Faster. Better. More, more, more.

For those of you who don’t know, I work in IT. I’m a technical writer, but I’ve also worked on an IT helpdesk in the past and I’ve done some BA (business analysis) work.

I kind of fell into IT in a fit of career opportunism that, now that I think about it, characterises a lot of my professional choices. But I did go on to study IT and just over ten years ago I completed my Grad Dip in Information Technology (and did really well, too).

My point is, I not only work in IT, I’m qualified in it. So you could be forgiven for assuming I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, through-and-through IT gal. But you’d be wrong – because I’m a fraud. And I’m not saying that in some kind of impostor syndrome self-outing; I really am a fraud.

Let me explain. When I was a teenager, I defined myself in opposition to my older brother. It kind of went like this: he did science subjects, I did arts subjects. He liked heavy metal, I liked the new romantics. He was into computers and I was absolutely, definitely not into computers.

My brother and my dad, who also loved computers, spent many hours together discussing and doing stuff with them. I had no idea what, but it seemed to make them very happy. And regularly, it seemed to me at least once a year, they would be very excited because it was time to upgrade. I would sit back and observe with a quizzical expression as they enthusiastically took the computer apart and rebuilt it with newer, faster internal ‘bits’.

The 286 became a 386, and then a 486. It made no sense to me at all.

The computer, they would explain, would now start up a full three minutes quicker. They thought this was amazing, while I thought someone was having a colossal laugh at their expense.

Faster! Better! More, more, more!!” I would tease them.

286 model 0 computer

Meanwhile, when I was thirteen, I declared loudly and proudly that, “I will never use a computer!”

(Those are the exact words I used. I’d love to say that this was a one-off moment uncharacteristically lacking in foresight, but in the same year I also declared I would “never shave my legs!” …so yeah, nah.)

The reason I thought I’d never use a computer was because I was going to be a writer. And writers used typewriters; everyone knew that.

I had a kick-arse typewriter. Every press of a key produced a very satisfying ‘clack’ noise. It was solid and it was loud: clack clack clack! The more clacks, the more words you were writing – the better you felt about yourself. A computer keyboard’s muted tap tap couldn’t possibly compare.

1964 Brother typewriter

Needless to say, eventually the typewriter was put out to pasture and by the mid-90s I had my own laptop, the size of a small briefcase. There was no ‘computers are king’ epiphany or anything, it just sort of happened.

Fast forward twenty years and I find myself not only working in IT but feeling quite at home among IT people. Even though I feel like a bit of a visitor in their world, I overwhelmingly feel that IT people are ‘my peeps’, perhaps because the original IT people I hung out with – my brother and my dad – were, literally, my family.

But I still find myself scratching my head when people get excited about new technology releases. I still can’t understand why anyone would line up to get the latest iWhatever. When I finally bought a smartphone a few years ago, I chose the model that was ‘three models old’ because it would do for my needs and was cheaper. And the iPad I bought back in August 2010? Yeah, I still have it.

This is partly because I have an instinctive anti-authoritarian bent that makes me want to give the finger to big companies who try to force me to upgrade by making their two year old products obsolete. I get Moore’s Law, but I also kind of resent what it means in practice, i.e. that technology is new for a millisecond and then you blink and it’s out of date.

But I also hang on to old devices because the prospect of upgrading just doesn’t excite me. Faster, better, more more more still seems ridiculous to me. Whereas if I was a true IT convert, you’d think I’d be evangelical by now.

This is why I know I’m a fraud. I just don’t have an IT person’s responses to technology. I even seem to miss the obvious cues when things start to fall apart.

I was genuinely stunned when my Mac died quite suddenly in April last year. Then my brother asked me how old it was and…okay it was from 2007. So yes, at that point, it made a lot more sense.

(A close friend told me recently that a woman on the Apple helpline recently told her daughter, “I see you have a vintage computer.” It was from 2008.)

