Category Archives: Beauty in Detail

Life & Art

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe days roll by and I find myself amidst a swarm of fresh ideas.

Why do I blog? Why is it sometimes so very difficult to get around to putting thoughts to keyboard? Perhaps it’s just because I have lost my way, so to speak. Maybe it’s time for a new look, a new direction and an opportunity to rethink why I do, what I do.

So there’s going to be more about me, and what I think and feel, on topics that I find most compelling, intriguing or inspiring. I want to share my thoughts on everything from education, consumerism and sustainability to habits and organisation.

But most of all, I want it to be a celebration – relishing the beauty in the everyday, with a focus on daily adventures.

People say that your key theme in any endeavour should be able to be understood by someone within 1 minute when you shout out across a crowded room. That’s a lot of focus, so here goes…

I want to write about Life and Art. Living life and breathing art.

I hope you like it.

Please do feel free to comment – all feedback happily received.

Warm Regards





DSC00167-001DSC00190Helen Fraser Black, 1917 – 2013.

The following are excerpts of my father’s speech at her funeral. His words made my heart ache with love and loss, and I would like to share some of them here.

Helen was born on 24 June 1917 in Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland. However it was here in Perth where she was conceived. Pregnant with Helen, Annie Cook, her mother, returned home to Scotland, unimpressed according to Helen, by the desolation and uncultured life that was Perth at the time. That early trip to Scotland was during wartime when ocean crossings were dangerous. Perhaps that early sea voyage instilled in Helen a life-long love of travel.

(As an aside, and just to impress upon you the link she provided to our past, when we were looking at Helen’s birth certificate yesterday I noticed in the fine print on the back of the document reference to the penalties for falsifying information. Those penalties included two years in jail or,“Transportation” for seven years”. Of course transportation had ceased long before 1917 but perhaps the Scots had printed a good number of the birth certificates and were not going to discard them just because of that minor detail.)

 Her father, Thomas Cook, followed his wife some months later and persuaded Annie, now with baby Helen to return back to Perth.

(When Helen was 16) Ken Black saw Helen playing tennis at Karri Banks in the Porongurup’s and began a lengthy courting. Five years later, in 1938, and having considered some alternative suitors, Helen, by then 21, married Ken. The war arrived with the fall of Singapore and Helen spent much of the next few years as a volunteer with the Red Cross. I think she was quite pleased with the certificate showing she had passed a basic motor mechanic course. Despite this proficiency, I cannot recall Helen ever using a self-service petrol station, preferring to hunt out one of the few stations offering full service.

With women there were some friendships that endured for many decades. Perhaps most notable was the book club which started not long after the war ended. A dozen or so young mothers got together and formed the group. A few years ago an article appeared in the local paper about the longevity of their association – which, by the way, never took in new members. When they met, the story goes, the women would talk about everything (children, husbands, and later, grandchildren)… but never about books. The women all outlasted their husbands; Helen was one of the last three surviving members.

And for decades her dairies, which I only just found a couple of days ago at the bottom of
her wardrobe, show a constant schedule of rounds of mah-jong, solo, bridge and volunteer commitments. Indeed if anything characterised her life it was her ongoing role as a volunteer. Right up to the time that she handed in her driver’s license (at age 90) she continued to offer her services. I recall her last role was on the front counter at one of the charity shops in Subiaco.

That was one thing that people remembered about Helen, she was an attractive woman. The years passed but she never seemed to grow older – for some jobs and certainly for male friends she presented herself, very convincingly, as ten, and even fifteen years younger than she was.

People seemed to love her company. She would say modestly that was only because she got people talking about themselves. I think she tried to engage with everyone she met – even at a restaurant she would always ask the wait staff what else they were doing. In later years, when she was hospitalised for various complaints, she would invariably find out about the lives of the nurses and other staff.

In fact, if she had an unconscious aversion to anything I think it would have been a lull in conversation. If you were in her company it was not to share silence; you would be expected to talk. People often felt drawn to confide in her. She was trusted to hold confidences. Perhaps it was because she rarely expressed strong opinions about others (with the exception of politicians) and if she did it was only to those closest to her.

She was genuinely interested and caring of others. I don’t recall her ever putting herself first – it sounds trite but she was undemanding with everyone, including personal carers who sat on her couch, drank her tea and confided in her.

To be frank, it must be admitted that Helen enjoyed the odd drink or two. There is a liquor store on Waratah Avenue that will be wondering why the sales of brandy has dropped so dramatically. I hasten to add that I never saw my mother intoxicated – which is more than she would say of a particular time in my teenage years.

I don’t think of my mother as a quiet or reflective woman. Her views of organised religion were invariably dismissive. In later years her personal philosophy was expressed as “no good looking back” (which she attributed to the Buddha) and “old age is a bugger” (attributed to George Randall, an old friend of the family). Overall, and given the various ailments that she suffered over the past years she very rarely complained. I think there was a strong element of stoicism in her Scottish genes.

