Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pretend that You....

Lea from Health With Happiness has young children who love to play. Bung in some dress-up opportunities and they're like pigs in mud with the sessions invariably kicking off with the timeless phrase 'Pretend that you...'

It got me wondering what it would be like for adults to play that game. Steady on - in a non-sexual context. What would you answer to 'Pretend that you...?'

Here's a few of mine:

Slapped Tony Abbott in the face. Repeatedly, using Andrew Bolt as the weapon.

Ran in high heels without pain.

Could wear high heels without pain.

Had pets that never shed hair or, at the very least, could operate and regularly use the vacuum cleaner.

Fell asleep the second my head hit the pillow instead of three long and sweaty, fretful and restless hours later with two sessions groping around in the dark for wee trips at 3am and 5am.

Owned taps that weren't flick mixers and therefore didn't burst open and splash in and out of the cup at supersonic speed, leaving my face and shirtfront completely soaked.

Didn't need to fart the second I sit down with someone trying to interview them for an article and seem professional and in control (of persona and gas emittance).

Ate my entire body weight in chocolate and saw it reduce my fat ratio, increase my stamina and improve my intelligence levels.

Could instantly (and without ruining the environment) 'zap' and make disappear every single item of litter I laid my eyes on. Same goes for so-called 'celebrity' columnists and radio hosts.

Had visible eyebrows and lashes longer than a chicken's.

Spent the day in Parliament as the ultimate dictator removing HECS, restrictions on who can marry; bank fees other than interest, payments to private schools, stamp duty and ridiculously high retirement pensions for politicians.

Found jeans that fit me around the thighs and the waist.

Owned dishes that put themselves in and out of the dishwasher and clothes that knew how to wash, dry, iron, fold and return to the drawers and wardrobes. Had a best-selling and also critically-acclaimed novel published.

Actually wrote a novel.

Waved a wand (the fantasy equivalent of a legally-bound restraining order) and removed Sapphire's bully. And the bully's mother.

Figured out how to resolve an argument with Sapphire without first fighting the competing demons of rage, shame, humiliation and sorrow - all tightly woven in love, pride and concern.

Worked out how to let things roll off my back and not coil right through to the marrow.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ends. Candle. Burning.

After resigning from a misery-making job before Christmas, I was left wondering just what in the hell kind of work would suit me and if we'd be able to do much more than pay for food and shelter and keep the old car running.

Three months later I find that The Fledgling Novel has not been touched since January. This might not be a bad thing. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. I managed to crap out 27,000 words in January and got some valuable feedback from two trusted sources that both offered very similar and very useful advice.

The amendments and refocus are still simmering away in the back of my mind but I'm working part-time now.

It may seem as though I have the luxury to pay a few bills and write The Foolhardy Novel but it's actually three part-time jobs. Two involve writing (and payment) and one involves childcare. I'm discovering that I enjoy all three equally, with skills and observations gained in one easily transferable to another. Tantrums and tiredness are constants in all three.

Job Number One is on a sorta trial basis until 30th June. Extension beyond that is reliant on a new round of government budget planning and whether they like my work. I've signed a contract of confidentiality so like the dentist who brushes his teeth on the old Oral B adverts, I can't show my face (or reveal my employer) on television (this blog).

Some of the writing involved is mundane but most of it is uber-current, frequently thrilling and needs a bit of investigation and consideration. My alarm starts pinging and it leaves me wondering where the past seven hours have gone. Not for long though as the second job starts - after school care for a seven year old, A; who has added a surprisingly happy spring into Sapphire's steps.

And mine. We no longer fling our bog rolls and cereal boxes straight into the recycling; they're saved for the days we have A and are usually cut up, drawn on, painted and liberally covered with sticky tape. Scrap paper is always sitting in a ready pile, along with permanent markers, pencils, magazines, string and wool. When snacks are consumed and they need a break from sedentary activities, both the eleven year old and the seven year old grab their scooters. I click Milly the dog's lead onto her collar and we all head out to the nearest school: a heavenly slab of scooter-friendly asphalt and concrete.

