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Recently I typed ‘sadness’ into Google just to see what would happen.  I’d been thinking about doing it for weeks and then, like succumbing to the temptation of a stiff mid-evening tipple, I finally did it.  It was a warm Sunday morning, I had uggboots on my feet and a mug of tea beside me on the desk, and the sun charged through the timber blinds in thick white stripes.  I had no idea what I was looking for or what I expected to find.  Was I after some kind of revelation?  Or a reinforcement?  Or was it simply an experiment?

I’m a fan of sadness, the word, and the activity, and the atmosphere.  If a book is reviewed as being ‘packed full of sadness’ I’ll rush out to buy it.  If a friend describes a movie as being ‘impossibly sad’ I’ll make a note to see it at the earliest opportunity.  If a colleague decides someone is ‘a bit of a sad character’ I’ll track down the person and befriend them.  I find Sundays sad, which makes them one of my favourite days of the week, along with Fridays.  I love Gorecki’s ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ and play it once a year (full disclosure: I’m listening to it now as I write this).

So what did Google unearth for me?  First up was a brief Wikipedia entry complete with two pictures, one a child crying, the other an appropriately mournful man in a bowler hat.  Then came a link to ‘Sadness the video game’ which, when finished, will offer ‘associations with narcolepsy, nyctophobia and paranoid schizophrenia’.  Third was a YouTube link to the film-clip of Enigma’s famous 1990s pop song, which is a rather jaunty concoction of house beats, keyboard washes, and Gregorian chants.

Then came a series of mental-health links.  Finally there was a list of images – photographs, paintings, sketches etc, all homemade by the looks of it – with titles like ‘Sadder than sadness’ (which sounds too much, even for me) and ‘French sadness’ (which doesn’t sound entirely legal) and the ominous ‘Will come to take sadness’.

Then I went to the front door because someone had knocked.  Though no one had knocked; I was just hearing things.  But on the footpath stood a young man in red T-shirt and blue jeans and white joggers, beside him an old long-haired sheep dog on a lead, her head down and tail limp.  Clearly needing to cross the road, the young man, who looked as fit as a daily jogger, checked left and then checked right and then checked left again.  The sound of a car coming though there was plenty of time to cross.

But the young man and his dog didn’t move.

They waited until the road was completely deserted in both directions before going.  And then I understood why: the dog was so frail that it took minutes to cross the road by slowly, determinedly, putting one paw in front of the other; even the pram-ramp on the other side seemed too much.  But the young man so patiently, so kindly, so gently, urged the dog to keep moving forwards, just keep going, we’re not far from home now, you can do it, you really can, because we’ll do it together.

And so they did.

(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, October 10 2009)

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Recently, while reading a review of a famous ex-pat Australian novelist’s latest masterwork, I came across a reference to Henry James’ What Maisie Knew. Now, I haven’t read James’ novel, which may well be a crime, but it did get me thinking.  If there was a novel called What Nigel Knew, what exactly would be in it?  I considered the question, but after an hour of pacing up and down, all I had was a six-foot high pile of notes on things that I might know but couldn’t be absolutely sure.  So I set myself a challenge: by the end of the day I was to identify just three pieces of knowledge in which I have complete and utter confidence.

Thankfully, I came up with the goods.

1. When feeling blue, plant something.  If you find yourself in a bit of a funk, go outside, get a pot, terracotta’s the best, get some soil, put the soil in the pot, get a plant, put the plant in the pot, pat the soil down, then give the plant some water.  When all is done I guarantee you’ll feel better, everything with the world – and I do mean everything – will be alright.  And just so you know that I walk the talk, I did this last Tuesday, when I found myself concluding that I may never be as good a writer as, say, a certain famous ex-pat Australian novelist.

2. The first cold day of winter is always a treat.  This is true.  When you’ve woken to the great, still sky, when you’ve put on your ugg boots and gone to get the paper, your breath’s ghosting in front of you, and the paper is dusted with frost.  Then, back in the house, you switch on the heater and fill the loungeroom with the smell of burning dust.  Despite the heater staying on for hours, you still have to get out your grandmother’s mohair throw so you can do your usual weekend thing of spending hours on the couch, beside you a plunger of coffee and a packet of Caramel Crèmes, and you get lost in, well, a famous ex-pat Australian novelist’s latest master work.  It’s just bliss.  (Special Note: should they occur on the same day, Knowledge Item No. 2 is outweighed by Knowledge Item No. 3, which is below.)

3. Sunday afternoons are melancholic.  This is an irrefutable fact.  As soon as 3pm Sunday hits, the glums start rolling in.  Now, for me, I’m happy to report that the Late Sabbath Day Sadness hasn’t anything to do with the proximity to five consecutive days of work – I get to spend my days in the arts and you won’t find me complaining about that.  It’s just that this time of the week makes me feel as if I’m the lovechild of Winston Churchill and Leo Tolstoy, which isn’t a good thing.  No amount of dog walking, lap swimming and/or Tai chi yogalates will get rid of the feeling.  Tomorrow I’ll just have to remember Knowledge Item No. 1, and put it into practice.  Again.

At the ripe old age of thirty-nine and a half, this is what Nigel knows.  It’s not much, certainly not enough to fill a novel.

In fact, it’s barely enough for a column in a newspaper.

(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, February 16 2008)

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