Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dreams had better not come true

Admittedly I’m never too excited when the first sentence of a blog states: “I had a really weird dream last night.” But tough luck; I really did have a weirdo dream last night.

It was one of those dreams that your brain sends you to let you know that your bladder is full and it’s high time you woke up, staggered down the hall in the darkness and emptied it; all the while praying to yourself that, because your eyes are still closed, you are still asleep and NOT going to lie awake scratching yourself for the rest of the night. In this particular dream I was wearing one of those pointless Nascar racegoers’ hats that had a siphon running around the brim and a tube that fed beer directly into my mouth.

In all honestly, there’d certainly be a fair few Aussie car watchers (Grand Prix, Clipsal 500) that would regard such a device as being the best thing since getting a sun-browned butt-crack whilst still fully clothed. Anyhow, I was sipping away on the tube happily, feeling mightily pleased with myself and life in general.

A quick glance around me revealed the location to be the university: lots of tall, elegant gum trees, green grass and winding paths. ‘What was I doing here wearing this hat’, I wondered idly, noticing that no-one else walking by had one. ‘Perhaps it’s a concert or an all-day family event’, I guessed.

However then I looked down towards the blurry thin outline that was the drinking tube. That cloudy plastic python stealthily wound itself down around my waist, further down around my hips and disappeared into – well, gulp – an area that no-one would wish to drink some yellowish liquid from….. As I sat up in bed and brushed my sticky fringe out of my eyes, it made me realise that it put a new spin on the phrase: “I tip my hat off to you.” It also explained why I've never ever liked the taste of beer in my waking/sane hours.

Unlike the other bloggers, I very rarely have dreams that I can remember. If I do remember them, they’re normally recurring ones that are mundane: many’s the time I’ve been dream-running for my life/bus/partner/Frisbee/nearby toilet and woken up to find the sheets all twisted into a fabric plait and my legs still kicking along.

The other regular nocturnal nightmare is one where I am prevented from getting to where I desperately need to go. People call me, intercept me, accidents happen, I fall over, get caught in a traffic jam or asked to do more work before I can leave. This normally finds me clenching the sheets and quilt so tightly that I’m covered in sweat and still feeling unaccountably angry long after I’ve woken and skipped to the loo and back. Love Chunks once had inadvertently woken me up during this nominal nightmare so that he could have his share of the sheets and I yelled at him to “LEAVE ME ALONE, YOU HOLLOW-HEADED MOOSE MUNCHER!” No, I don’t know what it means either, but he seemed content to lie on his side of the bed without any covers.

Love Chunks has thumped me in the face on more than one occasion. Put the phone down, we don’t need the Domestic Violence unit; he was asleep at the time. He tends to nod off on his side, with both arms raised to his chin, ala Rusty ‘Cinderella Man’ Crowe. Unfortunately for me, when his muscles go into their psychotic spasmic dance, one of the fists shoots out and pops me a sharp one on the nose. Needless to say, we don’t tend to sleep face-to-face much any more. Also the thought of waking up to each other’s Morning Butt-Breath isn’t convincing us we’re missing out on anything either.

Love Chunks, like me, doesn’t have much to report inside his noggin’ at night-time. Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh, because he also has a recurring dream. In it, he’s sitting on the toilet, feeling OK, feeling comfortable, doing what a bloke has to do. Laying a cable; Dropping John Howard off at the pool; Posting Osama a letter...... All is well and good until he realises that he’s not in a stall or at home, but is instead plonked right in the middle of Rundle Mall, right by the Silver Balls sculpture. No-one is noticing him, but his embarrassment is enormous. Does he finish what he’s doing and walk away with confidence? Stay seated so that nothing pops out and scares the old gals on their way to Harris Scarfes? Ah, if only we had the foresight and lateral thinking we (mostly) possess in our waking hours – he should have put his cap on the ground in front of him and convinced some shoppers that he’s a living art busker. Might be more money in it than meteorology….

Perhaps I should try what my buddy Jillaroo recommends - Dilmah decaffeinated tea. Both she, hubby Kent and their friend Ingrid have all sworn that they’ve had the most psychedelic and off-the-planet dreams the night of slurping one of the dilmah decaff bags. I’ve forgotten all of the details, but I know that in one part of Jill’s jolly nocturnal journey she “did something to anger a nearby ferret, who rode his bike over and…..”

I'm not yet convinced though. Couldn't I sniff a few whiteboard markers here in the office and then go home to inhale a full family-sized block of Nestle Dark Cappuccino chocolate and get drunk on Bailey's irish creme instead?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Have hole-punch, will settle

For too many years I've been the victim of many a post-it note troll.

Yes, troll. Those particular ladies who are the keepers of the keys to the stationery cupboard. Said trolls have tended, in my experience, to be older females who clearly modelled themselves (at the start of their so-called careers) on the hard-faced screw guard from Prisoner. They prefer not to be involved in a specific project or through actively serving any real member of the public but instead get their gnarly nails into the head-office essentials. This strategy serves their purpose well - everyone has to grovel to them and they can pretty well make up any administrative permission form or approvals process up whenever the mood takes them.

There is also a male version of the Office Troll, and he is known (in my reality at least) at the Back Office Bore. He's about the same age as the post-it note princess but a fair bit more bitter about the management who have overlooked him. Feeling powerless to a) get the executives to change their minds and promote him; b) deal with his halitosis or c) try working harder; he finds it more rewarding to take his frustrations out on the lower links of the food chain.

People like me. People like me who, after only five days, slam their own heads in their lower filing cabinet drawers just to reassure themselves that they are still on planet earth and that some things - like searing pain - remain a reliable constant.

People like me who, whilst not claiming to be a Rhodes Scholar, are not total meat heads either. People like me who must forget that Joe from the IT help desk at a different office 35km away may indeed sound like a poly-cretinous, mono-synaptic, defective dickhead with a fetish for forms but is no doubt a really nice guy. To his family. On weekends. Away in Noosa. And we must remember our mantra when the troll asks for each post-it pad to be itemised separately: she may appear to be virgin with about as much warmth as a fishfinger but I'm sure she's a hard-working helper at her local Salvation Army shop and is loved by all neighbouring children. Before she lures them into her garden shed. Bites their heads off. And eats them!

I've found that the only way I can cope with these Losers who Lust for Little shots of Power is to suck up to them. Sad, isn't it. If you don't smile and laugh at their weak, funny-as-death jokes or smile and nod seriously when they waffle on about the forms that you should have completed instead of the one you actually completed, you'd be without:

  • a functioning computer
  • a chair, filing cabinet and bookshelf
  • a bin that empties every night
  • stationery
  • air conditioning
  • long distance access on the telephone
  • diary access or invitations to free morning teas and lunches; and
  • toilet paper.

The disappointing reality is that you will be worse off by doing what you want to do, namely:

  • Getting Eunice is a headlock and choking her with her own beige cardigan sleeves
  • Calling her bluff and hoping that her own natural stupidity will get you what you want - Um Dorothy, are you insinuating that I should be inured to tolerate such unacceptably moronic and ludicrous conditions that can only be viewed as utterly insolent to the overall mission of our corporation you minute specimen of humanity?
  • Kick over her desk, shove her out of the window (with those godawful vertical drapes swinging dramatically) and steal however many fluoro markers you bloody well need.
  • Slapping the top of his head rhythmically like Benny Hill used to do to the short bald bloke
  • Flashing your boobs at him, announcing, "As if you've ever got your hands on anything like these' and
  • Poking his eyes out with your kilometrico pen, clipping his nose shut with a bulldog clamp and threatening to paint his mouth white with liquid paper unless you're connected to the internet.

After you banish the above thoughts and actions from your mind and complete your squirmingly-awful suck up routine, just comfort yourself with this - you got your stuff and can settle into your job and move on but they still have to be themselves, day after day after day after day after day.....

Thursday, March 23, 2006

“There’s a form you have to complete first….”

Only four days into my new job at a large university and I still keep hoping that once, just once, someone will be able to say to me, “Yes, sure, you’ve come to the right person. I’ll do it today.” But that’s about as likely to happen as my being able to wake up in the morning without first grunting "Ooof, Ooooh" like a Fight Club survivor.

