The Next Book

This year, 2015, has been an interesting one for me. I have two novels published, with a third due out in December. I have also had three short stories appear in print, with another two also due in December. So as far as writing goes, things have been going pretty well. More than a lot of writers achieve, less than others, but for me, very credible.

However, lately a couple of darker matters have reared their heads to remind me that life isn’t always the way you’d want it.

First up, yes, I have had two novels published with a third one on the way. However, I have my fair share of rejection slips and some stories and books that have been completed but have yet to find a home. This always leaves a writer frustrated, especially those stories that have gone out several times and been knocked back with polite “no thank yous”. You start to feel just a bit sorry for them, as well as yourself as a writer.

I’m working on it.

On a more personal level, my mother has Alzheimer’s and requires more and more care as time goes on. I am her full-time carer, so quite a bit of my day is taken up looking after her and coping with her inability to remember things. This leaves less time for writing and even when I am writing means a lot of interruptions.  Not that I begrudge her need for ongoing care, but I think you know what I mean.

Besides, I’m not the picture of health myself. I have glaucoma and psoriasis, both of which are inconvenient if not particularly dangerous in us if treated. I’ve had to live with them all my life.

So it isn’t all going my way, particularly recently.

But back to the good things. At the end of October this year I decided to enter NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which is an international writing challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. To save you doing the Math, that’s 1666.6666 words a day. Call it 1667. There’s no prize other than the satisfaction of having completed the challenge. I decided to use NaNo to kick start a new science fiction/horror series, The Scream of Years. Now, on Tuesday 24 November, I am on 54,000.

That’s something to be proud of, with 6 days to go and already four thousand words over the target. Of course, it isn’t necessary to stop at 50,000, so I can keep going and really make a start on the first draft of the first book, which has the working title Shine and Shadow. It’s been a full-on experience, given that my writing technique consists of having some sort of vague idea of what I want and making it up as I go.

So, I have a books and stories without homes at the moment, although they will get one, don’t fear about that. And my personal life isn’t one I’d recommend. But here’s the thing: I’m focusing on the next book.

And that’s really the heart of being a writer. The next book. Not this one, or the ones that have found homes or are still at the orphanage, but the next one. That’s the most important book of all.

A writer should never stop being a writer. Whether you spend a lifetime plugging away and get one short story printed in your local paper, or whether you’re the next John Grisham, never stop being a writer. Always make a start on that next book.

That all that counts.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Why Nothing Works

I’m going out on a limb here. I’m going to say something totally radical and see who tells me I’m a complete moron. I’m also going to see who agrees with me and who says ‘Yes, you have a point, but…’

Because all of those points of view are valid.

So this is what I’m going to say: No one is right.

That’s right. No one is right. Right?

As we grow up, various people tell us what is right and what is wrong. Most of the time, at least during our early years, these people are relations. Parents, uncles and aunts, well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) brothers and sisters and cousins unto the fourth and fifth generations. Later on, these people are teachers, and friends, and then celebrities and even later on, they are our own children and then grand-children and basically the rest of society telling us do it this way or get out of town.

But in the end, the only person you should listen to is yourself.

And here’s the rider on that last statement that completely throws caution to the wind: not even you are right.

You’re wrong, ok? And so am I. And so is my mother, and your mother, and Kanye West and your favourite teacher in primary school and that man up on the pulpit telling you what you have to believe, and your favourite song and that inspirational meme you found on Facebook this morning.

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None of them (us). Because none of them (us) has the slightest idea what they’re (we’re) talking about. And they (we) never have.

You see, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Every single one of the 108 billion people who have ever lived has had to wing it. That isn’t to say we haven’t looked for guidance, or embraced life lessons with a fervour that has often led to misunderstanding. Religion has brought comfort to billions of those billions, and yet has also caused divisiveness on a global and catastrophic scale. Worldly wisdom is both comforting and self-contradictory. Science strives to give us answers and yet produces more questions. Even your mother (sorry to bring her up, but she is important) has changed her mind about how best to raise you. But none of them, I venture to say, has the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

And this is perfectly natural. Because every one of those 108 billion people has been an individual. Unique. As a teacher, I try to instil the art of critical thinking in my students. ‘Question everything!’ I demand. ‘Even what I’m saying to you now!’ The ability to ask questions is the single greatest ability of the human mind, which is the single greatest and most complex organ in the known universe. ‘The worst reason for believing something,’ I continue, foam often frothing in the corners of my mouth, ‘is that someone told you it was so!’

