Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An alternate Toy Story

The first of the big Toy Sales begins tomorrow and the Fibro is all aflutter. Not because the boys have any clear idea of sales dates and opening hours, but because it means The Season Of The Catalogue is upon us.

My children are obsessed with catalogues. Obsessed. They pore over them. Take them to bed and read them carefully (or ‘read’ them in Mr3’s case). They get out their pens and ‘ring’ the items they most desire. We still have copies of the 2007 Big W Toy Sale catalogue. True story.

I blame my mother for this.

Catalogue Addiction is a little-known but serious affliction, the cause of which can be solely lumped at the feet of genetics. Much as The Builder and I are morphing into weather-obsessed watchers of The Bill, so too the boys are tottering along in their grandmother’s footsteps with a worrying predilection for advertising material.

My mum is at the top of her game. Not a day goes by when a new mail order catalogue doesn’t drop into the mailbox. Rarely does a day go by when a rushed courier or laconic Australia Post worker doesn’t knock on the door with a delivery. If it’s a new and wonderful solution for an age-old problem, my mum will love it. If it’s warm and lightweight, she will love it. If it offers her the opportunity to try clothes on at home and return those she doesn’t like, she will love it.

Thank heavens she hasn’t got the hang of eBay yet.

The boys, of course, are mere apprentices. They’re only interested in the junk mail if it features toys. But give them time…

Sometimes, all this ‘ringing’ is useful. Take this evening. I am one of those people who has their Christmas shopping finished by October. Sue me. So I was perusing the catalogue, getting some ideas and considering a midnight run to Kmart (Fibrotown is 24-hour land when it comes to variety shopping) tomorrow night. I made a list of things I thought would be suitable.

The Builder, being much less dictatorial than me in these matters, suggested I give the catalogue to the boys to ‘ring’, so I could cross-check and be Super Santa this year. They sat together, freshly scrubbed in their flannel pyjamas, and carefully assessed each page before ringing the essentials.

I was way off. Hero item for Mr6 was a pack of nine Star Wars key chains that I hadn’t even noticed. Mr3 had, in his own inimitable fashion, gone for the Let’s Cook Chocolate Rotator (don’t even ask me what brought that on). Nobody bothered with the 200 connector textas, despite the fact that the 20 we have are on their last legs thanks to some radical Lids Off behaviour. The DS Lite that I thought would have Mr6’s scribble all over it was ignored in favour of a walking, talking Buzz Lightyear doll.

It seems I’m not as good at this as I thought. But I’m making no final decisions yet. That would be an amateur’s mistake, what with the Target and Big W catalogues still to come.

Makes you wonder how one old man in a red suit manages to get it so right, for so many, every year.

Bah humbug.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Every bride deserves fireworks on her wedding night

It’s been a day of Weddings. It began with a quick scan of Bettina Arndt’s headline-grabbing article about Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s de facto status and how it makes her a poor role model for other women. (For the record, 77 per cent of 29761 respondents to Arndt’s piece on disagreed with that particular piece of thinking.)

It ended with a job that entailed me writing about a wedding and function centre, involving much use of words such as ‘dream’, ‘special’ and ‘blissful’ (but not ‘unique’, never ‘unique’).

Which got me thinking about weddings.

I love a good wedding. I am known to shed tears at weddings. There is something about bright, shiny, happy people wearing bright, shiny new gold bands that fills me with hope and optimism.

Admittedly, I have been to weddings in my life that have not filled me with joy. They were mostly in my younger years and generally involved two people who couldn’t seem to work out how they’d got to the top of the aisle.

But, for the most part, weddings have a great vibe and there’s no better day out. Even when you’re paying for it.

The Builder and I got married on a building site on New Year’s Eve, 2002. Admittedly, the site in question was Wharf 2/3, right on Sydney Harbour, within spitting distance of the bridge. Spectacular.

The bride wore brown. Well, caramel. But according to all the ‘wedding books’ any shade of brown does not bode well. “The Bride who wears Brown will never live in town”, say the old wives. Those old wives had clearly visited Fibrotown.

We had lunch with our family afterwards, complete with sentimental speeches, in one of Sydney’s oldest pubs, in The Rocks. Afterwards, we were joined by 100 or so of our nearest and dearest to party on into the wee hours on the roof of said pub.

It was hot. It was windy. But the fireworks on the Harbour still went ahead at midnight. With us standing below them, holding hands, open-mouthed in wonder. It was magical.

The whole thing was organised in 10 weeks, with minimal fuss and a distinct lack of bonbonerie. My position on weddings, if you’re interested Ms Arndt, is that they’re often focussed on to the exclusion of the marriage.

Treating the wedding like a party puts it in perspective. One night. Not your life’s work.

And if you can’t live without the Stunning Champagne Fountain, you might want to reassess.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Search terms can defy the imagination

Does it startle you to know that someone in the world found my blog by deliberately searching ‘Alla Hoo’*? It did me. That Mr3’s imaginary friend with the outlandish name could possibly be a search term came as a surprise. Yes, she is Alla Hoo Hoo. But it’s like searching Jonathan Rhys to find Mr Rhys Meyers. It could be that one day she becomes so famous that she will be like Kylie or Julia and be at the top of Google Search based on her first name only.

Alla Hoo Hoo has become a more frequent visitor in the past few weeks. She now rides a motorbike – which Mr3 himself taught her to ride when they were in the SES together. The children have disappeared and instead she seems to be out every night at a party. Mr3 goes with her, which may explain why his normally sunny nature is beset by tempestuous storms these days.

He is determined to be Big and Alla Hoo Hoo, with her unending array of Big Person skills, is giving him the confidence to do it. He can even skip in ‘Big Shoes’, standing on his tippy toes and shuffling lightly down the hall.

Mr6 loves to ask him questions about Alla Hoo Hoo and they’ll have lengthy chats about all the things she can do. The only sticking point appears to be the disappearance of the children.

“Will they come back?” asks Mr6, concerned for their welfare.

“Not unless we need them to,” is Mr3’s serene response.

It’s hard to imagine what catastrophic situation might require the return of 98 children (the last head count of the Hoo Hoo household), so I’m daring to hope that the Fibro will remain a little less crowded for a while. Even as Mr3’s imagination stretches out to the horizons.

*Further investigation discovers that Alla Hoo Alla Hoo Alla Hoo is a Hindi song. I suspect that the searcher was probably looking for that rather than the imaginary friend of a three year old. Then again, cyberspace is a strange place.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Finding the write balance with 'Me' time

There was a time when the idea of 24 hours on my own would fill me with the kind of excited expectation not felt since the approach of Christmas Day when I was seven. As a work at home mum, I’ve never found it easy to extricate myself from my children. You get used to working around them, living around them, breathing around them.

