Wednesday, August 31, 2005

White Girl in the Pool - Tra la la la la.....

Earlier this year, we three Pluggers had ten very glorious, sun-drenched days in Port Douglas, tropical Queensland.

All three of us enjoyed the steamy heat, the warm and inviting swimming pools, the fans cooling us down (very reminiscent of Darwin) and, of course – darling Love Chunks' cooking. Our accommodation was a 2br townhouse with fairly basic kitchen gear, yet LC managed to rustle up fully-cooked breakfasts, curries, marinated and BBQed steaks and superb spaghetti Bolognese (the perennial favourite dish of our little one – and mine, to be honest).

We two grown ups had fastidiously participated in a rigorous 15 day detox diet that finished the day before our holiday commenced. Both of us were 3kg lighter and certainly intended to enjoy welcoming back our old food friends Dairy, Wine, Chocolate, Meat, Cake, Chips and Sugar back into the family fold (or should that be stomach folds). Despite our newly-regained dietary freedom we were both reasonably restrained for holiday makers.

The reason for this uncharacteristic culinary control was mostly due to seeing some of the other guests who shared the resort and pools with us – mostly parents our age or younger. It was with mild horror we witnessed a rather huge percentage of beginner beer guts, fat backs and love handles of the men and the multiple chins, life-preserver waists and ice cream cone thighs of the women. We were also shocked though by some of the garb worn by these brave folk – tiny bikinis and miniscule speedos – all worn with confidence and ease in such a public area.
We then realised that we looked rather fit and slim in comparison to most of them.

Don’t get me wrong; everyone deserves to be relaxed and have fun on holiday regardless of their size and I admit to being pretty harsh when making comment on the appearances of others (mostly to deflect attention from my own). And, even though I’m a tallish size 12 gal who’s fairly fit, I’m white. Whiter than white. Legs like fluoro tubes. Arms like chunks of new chalk. Face so pale that people always think I’m recovering from a viral infection. This unwanted whiteness is never more apparent than around the pool wearing bathers.

Although we have all known for years that a tan is risking sun damage and skin cancer, I defy anyone to line up two women of the same body size and appearance - with the only difference being that one is tanned and one is not - and not admit that the tanned one looks thinner, fitter and healthier. Carrying a little extra weight is easier to hide if you’re a golden brown – cellulite is no friend of the pallid colourless sufferers amongst us.

So, I was naughty. I decided to do my utmost to get a tan. For the entire ten days I slathered every visible part of my body with factor 30+ sunscreen, rotisserating myself half-hourly like a take-away chicken. I swam 40 laps every late afternoon with the sun beating down on my arms, back, shoulder and legs and moisturized every evening with a fevour that Mrs Nivea would be proud of. Sunburn did not dare venture my way once – surely I was attaining a tiny, tiny bit of pigment? Surely I was no longer the whitest one in the pool?

All too soon, our lovely holiday was at its end. Strolling back to reception to hand over the key, the porter remarked to me, “Welcome to our resort Mrs Plugger. Have you just arrived from Antarctica?” Well, Antarctica might be exaggerating the exchange a tad, but you get my drift.

It was time for some chemical assistance. The promise of a Sunless, Golden Glow For An Ultra Natural Tanning Result was impossible to turn down. The morning after we arrived to autumnal fog in South Australia, the fake tanner came out. Or, as cosmetics companies prefer, ‘Moisturising Bronzer.’ The instructions, well, instructed me to get in the shower, shave everything worth shaving, exfoliate everything worth exfoliating, get out, dry off and moisturise everything worth moisturising. All OK so far------
KNOCK KNOCK – “Mum! Can I come in to the bathroom to wash my hands?”
“Um, can you drag a chair into the laundry and use the tap in the trough?”
(uncertainly) “Oh, OK.”

The bronzer was applied in smooth, even strokes with very little applied to the dry areas of heels and knees. As I sparingly rubbed it into my elbows, it reminded me of what Billy Connolly once said: ‘Elbows are where God put his left over testicle skin. He thought it was a sin to waste it.’ Next step read ‘Let set for 30 mins before wearing any clothing.’ Thirty minutes, it’s bloody freezing in here! Dammit, I forgot to bring in my watch. One elephant, two elephants, three elephants, four….. My fingers were turning blue. Perhaps a jog on the spot would make things a bit warmer. Perhaps not. The lack of elasticated underwire support made things in the chest area rather painful. I didn’t dare fold my arms under my rack in case it led to unsightly sweat lines.

Bugger it, I thought, surely it’ll be easier just to streak into the bedroom where at least the heating was on-----
BRRRRRING went the front door bell. Marvellous, that’s just flippin’marvellous. Our stupid, pink, 1980s anti-feng shui nightmare of a bathroom is directly in line with the front door, and I had no intention of providing any sort of visual comic relief to the hapless visitor. In the meantime all I could do to keep warm was a sort of crippled side-to-side shuffle like a teenage boy at his first disco, and hope that the visitor would leave soon---
“Mum, there’s a guy from the post office here for you. He’s got a package that he says you’ve gotta sign for.”
Poo Bum Bugger Shit Fart. “Where’s your Daddy? Can you get him to sign it?”
“Daddy’s in the toilet.” And not likely to emerge until the first buds of Spring.
“TELL HIM I’LL BE THERE IN FIVE MINUTES,” I yelled to her through the keyhole. My lovely little one relayed the message.
“Mum he can’t wait around, he’s got other deliveries to do he says.”
Stuff all this – “Tell him I’ll be right there.”
“Sign here please.” He didn’t even look up. It felt nice and warm in my dressing gown and I no longer cared if the thirty minutes were up. ‘Your true golden tan will be achieved in three hours,’ it said on the tube. Whatever, it was nearly my bedtime anyway.

“Whew, what on earth is wrong with you?” said Love Chunks, sniffing at me seductively as we settled into bed.
“Bronzing lotion,” I muttered.
“FAKE TAN? Why? You’re a whitey and you can’t change that, it’ll look strange. It smells strange….”
“Yeah well, it’s OK for you, brown boy. You just have to think about wearing shorts and you’re nice and tanned. I hate being mistaken for the first full moon.”
The bed was shaking slightly in the darkness. We weren’t doing any horizontal folk dancing, LC was laughing.

The next morning found me in the shower, frantically trying to exfoliate off the orange streaks. Clearly my application technique was not as smooth or even as I’d hoped. There were distinct finger print marks at the back of my neck and a generous amount of lotion run-off had decided to settle within my cleavage, forming a fetching fault-line of orange zig zags. My legs were golden but my feet looked as though they’d been varnished in a hailstorm. As for my arms, well, on their own they appeared sun-kissed, but I’d been too stringent in ensuring that my palms didn’t turn orange, so my hands were still pallid. It gave the impression of the gloves worn by Mickey Mouse.

It was the only time in my life that I was glad it was 14C, raining and cold. Thank the lord for black polo neck jumpers, jeans and gloves.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bloody Hell!

Today's paper tells us that a secondary school in Wellingsborough, Britain is to allow students to swear at their teachers. There's one condition: they are only allowed to do it five times per lesson.

As an ex-high school teacher (of one year!) myself, I realised long ago that the old phrase: "You wouldn't say that at home," is no longer true. When I conducted an after-school meeting to discuss the pretty-well total illiteracy of sixteen year old Damian, his father introduced himself to me as 'Animal.' Animal had apparently fathered Damian at fifteen: "A quick root after school and look what I ended up with," and had raised him on his own as a single father. "Christ it's f**king hard," he confided to me, "I'm not surprised the bloody bugger can't read, I can't hardly read nothin' either."

These days, as a mother who regularly picks up her child from school, I overhear conversations by other parents. Nadine greets her six year old daughter with: "How are you, you cheeky little s**t?" and envelops her in a tobacco-scented bear hug. It's difficult not to visibly cringe at this but one day I said the 'S word' when a car pulled out in front of me without any warning. "Mum! Don't say that - it's naughty!" admonished my daughter from her booster seat. "Sorry," I replied humbly. "You're right, it is wrong to say that. I was a bit shocked and it slipped out."

Have you taken a ride on your local bus recently? Teen-aged boys are the undisputed masters at slotting in f*** as a form of punctuation in every sentence. Two apprentice plumbers were in front of me, exaggerating their weekend exploits to each other: "...and then I f***en told him, I said f**k that s**t, I'm going to f**king do what I f**ken want to....", "Yeah", said his mate, empathetically. "F**k that for a f**king joke. I reckon we should just f**ken go and tell that f**ker that we're not going to f**ken take it anymore." Grandma Moses hobbled on board several stops later, and the two potty mouth pubescents immediately offered her their seat, politely said hello and lowered the volume of their f**kin' conversation.

But at school? Five times per lesson? Six or eight lessons a day? Is it during a normal conversation or as a way of addressing the teacher? Can the teachers use it to punk up their lessons? "So then, when Julius Caesar felt the knives in his back, he said, "Et tu Brutus, you f**king betraying prick!"

Will they be allowed to include at least five swear words in each piece of homework they submit? "So Burke and Wills were completely up s**t creek. Their mates were all f**king dead and they'd had it all up the a**e. They were drier than a nun's ****" Teacher's written comment: "That's some great s**t, Steven, and very well researched."

The F-Word has certainly made it into the every day work place. F is used to emphasise commitment and solid work in many a meeting. "Look, we've got to f**king work our a***s off or we're screwed!" Perhaps there are some canny consultants working on developing some new f**king buzzwords that will make it into companies' future mission statements very soon.....

