Innocent in Australia

A Scot down and under in Melbourne

Life is elsewhere

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Written by Paul Dalgarno

October 28, 2015 at 2:43 am

Posted in Australia

Help me do something epic (even if they don’t let me ride)

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I’m being hassled by the Ride to Conquer Cancer people. Someone from Peter Mac phones me every other week, asking how my fundraising is going. “It’s going OK,” I say. “It’s not bad”. Can they do anything for me? “No, I’ll be fine,” I say. “Thanks for calling.”

I’ve raised $591 so far, and need to reach a total of $2,500 before the deadline on October 5 – nearly two grand. Gulp.

A couple of people have told me I won’t be allowed to take part in the event unless I raise the dough – and the ride website seems to back this up. That strikes me as unnecessarily punitive. What will happen to the money people have already donated if I don’t make it? Is a little cash not better than no cash?

I’m being pressured by the ride’s organisers in unsubtle ways. They want me to feel their pressure, and to act upon it, so that they can:

a) earn an honest wage

b) pump money into research that may or may not advance understanding and treatment of an illness that’s guaranteed to cast a shadow over most people’s lives.

The unrelenting – and unremittingly friendly – badgering from those Peter Mac callers is probably why I’m writing this now.

My fundraising effort to date has been modest.

I stopped letting Peter Mac post to my Facebook timeline on my behalf a couple of months ago because it felt like they were spamming my friends. And I haven’t acted on any of the emails from the organisation – like the one below – for much the same reason:


Are you ready for The Ride? It’ll be here before you know it! Now is the time to kick your fundraising into high gear. Be sure to ask all potential donors for contributions. We’ve made it easy to ask, just forward them our template email below.

Here’s how it works:

1. Click FORWARD

2. In the subject line type “Help me do something epic!”

3. Delete everything above the ********** line

4. Enter in the email addresses of your friends and family in the TO: field.

5. Press SEND!

************Delete this line and everything above it!************

I’m doing something big about cancer, something epic. I’m cycling for two days in the inaugural Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. AND I’m so committed to the cause that I’m fundraising at least $2,500! That’s why I am asking you for a donation to my fundraising account. Your contribution will play a role in the quest to conquer cancer.

Please visit my personal page and donate today:

Thank you in advance for your generosity!


I’d feel a bit weird sending that message to people I know – but, hey, it could be the cash cow I need.

Of course I have personal reasons for doing a ride to support cancer research. Most people, I’m sure, have charities picked for them by circumstance. I’ve yet to meet anyone with Escher Hirt syndrome but if I had, or if I’d been born with it, that would no doubt be my charity cause of choice.

I don’t expect the ride on October 27 and 28 to be physically demanding. I’ll be riding 200km over two days “out of majestic Melbourne as the urban landscape gradually gives way to the rolling hills and vineyard views of the world-class wine region of Yarra Valley”.

I’d be surprised if we leave the city at race pace. I predict both days will be far easier on my legs than the training rides I do with friends most weekends.

But I do expect it to be emotional. I imagine I’ll see and meet people who are going through all kinds of suffering, and not just on their bikes. I hope to talk to some of them, to ride beside them, to hear what they have to say. And even to act as their domestique if they’re finding the going difficult.

For that to happen, from what I understand, you need to donate whatever money you can spare to my personal fundraising page right away.


Update, October 1 2012:

So, I’m just off the phone with a guy from Peter Mac. Turns out the minimum I can raise and be “allowed” to do the ride this month is $2500. At present I’m sitting at $1000 (which I’m pretty happy with), and the deadline’s later this week.

I asked the guy whether people who have sponsored me so far would get their money back if I didn’t do the ride, given I’d be forfeiting the challenge; and, no, they won’t be – technically they have “donated” rather than “sponsored”, which is a clear distinction.

The guy said they’d be able to grant an extension on my deadline until post-ride, meaning I’d have until December to raise the dough. But this would involve me giving Peter Mac my credit card details and giving them permission to make up the difference – currently $1500 – if I fall short of the target.

He asked me to email everyone I know three times this week to ask for money, which I’m not prepared to do – I reckon there are loads of good causes and loads of people doing things to raise money for them; I don’t want to hassle people beyond the emails, blogs and tweets I’ve written already.

