Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Amateurish Articulation from the Apartment of Awful Afflictions

It's official: we three Locketts are allergic to Switzerland.

I was going to title this blog, 'Hope fades from the House of Ill Health' but Sapphire pointed out that we live in a rented apartment, not anything near as grand or large or solid as a house.

Ohhhhh, that's right, thanks for reminding me dear heart. For a mere four seconds I forgot that we were the ONLY family at her school who don't own a ski chalet, spend their summers in Florida or have handbags equalling Love Chunks' full monthly wage....

Speaking of whom, it's all his fault. Last Monday he started sniffing and ahem-ing a bit too often in front of the telly and by Wednesday was too achey, miserable and swollen about the head to go into work. The discernible heat emanating off him like an open grill and red puffy neck said it all - no World Meteorological Day participation for him. My plate of Anzac biscuits were left on the table, forlorn and forgotten. His Canadian, Chinese, Serbian and Pommy workmates would just have to wait until next year to sample those ground-breaking taste sensations.

Friday saw no improvement, except in the medicinal transportation arrangements from room to room. I gave him a plastic shopping bag (a rarity in these parts) and told him to use that as his wet tissue receptacle instead of leaving a pestilential trail of damp white splodges on the bedside table, sofa, kitchen bench and floor rugs. Shaking with fever on the sofa or constantly feeling like he was about to throw up surprisingly didn't add any drama or interest to the utter boredom and frustration of being stuck at home, feeling like pallid pigeon poo.

Dinner party plans scheduled for Saturday were duly cancelled. After all, who wants to see the chef coughing up a tonsil all over the roast pork? Worse still, who wants to see me, Front of House Who Can't Cook, try to make an entire meal that from scratch that is:

a) edible
b) socially acceptable to serve to non-members of the family; and
c) not burned, cold or collapsed due to my tendency to chat/show off/laugh/drink and forget about how magical it is when delicious food is served due to the hard work of my husband and not my hilarious anecdotes.

Never mind, it was Imi's 13th birthday on the Sunday and Sapphire and I planned to leave LC a quiet house to rest in as we joined her family for the Versoix Chocolate festival and a fondue lunch follow up.

Alas, no.

My old foe Mr Migraine knocked - no, clawed a bloody hole through my head with a post hole digger - insisting he be let in for his regular visit. Bugger; I'd forgotten all about our monthly appointment.

The marital bed, on a Saturday evening, is normally a pretty joyous place to be, but not this night. Poor Love Chunks' hacking cough cut through my pounding, protesting skull and it was a struggle to feel pity for what could only be his infected throat being shredded every time his lungs heaved and barked, and feeling as though Mr Migraine was laughing with glee at the freebie bonus of an unintentionally loud, phlegm-filled lover working alongside him.  No curtains and big glass windows provided the ideal environment for lasting and lengthy quadrophonic sound - Mr Migraine's job was doing itself!

So no chocolate, fondue, birthday cake, sunshine or socialising.

Sapphire wasn't too bothered because LC's Lurgy had finally caught her. Sneezing, wheezing and sighing could be heard from her room all night and when Mr Migraine finally decided to torture someone else, I creaked out of bed to see her pale face for a moment before it dashed into the toilet. Ah yes, bring it on - a big bout of flu with some vague gastro nausea thrown in: might as well get all orifices in on the action.....

Today LC is still home, struggling to clear his lungs and walk a step or two without doubling over to cough. The doctor has x-rayed his chest and with relief has said, "Thank god, it's just influenza but you're too ill to go to work for the rest of the week and maybe next," and Sapphire is lying in the bath resting after several days of nose blowing, painful joints and difficulty hearing through her puffy head.

Today too, LC's Lurgy finally got me in its evil, hate-filled headlock. Serves me right for chatting so smugly with Allan-and-Eva-from-Canada as they walked to the UN at the same time Milly and I headed to the park for squirrel spotting yesterday morning. "It must be all that walking you do," Eva beamed in approval.

Nope. My throat is pulsating to a different beat than my heart; my knees and back feel as though they're being boiled in water and Mr Migraine might have left some of his larger equipment to inflate inside my ear canal.

