Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The case of the thrice-warmed soup: a study in vomit

I woke up unexpectedly at 1:30 am with a vague sense that something was wrong. A persistent queasy feeling my stomach defied every change of position that I attempted in order to find comfort again. I lay there thinking: OK, at some point, I guess I should get up and go to the bathroom in case this becomes an incident.

I calmly levered up out of bed and placed one foot on the ground, immediately feeling the first wave of vomit race up my esophagous and out, into the bedroom-confined night. I briefly tried holding it in with my hands but it splashed out and past. A salmon heading upstream, inexorable force of nature.

I lunged past the futon, heading for the door when the second wave made itself felt. A second pool to match the first on the opposite side of the bed, like occasional tables. The third came in the hall way and the fourth in the entrance to the bathroom. Curse you, large house without an ensuite!

I slipped in the fouth puddle, as the vomit seeped into my woolen bedsocks, and cracked my knee on the tiles.

At last sanctuary beckoned and I heaved again and again into the toilet. Surely no more. Surely no more. Ok, that’s enough. OK… OK, what the hell is that stuff? Frothy like a milkshake, yellow like the sun…

Wifey was by now up and poking ineffectually at the vomit, retching herself. She’s 15 weeks pregnant and I knew she wouldn’t last a minute pushing back the tide in the hallway. Chivalry bloomed suddenly from the toilet bowl. Love, don’t worry [heave], I’ll [heave] clean it up [heave] you go sleep in the spare bedroom.

One of the few bad things about being relatively tall is that vomit, when delivered from such a height, will splash a deceptively long way. I imagine midgets produce nicely circumspect pools of vomit.

I spent the next hour and half cleaning the stuff off the walls and off the floor. It took ages to clean because, at such a late hour and addled by gross sickness, my brain just wouldn’t perform all the tasks asked of it. Lots of needless walking back and forth to get cleaning products one by one when I could have collected them all in one sweep of the arms.

So many walls to clean! So many floors! The brainpower required to get the quilt cover, the top sheet, my clothes, the bathmat and sundry other spattered garments into the washing machine was almost beyond me.

Wifey came through at just the right moment with clean pyjamas and socks and, after a couple more ceremonial heaves into the toilet bowl, well hello again bile-mileshake, I made my way back to bed.

Of course, the next day I discovered the patches I’d missed. The strange dried yellow rivers on the back of the door, the undiscovered pool by the bed.

Wifey opined that as I was really only sick once or twice, it was probably food poisoning rather than a touch of the hand of gastro.

She copped it sweet on behalf of her otherwise lovely pumpkin and sweet potato soup. The soup had been cooked on Friday and then allowed to cool in anticipation of the Dude’s birthday party on Sunday when it was again heated to serve to guests. The leftovers went into the fridge until on Monday I gave them their third ordeal by fire before consuming them whole.

I spent yesterday looking after the Dude and holding my wounded stomach. It was my goal never to leave the couch if possible, which is tricky when you’re looking after a two-year old. No amount of television was too much, no bribe could not be paid.

So with only about 30 or 40 trips off the couch in the space of three hours, I steadily became whole again, girding my loins for the inevitable vegemite toast…

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Hazelblackberry: don't perspirate the minutia

Dear Nick,

Here's some more of the same:

(1) After our housewarming I was busy writing out thank you cards - I'm a bit of an old-fashioned girl in that regard - when I realised I didn't have Hong Kong Fooey's address. I rang The Antiquer to check if he had the address - no, not on him. All he could tell me was that Hong Kong Fooey lived on A Particular Street, but he couldn't remember the number. On my way home I realised my bus went up That Particular Street. Hong Kong Fooey drives a rather distinctive car so I idly thought I'd just have a look out as we motored along to see if I saw it in any driveways. Not really expecting to. This Particular Street is quite a long one. Then the bus pulled over at a stop and I happened to glance across the road and there in the driveway were BOTH of Hong Kong Fooey's cars - what a stroke of luck! I had his address. In a slightly creepy, stalkerish way. A feeling that won't go away each time I'm on the bus and we go up This Particular Street and past his house and I mutter to myself, "Well, hello, Hong Kong Fooey." Yesterday evening his kids were playing on the roof; which I found quite refreshingly charming. This morning my bus prevented him from pulling out of his drive way. Yes, this might be getting a little weird...