My Mum and my sisters would tell me that I needed some ‘Me’ time, and they were right. There just never seemed to be a good time for it. Plus I have a secret penchant for ‘We’ time. (It’s just ‘me and two whinging children for long periods of time’ time that I really dislike.)

When the boys were young – and I mean the Breastfeeding/Screaming/Nappies end of young as opposed to just middling young like they are now – my joy of being away from them was tempered by anxiety of how they were doing without me. They were fine. Every time.

Then came the aforementioned days of euphoric, excited expectation at the idea of Getting Away. I would whisk myself off to meetings about work, drinks with friends, a movie… Lovely.

Now Getting Away involves three hours on a train in each direction. It usually entails squeezing in several client meetings at opposite ends of town, followed by hurried drinks with friends that usually end in a crippling hangover (serious lack of match practice). Still fun, but by the time one gets off the train at the end of the train line at the end of the trip one is swearing one will never leave town again.

But I think I’m finally getting the balance right. On Saturday morning I headed off to the Big Smoke to attend a course on writing about history at the NSW Writers’ Centre. I love these courses. Not just for the course content, which is always excellent, but for the other course attendees. There is a book in every writing workshop I attend.

I spent Saturday afternoon in the company of four different sets of friends. One, my oldest and dearest. Two, a couple that The Builder and I agree are two of our favourite people. Three, my brother TICH and his beloved (and her parents, an unexpected bonus). Four, my sister-in-writing-arms A, with whom I stayed. It was a relaxed and wonderful day of shooting the breeze and doing not much with people I love. Such days are hard to come by when you’re flying in and out of town for visits.

On Sunday, I went to my course, watered the seed of an idea that I’m cultivating in the back of my brain, bought some handmade chocolates and came home, via Elizabeth George’s latest book, which filled my three-hour train trip admirably.

As far as ‘Me’ time went, it ticked all the boxes. And even then I can honestly say that my favourite moment was getting off the train on Sunday night to an excited welcome from my boys. As Frank Sinatra sang ‘It’s oh so nice to just wander, But it’s so much nicer, yes it’s so much nicer, to wander back.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

When you're six, politics is just a game

It seems fitting that, in an extraordinary week of Australian politics, Fam Fibro has taken up Chess. I went to Aldi to buy nappies and muesli bars last week and came home with a kids’ Chess set (could have been worse, they had an enticing array of fetching women’s cycling shorts).

The Builder and I have been meaning to learn to play Chess for several years. We went so far as to buy a book about it but got so confused by the first ten pages that we gave up. The children’s version is about our level.

Mr6 is hooked. He loves the plotting and the strategising and we have endless conversations about whether the kings on the Chess board would have had swords. He has taken to dressing up as a Chess piece and has developed an interest in medieval warfare. I can be grateful that when he swings a pretend sword around it doesn’t make the same ‘zzzhzzz, zzzzhzzzz’ noise that a lightsabre makes. Small comfort.

This morning, before the actual leadership spill took place, I tried to explain to him that Kevin Rudd, whom he knew was Prime Minister, was in a bit of trouble. That a smart lady named Julia Gillard might take over and become the new Prime Minister. He looked at me, wide-eyed and nodded. Then tried to skewer me with his sword.

I’m going to try again tomorrow, over a game of Chess. If I explain that the King (Rudd) has been ousted by an all-powerful Queen (Gillard), supported by the pawns, rooks, and bishops of his own army (no white knights in sight), he might get it.

I know that he will try to tell me that the Queen cannot take out her own King. Which is when I’ll explain that politics is a dirty game and the rules change by the minute.

I will tell him to keep practising his Chess. It might come in handy one day.

{image: Che}

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Once upon a time, I loved living small

There’s something about reading Saturday’s paper on Wednesday that makes your whole week seem shorter.

I was trawling my way through The Spectrum section of last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald today (I always save it, as my favourite section, til last) when I came across Lenny Ann Low’s list of ‘stickiest’ design blogs. Most I’d visited. My house may not be a palace, but that doesn’t mean I’m not looking longingly at the turrets across the street. But there were also some new-to-me ones.

I was particularly taken with, all about living large in little spaces. (Literally in some cases – the image here is from a post about creating a huge calendar for a tiny home, making the most of unexpected scale.)

I wish I’d found this blog years ago when I was living in a studio flat in The Big Smoke’s trendy inner east. It was one of three that had been fashioned out of a terrace house directly across the road from the Showground. The lady in the front flat played 'Blue' by LeAnn Rimes, loudly, every weekend for the entire time I lived there. She was very sad. I was very happy once I got to a place where I never had to hear it again.

The last agricultural show ever to be held there took place not long after I moved in, and I spent a delicious couple of weeks watching cows of large proportion and cockies with large hats traipsing in and out the gate directly opposite my door. During the day, the cows made a hell of a racket (good training for my tree change). At night, the cockies outdid them.

I loved my little flat. It was the first and only time I ever lived on my own. I had one large(ish) L-shaped room, the world’s smallest kitchen (complete with Lilliputian fridge) and a shower room. It was decorated with typical rental style – institution grey walls, carpet of a questionable beige, and an, um, eclectic assortment of furniture that I’d begged, borrowed or stolen over the years. (I am a Gen X, share-house renter. Our sofas tell stories.)

It was a flat with secrets. My brother TICH spent a weekend there once with 14 friends. He was in year 12. I didn’t ask.

I once lay awake all night, quivering with desire for a male friend who’d crashed out on the sofa, wondering if I should throw caution to the wind and make a move. I didn’t, not that it would have mattered as our friendship faded away not long after. So much for respecting the friendship.

My friend J, who lived up the road, spent hours discussing our ex-boyfriends over several thousand bottles of wine. My freelance career started to take off: I wrote the infamous Hairy Armpits story within its walls.

I met The Builder while I was living there. In some ways I think it gave him the wrong impression. He may have imagined briefly that I was much cooler than I actually am. But he’s still with me, in a Fibro no less, so that worked out all right.

The studio and I didn’t work out as well. It wasn’t that I didn’t love it. More that I got sick of the rampant mold that climbed all over my shoes. And everything else. I also realised that my phone bills were huge – like, Everest huge. I needed someone to talk to face-to-face. It would be cheaper that way

So 18 months after I moved in, with the décor unchanged once I removed my oversized Betty Blue poster from the wall, I moved out. To share a modern, airy flat with my dear friend M, a man who does not eat vegetables and will not eat egg whites. (Or is it yolks? Can’t remember. There are some details best buried.)

