Monday, June 30, 2008

Crumbs!

Blogger ‘
Gigglewick’ has discovered that it’s no longer In/Hip/Trendy/Cool to refer to other human beings as ‘dudes’ any more.















I’m relieved, actually. A few months back, Sapphire was playing with a few of her friends after school in the playground. They love to linger in the grounds then because the bigger kids have escaped and they are free to enjoy the equipment, run around screaming and giggling and just have heaps of fun without looking nervously over their shoulders for an older child mocking them for being ‘babyish’.

As the bored and rather cold parent perched on a sticky, windswept bench seat on the edge, it was time for me to go home. “Come on dudes, let’s go home.”

They froze in their tracks, with expressions ranging from disbelief, shock and disappointment on their faces.

“What.... did..... you..... say....?” Sapphire whispered fiercely.
“Er ‘dudes’. As in the group of you. It’s time to go home.” My voice sounded weak and shrill even to my ears.

“Mum,” Sapphire approached, rolling her eyes and preparing herself for one of her usual ‘Why can’t you be sensible like the other Mums around here’ kind of lectures.

“Mum we are girls, we are not dudes. Dudes are boys, or blokes. Or even guys, fellas, men or lads. We however...” she glanced at her nodding friends, who had also edged in closer, “..are NOT...” her lip curled in distaste, ".....dudes....”

Instead, what Sapphire appreciates are the words I use that are really old fashioned. Most of these are from my grandparents and are so quaint and unusual for kids that they actually stop, listen and admire.

When I was blissfully growing up in Murray Bridge in the 1970s and mid 1980s, I never once heard my mother swear. Lord knows she had many reasons to, mostly due to us three kids. Our hobbies tended to be whining, teasing and fighting each other.


If it wasn't for my brothers, I would not have known how to defend myself from school-yard bullies with well-placed and timely henpecks, dead legs and chinese burns. At home, we regularly flung ourselves furiously at each other: so often that Mum would continue chopping at the vegetables, saying vaguely into the ether, "You should stop that, or somebody might get hurt...."

Her strict methodist upbringing continued to work its magic on her and she avoided the easy temptation to let us know just what dreadful little sh**s we really were.

It is only now, being a mother of just one child myself, that I can truly admire her self control. On one fine Saturday after the end of the movie matinee on the telly, David decided that hammering the brick and cement water tank-stand wasn't fulfilling enough and proceeded to smash through the glass in our front door. He may have been small for his age and prone to regular asthma attacks that rendered him allergic to housework and chores, but boy did he run fast when Mum flew out of the house armed with a wooden spoon. Round and round the silver birch tree they went, Dave's eyes nearly popping out of their little sockets with terror and Mum getting angrier and angrier and struggling to keep yelling and hold her breath.


What expletives was she uttering during this burst of free exercise?

"Come here you....B-L-E-S-S-E-D LITTLE CHILD" over and over.

For many years, I thought 'blessed' was akin to Bloody F***ing Satan Spawn until I finally paid attention in Sunday School and realised it was something that Jesus - and our Minister - used in a nice way.



Like farting in the car on long trips and blaming them on whichever one of us kids was sleeping at the time, my mother had ways of saying very naughty things without ever uttering anything that was officially a curse word. "Ooooh Bunnies" was another frequently used word, normally when she had to unpick some sewing or her little cakes didn't turn out.

Following her example, I adopted the word, "Bucko", from Richie Cunningham in 'Happy Days', saying stuff to Robert like, "If you don't stop bragging, Bucko, I'm going to hit you over the head with the Monopoly bank." For some reason, Mum took exception to this, and rushed over to scold me. The act of thwacking Rob over the scone with a hard plastic container that left him crying and paper money fluttering all around the room didn't seem to bother her.

Even our toilet training and subsequent referrals to the subject of ablutions were kept pristine, language wise, if also rather peculiar. My folks swear (boom boom) that these were the words invented by Robert when he was not quite two, and were then used by the family from then on to avoid the very disgusting Wee and Poo words. Are you ready for them - Wettings for wees and Dirties for poos. There are times when I regress and have accidentally said them out loud to my own daughter.

If any of us children ever swore, we showed no loyalty to each other at all, instead rushing to dob to Mum. Until the age of six, the worst swear word in the world that my sheltered little mind could summon up was Stink Pot. I used to lie under my stripey bedsheets and utter it out loud to myself like a mantra, feeling thrillingly sinful.

In desperation, we often resorted to giggling over the potential sounds of innocent words as curses. Orange pith was the source of a great deal of cheap merriment for me. "Hey Dave, can you take the pith off," knowing that he had no real reason to get me into trouble. "Why don't you go jump off the poop deck," another favourite. The delicious word, 'buttocks' was a delight - it was very early abbreviated to "Shift your tocks, turkey."

Mum was still easy to run a few not-so-polite phrases over due to her own ignorance. It was only when she announced that "These broad peans taste poxy" in front of Dad that she realised it was not particularly wise to incorporate her children's words as her own.
You see Dad was a high school teacher and there was no buzzword or disrespectful saying that he wasn't already aware of. There were no Shut Ups, Hells, Damns or even a Rack Off. I guess he'd heard enough of that crap (see what I did there?) all day at school and didn't need the 'aural pollution' (his words) at home.

There was one phrase that, in hindsight, was pretty rude, but was allowed to used with gay abandon in our home. My grandmother, a very strict Methodist, non-drinking, church stalwart and always-refined lady, used to say, "Stop fiddle arseing around and get back to work..." Fiddle Arseing? How can that be better than Bugger Off, Bum or Stink Pot?

