Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Un-Mothers' Day gift ideas

It's that time of year again when my letterbox is no longer full of Christmas, Back to School, Valentine's Day or Easter bargains, but the inevitable Mothers' Day dreck.

It was almost enough to put me off my chocolate, but not quite: they were handy for catching the cocoa dust as I sliced through the truffles.

Here I present to you, today, some of the gift suggestions on offer by some of the largest purveyors of goods to women who may have borne a child or seven in this country. Be prepared to feel dismayed, depressed and a tad grumpy and hope that, should you fall into the category as 'mother' that you instead end up with a box of service-station Ferreros three months past their due date and some soggy carnations peppered with car fumes due to sitting in a bucket for three hours by the roadside rather than any of these 'gifts'.

Firstly, Myer. Yes, they say that they're 'our store' but want us to believe that the average mother (aged, say, between 20 and 80) is keen to spray a Bit-O-Brit on their bodies.

The answer, is um, no. NO. I don't care if it's called Curious, Furious or Spurious, most mothers would rather spray on the aroma of someone who is a tad more likely to remember to wear bras during custody hearings and be able to confidently flick the 'on' switch whilst performing. Try selling us a Streep Spritzer, an Eau de Cate Blanchett cologne or a Michelle Obama atomizer and you might be onto something. Hell, even a Mother Teresa Toilette would work.

K-Mart, too, seemed to have gone for the Britney-mated-with-a-lurex-sleazebag look on their brochure emblazoned with 'Make your Mum's Day!'

Now my Mum would tell those three little tarts to "Stop slouching, brush your hair (in fact, put it up so it's out of your face and looks a bit neater), don't point your toes inwards and we'd all like to know where are you off to; the Blue Light Disco in 1984?" Actually she wouldn't have said the last bit; that was me, and the chick on the right is holding a pose not unlike the way I spent most of last week with my Provider of Pain, or neck if you want to be pedantic.

Aldi have decided that these sensual slip ons are THE MONEY for Mothers' Day. Oooh yeah, they've got Aegis antibacterial treatment that protects them against odour, staining and deterioration: I'm sold! And any shoe that comes in a 'musk' has gotta be sexy, right?

Angus and Robertson think that we all need a book on how to make really wild tea cosies. Like the one on the front cover; think Noddy on acid or the severed testicles of many an unhappy Kermit and you'd have to start wondering just what the hell is in the tea they're drinking. ......Wouldn't you, or are the musk slippers starting to make perfect sense now?

My surname might be Lockett with the extra 't' but I don't see the need in wearing one that describes just one of my job titles. Why don't they have other common descriptions that apply to loads of people in modern society such as 'Administrator', 'Dole Bludger', 'Government Lackey' and 'Fatso' ?

If I'm forgetful or in the early undetected stages of Alzheimers I'd personally prefer to wear a dog tag with my name, address and phone number on it.

Ah, the Reject Shop. Who wouldn't feel loved if their child handed them a gift with the receipt for the Reject Shop stapled to the back of the card?

And who doesn't need a heated fleecy scarf in inflamed-uterus pink with pockets to slip hot plastic heat pouches into? Me, for one.

If you find yourself utterly unable to venture outside without wearing a flattened oesophagus around your neck and clutching sweaty plastic pouches in your hands then feel free to join me in my continuing quest to continue to chat to strangers on public transport. You'd be a hit on the 57 tram because you'd keep the souvlakis warm and easily score a date drinking long necks under the railway bridge after the journey.

Well, who wouldn't feel special if they got a BODY TRIM meal system from their offspring?

"Hey Mum, you're fat. Really FAT. Too fat, even, for an Angus and Robertson book voucher. But hey, have this instead. And keep a distance of at least twenty metres behind me when we're out in public until you're physically able to bend down again and lace your shoes without breaking into a sweat and farting like a trumpet, okay?"

Another catalogue from Myer. No.

Just no.

Now this is a book that really speaks to me. Which means there's no way that either Sapphire or Love Chunks will get it.

And that's a good thing. Tonight Sapph shooed me out of her room, saying, "I'm making you something for Mothers' Day, so GET OUT."


Monday, April 26, 2010

Twenty eager faces

....are waiting by the library door before the bell signifying the end of lunch has rung.

I'm equally flattered and afraid. My neck is hurting so much after the busy morning that even holding a lever arch file of notes in my left hand and draping my shoulder bag from my right is barely enough to keep me balanced and upright enough to smile at them all.