When I find a blog that specialises in two-bedroom units in 1970s buildings, I’ll tell you all about it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Freelance writing can be such a hoot

Tonight was one of those nights that reminds me why freelancing is not for the fainthearted. I got a call at 5.30pm, in the middle of cooking dinner, from a new client who asked if I could do an urgent job. How urgent? I asked, one eye on the pasta boiling over on the stove. Tomorrow, they replied. I laughed. How novel.

Only it's not. Still, I did the job. Like I always do. Because that's what you have to do if you're going to have a freelance career.

I'm not complaining. As with every job, I learned something. If only how prevalent use of the word 'trialling' has become in the corporate world. And hopefully they'll think of me next time - preferably before 5.30pm.

It was just another day that made me grateful for being a Night Owl. I know that a Lark might have got up early to fit it in, but how would you know when to get up? I thought the job might take two hours. It took longer. Had I been the Lark, I'd have been trying to finish it up whilst getting Mr6 in his school uniform, Mr3 to eat his Weetbix and me out of my pyjamas before the school run. When you're an Owl, you can just keep on going until the job is done.

What a hoot.

Monday, June 21, 2010

How do you like your food? Dressed to thrill or nude?

For someone who ignored MasterChef for the first 42 or so eliminations, I’ve talked about it a lot in the past week. We’re down to the final eight of which there seems to be two main contenders, two possibilities, and four who can’t seem to work out how they got there. Neither can I. Except that everyone on this series cooks too well.

For a nation of people who, according to various media outlets over the past five to ten years, have forgotten how to cook, these contestants are tempering chocolate and making elaborate pastries with the best of them. Julie’s homemade chicken soup wouldn’t get a look-in this series – it would be deconstructed, reconstructed, foamed and flambed with one of those little blowtorches before being garnished with an ice statue and a lemongrass twist.

I was watching the episode tonight where the contestants attempted to re-create Heston Blumenthal’s Snail Porridge (pictured) and Meat Fruits. I know it’s not fashionable of me, but all I could think was ‘ugh’. The chocolate candle with the salted caramel inside – big yes. The meat parfait enclosed, mandarin-like, in mandarin jelly, not so much. When one of the contestants chortled with glee about having Heston’s cookbook at home, I could only gaze in awe. Imagine attempting something like that for next Saturday’s dinner party. I’d have to start, um, let’s see… last June.

It was the second time I’d seen Heston and his handsome spectacles in less than a week. Last Thursday he appeared in a documentary about Tetsuya, waxing lyrical about ‘Tets’s’ genius with food. Here, Heston and I are in complete accord. I enjoyed one of the most memorable meals of my life at Tetsuya’s eponymous Sydney restaurant, in the company of good friends. A lunch that lasted about, ooh, five hours and then continued long after we’d left the restaurant.

On Saturday night, I shared a steak in a local pub with two of the friends from that lunch, and we reminisced about the joy of it all. A lunch that we enjoyed about seven years ago. That’s one hell of a meal.

I agree that eating Heston’s Sound of the Sea, complete with iPod in a seashell so that you can listen to the ocean as you eat, would be memorable. It’s memorable just to watch. And I know that he’s taking food to a whole new level. But it all just seems so tricky. And so fiddly. And so damn hard.

The other British chef we’ve seen in the first two nights of MasterChef’s London experience is Jamie Oliver. The Naked Chef. Mr Slap-a-bit-of-oil-and-pepper-on-it-and-lovely-jubbly. The opposite end of the spectrum.

It’s towards this end of the spectrum that I fall. The end where the meat and the fruit are not blended into a smoothie and then moulded like play dough. The end where dishes such as ‘Sausage Hotpot’ are served and there is no irony involved. The end where the food is not dressed up to the nines, but, rather, rocking a smart casual look.

I don't think MasterChef will be calling any time soon.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gardening + Writing = same/same

Gardening metaphors pop up often in writing. ‘Seeds’ of ideas. Ideas bearing ‘fruit’. Talent being ‘nurtured’. Blah, blah, blah.

For me, the similarities between writing and gardening are all about the random pumpkin* that appeared in my vegie patch over the last week. (It should be noted that this pumpkin has nothing to do with the inexplicable pumpkins at the ball we attended last month…or does it?)

I didn’t notice the pumpkin at first, surrounded as it was by weeds. But by the end of the week its glorious display of orange flowers was obvious enough not to be dandelions, and it was not to be ignored.

It was not in the best position, being approximately on top of the rhubarb, and so a choice had to be made. Pull the possible pumpkin, or kill it.

What has all this to do with writing?

Let me set the scene with a little more backstory. I’m a bit of a rules girl. Not a Rules Girl by any means (I don’t even remember the last third date I had), but I tend to like a set of instructions. I couldn’t be on MasterChef, for instance, because I like a recipe to follow. My days are planned, my kids like routine, The Builder is of Dutch extraction (enough said).

When I write feature articles and other non-fiction works, there are rules to follow. Things that must be included, styles and formats to address. I work around the information I’m given, whether through research or interview.

The rules go out the window when it comes to my fiction. While I have writer friends who plot every scene and plan every plot point, I am not one of them. I tend to start writing and see what evolves. And what evolves is not always what I expect. Hence the pumpkin.

In the first book I ever attempted, for instance (remember Celeste of the Winter White suit?), I got 20,000 words in and then stopped for months and months. Why? Because my heroine was under a table in a bowling club and the hero had just walked in with a blonde. I had no idea who the blonde was (are you beginning to see why this book wasn’t jumped on by a publisher?) and it took me months to work it out.

Recently I co-wrote a manuscript with my good friend A, an accomplished author whose name you’ll find on books in several different sections of the bookshop. She was in Brisbane, I was in Fibrotown, and yet we managed to crank out 65,000 words between us in less than six weeks, at Christmas time when we were both inundated with other stuff. This was possible for several reasons:

  1. She is a plotter of fantastic capability.
  2. We have different styles but a similar wavelength.
  3. My many years in women’s magazines have left me with enormous capacity for writing ‘naughty bits’.

Whether the manuscript will ever come to anything or not is still to be decided, but it was a valuable experience for me. I have always shied away from chapter outlines and scene plans because I felt they were too limiting. What I learned is that with a framework comes the freedom to deal with the ‘pumpkins’ as they pop up. When you know what your book is about, you know if there’s a place for the ‘pumpkins’ – and exactly which spaces they’ll fit into without encroaching on the rest of the plot.

