Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dingoes and Diet Coke

Red Centre tour guide and all-round top bloke Geoff pulled Possum the bulky 4WD in at a dusty service station. "We'll stop here for lunch, get some petrol and be back on board ready to go and see Palm Valley in an hour."

Lunch usually meant either sandwiches or a sausage sizzle and we got out the bread, cheese, sauce, fruit and salady things and set them out for self-assembly on a shady picnic table.

I had a hankering for a cold diet coke and Sapphire and I wandered into the shop inside. As our eyes struggled to adjust to the gloomy light, we found ourselves standing in front of a bloke who looked as though he'd eaten Santa Claus as well as all the pies. He eyed Sapph.

"Hey darlin, do you play the piano?"
She shook her head, "No."

We took a step closer to the deli counter.

"Hey darlin, would you like me to teach you how to play the piano?"
She shook her head again. "No thanks---"

He grabbed her shoulder. "Well take a seat right here---that's right by the piano, and let's get cracking!"

Her anxious blue eyes looked towards me for rescue but I was still trying to grasp whether he was insane, intoxicated or deaf to her answers. "OK darlin' just play anything you want."

Giving up on being saved by her own mother, she timidly started a few scales. Pretty soon, a dingo trotted up and rested its head on the seat next to her. Sapphire glanced down distractedly and the bloke said, "That's right love, keep it up."

The dingo then jumped up onto the seat and walked across the keys, howling. As Sapphire played, he howled, Ooooo wooooo, Ooooooo wooooooo!

The audience, a large group of Kiwi tourists waiting their fresh-from-the-freezer meals of chicken nuggets and crumbed fish, clapped in approval.

"What's your name, darl?"
Sapphire started smiling. "Sapphire."
"Well Sapphire, thanks for playing along. Dinky loves a good singalong and is famous all over the world, did you know that? Give her a hand, ladies and gentlemen - yep, just take a seat with your mother over there and I'll tell you a little bit more about Dinky...."

Dinky, clearly no stranger to Jim's talks, flopped onto the floor beside his bulky owner and fell fast asleep, paws twitching as he no doubt played the piano in his dreams. Or Jim's face: time would tell.

Half an hour ticked by. Our touring group were outside under a shady tree, eating sandwiches and fruit, chatting and laughing. Sapphire and I, on the other hand, were trapped.

Trapped and hungry, plonked in front row seats sniffing hot salty chips being eaten by tourists around us as we heard more about the exploits of Dinky's owner than we wanted to. He pointed to yellowing newspaper articles, postcards sent from 'fans from all over the world', read aloud some pertinent facts from an old childrens' book about Australia's wild dogs and shared with us the time he met two other dingo owners as they alighted from the Ghan in Alice Springs.

Jim's beer belly became strangely mesmerising as it jiggled precariously every time he raised his hands to enthusiastically point out another Dinky-related item he had previously staple-gunned to the wood-panelled wall. It reminded me of a walrus about to jump from the rocks into the sea, wavering, waiting for that perfect wave. How Jimbo could stand straight with all that fatty verandah leaning three feet in front of him was beyond my understanding.

My reverie was suddenly interrupted when Love Chunks's bemused face appeared pressed up against the spotted fly-blown glass window behind Jim. "What are you two DOING in there?" he mouthed. Behind him, our tour group were starting to pack up the plates, scraps and cups as Jim droned on: "Dinky has a few other songs in his repertoire and we've been approached to consider recording a CD......."

It was time. To do that thing that every front-row hostage dreads doing - get up to leave during a performance. I did some useless miming of pointing to my watch and then pointing outside, shrugging my shoulders in an exaggerated apology and dragged a red-faced Sapphire out through the screen door which banged loudly in offence.

Geoff's shoulders were shaking with laughter as he saw the 'What the hell...?' expression on my face. "Ah it was YOU that got it this time, eh? That's why I never go into the shop if I've got a tour group with some kids in it, mate. We eat lunch outside, use the loos at the back behind the petrol pumps and piss off before he nudges Dinky awake."

It was the only time that entire holiday that I wished I'd been childless.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Puckle Street Palaver

We were sitting in a bakery in Moonee Ponds, tucking into our chicken salad rolls and coffee when yelling was heard outside.

I looked up and saw a swarthy man in a black overcoat striding past and automatically made eye contact. I smiled, thinking he was calling out to friends further ahead, and my grin was supposed to convey a vague but community-spirited, "Lovely Sunday day, innit?"

He got the wrong idea and stood in the doorway, yelling, "Robert Walters pharked up my life! Robert did! Yes, he did! I am Lebanese and he pharked it all up! Robert Walters!"

I. couldn't. look. away. Love Chunks and Sapphire had their backs to him, both cowering deeper into their food, shoulders hunched in shame. "He did! He ruined my life, me a Lebanese! Robert Walters pharked it up. LISTEN TO MY STORY!"

My stupid smile was still pasted on, the roll still raised halfway to my face as I nodded in dumb agreement.

Love Chunks kicked my ankle. "Stop making eye contact you idiot," he hissed. Trying to look regretful and as though I had places to go, things to do, people to see but best of luck with your crusade, good sir; I looked down at my limp roll. Loopy Lebanese man legged it further up Puckle Street, still furiously spewing out his life story to other eaters and shoppers.