In short, donate if you want – regardless of the tactics, cancer research is as important as ever, and something I’m still happy to donate to – but there’s a growing likelihood I won’t be doing the ride. Frankly, I can’t afford $1500 or anywhere near it.

To those of you who have donated money, thanks a million: I’ve been a bit blown away by your kindness and generosity.

Apologies if you believed – as no doubt thousands of people do – your donation was contingent on someone actually doing something. On the plus side, it’s going to a good cause, even if the strategy employed by the company is, at best, disingenuous.

Written by Paul Dalgarno

September 14, 2012 at 1:13 am

Posted in Australia

Tagged with

Serious as cancer …

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My parents didn’t arrive at Sunwun’s third birthday party until about half way through, despite the fact they were staying at ours. Or kind of staying at ours.

They’d arrived in Australia the morning before. I stood with Sunwun at Tullamarine Airport international arrivals, me feeling impatient, Sunwun holding a sign that said Grandma and Grandpa.

They were coming from Singapore, following a three-day stopover, following a flight from Dubai, following a flight from the UK, following a flight from Spain, where they live.

We stood behind the barrier for ages. And then, all of a sudden, they were there. I hadn’t seen them in the flesh since 2010, which means they hadn’t seen my wife, Sunwun or I in the flesh either; and they had never seen Suntoo in the flesh, because he was born right here in Australia.

Emotions were running high. And about to run higher.

I drove them down the CityLink Freeway, fighting the glare of the early-day sun, to our rental house in Brunswick. We had a quick cup of tea, and they had first contact with Suntoo; but naturally, after such a long journey, they needed to rest. They went into the living room, on to the sofa bed.

My mum had a swollen stomach, which she’d had for some time. So while they were both napping, my wife and I booked her an appointment at our GP out in Donvale, where we used to live. My wife drove my mum out the Eastern Freeway, and I stayed at home with my dad and the boys.

They returned in the evening to say no cause for the swelling had been found, but they’d been told to go to accident and emergency, out at Box Hill hospital. My mum didn’t want to go, because it was the night before Sunwun’s third birthday party – but, eventually, we went: I drove my parents out the Eastern Freeway, and my wife stayed at home with the boys.

We spent the rest of the evening in a booth at Box Hill hospital, which is really nowhere near our house. It was an emergency ward, and a Friday, and so nothing happened fast.

My parents persuaded me to go home some time after midnight, which I did, albeit reluctantly. Leaving your parents in a hospital booth in the middle of the night and – from their perspective – in the middle of nowhere, when they’ve just crossed the planet to see you … yeah, not good.

By the time they arrived the next day, half way through Sunwun’s party, our house was heaving with people. They looked grey-drained. We cut the cake. Sunwun blew out the candles. I got a pic of Sunwun with my parents looking grey-drained in the background. Hurray. A happy birthday.

It wasn’t until Sunwun and Suntoo were in bed that night that we got the news: my mum had been diagnosed with cancer.

It didn’t sink in. Not then. Not now.

She’d been told at Box Hill she could go home, that they could see nothing wrong with her, only to be told the exact opposite by an oncologist ten minutes later.

There have been better starts to holidays.

Three days later we were back at Box Hill, in a gyno-oncology waiting room, dreading what was about to be said. My parents were grey-drained and exhausted. I looked at my phone. We said nothing.

I watched an Asian man with bad English trying to communicate his needs to the receptionist. I watched the faces of other people sitting around. I wondered if they all had cancer.

We were called into a small office-cum-examination room. My mum, my dad, a Transylvanian oncologist and a student doctor sat on plastic chairs. I sat to the side of them on an examination bed, with a clear view of my parents.

Niceties were exchanged while the doctor got my mum’s file up on the computer. My parents’ faces were primed for the worst, their bodies prepared to absorb a knockout blow as best as they could.

The doctor said he wished he was Harry Potter, that he could vanish the illness with a wave of his wand.

My mum asked how long could she expect.

The doctor said it’s not like in the movies, and that no-one really knows.

My mum asked what would happen to her without treatment.

The doctor said not to go down that road.

My mum asked what would happen next.

The doctor said the next thing was a CAT scan .

My dad and I shook the doctor’s hand, and my mum said thank you, as we left.

I locked myself in a cubicle in the nearest bathroom and cried. A lot. I couldn’t stop. Then my dad knocked the door and said we had to go to to another part of the hospital for the CAT scan.