Before you accuse me of being unrealistic in terms of expectations from bureaucracy, let me apprise you of the steps I’ve taken so far:

  • Glanced through my induction papers. Oh that’s right I don’t have any. Nor did I get a welcome chat with any insect from HR.
  • Asked my boss, the Queen B who is actually a very generous, fun, driven lady. “Um, I don’t really know. You could use all of this information-seeking to help you when you induct our four new research fellows who are starting on Monday.”
  • Fair enough. I trot gaily down the stairs and tentatively knock at the unit’s Administration Assistant’s office door. I plaster a friendly-but-determined smile on my face as I introduce myself, throw in the requisite amount of flattery “My boss B has raved about you, so I thought it was high time to come over and meet you….” and then beg for some help.
    Deb proves to be warm and accommodating. “Have you completed the forms via the intranet…?”
  • After thanking her profusely and promising to meet up later for a coffee, I trudge back upstairs to search for the afore-mentioned form.
  • It’s there all right, but the system won’t let me download, print or email the damn thing. Oh that’s right, I don’t exist yet. How can that be – HR interviewed me, sent me out an employment contract and will presumably pay me next week: shouldn’t they know what the hell I should be doing?
  • Bugger it; I’ll call HR if they won’t call me.
  • Voicemail. Stupid, useless, bloody voicemail. We were forbidden it at my old government job because the CEO considered that someone else should be able to take the call and deal with it. But no, here, with a staff of 3,000 and 45 in HR, no-one is skilled enough to help. I leave a cheery message and stammer as I glance frantically down at a post-it note with my phone number on it – I’m not on the directory yet, so that yellow rectangle that keeps falling off the edge of my monitor is my lifeline, my only evidence of existence.
  • Hmm, I’m sure that she’ll call back sometime today.
  • Obviously not. It’s now Thursday. I’ll try – Graham, Lindsay, Karen, Vicki – well at least they’re getting value for money out of their voicemail.
  • I don’t want to bother Deb again about this – I’ve already used her fax machine four times; pestered her for a list of conference caterers; shadowed her on a mail-run in order to find my way to the campus service centre; and forced her (out of sheer pity) to rescue me from being lost in the psychology department.
  • Instead of Deb it is time to try one of the Liz’s – the most approachable one. This Liz has just been through her mid-life crisis and returned from working on a yacht in the Bahamas with her husband. If she was any more laidback she’d be the living personification of the Reach toothbrush’s ‘Flip Top Head’ cartoon guy. She suggests the intranet. Oh. Then contacting HR. Right, they’re often a bit hard to catch. Maybe Deb would know? I thank her with a cheery wave and get the hell out of there before she sees my chin wobble and my eyes go all watery.
  • Queen B, is back from her seminar. “Have you organised the paperwork for the PhD students and research fellows yet?” Even though she is a world-renowned academic and about to publish her fourth book, she nods understandingly when I, red-faced, garble out a few sentences with words such as ‘Annoying Cardigans’, ‘Useless Bastards’, and ‘Who do I have to shag to get a friggin form to complete, be approved, be allocated a job number and actually be – *gasp* – done?’
  • We have a good laugh at that – most of the cardigans are puny enough for a fit gal like me to snap over my knees like kindling.
  • It was time for the big guns – “I’ll call Info Tech.”
  • On hold. Messages left after the beep and remember, to log your job via the intranet or via the forms. Voicemail. Email.
  • Deb taps me on the shoulder, scares the living crap out of me and causes my glass of water to spill over the keyboard. “I just thought of something. Did you know that the IT guys are just downstairs on the other side of the wall?”
  • NO I DIDN’T. I’m there hanging around their door like a groupie at a Strokes concert. Several minutes later, a young bloke in a Best’n’Less checkered shirt and an Adam’s apple larger than his head strolls in, can of Pepsi MAX in hand. “I was wondering if you could help me….”
  • He listened. He nodded. He even made some eye contact with me. Then, he said it: “What you need to go is log the job via the internet with the form….”
  • YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, JEFF. It is Jeff isn’t it? The look of desperation in my now slightly-deranged, snot-green eyes flecked with broken blood vessels effectively penetrated his disinterested demeanor. The little nerd could clearly see that he was in danger of having his can of Pepsi rammed up his nostril if he did not DO first and SORT OUT THE FORMS LATER.

The situation finally resolved, I head back to my office with a small feeling of accomplishment at having beaten the system (if only through indirectly threatening somebody else with a beating).

My smug cocoon is soon torn open when I review my task list for the day. It is now 4pm, and two of my 16 tasks have been completed. All of the others need forms printed out, approval by the elusively-busy Queen B and logged as jobs on the intranet before any work is allotted and undertaken……

Monday, March 20, 2006

If in doubt, ask for Liz

I’ve just started a new job at a university campus close to home and have returned, eight hours later, with a head that is aching from all of the smiling and nodding I’ve done today.

First days at work are all the same, aren’t they? The desk assigned as yours is the butt-ugly one that none of the existing staff will touch with a jousting stick and the computer should have arrived last week but has been swallowed up in the IT office paperwork at the West campus. Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.” It takes nearly all day to find a useable phone that’s firstly not covered in some unidentifiable sticky stuff and is also acceptable by World Health Organisation Standards. Then the final hour of the day is used to work out just what your own phone number actually is. Pens, post-it-notes and finding the kettle can wait until the second day.

As such, I was not fazed. Well, perhaps a little by the fact that I was sharing my office with the boss – a highly respected, internationally-renowned professor – and that our domain used to be the ladies’ toilets. Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.” We are right next to the male toilets and have decided that it’s worth the risk to dash in there for ‘getting things off our minds’ rather than go down two flights of stairs and around the corner on the ground floor.

The kitchen is less than a doorway in width and is about as modern as a butler’s pantry in the pre-Boer war years. It is clear that no-one voluntarily ventures into this hellish little vestibule, so I have hazarded a guess that coffee, water and lunches are hidden in offices upstairs. There is one male in our building, supposedly, but his door remained firmly closed today. He may still be cowering in there under the desk with his hands over his head for all I know. Perhaps he knows that Barb and I have taken over his only true refuge, the toilets. What if I walk in on him at the – ahem – trough? Of, course: Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.”

Induction. Ah yes, the induction checklist that requires one’s boss (or assistant, which is me, so it’ll be my job later on) to take you all over campus and tell you in great detail about the people they’re going to introduce you to. If they were actually in their office that is. Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.” We have some luck however - the security guys for the building keys, the library team and the PhD students across the hall working on studies relating to child protection who have spent most of the day talking about their dogs and laughing hysterically are all in. We also found Liz, the vice-chancellor’s PA and therefore a very powerful woman – I’ll just have to try my hardest to not call her Mrs Doubtfire. I also met Elizabeth, a fellow administrator on the next floor who has offered to buddy me through the bureaucratic maze and Libby, a new starter and bright-eyed PhD student. I’m still too afraid to ask her what PhD actually stands for.

As I was struggling to log on to the computer and on the phone to Help Desk, another cheery face popped its head through the door. Female, of course. “Hi MillyMoo, heard you were starting today. My name’s Liz. I’m on the ground floor doing my research into….” Another Liz. Smile and nod, smile and nod: “Oh that’s fine, it’s OK.” The phone suddenly rang, jolting me out of my seat. God, who wants me now? “It’s Liz from Switchboard. Can I just check through your details for our records?”
“Sure, as long as you tell me my phone number Liz,” I replied. Smile and nod, smile and nod; your new-but-willing attitude comes over across the phone lines you know.

My boss had already left for an afternoon appointment and then on to home. Her only instruction was to ensure that her filing cabinet was locked and the office door locked. Oh dear, it might have helped a bit if I’d been given some keys. Tentatively, I phoned the security bloke I met a few hours earlier, praying that he answered with his name so that I didn’t have to admit I forgot it after my first smile and nod. ”Hello, Security help desk, Liz here.”