(2) Also this morning on the bus, as it swung past Garden City - or "Garbo" as some girls used to call it; sheesh - a young bloke started sprinting down the street to catch us at the next bus stop. The bus driver, a very good humoured chap, saw him and made his way as slowly through the traffic as he reasonably could to give marathon man time to get to the stop. When he pulled up he announced to us, "I think this guy deserves a round of applause." There was an amusing look of confusion and pleasure on the chap's face when he got on and some passengers broke into clapping, some cheered.

(3) When I realised I was spending about two-and-a-half hours each day just commuting, I suddenly thought that I'd better stop staring out the bus window and do something constructive with my time, like reading. It didn't take me too many rides, ploughing through Vanity Fair's new-found over-zealous preference for World Affairs over Gossip About High Society People Of Whom You've Never Heard, to weary of that idea. Staring out the window and at my fellow passengers is far more productive and entertaining. And then there's always the river. The things you miss when you're trying to convince your brain it really could be interested in geopolitics.

(4) The other day I caught an earlier bus than usual, in some misguided attempt at acquiring a work ethic. Normally my bus is full of teenage schoolchildren, most of whom get off at Garden City. These kids are loud and obnoxious and irritating. But I tell you what: they add some life to the bus. Without them, it's just a bunch of silent grey adults morosely making their way to work and if they do talk it's all about real estate and the new train line and the state of the world. The kids sit up the back and shriek about TV shows and who's a spunk (and who most decidedly isn't), pashing, sluts - pashing sluts - and getting out of phys ed. All the great stuff. And because they know everyone is listening, they lay it on pretty thick. They're annoying, especially the way some of those girls laugh and screech, but they inject a little pizzazz into proceedings.

(5) So it's pouring with rain and there isn't going to be any let up and you've forgotten your umbrella but you just have to take that unsheltered walk to the busport to get home. Well here's what you do: laugh at life. Lift that head, straighten those shoulders and stride out into the wet. And it helps to sing 'I Heard that Lonesome Whistle Blow' as you walk along. A sorrowful song that comforts the spirits. It is of course a Hank Williams song but I prefer Hank Snow singing it. He had quite a voice that Hank Snow.

Then, because you're on a Hank Snow roll, you might want to change tempo with '90 Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street'. It's a trifle saucy.

Until next time, Nick.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

My life in the margin for error, part 3 (final)

In the previous 2 parts of this tale in 3 parts, I promised to tell you about a wee episode of self-reflection brought on by my being polled on my door step by someone from the Morgan polling company.

I was peppered with question after question (did I mention I was there for forty minutes?) such as: ‘what bank do you have your mortgage with?’and ‘do you favour the decriminalisation of marijuana?’ and ‘who will you vote for in the next Federal election’.

But one question caught me by surprise. I was given four options and asked which of them I saw as being what my life principally about. Two of the options were immediately discarded by my brain so completely that I cannot even begin to remember what they were. But it took me a while to choose between the other two options.

(1) A life centred on achievement and winning the respect of others (or something like that) OR
(2) A life centred upon your family (or something like that).

After hesitating for a few moments, I chose the first option. Because it’s been my official internal reason-for-being since I was knee-high to a freakishly large grass-hopper. I’ve always dreamed of success in some field of endeavour, probably writing, perhaps as a novelist. And although my family is very important to me, it didn’t seem able in that moment on my porch to usurp my number one goal.

But I reflected on this choice for sometime afterwards. Had I betrayed my family by not choosing option 2? But am I really ready to give up my claim on the Booker prize?

I’ve been struggling as a writer for about ten or more years now (and legend has it that this blog is just another way to avoid writing – psshaw, as if I need a blog to do that). It’s occurred to me that I like being a writer or having written more than I actually like writing.

This is perhaps because I crave the attention that success brings. And this is the difficult thing about a life based upon ‘achievement’. If you are pursuing achievement for its own sake (rather than to achieve a specific result – for example, to write a novel that you are deeply proud of even if nobody reads it) then you have to wonder whether such achievement is not some kind of psychological prop for a damaged self.

