Saturday, 8 November 2014

...Victoria: The State of Inertia

Some overpaid mastermind has decided that the new slogan to represent our state, the catchphrase that will grace all new car registration plates, should be ‘Victoria: The Education State’. How embarrassing. I fear it may be a necessary to teach millions of people how to pronounce EsseNdon with the middle –N, or that ‘you’ remains the same, whether it is singular or plural before we go speeding around advertising the level of our collective genius.

Really, do we want everyone else in Australia to think Victorians are a bunch of polysyllabic tossers who drive around blowing their own horns? And if we did make the change, would we replace the current system of identifying numbers and letters with algebraic equations, tricky scientific terms or little used but sensational words like frippery and folderol? Or would we stick with such wittily personalised plates as 8ooBEZ and Pen15?

No, I don’t think the new slogan is going to do much for our image. And it’s certainly not going to do anything for school retention rates or literacy levels. Here’s a kooky out-there suggestion for all those political think-tanks and enquiries into the economic value of switching to a new motto. Instead of worrying about promoting The Education State, how about worrying about the state of education? Perhaps increasing the status and salaries of teachers may be more useful. Too kooky for you?

Friday, 7 November 2014

... the unholy triumvirate of the fifty-plus sinner

I’m going to a wedding tomorrow. Here on The Rock. This affirmation of love will take place at the golf course between a bride and groom who met at the museum where we are all volunteers. How cool is that?

Unfortunately, however, my excitement and joy has been tempered by the greatest of all first-world problems for women in their fifties. Well, not for all of them. Just for the ones like me, who have allowed their bodies to be remodelled by the unholy triumvirate: Weightgainia —evil goddess of hormones and sworn enemy of all swimsuits; Gravitatum— the maker of all things saggy or droopy; and Wingzaflappen—commander of that area of the arm between shoulder and elbow.

Mother of all first world problems: What am I going to wear?

Full-length, 360-degree mirrors have long been off my Christmas card list, so I sensibly set a specific amount of time and number of stores for the search, promising myself that if I found nothing suitable, I’d just wear a garment I already own and glam it up with new shoes, fancy fingernails and a decent coif.

The shoes are stunning. Orange patent stiletto pumps. Sexy as hell. And my nails match perfectly. Coif TBC.

I’ll pay for my sins with pinched toes and calf cramp, but damned if I won’t feel gorgeous for the first five minutes.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

...a Pollyanna kind of morning

School mornings rarely run to plan in our household. Monday mornings are often particularly bothersome. But this week, after a 4-day weekend, it was Wednesday that caused the most trouble.
Boychild had failed to set his alarm. Boychild had to be woken (twice) ten minutes before our usual departure time and so spent the day unwashed, unfed and decidedly crinkly.
Boychild had two of his final exams on Wednesday.
No, Wednesday's was not a good morning. But it wasn't that unusual either, which led me to wondering ( because I'm reading a book about positive psychology at the moment) how our mornings might be represented in a Pollyanna / Little House on the Prairie kind of novel. So here's an excerpt :-)
NB: Names have been changed and expletives deleted to protect the guilty. 
‘Kyle, are you ready yet?’ The click-clack of his mother’s heels overhead was almost as loud as her voice. It sounded to Kyle as if an angry camel was tap-dancing in the kitchen. Kyle knew the look she would have on her face: the look of someone who was thinking one thing but saying another. She always wore that face when they were running late.

‘Have you two cleaned your teeth? It’s time to go. We’ll be late,’ she called down the stairs. Then she added, ‘ Has anyone seen my keys?’

‘Not yet,’ Kyle clicked “Shut Down”. ‘Gemma’s still in the bathroom.’ He didn’t bother to check this. His sister spent most of her life in the bathroom.

‘Does anyone have any idea where my keys might be?’ Judy Carter was standing just outside Kyle’s door as she spoke. He had been too deep in thought to notice her coming down the stairs. Now he’d have to think quickly. He should have headed her off before she made it this far. His room was not very tidy. In fact, his room was very not tidy.

‘Oh Kyle, this is a disgrace,’ his mother breathed heavily as she spoke. Sometimes Kyle thought she did this so her head wouldn’t explode from all the pressure that built up inside it. ‘It’s unhealthy, Kyle. It’s a wonder you can find anything in here.’

