Tell it Anyhow

13 December 2017

In July of 2017 The Super Moopers, a kids’ book series created by Scott Edgar, Sally Rippin and myself, were unleashed on the world. Watching the small army of smiling faces crowd into The Little Bookroom to support us on our launch day truly was a humbling and emotionally overwhelming experience. I couldn’t quite believe that kids all over the country were about to start reading books that I had written. Everyone at Bonnier Publishing had been chomping at the bit for over a year, waiting impatiently to release these books and share them with the world. Personally, it felt as if the moment I had been waiting a lifetime for had finally arrived.

For the past seventeen years I’ve made my living as an actor and a writer in TV and theatre. Throughout this time, I spent five years working on sketch comedy shows for various TV networks, shared the screen with some of Australia’s finest actors on stellar programs like The Beautiful Lie and Tangle, and written and performed in numerous shows for the theatre, including the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. All in all, I’ve loved the diversity of life that comes with working as an actor, playwright and screenwriter in what can be an unforgiving and altogether crazy industry. But being able to add “Children’s Author” to my resume… it really is nothing less than a dream come true.

I’ve wanted to write kids’ books since I was a kid myself. I was the girl who would always choose a book over any toy or doll; the girl who devoured every Enid Blyton book I could get my hands on, reading each one over and over again. As Enid’s magical tales and stories quickly faded into the background for most children as they reached middle adolescence, I just couldn’t let go. Instead, those “beastly” girls of Malory Towers, with their midnight feasts and robust lacrosse matches, accompanied me well into my teens. As if this wasn’t tragic enough, I kicked off my official entry into adulthood with an Enid-Blyton-themed 21st birthday. To my amazement, ninety-nine per cent of the guests dressed up, and my boyfriend’s sparse, suburban Williamstown backyard was transformed into a magical, if somewhat frightening, spectacle; a colourful array of pixies, Moonfaces and Noddys.

My first attempt at writing a book of my own was when I was around eleven years old. I made it out of orange cardboard, a few too many staples and carefully ruler-lined pages. It was entitled, “Bath Murder” and I still have it…and it’s pretty bad. Even for an eleven-year-old. Heavily inspired by The Famous Five, it told the story of three girl detectives who solve a murder that the dim-witted police were apparently incapable of figuring out.

I re-read it just now. It’s really bad. But I had to start somewhere.

I loved writing and was convinced that this was the path my career would take once I was done with school. But something happened to distract me along the way, as often happens as life rolls along, and as my passion for acting caught up with my passion for words, I turned my attention towards writing short films, feature films, TV shows…anything so long as it was a script and I could imagine myself playing ALL the best roles. I loved writing dialogue and enthusiastically embraced scriptwriting with every fibre of my being, which eventually led to me getting a gig as an actor/writer on a sketch TV show. My life as a professional writer had begun.

A few years later, in what was to be one of my many out-of-work actor/writer patches, I was feeling less confident about the whole “professional writing career” thing, when someone suggested that I enroll in the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT in Melbourne. I did (and thankfully was accepted) and my passion for book writing was reignited. I eagerly began writing a junior fiction novel in class, and couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be surrounded by like-minded folk who would happily discuss books and writing for hours on end.  It was, however, a long time before I’d walk into a bookshop and see my book, with my name on it, sitting on the shelf.

Watching children and parents at The Super Moopers launch holding our books in their hands was truly one of the most surreal, amazing moments of my life. I had to take a breath and remind myself that this was really happening. I may forever live to regret the moment I revealed to a crowd of over 100 people that I dressed as Silky the fairy for my 21st birthday party, but aside from that it was pretty much the perfect day for a book nerd like me. The wait had definitely been worth it.

My career has been riddled with “waiting”. (I only put quotation marks around that word because when you work in the arts, waiting often means working extremely hard on a variety of deeply satisfying projects that deliver no financial or professional reward whatsoever) However, 2017 is proving to be a very different beast. It feels as if the myriad projects I’ve worked on, and all the varied skills I’ve deliberately and inadvertently developed over the years, are all suddenly being employed at once.

Apart from The Super Moopers, this year has included co-writing and performing in a web series – The Drop Off – with my husband, Mike McLeish, drama coaching the main cast on the ABC ME show, Mustangs FC, acting in the wonderful Australian play, Spencer, (written by Katy Warner), writing and directing The Great Chiko Roll Mystery of 1983 (a production for Ripponlea Primary School) and writing four Trolls books, as well as four Miraculous books, for Bonnier Publishing.

My biggest personal revelation this year is that what I have been told for many years, that you should focus on one form of writing and one only, is not only not good advice; it’s just not true. Not for me, anyway. I go back and forth between so many different forms of writing on a weekly basis, and I love them all. And I’ve learnt so much from each different form, and constantly apply skills from one form to another. I love dipping in and out of the various writing projects I have on the go at any one time. It’s a constant juggle, but juggling is a simple combination of difficulty and fun. Between being a parent (a single one at that at the moment as my husband is away for six months performing in a stage musical. Yes. Six months.) and keeping up with the emails, the housework, the school talks, the writing deadlines, the workshops and my school community commitments, I don’t get a lot of down time. But I’ve never been good at the whole down time thing; which means, for the most part, I manage to get done everything that needs doing. What do you mean that’s because I’m a control freak? Shut up. Am not. Okay. Maybe just a little bit…

I do feel very lucky, but I never describe myself as lucky. I’ve worked, and continue to work, hard to be able to make a living doing what I love. As anyone who knows me will gladly tell you, I’m as persistent as I am stubborn, and that seems to have served me well. I haven’t found that my career crossovers have been too giant a leap for me. Ultimately, everything I do is some form of storytelling. And stories can be told a thousand different ways. My advice to anyone wanting to be writer would be to not just scratch the surface. Go get a jackhammer and do some serious excavation.

The Drop Offhttps://www.facebook.com/thedropoffshow/ or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7Vot7jTxVY&feature=youtu.be

Super Moopershttp://supermoopers.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unleashing the Moopers

23 August 2017

The launch took place at The Little Bookroom on the 31st July 2017, a beautiful bookstore in Carlton that just happens to be owned and run by an equally beautiful family. Leesa Lambert and her parents, Ian and Lesley, could not have been more supportive, hospitable and just plain lovely to all of us in the Moopers team, which went a long way towards making it an incredibly special event for everyone there…and there were a lot of everyone there!

Scott, Sally and I waited in the back of the shop as people arrived. When we were eventually introduced, we were greeted by a sea of smiling faces, some familiar, many not, which was both humbling and emotionally overwhelming for a sook like me. The Super Moopers launch was a momentous and incredibly exciting day for all of us. These books have been a true labour of love, and we could not be more thrilled to know that our precious Moopers are now in the hands of eager, book-hungry children all over the country. Everyone at Bonnier had been chomping at the bit for over a year, waiting impatiently to release the books and share them with the world. For me, on that day, it felt as if the moment I had been waiting a lifetime for had finally arrived.

I’m a self-confessed, loud and proud book nerd who has wanted to write children’s books since I was a kid myself. Throughout my childhood, I was the girl who would happily choose a book over playing with dolls; the girl who devoured every Enid Blyton book I could get my hands on, reading each one multiple times. As Enid’s magical tales and stories quickly faded into the background for most children as they reached middle adolescence, I just couldn’t let go. Instead, those “beastly” girls of Malory Towers and St. Clare’s, with their midnight feasts and robust lacrosse matches, accompanied me well into middle adolescence. As if this wasn’t tragic enough, I kicked off my official entry to adulthood with an Enid-Blyton-themed 21st birthday. To my amazement, ninety-nine per cent of the guests dressed up, and my boyfriend’s sparse, suburban Williamstown backyard was gradually transformed into a magical, if somewhat frightening, spectacle; a colourful array of pixies, Moonfaces and Noddys.

My first attempt at writing a book of my own occurred when I was around eleven years old. I made it out of orange cardboard, a few too many staples and carefully pen-lined pages. It was entitled, “Bath Murder”. I still have it, and it’s pretty bad. Heavily inspired by Ms Blyton’s The Famous Five, it told the story of three girl detectives who solve a murder that the dim-witted police were just incapable of figuring out.  Actually, it’s really bad. Thankfully my writing has improved somewhat over the years.

The birth of The Super Moopers came about soon after I met Sally Rippin a

couple of years ago. My husband and I are both actors as well as writers, and Nicole Brownlee, head honcho of Story Box Library, and all round awesome human being, asked us if we would read some stories and do an improvised kids show as part of the RCH Good Friday appeal at Crown Casino.

“You’ll be performing in Sally Rippin and Patrick Verdon’s Story Peddlers Tent,” she’d told me.

“Sure!” I’d replied, having no idea what a Story Peddlers Tent was.

I did, however, know who Sally Rippin was. What parent doesn’t! My daughters both read and loved Billie B Brown when they were younger and so I was very excited about meeting this legendary Australian children’s writer. All of us from the Story Box Library team had a fabulous time at the RCH event on that Good Friday, and the kids loved watching the performances. The Story Peddlers Tent is so beautiful that I wanted to take it home and put it in my backyard the moment I laid eyes on it. Overall, it was a great day, and one of the best parts for me was meeting Sally and learning that, not only is she a fabulous writer, but one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. We hit it off and soon after that this generous woman was offering to script edit a YA novel I had written.

A month or so later we met up at her house for a feedback session on my MS. During the session, I mentioned an idea I’d had for a kid’s book about “not quite right” superheroes. Sally loved it and so the brainstorming began! Once we had the basic concept nutted out, we soon realised that we needed an illustrator. At that stage, Sally was busy writing and illustrating Polly and Buster, so we needed to find someone else who could draw. Unfortunately, when it comes to drawing, my skills don’t extend far beyond stick figures, and dodgy ones at that.

“I have a friend who’s a really good artist,” I told Sally as we sat outside a Brunswick café.

I’ll never forget the look on Sally’s face. A look that said she’d heard this from at least a hundred people in her long career in the book world and that most of the time these “friends” turned out to be not quite as talented as anyone had hoped.

“Um…sure,” she’d said, too nice to say what she was really thinking. “Why don’t you ask him to send his portfolio through and we’ll have a look.”

Scott and I first met way too long ago to mention for fear of revealing how old we actually are. Let’s just say that it was when we were both young and single and living the artsy Melbourne life and he was sharing a house with a friend from my St Martin’s Youth Theatre acting classes. Over the years Scott and my paths kept crossing in the small community that is the Melbourne arts scene, until in 2002 we were both cast in the channel ten sketch comedy show, Skithouse. We spent three years writing and performing comedy alongside each other, and when the show finished our families stayed close, partly due to the fact that our kids were born four days apart. I’ve known for a long time how talented Scott is, not only as a singer, songwriter and performer with Tripod, but also as an artist. So, of course he was the first person who sprung to mind when Sally and I first started discussing this idea.

I left Sally at the café and was on the phone to Scott before I’d even made it back to my car.

“Kids books…need illustrator…send through portfolio of your drawings…”

The moment Sally saw Scott’s drawings she knew we had found our guy. Sally loved his style and his work, and when the three of us got together soon afterwards it was a mutual respect and love fest.

As soon as the amazing women at Bonnier decided to take a punt on these two writer/performers who were total newbies to the world of publishing (thanks to Sally for going in there and vouching for us!) the Moopers team was complete and work on creating this world and the books began.

Seeing children and parents at the launch holding our books in their hands was truly one of the most surreal, special and amazing moments of my life. As everyone crowded into that gorgeous bookshop on a wintry Sunday afternoon, I had to take a breath and remind myself that this was really happening. Sure, I may forever live to regret the moment I revealed to a crowd of over 100 people that I had an Enid Blyton-themed 21st birthday party, but aside from that it was pretty much the perfect day for a book nerd like me.

 

Read a review of The Super Moopers here: http://www.betterreading.com.au/kids-ya/kids-series-of-the-week-super-moopers-by-fiona-harris-and-scott-edgar/

 

 

 

 

 

Who am I?

20 September 2016

…in a time and place where hand-knitted ponchos and full-length mullets were in, and any sense of guilt about smoking in a car with all the windows rolled up and a baby lying in an untethered bassinet on the backseat were out.

My dream of being a performer and writer started early in life. As a child, I loved putting on shows – extraordinarily looooooong shows that I would write, direct and star in. I would frequently transform our Altona North lounge-room into what I imagined to be an exact replica of the Regent Theatre with my rainbow-striped flannelette sheet as the stage curtain, programmes made out of cut-up cereal boxes and a yellow and white striped plastic banana lounge encased behind my baby brother’s wooden playpen as the VIP box. I don’t think my brothers ever forgave me for some of the things I forced them to do – including a ballet dance to Kenny Rogers “She believes in me” and an original interpretation of Ray Steven’s “Gitarzan”.  All of this creative genius was viewed as pretty strange in my family, mainly because I grew up in a place where the most creative you got artistically was painting a banner for the local football players to run through in the Grand final. Add to this the fact that my mother, father and two brothers lived and breathed AFL football (still do) and wouldn’t know David Williamson if he had sat down and joined us for chow mein at teatime, and you will see that I was a very odd member of the Harris family indeed.

My father became (and still is) the team manager for the Melbourne Football Club when I was 15-years-old, and was a fanatical supporter of the club for thirty-eight years prior to that. This meant that most meal times in my household was dominated by conversations revolving around who the latest draft pick was, who had put in a shabby performance that week and which player had won the “drink till you spew” competition on the Bali footy trip.  Not to mention the fact that we had young pimply AFL draft players like David Shwarz and Darren Kowal living with us when I was a teenager, clogging up the bathroom sink with their burgeoning stubble and stinking out the laundry with their sweat-soaked uniforms and socks. The stench was so powerful that our labrador, Crystal, would sit outside the laundry and whimper, so distressed was she by the potent odour pervading the area where her bowl of now tainted dry food was kept.

I had zero interest in anything remotely sporty, and so managed to avoid being drawn into the web of football mania that enveloped my house, and everyone in it. I chose instead to spend my weekends rehearsing bad amateur theatre plays, the likes of which included Pirandello’s Six – the biggest load of wank I have ever come across in my life, excluding anything directed by Barry Kosky – and an original musical theatre production called Starred and Feathered where I sang a song entitled “Neptune’s Ball” as a character named Kylie Minnow. Yes. I did.

I wasn’t much better at fitting in at school either, mainly because this involved talking about boys endlessly, something I had no interest in doing. By year eight I was definitely feeling the pressure from my classmates to disprove their theory that I wasn’t a permanent resident of “Lesbos”. For any girl attending an all female Catholic girls college, being gay was an unspeakable crime and could only mean social death.

Unfortunately my knowledge of the male of the species at that time was limited to my Dad, his cricket and footy buddies and my two annoying younger brothers.  Apart from my father, whom I adored, none of the aforementioned males were particularly dazzling specimens in my haughty adolescent opinion, which led me to the assumption that all males must be equally as uninteresting, immature and irritating.  I was immediately informed that this was an entirely inappropriate opinion to have of the fascinating creatures called BOYS.

During one particular lunch hour, I made the monumental mistake of announcing that I was bored with the who-is-the-cutest-St. Paul’s-student-at-the-bus-stop conversation and suggested that we play with the hakkie sack instead.

The silence was deafening.

The next day I was taken aside by a concerned friend and warned that unless I began to participate in these extremely important conversations then I would be out of the group.  Boys were exotic, mysterious and smelt musky (translation – sexy) and if I ever wanted to call myself a real woman then I should desperately want one for myself and try to figure out ways to win them over.  Of course, that was only if I wanted to hold any credit with my fellow schoolmates.

I did.  In fact the thought of spending the rest of my school years wandering the playground alone like a leper with B.O. scared the hell out of me.  I’d never been one to make friends easily so I knew I had to cling desperately to the ones I had – regardless of whether or not I liked them very much. And so I came up with the ingenious idea to invent an elaborate “first kiss” story to prove to everyone that I was the straight and horny schoolgirl they expected and needed me to be.

The fictitious scenario involved me strolling through some bushes at the local cricket ground before, “out of nowhere”, I was suddenly grabbed from behind and roughly thrown down on to the grass.  “I was shitting myself,” I told the wide-eyed schoolgirls gathered around me that following Monday morning  “I tried to scream for help, but when I looked up into the eyes of my wild — and totally hot — abductor’s eyes, I immediately understood that he meant me no harm”.

I went on to describe how I had “yielded to his firm embrace as he kissed me tenderly and the sweet tasting kiss had lasted for several minutes before the stranger – who I’m almost positive was a surfie – suddenly jumped up and ran away leaving me weak with desire.” (I had memorised that last part from a Mills and Boon book I found under Mum’s pillow)

Once I’d finished relaying this tale of passion, and what was basically sexual assault, the girls narrowed their eyes at me suspiciously.

“What was a gorgeous surfie doing behind some bushes at a cricket ground?”

Bloody Vicki Mancini.  Trust that smug little bitch to bring logic into it.

“Uh….well……having a nap I guess.”

One by one Vicki and the others stood up and walked away, too embarrassed to stay in the presence of such a tragic and desperate liar.  I was left alone to ponder the outrageous lengths I had gone to to prove how open and committed I was to discovering the opposite sex.  All because I had tried to convince them that even spunky surfies hiding in bushes at local cricket grounds were unable to resist my seductive allure.

Despite my reputation, which rapidly developed in the days that followed, as “the bush-rape girl”, I refused to renege on my cricket ground kiss bandit tale, as it was my only known involvement with a boy – imaginary or otherwise.

A couple of months later at our year ten school dance, I somehow managed to attract the attentions of a greasy haired, acne-scarred St. Paul’s college boy. Unfortunately it proved to be an all round disappointing experience.  I had no idea what I was doing, and in retrospect neither did the boy I ended up kissing.  It was all tongues, saliva and bad breath and lasted a whopping total of thirty seconds.  As I was busy trying to figure out the logistics of keeping my head turned at the correct kissing angle, one of the many nuns supervising the dance rapped me on the knee with her walking stick and shouted at me to get away from the dirty boy.

Needless to say I never heard from the nameless Catholic boy with the kissing technique of an epileptic lizard again, but I was ecstatic that I could finally say – with my head held high above cricket ground bushes – that I had been kissed.  Even if the experience of a good old-fashioned teenage grope and probe continued to elude me, at least my peers could rejoice in the news that I had been pashed by a living breathing – albeit very sloppy – adolescent male.  Thankfully my classmates had witnessed this thirty-second tongue lashing and I could only hope that the story of the cricket ground kiss bandit would finally become a distant memory for the remainder of my school years.

Not long after this I hooked up with my Footscray market co-worker after we pashed at a local bluelight disco one night. I then proceeded to stay with him for eight years, which is a whole other story in itself and one we don’t have time for here. I will say, however, that it may only have lasted three years had I not written off his beloved panel van by veering on to the wrong side of the road and taking out six parked cars one after another, dominos-style, in Williamstown one summer afternoon. After that it was made clear to me in no uncertain terms that I owed him and better not even think about breaking up with him.

