the sound of mountain bike tyres

Recently I took my own advice on being open to life-long learning, and set out to learn something.

Specifically I decided that after years of riding mountain bikes, I should learn some proper technique when it comes to jumping. I can get down most trails, and have fun doing so, but jumps are something else. I like staying in contact with the ground, rubber firmly in contact with dirt, as it where. But at one of the places I ride there is a new trail littered with jumps, and while I can safely roll through them, it struck me that it would be more fun if I knew how to jump.

So I found myself on the trail with Peter, a friend and on this occasion mountain bike coach. We covered lots of technique, body position, movements, bike mechanics and so on, before I started repeatedly rolling through a series of turns and into the first jump on the trail.

At one point I was unsure I was approaching with the right speed, and asked Peter about it. An unexpected answer came back “You’re at just the right speed, you can hear it in the noise that your tyres are making.” Naturally I thought he was nuts – surely it’s about how rapidly I’m pedalling, what gear I’m in, the sense of speed from passing trees?

But he assured me again, “listen to your bike, listen to the noise the tyres are making on the dirt – there’s a kind of sweet spot where everything sounds just right. When you hear that sound, you’ll know you’re at the right speed and can hit the jump.”

A few days later I was reflecting on that advice, as I sat by the beach in Woolgoolga, NSW. I’m on something of a road trip, exploring mountain bike parks and bakeries between Brisbane and Canberra, my ultimate destination.

My mind wandered, as it does, to the nature of sound. What other kinds of sounds can we hear, that maybe tell us something about all being well, and good, and just right?

So I sat, just for ten minutes or so, and listened. I let my ears guide my attention. What did I hear – here’s a few examples:

  • Dogs barking and panting as they ran and played
  • Waves curling, tumbling, foaming and crashing against the rocks
  • Snatches of conversation from passers by
  • The rhythm of footsteps crunching on gravel, including that most Australian beachside flip-flop of thongs
  • The tinkle of cutlery from a nearby balcony as breakfast by the bay was enjoyed
  • Car engines and tyres – of different notes and pitch as cars approached, passed by and travelled away
  • A litany of birdsong (my bird loving friend Warwick would be disappointed that I have no idea what kinds!)
  • The whir of my zipper as I snugged my jacket up tight against the cool morning breeze
  • The call of a surfboat skipper, barking instructions to his crew
  • Laughter – perhaps one of the most human of sounds

As I sat and listened, I picked out natural sounds that would have been heard by this same beach for eons. I heard the sounds of people living life. And I heard artificial sounds, of engine and car door and seat belt.

But all of these sounds seemed like they belonged. It seemed like they were the sounds of life. Of fun, of recreation, of preparation for the day, of life and love and relationship, of creation and wonder and majesty.

I fancy, as I sat and listened, that I could hear the sound of mountain bike tyres on the gravel, the sound they make when everything is just right. It was that kind of morning.

on rock bands and puppy dogs and phd’s…

I didn’t see this coming. At 50 years of age I find myself suddenly hanging out in pubs and clubs and live music venues around Brisbane. I’ve even been seen in the Valley after midnight. Truth is I didn’t even do these things when I was 18, so to be there at 50…it’s all a bit strange.

The reason, of course, is one of my children. He’s in a band and as a dutiful dad, I’m there to transport him and encourage him and his band-mates.Yes, at times, to be a roadie-dad. We hang out up the back with the other parents, shoot a little video, enjoy watching the band perform and the 20-somethings in the crowd dance and sing and love life like there is no tomorrow.

The band, well, they’re something else. A bunch of 18 and 19 year olds that combine genuine musical talent, ambition, unbridled joy with a huge dose of irony and irreverence. They’ve named their five-piece band the Rutherford Jazz Trio. There are five of them, none are named Rutherford, and they don’t (usually) play jazz. Go figure.

Forming at high school a couple of years ago, their initial experiences involved things like private parties, open-stage street festivals and a season of 6-hour busking sessions on Saturday mornings at the Rocklea Markets. Now that they’re all 18+ they’re playing pubs and live music venues across Brisbane and entering the live-music scene, earning their chops.

Of course we, the parents, are following along. Ridiculously proud. Busting out embarrassing dance moves. Wondering where it will all end up.

