Sunday, August 30, 2009

BnB Bollocks

Love Chunks, Sapphire, Sapphire's friend Juliet, Milly and I have just returned from a weekend away: two nights in a cosy Bed-and-Breakfast that was dog-friendly.

Actually, it was more than 'friendly', it allowed dogs inside. And no, the accommodation wasn't a one-star kennel featuring a self-serviced cement run and sackcloth hammock but a rather nice four star cottage featuring the usual floral curtains, watercolours of blue wrens, blue-and-lemon themed cushions, curtains and dinner plates as befitting the sixty-something proprietor and owner of a poodle named Pattie.

As we know, BnBs are the lifeblood of twee little country towns and villages that are fortunate enough to be located within a one or two hour drive from any big city. Stressed-out slickers arrive on a Friday night, congratulating themselves on having beaten the damn traffic and in finding the hidden key to the cottage that'll help them get away from it all. Then they lug in their fifteen overnight bags + laptops, golf buggy, K2-standard hiking boots, half-dozen bottles from the cellar and corolla-sized goretex jackets inside before struggling to get the f***ing fire lit.

Our BnB featured the deepest domestic spa bath I'd ever seen. Sure, Conde Naste travel writers might have lowered their arses into more swirling jets than I have, but this particular tub required a deep breath and a small prayer before stepping over the edge and down, down, d-o-w-n into the black, dark deepness of an abandoned well.
"Hello? Helllloooooo? Is there any bubble bath up there you can throw to me?"

The girls swam in there for two hours, even going so far as daring each other to do underwater somersaults. By bedtime, they were ready for another meal due to their exertions and Sapphire's eyes were so fogged up with lemon-myrtle moisturising bath gel she bumped into a nest of lacquered side tables.

The following morning at 6am Love Chunks and I rubbed the sleep from our eyes, wondering what lucky, innocent and clever childless yuppies were doing in our one-kilometre BnB border (sleeping in until 11am presumably), as we were jarred awake by the giggles of two 10-year old girls lumbering around the jiggling weatherboard house on stilts with all the delicacy of a dozen deranged elephants. They were accompanied by an excited a dog who'd earlier decided to drop a few fragrant butt nuggets on the carpet by the back door.

The PAL-odorous pong meant that ignoring the chaos, or shouting out, "You can put a DVD on and make yourself some hot milo" wasn't good enough. As such, we reluctantly flung back the warm, down-filled, floral-frilled quilt, flicked on the brass-edged lights and dealt with a Saturday morning start up that was most definitely anti the spirit of a BnB (Bed and Bludge). The poo was immediately exorcised, the kids fed and we adults ingested some stray grains of coffee via a dusty plunger. Three long hours later it was 9am and deemed a suitable time to leave the cottage and check out the quaint little town.

It must be a contractural obligation for main streets reliant on BnB dollars to have at least four coffee shops (all with 'cosy log fires'), a sweets shop, a chocolate and cake store, two bookshops (one catering for gay and lesbian interests), three organic bakeries, a historical society, a beautician and day spa complex, a Tarot reader and seventeen gift and curio shops. Naturally, by 11am we'd drunk three coffees (adults), two milkshakes (kids, with leftovers consumed by one adult), eaten eight hand-made chocolates each, shared two gluten-free friands, purchased several books, two hand-stitched fabric key rings with a dog and turtle motif and were looking for something to do that didn't involve hanging around outside.

.....or eating anything with cocoa, dates, toffee, caffeine, hard rock candy or lemon butter in it.

Wandering around a drafty old stable complex looking at over-priced antiques generally leaves me feeling about as fascinated as a insomniac on an anaesthetist's table but it's a hell of a lot more fun than standing outside in the street with merciless knife blades of freezing rain attacking my face from a sideways angle. Plus, in a couple of hours it would be lunchtime, and an opportunity to replace my sugars with salts, fats, starches and meats.

Never have two hours passed so entertainingly. The girls were fascinated with the jewellery, books, 1980s fashions, toys and games on display and Love Chunks and I punctuated our fascinated strolls with "You've got to be kidding" or "Eighty dollars for pink trousers that my Dad rejected in the seventies? They're dreamin'!"

We felt sorry for the poor model who had to pose - nude and frozen, at an angle that surely would only excite a Chiropractor setting up their business in the town:

We wondered if this author - and the featured knitter - was sober when this book was dreamed up and why the RSPCA merely stood idly by and allowed the poor little creature to suffer so cruelly:

.......and questioned how bored, stoned, lonely or public toilet door head-buttingly bonkers you'd have to be to find this one a fascinating read:

No matter. It was time for our wood-oven-fired pizza lunch with the ubiquitous wedges, rocket salad and another gallon of coffee for us and lime spiders for the girls.

Naturally, no trip to BnB land would be complete without a visit to the local chocolatier. The first one - a gorgeous little shop that also sold coffee and cakes - was friendly, affordable and enthusiastic.

The second one, located out of town and after our antiques entertainment and lunch was a tad more Nazi-ish:
"We don't give out free samples because we get over 14,000 visitors a year."
Yeah well I bet most of those visitors bought at least a $5 hot chocolate or one of your $2-a-piece 'hand made' chocolates made in moulds on a factory floor using premade chocolate but you can't spare a half-gram sized bud in a dish by your cash register!

"Please buy bottled water. We are unable to give you water to drink because we are only on rainwater and health restrictions do not permit us."
So, while we're reading the wall displays about how you made our straw-bale house with your bare hands and lined it with mud and put in solar power panels and windmills, we have to purchase a plastic bottle of water from you for for three times the price of the supermarket down the road?

"RACV Top 101 Tourism Experiences in Victoria" screamed their brochure.
I'm not sure what their postcards or stickers said because they were two bucks each, but I didn't realise that this state had 101 tourist spots, let alone top ones.

'Not just a shop in town.'
Ooooherr, are you referring to the other chocolate shop, in town? The one with FREE samples, cheaper product, Australian-made chocolate and staff willing to chat, help and show you around and give you free water to drink? That's pretty a bitchy approach for the so-called laid back, get-away-from-it-all BnB land!

But yes, I bought some chocolate. And ate it.
But I'll have youse all know - I didn't sign the guestbook or buy a dumb drink but returned to their "Fifty-Plus Carpark!" (aged a mere forty years old) sticklerless and thirsty. That'll teach em.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Never shag a gift horse when it’s down

The only books I ever saw in my younger brother Dave’s hands were Asterix comics or novels he was forced to endure for year twelve English.

Twenty years on still sees him cautiously ask if there’s a movie available whenever any discussions about books arise. Despite this, he’s forged a successful career as a town planner and seminar speaker. He is required to attend and actively participate in more than his fair share of council meetings, committees, objection hearings and conferences and throughout his adult life he has discovered that his lack of reading means that he is living a parallel life when it comes to using common phrases and old sayings.

