Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tricky Tomato Tussles

Jack Herbert Read was born in 1913 and lived a thoroughly decent life. He died three years ago aged ninety two and it seems to me that the world still has a tiny gap in it where it was previously filled with the soul of a genuine noble man.

That man was my grandfather and he still remains a huge positive influence in my own life. If I could have possibly inherited at least 2% of his generosity, intellect and spirit I'll consider myself extremely lucky.

In the last couple of years of his life, his physical frailty far outweighed any deterioration of his mind. On occasion he would get a bit irritable which, for Jack, was akin to Pamela Anderson wearing a polo neck and sensible shoes - extremely rare indeed.

After a lifetime of growing his own vegetables and fruit and tending a beautiful garden it was a real wrench for him to give all of that up for the sake of his health when he moved into an aged care facility. However it didn't take the staff long to notice just how green his thumbs were.

On his daily walks to the post box and back (he was a big believer in regular, hand-written letters to his adult children each week) he would invariably end up pilfering a few cuttings from plants that he had admired on the way. Many of these prospered in little styrofoam cups the staff 'found' for him, filled up with dirt and put on a daggy old formica table in the retirement village's courtyard. His success rate was high and he gave the best of those to my mother to sell at her local church fund-raiser.

After a few months of this, Jack sought more. His green thumbs were still green, despite the rest of his body being far less so. A half wine barrel was found, and he patiently planted a few tomato seeds left over from one of his salad sandwich lunches. Before long it was a seedling, then a plant and then an eight foot high 'tree' that was a feature article in the local newspaper.

This tomato tree was heavily laden with the most red, juicy, flavoursome and organic tomatoes. It was admired by all residents who:
a) were still able walk to the side courtyard;
b) still possessed the mental capacity to recognise a real tomato when they saw one; and
c) whose digestive tracts remained in relatively reliable working order.

When these red beauties were perfectly ripe, Grandpa gave the kitchen staff as many of them as he could spare. They were either enjoyed immediately, without adornment like a ripe peach by staff and residents alike or made it into many of the kitchen's meals.

The legend of the tomato tree grew, and its fruits benefited everyone. Everyone, that is, except Dulcie from Room 27. Jack and Dulcie were at war, and he did not believe that she deserved any of the spoils over which he had successfully laboured. Dulcie was as deaf as a Council Complaints Service Counter Operator yet liked to watch her television and listen to 78s and 33s on her record player.

Naturally, she was not the only one in the retirement home with this disability, and all rooms were appropriately built with solid brick walls and sound-proofed doors. Despite these measures, Dulcie insisted on leaving her door open at all times and liked to immerse herself in her aural entertainments way past bedtime (ie 7pm for some folk or 11pm for my grandpa).

After a few nights of Benny Hinn's Ministries at top volume or the Ray Conniff Singers' on steady rotation, Grandpa thought it necessary to have a quiet word with the head of nursing. Could Dulcie keep her door shut so that he and the others could enjoy a peaceful night's sleep?

Dulcie did not take the intervention at all well, the nurse reported later. She had apparently rubbed her hands through her grey stubbly beard, harrumphed a bit and yelled (thinking she was actually replying in a soft voice), "But I WANT the door open - I don't want to be shut in!" When reminded by the head nurse about how her nocturnal noises were disturbing the others, she retorted, "But you can HARDLY HEAR IT," and, predictably, the suggestion of an earlier bed time went down about as well as a hedgehog through a paper straw.

A few more nights of sleepless suffering later, Grandpa tried again. "You can tell that JACK READ that I'm NOT going to shut my door or BE QUIET! He has that stupid clock that bongs like Big Ben every quarter of an hour, so why should I have to KEEP MY NOISE DOWN?"

Suitably chastened, Grandpa swaddled his clock, a wedding gift from the 1930s, in a woollen blanket to dull the chimes. It would have felt completely strange to him if he had been forced to live in the retirement home without his trusty mantel timepiece. He also decided to visit Dulcie and see if he could talk some sense and consideration into her.

Details become sketchy at this point, but I suspect that Grandpa's comment, "I'm not giving her one single crummy tomato unless I get to fling it at her," meant that she might have told him to go and find a romantic interlude at another location. Their feud notwithstanding and despite her deafness, Dulcie had already heard about Jack's famous tomatoes and seen some on proud display in many plates and fruit bowls in her friends' rooms. Her mouth was watering, and not just because she drooled intermittently when she slept. She made it known to the night nurse that she too would like a tomato or three, but Grandpa was adamant that she could "go jump in the lake."

This shocked us all; his entire family of children, grand children and great grand children. How could dear old Jack, the personification of a decent, kindly, Christian man, broad-minded to the end, be so cranky and so, well, non-Jack like? The night nurse again asked Jack for a tomato that she could pass on to Dulcie. "She knows what she has to in order to get one - just shut her door," he replied firmly. No doubt the nurse was in agreement and was not enjoying being the intermediary between two nitpicky ninety-somethings.

It all worked out well in the end. Dulcie didn't shut her door but got herself a fancy new-fangled set of TV and record player-friendly head-phones and Grandpa shared his tomatoes with her. Via the nurse, of course.

God I miss him.

This and a few other of my reminiscences are at the ABC website - Making of Modern Australia - search for 'kathlock' and vote. With kindness. Please?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Boogers and Broken Hearts

In 1974, I felt the first stirrings of non-parental, non-brotherly love when I saw my classmate, Matthew H, spend a good deal of time and energy picking his nose whilst we were having ‘choir lessons’ singing with the words on the overhead projector in the school activity room. He then wiped his – ahem – findings on the floor. As a reception student, this seemed like a good idea to me and worthy of some admiration.

By 1976, I was eager for more dramatic displays of male machismo and attractiveness. Roger H and I were busying playing ‘Chasey’ in the adventure playground; a dried up patch of school yard that featured a few earth mounds, climbing ropes and large cement pipes that we’d use as tunnels. Poor Roger underestimated his height and cracked his head on the edge of the first pipe, smacking back on the ground like an overturned beetle in pain and surprise. There was blood in his hair and tears in his eyes and he was sent to the hospital to get a few stitches.

