Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What’s that shaking noise?

“Oh me and Sarah – I mean Sarah and I – are trying to turn this sherbet stick into fizzy powder and then suck it up through the plastic straws we found.”

Fair enough.

At least they’re outside, it’s stopped raining for a few moments and they’re giving their upper arms a good workout as they each take their turns in shaking some recalcitrant sticks of Brighton Rock (not sherbet, as they assume) trapped inside what I hope is a clean olive jar. Singing Pink’s ‘Funhouse’ at the top of their voices might not be the neighbours’ (a day-time sleeping, night-shift working doctor on one side, and twelve flat dwellers on the other) aural background of choice but hey, it’s the school holidays.......

Where’s Milly?

“She’s in my room because I’ve crocheted her a hat but she doesn’t want to wear it, so we’re adding some side flaps and a bow to tie under her chin.”

(Too lazy to leave the computer): Well don’t keep doing it if she looks unhappy.
(Thinks again): But take a photo if the camera’s nearby!

Later, as I stand outside, cursing the splattered outcome of a washed tissue on the washing, Sapphire passes by.
Where are you going with those strawberries?

“Sarah and I are trying to cut them into segments and then fan them out – you know, like they do in coffee shops – and then can we display them on a bowl of ice-cream for you?

Um, maybe a bit later. It’s only 11am and pouring outside, so I don’t really feel like a frozen dessert just now. But here, grab two plates –---- come back here and do it in the kitchen, not your bedroom – and use this knife. Yes, I know it has a blunt end but----- and put the strawberry on the plate when you cut it, don’t hold it in your hand and then poke the knife at it!

“Mum where’s your nail polish collection? We want to paint Milly’s front paw nails purple and her back ones blue.”

Do you remember when you tried that last holidays? She nearly garrotted herself trying to escape the chemical smell, then dashed outside and dug like a Klondike gold prospector trying to wear it off!

“Oh, yeah, that’s right...... can we do yours then?”

Maybe...but I’ve got winter feet – all pasty, damp and mildewy, with three-layers of blood blisters on my heels, popcorn-shaped callouses on both pinkies and some flappy loose bits of skin on the soles here, see?

“Mum that is so gross, put your ugg boots back on! Your toenails already look like they’re different colours. Can you reach up the back of my wardrobe and get ‘Twister’ down instead?”
I hear happy giggling sounds and resume my work for a while. Two articles done, an invoice sent off, photos downloaded, chocolate to think about, coffee to drink and dog ears to reach for under the desk and ruffle contemplatively.

Who’s ready for some lunch?

“Mum can we use Dad’s pasta machine to make spaghetti? Or those ravioli square things that we gave him for his birthday last year that he hasn’t used yet? Can we? Or what about that microwave chocolate coffee mug cake you keep talking about trying?”

Not today. Toasted sandwiches and a slice of watermelon is what’s on the menu today.

“But can’t we---“

Nope. The dishwasher’s broken, the floorboards are lifting and there’s already some weird sticky sherbet powder on the carpet, so the menu is not up for debate. In fact the place is so filthy that Milly just lies on the floor and licks it when she's bored or hungry.

Sapphire's shoulders slump for dramatic effect, but clearly the food options aren’t too unappealing.

Would you two like to take your scooters and basketball to the school after lunch?
It's amazing how wonderful such a genuinely heartfelt response to such a mundane suggestion can make me feel.

“Mum can you do a slam-dunk like Dad can? He can swirl the ball on his finger, too.”
Erm no, I can’t.

“Mum you’re not doing it right.”
Yeah I know. Blame the six years of netball I played. With girls so tough they flossed their teeth with their own tampons. No, I'm not going to explain that.

“You should take a run up and then just jump!”
Again, netball. As soon as we caught the damn thing we had to freeze or the whistle would blow. Straight after each shot at goal my GS bib would rise up and slice my boobs into two uncomfortable horizontal segments but I'd have to run back and keep the GK under control until the bib would pop up to my chin and then I'd tug it down to hear the sniggers of the teenage boys loitering at the edge of the courts....

“Aw Mum come back – you don’t have to pick up any rubbish today – it’s school holidays!”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Domestic Deaths

This month has seen a variety of deaths in the Lockett Lodge.

To be fair, after sixteen years of togetherness, it's to be expected that appliances wear out. We've been through three irons, several kettles, two vacuum cleaners, two 1970s cars and farewelled Love Chunks' 1969-model Kelvinator 'Foodarama' fridge for a Fischer and Paykel, but it seems right now as though everything my index finger even thinks about touching instantly dies.

A couple of weekends ago, LC decided that it was time to have a wood fire in our lounge-room fireplace. We'd had one a few times earlier this winter and it heated up our little weatherboard box so well we wore shorts and leavened some bread.

This time, unfortunately, the electrical paraphernalia that powers the pump device that pushes pesky smoke up the chimney and heat into the house conked out (two of my favourite words are in that sentence: paraphernalia and conked). The nose-hair singeing smell of burnt plastic rapidly combined with a churlish chimney to fill the house up with black smoke, swirling soot and four screaming alarms.

Several minutes later as we assured our frightened neighbours whilst staggering around with bleeding earholes and broomsticks that everything was OK, the house was silent but reminiscent of Pompeii as ash was strewn everywhere. With grey flakes fluttering from his lashes, LC gave a sigh and said, "Right, so we might be looking at a jetmaster gas heater next year then."

Then his beloved Gaggia coffee machine stopped frothing. That was okay, we could live without the froth on top, but when the element stopped heating it made sitting there with a tepid cup of brown a little bit more un-fun. Surprisingly, Love Chunks' farewell to Lady Gaggia was brief and unemotional. Little did I know that he'd already spied her replacement, Mrs Krups.

Like all good Germans Mrs K was big, efficient and fairly quiet. She also ground up the beans which saved us having to do it and sprinkle the counter and floor in dirty brown crumbs. Unlike all quiet Germans, she fluffs up a treat which might - just might - justify what she cost us.

