Sydney Airport

Apparently, it’s raining in Sydney

Earlier today I discovered the key advantage of being seated in the final row of an aircraft: while you’re always the last to be fed and often the last to get off, you’re also the closest the toilet. This was an important realisation I came to earlier this morning as I sat and waited desperately for the seatbelt light to go off.

Although I’d received a message last night my 0700 flight was cancelled, I still arrived at the airport fairly early. As I live fairly close to the airport, it generally doesn’t take me long to get there. I can usually catch a cab for about twenty dollars. The combination of heavy rain and traffic slowed things down, and the cab fare came out at thirty-three dollars. But I was still early enough to sit around, have a juice, have a coffee, and read the papers, knowing I wouldn’t have to wait too long for the re-scheduled 0800 flight. Unfortunately, the flight was further put back to 0825. At about 0820, the captain told us there would be further delays, but that we should be on the runway in “about eighteen minutes” but that we might have to wait on the runway for a while.

Visiting Melbourne

Visiting Melbourne

We finally left Sydney at about 0945. It was about ten o’clock before the seat-belt light was switched off, by which time we had all been waiting, patiently on the flight for about 1 hr and 45 minutes. The combination of fruit juice and coffee had come back to haunt me. I was busting for a wee, and as soon as the seat-belt light went off, I jumped up. The only person who got there faster than me was one of the flight attendants. As I emerged, there was at least a dozen others in the queue.

It’s raining here in Melbourne also, though not as heavily as it was in Sydney this morning. Melbourne seems to take wet weather in its stride, whereas Sydney really doesn’t cope well with the rain, does it?

Penelope Seidler by Fiona Lowry

Archibald Prize 2014

I really love the winner of this year’s Archibald Prize: the portrait of Penelope Seidler by Fiona Lowry. Although I’d seen it previously online, it wasn’t until I saw it in real life today that I realised how much I like it.

It’s the kind of work you could spend hours looking at and see many layers of complexity emerge, although the story behind the portrait is quite simple. It’s set in the yard of a house designed by Penelope and her husband Harry, and in which they lived for many years. Harry’s dead now, and Penelope no longer lives there. For the painting, Penelope and the artist went back to that house, and what you see is a portrait of Penelope looking back at the house.

“When you’re doing a portrait it’s said you should always start with the eyes”, the tour guide told us at the Art Gallery of NSW today. Although the image above is cropped (it’s a full-length portrait), the eyes draw you in.

The other works that really captured my attention today were the portrait of Ash Flanders as Hedda Gabler by Wendy Sharpe, the portrait of Tim Maguire by Mia Oatley and the portrait of his father by Anh Do. Anh is one seriously talented guy. As well as his acting, writing and comedy, he’s also a really fantastic artist (I never knew). Our guide today explained Anh also worked in a bakery, and his attitude to paint was probably drawn from this experience, spreading large amounts of paint around as you perhaps would pastry or confectionery.

It was a really lovely way to spend the afternoon, and especially nice since my friend Sue now lives in Sydney. It’s quite a luxury to be able to chat in morning, and organise something for the early afternoon without the need to book a flight and fly 1,000 km.

I’ve concluded that when I retire, I’d like to spend my time evenly divided between being an art gallery tour guide and conducting history walks. Now that would be really nice.

Divide in Concord

Divide in Concord

I’ve been thinking lately about my “latter years”. In part, it’s the passing of a dear friend who spent the last few years of his life living with dementia. In part, it’s because I’ll be fffff fffff fifty next year. Last night I’ve concluded I’d like to spend my “latter years” as Jean Hill, the bottled water campaigner in the American town of Concord, featured in the movie “Divide In Concord”.

In the film, Jean explains she reached a point in her life (in her 70s/80s), after the death of her husband, when she suddenly realised she no longer had to care for others. Everything in her life was about her, and about what her legacy would be. The film tells of a moment where her grandson told her about the amount of plastic waste now found in the world’s oceans.

“Other films have told the story of the environmental problems of plastic”, the film-maker told us in a Q&A at the US/Canadian Film Festival last night in Sydney. In contrast, Jean’s story is a more personal one: about how someone realised the connection between a bigger story and what they could do on an individual level. In a small town in Massachusetts, Jean embarked on a campaign to ban bottled water.

The small town, Concord (apparently) has an important part in the history of the independence movement in the America. On a micro-level, the documentary also notes other small town “revolutionary movements”, such as the woman who defended the rights of people to put their laundry out to dry (in defiance of body corporate laws which prohibit such things) and in the case of Jean’s campaign against bottled water. The earlier “revolutionary movements” are located in the context of the annual town meetings in Concord, where people can bring issues to the broader community for discussion and voting.

Jean brings the issue of banning bottled water to the annual debate twice, and then finally a third time, which is ultimately the film’s conclusion. Really, there are only two ways the film can end: either she wins or loses. No spoiler alerts in this review :)

Whether she won or lose, the film’s compelling because of the story. It’s classic David vs Goliath.

But it’s also a really important story about how people can make a direct connection between broader issues and personal action. A small town banning bottled water won’t make much of a difference. But when lots of small towns do the same thing, it CAN make a difference. That’s the reason why bottled water business interests, and people with a pro-business philosophical perspective in the community of Concord, became so interested in what was happening with Jean’s campaign.

What’s happened since the film was made, after the decision was taken in 2012? According to the film-maker at last night’s Q&A, a further couple of votes have been taken, and the community, once evenly divided on the issue, has “moved on” and voted decisively in one way. No spoiler alerts.

It’s a lovely film. I really love Jean Hill’s passion, even if she was possibly sometimes her own worst enemy in the debate. “I really stuffed that up”, she says (or words to that effect) after a radio interview in which she lost her cool. I think the occasional bout of losing your temper is quite okay, especially if/when I make it to my 80s I have as much passion as Jean demonstrates.