The re-telling of his tale, in my hands, was far more dramatic. “I saw Roger SPLIT HIS HEAD OPEN at lunch time today!” He was therefore my boyfriend merely my being the sole witness to his accident and yet I didn’t feel any need to inform him of that fact.

Later that same year though, I encountered a real smoothie – Brendan V. He had moved beyond blood and guts and went straight for the heart. He followed me home, asked me to be his girlfriend – I said yes – and then was shooed off by my Mum. “Go home Brendan, your Mum will be worried about you.”
“Aww, can’t he have some cordial and some Yo-yo biscuits first?”

Our fledgling romance was one of total disinterest during school hours. He’d totally ignore me and I him, but we’d occasionally walk home together unless someone saw us. “Oooh there they go – are ya gunna KISS her Brendan?”

There was no kissing – how yuck was that – but a fair bit of arm punching, kicking dirt in each other’s shoes and sharing of leftover lunch box snacks. Sadly, by term three he’d dropped me for a much younger woman – pretty little Belinda in year 2.

I eased my broken heart – or wounded pride – by reverting back to what originally attracted me to boys. I cheered on Andrew W as he energetically played on the solid iron rocker in the school yard before he overturned it, smashed his teeth in and ran off with blood spurting from his mouth.

In 1978 I was turning ten and, with two brothers, was a already fully paid-up tomboy. I could run as fast as the boys in our class when the teacher said ‘Ready Set Go’ and asked us to sprint to the end of the footy goals and back; could wicket keep, play brandy and give a pretty decent arm burn, type-writer and dead leg to those who deserved it.

So when Craig W sidled up to me one lunchtime, singing, "Hey good lookin', whatcha got cookin', how 'bout cookin' somethin' up with meeeeeee....." he got a swift kick in the shins for his efforts. This violent response didn’t seem to put him off and I’d get so fed up at his serenading that sometimes the poor boy would also score a nasty jab in the jatz crackers as well. He’d breathlessly stagger off, recuperate and try again the next day.

And dear old David M was a boy I really truly did like, but didn’t have the social skills to do anything to show it other than to push him off the monkey bars and make him cry. Unlike Craig, he didn’t bother returning and to this day I feel very ashamed at my harsh treatment of him and hope that he’s now a happy billionaire with a supermodel wife and lovely adorable children.

By 1979 I was eleven and boys were starting to feature as serving a purpose beyond bashing up and rollerskating became my main passion. Round and round the cement path of our house, with my transistor radio fastened to my jeans with one of Dad's old belts. Or better still, I’d be dropped off at the Murray Bridge basketball stadium with three dollars so that I could hire a pair of real roller-skates (the boots, not the-strap-your-sneakers-into kind) and wheel around the double basketball courts for an hour in an anti-clockwise direction before the bored manager would holler out, "REVERSE NOW" for the remaining hour. I'd limp home with heels covered in blisters, legs shaking in exhaustion and a huge smile on my face. If Stephen M was there, I’d be smiling even more.

It was Ian P, however, who moved me beyond violence or roller skating and into kissing. He’d already cut a swathe through most of the girls in years five and six, and one day he indicated that it was my turn. His reliable messenger, Peter, threw a scrunched-up piece of paper that bounced off the back of my head. When opened, it was obviously in Ian P’s scrawl and read, “Do you like me tick yes or no.” I ticked ‘yes’ and threw it back at Peter, so naturally by the end of recess the entire class knew that Katherine and Ian were IN LOVE.

Ian said, “Meet me at the incinerator straight after lunch,” playfully punched me in the arm and ran off to play footy with the rest of the boys.
“I know what he’s gunna do – he’s gunna KISS ya!” Philippa shouted. She'd know; she’d already been one of his conquests.

I was nervous and excited – did it have to be on the lips? Did I have to do it like Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in ‘Grease’? Would I match up to his other girlfriends? Would any teachers walk by, see us and tell us off? Or worse still, tell our parents?

The time came and he was standing there, confidently waiting. This wasn’t a first time for him. He closed his eyes and puckered up. Clearly it was expected that I do the work by swooping and planting one on his mouth.

I did so in about a quarter of a second and before he had time to open his gorgeous brown eyes I ran out of there as fast as my legs could carry me. By the end of school the message had spread that I’d kissed Ian P at the School Incinerator.

The following day, I decided to dump him. Kissing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be in my opinion.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Burn baby burn

Do you remember how I recently went to an audition to become a contestant on a game show pilot?

Well, last week I got a call-back. They needed fifty contestants to fill up the first three rows of the studio audience, waiting to be picked out at random by the still-nameless young host. Remember, it was for a pilot episode, so the film would never make it to air, there were no real prizes to be won but we had to pretend that there was and be utterly thrilled that we'd won..... absolutely nothing.

I was emailed some instructions - Rock up at 5:30pm with hair and make up already done (which means 'do nothing' in my book), no plain white shirts or outfits with stripes or dotty things, just neat and casual please. Eat before you arrive and be prepared to stay until 10:30pm.
At the studio it was all grit and no glamour. The same daggy big shed with shabby black curtains arrangement that the auditions were held in. There were a few familiar faces -
"Hey Nudie Rudie! I thought you'd get in, good onya!"
"Kiwi flight attendant who got told off for standing on the chairs - you'll kill 'em tonight!"
"Groovy grannie, well done!"

Apart from excitedly chattering amongst ourselves - and taking several loo trips via a stressed-looking sub-sub-sub-producer who'd escort us tiredly through the props department making sure never to let go of her clipboard and ergo pen - we pretty well sat there for nearly two hours.
By this stage - 7:30pm - my stomach was grumbling. Well, more like whingeing and crying, to be more precise. Yes, I'd eaten afternoon tea at 4pm (a banana and a Farmers Union Iced Coffee), but a bottle of 'You'll Love Coles' water and a handful of Fantales provided by the program wasn't quite doing the trick. It felt like the inside of my gut was slowly being squashed and sucked down into a swirling chasm of lethal digestive juices, churning and sinking amongst the acidic ocean like an underpaid extra from The PerfectStorm. I was seriously considering sneaking out across the road to the deli to grab a sandwich and a nice hot cup of...