Clearly I’m not going to change any time soon. My IT instincts are not getting any sharper through some kind of professional osmosis. And I think the Universe has realised this and is taking matters into its own hands.

I say this because my phone has spent the better part of the last year begging me to update its operating system and I have spent the same amount of time resisting. About a month ago things finally came to a head when my phone’s camera stopped working.

My response: You mean I can’t take photos of my dog anymore? Oh no – this has to be fixed!

Did I update my iOS? No, I did not. What I did was make plans to buy a new phone. Just like a non-IT person would.

But then a few weeks ago, as if the Universe had issued some kind of “iPhone heal thyself” edict out of exasperation, my phone came to life in the middle of the night and initiated the iOS update by itself. I woke up at 2am and seeing light emitting from my phone, picked it up and in my slumber had the wherewithal to click “Continue ” (as requested by said phone). I had no idea what was going to continue but it felt like the right thing to do, notwithstanding, or maybe because, I was half asleep.

Glowing Apple logo on Apple iPhone

When I woke up the next day, my phone was working as if it was brand new. No more problems with the camera.

Does this midnight miracle make any sense to me? No it does not. But you know what? I’m okay with that.

Just so long as I can take photos of my dog again.

Gus the cairn terrier, standing by his bed

 

It’s a numbers game

The other day I went shopping for four birthday cards. A card for each of two friends who are turning 45, another for a friend turning 50, and the last a card for my mum who is 75 today.

With a few notable exceptions, the numbers are tending to be on the big side for everyone in my circle of friends and loved ones.

Of course, ‘big’ is a relative term. I remember one day when I was twenty-two and working at VicRoads, my mum came in to pay her car registration. Later that day she asked me who the ‘young good-looking man’ was that had served her. I racked my brain. As far as I knew, there were no hot guys my age working at VicRoads at the time. I asked for more details.

“The Indian man, with the moustache” she volunteered.

“Mum! He’s not young! He’s forty-four!”

“From where I’m standing, that’s young!”

She would have been fifty-three at the time.

Forty-four seemed positively ancient to me back then. But that’s the thing about these numbers. They all seem ancient until it’s your turn.

I remember being eighteen and working with a woman who was twenty-one. That seemed lightyears from where I was. When she turned twenty-two it was as if she’d declared she’d officially finished with her youth and joined the world of the adults. She was no longer one of “us” – she was one of “them”.

I also remember having a romantic fling with a nineteen year old in Florence when I was twenty-one. I considered him a “younger man”.

Eighteen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two – they all seem incredibly small numbers now. As does twenty-seven. Though when I turned twenty-seven, I felt incredibly old because it suddenly dawned on me that I was only three years from thirty.

The irony is, I’ve discovered, as you do with age, that I’m actually getting better and better as I get older. I am more and more my true self, comfortable with who I am, and much less inclined to care what anyone else thinks about that. They say the majority of people get happier as they get older for that exact reason: you care less about faking it for the sake of what others will think about you.

One of my friends has confided that she is not at all happy with turning forty-five. “I have a real problem with that number,” she told me recently.

On the other hand, I’m not only comfortable with forty-five, I’ve projected ahead and I’m comfortable with all the numbers in my future.

Okay, it is true that, when I really think about it, I still can’t believe I’m actually going to be fifty in five years’ time. But I don’t feel fifty! And I don’t think I look fifty – whatever that looks like.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had with my mum when she turned sixty and I asked her what it felt like. She said, “Len, you know, sometimes I look in the mirror and I expect to see a twelve year old girl looking back at me. That’s how I feel on the inside!”

I always put that down to my mum being a very youthful person, full of energy and with a young-at-heart spirit. But as I’ve gotten older I can relate to her experience a lot more.

I’m stuck at nineteen. That’s how old I feel inside. And I know Mum and I aren’t alone in this phenomenon. A woman I worked with many years ago told me whenever people asked her how old she was she always answered “twenty-six” because that’s how old she felt. She was in her forties.

