Friday, February 26, 2010

Nark Zoide Nark Zoide Nark Zoide

Sitting on the bench killing eleven minutes before the next train arrived to take me to Flinders Street was engrossing and showed that human beings are fascinating creatures. Such a variety of shapes, colours, ages, size, plumage, outfits, poses, attitudes, odours and the ever-present 'ki-tich, ki-tich, ki-tich' of techno muffled by earbuds.

An old man walked past me pulling a portable oxygen tank behind him with the tube connected and hooked up to his nose. He was smartly dressed, slim and in a hurry. "No Way!" he laughed as I shifted over to give him space on the bench. I chose to interpret that as his being grateful to be up and about rather than an aversion to 40-somethings in jeans and sensible shoes.

Two adults limped up the ramp. Even from a distance it was easy to tell that they were both mentally challenged. Retarded. Is it okay to say retarded these days? Or maybe it should be only partially successfully integrated into mainstream society. Noticeable.

He was six foot six at least, and she was barely five foot. Both were holding some well-worn plastic shopping bags full of plastic bottles and when they found an empty bench they carefully placed these at their feet (both in tyre-thick black sandals) and held hands. Every thirty seconds or so the woman emitted a loud, girlish giggle which lit up her fifty-something face. He noticed that I was watching and smiled, as if to say, "Yep, and she's all mine." Their bliss was sweet....

....and a fair bit more innocent than the snogging couple behind me; her back rammed up against the pole holding up the 'Newmarket' station sign and his hands in her pockets. I didn't risk a longer look in case they mistook me for a nosey people watcher with nothing better to do than -- oh.

The unmistakable smell of burnt toast was coming from Pepper cafe below the platform. Aloof Rocker Dude on my right finally lifted his gaze from his iPhone, flicked his carefully cut and dyed long hair back and ostentatiously sniffed the air. Yeah you're a regular bloodhound, buddy. It's blackened bread alright. His shirt was cool though - a mishmash of seedy newspaper escort advertisements arranged in a mosaic pattern. He wore even more gold bangles than I did.

Three girls with the compulsory alternative Arts Student uniforms stood uncertainly by the main gate, pretending to be confident and laughing in volume but not truth. All had number three shaved heads - yellow and white blonde of course - and long floppy fringes. Tiny singlets, hemp trousers and ankle boots. Was it O-week already?

No matter, the train had pulled in. Ah yes, it must be. Two gooberish guys in surf shorts, graffiti-styled t-shirts and thongs were sprawled over the six seats. I squeezed past, hoping my shoulder bag (and arse) brushing up against their faces would inconvenience them and perhaps make them choose to sit by the window instead of the aisle next time. Goober Two was reading a university map resting on his jiggling knee as Goober One yawned a dorito-and mentos-scented response to the stress of catching the crack-of-dawn 11.28am train into Flinders Street.

It was time to get off and head to platform three to Glen Waverley. I found myself ambling along behind an elderly Vietnamese man, unintentionally slowing my pace so as not to overtake him or accidentally knock his walking stick. He wore a navy blue beret, Ronnie Barker thick-framed glasses with a long Mambo t-shirt and rather funky three-quarter cargo shorts. In fact, he was hipper than either Goober One or Two; even with his Crocs and socks. He looked both dignified (pretty hard in Crocs and socks) and comfortable. Coolness personified in my opinion.

I was soon lost in my novel and only looked up when it was the end of the line. Walking towards the exit and hoping that my zone one ticket would zap through without dramas, I saw several people helping an old man step down onto the platform. Other people behind them were lifting something with a bar - a shopping trolley or a pram holding his grandchild....?

Nope. It was a lawnmower. He thanked his helpers profusely and then wheeled it down the ramp and along the street. Sure, he had no car to speak of but the siren song of keeping a lawn or two under control was still too strong.

I slipped the camera out of my bag in order to photograph Mr Mower Man walking away, but thought better of it. I had an appointment to keep, one that I was already quarter of an hour late for and a fellow passenger in a bigger hurry than me jostled past.

