Tag Archives: fear

Working Class Boy-Jimmy Barnes.

This morning, I finally finished reading Jimmy Barnes’s harrowing memoir: Working Class Boy. As much as I could write about the book, Jimmy Barnes summed up his reasons for writing the book so well:

“I want people to read this because I know there are other people out there, just like me. People who think they’re alone in life and that their cards have been dealt and that there is nothing they can do to change anything. That’s how I felt too for a long, long time. I nearly killed myself because of it. But now I know there’s always time for change and there’s always a better path. You just have to look for it.

This book was my first real step in looking for hope.

Peace and love

Jimmy”[1]

In many ways, Working Class Boy echoes Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and it has been a great read with meaningful insights on living with adversity. Jimmy’s world was brutal. Not that he throws blame. It was what it was and he shares that journey with a dark wit and philosophical insight you’d hope for from a songwriter, who releases the cry of the heart through music. Working Class Boy covers the ins and outs of his tough and brutal childhood and is something of a prelude to his second book, which will cover his career.

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Our family meeting Jimmy Barnes at our local bookshop, Book Bazaar.

Jimmy Barnes was born as James Swan on the  28th April 1956 in Cowcaddens, Glasgow, Scotland and went on to find success as the front man for Australian rock band Cold Chisel. From there, he has also had  a very successful career as a solo artist.  He grew up in a violent, impoverished family where his father blew his pay packet on alcohol, leaving his mother scratching to feed the family with whatever she could find. Not that she was an angel.  She could throw a punch along with the best of them and was as tough as nails. He writes:

“Mum was tough, too. Sometimes I think that she thought she was tougher than Dad, which might have been a mistake. When she physically fought with my dad after he came home drunk with no money to feed us, she was the one who wouldn’t back down. She would throw herself at him, hitting him with anything she could get her hands on. Night after night she was the one who ended up battered and bruised on the floor, not him. But she just kept getting up.[2]

She even did childbirth tough:

“I was born in that very kitchen. My granny made my mum scrub the floor with a brush to take her mind of the contractions. It killed two birds with one stone. She didn’t notice the pain as much as she had a clean floor. [3]

In 1962, when Jimmy was 6 years old, his family immigrated to Australia settling in Adelaide. Unfortunately, things for the family didn’t improve with a change of scenery and their battles continued. His mother left his father but finally returned marrying Reg Barnes, the guardian angel who stepped in and loved those children like his own.

Yet, his demons pursued him and he was gripped with fear. He takes us into this space throughout the book but most poignantly in the Prologue:

“From the moment I start to drink, I feel absolutely nothing. When I first started taking drugs and drinking, I found the fear that had filled me since I was small almost disappeared. The fear of not being wanted. The fear of letting my guard down. The fear of letting anyone in. The fear of being found out. The fear of not being worthy. The fear of looking into my own eyes. It was gone. All of it. As long as I stayed smashed.[4]

While the book definitely delves into his dark side, there was also love joy, and family and it wasn’t all bad. There does seem to be a glimmer of hope there somewhere, which may just be the fact we know “Barnsy”not only survived but also had a great career and family. He became a success.

So, the book has a very strong tension between the public success of his music career juxtaposed against a brutal childhood Barnes was blessed to survive. It is probably this tension which gives the book much of its force a long with Barnsy’s down to earth, personable wit. After all, you feel like you’re sitting down having a yarn together as you read his story and get to know the man inside the rock legend.

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At the book signing.

While I would recommend Working Class Boy to anyone, I would particularly recommend it to men battling with depression or adversity. Despite its horrors, it really is an uplighting story of success against incredible odds…a great Christmas gift.

Have you read Working Class Boy or have a Cold Chisel of Barnsy story? I’d  love to hear from you.

xx Rowena

 References

[1] Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Boy, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2016 p 358.

[2] Ibid p. 11.

[3] Ibid p 13.

[4] Ibid p I.

Waffling About Perfection.

How long has it taken me to actually use my waffle machine for its intended purpose and actually make waffles?

