Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day Thirty One - Appreciative August

Dodging the Dark Pit

This picture shows where I run or power-walk to nowhere, six days a week. My back faces the TV that Love Chunks had installed on the other side of the shed because the treadmill will absolutely not tolerate having an extension cord attached in order to turn it around before it shorts and refuses to start.

Despite this lack of visual entertainment, I do approximately 30km running and 24km walking per week, which is a fair old chunk of time to be spent running at a shed wall with an abandoned dolls' house in between my feet and the iron. My sweat stains are all over the floor and there's only a hazy view outside through the bamboo blinds.

This humble set up has been a vital part of my recovery from The Big D - Depression. It may seem like a boring and rather reclusive way to exercise but it's been one of the things that has helped save my life.

On the morning of Saturday 24th November 2007, a somewhat normal conversation with LC about whether Sapphire was going to tennis lessons or not turned into me yelling in rage, tearing the wet washing off the line, and storming out of our house. Everything had slipped out of my control. I didn't have any car keys, money or clothing, but I kept on walking down the avenue and along Magill Road. It was a hot sunny day and the road was chockers with cars, trucks, tinselled-up floats, horses and clowns getting ready for the Annual Norwood Christmas Pageant.

As I finally acknowledged how suicidal I was feeling inside, on the outside I waved and greeted friends and acquaintances I passed, still moving, looking busy; appearing happy and interested in the events around me but having places to go, people to see, jobs to do. Buses rumbled by and I seriously imagined what it might be like to do a mad dash in front of one and end it all. I had enough sense to realise the utter selfishness of such an act - not only for the driver but for any passengers, passersby, my husband, my child, my family and the added stress and work it would entail for many others. And yet it was tempting. A quick way out for me; a person who was always 'good' at school, study, work, friendships, relationships, parenting, being interested in others. How had things come to this, to me?

A short time later I entered the Accident and Emergency Department and asked to be admitted. I needed someone to help me before anything terrible happened and wanted someone to take away the exhaustion and despair that was devouring me, my future and my spirit. The Big D had started to pull me into its black pit and the sides were starting to cave in. But how on earth do I describe an event that happened last year without reverting to worn out descriptions and cliches?

LC was called by the hospital and arrived immediately with Sapphire; breathless, anxious and utterly powerless to do much other than rub my back whilst I curled up on the bare bed. My father was on his way to pick up Sapphire, who was just as concerned. I knew that she was, but didn't have the capacity to reassure her or LC; not when I couldn't even reassure myself.

The A&E ward, on a Saturday morning, was filled with screaming, incoherent strangers as I lay there silently with tears rolling down my face, neck, chest and plopping onto my arms. Why was this happening to me? Why couldn't I cope? What would happen if this feeling didn't ever go away? Whatever chaos was happening in the hospital around me had completely faded inside. All I hoped was that Sapphire would soon be taken away from it and that my own far louder and more destructive internal noise would end.

The nurses took pity on Sapphire and invited her to come and sit with them at their station with a colouring-in book that one of them had on hand. A minute later she tore open the curtain and tugged at her father's hand. "I read the screen, Dad. Mum said she wants to die." FUCK fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck what kind of low, degraded, selfish, terrible, scumsucking parent was I to allow my child to read, comprehend and know such a thing about her own mother; the person who is supposed to be strong, nurturing, loving, supportive, encouraging, spirited, leading the way, providing her with a safe and secure home and upbringing?

I spent three days in a locked ward, silent. I observed the shuffles of my fellow patients, heard their requests for phone calls, more sleeping pills, when was their doctor coming, but I didn't join in or respond to conversation. The staff and doctors were kind and patient to all of us in there and I knew that it was the right place for me to be in at that time.

We were all so far away from everything that troubled us - many stories up, all the windows sealed shut and overlooking the beauty of the Botanic Gardens. There were no pot plants or pictures on the walls and we were in a very old ward that still had the old medical powerpoints and bedside tables, with scrappy grey office partitions separating the beds. No privacy available anywhere except for the shower, where I'd strip off, get wet and cry, silently, until I was tired enough to dry off and go back to bed to sleep. I slept and slept; grateful that I didn't have to be anywhere or be anything but could just rest. It was nice to just be.

When LC took me home, we sat together in the living room, looking out at our sun-drenched garden. He didn't let me go. I didn't want him to let me go. I was learning, however, to let other things go, such as injustice, unfairness and futility. Still am, in fact.

Since then, when I run, it is as close as I come, I think, to finding a God, or religion of sorts. It is the sheer basics of hearing my heart pound, my feet thud, my arms swing, my breath puffing its way throughout my body and feeling each hard-won drop of sweat fly off that I realise what effort it takes to be truly alive.

Through the bamboo blind I often see a pigeon perched on a powerline connected to the neighbour's house. During the winter he has been blown about mercilessly on that loose line but still he holds on. Buffeted by breezes, rain and sleet he perches there in my line of vision and I look at him as I run on, feeling grateful that my body can take me such distances and give me time to think about things: what I'd do differently and what I want to do from today.

I'm still a work in progress, but 'progress' is the key word here. I'm moving forward and looking forward and to say that I appreciate it is the understatement of the century.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Day Thirty - Appreciative August

Low Maintenance

Our school had a Make-Over Night fundraiser which involved a parent from the school, DD, showing us his professional make up and styling tricks. He'd just returned back to Adelaide after doing Delta Goodrem's make-up whilst she was overseas so I guess he knows a thing or two about applying the war paint.

The three of us mums on the fundraising committee - the fully-organised, quiet-achiever Kate and the ex-model earth mother Samara and no make-up myself spent a few hours de-testosteroning the hall which is also used by the local soccer club. Lavender oil was burning in an attempt to rid the space of sweaty armpits and stale beer splashes and any notices relating to 'Prawn and Porn Night' or 'Tony's lost his sprigs - will buy a bundy for the bloke who returns them' were hidden in the store room. We wheeled away the huge television and instead set up coffee cups and tea bags and sugars and put up the kindergarten's pale apricot partitions to hide the rather battered and blokey black plastic chairs used by the players. Three hours later the hall looked tasteful enough for a pastel-beige episode of the Golden Girls.

There was a good turnout that night: 60 eager mums and two token gay hairdressers. This was a relief for me because it meant that I could hide at the back of the room and be the bartender and not have to pretend to be interested (or in any way knowledgeable) about make up or how to apply it. Most of the crowd enjoyed a glass of champagne or two before DD started his formal lesson of the evening. I snuck into the back row, my face already strawberry pink from the sparkling burgundy and vodka cruisers I'd sucked down in between serving drinks.

Deb was selected from the crowd of shy-but-secretly-eager mothers. DD expertly showed us how Deb could be made up for a big night out, even though he only did one half of her face. Jo was a bit luckier, even though she's already naturally gorgeous so that anything he did was always going to look good. DD's anecdotes were interrupted by some rather fierce barking three dogs being walked around the oval next door. I couldn't help myself: "Sorry Dale, they're the women that were just too ugly to be let in."

He resumed his magic on the shy Giselle who ended up like a rock star - smoky eyes, dramatic lips and ready to punch out Courtney Love. This was all very interesting to me as a form of visual entertainment, but I was grateful to get back behind the bar whilst the others were crowding around DD, ooohing and aahing over his product line and seeking his advice.

I own four lipsticks; none of which have cost me more than four dollars. They last me for an entire decade because my lips are like Kenneth Branagh's which look as though someone's sliced his across the moosh with a butter knife. Also, why bother to put on lippy in the first place when, five minutes later it's found its way into your used tissue or wiped itself around the edge of your coffee cup? Having to slavishly reapply it during the day sounds like too much hard work for me. And besides; exactly what shade of lipstick would properly complement my traditional outfit of tracksuit pants, sneakers and a dog-hair-infested polar fleece? I don't think Chanel has developed the 'Couldn't Care Less' colour range just yet. I can blob on down to Norwood clad in my 'I Chose Comfort Instead of Speed' outfits and couldn't give a Farting Father Flanagans' about what any well-shod, well-paid and well-endowed Eastern Suburbs Matron who needs to tart herself up before she considers entering Coles thinks of me.

My anti-lipstick stance is supported by Love Chunks, who once kissed me after I was made-up for a work conference. Unbeknownst to him, most of my 'iced floss' had transferred to him and he was ribbed all day by his workmates: "Like the shimmery pink lips, Love Chunks. Thanks for making such an effort for us."

