Satchelnomics: The rationalisation of retail

Satchelnomics: The rationalisation of retail

Boho dress procured at Illahie boutique... a return to parochial shopping, perhaps?
Recently, I took my father into a small, dinky-di menwear store in Beaudesert called Buxtons' Work Town 'N Country Wear to acquire some new clothes, as the Emperor's suiting would not be appropriate for the climate on Mount Tamborine and daughters like to do that sort of thing.

The floor space was so cluttered with stuff that you could barely move, but there was something exquisite about finding everything at your fingertips – trousers, shirts, tees, shoes, boots, belts, hats, wallets, Stanley knives... Bisley, King Gee, Polo Ralph Lauren, RM Williams – in that small space. 

We walked out $150 poorer feeling chuffed – particularly with the two pairs of pants for the price of one. We shared our anecdote with my father-in-law, who knew the Buxton's name immediately. In small towns, places like that are known by everybody.

Buxton's is like a mini department store, the sort of place that once-upon-a-time attracted regular clientele who came to expect something of its service and reliably sufficient product offering; the unique retail shopping experience requiring limited expenditure of one's mental faculties because there is a limited but quality selection of goods.

The clothing store is part of the community, like the butcher, the post office, the general store. As an entity it is no more or less important than the other stores: it is there to provide practical clothing for the average working man.

I like to shop at places such as this, where the owner's name is familiar and the chances of finding something to your liking are high, particularly as there is no comparative situation in which to measure the goods up against, such as at a shopping mall, which frankly drive me around the bend because everywhere you turn there is something or someone coercing you to spend more than you really ought.  

In small communities, or within a boutique store situation, what you see is what you get, but what you get is more than the good itself. It is in the exchange where the true thrill lies. You and your purchase (or intent thereof) are not taken for granted. Small business proprietors (good ones, at least) are grateful for your business, and so too are you for what they provide.

And the proof is in the statistics: in a quiet defiance of tough trading times, small business sales in August increased by 4.7 per cent relative to a year ago, with retail-related business sales growing just short of 2 per cent year on year in the three months to August. Not flashy, but not dismal either. 

Satchel Living: Raising confidently kind daughters

Satchel Living: No more "nice" girls – 5 steps to raising confidently kind daughters

Photography: Sophie Baker

By Alison Stegert 
We parents have got to stop raising such nice girls. “Nice” doesn't cut it anymore. In fact, “nice” may disadvantage our children*.

“No more nice girls” sounds radical, and, to some, it may even border on scandalous. Surely we should train our daughters to be nice, especially in the current reign of mean girls and the age of relational aggression. Isn't that what the world needs most – a little more love and kindness?

The thing is, there is a gaping chasm between niceness and loving kindness.

It is true that today's girls seem lost. The news regularly features stories of girls doing very ungirly things – street fighting like common thugs, swearing like stevedores, bullying shamelessly. Not too long ago the Australian media ran a story about two teenage girls who beat up an elderly lady and stole her purse. Today's girls are a confused lot. The foul-mouthed, scantily clad, mentorless young women are an indictment on our society. We have let them down.

Truth be told, the sweet, innocent and “nice” are not much better off. The world says, “Be brash.” The glossy magazines scream, “You're not skinny enough!” and “Pout like you mean it!” Music lyrics and media suggest, “Sexy is as sexy does.” All the while, some girls' mums are saying, “Just be nice.” It's no wonder our girls are confused.

Film School: Monsieur Lazhar

Film School: Monsieur Lazhar
Marie-Eve Beauregard and Mohamed Fellag in Monsieur Lazhar
This is a terribly timely film. Its subject matter – suicide, trauma, violence, asylum seeking – is not comfortable, and yet all you will take away from Monsieur Lazhar is warmth, because it has a very humane way of approaching the terrors of life.

Perhaps this is because its characters are mostly children, whose little faces appear in close-ups just like school photographs. I would like to think so – because in an industry that has in the past ten years attempted to steal away from childhood, turning kids into adults (and not good ones), this film could be redemptive. A turning point. With French sub-titles.  

"Everyone thinks we're traumatized, but it's the adults who are," says the precocious young Marie-Frédérique (Marie-Eve Beauregard), at which point we begin to think seriously about the ways in which adults use children as scapegoats for framing their own worlds.

