“Eventually man, too, found his way back to the sea. Standing on its shores, he must have looked out upon it with wonder and curiosity, compounded with an unconscious recognition of his lineage. He could not physically re-enter the ocean as the seals and whales had done. But over the centuries, with all the skill and ingenuity and reasoning powers of his mind, he has sought to explore and investigate even its most remote parts, so that he might re-enter it mentally and imaginatively … Moving in fascination over the deep sea he could not enter, he found ways to probe its depths, he let down nets to capture its life, he invented mechanical eyes and ears that could re-create for his sense a world long lost, but a world that, in the deepest part of his subconscious mind, he had never wholly forgotten”.
Water and sunsets – are there any two other things that are so consistently awe-inspiring? In the past year since moving house, I have seen many beautiful sunsets from my front lawn. However, we don’t live close to water, and I don’t think that there is anything better than a sunset experienced on the beach. A few weeks ago we decided to be spontaneous and drive down to the beach for a relaxed dinner. It seems counterintuitive to me to write that we “decided” to be spontaneous. I’m reminded of Maude Flanders (from The Simpsons) going away to Bible Camp to learn to be more judgemental. Certainly, ours wasn’t entirely a spontaneous decision. We had agreed that we would leave Saturday open and see what we’d like to do, but the beach had been thrown around along with my suggestion that I lie on the couch for the evening and bemoan the fact that the wine bar Bin 273 on Rundle Street would be a perfect place to go; had it not closed years ago and become a Thai restaurant and then an upscale boutique. Every so often I like to let a night take you where it will, but I also derive comfort from at least having a rough skeleton or starting point. That’s why, on the way there, I kept debating internally – and much to Bob’s mild annoyance, externally – whether or not I should ring the Largs Pier Hotel for a booking. I didn’t, and we were lucky to get a table. This put me on edge. However, after dinner when we could walk on the beach, the ball of nerves that is a considerable part of my day-to-day experience receded from the shore.
There is a lot to be said for spontaneity and trusting one’s decisions. In a five-part series (see, I told you) of articles for Psychology Today, Leon F. Seltzer writes that spontaneity is likely linked to the psychological concepts as mindfulness (being in the present moment) and the immersion that comes from the mental state known as flow, which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as “joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life”. Marine biologist and researcher Wallace J. Nichols would suggest that one of the best places to facilitate a mindful state is by water. Dr. Nichols came up with the concept of Blue Mind, which he sees as “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment”. He believes that “it is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion. It takes advantage of neurological connections formed over millennia, many such brain patterns and preferences being discovered only now, thanks to innovative scientists and cutting-edge technology”. So, perhaps without realising it, my decision to be spontaneous at the beach wasn’t a bad choice after all. Plus, we got to see whales swimming not ten metres from where we walked on the sand; and cute puppies walking the beach with their companions.
Of course, spontaneity need not be only achieved at the beach. From what I’ve read, spontaneity is a bit like a muscle that should be exercised. That isn’t always easy. Funnily enough when I started to draft this post, my friend Madeleine texted me to ask us to lunch the following day. We already had plans. She understood, and told me that she was just trying to be spontaneous. I appreciated her effort because I increasingly find that by the time I’ve come up with a list of people I’d like to catch up with because it’s been to long, or things I’d like – or feel I have – to do, there isn’t really much room for spontaneity. However, last Sunday, after successfully mounting an internal case (Perry Mason would have been proud) for not going to the gym to face the dreaded rowing machine, we were at a loose end when an afternoon birthday party was cancelled. I suggested that we see a movie, and so we looked up the listings and decided on Hail, Caesar! The film wasn’t on until seven o’clock, which left us with a few hours. On a whim, we texted our friend, Beth, and asked her out for a drinks at a nearby pub. Good conversation over beers followed: now that can be flow, as Professor Csikszentmihalyi would agree.