It was also time to get a new computer. I'd written earlier about my laptop no longer having the KNIHL keys visible but that was bearable. Now though, it was labouring so hard that the fan would go into overdrive before giving up, shutting down and vengefully freezing my documents and web pages more effectively than Walt Disney's cryogenic chamber.

Love Chunks researched, found and bought us a desktop computer while Sapphire and I were at my folks' place and we came home to a massive screen, thumping black modem, connected iPod docking station speaker thingumajiggies and wireless keyboard, mouse and remote controls. It is very impressive but still needs a folded up tablecloth under the keyboard so that it doesn't rock and roll over our $19 plastic camping table that we call a desk....

Sapphire's electric toothbrush decided that the 'electric' bit was too tiresome to continue with; my mobile phone needs a dozen strong indentations of my thumbnail (and a fair bit of swearing) before it deigns to turn itself back on (and even then presents me with a thick black line through the middle of the screen) and evilly rearranges my settings; the shower screams like it's having its toenails ripped out whenever the hot tap is turned on and the MP3 player no longer, well, plays. Alternatively, when the stupid device does play it's at 3am when it's sitting in the clock radio slot and suddenly turns on, making me glad I've just been for my nightime wee trip.

So was it any surprise that our kitchen floor boards started lifting, presenting us with a lacquered representation of a Toblerone block, right at the join in front of the dishwasher? I only noticed it when my ugg boot snagged on it, causing me to trip forward and dong my noggin on the fridge door (I'm sure the biscuits I had in my hand are still hiding under it somewhere).

Love Chunks suspected that the dishwasher was leaking and promptly called out a dishwasher um, detective, to figure it out. "Don't you DARE talk to him or offer him a coffee," he hissed down the phone at me during his lunch hour. "This bloke costs $150 per hour, so get him in, get him working and get him out."

Detective Zorran looked like the dark-eyed love-child of Jon English and Stevie Nicks. Despite his bohemian parentage he arrived on time, and with my mental clock - and bank balance - ticking, I ushered him into our kitchen so fast he banged his tool box on the front door but didn't rub his elbow until he was by the back one. "Yep, your motor's gone. It'll cost you $500 to replace plus installation and seeing as they've put in a fourteen year old dishwasher into a new kitchen you're better off buying a new one. It'll be quieter and save you water and all that."

I couldn't help it; I had to talk. "Um, at your hourly rate I guess you could choose between prostitution or mechanics?"

"Umph," his head was underneath the sink. He'd clearly heard that line before.

But I couldn't help it; I had to keep on blathering. "But I guess in both roles you'd be spending a lot of time on your knees, heh heh."

That did cause him to pop his head up and his look of shock actually made me blush and apologise. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to offend you."

"Ah no worries love - I was just going to tell you that the tool who installed this before stuck it to the wrong pipe."


And so, as the grand final loomed and the carparks were packed with frantic footy folk looking to buy dips, chips, sausages and sauce we found ourselves at the local Good-Harvey-Warehouse-Crazy-Norman-Guy-John-Homemaker Centre dully looking at expensive silver and white boxes, wishing we'd had the foresight to bring in a sample dinner plate and wineglass to check if they'd fit in or not.

At first bounce the dishwasher arrived because the delivery guy was a staunch soccer fan who was quite happy to miss the game. It fit through our Gates of Hell with ease and was wheeled around the back to reside by Skipper's townhouse until we found a plumber to instal it.

It was then that I noticed, whilst bending down to rub at the rabbit's nose, that the little bugger has nearly eaten through the bottom of both doors and his inner stairwell was hanging together mostly by a fortuitous mixture of compressed turds, wet hay and newspaper scraps. How come they don't make these things out of titanium alloy or kryptonite; he's only had the joint for five months for creditcardssakes.......

Friday, September 25, 2009

John and Pauline's Place

Apart from being immersed in a mental, emotional and physical layer of cocoa butter as my other love, GoneChocco has launched, I've just come back from a few days in South Australia visiting my parents.

Sapphire and I managed to snaffle some free flights. Yes, at the ripe old age of (almost) forty one, I finally earned enough frequent flyer point thingies to score two FREE flights to Adelaide and back. Mum was turning 69 and was not expecting a visit. For her seventieth, yes; but for her sixty ninth? No.

As we waited in the departure lounge, Sapphire noticed about 20 other ladies that could easily fit into the 69-year old category that my Mum, Pauline, belongs to. Shortish, blow-waved hair, gem-coloured t-shirts partially hidden under bright, multi-coloured blouses, Wilma Flintstone-inspired beads, coral lipstick, gold-rimmed spectacles, stretchy slacks and fawn Rockports.

Sapphire said, "Maybe they're friends of Grandmas? They could have been here to see something like 'Wicked' , gone to a footy game and visited the Queen Vic markets and are now heading home." Not a bad guess really, and we decided that a bunch of happy-faced, sixty-to-seventy-something old ladies should be called a Pack of Paulines.

Nearby hovered a group of old blokes in akubra-style hats (indoors), wrap-around 'blind man' sunglasses sold by the truckload in Anti-Cancer shops, arms folded over polo shirt fronts, ironless trousers and zingingly white sneakers. Ah, these were the husbands, comparing melanoma scars, golf handicaps and caravan lengths. If there was a Pack of Paulines, could these be (thanks Dad) a Jostle of Johns?

The real John and Pauline are much more than a pair of matching folding chairs and anodised travel mugs. Mum restores old donated toys and sells them as new for the Lifeline shop and Dad teaches 'Twilight Tech' to oldies wishing to unravel the mysteries of emailing their grandchildren.

At any given time we'll have a sulky baby drying out on the lounge in front of the heater or a newly-exfoliated Barbie (damn those blue biros and permanent markers) recovering in the laundry basket. It was a rainy weekend, so the newly-washed Elmos, Cookie Monsters and teddy bears were pegged on a clotheshorse to dry very slowly by the sea breeze that lifted up Dad's home-made window shades and rattled the windows.

