Yesterday and Tomorrow

When I need a break from the very bad news that wants to control my life and eat my brain, I watch old TV. The series I’m watching right now is the original The Tomorrow People. There is a reason for this. Not a very sensible reason. I’m not watching it because it’s primary fodder for my research (though if something comes up, I keep that something in mind): I’m watching it because it is the TV series that matched my age and interests when I was a teen. I needed to discover some parts of my past. Re-visiting the past is particularly useful when the present isn’t as easy as it could be.

Australia was a lot less USA-like in the 1970s, and The Tomorrow People is a classic science fiction show targeted at teens, and I was a classic SF tragic when I was a teen, and… let me get back to the beginning.

The Tomorrow People was shown from 1973 until 1979.

If I were to ask you to to take a wild guess as to when I began high school I hope that you would say ‘1973’ without hesitation. I was eleven-going-on-twelve. I was a science nerd and a history nerd but we had no words to describe that. The science didn’t need a term to help it fit into my life, because my mother was a science teacher. The history I had to argue for and persuade people that museums were worth visiting.

“You have half an hour” I was told when we went caravanning. Five minutes if it was a monument, half an hour if it was a museum. I found ways of spinning out that half hour. When I found a display of diamonds that had been found in streams (it was the goldfields, of course diamonds were found in streams, though in my case I found a few minuscule rubies and garnets, some gold and a vast amount of cassiterite) the whole family came in to investigate them. We understood rocks. All of us. Rocks and food. And, for me, baby clothes and irons from a century ago, and anything written or printed from before I was born and…

I’ve wanted to understand the whole world around me since I was about two. I was told “It will get boring” and it never has. A friend gave me an Australian cookbook from 1968 just this week, as an early birthday present (when things are difficult friends give early birthday presents, I suspect) and I cannot put it away until it has been thoroughly explored and my relationship with each and every recipe has been re-established… I knew this book when it first came out, you see. I was seven. I loved it then and, now, at 62, I have my own copy and life is suddenly so happy I needed to rewatch The Tomorrow People.

I am quite possibly, a failure, but I’m a failure who developed an early love of science fiction. SF and food are two of my happy places.

When I was heading for my teens, I read SF magazines from the US and watched a few TV series from the US but mostly, in the 70s, it was Doctor Who and Blake’s Seven and The Tomorrow People. For me it was, anyhow. The Tomorrow People was the one with children like me, who didn’t fit in. I couldn’t do telepathy, but I liked the TV series so very much that an aunt gave me Franklin’s ESP (a board game for incipient telepaths) for my birthday. I could try to be a Tomorrow Person. I could write stories about it. That need to write stories stuck, but my need to teleport did not.

My favourite actor on the series was Elizabeth Adare. I discovered today that this was because her acting style channels my inner teacher. I wanted to meet her. The actress, not the character. I probably still do. She was the right public person when I was the right age to pay attention. The series of The Tomorrow People where she was absent felt a little bereft. Why is this so? (A totally misplaced quote from an Australian science TV show, also from my childhood.) It’s because The Tomorrow People finished just when I left school and went to university. It lasted just the right amount of time. There was an adult woman on the television who was permitted to be intent and interesting and intelligent and when the actress was interviewed she was even more interesting and intelligent. We all need role models: I was very lucky to have that one at that precise and difficult time.

And now, if you’ll kindly excuse me, I have books to see and TV to meet.


I am a bit late today because I met a baby on my Monday. Not just any baby. The baby of a student who has, over the years, stopped being a student and became a friend. T is her second child and is so curious and intelligent. Not even four months, and responding to everyone and laughing when I teased him and happy to be held by me.

While I and T were being happy together, his mother and I chatted. We spoke about a lot of personal things, and about the cultural differences between Indonesian women over 60 and Australian women over 60.

She’d been to a lecture recently and so we also chatted about the bias that means that much research into early trade between SE Asia and northern Australia has been under-reported. The talk was by a scholar whose papers I read. We would both like to see more written about the pre-1600 non-European engagement with the people of the far North of Australia.

By pre-European, I’ve seen more papers about Christian voyages to the north, especially Dutch, Portuguese and British (the British ones were more recent) than about those from all the other cultures that are close, or who have settled or converted land that’s close to Australia. Given that much of Indonesia and Malaysia are now Muslim and given the large influence of Indian cultures on that whole region, this lack of public reporting has led to a vast, vast gap in popular knowledge and understanding.

Also given that the people of far Northern Australia know Muslims and Buddhists and Chinese traders with quite different religion still and they have incorporated this knowledge into their own cultural traditions rather than converting to any of those religions, it’s important in other ways. We talk about different cultures working together or living alongside each other and yet we don’t understand this for not-so-modern Australia.