Of course – this was a parallel universe in which everybody except my boss and I are called Liz – even the blokes answer their phones Liz-style! She clumped over, clad in serious security gear (how often does she get to use her truncheon at a centre of learning?) and locked up for me. “Thanks for that Liz.” Smile and nod, smile and nod. Time to go home before my cheeks split open and my head rolls off.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Circus is leaving town

…….and boy, am I relieved. I never ever wanted to go to a circus as a child or as an adult. Love Chunks however, was keen to ensure that our daughter, Sapphire, (6 going on 37) got the opportunity to attend at least one event during the final day of Adelaide’s Fringe Festival.

Naturally, the title of the festival gives you a good clue as to what it’s about – not dodgy childhood hairstyles involving bowls, sticky tape or your mother’s shaky hand holding a pair of scissors; but acts that consider themselves on the fringe of mainstream. Admittedly, we have avoided the shows such as ‘Elbow Skin’, ‘The Bubonic Play’ and any form of movement that is categorised as ‘Modern Interpretative Dance’. Instead, we have opted for a well known comedian (the gorgeously cheeky Scotsman Danny Bhoy), the free (Buskers’ Street Festival) and today’s family-friendly ‘Circus Oz.’

As with the majority of (mostly talented) buskers, the circus performers always look like drama school drop-outs who like the alternative life and want to get ‘out there’ and live life on their terms. In packs of other like-minded alternative performers of course. So when we strolled – expectantly in the case of Love Chunks and Sapphire, and with dread in the case of myself – into the tent foyer, I was not surprised at the scene before us. A dominating smell of patchouli oil, greenie seat cleaner and BO floated in the air, managing to cover up the smell of hot popcorn and the tent’s own rubber lining.

There seemed to be at least a dozen performers working the stalls – ice-creams, drinks, popcorn, key rings, t-shirts and the traditional clown game. It also seemed to be a contractual obligation of their employment to wear either a frilly skirt (the boys) or a kilt (girls), showing us the tattoos on their stomachs, arms or cleavage. Now, I hate generalising as much as the next person, and far be it for me to embrace stereotypes, but it did appear as though the lesbian fraternity was overly represented inside the tent. OK, so shaved blonde buzzcuts atop muscular shoulders and heavily tattooed necks might not be the sole domain of the girlie-loves-girlie crowd, but the hairy armpits, doc martens and the snogging certainly convinced me that I wasn’t too far off the mark.

The blokes were a bit more mixed, although they all seemed to be happy enough in their short little skirts and their mid-riff military tops complete with epaulettes. The seventy-five year old spinster called Eunice within me started leaping to the fore: Hmmm, those uniforms are rather grimy and just need a nice long soak in napisan to get them bright again. The boys could do with a good thorough scrub down as well…..

Soon it was time to find our seats on the benches and get on with the show. My aversion to circuses had not abated as I found myself gasping for air amongst the sweat of the crowd. The lighting guy nearest us clambered expertly up his pole, all the while giving us a rather unwanted view up his skirt – he was definitely of the Fat Bastard fraternity, yet happy enough to let his fat back flaps hang over the back of his seat amongst the scaffolding. The ringmistress introduced the acts and looked about as wholesome as Paris Hilton in front of a bedroom videocam. She was clearly a frustrated cabaret singer (the ringmistress, not Paris) and liked to add more than just a subtle touch of sex and the macabre to her actions and her movements. At one stage she wore painfully high stilettos that surely could only have been purchased from a fetish shop and later, a black vinyl bodysuit that fully embraced the word ‘mistress’. Lord knows what she did with the poor clown after the show ended.

The circus band, too, preferred playing on the edge of chaos which resulted in a nightmarish clash of sounds that made Sapphire cover her ears with her hands, shouting, “This hurts me!”

As for the performers, they were brilliant. The acrobatics, gymnastic lifts, bike-riding and even hula-hooping was incredibly skilful and left me admiring the strength they must all have in their upper arms. And yet…… and yet there was still something missing; some special oomph and sizzle that should have utterly dazzled the audience. Eunice reared up again and explained that: Well, it’s all very nice to be able to keep 20 hoops a-wiggling around your body, but what good is that to you when you’re 80? You can’t tell me she’s on a decent superannuation plan and how on earth is she going to meet a fella doing that for a living?… Thanks Eunice, it might not be the fellas she’s hoping to attract. The old spinster may have had a point though – a lot of the physical stunts had been performed a week earlier in Rundle Street by some buskers from the UK and Sweden – without music, lighting, fancy costumes or slightly weird ringmistresses to introduce them. The cacaphonic music and the blackness of the big top only served to distance them from us and make their efforts appear kind of un-exciting.

Circuses have always seemed very old-fashioned to me – this one may not rely on animals or painted-up clowns, but the slightly seedy air of the performers and their choice of costumes reminded me of the annual Adelaide Show where the sideshow alley workers always looked as though they were on parole. Or maybe remand, which explains how they can pack up and move on at night so quickly.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Commonwealth Cringe

No, not the Olympic games, the Commonwealth Games. My blog of 40 days ago, makes my total disinterest about the event pretty clear.

However, our local paper, the Adelaide Advertiser, has, in yesterday’s editorial column, a headline screaming: ‘On the Road to Glory at the Games.’ Whoopee bloody doo. Dear old Melvin has got himself into a lather of over-excitement at the next “…twelve days of triumph, tragedy and achievement….” Okaaaaayyyy then if that’s how you want to summarise a bit of huffing and puffing by people in lycra, then go for it.

The editor hadn’t yet finished gushing out his breathless over-enthusiasm for the event. Melbourne: the city of 3.5 million people and home of Aussie rules, the horse race that stops a nation, heaps of internationally renowned musicians, artists, fashionistas and the largest Greek population outside of Athens, is, according to the editor merry Melvin, about to experience “…the biggest cultural and sporting event ever held in Victoria.”

That’s a rather grandiose claim to make, considering that Melbourne – and the state of Victoria – is rather heavily loaded up with all sorts of cultural and sporting events. Little huff-puffs like, say, the Melbourne Cup in which every Aussie dons a hat and enters the school/office/temple sweepstakes; the Australian Open (tennis); the Boxing Day test and one-day cricket at the MCG, Aussie rules at the ‘G and the car race they stole from us here in Adelaide (thank goodness) – the Formula One Grand Prix rate as being 'up there' in terms of local, national and international interest. Anxieties over Jana Pittman’s performance due to a strained personality disorder, do not.

Having lived there for six years, I consider myself a pseudo-Melbournian who would also have had my hackles raised at the claim that the Commonwealth Games was the biggest cultural event in Victoria’s history. Errmm that's really positive of you Melvin, but most of us (with functioning brains) would consider that the trifling little crowd-pleasers like the Museum, elegant State Library, National Gallery of Victoria, many theatrical productions, the Arts Centre and the International Comedy Festival would rate a few oxygen layers higher on the cultural cut-off mark. Even more tourist-oriented facilities like the Queen Vic markets, Melbourne Cricket Ground tours, Yarra cruises, Federation Square, Richmond’s Vietnamese restaurant strip; Lygon’s Street’s Italian strip and Church Road’s shopping strips would have most of us fairly well full of friggin’ culture.

Not to mention if we summoned up the energy to drive an hour or two out of town and check out places like Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill for gold mining history; have a choof on Puffing Billy through the Dandenongs, sip a few wines from many renowned grape growing regions, ski the snowfields, greet Philip Island’s penguins or visit the Twelve Apostles before they all start falling into the water.

Merry Melvin and his journos were no doubt entertained by the Games’ opening ceremony. Love Chunks and I would rather have chewed our own legs off than sit through it (besides, 'Spicks and Specks', 'Little Britain', 'The Glass House' and Dave’n’Margaret at the Movies were playing on the ABC), so it will be interesting to see how well it rated in terms of viewer numbers. It is a dead certainty that at least one of the event’s commentators and/or today’s papers would have described it as ‘A dazzling display of Melbourne’s finest…..’ Finest what, I shudder to think.

Admittedly, my knowledge of the opening is only based on what I have read online and, from that viewpoint alone, things look pretty grim. What on earth would anyone not resident in Melbourne make of a flying tram? So that’s worth celebrating is it – an old wooden tram long since retired and filled with conductors who were controversially packaged out about ten years ago, leaving the transport system in distress and debt ever since. For the locals who understood the scene it was a slap in the face reminder to yearn for the never-to-return good old days; and for everyone else it was a sickenly visual representation of the event organiser’s recent uppers overdose.