I've mentioned Dad's beekeeping interests before as well as my scoffing at his subscription to what was possibly the least interesting bi-monthly publication ever, The Australiasian Beekeeper. But what did I see on his side table by the Jason Recliner? Sure, there were some Wingspans (he's a birdy twitcher from way back), Woodturners Monthly (those pepper-grinders have to come from somewhere you know) and the Australian Geographic, but surely this one finally snatches the crown from The Australiasian Beekeeper?

South Australian Bowler. That's right; a mere nationally-focussed magazine for lawn bowlers isn't enough; this one is only for South Australians. Every month. Yes, there's enough fascinating information, editorial comment, interviews match results and advertisements for ball bags and white shoes to produce a glossy every 28 days. I spent a very entertaining two minutes reading about the 'Senseless Attack at Tanunda' and wondering at the slightly psychotic cutting style of the layout person who removed the right arm of a champion bowler and left only his wristwatch against the yellow page, hovering like a stainless steel ghost......

But Mum isn't to be outdone quite so easily. On the side of her Jason Recliner, next to the pile of well-thumbed Australian Women's Weekly, Better Homes & Gardens and Burke's Backyards is this specimen that is also considered viable night time reading material:

South Australian Country Woman. This is published by the SA-CWA which is currently celebrating eighty years of service and, like SA Bowler, Beanie Kids and Michelle Duggar's uterus is released every month. I just couldn't bring myself to peer inside. Besides, only the cover was in glossy colour; everything else was tatty and grey inside.

Which is a similar colour to these headless goddesses that Mum stood contemplating as we scoured the nursery for some new pots to put her baby petunia plants in.

As she zipped up her parka so high that only her nose was visible, she said, "So are you missing the weather here in SA? Melbourne's such a cold place."

Trying not to laugh, I pointed at the nipples and said, "Oh I don't know about that, I'm as cold as they obviously are."

"Eeech eeech eeeech" Mum replied, her laughing sound always reminding me of a squeaky saloon door. "Let's go home, have a cup of green tea and something sweet to go with it, hey?"

Yes indeed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Plugger by name, plugging by nature

Yep, it's time. When I married Love Chunks, my surname changed from READ ("Hey Chopper!") to Lockett ("Hey PLUGGER!") and now I actually have something to plug.

If you're vaguely interested in chocolate, then you might want to visit
Gone Chocco, my brand new other site that discusses all things chocolate. If you sign up for a freebie newsletter via email you could also win a chocolate hamper that contains Lindt, Heritage, Baci, Baileys, M&Ms, Toblerone and a few other delicious bits and pieces.

I figured it was time to give running my own chocolate site a go after the Chocablog editor, Dom, who is based in the UK, said that I was submitting more chocolate reviews and articles than his UK, US and European contributors combined. As his site relies on UK advertising, it was becoming a bit too Aussie for their liking and my articles were getting held back and becoming older and older when they were posted. This was fine for me but not for chocolatiers who'd generously given me their goodies, had a chat or two about their seasonal line and found that my "Easter is going to be a real Bilby Brigade" story about their fine product wasn't going to appear until September.

Yes, I'm that committed: I hunt down and eat the naughty stuff so that you don't have to. Or you can do, especially if you're sitting there reading it at 11am and remembered that you didn't have breakfast and it's time for a coffee and wouldn't something sweet go down a treat with it. Or 3pm, when whatever horrendous wrap it was that you scoffed over your keyboard like a stressed out neanderthal has disappeared like the tissue paper it was wrapped in and you just KNOW that in the staff kitchen is a fundraiser box of large-sized caramello koalas and it's for a good cause after all; the kids need hockey uniforms.......
Cholesterol is still an issue, so my intake has reduced but the variety has greatly increased. Our poor fridge is becoming full of nude blocks of chocolate with one row snapped off, sliced up truffles and bars with one bite in them. Acceptable eating for Love Chunks and Sapphire yes; but not for sharing with friends or taking to dinner parties so eventually I'll have to work out just how I can smash and melt them all down into my version of Bertie Beetles - Kath's Cockroaches perhaps.

Never fear though, this blog will still get some love, just not this week because I'm taking Sapphire with me to surprise my Mum for her birthday. She's turning 69 tomorrow and isn't likely to expect a big hullabaloo. Next year yes, but this year all she'll be expecting is a bunch of interflora flowers and a phonecall, so hopefully her heart can handle the shock.

And I'm a chip off the old block, having learned from the best. Mum bought a block of Old Gold family-size because it was on special for $2. Dad found out and on his way home from golf he bought another five. Walking in brandishing his booty (and the chocolate, let's be clear here), he crowed, "Look Pauline, it's so cheap so why not have some more?"

Mum turned around and pointed to the pantry where she'd just been stacking another ten blocks. Need I say more?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Yep, I dialled......

Have you ever been washing your dishes or eating your breakfast cereal and then found yourself automatically reading the entire label on the bottle of detergent or packet of bran flakes?

Not just the 'serving suggestion' ideas (ie a photograph of weetbix in a bowl with milk - who'd have thought), the ingredients (yum, it's got emulsifiers and vegetable gum in it) or the ridiculous promises made by the product (NEW! IMPROVED! How can something be 'improved' if it's new?), but the tiny print that says "Comments? Questions? Call us on 1800....."

Who rings these numbers? What on earth do they want to comment or ask about? How bored and lonely and clueless would you need to be to even consider making such a call? Well, I made a few calls.....

Safcol Tuna
'Our operators are busy or unavailable. Please leave a message and we will get back to you.' Which they did.

"Errm, I'm not your usual caller, but I got curious and would like to know....WHO rings you?"

The pleasant-sounding Pamela told me that most of their calls were not concerning the tuna, but their catfood brand, Snappy Tom. She'd had complaints about how the packet looks and that one chap was not going to buy the new dry catfood in the box because the spout was too small. As for the tuna, the calls mostly concerned where they could get certain lines and flavours if they couldn't be found at their regular supermarket.

Pamela also told me that consumers often confused herbs and spices in the cans of flavoured tuna as 'foreign bodies' and would ring to complain or demand a refund. "We have some fact-sheets we work through to explain that what they think is a stone is a peppercorn."

