Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The owl and the pussycat went to sea...

I have had a lot of jobs in my time.  None of them proper.

In the early '90s I was cast as Yogo the gorilla in Monica Trapaga's kids show.  When I say, 'cast,' what I mean is: her manager was my manager, I was in between gigs and they needed someone to put on a gorilla suit and dance the "Yogo au gogo" with Monica.  We also did some sort of hula number, but my memory is vague on that.

What is clearer in my memory is that it was hard to see where I was going in that suit.   I definitely recall knocking over a plywood palm tree or two en route to centre stage.

To say it was the best job ever, is an understatement. It was a bit like joining the circus.  Monica was a flexible employer and the requirements of the job were "fluid" and ever-changing.  Sometimes I was required to work the bird puppet, "Macaw" (which I did very badly) and other times I was required to be "Mrs George Devino the corner shop owner."

Mrs George Devino was a construct entirely of Monica's imagination.  And despite Monica explaning her to me at great length and giving me two pages of meticulously typed character description, I still don't really understand who or what she was and why her name was "George."  Luckily I was given a lot of license to make the character my own.

So after being given the "you're on with Mrs G de V" signal by Monica (about half an hour before a show one day)  I awaited my cue and proceeded to stride on stage executing a very poor Dame Edna impression.  It just happened.  It was all very random, which was just the way Monica liked it. 

Now I have found another favourite job that perfectly suits my temperament.  I am officially called the 'Freelance Activities Editor' at Kidspot.  Wow, sounds fancy! But what does it mean?

It means I create content. I fill the site with stuff.  I make videos and write things and just recently the executive editor, Alex Brooks (who is on par with Monica in terms of her 'anything goes' approach to creatives) asked if I would do some nursery rhymes.

I'm not fond of nursery rhymes, nor am I fond of mawkish to-camera video work especially featuring my own rough old head. But I do like the Edward Lear poem,  The Owl and the Pussycat. So I pushed the envelope a bit: I recorded my own version and then asked one of my nine year old twins to do a drawing of the poem.  And while I don't want to toot my own trumpet too loudly, it's a pretty awesome drawing.

You can see Henry's drawing and hear my version of The owl and the pussycat, below.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Supermarket etiquette

I have spent a lot of time in the supermarket.  I am like Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson; I love the choice that capitalism affords me (but sometimes I find it overwhelming.)  In particular I love the fact that, until you get to the checkout, it feels like everything is free. Just take stuff off the shelf and put it in your trolley.  You can. You're allowed to help yourself.

However, some people have very bad supermarket etiquette and are spoiling it for everyone. Here are my top 10 rules for supermarket shopping.

1. The supermarket is one way.  You start at the fresh produce and finish at the toilet paper.   PLUS if we all follow the same path, each aisle should also only be one way.  That way, you will only have to say 'hi' to your neighbour/ the lady you knew from your son's first kindergarten/ that woman who looks familiar but you can't figure out where you know her from, once. (Not every time you cross paths going in different directions in each aisle. AWKS)

2. Conscientious, right-on Mummies and Daddies: no Playschool-style commentary in the fresh produce area please.   This is not the time to teach your kids about every single vegetable known to mankind and loudly proclaim to everyone around you what you are cooking for din-dins that evening. We are all giving our children chicken nuggets for dinner and we don't give a shit if your kid 'looooves' wok-flashed baby bok choy.

3. Old people: single file only. Do not waddle around side by side blocking the aisle, making loud 'oh-me-lumbar' groaning noises as you bend down to get to the lower shelves. On that, bend from your knees people, don't bend with your arse halfway out into the aisle and block the way.

4. Minimum speed of 5km per hour. Anyone going slower should get their groceries home delivered.

5. Self-scanning checkouts are for BASKETS only. Do not load up your trolley with your two week bulk shop and the scan it yourself, you knob. Also if you don't know how to use the self-scanner, get in the 10 items or less line where a kind checkout lady will scan them for you.

6.  Check-out ladies: no inane small talk at the checkout. In particular do not ask me what I'm up to today. Sometimes the answer is, 'not much,' and I feel guilty/embarrassed about that. Also, once you open up that dialogue I will worry that you are going to 'comment' on my groceries (the five packets of mini KitKats or some embarrassing lady item).

7. As a follow on from that...
Check out ladies:  scan embarrassing items as quickly as possible, if they don't have a barcode/ are not scanning, just toss them quickly behind you, pretend it never happened and move on.  If you have to get Jan from toiletries to run up the aisles looking for the price on a 24-pack of Tenas, I NO LONGER WANT THEM.  (Seriously, I'd sooner just wet my pants next time I go for a run.)

8. To the store manager: The checkout is a free library of magazines. That is: magazines at the checkout are provided for my enteratainment whilst I am waiting in the queue. I do not have to buy one but I can read it while I am waiting. If your queues are so long that I can read the entire thing while I'm waiting my turn, then maybe it's time to fire up the light on checkout 10.

9. Grocery shopping is not a romantic couples activity.  It is a dull necessity of life and only requires one person at the picking end. (You may involve your husband/boyfriend at the 'unloading and unpacking end' in the privacy of your own home.) Young pert ladies, leave your boyfriends at home! Do not drag him through the aisles in an attempt at cutesy, ironic, faux-domesticity before your time. Your time will come and it will not be cutesy. Don't peak too early.

10. People with fresh produce OCD: if you are fussy about hand-picking your beans/apples/oranges etc. be aware that some people are happy to just toss a few in a bag and keep going. That is: stand aside and don't block the access while you are searching for the holy grail of string beans one by one.

Happy shopping. And remember, if you see me coming at you down Aisle 7, you are going the wrong way.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Loyalty? For what?

 "Do you have one of our loyalty cards?"
 "Would you like one?"

Usually I say, "no" in a way that conveys how I feel about loyalty cards. I sort of shut my eyes and curl my upper lip as though there is a bad smell somewhere and the whole concept of a loyalty card may just be the source of it.

But I was out of my comfort zone. I was in a remnant shop, surrounded by big bolts of lycra and silk and satiny stuff.  I was a bit overwhelmed. I didn't really understand the prices.  Apparently I had to buy that whole roll of black lycra, I couldn't just have a bit. What would I do with a whole roll of black lycra? What would anyone do - unless they planned to start their own swimsuit label?

 "Oh okay." I said, caught off guard.
She was beside herself. She reached into the drawer and pulled out a small piece of cardboard, she folded it in half and explained the deal. She was so breathless with it that I thought it must actually BE a good deal.

 "Keep track of your purchases here..." She indicated the lined side of the card.  "And for every $200 you spend you get $20 worth for free."

You. Are. Joking. Aren't you?

I had struggled to spend $19.95. I'd bought four giant rolls of stuff I would never even use and  it had only cost me $19.95. What did this woman think I was doing at home? Running a sweat shop? $200 worth? This place is on Botany Road with no parking outside. The only reason I stopped was because as I happened to be passing, someone else happened to be pulling out.

Oh I won't be back.

Mostly because I have all the black lycra I'll ever need for a lifetime now.  I was disappointed that I couldn't take it home on the roll.
  "We like to recycle those." She said discretely, as I had tried to joust my way out the door with the lycra still on its giant roll.

(My nine year old was also disappointed. It was the only reason he'd agreed to come in with me. He'd seen all those giant cardboard tubes covered in fabric sticking up out of their bins and immediately started calculating what he could do with one of those: weaponry, homemade didge, periscope... the possibilities were endless.  He had feigned interest in my deliberating and only given himself away when he'd blurted out, "Do we get to take the big cardboard tube home?" ) 

But loyalty cards. Don't get me started.

The other loyalty card I got talked into was a Witchery card. The girl behind the counter told me that I would get invited to special VIP nights. It sounded really glamorous. She also said I'd get "special updates and notices of secret sales."  It felt so clandestine and dangerous.  Secret sales.  Oh happy day!

