The Flags are Up!

The Flags are UpSummer.  Glorious, sultry, turbulent summer — the subject of this Great Southern Land’s greatest love affair.

The season we yearn for, along every seaside centimetre of this vast island’s perimeter, in this sand and saltwater obsessed nation of coast-clingers.  Our time of glorious wonder, complete with severe clear skies and the solace of a seabreeze on a sweltering day.

It’s on its way.

Anyone born within cooee of the coast can tell you the signs.  It’s not just the rising temperature, the lengthening days, the lingering golden light of evening.

It’s the flags going up at the start of the Surf Lifesaving Season, and the banners advertising registration days for Nippers.  It’s in the sharp briny scent of the sea, the smell of sunscreen and surfboard wax.

It’s in the first incessant, maddening calls of the koel.  The thwock of cricket balls in the nets at the local park, as footballs are ditched in favour of willowtree bats and dreams of one day wearing the baggy green.  The crash of the screen door after the kids have been reminded for the zillionth time not to let the mozzies in.  The satisfying crunch of a Stelvin cap unscrewing from the top of a crisp Sav Blanc on a Saturday afternoon.

It’s the slide into Daylight Saving Time on the October long weekend, when altering the clock also requires adjusting your headspace, signalling the start of the great unwinding of the end of the year. The deep exhalation as we shuck off out shoes and slip into thongs — we’re talking footwear, here, people — secure in the knowledge that once the race that stops the nation is run on the first Tuesday in November it’s just a few short weeks until the rounds of office parties and Christmas drinks begin.

It’s in the grin that tugs at the corners of your mouth on the first really hot day, knowing that soon enough there will be six weeks of school holidays, of tracking towel-slung to and from the beach, of backyard barbecues and endless lawn mowing, of a whole season of sand being trailed through the house and ever-present in the shower recess, and nights so warm that the sheets are kicked off every bed in the house as cicadas shrill and the Southern Cross wheels overhead in the deep Antipodean darkness.

I felt that grin today.

Ah, Summer.  It’s really on its way.

Turn to Face the Strange

I woke up this morning with a throwaway comment I made yesterday afternoon when picking up Marvel Girl from school running through my head.  It wasn’t a dreadful thing that I said.  But it was a careless, offhand remark that was completely unrepresentative of what I believe and frequently stand up for (and makes me think less of myself for saying), and it also had the potential to cause undue offence or hurt to those who heard it (and, quite possibly, for them to think less of me too).  The sort of aside that you wish could be unsaid, that you later think of at least two hundred and seventy-three different things you could have said, but it’s what you did say that sticks in your head.  On repeat.

Some days, silencing the insidious voice of the Inner Critic can a be difficult thing to do.  Today, however, I was fortunate that my early morning self-loathing session was interrupted by a phone call from The Bloke’s mother: a serious truck smash had occurred near our house, she said, people were trapped; The Bloke had better take an alternate route on his drive to work.  By the time I’d hung up the phone and he’d shut off the shower, I could hear the news and emergency response helicopters circling.  Nothing shuts the Inner Critic up faster than a dose of reality — particularly the life or death perspective changing kind.

And yet, as I walked down the hallway into the day, that devious, persistent voice was still attempting to sneak back into my consciousness, and I realised that today I would need to pull out the big guns: caffeine (of course), but far more importantly, music.  For me, music is right up there with oxygen on my list of life’s necessities.  It comes in on top of tea and even above sleep.  So as the kettle boiled, I scrolled through the iPod menu searching for the one artist — and I use the word ‘artist’ deliberately here — who could pull me out of my funk and send that Inner Critic packing.  I needed David Bowie.

DB Astronaut

David Bowie Astronaut Print. You can get it on Etsy here.

“Ooh Mummy, are you playing the space music?” asked Miss Malaprop, running in from the play room upon hearing the opening chords of “Space Oddity”.  She was referring, of course, to the much-viewed YouTube clip of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield singing in the International Space Station, but her interest had also been piqued because — weirdly — she and Marvel Girl were in the middle of building spaceships and lunar modules out of my old Lego (yes, you know the set: grey base plate with a couple of craters, mini NASA figures and tiny control panels, all circa 1984).  “Yep,” I replied, “but this is the original version.”

The original, and still the best.

Growing up, our house was filled with nothing but classical music and the occasional blast of blues or jazz.  Commercial radio and pop music were not things I discovered until I was about ten years old, and yet for some reason, David Bowie’s music is familiar to me as…as childhood itself.  And this morning, it really did the trick.  For all of us.  By the time the tea was brewing the girls had abandoned their space Lego and were romping and rollicking to “The Jean Genie” (while I thanked every deity I could think of that Miss Malaprop doesn’t yet know the real words to that one), and I was fixing them porridge for breakfast, complete with a lightning bolt of cinnamon sugar across the top à la Aladdin Sane.