It remains a mystery to this day. I'm relieved to advise you that my folks have relaxed their language standards a great deal. Sometimes disturbingly so. It still takes quite some getting used to when I hear my mum say indignantly, "That driver is right up my bloody arse," when she's behind the wheel of her commodore, battling the huge 3 car traffic jam down the main street of Victor Harbor. The profanity just doesn't go with the coral red lippy, matching string of beads, silk shirt and rockport loafers.

Perhaps that's a good thing: that at the age of 67 she's capable of shocking her daughter instead of the other way 'round.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Releasing some pent-up emotions


















It's funny how some negative emotions and events I thought were vastly 'over' and dealt with as some of life's harder lessons learnt can easily return and give me a big bite in the arse when I'm least expecting it.

Take today for instance. After taking Sapphire to tennis coaching and doing my share of the weekend drudgery (changing the beds, washing, drying, folding, ironing), I decided to sort out some of my held onto crap and give the spare room (or My Orifice, during weekday school hours). My ability to maintain an orderly lifestyle is not unlike a framed tapestry: it looks quite nice on the front because all the loose threads, knots and mistakes are hidden in the back under the cardboard lining. Ditto with my liberal use of bookshelves, folders, filing cabinets and plastic storage containers - hermetically-sealed chaos.

The first few steps are always fun because it is obvious what needs to go:
  • The official CSIRO diet book and Aussie Women's Women Fat and Calorie Counter - straight into the Salvos donation box because I hadn't even bothered to open either of them - after all, why get depressed when you're going to eat what you want anyway?

  • A Filofax black leather business card holder - a useless corporate gift that I'd feel like an utter wanna-be Git if I'd ever used it to store my mates' cards in;

  • Melways 'Great Melbourne' Map book 1996 - why had we held onto this for so long?

  • Fifteen cassette tapes - I've either got them on CD (also outdated) or can download em and we don't actually have anything to play them on anymore except inside our ancient Mitsubishi;

  • Rollerblades - a misguided gift to myself for Christmas, 2006. Not even one per cent of the fun I remembered having on my roller skates back in 1979;

  • The Labor Market Ate My Babies, by Barbara Pocock (2006) - this was flung out like a burning hot frisbee, with the rapid fire strength and anger of a hundred Roided-out shot putters.

I threw out of my hand-written notes, photocopied articles, booklets, website downloads and drafts relating to 'Work/Life Balance for Dummies'. It's all referenced or saved on disc and data stick and I hardly felt as though I was going to re-read the ABS reports on working families from 2004 again. My tax returns from 1990 to 1998 also got the flick - surely if the ATO had a problem with me during those years I'd have heard from them by now.

And yet when it came to my medical records from 1995, I couldn't. There were MRIs, cat-scans, blood tests and written reports about my pituitary prolactinoma; a non-cancerous brain tumour that had created a life for itself at the base of my brain, directly behind my eyes. About the size of a fruchoc it had started squashing my optic nerves giving me migraines, blurred vision and an unwanted and fruitful supply of breast-milk. It had cleverly fooled my body into thinking I'd just given birth and needed not to release any eggs on a monthly basis but instead go on full time duty as the neighbourhood wet nurse.

Of course, once it was finally diagnosed and dealt with, the tumour shrank to a grain of rice but, sadly, I could still lean over a meeting table and offer to whiten your tea if push came to shove but it's a small price to pay for not eventually going blind and insane with the pain. So, the medical mess stayed.

Same with my baby diary. Written when I was pregnant with Sapphire, I'd tentatively titled it 'Up the Duff' and posted my masterpiece off to get professionally edited only to drive home from the Post Office and hear Kaz friggin' Cooke being interviewed about her baby info book (done with her usual wit and cute cartoons) called, yes, 'Up the Duff'. *sigh* Nope, can't. do. it. The diary will have to stay, if only to bring out to scare the living crap out of Sapphire if she chooses to become sexually active too early.

By this stage, my fingers were grey with the dust that only old paperwork can produce and my bones were aching from kneeling on the floor, re-reading my tragic journals from 1988 where, at the ripe old age of twenty, I wondered if I'd ever find a bloke to love and envied the girls who didn't need to spend a hundred bucks getting their hair spiral permed. Or in 1992, when I was dating a Kiwi at the bank I worked at in London whose idea of a romantic night out was to get rat-faced at the Railway Bell pub in New Barnet and hope I'd have enough strength to bodily lift him onto the train carriage. Or perusing the photos taken at Love Chunks' and my wedding in 1995 - just before my tumour was diagnosed. I can see how sick I was, and the sheer terror that a migraine would come and ruin the day. If anything, photos of me since then have shown me to be much healthier and happier. Gotta keep 'em though, if only to brag that the material used for my outfit only cost twelve bucks.



















Finally we got to the paperwork from 2007 - year of the Bullying Bulldog and her evil henchwoman, Turdkey. I'd kept all of their incriminating memos, emails and meeting minutes and somehow earned a bitter victory after many months of intimidating, lying and envy. I couldn't help myself: I read through them all and felt again the gut-wrenching feelings of 'why me', and the despair and betrayal I'd felt. Tears were threatening to erupt and, once allowed, I knew it was going to be impossible to stop.

Karma Kath, Karma, I kept telling myself, yet I still boiled with anger over the ability of an 'esteemed and respected academic' to treat a lowlier person so badly and escape only with a few raised eyebrows in the vice-chancellors' office.




















Taking a deep breath, I surveyed the reading material on my desk. It perhaps signifies that my next 'serious' book will be based on some of my own experiences and also those of other women I've spoken to.

And if that doesn't get off the ground, I'll focus on my first humorous novel, tentatively titled 'Stink Pot'.



















