Friday, October 22, 2010

Meeting with an "artist"

She called herself an artist and showed me a piece of pottery she had made some time ago.  Obviously proud of it, she kept it on show in her living area.

"I call this the Witch's Hood.  It is my depression."

Why did she keep this thing hanging around?  This dead thing of the past.  Hadn't the creation, the act of making it done its job of catharsis?  Surely now was the time to smash it to smithereens.

But no, it was displayed where she could see it every day and show it to all her visitors.  This I do not understand.  What was its purpose now?  Hadn't she let go of her depression once it was over?  Is something else going on here that I don't know about?  A few theories pop into my mind:

*  Depression was part of her identity.
*  Even though depression had gone, the experience still had some kind of psychological hold.
*  The piece represented who she was as an artist.
*  Her ego was tied up in the piece.
*  [Please add your own theories if you have any.]

I have often been impressed by people who create works of art that are intended to survive just for a single event.  Hindus make likenesses of deities for a procession at the end of which they will be toppled into the river.  Cake icers spend hours making gorgeous creations just to be gobbled up at weddings and birthday parties.  And buddhist monks can spend days carefully making a sand painting with the intention of destroying it.

I'm not suggesting that this should be the fate of all art ... but I'd love to have taken to that Witch's Hood with a hammer.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting the knives out

A bunch of us - ladies of a certain age - were Sunday lunching in a boardwalk cafe.  The topic of conversation turned from "recent overseas trips" to "job interviews from hell".

We recounted our tales, each hoping to beat the other in the horror stakes, but Jane had hung back until the rest of us had spoken.  Then, in her quiet way, she told a story that left the rest of us standing at the starting gates, so to speak.

"In the late '60s, I was looking for a second job" she said.  "Just part-time so's I could save some money to go to England.  A friend lined up an interview for me.  I didn't know what the job was, but I was told to bring my bikini along."

Now, this would have rung a gazillion alarm bells for me, but not for Jane.  Either she was devil-may-care when she was young ... or just plain stupid.  In any case, she went along.

She was asked to stand, bikini-clad and very still, with her back against a large board and her arms outstretched, crucifix-style.  At this point, the "interviewer" started throwing knives at her - real knives, sharp knives.

"Aaaaah" she thought as day dawned slowly but surely into her brain.  "I'm to be a knife-thrower's target girl, am I?  Not bloody likely!"

Then from the depths of our open-mouthed silence, someone piped up:  "But did you pass the interview?"

"Well, I'm still here, aren't I?"

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Twitter etiquette

I've recently taken to writing in the bath.  In my head, of course, because paper gets soggy.  Only trouble is, there's no SAVE button on my brain.  By the time I'm dried and dressed, I've forgotten all my "priceless" gems.  What happens in the bath, stays in the bath.

However, I did remember this and am writing it down, bare-bottomed, before it vanishes, like the two stories I thought of earlier.

Oh, hang on, I've just remembered what one of them was about - Twitter Etiquette, or more precisely, the etiquette of re-tweeting, probably not something yet taught at finishing schools.

First, the tweeter (AKA the re-tweetee) thanks the retweeter for their retweets (RTs).  Then the retweeter replies with something like "My pleasure" or "No worries".  Usually it ends there, but on rare occasions, the original tweeter will round off the exchange with yet another tweet.  "Cheers", "OK" or the like.

When I first joined Twitter, I observed these unspoken rules of etiquette (twittiquette or tweetiquette, take your pick) in case I was thought of as rude.  Then I became slack with my tweetiquette, just checking what was being RTd and by whom - my favourite part of the day, my ego-boost.

These rules have just manifested on their own without discussion (to my knowledge) or a vote.  They just are.  Maybe there's a hashtag somewhere where people discuss these pressing concerns.  But I don't think I'll bother checking it out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

English words and their meaning

English is my native tongue, but really, I stand outside it, just looking in.  I use its words, I know what the sounds mean in today's world, but in fact, they are mysteries to me, especially their origins.

