Liniment - #2

This is part of my haul from Changi airport, and I have kept it aside for some time, awaiting just the right day to crack it open. Any good liniment is like a fine vintage, and benefits from a period of cellaring.
These past few days I've been bothered by a low-level virus that keeps me aching all over my body, and it is during times like these that liniment proves to be my best friend.
This little bottle packs a real punch, however. It is so hot that it almost becomes uncomfortable on the skin a few moments after it has been applied. And then it gets hotter.
A couple of nights ago, after rubbing my neck and shoulders down with this oil, I made the stupid mistake of rubbing my eye without having washed my hands.
Oh the agony!
I really thought I may have been blinded.
I couldn't think straight - I rushed to the bathroom and plunged my head into the shower, the hot water making the hot oil burn even more.
It wore off after a while, however, though my eye remained red and swollen for the rest of the evening. So be careful - liniments are not to be toyed with. They burn!

Emmanuel Garibay

On Sunday night I went to Chester St. Uniting's gorgeous Space for God service especially to hear a Filipino artist called Emmanuel Garibay talk about his work. I don't know what led me to go, as I usually spend my Sunday evenings at MCC Good Shepherd, but I am so glad I did.
Mr. Garibay's art is based around religious themes, and the slides he showed really blew me away - vibrant, emotional images of Christian iconography re-cast in a Filipino cultural context. And so we witnessed the holy family as peasant Filipino farmers, and Christ himself represented, not only as a woman, but as a bar hostess at that, replete with wounds! Garibay's vision is absolutely unique, and I found the whole experience deeply moving and ultimately inspiring. I was especially taken with his Christ crucified - not on the cross, but on a crowded suburban bus, his arms spread out from safety strap to luggage rack.
I only wish I'd remembered to bring my spectacles, so I could have absorbed more of the detail in the images. As the organiser, Rod Pattenden, pointed out, this was visual prayer at its very best.
This was what church should really be about - spontaneous, transformative experiences based around art and culture. It's made me even more enthusiastic about exploring new forms of worship, ones less concerned with obscure liturgy and meaningless recitation of creeds, and more concerned with genuine spiritual experience, no matter what shape it might take.

Burning a Candle

My beautiful Grandma died 3 weeks ago, and I have been thinking about her constantly. So today I went out and bought a candle to burn in her honour and help me to celebrate her life, and all the good and loving energy she was responsible for in her lifetime. I really couldn't hope to be a better person than my Grandma was, and I realise now that she was one of the great teachers of my life.
I miss you and love you Grandma, and I know that you are somewhere wonderful, smiling down on us all and showering us with your love and good wishes.
Bless you, and bless everyone reading this - may you all know such love and kindness.


I bought a new clock for my bedside table last week.
I have been rather vexed by bedside table clocks for some time now - I can never quite find one that satisfies me. I had for some time had one of those clock-radio-CD players there, but had always disliked it. As a CD player it left much to be desired - it vibrated alarmingly when played at even the most moderate volumes, and after about track 7 any CD would start to go crazy and become unlistenable. A friend told me that electronic items close to one's head in a bedroom do untold damage, and this baby was right next to my ear, about 60 centimetres from my head. Lately it had begun to wheeze and whir at strange times, making all kinds of noises that interfered with my sleep, so I finally threw it away. Never buy a clock-radio-CD player.
I was delighted to find the clock pictured at the chemist across the road from Cabramatta Railway station. I love big, bulky retro-clocks with old-fashioned bells on top. My darling old Aunt had dozens of these clocks all over her house, and I used to love them. The sound they made going off could almost deafen you. I remember a particularly beautiful one with a green face featuring panda bears balancing on the clock's hands.
Now, my new clock was only $15.95, and I didn't expect top quality, but once I had unpacked it I discovered that it was only plastic made to look like shiny metal, and so the retro bells on top were purely decorative, and that the alarm is the merest electronic beep, with no nostalgic charm at all. But I am cheered by its glitter face.
My partner has pointed out that it cannot be read at night, making it quite useless. One almost always needs to read a bedside clock in the dark.
And yet I love it.