My father was a high school teacher for many years and I'm regularly reminded of his view that swearing just shows that the person hasn't got the imagination to say anything more clever. My darling husband Love Chunks and I have made a concerted effort not to swear in front of our daughter and we mostly succeed. In fact I think we've ended up with an over zealous puritan who has been known to lecture my mother - her grandma - when she said that "Your Grandpa fell off his ladder whilst painting the shed today and really bruised his bum." (Sharp intake of shocked breath): "Ooooh Grandma! Don't say BUM, say bottom. Or maybe butt," she suggested helpfully.

Last night, as she was being tucked into bed, nightlight switched on and clutching her rather grubby Jessie-the-Cowgirl doll, I asked her: "Do you swear? Do you know what the F-word is?"
"No I don't Mum," she replied instantly. "And I do know what the F-word is."
"What is it?" I asked gingerly.
"It's (nervous pause)'s, um.....well, are you sure I can say it out loud?"
"Of course, you know that you can tell me anything, as long as it's honest."
(Deep breath) "Well Mum, it's FAT. You should never, ever call anyone (pause)..... FAT."
I nodded and smiled at her. "You're right. That is a horrible word and no-one should ever be called it. Goodnight sweetie."
"Goodnight Mum." I gently closed the door, wondering - as I end up doing on an almost-daily basis - whether she could ever learn as much from me as I do from her.

Love Chunks was waiting in the lounge. "Everything OK?"
"Yeah. Let's hope the little f***er sleeps through the night, or I'll be feeling like s**t tomorrow."

Monday, August 29, 2005

Survivor 11 – Guatemala

Here’s what the official blurb from the CBS website ( says: “Stranded deep in the Guatemalan rainforests amidst the ruins of an ancient civilization, 16 castaways must live together and compete for the million-dollar prize. Who will outwit, outplay and outlast all others in Guatemala?’

Despite getting on my high horse about the crassness and stupidity of shows like Big Brother, Temptation Island et al, I love Survivor. I’ve seen every series except the first which was probably a blessing in disguise because there was enough of Richard Hatch’s nudey-rudey exploits in the All-Star series.

If you’re a fan like me, or mildly interested or keen to have a cyber bet on who will win (without having anything to go on other than the players’ descriptions), then write a comment under this post with your email details, playing ‘name’ (it can be a nickname) and your final three picks for the ultimate survivor. I will be posting a summary of each episode and a Premiership Table of those in the competition.
So, who are they?

Amy – 39 year old police sergeant. Looks like one too. She’s an ex-professional football player (only in America….) who likes weight training. Surprisingly she’s straight and married with two cats.

Blake – 24 year old real estate broker and aspiring model who studied at Oxford. Well, he was there for a year but it sounds intellectual and stuff. He lists his three favourite activities as skydiving, hunting (??!) and kissing. If you check out the width of his mouth, you may feel a little frightened if he lunged in to suck your face….

Brandon – 22 year old farmer who looks like the half-brother of the pop group Hanson or a surfer who took a pipeline too far into the bible belt. He’s most proud of climbing to the top of his local radio tower and therefore shows us that he has about as much life experience as a soft-boiled egg.

Brian – 22 year old student with a psychology degree. Was voted ‘Prom Prince’ and ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ in high school. Like Brandon, he has absolutely no life experience but “I’ve written papers on it.” Let’s hope that the youngster realises that he could be risking more than a paper cut or liquid paper inhalation injury in Guatemala.

Judd – 34 year old hotel doorman. Looks like Boston Rob’s older brother crossed with a Lindt ball. Likes baseball (obviously watching it with a bag of Doritos, not playing), bike riding (ditto) and coaching his daughter’s softball team. Married with one kid.

Lydia – 42 year old fishmonger. Reckons that she’s lived all over the world as an ‘army brat’ and has a degree in early childhood education, which may come in handy when dealing with all of the young uns in Guatemala. Likes to swim, so hopefully she can translate her fish-mongering skills into fish catching skills.

Margaret – 43 year old nurse who works at a clinic providing free healthcare to poor families. Loves scuba diving, volleyball and hiking through rainforests. Is married with 2 sons and 2 dogs. Too wholesome for me to mock (at this stage, anyway).

Morgan – 21 year old Magician’s Assistant and waitress who already looks like she could do with a long hard session at a smorgasbord. Morgan was a dancer in high school and a cheerleader in college. No mention of a degree, so I’m going to think the worst of the US tertiary system and assume it’s a Bachelor of Pep Rallying.

Rafe – 21 year old student who looks like Boris Becker’s kookier younger brother. Was raised by a Mormon inventor father and artist mother and spent his childhood “painting rocks and taking machines apart.” As you do. Now studying biology and anthropology and runs a cooking class for other students. A busy little chap, isn’t he?

Gary – 46 year old ex-NFL Quarterback for the Dallas cowboys, now a real-estate developer. What the hell does he need a million bucks for? Surely some of the others (maybe the older ones) will have heard of him? Likes hunting and horseback riding and is married with four kids, 1 dog, a cat and three horses. A real contender, if the others don’t gang up on him and kick him out.

Jamie – 24 year old water-ski instructor based in California; so yes, he’s also an aspiring actor. His portrait shows a bowl-cut and eyebrows that the Oasis brothers would kill for. Was his high school’s wrestling champion, but bucked the bonehead trend and also got a degree in finance. Actually maybe he is still a bonehead – why earn a degree in finance, only to work as a ski instructor wanting to be an actor?

Jim – 63 year old retired firefighter. He started in the marines, and then worked as a firefighter. After he retired, he climbed the Himalayas and some other pointy places in Peru. He’s currently taking helicopter flying lessons and is building one of his own. At least he’s not under his wife’s feet at home. Has three grown children.

Brianna – 21 year old make up artist, and obviously a huge fan of Magic Tan, if her photo is to be believed. Was a high school cheerleader and dancer and a member of the Christian Youth Club. Hmmm, a cute-but-god-lovin’ bimbo – must have been a real challenge for the guys at her school!

Cindy – 31 year old zookeeper who previously worked as a pet counselor (????) Looks very fit and muscular as indicated by her hobbies of fishing, camping and canoeing. Another genuine contender (as long as she has a sense of humour).

Brooke – 26 year old law student with eyebrows like exhausted commas. (If that description doesn’t make you curious enough to visit NBC’s website, nothing will). Likes skiing (are you listening, Jamie) and playing Frisbee with her dog.

Danni – 30 year old sports radio co-host. Looks gorgeous enough to be on TV, not radio, so it’s no surprise that she’s an ex-model as well. Was Miss Kansas in 1996 and still holds the 2 mile relay record at her high school. She loves to play, read and talk about all sports. And she’s SINGLE fellas!

So, do you want to play? If yes, please send me your final three picks by close-of-business 15th September by writing to me via the comments box at the end of this article. Include your real name (just for me), your game name (for public consumption) and your final three picks.

I was sad and desperate enough to phone Channel Nine who have confirmed that they will be playing the series, but aren’t sure yet on what date or what time. Stay Tuned!
To the perspicacious cognoscenti readers of my intendedly-quotidian tarradiddle

Or, to put it more simply: Howdy to you acutely perceptive and informed people who have a great appreciation for my mostly- daily bloggings! If only everything that was written (or spoken about, especially during some movie review shows on TV) was this easy to understand!

First thing in the morning, when my darling daughter has Lilo and Stitch blasting away on the DVD, Love Chunks is clattering around in the kitchen and my face has yet to unfold from it's slumber; I am struggling to read the four-inch-high headlines on the front page, let alone attempting to decipher what Congruent, Exiguous or Pusilanimous mean. If I could be bothered at that time of the morning (7am on a Sunday, usually) to stagger to the bookshelf and open up the Collins, I'd discover that they mean - in order of mention: agreeing; scanty or meagre; and cowardly. I believe that it is rather too quixotic of some of those poncy reviewers and columnists to assume that us tired parents in the 'burbs have the energy to expand our brains to that level of thinking. Quixotic, by the way, is rather appropriate. It translates as having an unrealistically optimistic approach to life. Kind of like those over-paid, over-publicised quasi-famous columnists who are only in the paper because they married - or divorced - well or got invited to Bec and Lleyton's shotgun nuptuals.

Oh dear, I'm starting to catch on to this trend, aren't I - somehow quasi found it's way in there; and it was either that or 'psuedo' which seems to be going out of fashion as quickly as the foodies' once-hallowed nouvelle cuisine. 'Pastiche' was another one favoured by critics; especially loved by those funny old fighting farts Margaret and David from the movie show. Whilst it means a work of art (ie movie) that mixes styles and materials, we ourselves would normally walk out of a cinema and comment something like: "Geez he doesn't half want to be Quentin Tarantino, does he?"

Ubiquitous is a very 'in' word right now. To use another foodie analogy, it's the 'fusion cuisine' of the noughties. Angelina Jolie is ubiquitous, or everywhere, right now. In the gossip magazines, shagging Brad, adopting kiddies, attending movie premieres in designer dresses and getting herself tattooed in third world countries.

Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie and Lyndsey Lohan unfortunately represent the Zeitgeist of 2005. Yes, that means they symbolise the spirit or attitude of our times. To be an orange magic-tanned, blonded bag of bones wearing silver dental floss is what, in 2005, is considered newsworthy and worth paying for. Being ulotrichous, is not. Curly hair these days needs to be straightened. Nicole Kidman, the poor old piece of long white chalk, has to iron her hair flat to ensure that her appearance continues to give us onlookers the frisson of delight we expect and for her reviews to be efficacious.