Must.... Not.... Swear.... even if the tiniest movement sends waves that of pain so severe I can taste the ominous sloshing of bile in the back of my throat. Sweat beads collect under my eyes as I very carefully place my gear on a spare chair, lowering myself by bending my knees and nothing else.

The room feels like a car that's been left out in the full sun except that there's no air-con dial or window winder to reach for to improve things. How the hell am I going to entertain and encourage these kids today?

Sapphire's at the table furthest away from me and she mouths silently, 'COMPUTERS, Mum, COMPUTERS!'

Bless her for reminding me. "Kids, the laptops are booked, so I want you to go to the IT room and sign out one each and return back to the library as soon as you can." A lonely piece of paper flutters gently to the floor in their wake.

Ah yes, this is the lesson where I said I wanted to see their Killer Opening Sentence, a Five-Point Plan (courtesy of my home-made handouts) and a start on their first chapter. For the two minutes of solitude I'm given I lean up against the wall with my eyes closed, pushing the bile back down with every deep gulp of stale air.

They're back, chattering happily as they log on. Thank god they're all computer savvy and have remembered their USB sticks in order to save their work.

I shuffle around, teetering forward from the hips so that my back and neck stays straight as I read over their shoulders. "Ben, you've called your book 'The Elemental Dragon'. That sounds pretty intriguing, but you do you know what 'elemental' means?"

He shakes his head.

"No? Well --- yes that's right, look it up on the online dictionary and then decide if it's how your dragon really is...." (Thank god he didn't ask me to define it)

"Yes, um Lucy, isn't it - I guess you can start and finish your novel using the exact same sentence as long as you can convince your readers and me, your editor, that there's real meaning in the ending."

"Sorry Nate, I'm not wincing at your work, it's just that something's wrong with my neck and I shouldn't have just automatically bent down to pick up the whiteboard marker before taking a deep breath and lowering myself down without moving my torso.... I like your sentence 'He was in the jungle and heard a hissing noise', I really do."

"Um, Emma? Writing your first sentence in size-72 font isn't going to convince me that you've been working all that hard today."

Flynn is the blow-fly of the class, buzzing around trying to distract others, to get them to laugh at his silly characters and dumb story ideas. Humouring him hasn't worked, nor has some special one-on-one time where he's been asked to explain to me what he'd really like to write about. He's out of his seat again, this time flicking the back of Otto's chair.

I want to lie down on a hard floor in the dark but know that if I set my limit now, it'll be worse next week. I tighten my already too-thin lips into a white line. "Flynn this is the third time I've asked you to sit down and stop bothering Otto. If you don't sit down and start working in -----" I look down - PHARK! Even that simple move hurts! - at my watch "------ in three seconds, I'll take you to the principal's office and you can explain to her exactly why you don't want to be one of the 20 children selected out of a school of 440 to write a novel."

It comes out a bit harsher and louder than I'd planned, but my damn neck, the stiflingly over-heated transportable hot box with the low ceiling and the afternoon sun bouncing straight off the reception windows into my watering eyes and the frankly-rather-enviable energy of the pest in question makes me do it.

Now cowed, he sits in his chair meekly and keeps his head down, busily writing for the rest of the session and keen to avoid any more of my attention. I can see that his cheeks are red and he's not used to being yelled at. I was that kid once, too. Being scolded in school was rare and it hurt. Stuff him, I was in too much agony just managing to keep my own throbbing melon head upright on my spinal column to care.

Pencils industriously scratch on paper, feet kick against table legs and keys are tapped. I continue to do the rounds, having worked out that a gentle walk relieves the pain by half a notch and that I can have a quiet chat with each child about their work. Their enthusiasm to get into it fills me with gratitude.

All too soon the lesson ends and the inevitable pass-the-parcel of forgotten notebooks, abandoned worksheets, tiny rubber roll piles of erased sentences, dropped pencils and chaotically shared data-sticks are played. The Kumon tutor waits patiently for us to clear out so that she can set up.

Sapphire runs to get her school bag from her home-room and I lean up against the outside gate, the weariness of the day still torturously travelling its evil way down my neck and back. She holds my hand and chatters about the class. "Lee thinks you're hilarious and I had to explain that when you told him to 'vomit it out' that you just meant to write down much as you can to get it out of your brain and worry about the corrections and spelling later."

I nod - PHARK! The Agony! - at her sensible translation as we walk slowly home.

She makes me a cup of herbal tea and nukes my wheat bag several times. Milly's nudging my leg, eager for our now-nightly walk around the block on litter ninja duties, but the panadeine's not working. I drop one hand down to ruffle her ears, hoping that it will suffice for tonight.

