Magnificent Maleficent?

It’s no secret that I love a good fairy tale, especially when it promises a kickass female protagonist. Or antagonist.

I couldn’t stop raving about Brave, and Princess Merida wasn’t half as tantalising as the combination of a Lana Del Rey soundtrack and Angelina Jolie lead promised to be.

To say I had high expectations is a bit of an understatement. So now you get to suffer the fallout of my utter disappointment.

My second nephew is also into scary fantasy films, and given he’s had a love for Jurassic Park since the age of six, I thought he might enjoy this for his 10th birthday.

Really?

Really?

But the day before its release, Australia’s classification board slapped on an M rating, and being a responsible aunt, I thought I better check it out first.

Lucky I did, because there turned out to be multiple reasons I wouldn’t take my nephew to see that film, and none of them have do to with the rating.

As you would expect from the trailers, Maleficent is a feminist reworking of an old beauty myth.

At this point, I would say * SPOILER ALERT *, except that by the end of the film the only thing I can honestly say I didn’t expect was to be unafraid, underwhelmed and uninspired.

(Having said that, if you would rather find that out for yourself, skip The Gory Details and move on to The Monstrous Truth.)


The Gory Details

The narrative follows a linear trajectory, blandly filling us in on the backstory of a young, powerful yet benevolent fairy and the bitter rivalry between her woodland paradise and the neighbouring kingdom ruled by greedy men.

Despite the rivalry, an innocent romance blooms between the fairy girl and a young boy, and from here on you know more or less exactly how this story will play out.

Young Romance

  • Boy grows into a power hungry man, commits a hideous betrayal against his one true love and wins the throne. Check.
  • Birth of Princess Aurora. Check.
  • Vengeance in the form of a curse exacted by justifiably embittered Fairy Queen. Check.

From here, the narrative starts to look familiar, except for some troubling bumps in the plot.

For her own protection, baby Aurora is sent off to a hideaway in the forest, under the guardianship of three pixies until her sixteenth year. Fine.

PixiesOnly the pixies are so dim witted that they can’t even feed her proper food, let alone instruct her in the ways of the world.

Instead, her care falls to Maleficent, who watches from the shadows and, with begrudging curiosity, keeps her from harm’s way.

The result is a girl who grows up sheltered and naïve, as unaware of who she is or the fate that awaits her, as she is unafraid of horns that lurk in the dark.

It’s not a good outlook for female empowerment.

With a mother almost completely absent from the plot, pixie nannies who are both clueless and neglectful, the only source of female strength in Aurora’s life is one that sought her harm.

Of course, by the time Maleficent reveals herself to Aurora, she is genuinely attached to the girl and regretful of her actions. But since she fails to tell her the truth, Aurora has nothing really to be afraid about, and the moment of reckoning anticipated by the appropriately named ‘teaser‘ is a horrific anti-climax.

AuroraWhen Aurora finally does learn the truth, she naturally runs off to the castle and gets her finger pricked, invoking the curse and landing in a coma.

At this point, the outlook for male empowerment is similarly grim. The only men in Aurora’s life are a vindictive, power hungry father, and a Prince with a flaccid kiss.

By now it’s pretty obvious who will deliver the awakening kiss, and from there it’s just a matter of magic and a few convenient plot holes before the evil king is done away with and women get to rule the world.


The Monstrous Truth

As sympathetic as I might be to the idea of women taking over for a change, this film was nothing but a tease.

  • The only sign of Lana Del Rey is a single rendition of “Once Upon a Dream” over the credits.
  • Though everything looks pretty, the 3D goes in and out of focus with nasty double edge effect. It is only in the credits that we learn the film was not shot in 3D, but instead, badly converted.
  • The characters are similarly two dimensional and the plot is full of holes.

Instead of a tale of female empowerment, we find the old gender divisions alive and well.

All we have, in the end, is a Disney branding exercise of a horny goat woman in latex and leather who inspires us to maybe want to look like that.