Funnily enough, just the other day my mum mentioned in passing that the time that her family lived in the heart of Thessaloniki held her happiest childhood memories. They lived there in 1952. When she was twelve.

Looking back to when I was nineteen, that year was hugely significant in my life. It was definitely the happiest year of my youth, if I had to pick one.

Mind you, I should’ve said ‘I used to be stuck at nineteen’, because as I’ve become happier and happier with my life these last few years, I feel less my nineteen year old self, and more like my very happy forty-something self. And loving it! – as Maxwell Smart used to say.

The other thing about turning fifty in five years’ time is that, the way I look at it, it’s kind of like the transition from being in primary school to being in high school. One minute, you’re top of the kids, the mature Grade 6-er. Next thing, you’re at the bottom of the ladder again. You’re the young newbie Year 7 kid, looking up at all the older kids who know so much more than you.

Fifty is like being the youngest of the oldies.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself; I’ve got lots of days between then and now. And I plan to savour every single one of them, including all my birthdays. If life is a numbers game, I’d like to play them all.

Vale Gough Whitlam

In 1972 my mother was a member of the Dandenong Greek Community’s Women’s Committee when Gough Whitlam was campaigning for the federal election under the banner “It’s time.” As part of that campaign he visited the Dandeong Greek community on the feast day of its patron saint, St Pantaleimon.

The celebration was typical of such events: lots of food, music and people everywhere. The Dandenong Greek Community president introduced Whitlam to the ladies of the Women’s Committee. What impressed my mother the most about the man was that after hearing each woman’s name he greeted her formally pronouncing her surname, no matter how long, in flawless Greek. “How do you do, Mrs Lambrellis?” and so on, down the line of women. Each one addressed personally.

It wasn’t just the sort of campaign hand-pressing and photo-opportunism that we’re used to seeing now. Whitlam made it clear in his behaviour not only that day but in the policy of multiculturalism that he championed, which was groundbreaking at the time, that he understood and valued the migrant communities of Australia. He understood and valued their history and what had driven them to leave their homes and come to Australia. He understood and valued what they offered Australia both in enriching the culture and in building the nation. In championing multiculturalism, he championed them. And they loved him for it.

Three decades later when my brother was working as a contractor in IT, he would impress and awe his much younger colleagues by telling them that he’d gone to university for free. No, he hadn’t received a scholarship; university was free for all back then, a legacy of another Gough Whitlam policy to abolish tertiary education fees.

I enjoyed a year and a half of free university education myself, before the policy changed and fees were re-introduced. The policy had been in place for 17 years. An entire generation had been afforded the opportunity for a higher education irrespective of their financial position. With his “free university education for all” policy he had democratised education and truly paved the way for Australia to become the clever country.

These are just two examples of personal touch-points for my family in relation to the incredible, iconic and visionary Gough Whitlam, who passed away today. Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975, Whitlam’s vision for Australia was transformative and nothing short of revolutionary.

You can read elsewhere the long, long list of achievements of his government, and you can read about his life in his obituary, including the political mistakes he made and the flaws of the man.

More telling is the outpouring of respect evident in the speeches made by both sides of politics in Parliament today, and the outpouring of love evident in the comments left by readers in online forums, a lot of which begin with an expression of thanks for the ways in which the writers’ lives were enriched by Whitlam’s policies.

He was visionary and brave and a man of intellect and great ideas. What I admire most about him is that he was an egalitarian who appealed to people’s better nature. He reached out to the “men and women of Australia” and asked them to build with him a modern Australia that was fairer for all.

One of the The Age’s online forums includes my own comment on Gough Whitlam’s passing:

“I was only a small child when Gough Whitlam enacted his vision for a modern Australia, however I have been a beneficiary ever since. There was never anyone like him, nor, in these risk-averse, over-spun political times, are we likely to ever see anyone truly like him again. A visionary who believed in a better Australia and had faith in Australians. What a lucky country we are to have had him; can’t even imagine where we’d be without him. Thank you Gough Whitlam, and may you rest in peace.”

