Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Carpeing the Diem

Sitting at the bus stop this morning after walking Sapphire to school, I packed my novel away and just observed the world around me.

Car after car after car after car were bumper-to-bumper on Portrush Road, heading slowly into the city, all with only one passenger in each of them. It was an automatic response to start toting up the cost of petrol and parking fees, not to mention the added stress of arriving and leaving in peak hour traffic. This led on to even less original thoughts - but good ones - about getting the government to subsidise public transport and put in more bus routes all over Adelaide. Buses and stops would surely be easier and cheaper to instal than building railways? And a 'car tax' of, say, $5 for every car that drives into the city area?

On the bus, I continued my idle observations - eyes, ears and nose. The funk of warm bodies wearing woollies not seen since last winter; a gorgeous red 1952 Morris Minor putting alongside us with an added spoiler on the back; a dishevelled couple wearing shredded track suit pants talking about how they were going to handle their parole board appointment; and seeing a bloke leaning on a pallet of beer, waiting for the hotelier to open up the cellar door.

Young female students wearing their uniform of hooded sweatshirts, adorned handbags, windscreen sunnies and lipgloss trying to catch the eyes of vacant uni guys lost in their i-Pods SMS and last minute tute preparations. The bus brakes suddenly, and an old lady falls back into my lap. "Oops, sorry dear," she laughs as she gets off at the hospital. She's lighter than my eight year old and manages to keep hold of her homegrown roses.

A few stops later finds me stumbling through the fierce swing-back bus exit doors onto Grenfell Street, landing in a gutter full of vomit left over from the weekend, now nice and ripe in the autumnal sunshine. The graffiti overlooks an alleyway that is crammed with cardboard boxes, rotting vegetables and urine. The gorgeous heritage-listed brewery and stableyard is hidden amongst the 'No Geek Speak' computer company and a poncy interior design store.

After collecting the books left for me by Georgia, I buy a Feel Good Iced Coffee and decide to spend a moment in the Children's playground waiting for the bus ride back home. Unfortunately, the council workers were there cleaning it. What a shame that it's necessary to have such a professional and permanent-looking sign; obviously a very common occurrence.

Sitting on the benches facing away from the park, I notice how the shops almost look European.

Hang on, why is it necessary to have metal spikes on the second floor?

Some of the wires are bent: from previous robbery attempts or by the person who has to see them framing their view of the city every day? Casting my eyes further down my hands are itching to photograph the vast array of people walking past. Some holding coffees or cigarettes, shopping bags, briefcases, backpacks or the hands of their children.

Beer bellies, boob-shelves, high-heels, ballet flats, loafers, lace ups, blundstones. Shave heads, bad dye jobs, ironed flat, pony tails, number three clipped, Amy Winehouse imitators. Chattering, phoning, eating, reading bus timetables or the just-purchased newspaper. Absolutely fascinating, and again, I don't reach for my novel.

Back in my neighbourhood, I stroll past this Dream House containing the Mean-spirited Mechanic and look across the road, thinking of Kate and Brian, coping with the death of their nineteen year old daughter. Or Bob next door, suffering his second onset of cancer and Dave down the street, ostracised by his family for being gay.

Despite all of this, my eyes are bright and I'm smiling. I'm happy. Happy to be alive, happy to have taken my own Black Dog of depression back to the distant kennel where it belongs. Two people kissed me this morning and meant it: lover and child, and I'm finally starting to realise that maybe, just maybe, I do deserve them.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I crossed my fingers and toes hoping that my eight year old daughter Sapphire would have a severe allergic reaction. I wanted it to be like the one she has to cats: wheeziness of breath, red itchy welts on her face and hands and eyes rapidly puffing and swelling shut. So bad that she has to go to school for the next week with a note from her doctor stating that it was a severe allergic response and not the result of problems at home.

Alas, none of these events happened at her friend Maya's place and she skipped home with me, excitedly chattering about her victory against allergies. "I'm not allergic to them Mum! That's such good news - I'm not allergic to rabbits! So, can I have one now, Mum? Please?"

Poo. Bum. Bugger. Shit. Fart. I don't dislike rabbits per se; there's always some nice pictures of them on Cute Overload and they're sweet to touch when some other kid brings them into Sapph's class for Show And Tell, but it's just that I've never owned one and am perfectly happy to keep it that way.

We live in the burbs. A standard(ish), quarter-acre(ish) block, surrounded by dozens of other similar spaces, and we already have Milly the retired-runner dog and three contented chickens. When we go away for the weekend the chooks have a seed-feeder and a water dripper and can pretty much fend for themselves. Milly can either come with us, visit her Kelp-ador mongrel mate Coco or stay with our nice neighbours Jack and Una. A rabbit (or two, so that they have 'company'), is another task altogether. Fresh hay, shifting the hutch, keeping up a variety of fresh veges, making sure their front teeth don't grow too long and keeping wire underneath to prevent them from digging an escape route.....

