Sunday, March 24, 2013

Area avoided often

I'm participating again in River's Sunday Selections event that invites bloggers everywhere to post up photos they haven't yet published, consider linking them with a theme and write something about them.

...this will help me get over the fact that Love Chunks, Sapphire and myself had a bog-ordinary Burger King meal at a roadside stop near Rolle, Switzerland that cost us Seventy Seven Francs.  That's fancy eatin' money!

On with the meme.

A bit after 8:00am on weekdays and weekends, Milly and I trot happily over to Parc de Trembley to stretch our collective total of six legs.  All furry, if I'm to be brutally honest.  It's a slab of land with a busy street that carves it into two segments, one considerably larger than the other.

We owe a lot to this humble park as it allows Milly to run free and keep her post-arthritic body in better shape than when she was first diagnosed with two irreparably wonky back legs over six years ago.  A sniff of a squirrel or the opportunity to snuffle around bench seats has resulted in a sleekly fit dog who can jump up into the back of the car with ease when she was completely unable do so in Melbourne.

With a paddling pool, ornate flower beds, ponds, ancient trees and friendly gardeners who know us and greet us, we both feel as though we know this little part of Geneva like the back of our hands/paws.

And yet there is one section that neither of us want to enter.  That's probably a good thing, because the sign outside this section already forbids entry to dogs:

The sign always leaves me feeling slightly offended on Milly's behalf as she should NOT be compared to disgusting urinators, vandals, noise polluters or litterers.

Then again, she's a beautiful and intelligent beast who hasn't shown the slightest interest in venturing into what I can only call - wait for it - brace yourselves - Pedo Playground.....

These creepy 'animals' are presumably meant to be cheery creatures intended to invite children to climb on them, play on them and generally enjoy themselves, but I have never ever seen a child - or adult - in there.  It seemed long past time to break the rules stipulated by the sign and have a whizz, sorry, take Milly in for a closer look.  She'd protect me if she had to, I'm sure.....

With a shaking dog so close to my legs that we tripped up several times, we tentatively approached this yellow abomination; a filthy chunk of butter with a tangible sense of unwholesomeness about it.  Made by a angry person with an old box and no artistic skills or is there a more sordid meaning behind the nubbin for a tail and the demonic blue ears?

Smile or not, the purple 'up yours' horns did not conjure up any innocent joys of childhood.

And these....?  A creepy looking camel and a half submerged pervy pincered crab? No way!

F-words aren't usually my go-to words, but what the phark is this pink thing??  A par-boiled testicle??

Milly whined several times as I nervously snapped away.  If this was supposed to be a dog with antennae for ears, porn star breasts for eyes and nose and a distinctly un-PG tongue lolling out lustily, it was a challenge getting her to pose next to 'it'.....

It was a relief for both of us to get the hell out of there.  A-poo-behind-a-bush-relief for Milly, and a thank-god-we-have-wine comfort for me.

That is, until the label revealed that it too wasn't offering real comfort....

But dear old LC did.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vadge of honour

We were sitting in the car just outside the high school gate, having one of those conversations that both of us are not only enjoying, but also not wanting to end.

Sex.  To be more precise, recent concerns about the easy access of pornography and how it might affect the expectations of some teenagers. 

"Is a guy going to expect someone with inflatable duck lips who is automatically able to writhe around like a pole-dancer whilst wearing more on her feet than her entire body?  Will he also expect her to provide some oral pleasure and be instantly amenable to letting him enter her, erm, 'back door' the second he walks - usually naked and in a highly visible state of excitement - into the room?"  That was my question by the way, not my daughter's.  It seems so long ago when a 'Do you like me - tick yes or no' note was handed around in year eight geography.

Sapph spoke of recent discussions they've held in Humanities on the issue.  Will the never-ending availability of sex and sexual acts online give some kids and teenagers a completely unrealistic idea of what 'real' life relationships are going to be like?  Will the saturation of 'take it, bitch' clips readily on hand (often when you don't want them - don't try a google search when your spelling isn't up to scratch) completely dissolve the idea of having sex between two genuine human beings with a back story and shared respect and real passion?

Our conversation then took a slightly different direction.  "And what's so attractive about male genitalia anyway?  They just dangle there to make 'ooh that would have hurt' or nutcracker jokes for at least half the videos submitted to 'You've Been Framed.' And with something always 'there' it must surely always be demanding some attention. How could you keep your mind of something that moves of its own accord?"

Nodding, I replied, "Yep. No wonder boys play with them so often: they're easily accessible and very easy to please."