Fair enough, really.

Leaving the humiliation of my schooldays behind me I threw myself into achieving my dream of being a performer and writer, doing more crappy amateur theatre and the odd weird short film, with groups of film students whose main agenda in starting the project was to score a root from one of the less experienced and more desperate female cast members (I’m proud to say I managed to resist their charms 100% of the time).

But when I found myself at the ripe old age of twenty-three still living in the western suburbs, doing a few acting classes and the odd really bad amateur theatre production (see earlier description of Starred and Feathered) whilst working as an accounts payable clerk at Don Kyatt Bus and Trucks spare parts and spending my nights sitting on the couch with my boyfriend of eight years watching Mother and Son, I had to face up to the fact that I may have lost my way a tad.

That’s when I knew that I needed an escape route to somewhere as far away from Altona North, and all of my embarrassing memories, as possible. I told my boyfriend I’d be back in six months and went to New York, where I lived in an all-girls boarding house, did some acting classes, partied, drank a lot, broke up with my boyfriend of eight years over the phone (bad form…I know…whatever…shut up), overstayed my visa by nine months and did a couple of off-off-off broadway shows while I worked as a waitress to pay the rent.

I then headed over to London for eight months where my alcoholic Irish boyfriend turned into a Jekyll and Hyde type character who showered me with compliments and affection one minute, and verbally abused and cheated on me the next. This was the highbrow chapter of my life; a time when I spent most of my awake hours in pubs, enjoyed a short-lived foray into line dancing and allowed myself to be treated like shit by the on-again off-again Irish boyfriend.

Finally I decided it was time to come home and get my childhood dreams of being a performer and writer back on track. When the plane touched down at Tullamarine airport that cold, wet, miserable day, I felt focussed and inspired, with some good old-fashioned New York attitude and determination to boot.

I started writing sketches with a couple of friends, we submitted them to the ABC and after about a year and a half of to-ing and fro-ing, a group of us made our very own sketch comedy show for the tele. That led to more writing and performing for sketch comedy shows on other channels, guest roles, comedy festival shows, stand-up comedy and loads of other creatively fulfilling and exciting stuff with fun and talented folks. I’ve even gotten to go to the Logies, where I listened to soapie starlets snorting coke off the cistern lid in the cubicle beside me as I expressed breastmilk straight into the bowl coz the pump wouldn’t fit in my clutch bag.

So, now here I am, all these years after being that daggy teenager I’m doing all that stuff that I dreamt about as a weird, lonely kid, and even though trying to make a living as a writer and performer isn’t exactly a secure or stable life, I’m doing what I love.

Speaking of love, it took me a couple of go’s to find “the one”. A couple of times I thought I’d found him, but he turned out to be the-one-who-just-wasted-my-time or the-one-pretendingto-be-the-one-when-they-were-actually-a-lying-alcoholic-arsehole. When I did meet “the one”, I didn’t actually recognise him at first because he was a South Yarra-Melbourne Grammar-actor-singer type fellow who was playing the Cello at five-years-old, and whose family regularly dined out at the Melbourne Club. Being an Altona-North-head-of-the-acid-wash-appreciation-society-chick who was playing name that meat at five-years-old and whose family regularly dined out at the footy club sausage sizzle, it was really no wonder the whole “we’re made for each other” thing passed me by.

I’m still married to my song and dance man. We have two daughters who are growing up much faster than I’d like, and I now live over the other side of the bridge. Even though I’ve moved around a lot and lived in many different places, both in Australia and overseas, I still feel very connected to the western suburbs and always will. My oldest and dearest friends still live there, a couple who were part the Vicki Mancini crew, and I’m incredibly proud and lucky to have grown up as a westie chick.

Keating’s Widow

19 September 2016

…but the much younger guy who was playing him onstage in the musical Keating!.

When the last ever season of Keating! The Musical wrapped up in Sydney, it was accompanied by mixed feelings of sadness and relief for me. Sadness because it was the end of an amazingly successful run of a brilliant show that had thrilled audiences all over the country for three years. Relief because for most of my husband’s eight-month tour I was either pregnant, single parenting two small children or carting said small children on and off planes to join their father in hotels around the country.

The Melbourne season was the most memorable leg of the tour, mainly because it’s our hometown but also because I was due to give birth at some point during the four-week run. We prayed that the active little sprocket inside me would have the courtesy to arrive on her due date. That way I would have a full four weeks of support before my husband, Mike, who was playing the lead in the show, had to head off around the country again.

And so it was.

On a Wednesday night, the twenty-seventh of February, just around the time Mike was finishing his first number on stage, my waters broke. Our first child had to be induced hours after my waters broke, so I didn’t feel an urgent need to let him know.  However, I couldn’t help recalling the two of us laughing about the remote possibility of this second baby deciding to arrive within the two-hour window that Mike was on stage, so I timed my call for the show’s interval. Our plan had been for me to call the assistant stage manager, should anything happen in the small two hour window of the day that Mike was on stage, and inform her that all systems were go. I dialled the number, feeling calm and sure of what I was going to say and how I was going to say it.

Mel answered the phone with a startled “Fiona!”

I was an oasis of calm.

“Hiya Mel, I’m just ringing to let you know that my waters have broken, but….”

Mel was not an oasis.

“THEY’VE JUST STARTED THE SECOND ACT!  HE JUST WENT ON!  SHOULD I DO SOMETHING?! ARE YOU OK?!”

One could be forgiven for thinking that it was Mel who was in labour.  I assured her I was “fine and no, no contractions yet, and yes, just wait ‘til the end of the show before you tell Mike so he doesn’t freak out”. I hung up the phone, dragged my hospital bag into the hallway, called my parents to ask them if they could come and pick up our four-year-old, then sat back to watch the climax of a particularly excellent episode of Six Feet Under.

Mike rang within five minutes in a state of controlled panic, fully prepared to bail out mid-show. I, the shimmering oasis, assured him that there was no need as nothing was actually happening just yet. As the boys came on for their encore that night, Mike announced that they’d have to speed things up a bit tonight because his wife was in labour.

After seven-and-a-bit hours of what can only be described as…well…indescribable pain, Abbie June McLeish, arrived into the world covered in goo and gunk, all purple and swollen and screaming, and perfect.

The following five months leading up to the end of the tour passed in a whirlwind of planes, taxis, long phone calls, very little sleep, exhilaration, exhaustion and the occasional mini-breakdown.

There were many night during one of my two week solo parenting stints at home,while Mike was on tour, when I would sit on the couch breastfeeding my newborn at 3am, eyes hanging down to my stretched, post-birth belly button, half-watching Jessica Simpson confesses to once having acne in the same way one might confess to an accidental murder in a Pro-Activ infomercial. In those dark silent wee hours I would quietly sob as I contemplated the horrific thought that in three short hours my four-year-old first-born would be up, bouncing around like a pill popping raver. There’d be the usual incessant demands for breakfast, park and bike rides and as there was no husband around, I’d be dealing with all of this alone. Good times.

Looking back I wouldn’t have changed a thing for the experience it gave all of us as a family. We’ll always have the photos of that insane and wonderful period flicking over on the digital frame in the kitchen to remind us of the places we saw and the people we met. Despite all of the craziness and chaos, we proved that, if nothing else, kids are adaptable and can be dragged all over the country without any long-term damage being done.

If only I could say the same for their parents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve Family Fizzer

18 September 2016

The night starts out with such promise.

It’s a lovely sunny day to end the year, and my husband, two children and I have very generously been offered my mother-in-law’s city apartment for the night. Our plan is to arrive at the apartment around 3pm, have a couple of hours in the apartment complex’s pool and then take the kids on the ten minute walk to Southbank for some dinner and a birds-eye view of the 9pm family-fireworks display.

After some enjoyable pool time, a leisurely walk and a surprisingly decent food court dinner we venture out onto the Lower Promenade at Southgate to soak up the sunset. It’s at this juncture, with our bellies full of curry and ice cream and our minds and souls full of hope for an enjoyable night ahead that we decide to capture the moment with a family snapshot. We each choose a number to hold up on our fingers and make the international sign for 2013 as we beam down the tiny hole at the top of my husband, Mike’s, iPhone. It isn’t until we look back at it that we realise that we have actually signed “3102”. By the time we’ve taken the photo, Abbie, our four-year-old, has lost interest in the family moment and has moved on to trying to dive into the Yarra River so we decide what the hell, let’s just send it to family and friends with a Happy New Year message anyway.

I now know that this was a sign of things to come.

With the four-year-old getting way too close to the edge of the Yarra’s murky brown water for my liking (repeated warnings that “there are bits of poo in there” hasn’t seemed to deter her in the slightest) we decide to go for a casual stroll. After all, it is only about 7pm at this stage so we have a couple of hours to kill before the fireworks begin. I haven’t actually checked the details (mistake number one) but am fairly sure that they begin around 9pm. To be absolutely sure that we don’t get it wrong and completely spoil our children’s night, we ask a friendly-looking young man with a New Years Eve staff-badge-thingie. He’s also wearing the kind of fluoro high-vis vest that satisfies me that this is a dude who knows his New Years schedule and he informs us that the fireworks will start sometime between 9.30 and 10 o’clock and that they will be all along the water, lighting up the sky from Crown Casino onward.

“You’ll have a great view anywhere along that area,” he assures us with a smile. We thank him and he wishes us a happy new year. We comment on what a lovely and helpful man he is as we walk away. I won’t start fantasising about hunting him down and firing him into the night sky – from a large, cartoon cannon – then watching him explode into a thousand pieces along with the other pretty explosives for a few more hours.

We mosey on down the path and eventually arrive at Melbourne’s famous red steps. Perfect! It’s a great position and even closer to the apartment than the other end of the promenade where we had originally intended to settle. It’s now 7.45 pm. My husband and I sit down on one of the giant red steps facing the promenade and all of its new years revelry and activity, whilst our girls hop up and down the steps behind us and go down the makeshift “slide” that borders the structure. We are more than happy to sit here for the next hour and a bit, watch the sunset and wait for the show to begin. After the fireworks we plan to wander back to the apartment, bundle the girls into bed, crack open a bottle of red and pop something into the DVD player to wait for the new year to tick over.

Sorted.

By 9pm the endless badgering from my eldest daughter, Finn, is starting to wear very thin.

“What time is it now?”

“Thirty seconds since you last asked me.”

“But what time is it?”

“9.01!”

“What time do they start?”

“9.30!! I’ve told you a hundred times!”

“It’s taking sooo looooong!”

“Stop whingeing!”

“But we’ve been sitting here for aaaages!!”

I’m tempted to go down my usual route of telling her that she isn’t starving, she doesn’t have an illness and isn’t rummaging around in a rubbish tip for food like I’ve seen on an horrific SBS documentary about Indian slums the night before. However, as it’s New Year’s Eve I decide to cut her a bit of slack. She’s excited. I know I would have been pretty excited (and most probably driving my parents mad) at her age if I was in the city on New Year’s Eve about to watch a fireworks show, so I try to remain as calm and patient as I can. Not an easy feat at the best of times, especially when it’s been an exhausting couple of weeks trying to pack up an entire house for our ninth move in twelve years (yeah, you heard me) whilst orienting our children at their new school and attending the usual round of kids’ birthdays, Christmas parties and end-of-year functions. We’re all feeling a bit knackered to be honest, so the last thing I want to do is turn the last night of this topsy-turvy year into a shit-storm of tears and shouting.

In the calmest voice I can muster I tell her that we only have to wait another twenty-nine minutes and then it will all have been worth it. I remind her that she has managed to survive numerous fifty-minute drives back and forth up and down the Nepean Highway every week for the past two and a half years whilst living in Seaford. If she can cope with that she can handle waiting twenty-nine measly minutes. As for me, excitement is not exactly the emotion I’m experiencing as the minutes tick by. It feels as if I’ve been sitting on this giant red step forever. My bum is killing me (I’m sure there will be unpleasant repercussions over the next few days), my back is sore and I’m gagging for a glass of red. Come on, City of Melbourne. Let’s get this show on the road so we can get home, crack open that bottle and settle down for a bit of Downton Abbey action. Oh yes. Livin’ on the edge, me.

9.30 comes and goes. So does 9.40. My husband and I am starting to glance furtively at each other, neither of us brave enough to say what we’re really thinking.

“What time is it, Mum?! You said they’d be on by now!”

“They must be running late. Oh, see, the police are taking that guy off the bridge in handcuffs. He must have disrupted the timing. They’ll probably start now.”

9.45…9.50…

“That guy did say that they’d start between 9.30 and 10 didn’t he?” I murmur nervously to my husband. “So they must be starting at 10. That’s only ten minutes away. It’s okay, Finn. They’ll start soon. ABBIE! Come here! That’s not our lightsaber!”

“I’m hungry!”

“Ssshh! Sit down. It’s going to start in a minute. Any…minute…now!”

At 10.04 my husband and I look at each other with fear in our eyes.

“This is bollocks,” he says, standing up and looking around for some kind of answer to this insane display of tardiness.

“There’s a guy with one of those fluoro vests and badge thingies on,” I say. “Should we ask him what’s going on?”

“Yeah, coz that went so well last time,” he mutters as he and Abbie walk over to him.

While they’re gone, Finn and I wait desperately to hear an announcement over an unseen loudspeaker that there has been some short delay in proceedings and that the kids’ fireworks will begin shortly. When I look up and see the expression on my husband’s face as he walks back towards me I want to vomit.

“The fireworks were down the other end…where we were before…at 9.30.”

The girls are crying before he’s even finished his sentence.

“But you promised we’d see the fireworks!” wails the four-year-old.

“I can’t believe we missed the fireworks!” howls the eight-year-old.

My husband and I stare at one another in a state of shock before I start trying to comfort the girls by saying very un-comforting things like, “It’s okay, we can see them next year” and “If we go back to the apartment and you’re still awake we might be able to see the tops of the fireworks over the trees? OR we could go to the Australia Day fireworks! Yeah. Those fireworks are heaps better than these stupid fireworks that won’t even start for another HOUR AND THREE QUARTERS!”

They are having none of it.

After a few minutes of more tears and unsuccessful reassuring techniques, we reluctantly decide that, as it is now 10.20, we will stick it out for another HOUR AND FORTY MINUTES to see the f%*@# fireworks. We’ve already sat on the very hard, now very cold, stupid giant red step for two and a half hours. What’s another 100 minutes? Right?

“I’m busting,” Finn suddenly announces.

Awesome.

There’s a McDonalds nearby so I take Finn over there to use the toilets…until I see that the queue is out the door and halfway down the adjoining mall. There’s no way in hell we are going to be waiting in that. Just as I’m looking around for a structure that my daughter can squat behind, she shivers and hugs into me.

“I’m freezing, Mum.”

It hasn’t escaped my notice that in the three hundred years since we first sat down on that red step the temperature has dropped about 10 degrees and the girls’ thin summer dresses and hoodies just aren’t cutting it anymore. I come up with an ingenious plan.

Leaving my husband and Abbie to secure our well-worn and very-well-deserved spot (the crowds are rolling in now and I’d rather have bought a pair of those stupid sparkling rabbit ears being sold nearby for about eight-thousand and twenty dollars than lose our prime position) Finn and I hurry back to the apartment where Finn goes to the toilet and changes into warmer clothes, and I grab a rug, some warmer clothes for Abbie and hide two beers in my bag before heading back.

It’s 11.10 when we make it back and I am unsurprised to find Abbie fast asleep on my husband’s lap. Actually, the term passed out is probably more appropriate. Our kids are useless when it comes to late nights at the best of times. The eight-year-old is in bed by 8pm with lights out by 8.30 every night, and the four-year-old by 7.30, usually crashed out by 8. So it’s no exaggeration to say that this was quite the bed-time anomaly in their young lives.

Mike transfers Abbie to my lap so he can stand up and stretch for the first time in over an hour before we tuck the rug around the four of us. We then hand Finn the iPhone to play some games to keep her awake, conceal the forbidden beers behind her back and take sneaky sips every time the nearby cops’ backs are turned. Oh yes…and again I say…livin’ on the edge.

The steps all around us are filling up fast with people now – intelligent people who waited until a reasonable time to leave the comfort of wherever they were to come and sit on the steps and watch the fireworks. Kids are running around and play-fighting behind us and every now and then we cop a plastic lightsaber across the back of the head or a knee in the shoulder. Other younger kids are squealing at the top of their lungs as they go down the nearby makeshift slide again and again, and what had been cute three hours ago is now making me homicidal.

By 11.40 Finn is flopped forward, fast asleep, on Mike’s lap.

When he suggests that it might be best to just go back to the apartment now that the girls are asleep I find myself channelling Chevy Chase’s character at the end of National Lampoon’s Vacation. We are not going anywhere! I have sat on this f%&@#$ step for four hours to see the fireworks and so we are going to see the f&*$%# fireworks! And so help me god, these children are going to watch the fireworks when that clock ticks over if I have to physically pry and hold their eyelids open with a Clockwork Orange-style eyelid-prying device!!

He doesn’t suggest that we leave again. In fact, we can barely bring ourselves to say anything to each other for the next nineteen minutes.

“What time is it?” I finally ask him. By this stage my arms are numb and sore from holding Abbie, my bum is cold, my back is aching and my bum is cold. Yes, that does bear repeating.

“11.59”

“Thank you, Jesus God! Finn! Abbie! Wake up! The fireworks are starting in a minute! Finn! Abbie!! WAKE UP!!!”

I tickle, poke, kiss, shout…and physically try to pry her eyes open…but Abbie doesn’t stir. She is completely out of it. Mike has more luck with Finn but when she does finally wake up with a start she looks around her in a panicked daze with no idea where she is or what the hell she’s doing on a giant red step in the middle of the night.

“Finn! The fireworks are about to begin!” I say, forcing an excited grin onto my face.

She smiles through half-shut eyes as she remembers. “Oh…yeah…the…”

BANG!

The first fireworks explode above us and Finn’s eyes fly open, she jumps a foot off the step then covers her ears with her hands and begins to cry. In my arms, Abbie also jolts awake in fright before immediately burying her head in my chest, both hands over her ears, wailing and screaming over and over again, “I DON’T LIKE THE FIREWORKS!”

Finn adjusts to the bangs and noise after a few seconds, watching the fireworks overhead in wonder, albeit half-asleep. (I swear to god I caught her with her eyes closed at least three times during the display) At least she gets something out of it. The four-year-old refuses to have a bar of it.

“Look, Abbie! Just look up! Look UP! See the fireworks! Abbie! Please! Just open your eyes and look at them! JUST FOR ONE SECOND PLEASE!!”

