Friday, April 30, 2010

What did you talk about this week?

It’s that time of the week when I share some of the wide variety of topics of conversation that came up through work or play (I'll leave it to you to figure out which is which) in the course of life in a pink fibro.

Chickens, worms, compost, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Wire, Anzac Day, irritable bowel syndrome, guitar practice, sustainable schools, property investment, Avon, Enjo, sustainable schools, times tables, Stringer Bell, working mothers, books, rewriting, proposals, Little Ninjas, gymnastics, writing, blogging, KRudd, chair sniffing, leisurewear, bills, The Great Gatsby, roofing, plumbing, brainstorming, why Dinosaurs became extinct (I still prefer the Gary Larsen theory), shower curtains, an extra day at preschool, theories of marketing, party plan vs direct selling, Mr6's Attitoood…and how Mr3 grew up so fast.

What came up at your house this week?

{image: Renata Osinka}

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Writing on empty

If I had a petrol tank, it would be showing Empty tonight. We would be sitting in the middle lane of three lanes of traffic, needle in the red, wondering if we’ll make it to the next petrol station, wondering where the next petrol station is. There would be three children in the back, whinging that they’re hungry/thirsty/being hit over the head by their younger brother.

In other words, not pretty.

I’ve never been a good sleeper. You can ask my mum, who reckons I was awake for the first four years of my life. Awake and screaming, if I recall her exact words. She loves to tell people how she took me to see the doctor when I was about 12 months old, certain there was something wrong with me. Either that or I was possessed. The doctor reached over, patted her hand, and gave her a prescription for valium.

There are nights when I could use a doctor like that. Nights when I waft around the Fibro, wandering from room to room like a ghost, searching for sleep where there’s none to be found. These are the nights that have allowed me to maintain a writing career and be a mum at home with my kids. Insomnia is a very good friend to the work-at-home mother.

Then there are the other nights, when the computer screen seems to be emitting 1000 watts of light, hurting my eyes, adding to the lines under my eyes when I squint. When the words don’t come out right. When I have to concede defeat at 10pm and go to bed. Those nights tend to come after a long run of productive nights. They also tend to occur at the most inopportune moments. The nights when a solid post-midnight performance would make all the difference to the clamouring deadlines.

You can’t fight these nights, though.

Tonight is of the latter variety. No wafting for me tonight. No writing for me tonight. Just bed. All I can do is write my To Do list and give in.

Never underestimate the power of a To Do list for an insomniac. If you write it down before you go to bed, you won’t lie awake for hours reminding yourself of the things you need to do. Awake and screaming.

Sometimes I wonder if this is what was going on with me as a child. Was I lying there, desperately trying to remember what I needed to do the next day? Eat. Breathe, Cry. Excrete. Begin again.

When people use the phrase 'sleeping like a baby', they really have no idea, do they?

{image: Galina Barskaya}

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What's really cool this season?

It looks as though Autumn decided it would come to the ball this year after all. Only two months late, but who's counting? I read in the paper on the weekend that Sydneysiders are taking lack of punctuality to whole new heights, so clearly the seasons can't be held accountable for following the trend.

Personally, I'm glad that the cooler weather has finally made an entrance. Indian summers are all well and good, but they're hot. Six months of hot is enough. Two extra months just gets irritating.

Plus, lower temperatures mean the season of the Flannelette Pyjama (note the singular, a leftover from my heady days at Vogue in the 90s), proper, is now upon us. I admit to having been in my Flannos for some time now. Hoping. Even sweating a little. But no more. Now I'm just sublimely comfortable.

There is nothing better than coming home from a long, hard day and slipping into an elasticised waist and soft, brushed cotton. I don't know where you stand on the Cartoon Print when it comes to Flannos, but personally I'm not a fan. I like an Old Skool stripe or spot. Probably because I'm a Old Skool kind of girl. Or just old.

Admittedly, I do start getting into my Flannos earlier and earlier as autumn turns into winter. Until it gets to the point where I'm getting back into them almost before I get out of them in the morning. But I'm okay with that. In my ideal world, we'd all wear Flannos all the time. There'd be no body image issues because we'd all look like TeleTubbies. There'd be no road rage, supermarket rage or walking-behind-slow-people rage because we'd all be so comfortable and relaxed we wouldn't care. We could even look cool, as the gorgeous Parisian in the pic (by The Sartorialist) shows (yes, those are pyjama pants).

I suspect my championing of pyjamas as all-day wear began with my freelancing career around 10 years ago. When freelancers joke about working from home in their pyjamas, they're not actually joking. I had a friend drop in at 1pm one day and dissolve into hysterics because I was still wandering about in my night attire. I think he was more amused by my complete embarrassment at having been sprung... Or possibly my attempt to explain to him that it was 'leisure wear'. Yep, that might have been it.

Speaking of leisure wear, I tried, just days ago, to tell Sister B that pink-spotted pyjama pants and a t-shirt constituted a fashion statement due to the 'leisure wear' being so 'on trend' this year. She informed me that getting in to one's pyjamas while people were still attending one's lunchtime barbecue could in no way be regarded as leisure wear. In my defence, there were only family members present, it was cold and I ate too much to cope with the button on my jeans. And my t-shirt was very cool.