I have no idea if any of my students have ever done what I have implored. It may well be a good thing if they haven’t. Because knowing that life is basically a make-it-up-as-you-go scenario and nothing anyone has ever said actually means squat is not the most comforting way to live one’s life.

Let me give you an example. Maybe more than one.

I’m a writer. I’ve had books and short stories published. This makes me feel good. I enjoy knowing that people are reading what I’ve written. I have so far made a bit of money from my writing. Not much, but making money isn’t why I write.  If I was slaving over a hot computer in order to make money I’d be in the IT industry or something to do with computers that actually made money. That’s my conscious decision and I’m fine with that. But I’ve read a lot about how to write books, and how to promote what I’ve written and how to make sales and I’ve also read a lot about how what I read about promotion actually doesn’t work and even the Big Five publishers have no idea what they’re doing and if I listened to both sides of the argument my head would explode. So nobody knows what they’re doing.

Take elections. Any elections. Nothing divides people more completely than politics. Except maybe religion. Both politics and religion have been responsible for an immense amount of human suffering, possibly to the same degree. But let’s take politics, because if you started me on religion my head would explode, and it’s already done that once so far since you started reading this. It doesn’t actually matter what politics a particular candidate wants to follow. Because all politicians are united in one way: a politician is utterly useless unless he or she is in power. So a politician’s whole agenda is geared towards getting into power, by whatever means possible. Once in power, he or she has the sole agenda of staying in power as long as possible, because otherwise they have no meaning. So politics is pointless, because ultimately nothing they do makes any point, because their whole agenda is self-centred.

Take science. I love science. Science has put people on the Moon and created this computer I’m typing on now and even saved my life when I was nine years old and was very, very sick. I have nothing against science personally. But it really does make life difficult. It’s got hard mathematics and big words and forces people to think and let’s face it, most people don’t want to think. They want answers, and all science does is provide ones they don’t want to know about. Global warming? Way inconvenient! Vaccines are safe? But that means the ‘research’ I did on the internet about how it causes autism is wrong! Evolution? But that means God may not actually exist! Excuse me, but I’m not sure I want to know that! And then you get scientists who don’t agree with each other. Where is that going?

Take human relations. I’m divorced. I got married and it lasted less than a year before my wife and I separated. I’m not casting blame here; it was the fault of both of us. We applied for a joint dissolution of marriage and were quite amicable about it. I even remember that after the divorce we both went to lunch together to celebrate. Human relations (love, romance, sex) are so unbelievably difficult that people like me just have no idea what is going on. There are a million how-to books and websites on obtaining a mate, and dating services and copious amounts of advice from friends and relations. And in the end we end up (or don’t) with someone. They may be the person of our dreams, Most often they aren’t. But most of us end up pretty much more or less happy. Usually. Or not. Because in the end, no one has the slightest idea about how to go about finding the right person to wake up next to forever.

Take diets. No, actually, don’t. Literally.

Look, I could go on. But basically, the point I’m making is that in every field of human endeavour there is a large number of people who spout all sorts of wisdom and how-to suggestions and tell us what it’s all about and what works and what doesn’t and what we must do in order to succeed or at least not fail or avoid fiery pits of eternity and in the end none of them actually have something that necessarily applies to us. We are all individuals.

What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for you. Or me. Or anyone else. In the end, we’re all just making it up as we go.

I’m sorry if that’s depressing. But there’s nothing I – or you – can do about it.

Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

 

Not the Greatest Country in the World

It’s Australia Day. 26 January. And I am very proud of my nation.

But let’s get one thing straight – Australia is not the greatest country in the world. We like to pretend it is, because if we didn’t we’d be accused of being un-Australian.

I don’t know what ‘the greatest country in the world ‘ even means. Greatest at what? Every nation on Earth has something they can be good at, I guess. But greatest at everything? I doubt it. Greatest at inventing things that need inventing? Greatest at making war? Charitable enterprises? Football? Give me some parameters here so I can make some comparisons.

