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Beached British Whales: Succumbing to Aussie Enthusiasm with Sand in My Knickers.

Great Expectations.

There is a strange phenomena that occurs throughout Australian adolescence which is perpetrated by none-other than their so-called “loving” parents. The tradition goes as follows: at 7 am on a Sunday morning the parents-in-question emerge from a red-wine hangover and wake up their gently slumbering progeny, force a super-speed breakfast, then hurtle them down to the local beach where they will be made to sprint, do push-ups, fake a drowning and save each other’s lives – and the sun has only begun to rise.

The Australian Surf Life-Saving program is – in theory – a fun way to keep kids active while teaching them vital life lessons. It also gives the parents an opportunity to network and socialize with other communities from their neighbourhood. In reality, it’s a gigantic pain in the arse. Here is my experience…

Growing up along the coast was sometimes a bit of a struggle for yours truly: I was a chubby, English kid who said things in a funny accent – an accent so funny that I was made to repeat myself whenever I mentioned ‘yoghurt’, ‘vitamins’, or ‘dancing’. I still don’t understand why my parents ever decided that signing me up to Surf Life-Saving was an ingenious idea: surely I could learn how to not-drown and be bored at the local swimming pool? Apparently not. As I mentioned earlier, my parents and I had to wake up at un-godly hours on a Sunday morning to hurry down to Mullaloo beach before all the parking spots where taken, which they normally were by 7.10 am. I had to squeeze my awkward, pre-pubescent figure into a humiliating bathing suit, while sticking a spandex-tight cap over my gigantic forehead. Because of my unusual tallness for my age and abundance of baby fat, (I’ve had breasts since I was, like, 9) I would innocently strut about the beach getting seedy looks from old, leathered men.

The day would begin with me being thrust into groups with sporty, superior Aussie kids who outright ignored my general presence, (bloody show-offs), while my parents stood in the shivering cold having forced conversation with the overly-enthusiastic, freckled-skinned adults. My dad would often slyly knick-off for a while to have a smoke, so my mum was forced to have surface-level chats with another mum who would list off the various accomplishments of her over-achieving children. I imagine it went something like this:

“Yeah, so, Jackson, Braydon and Ashton have all got their Bronze-Medallions, so they’re pretty much qualified to run the show, ya know? Then Tara, Storm and little Shelley are doin’ real good jobs so far so I reckon they’ll be followin’ in their brother’s footsteps, ya know?”

“That’s wonderful.”

“How’s Cass goin’?”

“Oh Cassie is doing fine. The other day she managed to sneak an entire packet of Mars Bars from the kitchen and ate them all under her desk.”


Once we were split into groups and factions depending on age and what I’m convinced was prejudice against the “fat one”, we were made to jog up the beach, up a sand-dune, back down the beach, then swim about 100 metres out into the ocean. This was always terrifying for me as I had an allergic reaction to waves and the blue, spidery creatures that lingered in its nests. It was during these times in my childhood that I would learn of the classic Aussie motto for life: “Have a go!” These 3 words boil down to simple components of encouragement, embracing new opportunities and conquering your basic fears, however, when a small girl is quivering and crying over the fear of getting sucked into the expansive blue of the ocean, maybe we should let her be? I was to come across this tedious encouragement over and over again in school when I was forced to hold a poisonous snake or climb up a mountain or abseil into a cave or anything that wasn’t being alone in my room learning the dance routines of Britney Spears’ videos reading.

Eventually I would be coaxed into the water with a caring adult, where I would immediately get dumped by a gigantic wave and emerge a few seconds later with buckets of sand in my bathers, snot pouring out of my nose and my skin chicken-poxed with the stings from jellyfish. What marvellous fun!

Then there was the game called ‘Flags’. Any person who has ever been forced to play this game has probably just shuddered a little. ‘Flags’ begins with a row of, say, 10 kids lying face down in a line with their chins resting on their hands. After a suspense-period of around a minute, a starting gun would be shot and the kids would have to jump up and race for pieces of hose sticking out of the ground 100 metres away, to which there were 9 for the 10 kids. Whoever missed out was eliminated. I’ll give myself a small amount of credit here for genuinely trying the first couple of times – I tend to get super competitive even though I’m pretty much useless at everything – but my feeble legs simply couldn’t run fast enough, although I’m sure some kids actually let me win a couple of rounds which is another characteristic of an Aussie childhood – everyone deserves “a go”. It’s a nice thought but somewhat futile seeing as I saw what I was doing as a banal torture.

After a full summer of early Sunday mornings, forced enthusiasm and a dash of trauma, I finally graduated to green caps division for the under 12s, this meant getting a 3-metre foam surfboard which was inevitably going to live in the shed as a crooked home for spiders and cockroaches. When the next summer began I was finally confident with the ocean: I would happily ride the waves to shore or dive under the bigger ones with poise and ease, and I was even contemplating surfing lessons. However, my parents pulled me out that summer after a mere couple of weeks when there were a few shark sightings and a couple of attacks. Apparently mum wasn’t willing to compromise my life over the opportunity to “have a go!”