What's not leisurely about that?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Scritch, scritch, scritch...and a cold, prickly feeling

It’s incredible how quickly a night can go downhill. One minute I’m in my study, diligently working on a grant application for the school (yes, they put ‘sucker’ on my name badge at P&F functions these days), the next I’m standing by the fridge hoovering down Cherry Ripe chocolates (if The Builder is reading this, just one, and I left the Turkish Delights), not working, just waiting.

The cause of all this debauchery instead of duty? A cockroach.

The Fibro is a very quiet place at night. Very, very quiet. The kind of quiet where the hum of the fridge sounds like a plane taking off, and a car driving past after 10pm is cause for comment and, yes, curtain twitching.

The kind of quiet where the scritch, scritch, scritch of cockroach feet crawling across cardboard makes a girl sit up and take notice.

When I first heard it, I thought maybe it was a bat outside. They’re hanging around (boom tish) eating the fruit from our big tree (and excreting it all over the deck, pavers and outdoor furniture). That’s how loud that scritch, scritch, scritch was.

I opened the blinds. No bats. Scritch, scritch, scritch.

I looked up to the top of the bookshelf, where I keep my tasteful collection of cardboard storage boxes - you know, the ones that allow hoarders to hoard in peace and prettiness. There, attempting to haul its sorry thorax – or possibly its abdomen – from between two boxes, was the biggest, blackest, shiniest roach I’d ever seen.

I’m not sure how you are with roaches, but they make me retch. I get a cold, prickly feeling up the back of my neck and hold my breath. Automatically. Not ideal.

I also run straight for the environmentally heinous insect spray.

The worst part about those sprays – and there are many bad parts, I know – is the agonising dance of death that follows. I sprayed. It ran left. I sprayed. It ran right. I sprayed, long and hard (possibly overzealously, now that I think about it). It rolled over.

I left the room. I couldn’t bear to watch. I had a drink. I paced. I crept back to the door and put my head around the corner. The roach was back-stroking along the bookshelf.

I went back to the kitchen. It was at this point, 11.05pm, that the chocolate indiscretion occurred. I paced. I crept back to the door. The roach was now sliding behind a vintage Star Wars poster (long story), scritch, scritch, scratching along the paper.

I had to leave again.

I read three pages of The Great Gatsby (which I will need to re-read as I was not concentrating on West Egg, let me tell you). Surely, I reasoned, it would be quiet now?

It was. The roach was laid out in the middle of the floor. I sidled past, figuring I’d leave a post-it for The Builder (and possibly a Turkish Delight) requesting he remove its remains in the morning.

I sit here now, typing, working, happy with my little world once more. I turn to reassure myself that the roach is toast.

Uh-oh. The roach is gone.

Cue cold, prickly feeling…

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A post about The Last Post

Today was ANZAC Day. Day of Remembrance. Day of marching. Day of The Last Post.

The Last Post is one of the saddest pieces of music ever written. It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. Particularly when played inexpertly at school assemblies. There is something about the random squeaks and blasts produced by a teenage bugler that conjures up for me the endless baby faces of young soldiers.

The bugle at Mr6’s school ANZAC Day service last Thursday (Friday was a dreaded Pupil-Free Day so we had to get in early) was played by a young man from the local high school. He had the windswept supermodel hair that defines his generation, an earnest expression and a bit of difficulty with the high notes. He reduced me to blinking back tears.

Beside me, on the asphalt, behind the colony of school hats carefully paying attention under the principal’s nose, was an elderly gentleman. Someone’s Grandfather. Who stood to attention through the entire service. Stiff, upright, proud.

He reduced me to tears proper.

Today we took the boys and some friends visiting from The Big Smoke over to my mum’s house to watch the march. Every parade of any description for the past 30 years has stomped past my parents’ house. Our friend C remarked that she’d never actually been to an ANZAC Day parade that went past someone’s house before. In the city, it requires two train changes and a packed lunch to attend the march. Here, we munched on homemade ANZAC biscuits in the driveway and waved to the veterans as they went past – many of them in taxis.

One of the reasons that I love ANZAC Day is those beaming faces in those taxis. It’s the one day of the year when our oldest citizens feel all the warmth our community can bestow. When we remember that they were young once. I know that the Day is about remembering fallen soldiers, but I love that it’s also about remembering (and acknowledging) the ones that survived.

Afterwards, we retired to the Fibro for a barbecue. We had a few drinks, ate some sausages, shared some stories and lots of laughs. The children rampaged around the garden like Wild Things. After a few wines, I found myself wondering if perhaps we shouldn’t be a little more… reverent.

But then I thought, no. What were all those young men fighting for if not for their children and their children’s children to enjoy the freedom of an afternoon just like the one we enjoyed today.

Lest we forget.

{image: Dawn}

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What did you talk about this week?

It’s that time of the week when I share some of the wide variety of topics of conversation that came up through work or play (I'll leave it to you to figure out which is which) in the course of life in a pink fibro.

