Monday, June 19, 2006

You ever ever feel like driving heavy objects into thick skulls?

There is no doubt whatsoever that shopping is where it’s at. You only have to spend five minutes in your local and see the dudes hanging loose with their skate boards, the old folk gathering for a chat, the house-people hovering over milk not yet spilt and the young and fashionable preening over coffee.

It’s not surprising, of course, given the steady drop off in church, cinema and sporting attendance, service club membership, pub crawling and the over-the-fence meet of near neighbours.

This is exciting for me, because I come from a long line of retailers: my dad, my dad’s mum, my dad’s mum’s dad, all my brothers, some of their wives and most of their kids.

By “it” I mean, of course, the buzz of community interaction: where we all meet, rub up against each other, learn how to resolve everyday conflict and where we pay homage to higher beings.

If you’re in retail and you know this, understand it, can move from concept to implementation, then you are ahead of the game and poised to make some serious money.

If you don’t, then it’s going to be an uphill battle, between you and the clientele, you and your staff and suppliers, you and your accountant, you and the ATO, you and your partner, you and yourself and you.

We’ve all seen the folks who don’t get it. You can spot them as soon as you walk in their shops. They look about as happy as a pig in a tuxedo and they look at you like you are a space invader, a thief, a competitor, an ex-partner, a tax collector, a deranged lunatic, a bull in their china shop.

These days I’m still in the people business, spending much of my time working with groups using Jungian-based psychological models like the Myers Briggs Personality type Indicator. There are, however, aspects of human behaviour that these don’t read, like a irrational inability to get on with anyone, any-type, at any time.

Recently I spotted an item in a shop and wanted to make sure it contained locally born and bred ingredients, proceeded to write down the phone number on the label and was accosted by the proprietor and told: “We don’t allow people to write things down in our shop. This is a shop in which writing things down is unacceptable behaviour.”

The funny thing about having retail in your blood is that often when you meet someone who hasn’t, you feel sorry for them and want to help, rather than leaning back, grabbing the nearest heavy item and driving it into what many would assume is thick skull.

In the old days, when I had my own shop, people often wrote things down. Sometimes they were crossing items off a list, sometimes they were writing a letter to their mum, and sometimes they were competitors noting down prices.

So what? They were not going to be competitors for ever and a day and, more than likely, they would eventually be clients.

That’s the thing about age and experience: you learn that what goes around often comes around.

In other words, if you live by the driving-of-heavy-objects-into-thick-skulls method, then one day you are likely to die from a heavy object imbedded in your thick skull.

But let’s not carp. This is Australia, one of the few nations the Gods have blessed, and home to a magnificent collection of shopping cathedrals.

So, in order to assist, inform, and educate those ready and willing to read on, I will now provide a few tips to help you survive both sides of the counter.

First and foremost, if you are a regular shopper, remember that retailers have lives too and must be allowed, like us, to have bad days.

If, however, you have noticed that someone’s bad day has stretched beyond a decade, then it might be time to consider shopping elsewhere.

If you are a retailer and have already bought the small shop, yet now realise you hate people who want you to be nice to them, or who smile for no apparent reason, or people who, well, in short, come into your place of business, then get out, now, sell up, move on.

For some of you this might prove difficult, because you’ve just singed a new lease, or because of bank loans, or partners, or because you like the things in your shop.

Liking things in your shop, by the way, is good, but you have to learn to let things go.

Anyway, if these few words have clanged a bell and you are opening the doors next week, then by all means finish setting up, hanging the curtains, pricing all items, but when all that’s done, for your own sake and ours, don’t stand at the counter, stay out the back.

Better still, don’t appear during normal business hours and leave the people business to people who like people.

Start laughing, the pain is getting serious

Some mornings I wake up, which is a good start. And most mornings everything hurts, but, before I move on, let me stress, this is not all negative.

For example, one advantage is that I learn about the bits of me that I never knew I had. And some of those bits are quite interesting and when I know I have them I begin to nurture them and use them appropriately.

The shame is, of course, that I didn’t know I had them earlier and perhaps if I had known, I would have used them wisely and wouldn’t have got arthritis.

But who can tell. Because we are never who are now, or even then, if you follow me. (If you do, please email me because I got lost just after the first paragraph.)

Given I wake up with everything hurting, the very first thing I do is lie there, on my back, still as can be, and hope the hurt will go away. Sometimes it does, usually because I was lying in a particular way, on a particular bit, and when I changed position, removing the discomfort, the bit felt okay and stopped hurting.

However, most of the hurting bits keep right on hurting and sometimes they hurt even more because they don’t like that change I made from foetal to full-length back-lie.

The next thing to do is get the hell out of the bed and move, baby, move.

This is my big secret, movement. I keep telling myself that if I keep moving I will be able to keep moving.

It is probably important at this stage that I mention I am a scrawn. Come from along line of them. My father was a scrawn, as were his father before him and the one before that. Indeed, if you ever visit The Cidery in Bridgetown, ask to be shown the Doust Family photo. It’s on the back wall and shows, very clearly, Great Grandfather Alfred Doust with his scrawny wife and eight of his ten scrawny children.

That’s where it all started and it isn’t finished yet, because I gave birth to a scrawny, lanky lad who is well into his late teens.

But I think I’m missing the point, if there is a point, and the point is, if it exists, that the best way to cope with arthritis is to laugh at it and keep moving. I employ both strategies with gay abandon. And when I say “gay” I mean in the wild and happy sense of the word.

