The things we no longer do

101218_eccentric-servbot_human-professor-frankly[1]The wonderful thing about babies and toddlers and little children is…well, that they are babies, and toddlers and little children. And then, in a blink of an eye, they seem to require more space, more food, more duct tape and a new car all to themselves. They grow older, occasionally wiser and, if you are lucky, quieter. And they no longer do the stuff they used to do.

Which, depending on how you look at it, can be either a good or a bad thing.

The ‘good’ starts when your children stop being so dependent, and you get your life back. The little munchkins no longer insist on joining you in the toilet. They stop pestering you to cut up their dinner or take their Lego apart.  A ‘quick trip to the shops’ moves from myth to reality, now that it can happen sans the hissy that used to follow their aborted attempts to pull price tags off shelves.  Hell, you might even make it to the shops for a long trip, if you so choose, since you no longer need a babysitter.

There comes a time – in my house, it’s in the kids’ first decade – that you no longer need to get their lunchboxes packed each morning since a) they are old and ugly enough to do it themselves, and b) you have long realised that they don’t eat what you pack anyway.  These types of ‘no more lunch making’ milestones are pretty awesome. They are a sign that your sometimes-lovely, sometimes-painful children are on their way to growing into capable and responsible adults, who will one day leave home, get a dog, and a credit card, and a job that they will probably remember to turn up on account of needing money to buy Barbies and iPads and ice cream for their own sometimes-lovely, sometimes-painful children.

The not so good part is that that all these now grown up, capable and responsible children – if they are anything like me and so many other reasonably sensible adults – stop doing some pretty cool stuff. I have no problem drawing up a list:

Stepping into puddles on purpose.

Double dipping Nutella straight out of the jar.

Wearing crumpled clothing and awful rah rah skirts.

Running across hallways

Tormenting bugs.

See what I mean? Chances are, the reason we don’t do those things any more is because someone, somewhere along the line (most likely, our very own, very sensible mothers) said ‘aren’t you too old for this?’. And thus, in the (arguably questionable) quest to gain maturity and pay off the mortgage, we too often forsake our ability to get lost in the moment, to be spontaneous, to notice the colours of rainbows. It kind of sucks. And it explains, perhaps, why I frequently find myself oscillating between wanting my kids to grow up and wanting them to stay kids forever.

It is an existential dilemma. Still, one happy reality dawns, once you put some thought into it: old age. Thankfully, there comes a time when it becomes perfectly socially acceptable – sometimes even expected – to revert to a second childhood of sorts.  Some would call it senility, others eccentricity. Whatever. I’m kind of looking to it. Once I am 100% sure that I am, indeed, all grown up, capable and responsible, and that I have sufficiently supervised my own children to become the same, I have every intention to let loose and rediscover the long lost joy of swapping price tags on supermarket shelves.

Happy aging, my friends!

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A world without the Arts

art pictureCould you live in a world without books, music or art? Would you want to?

As a teenager I used to have a poster on my wall which said, in big, purple letters, ‘Imagine a world without the Arts’. To the right of the heading and below it lay a smattering of other words, a kaleidoscope of fonts spelling out opera, drama, portrait…soul.

The poster hung right above my desk, and my eyes invariably strayed to it as I pored over endless calculus, physics and chemistry. Back then, I was on a path to engineering (or medicine, or dentistry or anything else that my parents deemed to lead to a ‘proper’ job). I’d read the purple words, and try to imagine, and know that I couldn’t. At the time, the ‘real, important subjects’ got my attention; I was never really encouraged to see art or literature as anything more than a hobby. But then I found myself on an interschool art camp in the Pilbara and, upon my return, the lure of the poster won: I ended up enrolling in a Bachelor of Arts course.

Admittedly, the majors which eventually constituted my degree – Psychology and Economics – could just vaguely be tagged as ‘humanities’. To actually place them into the category of Arts would take some argument, possibly even one assisted by the sweet smelling substance so prevalent around the Arts buildings at uni. Still, I am an Arts lover, and it is the Arts, not reason, which saw me through the difficult times in my life.