Moving out, skylights, formica tables, party plan businesses, superannuation, writing, Lisa Heidke, Easter eggs (and how I'm still eating them), Kylie Ladd, The Wire, headaches, daytime sleeps, expressive reading, how water makes the plants grow, how plants grow very slowly so it's not worth waiting around to watch, Avon, marketing, grant applications, Dick Smith, marriage, sustainable gardens, Twitter (mostly how it's a hugely enjoyable time suck), One Wise Owl, property investment, The Last Post (and how it always bring tears to my eyes), guitar lessons, Little Ninjas, gymnastics, Carl Williams, chequebook journalism, the NRL salary cap, footy tipping, press releases, dentistry, council campaigns, KRudd, weeding...

What came up at your house this week?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When you can’t see the forest for the weeds…

In my time, I’ve written quite a few garden features. Enough so that I can tell a gardenia from a geranium, a bromeliad from a begonia, a weed from a … well, you get the idea. I’m even winning my ongoing battle with the compost bin, having nurtured a struggling camellia with a good dose of rotten stuff today. Lots of smelly goodness that should see it right.

All I’m saying is that my thumb is a little bit green.

In the Big Smoke, The Builder and I created a garden from scratch. Not a courtyard with water feature, a bit of paving and a potted Agave, but an honest-to-goodness garden. Not a big garden, for sure, but a garden nonetheless. It took years. We knew the names of all our plants, and agonised over the survival of each and every one. To the point where we still drive past our old house on visits, just to see how the Magnolia is doing (nicely, thanks for asking).

Our Fibrotown garden is a whole new ballgame. It’s twice the size and about 27 times more established. Many years ago, somebody planned it all out so that there is something flowering in one corner or another all year round.

We have two huge Murrayas – one at the front, one at the back – that fill the Fibro with heavy perfume on summer evenings, no matter which way the wind is blowing. We have the most enormous, deepest, reddest roses that bloom through summer – and are obviously confused by current warm weather patterns because they’ve just coughed up another flush of colour. We have camellias for winter, banksia roses for spring, salvias for autumn.

We also have some serious territory to weed. During an interview with Sydney landscape designer Peter Fudge – one of my great, go-to guys for garden advice and information back in my House & Garden days – he told me the one piece of advice he always gives beginner gardeners: weed little, weed often. He doesn’t walk down his front path without looking for invaders and eliminating them.

I thought about this today as I worked my way around half of our front garden. It took me two hours. It will take a trailer to remove the green waste I removed from our garden beds. It left me with an aching back, groaning hamstrings and ingrained dirt in my knees. And I still have the other half, plus the backyard, to do.

Clearly I have not been weeding often. Once every two months or so is not often enough. So now I have to weed a lot.

If I was clever, I would patrol the grounds each day, keeping an eye on my cleared patches and ripping out new weedy growth the moment green shoots appear.

But I probably won’t. Instead, I’ll stop to admire the burgeoning buds on my camellia. Or check to see if the photinia is unfurling new red growth. I’ll ignore the ugly undergrowth and focus on the beauty right in front of me.

What would life be if all we saw were the weeds?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

“The dog ate my G chord…”

If you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a kid, may I humbly suggest you try learning a brand new skill. Not how to use a new iPhone app, how to flambé a crème brulee with a mini-blowtorch (though this idea has merit), or how to speak in those corporate weasel words that continue to infiltrate common speech (I’d ‘go forward’ with that ‘dialogue’ but it would be too ‘outside the box’ for this ‘agenda’). I mean a real, honest-to-goodness starting-from-scratch skill.

As you may know, Mr6 and I are learning to play the guitar. After one term, we have made some progress. We can now play four notes – enough to jam together as long as we play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. We also have, as he will proudly tell anyone who stands still long enough to hear, a few chords in our repertoire. He plays half-chords – twang, twang, twang. I play full chords, full and throaty (or so I tell myself).

When we began, we were both nervous. We both had to concentrate hard. Then our confidence began to grow. And we both came a cropper.

See what I mean. A new skill is a great leveller.

We didn’t have the same problem. He practised one song a few times, until he could sing the notes out loud – B, A, G. B, A, G. B – A. B – A. B, A, G. Trouble was, singing them wasn’t playing them. When it came time to play the song for B, our gorgeous 17-year-old teacher, the pauses between the ‘plink’ of each note were painful.

There was silence when he finished, before she said: ‘It’s great that you know the notes, but by the time you’d finished I’d forgotten what song you were playing.’ His ears went red. He’s practised harder since then – actually playing the guitar rather than walking around strumming an air version.

As for my cropper, I have been diligently practising a song – my first song! – over the school holidays. Very basic chord structure, very repetitive. I was doing great. It sounded a little strange, but I just thought that was due to the untuned nature of my guitar. Then, tonight, three days before we are due back for term two, I came to the realisation that the basic G chord I’d been diligently practising wasn’t actually a G chord at all. It was E. Which is why the song sounded so strange.

So now I have three days in which to reprogram my mind (and my fingers) to play the real G chord when B asks me to show her what I’ve been practising. Three days in which to learn enough to make it look like I didn’t spend the whole holidays eating Easter Eggs and watching tele. Three days in which to show I did my homework.

See, just like being a kid all over again.

{image: Red Dog Guitars}

Monday, April 19, 2010

What lies beneath

What a difference a day makes. Today was a ‘sun is shining, birds are singing, work is getting done’ kind of day. Polished off the To Do list, went out for lunch, bought The Great Gatsby (I blush even as I admit I’ve never read it), went to choir and then, in an event worthy of the front page of this week’s local paper, went to the movies.

