Molly, the transient dog

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Molly, the Golden Retriever, comes from a family of transients or rather, travellers, and she has adapted remarkably well to this lifestyle. Her family members have lived all over the world – in Yorkshire, New Zealand, Brisbane, Melbourne, NYC, Perth, Sydney, London and Nice. Molly has never been to these places, she only hears about them. However, this does not perturb her as she does her own travelling, it may only be local but she enjoys it just as much as her owners enjoy their overseas sojourns.

Molly travels to the people who look after her when her family can’t do so. Mostly, these are friends she has got to know well over the last few years. She knows as soon as the suitcases come out that it’s time for everyone  to move soon. She just doesn’t know where. But never mind, she thinks and gets excited. Most of the time it will be to a nearby suburb which has better beaches, friendlier dogs and people who sometimes let her sit on the sofa. She also likes the fact that if the kitchen door in this particular house is even a tiny bit ajar she can sneak in and eat the cat’s food, until such time when someone notices and she gets in trouble.There is also a little fluffy dog who visits there and so then she has company too. As this  little dog, called Ralph, has not travelled anywhere much, there are no travel stories to share, only tales of the cat who does not like the little dog. Molly and the cat however, have worked out a truce and they get on  perfectly well when there is no one else to pay attention to either of them.

A couple of times Molly has travelled into the country with her dog-sitting(or rather part owners) family. Her  actual owners being more urban dwellers, have never taken her to the country, can you imagine? The poor, underprivileged dog. Anyway, the country is very interesting for Molly, many  different smells, trees, sticks and especially the animals. There are cows with their big eyes, slow movements and constant chewing, Molly thinks they should just eat as quickly as she does. Then there are the kangaroos, Molly is not too sure about these. Should she chase them, try and keep up with them or just observe them?Koalas are a bit more difficult for her to spot, due to their inherent  diurnal sleeping patterns and general lazy disposition. Usually when they get off their preferred trees, Molly tends to be asleep so perhaps koalas are not as simple of mind as they sometimes appear.

Being an indoor dog at night time, Molly has not experienced the exciting going-ons that happen when it’s dark, very dark in the country, except for the stars, moon and impressive Milky Way. So she misses the gliding of possums from tree to tree, the big fat wombats digging in the dirt and the unidentifiable noises that vary from night to night.

Usually a happy dog, Molly sometimes takes on a sad appearance and enters a ‘depressive’ state of mind. We are not sure why this is but think it’s a form of ‘fernweh‘ a German word meaning the desire to be somewhere far away and the opposite of being homesick. This condition has not been known to affect dogs, only people, but who knows, Molly might be a candidate for  any future canine studies of this condition.

When all of Molly’s family is home she is very excited to see them all and to spend time with them. But after a few weeks of constant excitement and a bit of chaos too, and  being a dog of advancing years she thinks about her other options and her ‘fernweh‘ returns. She then thinks of her place in the country where the fresh air, new sounds and interesting animals provide a good place to rest and observe. Or she thinks of her other family, including the cat, where the beaches are quieter, the sea weed in which to roll more appealing and her temporary dog walkers more likely to throw shells into the water for her to retrieve.

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Molly exploring
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So long Leonard……

 

 

leonard-cohenOh like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

I am sure many people feel about Leonard the way I do, so to many, these thoughts and words will be nothing new. Yet, every Leonard Cohen fan has his or her own memories of the songs,  his stories and  of the man himself, and  everyone feels strongly that those memories are their own to hold and no one else can adequately understand  the depth and significance of those. This is what Leonard did, he made everyone feel that he was sharing his stories and his sentiments with each individual.  And so it should be. That is the undeniable power a poet, writer, singer,  artist possesses, he or she makes you become part of them.