Darling Delta Goodrem was there, presumably counted as a ‘local’ due to the fact that she lived in Port Melbourne when she was part of the cast of Neighbours for three weeks or so. Leunig apparently also got a look in with a homage to his famous duck and Mr Curly cartoon characters that ended with a real boy holding a real live duck. Well that’s just great. Now the whole bloody city looks like they’re suffering from marijuana paranoia – yes, that's right: the collective population of Victoria is seeing flying trams, small boys and ducks when all they really want is to find some decent munchies and lie down.

My TV guide shows that the games are on for at least another week which will force me either to keep the remote locked on to the ABC, or to *gasp* read or even *even louder gasp* do some decent blogging. Hopefully these efforts will spare me from hearing anyone describe an athlete as a ‘Golden Girl’, ‘Brave fighter’, or as having been through a ‘Classic Cinderella story of Rags to Riches.’ It is to be hoped also that there will be no medal tallies shoved down my throat – ‘And it’s gold, gold, GOLD for Australia' and no time dedicated to Jana Pittman’s current ‘nose hair training trauma’ or whatever it is she’s seeking attention for. Hell, shove her on one of the current Yarra Trams as a trainee conductor – she’ll be faced with fare-paying whingers all day. Might make her shut up for once.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Loving cups

It has been widely reported online that two earnest little researchers, Jackie Lee and Hyemin Chung from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston have invented two high-tech glasses that glow when either member of the couple are using them. These cups are designed for couples to use when they are far apart from each other.

Whenever either person picks up a glass, the light-emitting diodes start to glow on their partner’s glass. Accordingly, when one puts the glass to their lips, the other glass glows brightly. It does not matter how far apart the couple are: liquid sensors and wireless links have been built into the glasses.

Oh yuck! You've left goozies on the edge!

Jackie and Hyemin believe that couples who drink together create a ‘vital part of social interacting that lovebirds miss out on when separated.’ Lee went on to say that the wireless glasses really do ‘help people feel as if they were sharing a drinking experience together.’ That’s right – you could be lapping a latte in London, and he could be sipping a soda in Saigon.

Awww, aint that nice. Similar to my previous blog about the innate preference of men to cook meals outside – ala the BBQ -
- this is another fantastic example of taxpayer monies being put to thoroughly useful, high-priority research and study to benefit all of us in society.

Think about it: how many times have you wondered just when your absent beloved was drinking? Never, right? A few months ago, Love Chunks was sent to Chile for a weather bureau nerdy-thinktank chatter-fest. Being at least four time zones behind us in South Oz, I never once wondered, at 3am or any other time, whether he was having a fizzy cup of fanta, green tea, or zesty red Chilean wine on his jaunt. To be blunt, the only thing a wife like myself would be interested in that glows when her partner is using it is located much further south than his mouth - that's right, his whoopee wand. Even then it doesn’t mean we will be about to put our lips to our own glowing version at home because, after all, the ‘ol love log is used for a couple of other things as well and we don’t want to frighten our children unnecessarily.

If a few hundred canoodling couples were surveyed, I suspect that ‘imbibing beverages at the same time’ would not be first on their list if asked: What would you miss most about your partner? Jackie and Hyemin might consider it a vital part of social interacting for lovebirds, but in the real world it would rank way below touching, hugging, kissing, foreplay, sex, cuddles, rubbing, talking, walking and so on and so forth. Even ‘looking in real estate/furniture/homewares/book/gifts/clothing store windows’ would rate higher, as would ‘putting together the ikea bookshelf in two hours or less.’

Have Jackshit and Hymen thought about the potential health implications of their newest thing in the beverage world since the wide-mouthed beer can for quicker drinking was introduced in Australia in 1994? If Boy in Beijing is busy cycling a vigorous 30km uphill ride home from work, he’s likely to be gulping down a couple of litres of water. Is that the volume of liquid that his lover, Lulu in Lapland wants to drink in the middle of an Arctic winter?

Let us consider the situation of Ingrid in IT and her boyfriend Ralph, in road works. They live in the same city but could still fall prey to the deathly portions dealt out by these lethal loving cups. After four hours at her desk in an air-conditioned office, she sips at a tiny little espresso. Ralph, on the other hand, has been ditch-digging for four hours in 37C heat and needs more fluid than the sum total of a dew drop off a ladybird’s back.

Will these cups work if the couples have different tastes? My darling husband Love Chunks likes a good slosh of red wine in the evening – will it be transferred into gin’n’tonic in mine, or, more seriously, from Farmers Union Iced Coffee (3% fat) to Feel Good Iced Coffee (0.5% fat)?

So my point – if I have one, and that is, quite fairly, somewhat doubtful – is that perhaps these loving cups are OK for the couple that is still in the first six months of fixated, sickening-to-others Code Red Kling-On Togetherness. When they have the time, energy and will to lie on any horizontal surface and stare into each others’ eyes for hours on end, ignoring the dust bunnies on the kitchen sink and the mushrooms growing in the shower cubicle. When no aspect of their partner is (yet) repugnant – dutch ovens, 10cm nose hairs or leaving a tiny pile of toe nail clippings on the arm of the lounge are still kinda gorgeous and endearing. Then, and only then, would any person in a couple be interested in doing the same thing – such as slurping from a cup – at precisely the same time as their partner.

The rest of us would be more likely to think: “Oh thank god he’s up first. He can get Sapphire up, dressed and breakfasted; or: He's sipping coffee - he can easily streak outside to retrieve the newspaper; Great, he’s cooling down with a drink so he’ll be fine to finish the weeding and lawn trimming; He can entertain the guests whilst I dash from the bathroom to the bedroom; or I hope he’s not too miffed to find that I drank all of the iced coffee yesterday arvo…..”

If it was chocolate it would be far more appropriate – couples, after all, like to cocoon together, usually on the lounge eating naughty things of miniscule nutritional value and watching DVDs. Preferably in tracksuit pants with forgiving elastic waistbands. If they were for a reason geographically separated, they would no doubt be left unimpressed at the thought of having to unpeel themselves from the sofa cushions to go to the loo in the middle of ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ Chips – and chocolates – don’t fill bladders, but beverages bloody well do. And if Love Chunks is eating some of the good stuff, I want to be as well, even if he's in Chile and it's 3am in the morning over here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

King Tong

The Advertiser newspaper published an article recently about the work of British archaeologist Mark Horton. In a truly fabulous use of taxpayer-funded university study he’s found that the common urge of men to stand around a BBQ cooking meat has been an primal part of them for over a million or so years.

In many cultures over time, including our own Aboriginal tribes, the men hunted the animals and the women found food from plants and nests closer to the cave. Even now, these preferences are still evident: Mark tells us that it is instinctive for men to do the cooking outside and for women to mostly cook inside. Not surprisingly, a recent survey by Meat and Livestock Australia reveals that over seventy percent of men admit that cooking a steak on the barbecue is ‘instinctive’ and fifty five percent of women reporting that making salads feels ‘right’.

It makes perfect sense, especially if you’ve unobtrusively observed the males in their domain at a friend’s BBQ lunch. The blokes all stand there with their beers in hand and watch as the host holds pride of place directly in front of the BBQ with the culinary equivalent of a Ferrari – the oversized set of tongs. This Alpha Male, or King Tong - at least for today, because the lunch is at his place – will only surrender up those tongs when every last chop, sausage or marinated chicken wing is cooked black. Then and only then will he voluntarily lay down the omnipotent tongs and have a bite to eat before picking up the scraper and working on removing the crispy bits amongst the oil slick glinting on the hot plate.