I’m glad we acted on a whim to catch up with Beth, and then to see the film. Hail, Caesar! was a delightful wink to the studio system and a Hollywood of time’s passed with the inimitable touch of the Coen brothers. Film aficionados will enjoy spotting the inspiration for various characters, subplots, and flicks made by the fictional Capitol Pictures. I thought Alden Ehrenreich, an actor I was not familiar with, was excellent as the studio’s oater star, Hobie Doyle; and that Channing Tatum as a song-and-dance man was a revelation, at least to me. There are treatments of faith, Communism, and moral ambiguity, but I’ll avoid spoilers for the recently-released film. Also, there would be a lot of ground to cover, and while I’d like to explain to you the many intertwined stories, to take the words of Hobie, “Would that it twere so simple”. The Palace Nova Eastend cinemas also offer wine in three pouring sizes: standard, feature length, and epic. The actual film runs a little over 1 hour 40 minutes, but the film within the film is an epic, so, you know…I don’t think anyone will judge you for getting the epic-size option.
In preparing to write this article, I started to wonder if spontaneity or doing something on a whim is related to the personality dimension openness to experience. Robert R. McCrae and Paul T. Costa, Jr. are very well-known for their work on the Five-Factor Model of Personality, with openness to experience one of the five traits, along with conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Two acronyms that I wish I had learnt years ago to aid remembering these traits are OCEAN and CANOE. Aren’t they really too perfect for the point I’m trying to make here? Interestingly, I came across the notion of aesthetic chills, defined by Professor McCrae as “transient emotional responses to music or other experiences of beauty”, and which are strongly associated to openness to experience. Avram Goldstein published some early work on chills in 1980. He called them “thrills”, perhaps because this was the ‘80s and in the era of Reagan everyone was looking for a few. In that work, commonly reported stimuli that caused thrills were great beauty in nature or art, as well as musical passages (the most frequently endorsed); scenes from movies, plays, ballets, or books; physical contact with another person; climatic moments in opera, sexual activity; and nostalgic moments. One of the stimuli that endorsed less frequently by participants was parades. I understand – unless the parade is being preceded by “raining on someone’s”, I’m not usually that moved. I’ve probably had more than my share of chills from sunsets and water. Perhaps they come from that feeling of anticipation and that anything is possible, which I have found comes from looking at an infinite ocean, listening to a great piece of music (in fact, that anticipation and possibility is how I described Teddy Geiger’s album The Last Fearsalmost three years ago), good conversation over moreish food and drink, or a spontaneous day of activities. Where better to get the chills than at the beach? Perhaps avoid recreating that roll in the waves by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. I imagine you’d end up with sand everywhere.
The pictures in this post are from my night at the beach. If you do decide to use them elsewhere, you may attribute the sunsets and water to God and/or science, but please credit the capturing of those moments to me.
Saturdays have never really done it for me. I’m probably in the minority, but I prefer Sundays. Part of the reason for my mild aversion to Saturdays is because, until relatively recently, I didn’t really have them. While I was studying at university, I worked 9-5 every Saturday for almost nine years. First there was a job at a department store, then one at a supermarket, and finally, while I was a PhD student, Saturdays more often than not were spent at my office desk writing lectures and catching up on research. Or washing the coffee cups that I’d used in the office during the week. Caffeine consumption surely increases the closer a PhD student gets to thesis submission. PhD students tend to be “close to thesis submission” for about three years. This meant that I had few free Saturdays, as well as regularly chapped hands from the no-frills dish soap kindly provided by the University.
I will digress for a moment to tell you about the department store job. This is not really anything to do with Sunday, but I recently did some research on my old stomping ground. The position was over Christmas, and some of us (i.e. me) might still have our trees up, so it’s at least relevant to the season. I also can’t rule out not working at all on Sundays. Although I have no such recollection, I wouldn’t imagine that even 15 years ago the opportunity wasn’t seized by retailers.
The department store gig at David Jones was a mere few months, but rather memorable for two rocking horses named Nimble and Nipper. You see, I didn’t work in, say, men’s shoes or haberdashery (because, well, it wasn’t 1975). I worked in the Magic Cave. This is where Santa takes up residency in Adelaide every year. I don’t care about those vicious rumors that he’s also been spotted in a couple of the other department stores around town, the Surf Lifesaving Club, or even enjoying pintxos and sangria down Gouger Street with someone who is definitely not Mrs. Claus. The true home of Santa Claus in Adelaide has always been the Magic Cave. If you’re wondering why Santa chooses to stay here over the holiday season, Adelaide was just named by The New York Times as 1 of 52 places to visit in 2015, and is the only Australian city to be on the list. Evidently the trip a few friends and I (a sextet in the purest sense of the term consisting of Carlo, Luke, Mark, Paul, Simon, and moi…that’s Paul and Simon, not Paul Simon) took to New York in 2011 wasn’t enough to sour them on our city, even if it did the people. What can I say? I’m sorry we misconstrued the true meaning of the Meatpacking District.
