Saturday, May 30, 2009


Meme time and this one's been made up by yours truly. A list of Firsts. Calm down, I won't nominate any blogger personally; anyone can do this if they like, but if you do, can you please be kind enough to let me know you're doing so via the comments field and then put a link to your site?

First Job - babysitter, at the ripe old age of fourteen, to two boys aged seven and five. I shudder to think what a fourteen year old would have been able to cope with during an emergency situation, but in 1982 this one was able to hold her own playing Donkey Kong, Galaxian and Pong and still get them to bed before Dynasty started.

First 'real' job as an adult - a 'Graduate Trainee' at the ANZ bank in 1989. Twenty two thousand dollars a year to be an assistant bank manager during the time when interest rates hit 17.5%. Was bored and miserable and wondered just how my English and Roman Art & Archaeology subject choices had managed to convince their HR heads that I'd be a success in the role.

First love - MH from primary school, aged five. No boy picked their nose and wiped the slimy contents on the lino floor of the all-purpose room quite like he did. Why that impressed me, I still can't quite understand - or want to delve too deeply into - to this day.

First TV show - 'Here's Humphrey'. He narrowly beat out the other Aussie-made show 'Fat Cat & Friends' because Patsy-bloody-Biscoe always had to whip out her guitar and annoy us with a song and Fat Cat looked creepy instead of cuddly. I did have a hearty laugh last Christmas when, out in the kitchen making a cup of tea with Mum, I heard whoever it was hosting the 2008 Carols by Candlelight that "Coming up next is Humphrey B Bear!" Mr B Bear is a mute with three fingers on each hand who never wears pants. What the hell was he going to do to entertain the punters squashed on picnic blankets?

First Actor Crush - Greg Rowe, lead star of the movie 'Storm Boy'. I even pestered my parents long enough to for them to give in and take us to see Mr Percival the pelican at Marineland. It was there that my father crushed my fantasy balloon by pointing out that it could have been any damn pelican shoved in front of a wonky hand-painted sign ready to pose for paid photographs.

First Actress Crush - Lyndsey Wagner as The Bionic Woman. She was a beautiful school teacher with jazzy taste in clothes, the ability to hear the beat of a butterfly's wings in a nuclear shelter nine miles away and could do something cool with her leg but I forget what. Or maybe it wasn't G-rated and my parents didn't want to explain it to me.

First book - 'Go Dog Go' by PD Eastman is the first one I remember reading over and over again to myself. I loved looking at the dog party scene at the end of the book, but these days I identify more closely with the sole dog in the crowded bed with its eyes open, sleepless and alone in its suffering.

First record - 'The Best of ABBA' in 1975. Lovingly played on the radiogram and danced to in the pool room on orange shag carpet many, many times. After looking at the cover so many times I noticed that Agnetha wasn't wearing any shoes - her bare toes were peeking out underneath her long tablecloth dress.

First cassette tape - 'Complete Madness' in 1982. Played on my mono-cassette and radio thingy as I rolled over the waistband of my tartan school skirt to make it look shorter and decided that wearing pink plastic Australia-shaped earrings was the height of coolness.

First CD - ABBA's entire output, all purchased in one go in 1989 when I spent my 21st money on a stonkingly huge black stereo system with a five band 'graphic equaliser'', turntable, CD player and double-tape deck. Oooohhhh.....

First purchased iPod song - Plastic Bertrands 'Ca plane por moi'. I always liked it and wonder where he is now. A translator for United Nations perhaps? ("I am the king of the divan! Ooooo-eeeeee Eeeee-ewwww")

First car - 1971 Renault 16TS bought for $1600 in 1989. Poo brown in colour meant that it was referred to as the 'Flying Turd' and very easy to find in car parks. Couldn't go faster than 80km per hour which is probably why Dad so strenously encouraged me to buy it. Home to a various scary assortment of Huntsmen spiders who liked to make their acquaintance when I'd lower the sun visor and have them almost stretched across my face.....

First sport played - tennis. Started learning at age eleven but came home after the first lesson telling everyone that I didn't need to go to any more lessons because I knew it all. Dad reckons sat ever-so-haughtily at the tea table and announced, "I've already learned my backhead, my forehead and my swerve."

First concert - Dire Straits, Footy Park, Feb 1986. Most of it was spent in silent agony whilst having to stand up for three hours with a full bladder bitterly regretting the 600ml of warm iced coffee I'd slugged down beforehand and enduring the crotch of some strange man grinding into my back as the crowd kept surging forward closer to the stage.

......Or was it seeing my mother in the lead role in the musical 'ShowBoat'? She was about to kiss the leading man, and I broke free from sitting on Dad's lap in row three and ran up to the stage yelling out DON'T YOU DO THAT TO MY MUM! Dad hurriedly scooped me up and escorted me home to bed, relieved to have left the performance not due being embarrassed by his child's behaviour but due to his severe loathing of musicals in any form.

First overseas country visited - Scotland, 1981. Dad got a job as a teacher in Aberdeen and the teacher he replaced took Dad's job in South Australia for a year, swapping houses as well. I couldn't understand a word the kids were saying to me for the first couple of weeks, and dreaded having to say any answer with the number 'eight' in it due to having the class cack themselves with laughter at my Skippy accent.

First encounter with a famous person - 'World Safari' adventurer and cornball doco-maker of the 1970s, Alby Mangels, was a Murray Bridge boy was rumoured to be attending the high school fete day in a helicopter, throwing out twenty dollar notes. TWENTY DOLLAR notes! Huge crowds attended, only to find that twenty ONE dollar notes were rather unenthusiastically scattered about in a Mangels-less oval. Dad tried to console me by saying that Alby as a student was dumber than a hatful of crackers.

Years later we saw Robert Morley in London (wearing a bowler hat) in 1981 and I served Fergie and Nick Faldo a drink at a Cartier event when I worked at the Savoy Hotel in 1991. It was one Bolly for the customers, and one for the staff *hic*....