Now normally I'm fairly obdurate, or hard-hearted when it comes to celebrities and the pampered and cossetted world in which they find themselves. However, annoying words are not merely saved for movie reviews, but also for the - gulp - work environment. All through 2004 and now 2005 I had the word 'milieu' shoved down my throat. I guess the consultant that our company had paid megabucks for thought that saying 'group' or 'setting' was not as glamorous as dragging out a French word and we were meant to be bowled over by her brainy brilliance. Sadly for her, it provoked an invidious reaction by myself and my colleagues - we hated it and hated her. Her beyond-even-the-bad-buzzwords approach to selling her ideas led me to cacchinate (laugh loudly) at the most inappropriate moments, making it extremely obvious the dissimilitude between us. If only she'd bothered to summarise her findings in plain english instead of announcing that she was about to 'adumbrate' her recommendations. It was not without a small amount of pleasure to notice that, later, when I looked up 'adumbrate' in the dictionary, the word 'dumb' was smack-bang in the middle of it.

Still, what does the consultant care? She leads a peripatetic existence, travelling from one project and company to another, so she's cashed her princely pay cheque and is long gone before the excrement hits the cooling device.

All I can wish for her is that she catches pertussis (whooping cough) and has to sleep with a stertorous (heavy snorer) partner every night. The last thing we need is for jargon-spouting suckheads like her to achieve total hegemony over our working lives. As for you, dear reader, I hope that my heuristic intentions have helped you learn something - big words don't necessarily mean big brain, or big points to make. We little people have to stick to our guns - We think, therefore we Are. That's good enough for me.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Not a Winner

Despite considering myself reasonably intelligent, I still buy a ticket for the Saturday night lotto draw every week.

Australia's population has now reached twenty million and any mathematician (ie, my husband, Love Chunks) will tell you that the chances of selecting the winning six numbers from a combination of 45, is well, about 123,456,789 to one. Most of us would have either created a program or seen a friend create one that compares the success of choosing the same six numbers every week to varying them each week - with the same six winning by a flea's eyelash.
To complicate things further (at least for a mathematically-deficient meathead like me) is that most people tend to select their 'regular six' using birthdates which means that numbers above 31 are unlikely to feature on their tickets. Whether any boffin has bothered to work out the odds of selecting numbers 32 to 45 to increase the chances of winning is probably still being undertaken by those dateless virgins stuck to desks in their bedrooms on Saturday nights.

Yet, as admitted to earlier, I buy a ticket and, before I've even left the newsagent, idly waste about ten minutes of my life musing about the 'What if I Won Lotto' fantasy. Yes, the most unoriginal, unrewarding and unrealistic daydream that every person above the age of seven has entertained at least once in their lives. It's pathetic and even though I'd like to think I was above all that, I still do it - kind of like believing that an orange eaten after a Kit-Kat cancels out the wickedness of the chocolate.

On Sunday mornings I flick to page two of the newspaper; write down the winning lotto numbers (and the two supps - any money is good money) and then meticulously check my ticket. Nope, not even a division six prize, dammit. On Monday morning whilst doing the shopping I take that same ticket in to the newsagents to get them to run it through their computer, vainly hoping that I'd mis-checked and the numbers would tell a better story. The bored shop assistant slips it into the slot, counts to three and hands me back my ticket and a slip and tells me, "Sorry, not this time love." And here's the killer: the slip says 'NOT A WINNER,' as if to rub salt in my already pus-infected wound of disappointment.

Why don't they just go all out and say 'YOU'RE A TOTAL LOSER' instead? Perhaps they could also get a bit creative with the rejection slips and have a different one each time: 'You're still poor. And ugly'. Or: 'You should be happy that you even had the guts to turn up here today and not frighten any of our customers'; 'Hell, a face like yours would be able to sand down a log,'; or 'Trust me, you didn't win last time, didn't win this time and will never win. Rack off.'
This would be the one I'd get: 'You lost. Now get out of here; you make the place look untidy.'

Hope springs eternal though as there was also the work lotto club. We would all chip in our $2 for the week and get a group ticket. However, as soon as I joined up, we didn't win a brass razoo. (What is a 'razoo' exactly? Well whatever it was, we never won it). Our statistical analyst suggested that the odds would be far more favourable if we tried putting our money on a horse race, taking it in turns to select the race and whichever horse's name appealed to us. Twelve months of that and still no pot of gold. How about the greyhounds? Zilcho. Our other stats guy helpfully pointed out that if we'd invested our weekly contributions we'd have fully paid for our christmas lunch, endless drinks and taxi fares by now. He was promptly shoved into the photocopier room and ignored until the deadline rush for our unit's monthly finance reports.

The unit's stalwart, Brian, had a twinkle in his smug, 'I'm sixty-four and will be out of here soon' eyes. What about El Gordo? "Nah, I've never eaten there, I had a bad experience once with those refried beans and-------" No you imbecile, the Spanish lottery. Anyone from anywhere can enter and the prize pool is $200 million US. It's drawn twice a year, so how does five bucks each sound? It sounded OK, actually. Unfortunately, Brian still showed up for work the Monday after the big draw, face solemn, muttering to himself, "Bugger it, I still have to work here."

Scratchies were our last resort. Two bucks each, so we could buy a whole toilet roll of them and take it in turns each week to scratch them all. It was absolutely tragic - our biggest windfall was $3 and we'd only spent $22 to 'win' it.

Is there a message in all of this? Well obviously it's to keep your money in your wallet or the bank, isn't it? But we don't do we? We all like to wish, hope and fantasise. My naive little gambling bug also extends to entering competitions. Thankfully I'm not like my friend Bill's sister who ended up buying 16 jars of mustard for the entry tokens, but I am prepared to pay for a 50c stamp to enter a competition on the back of a packet that I'd ordinarily buy.

And what have I won? Well, I wanted to win the First Class around-the-world tickets on offer, but got the consolation prize of a Deeko paper serviette holder instead. It's actually rather useful and is a quite attractive wrought iron design..... I also wanted to win the Cadbury $250,000 cash promotion, but got a blue plastic 'Time Out' watch instead. I suppose it's proved handy for gardening and swimming, and getting some facial cleanser and toner from Jurlique was OK but I felt a bit shortchanged when what I really wanted was all-expenses paid fortnight's health and beauty retreat at the Golden Door in Queensland....

At the time of typing this, I'm still hoping to come up trumps for:
  • The Willy Wonka 'Golden Ticket' to the Nestle factory (I want to have my ashes strewn across Cadburys when I depart this earthly existence, so this prize would come a close second);
  • The Surf washing power 'Win $50,000 in the box' campaign;
  • Farmers Union's 'Win a Four Wheel Drive and Fishing Boat (for Love Chunks);
  • Marie claire's 'A week in Fijian Paradise' holiday;
  • Kleenex tissues' $200,000 Winter Warmer travel prize; and
  • Blind Society's 'BMW' raffle.

Overly optimistic and pathetic, yes. But the day I stop hoping is the day I'll stop living; regardless of the mathematical logic. And I ain't a logical gal, as Love Chunks and the general population will readily tell you.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sweet Mystery, where have you gone?

It would be safe to say that, for most successful relationships and marriages, your beloved partner gets to see you at your absolute worst, yet still stays around and puts up with it. Right? Is it any wonder then, that Hollywood marriages only last the standard time that intrigue and passion does - about twelve months. Is it then that these overly-cossetted celebrities realise that the daily indignities of morning breath, smelly shoes and farting is not at all acceptable within their unrealistically sanitised concept of long-lasting love?

Even a mathematical numbnut like me could figure out that the average length of a stars' marriage is miniscule compared to ours in the real world. My own relationship is going on for thirteen years, ten of 'em married. Whilst Love Chunks and I are proud of this achievement, we also accept that there is very little of the intrigue and romance of our first twelve months together. But would we have it any other way?

My foggy brain thinks back to my dating days: when we thought River Phoenix was a drug-free vegan, Seinfeld was new and those crazy Branch Davidians were a bit over-zealous with their pop guns. The pre-date preparation always involved a shower, cleanly shaven legs, nice perfume, a hint of make-up and a new outfit. And today? LC leaves for work by 7am and sees me in my once-white towelling robe, ugg boots, matted hair, dragon breath and a face not yet unfolded from the shape of the pillow. He's still willing to kiss me goodbye and is even kind enough to say "See you tonight."

Alas for him, most of my effort goes into the work persona after he's long gone to work - styled hair, subtle mascara and lipstick, snappy suit and the latest boots. When I get home, that gear is immediately thrown aside and replaced with tracksuit pants, the ubiquitous ugg boots and a shapeless windcheater that's able to hide the bralessness. This is what the lucky LC comes home to every night.

Bedtime in the heady first days? Too x-rated, fun and exuberant to mention with no concerns for the lateness of the hour, comparing our states of exhaustion or having to keep an ear out for the kids. Today it seems as though I'm doing everything I possibly can to appear as unattractive and as 'nocturnally unavailable' as possible, but not intentionally so. After cleaning and flossing the teeth, locking all doors and switching off the lights, I drag my now aching body into the Marital Magic room. LC's already in bed, reading. I hang up the dressing gown, kick off the uggs and slather lavender cream over my cracked hands (soaking stained uniforms in napisan will do that to you) whilst my wheat bag is being nuked in the microwave. This hot bag now smells like a horse trough and is draped around my neck which seems to be permanently cricked. I give my snozz one last full-throttled HONK into a tissue and spray two squirts of Rhinocort up each nostril. I then pop in a valerian tablet to help me sleep and slip on my mouthguard. This infernal contraption makes me lisp, so dear old LC is treated to a slurpy "Goodnight Ssshweetie, Sssshleep well," as he turns out the light. There is a bit of surreptitious fumbling in the darkness - I can't find my bedsocks and it's freezing in here!

But wait - there's more. Even in our unconscious states, we 'treat' each other to aspects of our physical selves that don't exactly leave us smelling of roses. Dutch ovens, for a start. I can't help it - if that's what my digestive plumbing needs to do, then so be it. LC gets his own back via his snoring; so sonorous our blinds rattle. Many's the time I've lain there in sheer wonder at the incredible noises his throat makes and him such a quiet person during the day....