All this information didn't deter my child. She had that standard expression that all kids have when asking for:
* showbags
* fairy floss for breakfast
* a sleepover on a school night
* a new game for their Nintendo
* more time at their friend's place
* to stay up later

.... that really just means that they are patiently waiting for your lips to stop moving so that they continue with their line of questioning: "So Mum, when are you going to tell Dad that I'm not allergic to rabbits?"

I tried another angle, this time suggested by Maya's mother, Sarah, and now full-time feeder, handler and keeper of their two pet rabbits. She suggested that I remind Sapphire that her one hour visit and petting session with their two - Dolly and Hutch - was the longest amount of time her kids had spent with them for months. "You see, being outside in their hutch all the time means that they're not directly involved with the life of the family, and the kids have lost interest in them."

"But Mum," Sapphire interjected, her blue eyes still beaming with hope. "I read in that pamphlet from the pet shop that you can train them to come inside and use a kitty litter tray---"

I seized my chance: "But what about Milly? She'd hunt them down and have them for dinner."

"Not if I build some little fences from my Ello Shopapolis set and train her how to be their friend and ....."

I let her burble on (as Love Chunks tends to do with me on many occasions) and again cursed the Creator for his/her negligence in the 'Total allergy to pets except chickens and dogs' department. Why let rabbits burrow under the radar?

We've had two weeks of school holidays and as the primary carer/social secretary/chef/entertainment coordinator and playdate wrangler, I could foresee a fortnight of 24/7 rabbit requests. It was time to ensure that Sapph's holiday was full of diversions.

Unfortunately, not all of these proved to be pleasant ones. On the first Monday we went to Dunstan Park with Lucinda and spent the first couple of hours videoing them on the whizzy sticks with the aim of scoring a few seconds of good footage to send in to 'Australia's Funniest Home Videos.'

What we ended up with was several clips of the worst fall-down acting ever, and Sapphire throwing up in the car on the way home.

Tuesday saw Maya and Sapph at Kensington Adventure playground, wedging themselves into the spinning teacups and taking it in turns to video the results. This time, no vomiting resulted, but no potential $200,000 prize winning clips either.

On Wednesday we found ourselves back at Dunstan park, with Holly. Eschewing the whizzy sticks for the spinning tractor tyre and the massive slippery dip, Sapphire's mind had temporarily forgotten the rabbit debate and was firmly into monetary matters. Not, alas for Holly, who turned a pale green and had to lie down on a park bench before it was safe to drive home.

And thus, the remainder of the holidays have involved a few days at Victor Harbor at her Grandparents' place telling them all about the joys of rabbit ownership; scooter trips; a school working bee; a couple of movies; some home cooking sessions with me (the hopeless teaching the messy); and several fruitful shopping expeditions.

It was all going well, with rabbits receding further and further into the murky distance of Sapphire's bunny brain.

That was, until yesterday's playdate at Maya-the-Rabbit-Owner's house. "Pleee-a-a-a-se Mum, can I have a rabbit?"

I said that sentence that all parents find themselves saying when they know that the answer is a definite 'NO' but they don't have the heart to tell their child yet:
"We'll see."

It didn't wash. "But you said that last week and the week before!"

Hmm. Time for the second-most dependable-but-non-committal response: "I'll need to talk about it with your Dad, OK?
"When? When he gets home from work tonight? Or why don't you call him on his mobile right now?"

*Sigh*. Love Chunks and I have not yet had the bunny discussion. He is, at this very moment, out in the back shed with our beloved daughter, trying his damndest to get the bright plastic, battery-powered potters' wheel he bought her to work. Maybe procrastination by pottery is the answer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sticking my nose in

I used to be such a shy, retiring type. After enduring my first year of high school in Aberdeen, Scotland with kids sniggering every time I said a number like 'Eighty eighty' in class with my 'strine accent, I spent the best part of school keeping my head down. Even as a voted-in school rep I was never willing to endure the public humiliation of standing up in front of the assembly, and in my uni student years I dreaded having someone who was Not-A-Full-Can-Of-Fanta profess their undying love for me in Rundle Mall.

Blogging goddess Redcap has politely spoken to some escalator hoggers, who, unfortunately, snapped back rather nastily.

Fellow blogger, Rosanna has recently put up a post about how a bloke quite literally PUNCHED a woman on a packed train, for accidentally slipping and knocking against him. Even more shockingly (or perhaps not?), no-one on the train did anything to censure him or see if the woman herself was OK.

Somehow though, as I've got older and less concerned about how others perceive the cut of my jib/jeans/hair/cake/career/car, I've also become either far less tolerant or more willing to speak up. Perhaps some people would consider it as 'sticking your nose in' and, if any of you have been lucky enough to clamp your beadies on my schnozz, you'll realise that it is fairly large. Put it this way: if mortgage payments ever become a struggle, I could earn some cash by renting it out as a portable warehouse.

