Christmas in Photos

Merry Christmas to everyone who’s still celebrating in their part of the world. It’s just tipped over into Boxing Day here and everything’s starting to wind down. Christmas seems to come faster every year, then it’s over before you know it.

We just had a quiet day this year; opened our presents in the afternoon and had a salad, with some berries for dessert. We live a fair distance from most of our family and Christmas isn’t such a big deal for us anymore. If my health improves I’d like to volunteer somewhere next year. I think that would be a great way to spend Christmas and spread some cheer.

That’s one thing that has really stood out for me this year. With the economy it’s been a difficult Christmas for many people but generally they’ve still been in good spirits. I’ve seen people saying Merry Christmas to strangers, shoppers wearing Santa hats, bus drivers decorating their buses in tinsel. It’s really brought people together this year.

Sydney comes alive during Christmas and I’ve been taking a lot of photographs to capture the festive season. I thought I’d share some of them, to show what our Christmas is really like. Some of the displays have been fantastic this year. And our tree came out pretty well too.

Wherever you are in the world, Merry Christmas. I hope you’ve had a wonderful day and have a peaceful rest of the year.

Christmas Tree (2009)

Christmas StockingsSilver Christmas StarGlass HouseSanta & Pink StarSanta & Pink BaublesSanta Kangaroos

White Butterfly (2)Bart & HomerGreen BaublesSnowman & Purple OrnamentTurqoise StarReindeer & Glass Teardrop

Aussie ChristmasRed BaublesFelt RudolphMagi & AngelChristmas Table DisplayReindeer & Glass Ornaments

We went for a bejewelled theme for our tree this year, with white tinges throughout. We’ve had some of the ornaments for almost twenty years now. My favourite decoration is the glass reindeer; it sparkles when light shines on it.

This was the first year where I fixed the tinsel and lights. I feel like I’ve grown up! The cord was so tangled though that it took almost an hour to undo. Bah humbug indeed.

Christmas Dinner (side)

Rudolph & PresentsChristmas DinnerChristmas MeatsBerry HeavenGold Coins & CashewsChristmas Salad

Potatoes & CarrotsGrape JuiceChristmas SnacksReady to EatChristmas CherriesChristmas Cake

It’s usually too hot for a roast so our Christmas dinner was a salad, with an assortment of berries and Christmas cake for dessert. Much less fuss and just as delicious.

The berries were my favourite part. They’re usually expensive, so we only get them once or twice a year. The blackberries were particularly nice and sweet.

Cheeky Elves

David Jones, Elizabeth St, SydneyDavid Jones NativityNativity (Three Wise Men)Nativity (manger)Nativity (animals)Holly & the Ivy

Holly & the Ivy (rabbits)Holly & the Ivy (moles)Joy to the WorldJoy to the World (animals)Joy to the World (Santa & sleigh)Joy to the World (angels)

Large Nativity SceneGood King WenceslasGood King Wenceslas (penguin)Little Drummer Boy (peasants)Little Drummer Boy (mice)Little Drummer Boy

These are from the Christmas window displays at David Jones in Sydney. They’re scenes from favourite Christmas carols and they were spectacular this year. They’d rival almost anything in New York.

I love the photo with the two elves. They were so excited that they kept bumping into people! I guess that’s what Christmas is all about.

Festive Pagewood

Santa & RudolphRandwick HouseFestive RandwickRandwick ChristmasRandwick DecorationsRandwick Santa

Festive MatravilleMatraville ChristmasMatraville Christmas (2)Matraville HouseMatraville House (2)Randwick Town Hall, Christmas

These are some of the houses around our area that have been decorated for the holidays. Outdoor decorations still aren’t that common over here but it’s exciting when you see them.

I can’t help but wonder what their power bills and carbon footprint must be like but I love the Santa sign. Very cute.

More photos are available on Flickr, if you’re interested. Enjoy. 😉

Aussie Jingle Bells

It’s hard to believe it’s almost Christmas again, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem like that long ago since we were wrapping gifts and singing Christmas songs last year. 2009’s gone by so quickly. Or maybe I’m just getting older.

I enjoy Christmas but for different reasons than I used to. I’m not religious anymore but I still enjoy the spirit of the season and the message of peace and good will. It’s the little things about Christmas I enjoy most; seeing the lights and decorations in the city, spending time with family and friends. That’s what Christmas is about to me.