I’m not telling. This is a blog, NOT a confessional!

While I’ve crushed, fried and crunchified boiled potatoes in the waffle iron before, I’ve NEVER ever made a waffle. Yet, tonight I finally walked the plank, jumped over the edge and straight into the raging waves only to find absolute calm…still waters!

The waffles worked. Were delicious! I succeeded!

So why have I put it off for so long?

Of course, you know why. You know the crazy reason why. I’ve been too scared. Scared I’d make a mistake and botch them up.

That’s right. I’ve been yet another a paralyzed perfectionist.

How about you? Are you also guilty as charged?

There’s nothing more annoying than a perfectionist who isn’t perfect…especially when it’s yourself!

Perfectionism is a sneaky, cunning beast. It doesn’t knock on your front door and announce its arrival. It doesn’t have flashing neon lights with ringing sirens either. Instead, it silently sneaks in through the back door and creeps up on you from behind and grabs you by the throat.

It also gets you busy. In the case of the waffles, it threw a bamboozling array of recipes at me, followed by a plethora of different waffle irons and that was before we’d even considered toppings. By this stage, there so  many rats going round and round in spinning wheels inside my head, for me to do anything.

Although it might be cliched, paralysis by analysis is real. Too many cogs spinning all at once and your exhausted, over-worked brain is blowing a gasket. Boom! Bang! Crash!

So, as I said, I made waffles for the first time tonight and they were great. Covered in creamy vanilla ice cream and maple syrup dripping off the fork…So yum!

Why on earth did I put it off for so long?

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The Lutheran Church in Wollongong put this recipe book together in the aftermath of WWII. Having members from a multitude of European countries, some being enemies at home, the idea of the cookbook was to bring people together and sharing recipes is a great way to start.

We didn’t have a waffle machine growing up at home. Even though I ended up using my grandmother’s recipe to make our waffles tonight, she’d never made them for me either. I found the recipe in a Church cookbook she’d edited back in the 1950s. Of course, all the measurements were in “ancient” and had to be translated. I also wondered whether I really did have to separate the eggs, or whether I should use a simpler recipe, which just throws the ingredients together? I chose the complicated path, hoping for fluffier waffles and I used my egg beater as well. It’s also ancient.

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As I was saying, we didn’t have a waffle machine growing up and I have to admit that making the waffles, was like magic. The batter looked just like pancake mix and I admit that as I spread it over the waffle iron, I doubted it could actually make a waffle and I had that child-like sense of wonder, when I opened up the machine, and found the sculptured waffles cooking inside.

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Abracadabra!…Waffles!

I’m proud of my waffles. Not just because they were good, but also because in tackling that challenge, I crossed a new frontier…just like an explorer crossing a mountain for the very first time. I did it. I actually extended my wings and allowed myself to leave my cage and truly soar.

While making waffles might only be a small step for woman and nowhere near actually landing on the moon, all these steps add up and could ultimately build a ladder. You never know.

So, in case you want to follow in my esteemed footsteps, here’s Grandma’s Waffle Recipe:

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My Grandmother’s Waffle Recipe taken from the “Around the World With Cooking” Cookbook.

Grandma’s Waffle Recipe

250g Plain Flour

Pinch salt

1 teas Baking Powder

1 generous cup of milk and a splash (270 mls)

2 eggs, separated.

50g melted butter.

Directions

  1. Start preparing the batter about an hour before required.
  2. Take eggs out of the fridge 30 mins beforehand and at room temperature.
  3. Sift flour & salt into a basin. Make a well in the centre.
  4. Separate eggs and put the whites aside.
  5. Beat egg yolks and add hald the milk. Pour into the flour and mix into a smooth batter, gradually stirring in the rest of the milk.
  6. Beat mixture and allow to stand for an hour.
  7. 15 minutes before the mix is ready to cook, beat egg whites until stiff. Put aside.
  8. Once the hour is up, add the melted butter to the mixture and then stiffly beaten egg whites and baking powder.
  9. Spray waffle iron with oil or butter and have it hot to make the waffles.