I had always wanted to grow up and become like the older girls at the surf club; they were tall, tanned, fit and beautiful. They were fearless and ran into the ocean cutting the waves with their powerful yet elegant legs and diving through the deep abyss with confidence and ease. Well, I’m sorry childhood-self, but that’s not who you are today, although you aren’t that scared of waves anymore. Okay…maybe a little. I still like to call myself a bit of a beach bum though, despite the fact that when it’s warm enough for beach-weather, I lie on the sand slowly roasting while reading a magazine. So, I’m still a little awkward, I still opt for “yoghurt” over “yoiiighurt” and I still recoil around rough oceans, but I can honestly say that if it weren’t for my Aussie peers encouraging me to push myself, I wouldn’t have grown into the confident, fearless person I am today, and to that I say bloody-fair-dinkum-gumnut-emu-wallaby-streuth-n-farkin’ THANKS!

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Chemicals, Neurons and Darwin: How to Create an Irresistible Love Potion.








“It is a risk to love.
What if it doesn’t work out?
Ah, but what if it does?”

–        Peter McWilliams

Let me paint you a picture: an eighteen year old girl crumpled in her SpongeBob Square-Pants pyjamas, icing a spotted fruit-cake, while mascara-ed tears and streams of snot pour down her face.  Sound pathetic? Read on…

My tragic tale of woe starts a couple of summers back, on the day of my grandad’s 80th birthday where I was in my kitchen icing the cake with a broken heart. It may sound clichéd, but I wasn’t feeling this way without warrant. You see, my partner of two and a half years had broken up with me the day before. This was my first, proper, unconsoling, heart-wrenching, no-one-is-ever-going-to-love-me-again break up, and I wasn’t taking it all too well.

My mum finally took over the cake-making duties, and let me go upstairs to cry in the shower. Later that night at the party, I put on a mildly brave face while various family members asked me, “Where’s Adam?” With each polite curiosity, the ever-expanding lump in my throat threatened to burst until finally, a crude uncle called out across the room, “CASS! DID YOU AND YOUR BOYFRIEND SPLIT UP?! BLOODY SHAME, LOVE.” The room went deathly silent. I nodded, put down my plate of sausage rolls and left the party. Thanks a lot, dickhead.

The weeks following the break up were a torment of not being able to physically keep food down while feeling like I was constantly walking down a spiralling staircase, with every footstep becoming harder and harder to take. An array of heart-break songs seemed to stalk me every where I went – I can’t count the number of times I heard Sinead O’ Connor warbling Nothing Compares To You, mixed with my continuous play list of Songs-To-Kill-Yourself-To on my iPod.  Work was absolute torture: not only did I have to still show up – my boss didn’t think that “Adam b-b-broke u-up w-w-with m-m-m-e!” was a decent excuse – but I had to serve customers with a tear stained face from the chair, as I couldn’t even manage to stand up. Well, what was the point in standing if you’re just going to die alone anyway?

Adam and I had been living together before the break up, which meant the entire ordeal felt like what I imagine a divorce must feel like. We had to separate all our CDs and books and talk about the lease of the apartment and selling the furniture, all while I had to come to terms with the fact that my previously foreseen future with Adam was not going to happen and that – worst of all – he didn’t love me anymore. That was the hardest part of the whole thing; having to accept that love doesn’t always last, despite what my rose-tinted glasses were showing me.

The one thing that kept repeating through my mind was a very simple, yet philosophical question: Why? Why did this happen? How can you just stop loving someone? And dammit – What is love?

After a few solid months of cask wine, Colin Firth movies and rubbish re-bound sex, I finally pulled myself out of the standard post break-up blues, looking tired and thinner, but ready to start exploring life, and knowledge again. I joined the world of the Interwebs and stumbled upon an article by the ABC entitled, Love Trap. It begins with,

“We call it love. But the most exhilarating of human emotions is merely nature’s way of keeping the human species alive and reproducing.” (Watson).

Huh. Could the solid theories and practical research of science begin to explain my doomed love life? I kept researching and found that actually, yes it can. New Jersey Anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher says that she divides love into three basic components: the first is lust and the “craving for sexual gratification”, the second is that clichéd, romantic love, “the elation and euphoria of first love” and the third system in the brain is the settling down period or, “that sense of calm and peace and security you could feel with a long-term partner”. (Qtd. in Watson, “Catalyst: Love Trap”). In other words, love is nature’s way of making sure that we reproduce and keep our flawed species surviving.

When Adam and I first started dating, I imagined I looked like a cartoon version of myself: a permanent, dazed smile on my face, love clouds floating around me, tiny birds and forest animals dressing me in the morning – the whole shebang. I can’t necessarily say that I had a powerful surge of lust and craving for sexual gratification at that time, simply because I was a sixteen-year-old virgin and the idea of sex petrified me. In fact, the idea of anything sexual was a total mystery to me, as by then I’d only snogged a couple of spotty males at school, and they weren’t exactly top on my list of throbbing memories.