It wasn't the fact that she looked like the love child of Kerry Packer and Billy Connolly, it was the back of her t-shirt. 'My Sexual Preference is Often'. Maybe she'd overtake Mr Mower Man, he'd read it; they start talking.....

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

C'mon Kath, do it like you MEAN it!

"Kick higher! Harder girl, harder!

Don't worry about what people think, just get in there and fight!

I need to see anger; I need to see determination; I need to see the real you emerging."

The real me. The REAL me. The real ME.

Who is the real me?

Is it this 41 year old lunatic, brandishing a kitchen broom dressed in her old karate outfit and wearing the scarf from her old straw gardening head around her head? Trying to do some threatening moves in front of a dozen full and reeking wheelie bins without kicking her thongs off?

Is it the chocolate addict who really, truly does dream about the stuff and, on most days, eat it for breakfast? Who can now go all poncy on you and tell the difference in cocoa content and origin whilst blindfolded yet still crave a Kit Kat Chunky when the chips are down? Who can reverently place unwrapped blocks all over the living room like sweet brown porn but take longer to photograph it than the time taken to film an entire X-rated feature?

The runner who tells everyone that she's only doing it to keep the cocoa fat from permantly affixing itself to her arse and making her resemble a human acorn but privately loves the challenge and the solitude? Being reacquainted with pointlessly joyful pop music and managing to hear her own heartbeat above the volume and the gasping? A lonely place inside a tiny dusty workshed with a mere slab of chipboard in front to look at but where ideas and solutions always arrive?

The proud local who sometimes creeps out neighbours by whipping out her camera when she walks past? The weird woman who has taken photos of litter, graffiti, pet gravesites, TV aerials, roof gutter grass, pigeon poop, ants, elevators, weeds and historically significant buildings?

I don't generally, as a rule, photograph people and this means that sometimes there are wonderful scenes that I can only re-imagine in my head, such as last week. Sapphire and Love Chunks were playing tennis, and on the lawn outside the courts was a father and his toddler daughter. She had a pretty little dress on, all covered in bright cartoonish flowers and was wearing a pointy party hat on her head and clapping her hands.

Dad was wearing a party hat too. Just him and her; playing together, surrounded by a constant stream of innercity power-walkers, dog lovers, cyclists, tennis players and strollers. I remember thinking, "That guy has more real man in him than any roided-up wrestler or Zoo reader."

The Dummy who's now available in Germany as well as the United Kingdom and Australia? The woman who tries to be considerate and drops a fart at the front door only to have it follow her all the way through to the living room and yet can utter a serious quote or two on live radio when required to plug work-related topics?

The deranged dog lover who still gets amazed by the fact that her own canine is always - without fail - utterly thrilled and overjoyed to see her when she wakes up every day? Who, after kissing her on the head and ears, still wishes that she could take Milly's place of simply living to be admired and adored?

A wife and mother?

Sapphire left this drawing on the desk for me to find. "You're a monkey in the Chinese zodiac mum, so that's why there's one up on the top left there, you make funny faces and do silly voices which is what the happy and sad masks are for; you're a Scorpio and my Feng Shui book says you are connected to the moon but are an earth sign."

Her view of me is probably more concise than anything I've been able to figure out.
Or so I thought.

Last night, as she finally crawled into bed and awaiting her good night kiss, I walked in to an overpowering mushroom cloud of Chloe perfume.

Despite being able to rent my schnozz out as a warehouse it's not going to put any drug sniffing airport beagles out of Schmackos any time soon. No, I recognised the fug as Chloe because it's the perfume I have worn since 1989. A few dabs each day and I feel complete. No make up or fancy jewellery but smelling nice is my indulgence.

"Sapphire, have you been using my perfume?"
Her big blue eyes widened as she lay there, shaking her head No.
"Sapphire, you can't lie to me. Just tell me the truth. Why do you stink of Chloe?"
"I don't know Mum. I did use the toilet spray just before, maybe it's that."

I stood back with my hands on my hips, deliberately pausing for a few moments.
"Sapphire it's Chloe. I've been wearing it since I was twenty years old; it's part of me now. Did you spray some on?"