"Why did you encourage him, Mum?" Sapphire was horrified and a bit shaken. For all her intelligence and humour, her scared face reminded me that she is only ten years old after all and the only baddies or weirdies she usually sees are in the movies or books or sitting sozzled out of their minds at the corner of the train station under the bridge. The owner of the bakery scuttled out, grabbed our plates and hastily wiped the table with a dribbly Chux that disallowed us to rest our elbows on the top: a clear sign she wanted us mental magnets out of there.

Puffing up my chest with the breath of only someone who is embarrassed but also indignant about it can do, I tried to explain to Sapphire that no-one is born wishing they'll be the stark raving crazy who yells at people in the street or wants to resort to snaffling up used cigarette butts outside the TAB or yearns to spend their days drinking long-necked beers out of shabby paper bags on the bus stop seats. "It is very sad, and it makes you wonder just what kind of life they led for it to end up like that," I concluded, feeling my chest relax as the warmth of my understanding, right-on empathy and mature life-lessons for my daughter flowed through.

"Yeah right, and you're halfway there yourself."

The roll plopped onto the soggy table. "Excuse me?"

"You heard. You pick me up from school with those embarrassingly long litter-collecting tongs and a plastic bag in your hand; you pat the dogs of the tough guys with tattoos on their necks who hang outside the pub and you said you were going to - --" this is where Sapphire puffed out her own chest in self-righteous indignance "----STEAL SOME LEMONS from the house across the street."

I'd struck a new low: having my ten year old daughter liken me to a mentally-deranged man in a stained overcoat who wanders the streets swearing and yelling his life story at people.

And no, I didn't steal the lemons. At least, not yet.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Living on the edge

Working from home gives me far too many ways to creatively procrastinate.

Nothing says 'overdue article for which you'll actually receive some money' like some freshly pumiced heels, weeded gravel, dusted bookshelves and recycling arranged right down to metal screw caps and plastic bottle tops.

Apart from work stuff, I'm also avoiding:

Completing the Victorian Government 'Working With Children' documents. Yes, the school is always asking for volunteers and no, I'm not some shifty kiddie fiddler with hidden jail time but I've been avoiding getting those unflattering passport photographs done, because..... well...... because this year I want to have a year off from being a member of the Mummy Mafia.

You know the sort; those mothers who are always there to hear kids read, attend excursions, run the sausage sizzle, collect donations for raffles and coordinate the quiz night. Always immaculately dressed with late model SUVs, bendy-pilates/private-trainer-toned bodies and an Osh Kosh baby on one designer-jeaned hip. Even after five years, I was never a contender, just a willing slave. "Oh of course Diane, I'll paint the entire set for the class musical and make a pot of soup to share and keep the string instruments at my place during the weeknights and clean the Axylotl aquarium, make jewellery for the craft stall and write that Public Art Water Saving School Heritage Celebration State grant that you'll be taking to the next committee meeting....."

These days, I waddle up to the school and it's not the dog that causes other folk to avoid me: it's my sticky witchy woman hair, puffy eyes and morning breath that singles me out as a Mummy Mafia Member gone AWOL (or, in reality, me just out of bed and in my running gear). And I kind of like it that way.

My 'editing and proof reading' assignments. I'm particularly proud of my delaying tactics here, seeing as I haven't submitted any work to my tutor since October last year. Stuff such as a trip to New Zealand, my mother-in-law's death, GFC affecting the sale of our house for over three months and our move to Melbourne has meant that I had a few other things to occupy my mind other than what silly symbol means 'shift one space to the right and change to Times New Roman font sized 12' when written in red pen alongside the offending row of text, zzzzzz.......

Making a PAP smear appointment. I'm hardly alone in putting this one off and each time I've eventually gone, it's always with dismay to discover that the female doctor I asked for when booking the timeslot is away sick or at a health conference and I'm stuck with Dr Checks or his curmudgeonly equivalent and wondering just why he's forgotten to shut the blinds when I'm up on the table with my knickers stretched between both ankles staring between my knees at passersby and traffic on the road out front. These old locum war horses are also the types for whom empathy disappeared in around 1967, and think that 'bedside manner' means reminding you of the suffering of other (presumably long dead) medical freaks: "I don't know what you're so uncomfortable about. When I was in the far east during World War II a poor woman had a Durian growing up there and we didn't hear a peep out of her." Thanks, that helps you know, as would a BIT OF DELICACY, SOME LUBE AND WARM GLOVES, OKAY BUDDY?

Emptying the bathroom bin. It's not like the kitchen bin with its orange peels, coffee grounds, glad wrap shreds, pencil sharpenings and pongy old dog food tin lids, it's worse. It's filled with disgusting items that tend to fall out and stick to my top when I'm shaking it into the wheelie bin - fluttering threads of discarded dental floss, mouldy band aids, yellowing cotton buds, leaky toothpaste tubes, toenail clippings... Not to mention the weird grey fluffy hairy stuff that seems to have sprung from our own invisible Mr Snuffalufagus when he secretly shakes himself in our bathroom.

Washing the car. This hasn't been done since 2007 because I'm saving water, see? And now that we don't have a driveway or carport and the station wagon's out in the street, it gets periodically sluiced by the rains. Unfortunately there are times when, if the angle of the sun is right, I can see some rather rude words that passing high school kids have written with their fingers in the murk on the windows, but better that than a spray can on our fence...

