A Day In Bed

I am feeling poorly today. I'm a great believer in the curative powers of a Day In Bed. For the Day In Bed to operate effectively, the weather outside the room should be pleasant and sunny, clearly visible through the window, but any temptation to emerge from the bed and enter the outside world must be strenouously resisted.

The following activities ONLY are permissible: listening to the radio; a short nap (no longer than 45 minutes in duration); consumption of tea (may contain sugar, to impart strength to the feeble sufferer) and light snacks; reading.

Fortunately I have just acquired a new book which is assisting me immeasurably in the healing process.

Laughter is supposed to be good for you, isn't it? That's lucky...

UPDATE: Well, I finished Clara. And it's fabulous. I laughed and I cried, and I found more than a little of my younger self in Clara's struggles. An absolute treat.


Ten Years Of Alice

Ten years ago today, to the very minute, I was giving my new baby daughter her first cuddle. She was wide-awake, staring around like a fierce, cross little owl. 'She's very alert, isn't she?' all the midwives said.

She was a Wednesday baby, and she has indeed at times been full of woe.

But she is tougher than she looks. She's survived being nearly starved in her first few weeks of life, almost drowned on Sorrento back beach, having half her teeth pulled out, allergic reactions to sunscreen and strawberries, and Michael almost backing the car over her just two days ago.

Happy birthday, my clever, brave, funny, contrary little girl.


20th July

2011 (aged 44)
Trying to coax Rex out of his brumation (what bearded dragons do in winter when they lose interest in living and curl up in a box). Tempted him with crickets, but all he wants to do is burrow down in the sand and sleep. I know exactly how he feels.
2010 (aged 43)
Alice to her teacher: Is 'school' from the Latin for 'boring'?
2008 (aged 41)
Evie (4): Don't squash me, I'm precious. I am the cutest, Daddy is the funniest, Mummy is the kindest and Alice is the scariest.
2007 (aged 40)
Poem by Alice
Green and pink are nice
But it's not my colour.
Purple and blue are nice
But they're not my colour.
But I can do this:
Climb doors.
I love you and you love me.
We love jumping up and down. 
2005 (aged 38)
Alice (nearly 4): What's the hell in here? I'm not comfy, with this big fat baby. This is Messyland. If you move to another house, we will come and make it into Messyland too.
2003 (aged 36)
Alice (nearly 2): More sheeps. More-more cup of tea. Daddy up up up! Come on, Daddy. Spoon, spoon, please a spoon! Naughty wall, Alice drawing naughty.
2002 (aged 35)
Alice in chair, listlessly eating baked beans; spits them out, picks them off the tray, drops them on the floor, throws the spoon, tries to grab bowl and tip it in her lap. Mummy takes the beans away. Turn around to find Alice has vomited beans and phlegm all over herself, just in time to see her do it again.
1998 (aged 31)
B is desperately unhappy... Of course I'm completely wracked with guilt and helplessness, but he won't hear of me not moving out - whether this is bluff I don't know - but it's the only thing I can think of to try to help... Also there is the awful itch to start packing and shifting, which I just can't do while he's like this. I'll go out to the living room in 5 minutes then 10 minutes after that Tays should be here to rescue me...
1996 (aged 29)
Nana died on Saturday morning. Tired, tired, drained. Bitter cold but not raining. Picking out clothes for the undertakers - her paisley dress, a petticoat, new stockings. The first time I've felt like an adult, really. And I'm so sad.
When I told WP I was going home because my grandmother was dying, he said, 'So can you come in early tomorrow?' And when I told him she'd died, he said, 'Oh. So how was your weekend apart from that?'
1995 (aged 28)
Thinking more & more about MT. Impossible not to love him - he is so sweet and neurotic and funny and bright - so like me in fact. He only likes pretty little girls though not ugly old harridans like yours truly DO NOT RISK IT KATE
1991 (aged 24)
First night in Paris and I am rigid with terror. Absolutely stark staring bonkers with fear. I've barely eaten for two days, I feel numb in the legs, upset stomach, dizzy. I have to get through this night somehow. Tomorrow I'll go out into the streets and it'll be okay, it'll be fine. I can't cope with this. I have to.
1989 (aged 22)
Talked with B about whether greenism could potentially be a much stronger and broader based opposition to capitalism than communism is or could be. B said as communism is now and I said no, whole Marxist analysis limited b/c concentrates on human relations & society & materialism whereas greenism can include the relation of humanity to the non-human. Restoring the balance?
1987 (aged 20)
This depression & silliness is obviously going to continue till I put a stop to it. I have to be strong. For my own sake.
1986 (aged 19)
Worked on essay till tea. Watched Countdown and Mary Poppins - both TV rooms full!!
1984 (aged 17)
first Latin option assignment due
1982 (aged 15)
Learn Latin again extremely well!!!
1979 (aged 12)
Arvestall Parvastell Basilinka Perethane  Kalysons Valrava Vestoram Firthana
1978 (aged 11)
I hate Geometry. Lines squares, angles, diagrams... I could go on and on. Ugh! During Handcrafts Club Carolyn said I was kind to everyone. I really appreciated that.
1977 (aged 10)
Mr Grant gave us our composition marks. I was the only one with an A! I want to be an author. Will we ever go back to New Guinea? It doesn't seem like it, does it.
1976 (aged 9)
Went to the Public Library. We did sport. We are going out for tea. The Herolds came. We played horses.