We'll all survive but god knows what the hell lessons we'll learn from it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

On repeat

Love Chunks noticed it first.

"Kath, you seem to have a pretty definite theme emerging from what you wear."

"Oh, what is that?"

"Well, let's just say it's never a surprise when you take your latest purchase out of the bag to show me."

I pretended to take offence.  "OK, so I'm not exactly out on the edge in terms of taking a risk, sartorially-speaking, but nobody seems to be laughing and pointing at me when I venture out onto the streets."

"Fine, fine, forget I said anything."  He bent back to his iPad before changing his mind. "Actually, no. You like to accuse me of not noticing what you wear when, in fact, I notice this pattern more than you do."

After a rummage through the Anneboda wardrobe and Malm drawers, it's time to concede that he does have a point.

I really do need to embrace some green.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I’ve mentioned a long time ago that my very conservative Grandmother used to say ‘fiddle arsing’ in ignorant bliss when she meant to describe someone who was not concentrating on the task. Procrastinating, if you will.

I’m terrific at both. Fiddle arseing (is ‘arseing’ spelled with an ‘e’ or without? ....... see what I’m already doing here – I’m putting off writing this blog entry...) about the house and procrastinating are my usual modes of operation, especially when there’s actually some paid work to do.

Before you all groan and say things like ‘but you were only whingeing a short time ago about how hard it is to find work and now you’re blowing your opportunities by wasting precious mental energy on whether there’s a bloody letter E in ‘arseing’ and if cyberspace was truly elastic I’d reach in and angrily flick that bulb on the end of your nose until your eyes water......’ - let me reassure you of something.

Somehow – despite the rare skill of expertly hanging out THREE ENTIRE LOADS of washing inside a small apartment, cleaning the coffee machine, walking the dog, eating Sunday’s leftovers, going for a run to nowhere, chatting in broken French to the Fratman, taking the wine bottles to the public recycling bins and trying to ignore the disapproving stare of the old lady with just three tins to contribute; sneaking in an old episode of Antiques Roadshow, chasing up an old medical account with an insurer who only answers phones between 9-12 on weekdays and even then has an answering machine that says, ‘Our lines are busy. Please try again later,’ and fishing out 52 retro French magazines from the papier skip before photographing and putting them up for sale on ebay – I do manage to do all of my freelance writing gigs on time.

To be honest, it’s difficult to explain or pinpoint exactly how this is done.

Milly is the self-appointed rest-and-recreation director. Her wet nose is subtlely jabbed into the part of my back where my top has ridden up against the chair revealing 'the computer worker's jean cleavage' of bare skin. The end result is that I jump up in shock and we head downstairs for a quick sniff and wee (her), and a stretch and deep breath (me, but not near where Milly did a wee).

Back upstairs, emails are read, saved to draft, responded to, received. Job boards are scanned, applied to, Skyped and accepted. Online research is done, albeit liberally peppered with side clicks to cute animals, videos of people falling over and shameful Hollywood gossip. The printer jerks into action, whining and blinking; loose leaves floating haphazardly to the floor if my attention is on numbskulls in front of paparazzi instead of the numerical order of pages.

Phone calls are received and made - usually whilst walking through the house sipping coffee, enjoying the view of snow on the Jura mountains and pushing in the dining chairs as I pass.

The screen saver slides into action when the mouse is left idle and my head is drooped down reading something on paper. I look up and instantly get lost in a fog of nostalgia at old holiday snaps, images of a baby Sapphire surrounded by ancient Tupperware lids floating in the bath, Love Chunks holding up a freshly caught fish at Victor Harbor and dinner parties long past. Who stole the rose out of my bridesmaid's bouquet and stuck it in their.... and then photographed it.....??

Hang on, my ears feel blocked. A quick visit to the bathroom for a cotton bud excavation turns into a long one as I then clean my fingernails and examine my face for new wrinkles and – these are new and now obsessively sought – sun spots. Age spots. Liver spots. Two of the evil splodges have recently appeared and my hooded, sagging eyes are on the alert for more. It used to be that adopting a facial expression of suspicion would eradicate any crows’ feet but now all that happens is that they shift to my forehead and turn my mouth into a child’s drawing of the rays of the sun emerging from a puckered up pencil sharpener. The room echoes with a final duck quack fart as I remind myself to get on with the article due by close of business their time which is, well, an hour in our time and one that I oh-so-confidently assured them I had oodles of experience and knowledge on.