Mascara? If I can manage to apply it without black lumps flicking up onto my eyelids (about half the time) it can actually be a help in that I no longer look like a plucked chicken. Unfortunately I then forget that I'm wearing it and always end up rubbing my eyes with the heel of my hand. This then produces a fetching result of filling in the tiny lines under my eyes with black mascara debris making me look like a 60 year old coal miner and cloggs my tear ducts with bluetac-sized blobs of the remaining black debris. Because we all like highlighting our eye boogers, don't we?

As for eyeshadow, I've given up on it altogether. With my deep-set eyes and blonde brows my pasty, chubby face resembles a fresh-baked scone with two currants pushed into it. Any shadow - no matter how light - makes it appear as though I've had an unfortunate episode with the car's airbags or have decided to work on becoming one of the zombie undead. Being pale enough to be the envy of goths everywhere means that I also tend to go bright red. Hot flushes have occurred since I was six years old; sitting in silent agony during class when the teacher would say "Who stole Darryl's pencil case? You'd better own up or you'll be going straight to the principal's office." Even though I hadn't stolen it, I'd go tomato red in terror that the teacher could possibly think it was me.

Nowadays, I go red from one drink, a good laugh, or from running seven hours earlier. I can't even tell a white lie without going red. If Love Chunks says: "Hey, there were two boxes of Lindt Balls here yesterday. Did you eat any?" I have to go and hide my face in the dark before squeaking out unconvincingly, "Um, no. Maybe the dog/rabbit/child did." What on earth kind of blush would a fat apple like me need?

I've never got the hang of foundations or concealers either. I reckon they make you look worse than whatever the hell it was you wanted to hide from the world to begin with. The sticky stuff fills up every empty white-head crevice in my nose, which, being big enough already to rent out as a warehouse I don't need to emphasise any further. Any dark circles under the eyes just produce a death-mask appearance that only ends up in "Geez, are you feeling OK? Don't you think you should lie down" blurtings of concern. And the neck area just never looks right under a coat of paint. It either ends up a weird orangey brown that fills up every neck ring, or there's a distinct white tide mark where the face make up ends and the bareness of the throat begins. It's a sad society we live in when we believe that our necks don't deserve to be au naturel.

And finally, hair. I go to the cheapest hair cutter I know, and she's always greeted with: "I want low maintenance hair that if it takes me more than two minutes to do, is too hard." No wonder I had a number four head shave for ten years...... I'm still the cheapest chick to run though and for that I'm grateful.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Day Twenty Nine - Appreciative August


Ever since I clapped eyes on my mother's 'Australian Women's Weekly' when it was still a weekly and not a monthly and the exploits of Delvene Delaney, Belinda Green and Ita 'At My Deskth' Buttrose ruled the ink, I have loved magazines.

The glossy paper; even glossier advertising; stories and photographs to pour over only to recall years later during trivia competitions and the feeling that you're intimately involved with whatever is designated as "in" at that precise moment. All that enjoyment at the flick of a wrist and yet it's forgotten and discarded the second it is read and consumed.

I first subscribed to the Offical Abba magazine back in 1977, begging my mum to fill in the form, pay by postal order (I handed over my savings in twenty cent pieces) and eagerly wait each month for thirty two pages of joy that were read over and over and over.....

On our 1979 Queensland holiday, we discovered the joys of the small town Book Exchanges, and in between some 10c Gnid Blytons, Trixie Beldons and Peanuts paperbacks, I found MAD magazines. Again, these were read and re-read until the fold in section at the back fell apart into three pieces.

A few months ago, out of a combined need to buy something at the school fundraiser and from sheer nostalgia I bought a pile of MADs from a year seven kid, who was happy with my offer of two bucks for the lot. To my utter disillusionment, I found that the the very same cartoons I'd enjoyed nearly thirty years earlier were still being recycled; even those tiny little ones hidden in the margins. Lazy, unoriginal bastards.

As puberty hit (during our year in Scotland, unfortunately), it was 'Blue Jeans' - a trashy, 'true confession' mag that every girl in my class read, complete with real life photos masquerading as boyfriend and girlfriend comics (Hugh Grant even earned his keep doing some of these at the time). Back at Murray Bridge High School it was Dolly magazine, with all photos of hunks - real, potential or imagined - carefully cut out and posted into my homework diary to assure others of my firm standing in the 'trendy' pecking order. Yeah, like C. Thomas Howell really stood the test of time.

At Uni it was Cleo and Cosmopolitan as well as the 'Buttocks People' strip on the back of OnDit. I'd like to say that I devoured each and every article on 'Ten Ways to Giving Him the Orgasm of his Life' in order to seek a brief respite from my fastidious studies on Major English Texts, Roman Art and Archaeology and The Pre-Scientific World View of History, but really it was to discover, 'Is He the Right Man for You?' and to make sure that any sealed section discoveries were learned by heart in case I happened to stumble across some bloke who insisted on my performing every single one of them.

Luckily, I discovered that blokes, by and large, don't require such attention to detail; they're merely grateful that you're there and seem to like them back. By the time Love Chunks arrived, such mags had no appeal. It was settled: he loved me, I loved him and there was no need to learn the techniques for 'How to Have Him Begging For More' because there were other articles, still not yet published that we needed instead. Ones such as 'How to Make Sure That Laughter During Sex Is Seen As A True Sign Of Desire And Affection And Is Not Intended To Hurt'; or 'Don't Expect Movie Star Sex When You Have a Crepe-paper, Post-Childbirth-Stomach And Just Ate Cabbage For Dinner' or the essential: Give Him The Sign By Shaving Your Legs Every Quarter'. These may finally be published one day, perhaps when Jackie Frank is tired of trying to convince her readers to pay $12,000 for a Chanel handbag on one page and then exhorting us to fight for Venezuelan victims of rape and poverty immediately overleaf.....

These days, my magazine subscriptions are pretty indicative of my current phase in life - suburban, nearly forty and unable to focus on anything beyond 500 words. My subscriptions to the funny movie mag Empire has petered out as it was a bit hard to read about a movie when it was unlikely that Love Chunks and I would ever be able to see one together; as did 'Who' when their celebrity factor began to out-dumb even No Idea and I was regularly mocked by Sapphire (who was then only six and a half) for reading it. "Mum, why do they always have to show famous people in their bathers?"

No, it's delicious for food (mostly for visual porn because I just can't be shagged trying to find Southern Highlands grain fed low-lactose wild camel carcasses, saffron threads or marinated goat lips); marieclaire (for fashion I love to laugh at and can't afford); Choice (so that I could read about what treadmill I should have bought instead of the one I did buy); and Home Beautiful and House & Garden so that I can assure myself that our renovations aren't too cringeworthy and can work myself up into a lather about how the word 'bespoke' is now trendier to home decorators 'minimalist' and 'global fusion' used to be.

And Men's Health; an occasional freebie that I like to read to see how blokes view women. It's quite honestly the funniest thing since MAD magazine circa 1979.

No, Men's Health, women hate it when you leave the loo seat up because it means that we have to put it down again, that's it. It's not because we ".....have a natural instinct to keep clean and protect their (our) womb and any unborn child they (we) might be carrying." We just don't want to have to touch the seat that might have had a few stray sprinkles on it, okay?

And no, MH - these here are NOT the top toys we want you to buy for us. Forget focussing on 'Sex Shop Etiquette', walk away from the red-light district and instead get us:
1) A cleaner
2) A good night's sleep
3) A minimum of an hour's gentle back-scratching or neck massages in front of the telly every night
4) A carton of milk that stays fresh in the fridge door and never runs out; and
5) Chocolate.

Not hard, is it, but if MH thought you knew that, you wouldn't buy their magazine, would you?

Oh and No. No cardigans. No. NO CARDIGANS. Not now, not ever. George Clooney, Jude Law and John Cusack could all be starkers, buffed, oiled and bronzed and waiting at my front door, wanting me, but if they dared wear one of these hideous items they'd be flung away from me further than a drug cheat's winning discuss throw.

And if Love Chunks came home wearing any of these three get ups, I'd laugh so hard that the afore-mentioned much-needed chocolate and milk would snort out of my nose as an instant thickshake smoothie requiring our newly-acquired cleaner to have to get the mop out again as my neck goes out with the strain of regurgitation via sinus so that I need an intense soft tissue massage and then a nice big sleep under the doona.....