To help get into the Christmas spirit this year I thought I’d post a fun Christmas song, like I did last year. This is my take on Jingle Bells, one of my favourite Christmas songs. I rewrote it to reflect a typical hot Aussie Christmas. It turned out quite well in the end.

In researching it I actually learnt a lot about the song. Apparently Jingle Bells was actually written in 1857 for Thanksgiving, not Christmas. Which makes sense when you think about it as modern Christmas celebrations didn’t start until later. Also there are actually four verses to Jingle Bells, which I didn’t know; you rarely hear the last two.

In any case, I hope you enjoy it. And have a wonderful festive season. 😉

Aussie Jingle Bells

Dashing through the house
In an old shirt and one shoe
Running late again
And you need the loo
Front door starts to ring
As the guests arrive
Bringing lots of gifts and pressies
Up the front drive

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

Now the pressies are unwrapped
We’re sitting by the tree
Lights are all turned on
Looks pretty as can be
We talk about old friends
And have a glass of wine
While the kids play with their toys
Out in the sunshine

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

Soon it’s two o’clock
We’re by the barbeque
Eating snags and prawns
And drinking beer too
Grandma’s made the cake
It’s a little dry
We try to eat it with one hand
While we’re busy swatting flies

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

The light is getting dim
It’s almost time to go
We take a family snap
Under the mistletoe
The kids are fast asleep
We’re singing Christmas songs
Don’t you wish Christmas day
Could last all summer long!

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way!

Red Sun Rising

Sydney Harbour Bridge, blanketed by red haze

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, blanketed by a red haze (photo: Ian Sanderson)

Sydneysiders woke to a strange sight early this morning. A massive dust storm had swept across the state, blanketing Sydney in a plume of dust that stretched for over 600km. It turned the sky an eerie orange-red and I’ve never seen anything like it. It felt like we had been transported to Mars.

The colour came from the red soil and dust of the outback, which had been whipped up and carried inland by fierce gale force winds; it’s estimated the dust plume travelled over 1500 kilometres to reach Sydney. Scientists are saying it might be the worst dust storm in NSW’s history, which I can believe. The pollution in Sydney was awful all day and you couldn’t breathe easily, even after the haze had started to lift.

I was still awake when the dust storm hit. It was incredible; the wind howled and the entire sky seemed to go blood-red in minutes, so much so that I couldn’t see more than 20 metres down the street. The last time I can remember anything like it was after the Black Saturday bushfires, when the sky reflected the fire and there was an overwhelming smell of ash. But even those skies didn’t compare to this; this was like stepping onto another world.

With the UN climate conference beginning in New York, some green groups have suggested that it’s more evidence of global warming. I’m not so sure. Usually I’d be the first person to agree but nature doesn’t need a reason to be wonderful or terrible; I think sometimes these kind of freak occurrences just happen and we shouldn’t ascribe everything to global warming without evidence. I found it very beautiful, despite the chaos it caused.

Unfortunately I didn’t think to take any photos; I didn’t realise how widespread it was at the time. But there are some incredible photos on Flickr and I thought I’d post some of them to give an idea of what it was like. There’s still a dusty smell in the air and the winds are still strong even now, 18 hours later.

I doubt I’ll see anything like it again in my lifetime. Unless I go to Mars.

Under the Bridge

Another view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, from beneath, the eerie light reflecting off the harbour. The bridge just seems to fade away and you can barely see the other side. (photo: Ian Sanderson)

Opera House

Here the Sydney Opera House has all but disappeared, with the dust at its peak in the early morning. Ferry services were cancelled until the haze cleared. (photo: NSW Maritime)

Oxford Street

Sydney’s Oxford Street seems transformed, the sidewalks almost deserted. The sepia tones remind me of a scene from the early years of photography. (photo: Cowboy Dave)

Sydney Towerluna-park

Two of Sydney’s iconic landmarks, Sydney Tower and Luna Park, swallowed by the dust storm. Luna Park was closed due to the dust, winds and poor visibility. (photos: Cowboy Dave and Tolomea)

St Marys Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral, lit up a brilliant shade of pink-red. You can see where some of the dust has settled on the grass as well. (photo: JezKerwin)