First brush with death - well, maybe not death, but certainly rape. I was dumb and naive enough to sit in the front with a minicab driver in London, 1991, on my way to a job interview. He pulled over in the dark, said that he couldn't find the address in his A-Z and reached over to grab at my.... Years of wrestling with brothers gave me better reflexes than expected because somehow my clenched fist angrily smacked him right on the nose. He clutched at his face and I leapt out of my seat and got the hell out of there, running around the corner. I asked a passerby where Kingsgate Avenue was and was told it was in the next street. I walked in, did the interview and got offered the job. Hopefully there's a driver out there with a nose like a busted sandshoe and a pathological fear of female Australian backpackers.

First house owned - Heidelberg Heights, 1996. Just off bustling Bell Street and within earshot of drunken bogans and/or police helicopters giving chase to miscreants making their escape after burglarising Heidelberg West houses. It cost us $103,000 (ooooh, over one hundred thousand!) with spongy floorboards, chandeleirs, different patterned wallpaper in every room and brown carpet in the kitchen (yes, the kitchen) that was so stained that the dog used to lie on the floor and lick at it whenever she was bored or hungry.

First radio station listened to - 5MU. Adelaide stations were just too crackly. The sr-e-e-e-e-etch of the screen door opening and banging shut on Saturday nights as sports captains popped into the studio to hand over their tennis and cricket scores to be called out was distinctly audible and the homemade jingles were hilariously bad. They had phone requests on week nights, and I always got on first call. First song requested? (blush) 'Harden my heart' by Quarterflash. My defence is that thirteen is the worst age for taste, maturity or common sense.

First kiss - Ian Penn. 1978, at the oh-so-romantic location that was the South Primary School's incinerator. He'd clearly done it before (many times, apparently) but it was a first for me and I ran out of there afterwards like a roadrunner on acid. It was several more years before I tried it again, and not with young Mr Penn.

First shag - Nope. Can't go there. Just. can't. How anyone can write a sex scene - let alone reveal their own participation in one - befuddles me. I'd die blushing, slumped over my keyboard.

First heartache - Brenton W. We dated for three months when I was twenty and he a hugely mature twenty five. He dumped me just before heading overseas for 2 months, so the thought of my charms not being sufficient enough to keep him 'nice' during that time was, on reflection, probably more galling than no longer enjoying his company. It hurt like hell at the time though and I cried many tears over it. Bastard.

First hospital stay (apart from being born or having a baby) - sinus operation in 2004. There were polyps inside my nostrils that were snotty versions of stalagtites and thus made any cold or sniffle headed my way automatically mutate into a hellish episode of fluoro green phlegm, throbbing nasal cavities and a honking nose blow that frightening sleeping dogs and small children. Any bruising or swelling was a small price to pay for being able to lift my head up without any grunting effort and smell things again.

First disappointment - Sunday school, 1974. The teacher told us that if we prayed to God, he'd give us what we asked for. I went to bed that night, thinking hard. God was a busy deity, so it would be best to ask for something small; nothing that would trouble him too much. But was it there the next day or the day after or the day after that - HELL NO! All I wanted was a Big Sister Self-Saucing Chocolate Pudding in a tin!

First victory - Best Costume at the Murray Bridge Centenary in 1979. Sure, Mum sewed the costume but I had to wear the damn thing. The prize was definitely a completely un-fun product that the local toy shop couldn't sell to blind Freddy or his evil Aunt - an enormous box containing thousands of used match sticks and a bucket of glue. Despite placing a heavy emphasis on good manners and being grateful, even my mother said (when we were home and away from prying ears), "Oh, that really is crap, isn't it?"

....which was the first time I'd ever heard Mum swear.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bonza Baino

When I started blogging .... actually that sounds a bit rude, doesn't it, as though I decided to treat myself to a regular post-breakfast enema but let's move away from bowel movements and back to blogging.... (ahem)......

(Puffs out chest proudly and affects a pompous tone): When I started blogging nearly five years ago, the aim was simply to play with some web technology that even I could navigate on my own without ending up in crying in the corner rocking to myself, and also to try and keep some writing 'fitness' up by posting at least two or three times a week.

Never did I realise that I'd actually make friends on it as well. Friends whose lives I'd eagerly read about and visit daily just to see what they were up to. And this has been the real bonus for me. The other night, Sydney blogger and all-time Awesome Kick-Arse Mother and Techno Tart Baino was holidaying in Melbourne with her daughter ClareBear. Did I want to meet up for a drink on Monday? Do fish pee in the sea?!

Baino's on the left, looking younger and slimmer than she tells us she is on her blog. Next time I hope I can convince her that Love Chunks, Sapphire and I aren't axe-wielding psychopaths who knit knee rugs from our own belly button fluff (or not very often anymore) and that she's welcome to enter through our Gates of Hell and have dinner. Or stay. Any maybe help us knit....

Afterwards I got home, started yelling at my visiting parents (three glasses of wine on an empty stomach and I think I'm whispering delicately) over dinner and started thinking about the other bloggers I've met in person.

Franzy - Funnier than seeing Malcolm Turnbull in a Centrelink Queue. Smart. Quick to tell me that he's disappointed if some of my bloggings are lazy. New father, sleep-deprived; still suffering the shock and wonderment of it all but able to work up a good rage every now and then. I hope to buy his best-selling and critically-acclaimed works of fiction when he finishes them.

Ashleigh - Quirky. Intelligent. Passionate about the ridiculousness of finance, enviro-greenwashing and actively querying just why (oh god, why?) his local council won't allow boobies or willies to be shown as artworks in public places. Challenged me to a blind chocolate tasting that showed we both have a lot to learn, which is a damn convenient way of allowing us to eat more of the good brown stuff.

Delamere - Warm. Friendly. Sharp as a whip. Mother of three, career-woman, home renovator, rabbit and cat wrangler and - to highlight some cruelly bad timing - she used to work at Cadbury Schweppes before we met. Being ensconced in a telephone company just doesn't have the same ring to it (boom boom). Intense love of all things Jane Austen but possibly not their corsetry or whalebone devices.

Red Cap
- Hilariously dark writer who's been rarer than Pamela Anderson in a polo neck in the blogosphere of late. Brain the size of a planet. Snarky but with a beating heart of gold. Brilliant writer and photographer. Keeps her chin up during even the darkest times (and some of those involved being spat on and groped by a drag queen during a festival revue).