The next day, I drove my parents to a clinic in Bentleigh East, on the other side of Melbourne, and we sat twiddling thumbs in another waiting room. A specialist we’d met briefly the day before in Box Hill had agreed to see us there briefly, and without an appointment, if we were prepared to wait.

We waited. I looked at my phone. I read a booklet on living with cancer, another on chemotherapy, another on diet. I went to the toilet, came back, sat down, stood up, sat down, stood up.

A receptionist came over to say the specialist had been held up at her weekly “tumor meeting”, discussing cases, including my mum’s, and would be some time.

We drank hospital coffee on the terrace outside, and said very little. And then we came back.

Eventually the specialist called us in, sat us down. Another student doctor sat watching, taking notes. The specialist discussed the likely spread, the likely treatment, the likely timescale, the likely survival rate.

Treatment should start immediately but, of course, it wasn’t that easy: my parents don’t live in Australia, they live in the UK, or in Spain, or in … sorry, where would my mum like to start her treatment?

The specialist and student left the room so we could talk logistics. But we mostly just stared at each other.

If treated here, my mum would be in Australia until at least Christmas. That was fine with me: I wanted her to stay. For me, that was the best option. But then this. And then that. And then this again.

A day passed faxing things, phoning people.

The fluid build-up in my mum’s stomach was making it increasingly hard for her to breathe, and so we asked for some medical help. They’d be able to drain the fluid at Box Hill in a few days, they said, maybe sooner.

In the supermarket that same day, I got a call from a doctor to say a bed had become free.

I drove my parents out the Eastern Freeway to Box Hill, and my wife stayed at home with the boys. My mum sat on a bed behind a curtain and spoke with another friendly oncologist. Yes, she would be in overnight, maybe longer.

The first night, some litres were drained from her stomach, and some litres remained. She didn’t want to stay in another night because she wanted to come away with me, to see me ride my bike in an event I’d been training for for months. She knew I wouldn’t go, or would struggle to go, if she was stuck in hospital.

I drove out the Eastern Freeway with Sunwun to pick her up from hospital that same afternoon, to be there when she was released. Sunwun sat with my mum on her hospital bed while I took a couple of photos.

And then he got restless. I followed him through corridors as he pushed a wheeled walking frame, down in the lift, up in the lift.

At six the next morning, I was standing among hundreds of other people on bikes at the top of a mountain in the Victorian Alps, blowing a kiss and waving to my mum. She looked cold but happy.

I cried a bit during my descent of the mountain. I felt fitter than ever, and yet somehow my mum was so ill.

Nearly 12 hours later, when I crossed the finish line, she was there with my inlaws, my dad, my wife and the boys. But when I looked for her five minutes later she was gone. She’d returned to our apartment, I was told – it had taken all her strength to stand waiting for me in the cold.

At the apartment, she said she’d been vomiting, and apologised for ruining my big day.

Her health worsened in the following days. She couldn’t eat, and couldn’t hold down liquid; she had no energy.

Unhappily, she agreed to go back to Box Hill. She wanted to go to Aberdeen for her treatment, and knew it was going to be harder, if not impossible, the more time passed.

She lay in a bed in a booth in the emergency ward, and was told a blockage from the fluid drain might be causing the vomiting, and so that’s what they would test for.

Nothing was found, but would she stay in overnight for further tests? No, she wouldn’t.

Before coming to Australia, my mum said her main ambition was to take Sunwun and Suntoo to the local park, a mere block or two from our house, to push them on the swings, to have that memory.

We tried the next day, but half way to the park my mum apologised and said she couldn’t go on; she had to get back to the house, to lie down.

The airline representatives, when we phoned, said they wouldn’t take my mum in her current state without a doctors’ note – specifically their doctors note – and that it would take about 72 hours to arrange.

That was too long.

My wife and I got the boys out of the house the next morning. While we were walking to the play park my mum phoned to say she’d managed to get a flight with a different airline, and would be leaving in a few hours.

That evening, my mum and I sat together briefly in the living room, saying what we wanted to say, before Sunwun and Suntoo burst in on us, full of life.

My parents’ bags, still largely unpacked, were zipped up again. Branches on a tree outside our living room window thrashed wildly in a gathering storm.