There was a period, several years ago, when my husband was very ill and needed to spend much time in hospital. Around the same time, my eldest son had been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and commenced intensive therapy. For me, this meant a lot of time waiting; waiting for appointments, waiting for results, waiting for one or another treatment session to start or to finish. Reading was always a wonderful diversion, but it could only go that far, so I decided to try and make a quilt instead. And I did – a beautiful quilt, covered by extensive appliqué which took a full year to complete. It now hangs in my hallway, covered by a multitude of dirty handprints, a precious item I can never see myself getting rid of.

It was the quilt that made me realise that it’s impossible to have dark thoughts when engaged in the creative process. Neuroscientists can no doubt explain the particular sort of alchemy that takes place inside one’s head when creativity takes hold. I am not sure if I need an explanation though. For me, art is simply good for the soul. There is something inherently positive, relaxing and life-affirming about art-making, in all its various forms, even if the final product represents a negative experience. I would imagine that this is at least part of the reason why art therapy works.

There is a growing body of research which suggests that engagement in creative and cultural activities has a positive and long lasting effect both on whole communities and on individuals, in particular those who fall into some of the marginalised groups, such as dementia patients, the disabled, or child and adult victims of abuse.

Alas, the very same cultural activities are rarely truly free, whether one wishes to participate or spectate. Public Arts programs are often the first to get the chop during budget reviews, and dance classes, music lessons, art materials and theatre tickets can add up to serious dollars. What’s more, enabling the disadvantaged members of our society access to Arts activities is a task which often befalls their community carers – carers who are often already under-funded, over-tired and over-extended. They simply lack the time, money and energy to help others participate, let alone participate themselves.

It is sobering to think that for so many, theatre, concerts and exhibitions are a rare treat. What a shame that, while some of us sit back and imagine a world without the Arts, others are living it. And how very, very sad, that those are the people who may well need Arts the most.

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Nepal: There, but for the grace of God

Nepal earthquake, 2015. K Dulal, Wikimedia Commons

Nepal earthquake, 2015. K Dulal, Wikimedia Commons

There is a world today that lies destroyed. Its hustle and bustle and routine gone, covered by a blanket of rubble, debris and despair. Its lives forever altered, shaken by the might of a land that itself altered and shook.

As I switch on a light here, there there are no lights. No flickering globes hanging from the ceiling, no gentle hum of the generator, no distant noise from TV next door. It was, last week, a place already burdened by poverty, its living quarters small and corners cold, and conveniences like electricity notoriously fickle. But tonight…tonight, as darkness descends, voices hush and sobs deepen, and the contrasts between here and there sharpen.

Here I put dinner on the table, and call my children in to wash their hands, and pour them juice, and scold as they bicker over who gets the chicken leg, and as food falls to the floor I make them clean it up and put it in the bin and they argue and complain and I wish for a glass of wine.

Today, there, a mother clings to a bag of lentils she managed to find within the tatters of her house, and she wonders where she will get the water to cook them in, and she smiles with encouragement at her son who is digging around for a pot and a plate as she shushes the baby and smooths her daughter’s hair, and worries about what she will have to feed them all tomorrow.

For her, I send a silent prayer.

Here,  I pick up the mess off the floor after I put the kids to bed and look at the pile of ironing and ignore it , and I sigh because my husband is working late again, but I stay up and wait for him, and as he takes off his shoes and his tie I make us a cup of tea, and we talk and laugh and make plans for tomorrow.

There, a father inspects the ruins of his shop, and collects all the goods that he can because he may just be able to sell them later, although he doubts it because the sort of people who would want to buy those things from him won’t be coming this year, and he wonders where and how they will all live once the rain and the snow come, and then he stops, and looks around, and as silent tears roll down his cheeks he wipes them off because he knows that his family depends on him and he must find a way.

For him, I send a silent prayer.