Today, in the garden, I gently lifted the pumpkin plant and put it up the back of the patch, where they’ll have room to stretch and grow. Will it survive the transplanting? Is it actually a pumpkin? Will it attempt to take over the world?

Stay tuned.

*At this stage, I think it’s a pumpkin. But I am not Peter Cundall. It could yet prove to be a Triffid.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What did you talk about this week?

It’s that time of the week when I share some of the wide variety of topics of conversation that came up through work or play in the course of life in a pink fibro. This week, the game of Chess has infiltrated the Fibro and Mr6 is hooked.

Chess, writing, reading, permission notes, the car's brakes, peeling 100kg of potatoes, pies, sore throats, temperatures, doing business in the bush, Beautiful Malice, the water cycle, bike riding, pitching, changing editors, fundraising, moving house, aged care finance, free money, feeding the fish, rooks, pawns, the all-powerful Queen, 20,000 words, allowing enough time, car service, subtitles, raffle tickets, yoga, meetings, visiting the Big Smoke, cruising, bunting, recycling, castling, Luke Skywalker's Landspeeder, Zac Power, and how Alla Hoo Hoo can do anything and be anything - in 'big shoes'.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Warning: Long night ahead

A short post. My littlest boy is sick. His cheeks are hectic with colour, his skin hot to touch and yet covered in goose bumps. His ears are red, his eyes are too bright. He is twitching in his sleep, this child who usually lies as soft and still as the night itself.

He crumpled himself into a cuddle with me tonight and asked if he could share my bed. He wants us to wake up together. How could I resist?

Despite my lack of Florence Nightingale instincts, I am ready. By the bed: a bottle of water, little boy Panadol, a cool washcloth, a torch so that I can see what I’m doing without hurting his eyes.

There’s little to be done except wait and keep the fever at bay as best I can. How I hate the waiting. The watching. The wishing it were over.

So now I’m off to bed. Early. Ready for the restlessness that surely awaits.

Looking forward to a new day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

There's a bear in there... somewhere.

My friend F is suffering tonight. Her son has lost his teddy. Cue tears, tantrums and complete lack of sleep. I understand the horror. I’ve been through it. To understand the trauma, however, it’s important to understand Mr6’s relationship with Bronte Bear. Mr3 has Alla Hoo Hoo, the imaginary mother of 98 who fights fires, goes to high school, drives trucks, and has done all the things that Mr3 badly wants to be big enough to do. All while wearing high heels (or ‘big shoes’ as he calls them).

Mr6 has Bronte Bear.

A few years ago (when Mr6 was three years old), I wrote a story for Sunday magazine in the Sunday Telegraph about Bronte’s trip to the Sydney Doll Hospital to have reconstructive surgery on her face (the pic, left, is her in Belgium, pre-surgery). This is how I described her:

“Bronte Bear has been a fixture in my son’s life since birth. Over three years, the relationship has developed into a full-blown love affair. The obsessive kind that poets write sonnets about. He goes nowhere without her, can’t sleep without her and worries if he thinks she is too cold/hot/tired/bored. (You haven’t lived until you’ve been informed that you need to come up with a new plan for the day because a teddy doesn’t find the current activity exciting.)

Bronte is a bear with personality plus. She has her own voice (a squeakier, infinitely more irritating version of his), her own favourite colour (pink), her own special seat in the pram at his feet, even her own passport. Yes, passport. Made by a loving – some might say insane – mother to help her son prepare for an overseas holiday, and stamped by bemused passport-control people around the world.”

Bronte’s hospital visit cost me six weeks of sleep and $200. For a bear that initially cost around $14. For a bear that was exactly the same as two other bears in his collection except for one thing – they weren’t Bronte. (They became known as Bronte Bear’s Sisters and Mr3 now occasionally takes one to bed. Loose, that Bear family.)

Some months after Bronte returned from hospital, she went missing. We had been out strolling around the bike path near our home in the Big Smoke and she’d fallen from the pram. A fact that remained unnoticed until two hours later when it was time for bed. It was summer, but the light was fading fast as The Builder hopped on his trusty, rusty old bike, complete with rapidly flattening tyres, and embarked upon a rescue mission. Faced with screaming pre-schooler and a sleepless night ahead, I could do nothing but pray.

He came back empty-handed. Four hours later, the tear-stained, sodden scrap of misery that was Mr6 (then three – must keep reminding you of this, in case you think he’s, um, immature) finally fell asleep and The Builder and I set about hatching a plan. First, we prepared a ‘Have you seen This Bear?” poster, full-colour, bright red headline, appealing Bronte picture and all. Then, we planned the route upon which we would distribute our posters, working through his collection of gaffer tapes to work out which would have the best hold.

Early the next morning, Mr3 (then a newborn) and I dropped a still-wailing pre-schooler off and set off on our mission. I followed our loop of the previous evening, dotting posters on every available space, eyes glued to the ground for a glimpse of manky brown fur. Nothing. As we got closer and closer to home, my despair grew, my gaze never leaving the path and its environs for a second. Surely she couldn’t have gone too far from the path?

It was sheer coincidence that, passing the park shaped like a pirate ship, I happened to look up. I’m still not sure what caught my eye – a bird? a plane overhead (highly likely in our inner-west location)? Superman? Whatever it was, I still thank my lucky stars for it. For there she was, dangling from a branch.

And it was then that I remembered one of the main Commandments of parenting in the inner city – if you find something on the ground – a hat, a shirt, a bear – thou shalt put it on a fence post or gate, out of the way of marauding pets and humans, and at eye-height for a harried mum to spot on her way home.

Someone – another mum, I’d like to bet – had hung Bronte high, out of the way of passing traffic. You only had to look at her to know she was a much-loved bear, and someone had recognised that fact. I was so excited I rang The Builder on the spot, high on excitement. “I found her! I found her!”

His relief was palpable. Then he suggested I retrace my steps back around the path, taking down all the posters so that we didn’t get any ‘weird’ phone calls. It was a busy morning.

So Bronte is still with us. He sleeps with her each night, dresses her up as a Jedi knight when the mood takes him, and still holds long-and-involved conversations with her. Unfortunately, her voice is not getting any less irritating as she ages.

Admittedly the relationship is not as intense as it once was. These days they’re more like a married couple, reading each other’s minds, relaxed in each other’s company, happy to lie on the sofa and watch television.