Sunwun said “me lub you” under the veranda at the front of our house; Suntoo said nothing, and offered just a fleeting hug. Neither boy seemed shocked to see Grandma and Grandpa leaving so soon; neither seemed aware of the distance or drama.

I drove my parents out the CityLink Freeway in heavy rain, and my wife stayed at home with the boys. It was hard to see through the windscreen.

I helped carry my parents’ luggage into the airport, helped check the noticeboard for the right check-in desk and departure gates. I was still with them as they shuffled along, still part of things.

And then, after hugs and blown kisses, I wasn’t.

Written by Paul Dalgarno

March 30, 2012 at 3:37 am

Posted in Australia

Tagged with ,

I dream of Carmen Miranda, and waking up with an Aussie banana

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Ooh, yeah, I'd be smiling too.

At the weekends, I sometimes stand with my kids and wife in the supermarket watching the bananas. There are fewer than there used to be, and they’re way more expensive.

Where bananas of old were yellow, many now have a silver tinge: they’ve been rubbed to a shine by the curious and the envious – even though store security guards are under strict orders to smack your fingers with a ruler if they see you stroking the merchandise.

My sallow-cheeked boys look up at me as the well-to-do barge past us, lift one of the few remaining bunches and sweep through the checkout.

I smile and say: Daddy’s sorry.

A bog-standard Cavendish these days sets you back $3.50, or $15 a kilo – nearly 20 times dearer than Britain, where they retail for 18c.

They’ve shot up 470% since my arrival in Oz. How I rue those banana–taken-for-granted days.

You rarely see the dainty Lady Fingers variety any more – only when you look through the window of a high-class restaurant, salivating and banging on the window, as some posho rams one into their gob.

You don’t have to peel back the layers very far to see the problem’s due to Cyclone Yasi in February, Cyclone Larry in 2006, flooding and mudding in the north.

Australia has gone from producing 550,000 trays a week to as few as 35,000.

Trade restrictions mean you can’t import them legally; but something of a black-spotted market may yet come to fruition … the country’s ripe for it.

We get a weekly fruit delivery at work with loads of oranges. But I don’t want an orange. I want a banana. And I want one now.

Thanks to a frosty winter, the nanas that have made it through are of poor quality.

The one time I did splurge, a few months ago, slicing the banana into four equal parts and serving these with water for a special weekend family meal, it didn’t taste the way I’d hoped it would. A bit dry, a bit stringy.

My boys are potassium-deprived – we all are. We gather together to watch Bananas in Pyjamas – it has become our favourite show.

I’ve found myself whistling songs by Bananarama.

We’ve talked as a family about bananas we have known in the past.

I read somewhere years ago that the world’s bananas, after 1,500 years of agressive inbreeding, now come almost exclusively from two wild species, musa acuminata and musa balbisiana, and as such are vulnerable to extinction.

I was concerned enough at the time to write a song about it. It seems I was way ahead of the curve.

Of course, it’s the hope that kills you. I dream at night of six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot bunches … then wake to realise it’s all come to naught.

State news on the topic is infrequent and unreliable. They say it’s going to get better, that we’ll soon we swimming in peel … But maybe this is to quell the riots.

Meanwhile, I stroke my boys’ heads in their cots at night, tell them I love them.

It’s all I can do.

Some 99.9% of life forms that ever existed have gone extinct, including 29 other two-footed ape species. We’re hanging on in the last 0.1%, alongside bananas – but for how long?

Chiquita, you and I know, how the heartaches come and go.

Vipassana meditation: keep calm and carry gum

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The concept of Noble Silence is fundamental to Vipassana meditation. You don’t talk to anyone for the duration of your stay; you don’t make eye contact; you refrain from singing show tunes in the shower.

By extension, no-one talks or makes eye contact with you. I’ve been to parties in Edinburgh like this, so have no objections in principle.

But this time was different. After being told about the facilities, and reminded we couldn’t leave the site for the next four days, Noble Silence descended. That was in the kitchen block at 7.50pm on Thursday, 10 minutes before the first sitting.

At 7.53pm, in my dorm, I realised I’d left my toothbrush at home. I realised this with my hand, inside my backpack, groping frantically. I had the paste but not the brush.