She receives around twenty phone calls a day and "....at least one or two of them also end up telling me their life stories." Despite my encouragement, she was not allowed to share any weird and wonderful tales with me because "Everyone is a consumer and we mustn't laugh at them." Fair enough, especially if your calls 'may be monitored for quality assurance and training purposes.'

Sakata Rice Crackers
"Oh you'd be surprised. We get heaps of calls," said the helium-inflected voice on the other end of the phone. What about? "Mostly about questions about the ingredients - what they mean and if they're safe for coeliacs or diabetics to eat." Any complaints? "Rarely. Except for one guy, who thought the seaweed was grass. He'd picked them up by mistake when he really wanted the BBQ ones."

Colgate Toothpaste
Automated answering machine. 'We welcome your questions and comments and keep it all confidential. Please press '1' on your keypad to hear about your rights to privacy. Please hang on the line if you wish to speak to a consumer service operator.' Justin came on the line.

"We get a lot of feedback about our cleaning products, shower gels and soaps mostly," he said. What about your weirder calls, you know the ones that you laugh about in the tearoom? He stayed professional: "We deal with people who can't find particular products in their stores and dispense oral care advice."

Hang on - oral care advice? Like for people who don't know how to use their toothpaste? "Sometimes. We're not dentists but we do have fact-sheets that we can post out to them."

Come on Justin, give me something here! "Actually we do get a lot of calls complaining about how one of our products might have damaged their clothing. Again, we have factsheets on how to remove particular stains, mostly using all that old stuff like lemon juice, breadcrumbs and borax that your grandmother would have used."

Now he was starting to enjoy our conversation. "We also get a lot of single guys who ring us, wanting to know how to do their washing. I had one guy once who'd used the antiseptic hand soap as a shower gel, and complaining he'd broken out into a rash. When I told him that it wasn't mild enough for showering with I then had to spend about an hour going through his entire bathroom cabinet of our products so that he knew what he had to use for where."

Now there was no stopping him. "I've had fifteen years of experience in customer service call centres, most of it at Telstra. I can tell a story from there if you like," he offered.

Yes please. "Cool. In the very early days of mobiles and SMS, I had a call from a very worried lady. She'd been getting SMS messages telling her to check her mail box. She told me 'Each time I go outside to the letterbox, there's nothing in there. After the sixth message, I got so worried I drove to our beach house to check the letter box there, but there still wasn't anything in it.' That's the only time I had to put down the phone to have a laugh," he said.

"Oh and there's one thing we all notice when working on the info ling; we get a helluva lot more weird, sad or bizarre calls on a full moon." Really?
"Oh yes. We've been able to document it, it's very noticeable."

What about the consumer centre for Band-Aids?

Rosemary tells me that they deal with calls from consumers about all of their products made by Johnson and Johnson. She answers a lot of enquiries about what adhesive is used on the bandaids from people who have sensitive skin. The only complaints she's received about the innocuous little plasters has been about the gauze pad being stuck in the wrong position. "No, that's not right", she said, warming to the theme, "We also get loads of calls from people who have counted the number of bandaids in the box and aren't happy if there's only 24 instead of 25." She considered that those calls were pedantic but fair enough.

"We also handle the Splenda Sweetener product and apart from calls about their suitability for diabetics and requests for recipes, we've had calls complaining that there's only 299 in a 300 packet." Now that's a canny consumer - sitting at their kitchen table counting out sweetener tabs - thank goodness some people are spending their time wisely.

What about the 'Full Moon' effect? "Oh yes, there's definitely an increase in calls at that time. We get heaps at night asking us how to put on a bandaid or whether they can go for a swim wearing a sanitary pad."

On to our great South Aussie icon, Farmers Union Iced Coffee. As an interesting aside, did you know that South Aussies are the largest consumers per head of milk in the world? It would also be interesting to find out, therefore, if our rates of osteoporosis is lower than the general population too.

The lovely Lyn said that the most calls they receive about FUIC is from homesick South Aussies who are desperate to know where they can buy it interstate or seeking more information about its magical nutritional qualities. "We had one guy last week who thought that the package number at the bottom of the carton was the number of fat grams in the product." Any complaints? "No, never about our iconic iced coffee and flavoured milks, but we do get a few about runny yoghurt or milk that seems to have gone off before the use-by date."

The 'Full Moon' effect?


And lastly, Libra Invisible Pads. 'Welcome to the Tena and Libra customer service line. All of our customer service officers are currently busy. Your call is important to us, so please leave us a message and we will return your call as soon as possible.'

OK then, I left a message. No-one called in the past three days, so I can only assume that they're run off their feet with pesky little enquiries about wings versus no-wings.

Sails. Wind. Mine.

On Friday night Love Chunks, Sapphire and I walked down to the local strip to have some Thai food for dinner.

In the tastefully decorated restaurant, I sat back against the wall, leaning up against some silk cushions and gazed up at the umbrellas-posing-as-lightshades and said, "You know, I've just realised something."

Sapphire put her chopsticks down, interested. "What, Mum?"

"I've learned that if there's an 'aholic' at the end of your job title, it's not a good thing. You know like 'alcoholic' and, in my case, chocoholic."

She turned back to the ginger prawns. "BUT -----" - I hadn't made my point yet --- "But if there's an 'ologist' at the end, you're revered as being knowledgeable, experienced and respected. You know, like your dad as a meteorologist and your Auntie, a molecular biologist. Therefore---" I gazed at her proudly, "I'm going to call myself a Chocologist to join the ranks of the intelligent and informed!"

Sapphire rolled her eyes and pointed at my crotchular region with her chopstick. "Well, Chocologist, you might want to pick off those two prawn tails and clump of rice you've just dropped on your zipper."


The next morning we all slept in until 8:30 and Love Chunks made us both a cup of coffee from his beloved Mrs Krups machine.

"Ahhhh," I sniffed in appreciation before taking the first sip. "I love Saturday mornings because you haven't left for work and we get to sit here together, taking our time having coffee and a chat."

"Mmmm." His head was firmly in the Sports section.

"So I'll just pop into the study to check a few emails----"

Love Chunks looked up, smiling, "Oh, so you're not going to actually spend time sipping coffee with me then?"

