Sunday, January 30, 2005

Desperately Seeking Breakfast

Once again, since the lovely Sju Sju mentioned breakfast in one of the comments, here it is, and I hope the standard isn't broken...

Desperately Seeking Breakfast

By the time we'd got to Grade Eleven, my life had come in an odd circle. I was back to being in much the same position as I was in Grade 5, in a position of organisational importance, especially in terms of school leadership within the social sphere. I didn't quite make it to school captain, but it was close, between me and Jennifer Danielle Wiley, and I had the student numbers, but I think it was rigged, and that was all ahead of us anyway, as on the eve before Grade 11 started, I was "invited" (as in - yer going, pack yer bags) to attend a leadership and development camp for all the Grade 11 brightest and best. I'll be honest, I've never been the brightest or best, but I have always had a cross sectional ability to mingle with all types, plus I think they wanted me to paint them some banners, but anyway, I was on my way to school spirit camp, to be wined and dined, and lectured about my responsibilities as a member of the "elite".

I'd never really thought about my abilities to negotiate across the classes, it just came naturally. I looked across at Jennifer Danielle, who was trying too hard to impress Damien Hunter, with a tale about Harvard or something. I met his eyes with a casual glance, and he smiled the kind of smile people smile when suffering ends. Then, painfully, he drifted back into the conversation, and I went back to my book, or at least, to my surfing magazine. I still didn't know what I was doing there, and I was missing the beach. I rubbed a cramp in my leg, and shut my eyes, where I had a fantastic dream about being on stage, singing Hobart Paving by Saint Etienne to a captivated crowd of hunky surfer types.

The school had booked an expensive conference room, and we filed in dutifully, into a room with the most magnificent breakfast buffet I had ever seen. There was every kind of toast, french, brown bread, white bread, soy bread, twenty seven types of jam, coffee, and not just out of a Nescafe jar, expensive, Colombian coffee, as far as the eye could see, expensive herbal teas, giant rolls, sizzling, frying bacon (not much good for me mind) and best of all, little variety packs of cereal, which I love to this day. The thrill of getting six different types of mini packets of cereal, to treasure and enjoy, was overwhelming, at least to me. They piped in gentle, swaying harp music, as we ate, in an overwhelmingly peaceful atmosphere. "Only the best for our leadership group!" said Mr Morris, patting me on the back. I still felt a slight sense of betrayal of my kind. I am, and was, a benny. Sure, I was a benny who was able to hold it together and not do anything stupid, but the likes of me wasn't supposed to be on Student councils, eating fancy breakfast. I was meant to be sitting up the back of assembly, snorting and saying things like "this is so boring!" - I had stumbled uncomfortably out of my class, and it felt like bluff.

I was going to hold my hand up, say I didn't belong here, and try and steal some Nutri Grain on the way out, when Jennifer Danielle began boring Damian Hunter with tales of her Amnesty International work in the summer. I'd learn later than JDW was really, REALLY keen on Damian Hunter, and all but exposed herself at him at the end of Grade 11, but still, at this stage, it seemed like all business on her part, an attempt to unnerve some of the other students with her school spirit and charity work. Damian, for his part, reached for a big roll, and motioned to me that he wanted to shove it in JDWs mouth. I giggled, and then, oblivious to her own boring story, announced to all and sundry that during the summer, "her Amnesty Group had helped released Mohammed Yoodaman".


Out of nowhere, a girl we had never heard of, a new girl, Sarah Owen, had suddenly just come right out and said it, what we'd all wanted to say, and better than that, she said it again, raising a glass of orange juice.


She giggled to herself, as tumbleweed drifted across the room. I shifted uneasily in my Docs, unsure of what to do or say. I was obviously fond of intentionally bad comedy, but I hated watching people's jokes absolutely dying. It was clear no one in this room knew the You The Man/Youdaman chant that was on David Letterman at that time, no one except me. Sarah stood there, waiting for peals of laughter that were never coming. I wanted to give her a hug, so awkward was the tension. She bowed her head, gripping her orange juice tightly. I had to do something, it was clear that I had found a fellow benny, floundering out of her depth, and so I paused, took a deep breath, and spoke through a mouthful of Nutri Grain...

"Don't worry, that's too highbrow for them..." I said, nodding at JDW.

"I don't get it," said JDW, scowling.

"It's a joke on a TV show," I said, munching on some oatmeal. "It's funny if you know."

At which point, drinking her apple juice, JDW called Sarah Owen over, and they began chatting, and eventually became friends, who together threw one of our bitchiest, most insane Grade 12 parties that we ever witnessed. As I stood back and sighed, Mr Morris came up to me, munching on some porridge.

"That's what you are here for Y, you smooth troubled waters," he said, smiling.