On my own.

There are two schools of thought regarding Tickets For One at the cinema. You’re either in the camp (mixing metaphors, who me?) who loves the idea (that would be me) or in the camp that suggests that people who venture solo to the movies are sad, lonely losers with no life and no friends.



I could try winning you over with the whole ‘watching a movie with someone is like reading a book over someone’s shoulder’ argument, but nobody really buys that. So I’ll try something different.

It's fun. There is nothing like sitting in the dark by yourself, with your own (small) softdrink and your own (large) bag of M&Ms. You, the chocolate, the intimacy of the cinema, and a story writ large across the screen.

You can laugh when you like without censorship. Cry into your popcorn if you want to. Mutter under your breath. Roll Jaffas down the aisle. Whatever floats your boat.

You have personal space out the wazoo (nobody ever wants to sit near the weirdo on their own) and the pleasure of at least 90 minutes of pure escapism.

In Fibrotown, there’s even an added bonus. Choose a late-night (that would be 9pm) session and a slightly off-beat film (anything less than Avatar should do it), and you’ll also have the whole place to yourself. Yep, private screenings. But don’t tell anyone.

I was a bit disappointed to walk in tonight and discover that I had to share my cinema with a crowd of five. But we all sat in different rows so, you know, I didn’t have to get all Diva-like about it.

When it was over, I stood up – before the credits finished rolling – slipped out the side door, into the car and home. Simple. Neat. Easy.

Too easy for the ‘Movies are for two’ crowd. You’re right, I didn’t have anyone to discuss the film with. But that’s okay. Most of the time I like to sit with a film for a little while. Think about it. Let it roll around in my head.

If we’d been together at the film, you’d have asked me ‘what did you think?’. I’d have said ‘I liked it, bit sad at the end’. And then we would have had coffee and talked about Brendan Cowell’s ears.

On my own, I got to think about the beauty of the Flanders blue mud. The many nuances of male relationships. The ingenuity of man. The futility of war. How incredibly uncomfortable those World War One uniforms must have been in all that water. Why there’s a sporting fixture in every war movie. And how clever Jeremy Sims was to come up with this particular film at this particular time.

The movie was Beneath Hill 60. It’s well worth seeing. I suggest you go on your own.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Working around the block

I’m suffering writer’s block. It doesn’t happen often. Usually, I sit down at the computer and turn on the autopilot. But not today. Today, I have managed not to write several things: a press release, a house story, an email to a friend. Instead, I have managed to create that thing most beloved of all writers - a blank page.

This is actually an improvement on Friday, when I managed not to write three press releases, a house story, an email to a friend, a pitch to an editor and an outline for a feature story.

Big day, Friday.

The only reason today’s list is shorter is that I rewrote my To Do list and put all the other stuff on Monday’s list. When I will hopefully sit down at my computer and turn on the autopilot.

Big day, tomorrow.

It’s not that I’m not trying. Just that the words aren’t coming out right. It’s all fits and starts before they sputter to a halt (picture me banging head on keyboard at this point).

The good news is that I know why I’m struggling. Last week was a big week of endings. I finished off a whole heap of stuff that’s been weighing me down for ages. A rewrite, a new proposal, three finance features…stuff that had been keeping me busy mentally. When it all finished at once, my brain decided to drop down a gear or two. And, unfortunately, went directly into a stall. Possibly even reverse.

I’m not sure how it works for you, but I’m best when I’m busy. When things are humming along, throwing another task, job or 100,000 words into the mix causes barely a blip. Take things down a notch or two, however, and that extra task becomes a big problem.

So I’m waiting it out. Already I’ll be waking up tomorrow morning with a HUGE list of things to do. Hopefully, there’ll be an email or two, adding to my stress levels. At which point, the adrenaline should kick in, the brain should crank up and, voila, all systems will be go.

Either that, or I’ll be so overwhelmed as to be paralysed by the enormity of it all and take to my bed with a book. I’d call that a win-win situation, wouldn’t you?

{image: Anton Gvozdikov}

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What did you talk about this week?

It’s that time of the week when I share some of the topics of conversation that came up through work or play (I'll leave it to you to figure out which) in the course of life in a pink fibro.

Sandcastles, Plasto toys, press releases, Fleur McDonald, deadlines, painting, roofing, plumbing, feeding the fish, the Famous Five, making ice, haircuts, new school pants, toenail fungus, market stalls, consumerism, Florence and the Machine, party plan businesses, rivets, karate, superannuation, property investment, blogging, freelancing, my lack of organisation, massage, grant applications, underpants, Splendour in the Grass, the stars, the weather, secret-recipe pistachio biscuits, Scrabble, scarves made from electric blankets, renovations, weddings, Twitter, Michael Robotham, silhouettes, alzheimers, Kangaroo Valley, glamping, birthdays, credit cards, scooters...and how does the grass grow (Mummy)?

What came up at your house this week?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's Scrabble and it's personal

At the last meeting of the local Scrabble Club, the highest game scored 461 points. The highest word was ‘blowsier’, scoring 89 points, played by Brenda. The most unusual word played was ‘qophs’, which means the 19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet (also one of Brenda’s).