Inside the car it is admittedly a bit dusty. The airline sick bags I stole last year are tiredly drooping from the car door pockets and Sapphire's plastic sick bucket is mostly a rubbish bin these days but they might - along with the dog hairs affixed to the seat covers and ancient shopping bags in the back - put off any aspiring thieves (who would clearly be affected by illegal substances) if they had an eye to nicking our 1996-model cassette tape player or Club Lock security system circa 1987.

Picking up Milly's poos. This actually doesn't take very long; maybe a couple of minutes to scan the lawn and the tiny front strip of bark chips to see where madam's butt nuggets have landed this week. No, my biggest fear is that the nappy bags won't be able to hold the weight of the, er, matter inside and a finger nail will carelessly pierce through and be squidged into a nice, ripe and moist, um, nugget. When you hear an anguished, "Oooooooo! Ooooooooo! Ooooooooo!" from where you live, you know it's due to a faulty bag in far-off Flemington.

Cleaning out Skipper's hutch. Bless the silent little fella but he backs out bunny beans like a sub machine gun and sprays the inside of his bedroom with something that, whilst technically called 'urine' is more like a stinking, acidic nasal hair and super glue remover. It is astonishly acrid stuff and even more vile when it soaks into several layers of newspaper and hay and is left to mature for a few days. As for Skipper himself, despite producing such substances he remains blindingly white and super clean, so I'm assuming that his excretions are like his portrait of Dorian Gray hidden up in the attic.

However, all of these tasks will get done eventually. Maybe not before Sapphire starts high school, but some day.

This one, pictured below, will not. I'm being brave, holding my head up, trying not to have a tremulous quaver in my voice when I say that special word, No.

I'm saying no to Mr Seth. Have you seen the size of his ............... novel?

'A Suitable Boy' is thicker than the foundations for this house and about as interesting. It could throw the Starship Enterprise entirely off course if it was flung on their starboard side and after 500 pages (roughly a third), I'm chucking it in. Call me a quitter if you must (I'm looking at you, Dad) but life's too short to waste ploughing through a novel less engrossing than the tinea on my left foot between the piggy that went 'wee wee wee' all the way home and the one that didn't get any roast beef. Besides, I have dog poo to pick up.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grumble Bum

It's time for a whinge. A blog rant; a Seinfeld-esque (at least to start) "have you ever noticed...?" style gripe about things that have been annoying me lately.

Have you ever noticed:

If you tie up one shoe because it feels a bit loose, that you then have to tie the other one up or it doesn't feel right?

How ridiculously breathy and exaggerated the male and female voiceovers are for Channel ten promos. "Sergeant Watson has..... a dilemma...... Will she be able to...... deal.... with it?"

"Tomorrow night it's ...... scorching the west and seventeenth precinct ...... but NOT for the murdered call girl.......that Detective Blakely discovers ...... with her ..........head missing...!"

That packets of healthy cereals always feature glistening photographs or illustrations of fresh berries, mangoes and scoops of macadamia nuts on the box but they constitute less than one percent of the total ingredients?

You always have to violently sneeze just as you have your mouth full of meusli?

Plump forty year olds don't get served very promptly in sports stores. Not even when they've grabbed a $199 running shoe off the display wall and are looking around for someone to help them. Grrrr!

People always tap on the glass of aquariums even though there is a printed sign that says 'Please do not tap on the glass.' When has there ever been a time that a fish or frightened lobster has stopped in their tracks, turned to stare directly at the tapper and said, "Yes?"

Big M lite sucks babboon butt. If I was blindfolded, I'd be struggling to identify it as milk, let alone with a coffee flavour. Why does Melbourne; a city renowned for its restaurants, fabulously creative and fresh foods, think that this tepid pondwater is worthy of their custom? And why does Farmers Union have every variety of their iced coffee available here except for their Feel Good? Why, god, why?

No phone call after 10pm is nice news. It might not be the dreaded death call either, but is likely to be a favour you definitely don't want to do, an argument or a bare acquaintance (from years ago) asking if they can '...stay just for a few days, you'll hardly know I'm here...'

Advertisements in print and on the telly that say 'Prices start from', which essentially means that the $99* holiday to Bali is actually $3699 after taxes, choosing to fly out on a day ending in 'y', wanting to sit down on the plane, being able to walk through customs without a lubricator-less cavity search, a visa and somewhere to sleep when you get there. Same goes for television sets, cars (oh if you want doors, glittery paint, air bags, CD player or to be able to take it out of the showroom and onto the governement-sanctioned roads you'll need to pay another $3000...') and anything on sale at anywhere 'crazy'.

The stupidity of radio, cricket and football commentators who:
  • Want to 'garnish' support
  • Have six of one, a dozen of the other
  • Respond with 'For all intensive purposes'
  • Play with all holes barred
  • Need to find the 'spare of the moment'; and
  • behave like a fool in a china shop

And worst of all, Sapphire now risks heart failure to run to meet her friend Sarah at the school gate and disappear, thus denying me the chance to kiss her goodbye. Bugger it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Enid Blyton Nude Tennis

Now THAT conjures up an image that'll encourage you to involuntarily puke up your muesli doesn't it?

It is just one of the recent Google search phrases that freakish folk from all corners of the world have typed in and then been automatically directed to this here humble little blog. Geez, they must be disappointed (to say the least) when they arrive, only to discover that 'Love Chunks' is not a scatological euphemism and 'FUIC' merely refers to my favoured brand of iced coffee.

