Letters and Phonecalls.

It’s the run up to christmas so the old junk mail round has been heavier than usual this week  . Each day I’ve  been a battling  to try to stuff more and more paper  into overflowing letter boxes. Seems everyone’s got a monster christmas sale on. The shops are  flogging everything from bon bons to engine oil and trying to convince people to spend up big . As  I trudged around this week I worried about already cash strapped families being cajoled into spending and then spending even more on gifts that will supposedly make the recipient feel special.

I’ve felt a bit guilty too. The more catalogues I deliver, the more I get paid, which in a way makes me part of the machine. Part of the push to get the christmas tills ringing and the plastic cards swiping. I know for my bride  and I just getting through the fortnight requires a budgeting act on her behalf which is a balancing act. So I can relate to the poor letterbox owners on my round. At times I have a little voice telling me I should be spoiling my family more. That a bigger fridge, an outdoor setting, ( that I didn’t find on the nature strip,) would make the holiday season more comfortable. I’d like to buy my grandson Jake that star wars leggo thing I saw in one of the brochures. I’d like to see his eyes light up in surprise as he ripped the christmas wrapping of it. But take solace in the fact he’ll thank just as warmly for the book I got him for ten bucks.

I worry that for some people who read those colourful brochures I peddle , it might make them feel that they are  not in the main game. I worry that they might feel swamped by the  pictures of happy faces staring back at them from the Kmart catalogue. That they might feel that no money to buy gifts makes them poor. But the older I get the more I’ve come to appreciate that it’s doing the little things, not buying the big things that people we care about really need.

Two things I do know that have got cheaper are phone calls and note pads. I reckon a simple phone call  can be a gift which is priceless. A simple, ‘ Gidday, I was just thinking about you and thought I’d give you a ring,’ would be a present anyone would be glad to receive. And if you make the call from one of those old-fashioned landlines prices start from around twenty cents. For  $2 you can buy a note pad and write someone a letter. For most of us the mail is full of envelopes with little windows, but for the grand sum of sixty-five cents you could just make someones christmas. You could fill the letter with the love that person has given you throughout the year. You could tell them you intended to get them a large screen TV, but you’d already sealed the envelope!

So I’m sorry about all that stuff I’ve been cramming into your mailbox. I hope you’re not buying suff you can’t afford. I reckon the best gift any of us can give is ourselves and we don’t need glossy junk mail to find that gift. See Ya.


The View From The Trams.

Well it’s Friday again, time for me to write and hopefully at some point, time for you to read. On that note I’d just like to say how much I appreciate the responses I’ve been getting and that I’m really feel blessed having so many people having a squize at my  daydreams.

So here I go. On  Wednesday I went for a ride on a tram .  To some weary public transport regulars that might seem to be of  little note, but for me it was like an adventure. To kick off my trek into the world I had to buy a myki. I joked with the guy at the seven eleven, that I already had my key in my pocket. He gave me one of those, ‘ If you think your funny you’re not,’ smiles and handed me my plastic card and  sent me off . And I must admit right there I expected more of a fanfare. I thought there’d be a signing on ceremony. A sort of welcome out of the front seat of you car and into the world of ptc. But there was nada. ‘ Can I use it straight away?’ I enquired of my mate behind the console. ” You can use it right this second he chirped,’ Which I took as meaning, get out of my shop you silly old bugger.

My Bride was visiting an old friend in Richmond so we drove over and I would catch the tram to my appointment . They hadn’t seen each other for years. For my wife and her friend Rose the day,  held the promise of a long talk, many hugs and I figured it would be nice if they had some time alone as they sipped on a new cup of old friendship. ‘I’ve got my ticket to ride I said. You two enjoy the reunion, I’m off to swipe on and swipe off I assured them !” Well, I was after Rose told me what stop to wait at,which tram to catch and how to use the plastic card thingy .