These rather engaging, if somewhat wooden, equine have been draw cards at the Magic Cave since the early part of the 20th Century. Nimble has been there since 1914, and Nipper followed a little later in 1926. The Magic Cave was originally housed in the John Martin’s department store in Rundle Mall. On 18 November, 1933, the first Christmas Pageant made its way down the main streets of Adelaide, and Nimble and Nipper “with their attendant jockeys” were on hand (“Father Christmas Arrives Tomorrow”, The News, November 17, 1933, p. 8). Even then, the “well beloved Nimble … was hailed with delight by the crowds of children” and “when Nipper, the smaller pony, followed, their joy was complete” (The Adelaide Chronicle, November 30, 1933, p. 60). If you say neigh to horses, there was also a seven-foot high Christmas pudding. To provide some perspective on how long Nimble and Nipper have been part of Adelaide’s collective affection, on the same page of the News article it was reported that “Clark Gable’s Distinction” was that he “Did Not Fall in Love with Greta Garbo” while filming a movie called Susan Lenox. Readers were told that a half-page picture of Mr. Gable “printed on art paper, suitable for framing” would be in the paper the following day.
Here’s the Christmas Pageant from 1980 (Nipper and then Nimble appear 45 minutes in and close to the arrival of Santa Claus/Father Christmas).
I worked at David Jones in late 2000, shortly after the opening of its sparkly new building. The store had inherited the Magic Cave from John Martin’s when that much-missed store closed after 132 years of trading. I was tasked with being a “rocker”, which is exactly what it sounds like. You essentially grab the ear of the horse that you are tasked with rocking (in the most humane way possible) and use your same-side leg to move the rocking base while a child rides it. Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never bothered to find out whether the horses who I worked with were the originals. While I would like to say that I was too busy at the time, the only things I really remember from that year off the top of my head are dancing to the song “Who the Hell Are You” by Madison Avenue, and putting a picture of Sydney Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe in a PowerPoint presentation for an assignment.
Having long since given up hope that Madison Avenue would stage a comeback, I decided to email the good people who run the Pageant. It turns out that the current Nipper and Nimble are likely from the time when John Martin’s expanded from its flagship to also have a number of suburban stores (which I think was in the 1960s). The original Nimble still exists ensconced safely away, but the very first Nipper is said to have been a straw horse. Eventually a wooden Nipper was made. While I wasn’t working with the originals (and frankly one of them sounds like a fire risk), it’s kind of neat to think they’d be there since the 1960s, a turbulent or, dare I say, rocky time (all right, I’ll stop now).
But returning to Sundays. I think the reason that I like them is that Saturdays are filled with too many expectations. Now I know I’m once again writing about Saturday when I should be focusing on Sunday. It’s unfair to Sunday, much like relentless comparisons between Jan Brady and her more glamorous sister Marcia. But it’s here that perhaps the difference lies. People expect Saturday to be perfect. While Jan’s middle-child syndrome meant that she could fly under the radar, quietly achieving and doing well in school, there was so much more expectation on Marcia. When Marcia was less than perfect, even through no real fault of her own, she was considered a failure. The famous case in point is the episode “The Subject Was Noses”, also known as the time Marcia got hit with the football. All it took was a ball to the face and hunky Doug Simpson put the kibosh on their impending date. Marcia was then stuck with nerdy Charlie. I don’t care what brave face she put on under all the bandages – it wasn’t Charlie she wanted in that tic-tac-toe lineup during the show’s opening credits.
