Sunday, February 27, 2011


"Eat your veges - they'll make your teeth grow curly."

The above sentence was one that my Dad uttered regularly to us three kids at the dinner table. It was his silly way of using humour to keep us entertained and willing to listen to his warm-hearted health lectures.

Of course, any authority he might have had was always immediately dispelled by his own behaviour. He'd lean over to Dave and yell out, "Hey, look at that spider in the corner!" and swipe his potatoes, cramming them all at once into his mouth, grinning gleefully. Or he'd create a helluva mess on the tablecloth as he tried to throw peas and pumpkin pieces up into the air and catch them in his mouth. Mum would watch tiredly-but-indulgently on as we kids tried the same trick but much less successfully; beans and carrot rounds bouncing off our noses and onto the carpet. No wonder she chose such luridly-patterned tablecloths.

Our family fitted the country, 1970s traditional mold - mother, father, three children. Mother mostly staying at home, kids at school (two years apart in age) and father the monetary provider and 'real' disciplinarian. In theory at least.

Looking back, I realise now that coming home from work to "Smack a few bums and give my wife a few minutes' rest" would have killed him. He tried every tactic before resorting to a sharp slap on the thigh before bath time - it never hurt, but left a bright red mark that served as a powerful visual reminder of my wrong doings that I would sob over whilst slumped in the tepid bubbles. Instead, he would put on his huge, scary, booming Monster Voice to scare us into learning our lessons. "I'm coming to get you....I'm coming to give you a great, big RUFFFGHHH!" Dave'd nearly wet his jocks with the weird combination of fear and thrill. I, on the other hand, was more terrified of him lurching toward me like a modern day Igor, roaring loudly with his huge bear like hands semi-curled over my head. It was a pretty successful method and one that he really didn't have to use on us very often.

Dad was a high school teacher and often commented to me that he enjoyed his job, especially the friends he made there amongst the staff. He compared it to being back at university surrounded by mates with the same sense of humour and contempt for the office-bound bureaucrats that set the rules without setting foot in the classroom. Many times I accompanied him into the staff room on a Sunday for him to put in place some silly trick or other. Dyeing one jug of milk blue and one red after Norwood won the premiership; writing 'Always Plan Ahea' on one line and the 'd' on the second; spray painting his mate Ken's green tomatoes red; and rigging the communal billiard table.

He also showed me how to view the eclipse in 1974. The day was eerily dark and he opened up the school's lab in order to put together a device that showed us kids how to get a look directly at the phenomenon. He brought me a 50 kilogram bag of wet clay home one night in order to encourage me to continue with my pottery genius as he saw it. I waffled on and on about the wooden stilts that the Wilden kids next door had to play with and he welded me up some metal ones. They worked - sort of - by wedging themselves firmly into the grass and allowing me to stand up on them without holding the bars - even at the age of ten I loved and appreciated his efforts.

Netball was something I had a love-hate relationship with, and he recognised that. As the tall one, I was always goal-keeper, and rather good at it. However no girl likes to be the ever-reaching guard dog all of the time, so he made me my own goal ring to practise on at home. With portability in mind, he set it in an empty wheel-rim filled in with cement. Every time I scored a goal the ball would bounce right off the cement and sproing over the garden fence into the orange tree: I would have made a good soccer goalie.

Despite being a father of three, teaching high school kids, coaching basketball and cricket teams, playing golf, volleyball, tennis, cricket, basketball, fishing, windsurfing and bowls, he still had an active interest in pursuing all kinds of things. He studied Arts (English) and dabbled in some Park Ranger courses; got into bird-watching (the feathered kind, he couldn't have been a lecher if he tried) and went to 'Remedial Art' classes run by a friend after school.

By her own admission, Mum wasn't the keenest of cooks and certainly not willing to spend too much time on preparing anything beyond the solid goal of ensuring we were all fed. Therefore, if my father wished to eat squid, crumbed brains, home-pickled onions, salted fish or pureed dried plum, he had to do it himself. Which he did, with a noticeably larger amount of enthusiasm to expertise. His quick-fried squid was a triumph but the brains, soggy onions and saliva-sucking fish were not. The plum slice languished on top of the fridge for several years until we contemplated using it to replace the back door mat. Still, at least he gave it a go.