If this was a movie, we'd wake up, entwined in each other's arms - his manly torso on display, my chest discreetly hidden under the sheets. We'd gaze adoringly into each other's eyes, kiss passionately and get right down to business. Yeah right - how could you do that before going to the toilet or rinsing out your mouth for gods' sake? What about those cornflakey boogers that have formed around your eyes? The dried white drool marks on your chin?

At least the morning shower gives me a chance to clean up, wake up and tidy up. Not that any of this is a mystery to LC. In our one-bathroom house, he's busy cleaning his teeth and scraping away his whiskers whilst I'm surreptitiously trying to blow my nose in the shower and shave my armpits. Then our darling daughter bursts in, has a giggle at my soapy backside and yanks open the curtain: "Hey Mum, remember you said I could order my lunch from the canteen today!"

In the movie High Fidelity, the Rob character (played by the gorgeous John Cusack) bemoans that his live-in girlfriend only wears sensible underwear and not the sexy, lacy stuff he'd see when they were just dating. LC laughed at that scene, commenting, "I should be so lucky." On fat days or full-laundry basket days, the old maternity knickers get dragged out - purely to flatten the tummy, mind. The dag in me likes to put on my socks before my trousers, so LC's had many conversations with me only clad in nanna pants and those knee-high tights that make the tops of my legs look like a mini mushroom cloud. Yet still he says, "See you tonight."

He's been helpful to me too, at times when I've been less than my best. "Pssst - you've got one of those dangly boogies in your nose," as I gratefully fumble around for the cafe's napkin to wipe it away. Or, less quietly, in a fluorescent-lit chemist, "Hey, here's the thrush cream you want!" He's emptied my sick buckets during migraines and tactfully told me that "Um, there's a couple of friends that you haven't flushed properly."

What mystery? We have NO mystery in our marriage, and it goes both ways. I've politely pointed out that his nose hairs were long enough to hang beads on; have plucked out some scary long eyebrow hairs (you do not want to have eyebrows that will join up with your fringe); and nearly fallen to the ground in airless agony after visiting the loo too soon after he's been. Yet I too, say, "Yes, I'll see you tonight. Have a great day at work!"

He's the first person I clap eyes on in the morning, and he's the last person I touch, kiss, talk to and see at night. I wouldn't want it any other way. Although he could lose those pongy old slippers of his......

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Dumb Hair

Men in sport are increasingly becoming more metrosexual in their efforts to look fashionable as well as fit. We have David Beckham to blame for the increased focus on hairstyle which is reaching plague proportions. Thanks to the player profiles on the AFL website, here are just a select few who qualify for the ‘Dumb Hair’ awards.

Older players who should know better:
Jason Akermanis, Brisbane Lions
Jasey-babes, you look like the albino brother on acid that the other three musketeers never talk about.

Justin Peckett, St Kilda
How nice of you to make such a big effort to scrub up for your official AFL photo, Justin my love

James Hird, Essendon
James, James, James! You look like a blonde wildebeest! Or did somebody spill their spaghetti on you?

Ben Hart, Adelaide Crows
Darling you’re a natural redhead, so you already catch the umps’ eye – along with your fluoro-tube white legs. So please lose the blonde tips !

Wayne Campbell, Richmond
Shortlisted also for the good-grooming award. Perhaps he thinks a hairbrush is for cleaning the mud off his sprigs

Chad Cornes, Port Power
Goodness gracious me. Now I know where our
1970s squares of shag carpeting went.

Current Dumb Hair contenders include:

Aaron Edwards, Westcoast Eagles
Mr Lego Man called – he wants his hair back

Andrew Welsh, Essendon
A classic example of too many players’ girlfriends being apprentice hairdressers

Ben Fixter, Sydney Swans
This is tragic, just tragic. How many innocent dish mops died for this ‘do?

Brent Moloney, Melbourne
Oh look a baby Mohawk. Just a wild guess: do you think he styled it himself?

Troy Stribling, Fremantle
You'd think,with his generous footballer's salary, that he'd be able to afford a better wig, wouldn't you? Or has he just found a novel way to ensure that his dead cat lives on forever? Humina humina - he's single, too!

Courtney Johns, Essendon
This one’s in there with a real fighting chance. Now I know what Mum did with her spare macramé ropes as well…….

Craig Bolton, Sydney
This is just sad; a pathetic go at Dumb Hair, but needs a bit of work – more streaks, more length, more shag. Keep trying - we'll keep an eye out for you to peak during the 2006 season

Dylan Pftizner, St Kilda
The love child of David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers – Bye bye baby!

Jared Poulton, Port Power
Hey Grizzly Adams, where's the bear?

Justin Sherman, Brisbane Lions
What look is he going for here – a chook on a windy day?

Kyle Archibald, Richmond
It’s a shame they won’t let you play in your moccasins and a pack of winnie blues in your flannies, maaaate

Nick Ries, Hawthorn
Oh my God – Myra Hindley is playing AFL!
Winner hands-down for the player least likely to make an attractive transvestite 2005

Marcus Allen, Brisbane Lions
We've just received an SMS for you from Brooke Shields - she's waiting for you at the Blue Lagoon

Shane Harvey, Kangaroos
No wonder you look uncertain – or are you just out of petrol for your 1984 time machine?

But wait, there's more that deserve honourable mentions:

  • Collingwood's Brayden Shaw - Streaking's Poster Boy. The blonde-tipped variety and not the nudey rudey variety, unfortunately;
  • Collingwood's Travis Cloke - his white hair just needed a red nose and big shoes to get him a second job at the mall making poodle balloons and his now-black hair reduces the clownish factor by, oh, about three percent;
  • Geelong's Cameron Moody - A list hair that movie stars - female - could only dream of;
  • Hawthorn's Chance Bateman - Peroxided dreads make him look like a Venus Williams wannabe;
  • Sydney's Nick Malceski - As if the world needed a second wet Rod Stewart;
  • Port's Peter Burgoyne - Previously wore a greasy head of hat-hair which has now thankfully been trimmed; and
  • Carlton's Brendan Fevola - Fantastic that the dreads have gone, but he still looks like an Easter Island statue, doesn't he?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Sleepover

Our lovely little one is now six and has been a veteran of the overnight playdate - the sleepover - for a couple of years now.

Kids are so much more sophisticated than we were at their age, aren't they? I didn't stay the night at a friend's house until I was ten and even then I had a few tears in the middle of the night and wished I was back in my own house, in my own bed; hearing the familiar creaks of our old house instead of the frightening, unknown creaks at Samantha's. Also, Samantha's beagle had a rather disconcerting habit of licking any sleeping hands or feet that slipped outside the sheets, which was only slightly better than being slurped across the mouth whilst dozing off.

Our mini sophisticate on the other hand, barely turns to say goodbye when we drop her off. Before the front door's closed we can hear her chattering away to her friend and reminding her friend's mother: "I'm allergic to cats. You don't have a cat, do you? If you do, can you keep it outside please? I like most foods except mushrooms and bananas. We're not having those for tea, are we? Mummy said that I have to remember to say 'please' and 'thank you' and that you are the boss of me whilst I'm here........"

Darling husband Love Chunks and I have a child-free night. We select a restaurant that does not have nuggets and chips on the menu or crayons and butchers' paper on the table, and one that accepts our entertainment discount vouchers. We select dishes that are spicy, seafood-y and experimental. We select an aged bottle of wine that that compliments the meal well. And we talk endlessly about politics, current events, music, our travel plans for the future. Nah, scratch that last sentence. We talk about our daughter. "Wasn't it lovely this morning when she said ....", "Maybe our next holiday could be one where Carly gets to ride a pony and .....", "I just love it when she......"

All the other dining couples around us are in animated conversation. We, on the other hand, now find ourselves sitting there in silence. Not that we're not enjoying ourselves, but we already know each other's news, stories and life events. Love Chunks knows that I'm a sure thing; I know that he's a sure thing and that we'll be taking each other home - there's no pressure on us to win each other over or to worry about who will be offering to pay for the meal.

We're both wearing clean clothes yet are quite obviously out of the loop when it comes to the latest fashions. I am not wearing a sequinned tank top or 4 inch silver heels and LC is not in paint-spattered designer jeans or a diagonally-striped body shirt. Instead we both play it safe in dark denim high-rise (yes, high rise - no tides of stomach flab lapping the shores of the waistbands for us) jeans, dark-blue top for him and basic black for me. LC notices the effort I've made - I'm actually wearing earrings and have put on some lip gloss. Shame about the mascara though. I'm so unused to wearing it that I've already rubbed my eyes and now resemble Jon English with a hangover.

It's now 9 o'clock; we've had our entrees and mains, finished the wine and are both starting to yawn. We're too tired and too full for dessert. Besides, what's worth paying $11.50 for when we've got four different flavours of Cadbury family blocks to choose from at home? When we're in the front door, the heater goes on, my pinching boots get kicked off for ugg boots and LC turns on the Friday night footy game.

Footy's rather fun to watch when the mute button is on. We both sit upright on the sofa like two shy virgins for another hour before going to bed. We have to - our stomachs are no longer used to eating at 9pm and we don't want to risk indigestion, or - god forbid - an increase in the number of nocturnal dutch ovens...!!

The following morning, we wake up at seven am. The house feels eerily quiet, yet still resonates with the vivacity and spirit of our six year old. Even the dog sniffs in her room looking for her. It's nice having the opportunity to sleep in, even if we both still have to visit the loo, let the dog out for her morning whizz and walk past Carly's doorway and see her empty bed.

