Monday, May 31, 2010

Red Whizz, White Panadeine and a Blue Mood

Skipper is crook.

The poor little guy has been peeing cab-sav instead of riesling on The Age newspapers lining his hutch and his usually spotlessly-cleaned white back legs are brown and filthy.

He's still eating and seems perky enough and I'll admit to waiting for a few days before broaching the topic of a vet visit with Love Chunks.....

......but today the wee was not only wed (sorry, 'red') but it stunk like a cross between rotting meat and paint thinner when I lifted up the roof of his two storey townhouse this morning. LC had already gone to work and Sapph had trotted off to school bowed under the weight of her tortoise-shaped backpack and viola case so it was possible to make the call to the vet without raising any protests on either a financial or emotional front.

Mr Migraine had also decided to pay me a long overdue visit. Lying in bed waiting for the Panadeine to persuade my brain to stop self-inflating inside my hammering skull meant that there was still time enough to wallow in my ratty old dressing gown of self pity about another issue before Skipper's 10am appointment.

As per my usual modus operandi, I had become too excited with talk, promises and plans before anything had been made a reality. The regular weekly writing gig I thought was going to be a great opportunity had faded like four-hour painkillers when the promised appointment and follow-up phone call did not eventuate. Like Miss Havisham at the bridal table, I waited by the phone on Monday and knew by silent Friday that my services were no longer required.

Disappointed but accepting, I visited her website to see what she'd decided to write instead.

My words.

Maybe she's going to contact me this Monday, I told myself. Maybe she was out by a week and thought our first meeting was today. Maybe she's going to see what reaction my writing gets and then discuss a payment.

Groping my way out of the shower and drying myself ever-so-slowly (the noise of the towel fibres against my face...painful! The electric toothbrush...agony! Pulling a t-shirt over my bulbous, beating head - PHARKen excruciating!), I put aside the getting-louder voices of 'She's ripping you off' and focussed on Skipper.

Rattling around in our freezing back shed wasn't going to happen today, so the rabbit was gently bundled in a couple of Milly's dog washing towels and wheeled around the corner in our portable shopping trolley. We earned a few curious stares as the trolley bulged and jiggled past the students at the tram stop ('Geez, your food must be really fresh') and turned the corner.

$99 and ten minutes later, Skipper might - yes, just might, because even the vet couldn't get a decent look at his remaining boy bits - have a bladder infection. He took great offence to lying on his back and being groped between the legs and only consented to taking in antibiotics when I held him up to my shoulder like a newborn baby. Still, he did give my ear a couple of reassuring licks, which is as close to purring, or 'I forgive you for my dodgy dark ride and harassment' as a rabbit can get.

Back home, I tried to contact my no-longer-interested but petulantly-plagiaristic perpetrator. Straight to Message Bank. Surely if someone decides to use my writing on their blog, I deserve payment? Someone who is in partnership with a relatively famous divorcee who gained millions from her husband after he left her for his secretary and is therefore not short of a bob....?? Why bother to fleece a home-based writer who'd be lucky to earn enough to lodge a tax return this year......???

It bites even harder because I'm still awaiting some kind of response from Sapphire's school principal about the future of the Writers' Workshop. The more I think about it, the more 'used' I feel - hours of my time, completely unsupervised, unpaid and seemingly no interest shown in rectifying the situation.

I went outside to check on the bunny boy. He was happily snoozing on Sapphire's old purple polarfleece blanket and leapt up to greet me, licking my fingers as I rubbed his nose. He's only two kilograms, but still makes me smile.

I'm sure he'll pull through; as will I.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Stick it or Quit it?

Yesterday, well into the second hour of the weekly Writers' Workshop I have with eighteen kids aged between nine and eleven years old, I walked out.

Six weeks ago, I felt slightly overwhelmed when the principal - without discussing it with me first - announced to the twenty (I wanted no more than ten) kids sitting on the mat in the library that they'd be writing a novel in five weeks.

Five weeks of course was impossible and before I could clear it with the principal, she was laid low for that entire time with pneumonia. Naturally, my piddly little concerns about a weekly writing group would be the last thing that her replacement principal would want to hear about, so I kept on running it and decided to extend it to the rest of the term. I let the vice principal know by email and she merely forwarded me an email from the State Library of Victoria in response, advertising a book reading event in June and a fwd-fwd-fwd on top with someone I'd never ever met saying, 'Maybe Kathy who is working with the writing kids can do this'. Er, thanks, 'Lisa' whoever you are......

Still, Maureen was gravely ill; I liked the kids and dared to think that my volunteering was doing something positive for the school and would ease the guilt of not doing anything there last year.*

Three weeks ago, the week after Sapphire said she hated me, the kids all begged, "Can we do this at lunch time too, Kath? Please?" Again, the principal was still home very ill, so I said yes and again let the vice principal know.

Last week's double session was wonderful. I loved seeing the kids and interacting with them and seeing their confidence grow. Reading their work during the week was also great fun and emailing gave me the opportunity to give each child more individual attention; something that wasn't possible when there's eighteen of them, all crowding around saying:

"Kath, can you read this?"
"Kath, can you please come over here my laptop's not working."
"Kath I don't understand what you mean here."
"Kath I've lost my USB and don't know where my notebook is."
"Kath, S keeps scribbling all over my notes!"
"Kath, is it okay to put swear words in the story?"

Yesterday was awful. Even non-teachers know that after-lunch sessions, especially later in the week are hard work. The kids are tired, a little bit ratty and want to goof off. I knew that and had so far, with a bit of hustle, humour and occasional 'Now Wait A Minute' lectures been fairly successful at keeping eighteen very smart, active, chatty and enthusiastic little beings on task.

Not yesterday. They were out of their seats, leaving the room without telling me where they were going, refusing to write any more detail in spots I'd highlighted earlier in the week (and emailed them and printed out in colour to bring as a hard copy to the session), were rocking back in their chairs, swearing, running around and making a hell of a din.