My Day On Two Plates

This is possibly my least favourite section of The Sunday Age's Life magazine (you know, the chicks' bit). Are the people they select for this column for real? Apparently everyone in Australia starts their day with pro-biotic organic yoghurt, topped with raw muesli and fresh fruit. So who's buying all the sugary cereals I see lining the supermarket shelves?

It's not that hard to put together an ideal (and sort of truthful) 'Day On A Plate.'

My Best Day
Breakfast: bowl of natural yoghurt, topped with a handful of toasted muesli, extra pepitas and almonds; freshly squeezed orange juice
Lunch: tuna salad with chopped tomato, spinach & rocket leaves, hard boiled egg, squares of Edam cheese and hunks of sourdough bread, with olive oil and lemon juice dressing
Afternoon snack: uneaten carrot sticks and apple filched from children's lunchboxes
Dinner: pumpkin risotto; square of dark chocolate (for the antioxidants)

My Worst Day
Breakfast: bowl of Fruity Bites, white toast with butter and peanut butter; two coffees; tea
Lunch: French toast and bacon, plus scraps left on children's plates; tea
Afternoon snack: little bag of chips; tea
Dinner: meatballs with oven chips and creamy faux-Ikea gravy; half a Krispy Kreme doughnut; two glasses cheap champagne; lolly pinched from child's party bag

Might I venture to suggest that, like most people, my typical day comprises a little from column A, a little from column B? Surely no one, even the dancers, professional athletes and personal trainers who, according to this feature, make up the bulk of the population, is perfect all the time?

The only DOAP that I could relate to this year was the one by the comedian — and I got the impression we weren't supposed to take him seriously. Come on, Sunday Age: get real!


BYA (Before Young Adult)

Back when I was a teenager, 'YA' hadn't been invented. There were childrens' books, and adult books, and a grey area in between.

In those days, I hadn't begun to keep my handy-dandy reading diary, and now I find it hard to remember exactly what I was reading at high school. I know I was reading a LOT; it was a rare day that I didn't make a visit to the school library, but what was I borrowing?

But every so often, I'll come across a certain book and think, 'Ah! That's what I was reading...'

One such rediscovery was Gerald Durrell's My Family And Other Animals, and its several companion volumes. Durrell's memoir of his idyllic childhood on Corfu, exploring the island's wildlife and enduring the eccentricities of his wayward older siblings (irritable writer Larry, gun-crazy Leslie, and flirtatious Margo, all kept more or less in line by long-suffering Mother and the apoplectic Spiro), is just as entertaining as I remembered it, and the later books, where his family's antics move to centre stage, are even funnier. Along similar lines (and aided by the TV series) I read my way right through James Herriot.

I also devoured quantities of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps there is something about the neat puzzle of the old-fashioned murder mystery that is particularly soothing to the troubled adolescent mind. And I got through tons* of Jean Plaidy's historical novels, from which I acquired all my knowledge of British history. Oh, and Georgette Heyer!

And then there was my Stephen Donaldson / Dune phase. More tonnage. Eventually I gave up from sheer exhaustion. Can't remember a single word of them now.

I think I can discern a theme here. I was obviously reading for quantity. I'm told that nowadays it's impossible to interest young readers in picking up a book unless they can be assured that there are plenty of sequels to follow... so maybe things haven't changed much after all.

Faithful readers of a certain age, what did you read before YA came along?

* Probably literally. They are very fat books.


Ancestral Home

This is the house my mother grew up in. It's a few streets south of my family's current home. In the forties, my mum went to the same primary school that her grand-daughters now attend, sixty years later.

I often drive past Mum's old house, but I've never set foot inside. By the time I was born, my parents were staying in my great-grandparents' old house in Preston (a few streets north of where I live now), and Mum's parents had moved to Cheltenham. But this old house is a shabbier near-twin of my own Californian bungalow - the same bow window, the leadlight glass, double doors, gables, the same squat pillars to the verandah.
For the past few years I've watched Mum's house slide into neglect, the garden tangled, the paint peeling, and wondered when someone would make a move. This suburb has been overwhelmed by a tide of relentless gentrification, and the shabby houses have been picked off (rescued?) one by one.