Sapphire arrives home from school, unfortunately in one of her eager-to-talk moods. The days when my fiddle arseing has been at prime level are never the days she wants to flop in her room on her own and decompress. We chat and I make her realise that it’s our pets who get the best greetings in life. “Think about it, Sapph. Every time Milly walks into the room, we all go gooey and coo, ‘Helloooooo there, sweetie’ but who does it for us?”

Diet cokes now consumed, she heads towards the study.

“Hey hey HEY, you can’t go on Skype or Minecraft, I have WORK to do!”

“Well, tell me when you’ve finished then, as I have a English essay due,” she huffs half-heartedly. With Milly at her heels and an episode of ‘Take Me Out’ waiting on the telly, she’s not exactly devastated.

And that is when I work. Forty minutes before Milly’s pre-dinner Dog Forest poop-and-patrol and Sapphire’s daily cyber appointment with her Minecraft Mates. I attach, click ‘send’ and lean back in the chair, sighing in fatigue and satisfaction.

Tomorrow, I tell myself, I’ll get it over and done with early. No housework; searching for sun spots, general goofing off or time wasting. Tomorrow it'll be different.

Then again, that’s when the flea market is open; Anita wants to meet up for lunch; an interview request has just been emailed and I might have a re-think about the novel that was started a couple of months ago and set aside......

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Swiss world problems

We've all heard of First World Problems like this:

...and not only recognised them, but also had a laugh at the wins:

....and now I think it's time to share some Swiss World Problems with you all.  Geneva is universally and consistently found to be the second or third (depending on the poll or survey) most expensive city in the world.  First, if just rent per income is taken into account. No wonder all of the nurses who changed Sapphire's IV drip in December lived in France and I haven't had a haircut since Christmas.

Milly and I did our usual walk in the park this morning and found a homeless man sleeping in the fenced 'Off Leash' area right alongside the clanking cranes and drills of the building site next door.  This unpeaceful doze was further ruined by his being barked at by a puzzled Alsatian who was accompanied an angry lady in a fur coat who'd just parked her brand new Beamer nearby and was gesticulating at a council worker to get rid of the unsightly sleeping sod.  A bizarre scene that set me thinking. 

What are Swiss world problems?  Here's a few that spring to mind:

Stupid government is trying to restrict holiday homes and ski chalets to only twenty percent of all the properties in each town. NO WAY!

Didn't get to see Arnold  Schwarzenegger speak at the Geneva summit last week - only 3,000 invitations were issued.  

Had to leave the Ferrari in the outdoor car park because of the crowds at the International Motor Show.

Freshly baked bread was warm when I walked home, but stale by the time I wanted it for lunch.

L'Occitane almond oil hand moisturiser takes too long to rub in and leaves glittery specks of crushed pearls afterwards.

That unbearable feeling when you slip on your winter coat and your jumper arms ride up halfway through the sleeves.

You let someone cross the road at the yellow lines and they don't give you the nationally acknowledged and expected 'nod of thanks'.

One IKEA pillow is too flat but two are too high.

Bircher meusli is just too complicated to chew for breakfast on mornings when you're running late.

Chocolate blocks are on special, tightly-packaged in groups of ten. But there are only seven days in a week.

Only have a two hundred franc note in your wallet but tram ticket machine takes five franc coins.

Bloody husband forgets to bring back any duty free from his last overseas business trip.

Damn Victorinox knife cuts my finger again.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Judged by John Martins

It's funny how being a mother to a twelve year old child leads to a lot of reminiscing and 'that reminds me of the time' conversations. These then lead, later on, to deeper ponderings and analyses of events long since past and dealt with.

As we were about to get into the car for the school run this morning, Sapphire said, "You're the same age as Madonna, aren't you Mum?"

Despite being unshowered, wearing polar fleece, tracksuit pants, ugg boots and holding Milly's lead and my Wellington boots, I stopped short in horror.