And I had to laugh (and secretly feel very, very proud) when Sapphire noted Scarlett Johanssen's quote on the front of marieclaire and said in her best, breathy game-show informercial hostess' voice, "Oh Mum look - Scarlett's Proud Of Her Sexual Energy...."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day Twenty Eight - Appreciative August


We all have our own weird habits. Some we have in common with a lot of other people but don't generally talk about (having the odd wee or nose pick in the shower, for example) and there are other habits that we suspect are pretty well our own to own, if you get my drift. For me, my most longstanding odd habit - which I'm peculiarly grateful for - is my obsession with threes.

My birthday is the 3rd of November, and for all of my active memory I have searched for groups of threes and counted them out like the demented girlfriend of RainMan.

For instance, I'm disappointed that the ceiling tiles in my dentist's surgery are divided into 29 squares across and down - no divisions of three, and it perhaps goes some way to explaining the pain, discomfort and embarassment I've endured there on far too many occasions. Fortunately the wall vents at home are configured as rows of squares by six, so the dental nightmare is somewhat negated.

My daughter's name is a division of three, as is my own. Love Chunks' and my names, separately, are not, but together, they are. I've been obsessed (or was it bored?) enough to mentally count the CDs on the rack and the books on the shelf to see if they fit the numerical formula. The diamond patterns on our living room rug do not. You'd think I'd only need to count them once to work that out, but it's something that I find myself doing every single day I sit down and clap eyes on the damn pattern. This same obsession goes for the number of floorboards in the dining room; the number of knobs on all cupboards, drawers and doors in our bedroom; the shower curtain rings in the bathroom; bottles of wine in the racks; undies on the clothesline and petunias flowering in their pots..... I'm a lunatic!

There are three gold bangles on my wrist that never come off - not for sport or showering and, even though it wasn't planned as such, there are three human beings that make up the little Lockett family.

Threes too (see what I did there), give me many options to 'find' a multiple when one doesn't immediately appear. For instance my birth year is 1968 which is divisible by three, but Love Chunks (1967) and Sapphire's (1999) are not. All I need to do is add them together (3966) and my autistic equilibrium is again in order. Sad, isn't it, that my mind is being wasted on something so futile instead of trying to figure out a cure for Andrew Bolt's existence, tax-free dodges for the super rich or permanently eradicating the next instalment of Australian Idol. *sigh*

More recently I've realised that the number three can in fact help me. Three goodies can cancel out one baddie. Bulldog, for example, has a very common Baby-Boomer name that, until a couple of months ago, caused me to shudder, find a corner, curl up into the foetal position and snart snivelling. Luckily I met Bulldog Nomenclature A, who, under the different name of DMC Confectionery, makes the most exquisite delicacies from Belgian chocolate, South Australian red wines, natural rosewater, local almonds and fruit pectins. She and I met to discuss her product range and ended up spending hours together laughing, talking about our upbringings, families, pets (Jorgi for me, Daschunds for her) and our interests.

Bulldog B made me feel welcome the second I shyly stepped into the SA Writer's Centre. I stood there, blushingly holding my Dummies book, gazing at the shelves of published poetry and serious literature and thought I'd better leave before any contemptuous laughter rang out in my direction. Not so. Bulldog B was thrilled to make my acquaintance: offered me a coffee, brought out heaps of useful material and was most generous with her time and advice.

Bulldog C was a real surprise. Sapphire and I were busy getting dinner ready (a fairly rare occurrence in our home as Love Chunks is the KING of cooking, thank Choc), singing Abba's 'Voulez Vous' but changing the lyrics to suit the dog - "MillyMooo aha, take it now or leave it, now is all we get, La question c'est MillyMoooo" when the door rang.

It was Bulldog C, apologising profusely for disturbing us, but confessing that she'd driven past our house a couple of times over the past week, debating whether to come in and introduce herself. I'm glad she did. Her parents bought this house in 1939, and she was born straight after the war. "I've lived in Queensland since I got married in 1960, and have been down to visit family and just wondered if...."

Of course. I bustled her inside, forced a cup of tea on her and let her wander through each room. Sapphire's bedroom had been hers and her sisters, with the same in-built cupboards in use. Her father worked for Woodies soft drinks until his retirement and earned the admiration of all the kids in the neighbourhood when he played Laurel & Hardy and Three Stooges movies and used the back of the front door as the screen: "We sat in cross-legged rows on the floor of the hallway.... and look, you still have the same doorknobs, doors and ceiling roses!" She told us how the neighbour's horse had got loose one time and stuck its head through the kitchen window to say hello and how she ran away from home and hid up the almond tree wondering why her mother wasn't out frantically looking for her, "I didn't realise that she could see me quite clearly there from the sink."

Even Skeletor, Bulldog's dim-witted but evil assistant has been cancelled out by three nicer individuals who share her name. Sapphire's class teacher, for one. She has somehow managed to tame a room full of cynical 8-10 year olds who can now sing in four harmonies; play violins, grow enough produce to make an arse-kicking vegetable soup and have them feel real disappointment when it's a pupil-free school day. She's earned Sapphire's loyalty and devotion and we often have mealtimes that begin with "My teacher told us that....."

Skeletor 2 couldn't be less like the evil original. She is beautiful and elegant in that infuriatingly natural and unconscious way and her home looks like something out of House and Garden. She's incredibly kind, intelligent and is raising a child on her own with more energy, dignity and commitment than a truckload of Backyard Blitzers with childcare certificates. She has seen me through some very low times and shares my love for cheesy eighties movies. "My hand is resting between two soft, warm pillows."

Skeletor 3 has been a mate since university, when I envied her Datsun and saw tears roll down her face when Glenelg were unequivocally murdered by North Adelaide in the SANFL grand final fiasco of 1987. She lives in France now, with her lovely hubby Ronan and two adorable sons Yann and Etienne and, over twenty years on, looks exactly the same. No lines, no greys, no age - just her usual happy, bright face and sparkly, witty eyes. Regrettez que vous n'ayez pas vécu ici mon ami.

Day Twenty Seven - Appreciative August


Alright, alright, before any of you start, I know. Opting to write about people as one of my Appreciative August topics is about as vague as 'earth' or 'air' or 'life' but it's so much more than that.

You know how someone will say, "Oh he's a real character" and you'll invariably think, "Hmm, so he's definitely not the full can of Fanta and I should avoid eye contact at all costs," right? Well I'm here to tell you, in today's modern equivalent of you sitting down and me waggling my pointer finger at you, that there are people out there who are genuine characters. Folk to enjoy; to get to know; to appreciate.

This year, as part of my personal quest in the 'Year of Yes', I've also been trying to create opportunities as well as say 'yes' to any that get thrown my way. One of those was to attempt to get the city paper to publish articles on non-celebrities. You know, people who haven't appeared on Big Brother, weren't invited to Bec and Lleyton's wedding and wouldn't know what an IT girl was unless she was good at killing off Trojan viruses. Folk that aren't dating AFL footballers, or own shoe stores at the age of 24 funded by their wealthy parents, or trucked over as 'interstate talent' based on other equally dubious claims to fame.

I wanted to develop a no-name regular column on local South Australians. By 'locals' I mean those who don't already feature in the news. Not the puzzled-but-later-found-to-be-drug-dealing victims of 'unprovoked' home invasions, meth-heads who lead police on 200km car chases along Port Road at 3am, or the owners of back yard amphetamine laboratories destined to shove a Today Tonight cameraman into the gutter. I mean the friendly bloke who runs the coffee shop; the old lady with the zimmer frame and wicked laugh or the taxi driver who only takes his beloved Bentley out for a spin in the middle of the day when the rush hour has ended.

So far, I've managed to persuade about twenty South Australians aged from 20 to 85 (with perhaps a seventeen year old and a ninety-five year old to extend the range when they finish considering my request for an interview), to answer the same set of questions. The questions are:
  • Name / Age / Suburb or town / Job
  • The best time I ever had that didn't cost a cent was ....
  • The worst job I ever had was ...
  • You know what irritates me?
  • If my partner was the forgive-and-forget type, I'd love to spend the night with .... because .....
  • The last time I laughed was ...
  • If I could invent anything it would be ...
  • ___ deserves a kick in the backside because ....
  • ___ deserves a pat on the back because ....
  • The one thing I've learned is ...
  • My favourite spot in South Australia is ....