What I got was this: junk emails in my inbox about various discounts and a 5% discount on anything I bought at full price.  Here's the rub... I don't buy anything at full price. Not in Witchery.  Oh it's way too overpriced! And 5%?  Don't talk to me about 5% as if it's something.

And there were no VIP nights that I got invited to.  That was disappointing. I imagined they'd be giving out free chilled flutes of champagne as you walked in the door to peruse the specially discounted racks of everything you've ever wanted but it was just out of your price range.

I stopped accepting loyalty cards years ago, when my wallet got so chocked full of them that I could no longer find my credit card when I was at the supermarket checkout. (You know, when it has to be found quickly because there's a huge line up behind you and you've just scanned through about $300 worth of groceries and you can't exactly put it all back because you can't find your stupid credit card because of all the STUPID FRIGGIN'  LOYALTY CARDS YOU'VE GOT!!!?)

But every time I buy something:

"Do you have one of our loyalty cards?"
"Would you like one?"

For a 5% discount and a load of junk emails? For $20 for every $200 spent?

No thank you.

Now, if the loyalty card meant that you got to keep the big long cardboard tube every time... then I think you'd have yourself a very good deal.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Ladies leave your husbands at home

While I am all for gender equality I think it's time we all took a step back from the
"we are all equal and women can play cricket too" bandwagon and admitted that some things are for men, some things are for women and ne'er the twain shall meet.

Kids know this.  Kids are the masters of knowing what is sensible with regard to mixing the sexes.

I recall a particular method in primary school whereby if you were planning a game that required large numbers of girls and you wanted to round up participants you simply linked arms and marched around the playground chanting this:

"Who wants to play
No boys!"

Simple but effective: straight to the point. It alleviates any potential awkwardness when some enthusiastic Bernard tries to to join.  The same method worked for boys wanting to organise a game of touch footy.

"Who wants to play
Touch foo-tee
No girls!"

It's not sexist or exclusionary, it's just practical.

(It should be pointed out however, that the round up method sometimes became the activity itself. By the end of lunchtime the elastics mob had swollen to some 20 girls marching around with arms linked. We had not gotten around to playing our game of elastics yet.  I think we were really enjoying the the safety-in-numbers mob mentality of chanting, 'No boys!' all lunchtime.)

The same rules should apply to clothes shopping.

Ladies, leave your husbands/ boyfriends/ significant others at home. Please, I'm begging you.

There are certain places where a man is just not welcome. The women's wear section of David Jones or Myers is one such place. And don't even get me started on men who loiter in the change rooms with their ladies. Perverts OUT!

Shopping is a slightly furtive and clandestine activity for women.  We don't really need any more clothes. We are all aware of that.  But we just like to waft sometimes to see if we can find anything we need that we didn't actually know that we needed yet.

Ladies, if you bring your boyfriend into our sacred space, all of a sudden the rest of us feel judged. It really interrupts our heavenly department store flow. It bursts our bubble: that meaningless and compulsive consumerism that is the secret women's business of clothes shopping.

When a pair of male eyes sets upon us during our secret business our inner monologue switches from a dreamy:

Hmm... I don't think one can ever have enough white shirts.


What void am I trying to fill with all these clothes I buy? Do I really need another wrap dress when I never wear the ones I have? Is it necessary to try five  pairs of jeans on, when I am already wearing a perfectly good pair?  Is there something more practical I should be doing at home? Mutton dressed as lamb, mutton dressed as lamb, mutton dressed as lamb you are too old for that dress!

The other thing is, men just don't know how to stay out of the way when women are shopping. Women have a sixth sense. We can be perusing the same rack as another woman, our paths converging when suddenly, in an imperceptible movement, one makes way for the other.

This deft manouvre is known as  "the sales rack switcheroo." We don't need eye contact, we don't need to confer, we just know when to duck and weave to stay out of another shopper's way.

Just recently I took myself off to Myers for a perfectly pointless waft through the sales racks. I was aghast to find a significant number of women had brought their men with them and were moving through the racks in mixed pairs: as though shopping is an approved mixed doubles sport.

I was even more aghast to find one such woman rifling through the 90% off sales rack (that's right, I said, 90% off!) while her 'man' stood glued to her back like a buzzard. When I say "stood glued to her back" what I really mean is: "stood between me and the 90% off sales rack."

Men, if you do find yourselves in the women's wear section of David Jones, please be mindful of where you are standing.  Never EVER EVER stand between a woman and a sales rack. You will be shoved and you will deserve it.

This particular young man had eyes only for his shopaholic girlfriend. Sweet? Yeah, yeah, whatever. We've all been there. Just get out of my way, lover boy before I shove you.  I can see something black and jersey on that rack and the red markdown ticket is calling me. I'll do what I have to to get to it before she does.

I hovered meaningfully and made a sort of 'reaching out' motion towards an item just to his left.  This is the universal shopper's sign language of, "move to the right please and make way for me."

He stayed put. Just glued to her side, watching her with his droopy, shag-on-a-rock "I just want to be near her" demeanour.  Sweet? Yeah, whatever. Mate, find a chair. Sit in it and stay out of the way.  You are in serious danger whilst you are hovering so gormlessly around a 90% off sales rack. Seriously, I will shove you.

As I said, there were at least four other women shopping with men in tow, in the women's wear section: the men just drooging around behind them aimlessly, standing in the way, not being mindful of other shopper's needs (i.e. my need to get to the rack of fitted sparkly party dresses that I would never ever wear in a pink fit but just want to touch lovingly with my fingertips to glean some of their sparkly magic happiness for myself.)

The whole male presence really interrupted my valium-like shopping waft. It really ruined it for me.

I think next time I will bring my sister and my mother. We will link arms and march into that women's wear department chanting this:

"Who wants to go
clothes shop-ping?
no boys!"

Monday, 23 July 2012

My children believe that I am a faith healer

Whenever my children have an ailment, they bring it to me along with the blind faith that I will heal them.

Yesterday someone had a 'sore leg' at bedtime.  There was nothing more specific than it was 'sore.'  But they all looked to me, expecting me to have a solution, a diagnosis, a magical healing method.

In the past, I have gone on with all manner of pretendy stuff: rubbing the palm of my hand across the offending area in an authoritative manner, administering Panadol as though it were truly a magic potion and importantly blowing air over hurty bits.

But lately I just cannot be arsed even going through the motions.  I think it's about time I told them: I am not the faith healer they believe me to be. That bottle of children's Panadol in the bathroom cabinet is not some snake-oil cure-all. It's just pink stuff that tastes bad.

Somewhere along the way I have given the impression that I have all the answers.

Once, one of them got attacked by an ibis in Centennial Park. According to legend, it grabbed the back of his head and tried to fly off with him. I didn't see the incident but after it had happened, they all came running at me accusingly.

"A bird just attacked Henry's head!" They said indignantly.

 The clear subtext being: what are you going to do about it?

The same day, someone else slipped and fell in the sludgy mud by the pond. He too ran AT me screaming and hysterical, palms facing up to show his muddy stigmata like some kind of perverse Jesus figure.

His jeans were all muddy and wet on the seat.  He showed me furiously, expecting that I would have a solution: produce a clean fresh pair of pants out of my Mary Poppins carpet bag perhaps. (I used to carry a spare set of clothing, but that was years ago, way back when pants got weed in. I honestly thought I was free and clear of that obligation given he is now 12.)

The other night, someone got dust in his eye.  He rubbed it and rubbed it and rubbed it and wailed that it was 'hurting and sore and itchy.'  I went through the motions for a while: I bathed his eye tenderly with a wet facewasher, I scooped cool water directly into the eye, I sat him on the lid of the toilet and peered down right into his eye, asked him to look this way then that and declared with some authority that I could indeed see his entire eyeball.

He itched and rubbed at his eye again.

"But it's really itchy." He whined, beginning to approach a feverish this-could-go-on-forever-into-the-night pitch.

I decided there and then to come clean.