When I try to lift Abbie’s chin to raise her face to the sky she resists with a strength I don’t know she possesses. No matter how much I coax, beg and plead, that child simply will not open her eyes or take her face out of my chest, continuing instead to sob and wail like a banshee.

It’s at this point that I feel a maniacal laugh rising up through my body about to burst out of my mouth and which will surely end with me being committed to the nearest asylum. Instead, I manage to distract myself with the fireworks and try to enjoy them for myself. Bugger the kids.

“Oooo!” “Aaahhhh” “Wow!”

No one is buying it. Not my husband, who is still just sitting beside our half-asleep daughter, slowly shaking his head from side to side as if auditioning for a supporting role in the stage adaptation of 12 Monkeys, and not the Indian family beside me who can’t work out what is more interesting; the fireworks, or the wailing child buried in my chest.

Despite my daughter’s very vocal protests, we do not budge from that spot until the last firework has exploded before our eyes. As the final firework fizzles out and the crowd around us bursts into rapturous applause, Mike and I stand up and turn to each other with equally demented expressions on our faces.

“Okay! Top night! Let’s get the hell out of here!”

I carry a still mildly whimpering Abbie all the way back to the apartment, trying to ignore the fact that every muscle in my body is screaming in agony. Finn staggers along, half-asleep and supported by Mike who is also carrying the bags and rug. Once inside the apartment Mike and I have the girls out of their clothes, into their PJ’s and deposited into bed within a record-breaking forty seconds.

Abbie is still snivelling as I tuck the doona around her.

“But I didn’t brush my teeth!”

“It’s alright, darlin’. We can brush them in the morning.”

She is asleep before I’m out of the room, as is Finn. As for Mike and I, we each drink a glass of wine in a daze (also in record breaking time) before collapsing into bed ourselves. Just before dozing off we mumble, “happy new year” to each other.

The following night we’re back home and watching the city of Melbourne lit up in all its glory on the nightly news. The footage shows numerous, happy-looking families and children enjoying the early fireworks show at Yarra Park the night before. Abbie suddenly stands up and points at the screen, shouting, “We should have gone there!”

“Maybe we can go next year, Abbie,” Finn offers helpfully.

It takes every ounce of willpower I possess not to inform my children that as long as there is breath in my body, we will not be going to Yarra Park or anywhere else in the city to see fireworks again for a very long time to come.

Well… at least not until they install giant cushions on the giant red steps.

Freaking out the Kids

17 September 2016

…where her dad and I took a bowl full of lollies into her bedroom, shut the door and pretended to be strangers so she and her three-year old sister could trick or treat in their own house.

Now, both my husband and I are actors so we like to think that we have a bit of an advantage when it comes to certain things as parents. Sure, we may not always be able to provide a secure and stable existence for our children financially, but when it comes to role-playing in our house, we know that we can bring it!

My husband went into the girls’ room first. He closed the blinds to make it pitch black then proceeded to transform into his tried and true role of “grumpy old man character” – a particular favourite in our household, and not dissimilar to Grandpa Simpson. The girls got dressed up in their fairy outfits, skipped down the hallway, baskets in hands and knocked on their bedroom door.

“Who is it?!” Mike shouted in his most cantankerous tone and pulled the door open. The girls gave a scream of laughter when they saw that he’d put a torch up to his face and was pulling a suitably cranky face. Mike continued to dole out lollies, complaining loudly the whole time about being harassed by annoying children when he was just trying to have a nap. The scene ended with him slamming the door in their faces and yelling at them to “GO AWAY!” It was a rousing success and the girls loved every minute of his amazing role-playing skills.

“Your turn now, Mum!” they shouted.

Never one to be outdone, I knew I’d have to up the stakes if I was to compete with that award-worthy performance, so I quickly made the decision to be a witch. But not just any old witch…not your nice Samantha Stevens, or Meg from Meg and Mog kind of witch, but an ugly, screeching, hunched over high-pitched cackling witch of the scariest order. Mike’s crotchety octogenarian would have nothing on my evil old crone!

It started well.

“Who is it?” I asked in my sweetest old lady’s voice when the girls knocked on the door.

“TRICK OR TREAT!” the unsuspecting victims called out.

Once I’d opened the door and dished out a couple of lollies, I gently herded them into the room and towards the wardrobe, promising them many more delicious treats if they would just come with me. Quick as a flash I pushed them into the wardrobe, shut the door and let loose with a piercing cackle of sheer nastiness. It took all of about two seconds before the wardrobe door flew open and my terrified three-year-old shot past me and out of the bedroom, screaming loud enough to wake the dead , although, being Halloween and all, most of them were probably up and about anyway.

I looked down at my seven-year-old, still hunched over in the wardrobe, and gave an embarrassed grin, “Oops. Think I scared Abbie.”

“Mum,” she said. “Even I’m a bit freaked out right now. That was full on.”

I found the three-year-old sobbing hysterically in our brightly lit kitchen, glancing at me with fear in her eyes, clinging to my husband who was shaking his head from side to side, a mixture of pity and disappointment on his face. It took him about twenty minutes to calm the three-year-old down, and a further ten minutes before she’d come near me. When Abbie finally let me cuddle her, I tried my best to reassure her, “Sorry darling, it’s just me.” She looked at me, red-eyed and still shaking slightly, “You don’t be a witch anymore! Just mummy.” Fair enough I guess.

I think you could safely say that I learnt my lesson about freaking out my kids that night, even though I have to admit to a certain amount of pride in the knowledge that not only did I hold my own against grouchy Grandpa Simpson…I kicked his wrinkly arse!

 

No Mirth after a Birth

16 September 2016

I was working on a sketch comedy television show the first time I fell pregnant. Rather than do the smart thing and hightail it out of there and off the small screen before I became too huge to fit in the makeup chair, I chose to continue filming until I was eight and a half months pregnant. Apparently I had no intentions of letting something as trivial as growing a human being get in the way of my day to day life.

Working on a television show whilst enduring the plethora of physical and emotional turmoil pregnancy brings, proved to be a challenging task. For the first three months the six a.m. call times meant I would drive to the set bleary-eyed, salada biscuit in one hand and lucozade in the other, occasional pulling over for a quick spew. The make-up ladies first suspected something was up after a few weeks of me entering the makeup truck looking like Bela Lugosi and popping off to the toilet every five minutes. My lack of interest in coffee at such an ungodly hour of the morning was also incredibly suspicious.

The wardrobe department had their own problems with me.  Not only was my stomach continuously outgrowing the clothes they kept forking out good money for, but my bum, thighs and boobs had also decided to join the swelling party and were filling out at an alarming rate.  No matter how much black they put me in, there came a day when there was just no hiding the fact that I was beginning to resemble a contestant on The Biggest Loser.

The two days a week spent in the production office were significantly easier, although thanks to a dodgy coxic bone which prevented me from sitting in a chair like normal people, I needed two of my strongest male cast members to lower me down on to and pull me up from the office bean bag at least a dozen times a day.

So intent was I on proving that I was no different from the other cast members, that after a while people around me sometimes seemed to forget my delicate state. Like one of our directors who requested that for a particular sketch I run around a backyard chasing someone with a shovel.  This would have been a completely rational request had I not been eight and a half months pregnant at the time and barely able waddle on and off the set let alone strike up an athletic pace.  I gently reminded him of my condition and warned him that asking me to run could cause me to go into labour…or to whack him incredibly hard across the back of the head with said shovel.

When I finally reached the magical eight-and-a-half-months mark, shot my final scene and said a teary farewell to my beloved colleagues, I was excited at the prospect of having two weeks of doing absolutely nothing but lying on the couch watching season six of Buffy, the vampire slayer. Unfortunately, my impatient daughter had other plans and entered the world only a couple of days into my long-awaited recess.

After my baby was born I had three weeks at home with a gorgeous little girl whom I completely adored.  She was so placid that I was convinced that if it was this straightforward at home, surely doing a couple of days a week at work wouldn’t complicate matters too much.  Obviously I’d forgotten to factor in two very important bi-products of giving birth – breastfeeding and hormones.

My husband and I worked out a plan for the two days I’d be filming.  He’d bring her to set (obviously these would be the exact times when my boobs would be ready to produce milk and she would be ready to eat) and I would feed her between filming scenes.  Easy.

Well…not so much.

I cried when I left her in the morning.  I cried all the way to work.  I cried when my husband brought her to the set so I could feed her, and I cried when they left.  Expressing milk behind the curtain in the wardrobe bus every three hours was a pain in the pelvis and, as a result of going 5 to 8 hours without emptying my boobs, was on the verge of contracting mastitis several times.

Feeding my baby surrounded by male comedians who thought it was hilarious to make jokes about “Fiona getting her boobs out again” was never a peaceful experience. Although, they quietened down once I threatened to squirt milk in their eyes and blind them for life. There was also the time when the first assistant director informed me that she could see my breast pads outlined through my top on the monitor, and that the camera crew had asked what they were.

The glamour of awards ceremonies all but vanished when I attended the Logies and ended up expressing milk straight into the toilet bowl, while I listened to soapie stars having flattering contests over whose hair and make up looked better.  If only they’d had x-ray vision to see the thirty-three year old woman with the top of her Charlie Brown designer gown pulled down, hunched over a loo squeezing breast milk from her nipples.  Actually, my aim wasn’t that great. Most of it ended up all over the floor.

Following is a list of tips and coping mechanisms for new mums back in the workforce:

  • Never leave your breast pump lying around your work area. You will soon discover your male co-stars using it as a trumpet while playing dungeons and dragons.
  • Try to avoid speaking to anyone for the first half hour of the day if you are feeling particularly guilty and hormonal that day.  Just saying hello to someone could mean a straight four hours of sobbing.
  • Be discreet when expressing – or in my case that the curtain in the wardrobe bus is drawn all the way across to the other side while a dozen male extras are getting changed into hobbits for a “lord of the rings” sketch on the other side.
  • If you are not Victoria Beckham or Gwyneth Paltrow, be prepared for the fact that your body may take more than three days to stop resembling the “before” photo in a weight watchers ad and accept that this is OK.  (Unless you are filming with size six girls who are ten years younger than you. You then have the right to ball your eyes out in disgust and shame)
  • Try to avoid writing jokes at a time when your main train of thought is “How long does it take for infected stitches to heal?” There’s not much comedy in that and you will probably hear screams of horror when you read it out to your cast members.

I fell pregnant with my second daughter a few years later whilst filming on a completely different sketch comedy program; although this time I had the good sense to take my burgeoning frame off Australian television well before my due date.

I’m still good friends with some of the people I worked with when I was pregnant with my first daughter, and a lot of them, cast and crew, have had babies since then. All of those new mothers, and fathers, have at one time or another since having their baby grabbed my arm, eyes wide, head shaking back and forth, uttering the phrase “I’m so sorry! I had no idea what you were going through!” I smile and tell them to shut up. There’s no need to apologise. Of course they had no idea. No one does until it’s them walking into work and feeling like they are going to hurl their guts up just because one of their co-workers has just unwrapped a souvlaki, or until they are so tired that their eyes are beginning to close mid-conversation even though it’s only two o’clock in the afternoon. Despite all of the tears, tiredness and hormones, I wouldn’t trade my experience of having been a working pregnant woman for anything, although I have to admit that my second pregnancy felt like a holiday in Bali by comparison.

My daughter now seems completely unscarred by her mother abandoning her at such an early age. And what about me?  Do I regret my decision to go back to work and if I could do it all again would I change anything?  Not on your life.  Beggars can’t be choosers and an artist’s gotta take the work when it’s there.  I’m proud of myself for surviving it; we were able to pay the rent on time and I managed to get through those few months in a sleep-deprived hormonal daze, even if I can’t remember much about it to this day, which, let’s be honest, is probably for the best.

How Did I Get Here?

14 September 2016

Oh thank god!!  For a second there I thought this funeral was for me! 

That clearly isn’t me!

Oh God, yes it is. The photo on the altar…that’s the spiral perm I had in 1987!  

MUM! Alice!  Anyone! Hellooooo!!

Okay, don’t panic, lets just take a moment here.  Sure there’s a casket and flowers, and all my possessions are assembled on this table and my family are all wearing black, but this can’t be my funeral. They’re playing Mariah Carey. 

Oh my God! What the hell am I wearing! Where did you get that outfit, Mum? Dimmeys?  I look like a reject from the FDLS Church! What did I die oƒ? Embarrassment?  And who’s this guy rabbiting on?  Reverend socks and sandals.  I’ve never met him in my life!

Let’s take a look at this booklet then. Jesus, who wrote this stuff?! Bushwalking? The only time I bushwalked was when I got lost at Earthcore!  And that’s only because I’d eaten so many mushrooms I thought I was a wombat. Liked the odd drink or two?  What are you trying to say?  Yes I like a drink.  Who doesn’t? And I never loved my job.  Exactly what part of Western Bus and Truck spare parts would I love?  Where are my workmates?  Oh yeah, the girls from marketing are here, factory guys. Hmmm, Tim’s not here but he that’s only because he saves all his holidays for schoolies week. Geez, numbers are a bit thin.  I know Altona North’s a bit out of the way but still, I know more people than this.  Janice Waters?  I haven’t seen you for over ten years!  Natalie Brady!  What are you doing here?  Those tears are so not real. You didn’t even like m…oh, right.  Scott Anderson. You’re still trying to pick up Scott Anderson. Desperate scrag. He’ll find out soon enough the tears aren’t the only thing that’s fake.

And hello!  Who are you cutie?  Why don’t I remember you?  Oh.  Funeral director guy.  Nice suit.

Good to see Tyler the nephew-from-hell here. That’d be right, drink the holy water, aaaaaand spit it at the organist. Good boy.  Perfect mother my sister. Nice jacket though. Hang on, that’s my Gucci leather jacket! Mum!  You let her wear my jacket…to my funeral!?  Unbelievable!  Kevin gave me that. Speaking of exes, where is Kevin? Oh, yep there you are. I have to say, that crying is a little over the top.  We only went out for three months. And there’s Brendan, walking in late.  Rude!  I see your punctuality skills haven’t improved. Tony’s in America…there’s Luke. Solo. What?  Too windy to bring that rake thin girlfriend of yours to my funeral? I tried the Atkins diet when we were together but he told me he liked bigger women. But I’m not bitter.  Aaand Aunty Mary appears to be drunk.  Nice. Hope she doesn’t spot the altar wine.

I seriously don’t have a drinking problem.  I don’t!  Mum thinks I do but…oh shit! She’ll find that vodka I had stashed next to my bed. And the Midori bottle in the bathroom, the cooking sherry in my glove-box. Maybe she’ll think I was planning a party…in the bathroom. Whipping up a Tira Misu, in the car.

Hang on. How did I die?  I got up in the morning, went into the kitchen, opened the fridge, realised I was out of UDL’s, had a shower, Midori, got in the car, sherry, went to the shop and got a takeaway coffee then drove to the other side of town for….for…..Paintball!  I was playing Paintball!  What happened?  No-one dies playing paintball, do they?  I can’t remember, that’s annoying. 

Oh for fuck’s sake!  Human Nature? Haven’t I suffered enough?  Did you people know me at all?  These aren’t my favourite songs!  They’re my sister Alice’s favourite songs!  I don’t like this crap. What am I, a nana? I like cool stuff!  Like, cool bands, you know, like…oh, you know, those cool bands.

So, what?  This is my big send off?  Mariah Carey, a priest I don’t know, stacks of empty seats and me lying there wearing a Holly Hobby dress.  Do you people have the slightest clue who I am…was…whatever!  I always thought it would be cool to hear my own eulogy but this sucks. 

I did, you know.  Imagine what people would say about me.  Doesn’t everyone do that? I mean, it’s not like I sat down and wrote them out, and learnt them, recorded them or anything, but if I had, the priest would probably have said something along the lines of…

Thankyou and welcome to the several thousands of you who have crammed into St. Patricks cathedral for Dolly’s funeral, and to the masses outside watching on the big screen.  Dolores Reilly was born into a family rich in culture and intelligence in the eastern suburbs.  She spoke five languages including regional dialects by the time she was fourteen and knew the names of all the Impressionists.  After completing her VCE early in year 9, Dolly spent a year working with children in The Sudan providing medical attention, and fighting off the local warlord and his underlings. In her village she became known as Halamatumama, which means She Who Takes No Dung From No-one.  Dolly travelled the world 6 times during her life, forged a successful career as a foreign correspondent and UN Peace Ambassador and made stacks of money. She had a string of exotic lovers, eventually settling down with acclaimed actor Chris Hemsworth.  Her body was the envy of supermodels and her brain the equivalent of that Hawkings guy who sits in the wheelchair and talks like a robot.  Dolly was the first person to simultaneously win the Nobel peace and literature prize after resolving the Middle East crisis with her acclaimed novel Palestinians are from Mars, Jews are from Venus.  This amazing, courageous and naturally SVELTE woman with NO pimples or cellulite definitely did not die a nobody. 

There was also one where I was a size six, came up with a cure for cancer and married Brad Pitt. All before the age of fifteen.  But this is for real now.  And I’m not hearing anything as impressive as that.

Huh? Who is it? Who? Oh, hi God! Yeah, good thanks, you know, considering. Now?  Really? You want me to go to the light right now? Can’t you come back in a little while?  Well, I’d kind of like to hear what else people are going to say about me.  Haven’t you got anything else more important you could go and do for half an hour?  Oh I don’t know, like finding a solution to  the endless starvation on the African continent, or giving Donald Trump scurvy or getting Brad and Angelina back together?  There you go!  See, you’ll enjoy that!  Alright, I’ll see you in a bit.

Why hasn’t anyone mentioned the things I’m good at, like, you know, I’m great at Pictionary! I’m really good at guessing what other people want to eat when we go to restaurants, and I have an amazing sense of smell.  I have a reputation for identifying people’s deodorant.  That guy back there? Blue Stratos.  Cute funeral director guy? XS… no, Body shop body lotion.  Sexy and environmentally aware. Nice.

Maybe I didn’t show these people enough of who I really was, or maybe I was just a complete and utter dork and everyone knew it except me.  Then again, I’ve always believed people have lots of different sides, and we show them to different people in different situations? It’s like looking in mirrors and seeing different reflections depending on how the light catches your face.  Like, you might think you look really hot on the dance floor in the nightclub mirrors, then you go into the toilets and the fluoro lights tell you that your face actually looks like the lunar surface with smeared lipstick.  And I think most people get used to the person you show them and wouldn’t want to see the other side.  Like your Nana wouldn’t want to see you rolling a joint one-handed, holding a crack pipe in the other and discussing whether anal is the done thing on a first date.

I can’t believe I just said that in church.  Sorry. 

