Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Life on hold

Yesterday I was on hold to an ISP on behalf of a client for 118 minutes. Just waiting, stuck in the queue. Pretty appalling service, but I suspect that Mondays are like that for many ISPs and help desks in general.

Anyway, I amused myself reading other people's blogs, working on websites, and answering the other phone. For a while I had the on-hold music in my left ear and a colleague in my right, tuning out one and listening to the other. (I really should have tuned the colleague out on reflection!)

But after a while I wanted to go to the loo. What to do, what to do? What if the help desk finally answers my call while I'm sat there? I took a punt and ran for the bathroom, portable phone in hand. Even that, an action guaranteed to make me first in the queue and be answered while I'm grabbing handfuls of loo paper, didn't get me off hold.

I searched for chords for 1920s/1930s songs for my ukulele and printed out a bunch to learn.

I finally caught up with popular culture and found out what Gangnam Style is. Watching the music clip killed 4:20 minutes and played havoc with the crappy music I was still listening to in my left ear.

After an hour and a half I was hungry. I made some coffee and ate a handful of nuts. By now I was so used to the on-hold music I would have jumped out of my skin if a real person had come to the phone.

I looked up an old boss - the stuff of nightmares. You should never look up old bosses if they were abysmal to work for. I found a photo of her, smiling and showing lots of gum and very red lips; as scary as ever in other words. She's moved to NZ now and runs a B&B as well as holding down a high powered exec job. Thank God for the rubbish on-hold music, it stopped me hearing her voice materialise in the air beside me!

And then, when I was really despairing that my call would ever make it to front of the queue, my client sent me an email with specific log in and account details and - oh glory! - they worked and I could hang up the phone without needing to talk to the help desk at all.

Seriously though, almost two hours. Have you ever been put on hold for so long?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When imagination runs wild - the unfettered state of childhood

When I was a pre-schooler, about three years old or thereabouts, I had an idea for a tv show for kids. It was called Toilet Time. The premise was this:

I would sit on the toilet having a crap and would be reading aloud an interesting story to a group of kids sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of me. They would be sitting a couple of metres away so they wouldn't cop the smell.

Yes, I was a bizarre child. At three I already had the reading skills of a seven year old, but the Toilet Time idea was the bizarre bit.

I used to like sitting on the loo reading a book as a kid; it was a good way to pass half an hour and whatever I'd eaten 24 hours before.  (These days I barely get the opportunity to finish a page before life calls me out of the loo.) In my imagination, however, I was not alone.

I used to envisage my audience, this rapt collection of small strangers hanging on my every word. Boys and girls, neatly dressed, the boys in shorts and long socks, the girls with ribbons in their hair.  They were happy listening to me; I was happy reading. Win/win!

This was, of course, one daydream that I had while I was on the loo. When I wasn't reading while sitting there, I'd make up stories.

In one, I played a character called Bronwyn who was, I think, some kind of drum majorette. Whatever she was, she proudly led the marching band down the main street of a town, quite which town I'm not sure. She wore some of her hair in a ponytail above her forehead so it swung onto her face. She had white boots and a miniskirt and was about eight or ten I think. She certainly wasn't three. What she did when she wasn't prancing down the street I'm not sure!

I spent a lot of my childhood pretending to be someone else, actually. My imaginary friends far outnumbered real ones. Sometimes I'd tell my family who I 'was' and demand they call me by that name for as long as the pretence held. Hours, days, weeks, in one case months (I was Dora from Follyfoot in that case, when I was 11). Other times I'd be in character but kept it solely to myself.

Being a tomboy from about age five my characters were often boys. Boys had more fun in my book. They could get dirty and play in mud - heck, they were probably expected to! They could climb trees without someone down below telling them their knickers were visible. It wasn't unusual for me to play multiple characters: Jess and the Four Boys comes to mind. I created them. Jess was a man in charge of the four boys; uncle, father, I can't remember what, but I was mainly Jess. I can't remember the names of the four boys but I just liked the sound of it. Jess and the Four Boys. I was about six or seven at the time. J and T F B liked getting into trouble and mischief... multiple boys saw to that!

I was characters from books or tv shows, I was characters I had created, I was occasionally older or younger than my age; at one stage I was a cat.

I had imaginary conversations with my imaginary characters and their imaginary friends; often I'd write them down and turn them into a story. (No, not for Toilet Time. I had grown out of that idea by then.)

I probably should have considered acting as a career, but I was too shy. My characters usually only had one audience: me.

At an age where I should have grown out of pretending to be other people I withdrew even more into my imaginary worlds: high school. I hated the place. I didn't fit in. I got through my years there pretending to be an apprentice jockey - or several, whichever one I wanted to be that day - and pretended that school was actually the Apprentice Jockeys' School (yes, they exist).

As a kid my imagination knew no bounds. I used to write stories almost compulsively, based on the adventures my characters had while I was playing them. I envy that young me as these days I am hard pressed to come up with a decent, detailed fiction plot.

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, if I wanted entertainment as a kid I did one of these things:

  • read a book (and often acted it out)
  • went and played outside (being in one character or another)
  • watched tv - I was allowed an hour a day after school and an hour after dinner, and shows such as McHale's Navy, Hogan's Heroes, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres gave me great ideas for playacting outside afterwards when I was 8 or 9
  • did some kind of art or craft thing - writing, drawing, painting
  • played with my toys - raced toy cars or made up stories for my dolls to act out
  • walked the dog (who also assumed characters in my imaginary world)

In short, I entertained myself. Yeah, I played with the neighbours' kids too and we'd ALL act out scenes from tv shows.