I confess I’m relieved. I hope that she will one day be a faithful memory of his childhood, tucked on a shelf, becoming less and less relevant. He's growing up and away from her. That's healthy.

But I’ll never be able to let her go. Even after he leaves home, there’ll be room here for Bronte. To me, she is a symbol of his childhood and I want to keep her with me forever. Just as long as she’s quiet.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Giving the green light to smugness

When you live in the country, there are few opportunities for smugness. In fact, there are just three main areas in which you might manage any form of superiority:

Lovely scenery

Lovely fresh air

Lovely lack of traffic.

It used to be that you could boast of your vegie patch and your chicken coop as well, but every cool inner-city address with so much as a courtyard seems to have those these days, so our opportunities for smugness are fewer.

When they arise, though, they are sublime.

Take today. Fam Fibro all hopped in our new (to us) car to drive Oma (The Builder’s Mum) back to Sydney. She’d come down from The Big Smoke for a few days R&R from her hectic retirement village schedule, and we’d whizzed her around the local wine festival for a spot of tasting and fresh air, and a look at our lovely scenery.

The drive out of Fibrotown was sluggish. The early risers of the tourist brigade had packed up their holiday houses and camp sites at the crack of dawn to ‘beat the traffic’ home, becoming the traffic in the process.

As we crossed the bridge out of town, The Builder and I indulged in some healthy debate about whether tourists are best to get up early on a public holiday Monday and ensure one is home in time to iron the school uniforms, or if one should stay and suck the marrow from the last day of glorious sunshine before leaving for home, after dark and after most of the traffic. (I will leave you to decide who was on which side of this particular conversation, as well as just how much time we spent on it.)

So we deposited Oma at home and then headed inner-West to our old stamping ground, just for old times sake. On the way, we discussed lunch options. And it was wonderful to have such a l-o-o-ong conversation about those options. To have so many options was almost overwhelming. Almost. We managed.

We parked our car and walked through a sun-filled park in which cool people dressed in cool clothes lazed coolly about on blankets, reading (Proust no doubt) and talking (world peace, of course). On the main street, the buzz in the air was palpable. I kept tight grip on both my boys’ hands, mostly to ensure they didn’t get stepped on. We visited one of my favourite bookshops in the world, where Mr6 found a Star Wars book with moving pictures. Could the day get any better?

I’m here to tell you that it did.

On our way home, breezing down the almost empty freeway, away from the bright lights of the city, towards the brighter lights twinkling across a big, dark sky, we passed a line of traffic that stretched for miles and miles. Stop, start, stop, start. For miles and miles and miles.

That moment, when you are on the other side of the road, heading away from that traffic, away from the chaos and confusion, and hours of stop/start, is the moment of ultimate smugness.

Fortunately, we get to live that small thrill every night of the week. Traffic reports shown at around 5.50pm each night on the news show the helicopter view of normal city traffic. And every night I stare at the neverending snakes of stationery headlights clogging the city’s main arterial roads and think: “Geez, I’m glad I’m not sitting in that.”

Every single night.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

All at sea without subtitles

It appears my days of speaking fluent Danish are in danger of ending. So too my abilities in Chinese, Swedish, German, French and, er, Scottish. I will be unilingual again – albeit unilingual with a disconcerting habit of mimicking Irish accents (but who doesn’t?) and throwing in the occasional ‘Ciao’ or ‘Bonjour’ just to show I’ve, you know, been around.

SBS, SBS, how could you abandon me?

(For those who have no idea what I’m on about, SBS is the fifth-most-popular television network in Australia. It’s the most ‘multicultural’ one and the one most likely to be broadcasting boobs after 10pm on a Friday night. It’s also, I’m told on good authority, on the verge of losing its ‘fifth-most-popular’ title to GO!, a channel that seems to exist to run reruns of The Flintstones.)


As reported in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, the 30 or so sub-titlers still employed by SBS TV are to be cut down to 20 – with the threat of further redundancies in the future. According to the article, by Cathy Carey who has worked as a subtitler for SBS TV in the past, the subtitling unit at the station has produced “arguably the world’s finest subtitles” since it began in the 1980s.

I must agree that they are good. To the point where if I watched a two-hour block – such as last Wednesday when I stayed up for the finale of the Danish crime saga The Killing – I was so immersed by the end of the show that I fully expected to turn to The Builder and bid him good night in Danish.

I was there. I was hearing those words and those subtitles were almost unnoticeable – like a good ventriloquist not moving his lips. It was only when I closed my eyes for a moment (just resting…) that I realised that I actually couldn’t understand a word and I’d best start reading again or become lost in the mire of politics and rain.

But it seems our days together are numbered. The station is going more ‘mainstream’ and showing stuff like Big Love instead of obscure Lebanese soap operas. They’re planning, according to Carey, to buy in content that’s already subtitled – presumably to a lesser standard, seeing as SBS is already leading the world. In short, outsourcing their foreign language expertise into offshore hands. I feel as though I should be in the streets protesting - holding up very large placards that spell out exactly what I'm on about.

In the meantime, I’m just hoping against hope that they hold onto the guy who subtitles Trawlermen. I’ve got no chance with those accents without him – even with my eyes open.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What did you talk about this week?

It’s that time of the week when I share some of the wide variety of topics of conversation that came up through work or play in the course of life in a pink fibro. This week, it's been all about the weather. Specifically, how cold it's been. Though we did manage to fit in some other stuff...

Tax, pay TV, slow cookers, red wine, white wine, how we need more wine, warranty forms, asthma, insurance claims, redheads, Tangle, Ninja grading, moisturisers, agents, revising, miscommunication, magazines, blog stats, sisters, travel sickness tablets, fundraising, writing, waiting, new sheets, physiotherapy, reversing sensors, writing letters, community outrage, walking, irregular heart beat, weight loss, cruising, technology, Luna Park, Christmas cards, saving money, mid-week slump, and how pupil-free days were not invented by a parent.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stone cold poetry at the Dry Cleaners

Was it only weeks ago that I was blithely regaling overseas friends with tales of our never-ending Indian Summer? Oh, how the warm have fallen. Winter arrived on cue, with biting breath and blatant disregard for the fact that Autumn had missed the party.

It’s cold.

Very cold.

Not sub-freezing or anything and very unimpressive to anyone who’s just emerged from a Northern Hemisphere winter, but still. The shock of going from long, warm days in the low 20s to short, cold days in the low teens is much greater when you don’t get a mellow period in between.

Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. It’s not that we’re not a hardy lot, nosirree. Just fortunate.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was blown through the drycleaner’s front door this morning to discover him standing there – right in front of the freezing blast – wearing a singlet. Not a wife-beater or anything, but a tank top nonetheless. I tried not to say anything. Chances were he’d heard a lot of ‘goodness me, you must be crazy cold’ in the hour since he’d opened. So I tried. I really did.

But I couldn’t help myself.

“Goodness me, aren’t you cold?” says I, throwing out the line that won me ‘wittiest opening gambit’ at the last Small Talk awards.

“I’m from New Zealand,” he answered, as though that said it all.

Mr3, resplendent in the corduroy jacket known by Fam. Fibro as ‘The Furry Bear’ because that’s what every child who wears it looks like, peered out from behind his pram’s plastic windbreak, removed the scarf from the bottom half of his face, and looked up into the man’s face with a raised eyebrow.

It was enough to provoke a further response.

“I had a paper run when I was a kid,” said the meaty, blokey drycleaner, directly to Mr3. “I would go out in the morning and the frost would crunch under my feet. I used to love watching my breath blowing hot into the cold. The air smelt so new and fresh…”

He turned his attention back to me.

“Nothing has ever felt cold since.”

Mr3 nodded. I nodded.

Poetry at the Dry Cleaners. True story.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I'm in training for something big

They say that self-awareness is a gift visited upon those whose time has past. Actually, I just made that up, but it suits how I’m feeling right now. I made a discovery last night. Not so much a discovery as an awful realisation.

I am a Letter Writer. You’re probably wondering how this important point escaped me for 41 years, but clearly Denial is a land I visit often.

But, first, to set the scene (or introduce the backstory as writerly types like to put it).

I was driving up my street yesterday morning when I came upon the very corner where Mr3 and I kicked off the Emergency Services party a few weeks back. Imagine my horror when I found two cars in almost exactly the same position as my (now gone-to-God) Camry and the other big white thing. Another accident. Same place, almost exactly the same time.

As the image gelled in my mind, I remembered a conversation I’d had with my friend L who lives right near that corner. I told her I’d had my accident, she said ‘you’re the second one this week’. Three accidents in three weeks. Outrage!

So I went home and did what any outraged individual would do in the circumstances. I wrote a Letter to the Council. And even as I was doing it – using words such as ‘innocent toddler’ and ‘upset seniors’ (contributions of The Builder, I might add) – I realised that I was peaking early.

In the 18 months I’ve been in Fibrotown, I’ve written four letters. Two to Council, two to the local paper. Four.

Then I thought back a bit. Even in my years in the Big Smoke I had a tendency to whip out the prose at the slightest hint of trouble. I can think of at least three separate occasions where I shot off lengthy tirades to that local Council.

It was then that I realised. I need to stop poking gentle fun at the letters pages of the local paper – in 20 years time there is a very good chance that I will be its single biggest contributor.

Heck. Twenty years? With four in 18 months, I’m clearly in training at elite level already.

If only they gave gold medals for skills like that.

PS: I know that is a huge picture of pencils. But I just love them. They're by Kylie Johnson at Paper Boat Press, available from local gal Lisa Madigan's e-store.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A boy named Blue (or RPatz)

Red-haired men. They come up in conversation much more than they used to, thanks to the teen (and grown-up) phenomenon that is RPatz. I don't get the Edward love. I guess that puts me on Team Whatever-The-Werewolf's-Name-Is. I suspect it's a redhead/redhead thing. Put two together and people automatically think you're related, so I tended to steer clear. Only ever considered it this one time...but that ended up in a suitcase.

I had a conversation - via tweet - about my position on red-haired men. It's way too complicated to reduce to 140 characters, so I've decided instead to reproduce an article I wrote on the subject. It first appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald's Spectrum section a few years ago, long before RPatz was a twinkle in a film-maker's eyes. Since then, and thanks to the Undead One, women's attitudes to redheads has changed a bit. Then, Marian Keyes's evil Lorcan Larkin was a man women fell for despite the fact that he was a redhead (The Last Chance Saloon). Now half the planet's falling over itself for a pale, chiselled, ginger-haired Vampire. Progress.

"Extinct within 100 years. High sensitivity to heat- and cold-related pain. Down to two per cent of the population.

With stats like that, if redheads were an animal species, there’d be a conservation group set up, a fund-raising day set aside in which everyone had to wear red wigs, and some kind of cute mascot (possibly a Weasley?) designed to pull in the crowds. As it is, Simon Cheetham, founder of, recently told The Guardian newspaper that discrimination against redheads in the UK is getting worse.

“In this politically correct world you can’t say anything about people’s religion or sexuality, but it’s still okay here in Britain to portray redheads in a negative manner,” he said.

And that’s in a part of the world where they’ve got the numbers. After all, some 13 per cent of the world’s redheads live in Scotland, and 40 per cent of the population carries the gene.

I’d like to say I’ve never noticed this discrimination, but the fact is that I’ve even participated in it.

First, the disclaimer, I am a redhead, with a red-haired sister, a red-haired cousin, a red-haired nephew, a red-haired niece, a red-haired uncle – in fact, a whole family tree of Gingas, Carrot Tops, Jaffas and Bloodnuts. All of which affected me only in small ways: an embarrassing lack of suntan in 1980s Australia, a tendency to blush easily, and a fondness for Anne of Green Gables quotes (“People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is.")

I thought I was red and proud. And in 2004, when Amanda Third, a Monash researcher (with red hair), found that redhead women had begun to surpass blondes in the sexiness stakes, well, my crimson pride knew no bounds.

Then I got pregnant.

Suddenly, between researching names (Maximus? Hermes? Ridge (not really)) and buying tiny singlets, I found myself obsessively studying genetics. Why? The prospect of The Red-Haired Son.

My husband and I discussed the possibility of a Tinge of Ginge on our unborn child. He waxed lyrical about the idea of a red-haired girl. When I raised the spectre of a boy named Blue, his response was less enthusiastic: “I’m sure I’ll learn to love him anyway.”

Put red hair on a boy and, somehow, the perception is that he’ll be picked last for sports (probably because mum’s still slathering him in sunscreen), geeky (Richie Cunningham anyone?) and have no luck with the ladies (evidence: the declining redhead population). Of course, rugby international Nick Farr-Jones, director/writer/actor/rich guy Ron Howard and notorious airline passenger Ralph Fiennes might beg to differ.