Love of food was nearly the death of him, and I don't mean his penchant for spreading butter as thick as bread on his bread, or cheese as thick as three of his chunky fingers. He was highly allergic to Vegemite which was unknown to me when I was a fifteen year old trialling a Chinese/Aussie nightmare One Pot concoction that substituted soy sauce for this spread. His throat closed quicker than a pub door after happy hour yet he wheezed out, "This is really delicious, love" in order to keep my pathetic culinary explorations alive.

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 endlessly on, 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 landrover smelled permanently of smoke from his bee-hive smoker, and dead bee carcasses decorated his dashboard like sad little sequins. I used to tease him whenever his 'Australasian BeeKeeper' magazine would arrive, "Wow Dad, it's here, it's finally here - why oh why is it only out every two months?"

By the mid eighties, my folks realised that all three of us were likely to go the the Big Bad City of Adelaide to live and study and a teacher and part-time secretary's salary wasn't likely to stretch that far. Renting some disused glass houses, he partnered with another teacher to grow cucumbers for extra income. Market gardening also gave Dad an opportunity to educate his teenaged kids about marijuana. Sadly we didn't get to sample any, but sure got to witness a few visits from the police when our neighbouring growers couldn't resist slotting in a few "Electric Spinaches" (Dad's words) amongst their tomato plants. Dad insisted that the police threw old car tyres on the fires when they destroyed the crop to prevent any local Bong-dongs from standing downwind and inhaling the fumes.

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. A year was spent in Aberdeen, Scotland, freezing our butts off and delighting in their indecipherable accents, summer fashion choices and love of offal. Our holiday to Ayers Rock and the Northern Territory wasn't quite as successful: he made me complete my year twelve biology assignment on a card table in the tent and made me pose under a sign out in the middle of nowhere that had been painted over with 'Lesbians Are Everywhere.'

Now he's retired, and is 'only' involved in Probus (I'm too afraid to ask for more details), golf, bowls, various social groups, wood turning, computing, photography, travelling to the Flinders whenever he can, caravanning, writing letters to the Editor and being a good grandpa. So, is it surprising that, a man who regularly chooses to wake up before 6am for a round of golf, is likely to be found snoozing before 6pm? And yet, if I dared sneak in and change the channel from cricket to something - anything - more interesting, he'd stir and say, "Hey! I was watching that!"
"How were you watching that if you were asleep?"
"I wasn't asleep, just resting my eyelids."

Can't argue with that. If I've inherited one percent of his spirit, I'll be stoked. I love you Dad. Happy 70th birthday.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pain you can sing to

John Cusack plays Rob Gordon in one of my favourite movies, High Fidelity, and as his girlfriend is packing up her things and leaving him, he says:

"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"

Blogger goddess
Pandora has recently written about how she reckons she's had her heart broken four times in her life. Romantically, not myocardially that is. Each time there's been a song swirling through that still reminds her of the pain and resultant growth and knowledge. Reckless by Aussie Crawl; Nirvana's 'Smells like teen spirit.'

It got me thinking about my own experiences - then again, don't most good blog entries do that?

In terms of real, you're-dumped heartbreak, it was just the one time for me, but in terms of silent crushes that were conducted in total secret and from afar, there were more than I care to remember.

My father was a high school teacher and he once told me that he could tell the girls who were going to have boyfriends or fall pregnant before the year was out. "They're jiggling in their seats, heads swiveling to see what the boys sitting behind them are doing. They're prancing along the edge of the fence at lunchtimes, hoping that the nineteen year old bozos from the meatworks will drive by in their 25 year old bombs and try to pick up a fifteen year old whose ovaries are spinning."

That wasn't me. My role was partly automatically designated: teacher's daughter in the town's only secondary school with family friends who were also teachers meant that I was studious, well behaved and quiet. Boys (or 'guys') were loud, crude and sometimes a bit scary but were also attractive, cutely goofy and objects of longing. However, these yearnings were never acted upon until right at the very end of school.

Before then it was idly doodling their name on a scrap piece of paper at home - never on my pencil case, or diary or toilet door for peers to discover. Never shared or confessed to a friend and never, ever communicated even vaguely to the object of my affection by something as boldly direct as actual conversation, a noticeable glance their way or remotely discernible acknowledgement of their existence.