The conversation moved (of course) to the particular culture of Sulawesi and how it has connected with the Australian continent. This led to beef rendang which, as my friend knows very well, is one of my favourite foods. Decades ago I made kosher beef rendang, just to prove that it could be done. It’s easy to make rendang kosher because it contains no dairy products, but I had to adjust the cooking slightly and the ingredients slightly to allow for the differences in the meat texture and salt levels.

From this we returned to talking about the children. Of course we did. My friend has two utterly gorgeous children and they’re a joy to talk about. Although we did spatter the conversation with why some childless women adore children and why some do not. I think we concluded that everything depends on who the woman is and what our life experiences are, but I’m not certain about this. I don’t think the conversation is done. We are certain that I like children of all ages and am keeping my role as an honorary aunt.

It’s going to be a month or so before we can chat again. As a mother of young children she won’t have time until after Ramadan. After Ramadan and before Pesach: perfect.

Workarounds, With Belts and Suspenders

Modern life requires workarounds. Under the principle of Murphy’s law – whatever can go wrong will – there are many situations where having more than one way to do something will save your butt.

This is also an argument for redundancy, or, as I like to put it, using both a belt and suspenders. That may be an outdated metaphor – I’m not sure anyone uses suspenders to hold up their pants these days – but I’ve always liked it.

Both workarounds and belts and suspenders are at the heart of the way I deal with tech, but they can also apply to other things. I use workarounds when I cook, for example — if we’re out of one thing, I use something else.

Earlier this week, I needed to make granola. I like an easy cold cereal for breakfast, but it’s hard to find ones made from whole grains with very little sugar and a lot of nuts, so I make my own. My preference is to make it with mixed rolled grains — wheat, barley, oats, rye — but I have been known to make it with just barley.

We can usually get one or the other in bulk at a health food store, but my backup is Bob’s Red Mill 5-Grain hot cereal. However, we haven’t been to the health food store lately and our local store’s been out of the 5-Grain for two weeks.

So this week I made it with rolled oats. (No one is ever out of rolled oats, near as I can tell.) It makes very little difference in taste, though it doesn’t give me the perfect mix of grains I want for good health (barley is very good for you). Still, it will do and it’s still way better than the commercial brands.

Workarounds are often imperfect, but in a lot of cases, perfection isn’t worth all the extra effort.

A typical workaround in tech is saving documents as rtf if you need to be able to open them in different word processing programs. Or emailing them to yourself in addition to saving them. Or even printing things out just to be on the safe side. I save my taxes on the computer, but I also keep a print copy.

Another is having multiple browsers available because one of them won’t work for some things you try to do. For some reason, I can’t pay one of my health insurance bills in Firefox, but I can in Safari. That’s the sort of thing I mean.

Making extra copies and having multiple browsers are both redundant, but that’s where the belt and suspenders point comes in. It’s a lot easier than spending hours trying to find something that should be saved online but isn’t or even more hours figuring out what’s causing the problem. Redundancy can be very useful. Continue reading “Workarounds, With Belts and Suspenders”

The Wall

Left-of centre Jews in countries like  Australia, the US and the UK face a wall. We try to talk to people, but instead we talk to that wall. It’s an immense and solid and stubborn wall. Its bricks are made of bigotry. The wall prevents people from talking to each other, from working together, from meeting shared goals, and, every day, makes life unsafe for more and more Jews.

This week, in Australia, a bunch of things happened and each one of them showed me a small bit of that wall. Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it, but at least I know why a whole bunch of people I’ve known for years suddenly can’t see me and won’t listen to me. There is a fragging wall between us.

I handle the wall by not carrying every moment of hate and every ounce of despair at once. I try to take the bits I can handle and only turn to the next bit when I’m ready. This is difficult, because more hate and more hate and more hate is thrown my way. Those who do the throwing, who once were friends, are often behind that wall. They tell me I have to follow their guidelines and do everything their way, otherwise I am evil. I need to put the lives of Gazans ahead of my own. I understand that demand. People in Gaza hurt. Their lives are in constant danger, from the IDF, also from Hamas, from other militant groups. If I silence myself and join the marches, however, will it help them? If I devalue my own life, will it help them?

It won’t. I cannot change the lives of Palestinians by shouting at clouds. The best thing to do, then, is to find wise people I can learn from. I seek out people who don’t hate: they are Palestinian and Israeli and they talk to each other about the future. I cheer on the Israeli crowds demonstrating against Netanyahu’s government, because Israel is a democratic country and can change its path. Its citizens need support to make those changes, not incessant and impossible hate.