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Seeing this through my nephew’s eyes, if he took away any message at all, it would be this:

  • Men are either ruthless or weak.
  • Women are either neglectful and stupid, or vengeful, somehow all powerful but not very scary, sometimes sorry but always right.
  • Don’t trust anybody.
  • Definitely don’t fall in love.

To be fair to the creators, maybe their point was that powerful women don’t have to be scary. But that seems unlikely, since she lets the king fall to his death.

At any rate, I doubt my nephew would care enough to notice any of that, which is why the reviews seem to be putting it all down to a bit of harmless family fun.

And why I remain perplexed about Australia’s M rating.

Magnificent Maleficent? Meh.

Have you seen it? Will you see it? How do your expectations measure up?

Centre of the Universe

I’ve been finding myself unusually socially active of late, so much so that my cousin recently invited me for a girls’ night at her place and was surprised to find I had another engagement.

“But you’re normally a bit of a recluse, aren’t you?” she says, and I’m forced to admit that I don’t ordinarily have a life.

The truth of the matter is sometimes I spend as much energy trying to avoid human contact as I do actually engaging.

But this year’s different.

There’s a certain calm in the air, the kind that whispers ‘just go with the flow’.

Since it was the Queen’s Birthday holiday last weekend, I had the chance to do just that.

Some friends took Ms and I on a 12km walk to the Centre of the Universe…

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We start out from Trentham, following an old railway track into the nearby bushland home of the endangered Powerful Owl.

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No owls, but a local Kookaburra enjoys a moment in the sun as we pass by.

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Wild fungi and moss thrive in the cool damp of the forest.

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Wildflowers, too.

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The trail takes us to Lyonville, but what I don’t expect to find is this:

Warm hearth, mellow tunes and a glass of wine to wash it down at the Radio Springs Hotel.

If this is what lives at the Centre of the Universe, then next time you go looking, you will probably find me there ;)

Where have you been, lately?

 

 

 

The Wood Chipper

WARNING: Contains scenes of suburban horror that may traumatise some readers.

The other day, someone knocked on my door.

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Thanks to the sign from my slightly paranoid electricity provider, I was pretty confident whoever it was must be looking for me, so I answered.

It was a tree lopping company, come to cut down my non-existent tree.

I immediately had flashbacks to what might have been the start of Evie’s porno career, but alas, this was not a ruse for desperate housewives!

Since they had the wrong address, I pointed them in the vague direction of the tree killers, and returned to my online activities, thus entering the first stage of grief known as Denial.

Twenty minutes later, the noise was getting out of hand. I go and take a glimpse out my kitchen window…

…and see not one, but TWO sources of suburban horror:

  • Strange man jumping over the fence into my back yard.
  • Bare blue sky in the space where my little possum friend ought to be asleep!

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In a panic, I shuffle outside to murmur the blatant obvious:

“You cut down the tree…” (Bargaining)

Mr Tree Lopper glances up from his leaf gathering efforts, “Yeah, sorry.”

I can hear a noise from the street that sounds suspiciously like a hungry wood chipper, and try not to think what that might mean.

“But, there was a possum living in that tree…” (Bargaining)

“Oh, was there? We didn’t see anything…”

Mr Tree Lopper carries on with his leaf gathering efforts, not remotely uncomfortable about the fact he’s trespassing in my yard, or that his friend might have just committed possum murder.

I had no idea what else to say, so naturally, I went inside and messaged Ms. (Anger)

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And after that, put a sad status update on Facebook. (Depression)

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And after that, placed a hex on my neighbours on Twitter. (Anger)

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When Ms got home, she immediately climbed the fence to yell at the neighbours. (Anger)

But just as she started waving and ‘yoo hooing’ like a crazy person, we heard a rustle in the lemon tree nearby.

Sure enough, out popped a tiny Ringtail, totally unperturbed by the days events.