"You know what?" I said.  "There's not a lot I can do about it. Sometimes eyes  get itchy and you have to just ride it out. It's probably going to be uncomfortable until you fall asleep."

I patted his head. I gave him the face washer to take to bed just in case.

He lay in bed with his itchy eye, looking slightly non-plussed by the new world order where I  would no longer offer magic healing methods for every imaginable ailment.

I kissed him goodnight and headed out, free.  He timed it to perfection, I was almost out the door when -

"Can you get me a glass of water?"

No longer the faith healer, but still the waitress.

 Must debunk that one next. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Never work with children and donuts

I often have grand visions.  I recently had a grand vision that I would invite three extra children over after school (in addition to the three I own) and make a video of them getting in and out of a cardboard cubby house.  I had a grand vision that I could make it like those clown car videos: where about 100  clowns pile into the clown car and then come back out the other side.

Then even more ambitious was my idea to get them to make a pillow fort AND an under-the-table-cubby.  All while a camera was pointed at them. 

It was all part of an even grander vision: a video series on cubbies and tents for Kidspot (see my post 'What do you do?' for clarification of why I call this sort of thing a 'job.') I spent about two glorious weeks filming the construction of various cubbies and tents: in the backyard, in the living room, under the dining table, through the dining room chairs.  My children helped me, but if you must know, it was mainly me. I've always loved a cubby house, ever since my mother bought me a yellow Wendy House way back in 1978.

So the cardboard cubby video was going to be the grand prix of cubby videos. I was going to peak with a clown-inspired classic.

I prepped all day. I made my cubby house out of Kennards storage boxes. I made sure there was a front door and a window and there was even a little annexe at the side.  I 'rendered' it with gift-wrap. It was a masterpiece.  Once or twice during the day I wondered guiltily what all the other adults were doing at their real jobs while I was mucking around with boxes and masking tape at home.

Next I arranged some catering: (a.ka. bribery) a dozen donuts and a packet of Allens snakes.

I picked the kids up from school.  I brought them home. Then the fun really began. Or didn't. 

If you have ever tried to get six kids to do what you ask them to do, when you ask them to do it, you must be a school teacher. In which case, I think you deserve every 'extra' holiday you get.

Guess what? Kids don't listen. Especially when you hype them up on sugar and donuts.

I recall specifically requesting that they not consume donuts or snakes 'on camera' as it was not a great example to set on the Kidspot site. I think my exact words were:

"There is no junk food on Kidspot!"

About halfway through I realised one of my own charming children had been waltzing in and out of the cubby house munching on a donut the whole time.

And because I did the 'going into the cubby' in a separate take to the 'going out of the cubby,'  when I cut the footage together, it looked like he'd gone into the cubby house, found a donut cart and come back out again munching on it.

Oh the shame.

 If you watch the finished videos on Kidspot  it all looks like good, wholesome, Amish, home-crafty mum fun. But rest assured the reality was quite different. The reality was mainly a lot of yelling from me, mostly of my favourite phrase:

"Don't bump the camera!"

 So if you are a regular viewer of the Kidspot activity videos and you imagine that some happy home-crafty, jolly mum is behind the camera being all 'quality time' and cuddly-wuddly-goodtimes with her kids, please be corrected.

Here are some choice cuts and outtakes:

Saturday, 30 June 2012

I feel bad about my upper lip

Nora Ephron wrote a book called,  I feel bad about my neck.  I came across this title by accident. When I read this week that she had died of leukemia at age 71, I went looking for her autobiographical novel, Heartburn.  Nora wrote my favourite movie of all time, When Harry Met Sally. I watched it again recently and it still holds up.

(For the record, it's never been about the deli scene for me, it's always been about the scene with the wagon wheel coffee table.

Anyway, when I was trying to find an ebook version of Heartburn, I came across the collection of her essays titled, I feel bad about my neck. At first I was confused and thought it might be to do with a neck injury. Then when I read the bit after the colon: "And other thoughts on being a woman." I suddenly got it.

No matter how hard you try to disguise the ageing process, no matter how good you are at the art of 'ageing camouflage,' there are a few body parts that just won't play ball. The neck is one of them. The knees are another. (See Elle Macpherson and Cindy Crawford.)  And I have noticed of late that the part above the upper lip is another giveaway.

If you are unlucky, you start getting lines in the bit above your upper lip. It's like the lines in your lips start leaking into the rest of your face. It's quite distressing. Some women are doing  botox or fillers to rectify this unsightly imperfection.  (See Patty Newton on Celebrity Apprentice.) But that only makes things worse because then they end up looking like they have a duck bill.

No matter which way you look at it, the ageing process is particularly cruel for women.  And the more we try to fight it, the more ridiculous we end up looking. 

But whatever your age, life as a woman is an elaborate game of camouflaging your least favourite body parts.  When I was younger, I was very skinny: Calista Flockhart skinny.  It sounds fun, but it really isn't because people are always gasping in horror and saying, "You should eat something!" Or, "Oh my god! Are you anorexic?"

 But I was just scrawny. I developed a way of dressing that camouflaged how skinny and flat-chested I was: boatneck tops, men's jeans (because I didn't have any hips) and there was alot of blousiness going on; not to hide fat, but to make me look like I could perhaps be bigger under all that blousiness.  You just never knew, I could have had giant boobs under all that voluminous clothing.

When I filmed one of my first video clips as a musician the stylist had to pad me out with three thick long-sleeved tops so that my arms didn't look like Kermit the Frog's. I was quite the freak.

Then I had some kids and things got better... for a while, then a whole lot worse.  Now there are all sorts of things that need to be camouflaged and accounted for: pouffy stomach, ham hocks, upper thighs at the back, knee joints, slip-sliding-down-the-back-of-my-thighs bum, turkey neck, pouchy under-eye bits, that upper lip thing, fatty bits where your bra cuts in under the arms, celery stalk ankles, muffin tops and back fat.

It's really quite exhausting putting an outift together that does the job. Which is why women take so long to get dressed in the morning. There's so much to be covered and to do it without looking like Mama Cass in a coverall kaftan arrangement is a dark and delicate art.

It's like a well-practised magic trick: create a distraction here, to hide what's going on over there.

Whenever I go shopping and have to undress in a changing room, under fluorescent lights and at close quarters with my reflection, it astounds me that men have been known to put secret spy cameras in women's change rooms for their own grubby gratification.  Honestly, what array of fright night do they uncover when they are going through their footage later?  It cannot possibly be alluring. If someone inadvertently caught my undressed image on their Peeping Tom camera I can only say that it would be a fitting  punishment for their crime. ("My eyes! My eyes!")

Sometime last year, one of my good friends sent me an email with the title:
"Oh my god! I'm pregnant!"

When I opened the email, all that was in it was a photograph of my friend in her (until that moment) favourite dress.  It was a smart jersey wrap dress; one that she had always considered made her look quite foxy. Then she saw the photograph; she is standing at a particularly unflattering angle and looks honestly about 5-6 months pregnant.  After she had mentally counted back over all the times she had worn that dress to functions and parties and then felt retrospectively mortified, she sent the photo to me. Purely for my own amusement.

Laugh? Did we ever.

A problem shared is a problem halved indeed.

So RIP Nora. I feel bad about my neck too. (Amongst other things.)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The friendship cupboard

Recently someone I know, who shall remain nameless, had to put someone SHE knew into the friendship cupboard.  Me and the person I knew, who shall remain nameless, discussed it at length and decided that it wasn't to be a permanent banishment, just six months or so would probably do the trick. After that, the person in question could be released again and perhaps the friendship could resume. It's not a 'freezing out' situation, it's far more subtle than that, it's just a simple putting away and shutting the door for a while.

Female friendships can be tricky. We get close to each other, so we really know how to push each other's buttons. Or sometimes friendships just go out of fashion for a while. Someone you seemed to have so much in common with in high school can suddenly seem irrelevant if your lives take different paths.  But then ten years later, that same friend can come back into fashion when your lives converge again in some way.