I waited for the tram at the designated stop and it might sound silly but I feel in love with the busyness. The footpath was buzzing  as people rushed by almost as fast as the traffic. There were young people. Old people. People in suits. A labourer in shorts and work boots, who had a snake tattoo that wrapped around his arm and had more colours on it than a dulux chart . In the ten minutes it took for my tram to arrive I saw more diversity than I’ve seen in Sunbury for the last year. I felt like a tourist. Felt like this wasn’t my world.  This was a new place, a new day and to cap it off I had a ticket to experience it all.  I felt that I wasn’t just on the way to an appointment, I felt like I was having a holiday.

My tram arrived! A big beautiful grey and white number. I shuffled on board farewelling my footpath dreaming to use my new, shiny, cashed up, Myki! I remembered Rose’s instructions on how to swipe on. I approached the swiper on thing with confidence. I could do this. I could be a man about town. A man with somewhere to go and a mobile phone. All I had to do was hold my nerve . I lunged at the screen twice waving my piece of plastic like it was something I’d been doing for months. And of course it didn’t work! I felt like a failure. Felt like a bumpkin from the bush and had to be rescued by a fellow traveller who got the little scanner thing to beep. I thanked him profusely for his help  and explained that I was a first timer. The young kid smiled politely and assured me I’d get the hang of it.  I was buoyed by his encouragement and fell in love with the notion that  on the trams, people help  each other. That the city has a heart and as the tram rattled down Church Street, I could feel it’s pulse.

I stared out the windows of that tram like a kid stares at toys in Kmart. We glided past the Good Luck Chinese and Vietnamese restaurant. Mobile phone shops that offered laptop repairs. A Vietnamese butcher shop. The towering Richmond Comission flats. A chemist that called itself, not only the cheapest in Richmond, but the cheapest in Australia. I watched as people bustled in and out of the shops. Got the urge to forget my hospital appointment and just hop of the tram and lose myself in the throng. But if I got off, I’d cut my ride short so I just tried to let the images sink in. Scrambled to find a little corner of my mind to use as a scrapbook for the pictures of my journey.

When I’d bought the Myki that morning, I didn’t realise that by days end it would have me ruminating on how the influence of other cultures has changed the city’s feel. Out in sleepy old Sunbury, it’s easy to feel removed from multicultural Melbourne. But on Church Street tram I got a fresh look at how vibrant, how diverse, how wonderful a suburban strip can become.  On the trip back to meet my bride I thought about politicians who try to convince us that we need stronger borders. About the popular media throwing around labels like, illegal immigrants and cue jumpers. I felt sad that a country like Australia which has gained so much from the influence and hard work of immigrants is now saying, we don’t want you.

I don’t have a degree in economics. I’m not a politician, I’m just a bloke who grew up in Carlton in the sixties and lived with neighbors from all over the world.  I remember how enriching that was.  Remember watching old run down terraces being painted in bright colours and hearing conversations in other languages and feeling lucky . I still feel lucky. Lucky I can stumble into a shop and buy a bit of plastic and go on a tram ride to experience something we need to hang onto and encourage.

The Gift Of Courage.

The best thing I’m finding about writing this little blog is the freedom it gives me to write about whatever or whoever I choose.  I love that. Love the freedom to say  what’s on my mind or my heart and to share it with anyone who cares to listen. I’ve decided over the coming months to write about my personal heroes. To celebrate and thank those people who light my way. So today I’m going to write about the Bruno Lettieri who first taught me creative writing and has since taught me a lot about creative living.

I could start the story in a hot portable classroom at St Albans TAFE in 1993. I could talk about how nervous I was returning to education after twenty odd years. I could tell you about sitting down on that first night thinking, ‘ I’ll kill my daughter for talking me into this.’ I sat in the back row at that first class figuring the door and a quick exit would be handy if the going got tough and I decided to just get going! I didn’t know on that first nervous night, that this short energentic teacher would unlock a door for me into a world I didn’t know exsisted.