My memories go back to the early 70s when Leonard became part of my university life; his records in the Sydney University library, available to those who booked a seat with headphones, were a welcome break, long or short, from going to lectures and studying. Suzanne, So long Marianne and That’s no way to say goodbye were particular favourites at times of unrequited love episodes, stress due to assignments to be done and exam study left to the last minute. Leonard was there to tell me I wasn’t the only one feeling sad. A fill of his beautiful poetry and soothing melody made me feel better despite the lingering sadness of the sentiments of his songs.

After university, Leonard’s songs and music took somewhat of a back seat in my life; there were other songs, other music, other  countries, different people, life took its own meandering ways and stops. For many years I found his music quite depressing, despite the loveliness and strength of his poetry. I wanted more upbeat music and so for a while Leonard was relegated to a group of CDs at the back of the cupboard, to be listened to sometime in the future. Little did I know then that I would come back to his music with renewed passion. His life too, although I would never be so presumptuous to compare it in any way to mine, took him on many different paths, journeys and changed his writing, music and ways of being. Yet, the essence of his words never changed – there was love, goodbyes, redemption, hurt and even politics, often represented as human failings and the power of hope.

I fought in the old revolution
on the side of the ghost and the King.
Of course I was very young
and I thought that we were winning;
I can’t pretend I still feel very much like singing
as they carry the bodies away.

You got me singing
Even tho’ the news is bad
You got me singing
The only song I ever had

Sometime in the early years of the new century a friend said to me he had seen Leonard perform in concert and what a magnificent performance it had been. The words stayed with me and then another friend gave me a CD and DVD of his live performance in London and I fell in love with this man, his music, his words, his life and what he had gone through. His voice was now much deeper, more mature and in lots of ways more appealing, with  both velvety and gravelly nuances woven through it, perhaps the effect of drink and cigarettes, it has been said. The words to many of his songs were familiar but the voice and his appearance had changed. There were new songs too, or at least songs I had not heard during my hiatus from his music.  I listened to the CD and watched the DVD over and over. And then in 2008 an announcement in the newspaper had me booking tickets the day they were released.  I couldn’t wait for the concert.

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy
But that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China

From the moment he stepped onto the stage in his dark suit, wearing his signature hat until the time he sang the last encore I was mesmerised.  I now understood what my friend meant by his performance being magnificent. Here he was at the age of 74, playing , singing, getting down to his knees and back up again with the energy of a 34 year old. His songs, the newer ones and the old favourites, all sung as if he were singing to each individual in that audience. His band and supporting singers, all  consummate professionals, totally in tune with their master. And a master he was. The emotion portrayed, the notes, the words, the in-between songs talk, they were all perfect. I had tears in my eyes more than once. And then it hit me, there was so much similarity, not just his face but also in his body language, between him and my father. Once I realised this, everything Leonard did brought back memories of my dad. The similarity was most prominent in the gentle voice when he spoke to the audience, the gentlemanly demeanour and the way his face lit up when he smiled.

Les Allemands étaient chez moi 
ils m’ont dit “Résigne-toi” 
mais je n’ai pas pu 
j’ai repris mon arme 

Following the concert, I downloaded many of the songs I had not heard before and he became a favourite walking and travelling companion. I never got tired of listening to that voice. In 2010 I couldn’t believe my luck when another concert was announced for Melbourne and so of course,  bought tickets. This time I would take my grown children to see if he could weave the same magic for them. Yes, Leonard was a favourite with the whole family. My daughter, who was 20 at the time, tells me he was actually a favourite before the concert.

The doctor’s working day and night
But they’ll never ever find that cure,
That cure for love

Even though I knew now what to expect from  Leonard Cohen concert,  his performance was beyond expectation. Two more years had not made any difference to his voice or physicality, he was still able to perform with the same energy and passion, including yet again getting down to his knees and back up. The audience, made up of young, older and old, loved him of course. Many of the younger members of the audience, sang along with him, something which annoyed me immensely. I was there to listen to him and only him and didn’t want this experience marred by others. But perhaps that’s an unavoidable sign of the times and perhaps my age and selfishness. I am sure at other festivals and concerts they go to this is very common but on this night I just wanted Leonard all by himself .