 And instead of just 'dropping' an old friend never to be picked up again, the friendship cupboard can be a good way to give things a 'time out.'  Sometimes it's just a month or two. Sometimes it's years.  Sometimes it's a mutual understanding and no one's feelings get hurt. Sometimes not.

About ten years ago, I had to put someone in the friendship cupboard.  It pained me to do so.  She was an extremely warm and engaging person on a good day. But on a bad day, she could just be plain prickly. She had a sharp tongue: it was funny when it was aimed at other people, but no so funny when it came my way. 

We'd been friends since high school and had reconnected over the birth of children. She had her second child around the same time that I had my first.  She was a good sounding board for 'first baby' problems and gave me a lot of much-needed support as I flailed my way clumsily through the first months of becoming someone's mother.

She, let's call her Mabel, because that's not her name,  was funny and smart and we sort of reverted back to our old high school dynamic: she swayed wildly between idolising me one minute and finding me a complete disappointment the next.  Apart from that, I enjoyed her company and so I just kept my distance a bit from her.

One night Mabel invited me and my husband over for a dinner party at her house.  She invited another couple as well:  a girl from high school, someone I didn't know all that well, but was happy enough to catch up with. Let's call that girl Gertrude.
  "Gertrude has got the best singing voice!" Mabel said to me breathlessly over the phone. "She should be an opera singer, seriously, you won't believe it."
"Alright." I said, trying to cast my mind back to high school when I might have seen this nascent opera singing talent first appearing.

Looking back, Mabel may have been trying to put me in the friendship cupboard. Everything about the night seemed designed to repel me.

When we arrived, I was ushered into the piano room to hear Gertrude sing.  Mabel got on the piano and played some very thumpy, two-handed accompaniment while Gertrude showed off her opera quality pipes. 

I don't mind a bit of a sing around the piano, but there's got to be a time limit. I mean, you don't have to sing every verse and chorus of Don't Cry For Me Argentina, if people are standing around politely listening to you.  You give it a verse and a chorus then you finish up.

But Mabel was determined. They finished up on Evita and launched into some Porgy and Bess. All the while, I stood with, what I hoped was a politely interested and not at all put out that no one was asking me to sing, look on my face.

It's hard to put my finger on what it was about this whole exercise that got my back up.  I was two years into motherhood and feeling a bit invisible.  I had made a living out of singing in bands, then had a baby and had not sung professionally for three years. The first few years of motherhood can sort of suck you under.  You lose a part of yourself:  usually the part of yourself that is most tied up in ego and identity - your job, your talent, your special thing that you do that makes you, you.  It's necessary to put this part of yourself aside for a while, but disconcerting all the same.

So I was a bit touchy about the whole having once been a singer thing.

 And why was Mabel showcasing this other person. Wasn't I the singer?  I was very confused by the whole exercise until she said:

"Now you both sing together, see who's got the best voice."

And she pumped out a clunky version of Somewhere, my signature tune from the high school musical.

The most bizarre thing about this whole exercise was that Gertrude and I just complied and started singing against each other.  It was sort of a joke, but sort of not and it has to be said that Gertrude was really giving it some. She was determined to drown me out.

 Mabel was really enjoying it and I think in her head, we were two suitors vying for her friendship.

But the point where I decided to lock Mabel in the friendship cupboard for the better part of a decade was right at the end of the evening.

The night was winding down. People were starting to check their watches and cite babysitters.  Mabel, perhaps sensing we were all about to escape, announced that she had a special performance for us.  Her husband stared straight ahead as if he knew already what was coming but did not want to tip any of us off lest we escape and leave him to suffer it alone.

Mabel disappeared into the living room and all of a sudden Mariah Carey's Hero, blasted through the house at an illegal volume.  Then Mabel appeared in the doorway between the living room and the dining room, lip syncing dramatically.

She was very drunk and it was very funny... for about thirty seconds. Then it just went on and on. And it was very clear that our role as a group, was simply to pay attention to her. What else could we do? The conversation had dried up about half an hour before.

She swept out one set of patio doors and sang to the neighbours for a while, then came back in the other set of doors and sang at us again. At which point her husband got up quickly and locked the doors so she couldn't escape again.

She found another door and swept it open dramatically for the key change, she bowed out into the night again and her husband pushed her back inside. (It seemed a very real concern to him that someone would call the police and make a noise complaint.)

But Mabel was unstoppable. It sounds wild and quirky in the telling. But in the moment, it simply went on for longer than was funny or entertaining. And in truth, she wasn't so drunk that she wouldn't be expected to know better.

It occurred to me then that this was and would always be, my role in this friendship. To just be her audience. To let her do what she did and not question. I decided in that moment, when she went for the key change while we all sat there bored rigid, politely sipping our weak coffee (she made a dreadful cup of coffee, always) that it was time to put Mabel in the friendship cupboard.

It was a moment of pure clarity. I knew that night, as I said, 'bye thanks for a great evening' that I would not be seeing her again for a long time.

I even sent her a postcard a week later, as a final sign off. 

In she went. Into the friendship armoire. She's been in there for over a decade. I'd like to get her out one day, there is still something about her I find irresistible. But not just yet.

 Perhaps five years more for Mabel.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Giving it petrol: lessons in stage craft

When we were kids, my sister and I didn't so much 'put on a show' as stage a series of very avant garde performance pieces in our parents' master bedroom.  The main appeal of the master bedroom was the walk-in wardrobe, which made a good backstage area and so facilitated our most edgy piece  "I'm Scared."

"I'm Scared," was a multi-media performance that involved one or the other of us (we were an interchangeable troupe of actors) playing our flute in a dramatic fluttery way as we emerged from the walk-in wardrobe, crouched Bangarra dancer-style, looking hither and thither like a hunted fugitive. The success of the piece involved a complete commitment to the moment of being scared.

We dabbled in all manner of performance types.  There was a puppetry piece called, "Bwoop Bwoop, It's The Critter," which involved the clever use of a ball of wool with the bobbly ends of knitting needles for eyes.  If you pushed the needles back and forth it looked like the critter's eyes were going, 'bwoop bwoop.' There was a song to go along with it, but it would be lost in translation here.

And our most accessible piece, "Ha ha ha! Everybody's Jolly!"  was a musical extravaganza into which we cast our three year old brother. We dressed him in a leotard and gave him strict instructions not to 'improvise.' He was to perform only the choreographed dance moves assigned to him and to stay in the background.  We made our parents watch it. They were a tough audience and responded with a sort of bemused smattering of applause before checking their watches and going back to the living room to watch the end of, "Murphy Brown."

Over the years I have forged some sort of career in music and performance.  And while none of it was as satirical and edgy as that early work with  my sister, I have learned a thing or two about stage craft. I will share my wisdom now.

Lesson # 1: People have to look at you. Keep yourself nice.

 I learned this lesson early on.  When I was 16, I took part in a small recital put on by my singing teacher.  The recital took place in his teaching room: a small room no larger than most people's bathrooms, on the third floor of the Dymock's Building .  From memory there were about 10 other singing students there.  It wasn't so much the fact that people were looking at me that made me feel awkward, but the fact that they were sitting on plastic chairs about three foot away from me as I wailed out my mournful version of the Negro spiritual "Were You There When They Crucified The Lord."

Also, quite contrary to the fact that I was a skinny underdeveloped 16 year old, I had a very loud singing voice.  I was afraid I might be hurting their ears especially when I hit my dramatic crescendo  on the line:

Whooah- oh -oh-ooooh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble brother tremble

  As a result, I spent my entire performance wringing my hands inside the bottom of my school jumper and looking up at the ceiling. When I'd finished, instead of applause I heard this:

"Oh my God! Stop doing that with your hands, you're making me so uncomfortable!"

A woman in the front row (a mature age student who had sung "Georgia" in a very pretty and self-satisfied  way) was covering her face with her hands.  She stood up then and came toward me and yanked my hands out of the bottom of my jumper. 

