Category Archives: Life in General

I’m using y’umor

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The most I’ve laughed was when Steve and I were learning to rollerblade in Melbourne back in the 90s. It was that painful laughter when you can’t breathe, you can’t stand up (and not because you hit the concrete hard), you just want it to end but it goes on and on and you think you might actually die from laughing.

Everyone knows I love Seinfeld but other obsessions are the Office (UK version only) and Kath & Kim – the Australian version only (some humour does not adapt to other cultures). And Kath & Kim was the source of another of those moments when I thought I might die from laughter. We were in Alice Springs for my company’s annual conference – it had been a difficult week to put it subtly and a few of us went to dinner to recover. Colin, who was president of the company at the time, relayed the latest episode, The Moon, which had Kath and Kel stuck at Melbourne airport for their honeymoon when traffic controllers went on strike over a GST-related dispute. It was the “perfect honeymoon” as Kath and Kel bought matching Coogee jumpers (possibly the worst ‘fashion’ trend in history), hung out in the Internet café, Australis and Sanity records and attempted to gain access to the Qantas Club lounge using a Video Easy card. Perhaps it was the hard week we’d had, the wine, Colin’s telling of it or all of the above but we were almost evicted from the restaurant for laughing too hard for too long and causing a public disturbance.

[As a side note, Colin’s wife Tracy who was with us that night is running for mayor of the Southern Downs Region and I wish her all the best – she would be exceptional in the role.]

Kath & Kim, like many archetypal shows, united its audience beyond the season finale partly because of its unique vernacular which is understood and appreciated by devotees to the exclusion of others, much like Seinfeld. Ultimately, Kath & Kim was successful as the humour or “y’umor” as Kath called it, was dedicated to the essential characteristic of Australian, and British humour and that is self-deprecation.

Australian humour tends to be dry, full of extremes, anti-authoritarian, self-mocking and ironic. There’s no need to pretend people are perfect; we’re not and making fun of foibles, quirks and idiosyncacies is our way of showing we care, we like you. It’s not for everyone but it is why we love Kath & Kim which relentlessly ridicules the worst aspects of Australian society and ‘culture’.

Operation of the machine

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One of my favourite bands is Linkin Park. And one of my favourite Linkin Park songs is Wretches & Kings which begins with one of my favourite speeches of all time known commonly as the ‘operation of the machine’ or ‘bodies upon the gears’ by Mario Savio.

Savio was an American activist and spokesman for the free speech movement at Berkeley University in the 1960s. At the time students across the USA were taking a stand against racial injustice and Savio played a major part in changing university rules to permit political speech which then allowed students to speak out in support of the civil rights movement. The ‘operation of the machine’ speech in 1964 was preceded the year before with one of Martin Luther King’s most memorable ‘I have a dream’ speeches and the two men and the two speeches to me are inextricably linked.

Mario Savio’s ‘operation of the machine’ speech (1964)

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.

Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech (1963)

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

Savio went on to become a teacher of mathematics, physics and philosophy. He later spoke out in support of immigrant rights and affirmative action devoting his life to causes in support of minority groups never standing by passively. And although the ‘operation of the machine’ speech was written within the context of the free speech movement, it is now used more broadly as a call to action against pervading persecution, prejudice and injustice.

Sleep is for wimps

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Apparently I need a ‘sleep coach’ which is a disturbing concept in itself. I’m hoping this person would not be in my bedroom with a whistle watching me not sleep apart from which, I don’t understand why my erratic sleeping habits need coaching into ‘normal’ anyway.

36% of our lives are spent sleeping. If you live to 90, that’s a whopping 32 years of sleeping. Imagine what you could achieve if you cut that back to just 16 years of sleep. If Thomas Edison had slept like a ‘normal’ person, we might not have the electric light bulb, which ironically creates the environment for us to stay awake and as a result, Edison is accused of having forever disrupted our internal clocks. Edison argued that sleep is a “criminal waste of time, inherited from our cave days.” And since we’ve abandoned every other aspect of life as a troglodyte (bar the resurrection of the Paleo diet – and one can only hope it ends there), why shouldn’t we abandon preconceived notions about how much or little we should sleep? Do we really need a standard eight hours sleep for repair, restoration and memory consolidation?

Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Sleep is for wimps,” and slept for a mere four hours a night while managing the empire with the other twenty hours. It was a tough gig for John Major who succeeded Thatcher and needed his eight hours sleep. Pulling an all-nighter is more common for lawyers and bankers and creative industries like advertising. And once that adrenalin-induced all-nighter is in your system, it’s hard to displace it.

In a Seinfeld episode, The Friars Club, Kramer is influenced by Leonardo Da Vinci who only slept twenty minutes every three hours. By replicating Da Vinci’s sleep pattern, Kramer figures he can live the equivalent of 105 years. He soon gets bored being awake all night while everyone else is asleep and it doesn’t take long for the effects of no-sleep to mess with Kramer’s already distinctive thoughts and ideas. He falls asleep while with his girlfriend, and unable to wake him, she assumes he is dead. Since she’s having an affair, she arranges for her mobster-type friends to throw Kramer into the Hudson River where he wakes up in a burlap bag.

I’m inspired by the sleeping patterns of Edison, Thatcher and Da Vinci and the concept of having more time; more life. But as you would know, my life is influenced by Seinfeld (and Oscar Wilde). The moral of Kramer’s story is that you need a proper amount of sleep or one way or another you’ll end up in a burlap bag so maybe it is time to call in the coach.

Dude, where’s my phone?

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The first step for any addiction is to admit you have a problem. I don’t have a problem but in our household of two, someone seems to think I do so I’m about to dispel that belief.

Nomophobia is the fear of being without your mobile phone. The number of sufferers is on the rise which is not surprising as it no doubt correlates with smartphone uptake rather than a growing inability for otherwise ‘normal’ people to cope without it. And it does seem to be a completely rational fear, in my view, along with the fear of snakes and heights.

If you’ve ever lost your iPhone or left it behind when you’ve gone out, you will know that it is almost impossible to focus while you’re wondering how you’ll survive the next few hours alone. You probably don’t even know what you’re supposed to be doing or where you’re supposed to be without access to your calendar, voice memos, reminders, notes, alerts and notifications. And of course, you’re no longer up-to-date to the minute with everything that is going on in the microcosm world you now exist within thanks to your smartphone.

I recently went out without my iPhone and I stayed out unlike a nomophobe who would return home to retrieve their phone even if it meant being late for a meeting. And while it was an anxious time, it was more frightening (some might say ‘enlightening’) that in that four hour period not a single person – including husband, mother, sole sibling, nephews, life-long friends, colleagues or extended family – was looking for me. How could this be?

The warning signs for nomophobia for those of you who do have a problem include:

  • An inability to turn your phone off [Note: why do you even need to turn it off? It has a mute switch.]

  • Obsessively checking for emails, messages and notifications from social networks [Note: this is a fast-paced world; things can change in a second – you need to know when that happens.]

  • Constantly recharging your battery dreading that red low battery alert. [Note: no one wants to see that low battery alert – there’s a reason it is red (signifies danger).]

I hope this helps those of you with an addiction to your smartphone which you may need to address before it completely controls (ruins) your life.

Grease is the time, the place, the motion

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Back in 1978 when Grease was the word, I was on a school tour bussing our way around Tasmania. Grease the movie had just come out and like everyone else in the day we were obsessed with it, in particular, the music, featuring our very own Olivia Newton-John as Sandy. The soundtrack went into the bus cassette player and stayed there on repeat for 10 days. Imagine how traumatised that poor bus driver would have been by the end of our tour, probably his last.

Earlier this month, we saw Grease the stage production at Marina Bay Sands here in Singapore, and it was sensational. I did not realise it at the time but Gretel Scarlett who plays Sandy is from our hometown of Rockhampton!

Grease is of course now officially iconic – 36 years on and grease is still the word with sold-out audiences the world-over. In the USA, Grease (the movie) is still the #1 highest-grossing musical of all time. Interestingly, the sequel with a different cast was a flop which probably surprised everyone given the immense success of the original but it is a lesson we see often whether it is movies or books. The temptation to repeat phenomenal success with a sequel is understandable and it is often only with hindsight that it becomes clear that the original cannot be duplicated because its unique elements combined ie actors, story, production, music equalled the magic formula that everyone hopes to find but most simply stumble upon it.