"NO NO NO NO NO NO NO Sapphire! She is TEN YEARS older than me."

Sapphire ignored my offended stance and waited patiently for me to open the doors. "Oh yeah, that's right. It's Kylie Minogue who's your age."

It was difficult to stay huffy at her when the rear vision mirror showed a new age spot on my left temple and two cornflake boogers in my eyes.


"Mmmmmmm?" Reversing out is difficult, not just because I automatically crane my neck to look the wrong way. Space is challengingly tight, and other residents like to roar around the corner in their posher and much larger vehicles.

"Do you like Madonna?"

When we'd made it out onto the street where I now feel confident enough to drive on the wrong side of the road and hold an animated conversation, I had a think about this. "Well, she's had a very long career and her facelift treatments are one of the better ones out there but I do wish she'd perhaps try singing about something a little less twenty-something oriented. She's had two marriage breakdowns, got four children and lived a full life, so surely she could try wearing pants, singing about adult issues and pose with her legs crossed for a change."

"But looks matter, don't they Mum?"

Don't they indeed.

My daughter is beautiful. Truly beautiful, but she doesn't believe me and walks hunched up in anxiety and self consciousness across the tarmac to the school yard. She fails to see the appreciative glances that get thrown her way when we're out and about, and worries that she's not 'flat and thin' like the not-yet-developed, a full-year-younger, gymnastic queens of her class.

When she got home from school, we shared a diet coke on the balcony and I took her back to the summer of 1987. It had been buried and forgotten in my mind until reawakening, unwanted but timely, today.

Second year uni had finished and I was not looking forward to going back home to my fifth summer of cutting apricots whilst standing on a cement floor under a boiling hot corrugated iron fruit packing shed to earn money for the year ahead.

John Martin's - South Australia's most beloved department store - were advertising. They were looking for university students to work right up until the post-Christmas sales. No experience necessary. They wanted intelligence, hard work and the willingness to provide unceasingly friendly customer service. My best uni buddy Joanne and I decided to apply together. Neither of us had ever worked anywhere not involving fresh produce or small children. She grew up on a riverland orchard where picking grapes and oranges helped earn her pocket money and, apart from apricot cutting, I could only add babysitting to my slim resume.

We filled out the form and sat outside a dingy, fake wood-panelled room with plastic chairs for our turn to be briefly interviewed. Both of us got five minutes to answer a couple of short questions. Four hours later we walked back to college and went in search of a late dinner in the kitchen.

Jo was offered a job in the Manchester department the following day. I was rejected.

A week later, the local newspaper featured a small article revealing that the HR manager of John Martin's had been recorded admitting that there was an unwritten policy of selecting only good looking uni students for holiday work. I spent the night in bed curled up, sobbing.

I never told Jo about the article and she held that job beyond the post-Christmas sales, working Thursday nights and Saturday mornings for the next six years as she successfully completed her honours and PhD. She worked hard and deserved every dollar she got.

But yes, looks matter.

"But I think you're beautiful, Mum."

This, from a fresh faced, blue eyed angel, who can't see even a glimpse of it in herself. Instead of denying it as I'd normally do, I just hugged her and said, "Thanks love. So are you."
"And guess what - John Martin's is no longer in business."

Monday, March 05, 2012

Open windows

We've never lived in an apartment before we came here and now we're up amongst the tree tops on the eighth floor of an eleven storey building.

Apartment living can be cramped, but this place is significantly larger in size than our snug little one-and-a-half fronted cottage in Flemington. Milly has adapted to the lack of garden and back door facilities extremely well, being content to snooze and snuffle around from room to room until it's time to head downstairs via the lift into the Dog Forest. Where she once trembled in fear when the elevator doors clanged shut and it descended to the ground she now wags her tail, because a ride in the lift means a walk.

Upstairs there's no garden to tend (fine by me and LC) and two hallways that would easily be converted into bedrooms if we were back in Melbourne with a budget for renovations.

Despite this - and having three toilets - we only have the one living space for eating, piano practising, telly watching and view gazing. Furnishings are kept to the minimum for ease of access and my beloved luxury item number two
* is stored in LC's and my bedroom.

