I Stand For Mercy

It’s a glorious day in this part of the world today — the sun has made a robust reappearance and a strong breeze is blowing away the clouds that dumped a month’s worth of rain on Sydneytown in two long grey days.  Kids are heading back to school, and daily life seems like it’s on the verge of resuming its usual reassuring rhythm.

But there’s something tugging at my conscience, and I believe that I must speak out and tell whoever is prepared to listen that I stand for mercy.  

I stand for mercy for the ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. I do not wish to go over the ins and outs of Sukumaran’s and Chan’s case, save to say that I readily acknowledge their guilt and I strongly believe that they should serve their time for the crimes they committed.  I am not attempting to excuse their conduct, nor to endorse drug trafficking in any form.

That said, I do not believe in the death penalty.

Regardless of a person’s crimes, however horrific, I do not believe that any human being has the right to take the life of another.  I didn’t believe it as a ten year old, hearing the Barlow and Chambers case being reported on the radio, and I don’t believe it now.

What I do believe is that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, as stated in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  I am proud to live in a country that is not only a signatory to that Declaration, but was also one of eight nations involved in its drafting.

I recognise that speaking out and making a fuss is, in all honesty, probably not going to achieve a great deal, particularly given that Indonesia has already executed six other individuals (five of them foreign nationals) this year, all of whom had been convicted of drugs charges.

But I can only hope — even if it be but a fool’s hope — that by lending my voice to the growing chorus of other voices in Australia and around the world, that Sukumaran and Chan just might be allowed to live out the rest of their days in an Indonesian prison rather than being transferred to Nusa Kambangan island, woken in the middle of the night, taken to a remote location, and shot dead by a firing squad.

And so I say: I stand for mercy.


Holiday Bonus Points — A Cautionary Tale

Note to prospective readers: this post may contain traces of nail polish or acetone and could, quite possibly, have resorted to the use of expletives.

Here in the Great Southern Land, the summer holidays are drawing to a close: those longed-for, clear-skied, sprawling days of uninterrupted leisure are now well and truly numbered.  In five more sleeps Miss Malaprop will be back at preschool, and in nine my Marvel Girl will resume school.

Looking back over the past five or six weeks, a large part of me is already veering wildly towards nostalgia.  I have relished my time with my girls this summer, the hours of building jungle hideout forts from shoeboxes, of creating crazy craft and science projects, of swimming every chance we got, of reading books (and more books) aloud, of happy chatter during endless sessions of imaginative play.  I will miss, in particular, the little gems that have dropped into their conversations…“Ants are very capable creatures — I want to get a magnifying glass so I can see how big this ant’s eyes are!” or “Our new cubby house is hotter than a vampire bat!”, or the many sentences that ended with the phrase “this [whatever it was] has been the best EVER!”.

Realistically speaking, however, I admit that my already sentimental recollections of the summer holidays have blithely glossed over the numerous occasions when the kids have not gotten along, or when I have raised my voice, or when one of us — or sometimes more than one — has completely lost it.  We are, none of us, angels (a fact which, quite naturally, reminds me of Sherlock Holmes’ marvelous quote from the superb Reichenbach Fall episode).  But these holidays, I did manage to introduce a new scheme aimed at promoting more angelic behaviour: Holiday Bonus Points.

The concept of Holiday Bonus Points came to me one morning when I was about to launch into my customary post-breakfast tirade about hair brushing, bed making, teeth cleaning, floor tidying or whatever it happened to be that day.  Instead of rattling into my usual rant, I took a deep (supposedly calming) breath and made a proclamation from the middle of the mess that was my kitchen: a Holiday Bonus Point would be awarded to any child who performed a task without being asked to.

Two gleaming pairs of eyes, one dark greeny-brown, the other light greeny-blue, locked onto mine, followed by a rapidfire barrage of questions, and before I knew it, the Holiday Bonus Point scheme was up and running — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was made up and running.  The details were invented as I quickly as I answered the kids’ questions: any child who got five HBP’s before school went back would get a special treat of their choice, but the award — and the possible removal — of points was entirely at my discretion.

For the most part, Holiday Bonus Points were a roaring success: instead of constantly nagging the girls, I was able to (ever so vaguely) wonder aloud whether anyone would get an HBP that day.  Conversely, if anyone was misbehaving, I could warn them that if the infraction continued an HBP might be taken away from them.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the scheme worked brilliantly — until Miss Malaprop surprised us all by being the first to be awarded a full five points a whole week before the holidays ended, and promptly requested a trip to the shops to buy some nail polish.  Specifically, aqua and purple nail polish.  And pehaps a pink one, too.