QVB

Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, in the heart of the CBD, as the haze has started to lift. Looks like many people found masks or are using tissues to cover their mouths. (photo: Dr. Snafu)

Sydenham Station

Sydenham station is one of the major railway links in Sydney. The station was blanketed by the red dust and trains were late or cancelled for much of the morning. (photo: MOles)

Sydney CBDDarling Harbour

The Sydney CBD and Darling Harbour; the streets are almost completely deserted on the left, while on the right it’s more like Baghdad than Sydney. (photos: Malcolm Tredinnick and Original Nomad)

Bondi Beach Park

Bondi Beach Park in the early hours of the morning. You can’t see it here but some people still took an early morning swim, despite the pollution and low visibility. (photo: sebr)

Traffic-Button

A traffic button at a pedestrian crossing, showing the accumulation of dust. It covered most vehicles as well. You wonder how much work it will be, cleaning up tomorrow. (photo: Malcolm Treddinick)

The Change Within

Thousands rally to support Mousavi

Thousands attend a rally in Isfahan supporting Mousavi (photo: faramarz)

Today bloggers from around the world are uniting in support of the protesters and human rights in Iran. What’s happening in Iran is despicable and I’m proud to join them today; to see innocent people left beaten and dying on the streets, their free speech and hopes trampled into the ground, is something everyone should condemn.

I had planned to write a poem but I haven’t had enough time to finish it; it’s taken longer than I thought and I don’t want to compromise it, so I will post it later this week. I thought I’d post some more general thoughts about what’s happening in Iran and free speech instead.

Recently there has been a debate raging in Australia about censorship and free speech, particularly online. The government wants to introduce a mandatory internet filter to block child pornography and other harmful content but it has met strong opposition. The problem is that it slows connections and doesn’t work as intended; there are ways around it and it has blocked other content as well, including an abortion site and others which have nothing to do with abuse.

I’m strongly against the filter, not just because I consider it censorship and there is no way to know what’s on it but also because I fear it could be exploited later on. I would much rather have an opt-in filter that parents could use, rather than one which applies to everyone regardless.

But earlier today, while I was watching the scenes from Iran, I thought how lucky I am to live in a country where we can have an honest and open debate at all. So many countries can’t. That’s what we’re seeing with Iran right now.

I can’t imagine living in a country where I could be arrested for touching the hand of a female friend; to not be able to have a real conversation in public or listen to popular music; to have to follow a strict code of dress. Sometimes I think we take what we have for granted and I can understand the protesters’ anger, to have felt so close to those freedoms, only to have them disappear.

The situation in Iran has become much worse since my last post. The crackdown has intensified again, with local members of the British Embassy being detained by security forces and a violent clash with protesters outside the Ghoba Mosque on Sunday resulting in numerous injuries. Mousavi also appears to be distancing himself from the street protests and a partial recount of votes has found no sign of fraud or error, creating more doubts.

It’s becoming much harder to see how the protests can continue from here, facing overwhelming force and waning support. While the opposition seems to be entering a new phase, trying to be cautious and find new ways to protest, without the majority of clerics siding with the protesters it’s unlikely they will be able to succeed.

If change is to come to Iran now I think it will likely have to come from the inside out. It’s now become a matter of changing perceptions and pushing back boundaries, letting ideas spread over time; once the culture begins to change, there’ll be another chance. Even if it’s not until Khamenei dies.

Given how serious the situation has become I’m glad for events like this Bloggers Unite day. I know some people will dismiss it and other events like it as meaningless but I think what’s happening in Iran should be condemned by every person who values freedom and democracy in the world. This and the petitions online give us a way of showing our support.

I don’t expect anything to come from it but if it means that even one person in Iran is encouraged by our support and knows they aren’t alone, then I think it’s worthwhile. We live in an open society but being free also means we know what people have to lose, so I think it’s even more important that we stand up to show our support when it’s needed.

If there’s something we can learn from this, whatever happens, I hope it’s that people realise the world is a much smaller place than they think. Fifteen years ago it seemed like other countries and cultures were so distant but the world is a lot smaller now and as technology continues to spread, our differences fade away; we realise we want the same things — freedom, hope, peace — and that’s what I see on the streets of Tehran. That we are the same; the rest is just politics.