The privilege of my viewpoint from up the back has been to see the astonishing improvement that has been (and still is) occurring. I’m sworn to not ever revealing video from those early days, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

They’ve gone from a band of talented school-age musicians tentatively sharing their gifts, with a lead singer (my lad) who at times used to have the song lyrics on his phone so he could remember them, to a group that can rock the house down with energy, passion and a performance style that is irresistible (recognising, of course, my obvious bias). Everything is improving – musicianship, performance, songwriting. Everything. Such has been their improvement that they most recently won an 80-entrant Battle of the Bands competition (here’s their performance).

The music is fun, engaging, funk-rock. The lyrics are at times completely irreverent (like the delightful “Fish Hat” or my current favourite “One Dollar”). Somehow they’re treading a line that hovers between honouring and skewering different parts of the society we have built for ourselves over this last 50 years. Consumerism, fashion, tourism, music – everything is fair game.

Watching them grow and learn has been an absolute delight.

And then…this week our family has just been joined by a 10-week old puppy. It’s a tiny, impossibly cute ball of energy and fury. In the style of puppies everywhere, it goes 100 miles an hour until it just can’t stay awake any longer and collapses. Even as I type he’s madly (and successfully) trying to climb all the way up my legs to get in a good bout of face-licking.

The thing about a new puppy, somewhat like a new human baby, or a fledgling band, is the astonishing speed at which they learn. Every day Harley the wonder-pup learns or does something new. Sometimes it’s something we don’t want, like learning to climb and jump, but other times it’s useful skills like sleeping and toileting and responding to his new human family. He’s incredible.

And then (there’s almost always an “and then”) my beloved is about to graduate from a 4-year PhD journey. Next Tuesday she’ll walk across the stage, hat and gown and all, accept a certificate and officially become “Dr”. The journey has been difficult, combining full-time study with nearly full-time work with being a mum to a house-hold full of teenagers. But she’s smashed it, disciplined when I wouldn’t have been, committed to the countless hours of reading and writing and researching and making it all make sense. Committed to learning.

Learning is a wonderful, extraordinary thing.

That’s true whether it comes from the unavoidable learning that’s part of new life, or the rapid, dedicated improvement that comes with serious practice and exposure to new experiences, or the slow, gradual improvement the comes as a result of discipline, hard work, and the accumulation of life’s experiences.

I find myself, as I delight in the journey of Rutherford Jazz Trio, and as I am equally smitten and frustrated by a new puppy, as I watch in amazement at my wife’s studies (again, ridiculously proud) wondering what is my own commitment to learning? Is it in my professional world, or my hobbies, or in my family and friendship roles? What can I improve? How can I grow? What new experiences can I open myself up to?

Because thing thing is, I’m pretty sure that learning is something that should be lifelong. It doesn’t belong to babies and children and puppies and new employees and PhD students and rock bands on the first step of a journey to change the world. Learning is for all of us, all the time. Would it be going too far, I wonder, to say that to stop learning is to lose something precious about what it is to be human?

So I’ll keep doing the dad-shuffle up the back at pubs and clubs, enjoying the band, delighting in their improvement. I’ll keep marveling at the puppy (while quietly raging as it chews everything in sight), and I’ll sit in the audience at next week’s graduation ceremony and probably shed a tear of pride and joy.

And I’ll keep quietly asking….what can I learn? Where can I grow? What new thing can I experience? Or at least…I’ll try.

bending to the breath of God

Before we dive in, a word of explanation: what follows is a brief reflection on the Christian season of pentecost. If this word or idea is new to you, read first the biblical account in Acts 2 and/or watch this quick explainer from Chuck Knows Church

I lay in bed on Monday night. It had been a busy few days. I was tired. I always feel tired. Still, sleep eluded me.

As I lay there I heard a sound that’s become so familiar to us in Brisbane this year that I have to say I’m sick of it: the sound of rain drops falling on the tree outside my bedroom window.  At first a gentle patter, then growing louder as the drops themselves became heavier. That oh-too-familiar sound.

There was something different this time though. It wasn’t only the sound of rain I could hear, but a new sound. An insistent sound. A sound coming from the distance, but getting closer and closer.

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music, memories and midnight oil

Memories are a funny thing, particularly as you get a little older. Sometimes you have to dig around to find that lost one just out of reach somewhere in the dim dark recesses of the extraordinary thing we call the human brain. Other times though, they come flooding out, unbidden, unexpected and impossible to resist. And music has a way of drawing out memories more than just about anything else, transporting us in an instant to another time and place.