Here, my head hurts and I take a Panadol, and I lie in bed with my iPad and check my Facebook and I make arrangements to meet a friend on the weekend, maybe to go bowling and then get take out,  but not till 3pm as we have footy in the morning and it’s the first game of the season an’ all.

There a teenager grits his teeth as he holds a broken arm close to his chest, and worries how long it will be before it heals because it’s his good one, and he remembers how he was meant to have a test tomorrow but how none of it matters, because all he can think of is what his two friends looked like when they weren’t  breathing anymore and in between his pain he feels a numbness.

For them, I send a silent prayer.

How blessed I am to live in a place here, not there. How charmed by twist of fate that placed me there few years ago, but here today. How lucky that birth and circumstances allow me to contemplate the horror of the news from TV rather than from reality. And as I look at all those unknown faces staring at me from the screen  I think to myself, with guilty gratitude,  ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I’.

Donate at www.oxfam.org.au/nepalearthquake.

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New language, sans Google Translate

Forgive me. I’m going to beat my own drum a bit …feeling pretty chuffed with myself!

See, I recently read a very interesting article. It was about a museum located inside a school in Chile, which is largely curated by students who attend the school. So what, you ask? Well, the article was in SPANISH.  And I don’t speak Spanish…or, to be more accurate, I didn’t know any Spanish until I started learning a couple of months ago.

I have been toying with the idea of learning the language for a while – largely because my bucket list includes quite a number of Spanish speaking countries.  However, I’ve never really committed to study until, sometime towards the end of February, a friend introduced me to a great little app called Duolingo.  Since then I’ve been spending 20-30 minutes each day – usually on the train or just before bed – working through the app and other materials online. No courses, no expensive resources, just quietly flying solo.

Admittedly, my knowledge of Spanish really only extends to being able to get the broad gist of written text. Although I DID manage the entire article this week without needing to resort to Google Translate (hence my present excitement and the drum beating thing), I get that it’s going to take considerably more effort and time to grasp the beautiful nuances of meaning and expression that only come with fluency. Still, it’s such a great feeling to see progress – I am totally encouraged to carry on.

Of course, learning a different language is not exactly a novelty for me, and I must admit that my current experience has lead me to reminisce back to that other time I was learning new words. That journey was far less pleasant.

I had arrived in New Zealand three days short of my eleventh birthday, armed with a scant handful of English phrases – thank you, sorry, one, two, three…ten;  none of them particularly helpful, once I found myself in a school full of teachers and kids who knew even less Polish than I knew English. It was very much a case of sink or swim, and, in my case, the ‘swimming’ looked like a kind of desperate cross between Dramatic Charades and Pictionary. I will leave it to you to imagine the entertainment surrounding my attempts to communicate ‘I need to go to the toilet’ on my first day at school.

I had a cousin living in England back then. Guessing we had little in terms of possessions, she sent me several copies of her Famous Five books. I remember looking through them longingly. (If you read my earlier post, Falling in love with maps, you’ll know that I was a dash book starved at the time). With not much else to do, I did the only thing I could: I grabbed the dictionary and started translating the first of the books, word by word.  It was a painful, slow process. A major stumbling block appeared when I came across one of the protagonists, George. Inexplicably, Enid Blyton regularly substituted George’s name with the female pronoun, ‘she’. Believe me when I say this was TOTALLY confounding, as I was damn well sure that George was a boy’s name! My tattered dictionary failed to point out that George was in fact a tomboy, originally christened with a considerably more feminine moniker of Georgina.  Nevertheless, by the time I got to the end of the book, I had George well and truly sorted, and I had no more need for charades at school.

In retrospect, my experience of learning English formed a lifelong lesson on perseverance, self-sufficiency and how big achievements can happen through small, achievable steps. I am certainly benefiting from those lessons now, in learning Spanish and beyond. Still, I must say that being eleven was a pretty tough time for me.

…Boy, how I would have loved to have had access to Duolingo and Google Translate back then!