Enjoy!

By the way, just to encourage you and humble myself a little further, when I went to reheat my cup of tea in the microwave, I found the melted butter for the waffle mix in there. That’s right. I’d left it out. This could explain why the waffles weren’t quite as crunchy as expected, but I’d instinctively added butter to the machine for the second batch.

Have you ever made waffles? How does your recipe compare to mine and do you have any tips and topping suggestions to share?

I look forward to hearing from you!

xx Rowena

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My Grandparents.

The Greatest Roller Coaster Ride-Flash Fiction.

Obviously, catching the roller coaster, was her boyfriend’s idea. She couldn’t wait to get off!

Terrified and tortured, the young woman tried maneuvering into foetal position. Yet, constrained by the seat belt, was a contorted knot, her tiny hands shielding her face. Squirming with every twist and turn, she embodied The Scream. Yet, she didn’t make a sound.

Why couldn’t she tell him she was scared of heights?

Why didn’t he respond? Try to help?

Too late! Her stomach betrayed her. The Dagwood Dog chasing her milkshake spun out of control. A cyclonic catastrophe struck.

That woke him up!

March 23, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an adventure, experienced or witnessed. Explore your own ideas about what makes an adventurous spirit. Is it in the doing? Does standing witness count, and if so, how? Be adventurous!

Respond by March 29, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

….

Today, our family had the most incredible fun at the Royal Sydney Easter Show. This was quite an adventure for us because tackling such huge crowds and walking long distances is difficult for me what with my “small engine”. So even though I had grown up going to the Show every year well into my thirties, we’ve never taken the kids before. From my perspective, this was a very serious breach because that’s what families do in Sydney abnd we couldn’t do it.

Anyway, we had such a great day and you’ve never seen such cheeky grins as the lot of us tearing round on the dodgem cars trying to wipe each other out. Don’t know why the sign says “No Bumping” because we all know it’s inevitable and a huge part of the fun!

After the dodgems, there was a big discussion about which ride they’d go on next. Both kids were looking at a fishing game, which was pretty elementary but then our son decided to go on this rollercoasters of rollercoasters, “The Spinning Coaster”, which promoted itself as the Greatest Rollercoaster in Australia. This ride was pure torture with sharp 90 degree turns and sense you were about to shoot over the very edge. Our son mentioned something to my husband about how he should’ve gone fishing instead.

Meanwhile, my husband noticed the couple who were sharing their compartment on the ride. He mentioned something to me afterwards about whether she’d be talking to him afterwards. It clearly wasn’t her idea to have a go. As I teased out what happened, this picture emerged of this absolutely terrified young woman who had tried curling herself into a ball but was tied into her seat by the seat belt and instead had covered her face with her hands and was trying to bury her self in the seat. Our daughter is pretty scared of heights and spent the first half of our ride on the Ferris Wheel with her eyes very tightly shut. Although I know it’s better for her to face her fears, particularly as a child, that doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to her pain. I feel it. I know it. Not that I’m afraid of heights but I was absolutely phobic of dogs as a child or more precisely, the sound of barking dogs and I know that crippling level of fear. For those of you who know how much I love dogs now, that’s a real encouragement.

Why did I write about this couple? I guess because I remember going on dates to the Royal Easter Show when I was in High School and that awkwardness of first dates where you might not have the courage to admit to your weaknesses. You want to impress and it can be a huge thing for someone to admit and share their very personal fears. Much easier to simply avoid them but then you can’t.

Of course, being fiction, I just had to make this poor woman’s misery even worse and make her sick.

By the way, I asked my husband how her boyfriend responded. After all, I would’ve been trying to help her. However, Geoff said he didn’t really seem to notice. That while he wasn’t quite as terrified as her, he was barely getting by himself. I asked Geoff how he noticed all this detail and he said that with our 12 year old son sitting next to the woman, he needed to make sure he was alright. Geoff was being a good Dad.