In snowy, slushy, yellow-y Montreal ("Montreal le Slush"), Canada, a troubled primary school teacher, Martine, has hung herself before the day's classes commence. We glimpse Martine's image through the door, as do two of the children.

The Middle Brow – These Turbulent Times

The Middle Brow - These Turbulent Times
By Man with a Bag

I must admit that the events over the past week in the Middle East, including the killing of more NATO troops in insider attacks in Afghanistan, culminating locally in Saturday's riot in Sydney are deeply disturbing.

First we hear of the dragging of the corpse of the US ambassador John Christopher Stevens, aged 52, through the streets in Libya, along with the death of three of his diplomatic colleagues at the US consulate. Then riots and more riots everywhere from Yemen to the streets of Sydney in an anti-American response to a 13-minute YouTube film that mocks the Prophet Mohammed.

My parents brought me to this great country in the early 1950s, they worked hard and managed to send me to Australia's oldest 'Greater Public School' (GPS), Sydney Grammar, a non-denominational school for boys whose motto was (translated from the Latin), "Praise be to God".

My school was about 70 per cent Protestant, 20 per cent Jewish and 10 per cent Roman Catholic. The school motto fitted all, we went to class together, played sport together and participated in military cadets together. Today we even have the odd reunion together.

So I grew up in a tolerant religious society, we all went to our individual churches, and some of us did not go to church at all. We were private yet gregarious.

Aesthete: Misty countryside at dawn

Aesthete: Misty countryside at dawn
This is what gets me out of bed at 5.30am every Tuesday... that, and work and Chuck Swindoll's morning sermons. Isn't it dazzling, this country we live in?

Girl With a Satchel

The Satchel Review - Saturday 15 September 2012

As 2000 teachers, doctors and municipal staff demonstrated against a new round of salary cuts and job losses in Athens, Greece, due to ongoing austerity measures, public servants in Queensland also took to the streets to shout down the State Budget.

In Greece, state funding has been cut by 65 per cent since 2009, according to Christos Kortzidis, mayor of Hellenikon. The government is still in trimming-down mode, most recently announcing US$14 billion ($11.5 billion) worth of cuts to pensions and wages, along with working hours, health and defence, which sparked a protest of 15,000 people in Thessaloniki last Saturday.

On Tuesday, Greek unionists reportedly formed a human chain to block entrance to the Labour Ministry. Understandably, Greek people on the street are bearing the burden, but not happily. The financial crisis has left one in four Greeks jobless. In the past year, unemployment in Greece has risen 44 per cent; the long-term unemployed jobless rate is 59 per cent.

"We can't take it anymore. Right now I earn 19,000 ($23,500) per year after more than 20 years in the service, and with the expected new cuts, my income will drop to 17,000 euros," 43-year-old captain Mihalis Daskalakis told AFP (via SMH). "Before the crisis, in 2009, I was making 24,000 (euros)."

The spending cuts are necessary for Greece in order for the country is to meet is obligations for up to 130 billion euro in aid from the EU-IMF, without which it would likely default on its loans. "I am telling you the truth, there is no other way," said Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Creativity: Going vintage at the library

Creativity: Going vintage at the library

Some of my fondest memories of childhood are accompanying my mother to the library, where she would procure books for the week to read on her bus trips to the city. However, the library is also the scene where my first publically devastating event occurred. I had failed to return my books to the school library on time and was made an example of by the head librarian. "It seems some students, like Erica, think they can keep their books forever," she said, or something to that effect. 

The event left my eight-year-old self feeling about two-inches tall, and my view of librarians was tinged (I likened them thereon in to those unfortunate women in Witches). Proving that ridicule doesn't necessarily do the trick; I still return my books mostly past their due date. Thankfully, my local librarian Carol-Anne is more forgiving. She is also very creative. The above is a vintage installation she tied together on a shoe-string budget. The type-writer was a gift from her parents bestowed when she was a wee girl. Presents like that can set a child upon a rewarding life path. 

And so can taking them to the library – 'tis a gift to enjoy reading; better still to know where to find and borrow good books.