This paralysingly shy approach meant that I was not only safe from having to risk rejection but also suffered a bit of unintended heartache when I'd find out that the guy I'd sat behind in geography in term two hadn't shown what I'd hoped was a mix of intelligence and mystery but instead had:
  • pashed the year nine nympho at a beer-keg party that I was not invited to (and would have been too afraid to attend if I had);
  • carved another girl's name on his arm using his protractor and a bic pen in maths;
  • set his family's caravan alight when he forgot to switch the electric blanket off;
  • earned my older brother's scorn by being 'the worst soccer player in modern history' and unceremoniously kicked off the team;
  • been rude to a teacher I particularly liked; or
  • asked one of my friends out instead.
Songs of homework-heartbreak were often anything other than miserable: they were what was being played on 5MU as I sat at my desk picking at my nails and wondering how far I could rock my chair back in time to the song before over-balancing and thwacking painfully to the floor.

Even now, pushing 25-30 years later, the unrequited love songs that still resonate include 'This ole house' by Shakin' Stevens (year eight); 'Dirty Creature' by Split Enz (year nine); 'She blinded me with science' by Thomas Dolby (year ten); and 'Relax' by Frankie Goes to Hollywood in year eleven. Hardly songs to make a slow compilation tape (sorry, playlist) to.

However, as an adult, I only had one real dose of heartache in 1988. Four months of dating (several nights a week) and BW was due overseas for work for three months. We'd been out to dinner, the casino, sailing at North Haven, on his motorbike and even painting his just-purchased house (he was an older man ...... by five years!) and he always seemed pretty keen to see me.

The week before he was due to leave, we had dinner at my place and he said that he'd enjoyed our time together but wasn't looking for anything serious and didn't want to see me on his return. It had been fun, but he didn't want to worry about 'anything happening' whilst he was out of the country but wished me a happy Christmas and was sure that my uni results would be good ones.

I'd been expecting a declaration of long term commitment and maybe even an early silly season present and was bereft. Sad yes, but also a bit humiliated, in hindsight. My flatmates Jo and Fiona decided to take me out to dinner the following day to cheer me up but it ended up with me sobbing over a toasted asparagus doorstop sandwich at the Left Bank Cafe in full view of frankly over-curious shoppers and grannies.

And in keeping with the sad soundtrack of my school years, the stupid song that was on high rotation at the time.....?

Bloody KOKOMO by the Beach boys!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Edition Seventeen: Word Verification Explanations

It's been a while since I've jotted down some of the word verification captcha thingies that need to be typed in before being permitted to add a comment or, in increasing cases, 'like' something. Here are some that popped up last week and what I think they could mean:

Flumpi - The sound of a tired arse hitting a leather lounge after a long day at work. We have a five seater modular lounge and one segment (okay, mine) is subjected to flumpi every night after the kitchen is clean and the dishwasher is on and there's a distinctly recognisable butt-cheek imprint on the leather deep enough to pour a bag of chips in.

Yalpt - the shock, agony and anguish experienced by a person undergoing their first bikini or back-crack-and-sack wax, invariably ending in screaming and swearing to deities lurking above the strip lighting in the beauty salon's back room.

Boptrig - Listening to music instead of doing maths homework. Most of 1982 through to 1984 involved huge slabs of Boptrig after dinner on a weeknight which is probably why I barely passed year eleven mathematics and think an obtuse angle is a triangle with an attitude problem.

Hosup - A group of slappers and tarts greeting each other before a big night out.

Angthro - Bad sportsmanship displayed when the loser of a point deliberately mis-hits the ball back to the server so that they have to climb the fence and retrieve it from behind the wheelie bins or interrupt the bowls game on the green next door. Designed for the winner to walk further, stop their winning flow and humiliate them just a little, especially if their teeny tiny tennis skirt blows up as they bend down.

Mognm - The first pitiful attempts at meaningful speech upon waking after imbibing a magnum of cheap champagne the night before. Sunday morning found me suffering a tiny bout of mognm after having more than my share of sparkling shiraz (and brie and water crackers) at a free outdoor classical concert. Lingering tannins, dried spittle and born again cheese tongue do not an attractive person make on God's designated day of rest.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fiddly bits

It's been an interesting few months - quitting a well-paid job, feeling like a failure, surviving Christmas, starting the novel in the holidays, twanging the Achilles, seeing Sapphire smile again as school resumes with the bully in another class, finding myself the captain of the tennis team....