Portrait of Gough Whitlam

On Loss part 3: Wish you were here

My father died in November 2011, four days before my forty second birthday. There was no warning; he died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Still, I was lucky enough to see him at the hospital in his last hours of life, though by that stage he had lost consciousness.

Until I lost my father, I felt pretty comfortable with the idea of loss. I had never shied away from the topic of death and felt, after years of observation and contemplation (admittedly at arm’s length), that I understood it.

I had rationalised it. I had intellectualised it. I knew about the stages of grief. I had counselled friends who had lost their parents in their teens, in their twenties, in their thirties. Perhaps, because of the phone call I’d overheard as a nine year old all those years before, or perhaps purely coincidentally, I felt as if I’d been preparing myself all my life to lose someone I deeply cared for.

As it turns out, I knew nothing. I was not prepared at all.

Just one example: Yes, there are stages of grief. But they occur randomly, in no specific order, sometimes all at once. Sometimes not at all.

Grief, as someone close to me at the time put it, is like waves that come to your shore. Just when you think you’ve got your balance in the tug and pull of the water, a large wave comes and knocks you off your feet. You can have weeks of nothing and then, out of nowhere, a tsunami.

I knew, given the sudden nature of dad’s death, that I was probably in shock to begin with. We all were to a greater or lesser extent. I thought the shock would wear off and that would be that. But it doesn’t work that way.

I realised upon arriving at work one day, about ten weeks after Dad died, that I had no idea how I’d come to be there, nor how I’d got home every day, nor what I did in the hours in between. I couldn’t account for anything. And yet I worked. I cooked. I talked to people. I walked the dog. I functioned. My inner self was in a fog, even while my outer self carried on with normal life.

On Dad’s death I’d declared to my brother that there would be no regrets; there was no point dwelling in the past. It was what it was.

This turned out to be completely naïve, especially given the relationship I’d had with my dad. Over time I found myself consumed with regret. Regret and guilt. Years after I’d tried to comfort a distressed man on a train, struggling to come to terms with the death of his own father, I found myself tormented by my own demons, my family struggling to find the right words to comfort me.

I still regret that I didn’t make the most of my last hours with Dad as he lay in the emergency ward dying. I spent those hours holding his hand, but I regret not hugging him more, not kissing his forehead or his cheek. It was my last opportunity for physical contact with him and I missed it.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. I didn’t realise that evening how keenly I’d miss his actual presence in my life.

Ironically, when Dad died I had consoled myself with the thought that it was only his physical self that I had lost. His spirit and his energy were both out there somewhere, I was sure of it. And he would always be in my heart and in my mind, right?

It was a completely naïve devaluing of the physical world, as if it meant nothing. But it’s the physical world we live in.

In the midst of the fog I was king hit by an intense physical longing and I struggled to come to terms with it for months and months. While it is no longer as overwhelming or as painful as it was, several years on I still crave the smell of his aftershave and the touch of his soft skin on my lips as I kiss his smooth, freshly shaved cheek hello. Quite simply, I miss him.

In my experience of loss I learnt of the pain of physical longing, the torment of demons, the disconnecting fog. Things that I couldn’t resolve with rational thought or intellectual argument.

My salvation came in the form of a revelation about the nature of life. It was the most important lesson that losing my father taught me.

Very soon after Dad died I realised that, in the end, all that is left is love. Everything else is unimportant.

All of the things we fought about, all of the strongly held principles I had furiously defended – all of them, trivial. All of the hurt, the anger, the arguments, the bitterness. Trivial.

And while this deeply profound and beautiful insight can’t help me go back and fix the wrongs of the past, it has helped me to heal the pain and conquer my demons. It has also completely changed how I view life and my relationship with all the people I love.