Last night I had just such an experience.

I was standing in a crowd of 8000 at Brisbane’s Riverstage, singing and dancing (yes, true, I did dance) along with the incomparable Midnight Oil. They’re in the middle of what is billed as their final tour after thrilling crowds for more than 40 years. As a lifelong fan, I had to be there, there was no option.

And as we stood, sang, danced (ok, I confess, it was what might be charitably described as “dad-dancing”), the memories came pouring forth.

Memories of sneaking an under-aged brother into a licenced venue gig in the early 90s. Of Boondall Entertainment Centre absolutely packed to the rafters for Crowded House and Hunters and Collectors…but clearly most of the punters there mainly for Midnight Oil. Of gig, after gig, after gig.

Perhaps most memorable, an insane Saturday night at the Alexandra Headlands Hotel, the room heaving with sweaty, singing, dancing bodies, the atmosphere so intense the room practically had its own weather system (and eventually it did as Peter Garrett threw jugs of water over the crowd from the stage, and the lads up the back started doing the same with jugs of beer).

At most of those shows I shared the joy with Sheri, and in recent years had the opportunity to take my then 14 year old son, and last night my now 14 year old daughter for not only their first big rock concert, but their first (and probably last) Oils gig.

These memories and more came flooding back as we rocked away the night. I wasn’t exactly sad, though I’ll definitely miss seeing this band live. More that the band and the music took me on a tour through some of the key moments of my own life as they played through a phenomenal back-catalogue interspersed some belters from their latest (trust me, it’s worth a few listens to the new album Resist).

I sometimes wonder what it is about Midnight Oil that I find inescapable. Why I have a full set of their albums; why I still send spotify playing an Oils playlist; why my most prized possession is a signed postcard from the band on the occasion of my 30th birthday (thanks Tracey…still don’t know how you organised it!).

Perhaps it’s that the band and the music has been something of a soundtrack for my life. With each album they’ve grown and matured and changed, as my own life has done likewise. There are songs from the band that line up with some of the big moments of my own story.

Perhaps it’s the message within the music, a powerful call to justice, to indigenous reconciliation, to an environmental consciousness – my own political views and interests do echo those of the band after all. And a band that has done its best to live out the protest that infuses the lyrics, not just sing about it.

Or perhaps it’s just that as a live music act, there is nothing quite like Midnight Oil. The power and the passion is a much over-used and hackneyed phrase when describing them…but like so many cliches it works precisely because it is true. You couldn’t watch last night and not be blown away by the raw fury of classics like Stand in Line and Back on the Borderline, or the joy with which the crowd joined in the much-loved Beds are Burning, King of the Mountain and Read About It. Then there’s the song after which the cliche is named. There’s maybe nothing quite so incredible, quite so riotous, quite so oddly joyful as seeing drummer Rob Hirst cut loose in the epic drum solo in Power and the Passion. Everybody knows it’s coming, that he’s about to add some more dents and dings to the corrugated iron water tank that is the oh-so-Australian addition to his drum kit, and that he’s about to destroy yet another set of drumsticks in the process. It still never fails to live up to expectations.

Far from just phoning in some old-timey classics though, the band threw in a few of the latest. Resist is a powerful call to arms, At the Time of Writing might just have been the song of the night (for me at least), and then there was eight thousand voices belting out what may be destined to become one of the band’s most famed lyrics of all time…”who left the bag of idiots open?” in the three-part epic Barka-Darling River.

They’re an interesting band to watch too. Garrett is of course unmistakable. Even if the phrenetic fury of “those” dance moves has calmed down (just a little), the voice, face and physical presence dominate. Martin Rotsey wails away on guitar, while Jim Mogine brings a musical genius to the outfit that is astonishing. With the passing of long-term bassist Bones Hillman, newcomer Adam Ventoura steps in, accompanied on this tour by the extra (and welcome) vocal talents of Liz Stringer and Leah Flanagan (her duet with Garret on First Nation yet another highlight). For me though, it seems obvious that drummer and singer Rob Hirst is the heart and soul of the band. He writes a lot of the music along with Moginie, and is one of those people you just can’t look away from. And from the outside at least, it looks like he is having a flat-out blast from start to finish. I don’t reckon the smile left his face once all night. Fittingly, he is last to walk off stage, last to wave.