That said, I have gradually become less willing to sit back and ignore things that I think are unfair or uncomfortable. So far I haven't yet got a punch in the proboscis because there are certainly ways to quickly decide how safe the situation is and how far you can take things. For example.....

The 35-weeks-into-pregnancy stage. I was experiencing 24/7 morning sickness and was still getting over the day before's embarrassment of having my dress blow up over my head down the windswept middle of Melbourne's Collins Street. That evil gust unbecomingly revealed my bulging belly button, x-large nanna pants and pantyhose that ended mid-thigh, making my legs look like mushroom clouds. As such my tolerance level was operating at minus the power of ten.

As with Redcap, I was walking up the escalator out of Spencer Street station, counting down the seconds I needed to get to the office and throw up before the day's work could begin. In front of me, entirely blocking the way, were two suited businessmen, in earnest conversation.

"Er excuse me please."
They didn't even turn around. My bile was rising, in both senses of the word. I tried again.
"Excuse me please, I need to get past."
One deigned to turn around and saw only a billowing maternity dress worn by a minion.
"Oh, like you've got somewhere urgent to go," he said sarcastically.
I saw a colour of red that not only burned with rage but also the back of retinas and yelled back, "Unless you want me to throw up on you, get the hell out of my way!"

They did. And I didn't, unfortunately, manage to send any peas and carrots their way.

A year ago, Love Chunks, Sapphire and I were on our way to a week of sun'n'sand'n'skin cancer in Queensland. The bag nazis were out with a vengeance and all three of us felt well and truly violated by the time we got to hand in our boarding passes for a flight several hours late. Sapphire was starting to whine, I was regretting the inhalation of entire packet of apple mentos and Love Chunks needed the toilet. We two oldies had the regulation-sized bags, crammed full of Sapphire's jumpers, books, biscuits, games and stuffed toys. My zipper was squealing in protest.

There, in front of us stood a bearded bloke with no partner or child, holding a suitcase. Yes, a friggin' Samsonite that could have housed us three Locketts comfortably. The bored Cabin Boy waved him through, but I wasn't going to let it pass. No, the inner-Gandalf broke through the sensible polar fleece outer layer and piped up with, "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" Well, actually I said, "Hey! Hang on a minute! Why is HE allowed to bring a bloody wardrobe on board the flight?"

The Cabin Boy broke from his glazed, screen-saver mode and called the guy back and stood him aside. "Thank you," I said primly and walked through. Love Chunks' was gasping back tears of mirth: "You cheekly little beast - he'll kill you." Thankfully, Beardy Boy didn't have time. Precisely ten seconds before we were due to take off, he staggered aboard, red faced, shirt out and flustered and clearly the recipient of a thorough cavity search. But dammit, he still had the suitcase with him and shoved it in the overhead lockers to the sound of slow hand clapping.

Perhaps though, the best effort was on the 106 bus, trundling home from work on a cold winter's night when it was dark and raining. Said bus picks up a sometimes motley bunch of characters from the stop near the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Apart from the usual medical staff, office workers and students, we often tended to see a few newly-stitched or newly-dried out members of society blearily climbing aboard, muttering to themselves.

This never fazed me because I never managed to get a seat and normally had to grab at the edge of a seat nearest the exit door in an effort to not topple over or get punched in the face ala Rosanna's poor heroine. On this particularly dark and busy night, a fifty-something bloke with a face like a bruised sandshoe stumbled aboard. Reeking of a barmaid's armpit and standing about as steadily as a roller coaster rider during a hurricane, he found the only spare seat: one of those sideways ones that are generally only favoured by the elderly or the pram-weilding.

Across from him was a woman in her forties, unremarkable in her attempts to wear a blank face and not look in the drunk's direction. She immediately took his fancy, and he gave her a cartoonish wink from the remaining eye that wasn't black or swollen.

"Hello Darlin'."

The Lucky Lady put her head down, hoping he'd shut up and go away.

He didn't. "I said, Hello Darlin'. I think you're beautiful."

She then decided to try the option of turning away to stare out of the foggy, reflective window. "Whassa matta, darlin? Dontcha like your fellas on the rough side?"

By this stage, all eyes on the bus (except for the driver's, I hoped) were on the courting couple. "Aw come on darlin, I'm givin' yer a comp.... a comple... a sign that I like ya. Whass your problem? Are you a lezzo?"

An elderly gentleman sitting next to Lucky Lady spoke up, disapproval oozing out of him like the rain from the umbrella at his feet. "Look mate, she doesn't like it. Leave her alone."

Busted Sandshoe wasn't prepared to be told off by someone his father's age. He got to his feet and, as he did so, the bus stopped suddenly at the traffic lights causing him to fall into the back of another lady hanging on to an overhead strap. Now the bus driver decided to step in, calling out, "Settle down back there or I'll kick you off."

"Gesssstuffed..." Sandshoe muttered, slowly getting to his feet and again heading towards Lucky Lady.