She shrunk below the sheet so that only her eyebrows were visible. "Ughmb gumpgh mumph yes," she mumbled. Guiltily. "I just wanted to ---- to ----- um, just look at the things that you have on your dressing table; the things that you love and use every day."

And here's where I lectured. I finger waggled. I went on about being disappointed in her not owning up in the first place; to going through my private things; to wasting an expensive item. I stormed out, not kissing her goodnight and slammed the door. High and mighty.

In the retelling of the saga to Love Chunks my eyes suddenly got misty. "I actually can't believe that she wanted to look through my things," I said quietly, softening. "I feel kind of flattered and touched that she wanted to know more about me." I remembered too doing the exact thing to my mother's dressing table, looking through her earrings and scarves, bringing them up to my face and breathing in her fresh scent. I adored her.

LC arched an eyebrow. "Then that's what you need to tell her."

So I did. Gradually Sapphire's face emerged from under the sheet and a giggle or two slipped out when I told her how Mum knew I'd been in her room when my attempt at applying lipstick had extended to my chin and nostril edges in fire engine red.

We've made a date with each other for tonight. She wants to see my wedding jewellery, hear a summary of the ten books that are stacked on my nightstand and for me to show her the dresses that I keep but never wear. I'm really looking forward to it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gold Pig

My first appointment with the psychiatrist was a relief.

Yes I was nervous. Yes I was worried about having to re-tell old stories, explain my current story and be honest with Sapphire about why I was going, what was needed and how I would get myself better.

Yes I was self conscious sitting in the waiting room with Love Chunks and Sapphire next to me leafing through trashy magazines. I tried to herd them out so that she wouldn't gaze up from her 'Ange Dumps Brad' edition and start reading the poster about the signs of mental illness written in font size 72 .

"Look, there's a Dimmey's over there - why don't you see if they've got some blue school shorts in your size, Sapph?"
She shook her head. "It's too hot out there."

It was my turn to go in. I edited my story down to a fairly punchy and precise version and then explained what the GP had done (increased the dose at my request) and what I was doing to climb out of the hole. Ordinary but important stuff like getting out of bed at a normal time, keeping fit, writing, working, cognitive exercises, being aware of what was happening to me and - hardest of all - trying not to feel so gnawingly guilty and sometimes allowing myself to do nothing.

Just two days after taking the increased dosage of antidepressant (a week before I got in to see the psych) I felt noticeably better. Less fog, less darkness. Then, when I actually had the appointment I felt better again because it was being taken seriously. By the psychiatrist, by LC, by Sapphire, my GP, my family, my friends and myself.

Like the psych who used to treat me in Adelaide, I think that this bloke - let's call him Melbourne Mind - understands that intellectually I know all about depression and that I really do try my very hardest to deal with it. Perhaps even try too hard at times. He therefore tackled it by pointing out that it’s a chemical imbalance in my case – serotonin and also another ‘onin’ whose name escapes me right now. This of course makes me feel less like a freak and a failure and more like someone who lacks Vitamin D or needs to rethink their vegan stance.

He said, “You’re on the right dose, you know your stuff and you are doing everything properly. Just keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll see you in three weeks.”
We set the appointment and I walked out to the reception area and saw Sapphire.
"Are you okay, Mum?"
I smiled. "You know, the doctor says that I'm a very good patient and that I'm doing all the right things." A simplistic explanation but not one that was patronising or untrue or edited for a child's ears.

"That's good." She reached for my hand. "You know what I learned today?"
"What love?"
"That you need to have really big fake boobs to get into these magazines----" she pointed to the raggedy pile of No Ideas, NWs, Grazias and Woman's Day's "-----and have weird puffy lips to match."

Maybe at the next appointment I'll tell him that I've taken to wearing a gold pig around my neck. Horoscopes, Feng Shui and the Chinese Zodiac have never affected my decisions or been a big feature in my life, but at the request of a person very close to me, I'm wearing the pig. As a Monkey in the year of the Tiger it's apparently going to be a tough twelve months. The Tiger needs to be fooled into believing I'm a pig by carrying or wearing one at all times.