During all of this, I've pretty well decided that the formal job structure is no longer for me. No more black polyester slacks, ironed shirts or pinchy shoes. No more nine-to-five and a boring commute home and have you filled out your timesheet and paid your two bucks into the tea club kitty yet. No more feeling trapped or struggling to be nice to someone who needs a short shap slap rather than strained respect.

Instead, little things have cropped up. Good things. Back writing for The Age. A few hours of casual work at an independent book company several tram stops away; some tutoring leads and child minding. Yep, child minding - one, as it happens. To hear this spunky little seven year old spontaneously exclaim, "This is so much fun," as we sat outside taping together some shoe boxes for Skipper the rabbit's new playground made me grin wider than the Nile.

And so, on a morning off I had a long list of errands to run. It was a beautiful sunny day. Sapphire and I had been for our now-regular 3km run (her) and hobble (me); the vet had just rung on the mobile to share the good news that Milly's second lump wasn't cancer and a box-load of new chocolate samples were on their way. Plenty of time to do the bank, post office, hardware store and Coles before then.

I saw my body reflected in the Witchery window whilst crossing Puckle Street and instead of cringeing, thought, "I'm OK. No-one's running away from me screaming and I look happy and content in myself. What more could I ask for?"

The check out lady at K-Mart told me all about being blindfolded and taken to the airport and whisked off to Sydney for her surprise 50th birthday present. "Thank god it wasn't a blindfolded Brazilian," I said, waving goodbye to her laughter. Life was good. An article had been submitted three days before due date and a radio station had requested an interview.

"Here." A pretty sixteen year old girl, presumably an apprentice beautician, thrust a brochure into my hand. She was fully painted and precariously perched on her stacked heels outside the salon, selecting passersby to hand her leaflets to.

"Ta." Such places are alien to me, so it stayed scrunched in my hand until I reached the car park. As the key was inserted into the door, it was time to open up the paper and see if it needed to be read or flung into the recycling bin on the other side of the trolley bay.

'Menopausal Skin Treatment. This voucher entitles you to three sessions of half-price facials designed to rejuvenate ageing, tired skin. Call today to change the way you look and feel!'

Beastly brochure.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The King is in the Valley

Sponsored by Nuffnang

Whenever I think of Elvis I think of my best friend Jill. She loves Elvis and many’s the time I’ve been around at her place to hear and see her cooking dinner to a greatest hits compilation; ‘Teddy Bear’ getting the loudest and most enthusiastic accompaniment.

She has a strength and determination that astounds me and achieves everything she sets her mind to. It wasn’t a surprise, therefore, to discover that she was in training to ride the Jacob’s Creek Down Under cycling event with her fourteen year old son Patrick. What was a surprise – and not a pleasant one – was hearing that both of them had fallen and that Jill was in hospital with stitches to her eye, upper lip and inside her mouth and was covered in bloody cuts, bruises and suffering concussion.

When I called her she could barely speak because of the swelling but one of the first things she said was, “It’s no-one’s fault, it’s just bad luck. Of course I’ll be back riding again.” Her second concern was how she was going to make it into work on the Monday and a few of us suggested that just by sending her boss a photo of her ‘after’ the race would be evidence enough. It was.
I found out a couple of days ago that Spring Valley is giving away a complimentary download of Elvis Presley’s song ‘Spring Fever’. Sure, it’s not spring here in Australia and autumn is now upon us but their juices are called Spring Valley and I don’t think Elvis sang anything with autumn in the title.

To get your hands on the download (he’s not singing ‘Keep your hands off of it’ here), simply head over to the Spring Valley Facebook page and ‘like it’ . Once you’ve done that, you can access the song via the ‘Elvis Track’ tab. It’ll be your ‘Good Luck Charm’ and, for some reason, ‘The grass won’t pay you no mind.’

Perhaps Elvis has more to say to Jill (apart from ‘Come hear me at Spring Valley sometime baby.’) He’d surely be aware that having no memory after flying over her handlebars and having an imprint of a pedal in her leg that she was ‘All Shook Up’ and needs to ‘Patch it up’ but also be treated ‘Gently’ and realise that she’s a ‘Hard Headed Woman’ who is very lucky because ‘Only the Strong Survive’ such a ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ accident.

I’m ‘Thinking about you’ old buddy and ‘I feel that I’ve known you forever.’ Perhaps that’s because I actually have. Get well soon dear friend and enjoy the download from Spring Valley.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Never Never Never

Blogger Tensile Times has snaffled a topic that I'm going to snaffle in turn. I might be getting more lines on my face than Bart writes on the blackboard and wisdom surely follows but there's a heap of things I have never, ever done.