Love Chunks eventually rides in, and sees from my face that the day has been long and painful. With the distant strains of Sapphire's viola floating up the hall, he jokes, "So I guess some hot sex resulting in your head being rhythmically slammed against the headboard is out of the question then?"

His smile slides when I burst into self-pitying
tears. I don't do pain (or ageing) well.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wheat bags and whingeing

Yesterday morning I was on the 57 tram. Yes, the one that smells of BO and garlic sauce and has a higher-than-average number of fat men wearing tracksuit pants up to nipple-level and women with beards who mutter to themselves. I was contributing to the aroma with the sweaty fug of overheated wheat bag and sticky linament.

As the three-day crick in my neck ratcheted up to freakishly torturous levels of pain that made even blowing my nose a dance with death, I found myself joining the muttering women. However, instead of a beard I was fairly smooth-faced and yelped in agony instead of their low and quiet mumble as I realised to my cost that we use our neck and shoulder muscles to brace and steady ourselves every time the tram turns a corner or squeals to a halt.

Thankfully my involuntary outburst was not noticed by the nurse sitting next to me, lost in her "Tish-tinka, Tish-tinka, Tish-tinka' iPod world or the two bogans sipping from long necks and discussing why the Beastie Boys "still kick phargin' ARSE mate" in today's busy world.

I very carefully held open the reluctant tram doors and stepped down as carefully as a platform-stilettoed game-show hostess would a glittery ramp of stairs. Except that I blurted out "PHARK!" every second step. Each small movement was like being king-hit by a ninja bearing BBQ tongs but I continued to make my way, slowly, to West Melbourne. Turning right to check out the traffic meant that my reflection in the window of the shopfront opposite revealed a half-decent C3PO impression.

I was meeting my mate Sheelagh at the
Asylum Seekers Resource Centre and did not want to ring her up and wimp out because of a bung neck. After all, they help people who have been permitted to enter our country as on a bridging visa, but are not permitted access to any government assistance. Therefore, no rent, no housing, no job, no food, no training, no help with literacy or negotiating paper trails, no transport no nothing. Flourish on your own or die in a ditch.

Sitting in the waiting room - furnished with old lounge chairs, wooden tables and local artwork, it reminded me of my old primary school. I didn't strain my neck to observe as much as I'd normally do, but could hear a new arrival being hugged 'hello' by a volunteer, and be heartily congratulated for winning a job as a cleaner.

I too was hugged hello by Sheelagh and winced. She and her boss Gavin showed me the kitchen, the food bank, language room, legal offices, job centre, work experience placement officers, fund raisers, asylum processing offices, boxes of nappies, wipes and blankets, medical centre, ESL classes and charity chocolate. Yes, I bought twelve blocks.

It was agony to walk around, dying to talk, observe and take notes but reminding myself to keep my head still and only smile and nod, smile and nod, smile and nod - NO, not nod - it hurt too bloody much! I should have been peeling potatoes, stacking tins, typing up CVs, listening to adults reading, updating a press release, tapping my chocolate buddies for freebies, selling raffle tickets, publicising their stories.....

The pain was making me nauseous. I held up a hand and said to Gavin. "Just tell me what you want me to do." I'd confessed earlier to the neck problem and he and Sheelagh had considerately found a table and sat opposite me. "We'd like you to write our newsletter for us if you wouldn't mind---"
"Done. Absolutely."

The look of relief on their faces merely illustrated how I'd have liked to have felt at that moment. We traded business cards, said our farewells and I again made my way - "PHARK!" - shuffling like an angry crab - "PHARK!" - to the tram stop.

My mobile rang and for the first time in recent memory, I managed to find it in time to answer it. Manny from the council wanted me to help him visit 27 schools in the valley to talk about litter.

Leaning against the timetable poll feeling myself starting to burn in the sun, I sighed.
"No, Manny, I can't do it."
He was momentarily stunned. His silence demanded an explanation.
"My project is for Flemington only, not the entire council boundary. I've visited all three schools here and honestly don't have time for more."

More silence. I know your game, I thought. Staying quiet isn't going to shame me into changing my mind.
"Manny, I've cricked my neck so badly that I'm chewing three caplets of panadeine without water right now; I've been at a centre that helps asylum seekers and refugees, have two paid articles that are overdue and need to get back home to prepare for a volunteer workshop at my daughter's school. I can't do it.....

