Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cool Change

Sometimes, being a writer is the coolest job in the world but lots of times it's just hard slog. Writing under commission is one thing but writing on spec, just to have something on paper, to practise your craft, to tell a story that needs to be told, is challenging. I'm trying to write a new play, I'm trying to keep a journal, I'm trying to blog and I'm trying to write a new tv show and I'm not doing any of it very well just now.

Particularly this month, with Tricky not back at daycare and C face to the grindstone on reports and presentations. I am scratching for time. Everyday is another outing, another trip to the park or museum. These outings must be finely calibrated to ensure that an afternoon nap is also to be had, thus ensuring the chance of two hours of work.

But this must also be juggled with the heat. And in the loft apartment of The Big House the heat has been aggressively anti-inspiration. Temperatures have been soaring, along with tempers. If i don't write, I don't feel like a writer. Instead I feel like a bit of a failure.

Last week boasted weather so hot and stinky even the beach was rancid. 

We have had horrendous nights of unbeatable heat, nights where the air never becomes cool, the much anticipated sea breeze never eventuates and I have to get up in the middle of the night to have a cold shower.

On one delightful day we decided to overcome the heat by picnicking with friends and accompanying toddler in a park overlooking a beach. To reach said beach/park combo we thought it would be a marvelous idea to drive miles through traffic, crawl slowly the last mile or so, cruising for a car space, and then park the car several suburbs away because every man and his dog had come up with the same idea. 

As soon as we got out of the car Tricky started to whine. He did not want to swim, no, what made us think that was a good idea? No he did not want to put on his swimmers 'just in case'. He did not want to see his little friend swimming, no, yet another stupid parents' idea. He did not want a sandwich, or a drink, he did not want to sit quietly with Mumma under a tree, AND HE CERTAINLY DID NOT WANT TO LOWER HIS VOICE. 

In the end, and in the classic tradition of We Are The Parents And Hence You Will Love This, C and I struggled to peel his clothing from his screaming, writhing little body and slide on his swimmers (Too hot! Too tight!) and then wrestle him three metres down to the water (NOOOOOOO!) where....miracle....he was instantly transformed into Perfect Baby, all smiles and giggles and kickaboo feet.

Greatly refreshed we all stepped forth from the ocean and within ten steps were overheating again. It was now the turn of the four adults to start bickering and whining. 

We have to go, we wailed to ourselves. 
This is horrible. It's too hot! 
This was a stupid idea! There's too many people. There's not enough space for our towels. We'll get dirt in our chicken.

We glared, we spat, we mumbled and Sighed Heavily. It was H's idea to come to the beach but it was my idea to move the towels into this loathsome site. I had thought it better situated to catch a cool breeze. This was proved to be faulty reasoning. There was no cool breeze, only baking hot wafts of other cranky parents' B.O.

C had left the stroller at the previous less-loathsome site because the hot wind had made him shitty, and blind apparently, and he had to stomp back to retrieve it. B had chosen the first site, on the far side of the beach, out of boring predictable habit, which had started the whole chain of item movement and exacerbated stress levels. 
And another thing, how dare you call me a martyr? 
Why did you only tell me those pants made me look fat after I'd been wearing them for a week? 
When are you going to stop biting your nails? 

Recriminations flew.

What saved our marriages was the enormous old fashioned shower blocks, set back from the beach; heritage listed pavilions, cool and sheltered from the gritty dry wind that was biting at our bodies and faces. If we could have picnicked right there on the tiles under a shower head, we would have. Instead we decamped to the grass on the opposite side.

There under a fig tree we could at least pretend to be cool, we were walking on grass instead of boiling dirt and sand. We could be adults again, and speak cordially to each other and the children could frolic in the nicky noo-nah. How I wished we could frolic in the nicky noo-nah too but frankly it wasn't really the suburb for those sort of hijinks.

It got hotter and hotter. H started hallucinating about us all pitching in and getting a suite at the Sheridan. Room service, she moaned. And cable tv. And...air conditioning. There would be room for all of us... it's a good idea isn't it? Isn't it? 