The other difficulty for sequels is that they are inherently burdened with the expectation that did not weigh down the first in a series. More often than not, they do not measure up and rarely do they exceed the first. The Matrix sequels, especially the third instalment, in my opinion, had a difficult mountain to climb after the first movie which was an original concept with a plot that left you wondering about reality.

The sequel to Bridget Jones’ Diary suffered a similar fate and is a perfect example of producers wishing to ‘bottle’ the magical formula they stumbled upon to feed it back to the audience for a similar outcome. However, the fine balance of success elements in the first Bridget Jones movie were over-delivered in the second turning the cleverness into silliness and the relatable into contrived according to critics. I still enjoyed it but not nearly as much as the first.

The magic that is success is after all a formula – that means each element has to be added in precise parts; the slightest bit too much of one and/or not enough of another creates an altogether different proposition which won’t necessarily appeal to the audience that loved the first. Many claim to know the secret formula to success yet no matter what industry you view, even the most successful stumble along the way proving it’s still very much a guessing game, some are just better guessers.

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Pavlov Says Jump

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Next week we’ll be into March. That means a whopping 17% of the year is now history and I didn’t even notice it passing. This is completely contrary to my grand plan to turn off auto-pilot and engage with life on a daily basis. I want to be conscious of the beauty of life that is everywhere, conscious of how I devote my thoughts and time, and to look at people I pass in the street like they hold a greater value than mere stranger.

I’m good at planning – it is one of my strengths and one of life’s joys. There’s not a lot that gets me more excited than a new plan which joy sadly is not shared in our household. Clearly though execution is still a problem or is there something else I can legitimately blame for having failed to put the grand plan into place with March on approach?

I think so, and his name is Pavlov and he had some dogs. Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate every time he rang a bell. The bell meant food. And while most psychologists would suggest this same type of conditioning in humans would be akin to hypnotism, I would argue that this means a lot of us do therefore spend every day in a hypnotic state.

During a ‘normal’ day, we are unaware of our conditioned responses to every stimulus. For example, the alarm clock in the morning sets off a series of rituals that then continue with different stimuli throughout the day. Most workers don’t have lunch when they are hungry but when the clock tells them it is the designated lunch hour and time to eat. They will however most likely be hungry at this time because of conditioning – at that time there will be food, just like Pavlov’s dogs. Employers may as well just ring a bell.

Not only are we unaware of what we’re doing during the day, most likely we’re thinking of something entirely unrelated while undertaking the actions – sounds like a hypnotic state. The series of rituals we develop for our day aim to generate the most reward and that reward is to make the day run as smoothly as possible eg the setting of an alarm clock for a particular time. It is however all subject to spanners in the works which cause turmoil because we are not conditioned to their presence nor conditioned for the response.

So, the reason I have not yet implemented my grand plan for 2014 is because I am conditioned to live unconsciously even when I desire to live consciously. It’s not my fault at all. It’s 1:30pm. Time for lunch.

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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The trouble with leigh is…

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My name, Leigh, means meadow, which is a curious meaning to apply to a person although I do like the outdoors. Leigh and Lee are the same and traditionally, Leigh was for boys and Lee was for girls, but that does not seem to apply anymore, and obviously, I have the boy’s spelling and I am not.

I have never thought much about my name—it’s not an unusual name, and it is recognizable in the west, but in Singapore, it presents some problems. The locals have no idea how to pronounce ‘Leigh’ and I am usually called Leg, Lay or Layj, and other interesting creations. My solution to this problem was to switch to the other spelling of my name, Lee, which I figured would be easy for the locals as Lee is a common Chinese surname. This however, was a mistake.