When I was kid in the fifties, hands always got my attention. There was something about the hand. Let’s be honest, after the face, the hand is the next most expressive part of the body.

And the hands that interested me most were the old blokes’ hands, the gnarled, bent, twisted, mangled hands and the hands with those big arthritic lumps on them.

I always reckoned my hands would finish up like that. And they seem to be well on their way.

Right now I have a lump on my left thumb and two lumps on my right thumb knuckle. Then there is the big lump on my shoulders. Well, it’s not really a lump, more of a head with a face on it, but my dad always said to me, usually after I’d messed something up, like poured petrol in the radiator: “Use your lump, son.” And then he’d point to my head, which is why I have always thought of it as a lump.

That hurts too, sometimes, the head, but only because there’s too much stuff in there and the stuff that has lived there for years and years keeps trying to push the new stuff out, or not let it in, and this results in terrible battles and violent headaches.

But I’m getting away from the heart of this piece, which is how to survive with achy bits all over the body. Which brings me back to the thumbs.

One thing I do most days is exercise both thumbs. I also do finger exercises and toe exercises. Indeed, I try to exercise all those little bits that most people seem to forget. It saddens me when I meet people who no longer have any use of their toes, their eyebrows, kneecaps, or lips.

It’s important to keep moving every possible bit. One of the proudest moments of my life was when my father, Stan Doust, turned seventy, and we stood before one hundred and thirty people gathered in celebration and rolled our stomachs. It was a skill he revealed to me when I was a grasshopper and if my son had not considered it a freaky manifestation of a deranged mind, I would have taught him too.

Apart from exercising the stomach, the normal bits, like arms and legs, and the little bits, I freely show them to others. As in the following conversation.

“Jon, gidday. How are you?”
“Fine, apart from this bloody great lump on my thumb.”
“What is it?”
“All right for you to say.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Only if I poke you in the eye with it, so there’s a good chance.”

He laughs. I laugh. And, as everyone knows, when you laugh, you don’t feel any pain. Until it stops. So the trick is to keep laughing as long as you can.

In addition, of course, I swim, well I did, until I got caught in a flood in Bunbury this winter, jumped up on a fence, collapsed with it into the mud and struck a brick letterbox with my shoulder. I felt so stupid I lay there for three minutes laughing my lump off and I didn’t fee the pain until the next morning.

And this, by the way, was the shoulder I broke a few years ago when I took a dive off my skateboard going down a hill at fifty kilometres per hour. At the age of thirty seven, so I was still a young man.

All right, it’s probably clear to you by now that I’ve thrown my body around a bit over the years and set myself up for a healthy slap of arthritis. It’s true and, you know what, I regret nothing, because someone told me once: Life is for living, and if you’re going to live, you might as well throw your body around a bit.

To be honest, I’m not sure anyone said that to me, but from where I’m sitting, I need all the excuses and laughs I can get.

To blog, or not to blog? Is it a question?

A blog? What’s in a blog?

That’s what I asked when she challenged me on the stairs. She looked at me as though I was a newly completed idiot.

‘You need one. But first find out what one is, then get one.”

If she hadn’t had that look about her, you know the one that makes you want to look and listen and hope you will see her again, that look, then I might have ignored her words, but the look combined with the words unsettled me.

The words, in fact, took over from the look and now, when I try to think of her, I only have the words. No look.

A blog? I’m thinking: Sounds like something that blocks, or blogs. It’s got that feel.

So what could it be and why would I need something that blocks? Blocks what? Spam? Telemarketers? Phone calls from the inlaws?
On the net I’ve learnt if I don’t know, go to and seek a definition. So I did. And now I know what a blog is, so what? What’s the point? To blog, or not to blog, is that the question?
And, if I decide to blog, to start a “web-based publication”, I’ll then have to supply content.

Do I need this extra work? And who will pay me? Me?

What if I don’t pay, refuse to pay?

Can I take me to court and sue me? What if I don’t turn up, or declare myself bankrupt, who will pay then?

All that extra work for what, so I can make a mess of things for me?

You would not believe how many times I have turned against me when all I was trying to do was help me improve my income base, my lifestyle, my life.

Did I get any thanks? None. Not a word. (Thank you Jackie Mason -

Right, then I met that woman again, the stairs-woman, same place, same time. Was she waiting for me?

“You idiot. Don’t you know anything?” she said.

I looked at her. She still had that look, the one that makes you look, but this time she looked different.

Before I could look long enough to retain the look, she was gone. And she took her look with her. Who is she anyway? Will I ever see her again?

I’m left standing on the stairs, trying desperately to think, of something, anything.

Then my son came home, slinking around, looking for money, or love, or crockery. He left home 18 months ago and only visits when he has run out of clean utensils. But this time he had a job to do: he was trying to sell me a new range of household products.

And he said: Blogging? Easy. Go to So I did.

Generally speaking (though there are exceptions), blogs tend to have a few things in common:
•A main content area with articles listed chronologically, newest on top. Often, the articles are organized into categories.
•An archive of older articles.
•A way for people to leave comments about the articles.
•A list of links to other related sites, sometimes called a "blogroll".
•One or more "feeds" like RSS, Atom or RDF files.

I’m still not sure I need one, but the idea of other people supplying content is good and time saving and, who knows, I might meet someone.

Right, I’m going to do something about it. (I think.) Watch this space.