"What a lovely voice, but please don't do that with your hands when you sing!"

It occurred to me then that it was more important to make THEM feel comfortable than it was to absorb and deal with my own discomfort.

I never did that again and learned to stand as elegantly as I could with my hands down by my sides and wear something aesthetically pleasing. I also stopped singing Negro spirituals, given that a) I am not a Negress and b) I knew nothing of the terrible suffering that might cause one to wail.

Lesson # 2: Give it petrol. 

This was a difficult lesson to learn given my formative performing years took place on pub stages in the early '90s. It was the fashion then to look down at the carpet and sort of, pretend that you were too cool to want to be there.

 There was alot of grunge going on: alot of pasty boys playing fuzzy electric guitars and singing pretty badly.  It was hard for two girls (who aimed to sing in tune) to know how to pitch themselves.  It was a boys club and we wanted to fit in.  As a result we just stood there singing and strumming. We thought it was going pretty well, this singing and strumming thing until we played a big outdoor festival in Brisbane and a reviewer described our act as:

"... about as exciting as watching paint dry..."

He had a point.  I took it on board. I tried to give it petrol from then on.  I still do. But sometimes I get so relaxed up there I just forget.

Lesson #3. Don't insult your audience.

Again, a difficult lesson to learn on the job.  The year was 1993. I toured the regions supporting Things Of Stone and Wood. They had the biggest hit on radio at the time, a song called, "Happy Birthday Helen." And out in the regions, where men are  men and women are women, it was especially heartwarming to see big boofy country blokes punching their fists in the air as they sang along  footy-chant style to the line:

You are the voice in my heart that whispers compassion!

What wasn't heartwarming was going on every night BEFORE the main act and having people yell out for me to play "Happy Birthday Helen."  It was chronic. It happened every single night. I couldn't fathom it. I understood that they couldn't wait to hear that song. But to request that I play it for them? Surely it would only lead to disappointment. Better to wait for the real band to play that one. But still they persisted. And not just once. Numerous times during my solo acoustic set of girly tunes a voice from the dark would caterwaul hopefully.

"Happy Birthday Helen!"

As if there might just be a chance.

And then when I didn't comply, they would shout out again insistently, as if completely bewildered as to why I wouldn't fulfil their request.

(It's funny what people expect of a girl with a guitar.  I once played a B&S ball out in Windsor. A big empty hay shed smattered with boys in tuxedos and girls in ill-fitting taffeta. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to put me on with my guitar as the opening act, I will never know.  A very drunk girl zig-zagged her way from the back of the room (where everyone was gathered, trying to escape my annoying music) to the stage. As she got closer with the obvious intention of engaging my attention, I tried to ignore her and go to my happy singing place. Finally she stood at my feet,  beckoning wildly to me.  I stopped playing and leaned down to hear what she had to say.
She was so drunk that her eyes were rolling back inside her head looking for her brain.

  "Sczzz me..." She slurred, nearly falling backwards, then righting herself and lurching forwards again, "do you know, 'Lump'?" 
It was a song request.

Again I'm not sure why she thought that me singing her favourite song by the subversive punk grunge band, "Presidents of the USA," would be satisfying.  I told her I didn't know that song. She kept insisting that I knew it and I should play it. Then she tried a few others:

 "Smack my bitch up?"
"Black Hole Sun?"
"Heart shaped box?"
"Listen," I said finally, "I don't know anything that you know. Okay?"
She blinked, lurched backwards and then zig-zagged back across the empty barn to stand with her back to me alongside the rest of the tuexedos and taffeta.   In retrospect, I should have just knocked up a quick Patsy Biscoe-style version of 'Lump' to shut her up. Who knows, it may have set the barn a jumpin'.)

Anyway back on tour with Things of Stone and Wood: town after town, audience after audience, pub gig after pub gig, I would have to play my entire 30 minute support set with people yelling out intermittently for 'Happy Birthday Helen.' 

They weren't heckling, they were genuinely requesting that I play their favourite song. Even when Things of Stone and Wood finally played it, towards the end of their set, the audience was not sated. They would keep piping up throughout two encores of other songs, with requests for the band to sing that song again.

One night, before I'd even strummed a chord, a girl in the third row, called out for it.
"Are you stupid?" I said.  "Obviously I don't play that song."
The audience then became one seething mass of hatred.  All directed towards me. An audience is a frightening beast that can turn on a dime.
"Ooooooooh." They hummed in unison.

"Up yerself bitch!"
"Get off!"

I did get off. About 10 minutes later. I exited stage left to a roar of abuse.

An audience is like a savage beast: best not to poke it with a stick.

Lesson #4. When things go wrong on stage, just keep smiling.

I used to do my 'nana.  I couldn't hack it when things went wrong: leads buzzing, guitar strings breaking, foldback cutting out, speakers popping. I'd lose it.  It didn't help. It just made everyone uneasy. The audience reared back never to be reeled back in again.

I have since learned to just keep smiling. I have become a master of playing the wrong chord and just keeping on singing.  I have played entire chord sequences out of order and not batted and eyelid. It's quite a skill.

I have played with a loud static roar of broken speaker blaring up at me from the foldback and just given it petrol like I was loving myself sick.  

I have sung entire songs in the wrong key and like a train on a track, I just keep going. If you do it with confidence, people just think it's jazz.

Lesson #5. Don't lay a log on stage.

The transition from singer-songwriter to opening act for a comedian is a little bumpy.  If you are a  singer/songwriter, everyone wants to see your pain.  They want you to open up your rib cage and show your angsty little heart. As Seal would say, "They want you to show your vulnerability."

A comedy audience however views weakness in much the same way as a mummy mouse does: they just want to eat you so that you will no longer exist and therefore cease to make them uncomfortable. 

Last year, in Rockhampton, my sister and I decided to change things up. I'd been opening her comedy show with the same jaunty song for 12 months. We thought it might be interesting if I sang a different song that night.

"What about that train song?" Said my sister, who doesn't understand lyrics at all.
"The train song?"
"You know she's waiting for the train and saying goodbye to the buildings." 
"Ah, Patty." I said, happy to be able to give my favourite angsty tune an airing.

 So that night in Rockhampton, I sang Patty Griffin's "Useless Desires," which I'd always thought to be about Patty leaving a relationship and saying goodbye in a 'girl power I don't need men' sort of way. 

However on stage that night, about halfway through the song,  it suddenly dawned on me - as Patty said, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, to everything including birds and buildings  -  that she was saying goodbye in the forever sense. I then made the connection to the last verse where she goes down to the railway tracks and waits for the train. I'd always thought she was waiting to get on the train.

It occurred to me then, that I could be bringing everyone down with my 'ode to suicide on the railway tracks.' My voice cracked mid-note. I looked down into the front row and saw some extremely bored and fed-up looking people.

I lost my nerve. I began to ooze fear.

The audience caught a whiff of it and began immediately to despise me. 

The three minute song seemed to go for an eternity and when  I finally exited stage-left, the lacklustre applause stopped before I'd reached the wings.

My sister then came on, sensed the mood and fed on it herself by doing some very unfunny versions of her previously (in every other town we'd been to)  funny jokes.

We now refer to it as 'the night we laid a log on the stage at Rockhampton.'

Perhaps a rendition of "I'm scared,"  may have been more apt.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Women in bikinis and heels, piss off!

Susie Maroney has had yet another mummy makeover.  If you don't know what a mummy makeover is, here are the basic elements of a 'mummy makeover' photo shoot. 

- a bikini
- a pair of high heels
- a baby held close to your fab new bikini body to give the impression that you lost the weight simply by lifting and holding and nurturing your new baby.

Piss off!

While I applaud women who can lose weight after they've had a baby or two (seriously, who doesn't chub up when they have babies?  It's just part of the deal: have a baby, chub up) I just don't see why women need to pose on the cover of magazines in a bikini AND high heels after they lose their 'baby weight.' (Or at all, for that matter. Put some clothes on you crazy bikini kooks!)