Unusually however, this has not made him an object of scorn but as someone who has breathed new life into these hackneyed cliches and nuggets of so-called advice. For instance he’s recently worked out that Faye Acrumbly is not a malevolent committee member always mentioned but never seen but is instead someone who is actually working under the official title of ‘Fait Accompli’ and already done what she set out to do. She’s organised, is Faye.

Dave often feels as though his good project proposals and ideas get ‘Nipped in the butt.’ One’s backside may not be quite as delicate a descriptor as ‘bud’ but is certainly a deviation that most of his colleagues can understand and empathise with, especially during annual performance review time. Admitting to being caught ‘butt naked’ during a quick change by his car after an early morning surf during a week-long seminar on the coast makes a fair bit more sense as well.

We have a lively discussion over his use of the phrase ‘Six of one, a dozen of the other’. When told by his know-it-all sister that it’s meant to be ‘Six of one, half a dozen of the other,’ he merely rolls his eyes, shrugs and shoots back with, “Not where I work or live. Since when have things proved to be even-handed or consistent?” Fair point.

Doing something ‘on the spare of the moment’ makes him seem well-planned and organised rather than impetuous: a boon, apparently, in the local council planning domain. ‘Spurs’ would be far too aggressive and less team-oriented when it comes to trying to educate and cajole greedy property developers or overly-ambitious architects about the importance of considering environmental sustainability, preservation of streetscapes and planning laws. He thinks quickly on his feet, does Dave.

Neither of us know the origin of ‘Never the twain shall meet’, and he prefers using ‘Never the train shall tweet.’ He doesn’t have time for Twitter or SMS and prefers to spend his time commuting doing other stuff like stare out of the window, chatting to his mates or working on his laptop if he gets a seat – anything other than get a good novel out and start reading it.

Like a fool in a china shop, he rarely beats around the buses when getting to the point is concerned. "Why can’t I toot my own horn?” he asks, “For all intensive purposes, if you don’t toot your horn these days, you’ll never get let into the traffic flow, and as for not being able to have my cake and eat it too, that’s just pointless and cruel.” Being gracious in defeat is all very noble, he admits, but being gracious in the sheets ensures that he continues to have a happy and lasting marriage.

He starts warming up to his clashing cliches. ‘Don’t count your chickens by their cover,’ is a perfectly reasonable thing to say in his view. “Don’t remember my year eight agriculture class? I chose the white chooks for my project and they ended up pecking each other’s feathers off.”

Given his lack of love for literature, it makes sense that chickens are going to be selected and judged far more frequently than book covers in his unique world. Still, he refuses to ‘give up the goat,’ says he’s proud of being a ‘country bunkum’ and hopes he can remain analogous when it comes to being able to criticise his profession and the people he works with. “I’m all for following my dreams but only if they involve supermodels and beer and not the one where I turn up nude to my nanna’s house.”

To be fair to my lovely young brother, he’s invented a pretty effective one of his own. No holes barred, it perfectly summarises the ridiculous amount of stress we place on ourselves and sanctimoniously say to others: ‘Put your best foot forward, nose to the grindstone, head down-bum up, back to the wall, shoulder to the wheel and keep your eyes on the prize.’ If you can manage that, every stitch in time won’t gather any pesky moss or spoil your broth.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yackety Sax played backwards

I've come to realise that the days of loud music, screaming at the top of my lungs, expensive drinks and and hanging out with heaps of other hot and sweaty people in my teens and twenties is eerily similar to being forty and attending Sapphire's school fund-raiser Trivia Night.

Trouble is, it's us that have to perform. We've paid our fifteen bucks a head, brought along our cheese, fruit and dip platters and surveyed the other tables of eager parents, ring-ins and quiz buffs, wondering just who we'll be prepared to chat up during the scoring break. Love Chunks cracks his knuckles in preparation; Marilyn sips her red wine, Dom and Abby are busy hushing beautiful baby Maya, John is nervously scoffing peanuts, Jackie is examining the 'mystery faces' sheet, I'm surreptitiously trying to reach for the M&Ms instead of the strawberries and Helen has got her Game. Face. ON.

We're two people short on our table, and an intense discussion immediately commences on 'phoning friends'. Do we do it? Do we, as responsible, mature and reasonably moral parents, stoop to SMS-ing the internet or brainier mates at home for the answers? We've got three lawyers on our table and decide that they've got enough negative baggage to overcome without the accusations of snakey game tactics.

Instead, we do what most other parents, out on a rare Saturday night unencumbered with kids (except Dom and Abby, who have one out of three still with them) do, and reach for the drinks. It's only the Silent Auction at this stage ("Who for the love of Lemon Lycra Leggings is going to publicly bid for the book titled 'How to help your child overcome learning difficulties'?") but we're already screaming to make ourselves heard. Acoustics in ageing community halls with saggy ceiling tiles that still snag the detritus of tired Christmas tinsel only make the sound louder.

Round one - General Knowledge. Turns out we don't have much.

Round two - Science. Who knew that chlorine is the largest element found in sea water? We didn't.

Round three - Telly. I'm not too proud to admit that I stood up, did a Lleyton Hewitt fist-pump and yelled, "Yessssss" when it was 'Yackety Sax', the theme for the chick-chase scenes at the end of the Benny Hill Show, that had been played backwards.

Round Four. Still seemed to be telly. Poor, tired, father-of-three, trying to help Abby with the baby, Dom. He tried, oh-so kindly and quietly over the chaos and food-guzzling table of tenacious triviers, to say, "It sounds like the theme to 'The Dukes of Hazzard'," but his shame at even knowing that kind of thing prevented him from pushing the point. As he changed a nappy near the fire exit door, we insisted on it being 'Honky Tonky Woman' and lost.

Round Five. Music. Not too shabby, we got Berry Gordy as the founder of Motown but didn't get Hells Bells by ACDC. We felt a combination of happy, sad and tipsy.

John tried to feed himself grapes and missed his mouth each time. Helen and Jackie were yelling at each other like sisters as they grappled with the challenge of writing down neat answers, Marilyn developed a pathological hatred for the two comperes and Abby looked resigned to spending her hard-won evening with a table of snack-guzzling know-nothings who were loudly debating whether bidding for karate classes at a suburb 40 kilometres away on a weeknight was a good idea for a six year old......

Round Six. Sport. All eyes were on my husband of many years, dear, sweet Love Chunks. I was shoving mixed handfuls of salted pumpkin seeds and M&Ms into my gob, knowing I had nothing to contribute other than a satisfied silence. I was glad too, that LC was busy trying to remember who won the Brownlow medal in 2003 and didn't take note of the Cholesterol-straining volume of chocolate that was being inhaled by the woman seated next to him. Alas, it was Dom who starred: Don Bradman's batting average was 99.94.