I did, however, find myself thinking about Adam incessantly. When we weren’t together watching Disney movies and furiously making out, I missed him horribly.  I later found out that when a person is in the early stages of love, an intoxicating chemical called dopamine sprays all over the brain, which triggers a passionate surge of pleasure. (Qtd. in Watson, “Catalyst: Love Trap”). An experiment conducted in Pisa, Italy by psychiatrist Dr. Donatella Marazziti found that couples who were in the early stages of love think about each other during a whopping 85% of their day. Dr. Marazziti analysed blood samples of twenty couples who had been in love for less than six months, and noted that their serotonin levels were abnormally low, and equivalent with the serotonin levels of patients suffering with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Basically, these couples where crazy-obsessed with each other. (Qtd. in Watson. “Catalyst: Love Trap”). Helen Fisher tenderly notes in an article entitled The Drive to Love: The Neural Mechanism for Mate Selection, that;

“Romantic love begins as an individual comes to regard another as special, even unique. The lover then intensely focuses his or her attention on this preferred individual, aggrandizing the beloved’s better traits and overlooking or minimizing his or her flaws.”  (Qtd. in Sternberg and Weis. 88).

I couldn’t agree more. I definitely managed to convince myself that Adam was special and unique and unlike anybody I’d ever met before. I was driven by the idea that he was “the one” or that the starts had aligned and he was my destined, kindred spirit. Young love…what can I say?

During these first gooey stages of love, a cocktail of hormones are released from the limbic system in the brain, and more specifically, the hypothalamus. Adrenaline then kicks in, contributing to awkward reactions such as sweaty glands and an increase in the person’s heart rate. You can thank adrenaline for your creeping blush and flop sweating. Alongside adrenaline come endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and vasopressin. (Chapman, 6) Endorphins are the feel-good chemicals that are released during exercise and – even better – during sex. They are responsible for the sense that everything is right and peaceful in the world, after a mind-blowing orgasm. Thanks! Oxytocin is an incredibly important chemical in this love tonic, as it encourages cuddling between couples and increases pleasure during sex. (Ackerman qtd. in Chapman.). It is also responsible for higher levels of trust and attachment, while a high level of dopamine is responsible for pleasure and motivation. As serotonin levels drop there is an increase in obsessive thinking and aggression (we’ll call that passion, perhaps?) and finally, vasopressin is responsible for higher levels of sexual arousal and attraction. (See fig. 1)

Fig. 1. Your Brain in Love. James W. Lewis, Jen Christiansen; United States; Scientific American; Feb 2011; Web; May 2012.

There is also evidence that shows that women tend to experience much stronger effects of oxytocin than men, as women are lucky enough to have more oestrogen which makes the oxytocin receptors more sensitive. That would certainly explain why I and a lot of women out there find it difficult to separate sex from love. This chemical concoction can surely account for the transcendent feeling of harmony I was feeling when I was younger and helplessly in love. Writer Jeffery Kluger from Time magazine says that when you’re in love,

“…there are the flowers you buy and the poetry you write and the impulsive trip you make to the other side of the world just so you can spend 48 hours in the presence of a lover who’s far away.” (Kulger)

Love can drive you mad – in a romantic sense that is. To quote French writer Françoise Sagan,

“I have loved to the point of madness, that which is called madness, that which to me is the only sensible way to love.”  (Qtd. in Goodreads.com)

This was the kind of literature I was reading when I was in love, which certainly perpetuated the wonderful madness. Little did I know back then that not all love can last. After a solid year or so of being together, Adam and I started settling into a lover’s routine. I was no longer an individual alone, but instead I was a part of a couple and completely reliant on that other person for my own happiness. In the end, I found out the hard way that that kind of reliance isn’t exactly healthy. After I turned eighteen, Adam and I found a cosy two-bedroom one-bathroom unit in Scarborough, just a five-minute walk to the beach. If my friends asked me what I was doing on any given night, I would respond with, “We…” or “Adam and I…” and slowly became part of a very grown up partnership. This part of my story is what Fisher refers to as the “attachment” stage.

She says,

“…attachment is a deep, almost cosmic connection to another human being. [It has] evolved to enable you to tolerate this individual at least long enough to rear a single child as a team.” (Qtd. in “Catalyst: Love Trap”).

This is where everything tends to boil down to Darwin’s theory of evolution and the survival of the species. A biological aspect of the speculation of love is called pheromones, which are chemical signals that are released by the body to attract or fend off potential sex-buddies.  (Chapman, 10) For years it has been known in the scientific community that pheromones exist in animals, but recently some scientists have begun to consider their existence within humans, although there are still debates over the accuracy of these claims. Various tests and research have shown that pheromones can determine whether or not a person is right for you depending on your respective immune systems and human histocompatibility complex or MHC (Kluger) – a cluster of genes that are fundamental to the immune system. (Twyman) Basically, scientists’ have speculated that we subconsciously pick a life partner whose MHC is startlingly opposite to our own, hence if we procreate, our kids would inherit a more diverse MHC and therefore a stronger immune system to scare away any nasty diseases.  (Chapman, 11) Honors student at the University of Rhode Island, Heather M. Chapman says,

“Biologically speaking, love seemingly depends on your MHC.”  (Chapman, 11)

Women’s menstrual cycles are also key players in this dating game. In 2011 the New York Times reported on an experiment conducted at the Florida State University, where over the course of several months, male participants were asked to spend a few minutes assembling a puzzle of Lego blocks with a fellow female student. The 21-year-old student was asked to “keep eye contact and conversation to a minimum. She never used makeup or perfume, kept her hair in a simple ponytail, and always wore jeans and a plain t-shirt.” (Tierney) Later on, each man was asked to rate the woman’s attractiveness, and the research showed that the subjects were more attracted to her when she was ovulating. Another study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior showed that strippers who were ovulating earned on average $70 in tips, where as those who weren’t averaged $50 in tips. (Kluger) Although one should always be skeptical with findings such as these, if you consider how a large part of our decision-making is subconscious, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that this kind of research has revealed more layers of our subconscious.