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Two years

FeetIt has been a week of anniversaries, and today marks another milestone: two years since our youngest boy first bounced onto our doorstep and into our lives.

The anniversary is a bittersweet occasion – while we cherish having our foster son with us, the date likewise marks a tragic turn of events in his life, and in the life of his biological family. Hence, it is difficult to know whether it is more appropriate to celebrate or to commemorate.

The tragedy, of course, is nothing I can, or want to, tell you about. With just cause, confidentiality surrounds much of the matters relating to foster care, and there is plenty that even we, the carers, do not know. In any case, none of us can undo history, and while the wounds and scars borne by the past need to be acknowledged and tended to, it serves little purpose to dwell on them. Instead, I offer some of our family’s journey with this little man.

Inspired by Dr Seuss’ Thing One and Thing Two, we initially called him ‘Thing Three’ – largely in recognition of his gorgeous curly hair and the endless trail of destruction left wherever he’d go. Later, this somehow got abbreviated to Mr T. He arrived early one Tuesday evening, barefooted and in a scraggly singlet. I received a call from DCP barely an hour or two prior, asking if we would be willing to take in a little boy ‘for a week or two’. The social worker wasn’t sure of his name, but thought he was about four. All other details were very scant.

I said yes immediately; we were all quite excited. Our last placement, two little boys who lived with us for about half a year, left us a several weeks earlier. Whilst enjoying the break that came with no longer having a baby and toddler to look after, we missed the pair badly. It was time to get busy again.

My husband was away at the time, so it was just me and the boys who greeted Mr T at the door. He had none of the initial shyness and reserve of the other children who stayed with us. Instead, he ran inside, a little bundle of energy, and immediately set to exploring the house. The bedroom? Loved it. Lego? Wow. Older ‘brothers’? ‘Hi!’. He found a stash of bright orange Nerf guns, and for the next fortnight slept with one each night.

The novelty wore off soon, and the next few weeks were hard. Many, many destructive tantrums, violent outbursts and language which would make a sailor blush. It got to a point that my boys begged me to call DCP ‘to give him back’. I admit – I DID call. How grateful am I now, two years later, that I was not able to get hold of my case worker that day. See, slowly and steadily, we fell in love.

Mr T has boundless energy and a glowing smile, happily bestowed on just about anyone. The whole school and neighborhood knows him, and he has formed many, many friendships. Despite all that he has been through in his short life, he radiates positive energy that is nothing short of admirable. He is warm and caring, quick to forgive and forget, and gives the best hugs. Don’t get me wrong, life is not perfect – Mr T and the rest of our motley crew bicker and fight just like any other siblings, he is crap at picking his stuff off the floor, and I have been known to yell and carry on on great many occasions. But, while there is no doubt that Mr T made our life busier, louder and harder, he has also made it so, so much richer. For this, I am eternally grateful.

I fully realise that I am not his tummy mummy, that future is still uncertain, that there is another world that he belongs to as much as he belongs in ours. For now though, I cherish his small hand in mine.

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Remembering yesterday, celebrating tomorrow

wedding flowersYesterday would have been my 21st wedding anniversary. The coming of age of a successful, happy marriage. Sadly, we only made it to the 12th – silk and fine linen. The first love of my life passed away eight years ago, never having lived to accept the gifts of lace, or ivory, or crystal that are meant to follow.

However, I am not filled with regret. I would imagine that grief can become all-consuming if the heart is not diverted by other loves and other passions, and so I am eternally grateful to have been blessed not once, but twice, by the love of a good man. Still, it is a strange position to be in, to have the knowledge that my current happy relationship would not have been possible without the death of the first. The best way I can respond is by celebrating what was, what I was left with, and what I have now.

Whenever reflecting on my first marriage I always feel compelled to correct a common assumption that it was miserable. Mark and I met exactly a year after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was 25, and I was still 17. We were friends who one day found themselves lovers, who then one day found themselves husband and wife. He never asked me to marry him – it was something we both took for granted. The first time I said ‘yes’ was when the ring was sliding on my finger. I remember how he squeezed my hand and lifted an eyebrow when the priest said ‘till death do you part’. Quite early on we had the discussion about how we were never going to grow old together; the deal to simply enjoy what we had, for as long as we had it, was already sealed.