Before you know it, the show is done. Another memory locked away to emerge unexpectedly somewhere down the track

Of course by now you’ve realised I’m no independent music critic. And to be honest I don’t have the musical knowledge to really analyse the show, the band or the songs. I’m a fan. Always have been, and always will be. And I was delighted to have just one more chance to be taken on a trip by this band that has meant so much to so many for so long.

Music has a way of drawing memories, and so many of mine are connected to this exceptional band. If this is to be the last show I see, it’s a fitting end. Long live the memories.

the most unlikely place

Whitehaven Beach, on Whitsunday Island off Queensland’s central coastline, is an amazing place. It’s regularly named as one of the top 10 beaches in the world, and it’s no wonder. 7km of stunning sandy beachline, backed by pristine coastal forest on an island that is 100% National Park. Apart from a few picnic sheds up one end, and the steady stream of visiting tourist boats anchored off-shore, you could be forgiven for thinking that the beach hasn’t changed in centuries.

Whitehaven Beach on a moody day

On the day we visited it was overcast and moody….the brooding clouds dark on the horizon lending an amazing atmosphere to the beach and the surrounding islands. Swallowtail dart swam around us as we floated in the pristine waters (wearing our seasonally necessary stinger suits of course!). Even without a postcard blue sky and sunny day, it was astonishingly, achingly beautiful. The natural world at its very finest.

Except that only moments before diving into the waters we had wandered along the beach, beyond the designated tourist area. There on a 15 minute walk along these pearly white sands my eye kept being caught by things that didn’t belong. Bits of plastic, and rubber and rope. A face mask that had protected someone from COVID. A used bandaid. A piece of pipe. Some were fresh – likely bits of deck rubber from stand-up paddle boards that came in with tourist boats that dotted the waters off the beach – but others were weathered and windblown, clearly washed up on the tides from who-knows-where and who-knows-how-long ago. In 15 minutes we collected a couple of dozen bits of rubbish, from the fist-sized to the tiny.

Despite the beauty of the beach, and the apparent isolation of the place (it’s not a Gold Coast beach packed full of people after all), the signs of human habitation, and of disregard for our natural environment were obvious. I was the sadder for it.

And I was confronted by it too. It’s easy enough in moments like these to blame the careless who dump their rubbish wherever they please. I don’t do that…so it’s not my fault….right?

But I’m as much a consumer as anybody. My house is filled with plastic junk that features built-in obsolescence – products destined for land-waste from the moment I purchase them. I buy food and drink packaged for my convenience in single-use plastic, barely softening my conscience with the “I recycle” excuse. Each piece of plastic made up of materials dug from the earth, processed and squeezed and manufacturered to within an inch of its life. Used once. Discarded.

All of it at risk of ending up in ocean, breaking up and floating about into the great Pacific garbage patch, or washing up on a pristine beach on a remote island (if some unlucky and curious Swallowtail Dart or Loggerhead Turtle didn’t take a nibble first). My consumerist tendencies end up in the most unlikely places.

There’s no simple answer of course. It’s not that easy to opt out of the capitalist, consumerist society I live in (and if I’m honest…enjoy the benefits of). Taking care of my own wake and my own waste is a start. Reducing, re-using and re-cycling goes the mantra – and it’s a fair thing to ask and encourage.

So I come home from this holiday with a mind full of memories, with a phone full of photos, and with a renewed desire to do right by our planet and by the children and grandchildren who’ll inherit it. That’s probably three pretty good things to bring back from a holiday (just a shame I had to go so far to be reminded of that third one).

Take a walk some day in an unlikely location. See what you notice. See what it reminds you of. See how it challenges you.

on mr whippy and lip balm…

It was a balmy Sunday afternoon, the kind where you’ve finished the jobs that need doing, there’s sport on tv in the background and the outcome is an inevitable dozing off on the couch while the kids do who knows what. Perfect right?

Into this nirvana came the distant, but distinct sounds of the Mr Whippy van. I’m guessing Mr Whippy and its unmistakable melody is a thing in the rest of the world too, but in Australia it’s akin to the pied piper – an ice cream van serving soft serves cruising suburban streets and calling to anybody within earshot. Kids come running. Parents too…even if they’re being dragged.