Evolution plays a much bigger part in all this than you might like to think. As writer Jeffery Kluger from Time magazine bluntly puts it;

“As far as your genes are concerned, your principal job while you’re alive is to conceive offspring, bring them to adulthood and then obligingly die so you don’t consume resources better spent on the young.” (Kluger.)

The study of evolutionary psychology and sociobiological thought has managed to theorize love down to the chemicals that control us, and our roles as baby-makers in this officious Darwinian play. (Oikkonen) The logic asserts that there is an urgent need for organisms to procreate in order to pass down our genes to succeeding generations, and to diversify our gene pool. This, in turn, takes our modern ideals of love rightly off the pedestal we’ve created for it. I’m in no way saying that love isn’t special, but with over 7 billion people in the world, (worldometers.info) you surely can’t be so naïve to believe in sentimental notions such as “soul mates” or “the one”. Hey, I did! But with all those chemicals pulsing around my body – that and the fact that a boy actually liked me – you can’t blame me for being cheesy.

So: girl meets boy, they fall in love, they stay together for a solid two and a half years, and then the love fades and the girl is broken-hearted. I didn’t know this at the time, but the sleep disturbances, the lack of appetite, the intrusive thoughts and the actual physical pain in my heart, all came down to the classic symptoms of grief. (Field) I was grieving for the loss of that person in my life, grieving for the failed relationship, and grieving for the future that was deteriorating before my eyes.

Yes, love is certainly a concoction of chemicals, driving us to mate and pass down our genes, but that doesn’t make it any less special or complicated. It certainly doesn’t explain why people can fall out of love, or why sometimes, people don’t fall in love at all. Just because you know how the pain receptors work in your body, for example, doesn’t make stubbing your toe hurt any less. Science is rational and logical and love just isn’t, and fuck it, we’re a damaged species and love is just part of the brutal human condition.

So, would I go back and do it all again? Of course I would. Having all this knowledge of love and the domineering role of science wouldn’t have stopped me crying my eyes out in the shower while eating a tub of ice cream. Nor would it have stopped me from falling in the first place.

You should never deprive yourself of the magic of love out of fear of getting hurt. Life is too short; so let yourself get carried away.

Tom Robbins wrote,

“Love easily confuses us because it is always in a flux between illusion and substance, between memory and wish, between contentment and need.” (Robbins, 69).

I think that just about sums it up.

Works Cited:

Chapman, Heather. “Love: A Biological, Psychological and Philosophical Study”. Senior Honors Project. University of Rhode Island, (2011):  8-11. Web. May 2012.

Field, Tiffany. “Romantic Breakups, Heartbreak and Bereavement”. Scientific Research: Psychology. (2011) n. pag. Web. May 2012.

Fisher, Helen. “The Drive to Love: The Neural Mechanism for Mate Selection.” The New Psychology of Love. Sternberg, Robert J. and Karen Weis. Eds. London: Yale University Press, 2006. 87. Print.

Kulger, Jeffery. The Science of Romance: Why We Love. Time Magazine. 17 Jan. 2008. Web. May 2012.

Oikkonen, Venla. Mutations of Romance: Evolution, Infidelity and Narrative. Volume 56. Number 3. Project Muse. Fall 2010. Web. May 2012.

Robbins, Tom. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. New York City: Bantam Books. 1990. Print.

Sagan, Francoise. Goodreads. Web. May 2012.

Tierney, John. The Threatening Scent of Fertile Women. The New York Times. 21 February 2011. Web. May 2012.

Twyman, Richard. The Human Genome. Welcome Trust. 30 July 2003. Web. May 2012.

Watson, Ian. “Catalyst: Love Trap”. Catalyst. ABC. 30th September 2004. Web. May 2012.

Worldometers.info. Web. May 2012.


Filed under Opinion Pieces.

A Day in the Life of an Old Pervert.

Old men are often going to chat up younger women; that’s basically a fact of life. As a platinum blonde I tend to get this a lot, especially with men in the 60-70 age bracket who saunter into my work and stare at me. That stare with all it’s greasy connotations is a whole issue in itself and deserves special attention in a separate article, but today I’m going to share with you my experience on Thursday morning.

A bit of background on my job: I work as a retail assistant in a second-hand bookshop. I price stock, alphabetize, read, and have awkward conversations with sweaty customers. This Thursday, a man with grey hair, a startlingly red face and an over-hanging stomach waltzes in. I looked up from my book briefly and said, “Hellohowareyou?” This is known as the standard acknowledge-then-ignore tactic, which I use on all of my customers.