It's like they think no one will believe that they are no longer a big old mummy chubster.  They have to prove that they are thin again by stripping off all their clothes and standing there in the equivalent of their underwear.

 But it's not so much the bikini, as the high heels that makes me feel nauseous with 'back to the 1950s' whiplash. 

 I know they're doing it to make their legs look longer so their post-baby bod looks bangin' hot and that's 'woman power' or something.  But when I see those photos I just think, "Why is she wearing heels with her bikini?" Bikinis go with bare feet. Unless you are in a beauty pageant. Which brings me to my point.

Bikinis go with bare feet (or thongs if the sand is hot) unless you are in a beauty pageant! 

I thought we all sort of agreed that beauty pageants are just dumb.  It's not a right-on feminist thing, it's just a common sense sort of thing. Why do grown women have to parade across a stage in their bikinis and high heels in the pursuit of a tiara and a wand? It's just really, really dumb. And I don't care how much they raise for charity, they are dumb for being in the beauty pageant.

And you can try and convince me that they're all really smart business women, up there in their gowns and bikinis and five inch-thick makeup and Vaseline on their front teeth.  But if they're so smart, why are they in a competition where the winner is the person who looks best in a bikini and heels? If they're smart, they should be in a competition where the winner is the person who invented a fossil-fuel-free car.

Furthermore, bikinis do not go with having had two more more children.  It's just a fact. So if you want to prance around on dry land in a string bikini after you've had your kids, I can only say this to you:

Piss off!

(That means you, Elle Macpherson.)

Monday, 4 June 2012

My sister's furry children

My sister has two furry children. Their names are Henry and Sarge.  You might be asking yourself, "What does she mean by 'furry?' Do they have some sort of overactive hair gene or something?"

Which, if you've seen my sister, is entirely possible. (Nickname: "Wiggy.")

However the answer to your question (assuming you asked it) is: they are a dog and a cat.  She likes to run a tight ship, so her animals are very well trained. Henry even does tricks. His cleverest trick is to 'find Sarge.'

When she says, "Where's Sarge?" he goes up and bats the cat with his paw.  It's very entertaining and the cat is extremely tolerant. Although Sarge gets his own back later, by swatting Henry with his claw when he is innocently passing by (no command needed.)

 Watch the video to see Henry's tricks.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The golden years of low-maintenance friendship

When I had my first baby the stars aligned:

My good friend Jane had also just had her first child and she lived a short stroller walk away from us.

A lot of people join a formal mothers group, but Janey and I were the mothers group.  It was just the two of us, an informal but emotionally binding arrangement every Thursday morning. The morning would finish up just late enough to ensure that Max would not fall asleep on the walk home and ruin the sacred hours of nap time.

Jane's baby, Maia, was 10 months older than Max.  Maia was - and I mean this in the most loving way - a bit of a menace. Max was only just learning to sit up when we started our 'mothers group' and Maia's favourite trick was to stand behind him, a sippy cup in each hand, her arms spread wide and waiting.  We would watch and wait, watch and wait. Jane would say, 'Maia..." in a warning tone but Maia would not move or blink.  Then at the exact moment we stopped watching, "whack!" she would bring her sippy cups together and violently 'cymbal' poor Max in between.  She was masterful, you had to give her that.

Maia had to be watched like a hawk in those early years.

As they got older, Max learned to hold his own and our mothers duo became a more relaxed affair.  They played together happily and we no longer had to watch with one eye for Maia's sneaky baby-tipping malevolence (until her baby sister, Josie came along.)  There were some questionable antics in the side passage of a human excrement nature once but apart from that, those Thursday mornings were the most relaxing hours of my teeny, tiny, toddler-based life.

I recall a particular fascination with the dolly stroller.  Max would always be enlisted to push Maia - bigger and heavier by 10 months - from one end of the house to the other.  It was a surprisingly serious exercise: Maia sitting blank-faced and uncomfortably crumpled into the doll-sized stroller, Max steadfastly pushing with all his might to move her along. It went on for hours.  They would appear like this in the living room, then retreat to the other end of the house, only to reappear minutes later, in exactly the same serious, blank-faced way.  I'm not sure what their destination was, but they never seemed to reach it.

This sort of surreal toddler behaviour is always so much funnier when there is someone else to witness it with you.

Because the thing about early motherhood is, it's isolating.  Spending hour upon hour in a toddler's company, (while having undeniable moments of delight) can be mind-numbingly dull.  You can find yourself watching the Teletubbies in an intrigued sort of a way ("Hmm I hope the Noo-noo  comes out of the cupboard today.") You can slowly go coco-loco if you don't keep an eye on things.

But if you are lucky enough to have someone like-minded who is in the same phase, where activities must cease at noon for nap time and motherhood is not some competitive sport, you are all set for some golden times.

Those first few years with me, Max, Jane and Maia,  I realise now, were golden times indeed.

Three and a half years after Max, I had my twins and I moved half an hour west across Sydney.  It was harder to meet up in that informal, relaxed way (no more a brisk stroller walk down Bondi's Blair Street)  Meet-ups involved three children strapped into car seats and a desperate race back to Leichhardt at noon sharp with one eye on the rear vision mirror praying for children to not fall asleep on the way home.

But most recently life has again intervened.  Jane has gone to France for a 'gap year' with her little family (Maia now 14).  Even before she left for the northern hemisphere, we didn't see as much of each other.  We both work and meet-ups have to be arranged after hours.  By the time we do meet up, there's an agenda list of things to catch up on that virtually have to be 'ticked off'.

It's not the same as the guaranteed weekly catch up where the conversation just takes up where it left off the week before.

It's a bit like when you first leave high school and you realise how lucky you were to be seeing your friends five days a week.  That comfortable taken-for-granted friendship you had now has to be 'arranged' and scheduled in.

If you are in the toddler years,  enjoy those golden times. I'm not necessarily talking about the quality time spent with your child, I'm talking about the quality time spent with your good friends.

 It will be a while before that kind of low-maintenance friendship ever comes your way again.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Magical Land of Business Speak

If you've been at home with your kids for a few years and you're thinking of returning to work, the workplace may seem like a magical place where you get to talk to adults all day about adult things. But  the corporate world really has become the 'Magical Land of Business.'

The Magical Land of Business has seceded from the real world and has now developed its own unique language.  Everybody speaks this strange new dialect fluently. You will find yourself quite befuddled by it if you've been at home with toddlers who say, "I'm hungry," when they are hungry, "I'm bored," when they are bored or "in triangles," when they want their sandwich cut into triangles.

In the Magical Land of Business, people engage in a lot of double-speak, no one really says what they mean and there's alot of 'pea under the cup' stuff going on (as opposed to the relatively simple conundrum of 'pea up the nose.')

So for those of you who are making the transition from straight-talking toddlers to double-talking executives, I have provided translations for the top 10 business phrases to help you ease back into the workforce:

1. “Loop me in”
Translation: “I am too lazy to keep up with this myself so can you spoon-feed me by telling me everything I need to know in concise digestible form.”

2. “Low hanging fruit”
The easy stuff that requires no effort to achieve but has not been done because everyone is too busy on Facebook.

3. “Think outside the box”
If you are asked by someone to "think outside the box," that person is really saying: 
 “Think of something that I haven’t yet thought of because I am too important to think.”

4. “Let’s shop that out”
Unbeknownst to me (until recently) this does not mean, "go to Target and indulge in some retail therapy after you've finished work." 
When a superior or colleague says, "let's shop that out," what they are really saying is: 
 “I have no idea how to think for myself and would like other people’s opinions to inform me as to what I should be thinking about this.” 

5. “Action items”
A phrase designed to make mundane office tasks sound like impressive pectoral-pumping activities similar to those undertaken by Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

6. “I want you to give 110%”
Translation: “I want you to do your job and a little bit of my job as well.”