However, 'Dutch Ovens' might offend those who were innocently looking for a pipe-shaped, cast-iron cooking device that is used over hot coals and not for the description of my shameless nocturnal butt blasts under the doona to which poor Love Chunks is frequently subjected.... Ahem...!

Despite my lifelong dream to celebrate - rather than suppress - the need to let off 'steam' every now and then, there are still some google searchers who find their way here using key words and phrases that are too bizarre to fully contemplate. They include:

Booger fetish site - let me assure you that I have never, ever fetish-ised boogers, mucus, snot or phlegm on these pages. Mentioned them yes, but celebrated them? No.

Parp Porn Movies - OK so 'parp' has been used here to describe the shart 'parp parp' sound that can emanate from the bulbously buttockular regions, but porn? Here? Not unless you can somehow wring out some sensuality from my nightly struggles to locate the fuzzy blue bed socks that usually end up on the floor.....

I sweat through my pants - Erk. Poor you; now go away and seek help.

Magnas with sex and nudity - Our mitsubishi magna is a STATION WAGON. It is thirteen years old. Station wagons, by their very design, are created to repel all forms of sex and nudity or any opportunities for sex and nudity. They reek of marriage, commitment, exhaustion, prams, dogs, groceries, booster seats, mortgages and long, boring drives that are often referred to as 'family holidays' or 'it's too expensive to fly' and 'why didn't you go when I filled up at the service station?'.

Shane Warne Hawaiian pizza - Wait, there's a pizza named after Warnie? This is what he eats when the baked beans have run out? Or does he have the IQ of a ham-n-pineapple, hold the onions?

Deformed Malteser - I'd never say no to a deformed chocolate; it all ends up in the same spot after all. Of course, I'm only scoffing 5% of my previous level of daily intake of course, thanks to Dr Checks and his evil cholesterol tests....

Swollen lips from eating parsley - Parsley has been mentioned here in relation to it being our rabbit, Skipper's favourite food, but he's barely got any lips, let alone swollen ones. Trust me, I kiss 'em every day and it's hard work locating 'em.

Having mocked those, I'll admit that there are some search phrases that I can (kind of) understand how they wound up in Kath Land. Stuff like:

World War One for Dummies - imagine their bemusement to get my book, read through a few pages and think, 'Who knew that the ANZACS were dying for more work/life balance?'

FUIC Wedding - unless this celebration involved copious amounts of fresh iced coffee, it sounds instead like the bitter review of an angry bridesmaid to me....

Bronzer lotion reaction
- yes, I've tried to obtain a tan via a lotion; anything to prevent someone making a crack about my legs looking like fluoro tubes and possessing the whitest thighs on the beach. All it did was form unsightly brown crevices in my cleavage, ankles and the crooks of my arm and make me stink so badly that Love Chunks would enter the room, automatically rear backwards and run out saying "Phooo weee!"

Squeaky Rockport shoes - my parents are devotees of this brand, as are most retired grey nomads who want 'sensible walking shoes that go with everything' - spoken by my mother, Pauline, who likes to team hers with slacks, a blouse and matching cardigan. And a swipe of lippie to match the blouse. And pearl drop earrings. And a nice handbag; leather of course, and large enough to put stuff like packets of sugar, band-aids, snack bars, scissors, drink bottles, aspirin, reading glasses, a fold-up sun hat, 30+ lotion, gloves, plastic poncho, paper serviettes, moist sachets, cough lollies, needle and thread, buttons, safety pins, lip balm, comb, notepad and pen, novel, insect repellent, toe nail clippers, dried apricots and an umbrella.

Ashleigh's Peanut Butter Farts - perhaps Ashleigh's hiding something from us? Does he have a skill so specific that onlookers (or 'on smellers') can tell what food he's eaten?

Madonna admits she can't resist Cadbury's Fruit and Nut - bless her. Now if she'd only get off the stage, unplug the microphone, put on some trousers, stay home and eat some.

And (blushing profusely), even this one:

I hawk up solid brown chunks of mucus. Um, I might have mentioned my infected sinuses, nasal polyps, honking nose blows and nose surgery here a few times.....

However they all pale into insignificance when compared to a phrase that is so completely in the polar opposite direction of everything I stand for. It's a sick joke, a terrible insult to my years (yes, years I tell you) of toil, sweat, stress and strain to reveal in writing what offends, enrages, repulses and disgusts me:

Love My Cardie.

It's a sad old world we live in.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Creepin' Crumpets!

Every Friday I do our weekly grocery shopping at Safeway to the clattering sound of the trains whistling over the Newmarket bridge, tinny 1980s classics piped in glorious transister mono and the endless peep-peep of scanners. Invariably I'm always starving after having just been for a run and a shower before heading over there. It's my key task to complete for the day before getting back home for breakfast in front of the computer.

It's a sad-but-true fact that I really enjoy visiting the supermarket. Having lived here for seven months now, I'm familiar with the layout and am on 'Hello, how ya goin' this week?' terms with several of the staff. Friendliness aside, it's the unfettered freedom that gives me my simple dose of free jollies - being able to roll up and down each aisle without whingeing passengers, time constraints or feeling angry because there were no available Saturday morning parking spaces or a gold coin in my purse to unlock a trolley.