Round Seven. Famous Faces. Germaine Greer - tick; Ricky Gervais, tick; Charles Manson in the early days - cross. Helen pointed out Kristine; a blonde-bobbed combination of Kate Winslet and Keira Knightley at the peak of health, who sauntered by in tiny designer jeans, knee-high boots and tight top: "She's a GP who has three kids."
"We HATE her!"

Round eight - Acronyms. NIMBY yes, BANANA - no (and I can't remember it now). ADIDAS is to my pontificating, bossy, pompous chagrin, is 'All Day I Dream About Sex' and not the combination of the German sports clothing founder's name - Adi Dassler. For a few moments the table were very impressed with my knowledge as I insisted that this was correct. Ten minutes later when the page was being marked, someone threw a squashed strawberry at me (Love Chunks insists it wasn't him)...

By the final round, most of us had lost our voices, not won any incidental prizes, drunk all the wine, eaten the best bits of the dip and nuts and found ourselves in seventh place out of fifteen. The M&Ms had not fulfilled their famous promise and were indeed sweating in my anxious hands. One of the comperes was auctioning off the final donation of the night: "What am I bid for ten sessions with a personal trainer?"

Love Chunks expressed what we - eight tired, emotional, disappointed, hoarse and slightly drunk parents out past their bedtimes were all thinking: "Buy them yourself, fat boy."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Woolly Mammoth

"Hi, My name is Mike Carmichael and I live in Alexandria, Indiana with my wife Glenda. I'd like to tell you about Alexandria's only ROADSIDE ATTRACTION...the Worlds Largest Ball of Paint. Imagine an ordinary baseball... Now imagine that same baseball with over 19,100 coats of paint on it. Getting the picture? Good, because that's exactly what my wife, Glenda and I have done for the past 28 1/2 years. Now that ordinary baseball that once weighed less than one pound now weighs in around 1,700 pounds!"

Hmmmm, looks more like a deformed Malteser to me, or did Mike's surgeon save the testicle he removed during the cancer scare? This patient and determined couple's story can be found on their website: because I wish you to know that I truly did not make the story up.

To be honest, I wish I had made it all up because it is so incomprehensible that an apparently normal-looking couple were prepared to do this for nearly 30 years and that they're proud of it. It doesn't say much for the town either, if this lumpy lovesack is the town's only attraction..... To be fair though, I'm not exactly covering myself in glory because you could also quite rightly ask just what in the hell I was doing that was so important and noble that let me to this item in the first place.

I don't know what 2009 is the Official year of (Twitter? Parsnips? Ugly animals people never visit at the zoo? The Ped Egg?) - but how about we put in a bid for the Year of Useful Hobbies. Ones that have a point and can be discussed with strangers at dinner parties without receiving pitying and bored looks.

My guilt is probably as strong as the paintball people because my unofficial hobby is knitting. No, nothing fanc - all I can do is the basic loopy, crinkled stitch (the name of which escapes me) that my grandmother taught me when I was nine and even then, have only ever been able to knit rows. Scarves aplenty, but thanks to the stitches I dropped the end product was vastly tapered at one end so that it resembled a triangle that had been on the rack and then peppered with bullet holes.

These days I'm trying to put my sheltered-workshop knitting skills to some good use by knitting long scarves that have seven individually coloured segments that are 45 stitches wide and 40 rows long. Mum then gathers seven of these Tom Bakers, sews them up and gives them to the mens' homeless shelter for use in their hostels and as 'sorry, the inn is full, here's some bedding consolation prizes.

I've been bidding for and buying balls of wool on e-bay. Yeah, I know: it's hardly as scintillating as Beatles memorabilia, signed first editions of The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy or toast shaped like Elvis, but it's a way of getting cheap, cast-off yarn in dark, manly colours that hide all kinds of grass, beer, chewing gum and boot stains.

It also means that it's easy enough to do it in front of the telly and convince myself that no, just because I'm wearing elasticated tracksuit pants, ugg boots and am slouching on the lounge sucking squares of chocolate in front of 'The Big Bang Theory' I'm not a sloth; far from it. I'm knitting for charity. The sad thing is, my dinner party companion I'm regaling this to has normally sculled their third glass of sauv blanc by then and is nodding inanely, not realising that it takes me until Spring to knit enough scarves for one measly blanket.....

The shame of my remedial recreational abilities doesn't stop there. I also like to read through home design, food and womens' magazines, soaking up every glossy page and earmarking those take my fancy - recipes, home renovation ideas, decor, photos etc. Some I've used for home-made greeting cards that, quite frankly, haven't sold all that well, not even to the reception kids with snot trails leading to their lips at the school fete. It would probably make the local childcare centre really happy if I just dumped my crummy cuttings in their playroom with some curved-end scissors and pots of library paste and got the toddlers to go for it. Chances are their cards would be more successful too.....

Participators of other less-than-scintillating hobbies include my father who was an amateur beekeeper for many years. Every two months, he'd receive a copy of what might possibly be the world's least exciting magazine, The Australasian Beekeeper. "Whoo Hoo Dad, it's here, it's here!" I'd tease, waving the copy and running towards him like a lunatic. "Oh and look - it's got TWO pages of black and white photos instead of just the one!"

He proudly tells me that the highlight of his beekeeping career was having his jars of honey photographed (in black and white, naturally) for the front cover. Kate Moss hasn't achieved that.

A friend's boyfriend was into the adventures of Ivanhoe, King Arthur and related dark ages and mediaeval pursuits. There were apparently enough fellow fans of this time in history to have a Mediaeval society that met every fourth Sunday for a picnic and get-together. They'd gather to eat huge roast chickens and lamb legs (not sure who had to put them in the wheelie bin after the bones had been thrown over their shoulders), scull down mead (there's a reason we don't drink it anymore) and hold a jousting tournament. Each member was dressed as authentically as imagination and budget would allow - chain mail, coats of arms on jerkins (tops folks, tops), leggings (the blokes), ankle boots (yep, ditto), pointy hats (the gals, or add bells for some of the slightly more outgoing boys) and weaponry. The national parks and wildlife authority did not allow them to have horses at the events, and the mind boggles at what the jousting tournaments must have been like on foot.

My musical husband Love Chunks spent many years during school and in his early twenties playing the trumpet and the guitar. He proudly marched in Port Augusta's town band, played for a jazz group and tootled and strummed for many a local function. When he and I got together, both instruments had long been abandoned. No matter how many times I asked him to play something for me he refused.