Leafing through the Oxford Concise Dictionary of English Etymology, I happen upon "pall-mall".  This is where our shopping "mall" comes from, but what it means has nothing at all to do with shops.  Pall = ball; and mall = mallet.  They were used in a game of the same name in which a ball is driven through an iron ring.  Hence, the name of the London alley where this game was played became known as Pall Mall.  From there, a mall became a shaded walk and a shopping complex.  The disconnect from its roots is now complete.

My own name, Gaye (or Gay), has also changed its meaning through the centuries.  Once meaning merry or brightly-coloured, in the 17th century it meant dissolute, dissipated, and was often used to describe a prostitute or "fast" woman.  More recently, it is both noun and adjective, referring to male homosexuality.

Originally, an epicure was a glutton, whereas today it describes someone of refined taste in food and wine.  "Nice" comes from the Latin root for ignorant and originally meant "foolish".  "Pretty" meant "crafty; wily", coming from the West Germanic "pratt" meaning trick.

So many words have travelled far from their roots.  Here are some more original meanings:

display = unfold
generous = nobly born
hussy = housewife
jest = deed
minister = servant
minx = pet dog
quaint = skilled, clever
startle = kick, struggle
uncanny = malicious
uncouth = unknown, unfamiliar
undaunted - untamed
vibrant = agitated
wistful = closely attentive

So, if someone says:

"She was a generous hussy, quaint and wistful in household ways, without uncanny jests, her minx by her feet, she became vibrant when confronted with the uncouth."

... what they are actually saying is:

"She was a well-born housewife, skilled and closely attentive in household ways, without malicious deeds, her pet dog by her feet, she became agitated when confronted with the unfamiliar."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When compasses go crazy

Hi again Cormac, I'm so selfishly happy you've decided to start another site.  And welcome to Coraline (or is it Nicole) in her new role as co-moderator.  I'm confused.  Anyhow, here's my first story for the new site, "Icarus' Flight to Perfection", it's Premiere Session, October 2010.  I've chosen to write using the four words: Trip. Triptych. Pick. Tropic.  Here it is:

A trip to the tropics.  North Queensland.  As the train sped up the coastline, the accumulations of my old life began to fall away.  A sense of freedom seeped in with every mile.

Magnetic Island, or Maggie as I call her, drew me to herself at these times of my life.  Times of recovery, healing, refreshment.

But there was someone I wanted to visit on the way.  A friend from down south had married and was living in one of the sugarcane towns.  Married.  This was not the woman I had known.  She had been a free-loving, free-spirited hippie; the one who had admonished me for being jealous when she enticed my boyfriend into her bed.  "We" don't try to possess people she had said.  Our "set" was open-minded, new-thinking, experimental.

She had gone north for work, met a local mill worker and married.  A jealous, monogamous guy, not one of the "set".  She was now trotting out localisms with ease, like describing a young woman as "the town bike".  She had slotted right in without a backward glance at her old liberal ways.  Living her cane town life, she had taken on a cane town persona.  It seemed that, wherever she went, she mirrored the values and ideas of those around her.  She needed acceptance.

Like a three-sided triptych, it was "Take your pick - which face do you want me to show to the world today?"  Or a Rubik's cube with endless combinations of clicks, she was capable of chameleon-like changes to suit her surroundings.

But she didn't need to recolour herself like this.  She had a lot to offer from inside her own being, and this continued to shine through.  She had a beautiful nature and I'd learnt so much from her about organic gardening and vegetarian cooking.  I wish I could have told her that at the time, but I was just confused then.  My swirling thoughts and feelings have only now coalesced into words.

After a few days in the cane town, I continued on my way north.  Captain Cook had so named Magnetic Island in 1770 because his ship's compasses went awry as they passed by.  My mind's compasses too were now all over the place.  I didn't know north from south, east from west, so to speak.  But dear old Maggie would enclose me in her arms and work in the opposite way for me.  A few weeks amongst her huge boulders and blue bays helped to sort through my swirling thoughts and put things right again.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Running the gauntlet at the supermarket

I risked another trip to the supermarket yesterday.  After last week's fiasco with the nit-picking mother (see my story "At the Checkout" on ThinkingTen"), I was understandably uneasy.  But, after pushing my trolley uneventfully for a few minutes, I began to relax.  Maybe I could, after all, run the gauntlet of the aisles without seeing or hearing something that would send me into paroxysms of inappropriate laughter this time.