And here, as you may have guessed, begins the cautionary portion of our tale — the part that begins right after I managed suppress the loud groan that very nearly escaped me when the words “nail polish” were mentioned.  It was, of course, the point when I realised that I not only had to purchase her chosen treat, but that I also had lost the by now almost mythical power of the Holiday Bonus Point scheme for the final week of the holidays.  This flaw, this great gaping hole in my formerly smooth-running system, was brought into particularly sharp relief when Miss Malaprop — despite being told in no uncertain terms NOT to open her brand new five-pack of glittery nail polish until I had finished showering and was able to supervise her — was unable to resist the siren song of the brightly coloured bottles, removed them from their shiny silver packaging, and promptly spilled some of the green (yes, green) nail polish on the carpet in her bedroom.

After a great many tears (hers) and far too much yelling (mine), we managed to resolve the situation. Miss Malaprop’s room still has a faint whiff of acetone, but the carpet is clear and we have both calmed down.  As it turns out, bottles of nail polish are just as easy to remove as Holiday Bonus Points, so the scheme has been salvaged to some degree.  But it was not without a serious amount of trepidation that I asked Marvel Girl (who is currently in possession of four HBP’s) what

The brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in The Reichenbach Fall.

The brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in The Reichenbach Fall.

she was planning on getting should she manage to procure her final point. To my great relief, she simply smiled dreamily and said she’d love to get the fifth book in the Swallows and Amazons series.

We are, none of us, angels, but I think even I can handle that.

Confession of a Thrifty Fictionista

SolaceI allowed myself a guilty pleasure yesterday afternoon.

That said, ‘guilty pleasure’ is a complete misnomer because I don’t feel a shred of remorse about it.  Rather, I felt an overwhelming sense of adulation: roaming around a bookshop, on my own, having given myself permission to leave the shop with one — just one — newly purchased tome.

I have said before that music is as necessary as oxygen to me.  Similarly, on my list of life’s necessities, books are akin to food: they are my nourishment and my sustenance. Even The Bloke often refers to me as the hungriest bookworm he has ever met.  And, as with what I eat, there are times when I am not at all fussy about what I am reading, times when I am very strict with myself about what I may or may not read, and times when only a certain book will do.

So, as you may well imagine, my trip to the bookshop yesterday was like visiting a literary smoragasbord: picking up a book here and a book there, flicking through the first couple of pages, sampling this author’s words and that publisher’s blurb, feasting on the myriad covers, on the handwritten staff recommendations, on the glory of the printed word.  And it was there, standing among all those shelves of shining volumes, my nostrils full of the unmistakable scent of new books, that I realised something.  Yes — here it is, the confession of a Thrifty Fictionista: I want as much book for my buck as possible.

Banal as it is, it’s true.  Even when I’m in the process of being swept up and away by the sight and smell of so many glorious books, I’ve got one eye firmly fixed on the price tag.  If I’m going to buy a book — one that will hold its own on my already overloaded shelves — it needs to be worth it.  In a world where my library space is also being inexorably usurped by my children’s expanding collection of Lego bricks and other toys, I need to feel confident that I will be willing to defend my literary purchase against the onslaught of small plastic figures, minuscule puzzle pieces and apparently self-multiplying coloured pencils and pens.  It doesn’t need to be a book that has won a major award, topped the best-seller lists or even received critical acclaim, but it does need to be a work of quality.  Perhaps it’s a snippet of dialogue that attracts me, or an impression of a particular place or historical time, or a particularly well-crafted description or turn of phrase.  But it does need to get me in.

And my book of choice not only has to be a quality tome, it has to last.  It needs to keep me occupied for days, not hours — and being a notoriously fast reader, this sometimes poses a problem for me.  That said, yesterday it proved to be instructive: I seriously considered purchasing a riot of a read by an Australian author whose work I love, but whose trademark fast-paced narratives and twisting plots take me only a few hours to devour.  They’re fantastic escapes, but ones that I am far more likely to borrow from the library.  Let’s face it, you can only be surprised by an ending once, and quite apart from that, this Thrifty Fictionista had a reasonably good inkling that she could pick up a brand new copy far cheaper online than she could in store…

Dec 2014 Jan 2015 021So just what did I emerge from the bookstore with?  Which volume managed to reel me in, and satisfy both the frugal and decadent sides of my nature — the one that doesn’t want to pay too much as well as the one that wants to wallow in a good book for hours?  Well, I ended up with three books in one: Haruki Murakam’s 1Q84 trilogy.  I’m 250 pages into it already and it has me hooked, and I went to bed feeling almost smug last night, knowing that I still have over 1,000 pages and many happy hours reading ahead of me.  And, if you must know, the Murakami omnibus was five dollars cheaper than the other book I was tempted by, so this Thrifty Fictionista is counting that as a win!