The only time he got his trumpet out (ooooooherr, that sounds a bit suggestive) it terrorised the dog who shot outside and frantically started digging a tunnel to Mecca. LC has since strummed his guitar for Sapphire a few times, but clams up whenever I've inadvertently lumbered into the room. Pretty useless having two instruments you don't use, isn't it, but perhaps my mocking singing of "Kum bah yah, my lord, Kum bah yah...." isn't too encouraging. I'll make that a resolution to work on - Don't Mock; Encourage.

An old work colleague - who I detested - used to insist that we have the Christmas function at her place. This was presumably so that she could get outrageously pissed and fall off her high-heeled mules with her bed only several metres away but also so that we could see - and be dazzled - by her various collections and taste in decor. She lived in a mock-tudor Mc Mansion with a tiny garden filled with an above ground pool, two fat dogs and three shy cats. The blue plastic sides of the pool were artfully disguised with strategically placed potplants in which she'd placed some fake budgies.

Inside was the real horror - her duck collection. Pot holders, tea towels, boot scrapers, cross stitched pillow covers, paintings, coffee cups, storage tins, wooden trays and figurines. Lots of figurines, stored on flimsy lacquered telephone tables and inside twee kitchen cabinets that engulfed the house. They were made of china, clay, wood, brass, pewter and crystal with the piece-de-resistance being a stuffed one she'd found in an antiques shop. It left me with not only nausea but a secret prayer that someday that little duck army would rise up and find the collective strength to carry out her not so slight frame to the caravan park and de-tox centre where she belonged.

Love Chunks and I are also guilty of saving the back issues of Gourmet Traveller and Delicious Magazines. They hog up space in our cupboards and not once in ten years have either of us sorted through them or referred to an old recipe within them. Why do we save them? Sapphire has a collection of stones and gumnuts she'd gathered two years ago. The stupid little footy-shaped money box she stores them in gets tipped over at least once a week, spilling out the annoying little pellets. Why does she still keep them?

My mother insists on washing out every single yoghurt and margarine container and keeping them in her already over-burdened tupperware drawer so that when it is opened, they fly out like angry frisbees. Why - when will that mythical group of 79 people visit Mum and insist on taking leftovers home at the same time?

These are all unexplainable mysteries, but do point to most of us having collections and hobbies that are our own personal Submarine Screendoors in terms of usefulness in our lives. But maybe that's not such a bad thing. If no-one dies of stress or boredom then who's it going to hurt?

Maybe Sapphire, who looks to be inheriting a truckload of wool, greeting cards and margarine containers....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Can't it wait?

One of the most vulnerable positions that I find myself in far too regularly is when I'm in the shower, hair slathered in shampoo which is dripping down my face like lavender-scented lava rendering me temporarily-but-effectively blind, and then someone opens the bathroom door.

"It's just me," says Love Chunks, "I've got the folks from the flats next door over for a coffee and thought I'd show them around, heh heh."

From the steady trickling noise, I can assume that his weak joke means that there's only a party of one and that party had asparagus for dinner last night. But with the foam from so-called organically gentle nurturing herbal essence natural goodness follical strengthener with Vitamin E and walnut oil inexplicably stinging my eyes like a cruel blast of Mace and wart remover, I am left standing in my birthday suit groping for the hot tap, knowing that our open shower is in a direct line with the door and the mirror by the open window can provide an additional viewing for anyone putting their recycling out in the flats' shared bin area by the fence.

I may be on the modest side when it comes to my displaying my body but nobody likes being naked and blind - unless they're Stevie Wonder with a groupie after a gig.

We've discovered that having one toilet poses a privacy problem even for a relatively small household of three. It's nice to know, however, that we've developed some unspoken but strictly adhered-to bathroom rules when someone's in the shower. No ridiculing the way they choose to wield a shower gel puff sponge (we all have our orders of washing - face, torso and nethers for me or feet, butt and bonce for someone else; it's a free country), or leaving dried semi-circles of toe nail clippings on the vanity. Don't, whatever you do, lean on the towel rail. It's heated and likely to leave you with a pink tattoo of prison bars on your arse.

Sapphire is allowed to clean her teeth when I'm on the throne because even though she can see the lovely side-view of my naked bottom-half in the mirror when she leans to spit out toothpaste in the sink, she's usually too busy reading. Electric toothbrush in one hand (thus deafening her) and a book in the other = No looking at Mum or being unduly disturbed by any unsavoury noises as well as sights.

Number twos are NOT allowed when others are washing their hair, their bodies or their teeth but only when the room is empty for the eager abluter and they've secured the door. Sure, there are times when the bowels are begging for release and Sapphire's having a luxuriously long soak in the radox or Love Chunks is using the clippers but usually sitting still in the loungeroom and trying to focus on something riveting like reading the program guide for Channel 31 can get me through. That and screaming, "HURRY UP, I'M GONNA BLOW IF YOU DON'T LET ME IN!'

And this lack of privacy is not limited to the bathroom either. In the bedroom we might as well have a swinging saloon door for all the walk-ins I endure on a daily basis.

Calm yourselves, I don't mean the folk from next door having paid seats to any Nocturnal Nookie starring Limber Love Chunks and Kinky Kath, I'm talking about the times when I've just showered and have streaked across the passageway to get dressed. Most particularly when I'm half bent over, half-hopping, trying to put my first leg into my knickers. That's when Sapphire wanders in (does she time it to heighten my humiliation?) wanting to know if I've remembered to sign her excursion permission slip or where she's placed her viola case.

Her stunned silence is the first indicator that my pose - everything all flopped, folded or dangling beneath my bowed, bent-over back - is enough to make her forget whatever it was that was concerning her a mere moment ago. Her second reaction is to stare more intently and then comment: "Mum, surely you have nicer pants than those ones?" to the puzzled, "So what would you look like if you didn't do any running?" to the more poignant, "So when did you know you were old?"

My third most vulnerable spot to be found in is on the treadmill in the shed. I'm not naked, nor am I excreting anything more gross than sweat but if someone pops in during my dripping, gasping, grunting stagger I feel a bit violated. If they do decide to wander in, just before they approach the shed door they're likely to hear me grunting out about every seventh word to what I can hear on the iPod:

You've got a great car
Yeah what's wrong with it today
I used to have one too
Maybe I'll come and have a look
I really love your hairdo, yeah
I'm glad you like mine too
See what looking pretty cool will get ya......

Or: You've *gasp* - what's *gasp*- to *gasp*- and *gasp*- your *gasp*- mine *gasp*- will ..... *gasp* ........

I'm as 'naked' as the times when I'm nuded up in the shower in the sense that what I'm doing is equally as unflattering (jiggly bits, like the knicker hopping by the bed each morning), noisy (singing badly, puffing heavily, grunting loudly) and the blindness caused by shampoo is replaced by deafness due to iPod. So, Sapphire or LC walks into the shed and find me with my eyes closed, drops of sweat attractively dangling for dear life at the tip of my nose, chunky-trunks for legs thumping on the treadmill and groaning out every seventh word to the song I'm running to.