In Asia, a person’s surname appears first so when I switched to Lee Cunningham, it was assumed that Lee was my surname and Cunningham was my first name. Asians also tend to have two first names, for example, Kong Weng or Wei Peng so my ‘first’ name(s) became Cunning Ham. I was therefore welcomed or introduced as “Cunning” or “Ham” for example, “Good morning, Cunning,” or “Hello, Ham”. At one place, I devoted considerable time patiently and clearly (with slow, clear diction) explaining that Cunning was not my name; my name was Lee, but the next time I visited, I was once again welcomed as Cunning.

I have reluctantly reverted to Leigh and now accept whatever pronunciation it inspires with a silent D’oh!

Back when I was employable and working as an executive, people would call and ask to speak to “Mr Cunningham”.  My secretary delighted in never correcting the caller so when I answered the phone with “Leigh Cunningham speaking,” they would again ask for “Mr Cunningham”. When I  repeated that I was Leigh Cunningham, this was often greeted with silence then “You’re a girl,” to which I would think, ‘well thanks for letting me know.’

My middle name is Kayrene, a name my mother created by combining her nickname and my aunt’s name ie Kay (officially Catherine) plus Irene = Kayrene.

I have several nicknames. My childhood name, still used by Steve, family and friends, is Leighzie. Steve has several other nicknames for me, but mostly he calls me Leo, which originates from The Paul Hogan Show. Leo Wanker was an inept daredevil stuntman (see Leo in action), and I have no idea how Leo the stuntman became associated with my good self—you would have to ask Steve regarding the commonalities he obviously sees.

Steve also calls me Baldrick or Balders for short. This originates from a British sitcom series, Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder and Tony Robinson as his dogsbody, Baldrick. Since I am now a fulltime writer, and unemployable :), Baldrick/Balders reflects my current station in life. I don’t believe there are any other similarities between myself and the ‘real’ Baldrick, although we do make Cappuccinos the same way.

Basically though, given the aborted efforts at my real first name, I will answer to just about anything.

Do you have a problem name? Do you blame your parents?

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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Pedestrian etiquette

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I love living in Singapore, as everyone knows, and have practically nothing to complain about, except for one major gripe—pedestrian etiquette. Since I do not have a car (I don’t need one plus they are horrendously expensive here), this affects me every day. There is no pedestrian etiquette in Singapore, as there is in Australia, and in case you are not familiar with the protocol, I’ll explain.

Sidewalks, or footpaths as we call them in Australia, are generally wide enough for two people to pass comfortably. If you are walking two or three abreast, pedestrian etiquette requires one or two members of your party to assume a single file during a passing maneuver ie while you are overtaking or when a pedestrian is on approach from the opposite direction. This is common courtesy, and in Australia, this is observed along with the customary cheery greeting to the passer-by. In Australia, Queensland in particular, if you approach someone on the street while out walking, a hello is expected, stranger or not.

In Singapore, the natural citizens ie the non-expatriates, walk two, three or four abreast and never make way for someone coming in the opposite direction. They will drive you into the terrain either side of the sidewalk or if you do decide to maintain your rightful position, striding on your fair share of the concrete, someone will walk into you rather than surrender. Similarly, they will stand in the middle of the footpath, or aisle at the supermarket, and chat away on their phones, completely oblivious or uncaring that others are trying to pass.

Understanding this behavior is a conundrum. Generally, Singaporeans are non-aggressive, polite individuals, who know and understand the importance of rules and procedures, for example, proper queue etiquette. There are queues to join a queue and there are queue officials who ensure proper order and conduct is observed at all times. Queue jumpers do not survive. I would therefore expect Singaporeans to similarly appreciate the importance of sidewalk etiquette.

It might be explained by kiasu, which is a fear to lose out to others, and always wanting the upper hand. Kiasu, and it’s partner, kiasi (fear of death) are widely used terms in the local vocabulary. As an example, “Look at him so kiasu pushing people away to get a seat on the bus first.”

If the government painted the sidewalk with a dotted line up the middle, there is a very good chance that behaviors would change since Singaporeans are conditioned to obey such ordinances, like those related to spitting, chewing gum, jaywalking etc. Is this the only solution? Must I write to the government to report this blemish on an otherwise almost-perfect society?

What is the status of pedestrian etiquette in your hometown? How should one deal with poor pedestrian etiquette, in a lawful way?