.....but nope, too late. The contestant-wrangler arrived with several more clipboard, head-set and bum-belt wearing black-clad guys and said it was Time. Time to turn off our phones and leave them and our bags behind before we went into the studio. Time to finish signing our lives away in which we'd promised never ever to reveal the name of the show, what games were played or who the host was. Time to reapply any lip-gloss that had worn off. Time to Put Our Crazy Games Faces On and Be Highly Energetic and Ready For Anything! ....... Lordy, what had I signed on for; I'm the girl who blushes if she has to ask what ticket to buy at the train station!

The next three hours were a bit of a blur. There were many games of musical benches being played as various black-clad clipboard-clutchers shifted us around according to sex - "Boy Girl Boy Girl", colour "We can't have two bright pinks sitting next to each other," and, sadly, age. "You need to sit here next to Todd, he's only 21." Oh.

The host was indeed rather nervous and the cameramen kept bumping into each other as the Floor Manager choreographed angles and zooms for each movement onstage. More Fantales were thrown out by the warm-up guy, an amiable chap named KB who did a sterling job of keeping 50 extraverted contestants and another 200 sugared-up audience members under control, still interested in the proceedings and willing to remain in our seats and clap as wildly as we could when told to do so by the Floor Manager. My hands ached; as did my face because the mindless grin plastered on meant that my over-stretched cheeks were starting to push up into my eyes.

Out of respect for the contract I signed, I can't reveal what I saw, but the evening did feature:
  • A live goat who didn't disgrace itself or the model it was working alongside;
  • An outstandingly hunky male model who got the biggest round of applause for the night (and that was just because he was wearing bathers and sitting erotically astride a jet ski);
  • At least ten human beings standing around wearing head phones, eyebrow piercings (maybe it's a job requirement) and belt battery packs for every person actually doing some active work such filming, adjusting lights, operating the space-agey set doors or retouching the host's make up and hair; and
  • The realisation that too many Fantales leads to a stomach ache, excessive clapping, inane screaming and utterly useless 'advice' to playing contestants about which prize, door, number or box to select.
Yes, it should be clear to you all by now that no brain cells were injured during the course of the evening, nor were any specifically required. One old guy sitting next to me (with the 21 year old boy, pretty girl in green and chubby multi-mum separating us of course) muttered, "This wasn't what it was like on 'Sale of the Century'," but he was being ignored by the screaming nanna on his other side, "Pick Me! Pick Me! Pick ME - I'm HILARIOUS!"

And if the night wasn't already proving to me that - should the show be picked up and actually be filmed ready for viewing I might want to run in the opposite direction or consider applying for the Witness Protection Program - there was another announcement.

An English producer held a microphone to tell us that he was planning to use the pilot to pitch to the UK networks. With his sixty-something, acorn-shaped body, husky voice, Ronnie Barker glasses and that North England, "Oooh errr Reverend" accent that indicated a background in Brighton Beach stand-up nights, he said, "Now I need to you all to get up and BOO-GIE."

"BURN BABY BURN......" Well buckle my head to the side of an ant hill and butter my face with jam...... !!!

I was trapped, hemmed in from both sides with no escape in front or behind. Several cameras were rapidly rolling up and back along the floor and via the steps and everyone around me was doing their best Kermit Arms impressions, shaking their funky butts, whooping it up, cracking imaginary whips, rattling their racks (the women) or thrusting unashamedly (the men - except the Sale of the Century guy, who did the nervous 'step together, step back' that was usually my shy standby).

There was nothing for it, so I danced. I whooped. And clapped to the beat. I even...... you
must understand how difficult it is for me to type this ...... did the John Travolta Finger Point move.

(Nods empathetically in shame and acceptance) I know. In time the horrors will fade. They just have to.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

One Pot

Darling Love Chunks has long since realised that he's married an utter dud in the cooking department.

Meteorology and computer programming don't always provide a huge amount of creative freedom, so he finds it instead in cooking. Saturday and Sunday mornings are given to breakfasts that poncy inner-city cafes can only dream of and the coffees he makes from scratch seven days a week are better than anything you'd perch on a teeny tiny metal outdoor table in the freezing sunshine dressed in trendy black designer gear and pay four bucks the privilege for.

Even on a 'slack' weekend brekky day he treats Sapphire and myself to ricotta hotcakes with warm berries or a spinach and fetta tart like this one:

Weeknights too, he's on the ball. Warm chicken salad, home-made pizzas (including the yeast-leavened crusts), curries, roasts, char-grilled vegetables, barbecues, a huge array pastas, stir-fries, Asian meals, casseroles, scones, soups, seafood. He sees it on telly, in a magazine picture or in a restaurant; figures out what it's likely to have in it, how it was made and simply goes for it. I can count on one hand the inedibles he's produced in (cocks head to one side, counting out loud) ........ sixteen years of togetherness. He could, quite literally, work in a restaurant and have patrons clamouring for more.

Therefore, on the roughly two-nights-per-week average that it's sort of/unspoken/assumed to be 'my turn' in the kitchen, you'd think he'd get something special.

Sadly, as you can see from this One Pot Dahl with Added Veges Found In the Crisper, Thrown In and Boiled For Several Hours Because I Forgot About It, he's constantly disappointed. He walks in after a long day at work and a heart-pounding bike ride home only to smell what could conceivably have been excreted by an angry herd of IBS-suffering elephants and says quietly - and not a little nervously, 'So, you've been cooking, have you?'

In fact, 'One Pot' is a name he occasionally calls me. And it's appropriate and deserved. Y'see, I'm all for the 'no dishes, no cleaning, no fuss' method of cooking and thus my nights tend to produce dahl, risotto (but with microwaved rice stirred in whatever sauce I've concocted in the non-stick pan, not me standing there for 20 minutes lovingly and continuously stirring the gloop); tuna mornay (yes, it still exists and I've always got a tin of corn and tuna in the cupboard), soup of any description (some of them defy description to be honest) and a mishmash/tomato-and-onion based pasta sauce that's smeared over whichever pasta is closest to hand.

He doesn't complain about these sub-standard, hastily-cooked, often-with-still-crunchy-onion offerings that are proferred but smiles politely, takes a warming slurp of red wine and bravely plows in. As does Sapphire, but she can be more vocal about what's in the bowl plopped down in front of her.