We pride ourselves on our ‘mateship’. Do we really? Who are our mates? Our real friends? The guy down the road who makes too much noise with his car on the weekends? Every other Australian? The myth of mateship supposedly engendered at Gallipoli in World War One is a farce today. We don’t stand up for all other Australians. And we never did. Just look at the Stolen Generation for an answer to that. Sure, maybe the conscripted soldiers who served in Vietnam looked out for each other, but the treatment they received from other Australians when they returned home was nothing short of repulsive. We didn’t treat those vets like our mates.

We are, as Donald Horne put it, a lucky country. But lucky is the wrong word. We are fortunate. We have wealth, freedom, resources, natural environment and determination. We have powerful friends (whose interest in us mainly stems from our geographical location). Australia is, in a very real sense, an Asian country. But it’s people aren’t.

We’ve made mistakes. The White Australia Policy was not something we should look back on with any pride, although it did serve its purpose at the time. We’ve done some things right, other things well, even contributed to the welfare of other nations. We have great inventors, scientists, artists, actors, writers, builders, engineers, doctors and so on. Just like every other country on Earth.

That doesn’t make us the greatest nation at all.

Australians on Australia day rightly celebrate our nation’s place in the world. But we have a problem: we are in love with an image. And we know image is so important these days – just look at all those selfies out there. That’s image.

The image that we worship is that of the Aussie larrikin, the ‘little Aussie bleeder’, the yobbo who acts like a moron because he is one, the fighter who keeps getting back up because he’s too dim to realise when he’s been beaten. And we do get beaten. We are in love the idea of our ‘convict past’. Although only a fraction of people in Australia today could actually link their family tree back to a convict past, we seem to have taken that on board as who we are. Criminals.

This idolisation of an image means that we have to live up to it. Which isn’t always a good thing.

Australia has an inferiority complex. We want to be as good as everyone else, and we don’t have faith in ourselves because we’re a bunch of yobbo convicts who don’t let anyone tell them what to do. And that’s holding us back.

There is no greatest nation on Earth, and there shouldn’t be. Every nation has a valid contribution to make, and should be encouraged to do so. Tall poppy syndrome here in Australia means as soon as someone achieves something, rises above the herd, we pull them down. We don’t like people getting above everyone else in our classless society. So we stifle those that set out to achieve greatness. Good on us.

We have to get over ourselves. So do a lot of other countries. Being proud of your nation is good – nationalism, in the sense that one nation is better than all the others, is bad. That started World War One. And World War Two for that matter.

Have a great Australia Day. Kill a fly for me (it wouldn’t be Australia Day without killing a few flies) and drink to your pride in our country’s achievements.

But don’t act like a prick. You’re better than that.

 

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

Being Dead

Recently, I’ve thought about  being dead. Not that anyone I know has died lately, and I don’t have a terminal illness and I’m not thinking of shuffling off my mortal coil anytime soon. But it’s an interesting thing to think about nevertheless. After all, it’s something that we all have to do eventually, like it or not, so we may as well accept the inevitability of it. Because people are different, they have different attitudes to death, and most of these are determined by what they think will happen afterwards. Religions favour the idea that a good life will be rewarded and a bad one punished – although the concept of eternal punishment for a temporary sin is a weird one when you think about it, and more than a little unfair. But is it a given that anything at all will happen?

I mean, I know things will happen after my death. The world will keep turning, seasons will change, events will continue in their inexorable way. It’s just that I’m not going to be around to see them. So yes, there definitely is life after death. It’s just not a life I’ll be participating in. The universe seemed to function moderately well before I was born and I have the feeling it will continue to do so after I’m gone.

But of course, that’s not what most people worry about. They are more concerned about what happens to them. Which is understandable. But is an afterlife all it’s cracked up to be? Is it actually a ‘consummation devoutly to be wished’ as Shakespeare put it when Hamlet was considering not bearing any fardels (He actually uses the word fardels  – check it out at Hamlet III, i).

There are many considered possibilities about what happens when we die, and  I’ll address some of them. They aren’t all of the possibilities I’m sure, but they are the major ones people tend to consider as possible outcomes of this brief mortal span of ours. And bear in mind, this is just my opinion. People are free to believe other things if they wish.

All right, so let’s assume I’m dead. There are a myriad of possible causes of that. Extreme old age is about as attractive as I guess it gets, so let’s pretend I’ve just popped off after a good sojourn on this turgid little planet. So, what happens to me now?