.......oh and where is that information pack on the waste statistics that you promised you'd send me back in March?"

I shouldn't have said that, and apologised. He accepted mine and offered one of his own.

Back at home, there was an hour left before I needed to head over to Sapphire's school and teach week two of the Writing Workshop. The damn doctors' surgery was fully booked out.

The trusty wheatbag was nuked again and I sank into the lounge, leaving the blinds down and sweating in the darkness. A block of charity chocolate would give me the energy I needed.....

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How come ....

Every time I have a busy day I wake up with a cricked neck, aching teeth and a brewing migraine?

The first task of today is to scout around for rubbish (no hard feat, let's be honest) for the local newspaper photographer to arrange artfully around my feet as I pose incognito as the 'Typical Flemington Litter Bug.'

I feel like doing this (all that bending with tongs over reeking Red Rooster boxes, cigarette butts and half-filled beer bottles with the yeasty smell turning into parmesan vomit-pong in the festering humidity) about as much as I'd enjoy having my head flipped open and brains blended with a Bamix.

Still, as I sit here gingerly (the keyboard is so loud) typing this in my pyjamas; having just scared the courier answering the door in my aqua Crocs and stained long white-tshirt, I realise that I'm in a whingey frame of mind and have a few other 'How come....?' ponderings I'd like answered.

Well, maybe not answered today but sometime soon. Today I'd be happy with a partly-functioning head and an ability to bend over without clutching around madly for a handhold as I try to repress the stars dancing in front of my eyes and swallow the dry heaves back down.

How come .... people who believe in reincarnation have always been somebody really important in a past life? They always seem to be historic figures like Cleopatra, Genghis Khan, Beethoven or Galileo. Why weren't they ever the village idiot from Scunthorpe, 1187? A slave crushed under a stone during the construction of the Cheops pyramid or the first poor bugger to try curdled milk in a cave and die a long and painful death from food poisoning?

How come .... people who attend community meetings and whinge long and loud never offer to do anything to help? They say their bit and then sit back and cross their arms, waiting for the rest of us to solve it.

How come .... people who buy sixties-era flats made from besser-blocks and concrete slabs insist on calling them a-parht-ments?

How come .... every time I'm in a rush and in my nice clothes, I immediately find the one and only freshest and largest and most disgusting dog turd to tread into?

How come .... Steve Price, a slightly grumpier-looking Michael Keaton lookalike and Program Director of the new Melbourne Talk Radio keeps saying that he'll "Answer any call from a woman who'd like to work with us" but has never bothered to return any of mine?

On second thoughts, don't answer that. Even in this sorry state I know that women still have to be 'hot' looking for commercial radio and 'famous' for something like being Princess Mary's bridesmaid, posing topless after a Big Brother stint or currently shagging an AFL footy player not yet embroiled in a sexual/gambling/drinking/punching/drug addiction/nightclub incident.

How come ..... it's me that reaches into the fruit bowl and sinks my finger into the acrid ooze of the hidden fuzzy green orange?

The second task of today is to finish up a paid article for the paper (due yesterday)
Third an appointment to interview someone for the next article (due next week)
Fourth is to finish editing a commercial publication by close of business today
Fifth is to help two kids with their homework after school
Sixth is to prepare for the next Writers' Workshop at Sapphire's primary school tomorrow; and

The seventh is to attend the information session at our local high school that gets overlooked by ridiculously snobby parents who don't want to send their kids to an educational facility literally metres from their door because it happens to host some Somalian refugees and housing commission kids but instead pack their kids onto two trains and trams in order to attend a school on the other side of the city whose uniform costs alone could fund the annual expenditure of the local school's library book budget......

No matter. It's time to chew another couple of panadeine and set to scraping the dog shit out of my shoe.

Milly's at my feet, trying her best to look apologetic and I'm smiling. I'm gradually realising that happiness can be found in the weirdest of situations.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hands up in the air

Maureen the principal ushers twenty kids and myself into a classroom just off the library. They obediently troop in and sit down cross-legged on the stripey mat in front of a whiteboard covered in thumbnail-hammered-in posters. If youthful expectation and utter trust has a smell, it's a combination of hot socks, old banana and vinyl pencil case.

My swift 360-glance around the room reveals that the data projector and screen I requested - and assured would be provided - don't exist. Damn. There goes my presentation, lesson plan and warm up exercises reliant on visual cues, funny phrases and word fly-ins. Poo.

