

1. Take the Wellington Cable Car from Lambton Quay to the Kelburn lookout and the Cable Car Museum. If it’s winter, be a little bit grumpy that the nearby café is closed because you’re really bloody hungry and it’s quite chilly up here. Marvel at the incredible view from the lookout, and take a photo.

2. Head into the Cable Car Museum. It’s full of really interesting exhibits, like models, refurbished old cable cars, documentaries about the history of cable cars and how some Wellington residents even have their own private ones on their properties (!). Be confused as how you’re meant to respond to the mannequins scattered through the museum, as some of them are sitting quite close to the Uncanny Valley. Get freaked out by the one downstairs because the lighting and angle made you think it was a real person for a second. (Just a second.)

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3. Once you’re done with the Cable Car Museum and its “inhabitants”, spot a sign that points to the Wellington Botanical Gardens and to Parliament House and decide, “Hey, that sounds like a great way to wash the image of those mannequins off my eyeballs! I think I’ll do that.”

4. Wander through the Wellington Botanical Gardens and reflect on how New Zealand is about as close as one can get to being in an actual fairytale. Take lots of photos, because you’re pretty sure nobody back home will believe you if you try to tell them how magical it was.

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5. Buy a necklace with a Tui on it from the Gift Shop. You will wear this almost every day until you write this blog, and possibly beyond. Also, buy some postcards that you will keep in your bag for the rest of the trip and forget to send, and souvenirs for family members you won’t see for weeks.

If this was where my dentist worked, I would have the best teeth in the world.
If this was where my dentist worked, I would have the best teeth in the world.

6. Start to walk down Tinakori Road. Marvel at the beautiful old houses and shops that line it. Wonder what it would be like to walk this street with a handsome young man. Wonder what it would be like to kiss him in front of these houses. Giggle and smile to yourself at these silly romantic daydreams. Silently wish they weren’t just daydreams.

7. Be far too engrossed in the architecture around you and your ridiculous imaginings to take anymore than one photo of this beautiful street. (See right.)

8. When the buildings around you become more modern-looking, start looking at your phone to work out how far away you are from Parliament House. You are not that far away, but you have been going the wrong way for a number of blocks.

9. After tracking back and putting yourself on the right road with the help of a whole lot of Google Maps, find a whole lot of official looking buildings. Keep walking, past the gum tree, until you can see the roof of Parliament House between the buildings.

10. Arrive on the lawn out the front of The Beehive, and feel thoroughly underwhelmed (see image at the top of this post). Mutter to yourself that the Australian Parliament House is much prettier and try to ignore the really nice old buildings that are right next to The Beehive which are arguably nicer than anything within the Canberra city limits. Find a pile of stones at the foot of a statue and come to the conclusion that it was a delightfully weird discovery to make.

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11. Sit down and rest your feet before heading for the bus home. You should have left time for a tour of Parliament House. Silly you.

Like Te Papa, I really should have allowed more time for this part of my trip, but since it took me by surprise, I didn’t really get the chance. Again, definitely going to take another look and draw it out so I can really soak it all up next time I’m in town.

The Waterfront

I went down to the Waterfront in the last hours of the afternoon. I sat at the top of a hill and looked down across the water. The colours were clear and crisp and comforting. The water looked cleaner and clearer than any Sydney Harbour could ever provide. The winds were light, but I could smell no salt on the air. I sat and I watched the ocean, then wandered to its edge and wished I had worn something I could climb rocks in.

I found a piano and sang the lyrics to the songs I played, but only I could hear the words washing around in my head. I walked away and watched a six year old boy perform classical pieces, the notes rattling out from their prison of keys and out-of-tune strings.

I read the stories of those who had come to the city on boats, written on walls. I felt a bitter taste rising in my mouth as I remembered how the government at home was treating people like these in our own time.

I walked down to the waterfront and drank deeply, not with lips but with eyes and ears and soul. The afternoon was a tiny wave of joy lapping at my bare feet. I felt light and soft and cool as I let my mind wander with the breeze out to sea.

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*****

In the next edition of #NoniDoesNZ, it’s the post you’ve all been waiting for: What We Did At The Premiere

Also coming soon: most notable eateries and bars, and why scrapbooks beat social media.

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Noni Did NZ: Friendly Faces

If you haven’t heard about me harp on about it yet, I went to Wellington (this one, not this one) last month. It’s taken all that time for me to be able to take a step back and start writing about it without dissolving into fits of giggles and nostalgia. That and I’m a little bit lazy. I’m compensating for the delay with sheer quantity. Over the next few entries, I’ll be writing about all the fantastic things I got up to in an attempt to give you a glimpse of Wellington that doesn’t involve that dude from The Voice. For the rest of the posts, take a look here.

*****

Travelling on your own is a funny thing. It can be incredibly liberating, wandering the streets of a place that isn’t home, knowing that there’s no expectations as to what you’re going to do or how late you will be out. You’ve got all the room in the world to make your own way without worrying about how it might affect your reputation back home. It leaves plenty of room in your head for soaking up experiences and meditation on what you want from life. Basically, it can be pretty damn rad.