But as I went past the deli counter, the shop assistant called out: "No. 1?  Do we have a No. 1?  No?  How about a No. 2?"  I couldn't stifle my laughter, but everyone else remained unsmiling.

No-one owned up to being No. 1 or No. 2, probably from embarrassment, but when she asked for No. 3, a woman said: "Yes, that's me".  Clearly, she had never watched Miss Jocelyn, the English comedian, who has at least up to No. 4 for things you can do in the toilet.

Maybe such euphemisms are a bit twee, but I knew a family who went to the other extreme, saying things like: "We'll stop for a urination break soon" or "Mummy, I need to defaecate".  I kid you not.  I heard it firsthand while on a picnic with them.  Those kids had never wee-weed or pooed their pants in their lives.  It would have been linguistically improper.

Anyhow, I managed to finish my shopping and escape through the checkout without any more trouble.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The kitchen gallery

A row of matching blue and white striped mugs hung neatly in his kitchen.  As I reached out to grab one, he said "No, don't touch those.  I never use them.  They're just there to make the kitchen look nice."

I found this quite odd.  His kitchen was a modern one, so he didn't have oodles of storage space.  He certainly didn't have enough room to devote to these functionless "works of art".  The mugs that he did use were kept, inconveniently, inside a cupboard.

But just now I found myself reaching up high for an old saucepan because I didn't want to ruin the display of my new Baccarat set hanging on the kitchen wall in an orderly progression from large to small.

This sort of thing has happened to me quite often.  Looking at someone's behaviour and thinking "How strange!  How weird!", only to realise later on that I shared their foibles.  But I try to hide them from other people so that they don't think I'm a little queer.  I don't think it's working.

The case of the empty toilet roll

He was the kind of person who never seemed to notice when the toilet paper ran out.  One time I decided not to fill the holder with a fresh roll myself and waited to see what would happen.

Well, he ripped off the wrapper and tossed it onto the floor, then hid the open toilet roll in the cupboard - just to spite me.  You see, in his mind, it was simply "his due" that I was the one deigned to replace the toilet roll.  By neglecting my duty this one time, I'd become an "uppity nigger", a revolting peasant, a runaway slave, a striking worker, a disobedient subject.

And we were only flatmates after all ... but not for much longer.  I kicked his Lordship out onto his royal backside, chucking his imaginary crown out after him.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Frog tells it as it is

A sandwich and a cuppa at the cafe.  Reading old magazines.  My eye catches an article title - What Men Really Think of Pregnant Women.

Just ask The Frog (ex-BF).  He'll tell you.

He and a mate were waxing lyrical one day on how disgusting and repulsive pregnant women are.  "Cowlike" was the word they used while smugly nodding to each other in their "manly" agreement.  (And he wonders why I didn't want to have a child with him when he was more than happy to "donate his sperm in the old-fashioned way", as he put it.)

The "cow" who had prompted their comments was a young woman with bright eyes, clear complexion, bursting with good health and a beautifully rounding belly.  But all they saw was a fat, slobbering milker.  Not fuckable.  Not attractive.  I didn't say anything at the time as I thought it might just be some kind of evolutionary protective device ... but now I know that they were just immature arseholes.

Are these guys typical or are there any men out there who go weak in the testicles at the sight of approaching maternity?

Such good mates

Geoff was a dope smoker.  He grew enough for himself and his friends.  He always had friends dropping by.  Mates.  Good mates.  Smoking mates.  Mates he could talk to about anything.  Knowledgeable.  Open-minded.  Radical.  And how they talked.  They did nothing else but bloody smoke dope and talk.  They solved all the world's problems but none of their own.

Possession was an imprisonable offence.  When the police cars swept in that fine morning, Geoff nearly shat himself.  They had guns.  They swaggered as they searched through everything - bank statements, letters, books, clothes, rubbish.  They found an innocent hand-drawn map and were sure it was where Geoff grew his plants.  It wasn't.  But they made him conduct a tour of the area anyhow.

