U3A Adds to My Life

Design and photo © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

I am a member of U3A, University of the Third Age, an organisation designed for retired or semi-retired people over 50.  My focus has been creative writing but U3A provides an opportunity for members to try something different, meet new people, and share and enhance their knowledge and skills in a friendly environment.

World-wide, U3A is making a substantial contribution to societies by helping members to remain healthy and active longer.

University of the Third Age promotes learning for personal enjoyment and well-being for seniors.  Keeping the brain active, doing interesting things and making new friends are essential for helping older Australians maximise their chances of independence.

U3A Brisbane is one of many similar U3A branches throughout Australia. Formed in Brisbane in 1986, they are a volunteer organisation.  Brisbane locations provide leisure, arts and educational courses to local members at low cost each term.

Classes are conducted on Zoom and in person at a number of venues subject to Covid-19 restrictions.  

CLICK A LINK! ENHANCE YOUR SKILLS OR DISCOVER A NEW ONE:   

U3A Brisbane https://www.u3abrisbane.org.au/

U3A Queensland https://www.u3aqld.org.au/

U3A Australia https://u3aaa.org/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Front doors of U3A Adelaide Street, Brisbane.

Google Upsets and My Star Wars Encounter

Google upsets me on a regular basis.

Why does Google dismay me?  Make me groan, make me feel deflated? And what’s Star Wars got to do with it?

Give me five minutes and I will tell you why…

Google images can show me anything and anyone from anywhere in the world.  Every famous person I ever knew when I was growing up in the 20th century.  Every one of the legendary, beautiful, talented, celebrated people who shared my life (vicariously) now have their lives electronically, digitally, chronologically recorded for all time—and not unexpectedly they have all grown old.

But it is unexpected to me.

They were my idols, my inspiration and now they are looking like my grandfather or my grandmother. Eek! Am I shallow?

Okay I’m older too, but (discreet cough) less so…

Every single person born on this planet has the prospect of growing old. Sadly, millions don’t make it due to many varied and tragic reasons; one of which the world is currently experiencing.

Ageing is a normal occurrence in life, and while celebrities may try to subvert nature’s course (I am not a fan of surgical enhancement and 82 year-old Jane Fonda is finally quitting) ageing is a dreadful fact we all have to acknowledge.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

It doesn’t mean I should stop using Google.

Hang on, there are distinguished vocations which seem to be exempt, the more august their features, the better their kudos. Even authors seem to be allowed a few saggy features. But I digress.

I should not (cannot) ignore it.

What old age means to me is that I will never ever get used to seeing a vibrant, happy, slim, trim, gorgeous male, female, androgynous (term used back then) human being with a fabulous personality, body, voice, career, sink slowly into their old age, creeping ever closer to the eternal departure lounge.

I am callously referring to celebrities of stage and screen, actors, singers, bands, artists, e.g. the upper stratosphere of very public stardom.

With or without their cosmetic surgery I am trying to maintain the love and respect. But those dreaded Before and After shots.  Gosh, these days I wouldn’t even recognise most of them in the supermarket. 

“Hold on,” you shout in an agitated fashion, “don’t be so cruel and superficial! They still have their brains (hopefully) and their photo albums, family, friends and big mansion.  Stop making out they are turning into something akin to Frankenstein’s monster.” 

Relax, dude.  All I am saying is that when I see a wrinkly (another 20th century word) I am looking at the face of my own mortality.  That’s what I will look like eventually.  So will you.  Is it fair?  Of course not.  Ageing can be slowed but will only cease when we do.

The best we ordinary citizens can hope for is an active life, good health care and a reasonably good digestive tract.  After all, I can hide away, I can grow old without someone shoving a camera in my face and asking me about a 1980s indiscretion I can’t even remember.

Hmm… I vaguely recall that night when…

Captain’s Log, Star Date—oops, wrong ship.

In a city far, far away, a young couple finished their late night coffee. They strolled past the refurbished Regent Theatre cinema complex where earlier they had been unlucky not to get tickets to see the star-studded Australian premiere opening of the latest greatest movie, that box office smash, the record breaking 1980 “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” still in-session behind closed doors.

A cool August night in Brisbane City and the main street, Queen Street, was quiet.  Back then it was a through road not a pedestrian mall, no trees in planters, no CCTV, no security patrols, no shops open, just dull street lighting and carparks which closed before midnight.

Apart from her shoulder pads slipping, the young woman had to adjust her big fluffy hairdo every time she was pitched forward when her high heels jammed in the brickwork pavement. As the couple reminisced on some of the amazing sci-fi special effects they had seen in the first Star Wars movie, a doorman (possibly the manager) said “Good night, gentlemen.”

This young couple turned and saw a short man and a tall man (both in tuxedos) walk through a side door of the closed cinema and step onto the pavement in front of them. These two gentlemen looked left and right, assessed the situation and while not exactly puzzled, they obviously expected to see a limousine waiting.

Dazed, the young couple stopped and smiled at them.  The taller of the two men, who looked remarkably like Billy Dee Williams, aka Lando Calrissian, smiled back and said “Is it always this quiet around here?”

Brave little Storm Trooper wandered onto the wrong film set © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

The young woman nodded.

She wanted to say “As soon as the pubs and cinemas close here’s nothing for it but go home.”