Conversely, it can be incredibly lonely, full of nights spent in and wandering between unfamiliar bars, stuck in a hotel room or a backpackers with a lottery of transients who know about as much about your destination as you do. Before you know it, you’re wishing for faraway friends, or at the very least someone with enough local knowledge that you could find a decent band to wash away your homesickness. Your days can be spent scouring the internet and whatever street press you can find for scant details on what might be happening outside of the usual tourist haunts, but even with the most accurate information, you can never tell if your experiments will fly or pull a spectacular Icarus routine.

On my trip to Wellington, I was lucky enough to have the perfect combination of solo ambling and time with new friends and acquaintances. From those I spent whole days with, to those who humoured me with fleeting chats in the bizarre space that is Boogie Wonderland, I was surrounded by ridiculously awesome people I was completely and utterly blessed to meet.

This post is dedicated to just some of the magnificent human beings who made Wellington Week so absolutely marvellous.

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Anna and Petyr being total babes. (Source: What We Do In The Shadows Facebook page)

Anna

If it wasn’t for Anna, none of this ridiculousness would have occurred in the first place. Sure, I was really damn excited to see What We Do In The Shadows to begin with, but the marketing campaign that she devised and drove was more than the icing on the cake; it was fucking ART.

When Anna first got in touch, I was still sitting in shock at my computer, having won the TradeMe auction for an WWDITS artwork only a few hours earlier. There were a few emails back and forth over the following days, flitting across a few different threads: the joy I’d derived from interacting with the vampires through social media and the auction, the possibility of a personal handover of the artwork from Jemaine and Taika, or maybe I could come to the premiere, but how outrageous is that?

Before I knew it, I’d booked my leave and flights and was just about falling over myself with glee. It seems that Anna is not only a marketing and PR wizard, she is also remarkably good at dealing with insane Australians who are high on post-purchase euphoria.

Over the following weeks, Anna sent me information about the weather (“four layers” was the prescription in terms of wardrobe), made suggestions for accommodation and somehow wrangled me in for a brief TV stint in a story about the campaign. (Did I mention it was fucking ART?)

The initiation of my trip alone would have been enough, but I also had the pleasure of hanging out with her after the premiere and then again on the following Friday at the launch of her gentleman-friend’s exhibition in a venue that was so full of beautiful, stylish and awesome people it was unbelievable. (Daif is also incredibly rad.) Then we went and had Japanese and that was also brilliant. (Although I did discover that sake and I are probably never going to be friends.) After that, we walked through the city for a little while and she and Daif pointed out various locations from the film, adding even more sparkle to the places around me.

From start to finish, Anna was an incredible guide and phenomenal pal. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the New Zealand capital, and its community of insanely clever people, than the one she provided. I still feel so incredibly honoured to have met her.

Note: Somehow, despite all the joy and fun I had hanging with Anna over the course of the week, I forgot to get a photo with her. This is because I am an idiot.

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Pre-premiere drinks with Jane = THE BEST.

Jane

When it all suddenly became clear that I was actually going across the Tasman on this mad jaunt, Anna immediately offered to help me out with accommodation by way of sorting a couch surfing arrangement. Jane was the first name she threw at me, and she went on to be pretty much my guardian angel for the whole week.

My first connection with Jane was via Twitter. From there it was only a matter of days until I pulled up in a cab at her front door, fresh from the airport (and the cab driver charged an extra $100 on the fare by accident – OH HOW WE LAUGHED).

We got on like a house on fire, with hot topics including Dog on a Log (which I had somehow missed), the bizarre world that is Tinder, and the sharing of tunes from either side of the ditch (I offered up Citizen Kay and Brass Knuckle Brass Band, Fun Machine and Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen; she introduced me to Beastwars and The Phoenix Foundation). She gave me a room, a bed, fed me, gave me transport advice, accompanied me to the premiere, kept me company, helped me do my hair, taught me things and convinced me to do things that I might have otherwise passed up for nerves. (I can now say I my lips have touched something that was also used by Michael Palin. Pretty fuckin’ cool.)

Jane didn’t just treat me like a friend. When I was hanging out with her and her daughter and their cat and her housemate, I felt like I was part of a family. The degree of hospitality shown to me took my breath away, and I still feel like I haven’t said thank you enough. (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)

I hope that I when I have guests in my house, I’m half as good a hostess as Jane was to me. She truly is one of the kindest hearts I know, and I’ll happily call her family any day of the week.

Not a good face shot. Not a good fire shot. Honestly, who lets me use cameras?!
Not a good face shot. Not a good fire shot. Honestly, who lets me use cameras?!

Benjamin

Okay, so I didn’t exactly get to know this guy beyond throwing money at him and a quick chat, but he certainly made an impression. I spent the better part of an hour watching him entertain those ambling along Cuba St on a Friday night, before I bailed him up to thank him for the pleasure.

We got chatting: I told him how the smell of fire twirling brought back happy memories of university friends, and complimented him on his incredible live looping guitar skills; he told me that he was planning on heading to Melbourne to meet up with his girlfriend and how that seemed to be a growing trend among the young artists of Wellington.

He showed me the way to The Rogue and Vagabond, a craft beer bar a few blocks off Cuba St with a bulldog on the logo and a mad gypsy band playing in the corner. It was very much my scene.

I would have stayed and harassed him a little longer, but the bar was pretty full and he was keen to do some writing, so I took down the address of his Facebook page and told him to get in touch when he got to Australia.