Deep Kick Girl
- As John Cusack-obsessed as I was. Clever. Generous. All kinds of interests ranging from wearing silly hats proudly in public to rigorous fundraising. Has a tattoo of her favourite band in a very special place that might also get a Sydney Swans logo to accompany it. Deftly survived the rigours of South American travel (twice) with the same dignity she possesses during a fight for a car-parking space outside a childcare centre.

Go East Young Woman. Determined. Bright. Observant. I'd say 'glamorous' until she opens her mouth and makes a drunk Collingwood fan blush and cover his defacto-on-parole's ears. Has more stamps on her passport than I have pairs of shoes. Fashionable and computer savvy. Devoted mother to two cats who have travelled to Holland, Australia and Dubai. Not too shabby with a camera either.

Lessons Learned. Fearless. Astute. Tenacious. Single-handedly takes on the health system on behalf of hearing-impaired babies and children everywhere. Black-belted karate teacher that patiently put up with my explosively embarrassing farts and still managed to teach me something. Should apply those killer skills to budget advisors because everyone's afraid of an angry scientist with the ability to crack a gonad in a single kick.

. Hilarious. Ingenious. Witty. Met him the same night I met Franzy and knew him straight away just from his descriptions. Bought his book despite considering poetry about as accessible as modern interpretative dance, but thankfully (and not surprisingly) loved his. After all, how many blokes can pen a poem about marking a block of Bega cheese like a football? I selfishly wish he'd put his kids and study books down and write more.

Simply Natural - My ex-boss. Intelligent. Graceful. Kind. Strong. Has endured more than her fair share of sadness and challenge over the past few years but survives and thrives far better than she thinks she does. Should consider moving into interior design professionally because it's clearly her passion and her talent. I often wonder if she keeps me as a friend for the sole reason of being her 'BEFORE' case study for all things decorative, stylish and elegant.

All of them are as fabulous in person as their blogs which detail their loves, hates, frustrations, laughs, bemusements and opinions. All are hugely witty and wonderful writers and I envy them their unique way of looking at the world and their place within it.

Thank blog for this freebie online device that we can so easily tap at in the privacy of our lounge rooms or at the work desk during lunch hour or I'd never have known you. Same goes for those bloggers I haven't met yet. Your absence would make my world a lesser place.

Sapphire read this sentence over my shoulder, furrowed her brow and said, "Well, do they?"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Turning Ten

Sapphire is now ten years old. A decade. Double digits. Able to move her chronological age from a unit into Tens and Units (“Actually Mum, that’s not correct because a ‘zero’ in the units column doesn’t really count.”)

She was born on the cusp of the fake millennium but the one that sounded more exciting as it changed to 2000 instead of the mathematically-correct 2001. Itwas the year we were all busy panicking and project planning for the dreaded Y2K bug, feeling utterly shocked at the tragedies at Columbine and Kosovo and emailing each other dodgy Monica Lewinsky jokes. Wondering exactly which way the Backstreet Boys wanted it, how to avoid the irritating Venga Bus and realising that watching ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ whilst eight months pregnant meant the urge to pee was far stronger than trying to work out just what the hell it all meant.

Sapphire sneaks a look over my shoulder and sighs. “Oh Mum, you’re not going to blog about me are you?”
Sheepishly, I turn around, and nod, about to say something like it’s because I’m so honoured to be your mother, you’re a huge part of my life and it’s second nature to be inspired to write about the things that make me utterly happy and I’m always dazzled by------
before she says “But you’ve told me that I’m not allowed to surf the internet because there might be weirdos with diseased minds who are pretending to be other kids that might want to kidnap or look at me but you’re now sitting here telling the whole world about me.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my readership wasn’t as wide as all that and she was eventually comforted with a cup of hot chocolate, witnessing my genuine admiration at her crocheting skills and participation in a SingStar duet challenge of ‘Fernando where my arse was thoroughly kicked in the musical sense. Later on, she said, “I reckon if we were the same age and went to the same school at the same time, we’d be best friends.”

I wonder……. How would a pretty savvy ten year old girl today compare to a ten year old from 1978?


As discussed previously, most of my school romances were conducted under the red steamy haze of violence and misfortune. Playgrounds were hotbeds of injury, pain and blood – perfect for young love to blossom. If they’d broken their arms on the whizzy, split their skulls on the adventure playground pipes or allowed me to give ‘em a dead leg at recess time, I was in love.

Sapphire, on the other hand, is decidedly more picky. “I’m not into doofuses, show offs or boys who swear just because they want to be cool.” She told me that one boy in her class told her that he loved her when nobody else was around. Does she love him back? “No, I’m too young for that kind of stuff, that’s for teenagers, but I said I could be his friend. And I didn’t run around telling everybody because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings when he’d been brave enough to come up to me.” I can’t say that I would have done that – I took great delight in intercepting love notes (Do you want to be my girlfriend – tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’) or pointing out a wino ambling along Rundle Mall and saying to a mate, “There’s your boyfriend.”


In my tenth year I decided to quit ballet and piano. Possessing the grace of an inebriated wart-hog and, after three years still unable to read music, I wasn’t exactly begged by either teacher to rethink my decision or rue the decline in the Australian arts scene. Instead, I continued to play my scratchy ABBA records on the ancient radiogram (in glorious mono), tried to hide my terror at seeing the Jaws movie poster on display when we passed by the drive-in and wondered why Dad would never allow me to watch ‘Blankety Blanks’ on the telly but Paul Hogan playing Leo Wanker was OK. ‘Benji’ was the only thing I saw in the cinema that year and even then it was only memorable because I’d scoffed an entire packet of lemon chews by myself and felt painfully thirsty, incredibly nauseous and couldn’t have cared less if the scruffy dog escaped his evil owners or translated the Dead Sea Scrolls.