I'll read the back of labels, peruse the specials on display at the end of each aisle and ~gulp~ linger in the confectionery section, tantalising myself on what I would buy if Craptastic Mr Cholesterol hadn't reared his butt ugly head.

Today there was a bit of commotion in the bakery section - or was it the deli? Several children were screaming and one old lady putt-putted past me on her geriatric scooter, muttering, "I thought me heart had given out, that I did," as she escaped the area at 9 kms per hour.

I lifted my gaze up from the potatoes (oooh, red desirees or kipflers this week?) to get a view. Golden Crumpets were having an in-store promotion. Now this crumpet company has been around for all of my living memory and the logo (seen above) certainly attests to this. It struck me however, that I'd never really paid attention to the logo before, but just mindlessly grabbed a small packet of six, slung it in the trolley near the soft stuff like bananas and avocados and gone on my merry (and clearly ignorant) way.

Mr Golden Crumpet in the flesh, on the other hand, was huge. Pushing seven foot tall and handing out some little blow up mascots to anyone brave enough to get close. Trouble is, where the logo guy has tiny stumpy legs, the real deal was wearing white, shiny spandex that revealed enormous, muscular legs that echoed a youthful Arnie in his 'pumping iron' phase. He looked as though he could deliver a deathly roundhouse kick to the ghoolies than get a granny to stop and smile.

He wasn't licking his lips like this little chap either, but had his mouth open in a large, dark-meshed 'Oh' that clearly suggested 'Shove your toddler in here, Mum, before I get really angry.' Soon there was a crowd of terrified bakery section sufferers sheltering behind my bag of desirees. "Don't move, lady - he'll see us!"

Naturally, as a blogger and generally silly person, I started to laugh. Bad move. Mr Golden Crumpet saw me, gave me a wave with his massive white-gloved mitts and the lino started to pucker as he thundered over - Whappity Whappity WHAP - in his red, canoe-sized shoes. My cowering crowd seemingly vanished and I leaned in to speak to him. I presumed he'd hear more accurately if I spoke to his mesh cake hole and not in the direction of his ears because he didn't have any; just yellow fabric.

"Erm, you don't have any free samples, do you?"

Alas, like Humphrey B Bear, he was mute. And, for some weird reason, not accompanied by a human being with a tray of hot buttered crumpets. He pointed to a blow up mascot.
"No thanks Mr Crumpet, but thanks for offering and, um, best of luck for your remaining university studies and in being able to reach out to the kiddies today."

He was soon forgotten in my quest to find substitutes for chocolate*** and tick everything off my list. Bog rolls, check. Yoghurts, check. Dog Crunchies, check....

On my way out of the store, I saw the terrified geriatric scooter driver with no less than five of her mates - also on scooters - having some morning tea at the cafe next door. There were more oxygen tanks on display than in an intensive care unit yet they all managed to slurp down their especially frothy and powdered cappuccinos (unless they were actually short blacks that had been blasted with too much air from their nasal tubes) and chatter away.

What amused me more, though, was that all six of them had a blow up Mr Golden Crumpet mascot in their scooter baskets. Not for the first time, I cursed forgetting to bring along the camera. This was done silently though because I didn't want to risk receiving any tut-tuts or disapproving looks from the oldies.

Finally, as the car was loaded and I wheeled the trolley towards the bay to lock it in with the others and get my two dollars back (yes, the pennies need to be watched carefully), I felt the chain grabbing at my fingers and one finger feeling especially cool. No matter. I climbed in the car and inserted the key: Oh. My shower-wet, three-day-old, slightly rancid-smelling bandaid must have slipped off and was now stuck on the coin slot. Ergh, not a nice 'welcome to the world' experience for the next innocent shopper but hey, I had places to go, things to do, things to write....

.... yes, I sighed, took out the key and trudged back to the trolley bay and removed the offence - still in a perfect cylinder - and put it in the bin. Paragon of virtue, me.

*** There are none. But 3 x 250 gram bags of pink-n-white marshmallows, a packet of Jersey Caramels, three boxes of Weight Watchers 'Ginger Kiss' cake bars, 2 x 100g logs of pistacchio nougat, several scoops of sugared mint leaves and some Dick Smith 'Aussie choc' drinking powder might see me through for the week. Or weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mystery Number Six is solved

Mary finally agreed to meet with me after I solved the fifth mystery for her. I needed to know - did her heritage-listed, wedding-cake styled 19th single storey terrace have a 'map of Australia' or an unravelled sock as a deterrent?

Never, ever underestimate the power of good coffee, or the offer to buy someone some. On my way to Pepper cafe to meet Mary, I soon found out my answer. The map of Australia or unravelling sock that protects her home is an Airedale Terrier who is coincidentally also called Milly.

My Milly was then turned around and taken home because despite her friendliness towards humans, she's not very kind towards other canines - especially if I show an interest in them. It's a shame actually, because the moment she sights another dog she turns from a genial orange Jorgi into an angry walnut with hackles who snaps and yells and refuses to be cajoled into friendliness, let alone acceptance or tolerance.

As such, my Milly was left howling behind our Gates of Hell in voluble indignance and I started walking back to Mary and Milly's (now to be abbreviated to M-and-M) house.

I needed to know:
Is my neighbourhood so lawless and dangerous that she needed a dog sign to scare off any rapists, looters or potential pillagers?
Are Airedale Terriers aggressive?
Has her Milly protected the M-and-M house from danger?

