Chiko Rolls and Passiona

Milk BarI’ve been living in a bit of a news vacuum lately, largely because The Bloke and I took the family north to Fraser Island during the recent school holidays and road tripped back via Noosa, Kingscliff and Port Macquarie.  It was a nostalgic trip for both of us, particularly as we got to share many childhood memories of summers spent at Fingal Head and Rainbow Bay, separated only by the Tweed River and the many years it would take for us to finally meet.

In all honesty, I can’t say I missed not hearing or reading the news while we were away: in some of the places we stayed mobile coverage was patchy (at best), and I soon discovered it did not take me long to disconnect from the 24 hour news cycle.  Instead, I found myself realising how much news — and many other things — have changed since I was a kid.  During my childhood, news was something you got from the radio or from a newspaper you were sent to buy from the corner shop.

For me, remembering these things conjures up images of the local Milk Bar, with its signs advertising Streets Icecream (still allowed) and Winfield Blues (before cigarette advertising was banned). Outside there were metal stands displaying the newspaper headlines for the day in big, black block letters, and the door was shrouded with a faded plastic strip curtain — a vaguely successful attempt to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay.  

Milk Bar 4Inside the Milk Bar was an Aladdin’s cave of multicoloured sweets — Redskins, Milkos, Curly Wurlys, long plastic straws filled with sherbert, even fake candy cigarettes (also long since banned).  There were Chocolate Paddlepops and Cool Sharks in deep freezer chests, cartons of milk and cans of Passiona in noisy refrigerators, loaves of bread on wire racks, and a bain marie beside the counter containing Chiko Rolls and other dubious delicacies of questionable provenance. A insect zapper cast a weird blue light from the wall behind the register, which was filled otherwise with packets and cartons of cigarettes.

On the floor near the door were the stacks of newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror. I learned the hard way that the copy of the Herald on the top of the pile (which was usually weighed down with half a brick) was always a bit worse for wear. Better to take the second or third one down than to risk Dad getting tetchy about rips.  They were huge broadsheet editions — twice the size of today’s paltry offerings — with the TV guide printed on pale blue newspaper (or was it pale pink?) and the form guide on pale yellow.  I loved reading Column 8, with all its quirks and urban myths.

Milk Bar 2I don’t really remember a time when I couldn’t read, since my mother started teaching me when I was about three, but one of the earliest things I recall reading in a newspaper was a huge article about one of the appeals in the Azaria Chamberlain case.  Azaria was taken by a dingo at Ayres Rock (now known by its much older name, Uluru) in 1980, when I was four years old, but some of the appeals against Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction were heard in 1983 and 1984, when I was about seven. I devoured that piece of writing with morbid curiosity, simultaneously fascinated by details about camera cases and missing matinee jackets, and horrified by the idea of a mother — anyone’s mother — being in jail.

Our radio, and old National model plugged into a power socket on the kitchen bench, brought news bulletins about the Falklands War, of Prince Charles getting engaged to Lady Di, of petrol strikes and of planes being hijacked in the Middle East.  We were always warned to be silent during the news (Dad again), and especially when they read the weather, which often forecast rain on the adjacent ranges.  I always wondered as a child where the Adjacent Ranges (or as I heard it, the A-Jason Ranges, which I imagined had been named after one of the kids up the street) were.  Perhaps they were near the Snowy Mountains, I thought. Or maybe they were part of the Great Dividing Range? It wasn’t until years later that I corrected my own misunderstanding.

Weirdly, though perhaps not unexpectedly, most of the news stories I remember from childhood were unpleasant reports, not just of Azaria Chamberlain being taken by a dingo but, slightly later, of appalling murders: Anita Cobby, Sallyanne Huckstepp, Samantha Knight. I was intermittently aware of poltical doings — it was hard not to be with Bob Hawke as Prime Minister and Paul Keating as Treasurer. Being an ordinary Australian child, I was also swept along in a running undercurrent of anything related to sport, from the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982, to the Melbourne Cup every November, to Australia II winning the America’s Cup, to all the times Parramatta appeared in the Rugby League Grand Finals in the 1980s and cemented my undying support for the Eels.

Milk Bar 3I miss the Milk Bar of my childhood.

There are a few left, here and there, remnants of a world that existed long before I could check breaking news by glancing at my phone.

But what I realise, writing this, is that I don’t miss the Milk Bar itself: I miss the simpler times in which I lived. They weren’t golden days, by any means — my memories of murders and wars and all manner of mayhem make that clear.

They were simpler because I was a child, and did not have to shoulder the adult burden of living in and responding to the world and all its imperfections.

passionaFor me, disconnecting from the news means setting that burden down for a while.  It means identifying how important it is to preserve, where possible, the simplicity of life for my own children. It means allowing myself to remember the broadsheets and broadcasts of times gone by, to see the many things have changed since then.

And some things, strangely enough, remain just as they always were — just like Chiko Rolls and Passiona.

 

 

Touching Clouds

little things“Fog,” my then three-year-old daughter explained very earnestly to me as we walked along together one day, “is a cloud you can touch.”

It’s one of the many interesting things my younger child has informed me of over the years, but I remember it particularly well because I made a note of it on my iPhone, along with the date she said it.  Every now and then, when I needed to remember to smile, I would look back at that little note and it would lift my spirits.

And if I really needed to feel better, I would listen to a voice recording I had made of her watching the film version of The Gruffalo for the first time. That audio clip captured her little girl giggle, descending into breathlessness as she laughed so hard that no sound came out.

