Just An Observation…Bare Mattresses

Most of what I know about other people’s lives is from TV. Let me qualify. Most of what I know about humanity is from reading books and living life. But most of what I know about the way Americans prepare breakfast or the how English people decorate their homes or Russians raise their children is from documentaries and reality TV. I know from watching a lot of Wife Swap that many American families eat their dinner from plastic bowls. True story.

And so I have come to observe that all across the world, when people are down on their luck, they never have a fitted sheet on their bed. See for yourself. Sad story – bare mattress.

I always feel an empathetic uncomfortableness on behalf of these bedsheet-less brothers and sisters. There are a few simple comforts that all humans deserve. Hot showers, clean bed sheets and something nourishing to eat. Seeing people missing out on these simple comforts upsets me. If I could put a good, crisp fitted sheet on all those bare mattresses out there we’d all have a better night’s sleep.


The Childish Ends of the Keyboard

This afternoon we went to Mr Mundey’s music recital. I have always wanted my kids to play a musical instrument because I can’t and I wish I did. It’s the classic parent trap. Forcing your kids to do the things you wish you’d done. But I approach it with the same laissez-faire attitude that I have with everything. Tiger Mother I’m not.

There was a real spirit of having-a-go and nurturing the children’s attempts no matter how good they were. The same respectful applause was given to the boy who laboriously struggled over ten notes on the guitar and the mini-virtuoso whose fingers danced across the keyboard. Mr Mundey caused a little ripple across the room as he looked so striking with his wild mop of hair held back with a bandana and the signature belt around his neck. I said to Danger that his new look is very LA. He could have easily auditioned for Guns and Roses back in ’85. We were proud to hear him play.

While I was listening to all the children playing piano, I got to thinking how kids love to mess around with piano. They just can’t help themselves. It’s the satisfaction of cause and effect and making noise. But more than anything, they love the extremes. The deepest, darkest, doomy keys of the low end and the sparkly, spritely, skittering keys of the high end. They’ll have a little twinkle on the middle keys, but it doesn’t capture their imagination like the highs and lows.


Hello Sucker

These days it isn’t safe to walk anywhere without people trying to sell you something. If I see a lanyard and a clipboard, I gulp. They usually come in pairs, these lanyard wearing clipboard holders. Covering the left and right, trying to catch pedestrians. There’s the over-complimentary theatrical type who tell you what a great smile you have. The British backpackers. Young, earnest types that stumble a little over the script.
The trick is to not engage whatsoever. Once you press play on the spiel, there’s no turning back. It’s impossible to hear about children dying in war ravaged countries and refuse to help. Especially when you are in shopping mall and you’re not exactly buying survival essentials.
In theory I am all for regular charity contributions, and our family is signed up to quite a few. A lot. Which is why I now cross the street to avoid them. It’s also the reason why I got rid of our home phone. I have a problem saying no, even to telemarketers.
Now I am angry at myself for getting caught in the ultimate sucker trap. Getting talked into regular charity donations is hardly ignoble…it’s just a little tough on the family budget. But signing up for a ludicrously overpriced consumer gimmick is another story.  I have an escape plan and I’ll be using it after the first week…but for now I am a member of “Hello Fresh”. They got me in Greenwood Plaza, North Sydney. I might have been safer in Marrickville Metro, but on the North Shore they expect shoppers to have more money and so they’ll have a crack at anything. How about $109 a week to have the ingredients for 3 Vegetarian Meals delivered to your door? Ingredients – not meals. You still have to do the cooking.
Sometimes I feel like I’m walking around with a sign on my back that says “Direct Debit Me”

Lend me a potato, I am your neighbour

What is it about friendly strangers that we are so afraid of?

Over the past week or so, a woman in our neighbourhood has come to our attention. We have all met her separately, but when we compared notes we all knew that we were talking about the same person. You remember people who talk to you on the street, because most of the time people don’t.