"Got any pancakes?" I said...after all, bennys out of their station don't like to brag. We just go about our business, from breakfast until dinner, hoping we don't get found out...and somehow, I had survived, and my work was done...

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Desperately Seeking Pogo Sticks

The lovely Jessica, who has a website way cooler and more trendy than this one, asked the Y Bird to study the topic of pogo sticks. Luckily, this one was easy, and wonderfully, wonderfully painful...

Desperately Seeking Pogo Sticks

I can't remember the exact day that I learned there was allegedly no Santa Claus, and that it was allegedly all your parents, but I had a definite period of non belief in the big fella, especially when Claire's grade 4 project mentioned the current Santa was created by Coca-Cola. Of course, now I've rediscovered my belief if Santa, and indeed in Christmas magic, a love rekindled by the 1962 Judy Garland Christmas special, in which she slaughters poor Mel Torme, and sings in one of the most amazingly lit TV sets ever created. My love of Christmas is in contrast to my experiences on the day, which are usually ruined by having to see my once a year relatives who talk about ferreting and their newly found love of Shakira, 2 years after the album came out. Still, I get through it with a smile on my face, and songs about snowmen in my heart.

When I turned 10, I was aware that it might be my parents that performed the miracle of Christmas, and that whether I had naughty or nice really had no bearing on what I wanted, so much as whether Dad had been naughty or nice enough to get a Christmas bonus. All I knew was that whatever it took, I had to get my hands on a pogo stick. "If you think you're ready for some extreme pogo action" proclaimed the Toyworld brochure, next to kids who looked far more radical and extreme than me, in my GO TEAM! t-shirt and board shorts could ever be. I had briefly considered as to whether I could hand extreme pogo action, and whether I was more caught out for extreme Connect 4 action, but my mind was made up when I went out one day for a swim, and on my way to the pool, had what you might call my first experiencing of fancying someone. I had my kickboard (you're never too old for a kickboard) under my arm and my little junior bathers on under an all white Adidas tracksuit, and was strolling down a local Richmond boulevard, when there he was, the coolest boy I had ever seen.

He was holding court on the street corner with his peeps, a vision in blonde, long flowing hair, wearing an AFL football jumper and a pair of bright blue board shorts. More importantly, he was leaning up against the wall of the newsagency, next to a limited edition blue Gravity X-Treme pogo stick, just like the one in the catalogue. I literally couldn't speak, so struck was I by his aura of unspeakable cool. Instead, I just stood for a moment, leaning against the post office wall, until an old woman shoulder charged me in the rush to mail her parcel. We exchanged some cross generational angry glances, and I lost my focus. I was sure when I regained it, he would be gone. But no, he was still there, and he was staring at me, in all my white tracksuited glory. We looked at each other. He was the first boy I'd ever seen with no fear of girl germs. He swept his fringe out of his face, and began talking to his mates again. He looked back at me though, as he talked, and nodded in my direction. I nodded back, too scared to do or say anything. What should I do? Should I go over? Should I make a move? This whole dating thing was hard for me. I reached into my bag and pulled out a diet coke, hoping to look sultry. He smiled. I smiled back. We were making progress now.

He flexed a muscle to impress me. I flashed a smile to impress him. His mates were speaking, but he wasn't looking at them, he was looking at me, and I was looking at him. He pushed the conversation forward. He exchanged a street style, ghetto handshake with his peeps, and audibly said FUCK, just to impress me. Then he said it again - I was very impressed and giggled at his audacity. Clearly, we were getting on fine. Then, he got on his pogo stick, and he dazzled me with a trick, he took the handlebars, and bounced least, that's what happened in my fantasy dream reality, he pushed off, and the pogo stick hit a large crack in the pavement as it bounced, and he fell, sprawling awkwardly on the pavement. My heart cracked. I was crushed. I had given and given, for nothing. He was a benny. I bowed my head and ran off, almost in tears, to the swimming pool, swimming with the additional weight that came that my first experience with boys had been a dismal failure - I wondered if it was me, did my smile put him off? Did he do it deliberately to put me off? It was a sad moment, and I've thought about it very often. My first experience with a boy, ruined by a pogo stick? I wrote a pretty furious entry in my diary about it that night, even going to the trouble of writing in red pen. That's just how crushed I was.

I still got my pogo stick for Christmas though, and I practiced furiously. All my life, I thought I better be prepared, just in case the roles were reversed, and my future happiness depended on my ability to bounce carefully on a pogo stick. I never again saw any boys I liked with pogo sticks, but I still had to be prepared, just in case. Luckily, when I met my future husband, he had a surfboard under his arm, and a cute look about him. I didn't have a pogo stick, which was lucky, because I never did master the thing, and it wound up in the garage, next to the ice skates and the hockey stick that symbolised my other sporting "attempts".