Several times I stopped and - no, not yelled - but told them sternly that time was running short and that this was their opportunity to get some more writing done. They'd dim the chaos to level seven for about thirty seconds before ramping up to level eleven again.

Three particular blowflies were very disruptive and I 'isolated' (yes, I know my teaching terminology) them away from their playmates and asked them (quietly, so that none of the other kids could hear and heighten their shame) to start working.

An hour and a half into the two hours, I was red-faced, sweaty and fed up. Now was time to yell. "HEY! I've given up my time to run this workshop with you and DON'T NEED to be here. I'm going to take a walk outside for two minutes to decide if I want to continue with it or not."

I grabbed my water bottle and left, crossing the leaf-infested quadrangle and heading towards the principal's office. She'd returned a week ago and I was in the mood to dob.

Or sob, as it turned out. Her assistant bundled me into the staff room, where I took a few deep breaths and the principal strode over to the library.

A bloke with a bushy beard walked in. "Hello, you're Sapphire's Mum, aren't you? I'm Barry Z, her Science teacher."
I smiled weakly. "Hi Barry. Sapphire loves your classes."
He nodded, "That's good to hear, good to hear. Now, why are you here and not out by the gate with your dog?"

I told him. No crying this time, just tiredly and quietly. He listened and said, "Are you a registered teacher?"
"Um, no. I did my Grad Dip Ed seventeen years ago and have a child clearance thingy from the Victorian Police but no, I'm here as a parent."

He raised a peppery grey eyebrow. "I'm not going to wade in here, but remember, you're not a teacher and you don't have to do anything here at school that you don't want to do."

The door squeaked open and young G's red head peered around. "Um, Kath? Mrs M wants to know if you're ready to come back now...?"

I nodded and let her leave so that I could walk back over there on my own and in my own good time. The library was quiet with eighteen kids bent over their keyboards and notebooks. Maureen beamed. "The kids' writing is fantastic!" All I could manage was a shrug.

She stood up. "Now kids, you all know what you have to do." To my utter horror and embarassment, the kids lined up in front of me and each child offered an apology. I nodded to each one, hoping that I wouldn't cry or blush too profusely.

The bell rang and each kid said, "See ya Kath - and thanks," as they left. My smile came more naturally. I know that they didn't mean it personally but why was I the dumb bunny giving up my time when all of them had parents who earned more in a month than I earned in a year?

Maureen hugged me and said, "Take next week off - I'll run the class. And stop editing their work during the week."
"Yes but you announced that they'd need to write a novel and some of them need help with that, not just the few seconds I can offer then during these sessions."

She didn't appear to hear me, but gave me another jolly, standing-side-by-side hugs that had my left arm sandwiched awkwardly against her rump due to still carrying a laptop case. The Kumon tutors had arrived and she was already in conversation with the English coordinator.

I dawdled to the school gate, dreading Sapphire's response. It was a grey day, but I put my sunnies on to hide the still-watery and red-rimmed eyes.

Sapphire walked up to me, reaching for my hand, and held it all the way home.

"I don't blame you for walking out, Mum," she said. "They deserved it."

I started crying again then.

* After four years (reception to year three) of fund raising, stall running, jewellery making, Quiz night hosting, Fete Day organising, hearing kids read every week, working bee gardening, class room painting, excursion attending, note taking and stage-backdrop designing I decided that I needed a year off doing such things when Sapphire first started year four at Flemington Primary School last year. And yes, I felt incredibly guilty doing so!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Sapphire is now eleven years old.

Made in Malaysia and born in Carlton. Weaned in Heidelberg Heights, child-cared and schooled in Trinity Gardens; year four onwards in Flemington.

With five months of strangely swirling friendships and associated dramas, Sapph decided that she didn't want a birthday party. All she she required was an ice skating session at the new rink in the Docklands, freshly-made gnocchi for lunch at a nearby Italian cafe she'd been to (and enjoyed) previously and some test runs on her new scooter.

The day was peppered with telephone calls, bright autumn sunshine, numb feet (for the skaters and the adults on the sidelines), chocolate cake, cuddles and presents.

Many hours later, as she'd finished cleaning her teeth, she said, "This has been the best birthday ever."

Seeing the 'Oh no is my child destined to be a loner forever' look of agitated sorrow and perpetual anxiety on my face, she raised her hand to shoosh the deluge and clarified herself.

"What I mean is it was great because I didn't have to worry about being a good hostess or making sure that there were enough things to do, that everyone was happy, that the games were all fun, that the lollybags had cool things inside and checking all the time that nobody was being left out. It was a relief to be with Phoebe and you and Dad and just, well, enjoy it all."

Sitting on the edge of her bed, I smoothed her hair and asked, "So what have you learned in the past year?"

"That nobody ever on TV or in the movies gets into bed and then unpicks their wedgie straight afterwards," she said instantly. "Even if you're just acting, it'd be awful to slide into bed and have to say your lines with a wedgie that has to be ignored."


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Five Day Grind

Recent blogging buddy* Elisabeth commented - kindly I hope - that this blog makes the mundane sound interesting. I then read Radge's blog about taking the week off and finding himself not kicking up his still-young-and-single-and-carefree heels up in his local Irish pub but idly browsing kitchenware shops, feeling utterly unstressed and strangely content, and thought, 'Yep, I'm going to steal that idea and write about my own mundane week.'

Firstly, my diary. It's an RSPCA charity one, tiny in size to carry in a bag and covered in almost illegible kilometrico blue pen scrawls. This means that whenever something is changed, or cancelled or rescheduled, I have to get the liquid paper out and remove the original entry. 'No biggie', you're probably thinking, (along with 'mundane'? How about eye-droopingly snooze inducing?) but amendments inevitably happen more than once and the diary starts to resemble Queen Elizabeth the First's face after 50 years of rule, perhaps a bath a year and a daily application of lead-based foundantion.

Like George Costanza's wallet, I can barely shut the bloody thing without re-straining my neck and causing flecks of displaced paint to fly out the sides. So, let's start with Monday, shall we?

