“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ~ Winston Churchill

I trust your Christmas was fine and dandy, spent relaxing and  re-energising, in the company of good friends and family.

When you get to a certain age, Christmas is less exciting than when you were a child. Yet it’s a wonderful time nonetheless: the time to rest after a long year, time when you can de-stress, sit back and put your feet up, read a book, down a nice bottle of wine in good company, crank up the barbie, get some odd jobs done, go places you’ve put off going to for months, walk the dog a few more times, go to an outdoor cinema, catch up with friends, watch some Big Bash, dip in the pool and laze at the beach. It’s pretty idyllic this time of year in Perth. I ain’t going anywhere.

To spend Christmas with children provides a glimpse back to your own childhood, as they get as excited as ever, counting down the days til the 25th and not being able to sleep the night before.

On the day itself, I am happy to receive a few gadgets (oww, I do love me gadgets me) and a couple of books to read. My favourite bit is to watch my family open each other’s presents . We don’t go at it hammer and tongs, we try to space it out in the two hours or so between waking up and starting the preparation of the traditional roast turkey lunch.

What was different this year was that my eldest (now 16) has her own money, and organised some gifts for her brother, parents and a few friends. It was fascinating to see the joy that giving gave her. She was genuinely delighted in seeing us love what she’d bought us. She put a lot of thought into what she’d get everyone. The fact that she’d planned it all out, used her own money, wrapped and delivered it meant something to her.

Anyone can receive, but to give is far more meaningful. As children grow up into young adults and branch out into the world, they will realise that to serve others – whether it’s friends, colleagues, bosses, clients or shareholders – requires a little giving up of self and thinking about the other person. The best team mates will be selfless, as will the best leaders.

It’s a life lesson. Perhaps one of the most important to learn.




Left to their own devices

I could leave you, say good-bye. I could love you if I try, and I could, and left to my own devices I probably would,” sang The Pet Shop Boys in 1988.

It’s not one of the best songs ever written, but the ‘left to my own devices’ stuck in my mind, and, these days we are often left to our devices, of a different kind. We all have various (mobile) devices, and we reach for them with increasing alacrity these days. That’s fine, I assume, as long as we are performing our main functions, such as conversing with our fellow human beings, giving attention to our friends and family, doing some meaningful work and getting out and about in the sunshine every now and again.

The question is, how much is the next generation on their devices, and is that good, or bad? As parents, it can be easy to plonk the iPad in front of the children to entertain them at the restaurant, or when we want some peace. But what message does this send? That, when eating out, we don’t want them to converse across the table? That their needs and questions are of no import? What kind of parenting is that?

A few years ago, Taiwan introduced a law restricting the amount of time children should have on screens and devices. Apart from the obvious issue of how on earth do you police such a thing, was Taiwan correct in doing so, and if so, why? Juveniles, so said the new law, “may not constantly use electronic products for a period of time that is not reasonable,”  which begs the question, how much time is “not reasonable“? Parents and guardians could be fined up to A$2,000 or so if found in breach of the law.

I expect the answer is somehow in a happy medium. 6 to 9 hours a day glued to a screen, I think we all can agree, is not healthy. Kids need to get out and run about, climb trees, play sport, ride bikes, interact, and get up to all kinds of nuisance. Is it that we (helicopter) parents are buzzing around too much these days, not allowing kids to be kids? Local comedian Griff Longley certainly thinks so, and he has set up a not for profit organisation Nature Play that encourages parents and their kids to get out doors and do stuff. Like make cubbies. Whatever, just get out there and do things. Together. Unstructured. Like we used to. “It’s OK to stuff up and have stuffups”, says Longley. Dang right. It builds resilience, it’s how we learn.

I wonder if the screens are just an easy babysitter option, or actually serve some positive purpose for the children? Simply taking them away is not the answer. The devices are out there, everyone has them, and to deprive children of them is to hold them back compared to their peers. Certainly, there needs to be some happy balance between active play and iPad consumption. Certain hours of ‘screen time’ can be negotiated, depending if it’s a school night, weekend or holiday. Screen time can include all screens, TV, play stations, Wii and mobile devices.