Bowie is rock’s original chameleon, a man out of time.  To someone who grew up on a steady diet of Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt, his compositions are awe-inspiring: I would love — really love — to learn the piano part to “Life on Mars” one day, and play it on a concert grand.  A Steinway, preferably, like the one my first piano teacher owned.  With as much drama and rubato as I dare.

Shut your mouth, Inner Critic: I wish I new who to credit for this artwork, but I believe the original photograph was taken by Gavin Evans.

Shut your mouth, Inner Critic: I wish I knew who to credit for this artwork, but I believe the original photograph was taken by Gavin Evans.

And then there are the lyrics: layered with meaning and richly imaginative, deftly evocative of specific times and places, and yet as relevant today as they were the day they were written.  This morning, packing Miss Marvel’s lunchbox for school, the words that struck me most came from the closing bars of Bowie’s duet with Queen, “Under Pressure”, the part where he’s singing beneath Freddie Mercury’s soaring “Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance? / Why can’t we give love?” vocal line:

‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves…

“Last dance,” I told the Inner Critic, daring it to leave.  “Go on, put on your red shoes and dance the blues.”  Daring myself to change my way of caring about myself, to be a hero — just for one day.  And with that, the voice was successfully banished.

I know it will return, no doubt unbidden and relentless as ever, but for now it is gone.

And in the space that remains — all that glorious space that opens up when the Inner Critic has been silenced —  there is room to think, to dream, to forgive myself for the occasional social blunder, and even to wonder: are Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop old enough to watch Labyrinth yet?

Miss Malaprop

Miss Malaprop is my much-loved younger child.  Like most preschoolers she is relishing her first forays into the big wide world, working out what her personality feels like from the inside as we, in turn, discover what it looks like from the outside.  She is sensitive, extremely kind, quick-witted, hilariously funny, determined (sometimes to the point of stubbornness, at other times to the point of lunacy), has an alarming capacity to throw spectacular tantrums, and gets up to so much mischief you’d think she was the lovechild of Loki Laufeysen.  She enjoys reading books, dressing up, creating things (especially involving paint, tape, glitter glue, regular glue, well…anything sticky, really), and playing with — or more likely tormenting — Marvel Girl, her older sister.

Miss Malaprop also loves to sing.  Loudly.  Sometimes even in tune.  She particularly likes to sing along with the music she likes.  And, as you might have guessed from her pseudonym on this blog, she doesn’t always get the words quite right.

“WE ARE DONE WITH BEING BESIDE THE JELLY!” she belted out from the back seat of the car the other day (as I attempted to protect her tiny developing ego by stifling my mirth and narrowly averted driving off the road).  Lord only knows what the silent many — let alone the Madden Brothers — would have made of that one.

It seems, however, that Miss Malaprop is not particularly fussed what the lyrics really are.  We did try explaining to her, in the kindest way possible, that Sheppard are actually singing “Say Geronimo!” and not referring to a long extinct dinosaur in their recent hit.  I suspect she simply prefers to sing, “Hey Pteranadon” instead — she is a big fan of Tiny, Shiny and Don from Dinosaur Train, after all.

Wikipedia defines malapropism as “the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance”, and I must admit that in addition to finding it one of the funnier entries I’ve encountered spouting from that omniscient fount of all online knowledge, I particularly enjoyed that it included links to other linguistic wonders such as Bushisms and mondegreens.  Strictly speaking, my dear daughter’s pseudonym would be more accurate were it Miss Mondegreen, given that she is notorious for substituting words she knows (or thinks she hears) for the lyrics of the songs she likes to sing.  But since malapropism is derived from the French mal à propos, meaning “inappropriate”, and she is equally renowned for making statements or asking questions that are as untimely as they are unsuitable (such as proclaiming — loudly, and with great solemnity — that “Ruth’s father died!” when he is actually standing right behind her) , I have retained my original choice.

And despite her occasional indiscretions and musical blunders, Miss Malaprop is never, ever intentionally malicious. Rather, she is one of the most empathetic and considerate little beings I have had the privilege to meet, and the vast majority of the time I am more than proud to be her mum.  She is the sort of child who, if yoiPhone photos 158u appear to be at all down in the dumps, will attempt to rally your spirits with a rendition of her own inimitable version of that old favourite from The Jungle Book movie:

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your STRIPES!