These include:

1. Never seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show all the way through from start to end. We could only see snippets of it through the curtains at Philippa's house when it was on at the Murray Bridge drive in and were often trying to teach ourselves how to smoke her father's stolen rollies at the same time.

2. Never shoplifting anything. I once walked out of the newsagency with a packet of post-it-notes in my hand after paying for a paper and a magazine and, after realising dashed straight back inside to pay for it, face a flamin' with shame.

3. Not one bone in my body has ever been broken. In my forties I am of course very grateful for this but as a kid I was very envious of the ones who'd enter proudly on crutches and get us all to sign their casts. Pain yes, but Fame - oh yeah.

4. I have never been to America and I want to. Badly. Same goes for Japan, China, all of Scandinavia, Canada, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand's South Island and Poland.

5. I have never enjoyed watching Australian drama. Okay, maybe 'The Sullivans' but that's because it was Mum's favourite show. Everything else has always looked badly lit with corny lines and actors that I remember from 1970s soaps or dodgy home cleaning commercials. I have also never seen a single minute of any of the Underbelly shows.

6. I have never won first prize. In anything.

7. I have never been called slim. Instead I'm asked to help shift pallets of bricks, throw a mattress over the fence or consider being a surrogate so as not to waste those child-bearing hips of mine. No-one has ever said, "Oh sit down and eat, you look like you'll fade away." Maybe in a dream once and then it might have been John Cusack who said it.

8. The law and me have never been on opposing sides. There's been no unwanted ride in the divvy van, no official warning, no stern talking to. A red light camera caught me once, and that was when Love Chunks was rushed back to hospital after severe and unexpected bleeding and I was just a tad worried for him and keen to see where he'd ended up. Still had to pay the bloody thing though.

9. I have never enjoyed camping, as Love Chunks and Sapphire sadly know. It's rather ironic that one of the best sources of camping gear is from a shop called KATHmandu because I'd rather eat my own arse than willingly visit there.

10. I have never written a novel (but am trying to now).

And here's a bit I've added. What I'll never do again:

a. I'll never drink cheap brandy again. In fact I'll never drink brandy of any kind again. An eighteenth birthday party in 1986 is not a dim memory even 25 years later and the nausea is rising just typing this sentence.

b. I'll never wear high heels anywhere where actual walking and standing is required. This includes speech nights, weddings, Melbourne Cup shindigs, parties or even from my front door to the car.

c. I'll never litter. Rubbish can always be shoved in my backpack or a pocket.

d. I'll never eat three entire birds' eye chillies on a drunken Margarita dare ever again. Patrons at the Adelaide casino do not need to be treated to the sight of me licking a marble column in an effort to dull the throbbing burning heat.

e. I'll never get a fish tank. The little buggers die all the time and flushing them down the toilet or feeding them to the neighbours' cats doesn't seem like a respectful way to finish off their short-lived, decision-less existences.

f. I'll never get into the political arena. No, not for the usual reasons of the ridiculously long working hours, the stress of making decisions with taxpayers money and the constant sniping by critics but due to the cartoons they're likely to draw of me in the papers. As if my nose, chin and arse weren't big enough, but to have Tandberg and co exaggerate them...... ~shudder~

g. I'll never eat pate, liver, kidneys or pumpkin. There are so many other ways to make me miserable without getting my mouth and stomach involved.

h. I'll never stop sniffing Sapphire's hair.

i. I'll never cease wondering just how the hell I managed to snag a bloke as decent as Love Chunks.

j. I'll never stop trying to see the funny side of things. If I don't, the Black Dog comes to visit and he's rather too good at highlighting pessimism, despair and worthlessness.

Finally, what I want to do:

1. I want to speak another language. I just need to decide which one. Perhaps 'American' should I ever get there.

2. I want to have a novel published.

3. I want to be able to walk from the pool changing room to the edge of the water not like a self conscious scuttling crab but with nonchalance and confidence. Even if feigned.

4. I want to develop bionic-style achilles tendons so that my running days continue.

5. I want to inhale chocolate without earning a cholesterol level of (currently) 7.4.

6. I want to earn a reasonable income doing something that makes me happy. So far, I'm part of the way there.

7. I want the media to have a total ban on anything relating to Matthew Newton, Lindsay Lohan, Mick Molloy, Underbelly anything, Shane Warne and Liz Hurley. Oh and if Andrew Bolt's blog suddenly disappeared into the ether life would be a lot better too.