Sure, I knew Benjamin for an hour and a half at most, but he reminded me of friends back home, was remarkable company and brilliant entertainment, and he introduced me to a venue I am definitely going to have to revisit when I go back to Wellington, whenever that may be. It’s not much and it didn’t last long, but you’ve got to celebrate the little things sometimes.

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Thanks to the windy hills near Wellington Airport and a magnificent tumble along the way, I’m as red as a bloody beetroot.

Taika

I didn’t get to talk to this guy that long either, but man, what a champ.

Taika and I probably talked for a grand total of about 5 minutes across four or five occasions, but in each brief instance he had a big smile and was just a totally awesome dude. Even when I was babbling nonsense from excitement, a touch of post-hill-walking exhaustion and a good serve of shaken-brain-from-nearly-face-planting-onto-concrete-on-said-walk-to-the-airport, and he was keen to get back to his car and actually do stuff with his Sunday, he was kind and accommodating. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to my trip than this: receiving an artwork from someone whose work I really bloody admire, who was also really nice about me being a complete numpty.

Seriously, I would give my right arm to share a pint and a chinwag with this guy. He’s just a freakin’ top bloke.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve really just put Taika here as a figurehead for all the beautiful people I had the pleasure of meeting through the What We Do In The Shadows premiere and in the hours (and days) afterwards, mostly because he’s the only one I got a photo with. Some other names that need dropping belong to Jemaine, Chris, Jackie, Theresa, Rhys, Vanessa, Mark, Daif, Nikkie and so many other brilliant, creative, kind, clever people who took a couple of minutes or more to chat to me, dance with me, be reasonably impressed by my trip or just cover the fact that they thought I was a bit of a twat. Whether it was the briefest of pleasantries, dancing around in an attempt to circumvent blocked doorways, dissections of Inter-Tasman media environments over wine, or barely decipherable conversations on disco-themed dance floors: every moment is treasured, and is going to stay with me until I shuffle off this mortal coil. (Even if you’ve already forgotten me. It’s okay: I’m particularly unmemorable.)

Of course, it is worth mentioning that not all the friends I made were of the human variety… But that’s a story for another time.

I really was completely and utterly blessed to have met these delightful folks on my trip, and I just want to remind the aforementioned awesome people (and those I’ve neglected to mention): there’s an open invitation for drinks at Smith’s Alternative or The Phoenix should you ever be in Canberra. (You showed me your town. I’d love to show you mine!)

Part of the reason why this post has taken so long is because I want to do these marvellous folks, and all the happy feelings they gave me, justice. Hopefully I’ve come relatively close to doing that.

tl;dr: Thanks dudes. You’re the best. Let’s go get a drink some time. x N

Noni Did NZ: When in Wellington, Take the Bus.

Me at the "Vellington" sign.

This time last week, I was marvelling at the fact that I had just come off the most incredible week of my life. Tonight, I’m struck by the bizarre thought that all that magnificent stuff happened a little under a fortnight ago. I’m pretty sure that it’s going to take another week for it to sink in that it’s all flitted off into the past, so I’m dedicating the next few posts to the week I spent in Wellington earlier in the month.

Each post will look at a different aspect of my trip: the people, the places, the premiere and the picture that made it all happen. And you know, some other shit too. And it will probably be out of order. Sorry about that.

If you’re looking for the full list of entries on this topic, you can find them here.

The first entry is about something that is incredibly important to me: public transport.

Shut up. This is serious stuff. Pay attention.

*****

Not being able to drive can be an absolute pain in the arse. It can leave you in quite a spot of bother, especially if you’re in a place you don’t know and travelling alone. Unless you want to be shelling out regularly for cabs, you have to work out the buses and trains and timetables pretty quickly, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to be living in or visiting a place with any to begin with.

Luckily for me, Wellington’s all over it: their public transport system freakin’ rocks.

First and most importantly, like most major cities, they have their transport timetables integrated into Google Maps. It seems like a stupid thing to get excited about, but when you’re as navigationally challenged as I am, not to mention terrible at remembering what time things come and go, this is an absolute lifesaver. It means that even if you’re at a bus stop with no timetable, or are struggling to find a bus stop at all, you’re not stuck. Sure, you get the same thing in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, but it’s the little things that can make all the difference. Without this little bit of beautiful technology, my trip would have been a lot more difficult.

Look! Getting places is EASY. (Of course, I used it on my mobile, not the icky new desktop version. Yuck.)
Look! Getting places is EASY.
(Of course, I used it on my mobile, not the icky new desktop version. Yuck.)

The other thing that impressed me was how punctual all the buses were. Now, I’m not one to complain about services running late, as long as they don’t run early. After all, you can always catch a bus if it turns up after you do, but you’re buggered if it’s already left. I don’t think I encountered a single bus that arrived before its scheduled time or any that ran later than about 5 minutes behind schedule. As much as I love Canberra’s ACTION buses, they could learn a bit from the Go Wellington bus system.

At a number of the major stops, there were even automatically updating signs that told you how far away the next bus was, probably powered by some kind of black magic, or GPS or something, kind of like the ones at the Civic Bus Interchange except there were a lot more of them and they were all over the place.