Pressing her pearl necklace to her chest as she begins to address the excited kids in front of us, Maureen says, "Good afternoon everyone. You children should consider yourselves very, very lucky. You have specially selected by your class teachers because you are the VERY BEST writers we have in this school. Kath Lockett is here to help you each write an ENTIRE NOVEL in the next six weeks......

---- what the? I thought I was giving them some pointers on how to write a story in their notebooks ---

"...... and will be meeting you here every Thursday for an hour after lunch."

I smile uncertainly, hoping that my blush remains at neck level and below.

"She's written several novels......

----er hang on, no I haven't ---

".... is an extremely successful......

----shit, no I'm not ---

".... journalist......

---- Phark NOOOOOOO no no no no no no no ---

".... and when she's finished with you, you'll each have a professionally written and published novel that will be available for borrowing in the library."

---- WILL they?

The kids look around at each other, whispering 'Wow' and 'Cool' and 'Awesome' and before I start feeling relieved that the same words for 'goody goody gumdrops' are still being used by kids born thirty years later than me I then realise that they're reacting to what Maureen has just told them. Being taught by an expert and making a real book. Oh crap.

Maureen's talking now about how they'll need to listen and behave because it's an honour to be here, or something like that, and I'm still smiling inanely like a blank-brained idiot whilst inside I'm trying to figure out if she innocently misheard my weak "Okay, I'll run a little workshop on writing a story if you agree to let me interview you for a My Career article" agreement or deliberately escalated my skills and experiences in order to rev up the kiddlywinks.

Either way, my heart starts pounding erratically in my throat and my sweaty, pulsating palms and I hope I don't have to bend over too suddenly because there's a sudden build up of nervous bloat that I'm vaguely realising is my body's natural defence mechanism........ Maureen concludes with a "So, it's over to you, Kath" and saunters out of the room; her job done.

Blink blink. Wriggle wriggle. Twenty pairs of eyes staring straight at me. The data stick in my hand is useless. I'm going to have to talk to the little buggers direct.

"Hi everyone my name is Kath and---"

Seven hands are already up in the air. What kind of queries do a bunch of ten year olds have when I haven't even finished my first sentence?

"No worries kids, I see your arms up there; but just let me finish telling that today we're going to be---"

Another four hands shoot up, with one kid literally bouncing up and down from his kneeled heels saying 'Ooh oooh oooh!' in his eagerness to be picked.

I give up and point, because the only kid whose name I can remember is Sapphire's and she's sitting at the back, very small and very quiet. "You? Girl with the Royal Gala apple sticker on her forehead?"

"Are our books going to look like real books? Like a Harry Potter or Andy Griffiths?"
"Yeah, how are they going to look? Like the poetry one my sister was in two years ago?"
"Do we get our own copy to take home?"
"Are we going to design our own cover and back blurb?"
"Does it have to have illustrations because I suck at drawing."
"Can we sell them?"
"I've already got a great idea for a story!"

Hands outstretched, all I can do is say, "OK, okay okay. I'm not sure of the technical details yet kids, because I'm here to help you write the story - sorry novel."

A skinny little boy with a head shaped like a light bulb slowly sink from his half-running-to-the-desk position back towards the mat. The deflation is almost tangible.

"First, I've got to get you know you all. I've got to find out (my throat is killing me and why is it so damn hot) what kind of talent (might as well start buttering them up) I'm dealing with here. Now I did have a totally fabulous presentation for you, but I'm just going to have to talk to you instead, hehe."

Total silence. They're waiting for me to continue. To waste their time, hose down their hopes, sap their enthusiasm, to bumble along.

And I do. Bumble along, I mean. I end up telling them about my chocolate job/addiction, love of dogs, hatred of litterers, the need to run and why keeping a notebook and camera in my handbag is more important than lip gloss or chewing gum. That sitting on a tram, or at the bus stop or hanging around with your Mum when she's dragging you around the supermarket can be a fascinating opportunity to see 'real' people in all their shapes, sizes and plumages.

They're told that writers like to say that they want to help and nurture people, but really we're a solitary lot who hate sharing any good ideas or pointers.

"So you guys are lucky," I conclude. I feel like I've wet my own pants, but it's just nervous, full-on failure flop sweat that has completed its long, inevitable run down my spine; kind of like the success of this venture, really.

I reach into my handbag to find a battered old water bottle and take a sip, reminding myself that not every second needs to be filled with my voice.