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Could it be? (Bargaining)

Ms called the local wildlife experts and (after a friendly chat with the neighbour), we concluded that our possum may well have survived the wood chipper. (Denial)

I followed this up with some internet research, and learned some interesting facts:

  • The timid, herbivorous marsupials have a territory radius of about 50m, in which a Daddy and one or two Mummy ringtails, along with their recent offspring, coexist in Big Love bliss.
  • Ringtails tend to sleep solitary and frequently bed hop, having up to 8 nests in their territory.

Considering the neighbour recently moved in with a dog who is suffering separation anxiety, it’s more than likely our little possum moved beds to get a decent sleep. (Denial)

At any rate, that’s the story I’m telling everyone because (considering my utter failure to defend the rights of my tree dwelling friends) the alternative is too horrific.

Have you ever saved, or tried to save, or failed to save, a creature from harm?

Dragon Slayer

What is it about dragons? Every tradition has one or, at least, East and West each have their own mythical variant of the diabolical beast.

Australia doesn’t really belong to either tradition, which is probably why we have to resort to recycling dragons…

Melbourne’s very own Dragons of Targaryen.

Melbourne’s very own Dragons of Targaryen.

Or, how about a PET Dragon (made from recycled plastics)?

Or, how about a PET Dragon (made from recycled plastics)?

It’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want a pet dragon or two with which to smite thine enemy?

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When I stumbled across this quiz on Twitter, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be a dragon!’

Anyway, I took the quiz, and it reminded me of that moment on Buffy before Willow turned badass

"Oh thanks. Old reliable? Yeah, great, there’s a sexy nickname!"

“Oh thanks. Old reliable? Yeah, great, there’s a sexy nickname!”

I mean, a Fish? Seriously??

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Talk about boring old reliable.

But then I got to thinking. We all descended from fish, right? Even the dragon…

First the fish, then the legless lizard, then the four legged fire-breathing fiend.

Really, that makes me the First and Original badass.

Stonefish. Australia’s master of camouflage – the most venomous fish in the world!

It reminds me of one of my favourite songs, End of May by Keren Ann.

Close your eyes and make a wish
Under the stone there’s a stonefish…
Hold your breath and roll the dice
You haven’t seen me disguised yet!

One step wrong, and dragons be gone!

I guess that means there’s more to fish than meets the eye. So now I’m cool with that :)

Happy End of May, friends of the blogosphere!

What House do you belong to? Any secret powers you possess?

Every Day is Stupid

Sometimes I get tired of my own BS, don’t you?

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a really crappy day. No reason. I even knew it was all in my head, and that only made things worse.

It just was – not so much the Sunday blues as a Dark and Stormy gloom fest.

Nothing could snap me out of it – not even the final season of Weeds!

The upturn in mood began a few days later, with the arrival of my first ever eBay purchase, followed by several other sources of undue momentary glee…

1. Vintage bean slicer

Ever since I left home, I’ve moaned over the loss of Mum’s mouli shredder.

I’m not a fan of electric appliances. They’re heavy and expensive and annoying to assemble. And they take the tactile fun out of handling food.

Or so I tell myself.

I bought this Italian ‘Moplen’ instead of the French ‘Mouli’.

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I’m not sure why – it looked less used and the blades were all shiny. Which probably should have told me something.

In fact, it’s quite clumsy and difficult to use. BUT…

Pasties

I managed to make a week’s supply of vegetable pasties, AND…

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It has a bean slicer! Oh, the joy of not having to slice beans one at a time anymore.

2. Cocktails in Berlin

Well, Berlin Bar, to be exact – two rooms divided into East and West, with charming French waiters and confusing paintings of austere looking nuns on the wall.

But the cocktails and, I’m told, even the mocktails are to die for…

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There was a certain glow to Melbourne-town after that, the kind that makes you glad you’re alive not the designated driver.

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3. Reliving Pepi’s youth

You know how when you dread a task, and put it off hoping it will go away, it turns into Godzilla??

That’s what the next books in the series had become, as I dreaded the seemingly immense task of getting Pepi’s pictures ready for publication.