The treadmill. An expensive towel rail for some but a vital part of life for me. With an ageing body that now hosts a dodgy achilles, a bung calf muscle and plantar fasciitis, my runs are now down to three days a week for 6 km a time. I'm slower now too - no longer galloping at 12.6km per hour, but a relatively sedate 11.2 for the first five kilometres and last gasp 12km/hr for the final km.

Still, with that trio of trots and a long morning walk with Milly, my heart rate is a mighty fine 56 beats per minute while resting and I seem to be able to continue to inhale all matter of chocolate, wine and cheese-related Swiss specialties without looking too obviously rotund.

I've written before about the benefits for me beyond the cardiovascular. It helps keep my Black Dog at bay and gives me time to reflect, think up new writing ideas and reminisce about all kinds of weird and wonderful events. And, to be utterly honest, there's little that makes me feel more proud of myself than knowing I've slogged and sweat my butt off before breakfast, even if it doesn't look like I have.

So, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, after Milly and I get back from our walk, I change into my runners and plug in the treadie, strap on my bum bag and headphones and switch on the iPod.

"Annie waits for the last time....."

Three and a half kms in this morning and I was in The Zone, endorphins a-coursing, positive vibes a-pumping and singing along loudly and proudly to every fourth word of each song "Annie waits ----- for a call ....was it always the same?"

Sweat flicked onto the dashboard and Milly turned around to rearrange the pillow she snoozed on at the end of the bed. The view, from the right side, was of the bare winter trees and grey clouds sprinkling a few half-hearted snowflakes.

Things were really firing up today. I audaciously flicked the speedo up to twelve km per hour right from the start and sang along to every word.  My eyes were closed as I imagined that my legs were going to hurl me down the track......

"You've got to be the prettiest girl
I've ever witnessed in the whole world
Hear me can you hear me? Hear me can you hear me?
Hear me can you hear me now......"

Ratta tatta tat!

I nearly got flung into the bedside table in my shock. There, on a crane platform slowly moving upwards were two removal men, grinning at me.  'Bonjour madame!'  

I wasn't sure what to do. Stop and what, stand still and wave until they putted upwards beyond my floor or nod and keep running as all serious athletes would do? The first option seemed faintly ridiculous, but the second option would hardly work seeing as they'd already had a chuckle at seeing me sing to myself with my eyes closed like a sheltered workshop employee on a fitness kick.

So I did what I always do when faced with French I cannot speak and people I cannot converse with. I gave them the 'thumbs up' and a smile, got back onto the treaddie and kept on going, thanking the powers-that-be that they weren't putting by an hour later when I'd invariably be starkers and freshly showered.

I'm starting to love this place.

* Milly is luxury item number one

Friday, March 02, 2012

Pant-less at the podium

Most of us have recurring nightmares, don't we?

Love Chunks has one where he's on the toilet, pants around his ankles, busy daydreaming as he waits to drop a couple of Andrew Bolts off at a the pool.

Then, he looks up and notices that he's in the middle of a street. Adelaide's Rundle Mall, to be precise. Right by the silver balls. Shoppers are walking past; fully clothed, and he's there with the sides of his arse on display.

Sapphire has one where she's floating peacefully down a river, until it eventually becomes less peaceful and out of control. She normally then wakes up and throws up - it's her 'Yep, you're sick; you're really sick' nightmare.

Mum has one too. She's on a bushwalk with Dad, and steps off the national park path to pull down the knickers and have a quick splash on the stones.

Lo and behold, a bus load of Japanese tourists come trooping around the bend on the lower path, getting a white mooned greeting from a seventy year old. When she woke up ---- hang on, that actually happened to her, it wasn't a dream, true story.

As for me, there are two that crop up time and time again and have been doing so since my early twenties. The first is based on a real life event - being late for an exam.

Exam stress is a common dream to have and is quite literally every student's nightmare. They usually concern sleeping in and missing the exam, not being early for the exam but unable to get to the final destination due to being stuck in traffic.