7. “Give me the net-net”
Translation: “Your extraneous facts are boring me senseless please get to the point before I faint from lack of circulation.”
(Interesting factoid: in Police Speak this translates as: “Just the facts, ma’am.”)

8. “Screw the pooch”
To “screw the pooch” means to cause a monumental stuff-up.  If you are told: “don’t screw the pooch,” it means you are dangerously close to being fired and you should log onto mycareer.com asap or consider having that third child.

9. “What would that look like?” 
You will hear this a lot.  It does not mean start painting a vivid word picture and embellish it creatively.  If someone says this to you, what they are really saying is: 
"I don't understand what you are talking about, but am too embarrassed to say, 'I don't understand what you are talking about.'" 
(Just say it again, as if you are talking to your two-year old.)

10. “Socialise internally”
To move from desk to desk talking to your co-workers about irrelevant stuff.  If you herald it like this:  “I’m just going to socialise internally on that.” It will appear that you are actually doing something important, when really you are just gossiping.

Just one more tip, I know it's difficult to resist, but when you return to the workplace you'll find yourself fitting in much better if you don't:

 • confiscate sharp objects from your colleagues 
 • say, "do you want a smack?" when someone is frustrating you

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The voyage, the tournament, the trek

Unlike Celebrity Apprentice, motherhood is not so much a 'voyage' or a 'tournament' as a trek: it's an exciting idea, about halfway through you'll realise you've got aches and pains in all sorts of weird places and more than once you will wonder what you've gotten yourself into.

There's a lot of lists going around about how to prepare for 'baby.'  But what about the ongoing trek?

I have compiled a list of 10 things you will need if you are planning on becoming a mother.  And remember, these are long-term concepts. I'm not talking about cotton balls and nappy buckets here, I'm talking really, really useful stuff that you will really, really need:

1.  A pair of tongs.  Yes, I know you have a pair of tongs. But you will need another pair of tongs... to pick up the underpants or the 100% polyester super hero or fairy costume that has been worn for 16 days straight  and now lies in a fetid pool of stink on the floor of the bedroom.  I have such a pair and I use them regularly. Just don't get them mixed up with the ones you use to turn the sausages.

2. An obsessive compulsive attitude to the TV remote. By that I mean, you need to know where that thing is every minute of every day. Because it will disappear. And you will never find it again. (If you're lucky, you may find it, years later, in the lift-up seat of your child's ride-on car.)  From the moment your baby is born, you need to get that remote control and put it in his/her hand and say this: "Where does it go? On the coffee table, yes it does, yes it does. This goes on the coffee table doesn't it? Yes it does." If you do not do this you will find yourself back in the 1970s where people had to get up off their arses to change the channel on the television. Yes it's true, there actually was such a time. It was harrowing and we never want to go back there again.

3. A "too high for little hands to reach" hook for your car keys. As above.  As soon as your child can move and carry something simultaneously,  your car keys will go missing. You will then find yourself making like an Orthodox Jew on The Sabbath and walking everywhere  until the keys turn up inside the Playmobile garbage truck.

4. A special set of throw cushions for 'best.' You know those fancy throw cushions on your couch? The really nice flocked ones? If you are about to have a baby, say goodbye to those nice fancy throw cushions because they are about to get trashed.  My top tip, is to have a special set that you bring out for dinner guests or just in the afternoons to cheer yourself up. I have such a set.  If we are having dinner guests, my children are allowed to pose neatly in close proximity to the cushions but they are not allowed to touch the show throw cushions with any part of their bodies. When the guests are gone my special cushions go back in their secret hiding place. It makes me happy.

5.  A forensics kit. This is especially useful if you are planning to have more than one child.  Once you have more than one child it will be impossible to determine: who left their cereal bowl in the living room, whose ice block wrapper is floating around in the space behind the armchair or  whose socks are shoved down between the couch cushions.  There will be bald-faced denials and random finger-pointing.  Unless you see the perpetrator with your own eyes it will be impossible to perform any sort of satisfying retribution. A forensics kit will help you determine who is to blame and in turn dole out the punishment which will make you feel like you have some sort of control over your household again.

6. A big black marker pen.  You know all those fancy bespoke labels you can buy on the internet, where you can choose a dinosaur for boys and a flower for girls and have your kid's name printed out to stick on everything they own? That's nice. You will do that once. Then you'll resort to the black marker pen for EVERYTHING.  I have even labelled the outside of a raincoat: obsessively plastered my son's full name all over it because I got so tired of kids stealing his raincoats (the desperation of a wet day can really bring out the worst in people.)  I figured at least then we would clearly see who the perpetrator was. It never went missing again. But neither did my own son ever wear it to school again. So that would probably account for the fact that it never went missing.

7. A pair of kitchen scissors to cut up chops. Just practical.  Don't judge. We all do it.

8. A blase attitude to cooking food that doesn't get eaten.  Just accept that nine times out of ten no one is going to eat the food you cook and it will go straight in the bin. In fact, just get into the habit of making it and sliding it straight from the frypan into the bin to save yourself the pain.

9. A sock detector.  This is like one of those metal detector contraptions that old men use on the beach at dusk, only it finds socks.   Kids' socks go missing. No one knows why, they just disappear into the ether about one week after you've bought a bulk pack of 25. You can get a sock detector from Danoz Direct. (If you mention this blog you will also get a free rotating carpet sweeper.)

10. An unerring, unwavering, bottomless sense of compassion for stubbed toes, bumped elbows, sore eyebrows and any other sudden sharp unexpected pain that will cause your child to cry out for sympathy.  Unfortunately I have reached my limit on this sort of thing.  I've been at it for 12 years and I just don't care any more if someone bangs their foot on the kitchen stool. Just walk more carefully, I've got nuthin'.

So there are ten really useful things that you will need to embark on the trek of motherhood.  I hope you have found my advice helpful and not too big a dose of the 'reality' stick.

Because motherhood is indeed like a trek through the foothills of Nepal: it's arduous and exhausting but every day you will stumble across something wonderful you weren't expecting.

For example, here is what I got for Mother's Day last Sunday:

Friday, 11 May 2012

I'm a very bad driver

I am. A very bad driver.  I'm not so much a dangerously bad driver, as a local neighbourhood menace sort of a bad driver. I like a bit of 'touch' parking. And I'm fond of mounting the curb as I take sharp corners. Just to test out where it is.

 I have nearly knocked the neighbour's picket fence horizontal with the number of times I've misjudged the 'swing in' to my driveway. Admittedly my driveway is very narrow and it's hard to get a good swing arc happening. They're very good about it. They just appear out front every second Sunday, push the fence upright and touch it up with some white paint. They don't even glare at me.

The old man across the road, the one who does glare at me like he wants to kill me, once gave me a very thorough talking to about my inability to back out of my driveway without nudging the cars that are parked opposite. (At last count there were six different cars attached to that house.  I'm not sure how all the people who drive the cars  fit into that house but they seem to be making a go of it.)

He told me (with a lot of hand waving and crazy hair pulling) that a 10 tonne truck could easily back out of my driveway. Therefore, he concluded,  I need not make such a fist of it every time.  I agreed with him. It was probably true. But I just don't like having to go backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards in small increments when I'm in a hurry. Which I always am at two minutes to three.  In the end, we agreed to disagree.

They continue to park their six cars there. (At their peril.) He continues to glare at me every morning.  I give him a wave and say, "Hello!" in a cheery voice before getting into my car to offend him with my bad driving.

He's a glutton for it. He stands and watches me when he could just as well go inside and save himself the pain.

Which brings me to my main point. When someone is a bad driver, I think it is very impolite for people to stop and gawp while that person (me) executes their bad driving.  Say for instance, I'm backing into a parking space and I've cocked it up and come a cropper on the curb.  I don't need a bunch of  people (usually men) standing with their arms folded, watching me like hawks as I have another go at it. It only makes things worse. 