While I can’t see how exacerbating antisemitism in Australia helps Israel change its direction or saves lives in Gaza, I can see that it hurts Australian Jews. We’re not asked our views or our thoughts, or if we lost anyone on October 7, or if we receive hate mail. We are required to use old-fashioned (mostly hateful) shibboleths. If we don’t use them, then we’re accused of being part of the problem. Also of murdering children. This is fascinating from a story angle, but almost impossible to handle as part of every day. So many diaspora Jews have to watch for red flags and warnings of danger to us, personally.

In short, to reduce the impossibility of all of this I ask myself what I can do if I want justice for the most people possible. I can listen and, when it’s appropriate, talk. Not give the shibboleths. Not silence myself. Not accept hate.

I cannot talk for anyone in the Middle East: I’m Australian. I can only speak for myself. More than this, I can only speak for myself when it’s safe for me. It’s probably not entirely safe for me to write this, but it’s safer than going onto a social media site and trying to talk with anyone on the other side of that damnable wall. They won’t hear, and I will become one of their increasing number of targets. (This is literal, but now is not the time for me to go into the blockings and the lists.)

Those behind the wall of hate are mostly good-hearted people who mean well. Life would be so much less complicated if they were monsters.

So much has happened in my vicinity this week. I can handle just two incidents, of the many. To talk about everything would be to carry all the weight at once and I would collapse under the strain. These are both Australian things. Not the ‘it’s not safe to be seen in public wearing things that identify you as Jewish’ nor the watching for red flags to find out precisely which people I thought were friends are really not, right now. Not the old stuff of being accused of murdering and being told I’m privileged and being told I don’t know history or … so much old stuff. The old stuff is the foundation of the wall. The new stuff is the wall itself. Right now, the wall is growing every day.

In Australia, straight after the October 7 massacre, when most of us with friends and relatives in the region had no idea who was hurt, who was dead, who was hostage, someone in authority decided that it would be a good thing to allow Australians (mostly Jewish) with links to that border area, by lighting the Sydney Opera House with the colours of the Israeli flag. The idea was, I think, that Sydneysiders could mourn together and that this would help with an impossible situation.

On the day, the police advised Jews, “It is not safe to go to the Opera House” and that, if anyone Jewish went, we should dress to not look Jewish. No stars of David, no kippot, nothing indicative of our background. Most Jewish Sydneysiders took this to heart and stayed safe at home.

Why did the police send this advice? Because they were told that there would be a pro-Palestine demonstration. This was not like the more recent demonstrations. It was not crying for an end to war, because there was, at that point, no war. I may not think that the constant demonstrations help, but the loss of life, the pain, the torment the non-Hamas folks of Gaza are going through – that’s enough reason to demonstrate so I understand those who are part of them. I wish they’d take the time to understand me. Back then, Israel had not retaliated. It was in shock. Most of those who demonstrated were polite, but even the polite demonstrators were celebrating the murders of October 7.

Some demonstrators said stuff. A video was circulated of the stuff. Some people claimed it said ‘Gas the Jews’ and others said it did not say this.

Last week the police reported on the video. While they thought the video said “Where’s the Jews” and “Fuck the Jews,” their expert says it did not say “Gas the Jews.” They said that there were people who heard “Gas the Jews,” but that the police didn’t have enough information to change anyone. In other words, they agreed about the level of antisemitism expressed by some of the demonstrators, but couldn’t act on it.

Those who live on the other side of the wall to me are now making a commotion about how things are, that we all made such a fuss about a false claim. Those not behind a wall are saying that the antisemitism was shocking.

The second event concerned a fire. Those who lit a fire that destroyed the Burgertory takeaway in Caulfield were arrested.

Why is this such a problem? It isn’t, in one way. Criminals arrested, proof was tendered that it was not a hate crime against the Palestinian-Australian owner of the restaurant chain, we could all move on.


There had been an anti-Jewish riot (not a large one, but not a safe one, either) the Friday after the Burgertory fire. The owner discouraged action, I believe, but a bunch of people (a very large bunch) drove from suburbs an hour away (or thereabouts) to protest the alleged Jewish burning of the restaurant. No-one knew who the arsonists were and the demonstrators decided it was a Jewish thing. Australia went from “Fuck the Jews” to “Blame the Jews”.

Caulfield is a suburb with many Jews. Also, it was one of the big round number anniversaries of Kristallnacht. The protest (with its violence) was in the park next to a synagogue.

Someone on Twitter the next day posted that they (they themselves, not people they knew) had seen creepy men in the park when they went there to demonstrate. One of their friends talked to one of the creepy men, and were told that they were synagogue security bods. The guards are nothing new. Synagogues in Australia have needed someone watching out for things all my life, and I have very unfond memories of all of us being marshalled outside in the 70s, because of bomb threats. No Jewish institution in Australia is safe right now, and the Federal government gave a big wad of cash to both the Jewish and Muslim communities to address the safety of Muslims and of Jews in this increasingly perilous world.