Maybe we’re only ourselves when we’re on our own which is terrifying coz when I’m on my own I pick my toenails off with my teeth and spit them all over the carpet while wearing my Garfield flannelette pyjamas and watching The Breakfast Club.  Which makes me, to quote Judd Nelson in the breakfast club, a neo-maxi-zoom dweebie. God, I loved that movie. My best friend, Charlene and I went to see it when it first came out. Can’t see her here anywhere. Then again, we haven’t seen each other since we finished high school. Shame. We were besties, until we had a fight, then we hated each other, then we’d make up and be besties again. All during lunch time at school.

There’s absolutely no logic to the rules of female teenage friendships, but we all knew that if we didn’t follow them we wouldn’t fit in.  Being frozen out was a thousand times worse than being beaten up, and being cool and popular was everything.  Unfortunately I was neither.  I’d love to go back to the eighties knowing what I know now. Instead of my ra ra skirt and pink bubble gum jeans I’d wear, you know, punk, cool stuff. And instead of Cold Chisel and Wham, I’d talk about bands like, you know, the guys with the white faces and the, you know, the hair…

The Cure!  Thank you, God! You’re not back already!  That wasn’t half an hour!  It was not!  Was not, was not, wasn’t, wasn’t….okay!  Did you go to Washington?  Oh, you did.  Okay. Did you go see Brad and Ang?  What do you mean you couldn’t do it?  Just go and put them back together. How can you be scared of Angelina Jolie?  Isn’t there an epidemic somewhere?  No?  Listen, ten more minutes, tops. Okay?

I can’t put him off forever.  I’ll have to go to up there eventually.  Hey, I wonder if I’ll be in the cool group in heaven!  Maybe I’ll bump into Jeff Buckley on a cloud or a rainbow or something, and he’ll introduce me to Jim Morrison and James Dean and Janis Joplin, and they’ll let me in their group!!  How cool would that be?! Or I’ll be stuck in the group with John Denver and Karen Carpenter in it. I remember reading a Nancy Mitford quote once where she said, “I’ve always felt the great importance of getting into the right set at once on arrival in Heaven”.  And you know what?  The very fact that I’m quoting Nancy Mitford guarantees I’ll be in the group with Karen Carpenter.  As if I’m not paranoid enough about my weight without having to hang around her for eternity!

What about my phone?  Do I get one up there? Maybe you don’t need one.  Maybe you just think of a message and it sends. And is it on a predictive setting?  Is there good coffee in heaven or only that shit International Roast?  Is there food up there?  Is it a sit down and order at restaurants thing, do you cook your own or is it an all you can eat buffet type deal like Smorgy’s? I wonder if heaven’s got an equivalent to my local nightclub, Honky Tonks? I can just imagine the DJ saying…

Hey there all you cool cadavers, all you decomposing divas, and welcome to “Cloud 9” – the coolest nightclub this side of heaven’s gates.  If you were cool down there then this is definitely the place for you! Coming up later ol’ blue eyes is going to belt out a few tunes doing it “his way”, followed by Tupac and Biggie doing their own personal take on I got you babe or should that be “they got you babes”? bang bang! Whoopsie! Now here’s an oldie we’ve dug up from the files, and we’re gonna exhume a few more classic tracks before the eternal night is through!!

Actually, what hope would I have up there when I couldn’t even pick up in nightclubs down here?  Maybe if I’d worn this flannie on the table to Honky Tonks more often? 

Now why exactly would they choose to identify me with a flannie?  I mean, yes, I guess I did live in it for about six years but still, for fucks sake!  My first boyfriend Brendan bought it for me and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  I’m easily pleased. 

I’ve had five boyfriends in my whole life.  The shortest was three months, the longest was 2 years, and I’ve never ever had a one night stand.  How sad is that?  Surely that’s the one compulsory experience necessary for having lived a full life.  There was this one guy who I only knew for one night in a closet at a party.  Does him rubbing himself up against me count? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some really great sex in my life.  I even did it on a tram once. It was empty. Except for the conductor. Anyway, after that Brendan tried to talk me into doing it on all forms of public transport.  I was only sixteen.  Maybe Mum was right about him. There was that time I was blind drunk and snuck in late and Mum was waiting up for me. Clearly being dead hasn’t made it any less tragic to think of now…

Umm….Oh….Hi Mum!  Well, what I’m doing is that I…uh..heard a noise outside and uh….I got out of bed which I’d been in since 9.30 and then I got dressed to go see what it was and then I realised I locked myself out but luckily I had taken my bag with me when I went out so I had my keys on me to let myself back in and… No I haven’t!  I haven’t been with Brendan.  He’s not a loser mum!  He’s a bogan! And I must love him coz if he dropped me I’d spew!  I know he stole your garden gnomes but he was drunk at the time so he didn’t know what he was doing.  Why do you always have to pick on me?  I’m not a kid anymore, I’m 16 and I know a lot more about life than you think.  Not all teenage girls…boys are just out to have sex with boys mum.  Some of them actually want to have a meaningful conversation and a committed relationship! Yes, in their panel vans! I’m not a harlot! He wanted to give me a love bite but I said you might see, so I let him put his hand up my t-shirt, but over the bra so he won’t think I’m a slut.  Not all ben are mastards Mum! I hate you!  And I don’t care if I’m grounded coz I’m still gonna keep seeing him whether you like it or not……and I am going on the pill!!  It does not cause brain damage!

I don’t think Mum ever forgave me for going out with Brendan.  She just couldn’t believe that a daughter of hers was seeing someone whose idea of a romantic night was he and I watching the footy with no pants on.  Mum’s very particular about most things.  She’s down there now, sitting upright and perfectly groomed as always.  She looks so…composed.  You know, I don’t think my mother has ever cried a day in her life.  Even when Dad left us she locked herself in her room for twenty-four hours then came out and acted as if nothing had happened.  She just put all her energies into things like her job, playing bridge, and keeping the house spotless by being an anally retentive Nazi. Did you know that there are rules about the lint bags in the washing machine. Yep. If they’re not emptied after every wash then one is sure to be branded an outcast and stoned by the angry villagers. That’s Mum’s theory anyway.  She’s down there now picking dandruff off Natalie Brady’s shoulder pads.  She doesn’t even know Natalie…who is basically sitting on top of Scott Anderson!  I can’t believe she’s trying to score at my funeral!  Where’s the respect?

Tyler!  Stop melting Jesus’ toes with the prayer candles! Heard of a leash, Sis? Well, at least I won’t have to babysit him anymore. Aunty Mary is asleep on Uncle Tom’s lap, dribbling on his new black pants. His incontinence pads should soak that up. 

What’s happening now? It’s gone quiet. Come on, people, let’s keep this show moving.  Oh, it’s one of those slideshow things with photos from my life! Cool! Nice trip down memory lane for me. 

Oh Christ, look at that. Miss Altona Gate 1972 beauty competition, sash and all.  You know, I pulled that off with a shitty nappy too. Awww, year 7 school photo, notice how the fringe starts at the back of my head?  Ah yes, the fully braided head with beads look in a Bali nightclub competition. Mum, they’re condoms I’m blowing up, not balloons. Is this appropriate? Hang on, that one’s not even me! It’s my sister with a kiss mask on!  Oh God!  Deb photo with my cousin Jessica.  That dress looks like a taffeta factory exploded next to me, while Jessica looks stunning as usual in her sophisticated Audrey Hepburn number.  Um, that’s Jessica at my sixteenth birthday party…I’m in the background with the orange leggings. Oh, and there’s Jessica standing in front of me holding up her first prize trophy at little athletics. Did you put this slideshow together, Jessica?  That’s it!  I’m not watching anymore.

Jessica was forced upon me from birth.  Our relationship was all about envy and competition.  The envy was pretty much on my side.  Ballroom dancing, Brownies, little athletics, you name it, we did it. She did it better.  Of course my Aunty never failed to point this out.  Usually at a function in front of about fifty family members she’d bring out Jessica’s latest trophy while I stood there clutching my participation ribbon from the novelty events. Oh yeah, spoon race – I finished three years in a row.  They wouldn’t let us have eggs. Jessica’s the kind of person who walks into a party and doesn’t worry if people will like her, she worries whether or not she will like them.  Look at her down there.  Holding her tissue up to her nose as if she’s crying.  You know, there’s probably coke hidden in that tissue, and she’s been snorting it all the way through the service. Oh, off to purge the piece of celery you had for lunch today are you Jessica?  Where’s she going?  What?!  You’re letting that coke-snorting emaciated cow speak at my funeral? Nooo…

Dolly and me were like sooo close.  No-one was as close as we were.  No-one knew her like I did.  She was special.  I would say to her, sweetie – you are sooo special.  I remember when we were little girls we were doing our Juniors Callisthenics competition,  and Dolly was like crying outside coz while she was on stage doing her freearm routine a boy had yelled out “hey thunder thighs, you’re ugly!” and my mum gave her a hug and said don’t worry Dolly, just remember that even if you’re not beautiful on the outside, you’ll always be beautiful on the inside.  And like that’s how I got into modelling coz people saw what a lovely lithe body I had in callisthenics and they pushed me into it.  I really had no choice being born with such a….well….  But I would always tell Dolly, you are so lucky coz men like a fuller figure don’t they?  We were all concerned when she got a year’s membership to paintball because Dolly has always been like fully unco when it came to any sort of physical activity.  And if anyone should know that, it was me.  Through our childhood, Dolly and I did Jazz Ballet, netball, callisthenics, little athletics and interpretive dance classes together.  Poor Dolly never excelled at these activities like I did, and I could sense her feelings of inadequacy around me.  Like a little lost puppy sometimes.  Apparently on the day of her first game of paintball she was doing really well, scoring lots of points and leading her team to victory……..and if it hadn’t been for that off-course team of elderly formation skydivers who were filming a Christian television association commercial she’d still be with us today.  They just kept piling on top of her one after another.  She had no hope of getting out safely from underneath all those parachutes forming the shape of a crucifix.  Oh my god, when I think it was only like six months ago that Dolly came to visit me on my second Cosmo cover shoot, the latest issue is now available at all good newsagents, and we had a special, like, ten minutes of girly talk and laughs.  I can still see her, cheeseburger in hand, as I nibbled on my salad. And I tried to get her off the drugs Aunty Maria.  When I found her almost like unconscious at fourteen after smoking those eight bucket bongs and vomiting into the kitty litter I was the one who kept her addiction from the family. It’s our little secret Doll.  Dolly and I had another secret….that whoever died first the other would perform a tribute to them from our interpretive dance classes.  So, here goes…

What a dickhead !  Yeah, coz we all just love seeing a bit of interpretive dance.  By the way, those boobs? Fake.  Hair? Extensions. Lips?  That would be where her thighs went. That’s the most embarrassed I’ve seen her since the day I caught her pashing the P.E. teacher behind the bike shed. I got an A in P.E. for the rest of that year, and Jessica had to let me tag along to all the popular kids’ parties for months. But then we finished primary school and that was that.

That’s right!  Those  idiotic geriatric formation skydivers landed on top of me while I was playing paintball!  Unbelievable! Even the way I died is embarrassing.  It probably turned up in the Odd Spot section of some obscure international website.  Australian woman killed in freak skydiving accident. Cooking sherry found in glove box.

At least I had one nice boyfriend in my lifetime. Ralph and I went to primary school together. I always thought he was sweet. Dorky but sweet. He gave me a slinky as a present one year at Christmas and it was the best thing anyone had ever given me. One day, about fifteen years after we finished grade six we bumped into each other. After more than a few movie and dinner dates we woke up one morning and realised that we had become a “couple”.  We did all those soppy couple things together.  Stayed in bed all day Sunday watching the midday movie and making love over and over again, fed each other big chocolate sundaes in front of Sleepless in Seattle, played trivial pursuit in the nude, rolled around pashing on the grass in the park. You know, the kind of coupley stuff that I saw others doing when I was single and wanted to rip out their eyeballs with a pencil.  Those were brilliant days.  Being with Ralph was like hanging out with your best friend all the time.  He even waxed my legs for me, including the little bits of hair on my toes.  Now that’s love.  Yeah, with Ralph…

That slut!  Get your hand off Scott’s thigh Natalie! Groping is not the same as comforting!  Oh, get a room!  Oh…they are.  Although I don’t think the confessional technically counts as a room. Oh good, Tyler’s run off with the communion wine. Someone should really get that off him…not you, Aunty Mary!  Can no-one see this going on? Hang on, why am I still worried about this stuff?  I’m dead. Shouldn’t I be more enlightened about life by now?  Isn’t there this earth shattering epiphany or startling revelation about the meaning of life when you die? Shouldn’t the ending explain the beginning and the middle?  Maybe God’s going to ask me about the meaning of life when I get up there?  What if there’s a quiz on what I learnt in life?  I hate tests!

Uh…first Australian prime minister…uh…Captain Cook? …the second man to set foot on the moon?  Oh…um…Buzz….Buzz Lightyear? Uh, the meaning of life is…um…chocolate?…Good sex?…Building an impressive investment portfolio? What have I learnt?  Uh…I learnt that if I make a face and the wind changes my face doesn’t actually stay like that? No?  I learnt that drinking milk before a big night out doesn’t stop you vomiting, it just makes you throw up a lot of milky vodka?  Name of a really cool band?  Oh….I knew you’d ask me that! Can I phone a friend?

Mum’s getting up. She’s going up to the lecturn. She’s going to speak?! Oh, great.

Well, hasn’t this been a lovely ceremony. Thank you all for coming.  It was wonderful to hear my lovely niece speak of Dolores with such a fondness and respect. Thank you so much for your compassion Jessica.  Dolores didn’t usually make a habit of listening to anything I said, and when I told her that this paintball business was a ridiculous idea she went ahead and did it anyway.  What kinds of people want to go around shooting bits of paint at each other?  Those fumes are toxic, and the force of those pellets hitting you must be dangerous enough without…anyway, here we are.  If only she’d listened to me…Dolly had her faults, I more than anyone knew that only too well.  She cared too much what people thought of her, she was too nice to stand up for herself a lot of the time, and as a result she could get hurt easily.  She was too concerned with pleasing people all the time, and felt she wasn’t quite interesting or cool enough…whatever that’s supposed to mean. She thought she was a misfit, alone in the world, when the truth is that everyone feels that way at some point in their life. Since Dolores was a child I only wanted to protect her and keep her from getting hurt like I…but of course no-one can stop their children from being hurt.  That’s how they learn.  And I know she had her heart broken, on at least one occasion.  But I also know that she was lucky enough to find someone who loved her very much.  Ralph made her so very happy, and when he passed away a couple of years ago it broke Dolores’ heart.  He made her feel special, and for the first time in her life she didn’t care how others perceived her because she was happy. You know, I think that sometimes Dolly might have believed that I didn’t love her.  Maybe I didn’t say often enough, ever in fact, how much I loved that girl.  She was unique.  She was funny and kind and so full of love. She would look into people and search out the good in them, and there wasn’t a manipulative bone in her body. Sometimes I wish there had been a nasty streak or a thicker skin to cope with the things in her life that hurt her so much. But that was the essence of Dolly – everything went straight to her heart. One weekend she made me watch “Love Actually” with her three times, and at the part in the airport towards the end, she sobbed every time.  She went through life with an open mind and an open heart, and that’s the only way for anyone to absorb all the good this world has to offer. The downside of course is that she couldn’t filter out the bad; the pain. In order to embrace life the way Dolores did, she also had to have the courage to embrace the hurt that would invariably come to someone so wonderfully unguarded. I for one could not be prouder of the way Dolores lived her life.  She was my beautiful girl, and she will be with me every day for the rest of my life. I love you my girl.

I love you too, Mum.

I thought Mum hated Ralph because he worked in a supermarket deli, and wasn’t good enough for me. 

I didn’t leave the house for two weeks after Ralph died, except for the funeral. He always said that intersection was dangerous, and someone would end up getting killed. It ended up being him. I think I went a bit mad after that. I started drinking….a lot. I joined the TAFE mime class, I started an African drumming course – those bloody bongos are still sitting in my room – the body corporate banned me from playing them.  And then I joined the paintball club.  I’m not even brave enough to get a Brazilian wax but suddenly I was up for Skirmish. And we all know how that turned out. You know what? Maybe Mum was right…not only about the paintball thing being a stupid idea, I mean about me caring too much about what others thought all the time. So what if I wasn’t cool?  Being uncool isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. It works for Delta Goodrem. Maybe my fantasy eulogy needs a bit of a re-write.

Thankyou and welcome to the several dozen of you who have come today to Dolly’s funeral.  Dolores Reilly was born into a semi-dysfunctional family in the western suburbs.  She could sing all the words to Wham’s “Last Christmas” by the time she was fourteen, and even though she didn’t know who the first prime minister of Australia was, she did know the names of every single member of the partridge family and really hoped they’d ask that in heaven.  From an early age, Dolly had a desperate need to be liked, was obsessed with being popular and cared too much what others thought of her. She lived in America where she became a firm believer that everyone should have their heart broken and get a restraining order put on them at least once in their life. Dolly loved to dance, liked a drink or two and although her body wasn’t perfect, it could definitely be described as bootylicious.  She never remembered to floss her teeth, and was never brave enough to get a Brazilian coz she heard that once you do it you can never go back to the normal wax job. Dolly had a few unfulfilling relationships, never had a one night stand and was lucky enough to fall in love with a wonderful man named Ralph who told her she was the most beautiful creature in the universe. This sensitive, impressionable and fleshy inner thighed woman with the odd pimple and a bit of cellulite was apparently loved very much by her mother, sister and hyperactive nephew…and definitely did not die a nobody

Hey, here comes the cute guy…what’s he doing?  Oh, pallbearer.  Hey, easy!  Don’t drop it…me. 

Woah, bright light! Alright, I’m coming!  Again with the music! Hey, who’s that there waiting behind you, God? Uncle Colin?  Is that you?  Wow!  You’ve stacked it on!  Quite the buffet up there then I’m guessing. Hi Aunty Rose…Mrs Stephens…the old guy who lived in our street…why are you waiting for me?  I didn’t even know you…but hey, nice of you to make the effort. Jeff? Jeff Buckley? Nice to see you again. Well no, we’ve never met but I met you in a bar once in a fantasy sequence…forget it. You’ve been waiting?  For me? Really? Wow. I don’t know what to say.

Ralph?  Hi.  Oh my God I’ve missed you…sorry, Jeff?  Oh, he’s my boyfriend. I have to choose? Between you and Jeff? Oh, that’s a bit harsh, I just got here. Who’s in your group Jeff? Janis Joplin? David Bowie? Prince?  Kurt Cobain?……From Growing Pains! The cool group. You want me in the cool group?  Dolly Rielly? Are you sure you’ve got the right person? 