"Well you're always reading and hate it when I interrupt you to chat inanely about how much you were snoring last night because it had been a dry wind and obviously the hayfever season has arrived and how I was going to tell you that I actually took a photo of the friction rash under my right armpit and am now not sure if it's suitable for publishing on the blog because it might be a bit repulsive even though I wanted to make a point about how I love running even when injuries occur, but you're right, I do love sitting here with you, talking."

"Nah it's OK, I actually do want to read the paper."

"Yeah I thought you did, you were just teasing me weren't you, Oh Pompous One?"

He smiled. "And yet she still keeps chatting."

It was a good thing, then, that neither Love Chunks nor Sapphire saw me a little later day, bending over to pat Milly at the exact second she leapt up in an attempt to lick me so that the bridge of my nose met her rock-hard head in a powerful SMACK, momentarily blinding me as I staggered around and around our tiny patch of lawn, whimpering, "Bloody hell, Mills! What's your head, an anvil?" before clumsily thwacking my elbow against the supporting pole of the verandah and collapsing into the lavender bush.

If they notice the mess, I'll blame it on the rabbit. The sneaky little beast wreaks havoc in the garden.


Sapph, Milly and I were walking to school this morning when Sapph grabbed my hand and said, "You know Mum, I feel really sorry for you."

Me thinking: Well yes, I have a lot of my plate at the moment and yet am still running a tight ship at home, keeping fit, doing my bit for the community, getting some decent writing gigs, seeing a few doors open, allowing Sapphire to host loads of playdates and spending a lot of quality time together with her, planning a trip interstate, keeping migraines mostly at bay.... it's nice for her to notice that her mother is superhuman after all.......

Me, out loud, smiling in anticipation: "Why do you think that?"

"Because you get pimples in the weirdest places."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Honest Scrapper - or should I remove the 's'?

Passionate, Marxist Horror Writer, Leftie and All-Round Agitator Benjamin Solah very generously gifted me the “Honest Scrap Award”, given to people who post from the heart.
He said: "The acronym TMI (Too Much Information) would be accurate for Kath sometimes and her honesty and confidence in herself comes through with her funny stories about her past and present."

I'm not too proud to admit that my eyes misted up. Often, we bloggers put a fair bit of thought and time into our words; press 'publish' and wonder just, like a fart on the forest, who the hell might be listening, interested, educated or merely entertained by our efforts.

Being honest has been very liberating, as readers of my Appreciative August marathon last year might remember, but sometimes I do worry that some of my admissions may affect the way others see me. Benjamin sets a very powerful example of someone who is lives from the heart and mind - very passionate about the underdog, the oppressed and the unfairly ignored and couldn't give a hungry hippo's hernia about what anything else thinks of it.

Now as per the rules of the award, I’m supposed to pass the award on to seven worthy blogs for 'people who post from the heart' and list ten honest things about myself.

Ashleigh's Dump - Mr Dump posts as much from the bottom of his heart as from the heart of his bottom, bearing in mind that his blog is read by co-workers and management. He shies away from photographs of himself or the Dump household but there's real passion behind his (occasional) political rantings, a genuine desire to inform us about the intricacies of financial guff and a humorous protest at the Tea Tree Gully's council to disallow nudes in public art spaces has given him many an opportunity to show off the snaps from his European odyssey featuring many statues showing us their rudey bits.

Baino's Banter - Baino is a widow, who has raised two fabulous children (now in their twenties) on her own, has been made redundant from a job she did so well that she effectively set up systems well enough for them to save a salary and ask her to leave, she worries about her health, her children, her home, Triple JJJ top 100 votes, her animals and the pharkwits let loose in this world. She's currently twiddling her thumbs in a taxpayer-funded government job, enduring the frustrations of trying to look as though she's busy as the HR, recruitment, redeployment, restructure and reclassification bureaucracy wheels turn as though they're made of stone and ploughing through wet cement. When all else fails, she reaches for her smokes and chardy, and who can blame her?

Jung's Programme Notes - This chap - proudly based in Tasmania yet inexplicably fond of Collingwood and Big M flavoured milk - isn't fond of paragraphs but boy oh boy, his powers of recollection and being able to read an entire lifestory behind the girl in the blue eye shadow at a struggling book shop is compelling. And sad. And hilarious. His turn of phrase is always delicious as he inserts lines that have me laughing in admiration and then squirming in jealousy but I talk myself out of it when I remember his rather tragic tastes in music.

Bonding over lizards - Helen is PhD student in South Africa with quirky dyed hair, a part time job at a zoo and field trips for several months a year out in the stony desert lands where she has to catch lizards. She may have a brain the size of my arse but she still worries about whether to confront the slob who keeps farting in the laboratory, why some of her friends drive her insane and how she will survive Tai Chi classes whilst posing with a sword.

Adelaide from Adelaide - What this woman can say in one line is so genius I often melt. A forty year old orphan, novelist, stand up comedienne and currently expatriate in Dubai. Her reflections, recollections and observations are always intensely personal, thought provoking and beautiful, even if they're sad. She could scribble something on the back of a bus ticket and I'd rush to read it.

Copperwitch - There's not much JahTeh won't share - the agonies of putting her mother into an aged care home, the despair over the loss of her beloved son, the bitter divorce, clearing out a lifetime of stored detritus, her love of beautiful gems and jewels and the addiction to apple cake..... Always interesting.

Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony - Helen is as her surname suggests - Smart. Able to write intelligently about feminism, education, health and current affairs and adds an extra dimension or three by adding generous dollops of humour and observations about her own life and family. She'll put up viewpoints that I haven't even thought of and has the unique ability to influence opinions and reactions. She's the kind of lady who should have a regular column in the Age. Or, dare I say it, The Australian, if only to offer up a brilliant contrast?

