Being a cabaret artiste

Oh, my, now I can add cabaret ‘artiste’ to the list of things I do, along with stand-up comic (more about that silly hat later).  Never ever thought I could sing. Chances are I’m deluded and actually can’t sing but Ella Filar is allowing me to sing in her show TA-BOO or Not TA-BOO?! The songs are terrific, melodic and tuneful. We open tomorrow night at the Butterfly Club in Melbourne’s cbd. I miss the South Melbourne Butterfly Club, but that’s probably because of all the flights of stairs you need to climb up to get to the green room in the new one. It was very nice and fun to sit down for the first time to do my make-up in front of a classic dressing room mirror – you know the ones with all the light bulbs around the frame? I want one at home.

Lawks but it’s fun hamming it up, being ludicrously over-the-top silly buggers seductive and mucking about on stage. Can’t wait to have an audience!

#2 Why do we do these things to kids?

On the train again. Three small girls are with their mother. Two of the sisters are twins and there’s an older one. They are exuberant but not noisy. They’re giggly and playful. They aren’t demanding a lot of attention but their mother, during the 20 minutes I observe them, admonishes them, tells them to be quiet, directs them to sit still, confines them and restrains them constantly. She spends the train journey telling them off, repeatedly, The girls are dressed in traditional feminine clothes. Their hair is in plaits with ribbons and there are ribbons on their shoes. All of them have their ears pierced. Why do little girls need to have their ears pierced, unless they’ve asked to have it done themselves?

A man on the seat opposite me says cosily ‘they’re at that age.’ ‘Yes,’ I say, loudly. ‘And they aren’t doing anything wrong!’ But their mother was doing a lot wrong. She was giving them clear messages about acceptable female behaviour. Messages like ‘keep yourself small’, ‘keep yourself nice,’ and keep yourself quiet.’ I’m not saying that we shouldn’t all be quiet on public transport; we should. But kids are kids and these girls weren’t being especially noisy, as I said. The extreme feminisation of these three children bothered me. I wanted to lean over and tell the mother to back off. But I didn’t. Mothers hate being given advice about how to raise their kids. (I certainly did. Do people offer fathers unasked for advice to the same extent, I wonder?)


why do we do this to kids?

I’m on the train. Behind me a three year old is standing on the seat and I can hear him making  observations as we travel towards the city. “Bubbles,” he says. “Did you see some bubbles or are you thinking about bubbles?” I ask him. “Thinking about them,” he replied. “And I saw something like a bubble.”  We chat on like this for a while. I ask him questions and make sure I don’t comment on his answers, other than to share a similar experience or observation I may have had myself. I don’t ask him how old he is or what he wants to be when he grows up or what football team he supports or whether he is looking forward to going to school or whether he has any brothers or sisters. I don’t ask him what his name is or where he lives or where he’s going. I talk to him in an adult voice and, apart from modifying my vocabulary, I have exactly the same sort of conversation I’d have with anyone else. 

Near Richmond is some public art stretched across the road that could be a reference to coolie hats and also looks like a bunch of 60s style cane egg chairs suspended in the sky. The kid says “Chairs.” “That’s what they look like to me,” I say. I ask him about the books he’s reading, whether he’s got or has read the same books I read to my kids when they were small. We talk about Hairy McLeary from Donaldson’s Dairy. I tell him how ‘dairies’ are what New Zealanders call corner shops cos they sell milk, and how one reason I like the books is because the illustrations contain plants and trees from the NZ bushland, so familiar and dear to me. And I love the poetry. “There’s a bad cat,” he says. “It’s black.” We try to remember what the cat’s called. Suddenly I’ve got it. “Slinky Malinki!” And so we go on. We talk about Thomas the Tank Engine and I tell him about the thousands I must have spent on Thomas merchandise and that my kids kept all their trains. Owl Babies. ‘Once there were three baby owls…’ I’m enjoying remembering my favourite children’s books with this kid. How we loved Owl Babies. We talk about the stuffed toy versions of the characters you can get.

Time to get off the train. I say ‘ciao’ to the kid and walk past his mum and his grand-mum. “Oh, he’s such a chatterbox! ” they burble. “Hope he didn’t annoy you.! Harry Have-a-Chat. Doesn’t stop talking!” I want to hit them in the face and scream things about shaming, about how they are making him feel wrong and ridiculous, but I don’t, of course. I tear up inside though, remembering how so much of what I said or did as a child got the same kind of response. Always commented on, and always in a way that made me feel I’d said or done something wrong and silly. But which bits were wrong and why were they silly?

I hope that wasn’t the only time anyone has ever spoken to the perfect Harry in a normal voice; I fear it might be.

busting out all over

Sometimes I feel fits of nostalgia for everything I’ve ever learnt or heard or seen or experienced, and everyone I’ve ever known. My sons are playing early Beatles, loudly, and I’m becoming emotional about all the stuff that my nearly 52 year old self is full of, all the songs, all the events, all the memories, all the little pieces of STUFF  – somehow everything feels significant and beautiful and I’m fit to burst because there is so much inside. Maybe it is because I’m about to have a birthday and this is what happens; one gets reflective despite oneself.

How can people keep it all in?

I am curious about cross-cultural and cross-generational relationships and how much must be missing until the parties involved have been together long enough to make their own shared culture. One of the (many) things I missed, when I was married to a man from another culture, was being able to share songs and their significance.  Music was so significant to us wot growed up in the 60s and 70s in a way that was quite different to previous generations.

Sometimes I feel emotional about the entire planet. All the lonely people … We know where they come from.  The young Paul McCartney had a sweet tone to his voice that perfectly expressed his more sentimental lyrics.

If you’ve got no-one to care about all the stuff inside you at least you can write about it and easily  get it into the world nowadays. That’s a good thing.

That intensity and sensitivity you feel when you’re 17, about the world, about life … You think, how could the oldies have become so comfortable and complacent and uncaring and unheeding? How can they let all this stuff happen?  It’s still there. I still feel it.

Listening to music while you paint: is it a good idea?

It is so long as the music is just melody without lyrics. Our ears are so tuned in to the human voice that whenever there are voices in the background it is impossible to give anything else our full  attention. We think we filter things out, but not completely. You will always hear your name spoken against a hubble of voices in a room.  I used to have the radio on in the background when I worked but it just felt too distracting.  For more about this sort of thing have a listen to Julian Treasure on TED talks. He is a researcher into the effects of sound-scapes, amongst other things.  Too much urban blast is  bad for our health. Once you start becoming conscious of the noise surrounding you, it becomes more difficult to tolerate cacophony. And easier to appreciate quiet.

But you can use music to inspire a painting – then that is listening in a totally different way.

Am thinking about this as we have a new Pilates teacher at the local YMCA who doesn’t put music on during classes and for that I am grateful. I asked the last one if we could do without the music but she was reluctant to change the format of the class.

Best (and most calming) things to listen to: birdsong, water trickling, wind in the leaves.