I am feeling rather nostalgic as I write this, because those two things are gone now: my iPhone died unexpectedly last month, and while I had backed up all my photos (thank the Old Gods and the New), I had neglected to include my notes or audio files in that all-important process.

not thingsAnd so, I am left now with just the memory of those things, and of all the times they made me smile.

I am reminded, time and again, that it is these little things…tiny fragments of memory, snippets of conversation, moments in time…that are not the littlest things in our lives at all, but the biggest. And those things, it turns out, are not things at all.

That, my friends, is my little thought for the day.

And my wish is that you, during your travels through life, may also find a cloud you can touch, and know it for what it really is.

 

Scenes from Suburbia

I stand in the supermarket, staring at the shelves in front of me, searching for a single pen. Beneath the bright lights are rows of gaudy plastic packages — pencils, pens, permanent markers — but none of them are what I seek.  How is it, I wonder, that an entire brand of felt-tipped pens, the pens of choice in my childhood, could have disappeared, replaced by the apparently ubiquitously popular Sharpie? How is it that my decisions, as a consumer, are being dictated by a duopoly of chain stores that stock only what is trendy or what is cheap?

Fuelled by a combination of nostalgia and disgust, I stalk out of the store to a newsagency around the corner that carries the brand I am looking for. I survey the shelves once again, shelves in desperate need of re-stocking, and select a pen. It costs $4.80 — nearly double the price of a ten-pack of pens at the supermarket — but I buy it anyway.

It’s not even the colour I want.

*****

I sit in a cafe, lured in by the breakfast special (a toastie, a coffee), somewhat dejected by my newsagency experience until I take out my new pen and begin to write. The smooth slip of the felt tip across the paper is soothing, satisfying, and I stop only when a woman sits down beside me and I have to heave my shopping out of her way. “Don’t worry,” she says, “I’m sitting by myself at a table for four.” We smile, complicitly, staring out into the cafe, silently sipping our coffee, savouring moments of stolen time.

A woman at another table is speaking — clearly, distinctly — to an older man sitting opposite her.  Not her father — an uncle, perhaps, or an old family friend.  She tells him that her mother has remarried, has moved away, has moved on. She does not know the people of whom her mother now speaks; new in-laws, new neighbours. She glances around frantically, speaks more loudly, but her words do not reach her companion. He is burdened by his own flailing, failing romance: his lover wants a ring, but not marriage. He says he will buy the ring anyway.

Outside the cafe, a grandfather rides up and down the escalators with his granddaughter. The child squeals and kicks joyfully as he tips her stroller back so she can see the blue sky above, secure in the knowledge that he will never let her fall. Inside, the woman falls suddenly silent as she recognises the table before her is a chasm.

And then a small bird, a starling, alights on the back of the chair in the space between us, bringing with it nature’s blessing in the midst of this consumerist temple of concrete, steel and glass.

*****

I drive home in my husband’s car.  My car is with the mechanic, being serviced. This car, an old blue station wagon strewn with tubes of sunscreen, CDs and smears of surfboard wax, feels so different from mine. The steering wheel is broader, yet the grip is thinner than what I am used to. The accelerator feels twitchy beneath my foot.  Unfamiliar plasticky rattles fill my ears.

Stopped at a traffic light, I turn towards the back seat, trying to see what could be making so much noise, and catch a glimpse of a fine, golden hair — my younger daughter’s — snagged on the upholstery, and feel the comforting rush of the familiar in that single strand.

Always hope

Teething Problems

Rooftop BalletMarvel Girl lost her first tooth last night.

It was always going to happen sooner or later — later, in Marvel Girl’s case — but like many of life’s milestones, I am never as ready for these things as I think I’m going to be.

In the midst of her excitement, her jubilant preparations for the impending arrival of the Tooth Fairy (not to mention Miss Malaprop’s massive meltdown at the sight of her sister’s bloodied mouth), I felt torn between sharing the intensity of her joy and the old familiar tug of…of…of that feeling for which we have no adequately descriptive word in English.

It’s a blend of something like nostalgia, sometimes tinged with regret, but somehow resurrected by pride.  It’s born of the knowledge that my Marvel Girl and her sister are growing up.  And it’s inevitably followed by a rushing reminder of Gretchen Rubin’s ever so accurate observation that “the days are long, but the years are short”.

The Portuguese, bless them, have a word for this feeling, or something very like it: Saudade.

“Saudade” translates, to the best of my knowledge, as “a nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and then lost”, or as Anthony de Sa puts it, “a longing for something so indefinite as to be indefinable”.

I feel saudade most acutely in those moments when part of me recognises, at some deep and otherwise undetected level, that after this, things will never be the same. These are the occasions when I feel that I am bearing witness to life — most frequently, for me, to the lives of my daughters. These are the moments that are captured by my heart’s camera, imprinted between heartbeats, indelible impressions of life most raw and pure.

You can get a free printable of this quote here.

You can get a free printable of this quote here.

I watched my Marvel Girl’s spontaneous dance of joy last night, her tiny tooth held tight between her fingertips, thrust up towards the light, and I knew the moment for what it was.

I won’t forget it, just as I won’t ever stop reminding her how much I love her, or how much she loves to dance.

And when I confessed to a dear, dear friend today that I was still feeling torn between saudade and sweet delight, he reminded me, ever so gently, that there was never ever any going back.

There is only the moment, to enjoy as much as is humanly possible.

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