Deep Kick Girl - This feisty lady often has a few angry rants interspersed with ones about her children but for me, the best writing she's done was during her trip to Odessa, her birthplace. She describes the conflicting emotions of returning back there with her mother and sister, her dismay at the living conditions, wonder at the kindness of her mother's friends and relatives and depiction of a completely different way of living. It could honestly work as a serial or longer piece in a book. There were no photos to accompany each post and it didn't need it - each event was so clearly described it made me feel as though I was there alongside her.
There are, of course, many others, but they've either not been posting much lately (Blakkat, The Loaded Blog, RedCap, Simply Natural, Eleanor Bloom, Moo-Dog) or don't quite fit the 'too much information/from the heart criteria' but I love 'em and read 'em anyway (Man at the Pub, Writing, Projectivist, Lorna Lilo, Plastic Mancunian); or are new to me, so I'm still getting to know them (Just this side of Chaos,

Now I’m meant to reveal ten things about myself…
1. On the many occasions I can't sleep, I do a self-invented meditation where I imagine I'm in a bedroom from my past - say growing up Murray Bridge, with the lime green seventies curtains, red candlewick bedspread, grey axminster swirly carpet, TV week ABBA posters stuck over the rose wall paper - and think about what I'd do to renovate it now. Unfortunately, this often ends up stimulating my brain instead of boring it to sleep.

2. I hated university. It was a big, unfriendly place for a country bumpkin who thought Adelaide was huge, and English lectures hosted several hundred students who'd all scarper the moment they ended, with attitudes of 'I've got friends outside of here; friends I went to private school with' and I'd wonder why tertiary education felt as intimidating as year nine all over again. Most days I was hidden in the library and, as expected, I graduated three years later (no supp exams or delays for me) to absolutely no acclaim whatsoever and got the hell out of there.

3. My most favourite books were read outside of university when I was at my first real job, as a graduate trainee at the ANZ bank (I've written before about their dubious wisdom in hiring someone with 'Major English Texts' and 'Roman Art and Archaelogy' for home loans, bank-telling at lunch times and accounting). I just wrote a list of books that I'd hoped we'd cover in uni but didn't, found most of 'em in a second-hand bookshop near the bank and read 'em. This is where I discovered Lolita by Nabokov (quite a read at 21, let me tell you), all of Thomas Hardy's novels, Catch 22, Exodus by Leon Uris.... even To Kill a Mockingbird.

4. We all wish for superpowers, but mine tend to be very, very minor ones. The current one is for any litter that my eyes alight on to instantly disappear - zap! - gone. Of course, I might then get obsessed with this skill and end up with a rotating head ala The Exorcist trying to spot every piece of litter within a 5km radius, but for now, just the streets of my local neighbourhood would be a good enough start. Other superpowers include the ability to remove washed tissue from dark laundry loads with a click of my fingers; to see secret tails on human beings to determine if they're genuine or not and the ability to digest chocolate so that it gives me my daily intake of fibre, vitamin C and iron.

5. My poor cuticles are literally picked to bloody shreds. My nails are fine, I've never chewed them. Cuticle shredding is a terrible habit; this continual checking of my fingers: Oooh there's some loose skin by the edge of the nail there, let me nibble at it and pull it off..... only to reveal a thin angry line of fresh red blood that I have to suck dry until a bandaid is put on. As the finger heals, it produces more raggedy skin that I again see, have to pull off to tidy it and so the filthy little game continues. At any given time at least five of my fingers are ugly, red and sore. I'm at them when I'm thinking, watching TV, sleepless, worried, hungry, on long boring driving tips, reading. About the only time I'm not destroying them is when I'm typing, knitting or running which goes a long way to explaining why I strictly adhere to all three.

6. I talk to myself and Milly all day. I have no doubt that the neighbours on both sides can hear. As I'm sitting outside cooling down after a run, Milly will trot up to me and I'll say, "Hi there Spunkle Buns, how are ya?" and ruffle her ears. When I get up to go inside, I'll call out, "Hey Millsy, wanna come in and do some work with me?" If I observe something, she'll get commented to: "Milly you are not going to believe what that tool Andrew Bolt has said today," or if the door bell rings, "Wanna answer it, doggie?" She stares at me, tail wagging slowly, leaning forward for a lick of my hand as I reach to pat her head. Much time has been wasted stroking her coat and singing songs with her name inserted into the lyrics but there are worse ways to deal with writer's block.

7. If you want to let me know that you hate me, then cook me a meal consisting of chicken drumsticks that are pink near the bone and have dark veins on display, accompanied by sweet potato and pumpkin and a big glass of beer. My appetite will disappear; I'll go pale and quiet, so you'll have a cheap dinner guest and no interruptions.

8. Even now, at age forty or about 340 in dog years, I'll occasionally let one rip under the quilt and stick my own head under to smell it. Sad, isn't it? Sometimes I'm utterly repulsed by what my body has produced and other times I'm a tad impressed. This is all done under the cover of darkness and never, ever when Love Chunks is awake.

9. When I was holidaying on my own in Dublin, I had a week-long fling with James, a guy from London (way, waaaay back in my back-packing days of '91-'92). We met because he was staying at the same BnB I was but was there for work (something in IT I think). He took me out to dinner, we went to groovy Temple Bar pubs, had lots of fun and then when I left for London a day earlier than he did, I said, "I'll call you," and never did. Deliberately. For the next few months after that, I used it as a brag story to my girlfriends, a kind of 'Heh, that'll sock it to those evil men who do that to us' revenge-tactic but since then I have felt very mean and small about it. So James, I'm sorry. It honestly truly wasn't you, it was me. All me.

10. Sometimes Love Chunks makes me cry. He'll be sitting alongside me as we sip the coffee he made, or be watching a footy game and I'll look over and see his kind blue eyes and the intense expression of concentration of his face as the footy's on and the tears will start. I'll see him hugging our daughter, helping her with the year five-level maths homework or putting up the new coloured party lights in her bedroom and I'll cry. He'll be scratching Milly's belly, crooning, "Oooh you're a beautiful dog, yes you are," or he'll be lying by my side and I'll smell his warmth and it'll start me off.

The tears spring from a varied mixture of love, gratefulness, emotion, relief, comfort, security, familiarity and passion among other things that I don't even have the capacity to properly fathom. Whatever the reason, every day I wake up and am so thankful he's chosen to do all of this with me.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Blooms from the burbs

As some of you know, I enjoy having a weekly yarn with the honey-voiced Bernadette Young on ABC radio, and she has recently been on a Western Australian wild-flowers trip with some lucky listeners and her fantastic crew.