After going for my 8 km run, seeing Sapphire off to school and packing the dishwasher I meet up with Ros to accompany her on the final part of Flemington not yet scoped for our council-funded Heritage walk. We're both a bit cautious with each other as I'm desperate to seek forgiveness for my stupid remark several meetings ago which basically disparaged her part of our lovely suburb when I was unable to find anything of interest that would persuade a person of sound mind and body to venture along the traffic-choked Racecourse Road, past Centrelink and the graffitied shopfronts just to stare at a stable.

She quite rightly took offence and told me - rather politely, admittedly - that I was ignorant, insulting and decidedly lacking in the special brain fluid stuff that connects the synapses. Straight after the meeting, I rushed over to apologise profusely and we made a date to go for a walk around her neck of the woods together.

And I'm so glad we did so. We saw this fig tree, growing on the stone front of the three cottages named after Melbourne Cup winners and marvelled at its tenacity:

I met her lovely husband, her talented architecture-student daughter and their two adopted Jack Russell terriers. The final two were the hardest to win over and followed behind me suspiciously as their Alpha Female chose to be with me, the weird stranger, in an area that was normally theirs to sniff and examine. Eventually they decided that my company was no longer repellent and rewarded me with no barking, happily wagging tails and a tentative lick on the hand.

Four hours later I limped home with nearly 200 photos, hopefully a new friend and a big smile on my fat face.

Tuesday found me chatting with a businesswoman in another part of the country, laughing as we realised how much we had in common and wondering just how we could work together without ever meeting. Time will tell, but my fingers are crossed.

This is also the day I finish a profile article on a Drama and English teacher for The Age and congratulate myself on squeezing a high-achieving and busy life story into 730 words;

Nervously submit an invoice to a largish chocolate company, hoping they don't scoff at my hourly rate and wishing that, at 41-and-a-half and three years into freelance writing, I'd stop feeling like a prostitute;

Edit ten out of the eighteen young writers' stories that they are now emailing me during the week as time runs out and their novels are in progress. I read about death, snakes, medieval weaponry, aliens, dancing, bullies, tigers, ticking clocks, loneliness and blue blobs;

Arrange, photograph and sample three different blocks of Swiss chocolate that, quite frankly, is so delicious I struggle to write about it in any knowledgeable or informative way; and

...write my
blog about Tim Roth, our new tree, telling lies and procrastinating.

morning commences with what sounds like Darth Vader's breathing apparatus being amplified throughout the neighbourhood until Sapphire runs outside and notices two hot air balloons floating nearby, blowing gas.

Half an hour later, I end up impersonating that sound as I puff, wheeze - and occasionally clamber off to cough up a phlegm oyster into a tissue - my way on the treadmill. The cold/lurgy/chest infestation thingie that Sapphire brought home from school has all three Locketts honking, sneezing, hacking and ahem-ing like a band of heavy smoking percussionists.

My medley is clearly so distressing that our neighbour, Stuart, calls out over the fence when I lean up against the shed door, sweating and exhausted, grateful to be finished. "Are you OK over there, Kath? I don't start work until lunch time if you need help." He's an emergency doctor, so I take this as my cue to gasp out that I'm fine but will take it easy for the rest of the day.

Therefore, I spend the rest of day before school pick-up editing the 200 heritage walk photos, writing up some previous chocolate reviews, phoning a friend in Adelaide before she had to hastily hang up and wipe the Deep Heat creme her three year old had found and smeared on his eyebrows, email in an
ASRC article, hang up a few loads of washing and do the fortnight's ironing.

Amy comes over for a cup of tea in the afternoon and reminds me again that some of us work-from-home folk can still look utterly gorgeous whilst doing so. She's a really genuine, intelligent and kind person, yet I feel like Quasimodo alongside her.

is power walking morning. Milly hates this because it means that I'm out in the shed
for much longer on the stupid, noisy, nose-dragging contraption and not inside in the warmth, which is where she'd like to be. Every few minutes she'll wander in, give me a look of boredom and disappointment (yes, dogs can conjure up that in a glance), sit down for a few seconds and then wander out, hoping to find some stray bunny butt beans near Skipper's hutch.

Later I do the weekly shop, get Love Chunks' watch fixed, bank Sapphire's pocket money (ie when her money box is full) and slightly impress the teller by handing it over properly bagged and counted, fill up the car with petrol at the place that gave us contaminated stuff at Christmas time and hope that everything's all fine now because I just can't be shagged finding a spot anywhere else and post some letters.

Lunch is a rushed plate of saladas and an apple because the
Writing Workshop kids want to come in an hour earlier - ie during their lunch time - to start their writing. I arrive, expecting maybe only a couple to remember, but a dozen are waiting at the door. It's the serious end of term now, and I know all their names, the exact spots they're at in their stories and how far I can push the 'tell me MORE about how you killed him' encouragements.

They, in turn, are even referring to me as their 'editor' and love the lolly snakes and fantales I bring in to keep their energy levels and enthusiasm up for such a long session. I win even more respect by being able to answer every single 'Who am I?' question they read off their fantale wrappers because they're too young yet to realise that a brain filled with pop culture has less space for more useful information. Two hours later, Sapphire and I walk home and she chatters away enthusiastically about her planned plot twists. I realise, as I listen, that I'm starting to enjoy this workshop and, hey, even be looking forward to it.

Finally, Friday. My third running session is still peppered with enough coughs and snorts to prevent Milly from bothering to visit me, but I'm glad I did. I'm sad enough to write in my diary - and highlight in fluoro orange pen - what runs and walks I do for the week and if there's five entered, life is grand. Plus, this run occurs at 6.30 and not 8.30 am because I'm being interviewed then for a magazine.

It's not the most prestigious magazine in history but it ain't Zoo weekly either. The journo chats to me about the Flemington Litter Ninja project and says that her publication is going to buy one of the photos taken by my local paper but would I be so kind as to email her another, say, one of me actually picking up some rubbish? Oh and she'll send me a contract that I'll need to sign, stipulating that I will not sell my story to any of their competitor magazines. Whew, the things you need to go through for three hundred dollars.....

