Friday, 20 December 2013

Five places I shouldn't have to make conversation

Recently I have been watching Sex and the City in its entirety. So far I am up to Season 2.  Don't judge me. It's non-ratings period and I've already watched all of Mad Men, most of Breaking Bad, all of Nurse Jackie and am currently waiting on season 2 of Newsroom.

There was nothing left that appealed to my current state of mind, so I went retro with it and decided to give Carrie Bradshaw a whirl: if only for SJP's big hair and her slightly horsey face which manages to be ordinary and beautiful at the same time.

But the series, apart from Carrie smoking like a bogan* throughout every episode, is still surprisingly contemporary in its themes.

Recently I watched the episode where Miranda's new boyfriend wanted her to do some dirty talking in bed.  Miranda was aghast:

"It's the one area in life where I don't have to talk or make conversation."

To this, I concur.  And I'm not so much talking about the dirty sex talk part, but just about life in general. There are certain areas in life where we should all be absolved of making conversation with people.

Here they are:

1. The supermarket checkout 

I have flagged this before in a very controversial piece entitled, "Supermarket Etiquette." In return, a few checkout operators piped up and claimed that as part of their job, they are required to make conversation with customers.

But honestly, if I get asked one more time by a 15 year old checkout operator,

"So how's your day been?"

I am going to tell them how my day has actually been in mind-numbing detail.

The other more leading question they often ask is this:

"So, what are you up to for the rest of the day?"

Umm ... let's see... how about, none of your business, Boy Who Doesn't Even Shave Yet?

Am I supposed to answer this question?  Is there a stock answer to give to this? If there is, I haven't found it yet.

If I give them a bit of "Oh this and that .." they seem offended at my lack of effort.  So sometimes I feel bad and try to go with it:  I tell them what I'm doing for the rest of the day, which is when their eyes glaze over as if to say,

 "Alright, lady, I'm not actually interested, I was just making a noise with my mouth." 

2. The hairdresser

I know other women love a bit of chit chat at the haidresser because I HEAR THEM MAGGING ON AND ON ABOUT INANE THINGS as I am cowering beneath the hum of the blowdryer hoping my hairdresser doesn't feel left out because I don't talk to her.

I have a regular hairdresser and she knows I am not big on the chit chat. So she generally doesn't talk to me beyond, "How've you been?" And "What are we doing with your hair today?" And then at the end ... "How are we blowdrying? Straight with a bit of movement?"

But recently she got a bit comatose with my haircut and started cutting my hair in her sleep. By which I mean, she didn't listen when I said, "I would like you to cut it properly this time and not leave a big Quasimodo hump of hair at the back of my head."  (Perhaps because I didn't keep her mind active with inane chit-chat). So I had to change things up and ask for someone else.

At which point the inane chit-chat started up again.

"So, you going out this weekend?" The trendy young hairdresser asked me, eagerly anticipating some fabulous response where I was going to a gallery opening or some hipster party in a silver lame dress and kitten heels.

Do I look like I'm going out this weekend? 

I'm a 43 year old woman with three kids. Women in my demographic generally don't "go out" much on the weekends. We just collapse on the couch and watch reruns of Sex and the City so we can wear comfy pants and watch other women go out every weekend trussed up in their Spanx and heels.

Even if I am going out on the weekend, it's rarely to some fabulous Carrie Bradshaw-style party. It's just to a friend's house for dinner, or out to a cheap Thai restaurant with my girlfriends.  My social life, even when it's active, is just not that interesting.

In fact it's often so disappointing as a response that it's a conversation stopper.  (As I discovered the one time I was actually going somewhere and I gave an honest answer: "Oh just out to dinner with some friends."  She virtually dropped the blowdryer on my head in her utter lack of enthusiasm for the concept of "going out for dinner with some friends.")

3. The Blow Dry Bar

Recently I have taken to getting my hair blow dried at the Blow Dry Bar. It's cheap, very quick and it means that for at least a week, I don't have to deal with the nightmare-on-my-head that is my unruly, recalcitrant hair.

It has become patently clear to me that other women only go to the Blow Dry Bar if they have a special function on.  Because every time, every time:

"Going somewhere special tonight?"

No.  I just like getting my hair blow-dried. I'm weird like that.  Again. It's a real conversation stopper that nearly results in the blowdryer being dropped on my head.

4. Clothes shops

The other place I don't think I should have to make conversation is when I am in a clothes shop.

"Got the day off today?"

No. No. I haven't. I work from home and I'm skiving off. There's a million things I SHOULD be doing but here I am floating around David Jones. Thanks for reminding me.

5. Taxis

I have an Eliza Doolittle thing for cabs. I love getting cabs. But I don't like talking to the driver, not because I don't think he's worthy of my conversation. I just don't like talking when I get in a cab: I like to zone out and stare out the window and feel happy that I've just outsourced one of the worst things about living in Sydney; driving in traffic.