Liniment - #1

I have an unusual obsession, and one to which I don't readily admit.
I love Chinese-style liniments! I have shelves full of them, and use them regularly.
I was originally introduced to green liniment many years ago by my Vietnamese-Australian partner, and ever since then have nursed a passion for these little bottles of medicinal wonder-oil!
Being a headache sufferer has made me extremely fond of these liniments, which usually contain some variation on a combo of peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil and menthol. But oh so many variations - choosing a liniment is like selecting a perfume - there is one for absolutely every occasion.
Of course, there are the classics - Eagle Brand Green Oil (a perennial favourite) and Wood Lock Oil (for the purists), and the ubiquitous Tiger Balm (mostly just for white folks). One applies these liniments to the back of one's neck, but also to the temples and the crown of the head. They are also good for muscular pain and even stomach ache! My partner tells me that they work a treat when fed to non-laying hens, and I have seen people in Vietnam drink them to stave off nausea, but ingestion is definitely NOT recommended!
Though Eagle Brand Green Oil claims it can also be worn as a perfume, I don't think this is particularly good advice. Unless you wanna smell like an arthritic Vietnamese granny on your next hot date.
It's almost impossible to stop me buying liniment. Once, while on a stopover in Singapore, I had ingested too many sleeping pills, and when my partner slipped off to the toilet I wandered in a drug-induced haze into the traditional medicine clinic at Singapore Airport. By the time I was found I had purchased $300 worth of liniment (Singapore is liniment capital!). Bags of the stuff!
This little bottle pictured was purchased in Hong Kong, and is relatively mild - I tend to prefer the stronger stuff that really makes the eyes water. It has an unpleasant smell, and the effects aren't particularly long-lasting. Nice label, though.


I haven't owned a record player for years - probably over 10 years.
This is very sad when you realise that I once owned a very impressive collection of late 1980s 12" mixes - particularly those coming from the Stock Aitken Waterman stable. I have (had?) an enormous record collection, but I got rid of it years ago - I gave them all to a friend who still had a turntable. It was such an amazing collection of rare stuff, most of it still unreleased on CD, and I still miss it to this day.
A few months ago my mother gave me a boxed set of records featuring the entire Holy Bible recorded on discs. This had belonged to my darling old Great Aunt Audrey, and is a real treasure. This has prompted me to look into buying a turntable that can turn the records into digital files that I can listen to on my Ipod. I think I have found the perfect one, and when my lectures have finished at Uni I shall order it.
And then I shall pop over to my old friends' house and beg back my record collection. Oh, the treasures I shall find there!

St. James, King St

For anyone interested, I have a really ghastly cold - but I won't go on about it.
There are a number of spiritual sites in the City that I love, and I visit them often if I have a spare moment and I happen to be in the area. I go in, sit for a while and say some prayers and, if the facilities are there, light a candle for someone in my life who needs it.
One of these places is St. James Anglican church in King St. St. James carries the distinction of being the oldest church in Australia, having been designed by Francis Greenaway (though not, ironically, as a church!). These days it is distinguished by its gorgeous High Church ceremonies and its tolerant and open culture. They run a fantastic adult education program, do great charity work, and I sometimes go to meditation there on Wednesday mornings. And their musical program is just wonderful!
Sounds perfect, doesn't it? Even better, it is almost always open during the day, and so the perfect place to drop into for a spot of meditation or prayer. There's a kooky little chapel at the side, obviously added on in the 1980s, judging by its wild design. Now this is usually the sort of addition I'd despise, but its been there long enough now to have acquired a veneer of reverence, even style. It is a perfect little spot to hide away in and pray, and you can light a candle and leave a prayer request, making it almost heaven on earth in my equation.
Oh, and sometimes (it has exceedingly eccentric opening hours) the extraordinary children's chapel is open in the crypt, and that is my friend Maggie Hamilton's favourite place in Sydney.