Once we had managed to slap down her hysteria we drove to the shopping centre, still in our swimmers and beach wraps, where, in the air con, the toddlers fell asleep in their strollers. 

And now we will go to Borders, announced H. And the kids will sleep and we will read books and have coffees if we want and it will be cool.

She was right. 

For the first time ever, I actually managed to see the top floor of Borders. Usually Tricky is with us when we duck in to buy a card or a birthday present, and he ensures that there is no extraneous browsing. 

Now, with him gently snoring in his stroller, there was browsing akimbo. There was skimming of magazines, there was perusal of pages. 

C selected a photography book and H collected a small pile of chick-lit and sat down in the comfy chair beside her equally zonked out toddler with an audible sigh. Her husband was running riot in the History section.  We smiled gently at each other, waved, nodded our approval at each other's reading material.

The drop in temperature was restoring our humanity.

Next picnic, H muttered, is either the library or the freezer section of Coles.

As I rounded one of the aisles, I had a quick peek and caught sight book, Legs Up & Laughing. It was sitting up properly, amongst all the other books. I hadn't checked a bookshop in months and was scared that maybe all copies had disappeared and gone to the Bookclub In The Sky.

But there it was in Borders. 

And as I picked it up and ran my hand over the cover I realised it was not just the heat that had been bothering me. 

And sometimes, you can write something, on spec, because you have a story that has to be told. And it is hard, and it is a leap of faith, and it is scary but it can be done. And it's worth the juggle and the struggle and the heat...

Because one day it could be sitting on someone's shelf.

And that was very, very cool.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


In the interests of mentally stimulated toddlers and sane mothers, OperaSingingMummy and I take our kids to the museum.

Here we can ooh and ahhh and marvel at the trains and cars - and that's just on the walk from the parking station, we're not even in the building yet.

Obviously if i am taking my toddler on a four hour outing i must pack as if I am a normal person spending a weekend in the wilderness.

Into the faithful Kapoochi bag go the nappies and wipes and hand sanitizer (in case, i don't know, there is a display of cholera at the museum and Tricky tries to stick a petri dish in his mouth) and hat with strings and two kinds of sunscreen because I have forgotten there's already one in there. I will also have to throw in a variety of toys (why? We're going to the frigging museum you idiot, the place is full of toys) and a drink bottle and then several little plastic boxes that contain his sandwiches, two baby cheeses, two boxes of sultanas, two pieces of fruit etc etc.

Obviously I must take two of every conceivable treat just in case the other toddler wants one too. This is a strict rule of joint outings with other toddlers. There are also extra trousers, shirt and jacket just in case he a) falls into the bubbler and b)there is a sudden cold snap (true, we're in the middle of a near heat wave BUT YOU NEVER KNOW.)

OperaSinging Mummy packs in a similar manner and thus, laden with snacks and spare clothes, we lumber about the museum with our tiny, tyrannical offspring baying at our heels. Obviously ten minutes after arrival we must break for snacks ( two boxes of sultanas, two lollipops, two cookies) before spending another twenty minutes riding up and down in the glass lifts and waving to the people on each floor.

When proper lunch time occurs we make our way to the lounge area and in a piece of excellent timing, manage to snaffle a set of comfy chairs. We gratefully collapse as the children sit down to their three course sandwiches/fruit/more cookies lunch which is when we realise that neither OperaSinging Mummy nor I have actually prepared lunch for ourselves.

We could go outside and buy a sandwich, OperaSinging Mummy muses but I say no because it will take us a week to pack everyone up again and it's really hot outside and we shall have to fight the midgets to make them keep their hats on. And i'm tiiiiiiired.

So we slump in our seats and eye off Tricky and Sebastian's lunchboxes until finally they are done with gnawing out the soft centres of their cream cheese sandwiches and we are thrown a few crusts.

Crusts, i say to OperaSinging Mummy. Look at how low we have fallen. We are having crusts for lunch.

Yes, she says. And the great tragedy is...I had crusts for breakfast too.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Summer Pudding The Second

In Newcastle I catch up with Blob of the Summer Pudding.