1) I’ll go to heaven, or achieve some state of life after death where I am rewarded by  an applicable deity.

I won’t suggest any particular version of heaven or specify any actual deity, as  there are a lot of religions around. Some scholars put the number of different creeds at about 4,200. I don’t know which might be the “right one”. If we were honest, we’d have to admit no one does.  Nor is there being a right one required for this topic. Seriously, most people are the same religion as their parents. Coincidence? Of course not. Children are indoctrinated into a particular religion depending on what faith their parents have. Some change later in life, of course, but mostly it’s a safe bet that a person was raised in the same church as the rest of their family. So it’s just an accident of birth that anyone is the religion they are.

Now, whatever the version of heaven being considered here, it’s probably not going to appeal to me. Think about it. No one is actually sure what’s going to happen even if you do go to heaven. Look at just one viewpoint, which asserts that Lazarus spent four days dead. This would be a great opportunity, one might think, to bring back some details about the place. But he didn’t. No one knows. Even those “psychics” who reckon they can channel the dead never ask what’s it like? All we get are vague things about forgiving those left behind and “I feel fine”. Details, please! And if the glory of heaven is too great for mere mortals to explain to other mere mortals, then it’s beyond our comprehension and therefore meaningless. Check out my novel Plato’s Cave for more information about that viewpoint.

Recently, a boy who wrote a book (with the aid of his father) about dying and going to heaven admitted he’d made it up. It was a bestseller because it satisfied people’s preconceived notions about heaven; it told them what they wanted to believe. But no one actually knows.

My point is, I don’t know if I’d like it. Imagine if everyone in heaven is so holy all they do is talk about God for eternity. If God arranged it that way, he’s been a bit selfish. If he is an eternal deity, he doesn’t need constant praise. That just makes him human.

Others say you get to be with your loved ones. Fair enough, I love my family, and it would be great to see my Dad again, but I don’t want to spend forever with them. Get together occasionally and have some fun, sure, but not forever. Let’s face it, that’s a long time.

If we believe some commentators, we’ll be “one with God”. What does that mean? Are we actually a part of him, like another limb or something? Are we spiritual part? If so, what does that mean? God has given me no peace in life, so I doubt I’ll be terribly comforted by being a part of him after death. If I’m to learn the love and truth of God only by dying and becoming a part of him after I’m dead, it’s a bit late.

Many religions, if not all, focus on the afterlife because life itself actually sucks for a great many people and it’s a comfort to them to think they have immortal and eternal souls beyond the ability of mere physical laws to detect or explain. It gives purpose to their lives, maybe. That’s good. But making the most of our time while alive is important too.

Whether we are talking Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or any of the others, details of what happens in heaven are actually rather vague. They shouldn’t be.

So I think I’ll pass. I don’t want to spend eternity somewhere if I haven’t read the brochure.

 

2) I’ll go to hell.

Another tricky religion-dependent concept. Hell, of course, is an invention, because churches needed to frighten people into believing, because having faith is really hard and so a threat of eternal punishment would give them incentive. Even Pope Francis has stated that there is no Hell.

So, no. I’m not going to a place that doesn’t exist. Besides, it’s not fair to have an eternal punishment for a temporary sin. I steal a loaf of bread to feed my starving family and I get punished FOREVER? That’s not justice.

 

3) I’ll become a ghost or spirit or something paranormal.

This means people who fancy themselves as TV hosts will come along with torches and delicate recording equipment and attempt to find me or exorcise me or something. I don’t fancy hanging about the same place, presumably the place where I died, for eternity. I wouldn’t do it. If I had the ability to walk through walls and be invisible I’d put those abilities to some good use, not hang about twiddling my ethereal thumbs waiting for some idiot with a camera to spend their time looking for me.

Have you ever noticed on those TV shows where they look for ghosts or Bigfoot or the Sasquatch or whatever spooky critter has taken their fancy that they never actually find one? Ever? I wonder why. Are the hunters that unlucky, that incompetent, or is it that the things they are looking for don’t actually exist? Maybe a combination of all three.