In fact, once I sat down to do it, it only took me a day and the up side of that was reliving periods in Pepi’s life, like this one:

Pepi meets Maxi.

Pepi meets Maxi.

Pepi learns to escape and terrorise the neighbourhood.

Pepi learns to escape and terrorise the neighbourhood.

Pepi moves house.

Pepi moves house.

A story told in three pictures or less :)

4. Crywank

What?

Maybe you’re not like me.

Maybe you don’t spend your life whining about everything from the bugs that ate your sage plants…

Freakin' little blighters!

(Freakin’ little blighters!)

…to the fact we’re all going to die hungry and penniless.

But if you are, then we all need to get a grip. Or have a good cry. Or both.

I stumbled onto this ‘anti-folk, sadcore’ band because an American twitter buddy asked me to tell them what I know of the future (believe it or not, in Australia, we are ahead of almost all of you – in time, at least!).

This is what Crywank had to say:

Tomorrow is nearly Yesterday and Everyday is Stupid. Waaa…

 

The music is not so much sad, as making a joke of our sadness. And that makes me immeasurably happy.

What little absurd things make you happy? Give me a glimpse into your day, week. Hell, give me anything!

 

Open Sesame

Nothing strikes fear into the heart of someone who left their past behind like the words High School Reunion.

Honestly, it’s probably the reason why I stayed off Facebook for so long.

And why my Profile still looks like this:

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Don’t get me wrong. My classmates were good people. It was boarding school, and they were just like family. Only better, because NOT family.

It’s hard to describe how much you miss friends like that – such an intimate part of your daily life one day, gone the next.

Even harder when you know a big part of the reason they were ‘gone’ is that you slammed the door.

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Let me put this in perspective.

It was a Christian school, and most of my friends were believers in some sense. But normal, you know?

It was just a part of their lives, along with boy crushes and manicures and torturing the Dean’s pet cat.

Me?

There was Before Graduation. Do gooder preacher girl. On track for sainthood with a scholarship for Theology school firmly in hand.

Then there was After Graduation.

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The about face probably made no sense to anyone but me.

I disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving a trail of burned bridges and lots of rumours in my wake.

Fast forward twenty years and my real and imaginary worlds suddenly collide with a mysterious Friend Request.

Crap, this name sounds familiar, I’m thinking. Who is this? What do they want with me?

My finger hovers over that button like the key rattling Pandora’s box. Open Sesame, a world of hurt to follow…

Sure enough, Class of 1994 has tracked me down. I feel old. Really, really old.

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Flash forward – Michele from ‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’

But there’s something else.

Amidst the fear and regret, anticipation. A longing so deep it bleeds.

I attend the reunion. Despite the fact it’s a breakfast. And I’m not a morning person. And there’s not a drop of alcohol in sight.

What I don’t expect is this – no one really cares!

They’ve moved on. We all have. Important jobs. Partners. Kids. Lives. We’ve all matured. Found our own ways of dealing with the world.

I thought I was going for closure. Instead, what I found was a circle of beautiful people who still want to know me, despite the fact I was an idiot in school our wildly divergent paths.

Will we be best friends again? It’s unlikely. We live on opposite sides of the river, for a start.

Still. There’s a bridge on which to travel now. An open door at the end of it.

And love. Lots and lots of love.

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(Okay. Maybe not that much… :) )

Who were you in high school? Would you go to a reunion?

Mother’s Touch

Mother’s Day. Each year it rolls around, and each year I fail to find words.

I left home too young for my Mother’s liking. Living apart in more ways than geography, we can probably count on one hand the number of Mother’s Days we’ve spent together since then.

But as I look back, there are countless moments in between we’ve shared. Working, side-by-side, for the good of one or all the family.

My favourite memories are those with our hands in the dough, when as a child she taught me the almost lost art of baking bread.