On that first night Bruno handed out exercise books and enthusisim. He told us that the word encouragement meant ,’To give courage.’ He told us we all had stories that were worth writing. That the words we needed weren’t in a dictionary, but were in our hearts and our memories.  He told us to roll up our sleeves, to not be afraid of what we didn’t know but to just get something, anything down onto a page. He threw around prompts and quotes like a manic chef with a pan in one hand and a piping bag in the other. He quoted writers I’d never heard of. Came out with lines about footy and love and daydreaming . For homework he told us to write three times a week for at least ten minutes without stopping. To keep all our  stuff. Told us where to look for inspiration. Told us to be, ‘Interested in the predicament of being alive.’

I came away that first night thinking, ‘ How long has this been going on’. My memories of teachers and classrooms were nothing like the two hours I’d just experienced. This guy, this passion, these ideas were something I’d never experienced before. In the following weeks and months I fell in love with my teacher’s ideas of writing about the stuff that was important to me. I started to carry a notebook with me and would often stop during my workday to jot down a line about something that caught my eye. I started to view my life and the lives of my family as a tale worth capturing. I forgot about boring english classes I’d had during my school years. I began to see that life is literature, and that the world I’d only been glancing at, had so much to offer.

In the years that followed that teacher became my mate. He became my mentor, sometimes my confessor but always someone who continued to open doors for me. At my wedding he gave my wife away cause her dad was on the other side of the world. He helped me get my work published. Wheeled me out to talk to new students about my writing and about my journey.And each time I’ve been in a psych ward he’s been my first visitor.

Last Wednessday night he invited me to talk to his life writing class at Rupertswood. I arrived a bit early and he was mid lesson. I pulled up a chair and watched the manic chef in action. I saw the pan, saw the piping bag, saw the faces of his students and recognised myself in their eyes. Heard him read them  a short story set in Sunshine.And I listened as he encouraged his students to write their own.

Yep, He’s a hero. He’s still teaching. Still inciting ordinary people to tell their extraordinary stories. And nineteen years on continues to,’ Give me courage!


I remember shopping with my mum back in the 60’s. Remember when if you wanted meat, you went to a butcher shop. If your shoes were buggered, good old mum would take you to the shoe shop. Vegies came from the fruit shop, hammers from the hardware shop and musk sticks and cobbers were in a glass cabinet at the milk bar. Shopping back then was regimented. Mum didn’t drive. So a shopping expedition for us meant a trudge along the street pulling a shopping jeep. The supermarket was a place in American tv shows, our equivalent was the good old Self Service! I remember when the shops closed at five on weekdays, and twelve on Saturdays. Oh yes I remember. Pubs closed at six and didn’t open on Sundays. A big w, was just a capital letter. 7 and 11 were just numbers, and a hole in the wall, meant a job for dad and not something you got cash out of.

It’s hard to believe but somehow mum’s like my mum managed to keep her brood fed and heeled within the time restraints of those old shopping hours. There wasn’t much point in deciding at ten o’clock Sunday morning you needed a tin of paint to freshen up the windowsills. Because the hardware guy was probably having bacon and eggs prior to leaving for a drive up to the Dandenongs. Back then just as shopping was regimented , families had to plan what they needed for the weekend. Because at lunch time Saturday the shopping week did end.

My how times have changed. We’ve inherited the American supermarket. They sell meat and hammers and socks and beer . They’re open from six in the morning till twelve at night. But when I look around at the shoppers down at the local Woolworths, they all look short of time. I wonder how they’d cope if they had to buy thier whole grain organic microbiotic thingys by lunchtime Saturday. Just imagine Saturday arvos with empty streets. Shop assistants of riding bikes and milkbars being the only place where you could get a packet of fags.

A little while back my daughter Holly needed a few things for a uni assignment she was putting together. It was eight o’clock on a sunday night and she asked me would I take her down to Big W, to pick up the required supplies. When I told her that the said shopping barn closed at five on a sunday my young one couldn’t quite grasp why that could be. I’ve mused on it since and realised that shops being open all hours is to people these days just a given. We’ve got used to the convenience, the fact that we don’t have to think ahead and that if we fancy some Sarah lee ice-cream at ten pm, Coles have it covered.