The guards in the park are important because of that tweet: we know that at least some of the visitors from many miles away knew there was a synagogue. I knew there was one too, because a cousin is very active in the synagogue. He was among the evacuees.

The bottom line is that, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the police closed down a Jewish service, unfinished, because people outside were feared to be violent.

The moment the actual arsonists were made public (just last week) loads of people wondered (publicly) if those who had claimed the fire was set by Jews would apologise. I didn’t see apologies. What I saw were wall-blinded people finding something else to hate in Jewish Australia. That’s another story, and too close to me for safety right now.

I’m tired of the hate. I’m tired of those who only see what they want to see. I would be less worried about my fatigue if the wall didn’t also lead to a blindness concerning the Middle East. I’d be less distressed by this if the protesters worked towards outcomes we could all live with. I wish the activists asked “How can we get people out of this mess? How do we help everyone not guilty of vile things be safe and have food and rebuild and… how do we get all the people who are committing crimes be put on trial?” If we supported Israel, then it could be persuaded to dump the government (so many Israelis already want to) and Israel could start to talk with the non-Hamas Palestinians in Gaza and work their way (however long it takes) towards an accord. If we sent more help to Gaza, though any agency that is not compromised, then people would not starve. If, instead of being exhausted on demonstrations and apparently righteous anger, that same energy were put into finding a way (lobbying? raising money?) to create a Marshall Plan equivalent, then the people of Gaza would have the option of long term help to create a solid economy and to rebuild Gaza and to bring business back to Gaza.

While the new antisemitism uses a rather compelling edifice to block their view of the world rather than spending energy working towards a just future for all parties who are not actual criminals… I cannot admire those who shelter behind it. Until they break down the wall, they are helping make Australia unsafe for Jewish Australians. They fuel the crowd at the Opera House and the crowd in Caulfield and create an atmosphere of constant hate. This is the choice of those behind the wall: I don’t have to like it.

Music past

This evening I’ve been exploring music past. I wanted to hear the music I knew in the 60s and 70s. Someone put up a list of top Australian hits in 1974 and I looked at it and realised that it’s quite different to the music generally associated with that year. We hear about music from the USA, you see, and from the UK.

I listened to some of the tunes on that list first, but one of the top ten struck me as getting my mood exactly right when it was first released: Helen Reddy’s “Leave Me Alone” was perfect for a proto-teenager.

I moved onto orchestral music. When I was in primary school and early high school, we went to Melbourne Town Hall and were taught to understand orchestral music. In primary school we were taught the instruments of the orchestra, how the orchestra worked, Peter and the Wolf, Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker, mainly), Beethoven and… that’s all I remember. I watched a Bernstein recording and he taught children very different stuff. More the stuff I discovered when I was a teenager. As a teenager I fell in love with Schubert, played in a regional orchestra and the school orchestra (second violin in one, first in the other), and I went to concerts every fortnight. I came from a musical family and went to a standard state school… which happened to have free music education. I once did a lot of music, and the Bernstein brought the formal education aspect flooding back. My top moment of music learning was when Felix Werder taught me to care for Mahler and when my father’s first cousin taught me how to listen. Linda was a composer and a music judge and a critic, and her random remarks taught me so much. Since that moment, everything has gone downhill… but… my evening of music didn’t stop with memories of Mahler and Linda. I was very privileged musically in my childhood, not so much as an adult.

I sang, of course, some songs I learned from Alfred Deller and also the King’s Singers. They were my personal favourite musicians when I was a teen, and both really annoyed my family. Everyone else was singing ABBA and the bay City Rollers and I was listening to a counter-tenor who sang folk songs. I was informed by my family how very bad my singing is

Then moved to my final music for the evening. I’m writing to it now. Tom Lehrer. This sentence is being typed to the rhythm of The Vienna Schnitzel Waltz. The final note of the night was either going to be Lehrer or Flanders and Swann. The news makes me sarcastic right now, so of course it’s Lehrer.

And now, of course, I’m very curious about the music of your childhoods. Of course I am.

Of books and migraines and dancing

I am drinking a triumphal cup of tea. A very weak and immensely huge triumphal cup of tea. There is a story behind this cup of tea, and the triumph. A tiny story, but a story.

I’m in the middle of one of my longer migraines. This one is in its fourth day. As migraines go, it’s very mild. I find it hard to see things and almost impossible to sleep, I’m sensitive to sound and my emotional peace fractures easily. I’ve had worse. Much worse. The low pain levels (for a migraine) are due to the wonder of becoming older. Some things improve with age, oddly.

None of this is the story of my triumph. It’s the backstory.