His girlfriend/wife/sister/Mum, on the other hand, is never still. She has swept the pavers, dusted down the outdoor setting, wiped over the chairs, set the table, brought out the cutlery, sauces, salt and pepper shakers, paper serviettes and salad tongs (which are a very pale imitation of the BBQ ones). Inside the house – her preferred domain, she has boiled the diced potatoes for the salad, sliced and grated up the coleslaw, steamed the corn cobs, dished out the beetroot, tossed the greens and filled up several platters with cheeses, dips and crackers. Each platter she uses is a large, brightly painted arty farty pottery job that weights at least 3kg before any food is placed on it. As a result her biceps ripple like those of a young Arnie in a kind of cosmic payback – no bloke around the BBQ can match her for silent strength and none would dare challenge her to an arm wrestle.

If you’re a male guest at these events your role is simple. Just follow the smell of smoke which will lead you to the host. He will always be at the BBQ and the visiting male just has to stand at his side with eyes firmly fixed on the sizzling meat whilst they grunt about anything related to sport, politics or home renovation.

If you’re a female, it can sometimes be a lot more demanding. Do you play the role of super house guest and offer to help in the kitchen? If the answer is yes, you run the risk of ending up with the messy and un-fun jobs like chopping up onions for the rissoles (the hostess is running a bit behind), having to slide raw chicken meat onto skewers or hastily washing the dishes because they’re short of a few settings. This choice also leaves you stranded in the kitchen for most of the lunch and therefore completely out of any interesting conversational groupings.

Another decision available to the female is to just head straight for the dips, chips and deckchairs and hope that your husband brings you over a glass of champagne. This decisive action sends a clear message: I aint here to help and I’m sure as hell not going to be the designated driver either. Whilst this may be a rather relaxing option, it is unlikely to win you any new friends or be appreciated by you later when your stomach flops unbecomingly over your low-risers, almost obscuring the scary numbers shown on the bathroom scales.

The third role requires you to be the unofficial babysitter for the BBQ. Mother number one is stuck in the kitchen and her twins are throwing green lemons into the wading pool; Mother number two’s three horrors are on the trampoline with water pistols, screaming; and your own little one is peacefully asleep in her capsule. You will now spend the next four hours mediating fights – ‘Sorry Nathan, eating your Uno cards doesn’t mean that you’ve won the game’; instilling manners – ‘Emma it’s not nice to pick your nose and wipe the boogers on the sliding door’; and being their best friend – ‘Er, that’s an interesting idea James, but I don’t think I want to be a Pinata today…..’

The third role horrors aside, it is the fourth female role at a friendly BBQ lunch that is the most difficult to pull off – invading the manly huddle around the hotplate. If you ever try it, you must steel yourself for:

  • All chat to stop dead as soon as you arrive;
  • Being gently elbowed out by the sneaky but determined stubby holders;
  • The atmosphere to become polite but chilly despite the hot fat spitting on your top and the smoke making your eyes water;
  • Any suggestions you make regarding the need for some medium-rare steaks to be totally ignored; and
  • For them all to look at you expectantly when the turner-overer-of-the-sausages, King Tong – asks for someone to pop into the kitchen for a dish he can load them on.

It is interesting to remember that the Aussie Meat and Livestock survey shows that 55% of women prefer to make the salads. Notwithstanding the fact that it covers over half of us, there are still 45% of us out there who do not think that staying inside and doing all of the interminable slicing and dicing for the salads is all that preferable. I consider myself to belong to this 45% group, yet I also haven’t cooked any meat on a BBQ for – well – my entire life. I know how, but I just choose not to. I find it boring, smelly and extremely messy and would hate to sit down to lunch with my family and friends immediately afterwards to find that my brand new outfit is enhanced with charcoal, fat splatters and chop grease.

Instead, Love Chunks tends to refer to me as the ‘Front of House’ in our entertaining and culinary partnership. I’ll reluctantly whip up a green salad but will ask guests to bring along any other layered fruit or vege concoction that will complement blackened food with red oozy bits inside. LC will offer everyone a drink (including me) and then head purposely over to the hotplate to lovingly cook his marinated Greek lamb whilst I chat, forget to pass around the garlic bread and avoid setting the table. Later, when the meal is ready and the shared salads are served, it will be me who’ll get the complements on the meal in a perverse kind of assumption that I, as the female, did all the hard work.

Still, Love Chunks gets a tiny bit of revenge. It’s me who scrapes the fat and meat off the plates into Milly’s dog bowl, shoves the bottles into the recycling bin and washes all of the stupid, endless, bloody &%$#ing dishes

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Odds and Sods

Here's a few photos of (mostly) well-recognised folk that are worth dressing down.

Bebe Neuwith did a classic job of playing the glacial psychiatrist 'Lilith' on both Cheers and Frasier, but she's not winning herself any awards here, except one of relief from me: to finally find someone who is whiter than I am.

There's no denying her fantastically fit figure, but the dress looks as though it's her Mum's tennis frock from 1967 with a few bits of fringing sewn over the top. The colour only serves to make her skin glow in the dark. At least she'll be able to read while she's in a darkened cinema.

Here he have the high-priestess of new wave, Deborah Harry from Blondie. The black dress, lurid coat and black flats are pretty presentable for someone who is now in their fifties. Shame about the make up though - she might do better to seek beauty tips from someone other than a short-sighted circus clown.

More important than makeup is how poor old Elmo is coping with the loss of a significantly large rectangle of fur being ripped from arse whilst he was sleeping. We can only hope that it will grow back and that Debbie doesn't develop a hankering for a matching handbag and muff.....

Now cast your minds back, waaay back to when Guns'n'Roses were taken seriously. Stephanie Seymour was once the girlfriend of Mr Axl Rose, he of the bad spelling, bad skin and bad drug habit. She had a small child then, so he or she must be beaming with fifteen year old pride at seeing their Mommy go to some E-grade Academy Awards after-party wearing a converted hooker's outfit. The back of the dress reveals that the knickers are in fact, a g-string.

Really classy stuff for someone who's at least forty and will now have a teenager in therapy due to the bullying the poor bastard will receive at school.

This is nobody famous (unless Mary Tyler Moore is angry at her husband's latest facelift effort), but is, in fact, a school librarian.

If I saw that at Easter time I'd firstly try my best to stop screaming and would then be scattering calici virus around the neighbourhood instead of mini-eggs. You see readers it is sick stunts like these that contribute to the decrease in literacy levels.

Mary-Kate Olsen had been having a really fun day. She snuck into her Mommy's wardrobe, popped on her shoes and managed to do up the zip of her new black dress. It was a bit long, so she grabbed Daddy's cumberbund and wound it around her middle a couple of times. Voila: now she was ready for the audition for 'Memoirs of a Geisha 2.'

Lordy me - does everything this pixie wears have to be my size? It's not as though she has to hide her upper ham-hock arms, is it? Lastly, the hair - I hope she doesn't wear buckles on her stilettos or her hair's going to get tangled up in them soon.

The producers of the TV show 'Neighbours' wisely decided to ensure that all of Shane Warne's intensely dramatic scenes would be with blokes. They just couldn't risk any SMS-related seductions (unless it was with Harold, who actually seemed keen).

Unfortunately, they had no control over how Shane wanted his hair done: in a pee-in-the-snow coloured, distressed haybale.

Australia's own Stephanie Seymour of sorts, Annelise Braakensiek, has decided to get her gear off for PETA.

This has about as much shock value and interest as a John Howard power walk because she tends to wear a denim waistband and a two leather strings out in public anyway. Squashing down her rudey bits by lying on her front means that we actually see less of her than we normally do. She would make more of an impact if she was in a polo necked skivvy and some high-waisted trousers.

This poor child might be the Easter Bunny-boiler librarian's niece. This loo-roll holder of a dress is proudly for sale at KandyKisses clothing, found somewhere on the net.

The Monkees-style buttons are great reminders of the poor wearer's age and if you play your cards right, the sad little bugger might be persuaded to run up and down the hall so that her frills dust the skirting boards for you.

The matching headpiece is a little difficult to make out and I suspect that it's not a bacon, tomato and lettuce lunch arrangement.

Finally, we have Kate Bosworth, on her day off. Not only from eating, but also from work; whatever it is that she does.

The baggy grey tanktop reminds me of the ones my brothers wore (charmingly called 'tit hangers') in the eighties and the leggings, well...!!? The leggings show us all that they look like crap on chunkers, they look crap on slim people and they look like sheer SHITE on someone with thighs emaciated enough to pass a soccer ball through.