A good mate of mine, ‘Big Baz,’ recently spent a Sunday cooking sausages outside our local Bunnings. The outdoor barbecue is a great way for local clubs and service groups to raise funds and it gives ravenous shoppers some fuel to propel them through the aisles of hardware heaven. In an eight-hour shift, big Baz and his mates cooked up 700 sausages in bread! I dips me lid to the fundraisers. And I must admit that I’m partial to a snag after buying a shifter, but I’m astounded to think that many people flock to a hardware shop on a Sunday!

I’m often told by my offspring not to keep rambling on about, ‘ The good old days.’ They laugh at me because I call an ATM an autoteller. When I talk about walking around Lygon street Carlton on a sunday and daydreaming in the windows of the closed shops, they really do think I’m from another planet.

Sometimes I miss those empty streets. Miss the Golden Fleece petrol station. Butcher shops with sawdust on the floor. And my old mum and her trusty jeep.

Thanks to all of you for reading each week. Your encouragement and comments have been a real gift. If you have the time click on the bubble at the top right and tell me your shopping memories. Till next week, Much Love, Baz

Lost In The Learning

On Wednesday  night I went to a writing workshop At the Rupertswood mansion in Sunbury. I’d had a day that had been chaotic. One of those days when I seemed to be rushing from the time I got up until it was time to head up for the class. As I drove down the driveway into  the grounds surrounding Rupertswood   I felt out of breath, flustered. I felt as though I was too stressed to get anything out of the night. I felt that my head was so full of workaday stuff, that learning, that taking anything in would be impossible. But lately I’m finding when I least expect it, when I’m least prepared, good things seem to happen.

The Workshop was part of a series of courses offered by the Salesian College as part of a new program called The Twilight School. The concept devised by Mark Brockhus, (Salesian Principal,)  is to get Parents, staff and the local community involved in the life of the college. The mansion which sits majestically beside the college provides a venue for learning that is beyond imagining. For a local like me The Twilight School is like a door into a new community.

The guest tutor for the night was writer, actor, director Ailsa Piper. Our group gathered around two tables on the verandah of the mansion and listened as this energetic walker and talker led us on our way. She told us that for the next couple of hours we’d need to be, ‘Creators not curators,’ that editing was something you do after the act of writing. That  we’d need to roll up our sleeves. We’d need to write and keep on writing even if that little voice inside tried to stop us or tried to convince us we had nothing worthwhile to say. Ailsa  stressed the importance of just getting words down onto the page. She encourage us to be messy because as she put it, ‘A mess is where we play.’ Our group used word clusters to get the bones of a character down. And our leader prompted us, pushed us and encouraged us to keep playing. There were 25 people in the group. 25 heads . 25 sets of hands racing to try to capture images and emotions.

After a writing burst that gave  me writers cramp Piper suggested we leave the writing-table and move out onto the mansion forecourt and use movement to get us ready for the next writing phase . Now I’ve been in a few writing classes over the years. Tried a lot of different ways of trying to get focused none of which involved running around a car park, skipping, hopping or running. To my surprise she soon had us  stretching and bending and laughing. Quite simply, Ailsa had 25 adult learners playing. We laughed at ourselves laughed at each other and came back to the notebooks and used the experience to continue writing. I don’t know that people in a learning environment are supposed to have that much fun. Don’t know how you’d illustrate on a flow chart the sense of community that Alisa’s lecture encaptured. But I know for me for a couple of hours I forgot about everything and got lost in learning.

On Wednesday I night I learnt that playing and  getting in touch with my physical self,  can open a door to the creative self. I was reminded about the powerful spirit that springs from mature aged learning. I discovered that a historic mansion can feel like home. And that The Twilight School is offering so much to my local community. I learnt there were people like Ailsa prepared to encourage and inspire others to try new things.

There will be more nights at Salesian. Different tutors, guest speakers, public forums and a range of subjects offered. If Wednesday night was a sample I can’t wait to open the show bag. If your a local stroll up to the mansion and see what’s hapenning. If your not a local, Drive on over, it might be a surprising way to end you Day!