Wasn’t hard to love you
Didn’t have to try
Wasn’t hard to love you
Didn’t have to try
Held you for a little while
My Oh My Oh My

In the last interview he gave about his  You want it darker album, Leonard did seem a lot frailer and I knew then there would be no more concerts, despite my  fervent wish for another chance to see him perform. His message to his Marianne, two days before her death, seemed a premonition, but one I did not take seriously, after all he was not ill. So his death came as a shock to me and the millions of his world wide fans. It made a horrible week even worse and perhaps he and his gentleness and love of the world as he knew it, could no longer face an uncertain and seemingly changed world. Or perhaps he was just following Marianne. RIP Leonard – you will not be forgotten.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Chutzpah in the family

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Life lessons on chutzpah from my Dad

The meaning of chutzpah is well known: audacity , cheekiness and even insolence. There are different levels of chutzpah and how people view this characteristic which is often associated with people of Jewish origin. Chutzpah is the ability to take a situation in hand, to be at the forefront, to make a mark and to leave others wondering”why didn’t I do that”?

Chutzpah, at its extreme, can be seen as arrogant, pushy and even aggressive. An example of this, going back to my teenage years, were Hungarian women lining up, well not really lining up, and in fact far from it, in their quest to pick up European delicacies from Grace Bros in Bondi Junction in Sydney.  In the 1970s Bondi Junction was  the centre of the Jewish/Hungarian community and Thursday evening was the time they came out in force due to the recent introduction of late night shopping hours. My father and I would line up in the manner we were accustomed to from our recent home in Czechoslovakia where queues were a common, every day phenomenon.  Despite being annoying and time consuming, they provided a chance to observe others, chat (so long as it wasn’t about the regime) and be surprised at the end of the queue as to what the shop was actually selling.

It was very different behind the counter at Grace Brothers. These women, immigrants just like us, were on a mission to get out of there as quickly as possible with the largest amount of Hungarian salami, cheese, gefilte fish and many more delicacies. The counter at Grace Bros was the only place in the vicinity where, 40 or so years ago, one could buy such things. The first few times,  both my father and I were not quite sure what was happening. There we were waiting in line when every few minutes another middle-aged female of imposing stature would push past us, without any kind of civility, already shouting at the service person as to what her order was to be. It took us a few weeks to realise that  we were not going to get anywhere, being the polite, newly arrived Czechs, used to an unspoken but clearly understood, queuing code.

Even though annoyed with this kind of non-queuing behaviour,  my father felt it was important to give me a  life lesson concerning chutzpah. At that time I didn’t know that part of my ethnic origin was Jewish; there was a reason for that but that’s another story. I think this was his subconscious way of introducing me to some of the practical aspects of being part Jewish. “See” he would say, ” you need to have chutzpah in life to get the things you want”. He would then qualify this statement with ” well perhaps not quite like these women”, and perhaps the word women was preceded by a Czech swear word,  I was young and it was along time ago so I can’t remember exactly what that word may have been.

Throughout my life he would repeat sentiments similar to those said in the early days in Grace Brothers.  I was not a chutzpah-type person when I was young and come to think of it neither was he for most of his life. But as all parents do, he wanted his daughter to acquire characteristics that he didn’t have himself but felt would be useful in life. As I matured and gained self-confidence, there was some chutzpah that emerged in my personality, usually when I felt slighted or treated unjustly. But it is still difficult to gather the confidence to display chutzpah when faced with strangers, especially  those that are famous.

A number of years ago , while waiting for coffee at the Qantas Lounge at Sydney Airport, a towering figure of a man stood next to me. Looking up I saw it was Gough Whitlam, a former PM whom I had admired.A tiny bit of chutzpah would have been wonderful at this point as I really, really wanted to start a conversation and tell him how much I admired him.  But no, it was not forthcoming, and by the time I actually thought of something to say he was gone. I think my father would not have been unhappy about he lack of chutzpah in this case as he really didn’t like Gough and many arguments were held over his leadership.