Who’s in your group, Ralph? Karen Carpenter. Right. Sorry Jeff but I have to say no. And I have to ask….why were you swimming in the Mississippi in that get-up?  Look at those heavy boots.  Really, what did you expect? Is that slinky for me Ralph?  Oh, sweet.  Huh? Oh, geriatric skydivers. I’ll tell you all about it…

Adapted from the one woman show, “Halo Dolly” first performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2005

(c) Fiona Harris 2016

The Good Life

13 September 2016

Back then I believed that people who had the misfortune of living that long should just crawl away and hide under a crocheted blanket in a rocking chair somewhere, leaving society to do it’s thing without the unsavoury distraction of having to look at the likes of them.

In hindsight I’m appalled at that eight-year-old version of me, thinking her ageist thoughts as she sat watching The Good Life with her grandparents all those years ago. (Clearly she had every right to point the finger at others and their meaningless existence when hers was jam-packed with action) Upon learning that the premise of this English sitcom involved Richard Brier’s character turning forty and deciding to abandon his old life and start afresh, the pint-sized, loudmouthed me proclaimed, “He’ll be dead soon anyway so why bother?” Looking back, I can’t imagine my fifty-something grandparents being too thrilled at such narrow-minded observations, but they somehow managed to refrain from whacking me across the head with a wooden spoon.

Having turned forty I’m happy to report that I still have all my teeth, get around without a motorized wheelchair and own neither a rocking chair nor a crocheted blanket. My 40th birthday also happened to coincide with me writing and performing in a show called “Livin’ the Dream”, in which I explored the notion of having, maintaining and achieving your dreams, and what it means to have dreams in the first place. This merging of momentous events forced me to look back over my shoulder at the last forty years and face a few home truths about myself – a surprisingly gratifying, if slightly masochistic, experience

First and foremost, I found myself scrutinising that hypercritical child lounging on her nana’s leather buttoned couch in Williamstown, stuffing her gob with Cadburys chocolate and Schweppes lemonade, loudly passing judgement on the lives of fictitious television characters. Did any of that gappy-toothed, mullet-headed little girl’s dreams come true?

Well…look…to be fair, some of them weren’t exactly what you’d call realistic. For example, developing the ability to fly and wanting desperately to live in The Faraway Tree (where no one ages…ever) were probably pushing it a bit. But I also wanted to be part of a blooper reel at the end of a TV show and I’m happy to say that I can tick that box.

No human being ever seemed to me to laugh as much as when he or she fluffed a line, tripped over a prop or made an entrance at the wrong moment. I needed to know how it felt to laugh like that, and as luck would have it, I found out eventually. Corpsing – i.e. cracking up laughing when you shouldn’t in the middle of a scene – is exactly like being a kid again. You’re back in school assembly and you know you’re not allowed to laugh because you’ll get in big trouble, but your friend just farted and no one else heard it except you and you feel like your head is going to explode if you don’t let it out. We all know that when you’re not supposed to laugh, laughter usually becomes completely unstoppable. However, when you’re working on a TV show, as hilarious as you and the rest of the cast may be finding yourselves, the truth is that you’re really pissing off the director and the entire crew, all of whom just want to get the job done, move on and go home.

The fact that I ended up working on TV shows at all was nothing short of a miracle. I grew up in a suburb of Melbourne where the most creative you got artistically was painting a banner ‘cos the local footy club made it into the Grand Final. Despite all attempts by family and friends to convert me to their sports-obsessed ways, I managed to resist their efforts and focused instead on  transforming myself into very loud, very annoying characters as often as possible. A favourite role of mine involved dramatically collapsing onto the kitchen floor at my mother’s feet and bellowing “What is this stench most foul that burns my poor nostrils?” upon smelling yet another silverside boiling away on the stovetop.

I continually hijacked my brothers, cousins and neighbours to be bit players and extras – you know, Guard #2, spooky-looking tree, castrated donkey, that sort of thing –in shows that I would perform from my long-suffering parents. As a parent myself now I’d hate this kid if she showed up on my doorstep, hijacked my child and then ordered me to watch her crappy little show…mind you, I could teach her a thing or two about how to create a homemade program, would blow her tiny little mind with my Powerpoint presentation skills and could choreograph some awesome moves to a Ray Stevens song.

I loved Ray’s songs because they always had a really cool, albeit somewhat bizarre, story in the lyrics. Being an avid reader since the age of four I wanted songs that had a narrative.  If I couldn’t act it out then I simply wasn’t interested. With Ray, I learnt about hairy apes that escaped from zoos, a midget named Bridget who could sing the blues, and then of course there was the masterpiece Gitarzan, which I could act out in my bedroom for hours at a time. Once I’d worked out a routine that would make Simon Cowell rise to his feet, I’d venture out to inflict my latest choreography on unsuspecting members of my family, who usually took that moment too long to make it off the couch and into the toilet the second they heard the knob of my bedroom door turning.

Unfortunately, the eight-year-old me possessed more than a few annoying traits that threatened to stand in the way of me achieving any of my dreams. Fort instance, my mild OCD meant that I was obsessed with doing things three times. On days when I was well and truly in the OCD zone, I was unable to stop myself from touching things three times, regardless of how close this habit came to me having my gappy teeth punched in. Light switches, blinds, doorknobs, tables – nothing was safe. I remember the look on my best friends’ face in church one morning when she noticed my fingers accidentally brush the earlobe of the woman sitting in the pew in front of us. Mouthing the word “No!” and shaking her head furiously at me did no good. It was too late. I was powerless to stop what was about to happen and my friend knew it. My hand took on a life of its own and we both watched in silent horror as my fingers stretched out and deftly tapped the woman’s earlobe twice before making a hasty withdrawal. As the woman’s head snapped around I made the international hand signal for “fly” and smiled as if to say “You can thank me after communion.”

So would that judgmental, obsessive-compulsive, bossy and overly dramatic eight-year-old kid be happy with any of the dreams achieved by this decrepit old woman sitting at her computer right now? Probably not. Has she at least learnt anything along the way? Yes. Mainly that having kids is a great excuse to keep making up routines to songs and inflicting them on unsuspecting family members at Christmas get-togethers.

 

 

 

The Commute

12 September 2016

To say it’s a different experience this time round would be a monumental understatement. I’m currently performing in this year’s comedy festival show with my husband of almost ten years. We now have two not-so-low-maintenance children, which meant creating a highly complex night-time babysitting roster on an excel spreadsheet the size of our kitchen wall. Add into the mix a full-time writing job and the 45 minute commute (each way) from Seaford to Carlton’s Trades Hall six nights a week for three and a half weeks, and the comedy festival is a proving to be a much more challenging and chaotic joyride…if it’s possible to have a joyride in a late 90’s model Subaru station wagon.

Yes, there has been quite a bit of driving in our lives of late, particularly since my husband and I made the decision to leave our inner-city bayside suburb for an outer bayside suburb two years ago. We may have relocated but our social and work engagements have not, which means that there are some days where one, or four of us, can easily spend upwards of three hours in the car. In fact, our kids are so used to the 45-minute drive into “town” that they can barely contain their amazement when a trip in the car to the local shopping centre maxes out at a five-minute journey. My husband and I have a strong (and probably completely groundless) opposition to having DVD players in the car, so our screen-deprived children are reduced to ye olde methods of passing the time, like singing, reading, playing eye spy and tormenting other. And us. This occasionally backfires on us when we are stuck in peak hour traffic with two over-tired and over-it kids who are literally clawing at the back windows for some kind of stimulation that doesn’t involve guessing the identity of random parts of the car’s interior.

Luckily, I’m capable and confident behind the wheel. As a twenty-something out-of-work actor I worked for eighteen months as a courtesy car driver, a job in which I mostly ferried rich folks around after they’d dropped their LX7 off at Brighton Mazda for an oil change. I also did an advanced driving course when I was about 19…I should probably mention that the reason I did the advanced driving course in the first place is because I was ordered to do so by a court of law after I drove my boyfriend’s panel van onto the wrong side of the road in Williamstown and wiped out six parked cars. Yeah, OK, so that whole “capable and confident” thing didn’t exactly happen overnight.

So, yes, the driving back and forth for our comedy festival run was always a daunting prospect and one that we tried to approach with as practical and realistic an attitude as we could muster.
As it turned out, I am blessed with a mother-in-law who I hereby ordain as the Patron Saint of Grannys. She announced a few weeks ago that she would give up her three-bedroom apartment for ten nights during the festival madness and move in with a friend, so that the four of us could take over her abode and make the whole experience a little easier all round. And what a revelation it has been! After making the 45-50 minute drive each way into “town” numerous times a week, the ease and wonder of walking out the front door of the Southbank complex and taking a leisurely stroll through the city to our show venue has been so painless that it has almost brought me to tears on a few occasions.
Don’t get me wrong, we love and adore our house in the beachy suburb of Seaford, but there’s no denying that the driving necessary for my husband and I to make a living and pay the mortgage has been, for the most part, a major pain in the arse. I say “for the most part” because in the two years we have been living there I have had more story ideas than ever before – and these brainwaves nearly all seem to take place in the car.

There’s something about getting behind the wheel, turning up the music and heading down the highway, away from the chaotic nature of life on your feet, that jolts my brain into some kind of awakening where ideas and the imagination are given permission to run rampant. I would say that at least 90% of everything I’ve conceived and written over the past couple of years has come to me whilst driving, including tv scripts, blogs and the show I am currently doing in the festival. So, you know, every cloud and all that.

But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the idea of moving back into the heart of the heaving city of Melbourne isn’t a completely tempting and appealing one. Think I might need to go for a 45-minute drive to clear my head and figure this one out once and for all…

 

First posted in 2012

Privacy Please!

7 September 2016

I can’t count the number of times I’ve done up shoelaces, refereed arguments or listened to my daughter read whilst I sit on the toilet with the door wide open. And suffering through a nasty bout of constipation certainly isn’t the intensely private experience it used to be. One example of this was a few weeks after my second daughter was born, when my body was still enjoying some of the after effects of pregnancy and childbirth. I’d been in the bathroom for over half an hour with no joy – getting more stressed by the second as I listened to my four-week-old screaming her head off in the next room – when I finally ran into her bedroom, pants around my ankles, brought her in and began breastfeeding her on the toilet. Not the most hygienic of situations but I wasn’t exactly in a position to whack on some rubber gloves and fumigate the bathroom.

Throughout this entire unwholesome episode my then four-year-old stood a few feet away pressuring me to hurry up so we could “finish making the cupcakes”. Delirious with pain and fatigue, I was tempted to ice the half-finished cakes in the bathroom, but unfortunately our vanity unit wasn’t wide enough to hold the tray, so I reluctantly abandoned the second innovative plan I’d had that day.

I regretted our decision to have Santa bring the four-year-old a camera for Xmas when after forty-five minutes, fed up with the “whining at mummy” game, the four-year-old retrieved it from her bedroom and started snapping off photos of a red-faced mummy breastfeeding, one arm outstretched and screaming “Give me that camera!”.

A few years down the track and a recent attempt at a peaceful five-minute shower ended up turning into a scene from Dog Day Afternoon. While I showered, my husband brushed his teeth, the seven-year-old was splayed on the floor reading her school reader at the top of her voice and the three-year-old was banging on the glass door shouting at me to “JUST GET OUT NOW! JUST GET OUT NOW!”

Amidst the chaos no one noticed that our four-year-old neighbour had let herself in the open back door and, attracted by the three-ring circus going on in the bathroom, entered the room to join in the fun. As our seven-year-old would later tell anyone who would listen, “Mummy snapped”, and snap she did.

“THAT’S IT! EVERYONE OUT!”

This was followed by language not usually recommended for children under the age of eighteen.

My hair was still wet when I stormed into the local hardware store and purchased three tiny silver latch hooks, which I promptly attached to the bathroom and toilet doors the second I arrived home. Apart from the frequent “What you doin’, Mummy? What you doin’, Mummy? What you doin’, Mummy?” from the three-year-old, the family tiptoed around me as I hammered those little suckers in, aware that this was a ritual that needed to be completed with no interference or objections from anyone. And sure, I probably should have used a screwdriver but Mummy needed to bang.

I don’t always use the locks because the masochistic in me quite enjoys the noisy chaos of a bathroom and toilet invasion every now and then. But at least when I am in need of a peaceful shower these days I can do so, safe in the knowledge that the lock is securely fastened.

And unless one of my children has a funnel web spider hanging out of her arm or has discovered a new brand of dark chocolate…God help anyone who disturbs me.

 

 

Addicted to cleaning

20 August 2016

I’ve also been known to crawl slowly along the length of my house with a dustpan and brush, on those occasions when the vacuum cleaner has blown up (from overuse I suspect) and experienced a disturbing thrill of excitement when I’ve successfully extracted a miniscule piece of cheesestick from between the kitchen floor tiles with my fingers.

I am not insane enough to believe people are reading this, shouting, Thank God someone has finally had the courage to say it out loud! Cleaning is FUN! I realise I am in the minority here and acknowledge that admitting you love cleaning is a bit like confessing that you love a pap smear.

However, I have to admit that I’m having a teency bit of trouble acknowledging the overwhelming evidence that my two daughters have inherited my anal tendencies. When I saw my three-year-old make Fifi the Flowertot wash the windows on her yellow plastic watering can house, I suspected that my influence had probably spread too far. I’m more than happy being a freak, and living openly as such, but I’m not proud to have inflicted this scrupulous condition on my offspring.

It’s true that I have made my kids clean up after themselves and help around the house since they were strong enough to pick up a dustbuster, but that is where the OCD stops. I usually manage to keep a lid on the screaming psycho inside my head when I walk in on a particularly messy game that usually involves a floor covered in glitter glue, cellophane, matchsticks, beads and plasticine. I have forced myself to walk away, get on with whatever I’m doing, and silently count down the minutes until I hear them moving on to the next thing before I appear before them like a deranged jack-in-the-box and order them back into the room to help me clean up the magic fairy glitter garden.

It hasn’t been easy keeping this obsessive habit under control when I share a house with children who are about as capable of not making mess as Eddie Maguire is at not making a dick of himself. But I have desperately tried not to let my anally retentive rubbish bin of nuffiness overflow. The last thing anyone wants is a Mommie Dearest screeching at the sight of a teddy bear lying askew on the bed, or using rubber gloves and a pair of tweezers to remove a dead fly caught in the track of a sliding window. Is this an illness? Absolutely. Do I wake up some days and hate myself? Who wouldn’t? Have I lain in bed some nights wishing I could channel Roseanne Arnold and never give a toss about coat hangers facing the wrong way in a wardrobe ever again? Umm…no, actually. I’d rather be a clean freak than her any day.

I’ve put up with the ridicule for years now, but nicknames like “Neatnick” and “Fastidious Fiona” and “Hygiene Harris” will not deter me. One group of friends visiting one day thought it would be fun to mess up my famously immaculate doona cover by jumping under it, rolling around, throwing my pillows on the floor before calling me in to witness my now not-so-perfect bed. They thought it was hilarious for approximately five seconds before I leapt onto the bed and rolled around on top of their legs until their screams of pain and the sound of their bones cracking was enough to stop me.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness – and I wont let the fact that I’m an atheist stop me from throwing that particular saying around like a handful of smarties whenever I get the opportunity.

The Whinge Chart

15 August 2016

This year in particular was an emotional first day back, only not for the usual reasons. Last week, as my husband and I walked towards the first-day-back ceremonies at the school, we understood that they were not tears of sadness welling in our eyes but ones of overwhelming happiness and relief. The high-five we gave each other, accompanied by an enthusiastic “Woo hoo” may have been going a tad overboard – especially seeing as my husband was still holding our daughter’s hand – but we found it almost impossible to restrain ourselves. You see, my daughter’s school broke up on the 7th of December. Yes, you read that right. The SEVENTH of December, which meant that she was on holidays for almost two months. Now, I don’t know about other people’s children, but my daughter is a girl who loves school. No, really. LOVES it. Like her mum, my daughter loves nothing better than structure, homework, teachers and a jam-packed curriculum, and when she is deprived of these things for an extended period of time it is simply no fun for anyone, least of all her parents.

The holidays were a busy time for our family. Christmas parties, family get-togethers and social gatherings galore kept us all on our toes and occupied for the majority of the festive season. Add to this the fact that, due to the nature of what my husband and I do for a living, there were no actual “holidays” per se for us. We continued working right through the school holiday period, which made it an interesting time trying to juggle gigs, writing deadlines, rehearsals and two children. But we managed and it was all fine for a while, but then there came a point when the unsystematic nature of the holidays became too much for my structure-loving seven-year-old, and that’s when the whingeing well and truly kicked in.

How to describe the sound of the whinge? Well, think of one of those musical instruments – I believe it’s called a slide whistle – that goes up and down, now add in some words like, “I don’t wanna…”, “Why do I have to…”, “Muuuum…”, “Daaaaad…”. And that will give you some idea of what we heard from morning to night. Our three-year-old obviously decided that this whole whingeing caper looked like fun and that she was going to join in. The effect of two voices whingeing in harmony was the final straw for my husband and I, and so the Whinge Chart was born. In actual fact, it came into being off the back of a four-day non-stop whingefest – now referred to as Whingeapalooza.

My husband’s first attempt at drafting said chart was ambitious – and possibly illegal – to say the least.

I was slightly concerned when I reviewed his first draft and came to the conclusion that the whingeing had obviously had such a detrimental impact on his brain that he had decided that military-type retribution was the only solution.

2 whinges in one day = no TV, no computer for a week
5 whinges in one day = no TV, no computer, no playdates for a week (even if the playdate was already organised)
7 whinges in one day = no TV, no computer, no playdates, no parties for two weeks
10 whinges in one day = cancellation of upcoming trip to Queensland.

My husband had clearly been pushed over the edge. Plus, no one asked him to engrave it on the kitchen wall with a cheese knife.

It took some convincing but eventually he agreed to tone down the severity of the consequences and a new draft was created.

I’m happy to report that the Whinge Chart is working a treat in our household. Since going up on our kitchen blackboard, the amount of whingeing has been drastically reduced, and the incessant twitching vein in the corner of my right eye has finally stopped. I always knew it would be a winner – especially considering that our seven-year-old is the kind of kid who gets more excited about a roster than she does about a bowl of ice-cream. A schedule of duties and after school activities, including piano practice, online maths exercises and writing in her journal, is regularly updated on our blackboard and appeals greatly to my daughter’s sense of order and routine.

Yep, she loves a good chart.

A few months ago I’d written out an updated roster and put it up on the board and that night, putting my daughter to bed, she gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “Mum, I love the roster.”

For anyone out there who is completely outraged by the Whinge Chart and feels it is “negative reinforcement” or “an inappropriate disciplinary action”, it might comfort you, and the Supernanny, to know that we also have a reward system in place.

But then again, if you seriously think that then you’ve clearly never spent longer than three minutes in the company of a whingeing child, and have no idea about the damage it can do to your state of mind. Take it from one who has been to the dark side and back again – the Whinge Chart rocks.