At lunchtime, we can hear Rebecca's car in our drive as Carly is dropped off. We both rush to the door, fighting to see who'll get to open it and hug her first. Five minutes later Carly's happy chatter turns to whining. She's run out of petrol, good humour and ability to function. Staying up talking all night and waking at 5am in Holly's room has taken it's toll. LC and I look over her head at each other - we're in for a long day. It doesn't matter though; she's home and the house feels complete once more.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Milo Mud

Food goes through waves of popularity as much as clothing does. Over a lunch last week of ciabatta, proscuitto, pickled artichokes and tapenade, my friends and I got to musing over what we ate as children.

For me, my childhood was all of the 1970s. Growing up as one of three children in a country town, my parents made do on one high school teacher's salary, one grocery store and the occasional free recipe card from the Women's Weekly.

My mother would be the first to admit that cooking was not on her list of priorities or pleasures. She found it a chore, a bore and something that had to be done for us to live. End of story. For her the job was made easier if all the meals could be made via the sunbeam frying pan.

Most weeknights the hardy device was used to fry up lamb chops. They were the cheapest meat available in those days, and the fat that oozed from them was carefully poured into an empty Big Sister pudding tin to be used for the next meal. My brothers eagerly sucked out the marrow from the chop bones and used to love eating the rapidly solidifying fat around the edges - I was more than happy to give mine to them to make faintly obscene sucking noises over. Invariably, these blackened, hard chops were accompanied by fried potatoes (devilishly delicious) and boiled pumpkin, peas and broad beans (which weren't). I regarded the trio of vegetables with about as much anticipation as our cat had for worming day. Several times I managed to surreptitiously scatter some of them under the table, hoping that my parents would regard it as natural spillage from the family meal.

On Sundays the sunbeam was put to work on the lamb roast. The vegetables were placed all around it, and to this day, there is no finer memory of Seventies food than picking at the fried up bits of meat, potatoes and onion left in the pan before we washed the dishes.

Lamb was our staple meal, but there were a few other regulars. Before cooking the Bubble'n'squeak - which was a nice way to use up the left over veges - Mum would dollop in a few tablespoons of lamb dripping and fry up some bread. It was truly divine in that era of cholesterol ignorance. Us kids would bite down on the crispy bread fingers, wipe our oily fingers on our pants and eagerly look at the Bubble'n'squeak cooking. It looked very appetising as the globules of lamb fat slowly made their way to the surface of potato, pumpkin, cabbage and bacon and lacquered it all in shiny, glossy layer of grease.

Mum also tried her hand at spaghetti bolognese. Or at least, her version of it, which consisted of fried lamb mince with a tin of creme of tomato soup stirred through and plopped on top of some boiled macaroni. We loved it and had no idea of the existence of tinned tomatoes, garlic, basil or oregano. However one day we were cruelly tricked - Mum decided to cut up a kidney and 'slip it in' to the bolognese as a kind of filler, hoping we wouldn't notice. Boy was she wrong, and my youngest brother is still getting over the culinary betrayal.

'Mornay' was also something that featured often, especially if we had guests for dinner. The tinned tuna, tinned sweetcorn and white sauce concoction was not dissimilar to our car sickness results, but was made all the more special with crushed chips sprinkled over the top. 'Stew' was my most hated meal: a horrible mixture of god-knows-what sort of cheap lamb arse off-cuts, shoved in a pot with watered-down gravox, potatoes, carrot and celery. It would have deterred Oliver Twist from even considering asking for seconds.

Saturday nights were Mum's night off from kitchen duties, which was good for all us. (I love you Mum, really). We'd all be bathed and in our PJs in front of the 'Sonny and Cher Show' with an egg-in-an-egg cup and toast fingers, or a bowl of chicken noodle soup straight from the packet. Mum would then peel us some apples and oranges, which were eagerly devoured as the Davy Crockett show came on. Peeled fruit was the only way she'd be able to get us to eat any as we were all too lazy to deal with removing any external coverings and were very proud of her ability to peel a piece of fruit in one long continuous strip.

Desserts were always good. There was the constancy of icecream sprinkled with Aktavite, or fresh bread with jam, honey and cream. Sometimes there was tinned fruit, which I tended to avoid after an unfortunate incident involving David Dutton from across the road. When I was over there for tea one night, I made him laugh too much, and the tinned peaches were sneezed out of his nose. His laughter turned to tears; my laughter got out of control and strangely I was never invited over there again.

On cold, wintery nights, Mum would boil up a Big Sister chocolate pudding, which would serve all five of us easily. The warm cake with molten syrup was heavenly with a couple of scoops of vanilla icecream.

Our meals were completed with a cup of milk and milo and a fluoride tablet. If we were allowed to make the drinks ourselves, we'd ladle in the milo to halfway up the cups, and then pour in the milk to make 'Milo Mud.' Not very thirst quenching, but wickedly wonderful.

Take-aways were extremely rare, and at that stage, our town had only two fish and chip shops. Dad would bring home the newspaper-wrapped, fragrantly-smelling packet of battered fish and fat, salty chips and we'd devour them on the table, straight from the bag. Sometimes he'd also bring home a bottle of coke. Mum used to water it down so that it would serve the entire family. (No wonder I nearly had heart failure when I drank my first full-strength one at Samantha's house in year five).

Meals in a restaurant were unheard of until Dad got a hole-in-one. We proudly trooped off for dinner at the golf club, dressed in our finest church clothes and feeling very sophisticated. I ordered chicken maryland and we had a jug of punch on the table with stripes of red and green cordial and yellow squash. My year three teacher, Miss Roos was there too - with her boyfriend. And she was smoking. I held court in the quadrangle with that story all Monday lunchtime.

After school, we run inside, drop our bags and ask, "What can we eat Mum? We're starving." There'd be SAOs and vegemite waiting for us, accompanied by carrot sticks and orange cordial. Sometimes Mum would have made some little cakes, that she'd always cover with white icing and put a raspberry jelly on the top. It was only in my late teens that I was brave enough to call them 'nipple cakes.'

We'd then rush outside to go for a ride on our bikes, or play chasey with the kids next door. We knew better than to say "I'm bored" to our Mum. If we were foolish enough to tell her so, we'd find ourselves by the tankstand, cracking almond shells from the huge sack that never seemed to be any emptier.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Swinging Sixties

Mum turns sixty-five next month and has a social calendar that Paris Hilton would envy.

She's the beloved grandma of three children (so far), a regular church goer, CWA member and helps out regularly at the Lifeline second hand store in the lovely seaside town of Victor Harbor. My father - owner of three sheds (one of them a triple car size), recently built in a fully-lined room for Mum to sew, sort through toys and work in and it's been nicknamed 'The Playroom.' After finishing the job last week, Dad left in the landcruiser for two weeks' away camping, hiking and bird-watching with his old buddies in the Flinders Ranges.

Mum's not one for staying at home and feeling lonely; she's making the most of her time solo. This morning's phone call went like this:

Moi: Hi Mum, how are you? How did the launch of your playroom go?
Mum: Good thanks Bubblies (my nickname, earned as a fat-faced baby that still pops out of her mouth every now and then). Sixteen of the girls came over. We cut the toilet paper ribbon and then had tea and scones inside. They're all extremely jealous you know. Your Dad is so clever building this room out in the shed for me. It's lined, got heaps of powerpoints, new carpet, the old kitchen cupboards, new curtains and he's painted it all for me.
Moi: Did Dean Brown (ex-SA Premier, now local opposition member at Victor) come?
Mum: Surprisingly not, because he normally goes to the opening of a jam jar. Wendy swears she saw Elvis though and the satellite link-up to Pierce Brosnan went down, unfortunately. Probably a good thing, in hindsight, because you know how excited we can all get; especially when we're all sugared up and had too many cups of tea. We do like a good laugh you know.
Moi: Yes indeedy, you and your buddies remind me of those giggling ladies in the Tena incontinence pads commercials. What are you planning on your doing in your playroom?
Mum: You mean apart from luring in Hugh Jackman?....(pause)....where do I start? I've got four boxes of toys to sort through for the Lifeline store; there's hats to make for the next musical; I'll be able to practice my singing without disturbing your father and I've moved in the old kitchen benches for my sewing machine and I'll be typing up the minutes---
Moi: What minutes?
Mum: For the Fellowship group. We were up until 1am last night.
Moi: Doing what? Getting drunk? Key swapping?
Mum: No you cheeky thing - we were planning our next fundraiser for the manse's new floor coverings. I'm going to be a model for the Black Pepper boutique.
Moi: Modelling?
Mum: Oooh yes and the frock salon in the Woolies' complex also asked me to model their new range of summer fashions the week after. Janice said that she saw me in the parades last year and liked my graceful style.
Moi: Wow Mum, that's great! Hang on a minute - graceful style? This, from the woman who cracked her ribs at the church camp when she fell from the tarzan vine across the creek and bounced off a log?
Mum (laughing): Yes, I think that Elle's too old and Megan Gale's too busy. Oh dear, that reminds me. I'm going to have to phone Maureen and tell her that I've double-booked myself and won't be able to make it to the CWA choir practice tomorrow afternoon.
Moi: Why not?
Mum: Because I'm going to be singing the solo at church on Sunday, and Alan said he wanted to go through it with me on his organ.
Moi: Organ, hey. Who's this Alan chap when he's at home? Does Dad know?
Mum (tut tutting): Now now. You know Alan, he was the musical director of our last musical - No No Nanette. I'm still taking those tap lessons you know.
Moi: Ah yes, the one where you were the youngest member of the chorus?
Mum (musing): It's so hard to find young people willing to join us in the musicals.
Moi: Well Mum it is a retirement town. While I've got you on the phone, can you come over next Wednesday? Carly's school is having Grandparents day and she's posted you an invitation this morning and would really like you to come.
Mum: Next Wednesday, next Wednesday..... I'm on the cordless out here in the playroom, so let me walk inside and check the calendar. Hmm, let me see..... I'm on for a shift at the Lifeline shop in the afternoon, but Dulcie owes me a session, so I'll ask her to do it instead. I've got to be careful though. Dear old thing doesn't know her Incredibles from the Finding Nemo characters so I'll make sure that the bags of toys are sorted through the night before.
Moi: Thanks Mum, you'll really make Carly's day.
Mum: I've set aside a bag of toys for her. I've finally found the Lilo character to go with the Stitch she got last time, and Mr Bubbles is in there too. I've still got my eye out for Nani and Bleakley. We get in lots of Barbie dolls, but no clothes. They're all nude and I'm not sure I have the time to be fiddling about with sewing up tiny little outfits, so they're just sitting here, staring at me. It feels a bit too kinky to be selling them like that at Lifeline.
Moi: I don't blame you. How's your eye going? What did the optometrist say?
Mum: He's really pleased. It's amazing that it was only operated on two weeks ago and it's not blurry anymore. I can drive and no longer look like a drug addict with one huge black, watery pupil. It was attracting more than a few funny looks at fellowship you know.
Moi: Yeah, I can imagine. I'm sure the whole town knows of your reputation for the hard stuff. You know, you're the only person who waters their iced coffee down before you drink it!
Mum: I tell you what - how about I stay for the night and we hit the shops the next day? From the target and K-Mart brochures in my letterbox it finally looks as though there's some summer clothes that will be OK for a non-stick insect over the age of 40 to wear. I'll have to be back in time for the monthly Fogey Feed at the Grosvenor. They do a huge buffet; and your Dad will be home in time for it. You know how much he loves his 'All You Can Eat' places.
Moi: Yeah I do. He was the only bloke who cried when Sizzler went bankrupt. Remember when he said he wanted to die with his mouth open under the chocolate mousse tap?
Mum (snorting): Yep! He's been very good lately though because he's in training for the Masters' Games. He's found his team for the over 65's basketball and been practising his goal shooting at the high school. His team won their finals game the other week. Now they're back up in the A-grade which means they'll have to sit out the season because they just don't have the legs to play against all those teenage boys.
Moi: No, not with his arthritic foot, Mr Wilson's hip replacement and Dennis's recovery from testicular cancer. It's a shame that there's not a B+ basketball grade for the poor old farts. Anyhow, I'd better head off - see you next week!
Mum: Mmm hmm. And while I'm there, I'll just have a little go at the weeds in your back garden.
Moi (very weakly): Oh no, you don't have to.....
Mum: I know. I want to.
Moi (gratefully): Oh, OK then.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Questions? Comments? Please call 1800.......