Chutzpah at its best is the ability to move beyond being self-conscious, beyond worrying what others will say or do, and  to go after what you want, in the nicest possible, cheeky, sometimes flirtatious way.  A big smile helps too. Perhaps I have learnt a little from those early lessons my father tried to instill in me; a middle-aged woman going up to the very handsome tango dancer at a conference in Buenos Aires and having a photo taken with him is somewhat in the right direction. It still takes a lot of effort  for me to display chutzpah at times, my father’s words sneaking their way into my indecisive mind, and so it is comforting to know that sometimes family lessons skip a generation.

The grandson, who didn’t hear those  lessons from his ‘deda‘, is showing promise that the chutzpah gene does live in the family genetic blueprint. It takes self-confidence to ask a question of a well-known business man in front of a large audience in any case. But it takes chutzpah to preface that serious question with an anecdote as to how that businessman started his business and to suggest that this may be a good opportunity for future business together between the young man and the businessman.  Indeed, it shows that chutzpah does get you to places, whether it is the acquisition of Hungarian salami or a convivial drink with well-known business people. I think ‘deda‘  would be happy.

Travel -then and now

Travel then and now

I am sure she meant no malice and perhaps I have said or thought the same at times. Yet the comment “I have seen it all on Facebook, so don’t need to ask you” came as a disappointment. Maybe she was preoccupied with her own life issues at the time so when I asked why she hadn’t asked about my last trip overseas that was the answer I got.

Once the disappointment of a perceived lack of interest lessened somewhat, I started thinking about how travel and recollections of travel have changed over the years. Once upon a time when our parents, and some of us (depending on our age group) travelled, there was no instant sharing of travel, no looking at exotic or familiar locations, no drooling over other people’s meals from the comfort of sitting in front of our computers or scrolling on our mobile tools.

In the past, there were eagerly anticipated postcards or if lucky,longer aerograms which had to be opened ever so carefully, pre-booked telephone calls of various audible quirks and qualities and long waits for snail-mail (Poste Restante) at the American Express offices in various capital cities. If disasters, big and small, occurred, we could not instantly call or text family to send money, rescue packages or a return ticket home. When bookings at hotel were not available because a person had made an error and there was no computer to blame, we had to trudge to the next hotel and the next… and in extreme cases sleep at the train station. It was considered normal to not communicate with one’s family for weeks at a time and the motto ‘no news is good news’ was the mantra for worried mothers and fathers of young, intrepid travellers. When communication was established it tended to focus on safety, availability of food and accommodation and often, on the vexed issue of running out of money. Communication was rarely about sights visited, pubs and restaurants frequented, people met or philosophising about one’s growth through travel; the cost of telephoning prohibited such verbal luxuries. These were all saved for the return home, with the developed and eagerly awaited photos or slides accompanying the stories which family and friends had not heard before. Of course, some stories were best left behind, no need for parents to hear about the hitchhiking or the climbing back into the hostel through a first floor window.

Phoning from a telephone box whilst overseas is now a thing of the past

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So while travel and communication are a lot easier today and we have real time access to travel adventure stories, romances, meals eaten and people met, what happens when people come back from their travel? We have seen the photos of the good and the not-so-good experiences, we have seen the photos of the sprained ankle or broken foot, we have been privy to conversations between our friends and their other friends, in fact, we almost feel like we were there with them. The photos have shown us the sights they visited and what their impressions were, the incidents best kept private are not many. In academic writing, the use of social media platforms to share leisure and travel experiences is known as performative leisure and has become a  recent research topic of interest (Future Foundation 2013).

What about us as travelers on our return home, do we get to recount and embellish our stories as our parents did in the past? And heaven forbid what if we were to stage an evening of photos and video clips a la slide nights of the 70s and 80s? Would the responses be similar to my friend’s, and if so, what about our need to share stories and photos with those close to us?