I did not go to the meeting, I hasten to point out – I would be out of place given that my highest game tends to be around the 89 point mark, meaning I’d be trounced in one move by Brenda – but I learned all the details from our local paper.

I love our local paper. In the first five pages of today’s edition it covered a visit by KRudd, the theft of a large, red tricycle by heartless thieves, the fact that women’s breasts are getting bigger, and a big win at the Easter Show by a team of young Dairy Farmers. But it’s not the front section to which I immediately turn when it lands on my doorstep.

If you want to understand a community in a short space of time, pick up a local paper and head directly for two sections: the Letters to the Editor and the Classifieds. Every edition of the paper contains updates on the ongoing saga between the letter-writers of the Pro-Progress Lobby and those from the Maintain the Status Quo Brigade. There’ll be a letter about the Young People of Today, and there will always, always, be scurrilous scuttlebutt about one local councillor or another. Usually written by another councillor. Love it.

The Classifieds are a whole different ballgame. Among the garage sales (plentiful) and the job vacancies (scarce), the public notices about chestnut picking (truly), art classes and general meetings, are the more, um, personal announcements. In the Big Smoke, these would run for pages and pages and I wouldn’t read them. Here there are only two or three a week and I’ve become an avid fan.

My favourite so far was the one that ran last month, just once: “Try something different. Tranny. One week only.” A travelling tranny? My mind ran wild. Holiday? Business? Visiting mum?

Back at the Scrabble Club, words such as ‘noil’ (a noun meaning ‘short or knotted fibres that are separated from the long fibres by combing’) and ‘crankle’ (a verb meaning to ‘bend or wind’) are flowing thick and fast. I’m not sure where you stand on Scrabble, but I love the game in its original form. The online version, where everyone has access to a dictionary, not so much.

My mum is a demon Scrabble player. She’d give Brenda a run for her money, if she were a joiner – which she’s not. Mum was outraged at last week’s news that proper nouns are now allowed on the Scrabble board. Outraged. Almost as outraged as she was the week before when she played a game with a friend and discovered that the word ‘shranked’ was in the Scrabble dictionary. Shranked. Is that even a word?

Perhaps I’ll pop along to the next Scrabble Club meeting and ask Brenda. Better still, I’ll write a letter to the local paper. I can see the response now: “The Young People of Today wouldn’t know a proper word if they fell over one…”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Some days are better than others

This is where I spent my day. Well, the best part of it. It was one of Those Days in the Fibro today. Mr6 woke up at 5.45am, on the wrong side of the bed. By 7.30am he was the grumpiest child on the planet and by 10am I was the Worst Mother in The World. To give you an idea, I was hoarse from shrieking, his beloved bear was in the highest cupboard I could find, and I was trying to work out if he needed to go or I did. As it turned out, we both did.

We were saved by friends visiting from The Big Smoke. “Come see us,” they said. “We’re camping down the coast.” I admit, I ummed and ahhed. It was a 30-minute drive. I had things to do. Mr6 didn’t want to go (and I didn’t want to take him anywhere). It seemed like a lot of trouble on a crisp autumn day, when I knew the water temperature would be set to ‘chill’ and the boys would want to swim anyway.

I realised, however, that it was either go or end up a shrill, screaming mess. So I packed my shrill, screaming child in the car, along with his cherubic brother and we headed off. To this beach. Where we paddled about in rock pools, discovered secret passages and smuggler’s trails in the rocks (Mr6 is heavily into Famous Five of late and there are ‘secret passages’ everywhere we go… I think he’s also tapping the walls in the Fibro when I’m not looking, searching for secret, sliding panels…of which there are none), and built what Mr3 described as ‘The World’s Biggest Sandcastle. His world is small.

It’s a beautiful world, though. The beaches here, in all their white-sanded, aquamarine glory, are the reasons that people flock to this area. They’re one of the reasons we came back here. They are uncrowded and unspoilt.

While I was sitting on the beach this morning, sand between my toes, tiny waves rolling in, with the warm autumn sun warming my scalp, I realised that I need to get out more. I would not have been on that beach had a visitor not invited me. I would have been in my Fibro, going about my boring day-to-day business, shrieking at my children.

When you live somewhere, it’s easy to walk only well-trodden paths from point A to point B. But view your area as a tourist does, and it’s like going on holidays. Only better – because our friends are sleeping in a tent tonight, while we’re all at home in warm, comfy beds. My kind of camping.

{image: Beachmaster}

Monday, April 12, 2010

All about books: The Outsiders

As part of my New Year's (or thereabouts) resolution to read more classics, I re-read The Outsiders by SE Hinton. Not strictly a classic - no orange-and-white cover here - but Puffin calls it a Modern Classic and I'm happy to agree. Given that it was written in 1967 and I last read it in about 1984, I was surprised by how the themes still resonate - as does the language.

SE Hinton was 17 when she wrote the book and I'm incredibly impressed by the simple, straightforward way in which she tells the story. Especially now that I know how difficult that is. Ponyboy's voice, as narrator, is clear and male - no mean feat. The characters are all well-drawn, given that we have a first-person narrator and only get one perspective. There's a lot of Show, and we're allowed to come to our own conclusions about them, even as we take in Ponyboy's.