If so, is Milly's innocent 'Ugg Boot with a tongue' appealing looks merely a clever disguise to lure criminals or overly-keen leaflet distributors into feeling a false sense of security?

Milly was surprisingly difficult to get an answer out of that didn't involve licking my face as I bent down to pat her, or sniffing my jeans in intimate detail. Luckily she was soon engrossed in the leftover breakfast sausages a waitress gave her at the cafe.

It turns out that Milly is only two years old but is already a media celebrity and local icon so maybe the 'mystery' was only in my own relatively-new-to-the-area mind. As Mary is the coordinator of the locally produced and written newspaper 'The Flemington Kensington News', Milly has already featured in a story about her vital role in helping Mary through a range of personal blows that would challenge Dr Phil and Frasier combined as well as appearing in a local fund-raising calendar put together by Mr P's mother. Small world, isn't it?

Turns out too that M-and-M haven't been traumatised by crime or dog nappers or anything worse than the occasional drunken reveller winding their way up the street to or from the police station. The scary sign was earned by Milly when she won third prize in an Airedale dog competition. She was the smallest of her litter and Mary is an Airedale fan from way back: "Our previous dog used to let my son grab his tail and slide him along the wooden floors."

Milly's only chomping have involved upholstery, producing some big holes in a couch - "a retro classic I'd just had re-covered" - but none involving any human appendages.
As we chatted, a gorgeous lady embodying Melbourne came up to us and asked if she could pat Milly. You know the type - sleek black bob, a slick of red lipstick, groovy clothes and spunky shoes and handbag. "I have an Airedale too," she cooed, "called Audrey." Audrey too has been a celebrity, as Julia revealed that she was one of a litter of eleven who survived the February bushfires at St Andrews. Her human owners shifted the mother and the pups from room to room of the old stone house as the fires raged outside, wondering if, as the house burned around them, any of them would survive.

They all did, cowering together in the last room of the house with the fire inexplicably and mercifully moving away from the house and towards bushland instead. Audrey's mum works at a boutique around the corner from our caffeine supplier and sometimes accompanies her. Mary and Julia started talking about arranging a playdate for Milly and Audrey. (Milly and Audrey sound like two spinsters crocheting antimacassars to me!).

Mary and I enjoyed the winter sunshine talking about local issues, writers living in the area, her career in nursing and night shelters and the joy of buying a house in the nineties before prices went ridiculously skyward.

Eventually it became too much for young Milly - the doting pats from passersby and my fussy photography found her hiding under the table before I departed to go to the supermarket and Mary had work to do. Mystery solved; except for my Milly who gave my trousers an extra long sniff when I got home.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Question. Dumb. Ask.

Love Chunks and I were sitting companionably at the dinner table, sharing some shiraz in the warmth and gazing into Melbourne's rainy darkness outside.

I had to say it. "What did you enjoy most about our holiday?

"The parts where you weren't there."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sapphire's eyes

Travelling with ten year old Sapphire is always a joy and more often than not it is she that is scolding me rather than the other way around: "Mum, why do you always end up talking about farting?"

Travelling with Sapph in the middle of Australia on mostly un-sealed roads in a truck-ish 4WD with a motley group of tourists and camping out under the stars in swags has been an even more rewarding experience and one that I've been privileged to view (partly) through her eyes.

When we arrived in Alice Springs on the very first night, we were in a nice resorty-hotel, wearing our then dust-free Melbourne clothes and about to order dinner in a nice restaurant. As we perused the menus inevitably peppered with kangaroo, camel and (presumably frozen) barramundi, Sapphire opened the conversation with "I remember the first time I saw an old lady's beard up close."

Oh? Turns out it was when she went to church with Grandma. "Yeah, I saw a few that day." Over our shared pitta and dip entree platter, I made Sapphire and Love Chunks swear on their eternal souls that they would ensure that I never, ever grow a beard. Not even when completely gripped by Alzheimers or Dementia and wearing my knickers around my neck in a locked ward. "No matter what the cost or the inconvenience, please promise me that I won't end up looking like Billy Goat Gruff - hell, let's talk up starting up a savings plan for my post-retirement grooming fund!"

Geriatric whisker issues aside, Sapphire has noted my heartache about the cholesterol situation with interest, pity and a healthy dose of 'Well, what did you expect' pragmatism but kindly informed her father that "Mum has been really good, hasn't she? She even gave me the mini-Toblerone we got on the plane."

That's right readers - I have been good. However, I'll admit to ordering cappuccinos lately purely due to the sprinkling of chocolate powder they shake over the frothy milk but Sapph seems to have joined me in avoiding cholesterol, telling the waitress, "I'd like to have the kids meal of spaghetti bolognese but please don't give me the chips but a green salad instead."

"Okaaaay," said the waitress, giving me the This-Is-A-New-One-For-Me raised eyebrow look. Hunger and laziness prevented me from talking about the time when we were in Coles going over the fruit and veg when Sapphire spotted a kilogram-sized back of brussels sprouts and came rushing over. "Look Mum, a whole bag of brussels sprouts! I LOVE these - can we have some please?" Another woman wheeled her trolley over me and whispered out the side of her mouth, "Did I just hear that or dream it?"