Crack - Squeak - Crack - Squeak - Crack- Squeak
"Mum what's that gritty stuff in the risotto that feels like glass?"
"Sorry love, I only gave the spinach a quick rinse under the tap but I think it's still got a bit of sand in it. Just close your eyes and pretend it's really crunchy black pepper."

"Muuuuuuum, I have tears ON TOP of my eyelids! How much chilli did you add?"
"Erm, about half a cup of minced stuff, I think. Heh Heh, I mistook it for tomato paste, a common mistake. Want another glass of water?"

Holding up a skin-coloured, droopy, noodle-shaped object on her fork:
"Is this one of those weird looking mushrooms that look like long frog toes?"
(Me, blushing profusely): "Whoops, no - give me that!"
(Sapphire staring at me as I return from the rubbish bin). "What was it?"
"Um, let's just say that Mum found the band-aid she thought had slipped off when she was showering."

So how do you become interested in cooking when, at the moment, it seems about as much fun as doing a fortnight's worth of ironing crinkled linen shirts with tissue stuck on them?

In fact I'd rather clean out Skipper the rabbit's cage (fluoro-yellow wee-soaked straw, billions of bunny beans and shredded newspaper and all), pick up Milly's poos (in nappy bags of course), hoover up the stray bathroom floor pubes and distribute our fortnight's recycling in every bin on our street after 11pm than open the fridge and pretend I'm excited, interested, challenged or intrigued about :
a) what's in there that's not coated in chocolate; and
b) how I'm going to get it from that already-uninspiring state to the dinner plate.

All I can really offer Love Chunks and Sapphire is what occurs after dinner. A hug or two, and....... Chocolate sampling! For work purposes and family harmony only, of course.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Meet Mr P !!

You regulars out there will know that finding out who Mr P is has occupied my microscopic mind for most of March, and even my frightened foray that ended in defeat a few days ago wasn't enough to deter me. How was I going to solve the mystery whilst still owning most of my face and limbs?

Luckily for me, Mr P's owner, Tam, read my note, decided (wisely or unwisely, depending on who you ask) to email me:

"My name's Tam, I've lived here for eight years and Mr P's final resting place is my design.
So you'd like to hear about the amazing Mr P, aka Perry. Perry was my beautiful, intelligent and almost-human German Shepherd who passed away 3 years ago from cancer. His ashes are in a mahogany box sealed in plastic and buried at the base of the urn. I decided to plant a peppermint geranium above him because the smell would have driven him mad when we read for hours on the front porch together.

Mr P was well-known around Flemington, partly due to the sunglasses he wore on sunny days for an eye condition. He looked pretty spiffy in them, especially when teamed with his rainbow bandanna. Oh yes, Mr P was also gay. Which wasn't a problem with me, except he was attracted to whippets which wouldn't have been my first choice of breed for him. Give me a noble husky or even a doofus labrador any day! He was my best friend for ten years."

Isn't he handsome? And, when I went around to meet Tam and her partner Aleixo today, I found out more. Perry was named after Perry Farrell from the band Jane's Addiction, but I suspect that Mr P might have had a greater propensity to wee on every bush that he passed by than perhaps Mr Farrell did even at the height of his alterna-rock decadence.

However, the mystery of the hulking beast growling behind the door had yet to be solved, because when I first arrived, Aleixo was home alone and Tam had taken Daria for a walk.

Daria, yes, after the TV show featuring the 'nothing can excite me' voice of Janeane Garofalo. That's a far better choice than the names that Mr Farrell has inflicted on his two poor kids - Hezron Wolfgang and Izzadore Bravo!

Daria, bless our Benevolent Sweet Lord of Lindt, is a loveable Rottweiler/German Shepherd cross that Tam adopted from the Lost Dogs home after she'd been treated abominably - and then dumped - by a previous owner. To this day she is terrified of fluttering objects such as curtains, or milk cartons and is the life and soul of Travancore 'off-lead' dog park. Tam is a dedicated fund-raiser for the
Lost Dogs' Home in North Melbourne and has made up a calendar that features all of Daria's dog park mates on it, all grinning ecstatically (call the Lost Dogs home and ask for Kate in fundraising if you'd like to buy one).

Tam was at pains to point out the front door mat which so freaked me out the other day (was it a snack for the beast lurking within?) was merely old and not a chew toy for Daria.

By this stage, Daria was leaning up against me, her not-inconsiderable 41 kilogram bulk reminding me of our dog Milly's relative slightness at 13 kg. She was indeed beautiful, and trusting and friendly with a gorgeously shiny coat.

Looking around their living room with its long leather sofa, rubber toys, footies, soccer balls and tennis balls in various states of disrepair showed me who really ruled this particular roost.

Tam too noted that nearly every single framed photograph features dogs: "This is my Dad's dog just before he died, this is new one - isn't he beautiful? Here's my first German Shepherd that we got in Canberra; Mr P as a puppy, Mr P in his bandanna and sunnies; Daria on her first day with us....."

Aleixo is from Brazilian, but it was most definitely a Gallic shrug he gave. "Daria is crazy, but special and big. We love her." I was convinced of that already and I'm sure she'll have just as wonderful life with them as their beloved Mr P had.

Ooooh goody! Dexter's home - can he come over and have a roll with me on the grass?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tram Talk II

Thursdays often tend to be good days for people-watching on public transport. It is the eagerly awaited day for salaries, pensions, dole and other such financial fripperies and folk from all walks of life seem to choose this day to travel across town on the tram.

Today I needed - no, time for honesty: wanted - to go to Borders. Mostly to buy some birthday gift-giving books at Sapphire's request (the fantastically funny Clarice Bean books by Lauren Child) and to visit my own book, still sitting there in the Psychology/Self Help section. I decided to play it safe and go on the relatively-well-off 59 tram instead of the sometimes-dodgy but always-smelly 57.

See? Look how well-off my 59 tram stop is!

Such shallow decisions always come back to haunt me, because there were enough 'colourful characters' on this tram as any I've seen waiting for, performing on or falling-through-the-open-doors-of on the 57.