The more I think about it, though, the more I feel that if we truly want peace and change in the world, then we have to look within ourselves first. Even if it’s just to set an example, to show we’re willing to do more than just watch, that we will change our ways as well. By making a difference in our own lives, we can pass it on and help others in the world.

I wonder if people looked honestly at themselves, how many would want to make a change? Would their eyes be open enough to criticise themselves, to see their flaws? I know it’s something I want do more; to be less negative, less selfish, to see the world in a different way. Perhaps through the changes in my life, I can then help someone else.

That’s what I take away from what’s happening in Iran. It’s an opportunity for all of us to look at what’s really important, the things we want to change in the world and in our own lives.

If we do that then, whatever happens, the protesters won’t be forgotten.

To our friends in Iran, please stay safe. We’re thinking of you.

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
– Saadi

Gone Too Soon

I’m still stunned by the last couple of days. It’s hard to believe we’ve lost two of the most iconic stars of the twentieth century in one day.

I’ve been reading the tributes from around the world for both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett but I think this one by Cathy Babao Guballa captures the feeling beautifully; that their lives, having achieved so much and touched so many people, should remind us of how fragile life really is, and to enjoy what’s important in our lives every day.

Jackson’s death in particular has affected me. These last two days it’s seemed like he has been everywhere; every shop is playing his music and every now and then you see a small crowd gathered in front of a TV, watching a concert or one of his music videos on DVD before moving on. It’s like everyone wants to be a part of it, to share their memories. The last time I can remember that was with Princess Diana’s death.

I was always more of a casual fan but had great respect for what he achieved, particularly in his early career; breaking down racial barriers long before Oprah, Tiger Woods or Obama, and advancing modern dance to another level. At times watching Jackson dance was like watching a ballerino, he was so graceful; other times he was so raw, primal. He always dominated the stage. I doubt we’ll see someone as multidimensional as he was again.

He was also an underrated songwriter, writing many of his best known songs, and I don’t think anyone (except perhaps The Beatles) could have rivalled the quality of his output during his most successful period, with Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad, and Destiny, Triumph and Victory with The Jacksons.

If I had to choose a favourite song it would probably be Man in the Mirror. It’s a beautiful song about how making a change in the world has to begin with making a change in your own life first. It’s a different side of Jackson where you’re carried into the song by his voice alone; with the events in Iran at the moment, the message seems just as relevant.

As we all know his later life was plagued by bizarre behaviour, and while I’m not excusing it I always felt most of it was due to his childhood. It inspired his creativity but he always seemed desperate for the childhood he had never had… even trying to recapture the appearance of youth through plastic surgery, until it ended up becoming a form of self-mutilation.

But regardless of that, his music endures and will always be with us. He gave millions of people great joy for so many years and that’s the way I want to remember him: so young and vibrant, like a burning star dancing in the sky.

I think it’s Fawcett’s smile I’ll remember best. The majority of her career was before my time but I remember first seeing her in a small role in Logan’s Run, and then in reruns of Charlie’s Angels in the 90s. The thing which struck me about her then and still does now wasn’t so much her beauty but her charm; some people can be physically beautiful but ugly in other ways, but there was just something genuine about her that seemed to shine through.

I always thought she was a better actress than people gave her credit for as well; she was excellent in The Apostle, opposite Robert Duvall, but of course she was more important as a cultural icon in the 70s and how that affected the roles of women. Charlie’s Angels showed that women could be powerful and successful in traditionally male-oriented roles, something few shows had shown before. She also represented something for America at the time; following a bloody war and the Watergate scandal, for everyday Americans she and Charlie’s Angels presented an empowering image and a distraction from the chaos surrounding them. I think that’s why she was so popular with both men and women, particularly with the poster and her fashion.

My enduring memory of Fawcett, though, is of how she continued to handle herself with grace and dignity right up until the end. Even while the media hounded her, and even when the cancer returned, she never gave up and still had that same beautiful smile on her face.

I feel very sorry for her family; her son is my age. Hopefully through her struggle she’ll help to save many more lives.

I guess there are certain days which will always stand out in my memory; like when Kurt Cobain or Michael Hutchence died, or when Heath Ledger or JFK Jr passed away, or Princess Diana. Now I’ll be adding two more names to the list. They’ve left us too soon. But with memories to last a lifetime.