Although now living on the opposite side of the country in Perth, he, his partner and their smiling baby with the (oddly enough) pudding bowl haircut, are spending the uni holidays on the east coast. We exchange post New Year greetings and I hold up my forearm and show him the brown peeling patch where I scalded myself with the Exploding Coffee Plunger on New Year's day.

Blob instantly counters with his third degree burn scar, also on the forearm, a small neat scar exactly the shape and thickness of the grill bar at the top of his oven. The flesh was perfectly cooked, he tells me. It even smelled good.

He goes on to applaud my meagre summer pudding efforts but hastens to amend my mental recipe.

After poaching the fruit you dip the spongy biscuits into the juice, he tells me. And that makes it easier to fit in the bowl. How did you make the dry biscuits fit together?

I tell him that I laboured for many moments, trimming them neatly into shape. This makes him chortle.

I ask him to clarify his stance on the sugar syrup. Could it really be a whole cup of sugar to a cup of water?

Blob waves his hand airily at me. His scar flashes in the air.
It could and it is.

We are staying at my parents’ new house. It is smart and modern. It reflects their changing lifestyle, as older people who are looking to their twilight years and so forth and so on.

This means they have basically moved from a sleepy university suburb to the one where the prostitutes and bikies live. Here, they are closer to the beach, they can walk to their favourite café, and they know where to get their amphetamines. They have a white tile floor downstairs and a shiny red glass splashback in kitchen. In their tiny back yard they have eschewed lawn for paved courtyard and a spa - or at least the hole which will accomodate a spa.

Also, they have a kickarse big fence so they can hang out their washing in the nicky noo-nah.
It is quite jolly and feels very cool and modern and all my friends whish they had one the same. The upstairs bit has a little sewing room and computer room but also two whopping big bedrooms for guests, and a lounge area too so that if we all have an argument we can separate and cool off, or alternatively one group of people can have scintillating conversation downstairs and other group can loll upstairs and eat chocolates and play Wii sport.

In Newcastle, I also catch up with grumpy granddad.

After leaving the main hospital he spent a couple of weeks just before Christmas in a sort of hospital holding pattern. He was transferred to a hospital out in the sticks; along with various other old, disabled and chronically ill people who have to hang around and wait until someone dies so that they can get their room. We were warned that he could be transferred around the region, from ward to ward until a room in the aged care facility he had requested (ie. paid for) became available. He was lucky. The Someone died fairly swiftly. This room is just across the car park from where Grandis was living before his leg was amputated.

At Christmas the family gather in his new room with gifts and babies and photos. We perch on chairs and on his bed and loiter about in doorways. We nibble on platters of dried fruit and cheese and nuts brought from home and my stepmum gives Grandis a container of diabetic friendly fruit cake.

Grandis accepts his gifts and hugs and kisses graciously. He has a chair to sit in but it is huge, an enormous high armchair on wheels, too heavy and bulky for him to push himself around. It is as if he is riding on a cargo ship.

How are you finding it? We ask him, hoping it’s all fabulous.

Story of glove and errant testicles has to be explained to newly visiting relatives and also stepsister’s brand new boyfriend who refuses to be alarmed at the image.


I pour Grandis a whiskey in his plastic sippy mug. My sister T and I give him our matching presents. We both bought books for him, bought them together, both squabbling in the bookshop over the best looking crime/spy thriller in the largest possible print.

My younger sister Nurse K, ever practical, gives him what he really wants; a large bottle of whiskey. This we tuck away in a drawer. When Grandis lived across the carpark, he was allowed to have his night time cup of whiskey, they overlooked it as long as he didn’t burst out of his room trouserless and singing I Did It My Way. But here, where the patients are wheeled around a massive plasma screen to watch Mary Poppins of an afternoon, we realise we are not entirely sure of the new rules.

And indeed, the next time I visit, his fruitcake has been thrown out and his whiskey confiscated.

My stepmother is greatly annoyed. That fruitcake was for diabetics! Grandis shrugs a little. I suspect the fruitcake is secondary to the loss of his whiskey. Not all of it, he hastens to tell me. The other bottle is in his wardrobe. The problem is, he can’t get out of bed on his own. My stepmother has Words with the management. Confiscate! Can they really just take away his food and alcohol like that?