I am sure families and close friends would still listen with interest and perhaps they would try to jolt their minds for the accompanying photos they may have seen on social media. But in lots of ways, travel has also lost its currency as a point of interest, even difference, it is after all so very easy to travel these days. And what of the real-time curation and archiving of travel experiences, food, sights, people encountered; are we in effect leaving a legacy in cyber – world and on our computers, rather than in old photo albums and boxes with slides and 8mm film reels? Does that lessen the wonder of going through old boxes of black and white and washed-out colour photos and remembering people, places and stories long forgotten? Maybe, but perhaps the wonder lies in the sharing of these as they happen and the feeling of being connected with others wherever they may be in the world and surely that is a good thing too.

PS. A day after I wrote this reflection an article in The Age “The subsistence of memory” expanded on this theme.

“Are we forgetting the art of remembering now our devices do it for us ?”Paul Biegler, The Age September 18, 2016

http://www.theage.com.au/technology/technology-news/memory-in-the-smartphone-age-your-mobile-may-be-changing-the-way-you-remember-20160906-gra3q6.html

Future Foundation.(2013).Performative leisure. Accessed August 24, 2015, from http://nvision.futurefoundation.net/

The journey was long; the sea was rough (Part 2)

Our 4-berth cabin was rather small but then we were used to small spaces and it felt like real luxury to have our own space on a large, white boat, ready to sail. We didn’t mind sharing the cabin, after all we would be on deck and in the dining room and entertainment rooms most of the time. At 6.30, just a little behind schedule, the ship sailed away from Genoa harbour amid brightly coloured streamers and confetti clouds. We were on our way!

Suddenly we heard Signora, Signora in a rather loud voice and who should it be wildly waving at us? One of mum’s admirers, the same one who helped us with our luggage into our cabin and did not even get a tip. It was rather nice to be farewelled so enthusiastically by an Italian and added Italian charm to us leaving Europe.

The ship seemed to be moving rather slowly at the beginning and we could enjoy  seeing the city of Genoa and the Italian coast from a different vantage point. After the view faded and the sky began to darken I went exploring before dinner and almost got lost, so big and disorienting was the ship’s space ( today my family would say it was my terrible sense of direction). Eventually I made my way back to the cabin where my mum was impatiently waiting for me and we went off to dinner. And what a dinner it was, I had never seen anything like the variety, colours, smells and abundance of food. There were soups and cold meats, chicken,beef, potatoes (of course), spinach and other more exotic vegetables, salads and so many more dishes that I could actually recognise; there were just as many that seemed strange and I did not feel ready to taste them just yet.  Faced with too many choices, both my mother and I had two servings of cake after the main meal.We were so full and so tired that it did not take us long to fall asleep in this new sleeping space where the gentle waves lulled us to sleep.

First day on the open sea away from the coast and we weren’t quite sure what to expect, the ship was rocking slightly but I felt absolutely fine and ready to tackle the breakfast buffet.  On entering the dining room the scene presented  was, to this 12-year-old, something out of the land of wonders from a children’s story read at bed time. I had never seen so much food and such a variety of food; the typical Czech breakfast being one of tea and bread with jam and maybe a hard-boiled egg or a piece of ham on special occasions.

And so the first days continued, the sea was calm, the food wonderful and in between eating and exploring the  inside of the ship we also ventured onto shore on day excursions to Naples, Pompeii and further south to Messina. Sailing along the beautiful coast of Sicily must have resulted in a dormant, subconscious need to visit Sicily later on in my life and I have not been disappointed by any of the three visits since that first encounter.

Daily life on the ship in that first week took on a familiar pattern, the three meals interspersed with swimming and some English lessons as well, mainly from textbooks we had bought along.  Opportunities to practice what we had learned  arose at meal times as there were many guests from English-speaking countries on board. I certainly learned the English word for ‘brambory‘ quickly as I would always get an extra portion of whatever potato dish was on offer. Hence, my nickname became Miss Potatoes, a name that could still be applicable today as that love of potatoes has never left me.