I have lost so much worktime to this migraine that I had begun fretting about deadlines. I have a thesis to finish: the biggest chapter was supposed to be in a complete draft by Monday, and where I am it’s Tuesday. I need to get some edits to an editor (who else would one send edits to?) urgently, and can’t find a bio to go with the edits. I have a really cool piece to write in the next two days. And I have a short story to finish. I need to deal with 100 emails by bedtime tonight. Plus, as soon as I finish that chapter, I’m onto the next one. This PhD is in its final months and deadlines aren’t as porous as they once were.

Now you have most of the backstory. I’ve brought you to 4 am today, when I finally admitted that the migraine would not go away and that I had to find a way to deal.

The triumph is perfectly simple. Skip most of today, and let’s move to ten minutes ago.

I have a section of a bookshelf. It holds maybe 80 books and is ¼ of the whole (very large) bookshelf. This section is my working shelf for any research. It had gaps and space because I had not yet returned all the books for this chapter. I have finished with all but one book and the shelves are very full. One day I’ll have to return the books I won’t need again for this project to their real homes on other shelves, but right now I only have one book to return and two tiny sections of the chapter to write up and lo, I’m caught up with one big deadline.

I needed something to take the edge of the migraine before I delve into the last two thousand words, and the triumphal cuppa is that something. Small things matter. So do the simple tasks that enable one to work through this lesser-stage of such a long migraine.

I was going to tell you about a cousin of mine today. A folk dance teacher who taught people to deal with problems of right and left foot by wearing different coloured socks and shoes. On the day I heard he died, I watched Easter Parade with a friend. The “I do not know my right from my left” made its appearance there, hours before I heard the sad news. I haven’t seen Robin for years, but as soon as this migraine is past, I shall dance something in his honour: it will be a short and simple dance because dancing is difficult for me these days, but it will be joyous. We talked about death many years ago, you see, and Robin wanted people to dance joyously when he died. I told him that same day, that I wanted to be remembered with stories. I wanted friends to get together and talk and eat and laugh and tell stories. I shall miss him.

Happy New Year…and other thoughts

I’m running late with my blogpost because exciting things keep happening. The only one I can talk about at this point is the fridge repair that will happen on Friday. And that’s boring to most people… so I won’t. All I can say is that more good things have happened in my new year so far than happened in a month of last year. If I pick and choose the month carefully, then I can say “More than in two months.” I hope this is a harbinger for all of us – we all need a good year after the last one.

I know, as the Treehouse member who gets to blog on New Year’s Day (which is my 2nd January, which never ceases to amuse me) I feel I ought to say something inspirational.

Except… 2023 was a difficult year and many of us (the lucky ones) are merely tired and a little unsafe, many of us (me) are beyond tired, and many of us (too many people I care about) are living through very difficult times with much care and caution. I could say something winsome and hopeful, but it would feel a bit hypocritical.

What’s on my mind a lot right now is how many people don’t identify their own prejudices, but they do act on them. “I don’t hate this” they say. Often it’s Jews, which is, of course the bit that I experience directly. When a “No Jews allowed” sticker is put on a window of a place family members work, I feel it. When a synagogue is evacuated because of a pro-Palestinian protest I might (and, in fact did) have family there, and they had to thread their way through an antisemitic throng to get home on a Friday night. Ironically, that particular Friday night was also the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

All kinds of human beings are suffering from various kinds of hate (disguised and not disguised, recognised and not recognised) and all of us are hurting. If you have the wrong religion, the wrong nationality, the wrong race, the wrong skin colour, the wrong gender, the wrong view of sex, the wrong way of walking down the street, the wrong clothing, the wrong hair colour… almost anything that this person identifies as problematic, then it doesn’t matter how much a person says “I don’t hate” they are bigoted and that bigotry hurts.

I wish this were a luxury moment when general hate was low and I could say “Look, Roger Waters does this thing and is not as bigotry-free as he thinks he is” and step back and hold my peace because everything was explained. But this kind of despite that’s invisible to the person expressing it is infectious.

The people who go on massive demonstrations and say “Look, we’re peaceful. We’re safe” see only the friends around them that they demonstrate with and don’t look at the people who have to hide, or try to hide any differences that could cause them to be focal points of hate or (more uncomfortably for me) have to walk in the march shouting louder than anyone else to prove they’re acceptable.

In the everyday, some people who do the louder shouting are allying openly with bigots, not because they agree with the bigots on whether they themselves should live, but because there are some aspects of the politics they agree with (all humans deserve human rights and Palestinians are suffering a marked lack of them at the moment, for instance) and they either don’t know or don’t care that many people who see the suffering of Palestinians follow some really vile stereotyping and blame this suffering on every Jew they can find. They don’t just blame. They lash out and hurt Jews in many, many countries. As I said, it’s infectious.