Kyle resisted the temptation to remind her that he wasn’t the one who’d lost his car keys.

‘Sorry, Mum,’ he looked into her eyes as he spoke. ‘I’ll clean it up first thing after school. I promise. And I’ll do my teeth as soon as I can get into the bathroom.’

‘Gemma, would you please let your brother have his turn?’ Kyle’s approach had worked. Attention had turned to his sister. ‘What’s taking you so long? Actually, don’t tell me, we don’t have the time. Just hurry up. Your brother hasn’t even…  So that’s where I left them.’

‘You know you could save a lot of time if you just used spray paint on your face,’ Kyle offered helpfully as he reached in front of his sister for the toothpaste.

‘Oh you two do make me laugh. Come along now. I’ll be waiting in the car.’

Just another day in paradise.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

...the mid-night hamster wheel

Scientists have known for a long time that daily rhythms are driven by some kind of clock in our bodies. But they didn’t work out exactly where it was until the middle of the 20th century. They found this out when they did surgery on hamsters. They took out a tiny part of the brain of hamsters called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). After this, the hamsters totally lost their rhythm – and not just on the hamster wheel. It used to be easy to predict when the hamsters would run on a wheel. But after they lost the SCN, they ran at any and all times of the day and night. That was the first big step in understanding.  
How’s your suprachiasmatic clock? Mine is way out of synch. I firmly believe its regular settings were totally lost at about the same time that my short-term memory disappeared into the post-menopausal-black-hole. If scientists were to remove any tiny part of my brain, any tiny part at all — left or right, frontal or back — I’m convinced they’d find it riddled with even tinier holes through which my hamster rhythm has been gradually leaking away.

After all my late night farnarkling routines have been thoroughly exhausted, you know how it goes —tidy/ablute /brush/check Facebook/put dogs out/ check emails/let dogs back in/charge phone/check blog/ turn off computer/find book— and I finally squeeze into the piece of the bed left for me by the dogs (which is always always the bit where there is plenty of doona cover but not one square inch of warm fluffy doona) it isn’t long before I fall asleep. Often with the light still on and a book on my face.

At some stage during the night, every night, no matter how many cups of coffee, glasses of pinot gris or life–sustaining minutes of exercise in the fresh air preceded it, I will wake. But here’s the thing, I wake at 2:22, 3:33 or 4:44. What’s with that? Comedic cosmic compensation? Or is my body clock trying to tell me something?

I don’t understand.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

...a beguile of magpies

Something of this handsome bird might be said with advantage in a homely way. It appears that in captivity Magpies show an aversion to anyone who has annoyed them, as well as to anyone who looks like the person who has annoyed them.  The voice of the offending person is quite sufficient to agitate the bird and cause it to rush post haste towards its tormentor to wreak a terrible vengeance. Although it is principally children and ladies that they have a grievance against, some children and ladies pass by as very good friends.

The Useful Birds of Southern Australia: With notes on other birds was written by Robert Hall and published by T.C. Lothian (Melbourne and Sydney) in 1907. It was one of very few things handed down to me by my paternal grandmother.
Happily, the magpie clans that populate our little piece of The Rock and I have come to regard each other as ‘very good friends’. I know I shouldn’t feed the wildlife. And yes, they leave the upstairs deck looking like this:

They also have a rather nasty habit of barfing up lumps of shiny hard bug-body-ambergris. It’s kind of gross, but who am I to judge.

My neighbour shoos them away from her place. She doesn’t like the way they peck holes in her lawn and she practically wretches at the thought of their poop getting into her water-tanks. But I think when they really pissed her off was when the cheeky blighters worked out that she keeps bees. Easy pickings. Meal in a box. So she shoos them off to come over to visit the crazy-bird-lady next-door who feeds them mincemeat and bacon rind. And they do.

I lob the tasty tidbits high into the air one at a time for my clever black and white friends to swoop and catch in midair all whooshing wings and click-clacking beaks. It’s a spectacular show.

The young birds wait warily on the grass below for any treats that should fall. A clumsy hurried foot-race for the prize ensues . They make me laugh.

In the mornings, they wait at my kitchen door. One cheeky male even taps on the glass to remind me they’re outside. A row of them will be on the railing singing. And oh how they reward me with their warble-garbling  a cappella routines.