I'm a firm believer that everyone has a story and has something interesting to tell. They may not necessarily believe it, but the above questions, whilst seeming annoyingly cliched and generic, have allowed me to participate in some of the most touching, hilarious and fascinating discussions I've ever had.

There's too much to reveal here, but I'll share some of the answers to the 'If my partner was the forgive and forget type, I'd spend the night with....' question. These reveal only a tiny glimpse of the fun I've had in gaining them:

"Forget having sex with someone else, unless it's Diana Krall for her musical talent and visual appeal. I'd rather have an evening with Johanne Sebastian Bach to hear him play and find out how his brilliant mind worked." (Dan, 46, music teacher and sustainable farmer)

"My wife, no question. I'd hang out with her any time (pause). Although, if I must, I'd say Catriona Rowntree (pause) but only because she enunciates well." (Roc, 47, actor)

"I'm not the forgive and forget type but I'd bend the rules for Johnny Depp. He's a bit of everything, so imagine what he could do...." (Salome, 30, receptionist)

"On looks and strength alone, Andrew McLeod." (Melissa, 26, shop owner). I wonder if my own beloved partner, Love Chunks, would answer the same, but haven't yet asked him.

"Well, obviously Brad Pitt, but then I'd shove him out the door and invite Tim Flannery in for a chat." (Ian, 43, public servant)

"Delta Goodrem, she's hot. I can do without the singing though." (Shane, 30, houseboat operator)

"Daniel Day-Lewis. In any of his weird method acting phases. All the way from Last of the Mohicans to My Left Foot." (Bernadette, 41, Cappuccino Queen)

"My girlfriend I had just before World War II started. (Laughs) Not necessarily for anything naughty, but just to see how everything turned out for her." (Jack, 85, retired mariner)

"Jillian Michaels, the personal trainer from the US Biggest Loser, but I'd like to train with her for the day first. Then Angelina Jolie - I reckon even my wife would let me have that one." (Damien, 34, engineer)

"ALL of my ex-boyfriends - if only to apologise for treating them so badly." (Pauline, 67, retired)

Some of the stories that have been discussed around the questions have been inspirational and extended what I promised was only going to take ten minutes of their time into a fun couple of hours instead over more coffee and even more chocolate. Tidbits have been revealed such as having to fish out dead bodies from the ocean during the war; having a dog become addicted to picking passionfruit off the vine and eating it; noting that a shelf-stacker at Foodland had farted and quipping, "Clean up in Aisle Nine"; being the secretive 'neighborhood ninja' with a slug gun ready to knock off annoying pigeons who crap on washing lines; beating cancer twice before the age of 24; admiring Rove McManus for insisting that tomato sauce be provided at cafes for free......

Sadly, the paper doesn't seem to be interested. I am though, and always will be. of my new best friends, Thomas Schnitzler, the Australian Maitre-Chocolatier for Lindt. He invited me to some Lindt cooking demos, gave me the only Aussie copy of the official Lindt chocolate cookbook and let me kiss him. And yes, he smells like a Lindt ball!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Day Twenty Six - Appreciative August

Little Bonuses

.....or should this be titled 'Little Bonii' ?

So far this month I've prattled on about the big things - you know, chocolate, dogs and the telly; and now it's time to waste some words on the little things. Life's little bonuses that, as the title suggests, you don't expect.

No, not like that weeping cold sore and cornflake eyes you got on the day of your year eleven class photograph, but nicer, simpler and less scary things.

For instance, last week I dragged out my Target Men's black coat which is the warmest thing I own and is only thisclose to walking around in an oversized blanket but for the fact it has a long snazzy silver zipper down the front. After Milly and I walked Carly to school, I put my hands in the pockets to find a twenty buck note that had obviously been hiding there since last winter. Unless it was placed there earlier that morning, with Love Chunks deciding that he needed to financially thank me for services rendered....

Also last week Good Old Genki started working again. The Genki Treadmill had inexplicably been giving me the exercise equipment's equivalent of the Middle Finger Flick Off when it would stop dead without a second's warning only to restart again after much turning off and on at the powerpoint, swearing, fiddling with the techno Engrish 'PEASE PESS PLAUSE TO MAUNAL START' keyboard clam thingy and begging it, out loud, to behave itself. It was only my stooped posture that enabled me notice exactly when the screen would quickly flash an 'EO EO EO' and switch istelf off so that I could in turn leap off the contraption saving myself a godawful face scrape or being painfully flung into the back wall of the shed via the art-n-craft table and weights bench.

Love Chunks could see that his attempts at trying to convince me that there were other exercises in the world besides running were to no avail and got out his screwdrivers, rubber soled-shoes and hammer (as a last resort, for bashing it to smithereens) to have a tinker. Whatever he did (probably with the hammer and the bashing) worked and the Genkster hasn't let me down since. A nice bonus, seeing as it was bought off the internet by a friend who then gave it to me and we've found out that not one gymnasium, sports shop or equipment repairer or importer in our entire nation has heard of the brand or wants to touch it.

Another little bonus has been the ACME beaters shown above. Jenny and Mimi gave this to us in 1995 as a joke wedding gift. We loved the Road-runner brand name, and wondered if it had the guts to cope with splitting the yoke of a single egg, let alone stick out for twelve months before the warranty expired. To our surprise, ACkers is still kicking on, through more than 13 years of transforming egg whites into merinque, churning through cheesecake fillings, creating quiches and ploughing through pudding mixes. Not bad for a bit of a larf and nine bucks ninety-nine from Cunnos Warehouse.

As some of you know, Sapphire's pester power (and extremely good behaviour) over the space of twelve months eventually got her a rabbit for her ninth birthday whom she named Skipper. I wasn't holding out a lot of hope for him making much of a positive impact on my life - even though he certainly has for Sapph - but, somehow he has. The sneaky little bugg--- I mean bonus.

Bunny beans no longer shoot out of his butt like machine gun fire as he's now secure and relaxed in his new home. He sits up to intently gaze at the TV, endures Milly's 'kisses' (licks to his head and ears), flops out under the coffee table and has a wonderful time running amok in the study whenever its raining. He patiently sits through Sapphire's recorder, guitar and ABBA singing sessions in her bedroom and been quite the socialite on her regular playdates as he's handed from giggling girl to giggling girl.

Sure, he's nibbled the spines of a few books and chomped all the handles off my eco-shopping bags, but it was 'Common Ground' by Malcolm Fraser that was the worst affected (and I never wanted to read it anyway) and I've got more bags than I know what to do with...... He's also lovely to cuddle and snuggles up on my shoulder like a cat would. He's better than a cat though because he doesn't scratch, catch native birds or bother the dog. So yes, he's a bonus.

Other happy surprises have included:

  • Getting ten showbags a month early and for free in order to 'road test' them on radio - I was the coolest mother in the world when they arrived home (but didn't feel quite so wonderful a few exhausting hours into a frenetic sugar-high supervised playdate with her friend Selene later);
  • Finding one kilograms' worth of peanut butter M&Ms from US army chopper pilot Scott, who felt sorry reading about my pinings for them on chocablog;
  • Meeting Garry at Bracegirdles, spending a morning drinking Belgian chocolate-laced mocha and shootin' the breeze about us both chucking in teaching for chocolate worship;
  • Cracking the 10 kilometre mark - for the first time in four years - on the Genki Treadie in 52 minutes and at a cost of 600 calories;
  • Moving on down the scale from 79 kilos in January to 69 kilos yesterday; and
  • Sitting up until 1am engrossed in a fantastic book whose only payment will be a 200 word review.

My final bonus is one that may initially seem rather cruel to categorise as a bonus but it was. A couple of weeks ago, Sapphire was the first in our house to get the cold/flu/chest infection/asthma/tonsilitus lurgy that has since smacked us all flat. We're still getting over it in fact.

She had to spend three days home from school, which isn't a "Yee-hah, no school!" moment for her because she loves her class, enjoys her learning, PE and music lessons and her mates and only reluctantly admitted - after her fourth lot of ventolin in one night - that she wasn't feeling too well.

Sapphire insisted on watching the Olympics, and Milly sat on the floor next to her as is her usual modus operandi when one of us is sick. I sat with them, doing the usual motherly thing of getting pillows, blankets, tissues, soft toys, drinks and books and getting to spend time with her without having to coordinate playdates, meal times, housework, writing duties or anything else.

