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30 Oct 2011

Manly Halloween Festival

As a compulsive list person, it is apparent that one of the first things I do in any new environment, is make a list. I arrived in Australia last year and settled myself in. Then I made a list. A list of things that would go on my pseudo-bucket list. Let me call it the wish tree. I don't really have a name for it. Maybe I'll think up one soon. 

One of the things on the list was to do a Halloween thing. I suppose it broadly meant getting out and about, dressed in costume. I did not have a real plan. Maybe I wanted to go pub crawling. Maybe I wanted to go trick-and-treat-ing. I don't know. Nothing happened last year, except it remained on the list. This year, a friend suggested checking out the Manly Halloween Festival. I was pretty sure it was kids stuff and not sure I was that desperate. In the end, I did go. Not in costume, of course. Just loose trousers and a tee. The curiosity of the what might be in the parade enabled the trip. It turned out be much more fun that I had expected. 

We arrived there early enough to see the cars being prepared for the Street Parade in the evening. Up and close enough to examine some of them. A number of makeshit stalls, in the form of little tents, lined the main street. They had everything from bits for costumes to toys and candies. The best thing about parades, of course, is that the roads are closed to traffic. Well, maybe not the best but I like walking on the street without having to look left and right for speeding cars. People dressed in garbs of red, black and other bizzare colours strolled along the road, trying to look as creepy as possible. The abuse of colours was apparent, as is wont in any Halloween event. While the adults stuck to their dark sides, the kids dressed up in costumes ranging from vampires to superheroes. There was also the odd angel, princess or warrior, among some kids. Mushy parents, I suppose. 

We picked one side of the road and cruised through the stalls, as you do at such events, knowing fully well that we had no intention of buying anything. The sellers watched, quietly assessing whether you were just a passerby or a potential buyer. They seem to ignore you while you're looking but suddenly spring to life the moment you pick up one of their wares and show the slightest consideration of loosening your purse strings. We easily moved on from shops that sold generic stuff not related to Halloween. We stopped longer at the ones that had wigs, capes and other things that would be useless after that day. There were expensive stuff ($25 wigs! Really?) and there were the Chinese stuff ($5 wig anyone?). 

When we started off, little K was wearing a little mask and a tiger cap with antenna sticking out of his head. As we waited for the parade later that evening, my mate wore a B&W tribal wig with blood dripping off her vampire mouth. In my bright red wig, horns and vampire face paint, the Halloween item on my list was ready to be crossed off. K had the full face of a vampire, complete with the freaky expressions he was putting on. My mate's husband was our personal photographer, as husbands seem to end up most of the time.

The games spread over the festival campus were amazing. I wanted to be a kid myself, so I could try some of that stuff. The stage at one end of the road invited enthusiasts to take a free fencing lesson. You could walk around all afternoon and find something amusing at every turn. In true Aussie style, one family of witches, wizards and weirdos had a barbie set up near the beach (Aussie slang. barbie => barbecue). Beach, food, music and all things crazy. Halloween festival alright. 

The parade started in the evening. When you've spent an afternoon in a crowd filled with the creepiest and whackiest costumes, a street parade fails to ignite your senses much unless there was something different. Scores and scores of creeps walked the streets, failing to impress. Then the cars drove by. Ah! Creativity unleashed and gone berserk. It was freak-a-bulous! There may be some who think all that blood and violence freely roaming the parade would have a negative influence on the children. Get a life! This was fun. 

Maybe next year, I'll get a full costume and go pub crawling. Or trick-and-treating. In any case, Halloween is marked as done on my wish tree. 

29 Oct 2011

When The Queen Was Here

Queen Elizabeth II was in Brisbane on what was being touted as possibly her last tour to Australia. Nobody said why they thought it was her last tour. I cannot help but wonder if anyone realized it sounded like she was going to die. Somehow even thinking that seems blasphemous. 

From the news stand, I gleaned information that she is the only reigning monarch from The Royal Family to visit Australia and in her 16 visits to this continent, she has visited all the states. She was coming to Brisbane to pay her respects to the flood-ravaged areas and affected people. 