 

First posted in 2012

Calling all Non-Girly girls

11 August 2016

This is not to say that I don’t shower, blow dry my hair or take pride in my appearance, but I resent being thrown into the “I have XX chromosomes therefore I love shopping, makeup and shoes” basket. You know those ads where the hapless male loiters impatiently outside the women’s dressing rooms while his partner tries on every outfit in the shop?  That’s me – the guy that is.  Do my best friend’s hips look too “hippy” in those jeans?  Does the colour of that top clash with her purple strappy shoes?  I wouldn’t have the foggiest. Do I give a shit? No, I don’t. Just buy the bloody thing and let’s get the hell out of here so I can go and find that new Rufus Wainwright DVD I saw in Borders last week.

Shoe shopping is an activity that scares and depresses me.  There are just too many different kinds of shoes out there, which for the non-girly girl like me makes any kind of potential purchase a complete nightmare. I’m fairly certain my shoe phobia stems from an experience I had in high school, when my mother forced me to wear brown block platform school shoes that stood ten inches off the ground.  Due to the conspicuous, and total geek nature of said shoes, it wasn’t long before the cool elite (a.k.a. the bitchy group) at my girls’ school christened them the “Blue bus” shoes.  For those who are not as old as me, the blue bus was a service in our area of the western suburbs that picked up intellectually disabled kids. It didn’t help the situation any when my mother marched down to the school office after I confessed to her that I desperately needed new shoes because I was being picked on.  Unfortunately for the girls – and me – the teachers and nuns at my catholic girls’ college had very strict views on anyone making fun of those of the “blue bus” kind. Every girl was immediately hauled into the office and given a severe lecture and detention, consequences that had an incredibly positive impact on my popularity status. However, after all of that my mother still refused to buy me a new pair of shoes until the following year, and the internal scarring I carry from this tragic shoe-related event has clearly rendered me completely disinterested in the whole shoe shopping experience.

Maybe my non-girly nature further developed as a result of me spending my formative teenage years in a long-term relationship. When one finds themselves in an eight-year relationship from the age of fifteen, they quickly fall into a comfortable co-existence usually only found in couples married for fifty years. Making an effort to look funky and fashionable wasn’t really a priority when the boyfriend you were supposed to look good for thought your acid wash jeans and farmer’s shirt were akin to a whimsical Alannah Hill number. My next relationship was with an Irishman whose idea of dressing up for a date was wearing something Guinness would easily wash out of. There’s really no point dressing up and making an effort for a guy who’s drunk eighteen hours a day and only sees you through blurred vision.

So to all you fellow non-girly girls I say be proud that you’ve never bought a fashion magazine, never attended Oaks day and couldn’t give a rats about who won the new L’Oreal contract. These days I am grateful to the ghosts of my past for saving me thousands of dollars on shoes and clothes. Sure, I have probably spent that much on books, music and stationery instead, but at least no one ever got ingrown toenails from spending all day immersing themselves in a good book!

 

First posted in 2010

I’ve Done All the Dumb Things

10 August 2016

Mrs Lindsay, my beloved English and History teacher, was a complete legend in my mind and one of the people responsible for me having the courage to pursue a career in the arts. So, imagine how thrilled I was when Mrs. Lindsay sought me out after the show, crushed me in a gigantic hug and told me how proud she was. We quickly arranged to meet in the staff room for coffee and a long overdue catch up on old times.

Entering the staff room a bit later I looked around nervously, expecting a heavy hand to come down on my shoulder at any moment and a voice to bellow in my ear, “Harris, what do you think you’re doing in here! Get back to class!” but no such reproach came and I was free to roam the hallowed corridors of the infamous teacher’s quarters, just as if I were a real adult and everything!

As soon as Mrs. Lindsay and I had settled into the hard grey plastic chairs at a long rectangular table littered with NW magazines, dirty coffee mugs and stale teddy bear biscuits, we began catching up on what each other had been doing for the past twenty odd years. Our subsequent trip down memory lane started out pleasant enough, but at a certain point Mrs. Lindsay dropped a little bombshell on me that made me regret ever having been naive enough to think that I’d left my schoolgirl persona behind me forever. I was telling her how much I used to enjoy her habit of going off on tangents, telling us funny stories about her childhood, in the middle of a lesson on The Sumerians, when Mrs. Lindsay suddenly laughed, saying, “I’ll always remember you mixing up a metaphorical dog with Timmy the dog from The Famous Five.”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “That was pretty stupid wasn’t it?”

I paused and waited for her inevitable reassurance that it was no dumber than thousands of other comments from students she’d taught over her thirty or so years in the business, but sadly for me, it was not to come.

“Yes,” she nodded thoughtfully, “it was weird. You were always bright academically but then you’d come out with some of the dumbest comments I’d ever heard at times.”

Oh, right. Well, Mrs. Lindsay, you stunk like a frigging ashtray dipped in B.O. at times, so how about them apples!

Of course I didn’t say that, just nodded and laughed along. It wasn’t until I was driving home that it hit me. She was right! The more I thought about her comment, the more examples I managed to come up with of my knack for opening my mouth and letting words escape before I could stop them. My biggest clue that this was probably a widely held opinion should really have been the quote under my year 12 Yearbook, which simply read, “I don’t understand.”

Please, let me explain.

Like – I would assume – most students, there were times over the course of twleve years of schooling when something explained by a teacher, or a dirty joke relayed by a friend at recess, might not have been fully comprehended by those present. The difference between most of those kids and myself was that I would frown and pipe up with a loud, “I don’t understand”, desperate to be enlightened instantly, whereas the majority of my peers would simply think those words, vowing to find out the meaning later at a less public and humiliating time.

It’s as if there’s always been this little person waaaaaay back in the corner of my brain jumping up and down, waving their arms around screaming “Don’t say what you’re about to say! Just stop talking! It’s not a good move, trust me!” and there’s another, bigger little person right at the front near my mouth that simply looks back over their shoulder, roll their eyes and goes ahead anyway. Not dissimilar to something you might do when you’re at a party, someone is being loud and obnoxious and you look back at them then turn to your mate and say “Oh, ignore them, they’re just showing off”.

Once I arrived home and began to obsess over (my less beloved now) Mrs. Lindsay’s offhand remark, I started adding up my other, similar verbal faux pas over the years:

  1. Ten-years-old, walking with my best friend and her younger sister, when two older girls block our way on the footpath and begin calling us every name under the sun. My friends put their heads down and try to keep up the pace to get to their house, which is only a few metres away at this point, but I stop, turn to the bullies and ask, “Why are you like this? Is there something wrong in your life?” I genuinely want to know because it completely baffles me as to why these girls would begin harassing complete strangers with no provocation. They, however, are not particularly impressed by my obviously advanced psychological skills at such a young age, choosing instead to punch me square in the face.
  2. When it comes to sex, there is a whole world of questions I should have kept to myself. The first and most notable is the day a boy on a bike propositions me as he rides past, and I immediately go home to my mother and ask, “What’s a root?” I am twelve and should probably know better.
  3. When I am about fifteen, a group of my friends are discussing the Pope (Who knows why – we certainly aren’t a religious lot by any stretch of the imagination) when I casually remark that I saw him on TV arriving somewhere and falling over as soon as he got off the plane. After the laughter subsides I am informed, between snorts, that part of the Pope’s ritual upon arrival in a new country is to kiss the ground.
  4. When my fifteen-year-old boyfriend and his best mate make some suggestive comments to my best friend and I about “grabbing some Frenchies for us to use when we got home”, I comment, with a furrowed brow, “but I don’t speak French.”

Unfortunately my slow-wittedness hasn’t always been limited to what comes out of my mouth. There have also been quite a few questionable actions on my behalf that have gotten me into trouble over the years. Some of these include, in quick succession:

  • Shaving my toes when I was a teenager – subsequently having to continue the habit on a regular basis ever since
  • Discovering that the engine of my Datsun 120Y is on fire and driving it straight into a petrol station and pulling up right next to a petrol bowser
  • Spending a whole year eating less than appetising salad sandwiches at work before my housemate informs me that I have been making them with cabbage instead of lettuce
  • Wanting a late night snack and heating up some leftover fried rice in the oven – in it’s plastic container
  • Pulling a tampon out of my handbag instead of a cigarette in front of my brand new boyfriend’s gang of mates
  • Asking my husband if it’s possible to make payments on my credit card online
  • Crashing my boyfriend’s cherished panel van into six parked cars on the opposite side of the road when I have only had my license for three weeks.

I’d like to say that the days of dumb-arse comments and questions are mostly behind me, but no.

My husband and I were flicking around Foxtel’s movie channels the other night and came across Avatar. It was about an hour into the film and we’d seen it at the movies ages ago, but I was having a bit of trouble remembering some of the details. Ignoring the little voice shouting at the back of my head, I turned to my husband and asked, “Is this supposed to be a different planet that they’re on?” only to have him turn, stare at me and turn away with a slow shake of the head. I think it’s fairly safe to say that the poor man has given up by now.

All that I can hope for is his memories of my numerous faux pas’ fading into oblivion as the years go by. The last thing I need in my old age is a husband with a memory as sharp as that self-satisfied old bat, Mrs. Lindsay.

 

When Christmas Makes Your Kids Smarter Than You

9 August 2016

I’m not complaining. I love Christmas and all of the insanity that goes along with it – apart from cheesy Christmas television ads, the evil commercialism rife in major shopping centres and witnessing parents forcing their screaming children to sit on a hairy stranger’s knee.

In fact, I try my hardest to embrace the chaotic nature of the silly season every year, although, this year I think the insanity may finally have taken its toll.

I was faced with this possibility the week before Christmas when my three-year-old and I set out on yet another rushed expedition to the shops to buy supplies for yet another Christmas function that afternoon. With the shopping done we hurried back to the car, laden down with bags and groceries, where I groped around in my handbag until I found my car immobilizer.  With one bag positioned precariously between my hip and the car door, I pressed the button and went to pull the door open. It remained locked. I pressed it again. Nothing. And again. Still nothing. Now I was getting pissed off, and a sore hip. Our immobilizer had been known to play up in the past but this was NOT the greatest timing in the world. My other daughter was due to be dropped back to our house from a sleepover in the next twenty minutes, my husband was over forty minutes away at a rehearsal and my three-year-old was holding herself and whispering “toilet” over and over. Stupid thing, I thought to myself as I dropped the bags and began pressing the button over and over like some kind of possessed madwoman. Clearly I was putting a fair amount of force into my rage-induced pressing, as the immobilizer suddenly shot off the keyring and skidded to a stop under the car. Great! Now I’d really broken the stupid thing!

After crawling under the car and retrieving the immobilizer I had no choice but to call the RACV. Unfortunately our membership keyring was on the set of keys currently with my husband, so I rang him, whilst shushing my daughter who was now hopping up and down holding herself and saying over and over, “Mummy I need my car seat!”

“Yes, Abbie, I know! I need my car seat too but we can’t get in!”

My husband answered the phone and said he’d text through the membership details asap. I hung up and called my mother-in-law to tell her I might be a bit late back to the house when she arrived with m eldest daughter, then rang the RACV. Throughout these phonecalls I was trying my best to placate Abbie, who was still insisting over and over that she “needed her car seat!” Jesus Christ, kid. Give me a bloody break here! I thought as I listened to the RACV sweet as honey voice over tell me that all my needs would be met just as soon as the next operator was free. Really? Will you pay off my house, send me on a trip to Vanuatu and buy me a new car and immobilizer!

As the RACV woman’s voice droned on and on in my ear, I looked through the car window and noticed a glass in the glass holder that looked completely unfamiliar. I don’t remember buying that glass, let alone drinking out of it…and I don’t buy magazines, so whose NW is that on the front seat…?

Oh shit. Not my car.

I looked down at Abbie, it now dawning on me that she’d known all along after failing to see her beloved car seat through the car window. It’s a defining moment as a parent when you realise that your three-year-old is more observant/smarter than you.

Looking around to make sure no one else had witnessed my monumental stupidity, I quickly ushered Abbie away from the imposter Subaru and over to our actual Subaru, which was only four cars away. As I strapped a now happy, but still busting, Abbie into her seat, I comforted myself with the thought that it made perfect sense for her to notice such a glaring mistake and for me not to. I mean, after all, at this time of year adults’ focus is split in fifty different directions – buy presents, buy food, buy alcohol, get decorations, buy tree, buy alcohol, attend parties, make kids concert costume, meet writing deadline, buy alcohol… A kid’s focus is fairly singular – get presents. It’s little wonder that she noticed something as obvious as the fact that her car seat was missing and I failed to notice that every time I pressed the button a car alarm that sounded remarkably like mine was going on and off somewhere in the vicinity.

There may also have been a further incident later that week when I took Abbie off to her regular Tuesday afternoon kindergarten session only to discover no kids from her group there, the furniture all pushed into the middle of the room and the two teachers and a couple of mums cleaning out the kitchen. Yep. They’d finished the week before…after that end of Kindergarten year Christmas concert I’d attended when I’d said goodbye to everyone and told them I’d see them next year. I think it’s safe to assume that I’ll be the mum most mocked for the first few weeks of February.

Anyway, I’ve decided to put all of those embarrassing moments behind me and concentrate on the year ahead. May it be a year where I manage to juggle twenty things all at once without making a total dick of myself…and may my kids dumb themselves down just enough to make me feel a little bit better about myself by next Christmas.

 

First published in 2011

Singlets and Skivvies

8 August 2016

There’s a story that perfectly encapsulates the kind of mum Lyn Harris is. One night, late last year, whilst watching one of the plethora of feel-good, and nauseatingly cheesy, American-movies-with-a-message on offer on Foxtel, my mum sighed and confessed how desperately she’d love a white Christmas.

“You’re kiddin’ aren’t ya?” Dad replied with a snort. “You’d never be able to be away from the kids at that time of year.”

He was absolutely right, and Mum knew it. My parents have visited the northern hemisphere a number of times over the years, but never during December. The idea of being apart from their three children, their children’s spouses and six beloved grandchildren at Christmas is unthinkable to them both, but especially for Mum. To her, family is, and always has been, her first priority.

From the moment Lynette Rielly married my father – just over forty-six years ago on a 43-degree day in their local Williamstown parish – she swore to herself that if she was lucky enough to start the family she’d always longed for that she would devote herself entirely to them until the day she died and, so far, so good. Mum will drop everything in a heartbeat if and when any of us need her. Family always comes first. Her own childhood was less than idyllic, and so once she had a clan of her own she made it her mission to create a close-knit, traditional and loving family environment.

Mum was an only child who fantasised about having siblings to play with, fight with and keep her company. She moved around a lot as a kid and hated it. Since getting married, my parents have moved three times in forty-six years, and even that is two too many times as far as Mum is concerned. In direct contrast, my life has been almost the polar opposite of Mum’s in that I spent my entire childhood in the same house (for which I am incredibly grateful) but as an adult have moved no less than twenty times and have loved the nomadic lifestyle. Mum has never understood my inclination for living in different houses, completely understandable considering that her own memories of moving are not happy ones.

Mum was born in Carlton in 1947, and over the next eight years lived in numerous suburbs both here and interstate, including Newport, Balmain, Box Hill and Ascot Vale. She was in grade three when her family moved to Colac and ended up staying there until she was sixteen. For the first time in her life, Mum had the opportunity to make friends and, more importantly, to keep them for longer than a few months. Sleepovers at friends’ houses, Youth Club, Roller Skating on Friday nights and Marching Girls kept Mum busy and happy during that time. Yes…that’s right. Marching Girls. Mum was never one to run with the racy crowd, preferring instead to spend her leisure time attending the local youth group or marching around an oval with a baton in her hand.

When Mum was growing up, my nana insisted on her wearing a singlet at all times. Once puberty struck and Mum began wearing a bra, Nana confidently informed her daughter that the bra was to be worn over the singlet. Just take a moment and let that visual form in your mind’s eye for a moment. Bra over singlet. Yes indeedy. It wasn’t until some of Mum’s fellow Marching Girls (through their tears of laughter) enlightened my mum one night in the change rooms that this bold fashion statement of hers was completely unacceptable, and certainly uncomfortable. To this day Mum has never worn another singlet.

However, this experience didn’t seem to deter my mum from forcing her own daughter to wear singlets many years later. In fact, so paranoid was my mum about me “getting a chill through my chest” that she regularly made me wear a singlet under a t-shirt under a skivvy under a hand-knitted jumper under a jacket…in November. I remember a doctor’s appointment during which our poor GP had to work his way through layer upon layer of cotton and polyester and wool. He developed a look on his face like a small child trapped in a maze, and when he finally reached skin, he collapsed into his chair, exhausted , and exclaimed, “Good lord, I’ve never seen a child wearing so many layers in my life!” And that was the end of the appointment. He didn’t get to do any sort of examination because it had taken half an hour to get me undressed. As a result, I have refused to wear skivvies or singlets in my adult life; most definitely not simultaneously. And, quite frankly, I find it astonishing that anyone as mentally scarred as my mother is by an enforced-singlet-wearing experience would inflict the same abuse on her own daughter.

When Mum was sixteen, her parents were on the move again (my grandfather was a cook in the army) and this time they went back to the western suburbs, choosing to settle in Williamstown this time, and it was here that the then sixteen-year-old first laid eyes on my dad. My grandparents hostility towards each other at home meant that Mum had made up her mind to find a man she loved and escape as soon as possible. Enter Cyril (Spike) Harris; a knight in shining too-short footy shorts and a Newport Football Club jumper who proceeded to sweep this shy, timid marching girl off her feet and into his 1952 FX Holden. Spike was everything her own father wasn’t – funny, tolerant, kind, and a friend to everyone. He was also a chain-smoking, binge-drinking, good old Aussie larrikin. Spike was famous around Williamstown for his regular acts of lunacy, one memorable highlight involved drinking a bottle of Black Tulip while out with his mates in the city one night, then spewing his guts out the open door of the train on the way home and leaving a trail of vomit two carriages long down the side of the Willy train. But to a girl like Lyn Harris, he probably seemed like a young Errol Flynn.

After all, this is the woman who has never smoked a cigarette, done an illegal drug or been drunk. Not once. IN HER LIFE. In fact, the only alcohol that has ever passed Lyn Harris’ lips was when she took a sip of champagne at her wedding – it was a wild and crazy moment resulting in a momentary lapse in judgement – and another time a few years ago when a bunch of her and Dad’s friends tricked Mum into drinking an alcoholic beverage that they promised her was “just fruit juice”. It was Mum who helped (i.e. forced) Dad to quit smoking, and Dad himself credits Mum as “the woman who saved me from what would have undoubtedly become a life of crime”.