One day in the first week at sea, an emergency drill was performed, complete with lowering of life boats, donning of life vests and  typical Italian (dis)organisation. It was quite funny and perhaps as novices at sea we didn’t take it as seriously as it should have been.

Emergency drill with photo appearing in The Sea Herald, the daily newspaper. Somehow the  Italian name  L’Araldo Del Mare sounds a lot better.

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The first week on board ended with a stop in Port Said and a whole days sailing through the Suez Canal. Despite the heat outside on deck, it was fascinating watching the desert alternating with greenery, camels and in the far distance the distinct shapes of the pyramids. One more stop in Suez and then it was into the Red Sea. So far so good, meals are still excellent, I am learning English with a Japanese English teacher who offered free lessons because I was nice to her two small children.There is time for swimming, sun baking and children’s parties. At 12 I am considered on the borderline to attend those but being a very young (and ostensibly persuasive) 12-year-old I managed to talk my way into these.

“It’s bad” – so begins my mother’s entry in her diary on the day we  sail into the Indian ocean. And it was bad,  more than half the people on board were affected by sea sickness, me included. The ship was rocking quite significantly so that holding onto side rails was a necessity when walking through the corridors or on deck. The worst part was the inability to eat and keep food down. So whilst the buffet tables at lunch and dinner still looked extremely enticing, the only food I could eat during that time were dried biscuits and some fruit.

Our lovely, gentle sea-faring , beautiful ship had changed to a rocking, reeling, grey giant where being on deck and watching the white crests of large waves was infinitely better than below where the rocking was far exaggerated and the smell was often putrid. People moved about in an almost zombie-like way and tended to lie down on deck chairs every 5 minutes to regain their energy. One of  regular our waiters came to see me, concerned that Miss Potatoes had not been seen at dinner and what should they do with all the potatoes they had saved for me.

Despite being seriously sea sick and not eating a lot, there were fun times. Another children’s party, crossing the equator with a celebration overseen by King Neptune, a prize in winning a twist dance competition, seeing films in the cinema, these were all interspersed with lots of lying down on deck chairs or in our cabin.

As with everything, the sea sickness also passed and we learnt that tomorrow we would be arriving in our first Australian port, Fremantle. Two hours of queuing up (worse than waiting for potatoes in Teplice) we stepped onto Australian soul, our ‘new world’.  Four days later we docked in Melbourne where many Italians disembarked. This disembarkation was performed in typical Italian fashion with lots of noise, animation and general disorganisation. Little did I realise at the time that many years later Melbourne would become my home and that the Italian way and enjoyment of life would be an ideal rather than an irritation when in enclosed spaces. The boat suddenly became very quiet, there was no opening of doors at all times of day and night, no shouting at children and at each other. In a way it was quite sad too, as many of the people we became friends with had now left.We were no longer sea-sick so at least could enjoy the last few days just as we had started at the beginning of our journey.

Despite the seasickness it was an amazing journey, one that has left me with many memories and a newly discovered wonder of the big, wide world of which I had only dreamed and imagined in the 12 years I lived in Czechoslovakia. One unfortunate repercussion of the five weeks spent on the boat, with three of those feeling sea sick, was that it would take many years and many attempts to feel comfortable on a ship or boat, no matter what size it was or where it was sailing.

But for now my life was about to change, there would be many things to get used to, a new language to master, a different schooling system. On disembarking in Sydney, our  new home, the excitement at Circular Quay was palpable,  with streamers and confetti, hundreds of people waving and welcoming the many migrants who had decided to leave Europe for the ‘new world’. I was happy and felt welcome, not the least by my father , grandmother and my uncle and aunt, who had very generously enabled us all to make this long and rather expensive journey. To them I am indeed very grateful.