Management is slightly contrite about the fruitcake but can only allow the whiskey if the doctor agrees. They will hold the bottle and return it when doctor gives the ok.

This time when C and Tricky and I visit, I bring along a bottle of medically approved whiskey which my dad has given to me. There is a little sticker on the side, stamped and dated.

Except, it’s actually rum which was another of his Christmas presents, the original bottle of whiskey having been emptied. Grandis has requested this decanting just in case he is only allowed to drink whiskey. Such is the life of the rebel Aged care patient.

When I show him the dodgy bottle he nods his head slightly and slides his eyes from side to side in case anyone is watching. There are twenty people around us in chairs and wheelchairs. They are all, to a man, either asleep or glued to the screen watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

THINGS ARE OK, Grandis tells me as we watch Tricky wind his way through the room, gazing from one crumpled old face to another. One or two gaze back, soft smiles, sad eyes.

Grandis has ordered some custom made shirts that are easier to slide over his head, and they come in a range of colours. He has ordered “pillar box red, royal blue, bottle green, and a champagne or beige colour”. It makes him cheerful, buying clothes. The lady who makes them comes in nearly every day.

Oh, does she work here?

He tells me that the problem “down below”, the one that needed the glove of water to begin with isn’t getting better. And it seems to have fascinated the nurses.
I glance around but frankly nothing can distract these people from Truly Scrumptious.
I snort at this but Grandis shakes his head in sorrow.

I realize he misses the main hospital. Even though he lost his leg and almost died there he had an appreciative audience.

You’d have got a laugh at the ‘John, I say sympathetically.

When we leave I ask Tricky to say goodbye. Grandis is high up in his chair and unable to lean himself forward very far. I hold Tricky up and he obligingly makes himself as stiff as a board so that he can reach him. Grandis says: KISS GOODBYE? and Tricky turns his face a little so that his cheek is suddenly mashed against Grandis’s mouth.

Back at my parents place I make Summer Pudding the 2nd. With Blob’s words ringing in my ears, I soak my spongy fingers in the juice. Having learned from my last attempt I have found the bowl and appropriate squashing plate well ahead of time. With my sister K jiggling Baby L in her arms I swiftly assemble the pudding. We discuss perhaps using such things as chocolate custard. K says she dreams about making deserts with sponges and chocolate custard – the kind you buy from a supermarket.

Yum yum I say. Supermarket chocolate custard.

K suddenly beams at this. Her husband says it sounds horrible and won’t let her make it.
I secretly agree with him but I am trying to be supportive here – I remember what it was like having a 10 week baby, so if she thinks supermarket chocolate custard works, I'm with you sweetie.

Several hours later, SP2 plops easily from the basin. Like some swollen internal organ. Something vulnerable about it.

It sits, gleaming darkly under the kitchen lights. The berries I suppose. Not an attractive colour but it might be the reflection from the red splashback.

I cut quickly.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

...two dawns later...

7.15 the next morning, 7.45 today.

Em's right, it's a combination of the lower temperature and the white noise. Bedtime is later generally because it's holidays here but even with a late bedtime Tricky was still waking at 5.30 to 6 every morning.

Tomorrow we're going to visit Poppy and Aphwa again, for a few days, and we'll see if I can keep the system going.

He still wakes in the middle of the night at times. It's like sleep talking or to be more accurate - sleep screaming.

The other night I woke with a start when he yelled at the top of his voice: CUDDLE ME!

Still half asleep myself, I sprang out of bed and leapt to his side. I knelt down on the floor, leaned over and put my arms about him, gently whispering shhh shhh...

He did not shhhh.

Instead he shrieked into my ear: TOO MANY HANDS!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

New dawn breaking...?

We are on the brink of an outstanding scientific breakthrough.

For the last two mornings, that's 2, count 'em, one for each weary parent, Tricky has slept in until 8.00am. The first morning i woke like a good little Pavlov's dog at 6.30am and wondered why everything was so quiet. On the second morning I slept till 7.30 and still managed to leap up, make the tea, eat my cereal, check the emails and make the bed before Tricky had even stirred.