I felt a teensy weensy bit jealous, especially seeing as I saw the pictures and heard the show after spending a couple of hours picking up the first coke cans and condoms of spring in my own neighborhood. Surely we had some wildflowers growing here, in the suburbs? Some clear evidence that Mother Nature hadn't completely overlooked us; shadowed as we are on both sides by blocks of flats, backed-in by ACDC-loving mechanics and disregarded by litter buggy school kids?

Milly, of course, is always up for a walk, even though her cruelly-arthritic back knees make her hobble after only 500 metres which invariably ends up making me smile and get a bit teary at the same time: it hurts but she'd rather have a bath and a blow dry than not come with me. So, armed with a camera which gave her many opportunities to rest whilst sniffing driveways, manky bits of leftover takeaways dropped in the gutter and investigate other neglected dog turds, we set off.

Ah, look dear reader! First wildflower we encounter is Crappus Foodus, presumably discarded by either a teenager rushing back to the start of the fifth lesson after lunch or the Thursday night drunk who uses our street as his own personal ashtray and urinal as he staggers his way home at 2am.

What is interesting about this particular example of Crappus Foodus is that it's not from around here, oh no. We have a Rooster that is Red and a Hut that inexplicably produces pizza products at one end of our big road with an underground-transport system sandwich shop, some Golden Arches, and chicken that no-one wants to say out loud is still k-FRIED; but not a Hungry Fats establishment. We can only assume, therefore, that the consumer of this (let's be kind) 'foodstuff' either had to drive some distance to purchase it, arrived here and flung it out of their window ('thanks so much') or is a very fit walker who just undid all their efforts by choosing this meal to eat.

Our landscape is vast and mysterious here in the burbs. It has been fenced off, presumably to keep marauding wildlife out, but shows tantalising promise of good pasture, nice neighbors and a pleasing north-westerly aspect. No wildflowers though.

We move on a few blocks and find that Mother Nature has tried her best in the gutter here. The next time the TV aerial guy comes to visit, we'll invite him to bring along his sheep for a feed as well. Unless of course the animal is now so attuned to city-life that it insists on a latte and friand instead, in which case we'll walk it to the shops around the corner.

YESSSSSS! Wildflowers! They're bravely escaping one of those tiny, perfectly-manicured cottage gardens that hosts brutally clipped box hedges, stylised lavender bushes, iceberg roses stretched up on cruel posts and the requisite silver birch tree plonked right in the middle surrounded by reclaimed paving bricks.

Therefore, these little soursobs were never welcome and are making a break for the other side; the side where they belong - the mean, the wise, the clamouring chaos of The Streets.

No babbling brooks here, although the stormwater drains gush and gurgle when the empty Big M cartons and beer cans block the grates. Instead, we have our own quaint water supply, cunningly painted the same, slightly-odd purply-brown colour as the house. It is with great relief that I notice that we visit it one of the very rare occasions that Milly hasn't left a little reeking pile of brown calling cards underneath it - always a treat for visitors when they arrive.

Turning around and looking over my gate, I see my nemesis: The Leering Lemon Tree. I've been dying to steal - no sorry, pick - those ripe fruits for ages, but when I wander over there, casually whistling and whipping my head over my shoulder every half-second like an epileptic drug dealer, I can't reach the bloody things.

I even took my Litter Ninja Long Tongs with me but they're so flimsy that they actually buckled under the strain of trying to hold on to one measly lemon. The sodding little citrus then slid from the tongs (what does $1.99 buy you these days, people?) and plopped on the ground. On the tree's side.

If I'm bored enough I might just consider using one of Love Chunks' fishing rods and try casting and reeling one in from the comfort of our verandah......

At our back verandah, you can see that the tulips aren't exactly bursting with life or blooms. It's a sad fact that whilst my mother can coax a mango tree out of a cutting placed in arid desert sands, I merely have to think about the colour green and whatever poor plant I've inflicted my lethal black thumbs on dies quicker than a politician's smile during a paternity test.

On the other hand, the wild mint lurking nearby (well, it's in a pot, but that is considered wild in these parts) that Love Chunks and Sapphire planted is doing OK. Actually it's thriving and we have two of those fetching half-wine barrels' worth but little idea what to do with the stuff apart from put it into yoghurt sauce for lamb or sprinkle some in a jug of iced tea. Any recipes you can suggest?

What of the fauna in our area?

Here we have Skipper, the dwarf lop rabbit, or 'Silentus Bun-nus' as the zoologists refer to his species. We have yet to hear him utter any sound except "Eh eh eh" and that was when I soaked him with water every half hour during the 46C February heatwave.
Skipper too, has seen the bounties of Sapphire's gardening skills, with three freshly-grown spring blooms being carefully placed on his head before she renames him the world's smallest living Triceratop. To my amazement, he is completely unaffected by the flowers, the flash of the camera or our laughter but leaves his revenge for later when he digs the new bridge underpass in our hanky-sized lawn. Silent but industrious.

Milly has two favourite outdoor activities and both are pictured here. On sunny days, she likes to be outside on the lawn and I can hear the gnawing sounds - Ka-da-Thonk! Ka-da-Thonk! Ka-da-Thonk! - as her teeth scrape and catch precious shards of her latest bone.

Otherwise, the terrible, screeching squeals of a small animal being tortured are evident - Ah-eee! Ah-eee! Ah-eee! Ah-eee! - when the orange basketball bone is given some love and attention. The poor neighbours probably think she's using Skipper as a chew toy.....

Inside, there are no blooms to be found, other than those in my early paintings and the deformed bamboo plant in Sapphire's bedroom, so Milly finds her beloved beanbag and falls asleep. Her paws occasionally twitch as I imagine, in her doggy dreams, she finally gets to catch the two moggies next door or give that naughty labradoodle around the corner at the traffic lights hound a real talking to.