My daughter tells me that she chose the viola as an instrument because “It has a richer sound than a violin and I don’t have to be the star out the front but a very important part of a large orchestra. Plus I love the music that we get to play.” And the recorder? “You and Dad always say that it sounds like a happy bird when you hear it, and that’s how I feel when I play.” Sadly, the guitar lessons are going to end after this term. “I know you’ll be a bit sad about it but I don’t love it like the other two instruments and I’m busy with tennis, homework, play-dates and being in the junior string ensemble and I still want to have time to spend with Skipper. I hope you don’t mind.” Mind? It will save us $250 per term!

What are your favourite movies and TV shows? “I love watching the ‘Frasier’ DVDs with you and Dad – Niles is so funny. ‘Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog’ is hilarious and has great songs. ‘Master Chef’ is OK but it gets dragged out far too long which is annoying. I still love watching ‘Wallace and Gromit’ anything, ‘The Corpse Bride’ and ‘Flushed Away’. Do you like the slugs I made?”

Songs? “At the moment it’s ‘Funhouse’ by Pink but it changes every couple of days when I use your old iPod and recharge it. When Pink sings, ‘This used to be a Funhouse – Now it’s full of evil clowns’ I think it’s a really good and clever line.” What other ones have you been into? “Abba anything. You know, for a group that was around in the olden days, they still have songs that are better than anything Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or Taylor Swift – who I also like – can do.”


In 1978, my beloved ABBA didn’t release an album, which gutted me. Their latest record was always my November birthday present, so that year I had to content myself with a 45 single featuring ‘Chiquita’ and a purple vinyl beanbag which I had started pestering my folks for in March when our classroom got three lime green ones for the reading and pom-pom making corner. The beanbag in my own reading corner at home (ie my bookcase moved at a rakish 90-degree angle from the wall) encouraged more day-dreaming than usual and I was convinced that I’d be able to fill in for Agnetha if she needed to take some time off to look after her kids. I knew the words, had blonde hair and the equivalent level of dance skills – what else did BBA (Bjorn, Benny and Annafrid) need? Failing that, growing up to be a world-famous actress who married the kid from Storm Boy would have been fine too.

“Maybe a teacher,” muses Sapphire, “Even though you told me that you hated being a high school teacher and Grandpa said that after thirty years of it he was utterly sick of it as well.” But you’re artistic; could you see yourself doing anything with that? “Yeah, I like watching the ‘extra features’ on my DVDs that show how they do the plasticene and computer modelling for the movies and the cute sets for Wallace and Gromit. That would be great fun.”


Turning ten at the end of 1978, I could already see that mastering stilts, trampolines, trying the intriguingly named lollygobbleblissbombs and disco roller-skating were things to aim for, as well as hoping I could save up the eleven dollars plus postage and handling to join the UK Abba fan club. We’d had some brief discussions in class about nuclear bombs and World War Three, but my aspirations were more centred on whether I’d ever beat Robert at a game of Monopoly or be brave enough to throw a can of Mum’s old hairspray into our backyard incinerator.

For Sapphire, it’s less about things and more about people. “I don’t know, Mum. I’m just happy that it’s May already and I’ve settled in and made some friends.” I squeezed her hand as we walked along to school. “They’re friends that I can tell anything to – they listen, they understand and we always have fun. I just hope that it’s always like that.”

Then, she said it, the sentence I’d been dreading all along. “Do you still need to walk to school with me? Juliet and Sarah get to do it by themselves. Can I walk on my own now?”

My steps slowed as I kissed the top of her warm, soap-scented hair and whispered that yes, of course she was responsible and mature enough to walk on her own, but Milly needed a short walk two times a day and the school was the perfect distance and she so looked forward to it and….. and….

“Yeah Mum?”
“It’s the highlight of my day. I love laughing with you, finding out about your friends, your class, your lessons, your thoughts and walking alongside you. I love holding your soft little hand as we make up silly song lyrics together and then stifle them as we walk past the high school and don’t want anyone to see how strange we are. I love waiting for you after school at the gate, seeing your blonde halo of hair from across the yard, smiling at me. Let me walk with you. Please.”

She smiled, half-twisted in her self-conscious way of trying to hide how pleased she was with the situation. “Oh alright then Mum, I don’t mind if you still want to walk with me.”

She took the viola and music bag I’d been carrying out of my hands, kissed me on the cheek and ran off just as the first bell rang out. Thank God she didn’t see the tears.

I love you Sapphire.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mystery Number Four

Time for another deep and essential investigation, readers.

On this roller-coaster ride of riddles that I like to euphemistically refer to as 'Walking the dog to the shops', we've also discovered that:

1) Mr P is a beloved local legend with a generous owner who has just taught me how to make Brigadeiro truffles;
2) The Big M on the commission flats is an architecturally designed lift shaft based on the famous chapel in South America built by modernist Brazillian architect Oscar Niemeyer and;
3) The Liberace-inspired Fairy Tree was saved by the council's plans to cut the tree down by public outcry and violent demonstrations.

Fine. It was just a public outcry - am I never allowed to embellish for entertainment? No, wait - don't answer that.

Back to Mystery Number Four. This car has 'Intrigue' written all over it.

OK, so that's not entirely true: it actually has 'Swifty Color' (American spelling here in Australia, tsk tsk) on one side, 'The Operatives' on the other and just 'Swifty' on the far end.

The car's owner/s live a couple of streets away from me in what is loftily (and somewhat optimistically) referred to by overly-ambitious real estate agents as 'Flemington Hill.' Said 'hill' mostly features beautifully-restored 1890s weatherboards and, most commonly, late model VW golfs, Volvo S40 station wagons or Peugot hatchbacks parked out the front.

As such, this car stands out a mile which, considering the camouflage paintwork, might not be what the driver/s intended. Even colour-blind Milly gave the wheels a sniff and ignored the tabby sunning itself on top of the wheelie bin nearby. I guess having arthritic back knees and collapsible hips means that she's smart enough to choose which objects or animals to be interested in and checking out the hubcaps is easier than sproinging up to get her nose scratched by an irate moggie and have her legs fold up underneath her like an ancient card table on a camping trip.....

As Milly continued to sniff and then - ahem - drop a couple of Andrew Bolts' off in the gutter (yes, I cleaned them up), I pondered deeply.