Thousands of Brisbanites assembled at various points on both sides of the Brisbane River, starting from Brett's Wharf to South Bank, to get a glimpse of the Queen (and more, if possible). When I arrived at SouthBank Parklands, the place was jam-packed. I do not remember seeing this many people in Brisbane even at the famous Riverfire or the glorious Ekka! Jostling crowds? What's that? Do we have that many people in Brissie? Nyah! Turns out we do. It was easy to see what the newsreaders mean when they talk about the pull the Queen has.

What I should have expected, but had not, was the number of old people present on the day. Some of them could barely walk but they were there, waiting for Her Majesty, in the blistering heat of the Sunshine State's summer sun. They were in such awe of the Royal family! A number of kids in fancy dresses, with flowers, cards and gifts for the Queen, waited patiently for her with their parents. The excitement in the air was almost tangible. I heard one parent saying they had been waiting in the same spot for 4 hours! That's one thing that never fails to fascinate me about the people here. They wait for hours, camping with their families, for a 15 - 20 minute event. Don't they have to be elsewhere, doing other things? 

Each time a boat came close to the pontoon, the crowd held their breath. A happy old man to my left was giving a running commentary to the ladies around him. Every time he said the Royal Boat had arrived and he was wrong, the grannies chided him for the slip-up. It was like watching a movie shot at a different time period. A young man with a bevy of ladies on his arm, while he regaled them with his army stories. 

When the police boats arrived, we knew she was going to be here any moment. Click, flash, hands flew up  all around me. The ones at the back of the crowd were hoping to capture something on their cameras to take back home, even if a direct visual was hard to get. The announcer from the news channel that was running a continuous update on her trip said the Queen had been up on her feet waving at people throughout the boat-ride. At her age, it was an amazing thing. The crowd went crazy. 

Finally, the ferry carrying the Royal entourage arrived at the South Bank Cultural Centre pontoon and stopped. More hands in the air, more flashes.

"There she is, in red!". "No, that's Anna Bligh". "Oh look, Anna is wearing a hat!" "The Queen is in green, next to Anna". "I can see the Prince". "Where, where? I don't see anything" "They're on the top deck. Anna is wearing a red hat, the Queen is in green". This last was from our old friend, the commentator.

I stood tip-toe on my 2 inch heels and strained my eyes. It was hard to spot them. The man in front of me, with 2 little girls, had got an eyeful and bend down to let the others behind him get a view. I saw two figures - one in red and one in pale green - standing side by side on the top deck! There seemed to be some men in suits but it was hard to tell who they were. Well, I got my glimpse! By then I had clicked a few randoms on my camera and was hoping that I'd managed to get them in at least one of my frames. Here is what I got.

Ha ha ha! No, that's a picture from one of the newspapers online. Here's what I really got from my camera. If you peer hard enough, you might see 2 little spots in green & red. That's them alright. 

I am not even sure why I went there. In India we do not go ga-ga over The Royal Family, like they do here in the Australia. It was a sort of a historic moment and I suppose I wanted to be a part of it. Even if it meant being one of a hundred thousand specks in the dust. It was not like most of us had a hope in hell of actually getting to see her. In the end, all I got was a glimpse of someone or something in a spearmint green coat and hat that was apparently the Queen. The Queensland Premier Anna Bligh was more easily spotted in her scarlet suit & matching hat. There were a couple of men dressed up in guardsmen outfit, who might have been the Queen's men or fancy dressed men in the crowd. It was hard to tell. It would be a shame not to mention the Duke of Edinburgh but he did not exactly make the headlines or do anything unusual to note. Not even one of his famous gaffes that day. There was a loud roar from the crowd as they got off the ferry and walked down the aisle at SouthBank Parklands. As she walked down the pathway, the noise moved with her and hands flew up, holding cameras, iPhones and SLRs. When she passed a certain spot, the crowd disintegrated in a trice. 

It had been an hour in the sun and I had seen all I could. As I made my way back, I saw a woman sitting on her husband's shoulders trying to get a better view. Cameramen from news channels trying to capture the excitement for their audience were thrusting mikes at her for a commentary on what she was seeing. When they left, I asked her if she saw the Queen and she said she didn't. Well, she got her 15 seconds of fame while the poor husband was straining under her weight. Someone yelled that the Royal entourage was in the QPAC building and everyone turned in that direction. Sure enough, we could see unmistakable green and red figures surrounded by black suits, through the glass windows. 