On the other hand, a life centred on family seems to me to be more about a calm life of contendedness, wrapped in quotidian satisfaction. There are no medals or prizes to be won (except maybe ‘Dad of the Year’ which will never be featured as an Olympic sport).

So. The thinking is to relax my white-knuckle grip on dreams of achievement (because, let’s face it, my life is not weighed down with too much success) and to simply enjoy my family, sunshine, friends and a well-thrown frisbee after a barbecue in the park across the road. To abandon myself to a life of warm and easy mediocrity.

And then maybe one day, to write, if I feel like it.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Hazelblackberry: Mr Marbles comes to town

Dear Nick,

It is late at night and I am sitting at home as a wild squall passes over. The wind certainly has some oomph to it tonight. There are lots of weird noises coming from outside. But I've checked the gate and it isn't banging and I've checked other stuff in the backyard and that all seems to be behaving itself so I don't know what is making these sounds. They shall have to remain a mystery. In the daytime noises seem to make so much more sense.

At least the house is quiet. I appreciate a quiet house. Staying down with Bloody Ern & Bez, whenever I was by myself, I'd be constantly freaked out by some strange, unidentifiable noise. And being in good old semi-rural location, I was pitifully aware of how my shrieks of terror would echo out into an empty unresponsive night.

Isn't it strange how a weird noise so often happens just when you are moving around making a bit of noise yourself. A new, unfamiliar half-heard sound.

"What the hell was that?" you think to yourself. So you stay still for a few minutes to see if it happens again and then, thinking it's gone away, you start moving around once more and there's that noise again. Only with something more to it.

"What the hell was THAT?!"

Then all the lights in the house go on and you're up all night watching 'Samurai Jack' (a real must-see) and 'Enjoying Everyday Life with Joyce Meyer'. She's one crazy laydeee.

But this house doesn't make a peep. It's had 60-odd years to settle on its foundations so one would hope it had stopped grumbling by now. Nonetheless, Grumpy is sensitive to my small, manageable fear of the dark and has purchased a night light for those evenings when I'm by myself. It's a friendly little chap, beaming out into the shadows, keeping fear and dread at bay.

I wasn't born afraid of the dark and it wasn't until I was about 6 or 7 that I developed a respectful terror of the shadows lurking in the corner of my room. The painfully ironic thing is that when I go to sleep I like everything to be ultra-quiet and ultra-dark.

Ern was always good about the fear-of-the-dark thing. He never tolerated sea-sickness or car-sickness. Thank God I never suffered from either, because he doesn't believe they exist. "Balderdash!" he'd bellow as some poor kid along for a bumpy ride out over the spinifex scrub vomited ham and beetroot all over the show. And I was never allowed to have training wheels on my bike or learn to swim with floaties. I've still got scars on my knees...and on my lungs, from all the inhaled water. But he understood about the dark. He would sit beside my bed night after night; one gnarled fist grasping a Camel Plain, the other holding my hand while I went to sleep.

Ern has never confessed to any fear. He isn't even particularly afraid of drowning - which would at least be practical, since he spends so much of his life out on the open water and he can't swim. But he did tell me once that he had a dream there was something wrong with him and he kept going to hospital to have bits cut off until all that was left was his head on a pillow.

I guess that occasionally even the fearless Ern gets the night shudders, just like the rest of us.

Until next time, Nick.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

My life in the margin of error, part 2.

For those who came in late… So it had come to this, just me and him, the polling guy. Alone, together, on my porch, as the wind swept over us like one of those wide, stiff-bristled brooms being operated by an obsessive-compulsive janitor on PCP.

I looked at him and he looked at me. We stared at each other and we met each other’s gaze, taking in each other’s appearances with our eyes. I saw that he was ready to make a move and he saw that I saw he was ready to make a move.

Suddenly, he lunged at me with the business end of his clipboard, the steel-sprung paper-vice, sun flashing from its every angle, whirling through the air like a ninja throwing star rivetted to a piece of wood.