Laughing, Sapphire commented that the girlie bits weren't so flash to peek at either. "But they're on the inside, at least, so unless you grab a small mirror, they don't bother us as much."  She paused for a moment. "That is, unless you're really flexible gymnast like Juliet, but if that was me, I'd think of better things to take a closer look at."

This all reminded me of a stand up routine by Ben Elton way, waaaaay back in the 1980s when he too commented on the ugliness of mankind's rude bits. "He said that no architect had ever been so inspired by the male appendage that he had to design a building with bulbous veins and a purple domed roof on the top."

"Then again Mum, has anyone ever described the inner vadge as resembling a stack of sliced roasted meats, as you did to me once?"

"Yep, sweet pea, I did.  Yet again, there's no Opera House or scenic bridge that is based on our mounds of Venus, dear heart."

Despite this grotty talk, my spirits were flying high. I loved that she and I could have these kinds of brutally honest chats, using humour to soften the horrors of growing up and swimming safely past the bobbing icebergs of peer pressure, internet unreality and heightening hormones.  I loved being witness to her insight and ways of viewing the world around her.  I loved seeing her throw back her head and laugh in delight; a combination of relief and joy at being able to goof off with her mother before tackling Design & Technology class.  

I was warming to the theme. "And don't get me started on those over-inflated party balloons that are supposed to represent the average woman's breasts," I exclaimed, pushing both hands out in front of my own chest, as if they were struggling to keep hold of two heavy bowling balls.

"MUM," Sapphire hissed. "You have just impersonated a woman with enormous boobs right outside the entrance to my SCHOOL.  Could you BE any more embarrassing?"

Sadly, yes.

But then again, so can she.  Sapphire leaned in through the car window. "Oh geez, I've just given myself a major wedgie sliding out of the car and now have a long walk across the quadrangle where all the windows are facing!"

She'll be fine.

Monday, March 18, 2013

When broccoli goes bad


Love Chunks is driving Sapphire to school as he's not able to ride his bike to work.  I farewell them both at the lift and always like to see them enter and the door close on them before I go back inside our apartment. Milly and I have the place to ourselves. 

We only have a brief walk as it snowed unexpectedly overnight and she rushes out to the Dog Forest, does an urgent whizz under a dry bush and is back in the foyer before the sleep boogers have been removed from my eyes.  She sure ain’t a water loving creature.

Back upstairs, there’s a load of washing to be draped on and over large pieces of furniture, a run on the treadmill, another load to be draped during my ‘cool down’ session and floors to be vacuumed.  This is done barefoot and the urgency of the dreaded task is revealed by ending up with soles that have tiny mud pellets, dust bunnies and crumbs stuck to them like pebble dash.  Milly hides under the desk as there is nothing more frightening than the Dyson loudly removing all the fun/smelly things from the carpet. 

After showering and dressing, the computer is switched on and two old bills studied.  It’s time to cancel our internet and home phone provider as we switched to a different company over the weekend.  This is one of the Kath Tasks I loathe: ringing up a service company when English might be offered fourth on the menu or not at all.

And it is here that my day slows r-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-g-h-t down.  With barely any French and absolutely no German or Italian language skills in my repertoire, I hear the automated voice say ‘un’ and I quickly press number one on the keypad.  It could be the line to request delivery of a swimming pool-sized satellite dish for all I care but should hopefully get me through to a human being so that I can ask if they speak English.

Forty two minutes later, I’m long past the irony of hearing ‘Call me Maybe’ and getting rather tired of the song that most of us had tired of after the second listen a year ago.  Shoving the phone under my right ear and on top of my shoulder, I reach over to try and tap out a response to an email when.... poo bum bugger shit fart – my fat chipmunk cheek must have spread over to the buttons and hung up the phone.

My second try sitting on hold to, let’s just call them WaxWho, takes a mere twenty nine minutes before someone answers.  Thankfully she does speak English and I explain our situation.

“You must put it to us in writing,” she says.

“But I’ve been on the phone for the best part of an hour and have confirmed all the identity questions you asked me so why can’t you---“

“Always a letter. Always in writing. Then we cancel thank you.”

Oh.  The second company, somehow connected to the first but not able to be transferred by my ‘Always in writing’ lady, takes a relatively rapid eighteen minutes.  In writing, yep, of course.  Oh and can only be cancelled on the anniversary of our contract date; how flexible of you.

Both letters are duly written, printed out and ready to post but wouldn’t you know it, no stamps are left in the kitchen drawer.  But the shopping list is:
Veges. All green stuff
Stuff for smoothies
Dishwasher tablets.