People have complimented me on the necklace and it (almost) goes without saying that my GoneChocco reviewing job also allows me to take on the qualities that pigs are famous for.

Whatever works.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not Helping

We live in a very little street that funnily enough happens to start with the letters BIG.

In this little street we have three blocks of flats and nine cottages. One of the blocks of flats houses men that can only be described as having been through the rehab and prison merry-go-round more times than they've passed Go and collected two hundred dollars.

They all look shrivelled and painfully thin and way older than their baseball cap and gangsta-inspired, Salvos-donated clothing suggests. Despite these setbacks, none of them seem short of female visitors. However these romantic or social forays mostly seem to end up in tears.

By 'tears' I mean full-on screaming matches that barrel the 30 metres down the street and pierce their way through our weatherboard walls straight into Sapphire's bedroom and my ear canals. Invariably, someone from the other block of flats that separates us from Hellrose Place calls the police and the divvy van turns up.

A fair bit more swearing occurs, this time at the cops instead of the girlfriend and the tenant is rather gently ushered into the back of the vehicle. The policeman nods at the anxious face peering through the window next door and tiredly fills out a form stuck to a clipboard whilst leaning on the side of the divvy van which is now rocking wildly from the unwilling passenger's curses and punches inside.

Sapphire and I have noticed that one particular bloke is just about ready for some frequent flyer points for his extensive divvy van patronage.

To ease any anxieties she has about living and feeling safe in our suburb - a rich tapestry of living, breathing and unique humanity in all its forms - we've taken to calling him Mr Divvy Van.

He has never hassled us, or been rude or dangerous; clearly saving up his aggro for his drinking buddies or his female companions. He'll shuffle by, cigarette permanently in his mouth and mutter, 'G'day', or 'Nice dog,' and head down to the main road for a six pack and some fish and chips. We see him at the shops with his mates - never right in the middle of the fracas but nearby and ready for a 'Don't worry about them arseholes mate, phark em!' sympathetic pat on the back and shared smoke on the park bench outside. We also see him chatting to the scared little Lebanese guy who shares the cement balcony next to his flat or eyeing off Tam's motorbike before Daria the rottweiler pops up behind the wooden fence pailings to growl a 'hello'.

One afternoon Sapphire and I were at the high school. The back of it borders our little street and it's a convenient spot for Sapphire to use her scooter on a patch of ground bigger than our pavers as Milly and I do our litter ninja duties.

Mr Divvy Van appeared, having just got off the tram, and was taking the short cut home across the asphalt.

"Nah," he said on his mobile, in a loud voice. "Nah babe, YOU broke up with ME six weeks ago. We're through. I'm moving ON with me life and you keep callin' me. I'm READY to start seein' other women....'"

Sapphire and I pretended not to hear the shouted conversation.

"BABE, I know you WANT me but ya can't have me no more. I'm FREE, see? Ya did me a favour by droppin' me. I want a chick whose less---" he struggled to find the right word "----of a pharkin' HASSLE for me, right?"

Sapphire pinched my arm.

"Ow? What did you do that for?"

She giggled. "It's Mr Divvy Van. He was yelling and looking over at you."

Before I had time to say so what, she continued, "You're IN, Mum, if you're up for it."

Wonderful. Just wonderful. A ten year old child able to best her mother's stunned silence with "Ooh there's your boyfriend."

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Kathleen Downs, or Grandma as I knew her, was a keen gardener with every part of the back yard full of vegetables, fruit trees and the sweet, earthy smell of decaying compost.

When she wasn’t having friends over for morning or afternoon tea, she’d carefully put away her nice frock and homy peds and slip into a housecoat and some ancient thongs in order to be back in the garden again. Her Dame-Edna style glasses were kept on with a dainty silver chain around her neck.

Wally Downs, or Grandpa, was either helping her by edging the lawn borders or weeding. Sometimes he’d be in his shed but his handyman skills weren’t likely to make any other retired grocer jealous. To this day I’m still not sure what he actually did in there.