The other point of this story is that it’s better to admit your fears rather than covering them up or you could end up confronting them in a way that only makes them worse, fueling your anxiety.

Mind you, falling in love doesn’t always help our logic, does it?!!

xx Rowena

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Hopscotched.

Your smile turned upside down.

Beaten, you hid yourself away

deep inside an inner labyrinth.

A maze of twisting, turning tunnels

where light goes in

but only darkness comes out.

Your eyes switched off.

Their animated sparkle gone,

I can’t find you anymore.

 

Beaten black & blue,

whipped by their brutal words,

your anguish took root,

spreading its tentacles across a blue sky,

turning it black,

as their poison coursed

through your veins,

straight to your heart.

 

Frantic, I’m running.

My heart’s beating

right out of my chest.

I’m gasping for breath so much

my lungs ache.

Where are you?

How will reach you in time?

I don’t know but please just hold on.

Hold on!

I’m going to take you home.

 

“Forgive them.

They know not

what they do.”

Rubbish! They know!

They have always known.

Twisting their vicious knives

deep inside their hapless prey,

the sacrificial lamb,

they leave no scars.

Not even a scratch.

Oh to be popular!

They can do what they like…

A pretty face but an ugly heart.

Is it worth it?

Selling your soul to buy friends?

I’d rather be alone.

 

Sweetie, I don’t know

why they hurt you

but I won’t let them win.

Oh no!

I’m holding on,

gripping you tight.

As tight as I can,

even by the barest tip

of my fingernails.

I’ll never let you go.

My love is too strong.

 

Indeed,

they’d better run!

 

Rowena Newton

 

This is a fictional poem and yet we all know it’s not but it’s not one particular person’s story. Unfortunately, it is rare to find a child who hasn’t experienced being bullied at some point in their lives. However, just because it is common, that doesn’t minimise what bullying does to people. The incredible pain and humiliation it brings.

On eof the things that has spoken to me in recent years, is the importace o speaking out. Not being a bystander. Here’s a great clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruBqetaMd5g

Bullying is like with so many other issues. You can’t just sit on the fence. You’re either in or you’re out. If you stand by and allow someone to be bullied without intervening in some way directly or indirectly, you are part of the problem as well. Guilty! You’re a bully!

Bullying has both directly and indirectly caused people to take their own lives not just as teens but also later in life as those ghastly ripples keep flowing.

At home, we try and talk about the importance of the Golden Rule in our family. I find that’s a good starting point for teaching children how to have better relationships. Treat others as you would like to be treated. You might not get it exactly right but at least your intentions were good.

I think it is also good to have that conversation about what it means to be popular and whether it is worth selling out on your personal values and ethics just to be one of the cool kids? Is it worth it? I’m not saying that all popular people are bad or bullies. Indeed, it might be kids somewhat on the outer who are putting others down to make themselves look good. I don’t know.

What is clear, though, is that bullying is having serious ramification a for young people and we as a community and as a culture need to stand up and make it very clear that it’s unacceptable. Indeed, that it’s a crime.

Now, to try to do something about it!

But…where do we begin…? Any ideas? I love to get a good discussion going.

xx Rowena

The Dog At the Library…Flash Fiction

“Is that your dog?” the woman gushed. Rufus had worked his magic, drawing the stranger into his swirling vortex of feverish anxiety. He was constantly recruiting strangers as therapists.

“I’m so sorry! I was just dropping off a library book. Can’t leave him alone for five minutes. Separation anxiety.”

Howling and running around in circles, Rufus was wrapped around the pole, almost strangling himself.

Yet, Rufus was a survivor. It’s not often that an Old English Sheepdog ends up at the pound.

Rufus at pound

Rufus at the pound.

Then again, I’d never heard of one called “Loopy” before.

That’s why we called him Rufus.

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Rufus with our original Border Collie, Zorro.

March 2, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a library. You can honor the libraries in your own experience, dream about libraries of the future or explore a community without one. Bonus points for discovering something you didn’t know your library offered.