I blocked his thrust and then tore his esophagous out through a hole I made in his brain pan for that very purpose, slipping on his pancreas as I did so. I crashed to earth, clipping my head on the wicker cane chair. As unconsiousness lapped at me like an overly-friendly black labrador cross with halitosis, I whispered: ‘Enjoy your ‘victory’, polling guy but who’s going to fill in your giant survey book now?’

His arrogant laughter died suddenly in his throat which I was still clutching in my left hand. He shook his fist at me and then slinked guiltily away, like a marmoset that had been convicted of securities fraud. As he went, he called over the smoking ruin of his shoulder: ‘you may have won this round, random house-holder. But I will have my revenge! There will be phone calls. Not one but many. Each caller will be more irritating and insinuating than the last. Pressure will be applied. You will be made to feel as if you have let down a close and needy friend. And you will regret every hitherto innocently-enjoyed minute of television in the knowledge that you should have been filling in a little, ok not so little, survey book.’ At least I think that's what he said, because he was talking through a hole in his chest, using a flap of skin as a 'tongue'.

OK, it may not have happened exactly like that but it was damn close.

And Just to prove what a tease I am, I’m going to put off my little poll-born epiphany to the next post which will be a serious post.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

My life in the margin for error

Several weeks ago I found myself being polled by the Morgan polling company on my door step. It is only now that I am able to talk about the experience. (Because I have been reflecting…and because I have run out of other things to say on this blog).

The poll dude asked a number of searching and not so searching questions.

‘Have you read any part of the most recent issue of Business Review Weekly’?

‘Um, no.’

‘What about any other of these current issues?’

[Me flips through booklet with page after page of front covers of current magazine issues]. ‘Um, no. Wait. I’ve read this issue of the ABC Delicious magazine.’

But I swear it was only because they had a delightful angelhair pasta recipe. Other than that I don’t read magazines. Lord, why has thou forsaken me?

‘Oh, does the Internet count? I’ve read some of these publications on the Internet.’


Oh, Internet, I weep for thee. People still don't like you.

‘When you agreed to do this survey, did you realise that you would still be perched on your front verandah 40 minutes later missing out on your valuable nap opportunity during your infant son’s all too brief afternoon sleep and that you will be pestered by phone several times in the next week to fill out a further survey booklet the size of three bibles when in fact you will throw this book away as soon as my back is turned?’

‘Um, no.’

Actually, I relished the opportunity to do the survey (and kind of intended to follow through with the survey book until I was put off by its enormous size and aggressive demeanour) because I like any opportunity to pass off my puerile, sashimi-sucking, upper-middle-class viewpoints as the perspectives of the man on the clapham omnibus (who does not like sashimi).

I like to think that I alone could skew the survey in awkward directions. With enough effort on my part, some truly terrible products could be released onto the market.

(And a special prize to the first commenter to write in and say: 'And just what you makes you think you're upper-middle-class, jerkoff?')

Coming up in the next post: Morgan survey question inspires ‘what am I doing with my life’ epiphany. Kind of.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Another symptom of society's moral decay

The newspapers have been full of the story of the kidnapping of baby Montana Barbaro (and the matter is altogether too serious to take even a moment to make fun of that name).

It turns out the kidnappers were a couple in their 40s who have six children aged between 6 and 21 and who wanted to raise Montana as their seventh. Clearly they must enjoy parenting. I know I do but I only have one, the Dude, who is a singularly attractive and winsome child. And I'm not just saying that because, you know...

But for people who must, on some level, really like children, they turned out to be a pair of absolute shitheels. They abandoned a three-week old infant in a junkie's shack open to the elements without so much as an anonymous call to 000.

Whatever happened to the moral code of the kidnapper? Sure, there's no honour among thieves but I thought child-abductors were a higher calibre of criminal. Let me make this clear: when you nab a kid, you solemnly undertake to look after that child properly until the police kick your front door down and pistol whip you into bleeding submission.

In my day, kidnappers knew what was expected of them. I blame Hollywood, video games and the anti-war movement.

(All flippancy aside: what a fucking horrific thing to go through. My sympathies, for what they're worth, to the Barbaro family. When the crime was first anounnced in the press, I thought that I could never have any sympathy for the perpetrators (hanging's too good, etc). But having heard the barest of details about the offenders, I find some room in my tiny black heart for their plight. They must be motivated out of some extremely misguided form of familial love, a love that will now cost them their other six children. Sad, sad. But they should still go to jail for a long time....)

