Tag Archives: songs

A song for the crossroads

 

What is it that motivates us to travel? It seems we often come to it when our life is at a Crossroads – and on the journey we take time to step back and assess our options, to process things that have happened to us. Sometimes when we feel stuck in our lives, we take a physical journey, hoping it will lead to psychological progression and life change. And sometimes the more we’re at a crossroads, the more we’re attracted to extreme destinations. None more so for me than on my trip across the Nullarbor Plain at the height of the Australian summer.

When I think of that trip I remember vast flat lands and wide skies. From the Bunda Cliffs, where you feel like you could run and then just drop off the edge of the world, to swathes of sand dunes at Fowlers Bay and the vast treeless plain of the Nullarbor. When you’re wrestling internally, the vast landscape has a calming effect. And sometimes it takes getting out of normal routine to show you what direction you really want to head in, to give you motivation to commit or re-commit to something or someone.

This is the only trip I’ve been on where I’ve slept in a swag – out under the stars in a big canvas bag, where you could look straight up at the domed sky as you fell asleep (with a slight sense of trepidation about possible snakes, spiders or scorpions deciding to slip into the swag spend the night with you). The wide expanse of the sky brings perspective and context to the decisions of individual human beings.

Everyone in our original Nullarbor tour group who braved the hottest part of the journey together, travelling for hours at a time in a minibus with malfunctioning air conditioning through 46 degree days, was at some sort of life junction. An overseas student finishing studies and about to return to her own country, an interracial student couple, a single mother and her son, an accident survior and his partner from another country, a woman who had nearly died and the friend and colleague who saved her, a traveller in search of love, a rural new couple, a widow on a first big trip without her husband, a man devoted to photography and me, and our guide. As we travelled we shared our stories between bus seats and we experienced many firsts together. Posing in front of the iconic Nullarbor signs, huddling under a cattle grid waiting for a road train to drive overhead, sleeping in swags on the empty plain at Afghan Rocks, swimming with dolphins and sea lions at Baird Bay, seeing the Big Galah, spotting yellow footed rock wallabies, Running down the sand dunes at Fowlers Bay and frolicking in the welcome cool of the sea at Streaky Bay.

I just heard last week that our guide on this trip, an excitement loving, well travelled, world weary man, had died. He died living a lifestyle he wanted to live. We were such children when he guided us across the plain: in awe of the sights, questioning the dangers and he drove, cooked, advised, entertained. He could certainly tell the tallest stories. I think of the song that somehow became our bus song on that trip: Starships (a song with some dubious lyrical content that I’d never heard before that trip). Whenever the chorus came on, ‘Starships were meant to fly, hands up and touch the sky’, we’d all do actions. It almost felt like our outstretched arms were flying us across the Nullarbor. When I’m stuck at a crossroads, I remind myself, ‘starships were meant to fly’. It tells me I’m meant for something new, a new life journey, a new life experience and I’m meant to embrace it, to fly. No matter what the lyrics meant originally, in the midst of the mundane they also remind me of the highs of life, the moments in the sun. Such as those minutes spent standing atop a perfect sanddune or singing with arms stretched wide as we moved through a landscape that stretched on farther than the eye could see. And when I need the impetus to move forward from life’s crossroads, I say to myself: ‘let’s do this one more time oh oh oh oh’.

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The art of packing: leave the sausages at home with the bathtub

Hand bag on top of wheel-along suitcase seen from above against a tiled floor with one foot

“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go” – I’d love to be able to sing that right now, but unfortunately it isn’t true yet. I’m packing for travel at the moment (or supposed to be packing). The more you travel, the more you realise there is an art to the packing – having lugged a sleeping bag around in the European summer for three months and never used it, I know you regret every excess kg in your bag when you’re on the move. There may be people out there who love to pack, but I wouldn’t say I’m one of them. I tend to leave it until the last moment so that it’s super stressful, and yet I still want every new fangled slash-proof-water-resistant-bag-container-contraption and every super-dry-wicking-bamboo-hemp-hybrid-hyper-lightweight-piece-of-clothing to be just right.

If I’ve learnt one thing from friends’ mishaps it is never travel with fresh food. Confiscated moon cakes, sausages in the suitcase that went off during a three-day monsoonal detour, leaked chilli-full fermented cabbage Kim Chi in the bag and soft cheese confiscated due to its apparent similarity to explosives all tell me to leave the food at home if I want to preserve sweet smelling (or at least neutral-odour) clothes and belongings and not have to go through the heartbreak of seeing perfectly good food thrown in the quarantine bin.

What can we learn from the great travellers of yore about the art of packing? I’ve been reading a biography of Gertrude Bell recently. She did a lot of travel in the middle east, as well as climbing a number of peaks in Switzerland. Of course she had one thing I don’t: an entourage. If you want to bring your own china tea set or bath on your desert travels, it’s recommended that you engage a team of strong, dedicated helpers with their accompanying pack beasts, and you probably won’t be able to manage 5 cities in 10 days if you want to travel with the ultimate comforts of home.