Have you ever been washing your dishes or eating your breakfast cereal and read all of the label? Not just the 'serving suggestion' ideas (ie a photograph of weetbix in a bowl with milk - who'd have thought), the ingredients (Yum, it's got emulsifiers and vegetable gum in it) or the ridiculous promises made by the product (NEW! IMPROVED! How can something be 'improved' if it's new?), but the tiny print that says "Comments? Questions? Call us on 1800....."

Who rings these numbers? What on earth do they want to comment or ask about? How bored and lonely and clueless would you need to be to even consider making such a call? Well, I made a few calls.....

Safcol Tuna
'Our operators are busy or unavailable. Please leave a message and we will get back to you.' Which they did. "Errm, I'm not your usual caller, but I got curious and would like to know....WHO rings you?" The pleasant-sounding Pamela told me that most of their calls were not concerning the tuna, but their catfood brand, Snappy Tom. She'd had complaints about how the packet looks and that one chap was not going to buy the new dry catfood in the box because the spout was too small. As for the tuna, the calls mostly concerned where they could get certain lines and flavours if they couldn't be found at their regular supermarket. Pamela also told me that consumers often confused herbs and spices in the cans of flavoured tuna as 'foreign bodies' and would ring to complain or demand a refund. "We have some factsheets we work through to explain that what they think is a stone is a peppercorn." She gets about twenty phone calls a day and "at least one or two of them also end up telling me their life stories." Despite my encouragement, she was not allowed to share any weird and wonderful tales with me because "Everyone is a consumer and we mustn't laugh at them." Fair enough, especially if your calls 'may be monitored for quality assurance and training purposes.'

Sakata Rice Crackers
"Oh you'd be surprised. We get heaps of calls," said the helium-inflected voice on the other end of the phone. What about? "Mostly about questions about the ingredients - what they mean and if they're safe for coeliacs or diabetics to eat." Any complaints? "Rarely. Except for one guy, who thought the seaweed was grass. He'd picked them up by mistake when he really wanted the BBQ ones."

Colgate Toothpaste
Automated answering machine. 'We welcome your questions and comments and keep it all confidential. Please press '1' on your keypad to hear about your rights to privacy. Please hang on the line if you wish to speak to a consumer service operator.' Justin came on the line. "We get a lot of feedback about our cleaning products, shower gels and soaps mostly," he said. Come on man, what about your weirder calls, you know the ones that you laugh about in the tearoom? He stayed professional: "We deal with people who can't find particular products in their stores and dispense oral care advice." Hang on - oral care advice? Like for people who don't know how to use their toothpaste? "Sometimes. We're not dentists but we do have factsheets that we can post out to them." Come on Justin, give me something here! "Actually we do get a lot of calls complaining about how one of our products might have damaged their clothing. Again, we have factsheets on how to remove particular stains, mostly using all that old stuff like lemon juice, breadcrumbs and borax that your grandmother would have used." Now Justin was starting to enjoy our conversation. "We also get a lot of single guys who ring us, wanting to know how to do their washing. I had one guy once who'd used the antiseptic hand soap as a shower gel, and complaining he'd broken out into a rash. When I told him that it wasn't mild enough for showering with I then had to spend about an hour going through his entire bathroom cabinet of our products so that he knew what he had to use for where."

Now there was no stopping him. "I've had fifteen years of experience in customer service call centres, most of it at Telstra. I can tell a story from there if you like," he offered. Yes please. "Cool. In the very early days of mobiles and SMS, I had a call from a very worried lady. She'd been getting SMS messages telling her to check her mail box. She told me 'Each time I go outside to the letterbox, there's nothing in there. After the sixth message, I got so worried I drove to our beach house to check the letter box there, but there still wasn't anything in it.' That's the only time I had to put down the phone to have a laugh," he said. "I have one more thing - we get a helluva lot more weird, sad or bizarre calls on a full moon." Really? "Oh yes. We've been able to document it, it's very noticeable."

What about the consumer centre for Band-Aids?
Rosemary tells me that they deal with calls from consumers about all of their products made by Johnson and Johnson. She answers a lot of enquiries about what adhesive is used on the bandaids from people who have sensitive skin. The only complaints she's received about the innocuous little plasters has been about the gauze pad being stuck in the wrong position. "No, that's not right", she said, warming to the theme, "We also get loads of calls from people who have counted the number of bandaids in the box and aren't happy if there's only 24 instead of 25." She considered that those calls were pedantic but fair enough.

"We also handle the Splenda Sweetener product and apart from calls about their suitability for diabetics and requests for recipes, we've had calls complaining that there's only 299 in a 300 packet." Now that's a canny consumer - sitting at their kitchen table counting out sweetener tabs - now there's someone I'd like to get to know! What about the 'Full Moon' effect? "Oh yes, there's definitely an increase in calls at that time. We get heaps at night asking us how to put on a bandaid or whether they can go for a swim wearing a sanitary pad."

On to our great South Aussie icon, Farmers Union Iced Coffee. As an interesting aside, did you know that South Aussies are the largest consumers per head of milk in the world? It would also be interesting to find out, therefore, if our rates of osteoporosis is lower than the general population too. The lovely Lyn said that the most calls they receive about FUIC is from homesick South Aussies who are desperate to know where they can buy it interstate or seeking more information about its magical nutritional qualities. "We had one guy last week who thought that the package number at the bottom of the carton was the number of fat grams in the product." Any complaints? "No, never about our iconic iced coffee and flavoured milks, but we do get a few about runny yoghurt or milk that seems to have gone off before the use-by date." The 'Full Moon' effect. "Definitely."

And lastly, Libra Invisible Pads. 'Welcome to the Tena and Libra customer service line. All of our customer service officers are currently busy. Your call is important to us, so please leave us a message and we will return your call as soon as possible.' OK then, I'll leave a message. No-one called in the past three days, so I can only assume that they're run off their feet with pesky little enquiries about wings versus no-wings.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Beholding Beauty and all that

I'm not a good looker in the model sense, but when I was younger (ie around 18-21), I'd get a few of those charming 'Hey luv, show us your tits' calls from spotty youths in beaten-up Geminis, which, in a perverse kind of way told me that I wasn't exactly a busted sandshoe either. This tentative confidence in my appearance is still regularly borne out when I'm out in public because no-one runs screaming from me when I approach, nor am I aware of whispers, stares or averted glances.

Having said that, I'm certainly not immune to feeling very inferior in the looks and figure department at times; especially when looking for jeans, sipping coffee at chi-chi Cibo in Norwood or dressing down for a school pick up when the other yummy mummies are decked out in their groovy threads. On those days, I remind myself that it's an achievement to simply be wearing clean clothes. Tracksuit pants without muddy dog prints on the back and a clean hooded jacket minus the dry-crusted weekbix after a post-breakfast hug from my daughter is something to be proud of.

That said, I can appreciate true beauty in all its forms. Particularly blokes. Hence it was with a great deal of anticipation when I first visited the building where my boyfriend (now husband) worked. It was waaaay back in 1994 - when we were still wondering when Vanilla Ice's new single would be out; were shocked at Nancy Kerrigan being bashed in the knee after ice-skating and convincing ourselves that Uma Thuman's hairstyle in Pulp Fiction was a good one.