The third job is home-based and childless but the subjects that have been mine to write about have increased in scope and interest this year. Who wouldn't want to find out why an engineer has become a children's clown who spends more on make up than his wife? Or an Iceland-based sheep farmer who is doing ground breaking chemical research in Australia?

Around this we coordinate Sapphire's home work, music lessons, running, general housework, GoneChocco reviews, socialising, litter ninja duties and running the tennis practice session and game days. The 'effin Novel is transferred to a data stick and taken from job to job in the unrealistic hope that there might be a snatch of time to have a review. When I last looked, the USB had a stray tic-tac stuck to it as it lay nestled and forgotten at the bottom of my backpack amongst the pens, plastic bags and umbrella cover.

I'm spending more time on the 59 tram, the phone and with a notebook in my hand. Sapphire woke up the other morning and said, "Oh today is when A comes over, isn't it? They're my favourite days. I can have fun and be myself and not worry about anything."

Eight hours and two jobs later, Sapphire and A are at the outdoor table, papers, paints and pens covering most of the surface. Skipper the rabbit sniffs and hops around them, seemingly interested at the cardboard 'cubby house' they've made for his enjoyment. He cheekily hops over and takes a sip out of my glass of water as Milly nudges my thigh to remind me that she's still my number one animal and needs her ears scratched.

A's head is bowed over her paper in concentration. "This is soooo awesome!" she exclaims to herself.

Yes, it is.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Three Hundred Metres

Sapphire's won 'Pupil of the week' at school but I don't have time, technically on my day 'off' to go, with three articles due.

She's not fazed though, as every kid gets an award eventually. Some are for 'trying hard to listen in class' whilst hers happens to be for 'outstanding homework and attention to detail.'

I'm writing this as my body cools down from our early morning exercise - she running ahead of me, blonde hair bobbing, long legs striding - me trying hard not to look like Kel Knight as I powerwalk fruitlessly behind, reminding myself that there's only two weeks left before I'm able to start jogging alongside her.

On the kitchen table are about a dozen hand-woven orange bracelets that she made yesterday in readiness to wear and hand out to her friends for Harmony Day today. She had spied some bright crepe paper that a chocolatier had used to wrap their wares in to post to me; cut it carefully into strips, twisted it for strength and plaited them. Her self-taught skill and creativity frequently leaves me amazed.

So yesterday morning, LC and I sat with her at the breakfast table and tried to have the talk.

The talk.

Not about sex or periods or why kissing the dog is going to exacerbate her allergies and that answering back isn't always the best option when we're rushing off to school and she's left her viola at home; it was the talk about high school.

For the past couple of years I've spent hours at the school 300 metres up our street. Picking up litter, sweeping up broken beer bottles, walking Milly, seeing Sapphire scooter effortlessly around like a maniac on the cement and bitumen.

I've told her about how frustrated I am that the school is overlooked by so many families who live in the area, despite only being 29 metres from the primary school that everyone flocks to. How some kids have to leave home at 7.00am to catch two trains to the private schools their parents pay $25,000 a year for.

How we love our community, want her to make friends near her home, be part of things and not be hygienically sealed against other income levels, cultures or family situations.

Three hundred metres away, the school that she could walk to within 30 seconds of the bell ringing is ranked 515 out of 528 for VCE results. The numbers of students who did VCE in 2010 only numbered thirty with a median score of 22.

Two kilometres to the north east, PP high is ranked 97/528 and got a median VCE score of 32 with 161 students participating. The same distance away to our south east UH is ranked 59/528 with a medican score of 33 and 336 students. Quite a difference, you'd have to say.

Sapphire is a smart kid. Very smart. She's currently doing year eight level maths (which she hates) and last year her NAPLAN results showed that her reading, writing and English skills were at year nine level. She was in year five.

How can I not ask whether sending Sapphire three hundred metres away was going to offer her the same opportunities as the other two schools?