We three Locketts love our veges; always have, always will.  Sapphire has enjoyed them right from the time she was given solids and nearly made a lady faint with shock when, at age three, she spied a string bag of brussel sprouts at the supermarket and said, "Mum, look! Can we get these, please?"

Thus, few things concern us more than a vege crisper with nothing but a slimy end of cucumber wedged into the back corner and a few stray capsicum seeds, and it is enough to cement the decision to wade my way through the snow – on foot – to the shops.

At La Poste, the ticket machine informs me that ten customers are further ahead in the queue, which gives me time to note that, for such an efficient, suitably ‘Swiss’ agency, they have the book 'Sex for Dummies' (Le Sexe pour Les Nuls) on proud display. 

This amuses me enough to take a photo of it and as I'm crouching slightly and tapping the screen to get a better focus, a rather hefty gentleman snorts and says something to me in French.  He looks slightly alarmed when I turn around to get a better look at him but does compose himself well enough to read what I’ve clumsily typed in google translate.

J'ai écrit un de ces livres, mais pas celui-ci
(I wrote one of these books, but not this one)

This time, he laughs out loud and clasps my shoulder in some kind of sleaze bag solidarity.  My brain finally catches up: he thinks I’ve written a sex book but not via the Dummies line. 

Non non non, soum différente...
Har har har he goes, all coffee and cigarette breath puffing out his moustache.  It is then things turn into a movie slow-mo scene: surely he’s not reaching out to pinch my ----- thank god, Counter G has pinged my number and his thumb and forefinger only squeeze air. I’m yet to discover what the accepted Suisse etiquette is for dealing with getting your arse pinched in the post office.

Safely in Migros supermarket a few minutes later, I am surprised to note that broccoli is not available.  Intellectually and environmentally this is a good thing in that they only sell produce in season, but culturally and greedily, it’s one of our favourite faithful standbys and I’m miffed.  However, in the never-ventured-to Bio section, there are a few miniscule wrapped bunches of organic broccoli and for not an unreasonable price.  Two are scooped up in relief before crossing to the far end of the store and trying to translate bra sizes.

Yes, bra sizes.  Australia seems to have 12A, 12B, 12C and so on but here they have 75A, 80A, 85A and in the United Kingdom they go for 32A, 34A, 36A......  Google does a good job of giving me some equivalent measurements and I receive a few suspicious looks from the teenage bloke unpacking socks in the next shelf.

At the checkout, one lady signs off and a new lady replaces her, surprising me a little by greeting me with a big smile. Migros matrons aren’t usually big on smiling, using their arms or emanating any interest in being there whatsoever. 

With only a few veges and bras to slide through, they are all easily packed by me without careening past on the conveyor belt and sliding off the end as per a loaded trolley.  But wait – she is speaking to me.  I heard the word ‘broccoli’ and ‘ordinateur’ which means computer.

She calls over to a colleague who suggests new buttons for her to press on the computer screen.  This does not seem to do enough to make her slide the two bunches of broccoli over the scanner and towards me which encourages the flat capped-fifty something in the line behind to heave a huge sigh. 

Migros Matron dials up what I can only guess is someone from fresh produce.  Again there’s talk of broccoli and computers.  She listens intently, hangs up and tries a few different buttons but there’s still no success.  Her colleague is now concerned enough to leave her own checkout spot and come over to help.  She presses the screen in what appears to be gay abandon, leaving my original lady brandishing my two broccoli heads like maraccas.

Another phone call, a few minutes of awkward waiting and trying not to meet the annoyed eyes of the four people behind me and a third lady appears brandishing a key.  Intense conversation occurs but not including me: just my broccoli.

It appears that they have caused the entire checkout to melt down and we’ll now have to move to a different check up further up the line.  The four folk behind me all gather up their things (serve ‘em right for laying them out on the conveyor belt too early) and huff off somewhere else. No way are any of them prepared to follow me to the next check out.

Bleep bleep – it worked! They passed through! “Ah, who knew that broccoli sometimes uses its powers for evil,” I said, smiling.


Never mind.  “Bonne journee madam.”

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A place in this world

Sapphire and I have had a few very intriguing discussions lately about bullying.

As she sees it, the school bullying program is about as useful as wearing a leather jumpsuit to a French squat toilet. "All it does it tell kids that they're nowhere near as bad as the examples shown," she says.

She tells me that the examples include kids writing 'Why don't you kill yourself' in SMS messages or 'Die, bitch' on Facebook pages or pushing and shoving kids against lockers.  These produce a collective eye roll amongst the compulsory viewing audience as they're too dramatic and vastly unrepresentative of what really goes on.