It's bloody scary when I'm in my own private zone like that to then be tapped on the shoulder. If you're clackering along on a machine at 12.6km per hour, occasionally emitting a few sonorous farts in time with the music, drenched in sweat and you miss a beat, you'll find yourself flung like mobile monkey dung straight into the shed wall via the very painful exercise bike that is inconveniently in the way.

Perhaps we need a portaloo in the shed and a trip wire......

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blowie up the blower

Growing up in a small Aussie town in the 70s and 80s meant that the entire social life of the families revolved around playing sport: good old AFL or netball in winter and tennis or cricket in summer.

If you were too young, too old or too hopeless to play sport it still wasn't possible to escape it. You were instead required to offer your services in the club canteen, make the afternoon tea, be an umpire, run a meat-tray raffle or be a dedicated spectator either sitting in your warm car watching the footy or in your folding lazy-boy chair under a shady pine tree keeping an eye on the cricket game. Any person who did not play any sport at any time of year who wasn't clearly physically incapacitated or mentally unstable was considered a 'weirdo'. How could sport not be a major part of their lives, the rest of the townsfolk would wonder.

I dutifully played netball until university. Then I was in the big, bad city of Adelaide and didn't feel as though I needed the bitchy, pointless game of throw-catch-stop-start-throw to have a humming social life. I'd had enough of being the tallest player which always equated to being Goal Keeper: a thankless and boring task with only one third of the court to run around in and wearing a pleated skirt that would blow up in the freezing winds and give the local bogan boys something to snigger about.

Tennis, however, was my game. From my first coaching lessons at age eleven (and first inter-primary school relationship - with Steven from Murray Bridge North Primary and me, from Murray Bridge South), I loved it. A few years went by between formal coaching and of bashing the ball against the back wall of the house or with my brothers on our quiet, gutterless street which sufficed until I was fourteen and ready to join the local church tennis club.

It was intoxicating, especially being able to play a doubles match, a set of singles and mixed doubles all before lunch. I was fairly reasonable at it and for this I thank my two brothers. They taught me many things - not the least to give a good dead-leg, hen-peck and fart-in-the-face - but playing after-tea tennis with me in the long summer months was brilliant. Both of them were fiercely competitive, especially Rob who was (still is in fact) two years older than me.

His tongue-out, steely-eyed, battle-to-the-death determination inspired me also to put my face and elbows on the bitumen surface line in order to reach that fuzzy yellow ball at any cost. Apeing his tactics meant that I once beat a boy a year older than me - he was 16 and I was 15 - and in his anger and humiliation he hurled his racquet over the net at me. It was pretty damn flattering actually.

By sixteen I was in the adult competition, and the games were played from 1pm in the afternoon until sometimes 8pm that night. There were no heat rules then - if it was 43C, then it was 43C and you still went out to play but with a wet rag tied around the neck and took two willow drink coolers instead of one. Despite having the skin of an English rose and fluoro-tubes for legs, I was lucky enough to be able to stand the heat: often the only way to victory was to be the player standing and not in a dead faint from heat stroke.

What wasn't so much fun was being the team captain. Not surprisingly, a few more team members than usual used to ring in 'crook' on days that were above 38C and, again not surprisingly, anyone listed as a 'reserve player' weren't exactly overjoyed to be asked to fill in for them. "Errr..... (long pause)... errr.....I can't mate; I have a bone in me leg..."

The country courts we visited and played at were not the most hospitable of places but usually set in scratchy Mallee scrubland. If you happened to get a bit carried away and thwack a ball way over the fence it was likely to land in a sheep paddock or bush and coat itself in three corner jacks.

These evil little prickles were in plague proportions and studded the balls like randy cloves on a pickled egg. They took ages to pick out and you normally scored a few hanging on for dear life in the pom-pom hanging over your ankle socks as well. Dad once put a few in a matchbox and gave them to a mate, telling him that some baby Thorny Devil lizards were inside.

My mother had the foresight to see the impending dangers of sunburn, so I was always slathered in fifteen plus sunscreen, the highest 'factor' legally allowed back in 1984. When a dry northerly wind blew, I'd get double the sun protection when the red dust would land on the lotion and cover me with nature's version of cocoa on a truffle. I'd go home that night with white crow's feet around my eyes and only my teeth a cleaner colour than the rest of me.

In addition to the heat, prickles, dust and the fetching scenery were the flies.

Big, buzzy blowies that would never rack off no matter how angrily you waved your hands around your face: no, these buggers were so starved of food and moisture they'd intensify their attempts to land on human flesh and aim straight for the mouth, nostrils or tear ducts. This would lead to more angry arm and hand waving by the owner of the moist body parts but the flies would buzz even more insistently and start crawling slowly - almost insolently - over your lips and into the ears. Take my word for it: these tiny little insects have the power to make a person insane.

In fact one day I was called upon to umpire a mens' doubles match. These were my least favourite because blokes tended to take it all extremely seriously and this required more alertness than my usual, "Oh yeah, I think that shot was OK Michelle," or "Was that one alright with you, Shaz?"

On and on and on the rally went and just as Trevor volleyed a winner, a blowie chose that exact moment to fly right up my nose. (If you've seen my honker you'll realise that it's not a difficult thing to do - people have asked what price I'd charge if it was rented out as a warehouse). Not only that, but Malcolm wasn't so certain that Trevor's shot had landed in: "Well, Kath - is it out or is it in?"

I was too busy staggering around with an infernal insect ticklishly crawling its germ-infested way up my nasal passage with a belligerent buzzing sound bouncing around like ECT therapy in my head. "
Oooh ack, arck arrrgh!" was my response. By this time Trevor, Malcolm, Dennis and Wayne strolled up to the net and stood staring at me.

"Arck arck arck!"
Somehow the fly had manoeuvred its way through my nasal S-bend and ended up finding its escape route via my mouth. "Ooooh yuck - where's some water?"

~~ pause ~~

Malcolm asked again, in a slightly annoyed tone: "Well, what was it - IN or OUT?"

I might have only been a teenager but their lack of sympathy was annoying.

"Well Trev, the fly was in and now it's out. Toss a bloody coin and work it out yourselves."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tram Talk III

Kathy and her family were over from Sydney for the weekend, and we crammed onto the Number 59 tram towards Yum Cha.

"You know, Will's still got the big Ernie toy you have gave him when he was a baby," Kathy said, leaning in so she could be heard above the rolling and clanging of the carriage.
Will nodded. "He's had a few nose jobs though."
"We accidentally left him behind in South America a couple of years ago, but the hotel posted him back and he was none the worse for his travels."