And there were the trolley buses. I found them incredibly bewildering (“Wait, that bus has a power connector… thing?”), then comically endearing (“HA. THAT BUS THINKS IT’S A TRAM!”). Apparently they’re on the way out, so I feel incredibly privileged to have been blessed by their presence, even if I didn’t take the chance to ride one.

Seriously, Trolley Bus. Pick a side already.
Seriously, Trolley Bus. Pick a side already.

I only had a short trip around the bays to get from where I was staying to the city, but it can be pretty easy to mess up these things when you’re a tourist. Thankfully, all of the drivers were remarkably polite and incredibly helpful with directions and tips. I didn’t miss my stop once, and I didn’t have a single unpleasant trip. I was beginning to think that someone had sent out a memo saying, “There is a plump Australian woman coming from Canberra who is a bit of a bus aficionado; be sure to give her the best public transport experience she has ever had,” because it really was pretty damn good.

That said, like all public transport systems, there were areas that were less than brilliant. There were no services to the city from where I was staying on the weekend, but there was a stop about 30 minutes’ walk down the road (but holy crap, what a beautiful seaside walk it was)… The signage to find stops often wasn’t that great, and there were some really weird streets that were just for buses that were also deceptively dangerous for pedestrians. That said, it’s still a pretty damn good service, as long as you remember to look both ways, you bloody idiot.

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Me: “Seriously? That’s the only photo I got? Why am I even allowed to have a camera?”

But it’s not all about buses. The Wellington Cable Car initially seems to be just a gimmicky novelty for the tourists, kind of like Sydney’s Monorail (RIP), but it turns out that it’s also another cog in the public transport machine, if you’ll forgive the heavy-handed metaphor. Sure, there were a couple of families on board who were obviously out for the day to see the sights, but there were also a significant number of travellers who looked kind of jaded and were busy reading newspapers, most of whom got off at the stop for Victoria University. Whoever they are, I thank them, because they’re probably the reason why my little tourist jaunt to the top of the mountain only cost me $4! Nice.

So that’s the practical aspect of all the public transport options I sampled.

Then you get into the more ridiculous stuff that only weirdos like me care about.

https://twitter.com/NoniDoll/statuses/478653018011729920

Seriously, look! Look at the seats! They’re really pretty! Ferns! Fresh! Green! Lovely.

(Especially when you compare them with the seats of Canberra’s ACTION buses, which look like somebody murdered a Ken Done painting.)

ARGH. MY EYES. (Thanks to Ali for the photos.)
ARGH. MY EYES.
(Thanks to Ali for the photos.)

Basically, getting around Wellington was really bloody rad, from the buses to the cable car to the fact that there were effectively taxi spruikers when I got in at Wellington Airport. (Seriously, that was kind of weird.) Everyone was friendly and didn’t want to charge me through the nose and got me to where I was going with a minimum of fuss.

As a non-driver, Wellington is easily one of the most non-driver friendly places I’ve visited, at least in terms of the routes that I took. Sure, next time I head over, I’ll have to do a little more exploring outside the inner city area, but for now I just want to say well done, Wellington.

Image: Ed Jones via Getty. Click for source.
Well done.

Written Replies – The First Results of my Letter Writing Experiments

When I started my (so far significantly lacking) attempt at Blog Every Day in August, I wrote about my love of letter writing. Over this last weekend, I’ve been seeing the full effect of my postal pastime, with results that have been both surprising and heart-warming.

I spent the weekend back home, spending time with family for my Poppy’s 80th birthday bash. I saw a whole stack of relatives, some of whom I haven’t seen in months.

Amongst the throng were a number of young cousins, to whom I have sent letters or postcards over the last few months. As I went around the room, I asked each of them if they had received the mail I had sent. To my surprise, my question often drew blank and confused looks: “No, I didn’t get a postcard?”

I was confused myself. “Maybe the postie hasn’t brought it yet?” I asked, even though I’d had confirmation from their mums and dads that their postal surprises had arrived. Then again, these kids ranged in age from three to ten, so I wasn’t about to hold a grudge.

But it did make me wonder: do kids not place any value on letters anymore? More importantly, was I as forgetful about the written correspondence from relatives when I was a child?

That second thought left me kind of confused. I can vividly remember receiving letters and birthday cards in the post from grandparents, and postcards from friends and relatives who had gone off globetrotting. I recall being incredibly excited about receiving letters in envelopes covered in pictures my Grandma had meticulously cut out of the various magazines she’d bought. I can even remember Mum telling me how grateful I should be, because Grandma’s arthritis made that crafty task incredibly difficult, so it really demonstrated just how much she loved my sister and I whenever she did so.

But did I write back? Did I at least make a phone call to thank the sender for their caring correspondence? Well, that I can’t remember. I wish I did – it would make me feel a lot better, but something tells me I didn’t. I was probably like my cousins are now: a bit forgetful.

What did surprise me was the number of people who confirmed that they are going to write back to me: three. I wasn’t expecting any! Instead, I got a confirmation from my cousin Gina and her mum that she had been working hard on a reply. Later on, when I was wandering around Sydney while waiting for a bus, I got a call from my mate Chris, who told me he was also working on writing back to me, as soon as he got a break from his insane schedule. While I was on the bus back to Canberra, I got a call from Tom, another friend, who promised me a typewritten letter.