8. I want to win lotto without having to spend $14.40 every week.

9. I want to see Sapphire have a happy year at school with a growing confidence in herself and her perceptions.

10. I want Sapphire and Love Chunks to feel as proud of me as I am of them.

What about you?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Heart strings

Sapphire has been playing viola since she was eight, an instrument she chose herself.

I'm not sure why: Love Chunks grew up learning the trumpet and the guitar and now plays the piano and I.... well, I struggled with piano for two years as a child and loathed it.

In year three, her class was the lucky one chosen by the SA Education Department to each receive a violin, viola or cello for the year along with lessons. Even their teacher was included and the couple of concerts they gave during year were pretty inspiring. After the project ended the kids wanted to continue, so every parent in the class chipped in to pay for a music teacher and rented or bought the instruments.

Sapphire was the only one who chose the viola and when we moved to Melbourne she remained the only kid in school with an overgrown violin. It's a tough one to learn because it is kinda sorta in harmony or backs up the main tune and can make for challenging listening when it is played on its own.

Signs have been emerging lately that the viola perhaps isn't the Be All and End All of eleven year old Sapphire's waking hours. There is a new 'to do' item on my list called 'Remind Sapphire to do her viola practice' and this request is inevitably answered with a sigh or an eye roll (or both, if it's been one of those days) and a tired, "Oh Mum, can I do it later?" refrain.

Do I blame her - no. She's already lasted a year longer than I did and could do in a couple of weeks what I was unable to do in twenty four months - read music. This she's inherited from Love Chunks. Both can somehow naturally summon the mysterious magic of being able to see black dots with sticks growing out of them on thin lines, work out in their heads what note they are; convert that into a command to send to their fingers and play that note on the string (Sapph) or key (LC).

Despite all the Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit, FACE and Good Boys Deserve Fruit Always learning techniques, I could not read music. My stubborn brain just did not get it. Being unable to convert the black marks on paper to the inside of my brain and back out to my fingers and onto the keys was about as achievable as not whispering during Silent Reading. Instead, I would practice the piece over and over until it sounded right and was learned off by heart. The actual sheets of music might as well have wrapped up the kitchen scraps for the good they did sitting on the little flipdown stand above the yellowing ivory.

By age ten, I finally plucked up the courage to say to my mum that I didn't want to play the piano any more.

She was disappointed and said a sentence that is as fresh and as true as the day it was uttered thirty three years ago: "When you're older, you'll regret not being able to play a musical instrument." How right she was, but in 1978, I had a much more immediate stressor: telling Mrs Matthews.

Mrs Matthews was an old widow who lived several blocks away from us and attended the same church. Her kids were all grown up and left home but married well, had been 'good students' taught by my father (he taught pretty well half the town) and visited their mother often. I'd have my lesson there every Wednesday morning before school using the old but neat music book that my own mother had learned from three decades earlier.

Wearing her preferred outfit of floral dress, homy peds and a warm cardigan, Mrs Matthews was unfailingly patient and kind, so there are no horrible stories of rapped knuckles, being scolded or having to perform at humiliating recitals. She selected a piece of music - always something achievable and, more importantly, something that sounded pretty decent to me - and taught me how to play it.

But if I was going to quit, Mum insisted that I had to be the one to tell her. Wednesday morning came around far too soon. I didn't dare drag my feet or I'd be late for school and being told off for anything by the teacher would have been a fate worse than telling Mrs Matthews that I was quitting piano. My cheeks would go all red and blotchy and stay that way for hours as my insides shrivelled with embarrassment and shame. Being late would not do.

She opened the door. "Good Morning Katherine! Are you ready for your lesson today? How did you find the Moonlit Sonata?"

I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was mumbled out clearly enough for her to understand, pat my arm, say that she'd enjoyed teaching me and that I was welcome to start again any time. I never did of course and as I continued walking to school she didn't suddenly rush and and try chasing me along the gravel path to beg me to stick at it: clearly the world was not going to become a darker and gloomier place for the lack of my musical contribution.