Hands are still up, their owners silent and patient as I witter on. "So, I'll just take this poster off the white board - yes, you - what's your name? Rohan, is it? Okay Rohan put your hand down for a minute; you look strong, want to give me a hand getting the pins out? Jeepers it feels like someone was determined to keep these times tables charts here permanently - and I'm going to write you all a starting sentence."

I turn back towards the group and another fresh forest of upraised hands. "Geez you kids are all about the hands, aren't you?" They start giggling and lower them, seemingly interested in my ill-prepared patter. "Here's how it's going to work. When I say GO, you'll have five minutes to write a paragraph that starts with......."

--- I hope my hands weren't trembling as I faced the whiteboard with a fat green marker

Ouch! That hurt! Why did you do that?


Blonde, curly, straight, brown, bobbed and black heads were focused over their workbooks, all scribbling away frantically. No sideways glances, giggles or pauses.

Two minutes in, I'd had enough time to control my heart rate, have another drink of water and then ask a question I never thought I'd need to ask this particular bunch of beings.

"So, you're halfway into it. Do any of you have any questions?"

No-one raised their hand.

I was starting to enjoy this.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Don't turn around!

"Don't turn around, Mum, she's right behind us!"

Sapphire's blue eyes are stricken and stressed. I reach out for her hand as we walk to the post office with the letters we need to send off.

"She's talking about me; that's why she's walking slowly so that she doesn't catch up with us."

Sapphire's head now droops from her neck so that her gaze is firmly on the ground.

I stop. "Mum," she hisses, terrified. "What are you doing?"

I smile. "I'm turning around and I'm looking at her."

Sapphire tugs at my hand desperately. "But Mum, now she knows that I know she's talking about me and----"

"That's right, love, she does know. And if you keep walking along like someone's just punched you in the back and you're ashamed of it, she's won. She'll then see that you're upset and what she's doing is working, so the key is to show that you don't care and you're not upset, okay?"

Her face is blank and she tugs at me again. We continue walking. "Mum I don't get it."

Fair enough. "Well, what we need to do is have a really animated conversation, like this----" I stand there, making elaborate hand gestures and laugh in what I hope is a hilarious and not creepy way. My hand touches Sapphire's shoulder and I lean in, pretending to listen intently and let out another guffaw.

A small smile appears. She gets it. "But Mum, what are we supposed to say?"



"Rhubarb. Whenever you're on stage in a background crowd scene, or when you watch 'Friends' and see people in the coffee house pretending to talk, they're usually saying 'Rhubarb Rhubarb' over and over to look like they're having a wonderful conversation."


I nod exaggeratedly. "Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb!"

She laughs and it is a joy to see the flash of her white teeth and the hair fall back from her face. "Oh yes Mum, Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb. And don't forget that we need to Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb..."

The girl behind us is forgotten as we both get into our vegetable-based conversation. Our laughs are genuine, the fun we have is true as we add expressions, physical responses to each other's sentences and react outrageously.

Soon enough the letters are posted and the girl has turned off at another street.

"I forgot about her Mum. Do you mind if I tell my other friends about this?"

"Go for your life."

We walk back up the hill towards home. She's gone through a recent growth spurt and there are signs of womanly curves and new length in her legs but to see her skipping unconcernedly a few metres ahead of me makes my chest actually hurt.

I'll never tell her that rhubarb is my least favourite food.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Paint the town beige, baby

Despite my tendency to chat to strangers in the street or hurl annoying drunk men's shopping bags out of bus doors in order to get 'em out of our faces I'm not really a very adventurous person.

There. I said it. I can admit it now, you see, because I'm in my forties and my idea of flying by the seat of my pants is if I consider drinking a cup of coffee after 2pm or decide to walk around the house without my dressing gown on.

Or when I suggested to Love Chunks that we ~ahem~ enjoy a bit of horizontal folk dancing at half-time during last night's telecast of St Kilda versus Collingwood because it was not quite 10pm and if we waited until the end of the game we'd both be too tired and we both knew what a busy Saturday we had ahead of us. Plus, he'd be snoring and I'd be silently farting with my arse indelicately hanging out of the side of the bed so that it wouldn't get trapped under the blankets and make its way over to LC's nasal cavity.... yeah, it's a pretty wild life I lead.

So when we went to Lakes Entrance for the Easter weekend, there was a fairly clear expectation from Love Chunks that we'd actually, well, do something on the lakes. In a boat.

No, not nookie you rude reader, but hire a boat and drive around the lakes, disembark a few times and generally enjoy the scenery and perhaps drop a line in. That's fair enough, isn't it?