We Turned Left

For years now, when time and money allows, The Bloke and I have been going on various little holidays up and down the eastern coast of this Great Southern Land.  Generally speaking we head north from the Big Smoke, seeking surf and serenity at one of any number of beaches that we count as favourites (the list is extensive and ever-expanding).  Why we choose to vacation beside the sea when our family home is located less than a kilometre from the nearest beach may be a mystery to many, but it’s a pattern that has remained unchanged since the arrival of Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop.  And what it usually means is that every school holidays, the family piles into the car and we drive along the Pacific Highway as far north as we intend to go, then turn right and head for whichever stretch of coastline is currently taking our fancy.

Until this holiday.

You see, some time ago, some bright spark (who may or may not be the author of this blog) was having yet another whinge about her husband’s surfboard collection – or quiver, to use the correct terminology in surfing wankery parlance – which, like a certain list of favourite beaches, is extensive and ever-expanding.  She was, she said, sick to death of sand being tracked through every holiday rental and of surfboards being strapped to the station wagon roof.  And so, in deepest midwinter, she booked a different kind of holiday for the family’s post-Christmas summer jaunt: an inland holiday, beside a meandering river and surrounded by rolling hills.  Not quite a farm stay, but one that involved charming pursuits like horse riding, bush walking, canoeing and perhaps even a spot of platypus watching.

Now, you must understand, booking any sort of vacation invariably — and immediately — involves The Bloke asking the two all-important questions about the destination I have chosen, namely: is there any surf, closely followed by just how good is that surf.  (Yes, yes, it was me having the whinge about the ridiculous number of surfboards he owns.)  I freely admit that I frequently engage in a spot of melodramatic eye rolling while answering these questions about the proposed location as briefly and perfunctorily as I can.  My responses never extend to pointless minutiae relating to the number of breaks at the chosen beach or whether they are left or right handed or whatever, but generally involve some glib quip about the fact that they’re not going to stop making waves any time soon, so he can take what he gets.

I will also admit that I do recall feeling inordinately pleased with myself that I had somehow persuaded The Bloke that an inland holiday would be a wonderful experience for the whole family – enriching, even – a welcome change from whatever stretch of coast we would have headed to otherwise. It felt truly exhilarating, and more than a little sacrilegious.  Until the months rolled by and Christmas came and went, and suddenly we were pulling out of the driveway and heading north in the station wagon once more, sans surfboards on the roof.

And then we turned left.

No one could have been more surprised as I was when we finally arrived at our new, inland, holiday destination.  After some dithering from the front desk staff we were directed to our cabin, our home for the next six nights.  I must admit that my breath did catch slightly when we pulled up to that dingy brown shack, which bore little or no resemblance to the smart little cottages featured on the resort’s website and glossy brochure, and I might even have groaned aloud when we finally managed to yank open the ancient sliding door and peered in.  The entire cabin was outfitted in what might best be described as Soviet-style grey: the kitchen cupboards, the threadbare bed linen on the kids’ bunks (which were not made up beyond a base sheet), the sagging vinyl couch in the living room — all grey.  That said, I did note that the colour scheme matched the relentlessly pouring rain outside, and soon found an exception to the rule in the towels that had been provided, which were an unusual shade of…tan…or perhaps something slightly murkier.

And yet, while I stalked around trying to cram food for a family of four into the tiny, rusting bar fridge (the website had depicted a clean, well-lit cabin with a gleaming full sized fridge), the kids were already enthusing about the prospect of sleeping in bunk beds and The Bloke was happily eyeing off the (steadily rising) river and was unpacking the girls’ wetsuits.  To their credit, they largely ignored the dark mutterings of She Who Books The Holiday Accommodation about the Trade Practices Act and false and misleading advertising and, bless them, had already got on with the business of making the best of things.

It took me the better part of two days, a decent massage and the sun coming out for me to get out of my funk.  And when I was finally able to shrug it off, I was able appreciate the holiday my lovely family were already enjoying.  We bushwalked, led the kids around paddocks on horses (a dream come true for Marvel Girl), rode inner tubes down the river, went canoeing and platypus spotting (though saw none), made a couple of trips to the swimming pool in the nearest country town, visited a local farm to meet the animals up close (this had to be done twice it the girls loved it so much), and finally got down and boogied (like it was 1999 in Miss Malaprop’s case) at the bush dance in the resort’s wool shed on New Year’s Eve.

And despite our less than appealing lodgings, the surrounding countryside was beautiful and the overall experience was an enriching one — not least because it made me take a long, hard look at myself.  I know I won’t be in any rush to return to that particular resort, but I am glad I dug my heels in and pushed for a different kind of holiday: one that let Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop discover a whole new world.

I’ve already booked our next two holidays.  Not surprisingly, they’re both by the beach.  But down the track, when the urge takes us, I suspect we might just turn left again.

Riverwood Downs mostly 045