It could be...I don't know, the sleep-in fairy, but I think more likely it's the portable fan we've had whirring away in our bedroom for the last two stinking hot nights.

Tonight the temperature's dropped but the fan's going on regardless...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Cooking With OvaGirl

And so the lazy days of summer continue. Here we are, home again, in the Big House. It was with heavy hearts we bid farewell to my dad and stepmum in Newcastle after a wonderful 12 days and 11 nights at their new house.

12 days of lounging about, eating chocolate, visiting friends and inadvertently boiling ourselves over the coffee plunger. 12 days of babysitting - not continuously mind - we're not complete sponges, it's just that we know how much Tricky adores his grandparents, and they him.

From the moment he woke at 6 am it was their names on his lips (more so Aphwa than Poppy it has to be admitted) and many times during the night it was their names he shrieked as he thrashed and rolled about on his mattress by our bed.

They didn't need us to tell them of his great, megavolume love - in this new house their bedroom is situated almost directly underneath.

As we kissed them goodbye on the street outside their house my stepmother hugged me and insisted loudly that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without family and also that it was a wonderful thing to have family as the first guests in the new house. My father also hugged me and told us to mind how we go on the freeway that led us home.

Because I knew how much PLEASURE it would give them, I made a Summer Pudding on our final evening. And since readers have asked, this is how i did it, as recalled from that rather hazy New Year's Eve where I bullied Blob(pudding maker) into explaining the recipe.

Obviously there are no measurements or actual amounts called for, you just sort of make it up as you go.



Italian Sponge Finger Biscuits.

They have got a name, it's pretty common but buggered if I can recall just at this moment. They come in small packs and large packs. I used a large one for 8 adults and had a few broken bits left over. Some use "stale white bread" instead of spongy fingers and I cannot think of anything more disgusting.


A pack of frozen mixed berries was my choice but i think in Blob's Boxing Day Picnic extravaganza he used real ie. unfrozen ones. He's such a showoff.

A Sugar Syrup.

I vaguely recall Blob saying half sugar, half water. Well how does that help anyone I ask you? I put a mug of water in a saucepan to boil and added nearly a mug of sugar and hoped for the best.


Whipped to billy-o


Get puddingy shaped bowl and pretending the Spongy Fingers are a curious 3D jigsaw, lay them in and around the bowl.

Trim where necessary and eat some of the trimmed bits before you click that you can use them to wedge into gaps. I actually dipped the first few biscuits in orange juice so that they were a bit soft so that I could make them fit together perfectly. This was a bit unnecessary frankly, it was an instinct born of panic, and it meant that the very top of my pudding was an unsightly orange colour. This step will take longer than you think it will.

Add your berries to your boiling sugar water.

Move around berries indolently with spoon, make pouty lips face and feel vaguely Nigella-like. Turn off heat immediately. Berries are officially poached. At this point you may feel moved to add splash of appropriate alcohol. I felt thusly moved but then realised that Tricky may get to eat some so instead I poured it into a glass and drank it.

Pour berries into charmingly arranged spongy finger pudding bowl.

Add last lot of Spongy Fingers to make lid.

Hunt up heavy plate to weigh pudding down.

Hint: do this first, otherwise you will be running round like blue arsed fly calling out "ooh ah! Is there a plate that fits this bowl?" Also you will find yourself using plate after plate and flattish bowl after flattish bowl, trying them on the pudding for size (it has to fit inside the bowl) and leaving a great trail of washing up in your wake since the pudding will leave a small smear of berry juice on each attempt. You will also, at one point, desperately reach for the dog's dish and try to fit that into place only to find once again that it is that bit too big. Half an hour later your father will work himself up to Full Mutter as he searches in vain for the missing dog's dish. God knows where you have put it.

Put weights on top of heavy plate and place in fridge...

Cans work well for this. Try and make the weight even else you might skew the pudding and gobs of berry juice may come streaming out the side and drip over your dad's bottles of wine and the rest of the holiday drinkies that are stacked beneath. This will take some time to wipe off. And because you move the cans to redistribute the weight, the same thing will happen on the opposite side. More muttering and some heavy sighs, but no harsh words because this is the holidays afterall and also you and your toddler are leaving the following morning.