I think the one thing that really surprised me about the book was how much I'd changed. (That this surprised me surprises me even more...). When I read it the first time I was 15, and I wanted to be in the gang - or at least hold hands with one of them (particularly after I saw the movie). These days, I just want to take them all home and look after them.

The only parents in the book are dead or losers. Appealing in their absence when you're 15. Sad and lonely when you have sons of your own.

If you haven't read it, or haven't read it for a few years, find a copy. It'll help you remember a little bit what it was like to be a teen. Even if only what it was like to be you as a teen.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

'But The Book says...'

Between us, my sisters and I have nine children. They are aged six, nearly six, nearly five, four, three, three, nearly two, one and one. They go boy, boy, boy, girl, boy, boy, girl, girl, and boy. When they get together, it’s like swimming in a washing machine – you go round and round in circles, are occasionally overwhelmed, and every once in a while it all bubbles over. Good, clean fun.

Now that we’ve moved to the Fibro and left them all behind in the Big Smoke (bereft, pining…not really, they seem to be thriving without us), the opportunities for washing machine moments are not as frequent. Particularly now that we have three at school. But Saturday was one such occasion.

As I watched them all rampaging around the house, it occurred to me that, between us, we have covered many of the issues that beset new (and not-so-new) parents. We’ve had The One Who Won’t Sleep (and still doesn’t), The Ones Who Wouldn’t Sleep (and now do), The One Who Has Nightmares, The One Who Won’t Eat, The One Who Broke Her Leg, The One Who Had Emergency Surgery, The One Who Gets Ear Infections, The One Who Is Allergic To Panadol...

Then there's, The One Who Didn’t Want To Toilet Train, The One Who Turns Up In His Mum’s Bed Every Night, The One Who Became Very Attached To Teddy, The One Who Wouldn’t Give Up Her Dummy, The One Who Got Early Teeth, The One Who Teethed Late, The One Who Wouldn’t Breastfeed, The One Who Wanted To Breastfeed Forever...

Along with, The One Who Had The Imaginary Friend/s (no prizes for guessing that one), The One Who Walked Early (then stopped), The One (actually there were many of these – must be genetic) Who Walked Late, The One Who Didn’t Talk Much, The One (again, there are many of these) Who Never, Ever Shuts Up… and so on and so forth.

When they were born, we (the sisters) all – because we are alike in many ways – read a lot of books. Whichever book we were reading at the time became The Book. As in ‘But The Book says’… We all had clear, expert advice on how our children should behave and when they should do things. We did our darnedest to make it happen, to nurture those textbook babies, and then threw up our hands when it didn’t.

Now that I know all these children, beautiful individuals that they are, I can’t imagine why we ever expected things to be different. They were never all going to behave the same way.

There’s no such thing as a textbook baby, and certainly no such thing as a textbook child. They’re all works in progress. Wild, creative, imaginative works in progress. And as I sat in the midst of the washing machine on Saturday, I realised how much I’m loving every new chapter.

Friday, April 9, 2010

And the song goes on and on and on and on

I’ve got a song stuck in my head. Going round and round and round. Last time this happened, it was the Star Wars theme (just mentioning it brings me out in a sweat). But this one is even worse.

To set the scene for you: last November, Fam. Fibro went on a South Pacific cruise with 36 of our closest friends. You read right. Forty of us. On a floating palace of pleasure in the south seas. Blue skies, blue seas, cocktails with pink umbrellas.

I’m not sure where you sit on the whole cruise debate. You’re either into them, or you’re not. I’m not. I wasn’t before I went and I’m definitely not now. Which is not to say that I didn’t have a good time. I did. We were with great friends, we sang karaoke, played bingo, ate too much, drank too much and told the same stories over and over. Good times.

I’d just never do it again.

Something about arriving at a deserted island with 2000 people with matching towels just didn’t work for me. Or perhaps it was just chasing Mr3 (then two and not – I repeat not – old enough to go to Kids Club on his own) around and around the unfenced pool. Or the fact that the boat got smaller and smaller and smaller as the days drifted by…

Tick that Cruise off life’s To Do list and move along.

(Are you now beginning to wonder what my song is? “Theme from the Love Boat’ perhaps? I wish.)

Every group of friends has a recorder (by that, I do not mean a woodwind instrument learned in second grade). The guy with the camera. Our guy, M, is fantastic. He not only captures every unforgettable (and some you’d rather forget) moment, but he takes them home, edits them and sends every family a DVD copy. I love it. They are funny, touching and will be an invaluable jog to my memory when I forget all about our cruise (next week, probably).

Unfortunately, M is a one-track soundtrack kind of guy. Every single DVD he’s ever made for us features, for example, Summer of 69. Every one. Despite the fact that the main players in our action flicks were either born in 1968 or somewhere south of 1999.

The cruise DVD arrived in the mail on Tuesday. Fam. Fibro watched it together, reliving every moment (and some we’d forgotten – see, it happens so soon), and survived the inevitable onslaught of begging from the boys to go on another ‘big boat’ soon. (Did I mention they loved it? Loved it.)

Along with the inevitable Bryan Adams track, this DVD featured a selection of sailing-related tunes: Sailing by Rod Stewart and, um, others. I’ve forgotten because every single one of the music receptor thingies in my brain has been engaged in replaying Cruisin’ over and over again.

