Who’s the fittest in this game of survival?

I’m a little worried about evolution.

I’m no scientist and my knowledge of Darwinian theory is basic at best, being sourced from the dusty secondary school biology files in my memory’s long-forgotten archives, as it is.

For instance, I vaguely recall there being a tale about giraffes’ necks extending over time to take advantage of the more abundant – and less sought after – food provided by acacia trees.

giraffe

Fact or fiction? Who knows, but I bought it. Figured this guy, Charles Darwin, was on to something. And, rightly or wrongly, I’ll probably tell it to my kid next time we’re at the zoo and she casually asks, “so, mum, tell me about Charles Darwin, what’s his schtick?”. She’s only in single digits age-wise and a while away from reaching the minimum height requirement for the teacup ride at Disneyland, so I’ve got some time to polish the giraffe analogy.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering what happens when we dabble too much with Darwin’s thoughts on the order of things; the natural world’s way of weeding its garden. What kind of evolutionary domino effect do we unleash on the world. I wouldn’t say it’s keeping me up at night or sending me rushing off to build an ark – parenthood’s left me too exhausted for that – but it’s definitely making a regular appearance on my roster of things to ponder.

Before I really get in to what’s concerning me, here’s my meagre interpretation of what Darwin was on about…

evolution
/ˌiːvəˈluːʃ(ə)n,ˈɛv-/
noun

The little tweaks that happen to Earth’s creatures over time to give some of us better odds at getting through this thing called life in order to pass on any superior genes to our littluns. For example, people with double-jointed thumbs or a ridiculously acute sense of smell; features that are bound to come in super handy in a few hundred years.

 

Bearing that in mind, there’s one particularly serious purveyor of synthetic evolution that has a lot to answer for – cosmetic surgery.

How is evolution meant to get its day job done when there are people running around artificially enhancing their features to be fitter than they were genetically destined to be. How are the legitimately fit (in the survival of the fittest sense, of course) meant to avoid this skulduggery.

See. Dominos, falling everywhere.

Then there’s the we know best attitude us humans just love to adopt. For example, there’s the alligator getting CT scans  in Miami, USA, for fear he might have melanoma on account of his pale leucistic (looks albino, but isn’t) skin. Then there’s the tiger having corrective eye surgery for her cataracts and another condition that makes her cross-eyed.

I’m all for helping these fellas out, but surely this is something that, in the spirit of the great game of netball, would have Mr Darwin blowing his whistle and yelling, “interference!”

Lucky I’m not going to be sharing a dinner table with the likes of the amazing Jane Goodall any time soon, isn’t it. My concerns would send her running back to Gombe National Park to be with the smart folk. But, then, we’re all a work in progress, aren’t we.

Should James Bond have his driver’s licence suspended?

It must be time for James Bond to start needing annual eye tests to have his driver’s licence renewed.

As the most recent Brit with the skills to disarm and seriously wound dozens of men at a time without tearing a stitch of his expensive suit, Daniel Craig has done a sensational job of pulling off being a youthful 37 year-old who happens to be born in 1953…

That includes being one of the most successful Bonds of all time, with at least two (Skyfall and Spectre) of the top five highest grossing films in the franchise, depending on which online source you consult. By the by, isn’t it comforting knowing even James Bond lies about his age.

But, even those with a licence to kill must admit, at some point, that age is sneaking up on them. Actually, I would’ve thought it would make you more sensitive to any dulling of the senses – no one wants to see someone with arthritic knuckles, swollen like beads on an abacus, waving around a Walther PPK. It’s dangerous for everybody.

So, why the suspicion over Mr Bond’s driving ability? Quite simply, the man trashes cars the way the rest of us put out the trash – all the damn time, it seems.

On a quiet Saturday night recently, I bunkered down with a block of chocolate and hot cuppa, ready to enjoy the weekly screening of Bond offered on rotation by the local TV stations. Within minutes of the title credits of Quantum of Solace wrapping up I was wincing in physical pain at the sight of Bond convincingly destroying his beautiful Aston Martin DBS in a few furious minutes.

Honestly, it was heartbreaking. Right up there with when the War Horse got tangled in barbed wire on the Western Front.