The lurgy wasn't pleasant for Sapphire of course, but it didn't dampen her spirit, sense of humour or fascination with the sporting endeavours she witnessed and I, for the millionth time, marvelled at just how on earth I'd managed to cook this wonderful creature inside of me for forty weeks. She entertained me with her eerily accurate 'Get some nuts.....Fool!' Snickers/Mr T impression and I her with my 'They disssscovered the ssssourccccce in sssseecondsssss' Ultra tune Statesman Owner's imitation.

On the Thursday she was fine to go to school, armed with her puffer and a big box of tissues. She held my hand, hers still so very tiny and soft in mine as Milly trotted proudly in front of us; our brave dog, leading the way. "I hated being sick, Mum, but it was nice being with you."

The word 'bonus' doesn't quite cover it, does it?

Day Twenty Five - Appreciative August

Needing Knots

Marriage is outdated these days. That's something that has been said by older generations for decades, so I'll rip off my numbered paper slip and wait patiently in the ever-increasing queue.

I've been married to Love Chunks for over thirteen years now, but have been 'with' him for nearly sixteen. Perhaps the opening sentence needs to be more clearly explained: the need for marriage and the way we traditionally go about preparing for it is out of date and unnecessary but having a loving and binding relationship certainly isn't. Most of us want that one person with whom we can be our complete selves without ridicule, fear or anxiety.

Love Chunks didn't ask me to marry him and nor was I waiting for the moment to ask him either. Instead it happened as a round-about conversation together when we were both poor teaching students. Somehow we wound up by a jewellery store in Rundle mall. There was a small sapphire ring in the window that we both really liked, so we bought it. End of story. No staged 'romantic' scenes and no exciting story when people ask, "So how did Love Chunks ask to marry you" - just a really wonderful sense of it all being right and that this bloke was 'it' as far as I was concerned.

In February 1995 we married in my folks' back garden in Murray Bridge. My 'dress' (a skirt and jacket) cost $12 in materials and the hat and shoes were $100 apiece. LC and I were based in Darwin at that stage, so we had about as much interest in planning an costly catastrophe that focussed on the colours of napkins, flowers and attendants as Bryce Courteney has in writing decent novels.

Mum and Dad were supportive of our low key plans too, for what I can only guess are the following reasons:
* They wanted to pay and we insisted on having a small celebration in their garden;
* Dad didn't have to wear a suit, write a speech or do anything other than ensure that there was enough shade and his back lawn was green and lush;
* Mum could finally flex her green muscled thumbs and show newcomers just what a sixty-something superstar can do with milo-brown Murray water, ingenuity and hard work;
* None of us had to endure prickly and pointless conversations about hired cars, who was going to be the best man, maid of honour, bridesmaid, flowergirl or the social perils of signing up for a gift registry.

At 2pm on Sunday 5th February, Love Chunks had more to endure than I, standing there on his own, facing the 60-strong crowd trying not to appear too nervous as Dad walked me out of the front door, down the drive and through our back garden. The summer day was windy and not hot at all, so my hat blew off halfway during the ceremony. Dad caught it and plonked it on his own much larger noggin, ensuring a snug fit and a decent photo opp. Mum and my sister-in-law sobbed throughout, as did RB, Love Chunks' father. Love Chunks and I nervously grabbed for and kissed each other as soon as the minister said, "I now pronounce you...." and endured a few rounds of happy laughter when he pointed out that there were a few other bits and pieces to say yet.

Two lovely CWA ladies from Coomandook did the catering - we wanted genuinely yummy finger foods and lots of it. The 22C weather and strong Murray gusts meant that the tea and coffee was more eagerly sought than the champers, beer and wine, so we had a nice head-start to establishing our now pretty substantial wine collection. We wanted no speeches and no gifts and the only cake was a nice mud jobby passed around in generous slices with clotted cream and forks. Total cost for the day including booze, food, catering staff and clothing was $2,ooo.

The rest of the day was a blur of talking, saying nothing of value, laughing, posing for photos, trying to spend at least two minutes with every person who was there before leaving around 8pm for Adelaide. It was only in our car tootling past Callington that LC and I realised that neither of us had been to the toilet in over eight hours, nor eaten or drunk anything; it was like our physical needs were in freeze-mode during a momentous event, yet, neither of us could remember a damn thing that was said to us the entire time. We arrived at the decadence that still is the Flag Inn on Anzac Highway, being conveniently-ish close to the airport where we were leaving on a red-arsed flight to Perth the next morning.

Our first meal as Mr and Mrs was in Glenelg, eating the oilest, gluggiest and most satisfying bowls of spaghetti carbonara from Fasta Pasta, laughing as we did so at the sheer lack of luxury of it all.
Yes, I'll go as far as to say we 'consummated' the day later on that evening, but again, much more laughter and snorting ensued as we tried to imagine what kind of horrors and disappointment faced nervous and exhausted couples in stricter and more innocent times.

The honeymoon was in Perth for the first week. It was the only city in Australia that neither of us had visited before and it was a pretty damn nice spot to recuperate from everything, plus see Australia destroy the Poms for the season at the WACA. Then we flew up to Darwin to meet up with our English mates John, Rebs, Richard and Tracey who had specifically timed their big trip Down Under to attend our wedding. Love Chunks had never met them before, but heard enough about them to suggest, "If they've made the effort to get down here, let's not just speak to them for a few minutes during THE BIG DAY, but do some travelling with them as well."

So we did. A week or so in a six-berth rented campervan doing Kakadu, Litchfield and the wilds of the Northern Territory. In February, the heart of the wet and stormy season. Best decision ever.

Since then, we've been part of, or attended, weddings that have cost more than a house deposit and wondered just why they thought that the money was well spent. We've caught drunk uncles falling off balconies; politely eaten partly boiled chicken that was raw on the inside; seen bridesmaid's dresses so bad that I thought my friend the bride was having a joke at first; seen a couple marry each other for the third time (!); two women at a posh Yarra do deciding to have a smack-down cat fight on the dance floor; chased stingy waiters in order to get a mouthful of food and wondered just why a bridal march done by a loopy cousin on a 1980s Casio keyboard was considered a good idea.

But......... But the couple at each event were sublimely happy and oblivious to problems relating to back fat rolling over strapless bodices, the noisy whirring of video recorders, the table full of bored 'odd' folk that are shoved together merely because they're single and the younger fourteen year old brother of the groom who sneakily sculls a jug of coke-and-bundy and throws up in the ladies toilets. At every one of them, we applauded each best man's speech, willingly got up to do the Chicken Dance after the cake was cut and told the bride she was the most beautiful example of love and light we'd even seen in our lives.

..... yes, marriage is outdated and getting married is tacky, wasteful and often very silly. Maybe that's because it's too tiring trying to work out how to tie that sublime Knot in a slightly more personal or creative way.

It doesn't really matter though, as long as you've found the person you want to get knotted with. And I have.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day Twenty Four - Appreciative August
Murray Bridge

I was born and raised in Murray Bridge, South Australia; the town imaginatively named because it was on the edge of the Murray river, and well, had a big bridge put over it.

My earliest memories are from the 1970s, when it was considered perfectly normal to locate the town's rubbish dump right next to Sturt Reserve on the river's edge, which was also next to the caravan park. Directly off the main street (creatively named 'Bridge Street' seeing as that's where it ended), was a tannery between it and the river which added a spectacularly bad stench if one wished to drive that way in order to have a swim in the summer time.

I remember the fire station letting off their siren at lunchtime every day to test it; the smell of the fat being rendered at the meatworks on hot and still Saturday nights; the distant clacking of the train winding its way past the edge of town and local boneheads doing wheelies near the golf course.

I'll never forget the red-faced, sobbing shame of being told off by Mrs Geisler, Manageress of the South Primary School canteen, for bringing a one dollar note to her counter. "This is far too much money for you to be spending here and I don't have enough change. Please go away and let me serve the other kids." (So much for raiding my birthday money and not being content with Mum giving me a ten cent piece tied in a knot in my hanky every Friday).

Seeing Matthew H pick his nose in the school activity room and wipe it on the floor in reception seemed like a good idea to me, as did cheering Andrew W on the solid iron rocker before he overturned it, smashed his teeth in and ran off with blood spurting from his mouth. Rob liked to jump from the enormous wooden cotton reels that once held electrical cables until he misjudged and had his nose break his fall slightly. I chased poor old Roger through a cement pipe only to see him misjudge the height and scalp himself. It didn't occur to me to check that he was OK, instead I ran outside screaming, "Roger's split his head OPEN, come and see!"