Of course, there was a fair bit of misery. I certainly recall the helplessness of seeing Mark on the floor, shaking with uncontrolled seizures, of entering ICU after yet another craniotomy, of calling the ambulance when the effects of chemo were beyond what we could manage at home. I remember the despair of an artist whose right hand was paralyzed, the horror of him not being able to find words for self-expression, the confronting sight of skull deformity. The indignity of being bed bound at the end. And yet…

And yet, what I remember more is the smile on his face as I told him I was pregnant. The sight of him, in his favourite chair, eating crackers and cheese. Building Lego with the kids. Straightening up pictures which hung crookedly on the wall. Painting a mural in the toilet. Giving up, when we found the paint was wrong. Drawing cartoons on table napkins. Teasing the cat. And the almost daily mantra: ‘I love you’, ‘I love you’, ‘I love you’.  How could I have been miserable? Why would I be regretful?

After he died, I was perfectly content to be single. Having entered the relationship whilst still in my teens, I quite enjoyed my new found independence. With two young children and a new career, I was keen for diversion, not commitment. Meeting David took me by surprise.

We married in Fiji, surrounded by palm trees, fragrant flowers and a small group of family and friends. While my best friend and I submitted ourselves to massages, manicures and hair fondling, David took the boys snorkeling and sent us top ups of wine. The minister asked whether he needed to wear shoes.

I had not organised the wedding band. They were a last minute stand in, a motley crew of local villagers blessed, as all Fijians seem to be, with golden vocal cords. They entertained us with an eclectic mix of old time rock and roll, 80’s ballads and love songs of the South Pacific, and the evening passed in a happy blur of kava and aged champagne.

Right towards the end, they played an old song, The Tennessee Waltz. The one that Mark and I loved and often had danced to, and it was an eerie feeling to find myself now dancing to it with David. Once finished, the men started to put away their instruments, but our party called for an encore and they kindly obliged. As the first strings of guitar broke the quiet of the night, my heart stopped a moment. It was a beautiful rendition of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah. The song which Mark had asked for to be played at his funeral.

That evening, the 18th of April 2012, standing wrapped in my new husband’s arms, I felt a gentle kiss from heaven.

Yesterday would have been my 21st wedding anniversary. But tomorrow is my third. I cherish the yesterdays, but take delight in the tomorrows.

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Oodles of doodles

doodle3Who DOESN’T like a decent doodle?

I’m telling you, I’ve come across them everywhere in the past week or so: kids’ bedrooms, on line, public toilets…even my bestie told me they are her new obsession. Before going any further, I should note of course that I am referring to a sort of absent-minded scribbling here, and NOT to the pet name of a boy’s thingy…even if with four sons, hubby and a male cat there are plenty of those around too, to be sure.

I have to confess that I am a prolific doodler. You are bound to find me, pen in hand, slouched over a piece of paper during most meetings or long winded lectures. But, while the sight of me filling the corners of a page with ink might look like I am bored beyond belief (which, admittedly, does happen on occasion), it is often not the case at all. Doodling both chills me out, and helps me concentrate on what is being said. I am not alone in this; perfectly credible studies prove that doodling can help improve focus and the retention of information. Apparently, the act of drawing random lines, flowers and dots expands just enough mental energy to stop a person daydreaming, thus making it easier to stay in the present. It acts as a kind of barrier between thinking too much, and thinking too little. In other words, there is no need to ever feel guilty about desecrating the edges of your notebook.