Sapphire reckons I should start working on 'Stink Pot' after I regaled her with a few tales.

I reckon she's right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Choc bottom

It's been nearly three months since I first discovered the news, but it is only now that I finally possess the strength to publicly acknowledge and discuss it.

My darling mother, always concerned for my welfare and self esteem, found this article and rang me, her voice heavy with tact and love: "Kath, I think you're going to want to read this...."

Her voice cracked with emotion: she was nearly as devastasted as I was at the news.























No, no 'Bashing Barry's Big Day' but that Cadbury's chocolate factory tours are no more.

Y'see, I've long dreamed of visiting their factory tour and outlet in Tasmania and have been tantatalised by the tales of other such lucky souls - and by the heaving ten kilogram bag-loads of booty they've shared with me.

My mother visited there with her parents in 1960, and recalls being free to walk the factory floor, literally dipping her finger into whatever mixture took her fancy, tasting it and grabbing whatever she saw. No pesky little hygiene worries in those days. Her big green eyes glistened, and her hands automatically formed into grasping, bear-like paws when she told me this story, and believe me, she told it to me often when I was a child. As an adult, I can calculate the regularity of the tale being retold every four weeks, so clearly it was a PMS panacea for dear old Pauline. And who could blame her? This was the very woman who bought family-sized blocks by the tens when they were on special at Woolies; squirrelled away packets of Fantails in her bedside drawer and Fruit-n-Nut under her sewing machine.

In the freezing Tasmanian summer of 1983, we made the trek back to Tassie. I was glued to my Sony Walkman and busy sulking about enduring snow on the top of Mount Wellington and not being able to enjoy the sunshine in our neighbour's swimming pool. "Don't worry Kath, we'll be visiting the Cadbury factory as well you know." This promise was dangled in front of my terse teenaged face like a lifeline.

Imagine my disappointment when we pulled up to the nearby town's Information booth, only to be told that Cadbury crassly closed their factory to 'tourists' every summer. It was the way the lady said 'tourists' that really annoyed me. I wasn't a tatty tourist, I was a Devoted Pilgrim, seeking salvation and succulence at my spiritual home. OK yes, so I wasn't traveling on foot wearing sackcloth and ashes and was instead clad in a parka, levis cords and desert boots sitting in the relative comfort of our toyota landcruiser and 23 foot long caravan, but still, my young heart was yearning for the secret workings and tastings of the largest chocolate maker in the nation.

Twenty five years later, Love Chunks and I were recently talking about taking Sapphire on a drive-around-stay-in-bed-and-breakfasts-and-pretend-we're-in-England holiday to Tasmania in the next school break. Naturally, we'd slot in a visit to the Cadbury Factory of course. Bugger.

Sure my tastes have grown to encompass Lindt, Haighs, Nestle, Dove, Whittakers, Mars, Cocoa Farm, Fruchocs, Swiss Glory, Ferrero, Mahony, Red Tulip and Chocolatier, but we always remember our first love, don't we Precioussssss?











Still, I've managed to soldier on since discovering this sad news, and continue to be a legally-acceptable parent to Sapphire, mediocre wifey unit to Love Chunks, wear vaguely OK clothing out in public and pretty well function as a relatively normal member of society. However, whilst running on the treadmill this morning, I noticed the usual data on the screen:

Total distance: 7.00 kilometres
Time: 37 Min 03 seconds
Calories: 640.

After breakfast and a shower, I looked at the nutrition panel of the heavenly Haigh's milk chocolate coffee block pictured above, and my heart sank. This wee slice of bliss, in a mere 100g - or standard Kath-sized sample - contained a whopping 523 calories. All that exhausting, sweat-stinging-my-eyes, achilles-heel-hurting, lung-bustingly painful running only burned off an additional 117 crappy little calories.

So if I continue my chocaholism, all I can eat for the remainder of each day is an apple and a glass of milk.

Oh well, if that's the sacrifice I have to make, then so be it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Mosaic thingy

The eloquent Western Australian Lady Eleanor Bloom tagged me for my mosaic. Each picture is supposed to the visual answer to the following questions. I've loved looking at everyone else's but sometimes feel as though I also need a written word next to it. Therefore, I'm going to go all party-pooper on your arses and put the answer next to the question before you see the actual photo I've selected. All clear? Good:

  1. My first name - Katherine
  2. Favourite food - Chocolate
  3. High school - Murray Bridge High School, South Australia
  4. Favourite colour - blue
  5. Celebrity crush - John Cusack
  6. Favourite drink - Farmers Union Iced Coffee
  7. Favourite place for a holiday - London
  8. Favourite dessert - anything chocolately, moussey, lemony, caramely, cakey, sticky, honeyish, fortified, nut-studded or cheesecakey
  9. What I want to be when I grow up - a writer
  10. What I love most in life - Love Chunks, Sapphire and Milly
  11. What could describe me - goofily anxious
  12. My flickr name - used to be Millymoo

























I've kind of done this before but in a much less sophisticated way by just adding each picture as a direct response. The trouble is, my mosaic won't let me post the proper answer to question ten:

What do you love most in life?
So here is my answer:























... and here.
Laughs ala Love Chunks

Dear Darling Husband Love Chunks had a self-satisfied smirk on his face as he ambled into the living room and sat down next to me on the couch.

Preparing to cut and core the pear on his plate, he looked at me and said, "You and I have something in common."

"Oh, do we," was my idle response, eyes still on the television screen.

"Yeah," he replied, already laughing in anticipation.....




















"Yeah. We both have a big pair (pear)."

He laughed 'til he cried.