Sunday (AKA the Real Jan Brady) doesn’t have such expectation attached to it. It is largely still considered (at least implicitly) a day of rest and, if you are a person of faith, worship and quiet reflection after church. Of course, Sunday trading has become the norm in a lot of Western countries including Australia. But even then it’s far from unanimous. In Germany, you’re constricted by something called the Ladenschlussgesetz. Some states in America still don’t allow car sales to go ahead on a Sunday under “blue laws” that attempt to maintain Sundays for worship. Even those driven by more secular interests may find that not a lot is open. As a result of this tradition, Sunday has largely been a day where it is expected that you will do very little.
I’m a person who has a very hard time relaxing. So for me, a day when there is no expectation is just wonderful. No one can really mess up a day of rest. Okay, those who are religious might worry that they’re not being pious enough. But if you’re worrying about that, chances are you actually have nothing to worry about.
Sundays seem perfect for walks in the museum, reading that book which just wouldn’t feel right on a Saturday, or doing very little at all and still feeling that you’ve accomplished something. In high school, I used Sundays to write the essays that I liked doing the most (or despised the least): Ancient History and Italian. In between, I’d watch reruns on cable TV of The Invaders starring Roy Thinnes as David Vincent. It was a later series from Quinn Martin, the producer of The Fugitive. In his first series, the villain was known to be “the one-armed man”. In The Invaders, the aliens threatening Earth were only distinguishable by a pinky finger that jutted out weirdly. And that they liked to annihilate anyone who got in their way.
As I mentioned, it is hard to stuff up a day of doing nothing. But sometimes one likes to be contrary. It has only been relatively recently that I’ve found the joy in Sunday. It was really a forced few weekends on the couch after some particularly busy work weeks that I started to realise how great this could be. Gradually, the couch moved to reading outside on the deck, to cleaning out a cupboard, to writing blog posts like these.
I think the opportunities posed by a Sunday are obscured by early experience. I haven’t always loved Sundays. Sundays were largely dreary and meandered at home when you were a child. There was nothing to do. The television shows you – or at least I – loved were largely on during the week (for enquiring minds, mine were A Country Practice, MacGyver, Family Ties, and a short-lived show about policewomen called Skirts), and toys that were exciting on, say a Wednesday, were a bore. It’s kind of like in that episode of The Twilight Zone where the ventriloquist dummy comes to life, but only Cliff Robertson can hear him. In that case, Cliff Robertson was tormented – rather than excited – by that dummy coming to life. None of my toys really tormented me. Maybe my knock-off of the Teddy Ruxpin reminded me that I didn’t have a real Teddy Ruxpin. But this was the ‘80s – children weren’t such brand whores then.
Almost all stores except delicatessens were closed. I remember getting a carton of milk from the deli every Sunday. My memories must be from after we disentangled ourselves from the milk man. Not that it was an acrimonious separation, but it did go on for a while. Gradually, we ordered less and less stock from him. When we cancelled our order of chocolate milk, I think we all knew that it was over but didn’t want to admit it. We find it hard in my family to let go sometimes.
Sundays were also when you’d be dragged along to visit extended family. Lack of open stores meant the choices for a token gift for your hosts were largely restricted to the deli and a Cadbury block of chocolate or, more often, a pack of Savoiardi. Either was carried in a brown-paper bag to give it that “I went to the deli on the way and it was a choice of this or 500 grams of Borlotti beans” kind of look. For those of you who have never had the pleasure (or never invited me over on a Sunday), Savoiardi are large sponge-finger biscuits covered in sugar. They are good for dipping into a hot drink, but you can’t hesitate in biting off the soaked part of the biscuit for even a moment. There’s a window of about three seconds before it will fall off and land in your cup of tea. You will spend the rest of your drinking time trying to fish it out.
I actually had the chance to ask a few people the question: What is your idea of a perfect Sunday? Emmy-winning actor Billy Warlock (Days of Our Lives, Baywatch) and Oscar-winner Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon, Rescue Me, She’s Funny That Way) agreed with each other. I don’t think that they colluded, although Tatum was an on-screen grifter and Billy’s A. J. Quartermaine in General Hospital was always rather shifty. They both said that Sundays are for “doing whatever you want”. Billy described it as “A get out of jail free card if you will”. Tatum said that for her, “I do all the girly stuff like hair and face masques”. Strangely, my face masque day is actually Thursday, after a couple of drinks and the potential for misadventure.