Years later it must have been a disturbing sense of deja vu for Mum, finding herself parenting a teenage girl who seemed quite keen to spend her weekends drinking cask wine, smoking and pashing boys. Usually in that order of priority. As with most normal teenagers, I too went through a rebellious phase (like MOST NORMAL TEENAGERS, MUM). I lied to my parents (GASP!), stayed at my boyfriend’s place when I said I was staying at my friend’s place (SHOCK!) and indulged in underage drinking and smoking endless packs of Alpine Lights with my gang of mates at Williamstown’s Digman Reserve (HORROR!!!). Seeing as this type of behaviour from a girl – let alone her girl – was as alien to my mother as deodorant is to taxi drivers, those years were no fun for either of us.

When Mum gave birth to me she says it was the happiest moment of her life up to that point. All she had every wanted since she was a kid herself was to have her own little baby. Unfortunately my behaviour wasn’t on par with the silent, docile dolls of Mum’s childhood. I didn’t sleep much, had chronic colic and was constantly throwing up on anyone who held me for longer than three seconds. It got to the stage where people, if they did dare take “Linda Blair” for a cuddle, would hold me at arms length like Wile-E-Coyote holding a lit stick of dynamite. But Mum still considered me the “light of her life” and doted on me accordingly.

When I think about my childhood there is never a time when I can remember my mum not being there. She was there every morning when I woke up, every afternoon when I got home from school, she worked in the school tuck shop, watched every game of netball I played and tucked me into bed every night. I know now how incredibly lucky I was to grow up with that kind of consistent love and attention in my young life. I never doubted for one second that my mum would be there for me – keeping me safe and taking care of me when I needed her. I truly believe that, for a young child, that has to be as good as it gets.

When I was about six, my dad took my brother and me to a bush dance with a bunch of their grown-up friends one Saturday night. I have no idea where Mum was but she must have had something else on that night (how dare she!) and didn’t come to the dance with us. After a few hours Dad was having a great time with his mates, my brother was asleep in the corner of the room and I was getting tired and grumpy. All I can remember is being on the verge of tears and staring at the door thinking, “Where’s Mum? She should be here. I want Mum.” A bit later I was just starting to nod off on Dad’s knee when I spotted my mum standing in the doorway talking to some people. Suddenly filled with renewed energy I leapt off Dad’s knee, ran to Mum and gave her a huge hug, ecstatic to see her. For the rest of the night I danced around that room, full of joy because I was back in Mum’s orbit and all was right with the world once more.

I can’t honestly say that Mum and I have ever had much in common. Like most women of my generation, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to my career. Constantly striving to achieve an ever-growing to-do list on a daily, monthly and yearly basis, and feeling this overwhelming need to prove something to myself, and to the world at large. Mum’s family is her career. And she is one hell of a career woman on that front. The majority of her to-do lists and anxieties and tasks revolve around us: her family. Are we okay? Are we happy? Are we healthy? Are we safe? Do we need help? Are our kids okay? Do we need help with the kids? Is anyone getting a chill? There are spare skivvies in the third drawer.

Mum also manages to lead a full and rich life outside of her career. She has a busy social life, lots of friends and she worked as a receptionist for fifteen years at the Williamstown Medical Centre once we were all in school. For the past ten years she has been volunteering weekly at Vision Australia, looking after elderly blind people who love and adore her. She also helps out with her grandchildren on a weekly basis too, in a way that is so generous and selfless, it boggles the mind and warms the heart.

When I gave birth to my first daughter it was the most amazing and wonderful moment of my life, until two days later when she was taken away to the special care nursery for her jaundice. Looking back now, I know that this was not a big deal in the slightest, but as it coincided with my “Day Four Blues”, you would have thought that the maternity ward was being overrun by flesh-eating, right-wing zombies. I sobbed like I’ve never sobbed before. No one could calm me. As much as my poor husband, and the exasperated midwives, tried, I just could not stop crying. After a couple of hours of non-stop howling, my Mum arrived. She shut the curtains, sat beside me, held my hand and stroked my head like she must have done when I was a baby myself. Eventually I went from full scale weeping to muffled sobs until I finally drifted off into a restless sleep. Mum and I have had our fair share of not seeing eye to eye – what mother and daughter haven’t – but despite our myriad differences, its times like those that reinforce for me how much I love her and how even fully grown women with their own babies still need some damn good mothering every now and then.

So Dad was spot on about Mum not being able to be away from her family at Christmas time. Mum came up with a plan that she presented to us on Christmas day last year. To our utter amazement and jaw-dropping shock, Mum and Dad announced that they would be taking all of us to Vancouver for Christmas the following year…and that they would be paying for all of us to go. A hullabaloo of the usual kind in our family followed this statement. “Don’t be ridiculous…We will pay our own way…that’s way too generous… Awesome, thanks, bring it on!” (that last quote came from the two writer/actors in the family – my husband and I -who couldn’t possibly afford to take their own family overseas for Christmas and were more than happy to graciously accept such an amazing offer) but Mum and Dad stayed firm and insisted that this was their treat to us.

I was remarkably lucky to be brought into this world by a woman who has made raising her family the number one priority in her life. And just as I know that Mum will always be there for me when I need her, the same is true for me, and Mother’s Day is as good a time as any to tell her just how much I appreciate everything she’s done for me. So happy Mother’s Day, Mum! I love you.
And you know what? Seeing as we’ll be spending Christmas in a Canadian winter, maybe I’ll pack a few extra skivvies and singlets for the kids.

 

First posted in 2013

The List

6 August 2016

What immediately sprang to mind of course were those tangible tools that I can’t possibly fathom writing without. These include my numerous lined notebooks, my beloved Macbook Air and my equally beloved children, who have taught me the true meaning of the words “time management”. Gone are the endless free hours spent lolling around thinking about how much I would like to write, and how I would surely get around to doing it one day. These days, when I know I have certain window between drop off and pick up, I am alert and upright at the computer, typing like a mad thing. So yes, my children have a lot to answer for when it comes to teaching me the joy of shouting, “In your face, procrastination!” and forcing me to just get on with it.

But finally I’ve had to acknowledge that the one tool responsible for everything I write is the humble list.

I am a list-maker and list-lover from way back. Even in those time-rich pre-kids days of old, the lists were my constant companions. They were always there – my exposed girders to hold on to during the mini-tornadoes of life. They have stared out at me from the inside of my diary, the whiteboard, the kitchen noticeboard, the post-it note on the front of my computer and the A4 page typed out and Blu-Tacked to the wall.

Quite simply, without my multiple lists I would feel as if I had no real purpose in life… okay, that may be going a tad far…but I certainly wouldn’t have met the countless deadlines that have filled my calendars over the years.

In other words, I am a self-confessed girly swot…and proud of it. And like all good girly swots there is nothing more satisfying and constructive for me than having a system in place. Plans, goal charts, mind maps, pie charts, I’ve been there and embraced them all. However, the simple technique of writing a list and adhering to it is what succeeds in getting me off my backside and writing every time. I love nothing better than a system; a tried and true methodology of working that appeals to the anally retentive creature inside of me who constantly rebels against this insanely unstable lifestyle I have chosen. So, to appease my inner-Girl Guide I have learnt how to structure at least the beginning stages of my creative endeavours.

It all starts with the list. Everything from the order of projects to tackle from one week to the next, to lists of characters and story ideas. It is a beautiful thing watching the list progressively grow, expand and mutate into whatever script, novel, article or kids book I happen to be working on. In my opinion, the act of creating a list is an organic process that requires primitive tools of pen and paper, and the thought of typing out a first draft of a list is enough to make my inner-Girl Guide start to pull frantically at her neckerchief. The list is my lord and master and I, its humble and loyal subject. Just a quick glance at a list in my diary or on my whiteboard can prevent a stream of consciousness that usually begins with the thought, “What’s the point?” and can stop a full-blown panic attack in its tracks. And when I am actually engrossed in the act of making, or updating, a list, a happier and more content being on this earth would be hard to find.

My husband discovered early on in our relationship just how integral the list is to my overall well-being and sense of contentment, and both my daughters are growing into keen list-makers themselves these days. My eldest has definitely inherited the list-obsessive gene and the obvious joy it gives her to rush for pen and paper to jot down a list has often brought a tear to my eye.

Worshipping and obeying the writing-related list is what allows me to achieve the many steps that I set for myself on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. Think of it like my very own imaginary editor who is constantly badgering me to make that deadline or “You are out on your arse, Harris!” (Yes, that is actually how she speaks to me in my tiny, warped mind – to be honest; she’s a bit of a cow) At least 80% of the content in said lists relate to writing projects that I want to work on or am currently working on. The other 20% include the usual shopping lists, or fascinating instructions to myself like, paint the bathroom, try to use cookbooks and cancel gym membership.

Of course I’m aware that this probably isn’t a methodology that appeals to the many free-spirited and fly-by-the-seat of your pants writers out there. This theory is proven by the large percentage of extremely productive and talented pool of writers in the world, unencumbered by the tedious shackles of structure and procedure.

Again, I would like to remind you that I am a massive girly-swot nerd (see above – paragraph two, line two) and that you have every right to find my regimented approach to creative writing deplorable.

But it works✓
For me✓
The end.✓

The Enid Condition

5 August 2016

…a day when the kids dress up as their favourite book characters then march through the school grounds in front of beaming parents, all of whom are furiously snapping off photos with a plethora of raised smartphones and digital cameras.

A few years ago, my eldest daughter was working her way through my ancient collection of Enid Blyton books that had been shelved in our back room for many years and decided she wanted to dress as the naughty doll, Amelia Jane for book parade day. Initially I tried to suggest some other more contemporary characters like Hermoine Granger or Clarice Bean, but she stuck to her guns; the archaic Amelia Jane it was. I was secretly a little bit thrilled to be honest, and a slightly jealous too. The latter because I have a long-held and deeply unhealthy obsession with Enid Blyton and never had a chance to dress up as one of her characters when I was in school. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, Blyton was one of the most successful children’s storytellers of all time. During her career she wrote over eight-hundred books and created some of the most famous and much-loved stories and characters of all time, including The Famous Five, Noddy and Big Ears, The Faraway Tree, the Wishing Chair and the Naughtiest Girl in the School.

As Enid’s magical tales and stories quickly faded into the background for most children as they reached middle adolescence, I, sadly, just couldn’t let them go. Instead, those “beastly” girls of Malory Towers and St. Clare’s, with their midnight feasts and robust lacrosse matches, accompanied me well into middle adolescence. As if this wasn’t tragic enough, I kicked off my official entry to adulthood with an Enid-Blyton-themed 21st birthday. To my amazement, ninety-nine per cent of the party guests dressed up, and my boyfriend’s sparse, suburban Williamstown backyard was gradually transformed into a magical, if somewhat frightening, spectacle. By 9pm it was  a colourful array of pixies, Moonfaces, Noddys and black-faced golliwogs (The golliwogs were later ejected from the party on grounds of their presence making the more politically correct guests in the group uncomfortable).

It took me a lot longer than most kids to discover the gigantic treasure trove of children’s literature out in the big wide world, the majority of them written by much more expressive and discerning writers than my beloved Ms. Blyton. However, once I was introduced to the likes of Frances Hodgson Burnett, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis and Charles Kingsley’s “The Water Babies”, Ms. Blyton’s books quickly began gathering dust on my bookshelves. I even felt mildly ashamed of my love for Blyton’s simplistic and politically incorrect writing for all those years.

Apparently I had good reason to feel ashamed. The tone and content of Blyton’s books have been under the microscope of the literary world for many years, and more and more critics continue to turn their noses up at her moralistic writing to this day, not to mention at the blatantly racist references littered throughout her work. Sure, phrases like “black as a nigger with soot” (“Five Go off to Camp”)  might raise the odd eyebrow these days, as might the story of The Little Black Doll who really wanted to be pink. However, as Enid said herself – “I’m not interested in the views of critics aged over 12”.

You tell ‘em Enid.

Critics have also tended to bang on about Blyton’s sexist depiction of boys and girls. “Five on a Hike Together” is often presented as evidence when putting the sexism case forward, as a quote from this book has Julian telling George that:

“You may look like a boy and behave like a boy, but you’re a girl all the same. And like it or not, girls have got to be taken care of.”

It’s only now, years later, as I grapple with the daily frustrations associated with writing children’s books myself that I look back on Ms. Blyton’s impressive body of work in silent awe. Say what you will about the didactic nature of her stories, the simplistic use of language or the racist and sexist undertones, this woman had talent, and prolificacy by the truckload. I also owe her the great debt of being the first person to ignite my long-held passion for books and reading.

Over the years, the sight of my daughters with one of my childhood, slightly worse-for-wear, Enid Blyton books in their hands, curled up on their beds or in the corner of the couch, entranced by whatever magical world the characters are inhabiting, is one that never ceases to give me a slight buzz. Amelia Jane, The Wishing Chair and Mr. Pink-Whistle all seem to be making a welcome comeback in my family, but I’m determined to expose my children to a much wider world of reading than I was at their age, so a lot of other children’s authors fill our shelves and are picked out just as often.

But surely there’s no harm in a letting a little skerrick of The Enid Condition back into my life again; back to a time when there was no nutritional information on my sugar-soaked breakfast cereal, when Tweenies weren’t a core demographic and when a gnome and his best friend could sleep in the same bed in Toyland without being judged by dried-up old critics who have nothing better to do with their time than pick apart children’s books for hidden darker messages.

However, none of this was on my mind as I stood on the sidelines at my daughter’s school a few years ago, clapping proudly. I remember one of the mothers leaning over and saying, “Finn looks so cute. Who is she?”

“Amelia Jane.” Her puzzled expression prompted me to add, “Enid Blyton?”

“Oh, right. Weren’t her books banned?”

It seemed easier, and less embarrassing for my kid, to nod politely and end the conversation there rather than scream into this woman’s face, “Really?! That’s all you remember about her? That a minor percentage of the huge number of books she wrote in her lifetime were banned!”

This is how the diehard fans of Michael Jackson’s music must feel when the pop star is known foremost for kiddie-fiddling rather than the brilliance of his days in The Jackson 5 or Thriller, or how Martha Stewart devotees must feel when she is remembered for a jail term instead of her cookbooks, or how Kyle Sandilands fans…oh…wait…no, forget it.

Despite this minor distraction, I felt a swell of pride watching my daughter parade around the school with her curly black wig and tartan checked pinafore, as well as a quiet satisfaction that we are doing our tiny part in making sure the EB legend lives on.

A Girl is Never Too Old to Need her Dad

4 August 2016

He would happily spend hour upon hour watching sport (any kind – it really doesn’t matter if it’s football or ping pong) on the box, whereas I would rather flick rubber bands into my eyeballs than watch five minutes of the stuff.

Dad has kept scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings of his beloved Melbourne Football Club for the past fifty years and I keep clippings on inspirational authors and screenwriters. He is as appalled by my lack of knowledge and interest in who last year’s top goal kicker for Melbourne was as I am by his cluelessness about this year’s best films. Fortunately the colossal differences between us don’t change the fact that I absolutely adore my father and always have.

This was the man who gave me lion rides around the lounge room when I was a toddler, the man who told me he loved me pretty much every day of my life growing up (and still does whenever I see him), who taught me to ride a bike, gives the best bear hugs in the world and laughs like Mutley the dog from Penelope Pitstop. In primary school he coached the little league football and came to the grade six parents and students disco where he burnt up the dance floor. When I was a teenager he was the “hot” dad (apparently thick black moustaches were considered sexy in the western suburbs in the eighties) and although I pretended to be grossed out when my school friends raved on about what a spunk my father was, secretly I was proud as punch.

He’s also the man who once shut me in the boot of the car and locked it when I was a hormonal fourteen year old (a.k.a. bitch from hell) who unwisely decided to shriek at him in front of about twenty of his mates at a football club barbeque. Another time we had a huge fight (same bitch from hell era) and I refused to go to my room so he dragged me down the hallway as I screamed “I HATE YOU!” I found him half an hour later sitting on our front fence crying. Apart from when our beloved Dalmatian, Penny, passed away I had never seen my father cry up until then and to this day it remains one of the most shameful moments of my life.

Spike Harris is one of the most active and fittest “seniors” I know. He walks every day and his work with the Melbourne Football Club has kept him on his toes mentally and physically. However, despite all signs pointing towards him being around for many years to come, Dad recently began writing his memoirs. He asked me if I would run my professional editing eye over them to see if he was doing a good enough job and I was more than happy to oblige. If there’s a better way of getting an insight into the people your parents were before you arrived and took over their existence I don’t know what is. There were many anecdotes in there that I’ve heard numerous times over the years, but also a few that I had not.

For instance, at fifteen, Dad told his parents that he was staying at his mate’s place for the night. There was a test match being played in Adelaide so Dad and his mate had concocted a plan to hitchhike over to have a look. They had absolutely no idea how far Melbourne was from Adelaide but they did manage to get to Mount Gambier and ended up spending a terrifying night in the Blue Lakes forest. Around the same time, Dad pinched his older brother’s car keys and he and his mate pushed the Austin A40 down to the main road and went for a drive to visit a friend in Altona North. This is the same man who balled me out years later for crashing into six parked cars on Melbourne Road. Sure, not my finest moment as a teenager but now I know where I inherited my slightly foolish driving sense.

Dad met Mum when he took a mate to see his girlfriend marching in the Williamstown Marching Girls. The moment my mum clapped eyes on my wayward father it was love at first sight, although she understandably had second thoughts when she discovered that his real name was Cyril.

Needless to say, reading these stories has only made me adore him more and this week my dad proved, yet again, that he deserves the title, “Best Dad in the Universe”. When my husband was away a few years ago and a mouse appeared at my feet in the pantry my first instinct was to call Dad. Despite the fact that I am fiercely independent in every other area of my day-to-day life, the mere sighting of a mouse paralyses me and I am ashamed to admit to my completely irrational and chronic fear of mice. True to their nature, my parents got up off the couch on a cold, wet Thursday night and drove thirty-five minutes to clean out my pantry and lay traps for their hysterical and very embarrassed adult daughter. Not only that, but when I heard a snap ten minutes after they’d left, they turned around, came back and disposed of the dead rodent as apparently I am incapable of going near them whether they be dead or alive.

Father’s Day is always a time to reflect on how I really did hit the jackpot when they were giving out Dads and how truly blessed I am.

I’d do anything for my father and I know he’d do anything for me. So it looks like we have something in common after all.

Diary of a (not quite) Single Parent – Week 2

4 August 2016

Two days ago the girls and I set off for Melbourne after our weeklong stay with my husband in Sydney. It didn’t take long after our arrival there for me to realize that the vision I’d had of how our trip would play out and the reality of it were two very different things indeed.

