Saturday, July 25, 2015

'I love junk'

The other day, my four-year-old grandson asked for ice cream for breakfast, and I said ‘no’. 
No. 
He could have something like toast, toast with yummy honey.  But no lollies. 
‘What about toast with sprinkles?’ he asked. 
I thought about this and weighed up the pros and cons in my mind long enough for him to ask further,
‘Are sprinkles junk?’ 
‘They are indeed.’
‘I love junk,’ my grandson said and so it seems. 

My grandson abhors anything to which we might attach the label ‘good for you’. 

Despite his parents’ best efforts, he prefers to live on sultanas, Nutella toast and given half a chance he would consume nothing but lollies. 

He can’t quite get his letter ‘l’ right and so the word comes out as ‘wowies’  

He pleads with me constantly to buy him wowies. But I stand firm and resist most of the time.

Do you remember when lollies, ice cream and sweets of all kinds ruled the day?  When the greatest comfort of all came in the form of aniseed balls, cobbers, liquorice all sorts, White Knights, and butterscotch bars? 

Anything laced with sugar or flavoured with treacle.  Anything that filled your head and stomach with the sweetest of sensations. 

This I craved.

My dream was to own a caravan of sorts and to travel around the world. 

My caravan could convert into an enclosed tent with a fitted floor and walls that left no cracks open to the outside world and so no bugs or undesirables could get inside. 

I had a small fridge within my caravan.  I never went so far as to imagine how it might be charged, but it kept ice cold in my day dreams and I filled my fridge with all the desirables: three varieties of ice cream, lollies by the shelf load and lemonade in the side compartments.  

Nothing remotely healthy. 

My plan for sustenance in my travels round the world was one of the sweetest nourishment.  And I was in seventh heaven.  No pesky parents or big sisters and brothers telling me what I could not have. 

No, I was in charge here and whatever and whenever I wanted something, I could eat it.

I marvelled that the adults in my life – namely my parents, who to my mind had unlimited access to money – did not bother to fill their fridge with the same sort of desirables.

I knew my parents enjoyed sweets, though my father could not have them, except the sugar-free variety, because he was a diabetic.  But my mother did not suffer anything that could restrict her diet. And she never said ‘no’ to ice cream and cake.

Why then was she not intent on stocking up more of these basics in our fridge and pantry? 

Why did she try to restrict our biscuit quota to one pound of sweet biscuits a week, and only when pressed would she buy more? 

And then there were times when we went out for Sunday drives and my father eventually relented and let us have an ice cream each – a thing I longed for from the moment the trip began to the moment when we were about to leave our destination, be it the Silvan Dam, or Gembrook or the Grampians or any other country place. 

I sat in the back of the station wagon beside my sister, closed my eyes and prayed for relief in silence, until my father sent one of the older ones off with a ten-shilling note to buy each of us an ice cream.

To my amazement, my mother was happy to let one of my older brothers try a bite from her ice cream when he had finished his.  My mother was nowhere near so possessive of her ice cream as I was. 

My mother did not feel as if her world had fallen in half if one of my older brothers took a 'big' bite out of her ice cream and broke open the chocolate casing that surrounded her Choc Wedge. 

Choc Wedges were the best ice creams we were ever allowed, a cut above icy poles but several steps below the much desired Cornettos or Gaytimes, ice creams my father never let my older brother choose, because they were expensive and although choc wedges were twice as dear as icy poles, they were twice less expensive than the grandest of ice-creams, the ones I never tried until I was almost an adult and more in control of what I might manage to coerce out of my mother. 

By then many of my siblings had left home and so only a few of us younger ones remained. The ice cream bill reduced and so the standard of ice creams rose. 

These days, lollies don’t do it for me anymore. 

How sad, now when I am the adult I once dreamed of becoming, when now I can afford to spend buckets of my money on sweets, I choose not to. 

These days I’d rather drink wine than lemonade, and eat cheese rather than cake. 

My little self is appalled. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Antarctic vortex

I bought the dog a coat this year to help him with the cold.  Other years it hasn’t felt necessary, at least not in terms of my identification with him. 

And here, I think about how, on a cold day when I was a child who refused to wear her jumper, my mother said to me; ‘It makes me cold to look at you’. 

The roots of empathy perhaps?  My mother sympathising, only, I did not feel cold at the time.  She felt cold looking at me.

These last several weeks I felt cold looking at the dog. And so I bought him the best coat I could find at a reasonable price, one that fitted well and one that was easy enough to put on him. 

Now every morning before his first visit to the garden, I struggle to get him to cooperate in the wearing of this coat.  He needs to lift one leg at a time to fit into the separate holes in the front, then I bring up the two sides to join the fabric across his back and slide in the zip joins. 

This is tricky. 

If I accidentally drop one side and the dog drags a foot out of its hole, I need to start all over again.

Who’d have thought it would be so hard to dress a dog?  I had wanted something I could slip over his head, jumper style, something that did not need as much cooperation from him.  But this was the only one that fitted. 

Although the dog has adjusted to the wearing of this coat by day when he’s outside in the cold, I suspect he’d rather do with out, though he seems now to appreciate the warmth it generates.