When I mention the book 'Queen Bees and Wannabes' by Rosalind Wiseman that we've both read, she again shakes her head. "Even when they discuss the way girls exclude or spread rumours, we're given some standard photo from the 1990s with a really exaggerated set up of three girls talking behind their hands and pointing at a fourth girl standing sadly in the foreground," she says. "It just doesn't happen like that."

"What happens is nasty sniggering instead of genuine laughing, leaving a girl terrified about walking into class with hostile eyes on her as she passes.  How can they pinpoint that kind of almost invisible bullying?"

Sapphire just can't see the jealousy and refuses to let me explain it to her, instead now talking about a wider form of bullying which seems to be freely permitted by us all.

She is a fan of Taylor Swift, admiring not only her songs (and the fact that either writes or co-writes them all), but also her looks (she is a teenage girl, after all) and the fact that she makes mistakes but isn't stupid. "She hasn't been beaten up and gone back to the bloke who did it; she hasn't got gun tatts all over her body; hasn't posed nude or been 'caught' on instagram, hasn't made a sex tape or put up photos of herself smoking dope."

It's old news media-wise now, but I felt really disappointed to read that Tina Fey, who I really admire, and her buddy Amy Poehler (who I've yet to see in anything - that's how out of touch I am) took pot shots at Taylor during their recent hosting of the Golden Globes.

"And yet, Mum," Sapphire says, jabbing her finger in the air to emphasise the matter, "Tina Fey wrote 'Mean Girls' the movie and said that she based it on Rosalind Wiseman's book but still thinks she can make jokes about someone's personal life when it isn't true."  Fair point. 

Taylor Swift herself confirmed that when she said in this month's Vanity Fair, "If you want some big revelation, since 2010 I have dated exactly two people (Conor Kennedy and Harry Styles)..... the fact that there are slide shows of a dozen guys that I either hugged on the red carpet or met for lunch or wrote a song with, it's just kind of ridiculous."

I tell Sapphire that it reminds me of a quote attributed to Jennifer Aniston a few years ago when she described seeing her confused face splashed on the covers of some magazines with the typical headline, 'Distraught Jen's baby woes' or some-such.  She commented that she remembered that particular day because of the t-shirt she had on and realised that the paparazzi had snapped her at the precise moment she'd left her agent's office and had forgotten just where the hell she'd left her car.  Sapphire smiled at this.

Naturally, the quote that has since been over-used as a Swift-bashing quickie came up.  "Katie Couric is one of my favorite people because she said to me she heard a quote that she loved that said, 'there's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women'."  This actually originated from former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, but why would all the online and paper mags want to tell readers that when they can say that Ms Swift is a humourless whinger instead?

Later in the interview, Swift was asked if she was 'boy crazy' and I wondered how hard she had to fight to stifle the urge to punch the questioner because it is highly doubtful they would have asked the same question of same-aged blokes Nicholas Hoult or Daniel Radcliffe; or of her previous paramours Taylor Lautner, Jake Gyllenhal, John Mayer or Harry Styles. It's not a question but an insult, yet she said, "For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that's taking something that potentially should be celebrated - a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way.... twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist."

I hope you really heard and understood that, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but your answers suggest not.

Poehler's first remark about the comment was flippant. "Aw, I feel bad if she was upset. I am a feminist, and she is a young and talented girl. That being said, I do agree I am going to hell. But for other reasons. Mostly boring tax stuff."  Not good enough, Ms Poehler: you should have just apologised and tried to remember how you felt and acted between the ages of fifteen and twenty three and not brushed it off with an easy gag.  The photos found in your yearbook above suggest not just that you lived in the time of bouffant fringes but that you were also a cheerleader, so perhaps being in the cool crowd means that you really don't understand what bullying is.

And Tina Fey? "I did not see that one coming.  It was a joke.  It was a light hearted joke."  Uh-huh and that's the kind of bullying that Sapphire is worried about. The 'can't you take a joke?', the 'it wasn't meant to be taken personally' and the 'stop being a drama queen' that is some of the most subtle and damaging form of female bullying and I'm glad that my thirteen year old can see it and name it.

Here's Ms Fey on the far right of the photograph below.  I'm sure that she may not have always found the hilarity in someone commenting about her personal life - or lack thereof - when this was taken.

These cheap digs at people who are damned by the media if they try to defend themselves carries on to girls who see it, laugh at it and consider it their right to do it as well. "My friends all make comments about what a slut Taylor Swift is, Mum, and how all she does is write songs about her ex-boyfriends, but none of them own any of her albums or have listened to anything other than her singles," Sapphire points out. "She writes about a lot of issues."