They didn't find anything.  They missed the seeds hidden in the jar of lentils and the pot plants in the long grass.  Dogs would have found them.  But these were men ... men who had probably asked their wives to find their car keys for them that morning.

As their cars reversed off the grass onto the drive, a small plant that was growing from a carelessly dropped roach was exposed.  Geoff tried to look bland.  The police didn't see a thing and sped away with joyless looks on their faces.

They were drug squad from the city, accompanied by a local cop.  A long way to drive on the offchance.  A tip-off?  One of Geoff's mates who was on remand at the time on a pretty serious drug charge was let off without a custodial sentence.  It seemed like more than mere coincidence.  Had he sold out his mate to save his own neck?

But Geoff would never ask, never know.  But boys could talk about anything, couldn't they?  Well, no.

There seemed to be unwritten, unspoken rules when it came to their relationships.  You never said no to a joint, and you never criticised your mates or put them on the spot.

So Geoff avoided the topic.  He probably couldn't even admit his suspicions to himself.  That would expose the absence of a real connection and he didn't want to go there.  Things just continued as though nothing had happened.  Such good mates.

Boys are like that - not judgemental - tolerant - don't hold grudges.  Well, that's what they say.  I reckon they're just scared.

Scared of appearing uncool.  Scared of losing friends.  Scared of not being a man among men.  Scared of looking into that big empty chasm.  Scared, scared, scared.

There's a silence
between men
the unspoken gaps
kept closed
by fear
while they talk
so freely
of other things
of science
the latest discovery
in outer space
of risk taking
while close to home
the obvious
goes unnoticed
their big ideas
big things
big plans
certainty borrowed
from generations
of men
who went before them
passed down
from father
 to son
never questioned
just assuming they know
what it's all about
preaching uncertainty
for others
they think the universe
is looking at them
always at them
only them

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Man overboard

Years ago I saw Do Re Mi with Deborah Conway as the lead singer perform.  It was a free concert and it was fabulous.  This poem is inspired by their song "Man Overboard".


man overboard
because he slipped
and dipped
his toes into the water
the cold water

And all the while
I'm drowning, drowning
dragged down
by his heavy bag of death
pulling me under
and he says he needs air
but I've got none
to give him

I pierce
his bag of death
and its lies
spill out
and sink down deep
as I float upwards
and breathe
the sweet air
of freedom

The peasants are revolting

My over-riding feeling when I read Shakespeare's "Macbeth" as a 13 year old was that it was an awful lot of words just to say: Grabbing power over other people is an empty pursuit and it will bite you in the bottom in the end.  A poster would have sufficed.

And it seemed like such a backward step to devote so many beautiful words to obtaining the kind of insight we should have been born with.  Been there, done that, why are we still talking about it?  But humanity doesn't seem to have learnt from its mistakes.  They're just repeated - over and over again through the centuries.

In history class, it was obvious from a cursory glance that, if you put enough pressure on the peasants, they would always revolt.  Dictators do not last forever.  There is a kind of swinging pendulum effect.  It's just physics.  So why do they still pop up with regularity?  Haven't they read how the story always ends?

What are they thinking?

The same goes for mini-dictators; people who but for the opportunity to rule over nations, simply bully those within their smaller spheres of influence.  Children rebel against bossy parents; wives leave or murder their abusive husbands; and so on.

Most of us are exposed to these facts at school, but how many of us actually take them on board in how we live our own lives?  Probably not even the teachers do.

It's a strange, strange phenomenon.

Perhaps it's because we don't think of ourselves as the dictator.  It's always someone else.  So, if as you read this, you're thinking: "You've just described so-and-so", THINK AGAIN.  It may apply to you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Some of life's gifts

We stood in the queue at the city hall when they were giving measles shots.  Me and Mum.  I didn't cry, but a boy I knew, Donny, was bawling his eyes out and they hadn't even touched him yet.  And he played with dolls.

I never played with dolls.  Couldn't understand why anyone would bother.  Bor-ring!