"You're a snob," she hissed through tears yesterday. "You keep saying that it's important to be local and that we should support things here, but you don't really. Isn't it good enough for you?"

"Actually, I wonder if a school with that performance and with so few kids is good enough for anyone, not just you." There. I finally said it.

The chat deteriorated in sulks (her), pleading (me) and sharp words (LC). Sapphire ended up in her bedroom with the door firmly shut against us and the thought of high school in any shape or form. "She's afraid," LC said. "She was used to the idea of 300 metres away, is familiar with the grounds and now we're changing things. The thought of starting high school is scary enough."

He's right of course.

And it is frightening for us, too. Both the 2km schools are out of our 'zone' and she'd have to sit an exam of sorts to be in consideration for some form of accelerated learning program to attend either one of them. I was stupid enough to ask, "Would you do your best if you sat such a test?" and she refused to answer. Coffee soured and churned in my gut.

Could we afford to move? Financially or morally?

Do I want her to walk 300 metres so that I can brag at dinner parties on what a wonderful leftie parent I am but have her end up with few subject choices or the risk of not being stimulated enough? Do I want her to see us 'cheat' the system as we rent in a different area and marinate in hypocrisy? Do I want her to feel undue pressure to sit tests so that she can escape the poorly performing school and ignore it as she walks past towards the tram stop?

All I know is that I want the decision made by someone else.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Edition Seventeen: Word Verification Explanations

Here's my latest collection of words that various systems have required me to key in before commenting on my favourite blogs. Surely there's a meaning for them all in a parallel universe somewhere......

Muntand - You know that venal person at the office is so venally crabby and irritable that everyone ends up avoiding them entirely and not giving them any work? Even work thay they're actually supposed to be doing for you and the company? Well she (and for some reason most of them seem to be female) is a Muntand. By making herself as sour and unapproachable as humanly possible, things are cleverly positioned so that she is never required to do anything that involves helping her colleagues, providing any form of customer service or any form of end product.

Ironically, Muntands often have overly-adorned desks festooned with soft toys, puppy calendars and LOL cat print outs. These are cruelly in opposition to their evil 9-5 personas.

Even more ironically, the boss of the company/department/area office with ultimatye powers to reprimand and fire staff is scared of the Muntand and actively avoids asking her to do anything. Hence the Muntand is always the victor.

Sproter - A person who can delegate work and/or avoid responsibility by uttering this loaded phrase: 'Can I ask you a favour?'

The Sproter has you trapped because you are going to say 'yes' and it will hard not to say it again after the unreasonable request is out in the open. "Um, yeah, I'll see what I can do about shifting your car to another meter every hour you're in that meeting.'

(There are no recorded sightings of Sproters within tea-bag-hammer-throw distance of Muntands).

Ingutb - The nocturnal pings, burbles and inner oozings of a loved one's digestive tract as they lie sleeping. (Love Chunks' is known to sigh rather dramatically and travel several downward spirals in a weeble-weeble-weeble-plonk! fashion most nights). These colonic choruses are often louder than the person when they're awake (LC is on the quiet-side; not surprising considering who he spends his life with).

Romars - Terribly lost amateur bush walkers, usually clad in expensive and brightly coloured outdoor clothing, inevitably found freezing and lost by the media the next morning closely followed by the search and rescue team. Multiply the cost of their outdoor gear by twenty-seven and you end up with roughly the cost of the helicopter and abseiling retrieval expenses.

Padhorn - The act of tactfully explaining that it's OK, it happens to everyone and actually you really need the sleep because you've got a big day tomorrow anyway.

Wartion - Uncertainly eating a piece of chicken that's just-this-side of too pink for fear of offending the host. "Sweetie, these Moroccan pistacchio chicken delights are lovely..... Are you supposed to only cook them for two minutes on each side?" Exercising wartion is very polite but can run the risk of well, the runs.

Liquite - The moment of realisation that you spend more time writing things on the 'To Do' list than doing any of them.