Sitting in some worn out leather couches that sagged so far that my bum touched the floor and my knees were knocking against my chin, I waited for my dearest Love Chunks (LC) to come out of the lifts and take me out to lunch. LC was part of a huge scientific organisation that boasted about 5 males to every female and, being ten minutes' early, I was hoping to see a few prime examples of intelligent manhood sashay through the lobby.

Woo Hoo, I thought, here's the lift door opening now. Out prowled a six-foot-twenty bloke I could only describe as Chewbacca's Cousin. This Wookie had dark, brillo-pad brown hair that covered his entire face so that it was a mystery as to where his fringe ended and his beard began. Apart from this forest, all that was visible was his pink nose and top lip, and, lower down, the first thing that emerged under all the hair was the biros peeking out of the top pocket of his faded Hawaiian shirt. Oh dear, maybe he's the regulation anti-social weird bloke of the office. Or the stationery clerk. Same thing really.

Potential bloke number two could be heard before the lift doors opened. Hunched over and hawking up a particularly juicy-sounding chunk of phlegm, he was oblivious to all of the disgusted stares around him; including the woman whose hand he was holding. He continued to Whoooo-haw-haw-haw-deep breath then spit -patoooey-squelch into his now over-flowing tissue that he threw - and missed - at the smokers' bin on the way out. Boy oh boy, didn't that girl have herself the catch of the century....

Surely it's third time lucky when the 'ping' of the lift door, er, ponged (is that the past-tense of ping?) again. Sadly, not in this parallel universe.. Mr Pockets emerged, blinking in the glare of the sun, and fondling his pen protector as if to reassure himself that he had all the colours he needed in order to function during his lunchhour. No really, I too was shocked that such an obvious reject from Revenge of the Nerds could be found in funky, cosmopolitan Melbourne. And yes, there was a blue ink stain at the bottom of the pocket.

Where the hell was LC? This was getting scary - what if there was a fire drill and I got swept up in the crowd of these horrifying homosapiens? My breathing was becoming shallow and panicked when the Gangle Geek approached me. Sure he was youngish and tall, but his adam's apple was prominent enough to get his ID chain snagged on it and the toothpick legs in ankle freezer trousers that showed his white socks worn with those brown leather hand-sewn shoes that look as though they were made in a pastie oven.....have mercy! Still he kept approaching me. "Excuse me, are you waiting for the Information Centre to open?" Er no was my immediate response. "Oh, OK. It's really worth a look though. I helped instal the computer program that shows the satellite pictures and we've got all the forecasting information from 1878." Oh, that's nice. Where are you LC?

It was now twelve o'clock, and the lift spilled out the very punctual Cardigan Crew. All were predominantly middle aged, paunched, wearing glasses and of course cardies. Pale grey vinyl velcro shoes were clearly in vogue with this bunch as were gaberdine trousers shiny with wear. They'd found 'their look', were comfortable with it and were clearly going to stick with it in the decades to come.

A girl followed the Cardigan Crew out. Oh deary me, it was obvious that she'd been out when the rules about wearing flesh-coloured tights with hairy legs came out. Maybe she was the sister of Wolf Man because her legs looked as though they'd been scribbled on with black pen. Having her greying, split-end-infested hair dangle past her shoulders didn't help matters much either. Where did they find all of these people? Was my LC working on some bizarre psycho-social experiment on cloning nerds behind the facade of weather forecasting?

These paranoid thoughts were interrrupted when a young bloke appeared - he looked rather nice. Kind of cute actually with a dark denim shirt, chinos and doc martens and a very nice smile. OMIGOD - it's Love Chunks! I thought it was a male model for a second there as my eyes had been so numbed by the passing parade of below-standard blokes beforehand.

It was no surprise to find, at the latter part of that same year, that Love Chunks was in their annual calendar as the only human featured in amongst some rather dazzling shots of storms, sunsets and cloud formations. My 'Mr September' was asked to don a white lab coat, stand on top of his building near some wind cups and look seriously scientific. Which he did. Lord knows who they would have found if LC had been sick that day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Movie Review - Millions
Directed by Danny Boyle

This movie is about as far removed from Trainspotting as Lyndsay Lohan from a buffet.

Millions tells the story of seven year-old Damian, his older brother Anthony and their father who have moved to a brand new housing estate and school following the death of their mother.

Young Damian is about aged 7 who possesses the imagination of Roald Dahl and the wisdom of Solomon. The actor who plays him - with the suitably groovy name of Alex Etel - is fantastic and his adorable freckles deserve to be included separately in the credits. He makes a vintage Macaulay Culkin look about as endearing as syphilis.

Damian happily assembles a cubby house near the train tracks out of the moving boxes and one day finds a huge bag of money flung out of the sky and onto its roof. He believes it's a gift from God; his more practical brother believes it's a gift worth keeping secret from his father "Because of tax" and a gift worth spending in the final days before England reverts to the Euro.

The film is a visual delight with a hyper-realistic focus on every day things such as the construction of their new home, the joys of a cardboard cubby and the school in a quasi Edward Scissorhands/Heavenly Creatures style. The world is seen as a relatively friendly place, even though the cash is being sought by a rather unsavoury character. Imaginary saints visit young Damian every now and then to offer advice and to reinforce his wish to do something good with the money.

The two brothers are stunning in their roles and carry the weight of their screen time with ease. Good old James Nesbitt - the UK's version of Bill Hunter when it comes to appearances in his motherland's movies - is as solid as ever as the father. However the actress (Daisy Donovan) playing the father's love interest wasn't particularly convincing. Her role was the least developed and did not contribute anything additional to the story. It also appeared as though a few of her scenes had been edited out because one minute she was talking to their father in the carpark and then she was a part of their cosy little blended family.

That minor quibble was immediately forgiven thanks to the very end scene which left me with tears in my eyes at the surprisingly happy conclusion. This movie will certainly do a lot to increase donations for worthy charities in addition to providing a magical two hour adult fairytale.
Sticks and Stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

There are many names we are called in this life, not all of them good. 'Mum' is one such name that I'm happy to be called and it is only available for use by one rather special human being.
Actually that's not entirely true because I'm often referred to as 'Carly's Mum' by her school mates. "Carly's Mum? Can you un-do my jacket please?" "Carly's Mum, are you listening to us read today", or once, "Hey Carly's Mum, I like your new sneakers."

However, 'Mum' can be used in with so many meanings, inflections, demands and in many emotional contexts. Here are just a few:

Muuuuummmmm....? - I'm still awake Mum, I'm not sleepy at all. I need a glass of water, I want you to come and see me in bed right now, can you please you to tell me that there's not a big boogie man hiding in my dolls house.... OK, so if he's not in there, but what's that thing on the top? Oh yeah, it's my stuffed unicorn. Can you please put it in the lounge room - but NOT so that the dog can chew it, OK?

Mum! Mum!! Mum where are you!!! - I'm very hot and sweaty and crying because I've had a really yucky, nasty dream. You know the one where a big strange man is chasing me and I can find my way home and..... I've wet the bed Mum. Sorry. Can I sleep in your bed? ....Yeah I know that Daddy's in there too, but can't he go into the spare room?

Hey Mum!? Mum, where are my shoes? Oh yeah, they're right here. Sorry. Yeah, sorry, next time I'll come into the kitchen and ask you instead of yelling like that. Hey Mum!!? What did you do with my glitter gl----forget that, it's right here in my pencil case. Where's my school bag?

(Tap tap on shoulder, whispering) .....mum? Can you ask Holly's mum to let me have another chocolate biscuit? You never ever get me anything nice to eat like that. Holly's really lucky because she has freddo frogs whenever she feels like it and never has to eat any vegetables and is allowed to drink coke. Can I have a sleepover here tonight?

Mum, look at me! Lookatme lookatme lookatme lookatme lookatme!! Did you see it? Did you see what I did? Watch mum, watch. Now! Mum, did you see it? Did you? Look now Mum, I'll do it again! Did you see it, did you see it, did you see it?

(Tap tap on side of face whilst still sleeping). MUM! WAKE UP! IT'S NOT A SCHOOL DAY! You said that we were going to Elicia's party today. Is it time yet? Is Dad going to make us pancakes today like he did last time? Can I wear my purple dress there today? Do I have to eat fruit before the party like you always make me do? Even though it's dark outside, it's still time to get up, isn't it? The red light on your clock says Six-Oh-Nine, is that six hundred and nine minutes? How long would it take to count up to six hundred and nine..... MUM? You're not even listening, you've got your eyes closed!

(Running faster than wile coyote) Here Mum - I don't need this jumper on anymore, catch! I'm too hot and I'm 'IT' and have to chase Luke...... I'll do my laces up later Mum, I can see him hiding behind the tree because his bum's sticking out. Ooops, I didn't mean to say BUM because BUM's a bad word isn't it Mum, even though grandma sometimes says BUM too, doesn't she?

(Grabbing my elbow) Mum? He's not really dead, is he? Isn't Mr Percival going to wake up? Why are you crying? I thought you said that Storm Boy was one of your favourite movies. Is he really dead or just pretending? Is he now living at the zoo?

(At the supermarket dairy case) Hey Mum, what's that smell?.... Oh, sorry, I'll be quieter next time. But Mum, why don't all grown ups know how to have showers and smell nice? Is he poor? Should we give him some money to buy some soap?

(Driving past the golden arches) Mu-u-u-u-um, can we have take-away for tea tonight please? P-l-e-a-s-e? Pretty please? I know it's unhealthy but you said it's OK every now and then. You always eat chocolate every night after I go to bed, don't you, so how come I can't get a happy meal? Awwwwww Mu-u-u-u-u-um, it's not fair!