Of course, believing in ghosts is easy, because you can’t be disproved. If I say ‘Ghosts aren’t real’, it’s easy to prove me wrong – just find a ghost. But if I declare ‘Ghosts are real’ it’s impossible to prove me wrong. When asked for evidence, all I have to say is ‘We haven’t found one yet.’ Science is falsifiable. Faith is not.

 

4) I’ll reincarnate.

If I’m supposed to improve as a person, at least let me remember what I did wrong the last time so I have some kind of chance. If I’m going to come back as an ant or a toad or something because of mistakes I’ve made (see my above thoughts on unfair punishment) then some idea of precisely what it was I did wrong might help.  You take your chances.

Sure, religion give us an idea of how we should behave in real life, but that pesky Karma idea means I’ll be sent back again and again to have another go, like a kid who keeps failing his exams and is held back until the other kids laugh at him. Maybe I should study for my exams a bit harder, but this just makes it my fault, which doesn’t tie in with forgiveness and divine mercy. It’s just petty. I’m being told how to behave, and even if I do achieve relief from reincarnation the whole problem of what happens then is still there. The doubts and uncertainties and the fact that no one actually knows remain unresolved. It solves nothing in the end.

 

5) Nothing will happen.

You see, the problem with possibilities 1 to 3 above is that they depend on the idea that I will have some sort of consciousness after I’m dead. But there’s no evidence I will. Possibility 4, reincarnation, means I don’t have any conscious memory of my previous lives, and that’s unfair.

The most attractive possibility, therefore, is this one. Number 5. Nothing will happen. I won’t be sitting there going ‘Hmm, I’m not supposed to do what I did last time but I don’t know what that actually was.’ I won’t be praising some deity that made me flawed in the first place and gave me the choice whether to have a good time or not and I choose having a good time and then he gets mad because he didn’t want me to. I won’t be going to Hell, because it doesn’t exist. And being a ghost would be really, really boring and if I did have ‘other business’ I’d make sure I did it and got the next bus out of there.

So I’m looking forward to number 5. I will have moved on. It won’t bother me. I don’t have to be concerned about anything at all. The universe will go on without me very well.

If the history of the universe is a line from the Big Bang up to the moment you are reading this, like so:

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and I was to pick a random point on that line that stretches for more than 13 billion years, the overwhelming possibility is that I wouldn’t exist. I am now 57 years old. So the chances of picking a year on that line that falls within my lifetime is 57 out of 13,000,000,000. Or, as Douglas Adams would have put it, ‘as near to nothing as makes no odds’. So really, I’m not very important at all. None of us are, in the cosmic scheme of things.

This is an idea that a lot of religious people have an issue with. They want to be important. They want to matter. That’s fair enough. Be important. Write a book. Save children from starving. Rescue animals. Do something that makes you important NOW, while you’re alive, not after you’re dead. It’s too late then.

So believe what you want. This is a personal reflection about me. Just make the here and now as useful as you can, because it’s your one shot at it.

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

The Search for Solitude

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I like solitude. It’s different from loneliness, which is a whole big bucket of suck. I don’t get lonely anymore, though. Not since I discovered solitude.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary tries to put similar meanings on the two words:
Lonely: 1. Solitary, companionless, isolated 2. unfrequented 3. sad because without friends or company, dreary.

Solitude: 1. The state of being solitary. 2 A lonely place.

But what does solitary mean? Well, again according to the COD it means ‘not gregarious, without companions, lonely’. But it also means ‘single or sole’. Or, in its more extreme definition, solitary is a noun meaning ‘hermit or anchorite’.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a hermit, not in the traditional sense of living in a cave and wearing a hair shirt and throwing ashes on myself. Nor, strictly, am I am anchorite in the sense of a religious recluse. But another meaning of anchorite is ‘a person of secluded habits’. I think that comes closest to being me.

I like being alone, not being lonely. When I was a teenager I was very lonely. I had friends, but they were exclusively male. I lacked a girlfriend, a female companion. In that sense I was lonely. But even then I enjoyed being alone, as in by myself.

This doesn’t make me odd. I am naturally a shy person. This may sound strange coming from someone who loves speaking in public, who loves acting and making people laugh. I do like all those things. But that’s because I’m performing. After the speech is over, after the play is done, I want to go back into my shell and stay there.