Grato - The audible squeak-squeak sound of one shoe as you walk, making it impossible to sneak up behind anyone (see 'glethi' from a previous WWE in relation to corduroy trousers and shell suits). Grato is most common in homes with floorboards and linoleum, rendering their owners unable to go 'Boo!' to their beloveds when they're drinking hot tea (which is probably a good thing).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

It's time.

I'm not a political person. Never have been, never will be.

And I wish that the issue of Climate Change had nothing to do with politics.

No Julia, no Tony, no Andrew Bolt, no drivetime idiots.

No more questions asking 'do you believe in Climate Change?'

This is no longer a quick vox pop or the occasional dinner party chat over anti pasto. We don't have the luxury of believing or not believing any more. It is happening.

So eight thousand of us decided to turn up to Treasury Place to ask that Tony shut up and that politics is forgotten as we all work out what to do. Together; no games. Not if or why but when. Now.

"We need to go, it's important," LC said. After twenty two years in meteorology, he's seen more than enough evidence. He's commented on climate change denier sites and shock jock blogs so often that they no longer post his arguments refuting their claims. Too embarrasing to have their facts and opinions proved wrong over and over again. His voice shut out, his reasoning, research and calm facts ignored.

The days of mines, oil drillers and power stations calling the shots are over. Their time has gone. Tax the big polluters and use that money to fund better sources of energy for everyone. Embrace this as the time for genuinely creative and forward-thinking job creation.

Yes, it'll involve change, cost and genuine challenges to our current way of thinking. Get over it and try to soften the blow by considering it 'Enforced Evolution.' But don't shut your eyes and your mind to the truth.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Tram Talk 5

Check out the Yummy Mummy trying to walk across the cobbles in her stacked heels. Legs like porky pig.
"Oh Hiiiiii Annie! Yar, I know it's been a while....... What's that? Oh yes, I'm just soooo loooooving the new Megane Cabriolet but someone keyed it the other night right in front of our house. Our house, can you believe it? So it's being repaired. ........I have no idea how to buy a ticket these days and look at you, doing this every day. How do you stand it?"
Hit her, Annie.

"Howdy Love."
Oh god why is it always me, why?
"Er, 'morning." Look the other way. Maybe Jenny or Helen will be catching this tram too.
"Some days it's hard to get outta bed, isn't it?"

He stinks and has got dreadlocks in his beard. His beard. "Yep, it sure is."
"My physio reckons me back's stuffed. If it was here ---" Oh my god surely he's not going to pull up his shirt to show me. Yes, he is "----- she reckons I'd never be able to walk again."
"Gosh, that's awful! In a way, you're lucky." Why did I say that? Now he's going to tell me why he's lucky or why he's not....

HEY! Come ON! Put yer fag out and move yer arse. The tram's here!
Oh thank god. I'm not sure she's going to make it; she's doubled over hawking up - no, don't look. Find a seat instead.

That lady over there seems okay. And she's knitting something in pretty pale blue even though it's 30C today. Maybe I should be like my bearded buddy and start a conversation.

"So, what are you knitting?"
She looks up and is wary for about a second before deciding that my pudgy blonde visage in sensible shoes is harmless. "It's a scarf, actually. One for Patons."
"The wool people?"

Turns out that I've snagged a seat next to a professional knitter. Who knew they existed?
"Who knew you existed?"

Anne has knitted pretty well her entire life and has swapped a stressful career as a radiographer to a more enjoyable but much more modestly-paid one as Number One Knitter.
"You'll see my work in the lift-out knitting booklet that's in this month's issue of Better Homes and Gardens."
"No way. My daughter subscribes to that and was looking through it last night. I'm not kidding."
"They're fairly easy ones. I love it when they give me lacy stuff to make."

Everyone has a story, I told her. Why people would stick buds in their ears to listen to Steve Chuckle Buns Price when there's free entertainment on the Number 59 from Airport West is beyond me.

We heard a giggle from the seat behind us. I turned around. The woman blushed. "Oh, I'm sorry. I couldn't help listening in - you a knitter ---" she smiled at Anne, "----and you a writer."
"So what are you, then?"
"I'm a teacher. So this blogging you were talking about earlier. Is it easy to do?"

