Sunday, February 17, 2019

Quitting a shameful habit.

I used to smoke. I was addicted. Sometimes I binge-smoked. Suppose you'd call it chain smoking. When I was 14, during a weekend hanging out with a girlfriend with more permissive parents than my own - who both smoked, BTW - I could easily puff my way through a packet of 20 Alpine. Loved smoking in those days, before we knew the health risks, before I'd developed my own smoker's cough. Years later, driving home from a day's teaching, or when I got home, I'd light up; have a few each night. Aged 23,  over several months I screwed up and turfed many half-full packets of cigarettes; threw them away in self-disgust. I went cold turkey and quit. No nicotine patches or telephone counselling back then. Had to rely on one's mettle. Helped a bit that I'd fallen in love with a non-smoker. I considered smoking disgusting. Unhealthy. Made me cough. Exacerbated my sinusitis. Stank.  I've never smoked since. Never looked back - except that  I do all the time, for example, writing this.

Well, I've just quit another dirty addiction. It's been difficult, lasting as it has for many years in various forms. Now it's over. Finally. Think I can safely say that I will never indulge again.

Have you read or seen The Hunger Games? To control the population in this SF series, the Capitol, the ruling zone, selects 'tributes' - young people - from amongst other defeated working classes, to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. In the novels, the games are sensational, barbaric, cynical and for the Capitol, hugely watchable.

My addiction reminds me of The Hunger Games. Okay, nobody dies, but I've decided it's equally cynical. And I've been buying into this garbage for years. What passes for entertainment simply feeds the insatiable appetites of idiots like me who can't get enough. Of course I'm talking about reality television. This year's contenders, MKR and MAFS . My Kitchen Rules and Married at First Sight.  I'm so familiar with them that I refer to them by their social media tags. I've even followed along on Twitter to see who's writing what about whom. Sad. Sad. When I was teaching, I could justify this guilty pleasure by saying it helped me connect with my students. No excuses now.

Didn't mind the cooking aspect of MKR but this is secondary by far to the people-watching. The contestants are filmed slow-motion walking into each 'instant restaurant', eager to sample and critique each other's food. Inside around the table, breasts, often augmented, are almost served on plates. The costumes, sorry clothes, are often reminiscent of the outfits of citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games. Over-the-top hair, threatened into position, theatrical makeup, waxed brows and lots of filled, pouting deformed lips. (What do these people see when they look in the mirror?) Contestants are selected, presumably, for their enthusiasm and varying cooking abilities. But their backstory, and their potential to mouth off or stuff up and battle with their partners or other contestants is apparently vastly more important.

This year features a duo of self-proclaimed 'Christian brothers': home-schooled by Christian missionary parents. Christian? These brothers are like a couple of demons! I know it's death by editing, but sheesh. Cooking aside, these two delight in shit-stirring - is that cooking? - their sole aim, evidently, to relentlessly, shamelessly provoke other diners. The nastiness, the savage criticism, the arrogant mimicry of other contestants. And me glued to it in fascinated horror.

I tried to justify my addiction to watching MAFS by suggesting it was some sort of interesting study of human behaviour. Nah. Nuh-uh. Unless we're studying the network marketers' seducing the viewing public by giving it what it wants. The more extreme the better: people who'd sacrifice everything to get their plumped face on national television and thousands of 'Insta' followers.

This year, on MAFS, a few of the 'newly-weds' finished me off. Just the impetus I needed to kick the habit for good. This was the worst, and again I acknowledge the manipulative editing. A '29 year old virgin' - so what? - was served up for our viewing entertainment. His demeanour and excessive blinking suggested a timid, clean-cut naive man with a bit of an anxiety disorder. The alleged psychologists selected as his match a 28 year old woman, who'd 'need to take the lead'. After a honeymoon romantic bathtub scenario where our virgin got up terrifyingly close and personal with his bride's painted toe-nailed feet, so overwhelmed by panic was he that he had to be taken to hospital, still virgo intacta. Happily, the drama 'brought them closer' and whatever his name was was duly deflowered, announcing it proudly on national television. And then, and then...a couple of episodes later, the blushing bride reveals that she 'used to be a lesbian' - huh? - wanted 'more' and was into swinging and threesomes. Had this propensity been revealed in her bio? Seemed it was all a cynical set-up and this young fellow is potentially ruined for life, as if things hadn't been hard enough already. And how do either of them return to their normal lives?