"I'm glad to hear it," I replied, puffing myself up. "I make a point now of always finding new arrivals a big cuddly Sesame Street character because they last forever. Patrick is nearly 13 and Big Bird is still going strong, isn't he Sapph?"

Like Will, she nodded in serious agreement. "And I remember you giving Jack the Cookie Monster when I was only three and he's still looking really good."

A chap sitting next to Kathy suddenly chimed in. "You know, I once bought my nephew Count Von Count from Sesame Street about twenty years ago and he's kept it!"

Smiling politely, I took a closer look at him and it popped out before I could censor myself: "Well I gotta say, mate, you look a bit like The Count yourself, what with the black slicked back hair and pale complexion."

Love Chunks, stricken, shot me a 'You're Going To Get Punched By A Nutter One Of These Days And I Don't Know If I'll Be Bothered To Save You' look.

The Count laughed. "Yeah, I suppose I do - I am Romanian, as it happens!"


At 10:30 in the morning, amongst the 'ka-chinka ka-chinka ka-chinka' tinny beats of the iPODs and the damp musty smell of hot bodies and wet jackets, I saw him walk past the window, bum in danger of being shaved off as our tram zoomed by.

"What the hell is that?" I was thinking it, but accidentally said it out loud, and the three others crammed in the space with me followed my pointed finger.

Perhaps it was Billy Connolly if he'd been born on the other side of the world and was penniless, insane and even braver with his clothing choices. Our Billy had on fluoro green and black zig-zagged lycra leggings paired with white business socks and black slip on shoes with ridiculously pointy toes. So pointy - and unlikely to be filled with anything remotely resembling a human toe - that they were curling upwards like a pervy old elf.

On his upper half he wore a voluminous white caftan studded with pearls around an intricately embroidered chest that was savagely pulled in (no mean feet considering his midriff rivalled that of Santa Claus) at the waist with a cartoonishly large Rodeo belt. Struggling to contain his flyaway long grey hair and beard was a Peruvian knitted hat with side flaps and bobbles at the ends and a Green Nike sports bag completed the ensemble.

He was striding fast towards the hospital and barely noticed our tram dragging at his bag.

The young lawyer guy pulled out his ear buds. "Is he voluntarily admitting himself into psychiatric care or a Clown Doctor about to start duty?"

Bored Shop Girl stopped picking at her nails and cracked a smile. "Knowing my luck, it's my next boyfriend."


I was heading back towards home on the infamous Number 57 tram; the pongier, louder and dodgier one that winds its way through North Melbourne and Footscray and seems to have more than its fair share of shouting couples, sleeping bogans and discarded souvlakis.

Not today though. The carriage had only six of us inside, all quietly obeying the Personal Space Code Of Conduct by sitting in our own double seat and leaving at least a row of empty seats between us and the next person.

We stopped at the corner of Abbotsford Street and Flemington Road. For ages. So long that instead of remaining inside our own cones of silence, we all started looking around at each other, raising an eyebrow or two, to break the personal space provisions and start up a dialogue.

"What is happening?" asked Yoda, finally letting relaxing the death grip he had on his vinyl shopping trolley.

"I don't know," said the Indian nurse, still wearing her ID tags around her neck and folding up her half-completed Search-A-Word from No Idea magazine.

"Well I'm gunna have a smoke while I've got a chance", said Beery-pong guy with a rat tail.

"Me too", said Grey Hoodie student. He looked at Beery Pong. "Do you have a light?"

"Yeah sure," he said, as they stepped off.

Our driver was now on the median strip having a sly smoke himself. For the purpose of us, his puzzled passengers, every now and then he'd gesture impatiently at his surroundings, look at his watch in frustration and glance again at his mobile phone. "My replacement driver isn't here!" he said loudly, so that we could all hear.

The fifty-something lady woke up. "Why have we stopped?" she yawned, eyeing off my Haigh's and Lindt bags.
"I think the other driver is late and half the tram's out having a smoke."
"Oh, that's not a bad idea. I might do that as well."

Only Yoda, No Idea Nurse and I were left. "Does this happen a lot?" I asked.
They both shook their heads no. "So you guys aren't smokers either?" Again, they shook their heads.

The nurse leaned over. "I don't know about him----" she gestured towards Yoda, "----but I'm a chocolate lover."
"Oh, heh heh, yeah well, if we're trapped, heh heh, we might have to eat some," I mumbled before clutching them tighter to my chest and saying more brightly, "Maybe I'll step outside too and get some fresh air."

Too late. Beery Pong, Student and 50-something all stepped in, faces rosy from the cold air and their impromptu bonding session. Our Tram Driver had disappeared, and on rushed a dead ringer for Pat from Eastenders, gasping out, "Sorry Sorry Sorry folks, all my fault. I was stuck in traffic, can you believe it? On another tram too!"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First Impressions, 8:50am

She's in her dark charcoal power suit, snug leather trenchcoat and matching boots and a bright red slick of lipstick kissing her curly haired son goodbye at the school gate.

She glances over at me: worn runners, leggings dusted in dog hairs and puckered at the knees, baggy mens' t-shirt, polar fleece over-run with fluff balls and a voice yet to unravel. "SAPPHIRE! Don't forget you've got viola at 11am, guitar at lunchtime and junior strings after that, OK? Oh and Sapph - tell your teacher that I didn't have any soft drink bottles or food scraps for the class excursion to the Council depot today because it was bin night and it's all been taken away... and don't dawdle home because you have tennis lessons straight after school, so SEE YOU LATER!"

She glances away, perhaps thinking it's no surprise that Sapph is in an obvious hurry to get through the gate and away from a woman who clearly rejects morning showers or clean clothes.

I nod to a few other parents at the gate who hail from the Horn of Africa. They all reel back in horror as Milly the dog trots past - one goes so far as to hop to the other side of the street. They've seen her now for eight months; their children all eagerly rush to pat her after school and I throw out my most dazzling and approachable smile but still they avoid me. Is it because I haven't brushed my teeth yet?

No matter, I have a meeting to get to. I'm joining John, the irrepressible Chairperson of the Flemington Association as he meets with a local graphic designer to discuss a new project that we'll hopefully get some funding for. They're at the corner cafe having coffee and a chat before they leave for their respective workplaces and I'm keen to express my enthusiasm for the project and offer what I can to help it get up and running.

On the way through, I say "Good morning" to the Lollypop man on Mt Alexander Road, who Never. Ever. Smiles. Or greets me back. Ever. It has now become a battle of wits - I say hello, he snobs me off with contempt, I smile as if to say, 'You acknowledged me, you git, just by deliberately snubbing me' and walk on with an exaggerated swagger. ....... Is it my eyes, with brows and lids still so puffy with sleep that they lap over my pupils, suggesting I'm Clive James' lovechild but without the wit or wardrobe mistress?