We swapped cards and she waved goodbye to Anne and I when she stepped off at the Royal Melbourne.

I farewelled Anne at LaTrobe and wandered into work. Several hours later the 59 was taking me back home, legs jiggling nervously whilst fretting if it would arrive before the commencement of Part-Time Job Number Two. Flicking my watch every two seconds wasn't going to help speed the tram up Elizabeth Street. Nothing to do but sit and listen.

Two private school girls clambered aboard opposite me, sharing an ear bud each. I stared down at their long tartan dresses, pristine white socks and shoes that always remind me of pasties; guaranteed to repel the lustful glances and advance of pretty well everyone.

At the next stop, two young men sat behind me, smelling of alcohol, smokes and BO.

"So I said to her, bitch, you gotta do something about that tatt."
"Whaaaa?" His mate wasn't quite following the conversation, clearly foraging for the last of his chips before flinging the empty packet behind him.
"Her tatt. On her back. Remember when Muzza got a hard on when she flashed it to him?"
"And she drank all your vodka and you cracked the shits?"

Silence for a moment, punctuated only by the Fsssh-shiz of two more UDLs being opened and the tinny tink-tink-boing of the empties thrown where the chip packet lay.
"Oh yeah. Julie. No, Angie. Yeah, Angie."
"Well she and I are going out now, right? And I want her to change it."
"Because it's got HIS name on it, you stupid dick. He's stuck inside right now and she's with me and I don't want his name on my woman every time we're doin' it."

The girls opposite me were trying to pretend that they were still listening to their music, but their wide eyes gave them away.

His drunk mate was suddenly alert. "But won't he kill you when he gets out?"

"I'd kill you if you did it to me."
"Yeah but you're too dumb to do anything that'd get you inside in the first place."

There was more silence as his mate - and we three ladies - pondered the meaning of that statement.

"Don' fall asleep - we gotta get off here. HERE! She reckons she's got a chick lined up for you, over in that building over there."
They fell through the doors onto Mt Alexander Road.

I leaned forward to pick up the rubbish. "Wow, there's a couple of catches you missed, girls." They laughed and their worries dissolved.

Stop Twenty Six. Mine. Back home to get changed with ten luxurious minutes to spare. Ten minutes to marinate in the conflicting senses of annoyance and guilt for cowardly mocking the tragic and wasted when they were safely out of earshot, and confusion for not knowing what else to do.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Sloppy Coffee and Clumsy Fumblings

Mrs Krups has let us down again.

The first time it was my birthday and I naively thought that it'd be as easy as Maggie the magna's half-yearly service - a quick fiddle and back home again.

Alas no. Three weeks of to-ing and fro-ing from the Extended Warranty Wallahs and another couple to order the part in.

She returned home in good condition and was prepared to go back to work. Well, for a month. Our trip back from South Australia to Melbourne (yep, along with the three humans, the Christmas presents, a small rabbit and a dog, she also merited inclusion) must have literally rattled her, because when we plugged her back into the kitchen at Chateau Lockett, she defiantly whizzed all over the counter.

The second visit back to the Coffee Machine Centre took another four weeks; most of those spent liaising (or making many phone calls only to have none of them returned) with the Warranty Wimps.

The third visit was today, a mere two weeks after she returned. She initially seemed slightly quieter and a bit more defeated but had started dropping wet, sloppy pats of used coffee grounds in socially-unacceptable places which made the coffee weaker than a cup of hot water that was merely looking at an unopened jar of Nescafe.

The Warranty Wankers were unmoved. "Sorry Mrs Lockett," she said in that rushed and mumbled 'I couldn't care less' voice, "Your policy states that the product covered under our insurance needs to break down more than three times due to the same issue before you get a replacement model or your money back."

This time I didn't give Mrs Krups a small pat before they took her behind closed doors. I was dismissive and cold, whirling on my heel towards the gourmet food part of their warehouse, seething at possibly another five weeks without a proper Six-AM eye-opener.