Eight year old Jill was doing a superb job hanging upside down on the monkey bars with her skirt over her head and twelve cents in her mouth (a ten and a two) until she flipped onto the ground and swallowed them. She was rushed to hospital before being told that her Mum would have to 'sift' through her stools in order to assure her that they'd passed through safely. I offered to run into the boys' toilets, touch their urinal and run out again to make up for her misfortune.

Primary school was obviously a huge influence on me, but so was home. Ours was located in River Street which, strangely enough, was not located anywhere near the actual river. Despite this, it was an ideal location for us because it wasn't a thoroughfare to anywhere and didn't have decent bitumen or gutters of any kind until 1980. This meant that we kids could have lengthy games of road tennis, basketball, bike races and puddle splashing competitions.

The road was also the "Barleys" zone for games of chasey and hide-and-seek that extended across four houses and gardens on both sides of the road. Why this Swiss Safety zone was called 'Barleys' I don't know, but our mothers were either confident about the lack of traffic, child molesters and slave traffickers or didn't care, because we were allowed to spend our entire weekends and after school hours with the neighbourhood kids as long as we were home in time for tea.

We were lucky enough to have a very large back yard and my cricket-mad father and brothers put in a full-sized cricket pitch and net. I can't honestly say that this was a big thrill for me and only ventured out to join in if they used a tennis ball instead of the rock-hard red one and applied the 'one hand one bounce' fielding rule because I couldn't catch for nuts.

If the ball was cracked over the fence into Cowham's pool it was six-and-out; on the roof was six but you had to climb up there and get it down or be counted as out; and anything that bounced off the brick tankstand and caught was one-hand-one-bounce. A few months after it was put in, Dad had to put bars on the windows facing the pitch.

Robert (pictured here about to bowl) smacked a ball into their bedroom window. The smashing sounds were quite dramatic and I stopped reading in my room to overhear his and David's panicked conversation outside.
"Uh oh Dave, you're going to be in so much trouble when Dad comes home......"
"Why me?" Dave squeaked, "You hit the window, not me."
"Yeah," Robert countered, "but it was because of the way you bowled it." Dave accepted this reasoning from a sibling four years older than him and went and hid by the lawnmowing shed for a few hours.

As the 'big girl' of our street, I would walk a gaggle of younger kids to school every day. For some reason my responsibilities didn't include how the hell they got home walking the 2km on their own. However in the mornings we'd all stop, survey the mess and giggle at the volume of sun-dried white dog turds near the corner of our street having hilariously christened it 'Poo Corner'.

Once I was dared to pick up a discarded cigarette butt thrown nearby and did my best to light it via our 'burning bin' (backyard incinerator) and bum suck my way to sophistication and awe in front of my witnesses. Unfortunately I tried a bit too hard to blow smoke and it turned into a torturous drawback that found me coughing and throwing up in front of three shocked seven year olds. I like to think that I played my part in preventing several youngsters taking up a dangerous habit.

Down at Sturt Reserve - when the pongs of the tannery, dump, and let's face it - the caravan park were blowing the other way, we'd sometimes have a picnic or BBQ on the green grass and I'd carefully, warily, sneak up to see this fellow, the Bunyip.

If 20c was put in the slot - or a folded over paddle-pop stick, he'd slowly and malevolently rise out of the water, roaring as he did so. His mouth would fall open in rabid, deliberate hunger and hatred and he'd sink back into the murky milo-river, only to rise up again, growling before the coin dropped and so did he.

I'll admit that the Bunyip caused me to wet my pants in utter fright more than once, yet I was extremely disappointed to visit him with Sapphire last year only to discover that he'd had a facelift by a fourteen year old and now just looked as though he was a bit cross and played far too much Nintendo - where's the vicarious brown-pants thrills and spills in that?

By age seventeen and with some decent matriculation results, I headed to the bright lights of the city for Adelaide University. Murray Bridge seemed so daggy, so backward, so out of it to me at that time. It didn't occur to me to ask myself why, then, I came home to see Mum, Dad, Dave and my friends as often as I could.

My folks have since retired to Victor Harbor where they're perfectly camouflaged with the thousands of other superannuated grey hairs and no longer feeling saddened at the expansion of the Mobilong prison in Murray Bridge where the butter factory used to be, or why the government thought it would be a great idea to put thousands of unemployed, resourceless people in housing trust homes without jobs, training, support or entertainment.

Murray Bridge saw some dark years and I wasn't one of the committed, passionate and loyal town dwellers to help turn the place around. I'm certainly grateful they did though.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Day Twenty Three - Appreciative August

Resolution and Redemption

When I was seven and my older brother was nine, he had two-and-a-half extra years of physical strength and the mental agility to tease with more effective results, mercilessly thrash me at Monopoly and invent better and more hurtful insults than I ever could. Perhaps he was annoyed that, as a three year old, I'd get up and eat his school lunch that Mum had made the night before, or pointed out that he always stuck his tongue out when he was batting at the crease or concentrating during a particularly challenging game of back-yard brandy.

The two year game of catch up didn't seem to end until we were in our late teens and one day I realised that we were friends rather than enemies. We could laugh at Blackadder and drove out to the orchards together in the summer holidays to endure the heat, the mindless work, the bogans and the boredom in order to earn the book, beer and bond money for the upcoming university year. We raved about the Midnight Oil concert at Memorial Drive in 1985, played endless games of tennis where he showed me how to run-like-my-very-life-depended-on-it for every single shot like a real bloke would; and he'd make wisecracks at the dinner table that would not only make me laugh but marvel at his quick cleverness.

It was me he came to see when he first felt the stirrings of real connection for a girl he'd met. What should he do, what if he'd got the signals wrong, what if she said no, what if......? Outwardly I listened intently, and assured him that it was worth the risk; she would say yes and that life would continue if it backfired. Inwardly I was so honoured that he chose me to confide these things to: was this the same person who made me cry so many times as a child?

When my share house was broken into in my third year of study, my two girlfriends and I came home stunned. We were all dirt poor, struggling on Austudy and holiday jobs and wondering just how in the hell we were going to replace our one and only bar heater, colour TV and tape player. The robbers must have been so disappointed to break into our place to reveal that it housed the poorest tenants of Hackney inside - no microwave, CD collections, stereo system, art work, computers or gadgets; which is why they found the time to smoke and butt out their cigarettes in my bedroom, go through my wardrobe to remove anything with a recognisable label and select whichever cassette tapes appealed to their ear.

Rob himself was also still a penniless student, but he cycled over from Mile End an hour later, somehow carrying his own double-tape stereo deck, a black-n-white television and an ancient Vulcan reflective heater. "Ah, no worries," he said, brushing off my thanks, "I'm at Libby's (his girlfriend's) place most of the time, and she's got better stuff than I have."

He moved in with us for a few months when Jo was working overseas for a few months towards her geology PhD. We needed the rent, he was in between jobs and houses and I wondered how he'd fare with Charlotte, a fairly straight, classical piano student who'd come from a family of five daughters. I shouldn't have worried - she loved his quirky outlook on life, loved him calling her 'Chuck' and he asked her endless questions about boarding school, life raising horses and exactly what piece of music she was practising and why.

We had a few interesting meals when he'd visit the Central Market just on closing time, buy an entire box of one vegetable and try and make something different with it for dinner for the following week. Avocados, parsnips and even on-the-turn tomatoes were particularly challenging. He'd chop up onions wearing his swimming goggles and, after we'd finished and enjoyed his seafood Hokkien noodle stir fry, he'd say, "Oh I'm glad you didn't notice that I also put the beaks and eyes of the octopus in as well; it makes it go further."

One time he, Love Chunks, my best mate Jill, a few others and myself were at Boomer Beach. God I loved the waves there and used to love jumping up, over and then let myself get swallowed up in the white foam and unceremoniously shoved into the sand at the shore. Inevitably the day came when I misjudged the timing of a huge wave spectacularly badly. Jill recalls that it looked brilliantly funny from the shore, but for me it was like being flung and and then dunked further into a wading pool by an angry ogre,over and over again.