A ritual she no doubt shared with her own mother, and so on, back through generations past…MothersTouchGen

 

We’re born looking up to you -
To Her.
We grow up
Somehow
We out grow.
And as the kink in our gaze
Shifts gear
We see crossways and
Sideways and
Every other which way
Except the one
Where we see
Eye to eye. 

And yet we know
That underneath the
Not looking and the
Not seeing
Is the part where we join hands.
Her hands. 

There’s a story etched there
Silent as the years that pass
Deep as the affection flows.
A job worth doing is
Worth doing over and over
Like a well worked dough
Kneaded and needed
Less for what it is than
For what it represents.

Love is a doing word.
Passed through
Not down
One generation to the next.
Where would we be
Without our Mother’s touch?

Wishing all the mums out there a special day of pampering!

Do you have a favourite childhood memory of your mother’s hands?

Astral Projection

In the years since my road map took me on the scenic route through life, I have developed a passing interest in Astrology.

This is based in certain unscientific observations.

Like the illuminating discovery that my sister and I have not one astrological compatibility in our chart.

No one needed to tell me that our planets were at logger heads when I was born!

When I found that out it was a relief – I could finally file us under ‘Irreconcilable Difference’ and move on.

Likewise, it came as no surprise, watching my nephew and his mother interact, that his top three planets share the same positioning as mine. Poor fella.

(It’s part of the reason I contend that Karma is just another word for Genes.)

There are other patterns too.

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Library of Congress planisphere from c1708, courtesy Stuart Rankin

My partner and I are situated in opposite positions on the zodiac, being Taurus and Scorpio.

She also shares my father’s birthday, which in itself is not all that remarkable (yeah, I know, *Daddy issues* – it’s not the same year, okay? :) ).

Delve a little, though, and we find that every member of her family shares a birthday with someone close in mine, only in each case, it is gender reversed!

Is this freak coincidence, or is there something to it?

Some contend that Astrology is just another form of quackery. A kind of mystical, hocus pocus fortune telling. Maybe. Maybe not.

The planetary line up at the time of our birth is never the same twice. It is branded to us, like a fingerprint, or DNA.

A site of endless mystery for curious minds to unravel.

A blueprint, if you like, of possibility.

What fascinates me is the way that scientific discoveries sometimes mirror ‘mystical’ explanations for the way things are.

For instance, did you know scientists have found a gene that predisposes us to religious belief?

This leads me to wonder – is it possible that the sensory memories encoded in our genes are just a more sophisticated way of explaining reincarnation?

Or that the historical trajectory of planets is a more precise means of mapping the course taken by one giant breath of life?

On the one side we have belief in the wisdom of an all knowing being where the limits of our knowledge fail.

On the other, a precise methodology that turns flat surface theory into solid 3D fact.

Both reaching for a mystery neither dogma can explain. Pointing in the same direction, but unable to shake hands.

For my part, I find the magnetic push-me-pull-you of planetary entanglement far more compelling than a nudge from a big hand in the sky.

Beyond metaphor, it connects me with elemental force to the wider universe, a small part of a much grander mystery.

Mystery is good. It is reaching for the unknown that propels us forward, and what is life, if not an inexplicable need to create meaning from nothingness?

So, until science can disprove the notion that our personality is written in the stars, I will go on reading my forecasts, and contemplating possibility.

Do you read your stars? Any freaky patterns there you can’t explain, or is it all just hocus?

Evolution

What do you do when you turn old enough to realise it’s been twenty years since high school, and you’re just as shiftless as you ever were?

Watch a grunge-chic vampire flick, of course!

Only Lovers Left Alive is a Jim Jarmusch take on vampirism in the twenty-first century that is a welcome departure from the Twilight zone. Suitable, in other words, for those of us more in touch with our mortality.

The film documents a centuries-old love affair between Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a reclusive, “suicidally romantic” musician, and Eve (Tilda Swinton), a somewhat more optimistic, but equally reclusive, literary buff.