Over the past few years Helen and I talked openly of the declining quality of her life and the arrangements she would like to have in place for her funeral.

She would often refer to having passed her “use-by date”. (As an aside I would note that like many of the food jars in her fridge, she remained quite good long after that indicated by the nominated expiry date).

At ninety-five, three months shy of ninety-six, Helen was truly ready to go. Indeed she’d had a couple of false starts, as recently as the week before, but this time she achieved her heart’s desire.

She was adamant that this moment should not be a time for mourning but for celebrating. Her own words were that her passing should be marked by “a bloody good party and toast”.

Last Thursday afternoon I found Helen lying peacefully on her couch, her life ebbing away, I noticed on her patio table the remains of her lunchtime glass of brandy and dry ginger. I’d like to think that Helen had spent her last morning enjoying the autumn sunshine before toasting “farewell” and departing.

Yes, there is a great personal sadness in knowing that we will never again sit together and talk of people and places or share a hug and tell the other they are loved. But I am grateful that Helen found a way to exit life, true to form, at her home, with dignity and held by family in her final moments.

There is a saying to the effect that “When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.”

Whether your memories of her are many or few, Helen has bequeathed a treasure to each person here today. Her generous nature lives on each time she is remembered.




Right Now

Hessian Bunting FlagsFabric flags outdoor fun

Right now I am loving…

The fluttering flags on the back porch.
The smell of the orange blossoms.
The sound of Adelaide giggling and practicing a range of sounds – most that involve sharing a large amount of drool.
The way Ruben has started becoming very attached to certain soft toys. It balances out the obsession with knight’s battles and fights between Buzz Lightyear and Bumblebee.
Alex’s joy at finally getting the hang of front flips on the trampoline.
That Michael and I both received books in the post recently that we are loving. Michael’s – The Second World War. Mine – The Happiness Project. (Let’s ignore how far removed they are from each other.) It’s amazing what time you can find to read when you really want to.



Meditating on Paint

Painting transports me in a way that few other activities manage to achieve. The minutes spent blending colours, forming shapes and creating images in a space can separate me from time. Those minutes swirl and eddy around me, leaving a wake of calm that is incredibly satisfying.  If I have the freedom to delve into creating for a reasonable period, by the time I stop playing it almost feels like I have been away… Painting can be such a lovely way to meditate.

Well, if I manage to let go of any expectations of perfection it can be. Which, as the years pass, does become easier. (But only in some areas, unfortunately… as Michael will attest when he recounts the first – and only – attempt he had at teaching me to play the guitar. The lesson lasted a grand total of about 4 minutes and ended when I decided that my fingers simply don’t work like that.)

The painting above is still a work in progress. I am thinking of adding an aeroplane, and perhaps some clouds.

And, as a side note, I would still like to attempt meditation through music. There is a ukulele hanging around, waiting for a little love…

*cue lovely image of me breaking out the sweet little instrument to woo all those within earshot with some beautiful little numbers. Oh, and in this magical dream I can also sing like Julia Stone*


Underwater Cities

“In 2009, it will be among the last settlements to be evacuated of people and submerged under the waters of the Three Gorges Dam,
uprooting its inhabitants forever. Kaixian, the 1800 years of my childhood home’s history, expunged.”
Yang Yi

Thirteen major cities, 140 smaller cities and towns and 1,352 villages, 1,600 factories, and 700 schools were submerged by the Three Gorges project that cost US$30 billion.  The slogans that were to encourage the 1.4 million residents forced to move included: “Forsake the small home. Support the big home.”

Fascinating stuff.  The artwork above is so moving, is it not? So sad and poignant.


Classy Graffiti

Inspired by dori the giant’s post Goodfiti (although not quite as deep and meaningful), I had to stop and take a photo of this graffiti on a skip bin. Mo and I found it quite amusing.

I only just stumbled across dori’s blog and I must say she some interesting – and strong! – opinions about a number of things.  I don’t agree with her in every case but I do like the way she presents herself. And her projects.


Walking in the Rain

On our way to work the roads were dark and the trees glowed in that wet, lush way just after a downpour. Mo and I shared our memories of walking to school in the rain.  A little later he sent me a sweet little note. With his permission, I share it with you –

It made me feel so alive. So incredibly alive. I remember the feel of my

shirt as it clung to my back and sleeves; the dampness in your hair that

you don’t actually know is wet until you touch it; the feeling of cold

fingers; the internal warmth that comes from a long, fast walk; the

contrasts of colours that get highlighted when water adds that sheen to

them; the smell in the air; the feeling that the day is somehow

different, and anything can happen. Getting to school and focussing on

your friends, teachers, maths, English and the myriad other attention

grabbers, while continuing to feel slightly out-of-normal because of the


And if I go back further, I remember walking to school in New Zealand,

and breaking ice on the puddles so I would pick it up and watch it melt.

And gloves, and blowing your breath just to see the steam.

Very fond memories of walking to school in the rain.

{image via Deviant Art}