I wisely left my camera at the beach house on boat day because I was afraid of getting it wet and when I saw our boat - 'Gummy', I was very proud of that decision. Gummy had 'For Daylight Hours Only' stencilled on his* side and was merely a square tinny with two shoebox-sized window guards for the two front seats and a half-hearted tarp masquerading as a canopy on the top. Berthed at the swank Five Knots marina, it was the smallest and ugliest vessel in the entire postal district.

Still, Love Chunks was not deterred. He dutifully listened to the hirer's instructions on the throttle and dodgy steering and his blue eyes twinkled in amusement when ten year old Sapphire scoffed at my insistence on wearing a life jacket.

Off we puttered. Out of the marina the sea was choppier than we thought and on my side - the LEFT side, stop telling me it's PORT or STARBOARD, if left and right is good enough for land, as well as front and back why do we have to have another stupid language for the water - the sea spray blasted straight into my grimacing face.

Ian was sniggering at me, seated and sheltered comfortably behind LC who was driving with a huge, contented smile on his face. "ISN'T THIS GREAT?" Love Chunks mouthed over the deafening roar of the outboard. He seemed to be utterly dry and completely impervious to the stiff breeze.

I, on the other hand, felt like a malevolent crew member had planted themselves directly in my field of vision and were determined to hurl buckets of brine directly into my eyes and hasten the self-pitying shivering by switching on an industrial-strength fan before hurling the next bucket.


Er, thanks for that, dear friend. Over the course of the weekend my chin - Roger Ramjet-sized at the best of times - decided to grow a K2 on the left hand - no, not friggin' PORT - side. All conversations I participated in were between the other person and my pimple as it commanded the attention of everyone it overshadowed.

(In fact, Sapph here is considerately shielding it from view in this family portrait).

After an hour of teeth-chattering, salt-blindness and shrinking further and further into my lifejacket and behind the brim of my hat in a meditative state in which my mantra was 'I'm at home, I'm warm, I'm dry', we finally pulled into shore. Just to have the motor switched off and be out of the breeze was heaven. I found LC's jacket and Bill's beach towel and lay in the sun, curled up like a cat until my fingertips were no longer blue and I'd regained enough feeling in them to unclip the lifejacket.

Sadly, our lunch was super-chilled by our too-bloody-effective esky, so I munched disconsolately on a frosty ham and salad roll with an icy apple slipping from my cold, clawlike and ineffective fingers. There was a tiny bit of revenge for Ian's cheekiness because he had to find a spot to drop off a couple of Andrew Bolts at the pool on a thin sliver of sandy island that was visible from very angle and hosted only one-foot high salt bush as modesty cover.

It was soon time get back onto Gummy but this time I was prepared. Funnily no-one else wanted to sit in my seat, so I found two spare life jackets that I put my legs through and another one that I wrapped around my left arm like a shield against the water and the wind. The roar of the outboard was slightly more bearable because at least my body wasn't miserably shaking to its rhythm this time.

Five long hours later and Love Chunks reluctantly puttered us back to the marina. "What did you think of that, Sapph?" he asked our daughter, his eyes shining in joy.

Her eyes mirrored his own. "I loved it Dad, I really loved it."

He turned to me, head buried in the backseat of the car struggling to find my polar fleece to put on top of his jacket. "What did you think, Kath?"

I was stuck. Do I spoil his day and say that I'd rather be stripped naked and whipped with kelp by angry sailor or lie? Let him know that he had a wife with about as much interest in boats as he had in ABBA and knitting?

"You drove really well, love."

* I don't care that boats are usually named after women. This one looked like a busted sandshoe with an attitude problem.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The little book of horrors

We've just come back from a stay in a beachhouse situated at Lake Bunga. Just the name and its endless possibilities for double entendres entertained us for the 300km drive through never-ending Melbourne suburbs, the rear-end of fishing boats towed by FWDs out for their single real drive of the year and lush Gippsland farms. Lake Bunga is very close to Lakes Entrance in Victoria, and this is the view we had from the living areas and decking.....

.....with parrots (Rosellas?) arriving every evening for a handful of seeds....

...and we enjoyed balmy days, a two minute walk to the beach, seeing swans and pelicans on the lake and hearing the soft swish of the waves as we slept contentedly at night.

However, it was the guest book that provided us with hours of entertainment and a recurring theme for our Easter weekend. Every time something happened, such as Sapphire dripping melted chocolate down her front or me developing a zit on my chin so large that Bill promised he'd airbrush it out of their holiday snaps, we'd all say, "That's GOTTA GO IN THE GUEST BOOK!"