On Friday I drove past and saw with a shock that it was happening at last. The guts had been ripped out of Mum's house and piled in the garden; its bones were exposed, the doors gaping wide. I pulled over, telling the girls, 'I have to look inside.' They didn't want to come with me - Evie was scared of getting into trouble, and Alice wanted to examine the stash of new books we'd just acquired, so I went in alone.

I found an elderly couple, ankle deep in a sea of plaster and ancient insulation. The walls had all been torn down to the frame, even the ceilings were gone, except in the front two rooms where gorgeous plasterwork remained. Haltingly I explained myself. Their English was poor, but they smiled and allowed me to pick my way between the ribs of the house, to peer at what was left of the rooms my mother had described - the once-sunny sitting room, the tiny bedroom she'd shared with her older sister, the pocket-hanky bathroom, the walled-in sleepout off the kitchen. The house looked as if it had remained structurally untouched since the 50s. But from the devastation, I guessed all that was about to change.

Later, on the phone, Mum sounded sad. Could I go back and salvage her a keepsake, she begged? A chunk of plaster, or a doorknob? So that afternoon, armed with a camera, Alice and I returned. The elderly couple had gone home and the house was locked up. I hopped the fence and took some photos. ('You're trespassing,' warned Alice.) From the heaps of stripped timber and plasterboard that lay in the front yard, like the flesh from a chicken's carcass, I peeled a small strip of wallpaper that seemed very like my grandmother's taste - pink rosebuds and golden curlicues. I found a smashed chandelier, and pocketed a fragment. The long moulded cornices were too robust for me to snap off a section, though I tried. (Alice was scandalised.)

But when I described my finds to Mum, she was dubious. 'I don't think we had wallpaper like that. I can't remember a chandelier. Our bath wasn't blue, it was white. We didn't have an inside toilet. We didn't have tiles around the heater.' In the fifty-odd years since she'd lived there, the house had been redecorated, rearranged, overlaid with other people's memories, other people's lives.

Sentimentally, I'd thought it was Mum's memories that the present owners had pulled apart, pieces of Mum's home that were discarded in the yard.

But that house was already gone.


PC: Political Correctness or Plain Courtesy?

Yesterday I found myself in an interesting discussion about 'political correctness.'

Someone suggested that authors must feel frustrated or resentful at having their imaginations constrained by anxiety about offending others (I'm paraphrasing). Do we dare, as non-indigenous authors, to write from the point of view of an Aboriginal character? Is it okay to pick out pieces of another culture's mythology (whether that be Maori, Persian, Irish, Ethiopian or whatever) and insert it into our own narratives? Shouldn't we be able to write whatever the hell we like?

I have to say I have a real problem with the phrase 'politically correct.' It's always used as an insult, denoting a timid, yet repressive regime that tiptoes around the perceived sensitivities of others. And it's generally implied that such sensitivity is unwarranted.

Setting aside the latter point, why not simply replace the term 'politically correct' with 'respectful'? Personally, I don't feel comfortable writing from the point of view of an indigenous character, because I recognise that I don't know enough about what it's like to live as an indigenous person. But that's not the same as saying that I won't put indigenous characters into my books. I don't feel confident to write from the point of view of a sixty year old white man, either (luckily there are plenty of sixty year old white male authors to take up the slack on that one).

If I write historical fiction, I want to get the details right, and I think I owe it to the readers to do so. As a reader, I'm irritated by sloppy research or dialogue that doesn't ring true. Equally, if I'm going to draw on a culture that is not the culture I've grown up in, I need to get it as right as I possibly can, or readers who know better than I will be annoyed and offended, and rightly so. Maybe I'm wrong, but it doesn't seem like that big a deal. It seems like respectful common sense, and simple courtesy.


'I'm Bored' Sundays

I couldn't blog yesterday because it was Computer-Free Sunday.

A few months ago we decided to institute one internet-free day a week, because Evie was so addicted to the computer. We were hoping that she would find alternate sources of entertainment, but instead we have signed ourselves up for a day of whingeing and moaning and 'I'm boooored!' But still we persist...

What we're slowly starting to realise is that the day passes much more pleasantly if we organise some kind of family activity. Yesterday we walked up to the Preston Oval and watched Williamstown (the Bulldogs affiliate) take on the Northern Bullants. And the kids whinged and moaned and said, 'I'm booored!' but eventually they wandered away and began collecting acorns, playing squirrels and climbing trees. After half time, they discovered a fenced off playground, and spent a fruitful twenty minutes trying to make a rope to abseil down into it. Finally they gained access by squeezing between the locked gates (Evie's head nearly got stuck - reminded me of the day she was born) and they played there happily until the very end of the game, even though the wind was biting cold and it was almost dark.

Maybe one day we'll make it all the way to Screen-Free Sunday and ban the TV as well... maybe.


Sorry I've Been So Quiet, Faithful Reader...

... but I had a lot of this to do.