……………..

This flash was based on our Old English Sheepdog, Rufus, who has subsequently crossed over the rainbow bridge.

Not long after we got married and moved into our own place, Geoff and I brought Zorro, a pure-bred Border Collie, home from the pound. This was before we had kids and as newlyweds, Zorro became our surrogate child. I was working 3 days a week as well as renovating our house: painting rooms, making curtains and completely overhauling the garden. Just like a much loved only child, Zorro went everywhere with us. Moreover, just like so many parents, we loved our one dog soooo much, we thought about getting another…No. 2…a friend for Zorro…a sibling!

Sound familiar?

I had already been reading the dog ads in the local paper like a desperado glued to the personals. That was how I found out about the Old English Sheepdog at the pound…Loopy.

Thrilled, I dragged Geoff up there at break neck speed before we missed out. I’d never thought about owning my own Old English Sheepdog They’re so cute!!!

Anyway, when we arrived at the pound, things with this Old English Sheepdog weren’t so good. He had severe eczema, was severely underweight and malnourished and had just been returned to the RSPCA for chasing cats. The dog was also called Loopy, which I thought was a bit inappropriate for an Old English Sheepdog. So, that name should have set off alarm bells as well. Loopy was loopy and changing his name was never going to stop that.

Obviously, this was no glowing report card and although some alarm bells went off, all I remember hearing was: “POTENTIAL”. Just sort out his skin, fatten him up and we’d have a great dog. If you have ever been duped by the words “renovator’s dream”, then you’ll know exactly what I mean.

We went home to think about it. Went back with Zorro and they got on alright and we arrived home with Rufus, the re-badged Loopy, in tow.

The next day when I went to work, we left Rufus on a running lead. Much to my horror, when I arrived home, Rufus was all but choking. He’d been walking round and round in circles and the clip had gotten caught up in his fur and he couldn’t move at all. I virtually had to perform surgery to cut him loose. Indeed, he was lucky he didn’t strangle himself.

This was just the beginning of his loopiness, or running round in circles so stressed that he looked possessed. Thunder storms were hell. We’d lock him in the house to keep him safe and then he’d run round and round our kitchen table in circles frothing at the mouth with his heart almost pounding out of his chest. We’d try to get him to sit and lie down and perhaps we should’ve looked into medication but I didn’t really think about medicating pets back then.

We knew absolutely nothing about rescue dogs. Indeed, we had not been warned that he had some really deep-seated issues and may not be suited to family life. That he wasn’t just a dog looking for a new home but was a rescue dog in the true sense of the word needing a lot of work, training and patience. We were about to start a family and in retrospect, getting a second dog wasn’t a bright idea in the first place. Then, I also developed my health/disability issues just to complicate matters further.

I know this has become “dobbing on Rufus day” but his emotional issues were just the tip of quite a deep ice berg. He’d jump up onto the kitchen bench stealing food, swallowing it plastic bag and all, no doubt doing dreadful damage to his stomach. Also, because his jaw didn’t quite meet, he’d end up slobbering and then shake his head and goop would fly across the room, splatting on the wall. Charming!! He also tried biting Geoff a few times…not good!

The two dogs accommodated each other better than Bilbo and Lady did at first. However, I couldn’t help feeling that Zorro was thinking: “What the heck have you done?” They were like the original Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple. Zorro was always neat and he almost looked like he was in a three-piece suit with his black and white fur. Rufus was a scruffy, dribbling rogue anarchist. Even at the beach, he took off after a sea gull and ran a couple of kilometres away in seconds. He seemed totally beyond management.

We are not dog rescue types and we had two kids during that time. It definitely wasn’t an easy time and I was also coming down with a debilitating Auto-Immune disease which was eating away my muscles.Under such grueling circumstances, why did we battle on with such a challenging dog when we could have walked away? Sent him back.