Yes, Cruisin’. That smash hit by Gwyneth Paltrow (pre-haircut) and Huey Lewis. “This is not a one-night stand… We’re goin’ to fly away, glad you’re goin’ my way, I love it when we’re cruisin’ together…” You with me?

Why am I sharing this? I’m working on the theory that if I tell enough people about it, the song will magically transfer itself from my brain to yours. So right about now, you should be humming along with me.

Sorry about that.

It could be worse. It could be Summer of 69. Oh, wait…

PS: The ‘What I talked about’ post will be back next week when I resume regular scheduling. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tips for writing features #1: find the armpits

This revelation may surprise you, but sometimes I’m not, um, fascinated by the subjects I’m commissioned to write about. Superannuation springs to mind. Supermarkets follow close behind (mostly because that’s what I’m meant to be doing even as I write this post). Budgeting. The best age to have a baby (not as interesting once you’ve had a couple). Forty thousand words on how to pay off your credit cards (the big challenge there was not repeating ‘spend less, pay more than the minimum’ 8000-odd times).

What often surprises me, however, is how fascinating some of these things become once I start. (Some. Superannuation has yet to work its magic on me.)

When I first started writing features for women’s magazines (beyond the world-famous James Reyne interview), I used to ask endless questions and take endless notes. It would often take me an hour to interview a girl for a 200-word section of a ‘Wedding Dress, Never Worn’ feature. And she’d be one of five I had to get through. I felt as though I needed to know every single thing about her, and often found it difficult to keep my word counts in check. (To be fair, there’s never a short story behind an unworn wedding dress, now is there?)

One memorable conversation with a straight-talking, well-meaning deputy editor sorted me out. I’d filed 3000 words for a 1200-word commission about why some women choose to have hairy armpits. (I know, investigative journalism hits new heights.) She flicked through the story while I sat there, nervous as all hell, and then gave it back to me.

“It’s a story about hairy armpits, Al,” she said. “Just give me the hairy armpits.”

I went home, cut out the background noise and focussed on the armpits.

My job is about finding the armpits in any subject. No reader wants to know every single thing about, say, supermarkets. They just want the bit that relates to them. The bit they’ll find compelling and fascinating. The armpits.

So I look for what I find compelling and fascinating, and try to give it to them in a way they’ll find digestible. Accessible. Maybe even a little bit amusing and entertaining.

And if I ever work out where the armpits are in the subject of superannuation…well, I’ll be rich enough not to need any.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I’m raising Buzz and Woody…

It being school holidays and me being the candidate for Mother of the Year that I am, today I took the boys to the park. As I watched them in action – sliding, climbing, jumping, fighting, throwing bread at the poor overfed ducks sinking on the pond – one thought went through my mind: I'm raising Buzz and Woody.

If you haven’t seen a Toy Story movie (and I can’t begin to imagine how this could be so), Buzz Lightyear and Woody are the space ranger/cowboy characters at the centre of the franchise. And, it appears, at the centre of my home.

Mr6 is a lonesome, sentimental cowboy singing at the moon (he'll now proudly tell you he can play four notes, one chord AND two half-chords on the guitar). He's gangly, thoughtful, a little bit serious, a little bit funny, cautious and loyal to a fault.

Mr3, on the other hand, throw himself into everything ('to infinity and beyond'). He believes he can fly – and usually does (not actual flying, but in the metaphorical sense) because he's so unafraid to try. He's a stocky little soul with an engaging smile and was at the front of the line when they were handing out charm.

You can tell they're brothers, because they share a lot of traits too – mostly cheekiness, but we won't go there now. But they emerged into the world as total individuals and that's how they've remained.

I shouldn't be surprised that they're so different. Talk to sisters B and C, myself and brother TICH now that we're older, and it's hard to believe sometimes that we were raised in the same house. Mostly because we remember it so differently. Each of us has our own perspective on certain vivid memories of childhood and (as previously discussed) I'm lucky they were there because half the time I don't remember any of it!

Again, you can tell we're all related. There's a look, a wry sense of humour, a certain cynical take on the world, that binds us all together. But we also bring our own personalities and opinions (such a lot of opinions!) to the mix.

I sometimes wish I'd had more kids. Perhaps a Hamm or a Slinky – even a Bo Peep? – to add different voices to my brood. It might have made the differences between my two less obvious. But I console myself with the fact that Buzz and Woody are best mates. To infinity and beyond.


Monday, April 5, 2010

And so I opened The Suitcase…

Taking a deep breath – but not too deep in case I asphyxiated on the dust dancing off the suitcase – I unbuckled, unzipped and peeked inside. What did I find? A lot of trash, and just enough treasure to make the journey worthwhile.

There was the note, on a hastily torn out sheet of lecture pad, written by the only red-haired man I ever desired. I met him one night at a Uni college. We spent the night lying on the dewy grass, in the middle of a rugby oval, under a blanket of stars, talking about life, the universe and everything. I was 18, he was 22 and engaged to be married. The sun came up, we returned to our rooms and, much later, I found the hastily scribbled note shoved under my door. I still owe him a kiss.

There was a letter from my brother TICH. Only he wasn’t an Inner City Hipster. He was eight or nine, had just had his stitches removed and wanted to know if I knew anything about deserts. He signed his name with impossibly curlicued majesty.