I only wish my dad were here, so I could tell him.
my father standing at a bbq with a smile on his face

Goodbye to the House, Farewell to the Home

“Home is where the heart is.” – Pliny the Elder

Before my father died, my mother had been agitating to sell the family home and downsize to a more manageable property. But Dad was not interested in moving.

When Dad passed away two years ago, Mum put the brakes on the idea of selling. Given Dad’s feelings about it, the house had become synonymous in her mind with him. To sell up seemed to be a sort of betrayal of his memory.

Eventually, though, the burden of managing a big family sized property on her own became too much and she returned to the idea of downsizing. And so, after a very long sales campaign, the family home of 33 years in outer suburban Melbourne was sold and Mum finally moved out last week.

Often when people move they take the opportunity to clear out any junk that has accumulated around the house, rather than take it to the new place. But downsizing brings with it the need to get rid of much more than junk.

Not one to dilly-dally, Mum got down to business the moment the house was sold. She had sold the formal lounge suite and the kitchen table within two days of selling, and she continued selling pieces of furniture to friends and neighbours right up until she moved out.

She also put aside bags and bags of unwanted clothes and homeware to give to her chosen charity, Vinnie’s. She literally filled a room with unwanted goods for them, including some mattresses and an old desk.

Then there were things that no one wanted to buy and the charities wouldn’t take. Everything from an old barbecue to an old television to old chairs and much, much more. In the end, the front yard was filled with junk, to be collected by the local council.

As all of this was taking place, my brother and I were caught up in the activity and excitement of a new start for Mum. We were both aware that saying goodbye to the family home was a big thing, but I think both of us were surprised by the level of emotion it brought with it. As my friend Mary would say, you can know something rationally or intellectually but it sometimes takes a little time to catch up emotionally.

After spending a day moving the junk out of the house and onto the front lawn last Sunday week, my brother left the house and only later realised that that was it, he wouldn’t be returning. He rang me and asked if I’d taken any photos of the house, but as we discussed it we both realised that we already had photos of the house: all the photos we’d taken over the course of the last 33 years there. The ones with us in them. Those were the photos that counted.

There is an exercise that a friend of mine taught me to help you say goodbye to a house. As you leave, you take the good memories and positive vibes with you, and you place them into your next house. My brother and I talked about the fact that we would be taking all the good memories, all the things that made the house our home, with us. There was no need to be sad.

Of course, that’s always easier said than done. On the final day, as Mum and I emptied out the final boxes and bits and pieces and left the house for the last time, we performed the exercise to say goodbye to the house. While Mum was cheery and getting on with it, eager to move on, I went from room to room thinking about the lives we’d led in the house, good times and bad, and tearing up.

I’d also decided to act on the little seed my brother had planted in my mind and take photos of the house and gardens after all. Thanks to digital photography we can all hoard photos to our heart’s content, so I figured why not.

When I uploaded the photos and looked through them, though, it was the strangest thing: The house, empty now of our furniture, our things, and most importantly us, was just that: an empty house.

It reminded me of a lovely quote by humourist Sam Ewing:

“When you finally go back to your old home, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood.”

So it is with our old family home. My brother and I are no longer able to revisit our past simply by visiting our mum. Now the house has returned to just being a house, as it was before we lived there. And what we’ll miss about it most is what we put in it ourselves: our lives, our heart.
Large empty living room in a house, with curtains drawn

The Hoarding Gene

When my brother and I were teenagers, if our mum found our rooms untidy she would use only one threat to get us to tidy up.

“If you don’t clean this mess up by the time [insert arbitrary deadline here], I am going to throw all this stuff out! All of it! In the rubbish!

My mum does not like mess. She also does not like to hold onto things she no longer needs.