However, as much as I enjoy a good doodle, I am no less entertained by the range of pop psychology bollocks published on the topic. You can get hints on how to ‘doodle your way to a more mindful life’, and how to use doodles to ‘improve your mood’ or ‘interpret your personality’. According to those gems of wisdom, if I make energetic marks on the left margin I am ‘regretful’ and ‘crave structure’. If I leave zig zags then I ‘seek comfort’, but, if I put an arrow on the end of my zz’s, then I’m ambitious…and if the whole thing is in red then I am an aggressive cow, unless if I am in China, in which case my scribbles suggest that I anticipate future prosperity and joy. Heady stuff, no?

Everybody knows that nothing counts as anything until it has a Wikipedia entry…which doodling does.  I dare you. Go, Google. This is where I learned about my favourite bit of doodling nonsense: Zentangle (which, thankfully, doesn’t yet have its own Wiki entry, merely its own website). For those of you who (like me until yesterday) have never heard of Zentangle, let me enlighten you.

The Zentangle Method is a fully trademarked method of doodling. It is, apparently, ‘an elegant metaphor for deliberate artistry in life’. A form of creative meditation, if you like, which increases  ‘focus and creativity, provides artistic satisfaction along with an increased sense of personal well being’…and meditation which works all the better following the purchase of a Zentengle Kit for a bargain basement price of $49. Because, of course, your doodling experience will be vastly enhanced if you use acid free scraps of paper (elevated, in the product description, to hold the lofty moniker of ‘tiles’), and pencils which have been sharpened with nothing less than a German Kum® brand pencil sharpener. And you thought any old sharpener would do! Shame!.

Seriously??? My mind is boggled. Are we living in the first world or what?

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The reel inside your head

nepal photoPerhaps it’s an indication that I’ve had too much time on my hands, but I’ve been thinking about thinking this week. More to the point, I’ve been thinking about REMEMBERING.

Have you ever stopped to consider what your thoughts and memories look like when they play inside your head? I’m not talking here about what you remember, rather, about how you see memories from yesterday, last week or ten years ago.

I had been sorting some photos in order to select the ones I wanted to place into a scrapbook album. A bit of a drag, really; I am hardly a minimalist when it comes to taking pictures. So I always have piles of stuff to go through, from crisp, expansive scenes, to tacky poses and cheesy group shots. However, many of my favourite pictures, the ones which tend to make it to my ‘save’ file, are those which zoom in on the details. Little close ups of a half finished lunch, a crack in a wall, of shoes on a pavement…these images instantly take me back in time, evoking rich memories of the sights, smells and sounds of a place. It is these photos that often end up in my scrapbook albums, connected with a handful of colourful headings and captions.

And when I think of what my memories look like inside my head, they look like just that. Like my scrapbooks.

I don’t know about you, but my thoughts don’t usually play like a movie. They are more like a series of still life vignettes; snapshots of moments in time or flashes of an idea. SNAP! Refocus. SNAP! Refocus. SNAP! And, what is weird, is that sometimes a most random image can epitomize the whole experience. Let me give you an example.

A few years ago I packed my bags and took a short solo trip Nepal. I spent five days trekking through some of the most amazing scenery on earth, meeting colourful characters and finding plenty to hold my attention: sun rising over snow covered peaks, blue painted houses, icicles glistening over a stream… The more I think, the more scenes I can recall, their details weaving together into a lovely story in my mind’s eye.  But get this: the picture which is the starting point, the very first thing I think of when I think ‘Nepal’? Well, it’s an image of a softdrink bottle holding a bunch of plastic flowers. (Yep, just like the photo heading this post, except that I never remembered the noodle box.)

Seriously. Why? Why THAT image? Now, I KNOW that this particular bottle stood on a table at which I once sat, and that the table was in a room in a guesthouse, and that the guest house was near the top of a mighty high mountain which I had just spent seven hours climbing. But strain as much as I can, I can’t visualise a single other image which definitely ties in with what happened that day. And yet I know what happened, and I remember the day well.

In this roundabout way I had came to realise that I think with words and vague phrases, as well as with those still life images.  A quick bit of family interrogation interspersed with (arguably sloppy) online research suggests that I am not alone. But nor am I representative of the whole. Apparently some people think purely in ever moving pictures, while others claim to think entirely in words.