I felt so sorry for her, and for the drunk. What had life dealt him to end up this way and why did the lady have to put up with being humiliated in public without any escape?

It was then I noticed that Busted Sandshoe had two tatty plastic bags on the floor. I can't believe I did this - but I truly did - I dashed forward, grabbed them both, kicked open the side exit doors and flung them out into the street.

Sandshoe was flabbergasted. Flabbergasted in that slow-motion, drooling way that only the thoroughly-pissed can be. "Whatha' hell didya do 'at for?"

He lurched towards me, but I knew that I'd be more than his physical and sober match, if only by stepping aside and revealing the exit. His own momentum carried him down the steps, through the fling-back doors and into the gutter. I turned to the front. "DRIVE!"

Mr Bus Driver did. The passengers applauded and whistled and I basked in their impromptu gestures of appreciation.

Lucky Lady glared at me and dinged the 'stop' dinger. "That was MY stop", she hissed. "Now I'll have to get off at the next one and walk in the rain."

Oh. You're welcome.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

WWMD? What Would Milly Do?

Regular readers will know that the above mutt is my beloved dog Milly, slumped on her beanbag under my writing desk. She's my silent secretary, door greeter, loud yawner, soft-snorer, best buddy and ex-running companion.

A couple of months ago, at the tender age of four, she was diagnosed with arthritis so severe that running of any kind was expressly verboten. Forever. In addition, she had to lose 2kg in order to give her two back legs an easier task getting her from A (beanbag) to B (the lawn outside for a whizz). This seemed doubly cruel - no runs with Mum (me), her favourite activity; and why the hell was she suddenly getting about a quarter of the food she used to get? And how come nobody would throw the tennis ball anymore?

Still, we persisted with the no running/potential starvation/anti-tennis ball stance, and the vet was thrilled to announce that she was slim, trim and had regained the twinkle in her caramel-brown eyes.

Like my father, she is now on a permanent treatment regime of glucosamine and fish oil. Shoving a thumb-sized white glucosamine tablet down her throat is a bit of a hairy, drool-slicked wrestle first thing in the morning but luckily she likes the taste of the oil sprinkled over her meagre meal, and her exercise is now a five minute walk to Sapphire's school gate for morning drop off and afternoon pick up. Quite the change from 6km runs, frantic Koster park dashes and backyard happy laps.

This change in her lifestyle got me thinking about how accepting our furry friends are. She is still thrilled to see Sapphire, Love Chunks and myself when we return from being out for the entire day or back from a two minute trot to the corner shop and, once back inside, makes sure that she's within touching proximity of at least one of us and within viewing range of the other two. She loves being tethered to the school fence at 3pm, to be surrounded by a gaggle of kids wanting to pat her straight after the bell rings. She patiently endures some of the more excitable kids' demonstrations of affection and will flip over onto her back to increase the likelihood of a tummy scratch.

Despite her relative silence (she's not much of a barker), it is her tail that speaks volumes.
  • Swish Swish Swish - on the beanbag, she sees me wake up and is both happy about this and asking me to let her out to sniff the chooks and drop a doodoo under the tree.
  • Bling bling bling- she's staring up at us sitting at the breakfast bar on stools, her tail hitting the chrome legs, willing us to hurry the hell up with our coffees and give her something to eat already.
  • Thocka Thocka Thocka - her darling daddy Love Chunks is looking directly at her! He's Milly's ultlimate ALPHA MALE! Even her back half starts to wag as she drums out her dance of devotion: 'Love Chunks! I looooooooooooooove you! Please lift me up off the floorboards and sweep me up into your muscly arms and let me kisssss you! Please?'
  • Doing Doing Doing - she likes to sit directly under theglass coffee table, watching ABC kids with Sapphire on school mornings and hoping to get a scratch behind the ear.
  • Slap Slap Slap - waiting eagerly by the laundry door for me to get her lead and take her walking to school. She does this with such eagerness I'm surprised that her tail doesn't hurt at the effort.
  • Whiff Whiff Whiff - The ultimate, these days. She's finally allowed off her lead, at the park. All the grass to sniff, wee on and eat. At least one dead bird to roll in, one half-eaten Maccas burger to find and perhaps a passing pram with some bare baby feet hanging out waiting for a quick lick. Oh, the possibilities.....

I reckon if we humans had tails, life would be a lot easier and much more pleasant. We'd know who was genuinely happy, who was ecstatic, who was worried, who was brow-beaten, who was wary and who was angry. It would rid us all of dishonest politicians, sales people, reality show failures and failed marriages.

If only. Let's hope that evolution decides that this is a good idea and speeds up the process faster than global warming.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Smunday, Smunday, so good to me

Kevin's doing a Ruddy good job - what with saying 'Sorry', focussing on water, signing the Kyoto treaty, shooting Milky Bar shares through the roof and all that, but I want him to grant us an eight day week.

It'd be easy. You know, an eighth day, called ‘Smunday’ that could be squeezed in between Sunday and Monday. A day all to ourselves without any work, chores or commitments.