Which puts me at odds with many other people, those who like to party, who thrive on companionship and crowds, who love being with others. Sometimes they can’t believe I don’t want to socialise, that I am happiest when alone and doing things I enjoy, whether it be reading or writing or bushwalking or just sitting and thinking. I don’t need – indeed, I don’t want – anyone else to do those things with.

A neighbour asked me just a few minutes ago if I went to the Christmas Carols in the city hall last night.

‘No,’ I replied.

‘Really? Everyone was there.’

Well, patently not everyone. I wasn’t. But I let the generalisation slide.

‘Why didn’t you go?’

‘Because I didn’t want to.’

And that’s what she found hard to believe. That I wouldn’t want to go and be with thousands of others, including a plethora of children, to listen to songs I’ve heard playing in the shopping centres too many times already. I don’t deride others for wanting to do such a thing; I’m sure a good time was had by all. The thing is, if I had gone I wouldn’t have had a good time. And it’s not that I’m against Christmas carols or the holiday itself. I just would not have liked it. Too many people, too much commitment to pretending to be pleasant.

Maybe I’m weak. Maybe I’m selfish. Maybe I enjoy being alone simply because I don’t like being told what to do, and couldn’t care about anyone else. Maybe. I don’t know.

But solitude is good. I’m not married (I was, but I got better). I have no children. I don’t owe anyone any money. I have a career I love. I write books and tutor school students. I enjoy all that. I have problems, too, of course. Not everything is roses. But I enjoy being who I am.

Just because I don’t want to share that with others most of the time is nothing against them.

Solitude is when you can hear yourself think. It’s when problems are solved. It’s when the silence surrounds you and you can listen to it for a long periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness.

‘Don’t you get bored?’ people ask when they learn of my lifestyle. No, I don’t. Well, I do – everyone does – but I don’t need the company of others to relieve that boredom. I find things to do that amuse me.

So give solitude a go. Solitude is different to loneliness in that you can resolve solitude voluntarily – go and find someone to be with if you want. Loneliness is a horror, and not to be recommended.

I like my solitude. It’s personal space and time. And it’s mine.

Russell Proctor    http://www.russellproctor.com

https://www.facebook.com/writerproctor

 

Don’t Drop Jesus!

When I was a professional actor, which was some time ago now, I became involved in the presentation of Christmas shows at Brisbane’s Southbank. If you’ve never been to Brisbane, Australia, you may not be aware of Southbank, which (as the name suggests) is on the south bank of the Brisbane River, one of the finer waterways in the civilised world. It’s a public recreation area very popular among the local population.

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Anyway, I would be part of the Christmas shows there. Each year I would be involved in the week leading up to Christmas. The public would come to Southbank and we would put on a variety of entertainment. Now, I don’t know if I was good or bad, but the truth is I was offered a different role each year, like they were trying me at everything until I found what I was good at. Actors worry a lot about how good they are.

So I did a different role each year for five years. With the Christmas season upon us, I thought I’d reveal some the good (and bad) times involved with being an put-of-work actor struggling to put bread on the table and taking on whatever was on offer in order to do so.

Year One:
This will live in my memory forever. I was a gypsy dancer. Yes, me. For those who don’t know me personally, I have absolutely no sense of rhythm. None. And the first year I had to dance the length of Southbank in a parade, accompanied by a gypsy band (guitar, drum, violin and flute), while proclaiming something or other that had something to do with Christmas. I forget what it was now.

I was married at the time. At one of the performances my wife was present along the route and I ran over and kissed her and later the band members were saying to me: “You did know that chick, right?” which probably meant my role as a hot-blooded gypsy was fairly realistic.

I wore the same costume each night, which mostly failed to make me look anything like a gypsy. It got soaked in sweat because of course it’s summer here in Brisbane at Christmas time and Brisbane is a particularly humid part of the world. It also didn’t help that accompanying me and my gypsy band was a fire-eater, who would shoot great gouts of flame from his mouth as I sang and danced my way along. I had to time things just right or else he would have blasted me with fire, which would have upset my Mum.

Year Two:
This year they put me at the head of the parade. I was there complete with foot-long beard, dirty robes, staff and loud voice, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. The first person the assembled crowd saw was me. Two moments stand out. The first was when a boy (must have been about 18, but a boy to me) stepped out in front of me and said ‘Can I have your staff?’ I mean, really! Here I am, floor-length filthy prophet’s robe, obviously using my staff as a vital prop, and this kid wants to use it for some reason or other. I just ignored him and moved on.