PS.  To learn of the new beginnings in Sydney keep following my blog.

 

The journey was long;the sea was rough (Part 1)

The journey was long; the sea was rough (Part 1)

It was by far the longest journey I had ever taken, many times the sea was rough and I was very seasick; but it was also the most exciting journey of my life. It was a journey that would transform me and my life and begin my wanderlust, a wanderlust that has never left me and that has given me a perspective on a world that I would not have been exposed to otherwise.

I had left behind a world that was mainly black and white, often grey and sometimes but rarely, with hints of colour. It was not just the location, a city surrounded by coal mines that permeated the air with pollution, it was also the psychological darkness, the inability of people to say what they wanted to say. At the age of 12 I was just beginning to understand that where I lived there were two worlds, the private one, where my family, but only among themselves, would discuss and criticise the political system and its many wrongs, and the public one. In this second world people were very wary of saying anything in public that would mark them as opponents of the government and its politics. I was not fully aware of the nuances and rules between these two worlds and did not really understand at the time that there were other, different worlds beyond mine.

I was not unhappy, I was a child and as children do, took joy and comfort in the everyday and holiday rituals, the excursions to my grandparents’ garden, the weekends away at our ‘chata’ and the fact that I was a good student. I do remember having to queue for food, especially meat and fruit and vegetables, often not knowing what we were lining up for until at the end we found out if it was bananas, sausages or potatoes. At the same time the taste of fruit from my grandparents’ garden, the apricots, plums, strawberries, red currants, and my favourite, gooseberries, has not been surpassed since.

So from this world, a decision was made to leave Czechoslovakia, a decision that was made without any input from me, that’s the way things were then. Adults made the decisions. To be fair, there were major reasons as to why they did not tell me or consult me. The process to emigrate was so long and so fraught with possible rejection and subsequent repercussions that my parents decided it was best not to tell me until a few weeks before we actually left. Even then I was not allowed to say anything at school and until a recent school reunion 50 years later, my school friends were never sure what had happened to me.

And so we left. The goodbyes were hard, more so for my mother who was leaving her own parents and sisters, knowing well that it would be a quite a number of years before she saw them again. The train was called Vindobona and from Prague to Vienna my mother and I did not talk much. I was very excited and a little sad and she was probably very sad and somewhat excited. My father and my grandmother who was 8o at the time stayed behind, to join us in Australia 6 weeks later as they were going by plane due to my grandmother’s health.

Arriving in Vienna 10 or so hours later, I saw the first of my ‘new worlds’. There was fresh produce in the markets, the freshest looking peaches, oranges, pineapples and lots of green and red vegetables that I had not seen before. This was heaven for a child who loved fruit and vegetables more than any other food, well perhaps not more than ice cream and chocolate. There was an abundance of that too and I didn’t know where to look next. We only had a limited amount of foreign currency so the hard decision for my mother was to prioritise what was needed and what else we could afford. As difficult as it was and against all the wares she would have wanted, she very generously bought me a doll that I had fallen in love with. This was no ordinary doll, it looked like a real live baby and even though I was 12 this was what I wanted. The doll was so unlike any dolls that I had ever had, her eyes were alive, her limbs were bendable, she was dressed in cute pink clothes and I was in love. The doll, even though a lot worse for wear, and without her pink outfit, is still around, no longer coveted but loved nevertheless.

In Vienna with new doll in shopping bag

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Nearly on the boat, our next stop was Genoa, and for me another ‘new world’. This was such a different and loud world, despite the fact that Czechs can also be loud and argumentative when need be. There was colour, there were people seemingly arguing or just recounting, there were horns beeping, there were new foods I had not heard of, this was Italy at its best. My mother, always beautiful, elegant and cheerful, had an innumerable number of admirers, but this is something I only realise now. At the time I was seemingly ignorant of all the male attraction she would have received, I was too busy absorbing the sounds, smells and colours of Italy. I was too young and too boy-like to be the recipient of any looks, whistles or touches from the Italians.