So did I.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nature but wrapped in clingfilm please











I’m a hypocrite in so many ways, but today I’ll just focus on the food and recycling side of things for reasons of brevity and to keep my self-worth on a relatively even keel.

I’d like to be more committed to buying, living and working towards a more chemical-free, recycled and natural style of living, I really would, but the reality of such a lifestyle occasionally reveals itself to me and I flee in terror and revulsion. There still is a place in our world for slices of cheese wrapped in plastic, mentos mints and Farmers Union Feel Good iced coffee, I'm sure of it.

Love Chunks’ father, Rob, has lived for the past ten years in a shearing shed about 20km out of the riverside town of Morgan. His companions have mostly consisted of a flock of chickens, 70 randy goats and a grown sheep called Malcolm who thinks he is a goat. Rob doesn’t venture into Adelaide very often and when he does it tends to be when we’re all out at work, school or an outing. We’ll then return home to find several bottles of home-brewed stout on the back door mat next to a frozen goat leg wrapped in newspaper and our muddy running shoes filled up to their tongues with eggs. Don’t get me wrong: these are all great offerings and we enjoy them with gusto.

However the other day Rob popped in with a dozen eggs that he’d collected from his chooks just hours earlier before his 30-something Kingswood wheezed its way from Morgan to our suburb. Before he opened the lid, he said apologetically, “Now you don’t have to accept these if you don’t want to.”

“Of course we want them – we love your eggs – they’re so big; the yolks are so yellow and they’re absolutely de-----." I was unable to complete the sentence as I clapped my horrified snot-green eyes on the eggs – all of them were overly-besmirched in chook shit, feathers and dust.

Rob sensed my dismay. “Sweet heart all you have to do is crack ‘em real carefully so that the gunk doesn’t end up in your meal. Or,” he added hopefully, “….just make sure that you don’t eat them raw in case the poo germs win the war.”

“Oh, OK, thanks,” I said weakly.








Rob said he had a few errands to run before and he was gone before I could say "How about staying for dinner? Roast goat, frittata and stout?" Milly the dog was most disappointed at his departure – she had only just finished sniffing his boots which looked even messier than the eggs and had the added bonus of pungent goat and sheep odour affixed to them. The eggs were plonked into a sink full of water before his car had finished pulling out of the driveway and the water immediately turned a murky khaki green colour. It was almost as if the chooks had decided to squeeze out a mighty big crap and an egg slipped out as well in a kind of karmic added bonus.

Don’t worry dear reader, I donned sturdy rubber gloves to scrub off the debris and then threw away said gloves and sponge and then disinfected the sink whilst the hopefully-clean eggs were drying on the dish rack. I now just need to gear myself up for making an egg and spinach frittata for tonight’s main course – perhaps a couple of Bombay Sapphire/Mothers' Helpers-and-tonic beforehand will help. Only to participate in a social pre-dinner tipple, you understand, and to perhaps loosen my muscles up for karate class afterwards....

All this ridiculous faffing about, yet I keep intending on buying all of my fruit and veg from an organic shop. They may look a little less glamorous than those under the automatic water-spray and fluorescent lighting at Coles, but they taste great. Trouble is, they cost a helluva lot more, and whilst we're currently on one salary and the 'if you squint hard enough into the distance towards 2010 you might see a royalty cheque arriving' sniff of an income from my fledgling writing efforts. As such, every buck has to be thought about before being handed over (I can already hear Love Chunks' derisive laughter as I type this - he knows I have about as much control over my purse as Pamela Anderson does with marriage licenses).

Organic meats are also on the list but my squeamishness means that I’ll buy them only if they’re so far removed from their origins that they do end up under the fluorescent lighting of the Cole’s meat fridges; shrink wrapped and presented in pleasingly hygienic CFC-free trays. Perhaps I can be forgiven this hypocrisy due to having to attend a primary school excursion to the Murray Bridge Meat works in 1976. For some reason, the educational powers-that-were deemed it appropriate to send the year ones, twos and threes there to see cows ‘run up a race’, get shot through the head by a bolt-gun, skinned, boned and sliced with the resultant body parts working their blood-dripping way through the factory to have pieces designated as chops, steak, roasting legs, sausages and BBQ packs. The wet blood smell of the meat was overpowering and I learned the hard way that ‘running up a race’ for a cow wasn’t going to end up with applause or a blue ribbon.

Murray Bridge at that time was also not privy to the requirements of reducing pollution. On a still summer’s evening (which was pretty often), the noxious smell of the factory rendering the left over animal fats lay over the town like a boy scout’s itchy grey blanket – so powerful you could almost taste it as you lay in bed, sleepless and agonized. Despite all this, I still eat meat! I did try to be a vegetarian a few times, but the smells of grilled bacon or the thought of no longer having access to mince-filled spaghetti Bolognese or a good roast chicken ala Love Chunks seemed too miserable to contemplate.

Instead I’ve been determined to waste a microscopic amount of mental energy wondering about the original source or subsequent processes done to the product that finds itself in my supermarket trolley and in my stomach. Apricot cutting (as discussed in my blog of: www.blurbfromtheburbs.blogspot.com/2005/09/she-works-hard-for-money.html) was another unfortunate opportunity to view the treatment of well, yes apricots, in a stark and brutal light. They arrived in the shed still dewy, soft and plump and left with their arses sliced in half, choked in sulphur and abandoned to bake mercilessly in the sun until they looked like miniature Donatella Versaces. And that wasn’t all – the ones that were too overripe and sloppy to cut were either scraped off the floor or slapped down onto trays and bound for some so-called health bar companies who added the orange gloop their bars and spreads.