There was a mint copy of the May 1991 edition of Countdown magazine, in which I, cadet journalist in floral frock, socks and lace-up brogues, interviewed James Reyne in all his dishevelled, denim-clad glory. It begins: “I once stood around for five hours in the pouring rain just to see Australian Crawl play…”.

It contains the answers to such hard-hitting questions as “Do people recognise you in the street?” (answer: Yep), “What would you be doing if you weren’t making hit records?” (answer: I don’t know) and “Do you live in a mansion and drive an expensive sports car?” (answer: No, I don’t own a car).

I’m beginning to see why Rolling Stone never called.

What else? A letter from the shearer who was the great unrequited love of my late teen years. Gen Y may have come up with the cute term ‘Friends with Benefits’ but they sure didn’t invent the concept. I also unearthed the truly appalling poetry that spilled onto my page during that time. I would burn it, but I’m fascinated by how neat my handwriting was in those days. Now I could challenge a doctor to a Duel of Ultimate Indecipherability. Back then, I was practically copperplate.

I blame journalism. For that, and the swearing I can’t seem to lose.

Invitations to weddings (some of the resulting marriages are long over), invitations to birthday celebrations (my own) I can’t remember attending, tickets to Geoff Lawson’s Testimonial Dinner (go figure).

And, of course, the photos. So many pictures of so many faces that were so important to me at that time. Some of them I looked at and wondered why we’d lost touch. The beautiful redhead who inhaled life and dragged me along with her. The bohemian brunette with the curly hair, the flashing eyes and the Doc Martens who lived around the corner and was always up for an adventure. The flatmate I loved but lost in the ‘property settlement’ when my longterm relationship broke up. She knew him first.

Some of them I looked at and struggled to remember their names. Endless snaps of young men in tuxedos, mugging for the camera. Countless shots of gorgeous young women with big hair, big earrings, big smiles.

Then there was the inexplicable. Why would I have ever imagined I’d need the 1990 Sydney University timetable again in this lifetime? There must have been a reason, right?

Yes, there were letters from [insert name of former boyfriend], but only two and not the ones I was dreading. I was right in thinking I’d destroyed those. The two I read made me smile. More travelogue than sonnet, they described in detail a Contiki tour he’d taken, right down to the percentages of nationalities on the bus. They reminded me why I’d liked him so much in the first place – sweet and down-to-earth. I read them, then recycled them.

So now the suitcase is empty. Much of what it contained went straight into the bin. The rest is now tucked away, in a box, to be forgotten about for another 20 years. By that stage, I won’t recognise even myself in those pictures.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lifting the curtain on childhood memories

It was a chance conversation. My friend S is taking her little girl, Miss Mouse, to the Canberra Folk Festival. Just the two of them. In the Kombi (you may remember S as the Lady Bountiful of rhubarb?).

Anyway, we’re sitting under the shady tree in the parental pick-up zone at the school (where we pick up the kids, not each other, I hasten to clarify), talking this and that. And she mentions the curtains.

She has spent the day making curtains for the Kombi. So she and Miss Mouse can perform their daily ablutions at the festival without, as Miss Mouse puts it, “showing our bottoms to everyone”. Quite. One eye on Mr3, who’s building dams in the dustbowl under the tree, I asked, offhand, ‘what colour?’.

Even before she answered, I knew they were going to be orange. It’s an unwritten rule that car curtains are orange. I know this because, back in the day, my family had a Holden Kingswood station wagon, beige, with orange curtains.

As soon as she said it, I was in the back of that Kingswood, on the bench seat, with sisters B and C, playing corners, sweaty skin sticking to the vinyl, on the endless, endless driving odyssey we used to call Family Holidays. Later, our brother TICH (The Inner City Hipster) would be peering at us over the front seat, from his princely throne in the antiquated car seat between our parents.

Dad would do the driving. Mum would attempt to keep us entertained with games of eye spy, car spotting and God only knows what else. We’d sing through our entire repertoire of songs – Country Roads and Try a Little Kindness on high rotation – at least ten times. We’d listen to Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel. Ripper 76.

It’s a long, long way from the south coast of NSW to North Queensland. A long, hot way in summer. No DVDs. No air-conditioning. The windows always down, sister B claiming a window seat every single time due to car sickness. And orange curtains in the back windows.

Hell. And Heaven. All at once.

We had that car for many years. We’d had it when I was very little and my orange hair and orange outfits matched the orange dirt of the Northern Territory (where we lived) and the orange curtains. We had it until I was almost a teenager who could quote Anne of Green Gables ad nauseum about the horrors of red hair.

The soul of that car never died.

Unfortunately, the body rusted away around it. It was replaced by a bright yellow (to match the kitchen I think) Mitsubishi Express eight-seater palace. Room for all. But no room for the orange curtains.

It’s funny how our memories work. Mine is terrible. Half the time I think I was born 21 because I remember little of my life before that. My family’s always saying ‘remember when?’ and I look blankly at them and ask if they’re sure I was there. But take a small detail, like an orange curtain, and there they are, peeking out from behind it. Every family holiday we shared.

I wonder how the Camry would look with a new window treatment?

Enjoy your Easter break (orange curtains or no) and I’ll see you back in the Fibro next week!


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