Please go away and eat a hot, greasy bowl of wedges with bacon bits and sour cream Kate love. We don't want to see your clavicles, chest bones or the light bouncing off your shins.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A quick 180 on Super Woman

As some of you lurkers and regulars might recall, yesterdays blog article revolved around my disgust for a so-called ‘Super Woman’ who either never bothered to stick around for her two sons’ half hour tennis lesson, or stayed there and worked the entire time, never looking up to watch them. (

After posting the blog, I went to pick up Sapphire from school and, as usual, she busied herself on the monkey bars with her friends (all aged under eight of course, as kids older than that escape like cockroaches when the fridge is dragged to the side: it’s deathly uncool to hang around at school after the bell has gone). Our subject matter turned to the weekend and what we all did. Super Woman was mentioned and, predictably, got the same tsk tsk why did she even bother to squeeze the kids out, etc.

Our own cherubs were now deeply involved in some form of chasey game around the quadrangle, out-of-hours-school-care building, the library and the drinking taps. All was, despite the noise and activity, serene. No-one was dobbing, crying, injured or sulking. We mothers stood in the warm sunshine and geared up for a chat. Bec had obviously considered the situation of Super Woman in the minutes between wiping one year old Lucy’s nose and making sure that all of the gum-nuts were out of her mouth. “You know, maybe Super Woman is separated and has to do it all herself.” I rolled my eyes back dramatically, “Oh man, now I feel like a total bitch!” This mock empathy immediately vanished when I added, “But she was in a brand new Mercedes four wheel-drive. She’s not starving and can obviously afford a nanny or child psychologist/disciplinarian/whatever.”

Deb strolled over to join us, resplendent in her orange op-shop arty farty outfit that only she could carry off with confidence. At nearly eight, her eldest son Angus was still out there enjoying himself, and her youngest, at one, resembling a white-blonde McDonald’s soft serve, was following Lucy around in an effort to get his hands on a rice cracker. “Even with all of her money and high-powered job, perhaps she’s just dying for a few minutes on her own,” Deb offered.
“Yeah yeah, we all know what that feels like. So I’m slapping down one of my own sisters am I?” Bec was clearly warming to Super Woman. “I get she dropped her boys off and then drove around the nearest corner to stuff her face with donuts, chocolate and a bottle of non-diet coke,” she enthused.

That silenced us all for a while, as I remembered some of my own rather shameful face-stuffing shenanigans and so did they. “Don’t you think our hubbies should be glad that we only let loose with food, and not by shagging someone else or gambling away our mortgage payments?” My voice had obviously risen in volume because Jo came over too.
“You’re right, MillyMoo. I think I’m living on the edge if I have a cappuccino and a cheesecake between the kindy run and grocery shopping. And to think that I used to be stay out dancing all night, have a shower and go straight to work!”
“Yeah, but who wants to have a hangover when you’ve got three kids who wake up before 6am,” Bec reminded her.
“Agreed, nothing is as merciless as a child who yells “BUT YOU PROMISED YOU’D TEACH ME HOW TO PLAY THE RECORDER TODAY!” in your pounding ear.”
We fell silent again, pondering our un-fun lifestyles. Our sensible pyjamas, forgiving tracksuit waistbands, 6am wake ups and our tendency to actually read the junk mail catalogues if they are about discount clothing stores or supermarkets.

The normally calm, nurse/mother Jo was getting fired up. “And even when a stray piece of cheesecake is our only outlet, how come it trebles in size and weight when it comes to my hard-working, child-bearing hips? And how come----“ …. she swiftly turned around to make sure that none of her kids were behind her “----how come WE have to ‘tidy ourselves up down south’ but our blokes don’t have to do anything?”
That’s bloody true, I thought. How come men’s pelvic areas aren’t subject to the changing whims and fashions – who’d heard of a Brazilian wax five years ago?
“Huh,” snorted Deb. “All they have to do is show up.”
“Besides,” leaned in Bec, “Who said a willy was pretty? Who’d want to see that uncovered and enhanced with two landing strips down each side or shaped into a loveheart?”

Our laughter died down and we focused on more aspects of wifehood and motherhood that were frustrating and seemingly unfair. Key irritants included the classic: leaving just one square of loo paper on the roll to avoid changing, and others like the cruelty of hipster jeans for anyone above 30kg whilst blokes got to wear huge canvas hide-everything pantaloons for shorts. Things were starting to get a tad heated and I was glad that all of the pitchforks, spades and other gardening implements were safely locked away in the school’s storage shed. My second thought was one that tended to enter my brain on a much more frequent basis – why do most of my adult conversations very quickly descend into ‘adult’ areas?

Even with my parents (both aged 65) and pretty well all of my friends, we invariably end up throwing in the odd fart story, sexual anecdote (usually self-deprecating) or funny-but-honest admissions of 9pm bedtimes, only choosing restaurants if they have chicken nuggets on the menu or being relieved that we no longer feel compelled to suck in our stomachs when a person of the opposite sex walks by. This sort of subject matter is particularly difficult when kids such as Sapphire have ears like CIA phone bugs and always want to ask an embarrassing question. “Mum, when you said that you couldn’t go swimming because you felt like a Yeti, what did you mean?”

Perhaps that’s where we are now getting our vicarious thrills in life. Trying to have personal and daring conversations whilst our kids are in – or very close to – hearing range. Why not – it doesn’t cost anything, contains no calories and you end up laughing in recognition and solidarity.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Super Mum: a legend in her own briefcase

On Saturday morning, it was my turn to get dressed (instead of taking one's time, reading the paper, sipping coffee and having breakfast) and take young Sapphire to her PeeWee Tennis lesson.

It starts at 8:30am, which is only fifteen minutes earlier than her school day but it feels so much earlier and as though it is much more difficult to get there. It seems that the younger the player (of any sport), the earlier they must start. Heaven knows what dark dawns any under-fives must have in their chosen field of exercise.

Anyhow, the requisite number of kids and parents always seem to be able to get themselves organised enough to turn up each week. There are no benches for us spectators to sit on, so we lounge about under the gum trees or against the tiny little perma-pine hut. That is except for the parent(s) of two brothers, Connor and Jesse, who are in Sapphire's little class of four. Every week they are dropped off at the edge of the court by someone who is always obscured by the tinted glass on their mercedes which then roars off in a squeal of tyres on dead leaves.

An escape in the jerk merc for only half an hour, mind you. How busy can a person be to not be bothered to watch and wait around for half an hour whilst their two children learn how to play tennis? What on earth can you do in thirty minutes, give or take ten minutes of travelling time? If it was a desperate need to find a decent takeaway coffee and come back to watch then I suspect that all parents would be able to identify with that one; or if they sat there with a newspaper and occasionally looked up to give the wee one a wave and an encouraging smile. Most importantly, however is the opportunity to see their kids eagerly thwacking forehands onto the cricket oval and backhands into the coach's crotch which is an experience worth much more than the personal sacrifice of 1800 seconds.

This Saturday was different, because Connor and Jesse's mother actually bothered to find a parking spot and sit on the grass at the edge of the court. I gave her a small smile in a generic, "Hi fellow Mum, aren't our kids adorable" kind of meaningless way, which she ignored. Unless the sun was in her eyes, which I hope it was for my own ego's sake (she might have seen me alight from my dusty and dinged mitsubishi station wagon, thus denoting my place in the economic and social pecking order of Eastern Adelaide).

Super Mum then proceeded to whip out a few manila folders, a fluoro marker and a pen and start reading through them, totally engrossed. A minute or two later a ball rolled near her and her eldest boy Connor ran to retrieve it. He saw her head bowed in concentration and whined, "Mu-u-u-m, are you working again?" before running back to the lesson.

As with my greeting, she either didn't see/hear or decided to ignore him. Perhaps she was under a great deal of pressure in her job and needed to get an important government project completed by dawn's crack on Sunday. Maybe it was the final plans for an air and water-fuelled car that would rock the petrol industry, or the blueprint for the first production line of fat-free, fibre-filled chocolate from the Lindt factory. Whatever it was, it must have been an extremely vital reason that could explain her complete impermeability towards the behaviour of her horrible sons.