I miss the days when I was allowed to teach cultural awareness and understanding. I didn’t teach the politics of it. That was for a different kind of expert. I taught people how to cross the imaginary divide between people and to see the person they were sitting next to as a human being and be able to work with them. I didn’t teach a token “Admit they’re human. Go on. Thank you. We’re done. Get back to your normal life.” I was talking about seeing people as … people. With favourite food and movies, with family, with their own unique lives and their own personal way of facing problems. Talk about issues came later. First individuals had to learn how to see and respect other individuals. This ability is sorely lacking right now.

Teaching cultural awareness is still my favourite way of combating hate. We don’t have to be like our neighbours in culture, religion or history. We do have to see them as equally human, and understand what that means.

In my perfect world, we all all taught how to identify the invisible bigotry most of us carry, and that it’s our responsibility to handle it. Also, that we’re all taught to take responsibility for accusations we make. It really scares me that so many of the stereotypes and hate are marching the streets rather than confined to the minds of the idiot minority. It scares me that I’ve started this sentence three times and dumped what I was going to say, because I’m worried that useful idiots will accuse me of supporting one country above all others and that I’m unpatriotic: what I had intended to say in this aborted sentence was about something quite different.

Years ago, a reporter explained to me that the only reportable Australian news about Jews was if we could be blamed for something (no matter how small) or if we were murdered. I put that small illumination into one of my novels, because I couldn’t shake it off. I still can’t shake it off. Someone say to me last week, “No Jews, no news” and they were not talking about someone Jewish who was being praised for anything good. Recently, most Australian media has lost interest in reporting Jews who are hurt. This focus on Jewish anything and the widespread with to blame Jews for so much is not simple antisemitism. It’s denial of guilt for others. It’s an irresponsible need to simplify a complex world.

To anyone who asks “Why are you focusing on matters Jewish – look, Palestinians are hurting.” I’m focusing on my own background here because I have learned to see myself as a human being, and that means I am allowed to talk about my own safety, which is what triggered this particular post today. If I’m not allowed to talk about my place in the world and who I am, then the person who tells me I’m wrong might want to ask if they silence themselves and their own views, or if it only applies to certain people. If it only applies to certain people and I’m one of them, then why isn’t reading someone else’s writing a good approach? Why may I not talk about these things from my own perspective? Is it because I’m female? Australian? Older than many? Have disabilities? Or because I’m Jewish? If it’s any of these reasons then maybe consider the role of invisible prejudice. You can ignore me as a Gillian without any bias at all, but telling me I can only talk about this or that is a different matter. Very few of us  have to read the work of people whose views we dislike. If people don’t like me, then surely simply not reading my work is better than silencing me? Me, I don’t march in protests, but I don’t argue that the protests should be stopped… unless they become violent , which is what happened outside that synagogue that Friday night. Rule of law – crime needs to be stopped. Trying to run over pedestrians because they are Jewish is a crime. This is why I am angry about that protest and do not speak about most of the others. Protesting is not a problem: intentionally hurting people is.

If I were talking about politics in the Middle East, trust me, I would be talking quite differently in this post. This goes back to the shouting. Do I have to shout “I hate Netanyahu” every single time I want anyone to listen to me? Or may I say Gillian things in a Gillian way?

I like rule of law. Fair and just rule of law. I like the thought of criminals in all countries to be tried fairly and punished justly. This includes war criminals from all backgrounds. The more we allow hate and bigotry to rule the streets and airwaves, the less likely this is to happen in any given country.

For all those wonderful people who, in the last three months, have chatted with me as if nothing has changed – you see me as a person. For all those people I thought nice who have been avoiding me, some have admitted that this is because they don’t know what to say. If you’re avoiding me because this difficult world has overwhelmed you, then try something simple and achievable. “Say “Hi”, say “Why don’t we meet up.” We don’t need to talk tough issues. We don’t even have to talk for more than a minute if everything’s too overwhelming. The thing is, until you say “Hi – how are you?” I don’t know if you still see me as a person. A whole bunch of people from my old leftish haunts do not. I discovered this the hard way. My Jewishness dehumanises me in their eyes, and they don’t even recognise this.

How to prove to someone (anyone) that you see they themselves and not a stereotype? Talk to them. Let them know you see them and not a stereotype. All this is, in real life, outside the misshapen media, can be as simple as nodding and smiling at a neighbour as you walk past each other.

My NY resolution is to remind myself every single day to remember everyone’s humanity. To remind myself to see people and smile at them and chat if it’s appropriate and not to be governed by the current world of hate.