As we visited, walked, climbed and photographed Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), King's Canyon, Palm Valley and Ormiston Gorge, she studiously wrote down all of the Aboriginal art symbols and bush tucker plants in her tiny notebook. When our tour guide Geoff cooked up some kangaroo bolognese for our first meal around the campfire, she tasted it, smiled and said, "I think that this is your signature dish, it's full of flavour."

On our second night, we found ourselves at a cattle station camping ground, with a wood-heated hot water system feeding a shower open to the elements. The black bottle-shaped heating contraption needed heaps of handfuls of spinifex, wood splinters and team effort to get going, but careful planning (ie yelling out "Is anyone in there?") ensured that no-one was caught imitating the full moon in their exposed nudity.

Sapph and I were the first in on the basis of her youth - get the kid clean and in the swag first. Love Chunks stood guard outside and pulled his cap over his ears to soften the impact of our screams of agony as the 'hot' water - roughly air temperature or 4C - rained down on our bodies. Sapphire was gasping for breath as I squealed and apparently those sipping their tea peacefully around the fire a few hundred metres away suddenly decided to forgo a shower that evening.

Later that night was a snore festival like no other. Two couples were all snoring, somehow cruelly timed so that at any given moment those of us still awake were always treated to the leaf-blower volume of an inhalation and the angry walrus sounds of exhalation. Soon an additional percussional element entered the fray - kind of like a sweeter, softer version of Donald Duck - wallah wallah wallah wallah wallah. Lying there in the spotlight dazzle of the full moon, I couldn't help but start giggling at the irony of 'getting away from it all' and yet being surrounded by a cacophony of ear-nose-and-throat emanations to rival anything that inner Melbourne had to offer during rush hour.

A minute later everyone else who was awake sat up and started laughing - eleven out of sixteen of us were all sitting up in our swags and wrapped in our sleeping bags, cackling louder and harder than the snorers yet woke up none of them. Perhaps they'd already deafened themselves.

Sapphire made friends with Toughie, a barrelly blue heeler who lived in the Oak Valley Aboriginal community. He lay beside her at the fire and lifted his front paw to guide her hand towards his stomach, insisting on a tummy scratch. Hours later he waddled away, sated with love and left over BBQed steak.

There were tears on the last morning when the hot air balloon had inflated enough and the imposing wicker basket was ready for us to climb into. Her anguished face looked up at me as she grabbed at my jacket, "Mum, I don't think I can do---" before being drowned out by Franz's call to us all, "GET IN NOW!" She did and she loved it.

On the flight back home, we buckled ourselves into our seats and got out our respective books and newspapers. Tapping me on the arm she said, "I just don't think I could ever marry anybody called Rupert."
"Why not?"
"Well, you once said that it was a ridiculous name for a man."
"Did I? Oh, but I was only joking - what if he was nice and----"
"No Mum, I'll never say yes to someone called Rupert."

We opened up our books and read for a minute or so before she tapped me again.
"And Mum?"
"Mmmm love?"

"He can't come from Footscray either."
"But what if he's kind, smart, funny and rich?"
"Then he won't be living in Footscray."

She bowed her head back down into the John Marsden, smiling.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ain't got nothing but love, babe.....


If you've ever been on the road for a long drive or five, you'll understand the importance of having some music to listen to.

Add to this the individual tastes of seventeen other passengers whose ages range from ten to seventy and things can get interesting. Geoff, our fearless, camel-lovin' tour leader passed around his iPod for us to select a song each for an 'on the go' soundtrack and the resultant sounds that accompanied the rainbow desert landscape of Central Australia were a strange mix indeed. Think the Beatles, Kaiser Chiefs, Black Eyed Peas, Midnight Oil, Mozart, Abba, Moby, David Gray and Red Hot Chili Peppers just for the first session.

By the fifth day my notebook was being used more to write down songs to search out myself to download than to record any decent diary details. However, I learned a lot of things on this trip; none of which were mentioned in the brochure:

Being warm is far more important than being stylish. However, I did take off my beanie when a camera was around because it makes me look as though a big blue donger is growing out of my scone. If I was wearing my head torch as well, I might as well have been a walking advert for circumcision.

Apples and meusli bars taste like MasterChef manna from heaven when you're roughing it and have just done a seven kilometre hike through rock and rubble. Almost-frozen champagne also tastes delicious even when it's 4C, windy and dark and you're standing in front of Uluru and the Olgas (Kata Tjutu).

Carrot cake (with the lusciously, cholesterol-ly, cream cheese icing) featured in my dreams. Every single night. Not chocolate - why?

Dutch, Canadian and German backpackers use musk lifesavers as a dare in drinking games. It's apparently a rite of passage to buy a pack and see who can keep it in their mouth the longest before gagging. First one to spit it out has to skol their drink. "I thought they were mini urinal cakes," said Reinier.

Large milkshakes enjoyed at a road stop soon turn into intestinal cottage cheese when enduring a bone-shaking 2 hour drive on an unsealed track.

I actually have bum bones. After days of sitting on rocks, dirt and swags, they made their presence felt.

It is easy to horrify Italian kindergarten teachers. Making innocent conversation as we did the dishes, I said, "So, your husband tells me that you two first met at a nightclub?"
"No! no no no no no!" Her eyes were wider than the plates she was stacking. Her husband and translator, Alain, wandered over to ascertain the cause of her distress. They chatted rapidly in Italian.
He smiled. "She thinks you meant a Strip club."