He replies with, “Oh…you know…crap. I’m an artist you see. But more importantly,” he leans on the counter, “how are you?” He stares me directly in the face. One eye twitches nervously.

“Oh yes I’m fine thanks. Just reading.”

“Mm yes. You’re quite cute.”

“…thank you.”

At this point I have to note something important: when you work in customer service you are obliged to be bubbly at all times, even if the customer is getting upset or is making a scene, or if he says something like that. There are other customer’s around and I don’t want to scare them off by swearing and yelling at some guy. He has only complimented me, after all.

“So, what type of artist are you?”

“Guess.” He whips out his iPhone and shows me stifled landscapes and charcoal nudes. I, of course, say that they’re lovely. But then…

“I’ve noticed you because you’ve got really great, short hair so I can see your neck and your big, beautiful eyes. I really like the way you stand and hold yourself.”


He then starts going on and on about how some of the models he’s had have been shaved and how he prefers the “pubic region” shaved because there are beautiful lines and shadows – and all the while I’m standing there nodding wondering what he’s going on about, while hoping that the phone rings or somebody buys a book or SOMETHING!

Finally he asks me if I would model for him. After noting my “small breasts and nice, big hips” he says I would be a perfect model for him.

Now, I need to be honest here, because what are blogs for if not to tell the truth? I genuinely considered it. What was going through my head was, “Oh well you’re applying at schools and universities to do nude modelling and this really is quite similar and cash in hand is always nice although being naked in his house is a bit weird and what if he has a sex dungeon and what if all these past models of his are dead now and maybe you’re being too judgmental here because he might actually be genuine so think about it and stop being so prejudice against men but holy crap I can’t wait to tell the guys about this.”

He gave me his card, told me to contact him and left. I looked up his art online and although his drawings were technically good, they didn’t have any life in them. They were all too stiff. About 15 minutes later he came back, saying he was hanging around the shops waiting for his wife. I immediately thought: “I bet you don’t even have a wife.” He started telling me about his art and how people are asking for commissions and what not, and that when he draws nudes, he needs to take photos for future reference to perfect the piece. Alarm bells ringing yet?

That was the line for me (even though the line should have been crossed ages ago). I wasn’t totally happy with the idea of being arse-naked in this guy’s house, but apparently he’s going to take photos as well? He certainly didn’t tell me that with the first sales pitch. I can’t think of anything worse than having naked pictures of myself floating about this guy’s home. He was bloody pushy too: “So will ya do it?”

Finally I said, “Look: you’ve walked into my shop and straight up asked me to do nude modelling for you and you somehow think I’m not going to be creeped out by that?”

He said, “Well okay fair enough. But if you give me your phone number I can let you know when I’m in town next and we can have a proper chat?”

“No. Look. I’ll text you okay?” And with that, he left.

Only tonight have I managed to work up the courage to tell my parents what happened. They know that I’ve applied to do nude modelling for art classes and have no problem with it, but this is what my dad had to say about this dude:

“Send him a text on my phone. Tell him that you’re not interested, and that he’s not to contact you again. If he tries calling or anything then I’ll speak to him. I’ll tell him that no fucking means no and what does he fucking think he’s playing at, and that I know where he lives, what he does, I know every-fucking-thing about him. And if he tries anything else, I’ll take a fucking baseball bat to him.”

Point taken.

Here’s what I learnt:

1)   No, not all men are rapists or perverts or serial killers. But not all men can be trusted. People can’t be trusted, and I’m far too naïve to constantly try to see the good in people.

2)   There are gems like my dad, who care about me and want to protect me. But I can’t protect myself.

3)   I’m not safe. Although this guy never threatened me – the whole thing is kind of funny actually – there is nothing stopping him from waiting outside my work and following me to my car if he wants to.

4)   I need to be wary of old men who say that you’re cute and ask you to do nude modelling for them.

I just wish I didn’t feel so vulnerable all the time.

I’ll try to end on a lighter note: my dad was telling me that back in London, there was this rubbish-man who had an obsession with mum. He started off quite chatty and pleasant, then got creepy when she started seeing him everywhere, at the park, the bus stop etc. At one point he told her that she was the “sexiest woman in Walington.” Mum felt uneasy and told dad. One day, this bloke was two houses down collecting rubbish, and was walking up the garden path towards their house – note: he didn’t actually know mum lived there. My dad saw him, ran out his front door, jumped over two fences and pinned him against the wall by his throat. I don’t know exactly what he said to him, but mum never saw him lingering around her again.

As I closed their bedroom door I heard this and it made me smile.

Dad: “Am I your hero?”

Mum: “Of course.”


Filed under Opinion Pieces.

A Nostalgic Review: Stasiland by Anna Funder

Image from Wikipedia







I miss Germany. I miss Berlin and my family, the cobbled streets, the miserable looking people with funny accents, the cold and the damp. I miss the culture, the tainted history and the anxiety of adventure.

I first picked up a copy of Stasiland by Anna Funder when I’d just settled back into normal life at home after three months of back packing around Europe. The book was unbelievable, and I connected with it on so many levels: my admiration of Anna Funder living in East Berlin, speaking the language and tracing people’s lives; the streets and train stations I had only just been wandering through weeks before; and the shock of a history that is so close to my heart, and yet still so alien.