That said, I still wonder what might have happened on that fateful day, had the boy of my youthful dreams not stumbled and fell...I guess some people just aren't cut out for extreme pogo action...

Friday, January 28, 2005

Desperately Seeking Foil

Cupid, Girlfriend once said, was a real good liar. I think for my next 10 entries, I might just skim off Girlfriend song titles, since I'm running low on suggestions. Still, the lovely Callum wanted me to write about foil, and since I don't have any fencing stories, this will have to do...

Desperately Seeking Foil

Back when I was still convinced the world was flat and that if I kept on running I'd fall off the edge, lunch time was the most important time of my whole day. I'd anxiously look at the clock throughout the school day, drumming my fingers on the desk, desperate for the moment when the bell would go, and we could all run to the green lunch order basket and pick out what we'd ordered in the morning. It was a simple beautiful system, we'd tick what we wanted on the bag in the morning, and then at lunch time, it would come back in the same bag. It was a magical system, but not without faults. It was open to plain, human error, and every day, kids would line up and wave the bags in the lunch ladies face, saying "I wanted a CHEESE toasted sandwich! This is ham!" and I would shake my head sadly, wondering if it was such a big deal.

One early day in Grade 2, I was engaged in a group discussion with Lee Devine and Amber Bennett about how green dull Dave had got the grass at our school when the lunch bell rang. Naturally, our appreciation for Dave's horticulture skills took a back seat to our desire to get out in the sunshine and play. I think we had a very intenese of kiss chase to get through that day, or someone had brought a basketball. Not sure. Either way, it was vitally important to get out in the sun. As the lunch order basket flopped on the ground, my class descended on it like seagulls on a chip, picking it apart until only one bag left, mine. I saw my beautifully imprinted captive cursor surname GUARD loping across the bag in it's familiar green pen, and smiled as I picked up my Big M and my bag, and went to go outside. I put my hand inside and grabbed...well nothing, certainly not the Saveloy I had been expecting (this was before my conversion to vegeterianism, which would have been mocked by the lunch ladies, especially Barb, the Scottish one). In fact, all that was in the bag was two or three sad looking crumbs, and a big lump of foil, rolled up in a tight ball. I was dumbfounded, the system had let me down. I stood in shock for a moment, until someone, perhaps Alex Crawford, poked me in the arm and asked when I'd be organising kiss chase. I shook my head, and pointed forlornly at the empty bag. He gasped in shock, and asked what I was going to do. It was a good question. I really didn't know.

I took my bag up to the lunch ladies, nervously. It seemed as though I was the only person who wasn't happy that day, as they all stood around making jokes that in hindsight I've realised might be considered "working blue" if you know what I mean. I held up my bag weakly, and took the lump of foil out of the bag and held it up for examination.

"I think someone ate my dinner," I said, weakly.

"Yeah right," said Barb, laughing.

"No, really, I opened up my bag, and it only had two crumbs in it..."

Barb wasn't buying it, her hard, cracked Scottish face refusing to budge. I held my ground and pointed to the foil again. Surely, this was an open and shut case.

"Look...I didn't get my dinner!" I said, confidently.

Megs B, in the midst of a phase where she had to run everywhere, ran past and asked what was going on.

"I didn't get my dinner!" I said, mopingly, holding up the foil.

"That's terrible!" she said, stopping running. "Are you getting a new sav?"

"No she isn't!" said Barb, anticipating a Mexican stand off.

A couple of other kids, desperate to run away from girl germs in a game of kiss chase, wondered where I was. They too, asked what happened, and studied the foil intently when I told them. It was then, that out of the crowd, came Amber Bennett. Amber and I were not seeing eye to eye over an incident involving a skipping rope, but she parted the crowd with her cool ways, and stood dead centre.

"I heard - you can't have your dinner?"

"Yeah, all I got was FOIL" I said, the foil catching the light. We stared at each other in an oddly tense manner for a moment, until Amber Bennett held up her lunch order bag, her three lettuce leaves or whatever she had that day, and threw it down on the steel topped counter.

"If Y can't have her dinner, I don't want mine!" she said. I motioned for her to stop - I mean I appreciated the gesture, but it wasn't 40 hour famine time, there was no need to be rash. She wouldn't be stopped, and pouted, staring directly at Barb. Claire, who wasn't my friend at this stage, also pushed the crowd, with a half eaten Bubble O Bill, and slammed it on the counter, watching as pink drops stained the carpet. Alex Crawford put his Big M on the counter. In all, 10 or 12 kids broke the system and handed back their lunch in support of their colleague. I was beaming. I stared at Barb, who under the strain of having to pick up 12 bags and put them in the bin (I didn't say it was a good plan), was beginning to crack.

"But we don't have another Saveloy!" pleaded Barb, softly, but it was too late. We were making our stand, taking on the man. Defeated, she clicked her fingers, and called out Ira, her companion.