All I can do is hope that Sapph understands that insults and nastiness are often used to hide insecurity, envy and laziness.  Yes, laziness. Why bother to work hard, or try something different or stick your neck out when it's simpler to knock other people down?

The fallout of such behaviour and results also severely obscures the respect that is felt by a much larger group of other people.  If Neil Young is happy to describe Swift as a 'great writer' - "I like listening to her...and watching her respond to all the attacks. I like the way she's defining herself so I keep my eye on it," and Dolly Parton says she is "extremely impressed with her, especially in her song writing .... the depth of her. She's got the qualities that could last a long time," and Stevie Nicks says that Taylor writes "songs that make the whole world sing, like Neil Diamond or Elton John and .... reminds me of me in a lot of ways. Swift's 'Today was a fairytale' has "stayed in my heart forever," then there are a lot of really good people out there too.  

So, Sapphire, take comfort too that Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Lena Dunham and Ryan Adams also think that she's worth praising instead of attacking.  Having the highest selling first week album in a decade for 'Red' aint too shabby either.

Bullying is easy. It takes little thought, makes the person feel better about themselves and costs nothing.  It's just a damn shame that negative comments seem to have more power than positive ones.  Let your actions do the talking, my darling daughter, and I'll share with my readers the lyrics to one of your favourite Taylor Swift songs:

The Best Day

I'm five years old
It's getting cold
I've got my big coat on
I hear your laugh
And look up smiling at you
I run and run
Past the pumpkin patch
And the tractor rides
Look now -- the sky is gold
I hug your legs and fall asleep
On the way home
I don't know why all the trees change in the fall
I know you're not scared of anything at all
Don't know if Snow White's house is near or far away
But I know I had the best day
With you today
I'm thirteen now
And don't know how my friends
Could be so mean
I come home crying and you hold me tight and grab the keys
And we drive and drive
Until we've found a town
Far enough away
And we talk and window-shop
Until I've forgotten all their names
I don't know who I'm gonna talk to
Now at school
I know I'm laughing on the car ride home with you
Don't know how long it's gonna take to feel okay
But I know I had the best day
With you today
I have an excellent father
His strength is making me stronger
God smiles on my little brother
Inside and out
He's better than I am
I grew up in a pretty house
And I had space to run
And I had the best days with you
There is a video
I found from back when I was three
You set up a paint set in the kitchen
And you're talking to me
It's the age of princesses and pirate ships
And the seven dwarfs
Daddy's smart
And you're the prettiest lady in the whole wide world
Now I know why all the trees change in the fall
I know you were on my side
Even when I was wrong
And I love you for giving me your eyes
Staying back and watching me shine
And I didn't know if you knew
So I'm taking this chance to say
That I had the best day
With you today

I can see why you like it, dear Sapph.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Two meanings of 'tear'

"That's not what I meant and you know it!"

"Oh do I? So I have to be a mind reader now too....?"

Her only answer was to slam the car door shut and stride off. As I muttered, 'grumpy cow,' to the steering wheel there was little doubt that she was doing the same into her jacket.

Finishing off my coffee before going for a run, the computer is always a lure, asking me to check on it before sweating it out in the room next door. C's facebook status is brief. "Single again."  Love Chunks and I sigh in sympathy and disappointment.  C is a single mother who has literally been on her own for a decade working full time, paying off a mortgage and caring for a son with a unique set of challenges that the father refuses to see.  If anyone needs some pampering and romance, it is her.  We both write separate messages and sign them off with the usual ineffective wish to provide a hug or two via cyberspace and across the hemispheres.

Tara's status is much lengthier, a written message in response to my carelessly typed, "Are you okay?"  Not really.  Her partner is now refusing to take the medication needed to manage a significant mental health issue leaving Tara to deal with unpredictable rages, unaffordable spending sprees, unheard of debts suddenly coming to light, undeserved accusations and uncomfortable living arrangements.  

In the car, my phone vibrates. "I hope you are all well and enjoying the snow, but I have some really bad news that I need to tell you......"  Darling Dale, IT guru, laid-back buddy, volleyball queen and world traveller has been given the unenviable task of contacting all of J's university friends and telling us that cancer claimed her.  "But she wrote to me in January wondering if she should return to work full time or take it easy and pick up her painting again," is my tapped response, no time for refinement or spell check.

Back home, Love Chunks is now bent over his knees, clutching a blue esky ice block wrapped in a tea towel to his torn calf muscle. "Good thing I injured myself on the very last ski run of the day," he said, grimacing.