Change the sheets on the bed, scrub out the shower (whilst in it and hope that there's never a day when the local perve decides to put a hidden camera in the house), clean the toilet, hang out some washing and sort out the wheelie bins.

Spend the afternoon deciding whether to submit the rough-as-guts first two chapters of anti-Angela's Ashes (ie happy) memoir, current working title, 'Stink Pot,' to a publisher holding a mentoring competition. Get lost in sorting out old-but-relevant blog posts, hand-written notes, family photos and verbal embroidery (ie writing more) and forget to do so.

My watch has an alarm that pings at 3:18pm. Milly leaps out of her beanbag (not a bad effort for a dog who was in deep REM sleep only a second ago and negotiating a moveable soft bed with two arthritic back legs), nudges my chair and readies herself for a walk. I smile and log off. This is the highlight of both of our days - seeing Sapphire at the school gate.

* if you comment, you're a blog buddy in my view.
** yes, Love Chunks made the expected jokes about the balloons being a hell of a lot quieter than anything I'm capable of doing under the doona.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pants on fire

Apparently Tim Roth is sick of being the bad guy or weirdo on the big screen and has now fully embraced American telly having a regular paycheque and his own show on the small screen.

In the voiceover promos for 'Lie to Me', Mr and Mrs Breathy Porno Exaggerators for Channel Ten tell us that the average person tells four lies a day.

"Four lies a day? No way!" Sapphire snorted.

"Maybe some white lies," I ventured, "You know, when a teacher might really over-praise a kid's work because they're actually just thrilled that the kid is sitting down and not hot-wiring the smart board to play Lady Gaga's 'Telephone' clip in full."

Her blue eyes revealed that she understood my point, but the determined pencil-sharpener pompous-puckering of her mouth showed that there was no way that she was going to admit to uttering four lies, regardless how well-intentioned.

It got me thinking, though, as I was sitting at my desk, waiting for an interstate phone call that promised work whilst trying NOT to think of the six blocks of German chocolate that had just been couriered over and instead focusing on the next interview I'd scribbled down on paper and had to type out in an engaging and informative article. Did I tell lies? Four of them a day? If so, to whom? When? And, more importantly, Why?

At school I was the child who blushed if the teacher even so much as indicated I should stop talking by putting a finger to her lips. I'd sit there in silent agony until the bell rang, feeling evil and awful and as though the entire world (or year five class) were witnessing and relishing my shame.

It was even worse if a teacher needed to find out who committed an awful deed but wanted to ferret out the demon by asking the entire class. "NOBODY IS GOING HOME UNTIL THE PERSON WHO THREW LEONIE'S HOMEWORK - VANDALISED INTO A HANDFUL OF WET PAPER MACHE - ONTO EACH BLADE OF THE OVERHEAD FAN."

My face would be ablaze in anxiety. What if the teacher thought it was me? Worrying about how red my face was would only make it go redder and increase my fear that the teacher would then assume that it was me, Katherine Anne Read, who did the deed.

Even today, I can't lie to Love Chunks. He'll say, "Hey, how about some chocolate," as we're watching Bear Grylls spend the night inside a dead camel and eat a breakfast of live spider with the guts splurting out of his mouth.

I'll say, "Hey, that's a great idea," and focus, really intently, on my knitting.

LC immediately picks up on the blush not yet fully blooming on my cheeks. "Have you already eaten some chocolate earlier today?"

My attention is on the tension of the wool. ""

He'll laugh and I'll blush. "Okay YES. I photographed six different varieties of chocolate for GoneChocco, sampled each and every one of them and then had a craving for a bit of that leftover Cadbury Creme Brulee that's been lurging in the fridge door for ages because it goes down well with a cup of green tea. Are you happy now?"

So, today. I realise, with a sinking heart, that I have indeed told a lie already.

It was 10am, and the front doorbell rang. Actually it never rings, that's just lazy writing. If I wrote, 'it electronically piped out the entire Big Ben repertoire' it might not sound as convincing as 'the front doorbell rang' and ----- oh poo bum bugger shit fart ---- that means I've told my second lie for the day!

Back to the first one. I had only just stepped out of the shower, and opened the door with dripping hair and a towelling bathrobe with more stretched threads hanging off it than Oklahoma's famed surrey with the fringe on top.

The courier bent down to pat Milly, who, with beaming eyes, wide smile and furiously wagging tail, was doing her best guard dog impression. He straightened up, tried to avoid looking me in the eye and handed me a package. "These are the new German chocolates that Oliver wants you to try."

As I reached over to sign his form, I decided to not admit that I'd been sitting at the computer since Sapph left for school, enjoying being in my warm PJs and not bothering to go for my scheduled morning power walk and said, "Oh I'm running a bit late this morning, I've been for a run because - heh heh - I need to with all the chocolate I eat, heh heh," hoping that he'd accept my wet state as the rightful recuperation after rigorous exercise.

Why didn't I just say nothing? Just mutter 'thanks' and shut my damn door? Well it doesn't take Dr Phil to tell me that I wanted to look better in the eye of the courier. Sad, isn't it?

And what did I learn from that experience? Nothing, as it turns out.

Shortly after lunch as I was hanging up a load of washing (again, not writing the paid-article I needed to finish, or doing the heritage walk research I'm supposed to do), Milly went berserk by the front gate. A huge truck had pulled up and the squeaks and screeches of the rusting tail gate had her convinced a fellow dog was being tortured.

My brave investigations - 'Hello....?' revealed two council workers had arrived to replace our dead street tree.

Milly had a sniff and received a few pats and I said, "Well, it's great that we're getting a new tree, thanks. I'd better go and finish up my work," and bustled inside, looking like I had places to go, things to do, people to meet.

...or as much as you can look like that when wearing baggy jeans and aqua-coloured crocs all shrouded in a man-sized grey polar fleece jacket.

Back inside, I resumed drinking my cup of coffee and started tasting some chocolate. Yep, my third lie for the day.