Those tones echoed up the street, cut through my dazed state and immediately had me reminiscing about my childhood in the southern Townsville suburb of Wulguru. That same tinny Greensleeves tune some 40 years earlier was a well known calling card. The connection on this summer day was instant and even as I remembered Kelvin St, Wulguru, the song called me to my modern day footpath where I flagged down Mr Whippy and ordered a soft-serve (with embedded Kit Kat of course!). Bliss.

There’s something extraordinary about the human brain and it’s capacity to make those kinds of connections over a sound, a smell or a taste. Just a few bars blaring from the ice cream van’s over-worked speaker and I’m transported 40 years in time and 1500km in distance.

Many years ago I joined a bunch of friends hosting a ski trip to the Australian alps. We spent a few days skiing and loved it. Each day started with a bus ride from our nearby hotel to the ski resort and along the way we’d prepare for the day – donning gear, telling stories of what heroic stunts we had planned for the day, and applying sun screen and lip balm. To this day, the smell and taste of lip balm instantly transports me to that bus, the music we were playing, the stories we were telling and the friends we were making. I can be applying lip balm on a beach or a golf course in the middle of summer, but one whiff and I’m on a bus to the ski resort as a 28 year old listening to the Paul Colman Trio.

The much loved, and equally much abhorred Dagwood Dog is another. Just the sight of that tomato-sauce smothered abomination sends me to school fetes of the 1980s. And I can’t resist even though I know I’ll regret it from the first bite. Bliss?

Again, there’s something extraordinary about the human brain and its capacity to make those kinds of connections.

Therapists of course make the most of those connections. A music therapist might tap into long bound up memories in a dementia patient by finding the right songs that connect to a much loved past. Sometimes, of course, the connections aren’t joyful like the Mr Whippy van – sometimes they evoke painful or frightening memories that a therapist can help unpack and unlock. The human brain is powerful.

Advertisers know all this too. It’s no accident that nearly every ice cream van on the planet uses the same (or similar) tunes. Partly its tapping into those internalised connections. Partly its playing on the value of nostalgia as a marketing tool. And that’s a relatively benign, innocent example.

But for this story, on this day, there’s no greater purpose – just me marveling at the human brain. There are so many connections within the little grey mush inside my skull that lie dormant, just waiting for the right sound or taste or smell to awaken them. Sometimes (like the lip balm) I know it will come every time I encounter it, other times it will catch me entirely by surprise.

How about you…what sounds or tastes or smells send you into a reverie of past happy days?

flow and the red desert

One was called simply “The Track”, and the other “The Red Desert”.  The were they places that Wulguru kids hung out after school in the early 80’s.  The Track was a network of dirt tracks criss-crossing a gully behind the local primary school, while the Red Desert was a vast (or at least it felt that way) area of eroded red gravel trails in the foothills of Mt Stuart.

For a Townsville 10-year-old, these places were magic. We’d race home from school, dump our bags, grab a biscuit and a bike, yell out “see you Mum, we’re going to The Track” and be out the door.  Those hours of messing about on bikes, doing jumps and skids and having races with whoever else showed up that day shaped our childhood.

Later as a teenager living in Brisbane’s western suburbs, the story wasn’t much different. A narrow downhill bushland trail a couple of hundred metres from home turned into a race track where we’d meet neighbourhood mates to race bikes down the hill, putting the stopwatch to work to determine who was the day’s fastest.  Lots of fun, and the occasional gravel rash and one memorable crash resulting in a cracked collarbone for a visiting cousin were the results.

Kmart BMX bikes, Repco 10 speed ‘racers’ and the roadsters of the 80’s were our weapons of choice, dirt trails through the bush our playground, and hours of fun that fostered friendship and brotherhood the outcomes.

Forty-odd years later, and my weekends follow a now familiar pattern. I meet up with a bunch of mates, ride bikes down dirt trails through the bush and then tell stories for hours afterwards.  The tools of course are different; gone is the Kmart BMX to be replaced by eye-wateringly expensive mountain bikes, dripping with technology you wouldn’t believe. The stopwatch has been surpassed by GPS-equipped cycle computers or smart phones measuring performance to the nth degree.  At its heart though, it’s the same story four decades on: mates, bikes, bush, adrenaline….and occasional skinned knees or dislocated fingers.