My dad on the other hand, was a hoarder. Dad liked to hold onto everything that ever passed through his hands, or so it seemed when we cleaned out his garage (because in the last decade or so it was definitely his garage and no one else’s) a year after he passed away.
Inside of a garage filled with various objects and rubbishMy brother, his brother-in-law and I took just three and a half hours to clean out what we’d imagined would take three days. We thought we’d be deliberating on each item: Do we need this? Does anyone want to keep it? Can we donate it? Or is it just junk?

As it turns out, there was very little to deliberate on. Save for the comprehensive collection of tools that Dad had amassed, one quick glance around the garage revealed that most of its contents was rubbish.

As we systematically went through it and turfed things out, the men repeatedly asked, “Why would you keep this?” and I would always reply, laughing, “Just in case!” and “You never know!”

Dad was the ultimate re-user, recycler and re-purposer of things so he saw the potential in all objects to become something else. He had both an enormous imagination and a sense of preparedness that would’ve made any scout jealous.

In one enormous box we found about 20 hubcaps from different cars. Rubbish, we decided, and out they all went.

About a month later my mum lost one of the hubcaps on her car. We all saw the irony and could just hear Dad laughing at us from the other side. “See?!” he’d be saying, “What did I tell you?!”

A few of the items in the garage reflected Dad’s acute sentimentality. Some telephones from the 70s and 80s from when he worked in telecommunications, our first portable radio cassette player and, most surprisingly of all, the suitcases that he and Mum brought over from Greece when they first emigrated to Australia in the mid 1960s. They’d been securely wrapped in plastic and were still in good condition.
190s radio casette playertwo 1960s suitcasesInside one of them was a plate with a photo of my parents from around the same time, which had become smoke damaged when we’d had a house fire. Mum had thrown it out with all the other smoke damaged items. To our surprise, Dad had pulled it out of the rubbish and kept it.

If you read the post on my collections you won’t be surprised to hear that I take after my dad in the sentimentality and hoarding stakes. I definitely have the hoarding gene within me and I often think of how dad ended up (he didn’t always have a garage full of junk) and caution myself with “there but for the grace of God go I”.

But I also take after my mum, and definitely have the purging gene in me, too. I find purging really cathartic. Some people, when they find that their cupboards are full and spare rooms overflowing, buy bigger houses or more storage. Not me. When the house is full I realise I’m overdue for a good clean out and get to it. I may hold onto things for a long time but then I’ll decide to clean out a cupboard or a whole room and – whoosh! – it’s all gone. Just like that.

There are pros and cons with each gene. I’ve accidentally held on to some odd little gems that I consider priceless, such as a single copy of the Weird Mysteries comic book series from the 70s. On the other hand, my purging zeal has led to some colossal mistakes being made, such as the time I donated my mint condition 70s Lego sets to charity and then found out they were worth a fortune.
Cover of Weird Mysteries comic book showing a doctor unable to help a patient and a woman pointing to the devilIf you’ve seen the TV show Hoarders you’ll know that serious hoarding always has an emotional basis. The inability to let something go emotionally and the quest to control one’s life in some way manifest in the extreme collection of everything from household goods to household rubbish, to the point where homes and backyards are filled wall to wall and chest high with utter, and in some cases truly bizarre, crap.

But it’s a fine line. In a way, collecting is socially acceptable and sanctioned hoarding. I read recently of a woman who has a shed that holds 13,000 teaspoons. An impressive collection, or a case of organised and narrowly focussed hoarding?

Perhaps we just don’t relate to what hoarders collect because it doesn’t make sense to us in the way a collection of teaspoons might, though for militant purgers like my mum, there is as little sense in a shed with 13,000 teaspoons as there is in my dad’s garage of crap.

Let’s face it, if hoarding is about holding on and purging is about letting go, we’re all hoarders in comparison to say, Buddhist monks, who let go of everything on their path to enlightenment. We could all look around our homes, I’m sure, and think about what meaning we gain from our possessions and what emotions lie behind our inability to let go of some things.