I met her up the street. She commented on my hair and then we happened to catch the same bus. We got off at the same stop and walked in the same direction. She asked rapid fire questions and smiled a lot and gave me her phone number because she does home visit haircuts. We lingered at my front gate for a bit and then she asked if she could pick some grass from the front lawn. I had no objections. I was puzzled, but I had no objections. Apparently she feeds it to her cat. Speaking of cats, she mentioned that she had bought our cat home once. I remembered Danger telling me that a lady had knocked on the door and given our cat back.

A few days later I mentioned the incident and my boy, Mr Mundey, piped up “Oh yeah, she’s cool! I was talking to her”. This time she’d knocked at the door asking to borrow a tool. Being the agreeable fellow that he is, he went looking for the tool in the shed. Couldn’t find it. We both agreed that there was something very warm and open about her. Mr Mundey is very open minded and he likes people.

So then it’s last night. We were sitting around the table telling stories and Danger mentioned that she’d bought the cat back again. Another visit from the friendly stranger. Not long after, I was washing up and I heard voices at the door. A few seconds later and Mr Mundey brought her into our kitchen. The friendly stranger! She wanted to borrow a potato. All we had was a sweet potato, but we agreed that it’s still good for mashing, and off she went with her sweet potato.

So am I weird for even thinking that’s weird? Or do we live in a weird world? Have we become so insular that, human-to-human, we are not allowed to freely interact unless all of the social steps have been danced first?

When is it socially acceptable to start borrowing potatoes? SweetPotato_main

The Story of Leo and Chunk


Yellow Brothers from another Mother

Leo was the first cat that we chose as a family. He was only the second cat that Danger and I had owned as a couple. Before that was beautiful Bella, a faithful friend for over seventeen years. She died of old age – very old age in cat years – and we were all devastated. We found Leo on Gumtree from a breeder who lived out West. Her house smelt unbearably of cat wee, but she sure knew how to breed Cuties. Ask Rudie’s Mum. Rudie was from the same litter.

Leo was our James Dean cat. He was young and spunky and wild. It was hard to get a cuddle out of him, but he was so fun to be around. If a human was standing still, he’d scale them like a tree…and then get stuck, as kittens do. We laughed at him trying to stalk birds in the backyard, creeping and prowling without realising that his bright yellow fur was hardly camouflage.

Little kids loved Leo. They related to him, because he was a little kid too. My beautiful friend Marina was visiting with her nephew, Lucas, and he chased Leo around the house saying “Mao”. I just thought it was toddler-talk for “Cat”. A cat says meow, so he called all cats “Mao” (and it has to be pronounced Mao, like Chairman Mao. Not Me-ow). But I found out later that he was actually trying to speak cat.

We dropped Lucas home and I was super excited to find that he lived with a BIG yellow cat. A Big Leo! With a deep man-voice the yellow cat said “Mao”. When Lucas said Mao, he was trying to communicate back. I was so excited to tell the family that night that I had met a big Leo. I even had photos on my phone as it was such a novelty.

The next day – the next day – our Leo was hit by a car and died. We’d had him for six months. It felt like he’d been snatched away from us. The shock was the same as when any young person dies. We consoled ourselves that he had lived life to the fullest. Our James Dean cat lived fast and died young.

I was all for getting a new cat straight away. I have lived my entire life with cats and I honestly believe that a house is not a home unless I’m sharing it with a cat. Danger wanted to wait and grieve Leo properly. I understood, but I still wanted a cat. A few weeks later, Marina asked us if we would like to “borrow” the big yellow cat that I had met at Lucas’s house. Did we what! We picked him up the very next day.

We found out that his real name is Topaz. Marina’s sister was cat-sitting for a friend who had moved to Perth. She didn’t mind loaning Topaz out, as she already had a dog and a young child to take care of and she knew that we missed Leo terribly. Originally we organised to take Topaz for the school holidays but we’ve had him for months now. We have never once called him Topaz. We call him Mao. Or Fatty or Ginger Chunk, or Chunky. Or just Chunk.