Ingham, North Queensland

I grew up in the little sugar town of Ingham, North Queensland. And before you ask, no, that's not where the chickens came from.
It's a funny little place - quite pretty, in its own way, and relatively unchanged. When I was back there recently, the only difference I noticed was that everything was smaller and older. I guess that happens.
Here is Ingham's spectacular main street, on which not very much happens - apart from the yearly Italian Festival and the Maraka Festival, which I always remember looking forward to as a child.
Ingham is filled with quite picturesque old pubs, which are always well frequented.
And its hot - very hot, all the year round.
And you can't get sushi.

Wooden Louvres

Another distinctive aspect of North Queensland architecture that is now confined to the realms of museums and kitschy heritage reproductions is the use of wooden louvres in place of windows with glass. This seems to have been especially favoured when verandahs were closed in to make additional rooms for growing families. Here are some of theose louvres at a restored house at the Townsville Palmetum.

My great-grandfather built his own house (or at least, he constantly expanded an old fishing shack he'd won in a game of poker) in Lucinda, North Queensland, and raised a family of four there. The front rooms were indeed enclosed verandahs, and I remember being fascinated by the beautiful hand-made wooden louvres that he had installed there. They were made with thick-ish pieces of timber painted a distinctly 1950s blue, and were opened and closed with a wooden rail set into the louvres themselves. They were remarkably effective at capturing any available breeze, each window being able to be positioned just-so. Not so effective, however, at keeping away mosquitoes. There were always gaps, and in the evening you could almost be carried away by mosquitoes, Lucinda being little more than a reclaimed mangrove swamp.
The house is still standing, though was sold many years ago. Last time I checked the louvres were still doing their job. Here's a pic from when my Aunty Audrey was still alive and living in it. This charming little ancestral shack would be worth a fortune now, being only a short walk from the beach.

Coloured Windows

I've been in North Queensland for the past couple of weeks, mostly at hospital attending to my Grandmother, with the occasional foray out into the real world. It has been a long time since I was in North Queensland (almost 10 years) and that meant that I could afford to view things with a certain detachment, even occasional fondness and nostalgia. I guess that because I was there for my Grandma and surrounded by family I hadn't seen for such a long time, images and objects kept coming up that reminded me of my childhood in the tropical North.
Right near the hospital in Townsville is quite a beautiful park featuring a range of varieties of palm tree, and at the entrance is an old restored school house that is an almost perfect example of traditional North Queensland architecture. It looks very like the house my Grandmother owned in Cordelia, and the thing that really hit me was the multi-coloured window glass. Each window was divided into 4 panes of glass, and each pane was of a different colour - exactly like the windows in Grandma's old house. This was once very common in old houses in the North, but they have almost all disappeared - wooden windows rot quickly in the tropical damp, and aluminium frames have been too tempting to pass up in most cases.
I'm not sure why these multi-coloured windows were so popular, or if they served any other than decorative purpose. I should imagine that the height of their popularity would have been the 1950s, though it could have been much earlier (their inclusion in this scrupulously restored house suggests that they carry a longer vintage).
So here they are, these lovely little coloured windows. A small feature, certainly, but one so completely unique and evocative that the very sight of them caused a tremor of nostalgia.

In Loving Memory of my Grandma

My beautiful Grandma, Ethel Mary Barrett, died this morning at the age of 76.
She was a truly wonderful person, one of those people so filled with love and good spirit that it overflowed to everyone around her. I don't think I have ever known a person as universally loved and respected as she was, and she leaves a beautiful memory in the lives of so many people across so many generations.
She was a wonderful cook, and she loved to sing, and she was a great hugger. Anyone entering her presence was drawn into a warm embrace and a big kiss placed on their cheek. When she came to visit me in Vietnam some years ago she continued that custom, much to the amusement of the non-hugging Vietnamese.
She taught me any number of silly songs from the late 1940s, she taught me to always smile, and to avoid feeling too sorry for myself. She loved me completely and unconditionally, as I did her.
God bless you, my darling Grandma. I know you have gone somewhere more wonderful than here, and will continue to be surrounded by people who love you.
I will miss you so very, very much, for the rest of my life.
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