I watched my final recordings of MAFS and MKR quickly, fast-forwarding through commercials, repetitious reminders of what had happened before the commercial break, narcissistic posturing and bitching. There was very little left worth watching. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Lorikeet love, or get your organic apple cores here!

So this lorikeet, its back to me, was hunkered low on one of the branches on our apple tree. Inside the net. You see, we've provided the net so these nimble creatures can effortlessly trapeze down inside it to better access the fruit. Not really. I crept closer. This particular lorikeet's green back plumage was sodden and awry. Its breathing seemed to be laboured, as much as the layperson can tell by looking at a wild bird perched in a tree. It didn't fly off. Didn't react to my presence. Should I get under the net and pick it up? I whimpered a little. 

I shouldn't fight with the birds. They're exotic; glorious to look at. Some say it'd be worth having an apple tree just so they could see these rainbow green flocks rising from its branches. Fools. It's my tree and I want my apples. Well, some of them. I'd be happy to share but the lorikeets aren't fair about it. 

Before the lorikeets come marauding, this tree is a delight, with spring blossom, worthy of a wedding. It produces three types of the best fruit you've ever tasted: Jonathon's, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith's. Ask my neighbours. They seem to enjoy a bit of washed, juicy organic fruit on their way to work or school. Round about March, I leave baskets-full at our front gate. Was expecting a bumper crop this year from my carefully pruned and nurtured tree. Except for those thieving lorikeets, one of whom was currently pegging out in it.

And it was all my fault. Looked like I'd maimed a lorikeet which was only following its instincts. See, I'd jet sprayed up into the branches. I'd left the trigger hose handy, tap on, for just this purpose. The rest of the flock,  clocking me and knowing my useless drill, had scarpered to the jacaranda over the back fence where they waited, sniggering, for me to go inside so they could resume their vandalistic feast. Except for this one, now apparently breathing its last. Instead of flying off, it had gripped its branch, lowered its head and leaned into the torrent, copping, albeit briefly, a full body blow. And I'd done it. Bit like in that Seinfeld episode where George runs over some pigeons because they didn't keep their side of the deal. 

What to do? I went inside and paced around a bit; considered calling a wildlife rescue service. Thought better of it and returned to the tree to attempt to rescue the bird; put it in a shoe box; take it to a vet. I knew my duty. But it was gone. I scanned the ground for a little body. All clear. I was off the hook.

Having learned my lesson, I resolved to let the birds eat the fruit. I'd settle for some waxy lesser fruit from the green grocer and live in harmony with nature.

Well, the tree's now a desecration of rotting cores. The only consolation is that the rotting apples attract loads of bees. The birds have worked their way down to the fruit almost hanging on the ground. They don't even fly off when they see me now. They know they've won.

In fact, yesterday this shaggy looking specimen was swinging upside down on an apple. Seeing me, it clambered up the net and flew straight at me, deftly depositing a shitload at my feet as it passed by my shoulder.

I swear it winked.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

You get what you pay for.

My sister Janey really loves me. You know how I know? Well, here's the most recent demonstration of her love. And trust. This is the way I view it. You might have a different opinion.

You see, she let me cut her longish, heavy black hair. She'd only wanted me to cut her fringe, bangs if you're American. I'd done this a couple of weeks ago, easily, successfully. But she has that hair that grows at about a millimeter a week so it needed redoing. (Here's a side note. There's a certain joy in being able to cut my sister's fringe as required. That's because she's just moved 'home' to Melbourne after thirty or so years interstate, the last ten a four hour flight away. Once again, we get to hang out with each other.)

I enjoy hairdressing. I'm the amateur family hairdresser; the aunty that was trusted to cut her nephews' hair before they discovered cool. (They're discovering middle age now.) In our youth, Janey and I always trimmed each other's long hair. I've cut husband Al's hair since I've known him, and still do. He did go to the local barber a couple of times, until in sympathy with Al's burgeoning baldness, the barber left Al a thready strand of hair to 'comb over'. Seeing his flap, lifting gently in the wind as he approached the front door, I promptly clipped the offending hairs and resumed being Al's dedicated barber..

I coerced Janey into allowing me to cut her hair.  'Freshen it up! Take some of the weight out of the back,' I said, very professionally lifting it and letting it fall, as hairdressers do. I was still in the after-glow of a quasi-adequate haircut I'd recently done for a friend who, rather than getting a professional cut, freely admits to hacking bits off her own hair.