By now, I was hot and hungry. It would have been impossible to try to catch my friend who was somewhere among the thousands. I messaged her that I was heading back, quickly waved at the construction workers peeking through the different levels of their building (lucky bastards got a good view without leaving their workplace) and took off.

As I weaved through the crowd, conversations floated into my ears. A group of teenagers were excited that they had seen a red hat, green had and squealed when one girl announced that she had seen Prince Charles. Of course, she meant Phillip but who cares, she saw him! An middle-aged woman was telling her friend that some people had fainted from the heat. An old man holding his wife's hand was making his way through prams and people, yelling "woman with a baby, woman with a baby". His wife might have been a "baby" to him but he didn't look like a woman to anyone. The Victoria Bridge was filled with barely moving people. The 3-minute walk across it took me 15 but I finally made it. Not before I heard one last comment from 2 young women - "Next time, we should get here at 7 in the morning, with blankets and deck chairs, so we can get a good view". I almost felt ashamed for wondering if it was worth coming this time. 

22 Oct 2011

I Am Free

There is nothing like lying on the grass, by the river, under a mildly cloudy sky, with the sun peeking ever so often. Twenty minutes of napping in a continuum of time and space like this is more relaxing than 5 hours of night sleep under the covers in the comfort of the bedroom. Warm and soothing.

The occasional drone of the helicopters, the squawking gulls, crowing birds and speeding boats are music in the backdrop. Not disturbing, merely aiding a thought-free, dreamless sleep. The dull, monotonous sound of distant traffic is almost the noise of water in the sea. The background noise that colours deafening silence and makes it bearable. 

So I sat there. Enjoying the feeling of being alone, the quiet, the peace. Understanding what the word relax means. 

I watched the colony of gulls and the lone Lewin's Rail strut about on their delicate feet. I wondered how such soft, light creatures weathered the bad elements of Nature. 

Watching them fly, it struck me that freedom didn't just mean the joy of spreading your wings and taking flight in a direction of your choice. It was embracing the gentle nudge of the wind, without clinging to it. It was also being alone, unattached. Living in the world without strings. Floating about freely. There may be others that come and go. You may be in a school or herd or colony. When you fly, you fly alone. 

To be free, you need to embrace and enjoy that solitude. 

And with that, I headed out to the markets. To meet new people, see the different wares they had on show and bring home pieces of the rest of the world, to enjoy in my lonely space. 