As a piece of creative non-fiction, the writer Anna Funder does a fantastic job of mixing the elements of story telling with a heavy-handed topic of German history, while using a deeply personal tone throughout. Every time I picked up the book, I would be transported back to the streets of Berlin, while learning the sad history that is almost never spoken about and completely unacknowledged. My family were lucky enough to be living in West Berlin when the wall came up, but they would always tell me stories of people doing all that they could, risking their lives, to go over the wall from East Berlin, over into the West. Stasiland is a grave, honest depiction of what life was like living in East Berlin before the wall came down: how there was no privacy, your lives would be tracked down to the finest tee. How even in a European culture, hundreds would be slaughtered or tortured for saying what was on their minds by the sheer dogmatism of the Stasi police, those involved who truly believed in the cause.

What makes this book so special, is how Funder manages to intersperse the lives of others and their stories, with her own personal journey of writing the book and researching into an abandoned past. On page 54, for example:

“The next day the phone calls start very early in the morning. I hadn’t thought it through – I hadn’t imagined what it would be like to have a series of military types, who had lost their power and lost their country call you up at home.” (Funder 2002. 54)

She makes the other people’s stories incredibly personal so that the reader is able to relate to the person and feel incredibly empathetic towards them. I found myself getting so caught up in the book, while also learning about a group of people, and a part of history I was ill informed about. That is a very powerful tool of creative non-fiction: to be able to tell a deeply enriching story while teaching the reader something new and important.

What I loved about the book was how much detail and honesty she allocated to each person’s story. She interviewed a range of people who lived in the Stasi state, from those who were captured for trying to escape, to those who perpetuated the ideologies of the government. I found it very brave of Funder to write about issues such as these, especially coming from a non-German perspective, as this kind of very recent history has somewhat been swept under the rug. My uncle Wolfgang once told me that Germany was in “very dark times” back then, and it still amazes me that Berlin and Germany was ever like that.

The entire time I was reading the book, I kept feeling so grateful to be living in a country where I am free to do as I please. Stasiland puts you in the heart of the Stasi state, and allows you to walk in the shoes of those under that kind of oppression. It made me speculate on how this kind of thing could happen, how easily a government will take military control over a nation of people under their misguided or warped ideals. Sarah Coleman, the associate editor of The Worldpress Review, conducted an interview with Funder in 2003. In response to a question about what moved her so much about the first story Funder uncovered – Miriam Webster, a teenage girl who was put in prison after she tried to escape, and later lost her husband to likely torture by the Stasi – Funder responded:

“I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but I think I can say now that I was looking for stories of courage. In a world that’s divided into Us and Them, it takes extreme courage to resist oppression—when you come across that kind of courage in a young woman like Miriam, it’s inspiring. I think I’m interested in it because I’m yellow-bellied myself—you’re always interested in what you don’t have.” (Funder, 2003)

I can confidently say that this book changed my world thinking as a writer. I was always so sure that I wanted to write about stories or issues in such a way that makes is appealing to the masses, something that people will want to read. This book made me lean more comfortably towards the path of creative non-fiction, whether I write a book of my own or continue with my blog posts and articles, I want to write something powerful and evoking. This book has made me want to write about topics that people either don’t know about, or have been forgotten, for example, those who are still struggling to savage a normal life after the horrors of the 1991 Bosnian war. As a writer, I want to give a voice to those women in Bosnia who were repeatedly raped during the war, or the children of those rape victims. I’ve recently gone through a stark shift in how I see the world, and Stasiland certainly sparked that shift. More than anything, it angers me that we don’t talk about these kinds of issues, and that’s something that I want changed in our thinking.

The atrocities of mankind can only plunder ever forward into yet more horrific realms, if we stand back and idly forget our past and do nothing. Anna Funder gave a voice to the voiceless, and has made me determined to do the same thing.

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The Mr. Darcy Syndrome: Where the Fuck is My Night-In-Shining-Armour?

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Oh my! Doesn’t that just make your toes curl? Or rather, doesn’t that make your stomach flip, and – like me – your eyes to roll sarcastically? Okay…that was a lie. I LOVE Pride and Prejudice, but I do think that watching this movie as a love-struck teenager certainly built my expectations of love, intimacy and relationships, a little too high. These expectations only went through the roof after watching Swayze classics like Dirty Dancing and Ghost:

“I love you Molly.”

(Silent, beautiful crying) “…ditto.”


Stepping out into a world of hungry men, I was gob-smacked to find that not only were men my age (or older for that matter) not tall dark and handsome *, but they certainly don’t wear billowing white shirts which cling to their muscular chests when they gallantly dive in a pond (because they’re so complex?), nor do they shroud you with compliments and jaw-dropping, romantic words. And hello? Why don’t men keep chocolates and flowers on them at all times?

Because that’s a load of bollocks.

If anything, I’m still disappointed that men don’t tap dance and break out into song a la Gene Kelly (and Swayze), but that is clearly an unrealistic and ridiculous expectation. What I’m not particularly happy with is the awful amount of pressure men have on them, to do or say something romantic and heart-felt…spontaneously, during a sunset, while astride a white horse. The pressure must be immense for young men to woo a girl and say the “right” thing and to not step on any toes. Surely we’re not THAT pedantic? Well…

Since I can remember, every romantic movie I’ve ever watched has had the following conventions:

1)   A couple who start out hating each other, but end up falling madly in love.