Thinkings: It's all about relationships, silly

Thinkings: It's all about relationships, silly

"Relationships, not achievements or the acquisition of things, are what matters most in life. So why do we allow our relationships to get the short end of the stick? When our schedules become overloaded, we start skimming relationally, cutting back on giving time, energy and attention that loving relationships require. What's most important to God is displaced by what's urgent. Busyness is a great enemy of relationships as we become preoccupied with making a living, doing our work, paying bills, and accomplishing goals as if these tasks are the point of life. They are not. The point of life is learning to love – God and people. Life minus love equals zero."
- Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Faith: On glaring billboard comparing

Faith: On glaring billboard comparing

As I drove home from work the other night, I caught sight of a young nurse crossing the road in her uniform. When she crossed the road, looking frazzled and tired after a day's work, she would have seen a CoverGirl billboard featuring Ricki-Lee. 

Had she taken in Ricki-Lee's shiny, perfect visage, it's a probability that the nurse would have felt every inch as dishevelled as she looked, and worse. Rather than the satisfaction of putting a hard day's work behind her, and the sweet expectation of arriving home to abandon her shoes and put on her slippers, she would have felt her lack.

Lately I have been thinking that the whole notion of billboards is quite cruel. They accost you from every which way, presenting us with messages and images that only add to our mental baggage on any given day. Should you be in a state of anguish, or tiredness, or vulnerable in some other way, that can really lead you astray. You are easy prey.

There you are, singing along to a favourite tune on the radio, taking in the sunset, and, bam!, a giant billboard for penile englargement, or divorce lawyers, or IVF or Bonds underwear. This can start your mind on the most absurd tracks of thought. I have no children! What if I get divorced? I feel fat and unattractive!

It's not very nice, is it?

Perspective: Teaching them well (on schooling)

Perspective: Teaching them well (on schooling)
By Erica Bartle
The Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank, based on The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by Erin Gruwell.
As The Freedom Writers story goes, in autumn, 1994, in Room 203 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, an idealistic 24-year-old teacher named Erin Gruwell faced her first group of students, dubbed by the administration as "unteachable, at-risk" teenagers. 

Not one of them knew about the Holocaust.

She introduced her students to two works of literature: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. Anne Frank gave Gruwell's students permission to put their own circumstances into context. Other kids did it tough, too – in fact, worse. It gave them connection to others and perspective. 

It also gave them permission to commit their own journal entries to paper, which their teacher lovingly read. They revealed trauma, heartache, and she wept. They found purpose and motivation in their classroom, led by their teacher's conviction. They had a voice, and they started to use it, and their literacy grew, as did their knowledge of the world. 

They were empowered, better able to put their problems into context, they were reading with the intention to learn and learned to cooperate as a group beyond the classroom's race divisions. The effect was profound. 

Gruwell came up against administrative challenges, such as a lack of resources, inflexible curriculum and a lack of teaching and parental support (in the movie, her father and husband also have doubts). But she demonstrated that success in the classroom is as much about the commitment a teacher has to his or her profession as to the resources he or she is allocated.

"Beyond the impact of a student's home and family – which remains unparallelled as the leading factor in their attainment at school – the quality of teaching has the greatest impact on academic performance," wrote Andrew Stevenson in 'Back to school', published in The Sydney Morning Herald last month.

It is when one sees teaching as a vocation that students are energised to engage. You have to give students a reason to be there; a reason to care; something to hope for or look forward to. If a teacher does not believe in this vision, or is hampered by bureaucratic burdens or a lack of support in their endeavours, it's ultimately the students who are left wanting. 

As Mother Teresa once said, "It's not what you do, it's how much you put into it that matters." But it's hard to do things well if there is no vision for what you are doing. As the wise Solomon, author of Proverbs and the great philosopher said, where there is no vision, the people perish.

Thinkings: Susan Neiman on light, cracks and Leonard Cohen

Thinkings: Susan Neiman

"There's a lot of talk about brokenness of the modern self. I mean, there is something about being human, at least after we left the Garden of Eden, that is permanently broken because we have a conception both of the way the world is and of the way the world ought to be. You can say this is why we have two eyes and two ears, it's to keep one eye and one ear on each side of that equation and not try to collapse them. Most people do try to collapse them. Because it's much easier to live that way. It's much easier to say eh, ought, you know, childish wish fantasy. The world is the way it is, and it's naive to think that it can be any better. And, you know, or there are of course fanatical ideologues who go in the other direction. But I think to be an honest human being involves recognising brokenness. I absolutely adore the songs of Leonard Cohen. I don't know if he's somebody who means something to you, but you'll recognise his the line, "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in" - just, you know, magnificent." 
- Susan Neiman, author of Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, 'On God, Good & Evil' ABC Religion & Ethics