In his most recent death-defying endeavour, Spectre, Mr Bond is reported to have trashed no less than seven Aston Martins at a cost of around US$37 million. Excuse me for a moment while I dab the tears from my eyes. AND, not just any Aston Martin, but a DB10 designed and lovingly built especially for the movie.

Beautiful, isn’t it.

Surely, Bond’s Chief Gadget Man, Q, has realised by now that his R&D budget would be far better preserved if he just suped up a Skoda in future and let Bond go to town in that?

The fine folk at Aston Martin must also be starting to despair at all those wasted hours of painstakingly hand-crafted deliciousness going to waste with barely a growl from a V12 engine. Especially when it takes around 200 hours to build just one Aston Martin in their swanky factory in Gaydon, Warwickshire (UK) – fifty of which are spent on the paint job alone.

Yes, I wonder if it’s time Mr Bond considers taking the bus.

Urban meditation

Meditation. The act of being poised in peaceful solitude, with your thoughts silenced and the rhythmic tide of your breath refueling your zest for life and patience with idiots.

Is that how it works?

I wouldn’t know, because every time I’ve been led in meditation I’ve managed to “focus on my breathing” for all of, oh, two breaths before a very clear and persistent chant enters my head accompanied by my in-house mariachi band. It goes like this:

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING!

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING!

KEEP YOUR EYES CLOSED!

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING!

Then there’s two more breaths before my eyes start opening like the Sphinxes’ Gate in the movie, Never Ending Story. And, we all know how badly that can end.

From that moment on it’s all over – any attempt to marshal my mind back into some form of idyllic hypnosis is doomed. Instead, my eyes zip around the room looking for other naughty children, or waiting to be glared at by my committed teacher. But, of course, my teacher wouldn’t glare, because they’re focused on the task at hand – wandering through the Utopian garden of bliss they’ve created in their mind. Or not, because their mind is clear, still…peaceful.

See! It’s not easy figuring out this zen master stuff.

Based on my experiences so far, I can confidently hypothesise that, even if I was alone in a plain white room, with perfect climate control, wearing virtually weightless clothes offering supreme comfort, I’d still manage to distract myself from the practice of meditation. Probably with a really fascinating internal dialogue about the whiteness of the room.

So, naturally, I have a huge amount of admiration for people who manage to still the world’s chaos for even a few moments and disappear into an internal wonderland of peace and serenity.

Imagine my awe, then, when I stumbled upon a man in quiet cross-legged reflection (you were right to picture him wearing multi-coloured tie-dyed harem pants) on the steps of a busy outdoor bar in Sydney’s CBD during Friday peak hour.

In front of him hundreds of harried little minions scurried about trying get as far away from Point A (work) as possible and cross the finish line at Point B (somewhere serving alcohol, most likely) in a record time that would astonish their FitBit. Honestly, we should all be made to don sweatbands and stopwatches at 5:00pm on a Friday. But, I digress…

Behind him, hundreds of over-achievers who’d already arrived at Point B were raucously draining their wine and beer glasses and erasing the memory of any missed deadlines or politically incorrect comments made to their boss.

Yet, here was this man, persisting in his quiet contemplation at the isthmus between a crowded bar and heaving pavement. The only person who came even vaguely close to his level of stillness was this bloke sitting nearby reading the paper…

image

Was he taunting us by silently singing, “ner, ner, na, ner, ner! I can control my thoughts better than you.”

No, surely not. His mind is too pure of thought for childish mockery.

But then, as I paused to watch him (for a millisecond – I had a train to catch, after all), I realised he might not be meditating at all.

In his hand he was gently cradling a lighter. At first I thought he probably just grabbed whatever he had close by to help centre his thoughts as he chanted his AUMs.

Maybe it wasn’t that.

Maybe he was quietly sitting there all this time trying to remember where he left his smokes.

Theatrical commuting

A commuter train is not the first place I’d choose for a spot of people watching. All those weary worker bees, heads seemingly dipped in prayer, looking at whatever device will take their mind off the stained upholstery they’re sitting on; it rarely makes for an interesting spectator sport. Unless it’s the day your carriage becomes the theatrical equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and you’re holding a golden ticket.

This week, I had VIP seats to some of the most glorious displays of human behaviour I’ve ever seen.