It’s not that bike riding has been a life-long constant for me in the way that sports or hobbies are for some people – more that I’ve rediscovered what was a childhood love later in life, and uncovered mountain bikes designed to do what we did on completely unsuited bikes back in the day.

The riding itself, is amazing. When you hook into a trail that is in great shape, maybe with a little post-rain moisture (resulting in what we know as ‘hero dirt’), with bike and rider in sync, the sensation of speed and the challenge of control is hard to beat.  As the bike leaves the dirt over a drop or jump, or tyres scrabble for grip in fast corner, the heart beat increases in time with the adrenaline.  I love getting on the bike and exploring bush tracks – at least as much now as in those childhood years. 

As good as the riding is though, the company makes it even better. The guys I ride with I’ve mainly known for years. We’ve each navigated life and love, family, work and hobbies in parallel, reconnecting now over handlebars and the obligatory post-ride coffee (or in my case, chocolate milkshake). I wouldn’t swap it.

All of this reminds me of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s description of “flow”. He describes it this way:

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

(Flow, 1990, p3)

That’s the sensation I get riding a mountain bike when everything is at the limit. But I’ve also experienced it in a work context when a project or presentation or workshop was going just perfectly – when the challenges of the task at hand and my own capacity and performance were perfectly matched. You might notice it even in parenting, in those rare moments when your approach to raising your kids matches perfectly the challenges they’re experiencing. You might find it surfing, or skiing, or singing or dancing. The rest of the world fades away, challenge and capacity are perfectly matched, there is immediate feedback….these are some of the characteristics of the flow state that Csikszentmihalyi describes. Flow, he says, is:

“a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”

(Flow, 1990, p4)

To be not only conscious of the flow state as it finds us, but to seek it, to put ourselves in the right situations, with the right skills, facing the right challenges…that could be addictive.

Of course, there’s a shadow side too – when the challenge or difficult facing us far exceeds our competence and we find ourselves in misadventure, or the other way around that leads to boredom. But lets save those for another day.

Today, I’m thinking about flow. Finding it on a mountain bike trail as a fifty year old. Finding it in the red desert as a kid. Finding it in family and workplace. In speaking or presenting or offering leadership. In love. In life.

Let it flow.

on boiling frogs and busted fingers

silhouette of man riding bicycle during sunset
Source: unsplash.com

I think I’ve written before about how my current midlife crisis involves riding bicycles in the bush.  I’m not very good, or very fast, but I have a good time exploring with mates, experiencing an adrenaline rush and finding beautiful places.

Every now and then it doesn’t go so well and I find myself experiencing what I euphemistically describe as a rapid unplanned dismount (RUD). In other words: I crash.

Once such recent RUD resulted in my tumbling for quite a way through the bush and coming to rest with a dislocated and fractured finger. Not much fun, and it did hurt a bit but I honestly found myself thinking “that’s actually not so bad….it could have been a much worse injury!”.

The injury has been healing and a most excellent Occupational Therapist at the local hospital has been providing great advice on rehab, along with a few different splints and strengthening devices. It’s amazing what she can do with thermoplastic, Velcro and several variations of blue-tac.

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“What’s the big deal?”

This week I sat on my couch watching TV. Nothing unusual about that, it’s one of my favourite places.

What was slightly unusual was that I watched live, in high definition, while four astronauts launched aboard the latest Space X Crew Dragon space vehicle, a commercial partnership between NASA and Space X.

I watched live, in high definition while the launch rocket returned safely to earth, landing on a drone ship in the north Atlantic Ocean after depositing its cargo in space.

I watched live as the Crew Dragon orbited the earth a couple hundred miles above the surface, and at thousands of miles per hour.

27 hours later I was back on the courch and watched live, in high definition while the ship approached the international space station, a football-field sized mechano set similarly orbiting the earth, docked and the four went aboard to greet three other astronauts already on the ISS.

As an aside, there are only 6 sleeping cabins on ISS, so one of the new arrivals has to sleep on the Crew Dragon which will remained docked at the ISS until next March. I guess it’s like a visitor sleeping in their caravan parked out on the driveway!

All this happened less than 60 years after the first manned space flight, 12 years after Space X flew its first rocket into orbit, five years after they first successfully landed a launch stage rocket, and six months after the first crewed Space X test flight.