2)   The girl must be neurotic, yet mysterious – oh, and look like a sexy librarian.

3)   The guy must be resistant yet goofy, with just the right amount of stubble.

First of all: if you meet someone and you instantly don’t get along with them on first sight, chances are you’re not going to get along with them after that. There have been the odd exceptions, but ultimately why would you bother?

Secondly, women who are neurotic and shy aren’t mysterious at all, considering within the first five minutes of meeting them they’ll end up telling you intimate details of their life, and that’s not endearing but rather embarrassing as hell.

And thirdly: men who are stubborn yet goofy and playful are usually the types of guy to get stroppy if you dare to pay for your own movie ticket, all the while wearing a Pokémon t-shirt.

Sounding romantic yet? Just wait…

With the rise of skewed versions of modern love, men are now demanded to be ancient, irresistible, fucking vampires as well! Apparently it wasn’t cheesy enough in the 80s (or was it the 90s?) to have Tom Cruise stutter out his line, “You…complete…me…” nowadays the leading man has to have a transcendent, cosmic, and (gag) spiritual connection with the leading lady. Dear Twilight: thanks for fucking everything up. Not only does Twilight perpetuate unrealistic fantasies on young teens of love and relationships, but it says to young girls out there that if you so happen to find “the one” make sure you do all you can to change who you are, never see your family or friends again AND attempt suicide if he dumps you. Because that’s…love? All the while one of the main points of conflict in that god-awful series is the fact that he might bonk her to death. Wow that’s so…yeah.

I don’t see why women can’t be romantic as well. How un-feminist of me, right? Well no. Feminism was founded on striving for equality, so why can’t women be romantic too? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing something nice for someone you love, whether that’s baking cupcakes, buying flowers of giving a gobby – the whole point is in the giving.

So yes, Hollywood might have messed up my perceptions and expectations of love, but to be honest, I much prefer the reality to the fantasy.

ALSO – If you’re in the mood for a realistic romantic movie that’s very un-Hollywood, check out Weekend. Brilliant film.


*Boyfriend is the exception.


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Review: Snakadaktal and Alison Wonderland @ Villa Nightclub Friday 30th March

I hate clubs. Without a doubt every dirty club I’ve managed to stumble in has been overflowing with the following elements: that drunk girl sobbing her heart out on the pavement outside because he-didn’t-call-me-and-why-doesn’t-he-love-me-and-am-I-pretty? Before then throwing up onto her “friend’s” shoes who’s desperately trying to calm her down while secretly hoping he’s going to get a gobby that night. I then proceed to walk in and am bumped into by sweaty sixteen-year-old boys in basketball v-neck t-shirts, who apologise for spilling their slush-bucket-mohito drink down my dress. As I squeeze my way through the smoky dance-floor (smoky due to the tacky fog-machine and the collective stale breath of screaming eighteen-year-olds) I’m stabbed repeatedly in the feet by the torturous stilettos of a thousand booty-shaking girls. Until, finally I’ve arrived at the side stage where I’m able to stand relatively peacefully until a line of pissed blokes try to determine whether I’m a guy or not before shamelessly hitting on me.

And that’s just at Villa. After waiting a solid twenty minutes to order my vodka and tonic, I finally get to relax a little and watch a handful of genuinely trendy teenagers make some seriously beautiful music. Snakadaktal are a five-piece indie-pop band from Melbourne who were made famous by that one song played on Triple J incessantly. Last year, they won the Unearthed High competition and have since recorded an EP, made some groovy YouTube videos and have this year been touring around Australia pleasing peoples eardrums with their delightful tunes. Like 99 per cent of the crowd I had rocked up to the gig knowing only that one song , and was pleasantly surprised when they began the set with dancey-pop tunes and very mature harmonies. I noticed among the skinny, flannel-clad hipsters with who were stealthily stealing drinks (standard club move; we’ve all been there) that everyone was happily bobbing their heads along to the droning beat of synthesised pop which sounded very familiar to Foals last album.

The band themselves were having a great time dancing bare-footed and glittered on stage producing song after song of tight, well-written material. As always the drummer was having the most fun bashing awkwardly away at the drums which seemed too small for him, reminding me of the gawky boys in high school who’d shot up in year eleven and hadn’t quite gotten used to their long arms and tall frames. The crowd woo-hoo’d and yippee’d when the band finally played Air – their song made famous on Triple J, and the band clearly loved the feel of a roomful of people singing along in jumbled unison to their lyrics. At every pause and new song I was honestly surprised at how grown-up and professional these kids were, every song being perfect to the tee and producing sounds that I can confidently say I did not hate. Despite my sarcasm and genuine contempt for everything, I can’t stress enough how good this band was. You can find their delicious tunes on the Unearthed website or good ol’ fashioned Myspace.