I walked back outside. "Hey guys, I've a confession to make. I just lied to you. I'm supposed to be working, but really I'm just in here having a coffee and taking enticing photos of some chocolate. Do you want some?"

They didn't want any, 'Oh we've just had lunch' and I'm sure it was one of their four lies for the day, but who could blame them. When a strange woman in Crocs and mouse-fur hairstyle comes at you with a camera, would you willingly enter her house without alerting the authorities beforehand?

A while later, reading emails whilst downloading the photos, there was a message sitting there from Steve, asking if someone could 'nip down' and take a snap of the train station as the 'before' picture prior to being gussied up with landscaping, native plants and some council funds.

I paused. Yes, I could 'nip' over and do it, but I hadn't finished my article, or submitted the spec pieces for a company who might use my services or even started the draft piece on an interview I'd done on a teaching friend yet. Let alone uploading heritage walk pictures for sharing on Flickr, finalising a short story entry for the VWC or writing the embarassingly overdue Litter Ninja newsletter.

So I didn't respond, hoping that he'd assume I was busy. Silence meant that Lie Number Four and already achieved by (glances at watch): 2:19pm.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


If you're as unstimulated as myself, you'll find yourself flipping through the weekly TV guide the day it comes with the Sunday paper just to see if there's anything worth keeping your eyes out for on the box in the upcoming week.

Even if you're not as sadly sedate as all that, I'm sure you'll still not fail to notice just how many acronyms there are for TV shows. Hey, even TV itself is an acronym come to think of it.

MASH was one of the first ones to start it – wisely deciding that Mobile Army Surgical Hospital might not have drawn the 1970s telly viewer in such large numbers. Later on, ER producers also believed that 'Emergency Room' sounded more like a door sign than an engrossing drama.

If I flip through the guide whilst typing this, I notice that we have 'Law and Order: SVU'. No, that's not a Sports Vehicle Utility, but a 'Special Victims Unit'. In other words, it's one of those cop shows where the murder always involves a dead girl who lives a secret life; normally involving prostitution, pole dancing or a sleazy strip club. And yes, the detectives are always compelled to visit at least one of these sordid places in order to solve the crime.

To support my blather, here is the actual description for the next episode that screens on Thursday night: ‘Suspicions that the girlfriend of a lesbian artist could be responsible for her sexual assault and murder are overshadowed by an attack on an activist, who is part of a gay advocacy group following the investigation.’ Nice; especially when Mr and Mrs Channel Ten Breathy-Porno Voice-over couple promote the show during every single ad-break during the G-rated MasterChef Australia program.

NCIS is another one, presumably standing for 'Non-imaginative Crime Investigation Series', yet they’ve also created a second stream located in Los Angeles. *sigh*, I mean ‘LA’.

The king of acronyms that breed remains the CSI franchise. We have the original CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) set in Las Vegas, and CSI: Miami and now CSI: New York. I'll start watching the day they release CSI: Wagga Wagga.

Current affairs, light-hearted game shows and aliens get in on the act as well: Q&A, QI, and V.

You've also got AFL footy, the NRL Show, Late night NBC news. At the insomniac's hour of 3:00am we have JLF, but I have no idea what it stands for - Juicy Lesbian Fairies perhaps, or Judge's Liver Failure. This is then followed by USA high, Airline USA, Wife Swap USA and various UKs.

OneChannel has embraced the capital with UFC Unleashed, MVP, NBA playoffs, TNA Xplosion, MLB, ANDRA pro-series drag racing, NASCAR nationwide, ATP World Tour Uncovered, ITU World Champions, ANZ netball, SK Telecom Open and MotoGP.

We even had the movie, DOA playing on Saturday night!

To digress a bit, let's now look at numbers, shall we? They too, are now considered important enough to be a show's name. We have - 20/20, Hi-5, 7PM Project, the 7:30 Report, Zontas 100%, 24, Autism Speaks 400.... Why the last one is on the sports channel ‘One’ is a mystery I’m not prepared to sit down and watch in order to solve.

I asked Love Chunks once (and only the once) what acronym he'd choose to describe himself and he immediately shot back with: "BBD. Bloody Big Donger."

Hmmm well he may be a physicist and mathetician all that, but there's still a fair share of Benny Hill lurking within.

As for me, it would definitely be WACA - Worrywart And Chocolate Addict.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hair hair!

After spending the morning shivering in a fruit and veg warehouse taking photos of a man on a forklift as part of an interview on asylum seekers, I tripped out of the 57 tram and rang Love Chunks, still sick at home.

"Did you see the doctor?"
"Yep. She says I've got a temperature, have infected snot and need to stay home for another three days."
"She? So you had to see Dr W, the woman with all the warmth of a frozen tail pipe?"
"Yep. She was nice to me, actually."
I snorted. "That's because she fancies you. You're quite a youthful catch for a humorless 70 year old from Eastern Europe. Have you had any lunch yet?"

.....I caught my reflection---- oh, who am I kidding? I saw - deliberately sought to see - myself in the shop window. Every now and then I like to see what a 41 year old lover of polar fleece and sensible shoes looks like out on the street.

It wasn't the clothing, the thighs or the still-smouldering zit on the chin. It was my hair. Thin, unkempt and some kind of unholy merging of sideburns and overgrowth forming a set of extra ears that only Fozzy Bear would covet. My local hairdresser is a 'walk in and see who's free' kind of establishment and cheap, which is my kind of place.

"Sit down, sit down," Tan indicated, smiling. In Vietnamese she presumably told Hannah to re-heat her lunch because she had a wrinkly old koala to attend to.

"I want it short. Really short," I said, and closed my eyes. I've always loved the feel of someone cutting, brushing, patting or spraying my hair and am therefore uncharacteristically non-chatty in the hairdresser's chair.

"You like? And at the back?"
"Yep. That's spot on. Low maintenance. As soon as I have to start blowdrying or using pongy spray, it's time for a cut."

At home, I gulped down some leftover spag bol under Love Chunks' silent but polite dismay. "It's um, it's like the mid-nineties again," he said.