I don’t know if there’s a collective noun for magpies, but there should be. A beguile of magpies, maybe? Or a carol?

Monday, 3 November 2014

I believe in signs

As we turned nervously into the school we’d selected for Girlchild  and Boychild, I was in awe of the vast greenness of the wetlands that lined the driveway. Waterbirds, wallabies and blooming wattle. Divine. Acres of fresh air and native plants were surely a far better choice than the concreted rat maze we’d left behind. I hoped the kids would be happy, that the transition would be painless for them and they would be comfortable in their new world.  Magically it appeared. The sign that assured me they’d fit right in:

And so they have. They love it here. What kid wouldn’t love a school that has a vegie garden, baby animals and a surfing academy? But the transition hasn’t always been so painless for me.

I’ve always said I should write a book titled The Oldest Mum in the Playground about the perils of later-life parenthood and the joys of being mistaken for the grandmother… or the nanny. It’s something I’ve always been self-conscious about. Moving to The Rock hasn’t eased that. Not even a teeny-weeny bit. Most of the mums down here look like they could be dating our older son. Oddly enough, it was a Cape Barren goose who provided my sign.

These elegant large-bodied creatures abound down here. OK, so their honk sounds disconcertingly like a snorting pig, but their grace is undeniable.  And they mate for life. I have absolute respect for them. So I was more than a tad disturbed when one pair chose to make their nest in the middle of the roundabout at the school's kiss-and-go drop-off point. Not just that, this couple was starting very late in the season.The other parents were already proudly showing their progeny how to forage and swim when this female settled to sit on her ill-placed eggs. 

The school bells rang, the cars came and went, the buses rumbled by. And still she sat.

Some days her partner hovered nearby. Other times he clearly lost interest and wandered off to find something decent to eat. But she sat. She sat as the other mothers herded their broods and preened themselves in the sun. She sat and watched as the fluffy chicks about her grew to be unkempt adolescents, feathers askew as they filed behind their parents.

My heart broke for her. Her laying had been too late. Her eggs were no good. She’d have no babies to tuck under her wings as the cool night airs fell.  
And then it happened.

She had her reward. 
I had my sign. 
This is home.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

...writing into the void

I've been 'gunna' start a blog for ages... not quite as long as I've been gunna start a diet, but definitely longer than I've been keeping a list of thing I might write about. Absolute ages. What stopped me wasn't an inability to express myself in words, nor a dearth of ideas; it was the lack of an audience.

Several years of my professional life were spent in a publishing house, and it always bewildered me that so many people wrote manuscripts — whole books — tapping away during every spare minute they had for years, writing into the void without first checking whether there was actually an audience for their work.

Hundreds of would-be authors had complete faith in the twaddle and dross they submitted for consideration, thinking of themselves as great writers, even if nobody had ever read what they’d produced. They assured me there clearly was a market for their masterpiece, because their husband/mother/son/ aunty/neighbour/best friend/highly literate cat had simply adored it. And every one of them was stunned when I rejected their submission. Stunned and hurt.

So, if I started a blog, who the heck was it for? Just me? If that was the case, then perhaps I should just keep a journal. For my friends and family? Let’s face it, they listen to me in real time, so it would be grossly unfair of me to expect them to devote their alone-time to hearing my voice too. I had snookered myself. No readers = no point in writing.

But a couple of months ago, I went to a writing workshop that promised to help me get started with whatever it was I was burning to write. I hated it. I sat through the whole day battling the voice in my head that was telling me I was a fraud, an imposter, not a writer’s bootlace. Publisher-me kept rejecting writer-me.
What are you going to write?
I have no idea. Just stuff.
Stuff? What sort of stuff?
Oh, you know… life… work…kids…
And why?
I dunno. Just because I want to…
And who’s it for? Who’s your audience? Your market?

And then the instructor said this: It’s none of your business what you think about your own writing.

The woman is clearly crazy. What does that even mean?
She might just have a point .
Are you kidding? It’s meaningless drivel.
But what if she’s right?

So, here I am. Writing into the void. Throwing my voice into the black hole. Making a commitment to blog every day for a month, with no safety net. And no known audience. But that’s none of my business either.