My husband and I got off to a bad start when we arrived a week ago and he wasn’t there to pick us up from the airport. This was on the back of a day where I had wrestled my children through crowds at the Tiger Airways check-in queue – the lines for rides at Dreamworld don’t take as long – and tried to keep my four-year-old from becoming a statistic – at one point she thought it would be hilarious to run off and hide in a toilet cubicle for ten minutes while I ran around the airport waiting lounge in a complete panic and shouting my head off like a madwoman. So, when I walked off that plane and found no husband in sight it’s safe to say that I was not a happy wife.

A few tense phone calls and half an hour later my husband turned up with a justifiable excuse, although even his reasons – good as they were – failed to lift me out of the vile mood I had plummeted into the moment I saw that he wasn’t waiting for us with open arms. All was forgiven by the following morning, and brunch with our old Sydney neighbourhood gang managed to soothe me and lift my spirits.

My family and I have had a very special relationship with the Harbour city for over six years now. Back in 2006, Mike, Finn and I relocated to Sydney for work purposes for fourteen months. We knew that we were moving into an inner-city suburb in a big city so we’d resigned ourselves to the fact that living there would be a lonely time without our beloved family and friends around. Imagine our delight when we found ourselves smack bang in the middle of a community of the friendliest and most wonderful bunch of folks anyone could ever meet. They remain close friends to this day and we are always welcomed back like family whenever we return to what feels like our second home.

We didn’t stay in our much loved and familiar hood on this visit. Instead we found ourselves ten minutes away at a friend’s place who graciously offered us his house while he went overseas for work. The “Cloudstreet” house, as we named it, is picturesque, like something out of an Enid Blyton tale, complete with a black cat, Patrick, and a beautiful golden lab, Gracie. It’s a beautiful old weatherboard with the most amazing and eclectic collection of artwork, an open fireplace and a magical garden with fish in the pond and some of the prettiest trees I’ve ever seen.

It also has no heating, no microwave and no television.

I had packed books, notebooks and facemasks for our week in Sydney. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had been incredibly clueless in doing so. My husband was rehearsing six out of the eight days that we were there, which meant that he left the house at 8.20am and returned at 6.30pm, leaving me with the task of entertaining two children, whose friends were all at school, all day in rainy weather and with no ABC3 or Adventure Time to plonk them in front of when Mum needed a break. But it didn’t take long for us to adjust to our new living quarters, or for the Sydney weather to do what it does best and bring the sunshine. As a result we ended up having a great, if bloody exhausting, time. Numerous catch ups, dinners and play dates with the old hood crew – including a huge BBQ in the neighbourhood park complete with a homebuilt fire in a keg barrel – and some much-needed quality family time with Mike at night and on the two Sundays when he wasn’t rehearsing.

It’s always sad to leave Sydney and the people we love there, but saying goodbye to my husband yesterday made it doubly hard, knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing him again for so long.
He had driven our car to Sydney when he left Melbourne a few weeks ago so that we would have a car to use while we were all up there. It was actually my idea to do this and for me to then drive home with the girls at the end of our stay. I’d done the drive on my own with the kids before when Abbie was a baby and Finn was four, and that trip had included stops on the side of the road for breastfeeding so I figured that this time would be a lot easier with an eight-year-old and four-year-old, a case full of DVDs and headphones all round. It would be like “Boys on the Side”, but with no bars, no murder and no Bonnie Raitt.

Our road trip playlist mainly alternated between Ray LaMontagne, Katy Perry and the Tangled soundtrack, but at one point I decided to listen to the Audiobook of Fifty Shades of Grey that I bought a while back and hadn’t been able to bring myself to listen to thus far. I just wanted to know what all the fuss was about! Okay, now, before you start dialing child services, I was listening on my headphones while the girls were watching a movie in the backseat. What kind of parent do you think I am?! Forget the kinky sex…as if I would let my children ever hear such appalling “writing”. If the adverb and “Holy crap” overkill wasn’t bad enough, the reader’s twangy valley girl accent made me want to deliberately veer the car into the nearest shearing shed. There’s no way in hell I could articulate my reaction to this book anywhere near as succinctly as Helen Razer has in her sponsored lady Blog so I won’t even try…all I will say is that when the protagonist’s “sub-conscious stares at her in awe” for the tenth time it’s a bridge too far and I hit pause…forever.

Overall, the trip home was fairly smooth and stress free, except for the final hour where phrases like “If I have to pull this car over…” and “Stop whinging before I lose my mind!” were continuously screamed from the drivers seat.

We arrived home a few hours ago, after a stay over last night in a country town motel and another five hours on the road today. The kids are in bed, the suitcases remain unpacked and the red wine is open. Tomorrow it’s back to juggling school, kinder, after school activities, jobs and deadlines…and plonking kids in front of the television during arsenic hour.

Bring it on!

First posted in 2012

Diary of a (not quite) Single Parent – Weeks 3/4

3 August 2016

It’s an actual working office in Carlton but as I’m a bit pushed for time this week my only chance of getting anything remotely resembling a blog written is in-between scenes.

Between piano lessons, dance classes, play dates, gymnastics, work meetings, school and kinder pick-ups and drop offs, writing deadlines and filming days, the juggling act has gone into overdrive and it’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster since we’ve returned from visiting my husband in Sydney. The girls are missing their dad (as is their mum), I’m helping out a close friend of mine who is going through a hellish marriage break-up, and the day we arrived back in Melbourne I was told that channel ten’s morning show, The Circle, had been axed.

I was lucky enough to have worked on this wonderful show as a semi-regular guest host this year and so was invited to take part in the final episode. There were tears of sadness and frustration and hugs once we were off air as everyone tried to come to terms with what had happened. I saw the folder containing thousands of emails from broken-hearted viewers that the show was ending, I heard all the stories and rumours of why this has actually happened but at the end of it all its about good people losing good jobs unnecessarily.

On the days I’m not working with other human adults I’ve taken to adopting the “I couldn’t give a damn how I look” look. The extreme cold snap that Melbourne experienced last week certainly isn’t helping my fashion care factor. One day’s outfit comprised of tracksuit pants, Ugg boots, my husband’s huge dark green “Eskimo-style” winter jacket and a woollen beanie. That was the day I stood at the bottom of the hill at Finn’s school waiting to pick her up, waving at her and her friend who were at the top of the hill. When Finn saw me she grabbed her friend, whispered something and took a few steps backwards. Apparently Finn had said, “Why is that creepy man down there waving at me?”

Needless to say, there has been zero time for any self-grooming, something that I am in serious need of, especially in the waxing department. Seriously. I caught sight of myself getting out of the shower yesterday and I thought Robin Williams had broken into my bathroom.

Probably the saddest moment of the week though was when something very close to my heart passed away at only seven months old. My vacuum cleaner was – or so I understood it – in the prime of its life when it died midweek. To those of you who don’t know me you may be wondering why this is noteworthy at all and thinking I’m a bit of a freak to be sad about it. I’ve no doubt there are many women who would celebrate such an event.  For those who do know me, and have no doubt that I am a freak, you are probably wondering how I didn’t go into a full panic attack after such an event. I’m basically Monica Geller-esque when it comes to cleaning and my love for it. When I told my husband that the vacuum had died, he helpfully suggested that I do a bit of online research on what brand to buy next, adding that it would be akin to porn for me.

The girls are climbing into bed with me on a nightly basis, the pros of this being that they keep me warm in my husband’s absence as I snuggle up to their fiery little bodies, the cons being that I get much less sleep.

The other morning Finn snuggled up to me and relayed her dream where “I wished I started my life again and it happened. I wanted to be a baby again because babies get to roam around and get away with most things. I was the smartest baby in the world because the dream didn’t erase my memories when I started my life again and my first word was eyeball.”

And with that, my day had begun.

My husband is currently in Perth, where his show is opening, staying with dear friends of ours who have two daughters – a four year old and a one year old. He admitted that after living alone for the past three weeks he is loving being part of a family unit again, having small children running around and drawing pictures for him. Is it wrong to confess to a small stab of contentment when I think about the fact that for the next two weeks my husband will awaken to the sounds of children running and squealing the house down at an ungodly hour of the morning? Either way, I’m glad that he is safe and content in the bosom of a loving family for the time being.

Now…time to go buy those razors…

Serial Monogamist

2 August 2016

The night had started out with groups of boys huddled in corners making crude remarks about groups of girls who clung tightly to each other on chairs lining the walls, but as the hours dragged by and Melissa Manchester morphed into Soft Cell and vast amounts of creamy sodas were consumed, there was a shift in the musty pre-adolescent air. Some of the boys found their moxie and began pushing one another out from the group in the direction of the giggling Gerties still crowded together against the wall, until the floor was awash with sixty-five children on the verge of puberty all twisting, clicking and bopping in front of one another on the makeshift dance floor.

At that stage of my life I had short brown hair, big gappy teeth, no boobs and was usually dressed in a poncho of some sort with brown velvet cords and desert boots. In other words I was your stock standard, all round, thoroughly unattractive child. It was probably no shock to anyone, least of all me, that I was overlooked in the being-asked-to-dance department as I sat amongst gorgeous refined twelve-year-olds like Hayley Ambrose at the disco that night. Hayley possessed the thickest, blackest and most lustrous hair I’d ever seen on something that wasn’t a Tammy Doll. She also had breasts to die for – actually they were more like bulbous nubs but still way more than anything I had at that point – huge blue eyes with long, black lashes and a pretty blue ribbon in her hair to match her equally pretty blue dress. To the thirty or so horny juveniles in the hall she was their answer to Farrah Fawcett.

One lasting impression I have from that night, as I watched my classmates shuffling awkwardly with one another to the tunes of Bertie Higgins’ “Key Largo” and Toto’s, “Rosanna”, was realising with absolute certainty that I would never kiss a boy, let alone fall in love. This earth-shattering awakening came as my best friend and I watched these fine young men asking friends all around us to dance. “My God,” I thought. “They’re getting asked to dance by a boy! That is so romantic.” This was quickly followed by the dreaded belief that this would NEVER happen to me. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to kiss a boy, despite my habit of practicing on the back of my hand or on the bathroom mirror after my nightly shower. Yes, at the grand old age of twelve I was adamant that I was destined to be alone forever.

I had no idea that three years later I’d start myself on a journey of non-singledom that still hasn’t ended. In fact, the longest period that I have been single since I was fifteen years old is three months.

Now, most of you might be sitting there thinking, That’s appalling! How can someone have constantly been in a relationship since they were fifteen-years-old and never have been single in all that time? It’s just plain sad! You’ve clearly never lived! Well, first let me say that it hasn’t been the same relationship since I was fifteen (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and secondly, I haven’t led the sheltered and unexamined life you may now be imagining. I’ve travelled extensively, lived overseas and in various share houses, had a wide range of friendships from different walks of life and my working life has certainly never been dull or routine. But there’s still that one thing niggling away at me – the knowledge that I’ve never been single.

Is this really a big deal, I ask myself? To never have had a one-night stand, never gone on a string of dates and never had a threesome – three things way up there on every modern woman’s bucket list.

Having a one-night stand would be exciting though, wouldn’t it, I think to myself? I mean, imagine (well most of you might not have to) going to a nightclub, spotting a gorgeous stranger, flirting with him all night across the room with your eyes until he makes his move. He comes over, you start chatting and go back to his place and the next thing your know you’re kissing, there’s arms and legs and groping and you’re in his bed having wild passionate animalistic sex where you scream things that you would never have believed possible…and then, in the middle of the night while he’s still sleeping, you get up and leave. You don’t leave a note or your name and number. You’ll never see this person again, you just leave.

I always think of that “Heart” song, “All I wanna do is make love to you”. She picks up guy, they don’t speak, she shags his brains out and sneaks out before morning, has a baby, never sees him again, runs into him at the post office a few years later (which is, admittedly, a bit awkward) and then just carries on with her life. You might feel slightly jibbed if you were him of course, but from her perspective, all good!

I’d imagine there would be some downsides to having a one-night stand though, like what if you’re someone like me who can’t really hold their alcohol and you get drunk too quickly and suddenly realise you need to throw up? It’s bad enough in front of people you know, but imagine making those loud vomiting noises in a complete stranger’s bathroom when you’ve tried so hard all night to keep up the illusion that you’re some sexy mysterious goddess, and there you are sounding like some giant retching alien with yellow and orange globs dribbling down your chin in a total stranger’s ensuite.

Only about a handful of times in my life have I known what it is like to go to a nightclub or pub and scan the room for a cute guy to flirt with, and all when I was much younger. Back then I wouldn’t have had a clue how to pick up if I tried – the most I managed was begging my best friend to say, “My friend likes you” to a boy I’d been eyeing across the room. I wish I could say things improved with age…but in my early twenties I found myself staring at a guy all night in a London nightclub, only to look away whenever he made eye contact with me. I eventually tripped over a bar stool and dropped my drink in front of his mates, at which point I decided that my moves might need some work. I imagine that if I was actually single now I’d spend most of my weekends huddled solo or with girlfriends in front of Friday Night Lights, rather than venturing out into public meeting places to risk humiliating myself with my less than average experience in the art of seduction.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m full of regret and wish I’d shagged everything with a pulse, because that’s not actually the case. I’m more than happy with my history of serial monogamy – I just don’t think it was ever part of my DNA to want to get out there and sow some wild oats. And that’s fine. Besides, I reckon that twelve-year-old sitting alone at the St. Leo’s disco all those years ago would be pretty damn impressed with the way things panned out, and would just be relieved that I didn’t end up spending my days pashing a piece of glass on the wall.

The one that got away

2 August 2016

Running his own plastering business meant that six days a week David left the house we shared early in the morning and didn’t return until five at night. His hands were permanently covered in a mountain range of hardened callouses and dried out cuts, and even after his nightly shower, tiny specks of white plaster could always be found under his nails, in his ears and up his nose.

“What am I doing?” I tore my gaze from the carpet in the international departure lounge to look into David’s face. “What the hell am I doing?” “I don’t know.  I just don’t know.” His expression was pained but his eyes were bone dry. “Those guys” didn’t cry, and David Patterson could certainly have been classified as one of “those guys”; an actual “guy”; a real man’s man.

The year was 1994 and I was about to board a plane for a three-month visit to New York. David and I had been going out since we were fifteen and neither of us had ever ventured far from our safe and familiar life in a western suburb of Melbourne. In fact, apart from the occasional visit to a city nightspot with our group of friends, we had seen very little beyond the boundaries of our working class town.

When I announced to David one warm December night that I’d decided to go to New York to do some acting classes, I may as well have told him that I was going to have a sex change, call myself Bruce and spend the rest of my life driving trucks.

David held very definite ideas for the way his life – our life – should pan out.

1. Get married

2. Buy house (swapping order of 1. and 2. optional)

3.  Pay off mortgage slowly but consistently

4.  Produce two….maybe five children

5.  Allow room in budget for one holiday a year because it’s nice to do something spontaneous.

On top of my consistently feeble excuses for postponing life plans Numbers One and Two, I’d suddenly thrown a giant-sized spanner into David’s carefully thought out strategy with a frivolous “soul-searching” trip to New York.  Adventures and spontaneity should ideally wait until David had slotted them into the blueprint of our lives. David had always, begrudgingly, accepted my interest in “wanky acting crap” and even come along to a few of my amateur theatre productions. However, to invest actual money and time away from him on such a useless expedition seemed utterly pointless and downright annoying.

“Why do you have to go there to do it? They do that stuff at Williamstown Theatre don’t they?

“I’ll be back before you know it and then we can start looking for a house.”  This made him feel better.  A little.  As did my promise to give in to his request to open a joint bank account when I returned.

“Promise?”

“Yep,” I said.  “We can start looking at those brochures for the new housing estate the day I get back.”

“Yeah, alright. But then you’ve gotta stop wasting time on this acting bullshit, OK? You’re twenty-three now. Gotta start being serious about life.”

When I met David I was fifteen and my knowledge of the male of the species was limited to my Dad, his crude cricket buddies and my two idiotic and annoying younger brothers. Apart from my father, whom I adored, none of the aforementioned males were particularly dazzling specimens, which led me to the assumption that all males must be equally as uninteresting, immature and irritating. As fate would have it, this was around this time my mother insisted that I find a part time job and a friend of the family set me up with a Friday weekend job in a nearby marketplace. My only other co-worker, besides our supervisor, was fifteen-year-old David Patterson and we hit it off immediately. Actually, the first thing that attracted me to David was his ability to make me laugh; even if it was at my expense a lot of the time. I think I understood, even at that young age, that being a teenage guy made it impossible for him to express his feelings for me in any way that didn’t involve making fun of me. When we finally hooked up at the local bluelight disco soon afterwards, I was ecstatic.

During our time together, David and I had faced and survived all of the monumental milestones of adolescence, and although for much of that time there had been a nagging sensation gnawing away at me that there was something not quite right – that some vital part of who I may really have been was being overlooked and gradually phased out entirely – I loved David, who made me feel safe and protected. I also loved our tight-knit gang of friends and felt relieved to belong to any group at all since my earlier years of embarrassment and persecution.

For eight years our lives had revolved around school, then work – plastering for him and accounts payable for me – and piss-ups at the local footy club on Friday and Saturday nights. But the balance in our sizeable group had shifted of late. One of the natives was restless, and my obvious discontentment was sending disruptive and unwelcome waves of tension throughout the group. The announcement that I was heading to the other side of the world, for no plausible reason, was received with the inevitable shock and disapproval I had expected.

I had always been slightly different from the rest of my peers. Although I was raised by parents who loved the game of AFL football almost as much as they loved their own children, and although I had gone through the correct rituals of young girls in my town – playing netball every Saturday morning, heading down to “the van” at Ocean Grove every summer and favouring a secure (a.k.a. boring) job over a university degree – this tried and true path hadn’t quite moulded and shaped me the way it was intended to.

Standing at the international departure gate that momentous morning, I turned to my beloved David and wrapped my arms tightly around his neck. His embrace almost crushed the air out of my lungs, but when I pulled back to kiss him he refused to look me in the eye. I kissed him again, told him I loved him and that I would be back soon.

I meant it.

Two months later, I called David to say I “suddenly knew” that I wanted to stay on in New York indefinitely. Actually, three days after arriving in a city where no one was ever going to judge me for, or stop me from doing anything I wanted to do I had instantly realised that my old life never had, and never would, fit me. I had gone on deluding myself until it was too cruel to keep up the charade of missing David, and my life back home, over the phone for one second longer.

“Mum will pick up all my stuff,” My heart was pounding so loud I’m sure he could hear it. “I’m so, so sorry. I hope you understand that this is something I need to do…for me.”

He didn’t understand, of course. How could he?

“For you?! What about me?!” he yelled down the phone, his voice cracking and a sob escaping before he could stop it, “I wanted to marry you, for fuck’s sake!” and slammed down the phone.

I stood in the noisy New York hostel hallway, clutching the phone in my hand and staring at the wall. As guilt and shame constricted my throat, stung my eyes and slowly engulfed my body and mind, one thought rang out above all others; “those guys” do cry after all.