Questions arose, such as Who is 'Swifty' and should I notify the police of his/her whereabouts? Is 'Swifty Color' a mobile hair styling service or provider of cheap photocopied flyers? Are 'The Operatives' a group of urban freedom fighters, a clutch of second-hand car dealers or a hard workin' garage band?

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mole in front of a Mountain

Cadbury have now recently repackaged their family-sized blocks of chocolate by slipping them inside slimline cardboard boxes, presumably to add an extra air of sophistication (because Lindt and Nestle are doing it too) and perhaps to stop rows from snapping loose and trying to make a break for freedom in their foil packs. Truly front page news if ever there was, particularly if sticky leaks are involved.

The trouble is, it's too easy for loser low-lifes in the supermarket to prise open the back flap, eat a row or two, tuck the flap back in like a reusable envelope and put it back on the shelf still looking brand new, inviting and untampered-with. Then, an honest, upstanding citizen and trusting, unsuspecting shopper - such as my good self - innocently pushes her wonky trolley along with the back wheel that jams so firmly I have to lean in with all my might on the far left side like the insane captain standing alone on the foredeck in a life-threatening sea storm. Despite this physical challenge this steadfast shopper - ie me - still manages to notice the chocolates sitting there on special for the week.

Last night, Love Chunks and I were comfortably blobbed on the sofa settling in to watch 'Good News Week' and of course, that most satisfying primeval urge, the one that continues to consume us every single night, was stirring again. We looked at each other hungrily and I knew what was about to happen. His eyes were dilated in anticipation and I eagerly leapt up and left the room, leaning on the doorframe to whisper throatily, "I'll be r-i-g-h-t back darling, don't you go anywhere."

And I was back in a flash with the block of Cadbury in my hot, trembling hands.

Love Chunks paused. "Hey, did you crack into this beforehand?"
I affected my most haughty and indignant tone. "Chocolate may be my lifeblood and the reason for getting up in the mornings, but I do not tell lies and I'm not desperate enough to sneak it."

Love Chunks scoffed. "Of course not - not with the way you shop each week."

OK, that was a fair point. Especially with the lot I’d brought home that day:

My Note To Self remains the same every single time: Don't Shop When You Are Hungry.
Still, despite having a truckload of other brands and flavours available we still eyed this particular block critically. "Maybe we could just snap off the first row and have a go at the rest underneath," I suggested.
"Maybe.... but what if it was done by an insane psychopath with a grudge against society who then injected the rest of the block with something deadly?" Love Chunks flung the block from him as though it was a flat-packed Andrew Bolt carrying swine flu.
"You mean carob?"

We sat there, hands clasped in our laps, thinking hard.
"Plus we have no idea where the perpetrator's hands have been before this most un-Australian act of sabotage, let alone anything about their personal hygiene...."
"Or lack thereof."

Feeling all self-righteous the following morning, I went back to the shop with the offending block and my receipt, ready to ask for a replacement. For equivalent of three dollars and forty nine cents, as per their weekly advertised special.

Despite having a fairly ‘loud mouth’ on this blog, my method of operating largely unnoticed and unmolested by the general populace at large is due to going to great lengths to avoid making a fuss. Tampered chocolate however, was a serious matter. I stood uncertainly by the smokes counter being studiously ignored by a young man packing something underneath it. He snuck a quick look at me and ducked underneath again. Surely I didn’t look too much like a crackpot?
I stuttered, "I'm a regular customer here, y'see, and bought this block yesterday and found out that someone has tampered with it and put it back on the shelf. And um, I need this new flavour to review because, well, it's my job, and..."

He gestured for me to hand over the offending block so that he could study it closely. "OK," he sighed, "Go in and find a replacement block and I'll ring it up on your way out." Yep, another crackpot sent in to waste time that could have been spent sorting through out-of-date risla papers.

This cringeing scenario reminded me of other times I'd been disappointed and short-changed enough to complain, but they had all done by post. Such as the dodgy packet of menstrual pads that instead of being lightly infused with a 'shower fresh scent' were squelchingly marinating in yellow, greasy liquid that must have been destined for an entire suburb's monthly needs and not in ten small white surfboards. As such, any ‘absorbency’ strengths boasted in pink letters on the front were null and void as the merchandise within was already ‘full’ and didn’t have any more room for either the blue fluid used by advertisers or the vermillion favoured by nature. Avoiding any blushing at the Returns Counter, I sent them off to the 'If you are not satisfied, please contact us....' address listed on the back of the packet.

Several weeks later, an enormous cardboard box arrived with what appeared to be at least three samples each of the entire company’s product range. Conspicuously absent was the product I'd sent in to complain about and there was no letter acknowledging mine inside the box. Perhaps they were even more embarrassed than I was. Still, the three x 120 metre rolls of waxed mint dental floss more than covered the costs of postage and the three unplanned days missing that special ‘feeling of confidence’ that all ‘women of today’ expect with a small packet of ten ‘heavy’ strength.

It spurred me on to expect better quality from my purchases. Those Tut-tut Tea bags with staples but not the string and tag attached were considered Just. Not. Good. Enough. Off went an indignant letter of complaint and offending product enclosed in a padded postpak. Again, a large box arrived with a year’s supply of bags – all properly tagged and strung and a heartfelt letter of apology for ‘any inconvenience caused.’ Lord knows what kind of multi-million dollar payout the company was fearing should I have decided to press for legal action.

Having experienced the despair of opening a twelve-pack of ‘fun sized’ bags to find that the twelfth was not filled with salt-and-vinegar chips but air resulted in it being posted back in a box of styrofoam (so that they could see that it wasn’t just an empty bag that had been eaten, flattened and sent back, but was still puffed up with air and not falsehoods) with a letter describing in intricate detail my outrage, suffering and utter disappointment. Again, a box that dwarfed my refrigerator turned up with enough bags of chips to keep me and my flatmates snacked out for months. Perhaps Samboy would be cheered to know my thighs that summer quite truly reflected their generosity in rectifying their original packaging error.