Our hotel in Genoa was extremely nice, especially to someone who had only stayed in communist- built and run accommodation, where any sense of luxury and often comfort, was avoided. The room had highly polished marble floors onto which I managed to fall a few times from leaning back on the chair. My mother’s words still ring in my ears “don’t lean back, you will fall”. No great damage was done even though my bottom was sore for a few days.

Genoa was  also where I tasted my first Coca-Cola, a product unavailable in the Communist block as it was produced in the ‘evil’ west and thus scorned. My mother was a bit shocked at the prices and the Italian accounting – no prices were displayed and once it was realised we were foreigners and quite naive at that, I am sure prices increased instantaneously. Nothing much has changed in the world of the first-time tourist today.

Getting onto the boat was, as one would imagine of Italy in the 60s, fraught with long queues, lots of necessary stamps, lots of shouting and general disorganisation. The long queues we could deal with, after all were used to those, it was our lack of Italian and subsequent understanding of the process that was more worrying. Luckily, one of my mother’s admirers, seemed to appear yet again and helped us with the process and even took our luggage into the cabin. Surely he was expecting a tip, if not more, but by then my mother had decided she had enough of paying exorbitant amounts for every little thing, and so her ‘thank you’ said with her charming accent and beautiful smile was all he got.

My mum with one of her many admirers

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So now we were in our ‘new world’ for the next 6 weeks, on the way to our new home in Sydney, Australia from our small town of Teplice in Czechoslovakia.  A gate had been opened and I was discovering the joys of travel, new places, different people and the excitement of going to a new, totally different country. The next 6 weeks on the Guglielmo Marconi would prove to be an initiation into the unknown and introduce me to the sobering reality that travelling is not always smooth sailing.(to be continued)

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Source of photo:https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30448912

 

 

Skeletor

 

Many years ago, a small, 5 year old boy with shiny, happy eyes, was sitting on a park bench with his parents. Close to him was one of his favourite toys, Skeletor, who belonged to a group of toys based on the Masters of the Universe films. Masters of the Universe represented a male-dominated world, where exaggerated or inflated male characteristics and egos, were what appealed to little (and sometimes big) boys. He-Man, Beast-Man, Buzz-off, Skeletor, Kobra Khan and others either lived in or fought battles around Castle Grey Skull, no doubt about dominance of the Universe or lesser, but just as important power struggles in the eyes of 5 year old boys. There were no female characters, besides Evil-Lyn with her sickly yellow skin; for some reason she never rated highly in this little boy’s imagination or Christmas wish list.

The little boy’s mother worried about this dominant male influence in his growing years, especially since the male characters were not always using their strength, dominance and power for any discernibly good reason. Being her first child and a boy at that, the mother thought, this strong and undirected male influence could result in a young man who favoured bikie gangs, tattoos and a very poor attitude to females and should not be encouraged by such obvious boy toys. Being politically correct, even before it came to the forefront of the media, politicians and people’s minds, when the little boy could not find Skeletor after leaving the park bench, the mother was not that unhappy about the situation. To her credit, or maybe it was the father at this crucial and tense point of time, a search was instigated for Skeletor. He was not to be found, no doubt picked up by another little boy aspiring to greatness and supported by this rather ugly blue and purple figure with a skull face.

The little boy was very upset by this loss and so the parents, despite the mother’s joy at the prospect of a more balanced choice of toys from now on, spent many days and visits to toy stores to replace the old Skeletor. The memory of this incident gets a bit fuzzy now, due to the many years in between then and now, and it is not certain whether a replacement was ever found.

So now 28 or so years later, thanks to the internet,  online purchasing, social media and the rest, Skeletor is making his appearance yet again for the now 33 years old little boy. The mother has since got over her politically correct attitude to children’s toys and is very proud of the little boy who grew up to be a sensitive, kind and gentle young man.