I had a toy train set.  And a Davy Crocket hat that I wore to death, even through the hot days of summer.  But the most exciting present I ever received was when Mum bought me a present for doing well in my exams.  "I want grass clippers" I had said without hesitation.  I ran with them all the way to Pamela Toohill's place two blocks away.  Thrilled to bits.  Had to show them off.  She wasn't impressed.  Another time I asked for a garden hose.  Again, I couldn't understand why my friends looked at me strangely when I waxed lyrical about it.  Their problem.

My mother gave me a doll for my sixth birthday.  Don't know why.  It was the only doll I ever owned.  Still, I never invited any of my friends over to play dolls or, in  my case, doll; or house; or mummies and daddies.  Not like Nancy Turner from down the road, who was remotely related to me via my Danish great grandfather.  [A lot of the people in my neighbourhood were remotely related to me as the result of a Danish cohort which had moved to the area in the late 19th century - the Hansens, Andersens, Lorensens.]  She had a gazillion dolls and even a pram to push them around in.  She said: "Let's play dolls".  I didn't know what to do with the bloody things.  Those lifeless, useless things that just lie there and stare at you.  She never asked me again.

I preferred my dancing black man made of painted tin.  Not PC these days.  But he was great.  His arms and legs dangled and jangled.  A post-war version of Michael Jackson.

But I wasn't a tomboy.  I was sweet, timid, quiet, a "little doll" as the lady in the shop called me.  I wore pretty, frilly dresses and ribbons in my hair.

Before Christmas one year, Mum took me to town to pick out my Christmas present and see Santa Claus, even though I never believed in him.  [The Easter Bunny, however, was a different story.]  She called it "town" and I still do, but everyone else calls it "the city" nowadays.  Brisbane's grown a lot since the 1950s.

I still remember catching sight of the child-sized table and chairs.  It was bare, unpainted pine, exactly what I wanted.  My china tea set would look real nice on it.  That Christmas morning was one of the rare times I got angry as a child.  There on the verandah were my wonderful table and chairs.  But Mum had got "young Colin next door" [not to be confused with his father "Big Colin", yet another remote relative] to paint them.  The natural wood I loved so much had been smothered.

Blind fury!  Betrayal!  No words to express my hurt!  My mother didn't understand me after all.  Now I knew just how Jesus had felt when his mother didn't think to look for him in the temple.  [A bit of poetic licence here.  I had not even heard of Jesus at that age.]   I grabbed one of Dad's tools and smashed into the table.  Again and again and again!  They didn't punish me.  Why should they have?  It was "her" sin.  I did play with it over the coming years, but it wasn't what it could have been.

I am writing this in shorthand at my intarsia woodwork class, in between sanding small pieces of wood.  A lady has just walked up to me and, admiring the cockatoo wall plaque I am making, said:

"Are you going to colour him?"

Glancing briefly at a very pointed tool, I simply smile and say sweetly: "No, I want the wood grain to show."

A Bex, an orange and a nice lie down

I wasn't cut out for motherhood.  I didn't have the right lingo.  My mother didn't have it either, but "real" mothers were supposed to say things like:

Don't go upsetting your father again.
Your not gettin' your pudding till you've eaten up all your vegies.
Put your socks where they belong in the drawer and not on the floor.
Have you done your homework yet?
Don't talk with your mouth full.
Where do you think you're going, Miss?
Boys won't respect you if you let them ....

Mercifully, my mother was different from everyone else's.  A friend of mine had to roleplay "the mother" in a psychology class and her portrayal sounded more like that of a witch.  I wouldn't really know how to roleplay a mother.  Mine didn't fit the stereotype.  The closest I could come would be to have a nice lie down with a Bex, an orange and an Agatha Christie novel.

It's Mum's birthday today.  She would have been 93.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MUM.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Adventures with Aunty

We drove up from Brisbane to Maryborough for the engagement party.  Arriving at Elvie's place early, Aunty announced: "We're going to the RSL for something to eat."  Years ago, she swore that she'd never eat Elvie's cooking again after witnessing her wipe her sweaty brow with a teatowel while she was drying up.