The other moment was when I spied a friend in the audience, a fellow actor named Jacy. She was right at the end of the parade, sitting with some of her friends. I remembered my success of the previous year when I kissed my wife and it made a major stir, so I went over to Jacy and said hello and announced loudly, “It’s very lucky to kiss a prophet!” and planted one on her. Fortunately she took it well and accepted the kiss. It made good theatre and people thought “Here’s a prophet we can relate to!”

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Year Three:
This is the Don’t Drop Jesus bit.  I was one of the Three Wise Men this year. Mr Myrrh, in fact. We were further back in the parade this time riding camels and preceded by Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus represented by a doll. Mary rode on a donkey led by Joseph, holding Jesus in her arms. We paraded along the river then went to a stage area where Joseph and Mary sat in a Nativity scene suitably decorated with real animals. At a certain time we Wise Men entered and presented our gifts with appropriate speeches.

Being Mr Myrrh, I was in line behind Mr Gold. So I had a pretty good view of Mary on the donkey, so I was in a good position to see precisely what happened.

Mary was, as I said, riding the donkey. At various points on the path that follows the Brisbane River at Southbank there are brightly-coloured mosaics set into the cement. The donkey, which up until this point had had no problem with these mosaics, for some reason stopped suddenly at one of them. Maybe it had noticed it for the first time and got a fright. Anyway, its sudden stop meant trouble for Mary. She was riding bareback and side-saddle, being dressed in robes, with the doll representing baby Jesus in her arms. This  meant she couldn’t hold onto anything else, but Joseph was walking beside her leading the donkey in case she needed help to stay on at any time.

Anyway, the donkey pulled up sharply. Mary, according to Newton’s First Law of Motion, kept her momentum and continued along Southbank, slipping forwards over the donkey’s shoulder. As she clutched at the animal’s neck to stay on, she let go of Jesus, who, also in accordance to Newton’s laws, took off out of her arms. Mary let go of the donkey and fell off. Fortunately, she landed on her feet and managed to catch Jesus who was at that point descending in a head-first power dive towards the cement path. The crowd applauded and we Wise Men breathed a sigh of relief. Mary climbed back on and the parade continued as if the whole incident was just part of the show.

We congratulated Mary afterwards in the dressing room for her brilliant save. The girl who played Mary explained she’d been rather good at netball when she was at school, so it’s good to know the Mother of God had a keen interest in wholesome team sports, and found them useful.

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Year Four:

This year I was Santa’s Head of Security. You may think the he doesn’t need such a thing, but I took the role very seriously. So there I was, dressed as an Elf (yes green tights and all) with sunglasses and a rather fiendish looking “Naughtiness Detector” which could make various sounds when buttons were pressed. I’d mingle among the crowd prior to the show starting and run the detector over children and adults, making the detector beep and bray according to whether the target had been naughty or nice that year. Of course, all the children had been nice and all the Dads had been naughty. This amused the kids, of course, as well as the parents.

I also had the job, as head of Security, to announce Santa’s arrival. I’d get on the public address and make announcements like “The Fat Man is five minutes away”, “The Fat Man has landed”, etc. All good fun. Santa was played by a man who actually ran a Santa School teaching other people how to be Santa. He had an amazing trick he did with the kids who came to visit him in his tent. He had an Elf assisting him. The child would enter the tent while Santa was talking to another child. The Elf would ask the waiting child their name, and then pretend to look them up in his big book that he had in front of him. Now, I don’t know how it was done, but by the time the child arrived in front of Santa, he already knew their name. Santa would smile and say, “Well, hello Billy!” or  “I remember you, Sally. I visited your house last year!” Because, of course, Santa knows the name of every child in the world. He never missed it once. Since he was talking to another child at the time, it was hard to see how he could overhear what was going on between the waiting child and the Elf, especially as he was several metres away on his big chair. It was a neat trick, but out of respect for his methods I never asked how it was done.

Year Five:

This was my last year with the Christmas Show because I moved out of town after that. My final gig was a storyteller. There were several actors scattered around the arena and while the families waited for the show to start we would gather kids together and tell Christmas-themed stories to keep them occupied.