I’m a day ahead of most of my readers. Mostly, this doesn’t matter. Today, it matters a lot. I’m writing my Monday post and for many people who read it instantly, it’s Christmas. If this is you, I hope you have a lovely Christmas. Me, I spent the day in bed due to thunderstorms that never stopped. That kind of thunderstorm gives me a lot of pain, so I slept it off. Not a problem, except I’ve a lot of work to catch up on.

This brings us to what is, for most people, Boxing Day. My today. 26 December.

My father was born on Boxing Day, so we always celebrated his birthday then. This year, he would have been 100. He died when I was 26. The biggest grief fades with time, but I never don’t miss him. Today on Facebook I did two things – I reached out to all my other friends who miss parents, and I asked friends to share their worst jokes. I do this every year, but this year, I need more. Even though Dad didn’t even make 2/3 of the way to 100, I want to remember him today. I’m having an online get-together in his name tonight (from about 8 pm UTC+11 for about four hours). If you’d like to join me, ask for a link in the comments or email me directly, or, if you’re friends with me on Facebook, pop into Facebook and find the link there. It won’t be a big crowd – most of the world is still doing Christmas and its aftermath. And we mostly won’t be talking about my father! But bad jokes will be welcome.

I hope every one of you who has lost parents and others who are close to you have happy memories you can focus on today. For me, you see, Boxing Day is all about remembering the good time and the wonder of people I love. Not just my father. My BFF, my aunts, my uncles, my cousin David… so many people I miss. For me, today is their day.

There’s always someone who pops up and suggests that All Soul’s Day is the right day for such memories. Well, it is… for many Christians. The rest of us have other days, and my day is 26 December.

Not-Christmas and not-weather (mostly, sorta)

At this time of year I hear a lot about snow and sleet and the need for egg nogs to get through winter cold and gloom, and it’s very tempting to counter this with stories of the flooding in Northern Queensland and the heat and the incoming storms. The incoming storms today might mean we have a tolerable weekend, which is very important for those who are having big parties over said weekend. The storms, when they’re over, will be good for me because I am not a summer heat kind of person.

I want to talk about the weather for about two hours, because I’m in the mood for it, but I shall stop here, because I’m so very kind. Also because I would like people to give me merely a paragraph on the state of winter darkness before moving on to more interesting topics in their own writings in this season. If I would like this then I should give you a mere paragraph on summer heat before moving on.

So… let me talk about the weekend. Weekends are always good to talk about.
I’ve been advised to avoid all the places where there are marches for this whole season, because there is often a component of people in those marches who are not entirely safe for anyone Jewish, so I have already done most things for the next week. I do not need to go to shops or near big streets where folks demonstrate politically.

This time of year is mostly a period of intense work for me, with a few really, really nice exceptions. 2023 is classic for me in this regard.

School and university (except for research students who don’t do Christmas) have already finished for the year. Both the calendar year and the academic year, in fact. We’re about to get the annual shutdown of most things. Everyone’s frantically preparing or on a plane to somewhere cool – I mean the latter literally. So many of my friends are heading north into winter.

This year, because I can see friends if we’re all careful (I’m COVID-vulnerable) I will have visits from friends who are on holiday but not headed north. I have chocolate to feed them, in case it’s too hot to cook. Much chocolate will be consumed. I’m thinking of getting some mint and making big jugs of iced tea (without sugar, because Australians are not so big on sweet things, on the whole) but that will have to start next week. I refuse to encounter crowds just for mint.

I celebrate Christmas for the same friends who celebrate my New Year. We’re kinda extended family for each other. I’ve already made sure that two lots of presents and some very nice port is at their place, because while they cook, I will finish a chapter. My personal race with time is that chapter – if I complete it I get the afternoon and evening of 24 December off.

That morning is the last market day in the year and I’m going to the market with one of my friends to make sure we have all the things needed both for the dinner and for the few days after. Me, I’m making sure there are lots of cherries. Cherries are so important for the whole end-of-year period. When I was in Canada for Christmas/New Year people had poinsettias, which weren’t the same at all. Mind you, they also had snow. Which was, of course, exotic.

If the weather is nice, we’ll be outside. If it’s not, we’ll be inside with air monitoring and tiny portable air purifiers. It’s perfectly possible to have nice events with the COVID-vulnerable. We proved it last year and we’re doing it again this. I’m hoping for outside for most of it, however, because a summer day with children is better outdoors. I like the years we go down to the lake and picnic and the black swans come to investigate all the presents, but this year we’re staying home. This means that when I am nicely relaxed and have eaten too much I can wander home and do some work, so that is good, too.

Unlike much of the US, Canberra does a pretty thorough shut-down over Christmas. This means no tradition of Chinese restaurants for anyone Jewish.