That was her all over.  If she ever saw you do anything that might be even a little bit "off", she never forgot, reminded you of it for years after, and told the whole world about it.  She's still spreading the rumour that I didn't bathe as a child.  So, writing about her is my revenge.  Sweet.

At the party, Aunty sat stiffly along the wall while the rest of us hoed into the buffet.  "Not eating, Aunty?"  She sniffed.  "There's nothing here I can eat!  The coleslaw doesn't even have celery in it."

Unless a dish is prepared according to her own long-time recipe ... exactly ... it's just plain WRONG and inedible.  I had the audacity to make coleslaw at her place recently.  Never again.  I couldn't quite make out what she was complaining about to the person sitting next to her, but it was something about the onion.  I mean, it was her onion; her knife; her chopping sheet.  Where did I go wrong?  Where can a person go wrong chopping up onion for coleslaw?

Actually, it was a miracle that she had eaten at the RSL at all.  She deplored eating out for fear of the food containing rat droppings.  Or maybe, unbeknownst to her, someone in the kitchen may have licked their fingers before chopping up the vegies.

Aunty is in her 80s, but she still goes on her Wii each morning.  And she is super competitive, always checking her scores against everyone else's.  "Ha ha, I beat ya!"  With the meditation practice, she doesn't quite get the idea that it's not about defeating an opponent.

But watching her flap her scrawny arms in the flying exercise was too much for me.  It was the funniest thing I have ever seen.

I still find it hard to believe that this woman is actually my mother's sister.  This strange, vain woman who introduced her own sister as her mother because she didn't want anyone to think she was that old.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A particular breed of woman

History may look back on you and say: "Oh, you poor downtrodden housewife.  Your ghostlike form trolleyed the aisles of the supermarket, unnoticed, unseen."

Hah!  You don't fool me.

History casts its eye over the scene and sees all these huge rocks.  But I look down deep into the cracks between those rocks to where the gold lay hidden.

I'm not saying that this sort of woman didn't exist - she certainly did - but, look beyond the Tupperware and often a different picture emerges.

She may have paid lip-service to "the man of the house", but she was the real boss of the home and family.  I've watched her "type", attentively listening to her husband's viewpoints and ideas, seemingly absorbed by everything he had to say.  Every now and then, as if on cue, she would offer a sing-songy "Yes, dear"; "You're absolutely right"; "What a good idea".

This was just one of those interruptions to the flow of her life that she had to put up with, like obligatory sex, in order to maintain her position.  She treated him in exactly the same way as she would treat a small child proudly presenting their latest artwork.  "Oh, that one's going straight onto the fridge door."

The husband, swelled with manly pride, never seemed to notice how he was being hoodwinked.  She was a good wife.

Afterwards, it was as though he hadn't spoken.  His words had not even penetrated her consciousness and she just carried on as usual.  She prided herself on these "feminine" ways, her skill at keeping her marriage on an even keel.  To her it was just how women behaved if they wanted to keep their place in the world.

But she was just all front.  She had constructed her persona around what she thought femininity should look like.  She may not have had the opportunity to pursue a high-powered career, but she certainly had a strong power base.  She ran her life, her husband's and her children's with military precision from behind her frilly apron.  In fact, a friend's mother provided a hint of how some women actually perceive themselves.  Shortly after her husband had died, she said "I feel just like a general without an army."

So, don't be fooled, you historians.  Things aren't always as they appear on the surface.

The BOGI Spring Fair

Note:  BOGI stands for Brisbane Organic Growers Inc.

This was my first BOGI Fair where it rained.  Last year, armed with potted plants to donate to the BOGI stall and home-made cheese muffins destined for sale in the "cafe", I had turned up very early to help.

Penny had made special pinnies for us kitchen workers to wear.  How superior I felt wandering around in my official brown and green apron that announced: "Yes! I am indeed one of the kitchen ladies."

How different it all is this year.  I had been feeling "quite poorly" of late.  Without the usual cardboard boxes full of plants and muffins, I arrive around 10am and excuse myself from kitchen duties.  Walking from stall to stall without my uniform, I am now a non-entity, a nobody, just one of the crowd.  I had even left my BOGI badge at home.