Just the other day I pulled into a service station. It was being dug up all over the place and things were very confusing. There were witch's hats and bits of orange 'access denied' tape everywhere. I pulled in beside a pump and then realised I couldn't get out front-ways.

I reversed and heard a small plastic crackly sound. Thinking I'd backed into something, I went forward again. The same crackly plastic sound again. Thinking I'd forwarded into something, I went backwards again, with a bit more juice, because I was getting slightly panicky.

By this stage, people had begun to stare.  Slowly their heads turned. One man got out of his truck, mouth agape and then scratched his head in sheer disbelief: as if what I was doing was so beyond him, he just could not tear his eyes away.

Another man, standing by the pump, shook his head gravely in a very judgmental fashion.

I floored it and heard the plastic crackly sound really loudly this time. There was a slight lift in the chassis as one back wheel went over something.  As I drove away with people staring, the truth of the plastic crackling sound was revealed in my rear vision mirror: a mangled witch's hat.

I'd done quite a job on it.

I had reversed and forwarded over it at least three times. It must have looked to everyone as though I had a particular vendetta against it and wanted to just finish it off once and for all.

Well I say this. Stare off people. I am a very bad driver.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Children should be free to express themselves with a video camera. Discuss.

How soon is too soon to trust your kids with the video camera?  This week, I answered that question and if you're interested, nine years old is too soon.

On Saturday, we had to attend the annual open day for my eldest son's high school.   I had volunteered to work the coffee stall and my time slot was 2pm - 3pm.  As luck would have it, Max was performing in the school band on the other side of campus at exactly the same time.

I'm not usually a stage mum, but I'd already seen the school band perform their set that morning and I have to say, they were a pretty tight unit.  I wanted to get some footage to show to the family.  If only to prove that school bands don't have to sound like a bunch of chimps with saxophones and an overamplified bass guitar (as was our primary school experience.)

As I was flying solo that weekend, I needed an extra pair of hands. I looked around me and saw two nine year old boys. I picked the most focused one. The one who can take direction and rarely forgets to change his underpants. The one who can follow a brief.  The one who, when told, "go into the living room, get my handbag and bring it here," doesn't wander into the living room and then forget the rest of the sentence.

I showed him how to use the camera.  He was very attentive but I have to say, he did show undue interest in the zoom button and how it worked. I was reluctant to show him.  But he begged me.

I relented:

"I"ll show you the zoom, but only if you promise not to use it." I said.

He swore on his life, that he would not use the zoom button.  I handed him the camera.

Please enjoy his work (below):

Monday, 7 May 2012

All complaints must be made in writing

Every morning before I get into the shower, I make this announcement:

"Attention children. I am about to get into the shower. While I am in the shower I will not be able to hear you.

Please do not:

 a) bang on the door
 b) attempt to talk to me through the bathroom door

If you have issues with socks and underpants, arguments over the television etc. please wait until I am out of the bathroom and contact me personally."

Despite this very clearly worded and specific announcement, I still hear this every morning, through the misty haze of running hot water:

(frantic footsteps outside the bathroom, down the hall, up the hall)
(muffled child's voice in distant room of house) Bwah bwah bwah!
 (footsteps again, getting closer this time)
(frantic banging on the bathroom door followed by)
Bwaw bwaw bwaaaa - bwah! Bwaaah bwa bwa!

As you can plainly see from the above, I cannot understand a word they are saying when they talk to me through the bathroom door.  But still they continue to try and make contact.

To be fair,  there have been some mornings when my preemptive parent announcement has worked and I have showered in peace for a full three minutes. It's heavenly.

Over the years I have learned that these types of five minute 'coming soon' bulletins (i.e. coming soon: mum will be out of contact for three minutes while she showers) can actually be quite effective.

My eldest child, previously referred to in this blog as What's For Dinner, is now 12.  When he was three years old he was the most delightfully sociable child but would throw the mother of all tantrums when it was time to leave a playdate. We used to call it, "the rage."

To combat "the rage," I began giving five minute, backstage-at-the-theatre-type calls about fifteen minutes before leaving.

"Attention, this is your 15 minute call. This is your 15 minute call. We will be leaving in 15 minutes. Please do not throw a tantrum. Repeat do not throw a tantrum."

I repeated this announcement at five minute intervals until it was time to leave. It actually worked.

(If you're interested this technique also works for turning off the computer, leaving for school and bedtime. It partners very well with the use of an egg-timer to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 15 minutes is up.)

My other technique to combat excessive whingeing used to be the following definitive proclamation:

"All complaints must be made in writing."

For a while that was a winner. They're all boys, so they're really not big on writing things down. 

Until one day when I was in the bathroom.
A knock at the door. A muffled voice.

"Bwah bwah bwaaaaah!"

"All complaints must be made in writing." I shouted back.

Footsteps. Silence.

Then a piece of paper was slipped under the door. Scrawled across it in purple texta was this:

I carnt find any soks

Time for a new technique.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The weekly round-up and The Crafting Hall of Shame

Hello and welcome... to the weekly round-up. 

If you are reading this post:

a) you are obviously trying to avoid something more important that you should be doing

b) you have spent the morning bidding on unnecessary ebay items and needed a circuit-breaker to stop yourself bidding on a faux fur gilet from China

c) you like the idea of being a crafty parent but actually spend more time on the internet 'researching' "craft activities for kids" than doing them. (In the course of your research you usually end up on Pinterest looking at aspirational pictures of children's bedrooms imagining that one day your kids' bedrooms will be stylishly dotted with  funky objects d'art and neat pots of pencils.)


d) you googled "nude ladies" and somehow ended up here instead. You must be really disappointed and I'm sincerely sorry

However you ended up here: please be welcomed to the weekly crafters round-up.

This week in craft I earned myself a prominent place in the Crafting Hall of Shame when I attempted to make grassheads. (See below if you don't know what grassheads are.)

Please note: these are not the grassheads I made

My first mistake:

  • thinking I knew better than the people who had done this before and posted their triumphs online

My second mistake:

  • not reading the very detailed and useful instructions posted by the people who had triumphed in the making of grassheads

My third mistake:

  • pre-emptively blowing my own trumpet and telling the Kidspot content producer, Lauren that my grassheads were going to be "totally awesome!" (She's very busy and I thought speaking young person's language would really give me 'cut through.')
My fourth and final mistake:

  • going slightly off-piste, getting a bit creative with it and deciding to use alfalfa seeds instead of grass seeds 
For those of you not already in the know, alfalfa seeds do not sprout in the same way grass seeds do. (i.e. with small upshoots that will break through a stocking wall: I know that now)

When I checked on Mr Alfalfa after three days, he didn't seem to be sprouting any hair.  He did however appear to be developing a suspicious tumor-like growth and some unfortunate whisker work on the side of his face, (which incidentally reminded me of an elderly gentleman I used to know, may he rest in peace.)

Here is what he looked like when I first created him:
Mr Alfalfa
Here is what he looked like three days later.
"It's not a tooma!"
And just for context, here again is what grassheads are supposed to look like:
Proper grassheads from cassandraben.blogspot.com

I considered faking it by poking holes in the stocking to make the alfalfa stick out like crazy alfalfa hair (the way I had imagined it in my crafting dreams) but then realised it could result in an angry mob of crafters turning up to my house and pelting me with their failed grassheads.  (Some people take their crafting very seriously.)

So I decided to do some snowflakes instead.

Click here to watch the snowflakes video

This was all part of my winter craft extravaganza. (Not to be confused with my Autumn Leaf Craft extravaganza which incidentally resulted in my other entry into the Crafting Hall of Shame: see just add banjos and a trailer park.)

If you are here for craft and activities, here are the rest of the videos in my highly anticipated winter crafting series:

How to make a Knitting Nancy
How to make a kite
How to make a seashell windchime
Make an indoor teepee

And that is this week's round-up. See you next time Crafters (or nude lady gogglers as the case may be.)