At least once every school holidays we kids would go to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for a few days. Obviously it was to give Mum a rest, but seeing as it was never all three of us at once, her workload was reduced rather than eliminated.

For me, it was a taste of a new lifestyle. Even if I had to share my grandparents with bigger brother – and tougher puncher – Robert, or wheezy little – and better screamer – David, it was as though we unofficially called a truce on fighting, crying or whining. Looking back, it was really the behaviour that our exhausted mother would have yearned for but didn’t get, because she was very strict about how we were to behave outside the home.

Before leaving for school or a friend’s house or Grandma and Grandpa’s, she’d always ask:
“Have you got a hanky?”
Yes Mum.
“You’ll eat everything you’re given, okay?”
Yes Mum.
She’d give us a kiss on the cheek and a congratulatory footy players’ pat on the bum and then conclude with, “And remember your manners” before sending us on our way.

So, with perfect behaviour and yet neither parent to witness it, we entered the world of the retiree 1970s-style. No radio or records playing but everything stopped at 6pm to watch the ABC news on the telly. I never witnessed either adult changing the tv dial to anything other than the ABC, so we kids dutifully sat through all kinds of dry documentaries and British programming choices.

As such, we tended to amuse ourselves by watching far less television there than at home and play with the toys that our mother and her two brothers used. These ranged from the highly inappropriately-named 'Five Little Nigger Boys'. I'll blush and try to explain that in 1977 we had no idea as to the insulting racial vilification that such a game would provoke: to us it just had five cardboard golliwogs on a swivel stand. These were shot down by using a rubber band gun whilst lying further back in the hallway on the carpet like a gutter-crawling commando. Luckily, we spent even more time resurrecting the Meccano set and learning all kinds of card games that our grandparents regularly played after dinner.

A highlight for me was taking the bus into the city with Grandma. The newspaper-thin tickets would have a tiny little saying on the back of them, and we’d busy ourselves looking out the window and pointing out long-haired teenagers to disapprove of together. “Look at that young man over there,” she’d tsk tsk to me, “There’s a hooligan if ever I’ve seen one.” Being nine years old, I’d follow her lead completely. “You’re right Grandma. He’s just a Long Haired Layabout, isn’t he?”

Fortunately her censure never reached food. In her beaded white handbag she’d have tiny peppermints and squares of chocolate that she’d share very generously. When we kids woke up and crept into Grandma and Grandpa's bed in the mornings, there were more peppermints on the bedside table next to the false teeth soaking in glasses of water. Lollies in bed – how cool was that? Clever too – who needed three excitable kids with dragon breath only centimetres from your still-unfolding face?

When it was time for a cup of tea which seemed like the moment the last cup was drained, Grandma would bring out the little milk jug. It had a protective cover on the top that she’d crocheted herself and hung little beads on to keep it weighed down. There were no concerns about caffeine then, and we were welcome to have as many cups of tea as the grown-ups were having.

“Dreckly” was a real word at their house. “I’ll be there dreckly, Wally” she’d call out to Grandpa several times a day. ‘Often’ was pronounced with a clear emphasis on the letter ‘t’ and any surprises, disappointments or involuntary exclamations were always punctuated with ‘Crumbs!’

Speaking of which, dinner was often something simple and delicious like mince on toast and boiled veges straight from the garden (I love helping shell the peas), followed by lots of slices of fresh white bread with jam or honey and plenty of whipped cream. There was always jelly in the fridge and a batch of rice pudding as alternatives but these were more popular with my brothers than me.

It was at their place that I tried margarine for the first time. For such traditional people, it now surprises me to look back and realise that Meadow Lea was part of their diet. For a kid living in a country town that relied heavily on the dairy industry, margarine in a round plastic container festooned with bright cartoon pictures of sunflowers was the epitome of sophistication. I’d forgo the honey and just smear a centimetre-thick layer of marge on the bread.

Grandpa wasn’t far behind, but he’d then add another centimetre layer of peanut paste and complete the dish by sprinkling it with salt until the top was totally white.

Perhaps then, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he dropped dead of a stroke a year later at the relatively young age of seventy.