No answer from John as I call him on the mobile; Milly yanking forcefully on the lead attempting to catch the pigeons feasting on the bread thrown by the mechanics on the corner of the street as I slip on the cobbles and lean rightwards to balance myself. Some vaguely-familiar parents are passing by with their kids dressed in pyjamas for a fund-raiser today: Batman, Dora, The Hulk and Barbie feature on flannelette trousers with pale pink ugg boots already stained with mud.

I throw out the comment, "Boy, I wish I was still in my pyjamas" at a Dad passing by and he snorts a response that I choose to interpret as friendly agreement when I suspect it's more "Yeah well you look like you still are, lady."

Oh for Pharksakes, it's EVERYWHERE. Litter. Wet junk mail brochures, greasy Red Rooster boxes, paper serviettes, crushed mixer cans, bendy white straws and fruit boxes. For Sapphire's sake I quickly look around to check that no kids are watching and start picking it up, still struggling to pull Milly back in my direction. Scoffing Dad looks back for some reason and sees lycra straining at the seams as my butt is facing his way, me busy picking up a coke can. More Crazy Bag Lady-like I could not possibly be.

Further down Wellington street, the other Lollypop man is on duty, but this one is far friendlier. And more vocal. And, quite clearly more simple. "HALLO" he waves at me, as if we're halfway house sheltered-workshop buddies. My attire suggests that we are. "Hello," I chime back, smiling. He ventures over to ruffle Milly's ears. At least he's not afraid of her, or of me.

We reach the street that the cafe is on. Milly stops stubbornly which means one thing - time to hatch a nugget. She looks sheepish and ashamed and hates me standing there staring at her so I look at an elderly couple with matching zimmer frames shuffle past, whistling as I wait. Zimmer Lady mutters, "Messing up our streets...." to Mister, so when Milly's done I ostentatiously rustle my doggy doo bag (a nappy bag in this case) and pick it up in a pantomime pose Marcel Marceau would be proud of.

There'll be a bin somewhere along here, surely....? I keep walking but only spot other litter and furtively forgotten turds along the footpath. The warm, slightly peach-scented bag is swinging in my hands when I'm in line with the cafe window and see John and Tess sitting there.

"Come in," John mouths, and I automatically wave back, forgetting about the bag in my hand and that the thin plastic is transparent. Tess turns around to look at who John is gesturing to and her smile is frozen when she sees an unkempt, shabby woman brandishing two enormous snags of shit in her hands.

"Nice one," says the apprentice builder, standing on the kerb watching my embarrassment.

BAM! A sheet of rusty corrugated iron from the roof is flung by his comrade onto the ground, scaring another butt blast out of Milly and causing me to let go of the already-filled bag which lands at his feet.

Let's hope that second impressions overtake the first ones.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Proscuitto pizza and painless porridge

I couldn’t eat toast for years when I was drinking heavily, because it was too noisy.”
Clarissa Dickson-Wright

I’ve felt that way a few times myself.

On Friday morning, that horrible old feeling was there again and it was my own damn fault. Nobody forced me. There wasn’t any peer pressure, nor any compelling need to be ‘with it’, to fit in, be part of the cool crowd. No bloke to impress, job to score, prize to win. I willingly did it all myself: elbows creaking from the incessant hand-to-mouth motions. Even when the room slowly started to spin and my heart began pounding unbecomingly and my stomach sent a few gluggy bellyflops as an ominous warning I still didn’t stop…..

This time however, it wasn’t a substance that, once suffered via a hangover, would be avoided for the rest of my life. No, not blackberry nip, Grandfather Port, St Agnes Brandy or no-name Ouzo. It was chocolate.

I was one of three esteemed* judges invited to select the winners of the Australian Chocolate Championships held at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds. We were required to thoroughly test, taste, sample, view, dissect, examine and sniff all of the entries, score them on about 12 different aspects and write detailed feedback so that the chef or enthusiast responsible could improve their batch for next year.

I barely slept the night before. I’d warned my doctor, Love Chunks, Sapphire and
Bernadette Young’s listeners that high cholesterol or not, I was going to fall off the wagon.

Hell, I was going to DIVE off the wagon, full speed, face first, doing a triple pike somersault with a gaping open mouth into a fast flowing, roaring, gushing, bottomless RIVER of chocolate. It was shaping up to be one delightful afternoon to dip my eager toe back into the cocoa pool and enjoy it deliriously, decadently and delightfully before sadly slumping back to the real world of extra fibre, vitamin B, fish oil and a weekly ration of four measly squares of chocolate, sucked more avidly than a pensioner with lost dentures.

Thursday afternoon eventually arrived and I found myself in a gorgeous boardroom with Helen, the master-taster and owner of a palate that can tell what side of an Ecuadorian mountain the rare Criollo bean was grown on and who picked it; and Andy, a Belgian chocolatier with a fondness for blending chocolate with beer and nuts and able to spot an over-tempered hand-enrobed boutique flavour failure with a mere glance under the beribboned box.
What was I doing with these two?

Clearly, I was the enthusiastic consumer, the belly-filling bogan brought in to judge the chocolates as my Dad would abstract art: whether he likes it or not. No cutting remarks about sugar bloom, unsightly air bubbles, unevenness of shell or undue bitterness; just ‘Ooooh yeah, this is nice, really r-e-a-l-l-y noice…’ Hey, I was willing to do it for the rest of us.

Boxes and boxes and boxes of entries were in front us, with categories that included Assorted box of 16 moulded, Assorted box of 16 enrobed/hand-dipped, Assorted box of Innovative Chocolates, 12 Identitical moulded, 12 Identical enrobed/hand-dipped, box of Competitor’s Choice, Box of Commercial Quality….

Twenty three entries in the first category, with two boxes each to inspect, smell, slice, sample, roll on the palate, examine closer, check for evenness of coverage, sheen, thickness of shell, dodgy air pockets and that much-celebrated ‘crack’ of good chocolate on the first bite. (Or ‘thock’ if you’re snapping off a row or three from a family-sized block in your living room at home).

Three huge silver mixing bowls sat in front of us to spit, throw or scrape the remains in and a platter of soft white bread and jug of cold water was nearby to refresh our palates. Bread Shmead, I thought. Why would I fill myself up with bread when all this glorious bounty was afore me?

Half of twenty three chocolates wasn’t tooooo greedy (well really it’s only eleven and a half, a mere morning tea for me) and we’d all easily agreed on the winner. Then came the next category: 21 entries of a single variety, so only ten-and-a-half chocolates or thereabouts to eat. Our bowls had to be emptied of their leaking, dissected and disrespected contents and I found myself actually reaching for the simple blandness of bread and water.