Janey's trust didn't even waver when I set up my iPad next to the mirror, opened a YouTube video and asked her to pause it after The Salon Guy's every step. See I was giving her 'the short layered bob'. I'd watched the video through a couple of times. Looked easy on the human-haired plastic mannequin. Why shouldn't I be able to achieve the same awesome results as a seasoned expert hairstylist? I'd parted Janey's wet hair and found the hair-line at the nape and cut a good few inches off the length. I continued carefully following the steps until Janey reached back, had a feel and pronounced her hair too short. That was when my adrenaline kicked in and when Janey's hair started going inadvertently asymmetrical. Perhaps I'm being kind to myself in that description. Two and a half hours later, my arms were aching and my scissor-hand was cramped into position. Janey, not once raising her voice - she's very lovely - ordered me to stop. Recalling a bad haircut she'd had in 1984, she flew out the front door with her witch-mop hair to collect her granddaughter from school. Interestingly, it was Halloween.

There's a happy ending. The next day I shouted my sister a haircut at a local hairdresser as recommended by another friend, one who sensibly chooses to pay for a haircut. Janey now has fresh, funky short hair and looks like a million dollars. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Kids' parties back in the day. Well, if I'd been your mother.

Twenty-two years ago, aged 40, pre-blogging, pre-internet, when I was an early adopter with a brick for a mobile phone, I wrote this.

"You're the best, mum!" says my ten year old son, who's scrounging in the pantry. He's just discovered the bag of goodies I've bought for his birthday party, including some nasty lollipops. He can't believe his luck. You see, I've ascribed an almost satanic aura to lollipops and their power to seduce children and seditiously rot their teeth.

Traffic light jelly in little plastic cups is further testament to my maternal greatness, as far as Tristan is concerned. And I must admit, there's a bit of forward planning required, given you've got to wait for the individual layers to set. But that's just about as far as I'm prepared to go these days.

I hate children's parties. Well, I can hardly stand my own kids messing up my house, let alone other people's. I've been wretched all week, living in dread of holding the second and final children's birthday party for the year.

My daughter's parties over the years have been only moderately more tolerable, given the sedate, self-contained nature of Bronte and her particular friends. But every year the boys' parties threaten my sanity. Tristan and his guests savage everything and tear around the house raising a flurry of scraps of paper, popped balloons and plastic toy components. The most innocuous items somehow transmogrify into an entire armoury. Amazing what they can achieve with clothes pegs, Lego and wrapping paper after a quick hit of sugar and artificial colours.

Tristan had his first party when he was two, the day I moved the vacuum cleaner permanently into a corner of the lounge. I vacuumed under four toddlers' little feet between courses of crumbly fairy cakes and hundreds and thousands sandwiches.

I'm so doubtful about my children's parties that I leave the invitations until the last minute, hoping for a reprieve. I felt a bit guilty early this year. Only three little misses arrived in their party clothes for Bronte's turn. Okay, so two days' notice wasn't enough for the young socialites. Though you wonder about the child who used the excuse that she didn't want to miss out on church. I expect my reputation for mean parties has got around.

I plot ways to cut corners. No time wasting on gourmet cake. It's strictly the packet variety. Either way you end up with soggy lumps of it floating in lemonade or covered in tomato sauce, spat out sausage roll and green jelly.

My kids' parties are minimalist affairs. Well, as minimal as you can get without succumbing to McDonalds, or any of those other fast food outlets. I gave in once to a pool party at the local leisure centre, but the soggy drooping clown assigned to play watery games with the girls was a bigger bitch that I am. Subdued children chewed bits of cardboardy pizza while this clown frogmarched around the table glaring at them. Woe betide any child who dared to ask for a refill of its plastic beaker of cordial. The wet-haired kids even cleaned up the room when they'd finished. Some parents were aghast. Not me. I was trying to pick up skills.

This year, for Tristan's tenth birthday party, the tent's up in the back garden. Not the marquee, the $25 plastic two man job. That's entertainment sorted. Well, as much as we're providing.

'You're ten,' I tell him. 'No Pass the Parcel. No mystery prizes. You can make your own fun.' And all that in a scant two hour session.

'You've forgotten the weenies and party pies,' says Al. 'Want me to dash out and get them?'