It also didn't occur to me that Mrs Matthews supplemented her pension by teaching and perhaps having to be up and dressed ready for a reluctant and not-exactly-talented ten year old on a wintry Wednesday morning might not have been the life she'd dreamed of either. I'm so sorry, Mrs Matthews, and hope that another pupil or three turned up to replace me and stayed the distance.

Still, as I hear Sapphire scraping her strings in her bedroom up the passage I hope that she does stick at it. She has an 'ear' for music and can tell you what note is being played - surely that should be nurtured? It might not be the viola that she ends up with but I hope music features in her life for a longer while to come.

Not the piano though - too bloody heavy to carry on the bus or around a campfire.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Pure Terror

Some things in life may seem innocuous - useful even - but they can also scare the crap out of usually sane and serene beings.

This is such a thing.

The mere sight of it was enough to reduce the victim to a quivering, shaking mess.

A drop of blood spattered the floor as the victim thrashed and ran haphazardly to get away from it.

Pain was nothing: escape was all.

However, the battle was lost and the thing won.

Well, for five minutes at least.

With Milly's rump looking like a particularly painful leg of roast pork, we were given strict instructions to put an 'Elizabeth Snap Collar' on her. The Cone of Shame, in other words.

The post-operative instruction sheet read: "You must discourage jumping or activity of any kind that will cause excessive stretching of the wound, especially during the first few days."
In her wild-eyed terror, our poor dog tried to run away from the hazy plastic prison that was clipped around her neck. Furniture was overturned, walls smashed against and nails frantically scratched the floor and we watched in anguish as her leg buckled, twisted and stretched.

Love Chunks couldn't bear it. "Let's give the poor girl the benefit of the doubt," he said, unclipping Milly's spiteful spirit-crusher.

With no painkillers provided, we've caught her giving the wound a sly lick only a couple of times and she's much happier. I'd like to conclude by saying that the cruelty ended there, but it didn't. As she lay sleeping off the last of the anaesthesia that had changed her beautiful eyes from almonds to puckered diamonds, I placed the collar next to her beanbag and waited for her to wake.

This is the only photo I could bring myself to take before she fully regained consciousness, sprung up in fear and sprinted up the passage to the front door. "Milly, calm down - your stitches........!"

Maybe it'll come in handy as a mini greenhouse for baby herbs.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Oink oink

So I applied for a two day a week job in state government. Report writing, research, ministerial liaison. All the stuff I've done for years, in every job bar my current one of freelancer.

Wasn't even worth an interview.

MyCareer, Seek, Careerone, Vic Gov and Public Service job websites are all scanned intently every day: nothing going unless I'm prepared to do telephone sales or 'be bubbly, hands-on and willing to go that extra mile in our fast-paced environment.' That and adult photography for large women with broader minds or office cleaners (but only applicants with experience please).

I sent in a story for the Queensland short story compilation hoping to be one of the hundred they selected.

A long list of three hundred were released, mine not among them.

Got into power walking while my achilles tendon takes over three months (this time) to heal. Boring, much-more time-consuming but important to stay active.

Lasted no longer than a week before it too started to adversely affect the injury.

Noticed this morning that Milly has a lump on her back leg. She doesn't want me to touch it and it wasn't there three days ago. A quick growing tumour isn't a good thing, the vet told me this afternoon. We need to have her in tomorrow at 7:30am, get whatever it is cut out immediately and sent off for testing.

"We'll let you know how much it'll all cost when our head vet returns tomorrow." I soon found out - two weeks of my work.

Today is the last day of Year of the Tiger. Year of Kath the Monkey disguised as a Pig so that my fortunes weren't soured or ruined. An annoying gold pig charm on a necklace that jingled and drove me nuts for twelve months. Fat lot of good it did me.

"Oh I don't know about that," Mum said on the phone. "You weren't flooded out and you didn't get cancer."

Fair point.

Early this morning I hobbled around the oval picking up beer bottles and brown burger bags as Sapphire went running - long legs carrying her further and faster than she's ever been before. She was enjoying it and was discovering just what her own body and determination could do. My own body and patience is being sorely tested but I'll make damned sure that my achilles is right enough so that I can run alongside her.

We walked back home - she, red-faced and puffing from the effort and me, unruffled. On the outside. She grabbed my hand. "Sorry I'm so sweaty Mum, but I've had a great time with you."

I smiled and hugged her; sweat and all, breathing it in as we embraced, loving every moment. Let's see what Year of the Rabbit brings for this old monkey.