The young man said “There are usually some after-parties. You could try Lennons.”

The shorter man, Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, laughed.  “Maybe that’s where we’re headed.”  Seconds later a small dark blue car zoomed down the street and pulled in beside the group.

“That’s our ride,” said Mark, “nice to meet you.”  He opened the back door of the car and hopped inside.  He gave the couple a cheery wave and turned to speak to the driver.

The Lando Calrissian look-alike (possibly bodyguard) shook the young man’s hand and said “Great little town you got here” and he opened the car door and sat in the front seat.  Before he shut the door, he added “Have a good night.”

The couple responded by returning the remark, feeling silly and star-struck.  They stood like statues until the vehicle and its celebrity cargo disappeared into the night.  At that point, they turned to each other and shouted “Yippee!” and proceeded to make happy noises like “Wow” and “Can you believe it?” and “That was Luke Skywalker!”

There was not another living soul, or car or bus, on Queen Street with them. It didn’t even matter that they had no pen or paper for autographs, it didn’t even matter why that famous young star was leaving the venue early, and it certainly didn’t matter that mobile phones and instant video were many years away.

Star Wars Encounter 1980

This couple had met and spoken to Mark Hamill, and a man who looked curiously like rogue Lando Calrissian. What a bonus, right outside the movie theatre where they had yet to see the Brisbane screening of “The Empire Strikes Back”, a George Lucas film franchise destined to spawn an empire of its own.

The young couple, er, mainly the woman, squealed “Wait till the others hear about this!”

This second instalment of the original Star Wars trilogy features Luke, a Tatooine farmboy who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the greatest Jedi the galaxy has ever known, and Lando who is introduced as an old friend of Han Solo. Newspaper archives report the Brisbane premiere was Saturday 2nd August 1980 and other States followed.

My point being?

In September 2021 Mark Hamill will be 70, and in April 2021 Billy Dee Williams will be 84—and that is “Senior” class.

Where did the time go?

I will have to find the phone number for Dr Who’s call box.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


A rare look into the private life of US actor Mark Hamill
https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Culture/rare-glimpse-family-life-star-wars-icon-mark/story?id=54366947

ABC News and Lucasfilm are both part of parent company Disney.

Radio personality Laurel of Radio 4KQ had a similar encounter that night. As a teen, Laurel was inside the Regent Theatre with autograph book at the ready. Her experience was more tangible than mine but nevertheless both memorable moments.

Spreaker Podcast of Laurel meeting Mark Hamill back in 1980.

Revisiting Adult Colouring Books

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Remember when adult colouring between the lines was all the rage?  Pages and pages of black and white sketches bound in bright covers which swept the world and swamped book retailers.

Themes were many and varied from new age, retro, zen, buildings, abstracts, swirls, flora and fauna, all cleverly pitched at adults without the 'adults only' content.  It was certainly a fad and the biggest publishing push since Harry Potter hit the shelves.

The idea was that it should calm and relax anyone over 30 but it seemed to be a bigger hit with the over 60s especially those with grandchildren.  In the library during craft time, youngsters would often wander off as one or two monopolists relived their kindergarten days with intense concentration.  So, perhaps there was logic behind the publication frenzy.

In 2015, I was given the pocket-size publication ‘The Little Book of Calm Colouring – Portable Relaxation‘ which has beautiful quotes to accompany each drawing.  I dug out a variety of pencils and doodled when the mood took me.  I must admit that I can’t finish a full picture in one sitting so I return later to give it an abstract expressionist tweak here and there.

This kit travels with me on long weekends and the odd holiday but I’m not sure if I will ever complete the book.  What I have completed was very enjoyable – here’s a small selection of my pencil handiwork.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Sci-Fi Comes to Life

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When a mature person says to me “I don’t understand new technology” my reply is “If a human invented it, a human can use it”.  I believe every senior can master modern technology, and benefit from it.

I wasn’t always pro-IT, I thought it was invasive and time-wasting, not to mention eroding our good manners.  You know, that person who keeps one eye on their mobile phone, flicking their thumb over the screen while you’re trying to have a conversation.  I avoided e-readers, I kept my landline phone and used a small pre-paid mobile for texting only.  Then I realised I was missing out on a lot of good things!

“Digital technology allows us a much larger scope to tell stories that were pretty much the grounds of the literary media” – George Lucas
Read more https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/digital_technology

Things like blogging, exploring a holiday destination with Google Maps, or my cousin walking around her kitchen with a laptop while I viewed the design via Skype.  And the ability to download an e-book or watch a video on my iPad any time of the day or night.  The joy of being connected to the internet for instant information on my mobile, staying in touch simply and easily, this liberation never ceases to amaze me.  Everything from family to fashion, bookings to e-newsletter subscriptions, all via technology.

In the State Library of Queensland Digital Futures Lab, one of my delights is showing seniors the Augmented Reality Sandpit and Virtual Reality.  They are just as gob-smacked as me.  It is our early viewing diet of sci-fi shows coming to life!  Perhaps phone etiquette needs improving, and I may never give myself over to 24/7 connectivity, but I enjoy the benefits of IT and have fun exploring the endless world wide web on a device as small as my hand.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

N.B. This post also appeared on State Library of Queensland blog for Seniors Week.
http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/slq-today/2017/08/10/sci-fi-comes-to-life/