I rummaged through the bag again. And again. Socks. Panties. But no brush. I drew the curtain across my cubicle and considered suicide. Then I bit my clenched fist, shook it at the gods and mouthed the word Scheiße several times.

My mute dorm-buddies made haste arranging their sleeping bags, toiletries, crack pipes … and there was I, Mr No Brush, twisting in the wind of Woori Yallock.

I sat on the slats of my rudimentary bed, looked at the bare plywood walls, feeling like a prisoner of war …

In the meditation hall, I crossed my legs, wrapped a woolly blanket round my shoulders, back and legs.

Sadly, we didn’t get to see Goenka on VHS, but I was happy to hear him on cassette after three and a half years.

He was the same old Goenka: equanimous as anything, enlightened as bits.

Learn to master your mind, one debilitating leg cramp at a time.

It takes a while to get into it, of course. You breathe in, breathe out, think about your toothbrush, your teeth, your frigging toothbrush …

I would survive the night, but would I make it to Sunday evening? My poor gnashers: I wouldn’t have blamed them if they jumped ship.

I tried controlling my faculties, reminding myself it’s all impermanent, annica, annica … that sensations arise, pass away …

It was Baltic outside the meditation hall – a full moon, clear sky. In the sleeping quarters, the warm smell of my dorm-buddies’ bodies was repulsive and weirdly welcoming.

I thought of the men in Stalag Luft III and other containment camps … my brothers.

In the bathroom unit, I claimed one of four sinks, then sooked a fat blob of Colgate from the tube and tried to swill with it.

This required considerable oral oomph. It was tart; my eyes streamed a beauty.

Passingly satisfied with the fluoride coating, I used my index and middle fingers as a brush.

It was rubbish.

The prisoners at the other sinks brushed as if they’re lives depended on it. One guy in particular thrashed his molars, working up a lather, purging the surface of his tongue.

I watched this in my peripheral vision, while pretending not to, which meant my fellow PoW’s could probably see me too. But as I gagged, I knew we were all gagged: I couldn’t ask for help and they couldn’t slag me off.

Someone banged a gong at 4am on Friday for the first meditation of the day.

It started well. I got some good Anapana in, some decent chill.

We had to focus exclusively on the breath lapping against our philtrums; but in time my gob started mouthing off in my mind’s eye.

Quit your chitter chatter.

I once asked my dentist, post scraping, how long it would take for new plaque to form.

“Hahahahahahahah,” he said, darting a glance at his female assistant, who in retrospect he was probably banging.

“Oh Paul,” he said. “Hahahaha. It’s started already.”

I replayed this scene against the back of my eyelids a few times. It was 18 hours since my last brush, 54 or so to the next one.

My philtrum twitched.

Day one’s objective was simply still the mind. Have you ever stilled the mind? It’s not simple.

You think you’re getting there, but no – off it goes, for a minute, an hour, a month …

As the cranium quietens, you start seeing how these distractions and reactions form. For me, one went something like this:

I felt my shoulders loosening …

… saw a thread getting caught on clothing, drawing the fabric together in tight, little waves …

… thought this was a good analogy for my relaxing shoulders …

… recalled how satisfying it is when you pull the fabric and it straightens out …

 … wondered how I’d put that feeling into words …

… convinced myself this thread-catching happens only in nylon …

… pondered the production and use of synthetic polymers …

… got a sudden mental image of my gran’s navy nylon trousers …

… remembered she had passed away …

… started crying.

It’s true what Moses said: the brain’s a mental organ.

By Friday evening my mouth was a festering moth. I could use a sock to clean my teeth, I thought, a T-shirt but, no …

Escape was an option, however remote. Had I not seen, just that morning, two burly laundry men picking up adult-sized bags of linen and throwing them with abandon into a laundry truck? No, I hadn’t.

Ultimately, you’re responsible for your own liberation.

There was plenty of plywood to shore up a tunnel. I could shake earth from my pajama bottoms before the next sitting.

After my last Vipassana course, I was told someone had tried escaping in the dead of night and was “persuaded” to stay – i.e. caught in the carpark and beaten to a meditative pulp by the volunteer management.

How many others have simply disappeared, “become enlightened”, “transcended”?

Naturally, I’d given the site a pretty good recce in my spare time.

A few acres, fenced in; trees around the perimeter; fields stretching to the horizon across the Yarra Valley. If they sent the rottweilers after me I’d be dead in no time.