Like many people, I suspect (hope), I often make a quick visual sweep of the platform before I board the train, just to get a sense of the characters that are sharing my ride. This day was no different.

On my right stood a young girl in jeans and a flannel shirt I’d bet cost a lot of money to look that ‘worn’. On my left stood a man I’d describe as a lot older than me, but only because the birthday alerts keep getting sent to my memory’s junk mail folder; it still thinks I’m in my twenties (bless).

Together, we got on the train and sat in the vestibule area by the doors. I didn’t realise my trendy little flannel friend was on the phone until we sat down. She was talking so quietly I doubt an audio engineer skilled at recording praying mantis mating could hear her. But that soon changed.

I believe it was her rhythmically aggressive tone and furious gaze that tipped me off to the fracas she was embroiled in. Suddenly it wasn’t just her shirt that was distressed. A quick scan in my peripheral vision confirmed that the commuters on either side of me had twigged to the tiff brewing across from us as well.

Delighted to have picked the carriage screening the latest Netflix drama, I silently squealed, “grab your popcorn, folks, it’s ON!”

After a minute or so of different variations of Flannel Girl asking, “why didn’t you answer your phone?”, I couldn’t help but feel deflated at the predictable plot line. But, just as I was about to switch off and join my fellow worker bees at Swipe Club, in swept a whole lotta crazy from the next carriage. A twist so unexpected and dramatic that Flannel Girl suddenly lost the leading role and became a cameo (at best).

MickJaggerIf I had to guess his stage name, it would have to be Man Under the Influence of Suspicious Substances* Who’s Passionately Interested in the Gaza Strip Conflict. Why? Because in the three loops he did onto the top level of our carriage and back underneath, he was having an enthralling conversation on the phone about that very issue – all punctuated with a series of spectacular lunges reminiscent of the inimitable (until now) Mick Jagger. His performance was electric, I was both spellbound and nervously trying to avoid eye contact.

He exited the carriage as flamboyantly as he arrived but the memory of his dramatic exploits stayed with me for the rest of the ride home.

Honestly, it’s the only way to travel.

*Not something I’d condone or recommend.

 

Parents: be ware the child-free holiday

I fear it’s not safe to visit too long with memories of my life before kids. Mainly, of course, because they bring such incredible joy and, um, yes, deep perspective on what’s important in life. But also because it’s just not helpful to let your mind wistfully wander to weekends spent waking up at one’s leisure and enjoying a peaceful cuppa in bed with the papers.

Truth be told, I’ve never done that, but my memories of those days clearly chronicle something like that happening.

It’s these very memories, fantasies and half-truths that inspired my husband and I to take a brief sojourn to the Blue Mountains recently without our ridiculously cute, funny, adorable and button-pushing toddler.

FullSizeRender
The stunning view of the Blue Mountains from the Three Sisters lookout at Katoomba

Just to get some necessary fact to balance out what we were sure was inspired fiction, you see. It’s not like we bolted to the car, arms flailing in the air like lunatics escaping the asylum, locked the doors and rushed off, at speed, before our heaven-sent family members could change their minds. That most definitely did not happen.

And, so, it pains me to tell you that any dreams you have that take you tripping, nay, skipping (with daisies in your hair and soft, green grass beneath your feet), to a place where you can visit the WC on your own and leave your house on a whim, are true.

You can do everything at your pace – fast, slow or not at all. Naps are for adults, wherever and whenever you fancy. And, the papers can absolutely be read slowly with a cuppa in bed, or during a relaxed breakfast spent in companionable silence.

There is a small catch, though – the bone-jarring thud of reality that’s waiting to welcome you back into its clutches. The same reality that insists you check your bright eyes and holiday glow in at the door. The same reality that will make you realise those nostalgic glances at photos of your kids while you were away – usually accompanied with protestations of, “oh, I just miss them so much” – were a misuse of valuable time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a good’un; a kid that’s just so stinking cute I can’t stand it and who makes me smile more than I had in my entire life before she became part of it. But, boy did we pay the price for having a ‘time out’.

There was no over-excited, “Mummy!” as she ran into my arms. Quite the opposite, really – more blithe indifference than heartwarming Disney-esque reunion. Then there were the tantrums. Two within half an hour of our return, when I have it on good authority (from my sister-in-law) that she didn’t throw one the whole time we were away. Saving them as a special welcome home gift for us, obviously. See, thud!