Monday, August 09, 2004

The pen is meatier than the sword

To continue my bloggish flirtation with South-East Asia (he said, grasping at tiny yellow straws with the words ‘weak segue’ stencilled in black copperplate writing down the side), let me tell you about a experience I had a couple of days ago.

I dashed into Sammy’s Kitchen in Civic to pick up some Malaysian-Lao-Thai-Vietnamese-Albanian take-aways. Shan-tung chicken; sizzling lamb with black pepper and snow peas; curry puffs (two). On such food as this is Australia now propelled into its dazzling future.

Standing at the counter, I drew myself up to my full impressive six feet and one inch to better impose my massive frame upon the room because, well, you know, would it kill somebody to give me some service? Criminy, I’ve been waiting five minutes now.

They finally noticed me and, upon receipt of my ordinary name, they proffered their triple treat. I was paying by credit card (yes, it is taking a long time to get to the point, isn’t it?) and so I was handed a black pen and a credit card slip to sign.

Now here’s where it gets kind of amusing. For some reason, I mistakenly thought the nib of the pen was retracted into the body and that I had to click the end to extract it. So I clicked the end. Only it wasn't the end. And it was not retracted.

Two young Asian women looked up in surprise to see my face, atop said impressive six-feet and one inch frame, contorted in sudden agony.

I drove that nib right through the skin of my thumb. Lordy! I don’t know my own strength!

There is something very embarrassing about a public display of pain, like it somehow violates the social contract. People who crawl, broken and bleeding, out of smashed, over-turned vehicles on busy public highways must just be so mortified. Can you imagine the awkwardness as the rush-hour rubber-neckers crawl by? Jeez, will that fucking ambulance never get here?

I gestured in the international language of unreadable gestures at the pen and my thumb. Then I signed and left, sporting a brand new tattoo to go with the other tattoo that I fashionably never obtained. I imagined that the circle of black ink beneath the skin might be there forever! What a story to tell the blog!

Alas four days later, like the indifferent Shantung chicken, the ink is gone. Leaving only: me, this post, stale crumbs of the broken crust of a curry puff.

Friday, August 06, 2004

That's one 'L' and two 'P's, dude

I finally updated my list of blogs yesterday, making a couple of changes but primarily it was to move reckless writer to ‘World blogs’ from ‘Canberra blogs’ because, er, she lives, and apparently has always lived in, the Philippines, and not, er, Canberra. Could happen to anyone, right?

I was going to cap this piece of information off with a witty little bon mot about the Philippines; perhaps some kind of MacArthur connection but I don’t know if the Big Guy ever made it down here from Brisbane. And then I was going to make some joke about Islamic insurgents shooting up Namadgi National Park. At that point, it occurred to me how little I know about the Philippines (and that my jokes frequently suck).

Actually, in one dud job I had about 8 years ago, it was my task to to generate maps of various Asian nations for a telecommunications report by using an electronic scanning pen to trace over existing maps and then colouring them in and adding place names. (Ah, plagiarism, my old friend, where are you now?). I became intimately acquainted with every freakin’ tiny island in that most islandy of nations, the Philippines. Except for the ones I couldn’t be bothered drawing because they were too small.

Later, when strolling through a crappy antique store in the old brickworks, I came upon a woman staring in bemusement at a black guitar on the wall with the words ‘welcome to Cebu City’ painted on it. She asked her husband where he thought Cebu City might be. He didn’t know. Unsolicited, lurking nearby, I was able to pipe up: ‘the Philippines’.

‘Oh,’ she said.

I guess I know more about the Philippines than I give myself credit for. Boy, is blogging a voyage of self-discovery or what?