The power of the rushing water, sand and waves still breaking overhead - or was it overhead, because I could not tell which way was up and was being thrown about manically and could not do anything to find the bottom of the seabed or stand up - seemed to go on forever. I had sucked in too much seawater and wondered if, maybe, this was it for me. Or was my head going to smack on some rocks that I saw some distance over, but might now be right under me for all I knew? Were my friends on the shore just assuming I was goofing off and having a wonderful time? Could they even see me out here?

Smack, tumble, gasp, tumble, smack. All my eyes saw was sand, foam and darkness, even though it was a 30C summer day. Why couldn't I, a strong swimmer and fit young woman, stand up? Why couldn't I breathe?

Rob found me, grabbed my shoulders and hoiked me up. I was coughing and sobbing, "I thought I was going to die, Rob, I really thought that this was it for me...."
"Ah come on now, it's OK, you're fine. That's a fair old codpiece of sand you've got dangling between your legs now, Kath." He laughed at me, but his eyes looked worried and relieved.

And yet this year, the two-year difference re-emerged. We were living in two separate states of the country, in two different households, two different spouses and with two different sets of issues and problems to deal with. We fell out. He blamed me for something I hadn't done; I fought back without trying to see why he might have done so; he snapped back defensively; and I told him a few other 'truths' I thought he needed to hear.

Such is the nature of cliches that it is only when you live through one that you realise why they're cliches. They're true. My words, spoken in anger and frustration and aimed to wound, felt impossible to take back, especially when left to hang for a long time.

Five months went by. I was fuming over the unfairness, the hypocrisy and the lack of truth I'd received. I cried many times into Love Chunks' shoulders in confusion and pain. Coming only two months after the Bulldog fiasco at work, I had sworn to myself that I was no longer going to accept being treated badly without fighting back and insisting on my rights, yet having to assert these with my brother was heartbreaking.

We didn't speak or email each other. We didn't respond with even a polite, "Oh, really, that's nice," when our parents, or little brother David, tried to pass on news of each other. We didn't take action even though our parents urged us to. And yet, I continued to grieve. Wasn't I worth respecting? Why did he do this to me? Why didn't he understand how damaging it would be?

At the urging of Love Chunks, my younger brother Dave, sister-in-law Sonia, I wrote to Rob, asking for what I wanted. An apology.

An email shot back: "Can I fly over to see you?"

I was on the blower the second after reading it.
We both cried. "I am so sorry---"
"Thanks, Rob---"
"Don't thank me---"

That night, after a long conversation and the luxury of time to fully explain, to listen and to finally understand, we hung up. I chatted jubilantly to Love Chunks who said, "I'm so glad, Kath, I'm really glad," and I ran the fastest, strongest and best session on the treadmill ever, singing out as loud as I could, without giving a flying fig what any of the neighbours thought.

I love you Rob.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day Twenty Two - Appreciative August

The telly

I'll be honest. I love television. More accurately, I love watching a great television show; one that you make sure your arse is on the couch for. "Is Sapphire in bed yet? Spicks and Specks is about to start."

As new parents, Love Chunks and I ventured into the DVD, widescreen, cinema-surround sound game relatively early in its availability because we knew that it would form the bulk of our audio/visual entertainment. We are not normally the must-rush-out-and-get-the-latest-electronic-doodaddery kind of people, but we realised that the likelihood of us being able to see something together outside of the home was non-existent, so why not make the experience of seeing things at home a much better one.

Besides, the pain of slowly limping to the Northland Hoyts eleven days after Sapphire's birth, to see the very ordinary 'The Phantom Menace', then come home, stay silent and wait for Love Chunks to see the evening session before we could talk about it was tragic to say the least. I'd been stitched 'the from the nave to the chaps' as Shakespeare described in 'Macbeth' and had to take in a cushion to stay the full course of the movie.

Enough digression, back to the joys of television. Ironically, weeks can go by and the remote control would be lucky if it was troubled by me more than twice a week due to the utter lack of anything appealing to slump in front of. As a kid and teenager, if this was the case I'd still put something on and endure it, but these days I'd rather reach for a book, a DVD or rehash a series that I really did love. Such as.....

Blackadder (esp series 2) - my family first discovered this series when channel seven in its wisdom decided to play it over the non-ratings summer holidays of 86-87. I taped each episode, lent the tape to my apricot-cutting mates and we survived the monotonous ordeal of holiday labouring work by quoting silly lines at each other. Even twenty years since the show, whenever I see Tony Robinson talking with archaelogists on BBC's 'The Time Team' or living out 'The Worst Jobs in History,' I still think, "There's Baldrick!"

Scrubs - like low rise jeans and Nirvana, I was a late-comer to this show and discovered it only in the $10 bargain DVD bin. JD (Zach Braff) is brilliantly funny and prepared to get dressed up, sing, humiliate himself and let us question his sexuality in this ridiculously joyous show. For example:

Janitor: Some hooligan keeps disconnecting the alarm. I told Security to look into it. But no, no, they'd rather catch the guy who's stealing organs from the transplant ward.

Turk: This is the reason why your headache didn't go away: That's actually pronounced analgesic, not anal-gesic. Sir, the pills go in your mouth.

J.D.: (voiceover) I guess what they say is true the people you work with really do become your family. Like your brother, and your sister in law, (shot of Turk and Carla)
......or that cousin you have funny feelings for (shot of Elliot)
......and the crazy angry uncle everyone sort of hopes isn't coming this year (shot of Dr Cox).
J.D.: Dr. Cox, If you want you can come down here and hang out with...
Dr. Cox: Nobody talk, just drink.
J.D.: (voiceover) Ah uncomfortable silences and alcohol... just like Thanksgiving at home.

Seinfeld - when we lived in Darwin, poor old Love Chunks was doing the night shift at the weather bureau and I was working normal hours at the Dept of Education and Employment. The car would literally pull up in the driveway at 6:30am on his return, and I'd get in it at 7:30am to drive back into town. Anyhow, one Saturday afternoon I was watching an episode of Seinfeld I'd taped earlier in the week, and LC was sleeping (the way the shifts were figured out, he only got one weekend off in every six). He came stomping angrily out of the bedroom and told me off: "You're laughing too loudly!". That was Seinfeld. Then and still now.

The Office (UK version). When we first saw this mockumentary, we marvelled at the brilliance of Ricky Gervais as David Brent - he played him exaggerated enough for us to laugh and yet realistic enough for us to squirm, wondering if we ourselves had ever behaved like that and were unknowingly despised for it. My favourite character was the perpetually bemused Tim, madly in love with Dawn the receptionist, and battling it out every day with second-in-command (in the army reserves if not at Wernham Hogg Paper Products.
David Brent: Look at this - "Dutch girls must be punished for having big boobs". Now you do not punish a girl, Dutch or otherwise, for having big boobs.
Gareth: If anything they should be rewarded.
David Brent: No, they should be equal.

Entourage - I'm not the demograph for this US show (being the wrong gender and age) about a spoiled A-list actor with his hangers on. It's rude, the women are most definitely only decorative plot devices and there's a helluva lot of rap music as the soundtrack but it's hilarious. Crackingly fast dialogue with four characters that are essentially selfish and immature but I love them anyway. Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) is especially hilarious. "I'm actually a green belt in karate but I'm wearing yellow because it makes my eyes pop."

Flight of the Conchords
- their realistically tiny New York apartment; Brett's impeccable taste in home made windcheater designs; their deadpan comments; the spunktastic New Zealand tourism office; and for their songs 'Business Time', 'Sello Tape' and of course, Brett's Footloose-fantastic Angry Dance...... Great lyrics "There's people on the streets getting diseases from monkeys; yeah that's what I said, junkies with monkeys...."

Friends - it's rather dated now, but I'll admit that I eagerly devoured each episode when it was played on prime time Monday nights. I even surfed the web to read the scripts of episodes already played in America, but wasn't interested in reading about Courtney's struggle to have a baby; Jennifer's marriage woes, Matthew's drug addiction or Joey's unfaithfulness. Still aren't.

Wallace and Gromit (the first three shorts) - I loved these when they first debuted and it's a double pleasure to see Sapphire enjoying them now. I'm even prouder to hear her spot-on version of Wallace's Northern English accent when the peanut butter and vegemite is slid over to her for breakfast before school: "Crackin' toast, Gromit."