My initial research into our chances of producing a Rusty was encouragingly negative. According to Jonathan Rees, professor of dermatology at Edinburgh University who, with his colleagues, discovered the gene (MC1R, responsible for melanin production) that creates redheads, if a person has one of several variations of the gene, and if the variation is inherited from both parents, then they are likely to be red haired. So two parents with mutant gene equals red hair.

With my husband’s Dutch ancestry spectacularly redhead-free, things were looking good. I should have stopped there.

Professor Rees goes on to say that if you inherit the variation from just one parent, you have an increased chance of being red haired.

One parent with mutant gene equals very good chance of red hair.

Back to square one.

Taking a leaf from Sherlock Holmes’s Red Headed League (“for the propagation and spread of red-heads as well as for their maintenance”), I became a one-woman Red Haired Male Appreciation Society, tracking down the successful, the smart and the sexy of the red-haired fraternity. From Donald Trump and Kerry Packer, to Mark Twain, William Shakespeare and Jean-Paul Sartre, to David Wenham, that guy from Band of Brothers… even Prince Harry turned out better than we could have ever hoped. Archie Andrews was the red Romeo of Riverdale, Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States, Henry VIII was the original serial monogamiser.

True, redheads don’t often turn up as the heroes of romance novels – though I’m assured by my friends at the Romance Writers of Australia Association that there’s no rule about this – but I did discover a personals website ( for redheads and those who love them.

If my boy turned out to be a rude red, I was ready. In fact, I was almost disappointed when he was not. Almost.

Second time around, I was more relaxed. So much so that when Mr3 showed signs of, um, strawberry in his baby blonde locks, I was able to be philosophical. Red-haired men, I’ve decided, are like pink diamonds: increasingly rare and a fine investment."

Update: Sister B (Red, with Red son) has weighed into this debate over on her blog. Read it. She gets to the short and curlies of the subject.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I wish there were a better word for decluttering...

Was it only four months ago – not even four months ago – that I was revelling in the acres of space, the neat, tidy drawers and the endless possibilities conjured up by my new desk?

The same space now curtailed to a three-centimetre ‘free zone’ around my keyboard? The same drawers now devoid of pens, or even, worryingly, scalpels (note to self, would be good to know where the scalpels went)? The same desk now buried under a blanket of paper that’s as deep, soft and white as the driven snow?

The only thing in clear view is the Keep Calm and Carry On poster that hangs above my desk.

I have no-one to blame but myself. That’s the worst part. The pile of detritus cannot even be written off as children’s artworks to be recycled filed at the earliest convenience. No, this is notebooks full of, well, notes. Old To-Do Lists (depressingly undone), articles that I’ve printed to ‘read later’ (depressingly unread), the endless ‘guff’ that goes with the grant application process (there is no other word than ‘guff’, trust me – I tried), bills (depressingly unpaid), a birthday present (depressingly unsent) – you get the picture. Even if I had the cool Lizzie Allen wallpaper pictured above, you would not be able to see it.

The irony is that I marched into Mr6’s room today and demanded he clear his desk. “How can you possibly do anything when you have bits of Lego strewn from one end to the other?” I asked, in my most serious, this-is-a-life-lesson Mum voice. (Even as I said it, the full scale of my less-than-stellar example flashed across my mind.)

“But Mum,” he answered, quite reasonably. “Lego is what I do here.”

Oh yes.

The same cannot be said for me. Paper is not, technically, what I do here. I’m in a mess, and it’s cramping my style.

Which is why I plan to spend one precious child-free hour tomorrow, a Pre-School Day, cleaning up my office. It’s not strictly productive, and I aim to make my precious child-free hours productive (which is probably my first problem, but there’s a whole different story there), but I think it will end up being the best hour I spend all day. If only to give my thoughts and ideas some room to grow.

I just wish there were a better word than 'decluttering'. It sounds clunky and ugly, even if the results are smooth and beautiful. I might try 'unearthing' instead. That would fit.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

What did you talk about this week?

It’s that time of the week when I share some of the wide variety of topics of conversation that came up through work or play in the course of life in a pink fibro. It's come around quickly this week, and I approach my task with trepidation. You'll soon see why...

Tax, property investment, super-profits, red wine, tax, registration, Alla Hoo Hoo (they're going to lots of parties together - she wears a brown dress and 'big' shoes), wallflowers, coughs, The Wire, pay TV, capital gains tax, negative gearing, grant applications, future jobs, Toy Story 3, tummy bugs, the ATO, unpublished manuscripts, romance writing, waiting, Little Ninjas, temperatures, moving beds, Hunter wellie boots, high schools, Land Tax, superannuation, doctors, mining companies, sharemarket dip, birthday parties, reading at the first grade mass, blogging, revisions, and the weather - but not as much, or as well, as my Dad. But it was better than tax.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Don't bother me, I'm practising

It dawned on me today that I’ve lost my edge. Not a huge rockfall or anything, more a barely perceptible crumbling around the cliff-face.

I was driving Mr6 to school this morning and I realised that I’m hesitating too long. Waiting for an unfeasibly large gap. Taking a deep breath as I cross intersections. Flinching when a car approaches too fast from the right.

After my little accident a few weeks ago, I got straight back on the horse. So to speak. In the hire car as soon as I could turn my neck enough to see. It hurt, but what else could I do?

I’ve never loved driving. I didn’t get my licence until I was 25 (late for Australia, where distances can be huge and a car represents freedom). I was a year younger than everyone in my year at school and they never seemed to mind driving me around. I particularly adored my friend W’s Fiat Bambino, bright red, with a striped sunroof. Like a Noddy car. We’d often leave the pub (orange juice, mum) and find it ‘parked’ on the footpath, courtesy of the local Hilarious People.

But I never wanted one.

When I moved to the Big Smoke, hotfooting it out of Fibrotown as soon as I was able, I relocated in the inner city and took to walking, buses and loafing about with gusto. It wasn’t until I went overseas for a few years and came back to Australia that I got up enough chutzpah to brave the city traffic. Ten lessons. Job done.

Then I didn’t drive. For years and years and years. I lived close to everything. I didn’t need to. Truth be told, I didn’t want to. And as the years went past, my dislike turned phobic.

I’d look with utter envy at people who just hopped in a car and drove off. I wanted to be one. When I got pregnant with Mr6, I realised I had to become one. By now I was living in the World’s Most Unwieldy Suburb. Close to town, but somehow so huge that it took ages just to walk across it. I needed to drive. I needed to be able to get my baby around. I needed to be able to visit my friends without the need for three buses and a packed lunch.