Our Lord may have rested on Sundays, but by Sunday night, I know that I feel completely exhausted from the weekend’s exertions, resentful that the only time I had to myself was in the toilet and dreading the start of a full-time working week the following day.
What happened to finding time to relax on weekends? Instead, mine is filled with washing (six loads a week, yet there’s only three of us), ironing (despite trying my damnedest to buy non-iron clothing), play dates for my daughter (who, at eight, can’t drive herself there or be left alone and has a better social life than Love Chunks or I do), dinner parties, coffee catch ups, tennis lessons, karate classes, guitar lessons, grocery shopping, cooking double-up meals to freeze one for later, weeding, returning friendly phone calls, clearing up the clutter that appeared in the house during the week and maybe, just maybe, being able to hog the TV long enough to watch a movie instead of a Crows' game or Shrek on one occasion.

Then on Monday, the working week has started in earnest. Half of the office has called in sick and the other half is in slow, ‘I’m depressed, tired and don’t want to be here’ mode which makes the workload a lot greater. The in-tray is full of the awkward stuff you didn’t want to do in your ‘I’m so glad it’s the weekend’ mode on Friday afternoon and you have a diary full of meetings, projects, staff issues and to-do lists. The phones start to ring and it’s rare to get a call from someone in your working hours who wants to tell you something nice, isn’t it?

Smunday is therefore a necessity to give us all back our day of rest – not only from our work life and our domestic life, but also from each other. The introduction of Smunday will undoubtedly break all laws of time, physics and common sense because the entire world will be on ‘pause’ mode. Everyone around me - and you - will be frozen in whatever mode they were in on a Sunday afternoon.

Smunday will be a day where we will be allowed to do whatever we feel like on our own. It gives a real meaning to old phrase ‘do it in your own time.’

Just imagine it – sleeping in without being woken up at 6am by your child who is ready to take on the world or reminding that you promised to make muffins (yes, but not at 6.07am!); being able to eat what you want (yes, there’s no fat content in Smunday foods); wandering into the shops for a leisurely browse minus the frustrations of entertaining a whiny hanger-on, finding a car park or having to rush in and rush out before the lunch guests arrive. Staying in the shops and being able to look through everything without having to say “It’s OK, I’m just looking thanks.” Being able to wash the dog, who, being motionless, is cooperative, willing to stay in the bath and not shake itself all over you.

Being able to read the paper. In one go. With a hot coffee. And no phone calls, interruptions or pleas to help put together the ello shopapopolis set. Having the TV and DVD player to yourself, so that you can watch Jude Law, John Cusack, Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant without sarcastic comments from your husband.

That would be enough for the first few Smundays, but then I suspect that I’d be yearning to take it a few mischievous steps further. Slipping into the designer boutiques that always intimidated me to try on ridiculously expensive outfits that I’d never have the reason to wear anywhere. Popping into Haighs to sample every flavour of chocolate truffle behind the glass cabinets. Hanging a yo-yo from Colonel Light’s finger. Removing all skinny jeans above a size 8 from clothing racks to spare us the agony of squeezing into unrealistic and unflattering clothing dictated by Kate Moss-arexic fashion nazis.

Smunday could be a day to finally carry out some petty revenges. Slipping a couple of prawns into your boss's curtain rails or simply being able to stand in front of your enemy and really let ‘em have it – verbally I mean. Having a good shout at that person for whom you can always think of witty retorts – three hours later. Or – and this would take a bit of psyching up because of the intimate touching involved – unzipping your boss’ fly whilst they're in freeze mode at their local cafĂ©.... such catharsis on offer....

By Monday, we would all be rested and fulfilled and the world would truly be a better place. Think about it, Kevin. Seriously.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bringing home the bacon

Many moons ago, after slaving for nearly four months working in the kitchens and bars of London's Savoy hotel as a army recruit/hetero-hazed/bum wallah/pond scum/galley slave I was fed up, suffering the flu and desperate to do anything that would pay the rent on my one-roomed dog-box in York Street, W1H1FF. And it was a pretty whiffy place too, with a drunken Irish neighbour who I never ever saw using the Bath Room (as opposed to the 'Toilet Room' at the other end of the hall) in the entire eighteen months I lived there.

Anyhow, the recruiting agency said there was a temp job at a MenCap facility near Banstead, Surrey. Full time, for three months. I took it sight unseen, uninterviewed and was ready to work less than three hours later. The nearest town had a bus that dropped me off at the bottom of a huge, tree-lined driveway. The hospital looked huge and as I trudged nervously to the front office, with too many 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' images swirling about, a chap with his trousers up under his armpits and resembling Bill Oddie wearing far too much lip-gloss jumped in front of me.

"Wwoooooo Wwoooooo," he said - loudly and longly - over and over.

"Erm hi there, er buddy. You don't know where the kitchen manager's office is, do you?
"Wwoooooo Wwoooooo, Wwwooooo----"
"Rightio. Thanks for that."