I was so chuffed. So far, I’ve only had a response from my Aunt Joyanne and a letter from my Dad, who writes semi-regularly. It’s been nice to hear from them, but they’re from an era when letter-writing was more common; to hear from a bunch of Gen Y folks (and younger!) that they would have something to post to me in the coming weeks was incredibly thrilling, encouraging and heart-warming. I can’t wait to see them when the postie comes!

Potentially Problematic Opinion Month: Australia Should Withdraw From the UN Refugee Convention

That’s it. I’ve had it up to here with this nonsense. The race to the bottom has got to stop somewhere and it’s about time both parties spelled out exactly what that means.

The ultimate way to “stop the boats” is to withdraw Australia’s support for the UN Convention for the Rights of the Refugee.

Yes, the idea makes me sick. But really, it’s pretty much the only move that either party can make that can’t be beaten.

At this point, we’re already looking at a pair of parties whose policies on this issue have made me literally retch and cry. (Well, their policies on a lot of issues have pissed me off, but I can’t help feeling that the ones that deal with vulnerable people fleeing persecution are the the ones that make me the most disgusted.) I’m so furious at both of them that I have reached the point where I have refused to vote for either of them.

Both Labor and the Coalition seem to be always trying to one-up each other in terms of scare tactics, seemingly to see who can score the most votes from the southern-cross-tattooed, wife-beater-and-flag-wearing, racist-bumper-sticker-toting dickhead constituency.

So if you have the humane treatment of asylum seekers as an issue that could influence your vote, I’ve got some bad news – these are your options:

  • A government who will send people to a country that we already accept asylum seekers from, robbing them of the right to ever come to Australia, even if they already have family here. This government has already been found guilty by the United Nations of 150 breaches of the Refugee Convention over the treatment of a number of asylum seekers and the use of indefinite detention since the reinstatement of off-shore processing, with five more cases pending.
  • Or you can vote for a potential government that will not only maintain the status quo, but build on it, reinstating Temporary Protection Visas, which only allow certified refugees three years of residency in Australia, after which they have to reapply and be reassessed. This type of visa also rules out the possibility of family reunion, and has been accused of being the cause of a spike of women and children getting on boats to Australia to join male relatives, many of whom died in the SIEV X disaster. They are also suggesting a Work For The Dole-type scheme, which sounds good to the average punter, but if you ask anyone who has actually been on government payments, you’ll discover that these sorts of programs actually reduce the time that could be used to search for work, or to volunteer as part of the community.
Two “leaders”.
No vision. No compassion. No solutions.

Both parties have said they are trying to stop people smugglers by taking away their product, namely permanent residency in Australia, but really they are just trying to pander to poorly informed voters with action that looks like it’s doing something, without having to address the actual problem, which is that there is an increase of people fleeing persecution. Indonesia doesn’t want them, Malaysia doesn’t want them… Where else are they supposed to go? Perhaps to a country that is safe, can offer them support and has signed the UN Convention for the Rights of the Refugee? (Hint: That would be us.)

The fact that we have signed the Convention is the reason why they are coming here, but if we are so keen to breach it, why are we even on board any more?

It seems I’m not the first to ask this question. Kevin Rudd has already indicated he would like to “update” the Convention, saying it no longer addresses the traffic flow of asylum seekers. Tony Abbott has said that he supports the notion of changing the Convention, but experts say that changes to the 1951 Convention, which came about after the Second World War and the exposure of the full effects of the Holocaust, are unlikely.

So what are we waiting for? Well, Australia recently won a seat on the UN Security Council, so pulling out of one of the biggest UN Conventions would probably be a bad look for us right now, especially if the time comes that Australia has to shake a finger at other nations for breaching their human rights obligations.

But really, we don’t need to jump to end point that I have suggested. There is a far better option, but one that neither political party seems to have the balls to float to the electorate.

Human rights campaigner and QC, Julian Burnside has proposed an alternative solution: process asylum seekers in Indonesia using Australia resources, to reduce the waiting time and in turn eliminate the incentive to seek out people smugglers.

I entirely agree with this suggestion because it not only allows us to reduce the burden on our Indonesian neighbours, it also offers a range of opportunities for Australians. Consider this: Australian students studying social sciences like psychology, social work, law and other humanities could go to assist the work in Indonesia, and in return for a set period of work, receive a discount on their HECS/HELP debt. It also gives them priceless professional experience that will serve them throughout their careers, as well as bringing back cultural knowledge that they can share with family and friends, which would slowly spread through the community, making it easier to integrate asylum seekers and refugees into the community.

Julian Burnside also suggests that refugees could be required to live for a period of time in regional and rural areas, working locally and boosting populations in towns that are struggling to survive. This sounds like a brilliant idea to me, especially as it will expose Australians who otherwise might not have had previous interactions with other cultures to new experiences and perspectives.

So we might not need to pull out of the Refugee Convention just yet, but one thing is certain: our political leaders need to shift the focus of the discussion from simply stopping the boats to fixing the broader problem. It’s time to stop freaking out about the symptoms and treat the cause, and in turn, fulfil our obligations not only as a nation, but as human beings.