Unlike my meat experience, to this day I can’t abide eating or smelling anything that has apricot in it as an ingredient. I’d like to say that I can assuage my guilt and hypocrisy by recycling all of our household waste, but I can’t say that. I do the tins, bottles, plastics, paper and cardboard, but honestly couldn't ever be shagged setting up a smelly, sticky little bin for vege peelings, tea bags and fruit cores. Thank god we now have three chooks of our own that eat that stuff up (Hermoine, Luna and Ginny. A great trio of layers. Boom boom).

Every November I attempt to pay my penance by collecting ten boxes of soil, seeds and tubes from ‘Trees for Life’ to plant and tend the botanic babies for six months until the farmers they’re destined for come and collect them for planting. The difficulty for me is in how to reconcile these conflicting sides of me.

As William Hazlitt once said, "The only vice which cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy." Yeah, nice one Billy boy. Good on yer - especially coming from a moral figure like you who founded a church and then left your second wife for a career in journalism….!!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Welcome to Australia - land of sun, sea and supersizes

Well cram my arse into a tray of batter and chuck it in the fryer – we Aussies are now apparently the fattest nation in the world. Or at least according to the report, ‘Australia’s future fat bomb’ from Melbourne’s Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, we are.
















They estimate that around 9 million of us Aussie grown ups can be classified as ‘overweight’, with 4 million of us – or approximately 26% of our total population - officially considered ‘obese’. Their study involved 14,000 people from cities and rural locations around the country and had their BMI (body mass index), height and waist measured.

Now, I’m no mathematical expert but it does seem a bit of a stretch to assume that from 14,000 samples that 4-9 million of us are all fat failures. The data from those 14,000 were taken on a national blood pressure screening day held around Australia last year, so surely some of those chunky buggers knew that they were fat and took advantage of a free health check? It seems likely that more chunkies than skinnies would be standing in the queue at the local shopping centre, just after hoovering up their HungryFats Burger in the food hall.

The report’s author, Professor Simon Stewart, eagerly grabbed on to the Olympic-games fever and said, “In terms of a public health crisis, there is nothing to rival this. If we ran a fat Olympics we’d be gold medal winners...... We’ve heard of AIDS orphans in Africa but we’re looking at this time bomb going off here.....”

This report is, naturally, very worrying. The Fattest Farts on Earth contest is not one that we’re interested in winning; instead we’d rather be ranked at a level not dissimilar to the one we enjoy during the winter olympics.

It is also an unpleasant shock to discover that our view of ourselves as sporty, healthy outdoorsy types is no longer accurate. What is a more appropriate picture is of a nation of fast food eaters glued to the television whilst we watch other people play sport.

But are we between an (Ayers) rock and a hard (Oodnadatta) place? The most common trend for sportspeople is to play the game/match/set/over and then drink themselves silly at the club bar afterwards. Then they're obliged to stay for a dinner of deep fried chicken schnitzel, gravy and chips in order to do their bit for the club’s fundraising efforts. Even after the weekend they’re still required to be a team player by selling their fair share of Mars/Cadbury fundraising chocolates to everyone in your office. However the player would have to be made of stone to be able to resist not eating a few of ‘em themselves – especially if their child plays too - “Heeeyyy, it’s for the kids.”

On the other pudgy hand, if you manage to successfully avoid sport altogether you will find yourself relatively friendless, rotund and in danger of growing a new layered winter coat each season. A personal conundrum then occurs: should you risk shame and unwanted stares by waddling into your local tennis club rooms or gym, or wait until you’ve shed at least two stone and feel good-looking enough to join them? What about sports gear – should a fattie wear the big-name brands before looking obviously fit and thin or should they opt for shapeless black and grey flannel cloaks to save pain for everyone?

What of those who have achieved acclaim and fame through their sporting prowess, only to stop playing altogether thanks to either the arrival of hard-hearted Father Time or a chronic injury? These people are possibly at the most danger of becoming fat because they are used to eating large amounts of meat and carbs to boost their energy levels. One chubby chap that immediately springs to mind is Billy Brownless, the ex-Geelong football player. A man so obviously used to inhaling several steaks, sacks of potatoes and pats of butter he clearly continued to engorge after retirement, not knowing that his 100,000,000 calories-per-day intake was no longer required for someone hosting the cheekily named ‘Billy’s Sack’ (viewer mail) segment on the Footy Show. He now resembles a tallish Elmer Fudd but without the wit.

Ditto Shane Warne, never one to trouble the MENSA enquiry line nor the doctors at Anorexics Anonymous, who now looks as though he could drink the McDonald’s McFlurry tap dry. Melinda Gainsford-Taylor has retired from competitive running and is now advertising some brand of mega-health multi vitamins but looks wider than a park bench. One of the hot blonde chicks from 2006’s ‘The Biggest Loser’ gained most of it back and is trying again to instil our faith in her flab-loss abilities by advertising with Weight Watchers.

What point am I trying to make here? That it’s bloody hard for everyone to stay fit and trim regardless of their money (hello Oprah), fame (Marlon, we won’t forget you) or sporting prowess (Maradona, king of the stomach staple). Not only that, but it’s extra bloody hard when you live in South Australia. How is anyone meant to resist the chocolate-covered, peach and apricot blended Fruchoc balls? Or Haigh’s chocolate anything, Balfours’ custard tarts, frog cakes or hot pasties? What of the local delis who smother their hot chips with chicken salt, or the groovy cafes that do spectacularly delicious salt’n’pepper calamari, moussaka, wood oven pizzas, saganaki, sizzling steaks, garlic bread, singapore noodles, satays……..