Every two minutes, the coach would patiently-yet-exasperately call out, "Jesse, Jesse, Jesse.....are you listening? We don't hit other people with our racquets," or "Connor! Connor! You mustn't run across the other court - they are trying to learn how to serve.......No, you also mustn't throw balls at people - that almost got me in the eye."

Did Super Mum look up? Not once. If she was embarrassed about the behaviour of her boys she wasn't showing any signs of concern or discomfort. That file must have been pretty compelling reading because - for the sake of sodding sesame seeds - why on earth was it so important to spend from 8:30 to 9:00am working on it? On Monday mornings does she trot into work full of her own self-importance, wittering on that she took her boys to tennis, thus presenting herself as a hands-on, involved parent? "Wow, look at Super Mum. She's here from 5am to 9pm and she's a devoted mother."

Back to the trying tennis lesson. Sapphire and the other kid, Jacob, soldiered on. Both were models of good listening, trying new shots, practising and helping. Devil spawn Connor and Jesse were relegated to running around the courts with the grey pick-up pipes collecting all of the stray balls. "Great shot, Sapphire, you've really been using your feet well and are keeping your eyes on the ball." Before she could reply (and before my eyes could fully mist up with pride), sweet Jesse decided that she deserved a dong on the noggin with the pick-up pipe. "JESSE! That is NOT sporting behaviour! If you do anything like that again you will have to sit out the rest of the lesson!"

Sapphire was OK but naturally frustrated. By now, it was not only my eyes that were on Super Mum, but everyone else's - there was no mistaking whose kids they were. Jacob decided for a moment or two that it might be cooler to muck around with the two devil's darlings, but his father quickly intervened. He stormed over to the court, grabbed his shoulder and had a fairly intense whisper into his ear which immediately brought Jacob back to the Jedi side of the force. Connor, on the other hand, was now attempting to kick all of the plastic shot markers out of Sapphire's range. "Connor.......Connor, please stop that. We need those to make sure we aim in the right place. Connor!"

Still SM's head was down as she was on her mobile discussing the file with someone else. That's right, someone else who had nothing better to do first thing on Saturday morning. There was a real sense of dismayed camaraderie amongst the rest of us parents (including those with kids on the other court and the other side of Sapphire's court) as we continued to swap more and more exaggerated glances and expressions of horror with each other.

It was then it came. Perfectly timed. Beautifully hit by a non-PeeWee, the fuzzy green ball sailed right over from court five all the way over to court one. With a vision sensor that could only have come from divine intervention, it went D-O-I-I-I-I-N-G right on top of Super Mum's head. She dropped her mobile phone in surprise and none around her made any effort to hide their laughter. We all knew that it didn't injure her, and it might have been the reality head tap she needed in order to look up and over at her children instead of down into her file and her own navel.

For the first time this whole summer, I was glad when Sapphire's lesson ended so that she could escape from the boys that dogged her lesson. After hugging her tightly and congratulating her on her behaviour and good work, "OK Mum, OK, OK, you can let go of me now.....," we met up with Love Chunks for a mid-morning brunch/coffee/cake/lunch thingy. Nothing but family's worth doing on a Saturday morning.

Friday, March 03, 2006

On the road with the Olds

Have you ever, as a grown adult with family, home and responsibilities of your own, gone on a holiday with your parents? No, not with your partner and kids, but on your own, with your folks? I thought not.

Admittedly, ‘Having a holiday with Mum and Dad on my Own’ wasn’t actually on my list of things to do before I’m forty, but it was likely to be more achievable than having John Cusack and Jude Law as my in-house love buddies.

Mum was on the phone, giving me her usual weekly rundown: two sessions in the Lifeline second hand shop, CWA choir practice, Allan F’s malfunctioning organ (oooh errr missus) during Sunday’s church service, the value-for-money Tuesday night smorgasbord at the Grosvenor Hotel and accidentally letting a fart slip when bending over to roll her first ball at bowls that afternoon.

“We’re driving over to Melbourne next week – via Seymour, to meet your Uncle’s new girlfriend – and will be staying with RnR and Dr W in North Melbourne. We thought we’d take our time, see a few things, take it easy. You’ve got some free time and Love Chunks could take care of Sapphire – want to join us?”
“Oh, why yeah, I would. What the f-- sorry Mum – why the heck not?”

Thus, a week later, we three – Mum, Dad and me, in their sensible white Commodore acclaim were zooming through the Heysen tunnel out of Adelaide and on our way to Tailem Bend. It was 6am, so breakfast was not an option in my 5am preparations – was it too early to be pestering Dad with, “Hey Dad, can we stop at Tailem?”

My reticence was understandable, despite being 37, in possession of a university degree and an active member of an entirely separate household. You see, I had been a forced participant in many, many long drives and even longer holidays with these two people. From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, our trips were ones of tight timeframes, too constant car sickness and extreme frugality. Common responses thrown to the three of us sulking, starving or bladder-bursting kids in the back seat were:
“Look, if you’re hungry you’ll eat this apple/stale yo-yo biscuit/soggy tomato sandwich.”
“We are not made of money!”
“No, we’re not getting an ice-cream, they’re too dear. Have a barley sugar instead.”
“Why didn’t you go at the caravan park before we left?”
“Please tell me whoever vomited just then had enough time to find the empty ice-cream carton!”

I gingerly tapped his shoulder, gently asking, “Um, Dad, do you mind if I have a twinkle and a Farmers Union Feel Good iced coffee at Tailem? We would have done 110km by then, so…….” None of the above refrains were uttered by Dad in response, in fact nothing at all. For a moment there I’d forgotten that he was hard of hearing at the best of times, let alone in an air-conditioned car doing 120km up the freeway with the roof rack screaming in the breeze. After several louder efforts he said, “Yeah of course. I think we could all do with an FUIC right about now.”
“Or a cappuccino,” piped up Mum with purpose in her voice.

After passing through the thrilling roadhouses and wheat silo towns of Coomandook, Ki-Ki and Coonalpyn, the urge for re-caffeination and urination again overtook us. We pulled into the public ‘rest spot’ at Tintinara and did exactly that – emptied ourselves before walking across the highway to refill ourselves a minute later. Again with cappuccinos, but complemented this time not with custard tarts but with Kit-Kats and Maltesers.

It was my turn to take over the driving from Dad, which gave Mum and I a chance to have a chat without every second word being “Pardon?” because it’s a right old bugger being the poor sod in the back seat who can’t hear what’s being discussed in the front.
Mum fed me maltesers as we drove. “Ah, that’s the spirit. You can’t have fruit and salad on a long drive – it’s gotta be crap food all the way.”
Mum flinched slightly at the word ‘crap’ but nodded her agreement.
“Come on Mum, I’m a grown up now. I sometimes say words other than ‘Oh bunnies’, or ‘heck’, you know. But not in front of Sapphire of course,” I added hurriedly.
“Hmm, well, I don’t know that swearing is necessary. There’s so much bad language around these days…..”
“What was it that your own mother used to say, hmm Mum? Wasn’t it ‘stop fiddle arsing around’? Since when in 1930 was fiddle ARSE a nice phrase?”
She threw a malteser at me. Being a chocoholic, I caught it without taking my eyes off the road. Another point struck me. “Oh and Mum, you might not ever have said anything worse than ‘darnit’ but hell, you could certainly let ‘em rip in the car, couldn’t you? Until you confessed a few years back that it was you popping off like a motorbike in the car, we would have forever blamed them on little Thumb’s love of dried apricots!”

That’s what I love about Mum – she’s very conscious of proper behaviour, but once you get her laughing, she’ll nearly cack herself when the humour descends into Benny Hill and Bottom Burp territory.

Soon we were interrupted by a deep buzzing noise. What the hell was it – surely the car wasn't going to let us down? Before I could pull over, the noise was punctuated by small snorts. It was Dad, fast asleep in the back. “Aw bless him, he looks so peaceful and hey, at least we know he’s alive.”
“Oh MillyMoo you’re far too cheeky for your own good----“
“Yeah and you’re too farty--- Mum! Stop pinching me or we’ll have an accident!”