*****

If you’re looking for a little bit more info on what the difference is between refugees and asylum seekers and roughly how many we take a year, this video is a good place to start. It was produced by the ABC’s Hungry Beast in 2009, so the stats are a bit out of date, but the most important part of the message is pretty clear: for asylum seekers, there is no queue. This is something that is being conveniently left out of the debate by both sides of politics.

The other thing the video notes is that emotions tend to run high on this issue. As you can tell, I am no exception.

Potentially Problematic Opinions Month: I’m Fat. That’s Okay.

Don’t mind me. I’m just being fat and fabulous.

I am a fat woman. I have no qualms saying that this is who I am. While I’m not necessarily proud of it, I know it and I don’t need reminding. More importantly, despite the good intentions of many who do so, I don’t need to be chastised for it.

I have tried plenty of diets in an attempt to shed weight, and some have been fantastic in the short term, but more often than not they leave me feeling sluggish, bloated, agitated, hungry and generally awful to be around. The weight-loss shakes might initially taste okay, but my tastebuds always end up catching up with them, revealing their true, artificial nature, no matter how much I’m told to cover it with servings of extra fruit, soy milk, extra ice or by using a blender. (Yes, apparently using a blender makes a difference to taste. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either.) The eating plan might be full of nutrients, but it quickly becomes difficult to stick to when you’re eating something starkly less appetising than the delicious, home-cooked meal the rest of your family are eating. The exercise plan hurts, and believe it or not, I have little to no tolerance for things that hurt, especially when the pain extends for days or weeks afterwards.

I am fat. I have been for a very long time, and despite the holier-than-thou health-sermons people continue to throw at me (or at themselves in my presence, which is just as demoralising), I would rather accept it and enjoy my life in my current form than rob myself of simple pleasures in an attempt to change it.

And according to researchers at Monash University, the University of Canberra and the University of New England, that is a perfectly good response.

A recent study from the aforementioned scholarly institutions on the effects of the “Fatosphere”, a group of blogs about “fat acceptance” and what it means to be plus-sized, seems to indicate that acceptance of one’s shape and size actually results in individuals making better, more healthy lifestyle decisions. Despite arguments from some critics that these sorts of blogs, and the support groups that surround them, promote obesity and unhealthy lifestyles, the study indicates that this new culture is actually reducing dangerous behaviours like crash dieting, cycles of starvation and binge eating, and laxative abuse.

From a personal standpoint, I completely understand where they’re coming from. I’ve seen it in my own life.

In the ten months that I was at home with my family, I wasn’t going out very much, and the only people I was spending time with were folks to whom I was already very close. I didn’t have to worry about being judged for what I looked like, and was freshly armed with a collection of delightful (I would even go so far as to say life-changing, in their own way) plus-size dresses, so I wasn’t concerned about my body at all. Nobody around me was making remarks about their own weight, because we were all comfortable within ourselves. It was just cool all round. When I weighed myself in the morning (well, afternoon) before my shower, it was more out of curiosity than a need to see how much my weight had fluctuated. I was eating better (thanks to being fed good food by my family) and was eating less overall (because I was sleeping more, I wasn’t emotionally eating and had little to no junk food on hand).

Slowly, I started making changes to the way I was living. Unlike the bracketed elements above, these were choices I took entirely off my own back because I wanted to. They weren’t about losing weight; they weren’t about the way I looked… Well, they were actually about my wondering if I would ever be able to be a companion to The Doctor if he ever turned up on my doorstep. (There’s a lot of running involved, okay?) These decisions weren’t based on any kind of external pressure, and they weren’t for any other reason than because I thought they might be fun.

I started walking a few kilometres almost every day, churning through podcast after podcast. Once I week, I walked down to the nearby park and did a few rotations on the different equipment there. I even tried the Zombies, Run! app… (But that was an abysmal failure that left me unable to walk straight for almost two weeks, so I decided maybe I wasn’t ready for that yet.)

As the study linked above suggests, these healthy choices weren’t attached to changing the way I looked. They were about doing stuff I wanted to do. I made that decision not because I felt I had an obligation to do so, but because it just appealed to me. In fact, I’d even say that because there was no obligation, it actually made the choice more appealing.

In the ten months that I was at home, I lost 13kg. It’s not hard to do the maths.

Fast forward to my current situation: I’m working in the industry I love and writing commercials that make me really proud, but I’m also hanging around a lot more people who I’m still getting to know. Unlike back home, a lot of the people around me are very health conscious, which is really great for them.

What’s not so good for me is the way that their vocalness on the subject feels almost pervasive. Every day, there’s a comment about what’s good and what’s bad food. As a result, I am once again becoming increasingly conscious of my body and the way I look. The fact that I have so many brilliant dresses means I have a sort of armour, but the talk of carbs and protein and blood type diets is still confronting. It makes me concerned that because they’re judging themselves, I am also being judged for what’s on my plate or how much blubber is on my frame. It makes me anxious, and that makes me reach for the chocolate bar(s), despite my best efforts to nibble on carrots and apples and other greenery through the day.

That said, it’s not only the anxiety that makes me eat junk as a response; there’s also a significant degree of satisfaction to be had in erecting (and consuming) a great big middle (Kit-Kat) finger to the expectations of others. Being surrounded by negative opinions of certain beloved foods makes the defiant consumption of those things even more tempting: “Screw you! I’m having a whole bag of Doritos to myself and none of you kale-chompers are gonna stop me!”