Packing is really distilling life down to its essence, working out the bare minimum possessions you can survive with day to day. I always find something freeing about leaving my house behind and living only out of what is in my suitcase, it makes me realise what is important in life and how much I relish experiences, places and people, and how much possessions and caring for them can hold me back. I have many possessions I treasure, but in the end I find being able to leave them and get out into the world a richer, more engaging experience.

Music to pack by

In an effort to get myself to achieve anything, I normally need to think creatively and turn whatever the task is into a project. For example, I could pack a bit everyday for the time it takes to listen to one of my Packing Songs.  I can’t say any of my previous playlists have been dedicated to the art of packing, so this is a venture of the moment and I’ll see what I can come up with that isn’t just incredibly twee. There are a number of packing, moving and travelling playlists already out there, so I’ve just got five songs here that are meaningful to me. If you are packing to travel like me, or packing to move: here’s to packing and traveling light:

spotify:track:6ZSTinOwx5dKFYc6iYyGDn

spotify:track:2KESN3Vjy8fzMvzSH0vgkP

spotify:track:1c9ZZvFtpbpnWZPLX3ebh3

spotify:track:0xyFNJSyGzEPAezW6zNs7s

spotify:track:6Deb529ZxTKzOe5u1lgnCO

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Three songs to warm yourself by

Musician

Whenever I’m asked what the ‘most important’ something or other is, I struggle to identify it, so I just have to pick whatever comes to mind and start there. Perhaps if it comes most readily to mind then that is what’s most important to me at that time. Songs have always been important to me – songs of many genres. The first song that came to my mind was ‘Let the sun fall down’ by Kim Richey. Strangely I first heard this song when watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the song really struck me. It captured the emotion of the scene that it was pared with and it has captured my emotions at times since then. The theme of the song strikes a chord with me and provides a kind of life principle – to let in the sun – literally or metaphorically. In the song there is a line ‘that old dark cloud, acts like he knows you. He takes up too much time’. The sun is like a beacon to return to in the dark times of life when you need to actually be reminded that the sun is still there and to let it in and let it fill the room. I have never heard this song sung live, but I have had the chance to hear Kim Richey live twice and that is another thing that binds me to songs and their singers. A few singers and groups I had known for years from recordings I had the chance to hear live in the last couple of years and was not disappointed. Hearing Kim Richey’s sweet but strong voice depended my love of her music, I only wished others in the audience would have appreciated it if I’d sung along because I was so tempted to do so.

A few years ago when I went on a small group tour across the Nullarbor plain, we camped along the way near a dam at Afghan Rocks. No-one else was there but our group as the shocking heat of the day turned to the relative cool of the night and we hunkered down in our canvas swags, our heads peeping out at the wide starry sky so vast compared to the city sky interrupted by the lights of humanity and their dwellings. In our Nullarbor tour group there was a mother and her 8-year old son. In conversation I mentioned that I used to sing in a gospel choir and as night fell around our camp fire she asked me if I’d come and sing a night song to her son as he prepared to sleep. I was a bit thrown as I’m a bit cautious about singing alone and unaccompanied and I couldn’t for the life of me think of an appropriate song. Nothing literally nothing was coming to mind except panic. Eventually I thought of a song that is an easy unaccompanied one but mentioned to the boy’s mother that I’d mostly sung gospel and couldn’t think of anything else. She didn’t mind and she also dragged our Dutch male tour mate over to listen – enough to give me more desert stage nerves. The three of us stood in the dark around the lying boy’s swag and I sang ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound…’ and there was something mysterious and spiritual in this time. It wasn’t that we all believed the same things but there was something about the music and the night and the stillness and the haunting floating words and melody and people really listening there in the dark. Of all the places I’ve ever sung in that was the most sacred.

A few years ago I reconnected with a friend who goes to live music a lot and expressed a desire to tag along. My friend particularly devotes certain weekends of the year to significant Victorian music festivals and the the first I ever attended with his group was the National Celtic Festival in Port Arlington. A mottled band of musicians and music lovers gathers together with sword-weilding vikings and bagpipes can be heard drifting from the hillside out to the jetty where the tall ship waits to take festival goers on musical cruises. The first year I heard so many jigs, reels, polkas and strathspeys I felt like I’d come home culturally. The energy, the speed of the musicians, the uplifting melodies that somehow bring a joy and make you feel ready for anything. Again there is nothing like live music to really stir you as it thumps through you and echoes around you, as you’re stirred to sing along or tap in time. The Celtic festivals run workshops and one I’ve attended was a traditional Scottish singing one lead by a practitioner who learnt from a dying breed of Scottish singers. I learnt to really appreciate the unaccompanied true voice embracing some difficult timing and tongue twisting words. One song that has stayed with me from that workshop is ‘Mary Mac’s ma’s making Mary Mac marry me, my ma’s making me marry Mary Mac’. Such a tongue twister but also such a whirling tune as your voices are all stirred around in a frenzy of M’s and speed as you try to get your mouth around the words. Hearing about the Scottish balladeers reminded me how far my family is culturally from our Scottish family roots. But hearing and singing all these songs also stirs me to picture the Western Highlands where I once travelled and it pulls some kind of invisible chord that still ties me to Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales and the music that races on fiddle, bodhran, mandolin, guitar and tin whistle.

 

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