'I HAVEN'T FORGOTTEN THEM!' I scream, hurling party favours into crass 'loot' bags. Well, I'm getting quite irritable with less than six hours until the hordes arrive. All five of them. 'They're in at three and out at five, ,right? Well, I'm not providing a three course meal.'

I must have inherited my aversion for birthday parties from my mother. I'm sure I only had one birthday party. And I can only remember that because a kid called David C had his finger up his nose when the flash went off for the one and only black and while photo. I was thinking my mother must have had some innate wisdom not giving us birthday parties.

'Why didn't you?' I asked her the other day.
'You had a party every year, Jude,' she told me.

There's something in that.

Monday, August 13, 2018


In case you hadn't noticed, I'm obsessive. One of my mysterious compulsions is, ridiculously, counting, and that's despite my being a bit numerically challenged.

These days, I count in German, while I'm running a tap, watering a plant. I can't even wait at traffic lights or for a train to pass at a level crossing without counting: eins, zwei, drei... You get it. At the lights I rarely get beyond vierzig - forty. Could go a lot faster in English but I whisper the words in German to develop my accent. See I have to  move my lips, so it's a bit slower. (Don't suppose I look any stranger than people 'talking to themselves' hands-free on their mobile phones.) My 'theory' is that the lights won't change, the train won't pass, unless I count. (Hello. I know.) Recently, to distract myself from counting while we were waiting to cross at busy Bell Street, I shared my theory with husband, Al. He generously explained the logic of the lights changing because they're on a timer. You'd think he'd know me by now. I've certainly got his number.

I also count squats; the exercise kind. Fifty five seems to be my upper limit. And sit-ups on a Swiss ball. Ten. Not many because I've just reintroduced them and I'm in damage control. Wouldn't want to pull a muscle.

Don't get me started on counting AFDs - Alcohol Free Days, for those who don't drink. (Lucky you with your self-control and non-addictive personality type.) I even wrote a list of my AFDs in my journal at the start of this year, not for the first time. Bit of a New Year's resolution. Managed seven non-consecutive days. Stopped counting on January 19. Why beat yourself up?

Suppose that's why I decided to motivate myself with a new counting opportunity: an app; a diet tracker, because clearly that's what I really needed. So I downloaded the app, shared my age, gender, height and weight with another algorithm, or however it works. Skipped the steps where you log in through Twitter, Google or Facebook, to protect my privacy, which is evidently so important to me. After I'd entered all my personal stats the app gleefully calculated that I should aim for a target weight 20 to 40 kilograms less than my current weight. Gulp. But hey, it was a chance to count kilojoules, possibly in German.

I entered my breakfast 'data'. Now I shit you not, on that day this comprised 1 x Vita Brit biscuit + 200 ml of 'lite' soy 'milk'. Breakfast isn't where I overdo the ks but who's counting? Me apparently.

I entered my exercise targets but seemed the app wouldn't let me record these without  first downloading another 'free' app that could push advertisements at me. While considering whether I wanted to do that I drank a glass of water, 250 ml, and opened the app so I could click on one of the eight droplet icons that indicated that I was meeting my eight glasses a day target.

I was starting to hyperventilate thinking about it all so I clicked on another icon. The one that makes the app go all wobbly before I hit the x and made it disappear.

I still count at traffic lights. Old habits. The upside was my ease with numbers on a recent trip to Germany.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Saving the planet, one plastic bottle at a time

You can really get stuck into such projects when you have no other purpose. So here's my product review.

Decided to go commando with shampoo. That is, no plastic bottle. Bought a cake of shampoo soap from The Australian Natural Soap Company that cost double what I pay for my usual litre of shampoo when its on special Tresemme, dont judge.

Solid shampoo soap sales person assured me that using this natural product Id only need to shampoo once a week. Well, thatd be because Id dread washing my hair. It washed effectively, but after rinsing, my hair felt like something youd scrub your pots with and it took a further fifteen minutes to detangle afterwards. Truly, my biceps were throbbing by the time Id finished, and not in a good way.

To ease the process, couple of days later, bought an expensive bar of conditioner: Lush, ‘Sugar-Daddy-o Solid Conditioner Rich, Smooth and Naughty’. Let the buyer beware? It was a palm sized tablet. Purple. $10.95. Expensive, I know, but my pension had just been paid into my account.