I don’t know. Being an eternal optimist, perhaps I kept hoping our efforts would work. Also, once we’d brought Rufus home and made him part of our family, we couldn’t send him back. That it didn’t matter whether a family member was human or canine. We couldn’t give up on him. Throw him out. After all, given his issues, it would be difficult for the RSPCA to re-home him. I couldn’t just lead him to the slaughterhouse.

Perhaps, if we’d known a suitable home for him, it would’ve been different but I certainly didn’t want to be him killed. We loved him. Perhaps not warts and all but despite all his issues, he was a fabulous dog!!

He was an extremely loving, affectionate dog with an exuberance and enthusiasm matching his anxiety…a tension between yin and yang.

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Mister & Rufus

The children adored Rufus and would climb all over him like a horse. He was beautiful with them..even when they pulled his fur.

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Who wouldn’t love Rufus?!! He was adorable!

He also had huge chocolate brown eyes and would look at you with such love and adoration. You were his world and you could throw your arms around him and he was so hugable.

We loved Rufus.

Then, one morning, we woke up and Rufus was lying on the back deck. He didn’t move. Didn’t respond when I called him. Rufus had passed away, crossing over the rainbow bridge.

A few days later, we welcomed Bilbo into our family. Being a pup, he was obviously much smaller than Rufus and our 2 year old son was quite upset. Wanted a big dog.

Bilbo grew up.

By the way, we have subsequently adopted Lady as a two year old dog. That adoption has gone really well.

What we have probably learned from our experience with Rufus is the importance of carefully matching dogs and humans. Not everyone is positioned to take on a rescue dog and people who are buying puppies also need to make sure they can handle the adult dog. Dogs really love their humans and it’s not fair to keep re-homing them. They’re a lifelong commitment.

Inevitably, thinking about how to respond to troubled or “broken” dogs, raises the whole question of people. If we send a dog back to the pound due to mental health and behavioural issues, what is that saying about people experiencing these challenges. That’s been front of mind while I’ve been writing this. This is, of course, a very complex issue but I have to believe that while love alone may not be enough to pull someone through, it certainly goes a long way. Yet, loving someone who is struggling, isn’t always easy or straightforward but we have to persevere. We also have to have faith and believe in ourselves as we struggle as well. Life and people are incredibly complex and diverse. Not something you can neatly sum up in a few words.

Somehow, my 99 word flash fiction has expanded into a psychological journey. One which I need to shut down at this point so I can get to bed.

Have you ever had a struggling rescue pet and how did it go?

xx Rowena

 

Poem: Night Music.

Outside my window,

there is no moon.

Through midnight’s murky darkness,

the branches twist and turn,

sharing their whisperings,

rousing me from the very depths

of sleep.

I hear voices.

There’s somebody out there.

 

The leaves are rustling,

whispering their precious secrets.

Something important

or perhaps it’s just

some silly shopping list.

 

Yet, in the wind,

their chattering sounds serious.

Forgetting all about the leaves,

I can not sleep.

I can not sleep a wink.

The shadows are growing

larger and larger.

Infused with evil,

they’re haunting and tormenting me.

Drawing closer and closer,

they’re now whispering in my ear:
“We’ve got you now!”

Their putrid, rotting breaths

sticking to my skin like toxic slime

I can not peel off.

 

On the very brink of death,

I run,

diving into Mummy and Daddy’s bed.

An impenetrable fort

immune from all beasts.

I am safe at last.

 

The beast deflates.

Phew!

It was all just branches

dancing in the wind,

brushing against my window pane…

night music.

Our son had to write a poem for English at school…”Through My Window”. He’s about to turn 12 and is in his first month of High School. As much I have been thinking about this exercise to try and help him, I also appreciated the topic myself. It was an excellent writing prompt.

There are so many different perspectives he could pursue. I know he actually loves going to sleep with the curtains open so he can watch the sunset but when he was younger and the wind was blowing  through the tree out the front, he would think someone was out there and get scared…a natural reaction for young kids. I still get scared myself in big storms when all sorts of things go bump and thump in the wind and the house feels like its about to fly of to the Land of Oz.