It was a confronting way to start the job. After meeting the rotund Head Cook, June, (who looked more like one of the patients than the patients did), Derek, the second cook and Brian, the patient who helped scrub the pots, I was put onto the potatoes. Not literally, but as one of the most popular foodstuffs, it was imperative that they be peeled, pronto. I was to pour a huge bag of them into what looked like a large centrifuge, flick a switch, hear it whizz and whine, and let the skins get bashed off against the inside walls. Easy.

Well, yes, except I was also asked to make up some sandwiches and seal them in those clear plastic triangles for any patients who were hungry in between meals. It was fun sealing the front off with a hot iron and they looked rather professional. As I stood admiring the mound of cheese'n'pickled railway sarnies, I realised that the potatoes were still spinning.

What started out as fist-sized veges were now albino cherry tomatoes. It was clear that even in this job - with the dazzling perks of all-you-can-eat sandwiches and left over instant cheesecake filling mixture - I had to keep my wits about me.

Particularly regarding Brian. He more than vaguely resembled Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man character, but was several feet taller. He'd come in and say "Hello Kath, you have lovely yellow hair, yellow hair, yellow hair..." in a sing-song voice before getting stuck into the pots and pans. He'd then keep to himself for the rest of the day, even during smoko and lunch breaks.
"No thank you Kath, lovely yellow hair, yellow hair, yellow hair - I'll go to my room and come back when it is time to start again. Yellow hair, yellow hair, yellow hair..."

OK, my so hair was yellow (as in pale blonde) and, in 1991, rather long and still being treated to the occasional (and disastrous, in hindsight) spiral perm. It had been yanked and grabbed by local blokes in Egypt during a Christmas break and seemed to interest Brian to almost the same level except it was mostly covered in a fetching hair net and paper kitchen hat.

The other patients I saw very regularly - they'd walk in to find out what was on the menu, to ask for snacks and for general conversation. All of them wore their trousers up to their armpits, and walked with a pronounced limp. One of their carers explained to me that none of them were actually injured, but that the rocking gait was a soothing way of moving around and the high trousers made them feel comfortable. (Try it sometime in the privacy of your home, you'll be terrified to discover just how nice it feels).

Adding to these two peculiar mannerisms were the clothes they all wore. Limited hospital budgets and fairly brutal laundry facilities meant that most of the patients were dressed in Oxfam cast offs. Whilst they were clearly warm and sensible, they were also items that fashion had preferred to forget. Think orange ribbed and flared slacks, Nehru coats, Jenny Kee chunky knits, jump suits, felt skirts and Cold-War-Era track pants. When worn by folk who sometimes yelled out stuff like, "Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away" or "Let me show you my willy," at unforeseen moments, it certainly made a humdrum job a fair bit more eventful.

Despite these physical and fashionable setbacks, the patients were always cheerful and it was a real education to see how kindly and respectfully they were treated by the hospital and kitchen staff. Most of the patients lived in wings that were set up like share houses with six single bedrooms, a common room and shared bathroom. Their common rooms tended to have a Jason recliner for each room mate and a selection of posters, rugs, ornaments and antimacassars that both Grandma and the writer from Boogie Nights would have heartily approved of.

"Hey Kath, why don't you stay here tonight and watch 'Antiques Roadshow' with us?" fifty something Gerald asked me one day.
"Sorry Gerald, I've got a two hour ride back home and promised a friend I'd be round for dinner tonight. Maybe some other time."
"OK but remember, I want to show you my willy and-----"
This was no longer a shock to me. "Yes I know Gerald, but remember that I don't want to see it and that Gloria your nurse has said that it's not the nicest thing to say to your friends."
He'd smile sheepishly and admit, "That's right, I keep forgetting. Can I have a sandwich please?"
On my very last day, I was on my haunches under the sink, looking for some oven trays that we were going to cook the lunch time pizzas on. I thought that something had landed on the back of my head, and as I turned around, I saw Brian, large pair of bacon scissors in his hand, clearly intent on cutting off a chunk of my hair.
"Brian! No, Brian! You mustn't cut people's hair!"
A nurse ran in and ushered Brian out. I honestly don't think he was going to hurt me, but my hair was obviously something he'd decided he'd like to souvenir before I left for my next exciting job as a mortgage collector.

I shook hands with pretty well all of the patients I'd served, chatted with and made sandwiches for, and was offered a lift into Banstead on their weekly mini-bus. Some of the them were allowed to go into town to do some shopping, banking and have a meal at the local cafe.

As we pulled away from the hospital, I felt some tears starting to emerge. It was a dull job made fascinating by the staff, the patients and the situations I found myself in. It was also a huge learning experience and one in which I felt as though I'd certainly got more from than I'd given. Brian had apologised and asked me to send him a photograph of me "With your hair not in a net or a hat like here, yellow hair, yellow hair, yellow hair," and then turned his back and promptly started his scrubbing duties.