Under cover of darkness, I kicked some stones about, edged closer to the site carpark.

There were no guntowers as such, but structures either side of the gate: one was disguised as a prefabricated hut, the other as a moss-laden caravan. If I could make it to the car, anything was possible.

I knew there was a Coles supermarket about three miles east, full of brushes – a hair brush would do, a broom, a lint remover.

When the pre-dawn gong went on Saturday, I squeezed more Colgate into my moosh.

Meditation halls the world over are dark and cold at this time of day, which makes it hard to see people sitting there. You knee them in the head as you pass, and can’t even apologise.

You have to get to your cushion, get your blanket on, your hoodie up, yawn, crack your knuckles, scratch your nuts.

My brain was still engaged with Goenka’s free-ranging discourse from the night before.

Goenka: Observe your sensations …

Brain: Gum disease, swollen tongue …

Goenka: Let go of attachments …

Brain: A brush, a brush, a brush …

Goenka: Focus on your breath …

Brain: Erm …

Goenka: Be happy …

Brain: I can’t …

Each time my tongue tapped furry enamel my desire to escape intensified. At several points my mutinous mind wandered out to the tea tree forest on the site’s western perimeter.

I’d sneaked into it the day before, and cut a path through the trees until seeing signs warning me not to go any further.

I’d stood there for an hour and a half singing Leonard Cohen songs.

The signs were alluding to the fact there was, just a few steps away, a sheer drop to near-certain death down a treacherous gully.

But if I survived I could be up to the supermarket and back in an hour, provided my ankles weren’t broken, the gashes in my bonce not too severe.

Was that Lili Marlene gleaming by the barrack gate?

I’m doing it, I thought, still sitting, knees blow-torch burning – I’m escaping.

No, yes, no, yes, no …

The clunk of the penny dropping, that I’d given the course manager my wallet and phone for “safe keeping”, wasn’t pleasant. It knocked the wind from my sails.

Even if I survived the fall, fought off rabid wallabies and made it into Coles in blood-stained pajama bottoms with bad hair and feral mouth, what was I going to do? Ask them to give me a toothbrush for free? Steal one?

You really miss sugar after a while.

I denied myself honey in my ginger tea for the third night in a row on Saturday … Mr McCavity said no in no uncertain terms.

This bugged me. This bugged me a lot. The drink was the only sustenance permitted between 11.30am and 8.30am the next morning.

That did it. I cracked.

I left the kitchen block and bumbled cautiously though the darkness, arms outstretched. I crossed some rough terrain en route to the course manager’s accomodation.

I climbed some steps. Faint light escaped through a gap in his curtains.

When he opened the door we made eye contact, and I laid the whole thing out straight/ slightly sheepishly:

“A problem … I’ve got a big problem … My teeth … haven’t brushed them … my gums hurt … I need a brush …”

The course manager nodded and bowed slightly. “We sell brushes here on site,” he said. “If you come with me, I’ll get you one.”

Part 2 of 2. Read part one, Vipassana meditation: before you go, here.

Written by Paul Dalgarno

July 22, 2011 at 9:03 am

Vipassana meditation: before you go

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I’m driving to a place called Woori Yallock in two hours to sit still, or slightly fidgety, for three whole days.

I call it “sitting still” because saying “going to meditate” unsettles me.

I fear it comes across as showing poor judgement or new-ageyness, both of which could be dangerous.

Article 26 in the Journalistic Code of Ethics, right below phone hacking, and lying about phone hacking, expressly forbids: “hippydom, white-boy dreadlocks, and using ‘vibe’ to describe atmosphere.”

Telling people you’re going to meditate feels a bit like telling them you’re a veggie … which I am … oh shit, it’s not looking good.

But hey!

I know what Vipassana meditation involves because I did a ten-day course in 2008.

It’s demanding.

You can’t speak to anyone, look at anyone, touch anyone, write anything, read anything, listen to music, play with your phone, receive messages, yank your chain or kill anything. (The last one’s a particular strain).

You eat what the course volunteers cook you, nothing else – which is bearable for me because I’m a veggie.

You get woken with a gong at 4.30am and do ten hour-long sessions a day.

You sit on square cushions with poor yield, close your eyes and feel searing pain in all your joints.