We children didn’t attend the funeral, but in the weeks following Grandpa’s death I was invited to stay with Grandma. Me, alone! At the age of eight-and-half I was well aware of the honour bestowed me. Grandma Cheerer Upper, Favouritest Grand Child Ever, Nyah-Nyah na na Nyah Boo Sucks Stinky Face to both my brothers.

The house was filled with bouquets of flowers, with more arriving on the hour. The green foam cubes that held the stems of roses, chrysanthemums and babys’ breath into a rigidly formal triangle arrangement were fascinating to me and I’d press my thumbnail into the backs of them where nobody would notice.

Friends arrived to pay their condolences to Grandma even more frequently than the bouquet deliveries, and each visitor was offered some tea. My job was to bring them in as Grandma made them. I’d walk very slowly so as not to spill a drop on the Axminster carpet or my pinafore dress and politely offer each person some slices of fruit and freshly baked little cakes.

Why fruit was a necessary accompaniment I’ll never know, but Kathleen was the best at peeling oranges and apples in a continuous, single ribbon. It was mesmerising to watch and as she cored and diced the apple and separated the orange into segments it made the fruit taste so much better.

It was only after a week of eating 6 peeled oranges and drinking eleven cups of milky tea each day that I was troubled with a crippling case of diarrhoea.

Unfortunately, the room I was in – snugly tucked into my 1940s canvas stretcher bed by Grandma several hours earlier – was miles away from the toilet. The dark and treacherous trip up the long passage, down the creaking hallway and around the corner into the laundry was too terrifying to contemplate. Even the increasingly strong distress calls from my colon weren’t enough to force me to make the trip.

There was a wicker chair in the corner of my room, and I remember during a previous stay having a giggle with David as we discovered a white ceramic potty hidden under the tapestry cushion. It would have to do......

I prayed that the cushion would never be lifted by Grandma so that she’d never see my desecration of her own mother’s antique bedside chair and be disappointed by the bad manners and callous nature of her granddaughter.

I prayed even harder that Grandma didn’t have any sense of smell so that the putrefying odour that was fogging up the windows, discolouring the net curtains and making me feel a bit seasick on top of my already unpleasantly gurgling intestines was instead going to float by like a blossom on the breeze without any notice or comment.

Several hours passed as I went again – then lay in bed, gagging, before going again – and again. I was thankful that Mum made me pack some hankies because they were a welcome alternative to toilet paper. Sleep still wasn’t forthcoming even when the attack of the trots finally seemed to be over.

When morning dawned, I cleverly rested my dressing gown on top of the wicker chair so that Grandma wouldn’t notice anything was amiss.

The day passed with more flowers, putting the older ones out on the compost heap and playing with the green cubes, visitors, remembering my manners, carrying cups of tea, nibbling fruit cake and sucking sticky orange segments. The wicker chair and its hidden secrets had been all but forgotten.

Until that night. I gingerly lifted the lid.....

..... and it was clean.

How on earth did she know? Crumbs!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Un Chunks

No, I'm not getting a divorce; it's far more worrying than that.

Love Chunks is my jokey pet name for my husband and is sort of the opposite of what he is. He's the last person you'd be inclined to think of as your own Softy Schnookums or Snuggle Puff. Sure he's got buckets of love, but he has never ever been chunky in the Forty-something-bloke-with-back-fat-and-size-14A-moobs sense. If anything he's fitter and trimmer now than he was ten years ago.

Trouble is, he's on holiday at the moment. For most of us, that means eating more, eating worse, sleeping in, avoiding exercise and reaching for another handful of cashews and a cold glass filled with golden fluid and white fluffy stuff on the top.