FullSizeRender
The famous Three Sisters rock formation at Katoomba

I blame the hotel. How dare they attend to our every need like that. How dare they lure us into a hypnotic state of restful naps by the pool. How dare they make it possible to enjoy a game of Monopoly without one of the hotels being shoved up a nose or in an ear.

How very dare they!

 

 

Keeping quiet

Anyone who’s ever adopted another country as their home will hopefully agree that, once you’ve given your heart to another place, it remains forever adrift; locked in a bittersweet tug-of-war of loving where you are and longing to be somewhere else.

I feel that way about silence.

I love being in its company but can feel intimidated by its presence at the same time.

In truth, if you could ask silence how committed I’d been to our companionship over the years, I’m sure it’d say I’d been most inattentive. We don’t get together often, but when we do it’s usually a passing nod of acknowledgment – quick dip of the cap – and we’re off in different directions again.

Lately, though, my respect for silence has been reborn.

It’s called parenthood.

The squeals of delighted playfulness that fill your house and melt your heart are met, in equal measure, by ear-splitting clashing, banging and screaming. It’s a land where silence surrendered long ago.

I escaped our Land of Bellows briefly over New Years Eve, thanks to incredibly generous grandparents, aunties and uncles, desperate to unashamedly spoil the youngest member of our clan.

My first thought as the car drove off towards three blissful days of sleep-ins and relaxed breakfasts spent reading the paper?

It’s so quiet. Too quiet.

There was no dog whining in the boot, desperate for a pee, and our darling toddler wasn’t imploring, “more, more, more…” as soon as Taylor Swift’s Shake it off finished playing on the stereo.

Maybe I’m a bigger fan of the cacophony of life than I thought.

 

 

 

 

The artful conmen

I love to marvel at nature with the best of them – a beautiful vista; majestic wildlife; weather that can switch between delicately pristine and beautifully violent in an instant. All breathtaking.

Sometimes, though, you just have to wonder if it’s having a laugh at your expense. I certainly thought that was the case on a lovely holiday to Tasmania’s much revered Cradle Mountain Lodge recently. My partner and I were enjoying an early morning cuppa (tea, that is) in our cabin, overlooking the sensational view of the bush outside our window. We could hear a creek making a run for freedom nearby and smell the delicious memory of our wood fire on the breeze.

It was so heavenly it was cliched. So, I guess we were lucky for the reality check that flew around the corner, after a quick visit to the cabin next door, and sat on our balcony. It was a jet black crow sporting a rather unfortunate injury. It seems he’d* lost a good chunk of his beak in what we could only assume was an unfortunate lock picking incident. Judgemental, I know, but he just seemed like that kind of bird.

As soon as he confirmed the room had occupants, with a scan of his beady little eye, he got to work. He went from sitting on our balcony railing to the back of a chair right by the window in the blink of an eye. Then he began transmitting what was clearly an urgent message by morse code. The telegraph key of choice? His tapping his beak on our window pane, of course.

“Please help me,” we believe he said. “It’s my beak, you see. It makes it so hard to capture my own food,” he continued.

“Won’t you help me? How about a biscuit from the tea and coffee station, or even a Mars Bar from the mini bar? I know you’ve got some in there.”

What he probably didn’t know is that there are polite requests all over our room not to feed the wildlife. Their little sob story was going nowhere with us. Realising this, our beak-less friend called in reinforcements. They came in the shape of another feathered friend. He’d obviously been waiting just out of sight on our neighbour’s balcony, ready to leap into action if the first act didn’t wow the critics.

He quickly took his place on the balcony and sprung into action, warbling a tune to complement the tap, tap, tapping of his friend.

These jokers had their scam locked down. They’d clearly done the hard work to not only identify their USP – unique sympathy point – but also refine it. Together they made quite a symphony and their beady little eyes made for quite a foreboding accompaniment.

After a couple more minutes of tapping, warbling and eyeballing we’d obviously reached the final act. They both gave us one more threatening stare before silently declaring to one another;

“Stuff this, man, they’re not going to give up the goods. Let’s look somewhere else.”

*David Attenborough I am not. The little fella’s gender is assumed.