Today I found a seat - the only one vacant - and soon discovered why. Opposite me was an elderly woman with a beard to rival that of Colonel Sanders and a vocab that was not only filthy, but one that she wasn't keeping to herself. "Phark! Phargin Pharkers Phark!" she said, over and over, hands gripping her rainbow-coloured umbrella and tartan shopping bag.

A little bit of spray caught the beams of sunlight through the window as it shot in my direction, but I wisely kept my head down, pretending to be busily rummaging in my backpack. No doubt it landed somewhere in my hair, but I didn't feel it, so in my eyes it didn't count. All unwanted eye contact and tell-tale spittle-splat was successfully avoided and she thankfully decided to get off where the little red toast roack and yellow cheese stick sculpture marked the start of the tollway.

Two old-but-fit ladies got on and took her seat. Both were sporting sensible haircuts without artificial colouring (or flavouring, presumably), dangly earrings, Berghaus backpacks, three-quarter-length canvas pants, Rockport walking shoes and the latest literary top ten sellers. Uni lecturers with a day off from the roundtable conference or lesbians on a lazy day?

Then I heard one say to the other, "And you're not going to believe what they've named them."
"What, the twins?"
(sighing audibly), "Yeah, the babies. Only Henry and India."
"Oh dear. How did Reggie take that?"
"Not well, Maureen, not well. I mean I thought our daughter had more sense than to name one kid after a megalomanical mysognistic ruler and the other after a poverty-stricken third-world nation that she's never even visited."
"Mmmm", replied her friend sympathetically as they both bent their heads back towards their novels.

A young couple sidled onto what would definitely have been a still-warm seat. He automatically put his arm around her, and whispered into her ear. Ah: they were clearly in the first few months of wild, crazy and total-fascination-with-each-other stage of lusty love.

But my rose coloured specs were smacked off when I heard it; that terribly familiar but frightening sound that has
plagued me since sitting mid-year exams in a freezing classroom: Garrurgh-snort. That juicy, phlegm-laded, drawback snort beloved of teens and young men everywhere who are too nervous about their sexuality to even consider carrying a tissue.

How could his girlfriend stand listening to that in her ear? But no, she was wittering on about "Are you hungry, babe? Wanna grab a coffee at Gloria Jean's?"

Garrurgh-snort. "Nah, but I'd definitely do a red rooster pack."

Garrurgh-snort. Oh. My. God, he could provide the mayonnaise to go with the meal....! "Okay sweetie, let's do that. Do they have coffee there?" And she snuggled into him, perhaps so she could hear the snot oscillating inside his naval cavity and up the back of his throat in stereophonic sound. Bleugh.

At the corner of Flemington Road and Elizabeth street a young guy about nineteen years old got on and sat next to me, across from Phlegm Bag and Coffee Craver. He was taller than me, but soooo much thinner. I could snap him across my knees like kindling, so I wasn't exactly intimidated by the resplendently huge purple mohawk he was sporting. I had been far more frightened - at twelve years old mind you - at seeing the real Kings Road punks in London in 1981 who'd as soon as spit at you as head-butt their nannas hello.

Instead, I decided it was my turn to be the loon who starts up a conversation that no other passenger wants. I grinned brightly at him and said, "Boy, I bet that hairdo takes a bit of work to put together in the morning."

Proving my theory was correct, he gave me the very tiniest of nods and looked down at his mobile phone and started tapping out an SMS: anything to stop any further interaction with the insane old bag (or dag) sitting alongside him.

Fair enough really and it was my turn to get off.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Grrrrrrrrr - Blush - Grrrrrrr - Blush

You something I really hate as an adult? Being told off by another adult. In front of children. In the school yard. Before I've had my first coffee for the day. Grrrrrrrrr!

The trouble is I can only ever think of biting put-downs later on, like say an hour after I've been for a run, had a shower, drunk some coffee, sloshed the bathwater out onto the lawn and eaten my first block of chocolate for breakfast: the usual stuff one needs to get one's head, house and daily routines in order. It is only then that a comeback might sluggishly emerge from my grey matter: "Oh yeah, I should have said that she barely has the intelligence of a forgetful goldfish and would be better served by keeping her mouth shut to enable her brain to use that one synapse to remain operational." Or, told her to "Eff Off", whichever one was most appropriate.

But I can't, and don't. Not only am I rarely able to muster a quick and witty retort, but I blush profusely. Having skin whiter than rice paper and legs like fluoro tubes means that when I go red, it's not just a slight flush of the cheeks or a blotch on the neck, I literally resemble a luridly coated toffee apple on a stick. "Oooooh look at that lady Mum, she's gone like sooooo red." Thanks kid; now my cheeks have a heartbeat of shame all of their own, nice one, really and the beads of anguished sweat add a lovely sheen to the mix.

And so it was this morning.

Sapphire and I take Milly along for our daily walk to school together. Neither one of us would ever dare leave her behind because it is something that 'ol furry face lives for (the day it was pouring with rain and we left her behind we could hear her howls of disbelief and heartache all the way across Mt Alexander Road).
The arthritis has now got a firm grip on her hips and knees and so a short, undemanding walk to and from school a couple of times a day is about the limit for her physical capabilities these days. It is very sad to see a five year old dog with such an affliction, so we make sure that she doesn't miss out on her special walkies time with us. By 8:30am, she is excitedly nudging me, limpid eyes gazing at the laundry cupboard, tail wagging, ensuring that I won't forget to fetch the lead.

Every day we walk up through the 100 year old gate, up the school footpath and past the sign that clearly states, "No Dogs Allowed On School Grounds." We ignore it because:

a) we've checked with the school principal who said it was okay for us to bring Milly in as long as she was on a lead;
b) we can't walk on the road by the school because it is a car's-width wide and would therefore stop the parents driving in to drop off their kids and/or smoosh us into the corrugated iron fencing;
c) our dog is friendly, silent and eager for her small-but-essential daily walks; and
d) it breaks my heart to see her sitting at my side, with a tennis ball between her paws, every time I run on the treadmill, knowing that I'm not allowed to throw it to her because it jars her legs and causes her too much pain and suffering afterwards.