So, thanks to the unbelievable patience of my beautiful friend A-around-the-corner, who sat through untold hours of bunny hops and minor scares (“We take off at intersections with alacrity Allison, we do not dribble into them”), and a few lessons from Danny the driving instructor who specialised in Nervous Nellies (“You’re one of them, act like it”), I got to the point where I could get in the car and drive without shaking. Where the idea of driving home didn’t ruin every good night out I should have had.

My sister C laughed about how I was still ‘practising’ driving 10 years after I got my licence. “Don’t you just get to the point where it’s not practice anymore, it’s just driving?” she wondered aloud.

And one day I did. I even started to, on occasion, enjoy it.

I’m not back in my box, by any means. But I’m more cautious. To the point where I’m fitting right in around Fibrotown where the average driving age is 60+ and the average speed is about 40km/hour.

I’m sure it will come back. That edge, I mean. But for now, I feel like I’m back to practising. Just a bit.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The romance of writing (or why I didn't write Twilight)

Don’t you love it when something arrives in the post that makes you smile? Not only smile, but motivates and inspires you to action? No, I’m not talking about the Aldi catalogue (colour TV and a garden fork, anyone?), rather my copy of the RWA newsletter.

For the uninitiated, RWA stands for Romance Writers of Australia. I’ve been a member since before Mr6 was born. I joined up when I thought that writing romance novels would be a fun way to work from home. To supplement my freelance income. In short, when I was deluded. (And it was before I was pregnant, so I can’t even blame the hormones responsible for scrapbooking.)

I went along to my first RWA conference, at Sydney’s Kings Cross, with no real idea what to expect. I found a bunch of warm, welcoming, encouraging women (and two men) – one of whom was wearing a ‘Just Finish The Damn Book’ t-shirt. It’s a slogan I’ve tried to live by ever since.

I confess I was somewhat overwhelmed by it all. Everybody was so friendly, so approachable, so not up themselves. The published authors – many of whom have incredibly successful careers – were happy to mingle with the plebs (which is the word I prefer to the currently fashionable ‘pre-published’, which is, frankly, awful), and it was all very jolly. Enid Blyton jolly.

I left with a few new friends and the impetus to write my first romance novel. Which sucked. My heroine, named Celeste, wore a Winter White suit. Enough said.

Between babies, and halfway through a second book, I managed to make it to my second conference. It was here that I met my beloved friend A. She was, in fact, witness to my uttering, sotto voce, the immortal line: “Don’t you think sex with the undead might be a little, er, icky?”

In my defence, a woman who looked like the worst cliché of a librarian had stood to put several pressing questions about Vampire sex to the presenter. In public. Out loud. She may well have been Stephanie Meyer. All I know is that I have no prescience when it comes to publishing trends. And I still think that if people thought about the actual reality of horizontal folkdancing with someone who’s been dead a century or two, they might rethink the whole Twilight phenomenon.

But I digress.

There’s a real art to romance writing. It’s all about character. It’s all about the relationship. It's all about emotion. The middle of the book can be a very long place when that’s your focus (think about the couch and dvd phase of most relationships and that’s about where you’re at in the very long middle section).

My second novel was rejected as being too complicated. I’m not sure if it was the late-night DJ sub-plot, the elusive ingredient sub-plot, the wicked uncle sub-plot or the random trip to Paris, but I came undone. I went on to something different after I won a competition to secure a mentor who kept repeating (ad nauseum now that I think about it) that she felt that I might need to try something different. It seems I was trying to stuff too much into 60,000 words. It’s amazing how few 60,000 words can be.

I’m still a paid-up member of RWA though. I don’t think there’s a more inclusive, more accessible writers’ association around. I’ve met some amazing people through the group and am looking forward to sharing cocktails with them all at my third conference in August.

All I need to do now is to track down a ‘just finish the damn book’ t-shirt. Either that, or just finish a damn book.

Me + Florence Nightingale = Different

When The Builder was sick yesterday, I remembered this post. When I got sick last night, I realised I'd have to use it. It first appeared on earlier this year. Apologies if you've read it before. Normal transmission should return tomorrow.

Florence Nightingale and I have a lot in common. We’re both women, we were both born in May, and, er, no, actually that’s about it.

Apparently, Ms Nightingale felt called upon by God to become a nurse. The woman is a saint. I am not.

Until I had children, I’d done no nursing. If I felt ill, I took a tablet and soldiered off to work. My husband was expected to do the same. Now that I have kids, the only discussions that take place between me and God on the subject of nursing go something like this:

Me: Dear God. Please make them better. That coughing is driving me INsane.


Me: Hello? Anyone there?


Clearly, the Lord has better things to do than deal with the ravings of a sleep-deprived, self-centred maniac.

Of course, it’s not just the bodily fluids and incessant noise factor that sends me over the edge. It’s not even the piles of tissues, raging fevers and sooky little scraps of misery that insist on sitting on me all day.

It’s the worry.

I’m sure even qualified nurses come undone in the face of their own baby’s first battle with the vomiting bug. Or the quavery little voice in the night that calls out ‘Mummy, I don’t feel well’. Surely even hard-bitten professionals lie awake, listening hard, wondering, ‘Was that a cough or a death rattle?’

When you sign on for this parenting caper, there’s a lot of information available. By the third month of my first pregnancy, I could have told you all about what I could eat, what I couldn’t, how breast was best and which hospital had the highest C-section rate. It wasn’t until after the birth, however, that the secret truth of parenting became apparent.

We were in the carpark, trying to work out how to get the capsule into the car when it dawned on us: we were responsible for this tiny life. The real parents, who knew what they were doing, weren’t going to swing by later to pick him up. The weight of parenthood settled quietly on our shoulders.

For the most part, I don’t notice the extra burden. It’s like gaining weight anywhere – your body shifts imperceptibly to take the strain. But when the kids are sick, it moves front and centre, like a hard rock in my gut.

Oh, I make all the right moves. I keep the fluids up, try to keep the temperature down, wipe runny noses, play endless DVDs to keep them ‘resting’ on the couch, whip up nutritious smoothies, get them to the doctor when necessary and, generally, channel Florence.

But like any hard rock in the gut, it makes me irritable. I just want them better so that I can throw them out into the backyard with a ball or a light-sabre and have a moment’s peace. I’m sure Florence never felt like that.

Then again, Florence never had to worry about what would happen if she herself got sick with the latest permutation of kid virus to come through the door. If the reality of Sick Kids is a bad dream, the prospect of Sick Mummy is a nightmare.

Welcome to my nightmare...

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