Book Shelf: Gold by Chris Cleave

Book Shelf: Gold by Chris Cleave
Review by Brooke Lehmann

Chris Cleave is quite the astonishing writer. Having released his first novel, Incendiary, in 2005 – a bold depiction of one woman's view of the 'War on Terror' – and receiving high accolades, he followed up his stark debut with the spellbinding The Other Hand (2008), a story of a Nigerian woman and an Englishwoman whose worlds collide in an unfortunate and haunting circumstance. 

These works have marked the Englishman as one to watch; suffice it to say, his latest novel Gold (Sceptre), has been met with some anticipation.

As with all Cleave's books to date, the publisher blurbs don't give too much away in regard to the story's plot, so, Gold had clouded around it the usual curiosity that comes with this tantalising mystery. Allow me to be the one to enlighten you.

Thinkings: The resilience of the Irish

Thinkings: The resilience of the Irish

"It started getting weird here, I would say, by 2002; it started getting really weird in terms of this ideology that people – I'm in my 30s, then I would have been in my 20s – had to buy, had to get on the property ladder at any cost, no matter what sacrifices had to be made, people my age had to buy. And I utterly believed this, because that's how ideology works...Thanks be to God I'm a literary novelist and no one in a bank will do business with a literary novelist, so I'm very grateful now because the flipside of that is that most of my generation did buy and now they're in horrible six-figure negative equity. It was something that turned very sour. If you were the punter on the street, it felt like a very elaborate hoax had been played on you... It's not a happy story, really. There's a wreckage out there. But, having said that, everyone's pregnant, everyone's having children, so there is a silver lining to it..."  
 - Claire Kilroy, author of The Devil I Know, a satire on Ireland's property boom and bust set in 2016, talking to RN Drive, August 17, 2012.

The Satchel Review - Saturday 8 September, 2012

"We've got so much more to do!" said Michelle Obama, setting the scene for her husband's second race at the Presidential election. Not since Clara chucked her ballet slipper to protect the Nutcracker have we seen such an impassioned defence of a lady's man (though one does recall Wendy Deng).

"I've gotten to see up close and personal what being president really looks like," she said on the first day of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday.

"And I've seen how the issues that come across a president's desk are always the hard ones, the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you the right answer, the judgement calls where the stakes are so high, and there is no margin for error."

As the anniversary of September 11 approaches, and we reflect on the War on Terror that ensued in its aftermath as allied troops continue to fall though they aid their fellow man, Obama has a tough challenge ahead: the GFC has hampered national enthusiasm for the country's first black president.

His key calling card? Economic empathy. "I see the concern in his eyes, and I hear the determination in his voice as he tells me, 'You won't believe what these folks are going through, Michelle. It's not right. We've got to keep working to fix this. We've got so much more to do."

To his credit: universal healthcare, equal pay for equal work for women, and tax cuts for the middle class. Still, winning ground support will be no mean feat for the Harvard graduate ensconced in the White House as Americans join the unemployment queues (harder still, one might think, for his super-rich Republican competitor Mitt Romney).

The cover of Bloomberg Insider Conventions magazine asked, "Are Blacks Better Off Than They Were Four Years Ago?", and its answer was, well, no. 

Aesthete: Glancing at the lavender

Aesthete: Glancing at the lavender

"[W]hen we take time away from the press of duty, Spurgeon recommends that we breathe country air and let the beauty of nature do its appointed work. He confesses that "sedentary habits have tendency to create despondency ... especially in the months of fog." And then counsels, "A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind's face would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best."
Girl With a Satchel 

Thinkings: On taking time out

Thinkings: On taking time out

After a particularly busy week, I opted to give myself a day off. But that wasn't until 2pm when I finally surrendered to the idea that God intended that we rest to remind us that we are not God.

After observing a series of sign posts, such as the sick feeling I had when sitting at my computer, and the notification that the journalist doing the voiceover for an ad I am working on had come down with a head cold, I gave it up

'Perhaps the lingering flu and headache I've been enduring is the signal (until now ignored, for the sake of getting things done) that I need to stop my labour and take respite?' I thought.  