Lush sales person couldnt have been more helpful. You wet your hands, she demonstrated in their purpose built sink. How else would one know what to do with a cake of soap, sorry, solid conditioner? Obediently, I followed suit. Apply the product to your hands. Ooh, really? See how they develop a creaminess the longer you rub them together? I stood there nodding, wringing my hands, developing the creaminess. Sorry, have to take my break now. She (other sales assistant) will take of you. I watched her retreating back, hoping the buzz cut shed decided on had nothing to do with the conditioner.

Bought the cake of purple stuff anyway. It was creamy.

Turned out to be mildly effective as a conditioner, but after two goes with it I donated it to our local Good Karma Network where it was snapped up. Who doesnt like a freebie?

I dispensed it with a warning. 'You might like to wear rubber gloves when using this product.' Wouldn't have minded a similar heads up from Lush. That purple conditioner stains like a mother. Despite scrubbing, my hands looked like Id peeled a bucket of unwashed purple potatoes. The staining seemed to intensify overnight. It took over a week for the colour to wear off. Curiously, it didnt affect my hair colour.

I'm still using the solid shampoo. Seems to be lasting, therefore good value. Once Id suffered the detangling process my hair dried beautifully. Yeah, Id buy it again. Pity Lush sales person didnt offer me one of their less permeating solid conditioners. Might have become a loyal customer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes - a review

One of the indulgences of my new gainfully unemployed life has been to read what I want. During one of my sleepless nights I caught the end of Marian Keyes being interviewed in Brisbane in October 2017. This prompted me to read some of her work.

Well, I've just read my eighth of Marian Keyes' books and what a treat. (Yeah, hello. I'm obsessive.)
The literati, the cognoscenti, whoever, are perhaps dismissive of humorous fiction about female protagonists. Keyes' work is categorised as 'chick-lit'; 'light' easy fiction. This irritates me. Seems to me it takes great skill to write a highly absorbing entertaining page turner while at the same time deeply exploring aspects of the human condition, albeit as it applies to young female protagonists.

Rachel's Holiday, published in 1997, is the story of an addict, Rachel Walsh. A woman in her late twenties, she has left her home in Ireland to try to make a living in New York. The story begins with Rachel's 'accidental' overdose. "I was offended by the drug-addict allegation because I was nothing like one" says Rachel. She treats her life as a joke; that in her case, God's having a laugh. "...I felt as if I was on Cosmic Candid Camera. My life was prone to veering out of control...God...was more like a celestial Jeremy Beadle, and my life was the showcase he used to amuse the other Gods." She claims her overdose was just an unfortunate accident. She hadn't intended to kill herself. Her concerned family intervene and return her to Ireland where she takes her 'holiday' at 'The Cloisters', a drug rehabilitation facility. Rachel, desperately searching for positives, thought at least she'd meet rock stars and be treated to massages and saunas. She was in for a shock.

Keyes, with what seems to me to be amazing insight, engagingly explores Rachel's life at The Cloisters. She takes us intimately through Rachel's rehabilitation and through that of other characters; other residents with a range of addictions to drugs, alcohol and food. At the same time the narrative explores Rachel's back story and along with Rachel, we come to understand why she is an addict.

The story is both compassionate and humorous. Rachel is an extremely appealing person, despite how frustrated I was by her denial of her addiction. She sees it in others but it takes a long time for her to join the dots in her own case. A novel is working for me when I really care for the characters, as if they are real. With my own somewhat addictive traits and growing up in the middle of sisters I found loads to identify with in Rachel's Holiday. Rachel is hypersensitive, very susceptible to the cavalier bullying of her sisters and ignorant remarks made by parents who didn't know any better. (Other Walsh sisters tell their own stories in some of Keyes' other novels.}

I loved Keyes' writing style which abounds in hilarious figurative language. Here's just one example: Rachel says "They say the path of true love never runs smooth. Well, Luke and my true love's path didn't run at all, it limped along in new boots that were chafing at its heels. Blistered and cut, red and raw, every hopping, lopsided step, a little slice of agony...The night Luke stormed out of my kitchen - oh yes, even though he'd done it with cold control, he'd stormed nevertheless - the course of our true love stopped running at all and actually came to a complete standstill. It spent over two weeks doing nothing but loitering on a street corner, waiting for dole day, half-heartedly whistling at local girls coming home from their shifts at the factory."

Keyes writes about the lives of women around the thirty age mark. She writes with intelligence, sensitivity, compassion and delicious humour. Her characters are credible. I particularly enjoy Keyes' political incorrectness. She often writes the stuff you might think but would avoid saying. Or maybe that's just me.