In 1987, Adelaide still had the Grand Prix. The very first one in 1985 was held on my birthday and as I heard the whining sounds of fast cars being televised in the pool room at the other end of the house, I sat in my bedroom studying for my matriculation English exam the following day.

For the next few years, I realised that having a birthday in early November invariably meant being locked in my room, re-reading illegible lecture notes and goofing off by painting my toe nails.

Back to November 1987. I was in second year uni and Dad was driving me from Murray Bridge to Adelaide Uni for my 'Pre-Scientific World View of History' exam. Yeah, second year Arts was not exactly focussing on career-specific topics, but in terms of reading, research and essay writing, knowing the details of Paracelsus, the four humours of the body and lingering beliefs in witchcraft was all my brain was filled with at that point.

Until we hit Pulteney Street. "Grand Prix traffic, I reckon," Dad said, peering over the steering wheel at the long, l-o-n-g line of cars going nowhere.

Fifteen minutes of no moving, my left leg began to jiggle. "It's OK, kiddo, we'll get there," Dad said, looking straight into the 'If you see this, then I've lost the bloody caravan' bumper sticker of the car in front of him. Also not moving.

Half an hour later, I tapped at my watch. "Dad, they'll open the doors in fifteen minutes time and I don't think----"

"It'll move, Cackles.
* It has to."

Forty minutes later and I had my first, grown up experience of cold sweat pooling in my arm pits.

"Calm yourself, Kath. Take a few deep breaths, you'll get there on time."

A further five minutes had me squirming on the seat. "Dad, I know you mean well, but I have to run for it. Now."

"But Pulteney Street's about two kilometres long - do you want to arrive all puffed out, stressed and sweaty?

"I already am, Dad."

He nodded, in what we all know is the universal sign for Fair Enough. I pushed open the passenger door, grabbed my back pack and legged it, blonde spiral perm flowing like windblown pot noodles behind me.

My dunlop volleys started to eat at my ankles. They were made for lounging in; being crossed under desks, not running wildly. I kept on.

My jeans rubbed around my middle and the crotch got hotter and damper. I kept on.

My backpack kept wheeling from shoulder to shoulder, banging the lower part of my bag and causing my t-shirt to ride up like a crop top. I kept on.

The hallowed spire of Bonython Hall was finally in sight. Yesssss! Daggy old Flentje theatre was in nuffy old Napier next door. I clattered precariously down the steps, trying hard not to think of the consequences of slipping and smashing my face, hooned like a nervous dog on floor tiles to the right and flung the doors open with a mighty CLANG as they bashed against the wall and back again, almost pushing me over.

Sweat was running into my ear cavities as I wheezed for air and tried to stop a bunch of weird little white spots obscuring my vision.

Seventy students, all seated and all reading the exam questions, turned in their seats to stare at me.

"Hough hough, the traffic ------  Hough hough Grand Prix ------ Hough hough left my dad ------  Hough hough ran like hell------" a drop of sweat flew off my hand towards the exam moderator who was, mercifully, also my tutor. I bent double to try and regain my breath, wet hair now slicked to my face.

Seats creaked in unison as the students went back to their papers.

"Sit down over here," she whispered kindly. "I can give you ten minutes extra if you like."

I thanked her and sat down, ignoring the wet-pants feeling of my bum on the vinyl chair. My Darth Vader Hough hough  puffs eventually subsided. The white spots faded to nothing and there was still a dry spot on the top of my legs to wipe my palms down before picking up the pencil.

"Time," the examiner called. I had finished with the others after all.

Dad was waiting for me outside, looking very concerned. "How did you go?"

I hobbled over towards his outstretched arms; blisters now evident, body all BO-ey and generally exhausted.  "Pretty well I think, Dad. At least I lived this one instead of dreamt about it."

This real life event still does replay in my dreams, but only occasionally.  My more common recurring nightmare is not about the almost-missed exam; it's about getting up to make a speech in front of a large, expectant audience. The spotlight is in my eyes and, as I clear my throat and lean forward into the microphone to start, I feel a coolish breeze.

Yep, I'm naked from the waist down.

* Cackles, thought of by Dad because I laughed a lot as a teenager. "Still, it's better than being called plain old 'Cack'," he pointed out.