You learn things about boredom you’d never have imagined, but mainly that it’s incredibly boring.

On the plus side:

There’s no special breathing.

No demand for the lotus position.

No guru, unless you count SN Goenka, who delivers infrequent pep talks by rolling VHS.

No lighting of candles.

No chanting.

No totems.

No leap of faith.

What goes through the mind during the sittings? What doesn’t go through the mind? Lot’s of stuff goes through, then returns for more, the majority of it utter bollocks.

Last time I noticed the White Album playing on repeat in the outskirts of my head: I tuned in for the Lennon tracks but Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da grated pretty badly after, ooh, five seconds. As for Piggies … I still can’t go there.

Of course, the album was remastered in 2009 so I’ll be listening this time for any small changes – less static, more hand claps, burps …

By day three, your monkey has nothing left to hide.

So why am I going?

I need to take stock.

I’m 35.
I live in a living room.
I’ve emigrated.
I’ve lost a much-loved gran.
I’ve gained a son.
I’ve seen another son growing into a little man.
I’ve started a new job.
I’ve got lost driving/ on foot/ on trains/ in conversation many hundreds of times.

Insights? Yes, yes, fine. But I was already sold with the promise of sitting in a room, in silence, doing nothing for three days.

Part 1 of 2. For part 2, click here.


Radiohead, Seventh Seal, Klingon Death Cry

Sons and daughters

Developmental milestones for parents: crawling

Getting somewhere slowly

Written by Paul Dalgarno

July 14, 2011 at 6:04 am

Scottish Ps, Australian Ts

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People have been calling me Plosive Paul lately, largely cos I be poppin ps perpetually.

My bilabial occlusives, I’m told, are particularly aspirated. In phonetic script they look like this: /pʰ/ – which means air shoots from my gob at top speed with words such as pup or pip, as if I’m trying to spit out a piece of peppery poppadom or crepe … it’s crap.

Since being prepped on it I can’t help noticing – I’m looking to wrap it up, to stop; I’ve even considered getting an op.

While the escaping pop isn’t quite enough to knock propped-up postcards from mantlepieces, I’ve thought about procuring a Popper Stopper, those circular, black things on the front of microphones – with the help of a bendy coat hanger, I could wear one like a harmonica holder, like Bob Dylan, except I’d look like a proper prick.

And it wouldn’t be practical – I’d be caught on the hop, given these stops with rapid pops crop up pretty frequently.

It’s got on top of me, not least because I usually lop off the ends of words. I deal with my ts in the Aberdeen way, the guiding principle being: let them drop, or use a glottal stop.

So I don’t have a computer but a compu–er; I’m not a commuter but a commu–er; I don’t think something’s shit, but shi–; this t-culling happens a lo–: it’s jus– par– of being Sco––ish.

In the past, I didn’t feel the leas– bi– self-conscious rabi––ing on abou– my penchan– for Pulp’s grea–es– hi–s. Now I just think: tha– sounds crap, ya plosive pap.

I rue my missing ts because – in a cruel twist of fate – some Australians rock ts that would fear you. They rattle brittly from the end of words but also at the start and middle. As with my ps, these plosive ts are airy – /tʰ/ – with killer aspiration.

I’ve tried to ignore it, sweep it under the carpet. Of course, I take it – what choice do I have? – but it makes me uptight. It’s tantamount to a clout in the snout – or worse.

In layman’s terms the /tʰ/ sounds like “tih”, so listening to the news on earphones can feel somewhat-ih like a baseball bat-ih being whacked-ih off your nut-ih; it-ih’s almost-ih like being knocked-ih out-ih, mate-ih – what-ih’s it-ih all about-ih?

It might be a posho thing, because you only hear it in some places, but it puts the t squarely in WTF?

From an evolutionary point of view, Scotland and Australia are better off at opposite ends of the planet: running such volatile ps and ts together could change things from plosive to explosive in no time: one minute you’re giving it Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers; the next it’s: kaboom, ya Tupperware poop-face twat.

Even on a good day you’d keel over – it’s way too much air for a single person to expel, your pulmonary pipework would collapse.

Or perhaps not.

Maybe I could practise, pioneer, if a pal or mate put me up to it …

I’ll shut up.


Written by Paul Dalgarno

July 13, 2011 at 7:23 am

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