Some people recognise me and stop for a chat.  I'm not good with names.  When the sweet-faced lady says: "Colin Campbell was supposed to open the Fair at 11:00, but it's now 11:25", she looks familiar but I have no idea who she is.  One of last year's kitchen ladies, I suspect.

Colin Campbell is an Aussie TV and radio garden guru and pin-up boy to us earthy set.  Second only to that Tasmanian, Peter Cundall, he is a sex symbol to the thinking octogenarian gardener.  I spot him not far away and point him out to the sweet-faced lady.  He's wearing "old man" brown trousers, navy jumper and cocky's hat - an ensemble sure to set the hearts of us old chooks a-flutter.

He's sitting at a table signing copies of his latest book, "Garden Something or Other".  He's certainly changed his tune since I first heard him on the radio years ago.  Back then, I don't think he would have been caught dead at anything of the organic persuasion.  His usual advice was "just spray the bugger with this nasty chemical guck".

Two fat ladies have got his ear and I wander off to look around.  There's a sign on the Rare Breeds Exhibit that says: "PLEASE USE THE HANDWASH BEFORE PATTING THE PIGS".  Not "after".  Before.  They obviously don't want their pristine pigs soiled by nasty human hands.

I do a quick round of the stalls - vegan living; Northey Street City Farm, permaculture, native bees and the like.  A man is giving a talk on worm farms but I don't stop to listen.  I consider myself quite knowledgeable on this subject, having Googled it to death when I first bought mine.

The same two fat ladies are still talking to Col.  My inner tiger wants to stride up and say: "Move over, bitches!  He's mine."  Instead, I crook my basket sweetly on my arm and head for the car."

I'm not really up to the Fair today.  I'm going home to bed.  Next year.  Next year.  I should have my prize-winning herbal display ready by then.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The exciting story of the tax refund

As I was going out, I grabbed my mail from the letterbox and ripped open one envelope.  Without my glasses on, it read:

"Keep this notice for future descendents"

"Isn't that tautology?" I thought.  Putting on my reading glasses, it then read:

"Keep this notice for future reference."

Ah, that makes more sense.  It's my tax assessment.  Oh, jolly good - I've got rather a respectable refund.

[What's going on?  I've never used the word "jolly" in my whole life.  But it's the sort of word you might hear Stephen Fry use, so I'll leave it in.  You know, when his visitor arrives and Stephen says: "Jolly good!  You've brought breadsticks.  What would our Ancient Greek themed sleepover be without them?"]*

Returning to the tale of the tax refund ... oh, bugger it!  I'm all out of ideas now.

*  Reference:  Fry, Stephen. date unknown. Ancient Greek bread dildos. Q.I. London: ABC.

Lesson of the Burrum River

She grew up along the banks of the Burrum River.  I don't even know if it was in a real house.  Probably just a shed.

This was in the 1920s.  My mother was the eldest of seven children.  Her mother had married a much older man who, by the time Mum came along, was an invalid pensioner.  So there wasn't much money about.  But all her memories sounded like happy ones, (at least the ones she told me about).  Like walking three miles to the school in Howard each day.  Or eating the pigeon pies her father had made.

This was orange orchard country.  Back in the days before chemical sprays.  At dusk, she and other kids would help out in the orchards, lighting the lamps that hung in the trees.  Bugs and moths would be attracted to them at night and die when they fell into a pot of something or other.  To repay the kids, the farmer would turn up at the school with a large port full of big, fat oranges.

Mum always loved oranges.  I think it was her comfort food.  She'd eat them in bed while she read Agatha Christie novels, leaving the peels amongst the sheets.

She often talked about how beautiful the river was:

"I remember the violets growing along the banks of the Burrum River."

There was a railway weir with steps going down to the water where they swam after school.  Probably unsupervised.  But it felt safe.

By the time pension day came around, there wasn't much food left and the kids went to school without their lunch.  Early in the morning her father would catch the train to Maryborough to pick up his pension and buy supplies.  Then he'd return home and bake bread in the ashes of an outdoor fire, using his home-made potato yeast.