BBC's version of Pride and Prejudice (1996) - the only one of my two shows that are non comedy. I've always been a huge Jane Austen fan and think that this series started the era of more Austen TV and films that really did their best to respect and complemented her writing and daring world view (for her time, anyway). Witty, wordy and delicious. And yes, Colin Firth. One dark look, that dip in the pond, his perfectly pompous first proposal.....

Survivor (any series). My reality weakness. Yes, the premise is the same in every series - mostly attractive, overly-confident and painful Yanks forced to fight, back stab, win ridiculous events and scheme to get rid of each other. Like Abba, the Cadbury Crunchie and tinned spaghetti on toast, I love it. Seeing models shrink to slices of beef jerky whilst still owning a set of grapefruit-sized knockers is visual comedy at its finest.

Frasier - This show was treated so shabbily by Channel No-Nuts Nine and the repartee between pompous psychiatrist Frasier and his brother Niles was so much fun to hear. I'm just waiting for their season DVDs to go down in price.
(Frasier and Nile's father) Martin: You listen to Bulldog's program?
Niles: Yes, Dad, I can't sleep nights till I find out who hurled what ball through what apparatus.

Niles: Frasier, do you remember the time the Kreizel brothers tied me to their Great Dane and lobbed meatballs down their gravel driveway?
Frasier: I told you Niles, I would have helped you, but their sister was holding me down.

Niles: How could I have missed something so obvious?Frasier: Well, it's not so hard to believe. You were fifteen before you discovered there was a correlation between being beaten up every day and going to school in a Panama hat.

Other shows that I'd love to re-watch (if only to show me that their humor is now out of date, or irrelevant) include:
  • The Two Ronnies (some kind of 'best bits' selection)
  • Red Dwarf (as with Messrs Corbett and Barker)
  • That 70s Show
  • Black Books - Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey - heavenly humour!
  • Hollow men (getting better with each episode, especially Merrick's character)
  • Cheers
  • Arrested Development


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day Twenty One - Appreciative August

Homegrown Humour

One of the things I love about living in South Australia and being a Wide-Eyed-Work-From-Homer is that I'm out and about these days when I used to be locked up inside an air-tight cube farm with a timesheet. I can stroll the 'hood, chat to oldies on the bus, browse in shops without a whining child on my leg and actually find a decent car park between the hours of 9:30am and 3:00pm.

What I mostly appreciate though, is the amount of humour and camaraderie that's revealed during these times.

I was on the 106 bus tootling down Magill road, observing the passengers that get on and off during non-peak hours. Chattering retirees, iPodded uni students, hung-over Centrelink customers and, well, me. Across the aisle was a sixty something bloke with an adorable little dog on his lap who reminded me of Eddie from the show 'Frasier'.

I couldn't help myself - it's an affliction that embarasses my family all the bloody time - but leaned over and patted the cute dog on its back. It was only then that I noticed the 'Lions Club Hearing Dog' lettering on the lead.

"Sorry love, but you shouldn't really be doing that, you know," the dog's owner told me, smiling. "He's technically at work and can't get distracted or he'll want that kind of attention all the time."
And before I could answer, he added, "I can lip read but I need him to tell me if the green light flicker is on to cross the road, or if someone's already dinged the stop bell for me to get off."
"Oh," I said, smiling back, feeling pleased to deliver my next remark, "Then maybe you should get a dog that's ugly so that people like me won't be tempted to pat it."
"Yeah, like my wife," he said loudly, before waving and getting off at the next stop.

The Sunday just gone we had my 'little' (thirty seven year old) brother Dave, his wife Sonia and their boys Matthew and Jack over for lunch. Several hours of discussons, laughter, good food, great coffee and excellent wine later and they needed to leave in order to make it in time for dinner at a friend's place in the hills. "Alrighty boys, go to the toilet and wash your hands before you go," Dave said, sounding eerily like our own father.

They did so, and were outside playing with Sapphire in the front garden, waiting for me to do what Love Chunks calls 'The Read Farewell' - at least another half hour of talking, 'yep, well have a good trip', more jokes, more talking and a dash back inside the house to retrieve something nearly forgotten before the leaving process actually comes into effect.

"Er, Kath, Love Chunks, are you there?" Dave called out from the bathroom. "I'm stuck - the door won't open." Ah yes, the curse of having an 84 year old house full of original fittings and chock full of character. Love Chunks tried the door from our side.

"Yeah the thingy that slides through to the lock doover-whatsit has gone in and then fallen right down," he said, authoritatively. "I'll go and get a screw driver."

There was giggling as Sapphire and seven year old Matthew became aware of the situation. "Hey Uncle Dave - smile!", laughed Sapph, as she took a photo of the door. "At least you won't wet your pants. Plus you can have a shower and we can slide some blocks of Lindt under the door when you get hungry." The silence on the other side of the door was likely Uncle Dave flipping the middle finger.

The half hour 'Standard Read Farewell' had long since expired and whilst the older kids were laughing, five year old Jack was not. "Daaaaaaaad", he wailed into Sonia's arms, "Will I ever see you again?"
"Dad will come out soon," she said, stroking his hair. "Hey, this is your time to get on the trampoline while the other two kids are busy taking photos." He ran outside eagerly.
"Er Sonia," I ventured, "Do you think you should ring your mate and tell him you'll be late? After all, Dave is trapped inside the toilet."

Or take two days earlier, when I was with Amanda Blair on 5AA as one of the panel of adults invited to road test some showbags that were going to be on sale at the upcoming Royal Adelaide Show. Amanda reckons that seeing as it's we adults that are going to be shelling out the money for them, then we should be the ones who get to check them out.

There I was with Amanda eagerly pilfering the Hi5 gear for her eldest, me wearing the 'Don't Hassle the Hoff' t-shirt and sitting alongside three senior male journos. One wearing a wig (the Advertiser bloke, wearing David Hasselhoff's piece and drinking Gatorade from the Men's Health gym bag); another trying to pick up stray Bertie Beetles with a grey plastic robot arm (the children's book writer); and the third leaning into the microphone to see if we could hear the poprocks exploding on his tongue (national news director).

As it was a pupil-free day at Sapphire's school, she and her mate Selene came into the studio with me, but were outside in the producers box as they watched five adults turn into giggling children ripping open packets of chips, lollipops, warheads and headbands. Lord knows what they made of the scene.....

Before the radio show, poor Sapphire needed three days off school last week thanks to a bad cold that turned into tonsilitus as well a throat infection and a bout of rather un-fun asthma. She stayed home with me and watched the Olympics. By the end of day one she could spot the mistakes made by the men in the gymnastics combined apparatus event quicker than the commentators could and provided me with a great deal of laughter and good company.

In addition, Sapphire had also obviously used her convalescence to ponder a few issues that concerned her in life, and sought out the answers from me. She was quietly eating her stewed apples (it's the only way we can get her to eat fruit), Skipper the bunny was on her lap and I was next to her, reading a book I was supposed to be writing a review on later. These were the questions that were fired at me in between medal ceremonies, those frustratingly sexist Coles commercials and exciting water polo quarters:

"Hey Mum, I don't get it - why do bears love honey so much?"
"Where do sesame seeds come from?"
"How does the electricity actually go through the wires on the roads to our house and into the plugs?"
"If there's a God and Jesus like a lot of people at my school believe, then who made God?"
"How come chickens don't have lips - how do they kiss?"
"Why do people notice farts more than perfume?"
"Why is it only when a woman shows her nipples that it's rude but she can show all of the other bulgy bits of her boobs and nobody cares?"
"When I do a big poo in the toilet, it plops down and water splashes on my bottom. Is that water cleaning my bottom, or do I need go and wash it?"

I'll end with my final example which occurred, yesterday, when I was interviewing the genial Gary, owner of Bracegirdle's coffee and chocolate shop in Burnside.

Loads of customers, a milk delivery guy who had to walk in four times to deliver a week's worth of dairy, heaps of regular characters that a modern-day 'Cheers' writer would love; tons of the most artistic and beautiful chocolates on display and he, an ex-Phys Ed teacher telling me that even though making chocolates, coffee and establishing the business has been a 15 hour a day seven days a week enterprise for the past three years, he's never once woken up dreading going in to work.

Our gaze met over the 18-hand made chocolate selection, Royal Show 2008 gold prize winning shiraz truffles, novelty koala and penguin and bag of 99% Belgian buttons I'd just bought and we both burst out laughing. "Check us out, two ex-teachers, yakking for an hour about two of the finest foods known to man. Life's pretty bloody good, isn't it?"