Living in obscurity between Detroit and Tangier, Adam and Eve share a languid existence borne as much of human (“zombie”) fatigue as a shortage of uncontaminated blood supply.

It’s the way they treat the world,” complains Adam, “and now they’ve succeeded in contaminating their own blood, never mind their water”.

It’s difficult to describe what happens. There’s an unwelcome visit from Eve’s sister, the problem of dead body disposal, and the last pure drop of illegally acquired blood – “type O negativo”.

Be warned: the film is dangerously anaemic of narrative tension. I’ll even admit to nodding off somewhere in the middle…

And yet.

How do I love this film? Let me count the ways.

There are so many truly clever, ‘you just have to see it’ funny moments in this film.

It celebrates, as much as pokes fun at, a kind of self-indulgent nostalgia – the kind only people who grew up with analogue can truly grasp.

Like the couple’s video chat, facilitated by an iPhone on one end, and an elaborate 1970’s telephone-to-television hook-up on the other.

only_lovers_left_alive_ver5“How can you have lived for so long and still not get it?” asks Eve of Adam.

There are numerous in-jokes about vinyl versus YouTube and the download generation.

Creative rewriting of the origins of classics, from the likes of Shakespeare and Schubert.

A healthy disdain for family, given 87 years between visits isn’t deemed long enough by Adam (“It’s always a bit weird with family”, concedes Eve).

While it may be true to say that not much happens, all the little moments come together in poetic symphony right at the end.

As Adam and Eve contemplate their fate and the meaning of entanglement theory, they watch, enthralled by what appear to be the only (other) lovers left alive…

What I love most about this film is the evolution of the vampire mythology. Where once vampires were seen to prey on humans with abandon, there is now a recognition of their dependence on human virility.

Whether it be the artists and their fan base, or the vampires and their blood source, they are interdependent on each other.

The reminder that we’re all going down together was just what I needed to be grateful for another revolution around the sun!

What was the last film and/or birthday indulgence you truly enjoyed?

Happytown

UnknownWhen my nephew turned three, I gave him a book called The Chimpanzees of Happytown, by one of my favourite children’s authors, Giles Andreae.

It is a magical, rhyming tale of a Chimpanzee who moves to Drabsville, plants a forbidden seed and eventually transforms the entire city into a colourful, carefree Happytown.

I never knew what an apt story it was for this happy little chap, until last weekend, when he visited Melbourne town for his 10th birthday.

It was his first interstate trip as an unaccompanied minor, for two nights and an unspecified outing with his Aunt.

Melbourne being known for its gloom, we were expecting another week of rain. But by the time J got off the plane, the sun was out and the forecast had been changed.

“You brought the sun with you!” we said, not knowing how true that would turn out to be.

It was a perfect Sunday.

After a bike ride to the local skate park, where I was instructed to record every jump until he got it right…

…we took a one hour ferry ride to the city.

His exuberance at the sights was unexpected.

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“Has Dad seen this?!” J wanted to know.

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Before long, he had wrestled the camera from my hands.

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Click.

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Click.

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Click.

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I think he hoped to do a direct transfer from his brain to Dad’s.

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We pulled up outside the Arts Centre just as my camera battery died…

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…and then we were off to see the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, a theatrical production by kids aged 8 to 18, about a girl with a circus hidden under her bed.

Following the show, filled with wonder and ice-cream, J was ready to dance all the way home to Happytown.

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Aunty Larns, have you seen the movie Dumb Ways to Die? (click the pic to see it)

Debriefing on the way to the airport the next morning, I was surprised by the vision he had of my city.

If you had asked me, I would have told you it is dark and gloomy, and everyone wears black.

That Melbourne has forgotten its roots in a drive for glamour and opulence. And other less flattering things.

But my nephew saw a city full of colour and art, nice historical buildings mixed in with interesting new ones, factories, ships and lots of different things to see and do.

He left me with a smile on my face, and a resolve to get out more and find the colour in my world.

Have a Happy Easter, everyone!

What colourful things do you have planned these holidays?