Tim Ferguson probably will need a little down time on weekends after reteaming with his comedy troupe (“troupe” makes it sound like he was born in a suitcase), the Doug Anthony All Stars, as well as penning his recent memoir, Carry a Big Stick. Tim’s perfect Sunday involves, “A Sci-Fi movie at Hoyts Extreme Screen (it’s HUGE!), then partying hard till the movie comes true”. Rapper Cazwell, whose recent songs include “No Selfie Control” and “Dance Like You Got Good Credit” (so this is why he doesn’t call) has a similar idea of a perfect Sunday, but prefers his entertainment at home. You’re likely to find Cazwell spending the day with Lumpy Space Princesses, “watching Adventure Time on the couch”.
Bed does figure prominently in another couple of people’s Sundays. Rutanya Alda (Mommie Dearest, The Deer Hunter, Old Dogs & New Tricks)said her perfect Sunday involved “sleeping in until noon”. I can’t always manage to sleep until noon, but I guess if you’ve had to stay in The Amityville Horror house (as she did in the second film in the series), you can sleep anytime and anywhere. Chris Noel (Elvis Presley’s Girl Happy, Soldier in the Rain) also mentioned bed. Chris is the sweetheart of Vietnam vets for her tours and radio show A Date with Chris during the War, and for her advocacy which followed. She’s also been writing. A date with Chris on a Sunday is a much more sedate and charming affair: “Either a road trip, which I love, or a day in my comfy bed with Deva (my Maltese), Bentley (my Yorkshire), and Hollywood (a cat). We would have delicious food, and listen to beautiful music while I read a book”.
Simone Buchanan (Hey Dad..!, Neighbours, and the upcoming short Monsters) and Breckin Meyer (Road Trip, Robot Chicken, Franklin & Bash) have both recently played lawyers so perhaps they are particularly aware of work-life balance. Of course, one was a rather shonky (I think that’s a uniquely Australian phrase, but I’m sure people will get it) lawyer, and the other lawyer spent a good deal of his time trying to best Rob Lowe. Simone said, “It would have to be a sleep-in followed by a leisurely brunch with my husband and two boys. Preferably with a water view”. For Breckin, it’s “golf or basketball, and then hanging with my youngins”.
A few people have more active Sundays ahead. Gabrielle Carteris (Beverly Hills 90210,and the upcoming Send Me: An Original Web Series) said that hers would involve, “Sunshine, yoga, breakfast with my husband, hike and a big barbeque with friends and family”. This would be followed with a “hot tub and wine. That’s perfect!” Then there’s Tim Matheson (National Lampoon’s Animal House, The West Wing), who is currently busy with the TV series Hart of Dixie, but who will find time for the “Hollywood Farmers’ Market, a bike ride, binge watch some great TV, cook some personal specialties, and then sex with my girlfriend!”.
Maybe I’m doing exactly what I set out not to do: put too much expectation on Sunday. Perhaps Lucas Neff (Raising Hope,and soon in Glitch) has got it in one. He said that what makes a perfect Sunday are “the same things that make for a perfect Monday: fresh water, world peace, and fast Internet”.
Finally, of course times are certainly changing. For example, a survey published last year found that 65% of participants reported that they were actually busier on a Sunday than during the week. Tasks included seeing family (might explain why Savoiardi biscuits are still popular), grocery shopping, and ironing. Come to think of it, I do remember Mum being tasked with doing all the weekly ironing on a Sunday and the sound of the steam rising from the hot part of the iron. The survey also found that people experience “Sunday blues” knowing that they have to go to work the next day. When I first thought of writing this, my friend Mark – over pintxos and sangria funnily enough – mentioned that sinking feeling, which comes on at about three in the afternoon. I don’t really get that. I tend to have a general sinking feeling most of the time. Maybe Sunday then isn’t much better than other days – and maybe it hasn’t ever been – but for me it still has some edge. Perhaps we need to be more like Lucas Neff (I never thought I’d say that) and make every day a Sunday. Just don’t forget to go to work or wear pants.