At 1am Sydney DJ Alison Wonderland boogied her way onto the stage in her six-inch, killer heals, and immediately started producing some funky beats interspersed with the odd Daft Punk chorus and Beastie Boys tune. Despite her freakish energy, I was in no way feeling up to sticking around for another 2 hours to watch the set, but I’m guessing it was much of a muchness. My friend and I walked home after stopping off in a dirty Maccas with our ears ringing, our dresses sticky with alco-pops and the satisfaction of a good night.

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My First Vibrator a.k.a. La Petite Mort

Masturbation. I do it. You do it. We all do it. If you say that you don’t then you’re probably lying. If you genuinely don’t then I seriously wonder how you function in normal society, because that’s all it really is; it’s a normal thing that women dare not speak about. It’s accepted that men wank prolifically, sometimes even twice (or more) a day, but the sheer thought of women indulging in such a decadent practise is simply unheard of. We don’t even have a decent list of common slang used to describe the pleasure; women certainly don’t do the five-knuckle shuffle, we don’t crown the king, flog the log, slap the salami nor do we beat the stick. An inventory of terminology from craigslist.org shows that women sometimes partake in fanning the fur or nulling the void, or we can get a stinky pinky by buffing the weasel, polishing the pearl, or my personal favourite: Genital Stimulation via Phalangetic Motion – how erotic.

Let me set the record straight: women masturbate. Your tutors, your sisters and even your mum – they all do it. So why do we seem to find it so wrong and uncomfortable to talk about? My group of friends and I only ever really talk about it after a bottle or two of vino, and even then they seem aghast that I – a 21-year-old female – do not own a vibrator. There are two reasons for this: the first is that I’m poor (note: student) and the second is my irrational fear that my parents are going to find it while looking for something in my room. Even worse though, what if they hear it? What if – somehow – they hear the vibrations through the walls of my vagina then through the cemented barriers of the ceiling above my bedroom? The sheer thought is wholly terrifying. My irrationality does not, of course, stop me from doing it all together: I, like most other women in their twenties masturbate, but not as frequently or vigorously as men seem to do. Continue reading

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Jesus Vs. Barthes: Investigating the Importance of Religion in a Post-Modern Society.

Allow me to ask you an uncomfortable question: do you believe in God? If you do, then why and to what purpose does faith have in your life? It could be something that gives you daily strength, something that gives you hope, or even something that you were simply brought up with, and you never thought to question. Obviously there are no wrong answers here, I only ask because the idea of faith and religion is very curious to me and no one likes to talk about it.

Religion and politics are often awkward dinner conversations that people tend to enthusiastically avoid; however, a few weeks ago I had such a dinner with some old and some new friends. Amongst the clatter of knives and scraping of forks, everyone was buzzing around the table talking of trivial issues, until someone mentioned climate change. Knives and forks rested, and the buzzing ceased. Climate change imminently deviated into politics, then gay-marriage, then abortion, and then –the dreaded – religion. The perspective from my old friends was typical, however, my new friends had views that I still find difficult to comprehend – and choose not to relate here. Continue reading

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When Lying Becomes Reality.

Q: It is acceptable to play with the truth in life writing as long as no-one gets hurt.

I was born on a dreary summer’s day on the posh side of South London in the bleak nineties. My arrival into this world collided with the much-anticipated final between the Gunners and the Spurs, and my father was none-to appreciative of that fact. My birth was what is formally known as a “traumatic birth”, in that if it weren’t for a daring, burly midwife, I might not be here today. Yes, I almost died, however it does allow for a cracking story. To start, I was too big for my mum, so big in fact that I got uncomfortably stuck on the way out. This is common in childbirth, but when the child – namely, me – starts turning an alarming shade of blue, the panic stations are on.

It seemed that the only way to get me out and screaming was for the local midwife to sit on my mother’s bulging stomach and push me out that way. Which is exactly what happened. I squirted right out and almost fell off the table if it weren’t for the trusty umbilical chord to catch me at the last minute. After a heart-wrenching second of silence, I burst into a choir of screams, was cleaned, weighed, and at 10 pounds and 1 ounce, was the biggest baby girl born in the hospital that year… Continue reading

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Not Hearing the Pitter-Patter of Tiny Feet.

Don’t get me wrong; I love kids! They’re cute and pudgy and have darling-little-teacup-faces, but frankly, I don’t want any.

Firstly: I don’t understand why we’ve supposedly made leaps and bounds with our stretch for equality, yet women are still expected to have children. Apparently: one day – in my late 20s – a ‘motherly instinct’ will kick in and I will be in a dashing need for a child. I will stop whatever career changes and advancements I have made, and will insist upon popping out a little mini-me. I honestly don’t see this happening…

Babies are lovely, and can often bring lots of joy. On the other hand, they’re gross. They require 24-hour attention and every waking moment of your life has to be dedicated to your child. Your independent life as you know it is over. It’s not the sleepless nights or the nappy changes that bother me; it’s the knowledge that everything I have achieved up to that point will either cease to exist or slow down. I have a niece – she’s just turned one and is the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. She makes me laugh and generates a loving, gooey feeling inside me; then again, I can only listen to The Wheels On The Bus so many times before I get an aneurism. At one point while playing with her, I wanted to sit down and relax for a moment, but when you have children those precious moments vanish right out the door. Along with your sanity. Continue reading

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