Still, I pride myself on trying to see the positive side of things and was soon immersed in attempting to read the back of Italian talc boxes, German toffee slabs and figuring out that the French jars weren't holding albino Twistie snacks but were a creative interpretation of dissolvable anti-acid tablets and was thirty bucks for a pretty box of nougat really worth it and if so, why....

CRASH! My humble shoulder bag had brought down a stacked display of jars. Broken glass and sludge was all over the floor as I turned around to take a closer look at the product I'd just destroyed. 'Choc Ezy Nut-free spread.'

Ah. Perhaps it could be something I could review for GoneChocco, but I really didn't want....

"Are you going to pay for zat?" The assistant was at my side, smiling grimly.

"Er, I wasn't because it wasn't something I was going to buy, and I'm so sorry about this mess, but I have got some tea bags here and I've just dropped off my machine over there..."

He stared steadily at me as my voice trailed away. My hand groped for one of the few jars still intact on the shelf. "I might get this one." The word 'one' ended on a high note; more of a question seeking his approval and my escape.

He nodded. Things looked right in the world again but I had to do it.

I had to.

It was a question that needed - in my view - to be asked. "Um, I have a discount card for here. Can you please swipe it?"

He didn't bother to look at me this time, instead choosing to sigh loudly. "Is my first day on ze job. How do I do eet?"

I had no idea. "Hey, don't worry about it. I shouldn't have asked and I'm sorry again for the mess."

"Is okay. Enjoy ze spread."

Back in the car, I read the label. First ingredient: cheese. In a nut-free, chocolate spread that I'd just seen globbing slowly across a polished cement floor like an ageing brown bathmat. Great.

At Woolworths, my attention was focused on finding and buying foods that were slightly more practical. "Here darl, have a go at this, um, Antee Pasto here." The name plate said Cheryl and the pink lipstick slashed unevenly across the mouth said I'd rather drink the pickle juice than eat what it's preserving.

ACK ACK AAAAACK! The green olive - roughly the size of my fist - wasn't stuffed with red capsicum but a birds' eye chilli and my sample ended up being unceremoniously catapulted out of my shocked, coughing mouth and splatting somewhere in the open cheese cabinet nearby. Eyes streaming, I weakly pushed my trolley onwards, with Cheryl saying, "You get ten percent off if you buy three deli products this week, darl!" Ten points for optimism.

At the check out counter, an elderly lady was struggling to load her groceries onto the conveyor belt and keep hold of her walking stick. "Let me help you," I said, flashing her my 'I'm a Nice Person and Not a Robber or Rapist' servant-of-the-people smile.

She hurriedly looked away, muttered "I'm okay thanks," and promptly dropped a 2 kilogram bag of baker's flour on her own foot. We narrowly avoided clanging heads as I beat her to the bag, miraculously intact. "Here."

"Ta." Her posture made it clear that she wasn't comfortable facing or making eye contact with me and my smile faded. Ah well, let her fend for own fussy self then.

Fussy Flour Femme was forgotten a few minutes later when I was pushing my own trolley down the slope towards the car. It was spitting slightly and I'd forgotten my sunglasses. Damp and glare with a side order of unpredictable wind gusts made the trip dodging commuters just off the nearby train platform and impatient drivers looking for a carpark particularly challenging.

I cursed. Poo Bum Bugger Shit Fart; the stupid damn key wasn't working in the lock.

I tried again. Still no luck. Dumb, hopeless, poxy crappy key. If this was a sitcom I'd be tempted to let the trolley wheel away and start kicking at the bloody ...

Oh. It wasn't my car.

Mine was three parks away.

As the engine was warming up, the rear vision mirror showed that several angry red chunks of chilli were smeared across my teeth like leftover entrails. Instead of smiling, servant-of-the-people it was more akin to dead-baby-brains-for-breakfast. No wonder Flour Femme got across the carpark with such unusual speed.

It was time to slink off home and see if I was brave enough to open the jar of unwanted Choc Ezy.