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Hazelblackberry: the merry-go-round by the sea

Dear Nick,

I quite like catching the bus to work. It takes just over an hour from the time I've opened my front door to the time I'm pressing - with a certain resigned sense of doom - the 'on' button on my computer. It's an hour-and-a-bit well spent observing my fellow humans and sometimes wondering who might be observing me (I don't really care; only, Lord, please let it be not in profile). I continue to be fascinated by the girl who can't stop rubbing her nose with her knuckles - back and forth across the nose she goes, getting more intense and manic the closer to the busport we get. Whoever ends up sitting next to her invariably spends a large part of the journey sneaking looks of fascination and/or irritation in her direction.

Wouldn't it be marvellous if we could just go up to people who were exhibiting strange behaviour (and who weren't obviously crackers) and say, "Excuse me, why are you behaving so fruitily?" And because it was perfectly okay to ask that question you would get, in return, a complete, information-rich answer that would reveal to you once again - just like that guy on SBS who goes up to people on the street and asks them questions about themselves - just how wonderfully interesting people are, if only we would take the time to find out. Also, sometimes you would get an answer wrapped up in a bunch of fives. Because you can't always pick the crazies.

(Actually, the thing about that SBS guy is that now lots of people know who he is and they come up to him trying to get on the show because they're just BUSTING to tell everyone how intriguing they are, which spoils it a bit. Did you ever see the episode where he interviewed Red Symons? Only maybe he didn't know who Red was. Red seemed somewhat befuddled and amused by this. Grumpy and I thought it was hilarious. But then we were the only two in a big crowd who guffawed, far too loudly, at the 2002 Brumbies awards dinner when Rod Kiefer emphatically announced that even though he was going overseas, he would one day return to Canberra where "I plan to end my career - and my life." We'd been drinking a bit at the time. But we watched Red sober, I swear.)

The bus I catch gets very busy. I get on early along the route, so I always snag a seat, a window seat at that. By the time we hit the freeway, things have become a little sardine-esque and all the foot passengers sway and lurch together like bite-size morsels packed in brine. I do admire the tenacity of those who get on at this point, day after day, armed with a book which they are going to read seated or standing, dammit. Gravity gets them every time.

After the regular bus, I get the CAT, which is free and tootles people round to various points of the city. I like the CAT, I do. It is sleek and smooth and low to the ground and makes lots of purring and hissing noises, just like a Big Cat. Yet like so many of the new and ultimately empty things that grace this fair city of ours, it replaced something older and shabbier, which we didn't realise we'd miss until it was gone. Before the CAT, there was the City Clipper. Doesn't 'the Clipper' have such a jaunty, nautical air to it? A spirit of adventure. And I tell you what, it was an adventure with the Clipper. There didn't seem to be any designated stops or timetables and you never knew whether one would come or not and when it did rumble into view, shrouded in a mysterious diesel mist, you were never sure where it was taking you. There were red, green, blue and yellow Clippers. Who cares! What did this mean to we urban freestylin' navigators? The Clipper was like some landlubbin' Flying Dutchman - next stop, Gilligan's (Traffic) Island!

Oh sure, the CAT has brightly coloured stops, it's reliable, quiet and relatively odour free - except for that one time, er, no, best not... But where is the charm and the spirit and the high-seas rollicking hijinks of the Clipper? Riding the Clipper made you want to don one of those peaked sailors caps that were so favoured by fans of Duran Duran in the 1980s. My friend Salamander wore one with great panache. She liked the New Romantics but I don't think she cared much for Duran Duran, come to think of it. Salamander was very cool and arty (of course) and she would, for no reason, write me letters filled with funny little illustrations telling me what happened to her on the bus ride home from school.

I wonder if she still has that cap.

Until next time, Nick.


Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Life's lessons learned on a volleyball court

Is there any exclamation more useless in the English language than heads!

You're bent down, tying your shoelace when someone yells


heads? heads? does that mean I should look

this way?


I would prefer some kind of one-syllable code word which means: execute a 145 degree stunt-roll over your left shoulder now! But, oh, watch out for the...wall.

Next time a volley ball is pinging through the air, knocking molecules this way and that, headed for someone's scone, this is what I'm going to say:

I regret that it's me who has to inform you but there is a ball in the air on a rapid collision course with your head. I'd like to offer you some hope of escape at this point but it would make a liar of me. All that the ball and I can offer you is pain and humiliation. Look up now and I promise you I will only smirk.

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