Dad heard my stories and was similarly inspired. His favourite milk flavouring and hot night-time beverage of choice (rhymes with Silo) had changed their lids and he was angry. He read out his letter to me over the phone: “They are fiddly, contain extra packaging to seal properly and make opening a frustrating waste of time and energy. Why did you change what hasn’t needed to be changed and has worked perfectly well for at least the past thirty years?” Go for it, I encouraged him: let ‘em know that you’re not happy. You’ve paid your money!

He did but went a step further than I’d ever be prepared to go. No, he didn’t front up to their head office or factory or post them back a big tin with pellet-holes in it to frighten them. It was far worse.
He rang the 1800 ‘Any Questions or Comments’ number listed on the back of the tin.
I shrank in shame. “Oh Dad, please tell me that you didn’t.”
“I did and I’m proud of it. That’s what those numbers are for.”
“Dad, I love you. You’ve been a wonderful father to me – still are – but you’ve now entered that dreaded Zone.”
“What ‘zone’? What are you talking about?”
“That zone where you move from being a fairly normal human being with needs and wants that fall into the acceptable range into the forbidden territory beloved of the Stark Raving Mad Loony Tune who feels sad, lonely, bitter and twisted enough to read that phrase on the back of a packet and actually decide to ring in!”

For the first time in living memory, he didn’t have a comeback or a justification. There was just silence on the end of the line for the longest time. “Er yes, I used to wonder who’d actually be bored enough to bother to have a question or comment on something like Sard Wonder Soap, cup-a-soup sachets or Chux superwipes and now ----" there was a muffled sound, almost a whimper ---- "I did it.”

“Hey Dad, don’t worry. At least it wasn’t to rant at a harried call-centre employee trying to pay their way through uni about the uselessness of the Deeko paper serviette holder that you won as a consolation prize instead of the first-class-round-the-world holiday you entered on SMS on twenty separate occasions." Now that was baring my soul….

“Yeah but---" *sob* “I gave them my real name and address.”

Update Thursday 21st May:
I phoned the Cadbury Consumer Services line and spoke to Eunice.*
Who calls in to the Cadbury phone line?
"Anyone and everyone. People are very passionate about chocolate."
What do they mostly complain about?
"How dare we change things is the most common one. They're also annoyed right now that the blocks are only 210g instead of 250g but we're charging the same price--"
Sounds like a fair issue to me.
"Yes but we've reduced the price of the block we sell to the supermarkets. It's them that are marking up the prices."
I discussed my tampered chocolate issue with her. Anyone else said the same thing?
"No. Maybe it's just your supermarket that has those kinds of people who do that sort of thing."
What? Steady on Eunice, that's being a tad judgemental don't you----
"It'll change as people like you get more familiar with the packaging and check that the back 'Cadbury' oval hasn't popped out. If it has, you know it's been opened already."
Yeah but I was trying to raise the issue of safety, like when a few years back some psycho injected packets of painkillers and now they're sealed so that no-one can get into 'em without it being noticed....
"Oh I don't think that will be a problem."
I applaud your optimism and loyalty to your product line but it might just be a tad misplaced just because I'm the first person to ---
"Recycling fans love the new packaging because it can be put out with the cardboard and paper."
Fine, I give up. Let's change tack - what's your favourite product?
"Cadbury Old Gold Peppermint Cream. Plus we have to be 'familiar' with all of their brand lines, so it's readily available to us to have whenever we feel like it."
Any stonkingly strange calls you can share with me?
"No, sorry. We're not allowed to tell anyone that kind of stuff, but we do have a good laugh amongst ourselves after some calls." Eunice sounded as though she might actually now be smiling over the phone.
Is the rumour that the Full Moon brings out the crazy callers more often?
"I don't really notice until I've had a really bad, weird day and then yeah, I realise that it has been a full moon. Still, it's better than my old job working in retail where the weirdos approached me directly and there wasn't any chocolate to eat!" There was a hint of a giggle. Maybe Eunice wasn't so bad after all.
* Not her real name.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Silly Signs

I'm a big dopey fan of Fail blog because there's a huge, throbbingly unhealthy-but-thriving streak inside me that loves a good whallop of hilarious misfortune - especially when it happens to others. Yes, it's sad and bad and ultimately unsportsmanlike, but I'm the first one to cack myself to tears if someone goes arse-over-feet in the street - even if it's me.

And, as much as I adore high-brow comedy and clever wit if there's a well-timed fart or an innocent trip out of the tram doors I'm literally anybody's.

Even Sapphire is aware of her mother's weakness. Just the other day she saw a tender young toddler do a fabulous face-plant on the school oval as he was staggering after his elder sibling. Looking directly at me with her (all too frequent) disapproving Nanna Face on, she said, "Go on Mum, start laughing 'til you cry."

I hung my head in shame. At least, that's what my daughter thought; really I was just struggling to keep the chortles inside and ended up somehow pushing the repressed air up my nose causing an implausibly loud sneezing attack that embarrassed Sapphire as much as my mirth-at-a-minor misfortune would have.

So these days I'm trying harder to repress this evil tendency and focus on a more visual - and private - pastime that I can scoff at in the relative security of my study away from family or wider public censure. It has meant that I now have my camera in my backpack in case I see signs that amuse me and I can have a silly, immature giggle at them later.

Here's a few I've found so far:

I'm sorry, but WHO can't spell the three-letter word 'nod'?

It was Love Chunks who pointed this one out first and before I'd even reminded myself to give him a 'That's not a very mature thing to say in front of our child' stare and then surreptitiously sneak out my Canon, I was already sniggering like a school girl.
"He's a bit over-confident, isn't he?" And is it really much of a sell when he tell us that his nuts "are the best for less?"
"Should I go in there and say, 'Show us yer best nuts, Ray'?"

Har har har. I know: it's pathetic, shamefully low-brow and utterly childish and I wish it was something I could stop.

This one was spotted whilst sitting on the tram one evening, so the flash had to work fast. Some clever-clogs had neatly cut off the latest religious advertisement to reveal the Nando's one underneath.