No wonder people are binge drinking: they're depressed about what big fat bastards they've become. It’s not just South Australian produce that’s to blame. Cadburys, Lindt, Milka, Nestle, Dove, Whittakers and Red Tulip have created a situation so dire that it’s physically, emotionally and spiritually impossible to not walk down ‘Aisle 8 – confectionery’ at my local Coles supermarket. My lovely daughter Sapphire often suggests that I open up a chocolate shop of my own, but that I should have a treadmill installed behind the counter in order to keep things on an even keel.

She is so eerily correct. My seven kilometre, thrice-weekly runs and two karate classes keep my weight down to a socially-acceptable level but it’s mostly so that I can keep eating what I want. What’s life if you can’t eat a King-sized Kitkat at the movies, especially if you’ve earned it?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hard Rubbish Hatin'



















In most councils in Adelaide, you're given one or two days a year to leave out any unwanted 'hard rubbish' on the kerb for their truck to come and take it away for you. Every September, my neighbourhood is festooned with ancient dryers, dead VCRs, dodgy gas stoves, busted rattan chairs, mattresses, Commodore 64 computer monitors and broken card tables.

This annual event is closely followed with the nocturnal visits by the trash-n-treasure trolls, who apprise themselves of the 'nicer' council districts' hard rubbish weeks and have an opportunitist sift through the debris. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - if things can be used by another person/household/shed and not end up in landfill, but it was a bit awkward a couple of years ago seeing two beanie-clad bogans nearly end up in a fist fight over who was the first to clap their occy-straps on an ancient sideboard. (I had to offer them each a handful of mandarins from the tree in the front yard to distract them).

As such, most of us are happy enough to see the streets looking shabby for a couple of weeks a year, but not when slackos dump their useless crap out every weekend hoping that someone will find it attractive enough to remove for them.

Every street has such a neighbour, and our amiable avenue is no different. He is, though. A very odd little chap. He lives with his rarely-seen wife and two tiny daughters in a corner house with a backyard just big enough for a clothesline and his kids' swing set out in the front garden, along with a dozen water-filled coke bottles strewn on the lawn to deter dogs or cats from excreting there. Not that he'd catch them in the act as each window has those oh-so-gorgeous shutters with the wind-up handles and they are always closed. Like Nicole Kidman's character in 'The Others', no daylight is to touch them or they instantly turn into dust, or become sane or attain the ability to visit the rubbish dump or something.

Anyhoo, it is he who believes that he can place four broken chipboard drawers from a 1970's dressing table out on the footpath in May and hope that someone takes a fancy to them. Or as the above photo attests, his clapped out air-conditioner with a dud DVD player placed on top of it as an added bonus.

Perhaps I should not have particularly high expectations of someone who drives a lime green Gemini that he leaves out in the street in the evenings with each door locked up but with all the windows open. Sure it's a vehicle that doesn't appeal to the average auto thief (or functioning human being), but it sure as hell encourages the average drunken derro on his way back home from the pub - via a pit-stop at our nearby Maccas - to sling his half-slurped thickshake and McChicken wrappers into what appears to be an electric-booger-coloured rubbish bin.

He never says hello to me, so I now make an even greater point of cheerily calling out 'Hello there' every morning as he walks his daughters and I walk my daughter to school: we're only two houses away from each other for Lindt's sake! This gregarious Gonad frowns at my dog and pulls his kids closer to him if Sapphire so much as glances in their direction. Despite this and his hard rubbish 24/7/365 tendencies, he certainly doesn't arouse anything remotely as interesting as dislike or anger within me. No, I reserve that for folk like David Koch, Brian Harradine or that funny-as-death git called Ryan on the 'Rove' telly show.

However Gonad Guy had clearly got right up the nose, firmly into the sinus cavity and was tapping on the back of the eyeballs of the man on the next corner block. From what I know, this man is extremely well off - his primary-school aged kids attend the poshest establishment in Adelaide even though their home - a brand new, sickly cream brick, boxy monstrosity known all over as 'The Mausoleum,' looks directly out on to Sapphire's beautiful school oval. He owns a famous continental gourmet store that frequently gets media attention and raves from famous chefs, and seems to have more than his fair share of childcare, gardening and cleaning help.

One day, Gonad Guy left a cheap plastic outdoor chair out on the footpath with the lazy hope that some poly-cretinous, mono-synaptic half-wit would take it. Said chair languished there for weeks, getting gradually covered in a fetching coat of Magpie droppings, bottle-brush strands and street dust. Not surprisingly, one of the Maccas-munching drunkards picked up the chair one night and, eventually discovering that it only had three legs, staggered onwards a few paces and discarded it in front of Mr Mausoleum's property.

Surely Mr Mausoleum's 'help' would dispose of the chair, or find room for it within their expansive garage/indoor pool/outdoor gym/entertainment/mini-skip storage area? But no - Mr M flung the chair back to Gonad's house, with a hand-written message on the back of it:



Closer inspection reveals the extent of his annoyance:
Crikey! I'm bloody glad he didn't see the sneaky crap that Milly did in his agapanthus plants....!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Copping one up the Yin-Yang















For want of some decent medical knowledge, let me ask you something: have you ever had a tiny heartbeat or fluttery tic visit your eyelid for a few seconds every now and then? Kind of like an angry ant throwing a full on-the-floor tantrum with every fibre of his little bolshy bug body?

Well, for the past two weeks my lower right eyelid has been pinging away with this irritating insect's ire every two minutes or so. Either that or my body had held a conference when I wasn't paying attention and decided to turn itself inside out just for a laugh, hoping that the sight of my bladder hanging below my tracksuit waistband cord would add that certain joi-de-vivre to my everyday look.