On the way back from farewelling Sapphire at the side gate, Milly and I walk back along the path and inevitably encounter a miniature Schnauzer puppy tied to the fence who looks something like this:

Adorable yes, but annoying YES times seven. Said creature - which goes by the name of something that rhymes with Spazzy, barks at Milly and continues to dive at her and bark and bark and bark until we walk past as fast as we can.

Naturally, Milly's not too impressed either and tries her hardest to reach over and have a quick snap at Spazzy's snout, but I tug at her lead and prevent her from doing so. It is a tiresome little act that occurs four times a day - to/from school in the mornings and to/from school in the late afternoons.

Spazzy normally has a gaggle of admiring girls around her, patting her, encouraging her to shove her nose under the fence and stick her butt up in the air, and as we go by, they always say, "Your dog is lovely too, I wish they could be friends." I tend to smile and say something inane like, "Yeah, Milly's a bit jealous of other dogs, so I'd better keep on going", and, true to my word, keep on going.

This morning however, I didn't. Spazzy was barking as per usual, but wagging her tail. Milly was also wagging her tail. I allowed Milly to touch Spazzy's nose for about a second before they both tried to snap at each other. I pulled Milly back, loudly saying "NO, Milly, NO."

I was just about to move on, when the grown-up owner of the dog - whom I'd never seen before in all the days of being barked at - rushed over with her lips grimly pursed in disapproval.
"Look please don't try and socialise my dog when I'm not around. There are children here and I'm not comfortable with you or your methods."

What the---? I was so gobsmacked I merely muttered, "OK, fine," and walked away.

It was only an hour later I wanted to reverse time and snap right back at her: "Oh right, so you're happy with leaving the dog tied to the fence surrounded by poking, laughing, noisy children twice a day and it barking continuously at every dog who walks past, but heaven help if I let its poncy, over-priced pure-bred nose touch my Lost Dog's Home Special mutt.....? Haven't you got more important things to get in a snoot about? Get stuffed!"

But, *sigh*, I didn't. And won't. And this afternoon, I'll walk by, tugging Milly on her lead, blocking my ears to Spazzy's barking and the surrounding childrens' happy hellos. Anything to ensure that my beautiful girl gets to go for her walk, get patted by a few of Sapphire's mates and has a nice sniff of the base of every tree she sees on our way back home. She deserves that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pusillanimously pursuing Mr P

Remember my quest (yes, that I set myself - not by Gandalf the Grey - but that doesn't make it any less worthy or less deserving of a movie or three) to find out who or what Mr P was?

Some of you thought he might be a rat or a cat, or perhaps even a particularly frugal human with a fondness for geraniums but today I decided to find out.

Sort of. So that the residents of Mr P's house could see that I did not come bearing weapons, ill will or religious reading matter, I dragged Sapphire and Milly along for pictorial and moral support. Sapphire stood at their gate rolling her eyes and trying to juggle her backpack, viola case and Milly's tautly stretched lead as I ventured up their steps with a 'here's one I've prepared earlier' friendly smile and knocked on the door.

Wait a second ---- why was their screen door open? Surely that was a bit of a gift for any light-fingered locals seeking some loot?

Then I heard it - Ba-whooompa, Ba-whoooompa, Ba-whoooompa, BANG!

Some huge beast dwelling inside had detected my presence, smelled that I'd taste somewhere between a sweet-soaked chicken and a box of Lindt balls and had come crashing eagerly inside, up the hallway and smacked straight into the back of the front door which shook. On the other side of the door I was glad of being clad in dark-blue jeans that hid most fear stains as flecks of paint on the door were dislodged by the angry animal's charges and dropped onto the doormat which, I noted queasily, was once a firmly-woven, thick, naval decking style job now chewed to tassley smithereens. Not the most encouraging welcome.

Grrrrrrr - snort - Grrrrrrrr. This wasn't helping either. "Hello," my voice croaked, "Is anybody home with you, er, buddy?"

Grrrrrrr - snort - Grrrrrrrr. "Um, Sapph?" I turned and called out in my fake cheery voice that never convinces her. Or me. "I'll, er just pop my business card and this little note into their letter box here and hope that whatever mutant mammoth is in there manages to stay in there, before we run for our lives at my count of three, OK?"

The door growled again and pulsated again, with more flakes of paint littering what remained of the door mat.

"One two three GO!"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fifteen seconds of Fame

Andy Warhol might have said that everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame, but that was back in the sixties when they thought that Nehru jackets, Guru Swamis and The Flying Nun were going to last forever.

These days, it’s fifteen seconds. In a normal situation, fifteen seconds is about what it takes to say to a stranger, “Hi, I’m---“ and they to you as you both have a quick glance at each other and decide if you’re going to enjoy having a conversation with them or not.

For an as-yet un-filmed, unknown pilot game show on Channel Nine, they advertised for people to audition as contestants. Up for any new life experiences and writing material, I sent in an email and was invited to attend a session.

We had our photos taken, queue-style, before filing into the studio. As I squeezed in the last available chair in the very back row of a 400-strong backlot in Richmond (and I was at least ten minutes early) I found out that this was the last of four audition sessions they were holding. Somehow they intended to select half a dozen contestants from roughly 1600 people (or is that 1600 rough people, the jury's still out).

It was hot, we were all sweating and whispering to each other, wondering what we’d have to do to get on. I was the oldest in my row by at least fifteen years and the only one with the hair colour god gave me.

The producer then told us that they were seeking contestants to film the pilot show. “That means you won’t be on TV and you won’t win the prizes that they talk about. You just have to pretend to win them and look excited about it.” At least fifty people then chose that moment to get up and leave and the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief that some competition had gone and thoughtfully stirred up a breeze to cool the overheated space as they departed.

Smiling knowingly at the small interruption, the producer continued to say that if the show did get picked up by the network, the contestants on the pilot would be automatically on the real tv show. Tough luck for the impatient ones who’d skedaddled. We all had clipboards with a number and our names written on in thick black texta and were given about two minutes to fill in a three page questionnaire about ourselves.

My handwriting speed is reasonably fast yet I didn’t manage to complete the form. The blonde 22 year old self-proclaimed ‘surfie chick and nudie-rudie streaker’ next to me merely added smiley faces and exclamation marks on hers, perhaps mistaking it for an SMS screen.