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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Remember when you were young…

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‘Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun’—this is one of my favourite lines from Shine On You Crazy Diamond (yes there are lyrics eventually) which is one of my all-time favourite Pink Floyd songs.I remember one Christmas when we were young, my three brothers and I received a record player together with our first album—The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour.

My aunty also had a record player. When I was about eight years old, I remember playing one of her 45s (‘a single’) over and over again. It was I am a Rock by Simon & Garfunkel, the lyrics for which are still in my head today. It is a song about being alone—“I am a rock; I am an island. And the rock feels no pain, and an island never dies”—perhaps I was always destined to write a book titled, Being Anti-Social.

When I think of it, music played quite a part in those formative years even though we didn’t have portable music players in the 60s-70s. When we went up north to my grandparent’s hotel/motel in Mirriwinni for school holidays, we would listen to the songs on the jukebox in the lounge area, and play on grandma’s white piano. I wonder if the hotel patrons thought those two kids (my younger brother, Mark and I) thrashing away on the piano keys were a nuisance—certainly I would have thought so.

For my sixteenth birthday I received a ‘cassette’, The Best of Carly Simonwhich I still love today. I recently purchased it again as a CD. It’s amazing how music can make you feel exactly how you felt when you first listened to it. Other music obsessions in my early teens were SherbertSplit EnzPeter Frampton (he still looks and sounds incredible), Cat Stevens and Bread. Bread helped me through my first broken heart in 1979 … actually I think they made it worse.  In my teens, I had one crush I recall—I was pretty sure I was going to marry Darryl Braithwaite. I didn’t have bands or singers posted on my bedroom walls (like my best friend whose walls were covered with The Bay City Rollers). Instead there were posters with messages like, “Don’t drift through life, sail through.”

In those days, bands just played—there was no need for elaborate, semi-pornographical videos (is that really what’s required to sell a CD these days? Lucky I’m a writer not a singer) with artists trying to outdo each other. And there was not the level of angst we hear in Hip Hop and Rap, in my opinion, but then my grandmother, who loved Perry Como, Vera Lynn and the Barbershop Quartet, felt the same way about our music.

Remember when you were young?

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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Three decades on

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On 17 September, we celebrated 30 years of marriage. It was the perfect opportunity to reflect on our wedding day and who we were as people just barely into our twenties. What did we believe about marriage and our future together when we made that declaration to stay together forever no matter what?Prior to our wedding day, we had to undergo a compulsory course with the priest which included a questionnaire we had to complete separately then the answers were compared—questions like, who will take out the garbage, who will buy the groceries, how many children will you have, who will wash the car etc. It was clearly a process of establishing expectations to see if there were any glaring anomalies. From memory, we answered every question the same. The questionnaire and the priest declared us completely compatible and it seems they were right. 🙂 Of course, it was the early 80s. We both lived at home until we married and both came to the table with the same ideas of what the father did and what the mother did based on our upbringing. There was no trailblazing to be done here, except perhaps on the question of children. We had never discussed children; we barely discussed getting married except to say it seemed like a good idea. But we both answered ‘no children’ at a time when having children within two years of marriage was the norm and expected. The subject was not discussed again.We nominated our most prominent wedding memories. For me, it was Steve saying, ‘With this wing…’ which made it impossible for the wedding party to continue to behave with maturity and dignity from that point. For Steve, his primary memory was that I was late. By a mere 10 minutes mind you but he felt it was a sign of things to come—obviously not as I am very punctual. Our other memory was of arriving at the Rockhampton Golf Club where our wedding reception was being held. We were kept waiting outside for our grand entrance because our guests, who were enjoying pre-reception drinks (at our expense) on the putting green while the sun set, didn’t want to leave, not even for us. They were eventually ‘encouraged’ upstairs but took their time about it with no sense of urgency—possibly the worst wedding guests ever. :)Some friends asked if we were going to renew our vows to commemorate the occasion. I do not understand why people do this—vows don’t expire—you make them ‘forever’. It would be different if your vows were, “… for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until 2013.” I still believe in forever.

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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