Whatever the reason, it is now getting to the stage when it is visibly noticeable and extremely distracting. Holding a conversation when the upper right section of my face is doing a decent version of the gaoler from 'The Life of Brian' is not only off-putting for the person I'm with, but also for me as well. Therefore, on Saturday morning I went to see the doctor about it.













"Hmmmm," he said thoughtfully, as only doctors who have no idea but want to seem introspective do. "Well, you can rest assured that you're not having a mini-epileptic fit or suffering from a stroke. Quite the opposite really."

"Oh? So why is my eye...." - I had to stop what I was saying and slap the side of my face for the infernal flickering to cease - "......driving me crazy like this if I'm in top health?"

Doc didn't reply straight away, but sat there, grinning at me.

I think it's high time I share a bit of my past with you. Doc has seen me in my previous lifetimes as the Medical Manager at WorkCover where, amongst treating my scratched eyeball, swollen runner's foot, flu and various stress-related symptoms (insomnia, irritable bowel, increased occurrence of migraine, teeth grinding and depression), we've also had some lively discussions about how doctors need to cooperate with WorkCover to get injured workers out of the system quicker.

He's seen me through a gruelling physical breakdown thanks to the pressure of WorkCover and my own silly need to perform harder, better, stronger and gooder than anyone else, and accepted my total shame and puzzlement that someone as 'sensible' as me couldn't cope. He helped ease me through a recovery process that saw a cgradual hange from utter exhaustion and despair towards acceptance and confidence.

He applauded my step down the career ladder to a lowly admin-lackey, placing a much larger focus on my family, friends and interests, genuinely happy to see that my decisions were being made for the right reasons. He saw me again later as he sat behind his desk and raised his eyebrows when I crawled back in, bruised, stressed and genuinely hurt by the egomaniacal actions of my boss. He helped me learn that reducing responsibility does not necessarily make me less of a target for overwork, jealousy or bullying. With his help, I fought Bulldog back and won.

The 'winnings' (half a year's salary) have allowed me to take 2008 as my personal 'Year of Yes' - seeking, accepting and enjoying any opportunities that drift in my direction, without being cooped up in a cubicle or trying to convince a Ministerial advisor as to why my staff still need to keep their jobs. I can wear ugg boots and 15 year old concert t-shirts as a legitimate working uniform and give myself permission to hang out a load of washing, walk with Milly to the park or help Sapphire make a batch of peanut butter biscuits after school without looking nervously over my shoulder.

"Er herrmmm," Doc cleared this throat, hinting that I should climb back out of my own arse and pay attention to what he was about to say. "You're under stress and you're actually too stimulated and too happy right now."

Well lather my face in chocolate paste and shove me down an ant hole - I'm too happy?!

Apparently so. There's such a thing as eustress, which is ironic, because I wrote about it in my
book. 'Eu' means 'good' in ancient Greek and it is the type of energy that helps you work to a deadline and achieve things due to the adrenaline rush, urgency and thrill of it all. This can include stuff like winning a competition, ad-libbing, being on stage, playing sport, getting married*, buying a house or just losing your loose change/lunch during a roller coaster ride.

"Too right you are," he grinned. "For starters, repeat again what's currently in your diary and on your agenda."

So I did - earning the orange belt at karate with Sapphire the night before; writing book, CD, theatre and movie reviews; researching potential ideas for books two and three; developing two children's book ideas; studying editing & proofreading for publishing; off-the-cuff radio work; creative writing; interviewing local people for a column idea; chocolate eating and reviewing; running; knitting blankets for the homeless shelter; entering a 'serious' writing competition; making homemade cards for this week's school fundraiser; being the 'helper' Mum at school excursions, adopting and settling in a rabbit called Skipper; having friends over......

I finished, laughing at myself and with the doctor. "But it's all stuff I love - I'm having the best time of my adult life right now and finally feel as though I'm nearly there. As though being my true self might actually work out for me and----"

He held up his hand to interrupt my excited and inane chatter. "Do your cheeks sometimes ache?"

"Well yeah, but remember I'm still wearing my mouthguard at night to protect my crowns from cracking due to the clenching and grinding and---"

His hand was up again. "Yes, yes, that's good but have you also realised how much you smile and laugh?"

Er, no. Not really.

"You have such a broad grin on your face that your cheeks are worn out. Your eye is probably flicking because you're extremely tired and 'on' all the time. What you need is some really good nights sleep and...."

And so it goes. No Yin without Yang. No free joy without a loopy eyelid. No orange karate belt without farting in front of the visiting Sensei. No chocolate without pimples. No cuddly Love Chunks, Sapphire, Milly and Skipper without housework, vacuuming and weeding. No hearing your two most favourite people in the world playing 'My little baby loves shortnin' bread' together on the piano and guitar without tearing up by the sink.

All bloody worth it though. *flick flick flick*
* Yes, marriage is also a form of negative stress. But if you're still happy to have that warm lump you call your loved one lying in bed next to you at night and always make sure that you kiss them goodbye every morning 'just in case something happens', then 'eu' is still your kind of stress.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Getting my goat



We've all heard of WC Fields' advice which remains relevant today. He warned us all to 'never work with children or animals' but when you're a parent, the two parties seem to come together like Chaos and Theory; Ripped and Trousers; Poo and Shoe.

Not only do most kids have pets at home but school excursions, fete days, Sunday drives and parties seem to involve animals as well. Notwithstanding the importance of immersing children in nature and teaching them about the circle of life/where milk comes from/that fuzzy roo over there has stuff called 'leather' underneath his fur that most of your school shoes are made from and so forth; there's always the unexpected element when animals are presented 'live' on show to kids.