"I'll try the doctor again. Hopefully the receptionist answers this time because their message service is all in French."  Milly sighs loudly and smooshes her face against the side of her bed, signalling very clearly her disappointment at the rain that prevents us from going out for a walk.

Appointment made for 2:45pm, I make LC something to eat and tram it into the city to book our train tickets for Italy in the summer. "No, sorry. They won't accept bookings that are 120 days before the departure date.  Best come back on 11th April to get all your travel details sorted out."  I try not to peel the skin around my thumbnail but do it anyway, feeling the sting of exposed flesh and blood beginning to flow.  Accommodation is already becoming scarce for one of the world's most popular tourism destinations, but to take the chance of finding somewhere to sleep and then have no way of getting there on time.  The hem of my jacket is used to press against the nail and stem the bloodflow.... I smile and thank the ticket lady for her help.

Back at home, LC is on the phone to M, J's husband.  He told LC that J went downhill very rapidly before having a stroke and being placed into palliative care.  M was in turn both prepared for her death and completely unprepared.  She was only forty five, with three kids aged eighteen, sixteen and fourteen.  M once told me how they met. "I saw her across the room giving some other bloke a really good telling off. I thought to myself, 'that girl's got fire in her,' and went over to divert her attention." That was in 1986.

LC's eyes fill with tears after he farewells his old friend. We hug and I tell him of my small moment with Sapphire earlier this morning. He shows me his calf which is twice the size of his other one.

There's leftovers for lunch and the final episode of Derek.  I've already seen it with Sapphire and we both ended up sobbing.  The biggest message is the one that everyone - no matter what their faults - see and value in Derek, the assistant at a nursing home who has his own problems to deal with.  Kindness.  Just be kind, that's all.

I send a text to Sapphire, apologising for my bad temper this morning.  Love Chunks gets a Kath-made coffee that nowhere near reaches his own standard of DeLonghi delight, but he's grateful for it anyway.  Milly skips when we take the lift downstairs and she sees the cleaning lady and rushes to greet her by giving her slippers a lick.  The sun has some warmth in it now and Milly is happy to sniff the green stems of the crocus flowers emerging from the mud.

After doing some laundry and mopping the floors, two hours is spent printing out a document for one of my students page by page, thanks to an ancient CD-rom format that is still the preferred study method at his school.  Sapphire arrives home from school, dashing past the study to get into her room.  "Thanks for the book, Mum!' she calls out cheerfully.  I sit at the desk, wondering whether to leave her alone as she's in her her haven; her fortress of solitude, or whether to barge on in and give her a hug.

Barging in won out.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Plugger plugging a plug

"Who took my pen.....?"

I don't often publicise things on this blog in direct posts, but today is different.

One of the joys of being a freelance writer, editor, tutor, web page opinion-offerer and anything else I can get away with claiming to be is that I often get to work with and for some very talented and creative people.  People who are braver than I am; setting up their own businesses, inspiring others, making a dream happen on their terms.

Wolfram and I met a year ago to discuss doing some serious work - his day job and mine.  This all occurred without a hitch and he went on with life his life and I mine.

What I'm finding now is that clients come back, but not always for the same kind of work.  This time, Wolf had a personal project he needed some of my freelance tomfoolery for an album he wrote himself and partly recorded with the help of Frank Zappa band members Ike Willis, Arthur Barrow, Tommy Mars and Ed Mann.

After all, why not track down these legendary dudes to help add some extra oomph to your first album?  Wolf travelled from Geneva to California sparing no expense as he lived, drove and wrote in a rented camper van before, during and after their recording sessions.

He's made the first mix of the album which is a funky mixture of rock, jazz, spoken word, humour and very melodic riffs.  I was lucky enough to hear it a few weeks ago and contribute to some of the lyrics and help set up the project page.  Let's just say that the songs touch on issues such as overuse of corporate crapulence (buzzwords) and the story of a man and his family doing whatever they can to cope with today's world. Funny and touching and a damn good listen at the same time.

Wolf is now on Indiegogo seeking helping with final funding to return to the US for a second recording session that will complete the album and make it available via digital download and in CD form. From as little as $5 you can be part of a unique album that features brand new music and deservedly revered musicians.

Otherwise, if you know anyone who admires Frank Zappa's musicians or likes the idea of supporting a man with a dream that deserves to come true, please forward them this link -

I'm really thrilled to be involved!

Monday, March 04, 2013

French Fogey Finds

Regular readers of this blog (and I'm also including you, yes you, dear lurkers) will know that - call it what you will - flea marketing, second hand scrummaging or jolly brocanting - has been a new-found joy of mine since arriving in Switzerland.