I’ve become reluctant to go out and exercise because there are considerably more joggers and cyclists doing the rounds, and I inevitably end up making comparisons between them and myself. I walk to and from work most days, but that only really works because the stretch that I walk is pretty much deserted. My awareness levels in terms what I look like have shot through the roof.

And in the last month, I’ve gained 3 kilograms.

I’m more than willing to grant that this attitude could well be me trying to shirk off responsibility. I almost certainly need to address my weight in order to improve my health, but the fact remains that I am more responsible about my health when I don’t feel like I’m being coerced into it.

Putting all that aside, there is still one other issue that I want to make perfectly clear: the only person’s health you need to be concerned about is your own. My fat doesn’t have any effect on anyone but me, and therefore whether I want your advice on diet or exercise is up to me.

And to be perfectly frank, I don’t want it. You can keep that Potentially Problematic Opinion all to yourself.

*****

Potentially Problematic Opinions Month is a thing that runs all the way through August, and was initiated by the incredible Alexandra Neill of Adventures in TV-Land.

This week, Lizzy has written about how Sansa Stark is amazing, and there are more to come!

I was going to try and keep up with a post each week (nobody mention how many BEDA posts I’ve missed – this was meant to be for Sunday 11th but only went up on the 18th!), but I’m obviously way behind. There may be a late explosion of PPO’s though, just so you know. I’ll definitely have one next week. x

The End of Cursive Handwriting

Yesterday, I read an article that left me feeling pretty grim. It proclaimed that cursive script was well on the way to dying out, with only five American states maintaining the teaching of cursive writing as part of their curriculum, with most turning to increased typing skill instead.

As a lover of the medium of handwritten letters, I was horrified. So much personality can be portrayed in the curls and swishes of an individual’s hand, to the point where there is a (pseudoscientific) field built around it. Typing simply doesn’t have the same effect, pumping out letters without any kind of variety or way to distinguish the author. Sure, it’s quick, easy and necessary in the modern digital age, but there’s something a lot more satisfying about a swirling, handwritten note than a sterile email message.
One critic, who supported the death of cursive script (or “running writing”, as most of us called it in Grade 3), argued that it simply isn’t used enough to warrant the continued teaching of it to students, saying that most handwriting is done in the printing style, without the flourishes and embellishments of its more stylish counterpart. As I look at my notes for this blog and the letters and postcards I’ve written over the last few days, I can see that this argument is right, to a certain extent: I regularly switch back and forth between the two styles, depending on how quickly I’m writing (cursive if I’m in a real rush) or if I want to be clear (printing, or a mixture of the two).

While neither style is particularly prominent, I am incredibly grateful that I learned both when I was at school. Not only because I can use them to write in my day-to-day life and in my profession (there is a lot of taking notes involved in client meetings), but because it means that I can decipher the handwriting of some of my more… artistic friends and colleagues a lot better. It makes it easier to maintain a train of thought as I blast a sentence from pen to paper, the constant flow of letters facilitating my concentration a lot better than the regular starting and stopping of printing. I can pen a letter or note that looks more fluid and creative, and I get satisfaction from the fact that I have put a bit of extra time and effort into it to make it that little more appealing to the eye.

Add to all of that the suggestion that cursive handwriting may also have cognitive benefits, increasing connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and improving development in areas that are relevant to things like memory retention, language and general thinking processes. Anecdotal evidence even points to it improving concentration for those with learning difficulties. Other sources indicate that the use of cursive leads to less forgeable signatures, and increasing chances of career success (apparently some businesses place a high value on good penmanship – it gives an impression that you can work quickly and effectively, while also understanding the importance of keeping up appearances).

Judging from the articles I continued to stumble across on the New York Times website (where this is apparently a very hot topic), there is a significant mixture of opinions on whether or not cursive is on the way out, with a 50/50 split on whether it should be taught in schools, but with three out of the four articles arguing that it is still an important skill to have, both in terms of reading and writing the script.

From all these opinions, I can’t help but find myself at the conclusion that cursive still has a place in our lives. Certainly, typing is faster and more relevant in the current era, and the use of the basic printing style in handwriting is cleaner and clearer in most cases, but neither of them really offers the same amount of room for personal expression as cursive. The flourishes and the cleanliness of the lines and the flow of the letters: it’s as close as you can get to flying across the surface of a page. It can be magical, it can be swift, and it can be beautiful, and even though we may not all possess the ability to be great painters or architects or writers, through the freedom allowed to us through the development of our own personal cursive style, we have the opportunity to leave our own unique mark on the page of our choosing.

*****

Post Script: Since writing this post, I’ve discovered that American cursive is about a bajillion times more complicated than Australian cursive… Like, to the point where it’s too much. So yeah, maybe the U.S. should let go of their incredibly fancy old script and move towards the Australian model? I don’t know. Just a thought!

Walking the Dinosaur

LOOK. IT’S AMAZING.

One of the things that has always disappointed me about living in Canberra is my continuing inability to go out and absorb all the touristy delights it offers. Parliament House, Cockington Green, the Australian War Memorial, the Segways on Lake Burley-Griffin, the Skywhale, the giant owl statue that looks like a penis: I’ve missed them all. Sure, I’ve managed to tick off Questacon, the National Museum of Australia and Old Parliament House, but there’s still stacks of places that I haven’t gotten to yet.