The giggles when the police horses dump a wheelbarrow load of manure on the street during the Christmas pageant, or the Victor Harbor Clydesdales release a few prisoners during their leisurely tram trek across to Granite Island - these never fail to encourage a few wicked giggles from children.

Goats may not be as commonly selected for keeping civil order or transporting tourists but they are a frequent choice for hobby farms and at petting zoos. This is despite the fact that they are renowned for their unpredictability and willingness to eat everything from paint off gates, the bottom of my jeans and plastic buckets. Goats have eyes that are really widely spaced which can give them a creepy - I could eat you too - kind of blank stare. They also have an ~ahem~ tendency to fornicate instantly when they are startled.

Sadly, I've been witness to this kind of reaction. My father-in-law breeds goats on an isolated property studded with salt-bush, mallee and limestone. His goats have a flock of chickens and half a dozen sheep for company and tend to enjoy a rather carefree life of free range foraging and the option to return to fresh hay and shelter at the end of each day.

During one of our stays with Rob, we were sitting out on his makeshift terrace enjoying a cup of billy tea, watching the sunset and surveying the goats grazing nearby. Something had suddenly spooked them and for the next two minutes we saw an orgy of gang-banging cloven-hoofed beasts bonking at satanic speeds. Even Malcolm, Rob's tame and fully grown sheep decided to participate which didn't look pretty.

The worst thing was that our daughter Sapphire was only four years old at the time and it had all happened so instantaneously and graphically before we could grab her hand and say, "Oh, let's go inside and make some damper," and thus shield her from the baseness of farm life. When the scenes of inter-species depravity ended as quickly as they had begun, we were all silent for a moment, struggling to find a way of explaining it to Sapphire in the most innocent of terms when she piped up with, "Why did they start fighting with each other like that?"















Perhaps having an annual Adelaide/Monarto zoo family membership wasn't the smartest idea for us either. The zebra, pictured here sitting down rather primly, seemed to be overly fond of flashing his, erm, 'dangle twang' every. single. time. we. visited. No joke - his pink fifth leg was always out and would cause Sapphire to double over with laughter and even remark, "Look Mum, it's bigger than a hose!" Er, quite.

Or take these monkeys. One minute they're peacefully hanging around together in earnest monkey conversation and the next they were insolently hanging alongside each other on a large branch, piddling large arcs of yellow rope down into the pond below. The boardwalk rang with peals of delighted, primary-school-aged laughter.

I guess I should be thankful that no dung was flung in our direction.

On the homefront, we've been extraordinarily lucky in our choice of animals. No, I'm not talking about Love Chunks or Sapphire, but Milly the dog, Skipper the rabbit and our three chooks Hermoine, Luna and Ginny.

We get entertainment, loyalty, unconditional love and the occasional warning bark to strangers from Milly; laps around the coffee table, athletic jumps onto the ottomon and soft cuddles from Skipper; and curiosity, contented clucks and eggs from the hens.

A suburban paradise of three humans and five animals is enough for me. Bruce the turtle, Rocky the cat, Winston the guinea pig, Sugar Lips the horse, Arnie the Axolotyl, Barney the budgie, Reggie the rat, Minnie the mouse and the flock of homing pigeons can stay in the homes of Sapphire's school mates.

A tapir might be good for sniffing out a decent rockmelon and packet of coffee beans though.....

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bathrobe Bliss
The long weekend just gone (here in Australia, at least) was to celebrate Queen Liz the Second's birthday. Lord knows the actual date the old chick was born, but we got this Monday off. Yeah, I want the land of Oz to be a republic and force the Women's Weekly to discuss any other Royal family but the Pommy one but like all decent Aussies, I'll never knock back a free holiday.

We were supposed to go camping at the attractively-named site 'Little Desert' national park which is near the just as attractively-named town of 'Nhill' (pronounced 'nil'). Unfortunately, the Melbourne party got an awful combination of gastro, colitis and coeliac complications and some of the Adelaide contingent got colds. The trip was cancelled, and I think that the folk in each city breathed a small sigh of relief that our 'tents' were now warm, solid homes with showers and had toilets that didn't need a 200m trek wearing a full outfit and carrying a torch, towel and bathroom bag to get to.

What I've since discovered is an old truth that has previously escaped me: bathrobes make great outfits. All day.
When there's no school bell, bus timetable or work deadline to meet, it's such bliss to wake up when one feels like it and just dag around the house in one's pyjamas. In fact I'm sure that the Queen would be doing just this on her real birthday. Pottering around on the computer, having that second or third Gaggia-machine coffee, sneaking a few squares of chocolate out of the fridge, reading the paper one section at a time and watching a few episodes of Survivor Fans V Favourites via DVD (because &^%$ing channel nine still hasn't played it here).




















Then, maybe, if one feels like it, venturing out to the shed/home gym for a run on the treadmill and a punch of the old mini tonsil and mega body punching bags, all to the sounds of an ancient Hoodoo Gurus or Madness's Greatest Hits CD. Then a shower by 5pm and straight into some warm trakky daks and ugg boots. Which, are essentially, another version of a bathrobe and pyjamas

Yep, it's nirvana:

1) Remain in pyjamas until 4pm workout;

2) then change into not-fit-to-be-viewed-by-innocent-members-of-the-public gym gear for 60 minutes; (old grey leggings with an ever-increasing hole in the crotch, white t-shirt now yellowed with age and with just 'IK' instead of 'nike' remaining, a sportsbra with as much engineering prowess and underwire as the Sydney Harbor bridge and sneakers that smell distinctly of parmesan cheese and bathroom mould).

3) Have a shower and slip into one's most elasticated and waistband forgiving trakkie daks and ugg boots.
Best camping trip ever.