Seven other passengers were with me: all silent, yet happily slapping their bank deposit books against their foreheads, rhythmically and blissfully. I felt proud to have known them.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Crackin' a Mariah Carey

I'm pushing forty, yet currently have a zit on the side of my neck that's so big I'm having difficulty holding my head up.

In fact, it's now larger than my head itself. It apparently started life as a blind pimple but has now morphed into a sideways volcano that keeps threatening to erupt, only to subside and decide to throb painfully underneath my angry red, stretched skin instead. Seeing as I'm whiter than the in-bred arse cheeks of an Orkney Island dweller, the gigantic goitre stands out like a flaming red emergency beacon, calling attention to all who stand before it.

At least if I was a teenager it would be par for the course and no doubt surrounded by a cluster of smaller zits to keep it company; kind of like an acne harem. At 39, it is like an eternity ring - one huge, solitary diamond, flashing brighter than any gem. I can only blame myself: too many hours tapping away in front of a computer screen means that a great deal of time is spent in deep thought (or waiting for Perez's next image to download), side of face in my hands, absent-mindedly scratching and picking away. What might have just been a tiny dot has, under my regular fiddle-age, become a fully-fledged growth that a bus could wear on Red Nose day.

Perhaps Mariah Carey has something in her fetish to only be photographed from one side of her face. Trying this in real life, however, is rather difficult. For starters, both my husband Love Chunks and my daughter Sapphire have a need to inform me of any unusual disfigurement upon my person, just in case I didn't know:
"Hey Kath, you've got a bugger of a blemish on your neck there. It looks bloody painful."
Thank you, dearest, I wouldn't have figured out that a parasitic pustule the size of Pluto is clearly bent on setting up an entirely new colony on my neck without your capable help.
"Ewwww Mum, what's that on your neck - it's gross."
Yes, it is, sweetie. Yes, it is a pimple; just a bit bigger than normal. What's that--? Yes, you're right, it's as big as Ben's basketball, thanks for the creative comparison.

This morning I sidled up to the school gates like a nervous crab, keeping the offending ooze ornament away from the car park and footpath area where happy children and carefree parents were approaching. Unfortunately, when coupled with the sheer weight of the thing, I found myself staggering left, head bent sideways like a shy Lady Di dodging the papps before meeting up with her Prince at the palace. Momentum can be a dangerous thing.

As I emerged, shame-faced from the wattle bush, even my aqua-coloured Crocs and hot pink 'Nookie - Just Done It' t-shirt failed to deflect the onlookers' attention from what looked like the pointy end of an arrow emerging from my neck.

"So Kath, are you going to be around to help out at Sports Day tomorrow," asked Jane, eyes transfixed by the zit.
"Er no, I've actually got this meeting about a presentation that they've asked me to---" I didn't bother finishing the sentence. It was obvious that she was standing there in shock and awe at Mt Vesuvius.
"Hey Kath, can Sapphire come over to Mandy's place for a play after school?"
I turned around to smile at Mike. "Yeah, that'd be nice. She'd really like---"
Hmm. Mike was staring deep, deep down into the mouth of the volcano.

So much for worrying about him talking to my breasts instead.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

We are Bloody HUGE

Good old Eleanor Bloom's post about a rich-but-clearly-thick Western Australian brewer planning on building the 'complete' replica of Stonehenge in his back garden got me thinking. Not only that in order to make it a true copy he'd also need to install a wire fence, a tollbooth, a busy underpass and a block of dodgy toilets filled with Druid-influenced graffiti; but also that we Aussies have always been into BIG things. We're the biggest island, we have the biggest rock, the biggest reef, the biggest sufferers of skin cancer on the planet.

Holiday destinations are no different. Even here in South Australia - the state that seems to receive more than it's fair share of brickbats, we've done our best to construct a few 'biggies' ala Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams: "Build it and they (clueless tourists in our case) will come."
As pictured proudly above, we have the Big Lobster at Kingston which, sadly, is pretty much one of the highlights on the long trip back from Melbourne, because, let's face it, the Big Wool Bales aren't exactly the most breath-taking sight:

Lord knows what people actually are curious and sufficiently moved enough to want to enter the gift store and buy a souvenir from these three white boxes. The tiny bloke in the photo is not actually posing happily; he needs help in locating the toilets.

The same could be said for the Biggest Wine Cask:

Admittedly we spent more than a quick drive-by at this monolith because we tried to get our mate Ian to stand close up to the camera to make it appear as though he was drinking directly from it. We weren't successful and the only way you can get an idea of its size is to note the tree on the right and the red miniskips on the left.

The fact that drinking Stanley wine in a four litre receptable is about as pleasurable as chugging down your own urine doesn't seem to have dampened the winery's hopes that tourists would flock in wonder at their BIG one.