The producer spoke up again. "You have fifteen seconds each to say your name, show us your clipboard so that – --- she turned and said something unintelligible --- can video you. We’ll call out your name and number.”

She held out her hand in front of her, forestalling the next question. “NO. You do not come up to us at the front, you just stand up where you are sitting, use your fifteen seconds when we ask you to and then sit down.” Great. That would work wonders being in the back row of a four hundred strong crowd with black curtains surrounding us and some surly sub-sub-lower-pond-scum intern inexpertly wielding an ageing hand-held video camera….

My number? 659. Producer lady was up again. “While you’re waiting your turn, we want the rest of you to clap and cheer each other on because we’ll be assessing you as enthusiastic audience members as well.” Yeah right, and Santa’s tapping out his Naughty and Nice list right now. That said, most of us decided to play, if only to enjoy whatever nonsense several hundred other strangers were going to come out with.

Stuff like:

"I work in Public Relations so I can talk confidently and knowledgably. Plus (she wrapped a long, lovely leg effortlessly around her neck) – I can run in pink stilettos." Nobody doubted her.

A couple stood up and proudly stated that they’d been married for four years. In the nude, as part of a radio show. Well sure, anyone can be nude on radio; matter of fact I’m wearing my birthday suit whilst typing this out!

A red-haired woman in her late forties stood up and immediately announced, “I’ve won $130,000 on 20-1 and now I want to win more.” Oh bugger off, you greedy sow. The mossies could be heard buzzing overhead as she sat down to annoyed silence.

A plump and spotty young guy two seats alongside me stood up. “I’m Derek Sacco. Yep, that’s my real surname, so my DJing stage name is DJ Sac. Yeah, as in nut sack.” Clearly that was what he considered the most important aspect of his presentation.

A mother of nine stood up and instantly got an awed round of applause. Perhaps it was her children that increased the volume of the crowd.

"Paul? Number 113?" the producer called out.
No response.
"I think he just popped out for a bit," said someone helpfully.
"Ok, we’ll try him again a bit later."

The curly-haired bloke sitting in front of me got his turn. “I work in logistics which is a fancy way of saying I’m a truckie. And yeah, I’m skinny, which makes me unusual in my line of work.”

The love child of Axl Rose and Hulk Hogan said, “I fix up fancy cars but only travel using (he reached down to pick up his skateboard) – THIS.” He wasn’t lying; I saw him happily rolling out of the studio on his board a couple of hours later.

“I rescue koalas because I’m a fireman,” a particularly tall and hunky man said. Wolf whistles from the girls drowned out the clapping.

258 stood up. "I’m bald, I’m fat, I'm forty two years old and I just got engaged on the weekend! The crowd roared their approval. "I mean look at me – I got engaged! Oh and I work for World Vision so you’ll all be sponsoring a kid before you leave tonight."

Spiral-permed Paulini-wannabe sang something. It sounded all nice and warbly in that trilly Mariah-Carey-on-helium over-singing style that Idol judges love, but no-one knew what the hell she was saying about herself.

"Paul? Number 113?"
No response.
"I think he’s in the loo," an auditioner called out.
"Ok, we’ll try him again a bit later."

Bimbo stood up, clearly annoyed at having to wait and sit with the great unwashed. "I’m a promotions model, I’ve been on Neighbours, I’ve appeared in a few scenes from Underbelly and I’m really outgoing." She then got up and left to no applause, whilst the rest of us stayed for the entire evening.

At least a dozen poverty stricken uni students were there for a laugh, a dare, to be crazy, to win some HECS money, to mock each other’s taste in t-shirts. All have faded from memory except for the vague odour of weed and clearasil.

The saddest one was a plump, middle-aged lady who was clearly shaking with nerves and spoke in a monotone, “I’m a public servant but underneath it all, I’m spontaneous, really crazy and always the life of the party.” Oh sweetie…..

"Paul? Number 113?"
No response.
The fireman called out, "He’s obviously doing a really big poo."
Producer pursed her lips and crossed him off her list. "Ok, he’s out then."

I don’t want to tell you what I said…….

Friday, March 13, 2009

No-No Nanna lives here

I've mentioned before that Sapphire might only be nine years old but often has the wisdom of Yoda combined with the pursed lips/Cat's bum disapproval tendency of a new millennium Mary Whitehouse.

Previous concerns she's raised with me have been my continued habit of kissing Skipper the rabbit on the lips, singing songs over and over with Milly's name inserted in them and telling strangers on the tram when their shoelaces and flies are undone or they have lipstick on their chins. This week she's gone all The Biggest Loser on me and is trying to be helpful, albeit in her uniquely tactful way:

There've been some telling signs of late that my antics on the way to and from school are also becoming a source of embarrassment for her:

"Mu-u-u-um, stop talking so loudly to Juliet's Dad.... everyone's looking at you."

How could they be? I was calling across at the traffic lights and he was in the car on the other side of the road and needed to wind his window down. Everyone else should have been busy crossing the road before the bip-bip-bips stopped. Sure, your mate Juliet might have been slumping in shame in the back seat but I wasn't talking to her, was I?

Fine, she replied, shoulders slumped, gripping Milly's lead and looking straight ahead. Obviously my retort wasn't the "Oh darling, I'm so terribly sorry, it won't happen ever again my dear, sweet precious petal" that she wanted.

"Mu-u-u-um why don't you have a shower before you take me to school? You've still got eye boogers."

Look kid, I get up at 7am to make your lunch, feed the dog and the rabbit, unpack the dishwasher, get your breakfast, hoik the buckets of shower water from last night out on the garden, hang up a load of washing, read/sign/pay money for a bucketload of urgent school notes and hassle you to get dressed, eat your breakfast, stop playing with the dog and do some quick viola, guitar or recorder practice before we go to school. And I have to have that first cup of coffee. No negotiation there. And I ain't getting up an hour earlier at 6am to go for a run, cool down, have a shower and pretty myself up just for a five minute stroll into the school yard where you ignore me the second we walk through the gate anyway. Geddit?

She nodded, silently.