What I sometimes do in its stead these days is host an online chat with friends about the Toledoth Yeshuah. 25 December then is a big working day for me, except for an occasional detour via that really interesting by-product of antisemitism. The Toledoth came into being because of other times like this, and it’s interesting to see how we dealt with this stuff (culturally) in times past. So I will be exploring it, but unless anyone asks, I’ll explore it alone. It’s not a comfortable text, nor a comfortable tradition. Hate hurts.

Boxing Day is different. This year it will be my father’s 100th birthday. He died when I was 26, but I miss him and want to celebrate anyhow. I’m just 2 years younger now than he was when he died, which is, I admit, sobering. Friends are coming round to toast him during the day, but only a few friends. I shall watch a really bad comedy he enjoyed, or maybe one of his favourite Doctor Who sequences… I’ll decide on the day.

In my evening, which is morning in Europe and the day before in the US and Canada, I’ll open up a Zoom room where anyone who is at a loose end can drop in and tell bad jokes in honour of my father and generally catch up. If you would like a link to the room, contact me in the next few days and I’ll send it the moment it’s live. Waiting til the last minute means if I am unwell, which happens, I can sneak in some rest and start a bit later. I’m looking at beginning around 8 pm AEST (Australian Eastern Summer Time, which is UTC/GMT+11) and continuing for as long as there are friends who want to hang out.

Let me know if you’d like to be part of anything I do online during this time.

Also, I’d love to know what other people do over the long weekend, if they don’t have a regular Christmas for whatever reason. I’d love to hear about other kinds of Christmas!

On Smiling and on Adjectives

I posted this on Facebook today:

How do I know it’s Chanukah? Because a child has stood in my little corridor, looking at the door of the linen cupboard very intently. As soon as I make myself known, I am asked “May I open the door?”

“No,” I say. ” You will be disappointed if you open the door. Look what the sign says ‘Narnia is not behind this door.'”

One of the less-talked-about differences between being part of an accepted majority culture and of being of a minority one (whether accepted or not accepted, safe or not safe) is that we all have shared jokes and winces with majority culture folks. Think about how deep Christmas resonances are from now. In fact, from two weeks ago. Think now of how few and very limited the resonances are for Chanukah… if you’re in the US. If you’re in Australia they’re fewer and mostly private. There isn’t a broad shared Jewish culture of any kind in Australia that is not mediated by Christian mainstream culture.

What this means in terms of our everyday is that we have to build those resonances, one step at a time. For me, my resonances for Chanukah include inviting children over and making latkes with them, teaching them how to invent their own rules for dredel (because that’s what my family did when we were young) and so forth. But they also experience my flat in a different way to other visits. Because Chanukah is so enmeshed with experience and fun, they look at things and see things and want to ask questions.

I put that sign on my linen cupboard years ago. I’ve influenced it in my fiction. I’ve told people about it. And yet, even with children who have visited before and know things very well, when they reach a certain age (about Lucy’s age, actually, when she first goes through a door into Narnia) they see that sign on the door and ask the question.

This year A (the child in question) snuck back later and checked out the cupboard. If he tells his family about it and it comes back to me, the question will be whether it is always a linen cupboard. This is what happened when his older sister tried the door a few years ago. His little sister is reading Harry Potter for the first time by herself, so she will have Opinions. It will become a part of “What happens at Gillian’s every Chanukah.” Because he checked it alone, I couldn’t pose that question. They are all asking each other, now, “Did you see the sign? Did you open the door?” The interactions after that and with me are always different, but they’ve become a normal and wonderful part of Chanukah.

Some of the cool things we do because we’re not surrounded by people who do the things we do can be very special. The relationship my adopted nieces and nephews have with this single door is one of the most special of all. It fits in nicely with a chat I had with other friends, later that night. None of the tidy and often accusatory label that are thrown my way fit me at all. I am not, as some of my students used to explain, an adjective: I am a human being. That notice on that door is one of the bits of my life that proclaims this. Anyone who doesn’t see the notice or dream about it at all, is missing some of the best parts of my life.

Another discussion we all have every year is why the spelling of a single word can vary so much. And another, a more adult one, is why the politics of a particular bit of land were so fraught just before 167 BCE. No-one asked why I always tangle the Hasmoneans with their predecessors, which is simply because I am dreadful at names.

Complexity is I herent in Jewish life. These small things are the everyday complexity, like not being able to safely wear anything in public that indicates I’m Jewish. The questions of children and the passionate argument about spelling are so much better than some of the ways we are told to be and to think as Jews.

This coming year, when anyone tells me who I am and what I think because they know so much more about my Jewish self than I could possibly do, I shall think of my honorary nephew, standing outside that cupboard door and wondering if it really could lead to Narnia. And I shall smile with the happy memory. And anyone who genuinely thinks of me as an adjective and not a person will see that smile and be unsettled. My smile will be like that sign on the door. It might lead where the unsettled person thinks, but …