...for quite a while.

My pudding was refrigerated for nearly 4 hours and I think this would be the minimum time to ensure good berry saturation. Overnight would be better.

Serve with whipped cream.

Turn out onto plate. Get brother in law to whip cream because frankly by then you are knackered and just want to enjoy effect. Make husband serve up pudding and cream and also lead hearty chorus of approval.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Way To Pleasure

The New Year has started very promisingly indeed. 

A major achievement was the survival of all the toddlers who celebrated New Year at the lake house. We knew this because written in large letters on a piece of paper attached to the fridge were the words THE WAY TO ENJOY YOUR NEW YEAR'S EVE IS TO WATCH YOUR CHILDREN. 

I asked my friend whose family owned the lake house, if her mother had written this message specially for us, a group of 40 to 50 year old professionals, and she nodded.

Despite the close proximity of house to water, despite the sheer drop from lake edge down to actual water, no child was lost, although some parents did lose years off their life as they caught a glimpse of a wandering midget, choked on their champagne and swiftly ran to tackle the little darling  who was meandering towards the concrete edge. 

As the children fell asleep or were sedated or restrained as appropriate, we adults gathered around the table and remarked on the beauty of the lake and the serenity of the sunset and the brilliance of the assembled company. We ate extremely nice things culminating in a Summer Pudding, and ended just before midnight with the drawing of a 'destiny card' for the new year, which would perhaps give us a focus and direction as we considered what was to come. 

C selected DETAILS which made him frown as it reminded him that we need to do our tax almost immediately. I drew PLEASURE which made me very pleased indeed and reminded me that I still have Lucy's voucher for a pedicure and massage waiting for me. 

I decided to increase my capacity for PLEASURE by forcing the friend who had made the Summer Pudding tell me the recipe, exactly. 

He had made the same pudding a few days earlier for our traditional Boxing Day picnic. At the time of eating he had briefly left the picnic rug to attend to his toddler's needs. Someone, I'm not pointing fingers here, had said "Let's eat the Summer Pudding." Someone Else made the first incision and, adding freshly whipped cream to their bowl, tasted the pudding and gave their response which was favourable. 

What followed, on that hot Boxing Day afternoon, was a frenzy of Summer Pudding gorging that could only be compared to a scene from Lord Of The Flies. The pudding maker returned soon after and feasted on the few scraps remaining. For days after I had been dwelling on that pudding. Even on New Year's Eve, in the car on the way to the Lake I had talked to C about the pudding, remarking yet again, on the frightening mob mentality that had overtaken seemingly civilised people. Some cream, some berries, a little sugar syrup and those chunky Italian sponge finger biscuits, that's all it took. Maybe some sherry.

"There's no way, he'll make that pudding again for us," I gloomily muttered to C as we parked under the trees by the house. "We just don't deserve it."

So imagine my delight, when dessert time had come and out rolled the familiar rounded pile of purple soaked sponge with accompanying basin of cream.  

"Tell me how you do it", I slurred at the pudding maker. "Just tell me, and don't leave anything out." He did so, quite jovially, and then again, a little less so when i told him I didn't hear the first time because I was guzzling my champagne. And then I loudly told it back to him just to make sure I had it right.  

The next morning, bleary eyed and desperate for caffeine, I decided to extend the PLEASURE by making everyone coffee. As I leaned hard on the coffee plunger I thought a little ruefully of all the chocolate and alcohol and fat filled products I have consumed this festive season. And how much I enjoyed them. 

There is a fine line between PLEASURE and PAIN as I discovered when boiling coffee suddenly exploded out of the pot burning my left wrist, my right underarm and various spots on my torso. 

I decided bugger the coffee, what I actually wanted was a cold shower and some ice.

Some may see this as an ominous start to the year but I prefer to think of it as a 'wake up call' or perhaps even an encouragement to take up my idle notion of giving up coffee and alcohol. Also it reminded me that cold showers are refreshing and invigorating, and that coffee plungers should not be pushed dow hard when there is resistance.

However, I have made one definite resolution, apart from that one of destroying all coffee plungers in the known world. 


Even in Winter.