For younger kids, I’m a fan of the Family Zone service, which can be set up on every device, and provides screening of everything the child does online, limiting access to questionable sites, and allowing the parent to set times when devices can be used, and when they can’t, anywhere. I’ve found children are fine with rules, as long as they are clearly explained, and consistently enforced.

In this digital age, we shouldn’t ban our kids from being online, or becoming confident with technology. It is going to be a huge part of their living and working lives. They should certainly understand there is a place for devices, and certain times when they are put away. The precise rules, I reckon, like everything, are up to the parent and child themselves to negotiate and enact.

Leaving them to their own devices, I certainly would not.

Fifty not out

image1963 was an interesting year.

The grey post war austerity of the 1950s gave way to the thumping rhythms of Merseyside (she luvs you, yeah yeah yeah), a naughty political scandal and an audacious train heist.

The Rolling Stones played their first gig. Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I have a Dream‘ speech. JFK was assassinated in Dallas. The first James Bond movie, Dr No, hit the cinema screens. Dr Who is on British TV for the first time (I used to hide behind the sofa and made sure Mum was in the room with me), and my favourite movie Dr Strangelove is released.

England suffered the coldest winter in a hundred years. Bob Dylan released ‘Blowin in the Wind‘.

George Michael, Johnny Depp, Jose Morinho, Whitney Houston, Brad Pitt, Michael Jordan, Mike Myers, Quentin Tarantino, were all born in that year. So was I. 50 years ago today.

My parents had just returned from 10 years in Africa, where my two elder brothers were born. My earliest memories include family gatherings on the back lawn, aunties, cousins and grandparents. Laughter. Simple things. Money was tight. A loving, close knit family.

50 years has flown by. Half a century. I feel young. May it be so for a long while yet!


May 1915

[tweetmeme source=”ChazGunningham” only_single=false]11th of the 11th, Remembrance Day. Being a Sunday, we were all at my son’s cricket match, sitting watching, dogs running about, chatting with fellow parents, encouraging the boys. It was peaceful, sublime, a million miles and almost 100 years away from the terrible action of the trenches in the first world war, and all wars since.

Lest we forget. My own grandfathers both saw action at around the same time, a few miles from each other. My paternal granddad Howard went over the top in May 1915 with his brother Bertie and was struck in the leg. They were in the Essex Yeomanry, and 60 years later my Dad and I found the battlefield, and saw tombstones of those in their regiment who did not make it. Howard’s leg was saved by some coins in his pocket, one of which we still have today – half of it is blown away. He crawled through the mud for hours to get help. It must have been terrifying and excruciatingly painful. His brother Bertie was injured later that day and did not know what had happened to Howard. Howard was invalided out of the army. Months later, standing at a railway station back in England a woman came up to him and gave him a yellow flower (to signify cowardice, for not volunteering). Rather than put her right, he said “Thank you madam”.

Meanwhile my maternal grandfather (who I am named after) saw action in one of the last cavalry charges during the Battle of Cumbrai near Ypres in Belgium. They galloped down a cabbage field towards the Germans who were firing at them from a copse. Bullets were whistling past their ears, and the occasional one struck a rider sending him to the ground. Charles “Pop” Harris, aged 21, thought “why are some of them falling off their horses?” In the heat of the moment, he hadn’t realized they had been shot. They reached the copse, the Germans had fled. A brave volunteer then had to ride back to their own line to find out their orders. He had three horses shot from under him (which earned him the VC). And the orders? “Retreat to your former position.”

The madness of war. The bravery of the people involved. I will never forget my two grandparents and all those who fought. The serenity of our lives today are due to their sacrifices.

Image: painting by Bertie’s granddaughter Emma Gunningham, from an extract of Bertie’s diary, May 1915

Dad’s Big Campout

Well, I survived the first ever Dad’s Big CampOut. My “2 man tent” could just about fit me diagonally, and the “3 man tent” just about squeeze in the 2 kids, and it was pretty cold when I woke up at 2am, but overall, a fantastic time. Camping out on the local primary school oval with 90 other Dads, 170  kids was a great experience. The sense of community around our little local primary school is just awesome, with everyone digging in and helping.

The barbecue, the pancakes in the morning, the games, late night movies, Easter egg hunt… all great fun.

Loads more photos on the school web site.