Dad woke up when we stopped for lunch at the curiously-named but rather cute little country town, Nhill. Mum took over the driving and he again settled into snore mode. God knows how with all of the coffee he’d sucked down.

Later that night as we were ensconced in our little 2 bedroom BnB cottage in Maldon, his restful time in the car had only served to ensure that he trudged a regular path to the bathroom and back. The cosy little cottage we were staying in was actually brand new: a wooden weatherboard mounted on stumps. Each step Dad took was like the percussion in a Johnny Cash song as it rattled the entire building: Boom Chugga chugga chugga Boom Chugga chugga chugga……. This brought back memories of our caravan holidays when someone would sproing off the front step in the direction of the ablutions block, leaving the van and its inhabitants to sit in surprise and wonder who the hell just shook them awake.

When the cottage had steadied itself again, the winds from the gully would then spiritedly blow through, flapping the outdoor blinds and the creaking clothesline. This would in turn rev up some of our neighbours, who would emit the occasional “Beeeaaaaah” from the paddock next door.

Once again, we had a 6am start to make it to Seymour for morning tea with Uncle Alan and a leisurely drive into North Melbourne. My under-eye bags that made it impossible to pinpoint me out as the daughter of our group and we left Maldon in a silent car, no chattering or lively banter and . At least not until Dad said, “Should we stop somewhere to get a cappuccino?”

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Medical maladies of middle age

That’s a nice and depressing title, isn’t it - especially if you’re aged between thirty five and forty five like myself, my brothers and most of my mates.

According to the data gathered by the Victorian government, the average life expectancy of men is 77.4 and for women it is 82.7. Simply dividing these numbers by half gives a ‘middle age’ of 41.4 for women and 38.7 for men respectively. It doesn’t seem like too long ago that, as a know-it-all early twenty-something, I considered middle aged to be in the mid to late fifties like my parents were. Poor old sods – they’d hit that unfortunate stage just as I was leaving my teens.

My own mathematically robust ‘middle age’ might be only three-and-a-half years away, but my beloved Love Chunks is already a year beyond his. This rather sobering thought was enough to wake me up at 3am today, with road-map eyes refusing to stay closed and my almost-middle aged brain still annoyingly capable of firing up too many synapses for too many unhelpful thoughts. As such, it led me to have a mental rundown of my middle-aged friends. How are they faring as they prepare to walk downhill in the second half of their lives?

My big brother, Rest’n’Recreation, has become more medically obsessed in the past few years. This is probably due to the fact that he’s married to an internationally renowned medical researcher who, ironically, is also into homeopathic, herbal, Chinese and naturopathic medicine. RnR, who predated Seinfeld by many years in his love for cereals as an all-day food source now has drastically cut back his intake, citing an itchy rash on his chest as the reason. He is also dealing with dodgy knees from his tiling days and rickety elbows in his current plumbing role. If those aren’t enough to keep him occupied there’s always the winter ailments to look forward to – wearing shorts with socks and thongs whilst sitting on a hot water bottle during a minor head cold or encasing his entire lower body in icepacks when his footy-playing ankles act up. Thank god he has a perfect set of teeth.

His lovely and talented wife, Dr W, is a girl after my own heart. Lots of physical failings to focus on in what is probably a symptom of working too hard and the body throwing up its hands saying, “That is it. I quit!” Hence she suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, asthma (incurred in recent times), sinusitis and coeliac disease. Even so, she’s still the most cheerful person in Victoria and always finds time to watch the Saturday morning cartoons.

Little brother Thumb, at 35.5 years old is just outside of the middle aged circle but getting close enough for my purposes. As a chronic asthma sufferer he probably already qualifies, but recently he’s also been rather clumsy with the surfboard, resulting in an angry red scar shaped like a computer’s Forward Slash on his forehead. His fingers appear permanently taped up with various bandages from his weekend renovation attempts and, when he has the time, there are many budding warts to have a pick at. Aw bless his sweet little heart – this was the boy who, at eight, told me he wanted “To open a kiosk to rip off tourists”, but, in reality is now a town planner who pisses off tourists instead.

His beautiful high school sweetheart, Feet Fatale, is a podiatrist (naturally, refer to the obvious nickname) and mother of two very endearing and active boys. Like Thumb, she too is just spying the peak of middle-age in the distance and is so far doing the best at preventing its snowfalls from interrupting her ascent. The most one can write about her medical maladies is that she’s decided that two children are enough and, after 35 years, it’s now high time to start drinking coffee so that she has the energy and perkiness to get through her busy day. She can also console herself with the fact that she is still sometimes asked if she’s from school on work experience by her elderly clients. (Let’s not tell her that they’re the ones who’ve forgotten where their glasses are).

My best buddy, Jumpin’ Jill Flash, is the same age as myself, having been born in the same hospital two days later. Brought up on a dairy farm she survived her fair share of scrapes and accidents, not least the ‘shit pit’ near the milking sheds. She and her brothers forced their visitors to walk along it, hoping that the dry, odour-free crust would give way to the malodorous cow crap beneath. Perhaps this ‘hospitality’ is now being revisited upon her via excruciating neck and back pains that the doctor can not find a reason for. She has also suffered through endometriosis and had polyps on her ovaries yet still walks 8km five times per week, plays two games of squash and expertly cares for her three children. Recently she’s also had some infected blisters from her new walking shoes and was shocked when the hairdresser pointed out that she might need to cover up her grey hair. She should give her hairdresser the flick (pun intended) – who the hell can see greys in naturally blonde hair?

Catherine the Elegant has raised a gorgeous little boy on her own, which has been made slightly more challenging by her also being the living embodiment of the Human Germ Sponge. As with all childcare parents, she has come into contact with every infection going, but has sadly been the unfortunate winner of having the highest number of colds, flus, gastros, lurgies, cases of the trots and weird afflictions ‘that are going around’. Despite this, she works a stressful full-time managerial position, has put in the front and back gardens in her home and constructed, sanded, painted and installed her own window shutters. In between coughs, nose blows and vommies into buckets she still manages to have a home that would make the ‘House and Garden’ editor convulse on her Corbusier recliner with envy.

Ravishing Rebecca is a Special Education kindergarten teacher, mother of two cute little girls and regularly donates her time and energies to school committees, projects and fundraising activities. She’s looking the dead centre of middle age right in its beady little eye and fighting all it the way. There’s no way she’s going down the fuddy-duddy route without at least giving the half-way point a good swift kick in the ghoolies. Rebecca has suffered her share of child-induced lurgies (see Catherine the Elegant, above) and the ever-present ‘stay at home versus career’ guilt complexes and anxieties but is now hitting the gym, pounding the pavement and refusing to eat anything with the words ‘creamy’, ‘chocolate’ or ‘pan fried’ in its title.

Lastly, me. Poster Girl for the Whining, Afflicted and the Negative. Where do I start?

  • Diagnosed with a Macro-Adenoma Prolactinoma (non-cancerous brain tumour) in 2005 which thankfully responded to medication and didn’t have to be yanked out via my nose;
  • Migraines that arrived suddenly at age twenty five and don’t show any signs of going back to where they bloody well came from;
  • Owner of an Irritable bowel – there’s an understatement – Should be Very VERY Angry Bowel;
  • invites in insomnia;
  • Dances regularly with Depression and anxiety;
  • Squeezes in some stomach aches;
  • Sneezed my way through hay fever, regularly infected phlegm and Sinusitis which led to sinus surgery – best thing (nose-wise) I ever did;
  • Currently suffering from painful and overly long periods – oh goody; and
  • Endured teeth, jaw, neck and shoulder pain from grinding and clenching my teeth – this resulted in six new crowns, chewing through two silicone mouth-guards and cracking two of my new crowns within six months. All of this mouth mangling abuse has resulted in my wearing a double-thickness, titanium-strength mouth guard that gives me a set of lips like a saltwater schnapper. It helps though.

Lordy, imagine how bad I’d be if I didn’t have the love, support, kindness and patience of Love Chunks, whose only middle aged malady appears to be putting up with me. And snoring.