A friend living in Choulex (pronounced 'Shoelace' but without the 'sss' at the end) let me know that a disused aged care home was selling off everything inside and outside the place. Would I like to go?  Look, who doesn't need gold plastic barbeque plates that include scallop servers?  That's right, no-one.

Sapphire and I were immediately struck by the age of the building which, (sorry, I forgot to photograph), was most likely over two or three hundred years old.  It was a classic several-storeyed Suisse-French farmhouse with thick stone-filled walls, solid, rough-hewn wooden beams and not one floor that was level or at right angles. Maybe that's why the place looked as though no-one had lived there for at least a decade.

It touched something in me to see boxes and boxes of seasonal decorations.  Baubles, baby trees, tinsel, Easter rabbits, 'golden anniversaire' trinkets, halloween pumpkins, candles and ..... mini carrots. I just had to have them. For what, I'm not sure yet, but Love Chunks fervently hopes that they and my golden croissant will soon end up somewhere he no longer has to clap his beady blues on them.

Boxes and boxes were filled with coat hangers, felt hats, cardigans and, saddest of all, dozens and dozens of empty photo frames. Did the staff empty them out when a guest departed in order to save space when handing over clothes and belongings to grieving relatives?

We were invited to look in every room of the house and noted that the walls, banisters and lift doors were all painted pink: was it a bold generalisation to assume that this particular aged care home catered for women only?  Names were still pasted on the doors with photos of each lady; clearly all long gone but hopefully peacefully so.  There was a lingering sense that it had been a decent place to live and work in.

Up on the top floor was a still-fairly-well equipped medical office and several rooms with hospital beds.  Further up the hall - and being careful to tread lightly as the floorboards were spongy and the beams were now forbiddingly low - we found ourselves in a beauty salon. "Oooh, I'd love this," Sapph exclaimed at seeing a double-seated, hair drying helmet on a stand in the best pale brown and cream plastic that the nineteen sixties had to offer.  Nearby were lockers with names neatly written on each and benches lined with  folded aprons, smocks, bottles of congealed nail polish and hairspray cans.

Board games, videos, books, paints and boules suggested that the ladies here were pretty happy.  Stacks of Villeroy and Boch dinner settings in a floral pattern, wine glasses, vases and much-used ovenproof creme brulee dishes indicated that the meals weren't too shabby either.

A vinyl suitcase from the 1970s revealed a barrel load of wool; worth hundreds of francs if purchased today.  It seemed an insult to take the pale violet, salmon and soft white mohair and cashmere balls, so the sturdier, plainer ones were selected to knit more blankets-for-the-homeless in front of the telly in order to prevent me from picking at the skin around my nails.  Another suitcase held the needles - how many hands had used them, and what had they created?

Kidney-shaped vomit bowls (I toyed, very briefly, with the idea of buying one and using it to serve up cashews to shocked dinner party guests but Sapphire talked me out of it), bed pans, shower gels for sensitive skin, walking sticks, wheel chairs, crutches, bandages and ointments a plenty with beige and rose-patterned chairs stacked up to the roof.  Streets ice-cream outdoor umbrellas jostled for space next to large framed photographs of seagulls and industrial-sized fridges that were being measured up and lugged away by fellas blocking the driveway with their truck.

We both loved this scarf that featured all the capital cities of all the Swiss cantons and bought another one that did a very good imitation of a green-themed Hermes classic.  The third was an Australian tea towel featuring the 2005 calendar. "I'll fold it in half and make it into a cushion," Sapphire said, her attention now distracted by something really unique. "Oh will you look at that......"

A duck lamp.  A duck lamp!   There were at least twenty of them stacked on a bookcase and my only regret is that I didn't buy them all and decide to set up a funky coffee house/second book shop with duck lamps on each table...... This one is now sitting (and works) next to Sapphire's bed.

I often remark that Sapph should have been growing up anywhere between the 1920s and 1960s because she adores finding retro treasures such as the travel clock pictured above, now proudly displayed in her room.  Therefore, when we found some pearls and the finest, softest navy blue leather gloves that fit her hands perfectly, she had to have them.

Milly had spent the afternoon at home with Love Chunks enjoying the sunshine streaming through the large living room window as he tried to watch the NAB cup on the laptop.

When we bustled in with a bulging Nanna cart and several bags, he patiently sat through our excited presentation of 'finds', nodding and saying 'aah' at (mostly) the right time before noting that we hadn't found anything for him.  "There was a zimmer frame that caught our eye, POG*** dearest, but don't worry, your next glass of wine will come with a clown-faced toothpick perching on the edge."