After all, if we're now sin-free, why NOT share a peri-peri chicken platter?
Sadly, taking random snapshots through the window and giggling to myself on public transport meant that nearly everyone got off at the next stop.
This one had me doubled-over by the dairy case at Coles supermarkets. Would you really want to eat a 'knob' for lunch? I didn't dare turn it over to peruse the ingredients to discover which poor male beastie had given up the most valuable part of themselves so that human cheapskates could add it to the cheese in their sandwiches.
And, does Coles really believe that buyers are 'smart' for considering it? Actually, don't answer that.
This parking sign is in our tiny little Flemington Street. I'm not sure why, because no-one ever bothers to park here and residents aren't exactly struggling to find less-restrictive spots considering that there's four blocks of flats with their own parking and a grand total of nine houses that look out onto our wee street.

Where the 'Thug Life Army' comes into it I'm yet to discover. Surely the grittier elements of Collingwood, Springvale or the city alleyways would be more attractive to any hoodlums with the ability to spell words of four letters and wield a felt tip marker in good working order?

On a recent walking tour around Melbourne, we were led into the 'United Order of Oddfellows' building that was constructed during the great depression by a large insurance company and banking firm. Inspired by Greek mythology and imagery, they had a series of marble panels that depicted how they would 'help' the modern Aussie borrow, save, live and prosper.

At first glance however, the above engraving looks more like a transaction for gay sex has been made. In fact, what's written underneath in faded writing is that they'll lend money for a home. I didn't realise that you had to be naked in order to get any. Money for a home, I mean.

There were a few more but often I'd pass by before remembering to snap them. One disappointment was the sign at the pub on Number One Flemington road that used to proudly boast having 'Probably the Best Beer Garden in the World' until it was painted over last week or the 'Persin-ality' Trophy Shop in Maribyrnong that, unfortunately, recently closed down. Perhaps they'd both been proved wrong.

'Whatever' as the corrugated iron fence dividing Shields and Princes Streets tells me each day as I pass through....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hot Pillows

Right now, at the very moment of typing this, I hate my family.

With a seething white-hot passion that stems entirely from jealousy and loneliness.


Because they're all sleeping peacefully - and have been for hours now - and I'm out here in the study wide awake, feeling the bags under my eyes gather and multiply like rings inside a coffee cup and wondering just why there aren't any notable scientific studies done on how pillows can become so hot and itchy no matter how often you flip them or how come Kylie Minogue's excremental song, 'Hand on Your Heart' is on repeat-play in my brain or where the hell it came from in the first place (the song, not my brain. Although, that's something else to ponder as I lay in the dark, trying not to laugh as I hear Love Chunk's fast-asleep farts in a noisy-so-safe little staccato rhythm - Parp Parp Parp!).

Yeah yeah, I've tried the 'wind down slowly' at least an hour before you go to bed routine. I never drink caffeine after lunch; don't do any vigorous workouts in the evenings and when it's time to pull back the quilt cover and flop into bed, I honestly feel physically and mentally drained. Love Chunks kisses me and says "Good ni----" and he's already in dreamland and forgotten to give me the map to follow him there.

It's not as though I woke up at midday, lay around in a hammock and toddled off to bed when Sapphire did, nooooo sirree. I leapt out of bed at 6:30am, tapped away at the computer for an hour before waking up Sapph, got her breakfast made, lunch packed, Milly and Skipper fed, bin emptied, dishwasher stacked and put a load of washing on.

After walking Sapphire to school, Milly and I came home and I did an eight kilometre run before cooling down and cuddling the rabbit, eating a decent breakfast, having a shower, hanging out the washing and going for a walk down the street to the Post Office, green grocer and bank. Then I worked for several more hours at my desk completing a chocolate review (and photography session), a book review (harder than it sounds), some background info-gathering for three articles on-the-go for the 'My Career' section and rustling up a hopefully utterly educational yet entertaining and compellingly unforgettable powerpoint presentation and notes for a session I'm doing on work/life balance next week. I idly note that my ACDC-loving neighbour has finally learned - in four months - how to change his CD player, because Green Day is being played at number eleven instead.

Being easily immersed, my watch beeps at 3:15 to remind me to stop what I'm doing and go and collect Sapphire from school. At this insistent 'Peep-peep, Peep-peep, Peep-peep' sound, Milly bounces out of her (usually) red-but-now-orange-due-to-her-shedding beanbag, races into the laundry and stares intently at the cupboard, tail wagging. This is the Magic Cupboard. The Keeper of the Lead; that magnificent device that, when fastened onto her collar; means a WALK.

Half an hour later we're back home with a now-limping dog, a hungry child, her guitar, a schoolbag weighng possibly more than the dog (13kg at last count) a handful of newsletters of varying vintages and another handful of rubbish that I've picked up from our street thanks to the high school kids who use our street as their thoroughfare and disposal site.

My hands get cleaned, the wheelie bins put out, the mail collected and read, Sapphire provided with a snack and Skipper the rabbit gets released from his hutch and put in his portable 'playpen' on the lawn. I leave Sapphire out with bunny boy and go back into the study to chat with Bernadette Young on ABC Radio Perth. Off air, I point out to her producer the irony of moving further east only to be discovered by the west.

Afterwards, I successfully manage to convince Sapphire that practicising her viola might be a better use of her time than holding a SingStar ABBA duet with me. She looks surprised at my decision until I explain that there are ten shirts, five pairs of jeans, one poncy and easily-wrinkled designer t-shirt and some posh linen napkins from the dinner party the other night that need to be ironed; preferably in front of a taped episode of 'Master Chef' rather than trying to put a decent crease in Love Chunks' work trousers whilst also holding a microphone singing along to 'I Have A Dream.'

When this is done, I do the weekly Poo Pick-up Performance that is essential when living on a sliver of real estate that is less than one-third the size of our previous one. Milly has a preference for scattering her nuggets at precisely the most public and commonly-traversed places - right by the front gate, Skipper's hutch entrance, the shed door mat, directly under the clothesline and by seven days we're all find ourselves performing a perverse doggy-dung dodging dance that isn't much fun when it gets dark now by 5:30pm.