There's life here. And fun and beauty.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

He's in the shed

The first thing Dad did when he and Mum moved into their first house was save up for a shed. Several years later, he built another one, and then another one next to that. Soon our old cubby house (abandoned at the first sight of a huntsman spider behind the door) was converted into a garden shed and three carports were constructed as extensions on the existing sheds.

When he retired to Victor Harbor thirty-nine years later he had to make do with a mere two sheds. "It's been a struggle kiddo," he says ruefully. "I mean we've got my wood turning equipment, wood off-cuts, camping gear, fishing equipment, Love Chunks' canoe, both your brothers' windsurfers that we can't bear to get rid of, our bikes, the caravan, my tinnie, your mother's little toy-sorting room for the Lifeline shop...."

No wonder, then, that my childhood with Dad was one of energy and activity; no pussy-footing around any fancy furniture or wobbly knick-knacks in our house.

He'd go on a two week camping and hunting and blokey-business holiday with his fellow-teaching mates in the Flinders Ranges, returning home filthy, stinking and exhausted. One time he arrived home with a 4WD full of reeking goat skins and a shaggy beard that had me wondering just who was this strange man who was chasing my giggling mother around the house, insisting she give him a big hug even though he hadn't had as much as a sponge bath in a fortnight.

We'd sometimes have what I’d assume was chicken casserole for dinner until I found tiny little ball bearings in it - "Oh yeah, it's rabbit, actually.”

Pongy bolognese got a run too: "It's roo - can't you tell?" Er yes, it's a tad overripe and gamey Dad and just like the roasted goat leg we endured for your birthday lunch it hasn't coped too well with being hung from a tree in the Flinders Ranges in the heat for a week before you drove back home......

His love of lasagna would make even Garfield sweat, and Mum – not the most enthusiastic cook at the best of times – eagerly trawled garage sales and junk shops to find as many oven dishes as she could. She knew that he never did anything by halves; if he was going to have a lasagne cooking session then he might as well make 10 almighty-slabs that he’d let cool overnight and freeze in the big white mammoth lurking in shed number one that also stored his fishing bait.

He made his own bee hives and set them amongst the gorgeous purple Salvation Jane weeds in local farmers' paddocks and brought home chunks of fresh honeycomb for us to chew on endlessly, the honey long gone from the wax. The honey was the best I've ever tasted, especially smeared on a slice of fresh bread with cream drizzled on top. His battered old Landrover smelled permanently of smoke from his hive smoker and dead bees decorated the dashboard like sad little sequins. At the dinner table, he’d continue talking and casually flick the bee-stings out of the top of his hands with the butter knife because he was so used to them.

When Dad decided to take his long service leave, he really took it. We spent the entire winter in Queensland, caravanning our little hearts out. My memories of that time are inescapably entwined with the music we'd listen to on the very long drives using our brand new cassette stereo. Sadly, Dad mostly ruled the roost music-wise being nearest the tape slot and he was in his Al Jolston, Kingston Trio and Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night fan-boy mode back then. Twenty eight years later, I still automatically recall 'The streets of London' with Roger Whittaker’s whistling solo when photos of the Big Pineapple are brought out.....

On my wedding day, he linked his arm through mine and walked me out of their front door, down the driveway and around to the back pergola, where Love Chunks was standing there in front of 60 guests, nervously smiling back at them, waiting for me. It was a typically blustery Murray Bridge gust-storm, and my fancy white wedding hat was soon plonked on Dad’s head for safe-keeping. It suited him better anyway.

Nearly two years ago I had plummeted to the very lowest depths and was curled up on a gurney in the Accident and Emergency ward, sobbing incoherently, wanting my life to be over.

Dad drove 110km to the hospital the moment LC rang him and stroked my back, saying softly, “I love you. WE love you. The world wouldn’t be the right place without you.” I was in a deep hole of pain that is still too dark and incomprehensible to think back to or write about with any lucidity and don’t think I replied to what he said but I heard him…….

Months later, Dad sent me an email:

My darling daughter,

You said, "What on earth does it matter if.......?"

I wonder if we who ask those questions, and then give the answers to ourselves, even have the right to ASK the questions, let alone have the right to pre-empt all those who love us and give the answers as well. I say "WE who ask..." deliberately, because I have certainly asked myself the questions too, as, I'm absolutely sure, have countless others. The answer, and the ONLY answer, is given silently, but with total conviction, by all those we hold dear BECAUSE THEY HOLD US DEAR!

I saw the answer the night before you went on holiday when I remarked that you were looking pretty good - you had colour in your cheeks and a spark in your eyes. The answer was there when LC looked at you, gave a little smile, also gave you a little squeeze around the shoulders, and concurred. He "spoke" for us all - all that you have to do is believe it! You have the love of all of us, darling daughter, and it's ABSOLUTELY FREE!

When WE think we are worthless and just a hindrance to everyone else's life, somehow we have to believe that WE ARE COMPLETELY WRONG. In fact, we are the ONLY one who thinks that way, and it's just an indication that we're a bit out of whack and we just have to accept that, and wait until the light at the end of the tunnel stops being a light and becomes a normal day again - and it WILL!!!

You're using what I call the "stepping stones", I noticed, e.g., "...the gorgeous tropical clouds...", and "...our little blondie, swimming and chattering in the sun...". That's good!

I remember doing the same, feeling that I was kidding myself for ages, and keeping on until I realized that it wasn't kidding oneself but was the RIGHT approach to life. I went from one "stepping stone" to the next, creating one when my not-quite-right mind told me that there wasn't really one there at all. Slowly the stepping stones become more real, and the holes between them become smaller and shallower, until the holes lose their potential for disaster. Believe it!

There is NOT ONE PERSON who would prefer your absence to your presence - it's an unbelievably illogical thought to think otherwise, yet somehow so many of us think exactly that at some low point in our lives. I wonder why? Luckily most of us are blessed with those around us desperate to help at those times, and we must let them, and then they will lead us out the other side eventually. Lean on us all - we welcome it!

All my love always,

He told me on the phone the other night that he hates all the commercial crap associated with Fathers Day and didn’t want any presents or even an obligatory phone call.

But I am going to call him. There’s something I really need to tell him.