Some things at Uluru are more shocking than the price of coffee and souvenirs in the gift shop. One bloke stood behind his open car door, pulled down his trousers and sprayed his Kyber Pass and Dangle Twang with deodorant before hitching up his pants and going to work on his armpits. Most passersby were spared this scene but I unfortunately was approaching from the rear.

We had a competition one night around the campfire to see which of us had the best porn name (first pet you had + first street you lived on). Penny won with Pussy View. Lord knows what she thought of our bawdy hoots of laughter because she revealed to us the next day that she's studying to be a Uniting Church minister.

Robbie, our guide from the Oak Valley Aboriginal community says he likes to eat Witchety grubs raw and at the base of the bush they live in, "but my grandies turn up their noses. They take 'em back to nanna to cook."

Hygiene standards become incredibly lax. By Day Five I was wiping a knife smeared with homous onto my dusty jeans, then using it to cut up some chicken; wiping it again on my legs before cutting up some tomatoes and giving it a final swipe across my upper thigh. There. Nice and clean and put straight back into the cutlery box.

And I finally found the perfect place to fart without detection or disapproval by offering to hold the balloon strings as it filled up with hot air.

Best holiday ever.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sulker on Safari

Love Chunks, Sapphire and I are heading out into the great Aussie outback for an adventure this school holidays. Granted, we'll be forgoing the hellish week-long drive along the dull and dusty plains and instead be flying on the big silver bird into Alice Springs, but then we're saddling up for a 4-wheel-drive camping trip sleeping out under the stars in swags.

Cool, hey? We want Sapph to see the awesome magnificence of Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Olgas and King's Canyon and to visit an Aboriginal community and get a feel for central Australia. Plus, unbeknownst to her we've booked a hot air balloon ride on the last morning, which will hopefully be rather memorable (at least, until LC said, "Isn't this where that balloon crashed ages ago, killing and mangling all those poor people?" Er, yes).

I'm going for all of those reasons (except the balloon disaster situation) as well, but and also for a personal one of my own - to silently apologise for my behaviour of some time ago. Way, waaaay back in the deep, dim mists of time to 1985.

I wasn't exactly a 'handful' as a teenager because as a teacher's daughter and all-round academic goody-goody in a big bad high school of 1500 students, I was too timid for anything approaching rebellion. The closest I got to being a Wild One was skinny dipping in the Murray River during a girl's camping weekend when I was sixteen, but luckily it was poor Marie who was caught doing a bold starfish leap into the water when a speedboat full of yobbos zoomed past and I was mercifully in the poo-brown water right up to my chin, and at least the smoke from the campfire disguised the three Alpines that I wheezily attempted to inhale instead of 'bum suck'.

Anyhow, by 1985 I was sixteen-and-a-half, deeply into my final year of school and - more importantly for me at the time - experiencing my first real taste of love. Reciprocated love.

Therefore, to be unceremoniously dragged away from our netball grand final - which we won and I was captain of the team!! - and to be reduced to reaching out of the car window and scrabbling to catch the premiership medal as it was thrown to me by the presenter as Dad pulled out of the carpark in our packed-to-the-gills 4WD was distinctly not needed in my hormonally indignant teenaged opinion.

I'm the one with the shocker perm, top right - Dad just leaned out of the car, took a quick photo and said, "Good onyer, now GET IN, we're going!"

Neither was the four day drive up to Alice Springs where a can of warm coke was all that gave us any respite from the choking red dust, David's sniffles (a combination of asthma and suffering from a broken collarbone after running back for a mark and donging into the points post) and the toyota's cassette stereo that played every tape a few beats slower than normal so that Mum and Dad's collection of Nana Mouskouri, Roger Whittaker and The Kingston Trio sounded even drearier, if that's actually possible.....

The only highlight I recall was seeing a sign - literally in the middle of nowhere and not even against a wreck of a building or fence post - that said, 'Lesbians Are Everywhere.' I proudly posed for that photo, wondering just why Dad insisted that it be me and not Mum who did it.

The rest of the trip saw me sulking in every single photo. My reasons for this were immense and numerous at the time:
  • Not being able to spend two weeks hanging around the heaving metropolis of Murray Bridge (pop 10,000) with my boyfriend

  • Having to set the bloody tent up every night because David had his arm in a sling

  • Running out of batteries for my walkman

  • Getting a very bad cold that saw me nearly heave up a lung when I finally reached the top of Ayers Rock and have an old guy hobble over and ask, "Are you all right, dearie?"

  • ..... only to see an empty coke can and cigarette butt at the summit
  • My folks befriending some large - and overtly Christian - family at the Uluru camping grounds with my only refuge being to hide inside the tent at the card table doing my biology assignment by gaslight and having it corrected later by Dad in red biro
  • Knowing my new perm was going disastrously wrong when the hair mousse wasn't packed and electric dryers weren't able to be plugged in
  • Being forced to eat meusli with powdered milk for breakfast ("But Mum, the bark chips by the toilet block would taste better than this"); and

  • Seeing the walls of the tent dangerously collapse in and out in time with Dad's leaf-blower-like snores every night.
So, this time, I want to forget about my hair or setting up an infernally complicated tent, shaking up putrid powdered milk in an empty mayonnaise jar, chatting to religious campers, missing my main squeeze, worrying about the music or dying of swine flu when admiring the Olgas.

Wish me luck. Or should that be, wish Love Chunks and Sapphire luck?