I remember my story was about a Green Tree Frog and while I told the story I acted out the Frog. I had an assistant who would play the other parts in the story and help with the voices and narration. It was a lot of fun and the story was actually quite funny.

The only incident of any note happened when a small boy, no doubt assuming that since I was a frog and therefore liked water, decided to shower me with his drink bottle right in the middle of the story. Since I was squatting down pretending to be a frog at the time he was tall enough to upend his water bottle over my head. It was actually quite refreshing on a sticky December night.

So those are five Christmases I remember fondly. I haven’t been with the Southbank show for ages now, but I had a great time and I hope the crowd did too.

Have a great Christmas and New Year.

holly

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

I Don’t Like Chilli

Well I don’t. I see no sense in eating something that, to me, takes away the taste of the food, if the food has a perfectly agreeable taste of its own. The same can be said of curry. I can understand some people liking it, and that’s fine. That’s not my gripe today. I don’t like chilli. And I should be allowed not to like it.

My gripe is levelled at those people who tell me I have to like chilli, who insist that I like chilli, who put it in my food whether I want it there or not. And those TV chefs who put it in everything and those food critics who regard chilli as some sort of venerable but fiery god that must be incorporated to “bring out” or “enhance” or “zest up” the flavour of a dish.

It isn’t, apparently, addictive, although some people claim it is. One psychologist at least, Jason Goldman, declares that some people have a masochistic tendency to enjoy harsh, bitter or fiery flavours. To me, chillies are just a pain in the mouth.

So if some people like Jamie Oliver want to nibble on a chilli instead of having a cup of coffee, that’s their problem. What I don’t like is when chefs put the chilli in their dishes as if it’s a normal, everyday ingredient. It happens: go to a restaurant of even moderate swankiness and peruse the bill of fare. Many of the dishes, in my experience, contain chilli. Mild, perhaps, hidden, perhaps, but nevertheless present. And if I don’t like chillies, which I don’t, then my choice is limited. Because try asking the chef to leave out the chillies. Not going to happen.

I once argued with a chef about this. She said that in a restaurant, one must eat the dish as it is prepared, like it or not.

‘But I’m not going to eat something I don’t like,’ I replied. ‘If I don’t like chillies, I don’t want them in the food I eat.’

‘That is ridiculous,’ she replied. ‘The chef is an artist. How dare you comment negatively on the way they prepare the dish. They have created it!’

‘If I don’t like a book, I don’t read it,’ I countered calmly. ‘If I don’t like a movie I don’t watch it. If I don’t care for a painting I won’t look at it. So why is it different for a chef?’

After spluttering a few moments the best she could some up with was, ‘But the chef is an artist!’

True story.

Anyway, my point is that there are people out there who enforce their tastes on us. And a lot of people eat chilli because they feel it’s the thing to do, that someone who seems to know something about something tells them they should be doing it, so they do. Like getting tattoos. Or wearing their baseball caps backwards (I have seen this STILL going on in 2014!)  Or following some banal TV show. But some of us don’t want to do these things, thanks, and we shouldn’t have to. And we shouldn’t be pressured by people to do so.

So chilli is a fad. It’ll pass (there is a very mild, indirect scatological pun there). But until then I’m finding it hard to eat in restaurants.

banman

By the way, I also don’t like bananas or mangoes. Living as I do in Queensland, Australia, I’ve people almost faint when I reveal that little nugget. ‘How can you not like bananas?’ they cry, with as much horror as if I’d questioned the matrimonial state of their parents. ‘You’re not a Queenslander!’

Um, yes I am actually, born and raised.

I just don’t like them.

So I’m sorry if any chilli fans out there feel outraged. I’m sure most of you are sane, decent people who can cut others a bit of slack because they don’t like eating something that physically hurts. But there’s always a few who spoil it for everyone else. I try to ignore them, but it’s hard sometimes, especially with people like Jamie Oliver putting the vile things in every single dish and expecting us to like it.

Please keep your tastes to yourself. People should be allowed not to like something, and should be allowed to insist that food be served the way they want, not the way some ‘artist’ wants it to be. I am perfectly entitled to write an unreadable book. That’s my prerogative as a writer. But if no one reads, I’m in no position to complain. If I want people to read what I write, I need to think of my audience.

So lay off, chilli nuts who demand I like them too. I don’t. Get used to it.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com