It’s so different getting to know a cat who is already grown. When you take on a kitten, it is like having a baby. You grow together and the love is almost parental. When you take on an already established cat, it’s like getting to know a friend. They grow on you. Now we can’t imagine our life without him. He is not Leo’s replacement, but he is the man-cat that Leo may have grown into.

Birthday Tree

Fifteen years ago today, my beautiful son Angus Harpo was born. I have often found that there is a cold dip in the weather on his birthday. November is always like that, four seasons in a month. November is also the month of Jacaranda blooming.

Jacaranda trees have always made me happy. They raise even the most prosaic neighbourhood into the realm of beauty when they are in full bloom. And for the last fifteen years those magical purple flowers have been synonymous with my boy. I used to tell him when he was little that the Jacaranda tree was his birthday tree and he would know that his birthday was coming up whenever he saw the purple flowers arrive. Of course he outgrew that long before I did. But in my mind, the Jacaranda tree will always be the Birthday Tree for all November babies. Happy Birthday Scorpios!




For the love of Splayds

I’m a splayd person. I come from a splayd family. My mum instilled splayd pride in all her children, as this eating utensil was designed by an Australian – a Sydneysider, no less. William McArthur invented his combo of fork, knife and spoon in the 1940s. I actually find the experience of eating less enjoyable with anything but a splayd. But hey, I’m riddled with crockery and cutlery prejudices. Don’t get me started on coffee mugs.

Anyway, I picked up this velvet box of splayds in Newtown today. There is nothing wrong with second-hand cutlery, because when you think about it, every fork or spoon you’ve ever used has been in someone elses mouth. Unless you’re in the habit of carrying around your own personal-use splayd.Splayds

Switching Speed Boats


I like to use analogies to help me make sense of the world and of my own behaviour. The perfect analogy starts with a little image, a short-hand symbol to simplify a complex concept.

The way I explain my ever changing moods, the mercurial madness of my mind is that I’m forever switching speed boats.

Let me set the scene. Imagine that we are on some kind of narrow waterway. For some reason I’m thinking of a Louisiana Bayou, an alligator river in Florida or somewhere in Cancun. It’s definitely on the American continent in my imagination.

There are speed boats zooming along. Sometimes side by side, maybe three abreast. Sometimes the speed boat is all alone – just out in the wilderness. Speed boats speed up and slow down. Passengers are enjoying themselves on the speed boat, dancing around with cans of beer and big hats. Waving to each other from their boats. Sometimes pulling up right up beside each other so people can change speed boats. Two speedboats can be right next to each other one minute, and then in the blink of an eye, one has zoomed off.

The speed boats represent my state of mind. I’m forever switching speed boats. It can become exhausting and maddening and of course exhilarating at times. Sometimes I might be puttering along in my old, beat up tinny. Dropping a fishing line off the side and cruising through the river of life. Then I switch speed boats and I’m off like a rocket through the white water. When the speed boats are travelling abreast, I’m at one with the people around me – we’re having a speed boat party! We can chat to each other from our boats. And then I switch speed boats. Speed up. Slow down. Zoom ahead. Fall behind. Sometimes I become unreachable in my speed boat. I don’t know how to drive the damn thing. Maybe the goal of life is to get my speed boat licence?


Language As Symbols


I recently had a dream that visualised the way that people communicate with each other. There is a note in my phone from 3:45am that says “Language as symbols and shapes that people exchange if you could see dialogue. Families and friends create their own personal symbol language”.

Now, by trying to make a hurried visualisation of the idea, I realise that it is a good way to understand all communication. When people are in-sync – simpatico – their symbols all look the same, they are in harmony. When people are talking at cross purpose and just not getting it, their symbols are completely different and all mixed up. People who speak different languages have completely different symbols. But every now and then, if you understand a couple of French words, or the Japanese way to say Thank You, you will understand one or two symbols in a completely different symbol language.

In my picture, the red crosses could be swear words, the green splodges might be insults. Imagine what a heated argument would look like. What about a rap battle!

If you could actually visualise dialogue in this way, it would help to understand why there is so much miscommunication. In-jokes that are shared by friends are actually the common recognition of a unique symbol that no-one else can interpret.