Sapphire, at the school gate, was more open. "You look TERRIBLE!"

I disagreed and after dinner, I left my detractors at home to attend a meeting. The evening was freezing, with the cold wind blowing the maccas wrappers further on up the gutter and numbing my ears.

At the gate to the neighbourhood house, I met up with Miranda; a sixty-something, elegant widow of impeccable breeding, a smoky school marm boarding school accent and cherry red lipstick. "Oh, is that yoooooou there Kath? I didn't recognise you."

She paused, patting at her own silvery mane done up in a bun. "You do realise, don't you dear, that you're likely to attract the amorous attentions of an entirely different crowd of admirers, don't you?"

"I always have done," I said.

Our local community group was ready to start. I took my cue from Cate, who managed to ease the tensions of the local stirrer last month by calmly responding to his tiresome remarks whilst not dropping a stitch in her knitting. It was quite a sight to see a gorgeous young lawyer putting a 55 year old bullyboy in his place whilst putting the finishing touches on a scarf for her husband.
I too, whipped my knitting out. Con, usually a shy IT guy who finds me a bit too, um, cheeky, had a chuckle. "What you making there, Kath? A beanie for your head?"
"Er no, Con. It's a long scarf of seven squares that are then sewn together as blankets for the homeless shelter."

My dignity restored, the Scotsman started the meeting.

No sooner than he'd said, "We haven't had time to put an agenda out this time, but I'll go through the usual---" than he was heckled by Bob in the far corner.

"HEY SCOTTIE how come youse haven't done the heritage walk yet and I've got to tell you about the council chick who I tried to speak to at the bowls club who was really rude to me and I've got some ideas on how we can---"

"Um thanks Bob, but we'll get to each of those in turn because we have a lot to get through and the people that have volunteered to do all of the things you mention are going to give us some updates tonight."

Again there was a dignified silence, which I then ruined by trying to yank the lid of a plastic take-away container. In it I'd emptied three bags of peanut M&Ms, which rattled and clattered across the laminated table like a mini Marachi band. "Sorry about that - take some and pass them on."

Our visitor, a local politician, hoovered them up enthusiastically, eyes averted from my gaze. The two local newspapers were shown around, with biro rings drawn around the letters to the editor on issues that we were discussing.

"Oooh there you are Kath," Con said, his mouth full of green and gold-themed chocolates, "Blowing your nose for some reason?"
"It was to highlight the sort of rubbish I most often find when I'm litter ninja-ing," I whispered. "Tissues are everywhere."

Bob tried again, his voice more slurred this time. "Kath when are you gunna tell us what the hell you've been doing about the Heritage walk?"

Eyeing him over my single pale green square of knitting, my cheeks bulging with chocolate and a hairstyle that was still being sniggered at made my efforts at dignity and control slightly less successful than Cate's. "Ermf, I've taken aboutpfh a thousandth photosth that I'm going to sortthth througtthhh" I mumbled, swallowing some M&Ms whole.

Cate saw my struggle and gently reached over to take the knitting out of my hands. "Let me do that for you." I blurted out a slightly less muffled answer, my throat now hurting as the peanuts slid painfully against the side of my oesophagus. Cate handed me back my knitting. "I'll have to show you how to increase the tension of the wool and not move your hands around so much," she mouthed.

Thus placated, Bob turned his beer-soaked attentions on to another local matter. "So what's the council doin' in the park? There's all these barricades and shit everywhere and---"

Miranda sat up straight. "Bob have you been drinking? If so, shooosh," she scolded, putting an admonishing finger to her mouth.

The entire room went quiet as we silently admired her bravery and wondered how Bob would respond. He didn't and The Scotsman moved onto the next item.

".....And now we have our final item. Some of us have received formal invitations from the developer at Bombards to go to a cocktail evening tomorrow night to check out the apartments that are for sale." The glossy flyers were passed along the table. "Considering we fought against it at the council and VCAT, why would they want to invite us along?"

"Ah phark the council," Bob yelled. "We need to find someone who unnerstans us all; someone who'll tell the knobs up on high where they can shove it---"

Dear sweet Reg, pushing seventy if he's a day, spoke up. Ever the faithful coordinator of Neighbourhood Watch and meeting peacemaker, he held up a poster. "I've been asked by the Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek to publicise their native tree planting event this Saturday. They could always do with a few more hands and a few more shovels."

Bob grunted, "Yeah well I'd love to see someone get off their arse and do something down at the overgrown parklands by my place because those pharkers-----"

"Thanks Bob," The Scotsman lifted his hand up to stop him and then smiled. "You know Bob, you should channel some of your energies that you've displayed this evening and attend the cocktail party tomorrow night."

Our secretary Sandra smiled as she packed away her laptop. Her meeting minutes are always well written and summarised but she typed endlessly throughout our discussions. I wouldn't be surprised if she publishes a novel about us all one day.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Mothers day was spent with my only child out of the house and far away from me.

After being stuck at home for three days ......

.....Sapphire had passed the phlegm-flag over to Love Chunks. He athletically grabbed the baton and won the race. Prize: a heavy cold, peppered with asthma, ear ache and the ability to make the windows rattle each and every time he emitted an explosive sneeze which was often.

Sunday, for me, started at 6am with a full bladder and an already-angry migraine, enhanced by the coughing of LC sweating beside me. Three hours later I tried again, codeined-up to my pounding eyeballs and partly capable of sitting upright in our harshly sunny kitchen. "GREAT, Mum! You're up and ready for your Mother's Day gifts!"

I tried not to wince. Too loud, too bright, too busy, too much movement, wrapping paper too hard to deal with and if Love Chunks sneezes again I think that my brains might finally squirt out of my ears like party pooper strings.....

Her lips touched my cheek so gently. I caught a whiff of Body Shop's White musk, green apple shampoo, peppermint toothpaste and warm Sapphire. The sun shone through her hair. Ineffectually, I tried groping up to get her to stay right there. Lips, touch, smell and warmth, forever.

She pushed back and tapped the packages. "I made them all myself, when you thought I was in my room doing my homework," she beamed.