I especially don't like talking if I am going to the airport, which I do a lot, not because I'm fabulous but because I am a working musician and I tour with a comedian (my sister.)  It's just part of the gig; going to the  airport, fighting with the check-in dolly about whether or not we've paid for our extra baggage, bunching up with the general pubic and getting my hairspray confiscated again, getting on a plane and going to some weird regional town with a big theatre to put on a show.

Apart from the two weeks every two years where we go to the Melbourne Comedy Festival, it's just business as usual, and there's actually not much glamorous about it.

But every time, every time.

"Where are you off to today?"

Oh some butthole town in north Queensland.

"Business or pleasure?"


This question of "business or pleasure" with regard to where I am going every second week with my guitar, is a bit like the double flush button on a toilet: suddenly I have to stop and define something I don't really want to think that much about.

If it's "business," then I've clearly lost my performer's mojo.  And if it's "pleasure" what right do I have skipping town without my kids every second weekend? Am I a bad mother, or what? 

But there is a place for inane chit chat.  

And if you do it right, it can be a very satisfying exchange with a fellow human being.  It's not  about vague questions that demand fabulous answers that I cannot give, but rather, it's about being specific.

A few weeks ago, I was in the checkout queue and was served by my favourite checkout boy.  He's clearly a friend of Dorothy (even if he doesn't know it yet) and he's a faaaabulous inane chit-chatter.

Instead of saying, "So ... how's your day been?"  and then checking out of the conversation once my mouth started moving, he cast his eye over my groceries and said:

"Oooh!  Maggie Beer ice cream. I haven't tried that flavour, is it nice?"

"It's delicious!" I replied, really warming to the idea of talking about food. "Sometimes I stand at the freezer at 3 o clock in the afternoon and just eat it straight out of the tub. It's the ultimate afternoon pick me up."

"Ooh and raspberries!" He virtually squealed with delight.  "They're expensive! You're really treating yourself today!"

And so finally,  this virginal conversational flower was "opened up" by a chatty homosexual boy.

You've gotta love The Gays.

* This observation was flagged by my friend Liz Winters; who coined the phrase, "smoking like a bogan" and should be credited here.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Tales of Christmas Day disaster that will make you feel normal

Clarke Griswold; the patron saint of Christmas disasters

I have a friend who is adopted.  At Christmas time she gets quite wistful about what the perfect family Christmas should be like.

To add to her angst about not having the ideal family Christmas, her parents are divorced and so she now has a step-family as well.

The relations within this mish-mash of people can sometimes be fractious; family dinners can often blow up into arguments and she's been known to storm out in a huff when she thinks things aren't representing her "perfect family" ideal.

In her mind, her "real family" is out there somewhere and this adopted cum step-family she has ended up with, these people who know and love her best, are not it.

But it's Christmas time in particular that brings out her inner Pollyanna about what her life would be like if she could just have a real family; a close family; a family that enjoys being together and passes the turkey round with laughter in their eyes and carols in their hearts.

I think she probably even imagines that all the "real" families are standing around a piano, arm in arm, singing Christmas carols together.

And then, one year, she tracked down her biological parents


THAT Christmas she spent with her biological father and his new partner.  Her bio-dad's new partner was an airhead of a woman given to long rants of ignorant bigotry. At one point, my friend found herself in the kitchen, hunched over the beautifully trimmed turkey she had basted to perfection for her perfect family Christmas, muttering "Shut the fuck up, you stupid cow," over and over to block out the airhead's ranting.

When she told me this later, I took her hand, looked into her eyes and said, "Congratulations, you now have a real 'family.'"

And just like that moment when Dorothy realised that there was "no place like home," she realised she had had a real family all along


Perfect family Christmases do not exist. We all imagine that everybody else's family is sitting around like the family in the Coles ad: smiling gaily and kissing each other warmly and Grandma just loves the personalised mug she's just been given with "Best Granny Ever" printed on it.

But in reality, Christmas Day is like a wedding: it's a time for families to come together and see if they can bung on a function without getting into a fight.

Rather than relay Christmas stories of family togetherness here are some choice cuts of Christmas Day disasters from my own friends and family that should make you realise that you do have the perfect family Christmas after all.

Christmas is cancelled, I'll be in my room if you need me 


About 10 years ago, I found myself muttering my own mother's most well-worn Christmas phrase: "Oh come on everybody, don't fight, it's Christmas."

What happened was this:

Our four year old woke up at the crack of dawn, went out to the Christmas tree and opened all the presents including the gifts for his baby brothers.  It was like some fiendish urge overcame him and once he started ripping that Christmas paper off things, he just couldn't stop. He came into our bedroom, with a mix of guilt and elation on his face: like Hannibal Lecter after he has just fried someone up in butter and eaten them.

What made things worse was my then-husband was so upset at his perfect ideal of gift-giving under the tree being ruined, that he locked himself in our bedroom and refused to come out.  Which was when I found myself standing on the other side of the door saying, "Oh come on, don't be like that, it's Christmas."