There is a fig tree growing outside his window. It’s an overgrown pot plant the kids call their climbing tree. They have shared occupancy with a succession of native pigeons who have nested there. A few years ago when the kids were about 6 and 4 they ran inside each carrying a baby bird saying they needed to look after them. I promptly told them that’s what the birds had parents for. Obviously birds can’t look after their own young…!

For two days, we were feeding those baby birds while trying to re-home them with their parents. While it was kind of fun and an experience we’ll never forget, I was so stressed trying to make sure those baby birds didn’t die and somehow made it back to Mum and Dad. We even stuck their flimsy nest in an ice cream container when we put it back in the tree. I remember waiting and waiting for any sign of their parents and listening out for their “coo”. It really was incredibly stressful.

Eventually, our story had a happy ending, although it seemed to take forever. Here’s the full story here:

Pigeons still nest in that tree and you can see the parents nesting through our son’s bedroom window.

xx Rowena

 

Character Undefined.

You have to watch out for characters, both real and fictitious.

Just when you think you’ve painted their portrait, they grab the brush, slap on a moustache or some other undesirable addition and ruin all your hard work. Change the picture.

No matter how careful you are, there are no guarantees. They could still develop a life of their own and escape from your clutches.

Moreover, if you’re writing about your dog, don’t be surprised if that darn dog doesn’t run off with your precious paintbrush and play fetch with it…even if they’ve never chased a stick before.

It can happen to the best of us.

Indeed, this morning it happened to me and I even have photographic proof.

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In middle ocean, doggy is swimming…

My dog Bilbo, who has found fame but not fortune on my blog, is renowned for being afraid of the water. Yet, this morning he went for a swim at the beach and totally messed up his character sketch.

I was absolutely flabbergasted!!

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

Abraham Lincoln

While parents might discuss their human children, dog parents hold nothing back. Indeed, they discuss the foibles of their “offspring” in embarrassingly personal detail, even comparing notes about their intimate mental health issues. Indeed, they name and shame their dogs, even posting photos of their most extreme mental health moments, without any shame at all. No sense of betrayal. That just because they’re talking about a dog, that it doesn’t mean it’s heartless gossip…even bullying!

How awful is that? Being bullied by your own Mum or Dad?!!

Well, I must confess that even I’m a bit guilty. I could have mentioned Bilbo’s water phobia. I might even have posted photographs of the same sorry mutt staring helplessly as his ball drifts out to sea because he’s too chicken to fetch it. I might have even called him a “scaredy dog” behind close doors or implied it on previous posts.

Fetching Bilbos Ball

Finally some assistance. Miss puts Bilbo out of his misery!

So, even I have probably said more than I should about my dog’s “quirks” but there’s no mistaking how much I love my dog! Besides, I should also point out that he’s also jumped on my blog a few times and spilled my beans as well!

All that aside, just because Bilbo has issues, it doesn’t mean he can’t change. That just because he’s a dog with very strong inbred character traits, that he can’t grow. Extend himself. Or, indeed, be an old dog showing off his new tricks.

He can.

Indeed, he did.

This morning, Bilbo went swimming at Dog Beach. He actually not only got his paws wet but ventured in and actually SWAM!!!

HOWZAT! (This is Australian cricket slang for “How’s that? Meaning: “It’s out!”)

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Almost Surfing.

Of course, now that the dog’s actually gone swimming, I’m not quite back to the drawing board but I’m definitely back in my philosopher’s chair and asking: “Why is it so?”

Professor Julius Sumner Miller famously coined that phrase in his children’s science show. However, I doubt he ever looked at how or why animals and people suddenly change their stripes like that. Or, at least, act out of character now and then. He was more of a physics man famous for being able to get a boiled egg inside a glass milk bottle.

Bilbo’s swim was, in effect, the reverse process… taking a dog who was set in his ways and setting him free from the confines of his self-imposed glass bottle…just like letting a genie out!