Now Sapphire doing something secret is like asking Jim Carrey to tiptoe across a waterbed but I smiled and said, "Oooh, I had no idea."

In the parcel was a gorgeous, hand-sewn triangular door stop, "Filled with stones from our garden and yes, it does actually hold open the door," she exclaimed, demonstrating its effectiveness with the zeal of a gameshow hostess. "Look! And I know you don't already have one." Too true.

In a carefully-stitched red satin bag, tied up with a fluffy blue drawstring, were seven sky-blue painted stones. "See, Mum, they're all your favourite things. I mean, that aren't chocolate or Dad, I mean."

Each one was intricately painted with tiny cameos of Milly the dog, Skipper the rabbit, my own name as a chain of daisies, a tulip, rose and some lavender stalks. The detail was extraordinary, and hinted at a considerable dollop of artistic skill and a lot of patience.

"Mum, you're slumping a bit on your chair, I think you need to go back to bed." I weakly agreed, overwhelmed by the burning fire under my cheekbones and of Panadeine's pathetic resistance.

A hurried phone call saw Love Chunks and I hover uncertainly at the front door, crouched in our respective agonies, farewelling Sapphire and handing her over to her auntie and uncle for the day, ready for raspberry picking in Kinglake.

Love Chunks went straight to bed, feverish and aching and I lingered for a moment, kissing each beautiful blue stone in turn before joining him.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Double punch

"I hate her," Sapphire said on the phone to her father just as I was leaving the room.

She'd been at home with me for three days, getting over another bad cold - nasty little lurgies too easy to catch due to the lingering weaknesses still felt by whooping cough and allergies. Her face was ravaged and sore from the almost-constant friction of tissues and she sweated each time a fit of coughing came on.

Today was Day Three At Home, still necessary due to Sapph's persistent symptoms. She sank back gratefully on the lounge, looking ever so small and forlorn. Red blankie was pulled up to her chin as she eased herself upright to drink some green tea and eat some vegemite toast. "Thanks Mum," she smiled. My heart pounded extra hard: I felt privileged to serve her.

We watched a few episodes of 'Frasier' together, me knitting and she with a clutch of damp tissues in her hand, laughing together. After lunch of vegetarian pasta in a basil tomato sauce ("This is delicious, Mum! Do you make yourself lunches like this every day?") we chatted about the Writers' Workshop I was due to run at 2:30pm.

I phoned the school. Yes, I'd still be running it, but Sapph was still sick. Was it OK if I brought her along and sat her away from the others, on her own, near a private stash of tissues?

We arrived ten minutes before the end-of-lunch bell rang. Our laptop is slow at the best of times, and Sapph didn't want to risk spending the lesson watching a bouncing hour glass on a blue screen.

The kids streamed in. "Can I go to the IT room and get a lap top Kath?"
"I'm sitting at the terminal right here - can you save it for me?"
"I didn't get the email you sent!"
"Why do I have to describe what the Blob thingy looked like?"
"Can I get my pencil case?"
"Kath, Otto's forgotten about it today - can I go over to his class to get him?"

Fourteen of them had emailed me their writing during the week and I'd spent several hours reading them, adding inserts with questions, suggestions and encouragements to get them to expand their writing.

"How did you kill that Ninja?"
"Is 'Booboo' really the right name for an eleven year old boy?"
"Why does he want to be a netballer and wear purple?"
"I love how you've written that you've found five kilograms of gold, but how did you sneak it out of the mine?"
"Does your teacher realise that you're a ghost if you're still in class doing algebra?"

The trouble is, Thursday afternoon at 2:30pm is a bullfrog's arse-of-time to get kids ready to write. They're tired, a bit 'ratty' after a warm lunch time and have a small window of freedom away from their all-knowing class teachers to sit back and goof off.

I realised all this. However, I also realised that we only had two more sessions left; a principal who insisted on them all producing a printed novel by the end of term and had announced that goal to all and sundry; no IT person around to help the kids with recalcitrant laptops and the same two little blowflies who continued to bother everyone around them. Noise, movement and heat started to rise and my smile started to hurt. Damnit, I was catching Sapphire's lurgy.

Several times I tried tackling the two blowflies individually. "L, I like what you've written here, but that was from last week and we'd already talked about how you'll need to put in a few more descriptions, like what country you're in, why you're mining gold and who the actual natives are. How about you put your seat back by the desk and start handwriting - yeah, I know the computer's stuffed - some quick ideas?"

Blowfly two, E, was busy giggling, with her back to me. I tapped her on the shoulder. "Have you got the computer working yet, E?"
"What about your writing book, did you bring that?"
"Well, while you're waiting for the computer to start, I'd like you to borrow a sheet of paper - here's some, take it - and start jotting down the plan of your story."
"Your PLAN. The thing I've now mentioned to you four weeks in a row now. Writing one sentence in size 72 font isn't what I call a story plan." I do my best to meet her eyes and smile at her, hoping I look friendly and she can't see the red veins starting to refract against the tired green in my eyes.

The next twenty minutes were eaten up getting five other boys - usually really good and enthusiastic kids - to sit down and write something. Five girls started to giggle and chat about the lacrosse game they'd played earlier in the day and yet all of their computers were working. I decided to walk the floor in order to have an encouraging word and a quick read of each child's work.

Eventually it was E's turn as she leaned over her desk trying to hit young S with a ruler.

"Hey E, have you written anything beyond your single sentence from two weeks ago?"

She smirked at me. "Nope."

That was it, I decided. I needed to let her know who was boss. "Right then. I'd like you to pack up the laptop, return it to IT and head back to your class. I don't need you in this workshop."

E dissolved into tears, shoulders hunched over the desk, hands covering her face. I softened, but not much. "Come into the office with me, because we need to talk." Out of the sight of her classmates, she looked at me, tears nearly gone. I explained that she was one of only twenty kids hand-picked by the principal to do the workshop. Selected because they were talented, creative and willing to work. "I'm really disappointed that you haven't tried and, honestly, I don't need to give up my time to make you."