Mum would look out for him bringing his still warm bread up to the school for their lunch.  Probably bread and dripping.  A real treat.

Mum didn't say much about her mother.  Her stories were mainly about her father.  She loved him.  He was a quiet man.  But she did tell me how her mother would cut some shoots off the gum trees when they were flushed with pink new growth and put them in a vase.  These were her "flowers".

School was a happy time for Mum and she was a good student, but her family's situation meant, of course, that she didn't go beyond primary school.  She was not, however, good when it came to singing.  Her teacher would implore her to "Eat some sugar, Carrie Davis, to sweeten your voice."  Still, her strange, droning songs lulled all of us to sleep as babies.

Many years later, when I was grown up and owned my first car, I took Mum back to the banks of the Burrum River.

Gone were the violets

Gone was the railway weir

Sadly, Mum turned to me and said, philosophically: "You can never go back".


Ah, it's now time for breakfast.  I stop writing and put down my pen.  Sitting on the back stairs with my bowl of Weetbix, I look wistfully at the carpet of native violets growing in my small Brisbane garden.

At the pet shop

I pulled up in front of the building that announced itself as "PETWISE - from noses to paws".  What I was after had neither noses nor paws.  Well, as far as I knew, fish had neither of these, but maybe David Attenborough knows differently.

I needed some PBEs.  That's Pacific Blue Eyes for those without a garden pond full of mozzie wrigglers.  The last lot had died.  I don't know why.  But the three fish in my other pond were still doing well after nearly a year.  I had hoped they would produce some young which I could transfer to the second pond before the wrigglers came back.  No luck.  And it's started raining.  Wriggler heaven.

As I peruse the array of fish along one wall of the shop, an assistant asks if he can help.  "I'm after some Pacific Blue Eyes."  He too starts to sweep his eyes from tank to tank when another assistant whispers to him: "We don't have any."  This message is then relayed to me by the young man, only louder.  "WE DON'T HAVE ANY."

"Will you be getting them in?" I ask.  Again, a whisper followed by a louder relay: "We're fighting to get them added to our database."

"Fighting?" I ask.  "Who?  Some government department?"

The whisperer then speaks to me direct: "No, we're fighting to find room to display them so that we can add them to our database."  I don't see much fighting for space going on.  Half the tanks are completely empty.

Fishless, I grab a supply of flakes for the tadpoles.  They love fish food.  And it's easier than remembering to freeze lettuce.  The woman ahead of me in the checkout produces her Petwise customer card.  "I'm sorry, madam, your Petwise card won't work anymore.  We're Petbarn now."  Ah, but for a change of four letters, she could have had her usual discount.  "But if you will fill out this form, you'll be able to get a discount next time."

"But I'll be in the database" she pleads.  "I'm afraid not.  We don't have the Petwise database any more."  At that moment, I swear I heard the ghost of Franz Kafka giggling his head off.

I considered suggesting that she may have a good case in law because Petwise was still the name proudly displayed in very large letters on the front wall of the shop.  I remained silent.  I've already upset my quota of people for this week.

My turn next.  "Would you like to fill out this form and become a ... [drum roll and flashing lights] ... Petbarn customer?"  "No thanks, the odd bit of fish food wouldn't justify it."

I still have another pet shop to try.  I wonder what adventures await me there.

Life's little mysteries

Why does the TV cop always press down on the head of the "suspect" as s/he climbs into the back seat of the police car?  Is there some genetic defect among the criminal class which prevents them from getting into a car, unaided, without bumping their heads?

How strange that the jewel thief, who so skilfully and gracefully abseils down through the skylight of the museum to grab that huge diamond, cannot even duck low enough to avoid hitting the car's door frame unless, of course, there is a police officer at hand.  I mean, even old ladies can still do it without help.

I lie in the bathtub and ponder this mystery.  I am sure that when it is solved, the very secret of life, the universe and everything will also reveal itself, opening up like a flower kissed by the first gentle rays of the morning sun.


As I walk by the river or sit in my tiny garden, not thinking of anything in particular, thoughts sometimes seep into my brain. If you'd like to read my seepage, here it is ...