I do wonder about modern kids though. Do they do this sort of thing? Do they 'pretend' as I did and many of my friends did? Or do they just sit around and play with bloody computers, phones and electronic toys? My friends' children, who I have watched grow from babies, have never pretended to be anyone else. None of them had imaginary friends. I hate to say it but they are a little bit boring; they lack imagination. Easily bored, they HAVE to be entertained by something, preferably with batteries in it (just wait until the girls discover dildos!).  I feel sorry for them, as if they have missed out on something fun and important by not letting their imagination run wild as a child.

Maybe I could turn Toilet Time into an app ...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Teenage tear jerkers, beautifully drawn

"You draw like a comic artist." My friend Pete compared his drawing to mine. We were on holiday, and had taken sketchbooks and pencils. Not that we were sketching the gorgeous seascape and cliffs we could see from our holiday cottage; no, we were copying photos of faces from magazines to improve our portrait sketching.

I looked at my drawing. Yes, I agreed with him. Pete's drawing was all soft lines, light and shade... too much shade really, his faces looked they were drawn at night! But mine... mine harked back to my days copying art from the girls' comic magazines I used to read when I was 11 or 12, namely Tammy and Pink, with defined lines.

I used to draw my own comic strips, laboriously imitating the eyes and faces of my preferred artists from those comics. I didn't learn until recent years that my favourite artist was called Juliana Buch (or Juliana Buch Trabal to give her her full name) and that she resides in Spain.

Try as I might my illustrations have never achieved the fluid lines of Juliana Buch's. Have a look at this sample of her work from Pink Magazine in the mid 70s.

Wow! Isn't that stunning? Wasted on a kids' mag. I always loved the way she drew hair. I loved the patterns on her clothing, her use of light and shadows. Really, all the illustrators on these magazines were world class, but in my books she, along with Jose Casanovas, is tops.

These British girls' comics and mags were a big influence on my drawing development and the storylines of my own comic strips. Each publication was a slightly different genre.

Tammy, which I subscribed to for nearly four years, specialised in tear-jerkers. Orphaned girls living with nasty relatives. Girls who were threatened with the death of a beloved pet unless they did what evil father/mother/step-parent/aunt/uncle/friend demanded. Girls desperate for a career in ballet or equitation who had to overcome terrible odds. Girls going through hell at boarding school. And let's not forget the odd ghost story. Or poor Molly Mills, the 1920s servant who suffered under the eagle eye and ears-on-stalks of butler Pickering. 

Honestly, some of the story lines wouldn't be allowed today in a modern children's magazine! But I loved them and so did all my friends who read them. My mother read Tammy each week after I'd finished and liked Molly Mills best.

Pink was aimed at a slightly older audience, young teens rather than girls of 10 to 12, and the many adverts for tampons and pads were clear evidence of that. The stories were a bit different too, with many of the lead characters teenagers or young women working for a living. Boyfriends - and the getting of - played bigger roles in the plots than in Tammy. There were still tearjerkers (those evil relatives keeping Our Heroine a virtual prisoner or slave) however. Pink was more of a magazine than a comic, filled with gossip about pop stars (David! And another David!  Michael! Jermaine! Noddy! All you'd want to know about them!). It merged with Music Star in the mid 70s to nobody's surprise.

It's a terrible pity these comics no longer exist. Tammy lasted until the mid 80s and I don't know what happened to Pink. There apparently isn't a market to produce them any more as girls have grown out of that type of storytelling, but I do wonder: look at the popularity of Manga and graphic novels with teens. The cost of commissioning artwork for them would push the price of a weekly mag through the roof anyway if nothing else. 

Having discovered a marvellous repository of Pink on the interweb, I have spent several hours this weekend in utter delight, squawking over the artwork and also the pop stars and the music of the day that I grew up with. 

I hope a Tammy archive will be set up by someone at some point. I did a stupid thing when I was in my twenties: I threw away that four years' worth of Tammy, gave it to a girl up the street and heaven knows what she did with it. I didn't really want to let it go but needed the storage space. I regretted it at the time and have regretted it over the years when I think of the gorgeous artwork in some of those stories.

It's enough to make me want to draw a comic strip again. Just for the hell of it and in memory of those graphic stories I loved as a girl. If I do...you'll find it here.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Spring has sprung, the grass is riz

I wonder where them birdies is?
Them little birds is on the wing.
But that's absurd,
Them little wings is on the bird.

Yes, it's spring, and them little birds is chattering outside; lorikeets, noisy miners, ibis. I can hear them as I type this. 

The last month has been a scented world at our place. Jasmine bloomed madly until earlier this week, when the last bunch finally succumbed and turned brown; every evening and early morning the scent would waft in through the windows.

Now the little orange tree is in bloom; intoxicating!

Out the back of our place Brunsfelsia - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow - is covered in achingly pretty shades of violet and lilac; beside it a deep purple salvia, a monster that grows 2 metres high, is starting to bloom as well.

We have irises in the veggie bed. I started off with half a dozen when we moved in seven years ago, and believed they were blue. They came from my Mum's where I had some blue ones in a pot. Dagnabbit, they are yellow, which is fine, but they look weird with maroon bits on the 'falls'. Yellow and maroon - like a primary school uniform. 

Nestled at their feet are rocket, baby spinach and strawberries.

And at the end of the veggie bed are some miniature fruit trees in pots - nectarines and peaches, and also a small blueberry bush. A month ago the nectarine and peach were covered in pink blossom, delicate and ethereal. I was amused by the testicular pose these little nectarines provided for me.

We have had such a lovely wet autumn and winter they have all gone bonkers. I've been hoping for a wet spring to save on the water bills but we've already had two days over 30 so far this week. Ugh.

And next in the garden? The gardenias have buds on them. Yessss!!!