She begged forgiveness "I'm so sorry, really sorry, I'll try, honestly," and I agreed to let her continue as long as she showed me her writing before the end of the day. She grabbed at the paper in my hands and headed back out into the fray.

L was running around the room, with kids A to M rocking back in their chairs, laughing.

There was no green left in my eyes; it was all red. "HEY! THAT'S IT!"

Stricken and silent, they slowly sunk back into their seats.

"You kids are lucky to be part of this workshop. I am giving up my time to help you and I don't need - or deserve - to have it wasted with you guys mucking around." A pencil clattered to the floor.

"You have TWO MORE WEEKS left, so if you're not prepared to put the work in, raise your hand and you're free to quit and go back to your class NOW."

No-one raised their hand. I was pretty sure that their reluctance was mostly due to fear rather than want. I didn't dare look at Sapphire in the corner. "So, who wants to stay and behave?"
"I do..." they all replied, sing-song-like and obedient.
"GOOD. Now let's get to work!"

To cool down, I walked over to Sapphire, pretending to read over her shoulder as she typed. "They all hate you now," she hissed, "and I do too."

Muttering something like, "That's not important", I turned away and started my rounds again, spending a minute or two with each child, helping them. The class had forgiven me and behaved.

When we get home, Sapphire rings her Dad at work, and I hear, "I hate her."

This hurts so much that I cry when I'm out in the cold evening wincing at the car lights and picking up squashed kebab wrappers in the darkness. She may hate me, but she'd despise me if I'd let them muck around, make a fool of me and let her witness the humiliation.

That's what I tell myself.

Monday, May 03, 2010


My grandmother was a very proper woman.

That didn't mean she refused to get her hands dirty or came from an upper crust background; on the contrary. She grew up in the market gardens of Walkerville with two Scottish parents who were illiterate, helping them cart their vegetables into the Central Market to sell. After marrying my grandfather she helped him run their grocery store, bearing three children and nursing him through an almost-deadly bout of Scarlet Fever. Socks were darned, children's coats were made from worn-out grown ups' clothing and gardens were seriously tended to as the main source of food for the family.

She was a devoted Methodist and firmly against the drink or pretty well anyone who took one.

For me, however, all this was mostly found years later, because I was only a child when she died. Inexplicably, one word she used often, to describe time-wasting and procrastination, was 'fiddle-arseing' which, on reflection years later, sounds decidedly non-Methodist to me.

And thus, in homage to her unintentionally robust description, I find myself becoming a World Champion Fiddle Arser.

Take this morning, for instance. I had three work-related tasks on my scrawled down 'To Do' list:

1) Ring the AMA media person to speak to an emergency doctor for a careers article
2) Contact the owner of Oranges and Lemons for an article on employing asylum seekers
3) Write first draft of education article for The Age and email to interviewee for them to check that facts, tone and quotes are all OK.

Nothing hard, frightening or intimidating to do; all stuff I relish.

And yet......... What did I do?

Complete a run on the treadmill. The thrice-weekly standard, chocolate-flab-defeating 8 km.

Sit outside in the autumn sunshine cooling down. This is fair enough because you can't just rush into a hot shower with sweat dripping from your eyebrows, but I linger a little longer, stroking Milly's ears and pulling up a couple of stray weeds.

Drink some water and eat a left-over muffin, before having a shower. Not my usual four-minute special, but a long and hot one in which all parts of overgrowth are shaved. When dry, my toenail polish is removed, heels scraped and nails trimmed.

A bit of jokey muscle-flexing in front of the mirror occurs (yes fellas, women do it too although I often suck in my gut and do a 'Before' and 'After' imitation of a weight loss advertisement to mix things up a little) before noticing my evil single chin hair has arisen. Plucking, moisturising and hairstyling then occurs. More self-amusement arises when I brush my hair forward and think I look like a 41 year old Justin Beiber.

Take out the buckets of water from the bath/bottom of shower and sloosh onto the pencil pines. Accidentally trudge in some mud and bark chips which need to be cleaned up. Do this, and again try my Justin Beiber hairstyle. Yep, still utterly hilarious.

Walk into Sapphire's room to put her $5 weekly pocket money on her desk. Can't resist adding an extra dot point to her noticeboard.

Put on a load of washing and place the hose in the laundry trough. Bucket the draining load onto the Manchurian pear trees, lavender bushes and scraps of still-living lawn. Notice several fresh dog turds in the grass, which are picked up using two scented nappy bags.

Make a cup of coffee. Pack the dishwasher. Write 'dishwashing powder' on the shopping list.

Photograph two blocks of chocolate at various angles. Flash and no flash, close up and slow shutter. Overhead light and shadow. Backside and front side. Whole and broken.

Eat chocolate. Jot down some notes about it.

Hang out the washing. Pat the rabbit. Kiss the dog. Invite the dog to come and join me in the study for some work.

Drink now-tepid coffee. Download the chocolate photos. Eat the remaining chocolate. Read emails. Laugh at this YouTube video about leadership. Plug in the iPod for re-charging. Read favourite blogs.

Go to the loo and afterwards decide to empty the bathroom bin into the kitchen bin. Then notice that the kitchen bin is overflowing so badly that coffee grounds have mated with squashed orange skins and are starting to ominously fizz up through the swing flap. Take bag out to the garbage bin and sort out the recycling at the same time.

Make my bed.

Sit back at the computer. Pat Milly. Pick my nails.

Get up and eat a pear.

Sit back at my desk and notice that Milly's nose is now touching the floor. Enjoy watching her as she yelps in her sleep (chasing cats? finally catching the rat that runs along the top of the fence? grandstanding at her victory in being allowed to sleep on the leather sofa?). Take a photo.

Drag attention back to the computer screen. See a new email from an acquaintance who works as a photographer but is studying creative writing. He wants me to answer a few questions for his essay on people who work from home.

I choose this question to answer first: 'How do you ensure that you're not distracted by things around you' and start writing. Complete the question in time for lunch.