And, as per the Dog Code of Living With Humans Who Are Easily Amused, Milly too was forced to model the scarf:

...which she did keep on marginally longer than the bra 'ears' we forced her to wear a week or so ago.  All this loot for the grand total of fifteen francs!

*** POG - Pompous Old Git.  Applied only to Love Chunks and not the previous occupants of the aged care facility.

Friday, March 01, 2013


The biggest thing I hate about myself at first doesn’t seem like a particularly large negative, but it’s sure as hell hard to change it.

I’m a shocking listener.  

My coffee making skills are improving; gift-giving isn’t too shabby and making people laugh is reasonably easy when shared experiences and silly jokes are flung about, but being able to shut up for long(ish) periods and let someone else have their fair shake of the sauce bottle is something that continually eludes me.

Actually, elude is copping out lightly, making my problem seem more cuddly-wuddly than it deserves to be.  More honest ways to describe it could include ‘overbearing,’ ‘trying far too hard,’ or ‘obviously allergic to companionable silence.’ Yes to them all, sadly, and let’s add the one that seems funny but really truly isn’t: being a bloody annoying show off.

It only takes a few easily-digestible advice columns or first year, week one Psychology to understand that it stems from my desperate need for approval, attention and the spotlight.  It takes slightly more than a Cliff notes’ read of Freud or flick through ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ to note that despite already appreciating that my childhood gave me all of those things – as well as love, support, encouragement, freedom and creativity – my selfish behaviour continues.

People often remark about vacuous types who are clearly just waiting for you to stop moving your mouth so that they can jump in and start again.  I’ve nodded in recognition, but know via my crawling insides that I’m one of those people. Geez it hurts to write that as I’d much rather be depicted as friendly, caring, sociable and a cheerful ‘front of house’ hostess with the most-ess.

There have been more times than I wish to count that have seen me step outside of myself and witness my almost-hysterical, strident desire to hold sway over a gathering and feel a combined sense of deep shame and an inability to stop it. Usually, taking the dirty dishes out to the kitchen or a change to the dessert course can help break my dinner party domination but only if LC is there to dash in behind me and softly whisper something like, “Kath, this isn’t meant to be nasty but you never give anyone a chance to speak!”

He is always correct.  “If there are eight people at the table, it’s best to assume that you should only get one eighth of the conversation space.”  My stupid, nasally, look-at-moiye voice.... it's not like I enjoy hearing it, or that anyone has remarked on its melodiousness, but why can't I shut the hell up?

My crest-fallen face always upsets him and he apologises profusely.  After twenty years of togetherness shouldn’t still have to do this but he’s been forced to do it time after time and after time and still sees his wife embarrass him, herself and their child with her ‘Look at me! Hear me! LIKE ME! Antics.  I’m forty four years old for pharksakes.

Another thing it's long past time to be brutally truthful about is how the sound of laughter is like melted Lindt chocolate being lovingly poured all over my ego, dripping through to every crack and crevice of my painfully shallow and personality-parched body.  My soul thrives on it and craves more of it the more it is given.  Friends sometimes manage to get a word in and tell entertaining stories of their past or recent adventures or observations, and I barge in, with an Annie Oakley-style, ‘Anything you can do I can do (say, tell, enact, sing, recall, embellish, mimic) better,’ undoubtedly causing guests – and LC – to sit back and eventually give up.  It’s impossible to bust through when I'm locked and loaded in full show-off mode.

“For gods’ sake Mum, stop talking and listen to me!”  This one hurts the most because it's true.  

It's been a struggle writing this blog lately because a lot of what affects or interests me is of a deeply personal nature.  It would be a betrayal of the other people involved if I discussed issues that not only concern me but them also.  Having a rueful laugh is one thing, but it should only be my flaws that I dissect here at the keyboard.

I need to take my cue from Milly the dog. She sits, she listens and somehow understands what is required of her.  A swish of her tail, a raised eyebrow muscle or zany smile as she dashes past in the park says it all.

Chewing gum has always given me a stomach ache (juices flowing, no food arriving = tummy in turmoil) but maybe it would help keep my jabber jaws occupied and other guests able to complete a full sentence or three without a Kath-style conversation crash in.  Drinking more might help keep my cake hole under control but only if it's non-alcoholic.  Too many fermented fruits or yeasty bubbles just make me worse.  Diet coke and water is a viable option as it would also see me visit the bathroom more often, thus creating even more breaks for my buddies.

Seriously though, I owe several hundred people over the past two decades an apology or two.

And more recently, Sapphire.  The thing she needs most right now is my ear. And my two arms for a hug.  Hugs I can do and will try very hard to offer them more often.  And in silence.