I can see myself giving away a lot of my things and living a very minimalist if not totally ascetic lifestyle when I’m older. Until I get to that point, I’ll continue to balance my two genetic dispositions to hoard and purge. And meanwhile, I’m holding onto that burnt out plate. Not quite ready to let it go.
photo of man and woman from 1960s on a plate that has had smoke damage

Boogie Fever

“Dance is the body at its maximum.” – George Balanchine

Before I started writing compulsively, before I wanted to be a paperback writer, there was dance. Dance was my first love.

I was about five or six when my mum took me along to ballet classes. I was enthralled. It was like learning a secret language that your entire body could speak. It totally captured my imagination.

young girl in bright blue leotard and headband posing with arms out

I can’t tell you how long I attended but I know it wasn’t too long. We moved house to a suburb far away and I was so shy that the idea of having to make new friends not only at school but also at ballet terrified me. When Mum asked me if I wanted to take it up again in our new suburb I said no.

It wasn’t the end of dance in my life though. I was already growing up with dance in my home. My parents had music on all the time and it was not unusual for us to break into dance – whether Greek or otherwise – at any point in the day. My mum could be cooking and a song would come on and she’d down tools and start dancing, grabbing me along the way. Dad was the same.

I absolutely adored musicals, not for the singing but for the dancing. Gene Kelly was the love of my life; I was sure I was going to marry him when I grew up. Singin’ in the Rain was my favourite film until I was in my early 20s and it’s still in my top five. It’s funny, it’s romantic and the dancing is spectacular.

Movie poster from the film Singin in the Rain - two men and a woman in yellow mackintosh raincoats and with umbrellas

These days I listen to a lot of music and no matter what I’m listening to and where I am, I’ll dance. I often dance around the house with the music blaring when I’m cleaning, cooking or even ironing. If I’m in my car, my fingers will tap, my head will nod. I just can’t help it.

I hang out for opportunities to dance with friends and family, be they New Year’s Eve parties, weddings, milestone birthdays or anything else.

One of my favourite TV shows is So You Think You Can Dance. What I love about it is that it exemplifies, in popular format, but not without art and grace, the power of dance to tell a story or express emotion, whether sorrow, passion or pure joy. And the dancers themselves inspire me. Dancers are everything you admire about elite athletes but with art thrown in.

As with other TV talent shows there is always the possibility of an unforgettable moment on each episode. The first one that really took my breath away was a short jazz routine of exquisite artistry choreographed by Wade Robson in Season 3. Two amateur dancers symbolising a hummingbird and a flower dance to perfect music in a piece that both delighted and moved me. Since then I have been delighted and moved many, many times.

The joy of dance can be contagious. One of my favourite clips on YouTube is the Sound of Music mob dance that was performed at Antwerp Central Station in 2009. The expressions on the faces of the onlookers are priceless, as is the reaction of some people who, despite not actually being part of the organised ‘mob’, begin to dance along as well. Dance is like that. It draws you in.

(And if you have any doubts about whether dance can make you laugh, check out the “Stavros Flatley” routine from a past series of Britain’s Got Talent.)

The other day I was stopped at lights in my car. Across the road from me a young man in a t-shirt, shorts and runners was waiting to cross. He had his headphones on and was dancing as he waited – and I don’t just mean nodding his head or swaying his hips a little. I’m talking about full on, out there dancing. He was clearly in a disco wonderland of one, clearly not self-conscious and utterly oblivious to anyone else around him.

I couldn’t help but smile as I caught his very obvious joy. I turned to see if the driver in the car next to me had also noticed him but the young woman I saw at the steering wheel was in her own disco wonderland, not only singing along to whatever music she was listening to but also swaying her head vigorously and gesturing with her hands in what I can only describe as a Saturday Night Fever way.

What can I say? I turned the music up loud and began to dance. Boogie fever had a hold on me.

Man in white suit on dance floor striking dance pose