We also have the Biggest Rockinghorse (no I don't know why either), a sort-of-big strawberry (if only to publicise the farmer's pick-your-own concern) and I know of several Big Cows or Cattle and in one town the artist keeps a batch of ~ahem~ danglers because bored locals like to steal them for hens' nights and mantelpiece ornaments.

The rust-mottled orb pictured here used to be called the Big Orange, but it's no longer open to tourists. That's probably because when I saw it as a bored teenager in the 1980s, the hot riverland sunshine had already leached the colour out of it and 'The Big Pink' didn't sound quite so attractive when related to fresh produce and not in curing STDs.

Perhaps too, they could no longer lay claim to being the world's biggest orange - maybe those pesky Californians had constructed something far more ambitious.

When I was a kid, however, anything big was truly BIG. BIG in the sense of being the ultimate holiday destination, the best photo opportunity and the most amazing places to buy top quality souvenirs. When we arrived at the Big Banana on day four of our 4 month caravanning holiday, my brother David believed that he'd seen the ultimate and was ready to go home. Little did he realise that there was still the Big Shell (which resembled a white-cemented public toilet cubicle), the Big Bottle (where I believed that buying an empty Bundy rum miniature for 10c was a smart buy) and the Big Pineapple.

Our older brother chose to have his 13th birthday there and David and I were so envious and yet so pleased at his choice of location. To celebrate the event, all of us were allowed to buy something from the gift shop. I bought the obligatory ruler with stickers on the front of it and an eraser shaped like a pineapple. Dave bought a collapsible cup that held about a quarter of a nip of whisky (very handy for a nine year old) and Robert selected a cap.

Our parents must have groaned at what we were throwing our spending money on and despaired when David loudly announced: "When I grow up, I'm going to own a Rip Off Kiosk."
Even after snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, I insisted on buying a basket of hand-painted coral and a pink felt pennant (for sticking under the top bunk in the van) and admired the Big Cassowary statue at Mission Beach enough to fork out for a rubber replica. Dave thought a snow dome was more appropriate as well as a pocket knife.

These days, my all time favourite Biggie is the Big Koala. Situated at picturesque roadstop Dadswell's Bridge, it breaks up the boring car drive between Adelaide and Melbourne only for its sheer butt-ugliness. As Love Chunks once said, it looks more like a pile of koala crap than an actual koala, and situating a gift shop right where its genitalia should be is just disturbing.

Up until only a few years ago, Dadswell's other claim to fame was a weather-beaten sandwich board that stridently warned: 'This is the last place to buy your Farmers' Union Iced Coffee'. Beyond that, we South Aussies were forced to endure the watered-down treacle called Big M that dominated the market in Victoria. I actually considered it a fate worth enduring because I just wasn't prepared to walk inside the poor mammal's front bum for 600ml of flavoured milk and a gift set of opal-studded teaspoons.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Bloggers hurt too

Oh, I see..... so that's why Sapphire was up early, her bedroom door firmly shut and the sinister 'Burrrrip!' sound of the tape dispenser was in full flight. She was planning an April Fools' Day extravaganza at Chateau Lockett. Not a bad start - quite truthful in fact.

Hmm. I do hope that she knows that I prefer to apply this to the cheeks on my face and not the ones I spend a lot of time sitting on....? Yes, it's meant to be funny, not hurtful, though I wonder why Love Chunks' Men's Nivea didn't get a label as well.

What the...? Oh, nice one Sapph. The underside of her note assures me that 'They are clean Mum.' Is she suggesting that my writing efforts are barely the level of a pair of discarded underpants? I know that there's a special 'Anonymous' who thinks so. Could it be that Sapphire*is* 'Anonymous', or merely a young - and honest - literary critic in the making?

Wow, not a bad eyeball drawing for an eight year old. Good thing it's blue and not snot green - must be copied from one of her own or Love Chunks'. It's a bit hurtful that she so freely assumes that I'll be goofing off instead of working all damn day today, that ungrateful little....

Bless her - the above notice in her room gives you some clue as to how her busy little mind works:
No fluffy animals - this applies specifically to not having any furry toys to sleep with as they were forbidden by the doctor due to being dust catchers for her asthma. Apparently our real live dog Milly is the exception to this rule;
No messy food - she's obviously been listening to me;
No boys besides friends and family - this seems to have been in place for a few years now, and Love Chunks hopes it continues for at least another decade;
No fizzy drinks - ah yes, the 'ol Fanta on the futon and the fan incident hasn't been forgotten;
Always knock on the door before you come in - fair enough;
No touching precious crystal or china or precious objects - her Beanie Kids are soft and well out of harm's (or two year old visitors') way;
'I only have one last rule - have fun! I only have seven rules, please respect them.' Quite right.

And yet, just when I start to think we are raising a 45 year old spinster librarian trapped in an eight year old karate kid's body, we have this little tableau at the side of her bed: her long-standing favourite toys, complete with feeding, activity schedules and hand-drawn portraits. The house still reverberates with her personality and essence long after she's left for school.
My beautiful, funny, darling little girl.