"Mu-u-u-um, why don't you have a normal job, like Phoebe or Sarah or Sian's Mums do?"

Because I don't want to. For about eighteen years I did do what they did, but eventually I started to hate it. My body started to let me down, I felt tired, resentful, angry and sad and didn't spend enough time with you or Love Chunks. I now laugh more, notice more things, sing more (whether you like it or not) and have met more interesting, genuine and kind people than ever before and I'm starting to get paid for it. And you get to invite your friends home for playdates instead of being stuck in after-school care every day and that's a good thing, isn't it?

She nodded again, slipping her hand into mine.

"Mu-u-u-um, stop kissing me, the bell's just gone."

Tough. I just have to. I must. See, if I don't kiss you or Love Chunks before we go our separate ways for the day, it just doesn't feel right. Yes, like when we all say 'cheers' and clink glasses and you've got to tap everyone's glass or the vibe doesn't work. And yes, I know you're studying Unicef and the rights of children at school right now, but as your parent, I surely have a right to kiss you. At least once in the morning and once at night. You don't seem to mind being kissed at night, do you? And if anyone here teases you, you can tell them to get stuffed. Yes, you really can. Because having someone wanting to kiss you is a really nice thing actually.

She rolled her eyes and proferred her cheek as though she was about to be brushed with a dead fish. I kissed her, angrily at first, but then the softness of her skin, the sweet smell of her hair, the warmth....

"Yeah, bye Mum." She was off before I opened my eyes. Perhaps I won't tell her that I'd just auditioned for a tacky new game show, considered getting another tattoo or was about to interview an old lady who feeds the pigeons every morning.

And at morning tea time, she still made her presence felt:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Desperate Desklives

Unlike my cheeky Irish blogger Radgery, I've yet to be Desked, but I'm hoping.

Instead of his measly one, I've submitted three. Yes, three is my lucky number and the trio of desks under inspection range from filthy and dishevelled to obsessively neat. Kind of like me in person - sweaty and reeking after a run and during the morning school drop-off to neat, clean and smelling like a rose at the after school pick-up.

Drum roll please, for Desk Number One:

This was my hive of activity at the university when I won the contract to write 'Work/Life Balance for Dummies' on behalf of the research centre. Bulldog was just starting to throw her not-inconsiderable weight and ego around, and you can see that my salvation was to be found in chocolate and iced coffee. That day there was obviously no Feel Good Farmers Union Iced Coffee to be found at the canteen on the floor below us, so I had to make do with Rush. A very distant second, but oh so much more superior than Big M which isn't even sold in South Australia.

Note also the apple sitting there on the right; presumably for at least a week. In those days (oh who I am kidding - these days as well) it was my belief - in the mythical yet yearned-for place I'll refer to as 'Kath Land,' that a piece of fruit would immediately cancel out a chocolate bar. Sadly, my thighs and arse disagreed.

Sapphire's smiling face made it into two picture frames, whereas poor Love Chunks rates a jokey pin rammed at the top of his head on the back wall. He photo-shopped his face onto a grotesquely over-roided physique and emailed it to me for a quick laugh, not knowing that I would print it, laminate it and put it on every workspace wall ever since.

I look at this photo two years later, still with a mixture of regret that my working life with Bulldog ended so badly and a big dollop of relief. Escaping her evil clutches and dictatorship was harrowing but provided me with an opportunity to be brave, take a few deep breaths, jump in and see what happens.

....which was spending most of 2008 writing from home in Adelaide, pimping myself on radio, eating chocolates, running seminars, book reviews, giving interviews and providing life to a few bloody ulcers when deciding to sell our house just as the entire globe plunged into deep financial crisis. Despite all that, we moved to a two bedroom/one study house in Melbourne so that I could squeeze in here, at Desk Number Two:

My secretary, Milly the dog, was not impressed. Whereas previously in South Australia she was able to languidly stretch out in a five-by-four metre room with just some bookshelves and a desk to interfere; here she battles for dominance with the piano, the fold-away camping trestle, a wine rack I use as a visual filing system (ie if I don't see it, I forget about it), a real filing cabinet and two bookshelves in a room that is just two metres wide and 4 metres long.

I sometimes forget she's there and get the wheels of the chair bogged in the beans when reaching for the real filing cabinet, startling her so that she jumps up and bonks her rock-hard noggin against the piano stool. She then stares up at me with her big, black-edged brown eyes in confusion, I stop what I'm doing and ruffle her ears, pat her back and kiss her a few times in sympathy, forget what I'm supposed to be doing and lie on the carpet beside her, stroking her tummy...... Oh God, is it time to pick up Sapphire from school already...? I must have dozed off for a second there.... Yuck, the drool's got carpet fluff and dog fur stuck to it.....

If the day is warmer than 25C, the sun blazes directly through the window which makes it an open invitation for Mr Migraine and his sidekick, Rumpled Foreskin to come in, open up the top of my head and set to stirring the contents with some open Swiss Army knives. Being a weatherboard addition, the study also gets very hot very quickly. Typing with sweaty hands and leaking armpits is not a recipe for creativity or productivity, nor is hanging up a tablecloth to cover the roman blind that's already there.

Instead, I give up and move to Desk Number Three:

The kitchen/dining area. The paper decorations on the window were done by Sapphire to celebrate Milly's 5th birthday recently (see the bone and the tennis ball?).

Outside is Love Chunks' Ayers Rock of a Bad Boy Barbeque Beast that almost didn't fit through our gate and the framed artwork is Sapphire, crayon and watercolour, circa 2006.

Unlike the other desks, this one is kept clean so that it's not a hassle to abandon it for dinner, spread out The Age newspaper to read at leisure, unwrap and photograph chocolate and wipe down with a chux in one expert move.

The only problem is that the wooden chairs are meanly solid and uncomfortably, uncharitably hard. So hard that after only an hour my bum is begging for mercy and I start believing that every damn nodule along my spine has a heartbeat of pulsating pain all of their own. That's when I know it's time to get up, find some chocolate (for reviewing purposes, you understand), take Milly out in the garden for a wee, see how Skipper the rabbit's getting along and put on a load of washing.

You've gotta love a work surface that disguises chocolate crumbs.