I'm still ironing when Love Chunks gets home on his bike. He prepares dinner as I take in the washing, put the clean stuff away, give Skipper some cucumber chunks and Milly some god-knows-what meat-and-jelly-from-a-can-chunks and again read through my seminar notes for the twentieth time. We three eat our spaghetti and salad companionably together before LC leaves for his piano lesson and Sapph and I watch 'Thank God You're Here'. Milly is stretched out in front of the sub-bass speaker, snoring. For a creature with hearing that is twenty times greater than ours, I still marvel at her ability to zonk out in front of a booming surround sound system that is only 30cm away from her head.

Sapphire goes to bed at 8:30pm, LC and I go to bed at 11pm. My day wasn't too slack, was it?

Sitting here now at 2:49am there's nothing on my conscience that's weighing me down. Oh alright, except for the fact that I ate two bars of chocolate as part of my review today (it's work you know) and tonight when LC bought out a block of Lindt Swiss Classic and said, "Fancy a bit of chocolate," I nodded eagerly as though it was the best and most unique suggestion ever made because I hadn't eaten any of the magnificent brown stuff for so long and truly deserved some.

What am I, made of stone? I didn't lie to him exactly; I just omitted to explain that I'd already enjoyed some chocolate earlier today. That's not a crime!

No, but neither is insomnia, bugger it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fooling around in Flemington

I could feel his presence even though I couldn't hear him or feel him. His husky male scent always alerted me to the possibility of danger, excitement and .... a quick peck on the cheek.

But no, today was a bit different. He lingered, sniffing me in avidly and I paused, fingers lifted off the keyboard in mid sentence as I became aware of his aftershave, minty-fresh breath cooling on my neck ----

---- as he started rubbing my shoulders.

"Oooh," I sighed rapturously, "This is an unexpected bonus for 7am, Love Chunks."

His strong, confident hands started kneading, expertly moving down lower and lower until ----

----- "HEY! You're not massaging me, you're wiping your hands on my bathrobe!"

Skipping out of the room he called out, "Well it is made of towelling."

I should have known. It was coming from the same guy, who, back in our Flemington flat in 1994, wiped his wet-but-washed hands on my not-quite-awake face and said, "Dontcha just hate it when you accidentally piss on your fingers?"

I married him less than a year later.

Monday, May 11, 2009

You shook me all afternoon long

Since moving here, we've gone from a largish house and garden in sprawling Adelaide to a compact-but-renovated house in Flemington.

The front yard, as you can see here, is miniscule, so apart from Milly deciding it makes the perfect place to drop her butt nuggets, we tend to wrinkle our noses in disgust, slip the key in the front door and forget what we just saw and smelled.

The back garden is the size of a party-pizza box and has a block of flats looming over it from the eastern side with at least one tenant favouring ACDC at level eleven during the early afternoons.
On Auction Day, straight after we'd been the final bidders and had sat in the kitchen negotiating the sale price (the owners were in the bedroom) and signed the documents thrust in front of us with gleeful-but-shaking hands, Love Chunks and I stood outside in the unseasonally freezing November hail for a few minutes, grinning at each other.

"We've just BOUGHT A HOUSE!" He hugged me and I kissed him heartily, only to open my eyes and see an unshaven bloke in trakkie pants in the distance over LC's left shoulder enjoying a smoke on his balcony and the impromptu affection-fest we were putting on for his apparent benefit.

"Er, hello there," I called out, hoping that he'd shift his gaze before me. He did.

It was then that I decided that even though we'd potentially have twelve separate households looking down on our pocket-sized garden, gym shed and BBQ-area, I wasn't going to restrict the way I lived my life.

It isn't as though I'm a habitual streaker who's fond of doing nude cartwheels, or operate a thriving meth-lab in the bike shed. Nor am I a volatile junkie, a Tourette's sufferer with a foghorn voice, a born-again bible reader or into homespun Satanic rituals, but if I want to serenade Milly ("There was a showgirl, her name was Milly, she had blue ribbons in her hair and a dress cut down to there...."), call out to the rabbit ("Hey Spunky Buns, want a bunch of parsley?") or try double-dutch skipping with Sapphire then I'm damn well going to.

Our neighbours on the west side are two quiet Scottish doctors who work nights, so they tend to stir late morning/lunchtimes and the occasional whiff of coffee and the mewing of their cat is a hint they're outside in their courtyard sunning themselves.

Apart from saying "Hi" as we wheel our bins out on on the kerb Wednesday nights or offer to collect each other's junk mail during holidays, they mostly hear our lives rather than see them. Their cat, Hendrix, likes to parade along the wooden fence dividing our back gardens, luxuriating in the thrill of sending Milly berserk and enjoying the fact that he's the only creature that can actually get her to bark.

Kerry says all she can hear is me saying, "Oh shoosh Milly, he's just teasing you. Go find something better to do, like lick your date or eat Skipper's vegan poo poos." Stuart joined us and said, "I tend to hear a lot of heavy breathing and sometimes a bit of really weird, toneless singing, but usually it's only every seventh word."

Ah yes, that'd be me on the treadmill. Headphones and iPods are marvellous motivators (trust me: Neil Diamond's 'Crunchy Granola Suite' is a top song to run to on a drizzly Monday morning) but can fool the listener/runner into believing that their/her occasional heartfelt but heaving sing-alongs are being effectively drowned out by the sounds being pumped into their eardrums.

Afterwards, I tend to flop on this rather lacy park bench (proudly chosen by Sapphire, pictured here with Milly), huffing and puffing, flicking drops of sweat on the ground and scratching Milly's ears, saying out loud, "That was a tough one, Milly-gram. I farted in time to the start of 'Echo Beach', thanks to Love Chunks' home made sweet potato soup last night."

It's only then I look up and see at least one of the twelve balconies has someone standing there, trying to look over the mechanic's shed onto Mt Alexander Road or towards the big yellow cheesestick and red toast-rack on the Tullamarine. If they make eye contact, I'll smile and wave and know that every single time they'll be the first to avert their gaze.

And that's fine by me. When Sapphire sits on the bench and occasionally sheds a tear about the friends she still misses or we're sipping our microwaved hot chocolates and cuddling, I don't want to feel self conscious or as though we should be editing our lives.

Besides, our clothesline is wedged up against the fence of the flats and our jocks, knickers, bras and socks always get hung closest to their side. Why should we have to look at underwear when we're playing in the garden?