Not for our Love Chunks. It's only been two weeks of his four weeks of long service leave and he has:

Gone on a bike ride to Point Cook and swum in the sea at Williamstown

Done six workouts in the gym including weights, crunches, lunges and exercise bike riding

Played tennis four times

Gone running - usually 10km each time - too often to count

Taken his canoe out for a spin on the Marybyrnong three times

Hopped on the train to Lilydale and then lifted his bike off to do the old railway track/new bike route around the Yarra Valley and then ridden back home again

Booked some sailing lessons

Signed up for yoga classes and

Played basketball with Sapphire a few sessions a week

......Not to mention taken me to my first psych appointment, cooked every evening meal, done the shopping, helped me hoik the buckets of shower and washing machine water onto the garden, celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, joined the Greens party, publicly corrected Andrew Bolt to the acclaim of several well known leftie bloggers, taught Sapphire how to make kwai chow, taken Sapphire to school, catered for several lunch and dinner parties, rewired our digital television system and read several good books.

So, last night as we flopped on the sofa in the still hot and sticky heat, he nervously picked out a 45 gram Kit Kat from my chocolate stash in the fridge* and said, "Oh dear, I don't know if I should have something like this so late in the evening."

It was the first time in my entire life that I wished I wore bi-focals so that I could put my knitting on my lap** and look down my nose at him before dryly retorting, "You're right. You shouldn't have that - you should have all bloody TWENTY of them with each wafer finger dipped into a 24 carat gold forty four gallon drum holding double clotted whipped cream served to you by Myf Warhurst and Jennifer Aniston you dim little over-achiever you!"

God I love him.

* They were on special at Woolworths for 89 cents, so of course I bought twenty. And also the chunky varieties, Rolo, Aero, mint, Milo bars etc.
** I knit long squares to my mother's precise instructions (a scarf of seven squares comprising 45 stitches in a row, done seven times) so that she can sew them together as blankets for the homeless shelter she supports. It's a worthy cause, but if I'm honest it makes me feel less slack and slovenly sitting in front of the telly if I've got my knitting with me.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

One dollar

It's been a while since I've solved a mystery in our local area.

Forgive me for the simplicity because it was mysterious for only a couple of seconds but sometimes it's nice to have an easy answer, isn't it?

Every morning and early evening these pigeons arrive at a particular location and wait patiently.

When the roof guttering is full, the brave and the late wait on the footpath, not even bothering to scatter when high school kids, scooters and joggers pass by.

It is only when they see Milly walking with me that they look concerned but even then, no real escape plan is enacted unless we are on their side of the street. Then they head straight for the powerline, cluck-whirring amongst themselves in disapproval and relief.

We walked by for over a week, wondering just what or who they were waiting for, noticing that even the sullen kids in low-slung jeans and booming iPods usually quick with a 'Far Queue' to wedge in between every second word of their shouted conversations were careful to step around them.

On our way back from dropping Sapphire off at school the front door opened.

Out came a little old lady with bags of day-old bread ready to feed them.

Pulling Milly's lead made her sit down obediently as we watched from a safe distance across the street.

I called out, thankful that Sapphire wasn't there to roll her eyes in embarrassment and tell me to shoosh. "Hi, I'm from (I turned around to point) - Number 49; the house that looks like a big purpley-brown brick. I'd love to come and chat to you but I'm afraid that Milly (I bent down to pat her neck) might scare away your friends there."

"Yes yes," the lady nodded. "I see you and your daughter every day. To school." Her English was hesitant, but her smile was lovely.

"Yes yes," I nodded back, unintentionally mirroring her. "Her name is Sapphire and mine is Kath. Dog here is Milly."

"I am Chin," she replied, pointing to her chest. "My pets," she said, sweeping one hand over the scene of happily eating birds on the ground and throwing them some more bread with the other.

"Where do you get so much bread?"

"One dollar. Safeway. Day old Bread. Very good, very cheap," she said.

That was little over a year ago. Since then, we pass by, note the two hundred or so pigeons waiting around for Chin and wave if she's already out there with her bread, tearing it into chunks for the birds. "It must take her ages doing that," Sapphire noted. "And she does it every single day."

We never got beyond a wave and a "Hello" to each other from across the street after meeting the first time, until last weekend.

Sapphire and Love Chunks were on a bike ride by the river, and Milly and I trotted to the school yard to do our weekly round of litter collecting. Long-handled BBQ tongs and plastic bags for me; free reign and plenty of discarded Red Rooster chicken bones and squashed chips for Milly to sniff out.