The four year old was in tears of guilt and regret.  Christmas morning was officially a disaster.  I think we eventually patched things up, but it was about as far from the television ad version of Christmas Day as things could get.

The Year of The Fuck Off Bush


Another Christmas my brother and my sister got into a fight about ... something.  My sister (perhaps emboldened by the champagne) decided she wasn't going to let it go this time. As Michael stormed outside to "smoke it off," my sister decided to get to the bottom of things, once and for all.

"Why do you hate us?" She called after him as he stomped away from her, patting himself down for a cigarette.

He declined to elaborate.  Instead, he slipped behind a large bush and stood there in his silent fury. At which point smoke began drifting out from behind the bush. (I think he was behind the bush because my mother was always at him about giving up smoking.)

"It was like the bush was smoking." My sister told me later.

"But why do you hate us?" She asked the smoking bush.

Which was when the smoking bush became the "Fuck off Bush." Because the bush began shouting, "Fuck off, Kate just fuck off."

Henceforth, it became known as the "Year of the Fuck Off Bush."

And again, my mother with her well-worn phrase: "Oh come on everybody, don't fight, it's Christmas."

The calamari that ruined Christmas


Another friend once had a Christmas disaster that blew up over some calamari.

"My sister was supposed to be responsible for cooking the calamari. At some point my mother over-stepped the mark in the kitchen and began to cook the calamari herself, her own way.  It became a flashpoint for how my mother "demeans" my sister and my sister ended up crying in a bedroom."

Apparently his mother was completely unrepentant about cooking the calamari her own way, because according to her, that's how it's best cooked.  The sister was eventually extracted from the bedroom, Christmas continued, but it was far from perfect.

The valium that made Christmas bearable

Yet another friend who shall remain nameless, decided one year that the only way to have a peaceful Christmas was to crush up a valium and put it in her brother's food.  This was because her brother, a combative and aggressive drunk, was notorious for starting arguments over the Christmas lunch table. As a result their Christmases often descended into unpleasant argy bargy as he arced up over something or took offence at something someone had said, or even just set off on his latest rant about life in general.

So she took matters into her own hands and 'took the edge' off his personality with some hidden valium in his potato salad.

"It was the nicest Christmas we've ever had. He was delightful company that year." She says.

The Christmas hostess with the unmostest


"One year my sister insisted on doing Christmas."  Another friend tells me. "She was absolutely insistent that she host Christmas dinner that year, she begged us to let her host.  So we went to lunch at my husband's family, didn't eat much to save ourselves for the big impressive feast my sister had promised us because nothing would offend my sister more than if we didn't eat her special feast. "

They turned up just as the hostess was popping the plastic lid off a few mixed bean salads from Woollies.

"Honestly,  you have never known disappointment at Christmas until you have arrived to the sound of plastic lids being peeled off a couple of Woollies salads." Says my friend.

Did she serve any turkey?

"Oh I think there was some cold ham."

It has become the stuff of legend. The Year Her Sister Hosted Christmas.

Uncle Trevor's major Christmas erection


It's not what you think.

My mother has three sisters and when we were kids, they would each take turns hosting Christmas lunch. One year we went to Aunt Liz. Her husband had spent the morning putting up a large marquee in the backyard, to keep the sun off the table.  As we arrived my Aunt Liz proclaimed loudly to everyone within earshot (including the neighbours.)

"Trevor has one major erection every year and this is it!" (In reference to the marquee.)

I was about 14 at the time and I thought it wickedly witty.  I did notice however that Uncle Trevor did not find it in the least bit amusing.  Later on, Aunt Liz coralled the children into the garage and schooled us all in a performance of, "Do your boobs hang low do they wobble to and fro ..." She was quite insistent that we mime the wobbling of our boobs to and fro and also that we give it petrol when we "tossed them over our shoulders" at the end.

We performed it to our bemused parents, with Aunt Liz conducting us vigorously.

I remember thinking it was funny, but something about her determination to stir things up that year made me suspect something was amiss.

Turns out, it was the last manic gasp of a marriage in trouble. About a year later, Aunt Liz and Uncle Trevor were divorced.

Christmas lunch with the family? No thanks we'll just pop in for a drink


Another friend tried to do the right thing by her in-laws one year when they were at a loose end. She graciously invited them to join her extended family for Christmas lunch.

"They made it quite clear that they would rather do anything but spend Christmas with us.  They popped in for a drink then continued on their merry way to a quiet lunch alone, at a cafe in Paddington."

So there you go ...

If you think your family Christmas is messed up, remember: the more messed up it is, the more you have the perfect family.

Enjoy your family this year, extended, adopted, step or biological. Whether it's the awkward squeak of cutlery on plates or the sound of family tensions boiling over in the heat of the Christmas moment.

Family is family and yours is perfect.