Take that, Shere Khan.



iPhone photos 003

An unusual sight greeted me when I opened the bedroom curtains early one morning this week: a small boy was being pushed down the street, perched Raja-like on top of a monstrous cane lounge – we’re talking at least a two and a half seater, here people – which was, in turn, balanced precariously on a wheelbarrow.  Now, we’re a pretty open-minded bunch in our neighbourhood.  We don’t usually bat an eyelid at some of the crazier stunts people pull, particularly if they’re done outdoors; in fact, we generally go out of our way to celebrate them.  In my pre-breakfast, non-caffeinated state, however, the sheer spectacle of this young child grinning triumphantly atop his ramshackle rickshaw made me look twice.

At first I thought I wasn’t the only one being slowed down by this strange sight, as a cyclist rode up the road far more sedately than is usual for these parts, looking slowly from side to side like a spectator at a tennis match.  A super slow-motion tennis match, though.  You must remember, I had not yet had that first, sacred, life-restoring cup of tea that morning (I am one of those people who probably needs a mug like this).  But after staring blankly out the window a while longer and eventually noticing the piles of rubbish scattered up and down the nature strip, the reason for all the odd behaviour I had witnessed finally dawned on me: it was Council clean up day.

I have, at best, an ambivalent relationship with Council clean up.  There is a part of me — the organised, fastidious, list-ticking part of me — that adores Council clean up.  Relishes it.  Cannot wait to declutter the house and yard of anything broken down, outgrown, or simply incongruous.  This part of me actually gets excited when, once every six months or so, the leaflet arrives in the letterbox advising when bulky goods may be left out for collection by the local Council.  Or by the wheelbarrow-owning fathers of small boys who spy a decent-sized lounge in a neighbouring street and think, “That’s it!  The perfect couch for the back deck/man cave/mother-in-law’s new nursing home…”

And that’s right about the point when the other part of me begins to emerge.  The part that worries about where all this stuff is going to be put.  The part that threatens to have an anxiety attack when combinations of words like “mindless accumulation” and “conspicuous consumption” and “built-in obsolescence” are mentioned.  The part that gets more than a little concerned when even the kids’ eyes begin to glaze over as we drive along, eyeing the endless piles of busted vacuum cleaners, rusty laundry airers, plastic tricycles, high chairs, mattresses, snow skis, lamp shades and broken bookshelves, aiming to spot a prize in the midst of all that trash.

You know it’s true.  Council clean up turns us all into Scavengers.

I don’t mean the professional Scavenger types, who creak in from parts unknown driving their cage-backed utes and trucks piled high with scrap metal salvaged from the suburban hordes to be sold off in places equally obscure.  No, I’m talking about ordinary folks, supposedly normal people, who suddenly feel compelled to drive slowly down streets they would normally pass through without so much as a sideways glance, trawling for more stuff.  I know that I’m guilty of it — especially if The Bloke is at the wheel.  I can almost feel his blood pressure rise as I ask him to “just slow down a bit, for a minute,” as we pass a particularly spectacular pile of…whatever it is.  I have definitely seen his fingers tighten on the steering wheel at hearing such a request, and I’m pretty sure that one time I even heard him grinding his teeth.

And why not?

Because this is where we come to the core of the problem, the beating heart of my bipolar response to the biannual dumping/scavenging spree. I am grateful that my local Council makes the effort to provide a Resource Recovery Centre (formerly known and used as a tip), and that nearby government buildings such as a recently renovated Community Art Space were transformed using reclaimed materials.  I am also thankful, for the sake of my sanity and a (hopefully) cleaner, tidier and safer home, that the same Council provides bulky goods clean ups twice a year, and encourages residents to have garage sales ahead of those collections to reduce waste.  I even feel indebted to the Scavengers who pick through whatever we put out on the nature strip, and was more than a little relieved when this time they took away more than half of what we had discarded there.

But my mind truly boggles at the thought of how quickly our remaining pile of stuff, when combined with everyone else’s pile of stuff, adds up.  And it really bothers me that everything that is collected goes straight into landfill faster than you can say “Ikea flat-packed furniture”.  It’s what makes me teach my kids how to separate rubbish from recycling, and to donate toys to charity every year before their birthdays and Christmas.  It’s also part of what gets climate scientists like these, who really know what’s going on, even more worried than I am — and, in my view, justifiably so.

I know I’m far from perfect, that I could do much better in the environmental stakes than I am doing right now.

But I am learning to tame my inner Scavenger.

And I am also becoming increasingly aware that we don’t just have to stop destroying our planet because it’s where we keep all our stuff — it’s because it’s where we all live.