Sixteen individual chocolates this time. “Remember how much effort they’ve put into designing, creating and decorating each one to be unique and delicious, so we have to try each one to give every entry the fairest judgement.” Er, yes, Andy you’re right. Salted caramels, crackling toffee, sweet spiced sesame seeds, blindingly strong coffee, creamy passionfruit, thyme and lemon combinations, lavender and blueberry, beer and 70%, pop rocks, smokey bacon, mini wagon wheels, ginger biscuits, apple crumble, silver spray paint, fruit salad, summer pudding, chili cherry, strawberry reduction, limoncello, Tasmanian pepper, basil and balsamic….

Three hours later and we were only a third of the way through. My eyes were like moist maraccas as my pulse beat madly behind each retina and my throat became tighter and drier. “Oh goody, here’s another 25 entries that are their own choice….” Helen sighed. “I normally quit after two hours, because my taste buds are shot by then, but----” she clipped my arm in a classic We’ll Soldier On motion, "-----there’s plenty more to try!”

I was shaving my chocolates into quarters and then sixteenths by then and sniffing them for far longer than required to give my distended stomach a tiny breather before inflicting it with more cocoa, sugar, edible transfers and bizarre flavour fillings. Baileys Irish Crème, peppermint, organic almond, mango puree, meringue, olive, orange, pumpkin seed, malt flakes, agave syrup, goji berries, buttermilk, champagne and pear, Mojito cocktail, kaffir leaves, blackberry mousse, peanut butter, whipped vanilla cream…..

Andy’s chirpiness increased as my appetite and will to live decreased. “Come on Kath, we’ve only tried seventeen versions of lime jelly today and I’ve yet to find the quintessential stout-and-black truffle. Have some more bread!”

Seven hours later, we were finished. My score sheets were decorated with brown smudges that wouldn't have been out of place on the wall of a Solitary Confinement cell and any wayward crumbs that had settled on my crotch area had long ago melted into unappealing rat droppings. My shaking hands were dark brown and incapable of slicing or holding a chocolate, let alone trying to write something understandable and my gut was tighter than a busker’s drum and making about the same volume of complaint.

We’d used up seven packets of paper serviettes wiping our sticky knives clean and eaten two loaves of white bread and I honestly wasn’t sure I’d be physically able to stand up and leave the premises without the need of an ergonomic trailer and skilled paramedic.

Helen, Andy and I leaned back from the long table, surveyed the wreckage of gift boxes, ribbons, brown paper bags, bubble wrap, recipe sheets, clear containers and smashed chocolate remains with absolute exhaustion. Andy was the first to struggle to his feet. “Well, it’s been nice meeting you, but I’ve got to meet my girlfriend back at the office for dinner, so see you later!”

DINNER? Helen nodded. “You won’t feel like it Kath, but you need to go home and eat some salty protein like ham straight away. It settles the stomach and helps me after I’ve spent a half-day tasting nothing but litres of vanilla icecream or hot coffee.”

I took her advice and, after a lie down, a good groaning session and a panadol, ate a cold slice of proscuitto pizza. My body lapped up the savoury flavours with gusto and sleep soon overtook me.

It was the next morning that the full wrath of the Chocolate Hangover really hit hard. The day was spent drinking water like a delirious camel, straining to make myself heard above a squeak and massaging my pounding temples, wondering who was pulling my eyelids down and forcing me to walk in slow-motion, farting like a flame-thrower all the way. My breakfast of choice (which could only be contemplated at 2pm), was porridge, because of its silence and utter monotony.

Yep, I couldn’t eat chocolate again for three days. Or talk about it for five.

* the term is meantly loosely and egotistically.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Silly Signs

In 1985 we went to Ayers Rock for a family camping holiday. My 15 year old brother had broken his collarbone which left sulky, seventeen year old me to help Dad erect our complex, double-internal-chambered, 8-man tent every night. Thankfully I had my very groovy Sony walkman to blot out the uncoolness of traveling with my family and could immerse myself in the timeless sounds of Wang Chung, Dream Academy and Animotion.

The drive up there was dusty, hot and incredibly boring and we were all desperate to see something other than spinifex and monstrous road trains. One stage our prayers were answered: there was a rusted sign literally in the middle of nowhere. It wasn't attached to an old house, petrol station or railway siding but on its own and said proudly: LESBIANS ARE EVERYWHERE. For some reason I was quite happy to pose next to it for the photo, but still fervently hoped that it wouldn't be seen by any of my school mates.

Growing up in a country town meant that the amended road signs I ever saw were someone's initials shot into the metal with a slug gun. The location of the racist graffiti escapes me now, but at one stage a wall hatefully stated: ASIANS OUT. Very soon after, someone added three extra words which served to totally remove the hatred of the phrase: TAKE asians out TO LUNCH. Now that kind of intelligence is something to admire and enjoy.

A few years later, the most common silly sign I found was located in the toilets at the uni bar. In the interests of saving a few cents they were were using separate sheets of thin, cheap loo paper that were grabbed from the letter box slot at the bottom of the white metal box. Under every single dispenser would invariably be seen the words: ARTS DEGREES. PLEASE TAKE ONE. Ha ha bloody har - it's a bona fide skill to have detailed knowledge of ancient Roman art and archaeology and don't get me started on the relevance of the pre-scientific world view as it shaped out modernist thinking towards the dawn of the Renaissance.... There was a tiny bit of consolation in the fact that at the other campus their dispensers had: SOCIAL WORKER DEGREES. PLEASE TAKE ONE instead.

In second place was the trend to spraypaint a 'P' and 'T' to the ubiquitous 'Form One Lane' signs so they read 'Form one Planet,' and on the freeway to Murray Bridge at White Hill, a faded Rotary Club sign once advised strangers that yes, they were 'Welcome', but would they please 'drive slowly'. It didn't take long for some larrikin to liquid-paper out the 'r' and 'v' so that it said 'die slowly'. I'm sure that the second version was strangly prophetic for more than one visitor to the town.

We've all seen 'Please wash me' on particularly dusty cars, but my uncle, who then lived in the rural town of KiKi (don't pretend you haven't heard of it, it's on the long drive from Melbourne to Adelaide) found one on the back of his grotty old station wagon that made him laugh: Don't wash me - PLANT something.
Our local coffee shop has a small piece of cardboard that rests against the muffin counter saying "Any child who is unattended will be given three espressos and a kitten."

Mostly though in our day-to-day travels via playground toilet blocks and roadhouses we see the standard 'Michelle is a mole and is getting her head kicked in’ or 'For a good time call -----' and the pre-SMS precursor 'Kazza for Dazza 4 Eva 2 Getha' with several crossings out and replacements added in angry black scrawls on the backs of the doors. A slightly cleverer one was carved into the bottom of a toilet door in a shopping centre car park: 'Beware of lonely limbo dancers.'

I laughed so hard that the old lady in the next cubicle got out and left without washing her hands. At least I hope that's why she did.