Usually, if you're ever bored enough to flip through a guest book, it's full of bland and pleasant comments: 'We enjoyed our stay', 'You've thought of everything - thanks', or 'It was so comfortable we didn't want to leave', but this book - The Big Bunga Book was a saga. A truly memorable novel contributed to by many writers with many views; some even responding to remarks made by guests who'd stayed earlier.

I'd never read a guest book like it. Here, for your edification, are comments as they appeared in the book without any creative tampering by this ere blogger.

The electricity is horrible and some of the sockets are faulty. The oven and BBQ are 'amazing'. By 'amazing' we mean HORRENDOUS. ....Overall though, we had a great time and will come back again when everything is repaired.

The only thing I missed was a box of tissues to wipe away the tears of joy that such a peaceful place has brought to me.

Okaaaaay, two rather different views there. Until the subject of the third bedroom came up. This had been advertised as The Children's Room and was the reason that we booked the place so that Sapph had space of her own. When we arrived, we discovered that it was merely the filled in area under the main house, consisting of hammered chipboard and ceilings that were five foot high with no direct access to the rest of the house. As we crouched uncertainly inside the dim cave, our feet crunching on the rather neglected carpet, Sapphire turned her frightened big blue eyes to me and said, "Do I have to stay here?"

Therefore, it was no surprise to read the following comments from other guests:

The third bedroom, located 'downstairs' is NOT good.
The third bedroom needs improvement. And cleaning. And about three extra feet in height.
Took awhile to find the third bedroom. Would the owners be prepared to live there for a week?!?
Downstairs room is not a good idea. Needs internal access to the upper floor if you're going to call it the 'Children's Bedroom'.
The kids room is cold and unsafe. Would you leave your kids (aged under 12) under there?
To call that a third bedroom is false advertising!
As parents of small children we do not believe that this place should be advertised as 'family friendly'.

We dragged a mattress and bedding upstairs for Sapphire and installed it in our room. Her shoulders visibly dropped and her smile returned.

Then, as we unpacked, we realised that the cleaner (or owner) was trying to save time and money on the basics. This also hadn't escaped the notice of our previous fellow guests:

Two rolls of toilet paper are not enough for eight people staying here for six days.
Enough toilet paper for five people staying over a long weekend would be nice!
Surely you can spare a few bog rolls and other small comforts like salt, pepper and tea bags?
Some advice: leave more than one toilet roll if you know you're having more than one person stay for more than one night; ie all the time.
If you're going to supply a salt shaker can you please put some salt in it?
As everyone else is saying, please take some time to think of the small things - who wants to spend their time 'getting away from it all' on a public holiday trying to find toilet paper and salt to buy?
Is anybody reading this guest book? We're all talking about toilet paper and salt - it's not hard - how come it hasn't been rectified yet?

And let's not forget the deck, blankets, ants and advertising:

The blanket in the bedroom smells like dog and is covered in dog hair.
I could not let my two year old out on the deck because it is an EXTREME safety hazard. The nails are raised, the boards are spongy and there's no protective wiring or netting for half of the balcony.
We had to turn the outdoor table on its side to block off the part of the balcony that doesn't have mesh or our kids would not have been about to go outside. No biggie though.
The ants were a big problem.
One towel per person for EIGHT days is not acceptable.
Please review how you advertise as this place is definitely not for families.
This is a case of false advertising because this house is NOT 'within walking distance to town.'

Crikey! It was comforting to see that there were a few guests that were firmly on the side of the beach house:

FANTASTIC holiday house. Hint to everyone else: go to Safeway and buy what you need. Don't let a toilet roll ruin your holiday!
Very comfortable for four people upstairs. It may not be five-star, however for us it was heaven on a stick.
How could anyone complain about this place? Views of the lake, views of rolling waves, swans, beautiful birds on the verandah, a two minute walk to the beach - COME ON, this place is fantastic.
Oh my gosh - visitors that come and want to enjoy this areas natural beauty - and not whinge about salt shakers - must be from another planet!
We needed a break - two hard working adults and their dogs and that's exactly what we got here. The lake! The beach! The birds! What a beautiful part of the world, I would live here all year and never share it with anyone but it's our good luck that you do.

"On arrival, all I could do was stare at the amazing view.... on that HD channel you guys have down here. Awesome! Then the sun came up and I was like 'Sweeeeeet'! And then we went fishing......a pelican came swooping down gracefully and took my dog. I miss him. Take it easy!"

Best guestbook comment ever.