Or is that me again, me being like my mother, me responding to my sense of the cold, not his?

My husband says, ‘He’s a dog.  Dogs can manage all weathers.’  Maybe on the farm when my husband was a boy they could.

My daughter says, ‘Small dogs can die when it gets too cold.  They need protection.’ 

In several months time, I will be going off on a short freefall writing retreat with the wonderful Barbara Turner Vesselago.  I’m looking forward to this time but also fearful that I will not write to her specifications.  Not as I write for this blog, with its mix of the ‘show, don’t tell’ variety and a heavy dose of telling, as in authorial intrusion. 

I’m forever telling you what I think.  It’s a no-no in most writing circles. 

The rule is: keep yourself out of the writing, unless in disguise.  It’s boring for readers, the saying goes, ‘Show, don’t tell’.  Let readers make up their own minds. 

I agree, up to a point.  But I reckon there’s merit in the other style of writing too, the so-called ‘diegetic’. 

Don’t be put of by the word.  It’s a writing style in which the writer speaks to you about what goes on. WG Sebald for instance, and many others write this way.

Even wonderful writers of the show-don’t-tell variety have sections wherein the writer paraphrases the action to move the story along.  It helps with pace.  It’s also necessary because every single detail cannot be shown.  There are some things readers need to know if they are to enjoy the action.

Anyhow, I’m fearful of the freefall because it will require I concentrate hard on the show-don’t-tell stuff, otherwise known as the ‘mimetic’. Again, don’t be put off by the word. 

These are things I’ve learned about writing over the years.  That they fascinate me is no guarantee they’ll fascinate you, rather like my mother’s view: Just because she was cold without a jumper, there’s no guarantee I was.

I had a higher metabolic rate at the time.  I’d have been bouncing around in the garden not noticing.  But my mother, looking out on me from the windows of the kitchen where she’d have had the fire on high, would have been more aware of the contrast between the warmth inside and the temperature outside.  

When my mother entered her last year of life, she kept her heater at full bore all day long in winter. To enter her room was to enter a sauna. She found it pleasant and every time I came in with only a cardigan and no coat she would tell me off for not dressing warmly enough. 

But I came prepared for her room.

These days, and this winter particularly, I feel the cold in my own right. 

I’m not alone here. Everyone throughout certain parts of Australia is complaining of and rejoicing in the fact that we have snow in Queensland. 

Not for something like fifty years has there been snow in Queensland. 

They call it the Antarctic vortex.  Which puts me in mind of a comment that JeniMawter made when she handed the fiction prize in the Lane Cove competition last year to Marjorie Lewis-Jones, ‘Don't start your story with the weather.’  


I hadn’t realised that. To me, the weather in my story was simply that, weather at the opposite extreme of what we have now, a hot stinking summer. 

There you have it.  When writers talk about the rules of writing they can develop any number of rules to justify what to do and what not to do. 

I say, ‘do it anyhow’ and see how it works.  If it sounds lumpy and clunky and does not invite your reader in, then think again.  Maybe some of these rules – better named guidelines – might help. Bearing in mind, what works for you might not work for the other.  

Still your ‘feel’ for things is probably a good place to start.





Sunday, July 12, 2015

No breasts allowed


I spent the early hours of this morning dreaming about nipples.  I was at a psychotherapy conference and the topic was on infant observation, the business of taking time out, an hour a week for at least a year to observe the earliest days of a baby’s life, most likely in the company of its mother and/or father. 

The talk had been boring, safe and non-controversial. I wanted to liven it up with stories.  I wanted anecdotes or some illustrations of the sorts of things that can happen to lift the topic away from theoretical abstraction. 

I rehearsed a comment in my head that went along these lines:  my daughter had painted a picture, on a huge canvas of a gigantic nipple, a red orb and in its centre a tiny white spot. 

I knew as soon as I mentioned the word nipple, people would start to vibrate with the embarrassment of it all.  As if I were using a swear word. 

Nipples in the context of babies are all about nourishment and survival and there is huge pleasure in that as well as frustration and anxiety and all the things that go along with disappointing feeds. 

Nipples are also eroticised for the benefits of sexual desire. 

Why this dream?

I saw an image as I flashed through Facebook yesterday of a muscular man with a so-called six pack who had cut out the nipples from images of celebrities, one of whom was BeyoncĂ©, the other I can’t remember - one in black and white, the other in colour - and he had pasted these nipples over his own. 

His picture reminded me of the way strippers look when they paste those little suction caps and tassels over their own nipples when at work.  The sort you see in movies. 

It looked ridiculous and all of this to make the point that Facebook’s policy on covering up female nipples is hypocritical when it’s okay to put the male nipple on display. 

I have wondered about this often alongside the furore that erupts from time to time when breastfeeding mothers are escorted from the premises for feeding their babies in public. 

No breasts allowed. 

And yet breasts are visible everywhere, in whole or in part, small or large, floppy or firm. 

Why do female breasts evoke such a passionate response.

I reckon it has to do with those unspoken unrecognised infantile desires in all of us for a feed, for a mother and for all that those breasts represent, but I may be wrong here.