19 Oct 2011

Cut To Chase

The book started off well and the author managed to keep it up for a little bit. Soon, he started to lose me. He began to repeat himself here and there, cloaking the same points in a different garb. How about cutting to the chase, Stuart? He does not seem to have a focal point for the book either. 'Stay on the course’ he says but does he? It’s not clear till the end whether this book is intended for general life or projects or leaders – neither the audience nor the context is apparent. So much for ‘know your audience’, ‘announce your conclusions first’, etc.
Reading the chapter headings is quicker than reading the whole book as they pretty much convey most of the message. If you insist on reading the book, I would suggest a quick skim. It isn't terrible but it's isn't good either. I came out at the other end feeling a little like I could have made better use of my time. 
I’ve noted down almost all of the points here (removed a few too-obvious duplicates) and added notes on the right, where it could be interpreted in different ways or needed some clarity. This is a long read but it’s way lesser than reading the whole book. The post is worth one read. Don’t forget to make a note of your take-away points.
Speed Up
Cut to the Chase: And 99 Other Rules to Liberate Yourself and Gain Back the Gift of Time
By Stuart R. Levine
  • Cut to the chase                        Approach everything from your next phone call to the next 5 yrs of your career with clarity & focus. Know what’s important & what’s not
  • Just Start                              Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power & magic in it – Goethe
  • Get in early & go home on time
  • I got it                                        When you’ve understood what someone’s saying, let them know & get on with it
  • The first 20 minutes                    Plan plan plan. Get organized
  • You’re killing me                       When someone doesn’t get your “I got it” & keeps talking
  • Get over it                             Acknowledge what happened and let it go. Learn what you can from it & move on
  • It’s not always about you
  • What’s keeping you up at night? Make a note, write it down & get to it the next day
  • Don’t hide your passion         Let the enthusiasm show
  • Start with an end in mind               Know what you want before you start
  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Organize yourself first
  • Assumptions kill
  • Think in bullets
  • Trust your gut
  • Predict how long things will take
  • Tailor your message to your audience
  • What’s been going better lately – and why       Analyse your successes just like your mistakes
  • Explode out of the blocks               A good start is half the race. Start the morning off right. Do something to energize yourself
  • Every second counts
  • Know how things really get done
  • Build momentum
  • Make sure your handoffs (handovers) are clean
  • Bag consensus                   Involve key players and come to a consensus. Complete consensus if often impossible – before asking anyone for their input, decide how to decide
  • Break through silos
  • Appeal to their enlightened self-interest
  • Measure twice, cut once
  • Close the loop                          When a colleague introduces you to a new contact, tell your colleague when you’ve reached out to the new person & after you’ve connected, tell them how it went
  • Call an audible                         Anticipate change before it happens and react immediately
  • Beat change to the punch                Carl Jung once said, “If there’s a fear of falling, the only safety consists in deliberately jumping”
  • To speed up, slow down          Make a note every time you circle back to fix something. Review the ‘To Do’ list & highlight anything that looks like a redo. Get it right next time & every time
  • Teach people how to use your time
  • Treat others’ time as you would your own        People don’t mind giving their time if they feel it’s valued and helpful.
  • Know what’s being asked of you
  • If you want something, ask for it       The more specific you are, the faster you’ll get it
  • Tell them if the baby is ugly          
  • Cut to the chase without drawing blood
  • Make sure everyone has the map 
  • Tell them what’s on the test            Telling people how they will be measured will help them focus on the most important things.
  • Know your work style – and theirs
  • Clear the air                           Even if the dynamic between you and your colleague drifts back to “normal,” the unspoken frustration will affect your relationships, and potentially your work.
  • Create a ‘no loiteing’ zone
  • You can’t please everyone
  • Know when you’re not needed
  • Count noses                             Even if you’re not able to win everyone’s support, you should atleast know where everyone stands
  • Stay on the course
  • Don’t grandstand                        Don’t dominate conversations. Write your thoughts down & chose the best time to share them. Never cut off people. Talk less, listen more
  • Stay in touch                           With the technology, people, etc
  • Master the graceful exit                Recognize when it’s all been said
  • Look at the big picture
  • Know your weaknesses but play to your strengths
  • Think 3 moves ahead
  • Know when you’re stuck          With work, in your career, anywhere. Recognize when things aren’t moving forward
  • Make opportunity happen
  • Delegate
  • Life is a negotiation                   Define what matters most and be willing to lose the rest
  • Know when to wait & when not to
  • If you need a drummer, hire a drummer   Get the right person to do the right job (I interpreted the title initially, as get help if you need to)
  • Don’t be afraid to hire people you’re going to lose
  • Decide what not to do                   i.e. Prioritize
  • Addition by subtraction         Lose the people who take far more from your life than contribute or minimize their impact on it
  • Use pictures, highlighters              Highlight what’s important, don’t ramble on
  • On it. Pending. Done
  • Start with a punchline                  Give your conclusions before launching into a detailed explanation. It tells your audience why they should pay attention & what to look for. Don’t make them guess
  • Weed out your reading pile              You can’t do your job well if you don’t know what’s happening in your company, your industry, in the world. Read everything you need – develop a technique
  • TMI (Too Much Information)              There is such a thing
  • Good enough is good enough              Striving for perfection when “good enough is good enough” is a waste of time. Accept your imperfection. Do great work, inspite of it
  • Your time is your life                  Figure out what’s important in your life. Don’t be afraid to pull back from the things that aren’t
  • Cut down on the fire drills             Define the steps you’ll need to take to reach your goal. Then stick to them
  • When you hear something once, pay attention. When you hear it twice, act
  • Procrastination takes years off your life. Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment
  • Sweat the small stuff                   When you cut to the chase, don’t forget the small details
  • Don’t let a difficult person dominate your life
  • Renew yourself everyday         “A person should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul” – Goethe
  • Turn the page                           When you leave your work, leave the work behind