Picking up litter seems boring and pointless, but it is surprisingly rewarding. Milly gets to scamper around the peppercorn trees and and I get to think whilst doing something manual. Sometimes a walker or bike rider will say "Good on yer" as they pass but mostly we're on our own.

Less than half an hour later our job was done. We strolled past the front of Chin's house, the pigeons now lolling about looking rather satisfied, some cluck-whirring to each other like party guests overstaying their welcome.

The front door opened and the birds obediently moved aside to let Chin approach us. "Here. For you."
It was a satin pillow with tiny beads and sequins sewn on intricately in a butterfly shape.

Tears made the details a bit fuzzy. "Oh no," I swallowed. "This is too lovely. You keep it."

She patted my shoulder. "Yes yes for you. You do good. Give to daughter."

I wiped my eyes and smiled back at her.
"I will. And thank you."

Her roof may now be white with pigeon poo, but her heart is huge.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Old Bag with a bucket

Lately I've been seeing the back garden as being an earthy metaphor for myself.

It takes a lot of hard work to keep it going but I haven't given up yet.

It was planted by the previous owners with good intentions and as a way of making the most of a smallish patch of green in a largely crowded and built in suburb. For the past year all of my efforts have gone into keeping it watered without having to turn on the mains tap to do so.

Y'see, in our South Australian house, we had an intricate water-saving dripper system that was planted under the grass and only operated for an hour at midnight. We also had two underground rain water tanks installed that could hold 10,000 litres. It was only when they were empty that the magic that is plumbing automatically switched the house over to mainswater; old copper pipes rumbling and squeaking indignantly against the outside wall as they did so.

Here in Melbourne the size of our property is less than one-third of what it was in Adelaide and our single water tank is attached to our modest workshop. This little plastic green fella holds only 850 litres or just enough to fill up the green watering can and sprinkle non-soapy sustenance on our three infant citrus trees, two herb pots and four ailing rosemary bushes.

Everything I can gather via greywater is saved for the lawn, four pencil pines, four manchurian pear trees, hedging provided by a fusion of lavender bushes and avunculus flowers and a determined group of flax plants.

So, every morning the shower base (or the bath, in our case) gets the plug put in and afterwards I load up three buckets worth with the aid of a plastic jug and then carry them through the house (after I've got dressed, of course, no need to frighten the neighbours smoking on their balconies), hoik the heavy buckets down the hall, through the loungeroom, into the kitchen, past the pergola and outside to fling the precious contents onto selected spots in the garden. Back and forth, back and forth.

When Love Chunks or Sapphire are in the bathroom, I'll call out in my old-crone voice, "Make sure you put the plug in and save the water for me!"

I also direct the nozzle from the washing machine into the laundry trough and stand there during the emptying and rinse cycles to fill up bucket after bucket of sudsy water. It reminds me of what it must have been like for my grandmother and newly-married mother to have a Wringer washing machine grinding away and having to feed individual items of clothing through the rollers in order to squeeze the moisture out.

In my case, the machine is angrily thumping when it is on 'spin', the noise increased threefold by the vibration of the clothes-horses shoved against the wall alongside the white metal box. I stand there in the din, thinking that my efforts to reduce our water usage and save our garden are tiny and insignificant and take up a lot of time.

But I feel proud when the bill arrives and we're way below the '155' litres limit per person. I feel proud when our lawn has enough green on it for this little guy to eat and play on....

....and our wild, crazy (and arthritic) beast can chew her dinosaur bone on some cool green....

.....and I'm proud of the new (but still miniscule) muscles that have emerged in my arms and that Sapphire is seeing how seriously we are treating the resources we have.

All of this guff was in my mind when I decided to take the above photos for this article. I just needed one more; a slightly artier one with the SLR on the tripod. A weird angle that takes in the living and the dead bits of the grass, so that the simile is revealed.

It was all set. I just needed to re-work the focus and -----

---- click!

Milly's arse makes it seem even more appropriate, actually. I laughed so hard I farted. And that's a good sign.