As a teacher, I’ve known for a while that people have different  learning styles, some finding it easier to learn visually, while others need to hear information or participate in some sort of kinaesthetic act of ‘doing’ to facilitate the storage of knowledge into long term memory.  I also understand that individual differences affect our interests and what we tune into in the first place. Quite naively though, I never actually thought that the ‘viewing’ of that stored knowledge, the actual business of ‘remembering’ might also look differently to people.

I am fascinated. If a bunch of different people witnessed a dramatic event, they would see it from different perspectives and notice different details. I get that. Afterwards, their heads will be buzzing as they replay the event over and over again in their mind. But for one person those ‘reeling thoughts’ will look like a Hollywood block buster, replete with technicolour and special effects. For another, it may be more like looking at a graphic novel. And for someone else still, the memories may appear as a running script:

SCENE 1

Big explosion.

[Exit, stage left]

Wow.

Is there a link between this and imagination? Artistic talent? Post traumatic stress disorder?

I think I’ve got to go and do some more thinking.

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Falling in love with maps

atlases photoLifelong interests sometimes have inauspicious beginnings. This was the case for me and maps.

It all started when I was ten. It was the early 80s, and my family had freshly emerged from behind the curtain of Cold War Poland. We escaped the country with barely a suitcase each, all filled with necessities, rather than the pleasures of life. And so it was that I found myself in a tiny apartment in Vienna, not knowing the language, without friends, TV or toys, and no books bar one: a tatty, slightly outdated world atlas.

My parents used the atlas as inspiration for ‘where to from here’. We weren’t particularly welcome in Austria, and have applied for visas to a whole range of countries. While waiting to see who would have us, mum and dad took on whatever illegal job they could find, leaving me and my brother to fend for ourselves. I couldn’t go to school and was barred from going outside onto the streets alone, so the ‘fending for myself’ generally meant drawing, writing, and endlessly flicking through the precious atlas. There and then, I fell in love with maps. I studied the legends, the latitudes, the heights of peaks and climate patterns, the population densities, country borders and capital cities. In my head, I painted pictures of the mountain ranges in my head, of sun setting over distant seas. I dreamt of places with exotic names like ‘Ceylon’ and ‘Mozambique’ and ‘Samoa’. I was, well and truly, hooked.

Fast forward 30 years, and I am still intrigued by maps. I have at least ten atlases in the house. That’s on top of several street directories, a globe, Google Earth on my iPad, and a stack of tourist maps collected over the years as trip mementos. I just can’t help myself!

I have no shame in subjecting my children to my obsession, either.  World map jigsaw puzzle? Check. Maps in bedrooms? Check. Children’s atlases? Done. A cute little snakes and ladders game with the outline of the continents in the background? How could I not get one?

In pride of place in my dining room is a six by ten foot wall map. I’ve put stickers on it showing all the places we have been, and notes for where to go. It has become a common feature of our dinner conversations.  Want to know where grandma lives? Well, just look behind you. What about penguins, and lions? Look behind you. Ah, you are learning about Egyptian pyramids?…you get the picture.

I’ll accept the accusation that I might be on the slightly bonkers side of map love, but still make the point that it’s pretty important to know where we are on earth, and where everyone else is.  How can you ever truly understand stuff like Gallipoli, if you don’t know about the strategic position of the Dardanelles Strait? Or why mucking about with a river in one place affects people downstream? Or why you might need to pack a hat if you go to Norway in winter?  Without intending to start a great debate, I am quite saddened by the state and status of Geography in our schools. Maps (and of course, the broader understanding of geographic concepts and processes) can tell us so much more than how to get from A to B. They give us an understanding of how we are all interconnected and interdependent.

I might stop here. This is turning into a rant. Feel free to share links to good map sites with me. You can be sure I will check them out. For now though, I’m off to read a book. It’s about Spain.

Did I tell you?

It’s full of maps.

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