By any measure, the pace of development since Yuri Gargarin did a lap of the earth in his Vostock spacecraft back in 1961 is astonishing. It’s a testament to human ingenuity, determination, technology, ability to learn and problem solve, ambition, creativity, collaboration, desire to explore and a thousand other things.

Honestly, as I sat there I was gobsmacked as I processed what I was watching. Sure none of what I saw was the first time you could live-stream a rocket launch or watch video from the ISS, but I guess there are moments when you realise the significance of what’s happening.

As I watched, enthralled, my 13 year old wandered past. I called her over, told her what I was watching, how amazing had been the technological growth and how astonishing it was to be able to sit on the couch in Brisbane, watching all this unfold in real time hundreds of miles overhead.

She said “What’s the big deal dad? It’s just some people going to space.” and went back to reading her book. She barely feigned interest for 10 seconds.

This is the same kid who will never know life without the internet, or mobile phones, or streaming video. Youtube started two years before she was born. She beat the iphone into existence by a handful of days.

It’s no insult to her of course, she only knows what she knows. She’s only lived the life she has. She has never known any different.

To me though, it was an extraordinary thing to watch. And I was left pondering the meaning of it all.

Just how much further will human ingenuity, ambition, creativity (and yes, greed) take us over the next 60 years? I’ll be approaching my 110th birthday by then, so I’m not sure I’ll see the answer, but can you imagine what we’ll be up to if the rate of change continues?

I put that experience alongside the global scientific community’s response to the COVID19 pandemic and the phenomenal rate of development of treatements, medications and vaccines for a disease essentially unknown 12 months ago.

When we collectively put our mind to something, there’s almost no limit to what can be achieved.

My last thought was to wonder what other things could be figured out if only we could genuinely turn our collective will and wisdom to it. World peace. Global food security. Clean energy. Heading off the looming environmental catastrophe. Calorie free chocolate that tastes amazing.

So many possibilities.

And in 60 years time, some 13 year old will say to their dad “What’s the big deal?”

who’s in the band?

Just about every job I can think of has elements of repetition in it.

unsplash.com

Whether you’re a tax accountant, a bus driver, a school teacher, a professional athlete or a nurse…some days must feel like groundhog day. The same tasks, over and over again.

Recently I got to thinking about bands and musicians in this light.  How, I wondered, does a band play the same song over, and over, and over. Every night in front of a new audience, in a new city, but the same song.  And if it’s a big hit song, they might play it hundreds, or thousands of times over decades. Over and over and over.

Somehow the challenge must be to find a way for it to be fresh every night. Every audience wants to feel like the band are loving the song. Every night there has to be passion, excitement, enthusiasm for that same song.

How do they sing the same song night after night, after night?

I was pondering this in light of a work project that I’m involved in. We’ve been at it for a couple of years, with a couple more to go – and part of my job is the storytelling. So I often find myself sharing the same story, or giving the same presentation. How, I wondered, will I stay motivated and fresh for the years to come?

I was pondering this question with a wise friend who responded like this:

“Scott”, he said, “I think it’s not always about the song.”

“It’s not even about the audience, not always”.

“Mostly, it’s about the band.  The band that are committed to each other, that love making music together, that draw their energy from one another, that believe in something together.”

“If you want to stay fresh, and keep your energy for this project, then it’s about the band. Who is in your band? Who are you making music with? What do you believe in together?”

It struck me as a profound insight, and a really good question.

Later that same night, Australian television presenter Waleed Ali interviewed Dave Grohl of the band Foo Fighters. At one point in the interview, the conversation turned to what it’s like for a band to play in front of small audiences in a post-COVID environment, rather than the stadiums full of raving fans that Foo Fighters are more used to.

While acknowledging they love playing in front of people, Grohl’s response struck me. He said:

“When the six of us get together with instruments in our laps, I don’t really care how many people are there, it just feels good to be with my guys, making music.”

And there it is. The audience does matter, and the music matters, but in a profound and important way, it’s about the band.

So when I think about my work project, I’m left with this question…who’s in the band with me? What’s the music we are driven to play together? I think perhaps the band is where my motivation might come from.

And I suspect that might be true for many of us, no matter the job. So…how about you? Who’s in your band?