Until recently, that number included the National Dinosaur Museum at Gold Creek. Yesterday, I succeeding in ticking that attraction off my list.

And oh my god, it was brilliant.

First and foremost, as you can see from the picture above, from the moment you roll up, you are confronted by exactly what this museum is all about – prehistoric pieces of fibreglass awesome. (Also, a bit of palaeontology, but you know, mostly badass dinosaur models.) You rock up to this museum and you immediately know you’re in for a good time. Even though it took me over an hour to get there by bus, I knew from the get go that it was definitely going to be worth going to all that effort.

Since it’s Science Week, the National Dinosaur Museum had been putting on special tours, and I arrived just in time for the second one. The guide was really nice and incredibly knowledgeable, and even tolerated some of my attempts at humour, which gets super huge bonus awesome points from me because my jokes are generally a special kind of awful. Some of the exhibits were a little underwhelming (mostly because there was so much information, and not enough moving dinosaurs), but when the time came for the motion-detecting models, I was totally sold. They all looked fantastic, and even encompassed a bunch of Australian dinosaurs. Some of my new dino pals even agreed to take selfies with me.

e2ef9-img_0200

Yep. I definitely had a good time.

But what is the most salient thing about the photos from my trip to the museum is that it’s just me (and my prehistoric pals). I didn’t have anyone to come with me.

Maybe it was because everyone I knew was busy, or I didn’t give enough warning, but judging by the general bewilderment expressed on the faces everyone I told about my weekend plans, I think there’s a certain degree of cringe involved with getting out and seeing those things about your town that are “just for the tourists”. I know that it existed for in terms of the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, but that was more about the fact that it cost a ridiculous amount to go in and it was on the outskirts on the other side of town. But there’s plenty of fantastic things to do in Canberra that are relatively cheap (my dinosaur visit only set me back $14 for an adult ticket), so really there’s no excuse to not take the initiative and be a tourist in your own town, especially since the capital is currently in its Centenary year.

But really, it’s something we should all endeavour to do, no matter where we live. Get to know the tourist traps around your town, get stuck in and let your inner child run riot. Trust me. You’ll have an absolute ball.

Just ask my Parasaurolophus buddy here. He knows what’s going down.

 

A Farewell – Gigs Out West

Goodbye, Gigs Out West. It was fun while it lasted.

Today I did something that I have been putting off since I found out I had got a job in Canberra.

I closed Gigs Out West.

Hopefully someone will find it and want to give it the love and care it needs and deserves, but until then, it’s in a deep hibernation.

The blog post for today is here, and is the letter I wrote to explain why I am no longer running the site.

Excuse me. My heart hurts a little bit.

Zzzzzz…

Sleep is very important. It rests your mind and body, allows you to recharge for the next day, affects your mood, and is even noted as being an important factor in losing weight. (Hmm, that probably explains the 10kg or so I lost while I lived at home and slept fifteen hours a day. Or maybe not.)

For yours truly, it’s even more important than it is for the average Joe, because if I don’t get enough sleep, I not only get grumpy, can’t focus and look like death, I also put myself at significantly higher risk of seizure. Which is BAD.

This week, I have been awful at getting the full 8 hours we apparently need. (I maintain that in my case, it’s more like 12 hours, but that’s just not practical, is it?) I’ve been going to gigs, seeing friends and just generally being a busy little bee, so getting the proper amount of slumber has kind of fallen by the wayside. I am definitely going to pay for it this weekend, and I’m paying for it now – I’ve literally just woken up from a 40 minute nap.

As I muddle my way through the world, I can’t help noticing that there are plenty of people who seem to not be getting enough sleep. I know plenty of folks who are insomniacs, have seen countless co-workers yawning at desks and have occasionally been on the receiving end of an outburst quickly retracted with the line, “Sorry, I’m just tired.”

According to America’s National Sleep Foundation, one of the biggest factors in our societal sleep debt is the fact that work is eating more and more of our time. But if tired workers = less productivity, why are we maintaining the status quo? Surely, it will only just continue to snowball out of control unless we work out how to get a little more snoozin’ in our lives.

So what are we doing to fix it? Sweet eff all, really.

Despite there being plenty of evidence to demonstrate that they’re a really awesome idea, and it being adopted by some of the biggest companies in the world, naps at work are still a taboo topic in Australia – I have a friend who maintains that even a lunchtime kip, in your car, out of sight of all your co-workers, is profoundly unprofessional.

On the other hand, at my last job I would occasionally sacrifice my lunch break for the chance to duck out of sight under my desk and grab a bit of shut eye. Why shouldn’t I? Nobody could see me, I worked better, it was my own time, and in return, I would often work back another hour or so because I had enough energy to power through that little bit longer. Not only that, but it meant that I was never hitting up the office coffee supply. (Also, because I don’t like coffee, but that’s irrelevant.) What’s so wrong with that?

Seriously, there are enough positive benefits that there is an Australian lobby group dedicated to bringing naps to the workplace.

Either way, the fact remains that it is really hard to get the required amount of sleep we need in our lives, especially in mine. That’s probably the reason why this blog is suddenly getting awfully rambly – it’s way past my bedtime.

Good night.