(In the bath) Mum, why do grown ups have hairs on their bottoms? You don't know, hmmm, OK, I'll ask Daddy when he gets home. Will he know? How come he has hairs growing out of his nose and you don't?

(To Grandma) That's alright Grandma, Mum told me that you wouldn't be able to work the video because you're old and electronically challenged.... What else... oh yeah she also said that you never bought her a trampoline when she was growing up, so that's why she jumped on Holly's at their new year's eve party. Didn't she tell you about that? It was really funny. Her skirt flew up over her head and she fell off into the geraniums.

MUM! What are you doing here Mum? I wanted Dad!

Monday, August 15, 2005

What did the chicken say when it went to the library?
Book book book book book book book!

'Former Spice Girl singer Victoria Beckham, the wife of England soccer captain David, has confessed she has never read a book...... she said she never had a spare moment to leaf through anything more challenging than fashion magazines.'

The above article - in today's paper and all over the web - is just too much of a gift for a lazy social commentator like me to ignore. The poor, starving, bulgari-wearing bag of bones - fancy not having any time other than to leaf through some fashion mags!

Perhaps Posh is just too busy with her three kids, the rigorous exercise program, locating the next gin and tonic, keeping tabs on David's whereabouts, clothes shopping and avoiding food? It must be awful having to deal with all of that on your own when your hubby's busy running after a round leather ball. Our hearts surely must go out to her.

After all, we too can all identify with never-ending domestic workloads that rob us of any 'me time', can't we?

Getting out of bed an hour before your kids do in order to put through a load of washing, make their school lunches, iron their uniforms (and your jeans), find some money for their excursion permission form, give the dog some breakfast, dash to the corner shop for some milk.... all before waking up our protesting little darlings in order to get them dressed, fed, clean and bags packed and in their classrooms before the bell rings. And of course it is on the way to school that they tell you that they were supposed to bring along an Aboriginal artefact for show-and-tell that morning and some fruit to share with the rest of the class. And no, their banana isn't acceptable, it has to be something different like a five-corner fruit or lychees as part of the class's weekly celebration of Funny Foreign Fruit Week or some such.....

Posh and I do have one thing in common apart from a working uterus. Admittedly, glossy magazines are also a big feature in my life. It is a guilty pleasure to flip through the pages over lunch in order to laugh at the stars' photos when they're caught without makeup, and to console oneself that they too struggle with their marriages, careers, children and appearances. Even with the mere help of their nannies, personal trainers, in-house chefs (someone has to wash those lettuce leaves), stylists, manicurists, make-up artists, gardeners, masseurs, yoga teachers, cleaners and personal assistants, they often don't get it right.

Yet we plebs soldier on and still manage to read a novel or two as well, don't we? Despite not having any paid help. I would not have heard of - or read- fantastic novels like Alice Sebold's 'The Lovely Bones', Jodie Picoult's 'My Sister's Keeper', or Yann Martel's 'Life of Pi' if other school mums hadn't raved about them and been prepared to lend them to me. After our daughter is in bed, the dishes done and the TV guide consulted and thrown back on the coffee table in disgust, my husband and I often realise that it's the ideal time for reading. We pile up the pillows and jump under the doona in our room for a nice, quiet read. Oh yessirreee, that bedroom's seen some real literary action - Joe Simpson's 'Touching the .....void', Hugh Lunn's 'Head over Heels,' Sian Rees' 'The Floating Brothel', Arthur Golden's 'Memoirs of a Geisha' and Annie Proulx's 'That old ace in the hole.' Moby Dick is still in the 'to read' pile on my bedside table, as is 'How to be Good' by Nick Hornby...

The twenty minute bus trip in to work was also time I looked forward to. It was an opportunity to not only save the cost of petrol but also to have two twenty-minute sessions a day for uninterrupted reading. It was often annoying to find that it was my stop if I was engrossed in a particularly good book. Once I looked up to find that my bus had long since gone through town and was then on its merry way to the seaside at Glenelg - Charles Frazier's 'Cold Mountain' had simply been too engrossing. Perhaps I could pop a paperback - in large print, nothing too strenuous, like a Harlequin romance or a Jeffrey Archer - in her limo for her to read on her way the next Dolce and Gabbana store opening?

If that's still too hard, I'd like to think that, if Posh Spice could only handle a fashion magazine at night after her monstrously busy day of um, getting dressed and um, what - writing so many hit songs, devloping the cure for cancer, ending African poverty and finding Osama's hideout - she could still find a minute or two to read a book to her sons.

There are so many classics that are a pleasure to read out loud to your kid and see them enjoy the momentum of the words and the pictures on each page. Eric Carle's 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar', Babette Cole's 'Bad Habits', Lynley Dodd's 'Hairy Maclary' series and anything by Dr Suess, Pamela Allen and Beatrix Potter. At the very least, maybe their nanny is reading these to the lads, even if Posh is advising them that Italian vogue is announcing that fur is so, like, three months ago.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The living, breathing Mulching Machine

Have you ever owned a dog? Our 'Jorgi' (the lovechild of a corgi and a Jack Russell) is 18 months old. She has the cute folded-over ears and body shape of a JR, but the lovely all-over caramel colour of a Corgi. Except for her front left leg which is white and looks from far away as though she has a bandage on it.

Obviously, like most other dogs, she likes to sniff the bottoms of other dogs when she meets them. However, our dog really goes to fourth base in that she likes to really sniff doggy butts. To the point of embarassment for me, her owner, and a sort of shocked 'Oh dear ha-ha-hah' chuckle from the other dog's owner. It's not just a cursory sniff, a wag of the tail and off they go for a chase; oh no. It's a v-e-r-y long thirty second inhalation and scented discovery of every millimetre of her potential new buddy's butt with the addition of surreptitious licks of whatever else may be dangling or lurking near the tail before going around to the front for a few slurps of their snout. Tail wagging furiously all the while, mind you, of both my dog and the lucky recipient.

Her unerringly enthusiastic version of a playboy bunny's welcoming skills has ensured that she has never ever been bitten by another dog. Despite her rather compact size, she too has yet to be beaten in a run around the local oval by any dog, including William the whippet. She's as nuggety as a footy player with the grace and pace of a grand final-winning Andrew McLeod.

The other day, after coming home from the weekly shopping trip, I presented her with a juicy bone from the butcher. It was a mutton leg, just starting to pong a bit from age and very generously covered with raw meat and yellow lamb fat. It made me slightly nauseous to lift it out of the bag in its sweaty, sticky, stinky state which of course meant that for our dog it was as compellingly attractive as a brick-sized bar of Lindt chocolate.

Or so I naively thought. I went back inside - yes, to wash my hands you germophobe - to finish unpacking the groceries. A minutes later, I was outside again, filling up the bin with various wrappers when I saw her in the garden, lying on her tummy contentedly chewing away at something wedged between her front paws as the sun warmed her back. "Ooooh you're a lucky girl," I crooned out loud like a demented 90 year old spinster, "What a lovely bone you have there!" Strolling over to give her ears a scratch, I noticed that she wasn't chewing an old bone: she was chewing an old stick instead.

"Hey hey HEY Furry Face, I spent a whole two bucks on that bone and you're not even eating it! Where did you put it?" Furry Face stared at me in that uncomprehending but winsome 'I-don't-know-what-she's-saying-but-her-lips-are-moving-and-I-want-her-to-continue-patting-me' expression on her face and continued gnawing at her preferred stick.

Later on in the afternoon she was prancing around the bottle brush bush with a canoe-sized piece of chunky bark that had fallen from our gum tree. This time she ignored the sunny spot and decided to jump up on my daughter's trampoline, slowly grinding her woody prize down to tiny splinters. This regular activity is tantalisingly frustrating for my husband, who often asks philosophically, "Why can't she be trained to chew it in the garden beds, so at least we'll get some benefit from the mulch she produces?" Instead we have to regularly sweep the top of the trampoline, or the back door mat, or once, even the top of the BBQ.

Yes, how come some of those poncy dog breeders (or in-breeders) don't try and come up with a dog who can do some basic chores? For example, if dogs (and cats) like to eat a few blades of grass every day (maybe it's their version of wheatgrass shots), why can't they be bred or trained to eat only the weeds? And as for dog turds, how come they don't bury them when they very willingly do bury bones, balls and stale bread rolls? Maybe they could be taught a thing or two about hygienic hole-digging from their arch-enemies the cats.

Let's not stop there, dear doggy breeders who may be reading this. How about we embrace the digging genes in their unique species and get them to dig through our compost piles in order to get them rotting down properly, and train them to only dig the flower beds when it's time for spring planting? It wouldn't hurt for them to have a dominant gene for the ability to switch on the timer taps either.

Or to sort out the recycling from the green waste from the ordinary household waste for us? Perhaps we could get the breeders to work cooperatively with the councils to develop a kind of wheelie-bin harness that the doggies could slip into in order to put the bins out on Wednesday nights and bring them in on Thursday afternoons? Considering too, that our dog will quite happily eat tissues, loo paper and serviettes if she can find them, how about developing a breed that will snuffle up the loose bits of paper and litter that blow down the street after garbage day? Or breeds that will inhale littered cigarette butts as though they were Good-Os?

And there should be no stopping other indoor advances as well. Opening the side gate for the meter reader; answering the door when your hands are in the sink water and your husband is in the toilet; flicking the heating switch half an hour before you come home or setting the video for the 'Lost' finale.

My Furry Friend is gazing up at me now, her brown eyes silently imploring me to walk into the kitchen and give the thawing steaks to her right now instead of cooking them for our dinner. It's only 2 in the afternoon; hours too early for her tea.

"How about a walk?" She's out of her beanbag and by the back door in a nano-second, flames burning the floorboards behind her. There must be some way to harness that speed and eagerness as an alternative household power source!