Women of Letters: Charlotte Bronte (1816 - 1855)

Women of Letters: Charlotte Bronte

"I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward." - Charlotte Brontë
By Brooke Lehmann
Not many are unacquainted with famed Brontë name. The novels of the three sisters Bronte – Charlotte, Emily and Anne – have become some of the most revered works of the 20th century. 

Noted for their gothic undertones and untoward themes, the Brontë sisters paved the way for a new form of literature and made their mark in an unforgiving time for their profession. One of the standout novels to break forth from the trio is Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte, the eldest of the three.

Jane Eyre was a shocking installation to the literature world at the time, however, Charlotte's poems, novels and letters leave us with a small insight into the genius and passion of a groundbreaking and incontrovertible spirit.

The Satchel Review - 1 September, 2012

What sadness, what sorrow this week with news of the fallen Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, and then to think a further 100 asylum seekers sailing for our shores were to perish at sea.

And all this, so much to take in, as we approached Father's Day, made a last grab for the Darrel Lea Dad's Bag, and keenly cheered on our Paralympians to heroic personal feats. All the while, a father likely in great distress as Pakistani leaders gathered to denounce the blasphemy laws that have seen a Christian girl with Down Syndrome await trial in a maximum security jail.

The two lead stories on The Australian's front page on Friday painted the juxtaposition between the dark day for our armed forces – the very worst since Vietnam, as far as casualties go – and the plight of the 100 men, women and children feared dead at sea off the coast of Indonesia. 

Three of our soldiers were ambushed by an Afghan soldier entrenched with the allied side and shot dead, with two wounded in the fight. What they are calling a surprise "green on blue" attack occurred as they relaxed at a patrol base north of Tarin Kowt. A mere two hours later, two Australian soliders were killed in a helicopter crash during a late-night raid on a Taliban position.

The despondency was palpable as senior army officials reported the news, offered condolences and explained the issues in the simplest terms. The number of "green on blue" attacks (where the blues are NATO personnel and the greens are their counterparts in the Afghan National Army) this year has exceeded last year's total: 42 coalition lives lost in the seemingly futile pursuit of establishing order in the war-ravaged country before full withdrawal of troops next year.

Calls for our soldiers to "come home now!" were met by parental suggestions that the boy's were proudly serving their country, so please don't discount their bravery just now with talk of the stupidity of war. Army morale is understandably low, and the troops stationed there now nonetheless have a job to do.

Retired Australian Army general Jim Molan posted at The Drum, "They will accept the risk on our behalf, and they will successfully get away with it several thousand times a day across all of Afghanistan. But as is happening now, every now and again, it will go bad and more will be killed by their brothers in arms."

What to make of bailing out when the going gets tough? The Afghan government needs all the help it can get. Easy to say when it is not your son laid slain, but not in vain, as Aussie soldiers live, train and fight with ANA soldiers day and night.

"The Afghan people are so grateful of the contribution of Australian people and especially the troops performing their duties in difficult conditions," pleaded presidential spokesman Siddiq Siddiqi. "That is why millions of people in Afghanistan are living in relative security, and going to school."

Of the surviving asylum seekers pulled from the latest wreckage, at least six Afghan men were pulled from the sea by the merchant vessel Bahrain. Early Wednesday morning, calls for help were made to Australian authorities, casting aspersions on the role that Indonesia might play in the ongoing policing and rescue operation in Indo-Australian waters.

All this despite new measures taken by the Australian government on the asylum seeker issue. And as the case of Rimsha Masih, 11 years old, casts aspersions on mob Islamic rule in Pakistan where strict blasphemy laws are frequently used to frame innocents by lodging false allegations in order to settle scores. In January last year, leading politician Salman Taseer was murdered after deriding the "black law" and calling for the release of a Christian woman and mother of five, Asia Bibi, convicted under it (she remains behind bars).

I did read the story this week of the lawyer, Horatio Gates Spafford, who, after losing his four children at sea, wrote the hymn "All Is Well With My Soul" as he sailed over the very area where they were lost; at the intersection where loss must hope meet. "Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come; Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul."

See also: Call for Mercy

Girl With a Satchel