Unfortunately, I’m no expert in dog behaviour and indeed, this mutt has been testing all my philosophical and psychological powers lately what with him fretting with the kids being away. Let’s just say he’s been in a bit of trouble.

Anyhow, like any good detective, we return to the crime scene and examine the evidence. Investigate what actually happened. Move over Sherlock Holmes! Here I come.

On the morning of Friday 29th January, 2016 at approximately 9.30 AM Bilbo, a nine-year old Border Collie was running along Dog Beach with his sister, Lady, a three year old Border Collie x Cavalier and Mum, a They met up with a Rhodesian Ridgeback and a Boxer who were energetically jumping and chasing each other through the surf. Bilbo immediately started barking at the other dogs, we believe, warning them to get out of the water…the canine equivalent of “Danger Will Robinson”. Having too much fun, the other dogs didn’t respond, ignoring him completely. They kept playing.

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One exuberantly happy dog!

Meanwhile, Lady being more cavalier, joins the dogs in the surf. After all, it’s so hot, that you could fry an egg in the sand. It’s the perfect day for a swim, except you could potentially boil in the water! That is, unless you’re wearing jeans and a few too many Christmas chocolates around the middle.

The next thing I know, Bilbo’s gone from barking on the beach to wading into the water and even swimming, while still barking occasionally. Bilbo is swimming! I suspect he’s actually herding, rounding up his mates more than actually swimming but he’s still in the surf.

“My goodness!” a friend exclaims, totally stunned. “That one NEVER goes in”.

I have a group of dog walkers I usually meet up with in the mornings. I don’t know whether we’ve oversimplified their characters or whether dogs are just more straight-forward than people. However, somehow the dogs have all been categorized…ball chaser, stick chaser, swimmer, non-swimmer, introvert, extrovert, problem dog…unconsciously, of course. Then, there’s Lady who I’m now pretty sure pretends to be daft to do her own thing. She dabbles in a bit of everything but seems to love stick her head down sniffing the sand and running along. and wandering I’m pretty sure she’s hunting. She used to live on a farm but as the saying goes “we’re not in Kansas anymore”! No more rabbits.

Anyway, I doubt Bilbo’s suddenly developed a love of swimming. Rather, I suspect that he’s just trying to be the Good Samaritan, attempting to herd his crazy mates out of the water and back onto dry land. Who knows? Perhaps, while he was out there, he found out that he wasn’t going to die and that he even liked it? Was having fun? The other dogs sure were and who hasn’t experienced the thrill of the moment when someone else’s fun is so infectious that it carries you right outside yourself and all your pre-conceived ideas and sets you free? All of a sudden you realise, that you’re standing somewhere you never thought you’d be and you don’t even know how you got there!

That’s what happened to me yesterday when I was driving my daughter to school. It was a 45-60 minute drive in the rain and I wasn’t even nervous. I felt calm, capable and in control. Indeed, I was standing, or in this case, sitting where I never thought I’d be and I was fine.

My inner fortitude was further tested this afternoon when yet another nasty storm hit right before picking up our son locally. The heavens were falling down and of course, there was lightening, thunder but fortunately no hail. I looked out there, at what almost looked like the end of the world. As much as I wanted to stay at home, I braced myself and figured the sooner I left, the better the car space. I threw on my raincoat, grabbed my golf umbrella and drove off, arriving in one piece, albeit through floodwaters about 20 cm deep in parts. It’s very flat where we live.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

Helen Keller

Of course, driving through all of this, I’ve become Captain Courageous. Not quite Captain Invincible but I’m working on it.

So, as we write our characters, both real and fictitious, while also getting to know ourselves, we should always leave that gap. Room for doubt. Space for growth. No one is set in concrete. They can still wriggle free. Take on a life of their own.

Just ask my dog!

AND…

You can ask ME!

xx Super Ro!

PS If you are interested in character development or are a bit of a people person, you could well find the Proust Character Questionnaire useful:Proust Character Questionnaire It’s been used by writers, actors etc for character development and I’ve been going through it for the Book Project…albeit very slowly.