"Make her another Saveloy," she said, shaking her head.

We took in our moment of triumph for about three seconds, and then everyone sprinted away, realising they were wasting their lunch time. I stood on my own, a little bewildered as to what had just happened. Barb just glared at me, for ages, and then handed over my Saveloy. I wanted to make peace with her, as even at an early age, I realised that annoying the people who prepare your food wasn't smart. On my way out, I yelled out a strange sentence that puzzles me to this day.

"I love the way you wrap things in foil" I said. This isn't one of those cute little internet "on my way to the theatre" stories, I really did say that. I have no idea why, but I did. Ira nodded though, and pointed to Barb, and behind her back, mouthed something that has stayed with we for the rest of my days.

"She ate it," mouthed Ira, pointing.

It seems if you are honest about foil, and are willing to stand up for yourself, the world reveals some strange truths...

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Desperately Seeking Celebrity Workout DVDs

This was the stumbling block (everything else is downhill slalom when logic is applied) but the lovely Atom at this lovely spick and span site called Music For Torching wanted a tale about Celebrity Workout DVDs? took a while tiges...but I got there...

Desperately Seeking Celebrity Workout DVDs

Like a lot of people, I put great store in what celebrities recommend. Or at least I did, in my youth. And not even big celebrities like Soleil Moon Fyre or Alf (the alien, not Alf Stewart, although I have adopted his voice whenver I say "flamin hoons"). Pretty much anyone I had seen on TV, even the Toyworld big purple bear, was a source of great inspiration to me. And few people have had the impact on my life that Jennie Garth has. Whenever her brand of calm, considered acting came on screen throughout the peak era of Beverly Hills 90210, I was genuinely transfixed. She is the only person to inspire me to go and buy a jacket because I saw it on TV (although I must admit, I want one of Tina T/Finlay Roberts hats). She also once had her fan mail address printed in the "Ask the Editor" section of Smash Hits, and I ALMOST put pen to paper, but alas, I lost the edition of Smash Hits when my mum threw it away, and so Ms Garth never did find out the adulation a small, benny girl from Melbourne had for her and everything she did.

It was many years later, when I was much older, and wiser, and looking to Layne Beachley for guidance, that I found myself in Cash Converters. I had decided that I needed to actually do something with my day, rather than sit around half heartedly painting, and watching day time talk shows. Probably spending the day in Cash Converters, Australia's favourite 2nd hand store for poor people to get beer money by selling their fridge for 4 bucks, wasn't the most productive idea, but I did enjoy scouring through their many Formula 1 videos, and kettles with no lids. It was then that my eyes came across a thing of beauty. Someone had made an illegal copy onto DVD (at least I think it was illegal) of "Body In Progress" - the 1992 Jennie Garth workout video that inspired me every day I owned it - the video in which Jennie G talks about the joys of a low impact workout, her love of seeing fatty boombahs get skinny, tells you how to reduce your jeans size, and does some fine working out to her own husbands synth music - I was flushed with joy, and my mind spun back to the first time I owned this sacred item - Christmas, 1992...

It had been an ordinary Christmas. My parents had decided that in 1993, I was to get more serious about my studies, which lead to many heavy discussions. Worse, we had to go round to Auntie Kates, to sit with the classic "once a year" relatives, who sat in a circle talking about boats and, amazingly, ferreting. My uncle Clark announced seriously the problem with the youth of today was that the kids today, they didn't get to go ferreting. I looked deeply into my chocolate milkshake, and giggled my heart out. I couldn't stop, throughout the turkey and sprouts and whatever else we ate that day. I thought that if this my world, my mum in her spotted polka dot dress trying to be serious and parent like, my uncle talking about ferreting, people patting their stomachs and pretending that Dot's turkey was a "treat" when it was clearly a mess - if that was my world, it was ridiculous, and all I could do was laugh.

I was up in my treehouse that night, writing in my diary (for you young folk, people used to have keep a written diary with pens and paper, rather than keeping one of these things) when Claire climbed up the ladder with my Christmas present. Claire and I had a difficult first few months after she came back, mostly because Claire was still pining for Scotland, and had struck up a friendship with Lisa Davis that saw her briefly orbit in our school social elite. So we were working through, trying to work out our new place as best friends, when she came up the ladder, thrusting a brown paper parcel in my hand.

"What's this?" I said, smiling.

"It took a while to get - I hope it works..." she said. She furrowed her brow, as if getting this gift was one of the hardest things she had ever willed herself to buy.

I unwrapped it carefully, and there, in front of me, was the Jennie Garth workout Video, a mint copy of Body In Progress. I looked at Claire, and was genuinely greatful.

"I know how hard it was for you to buy this," I said, smiling.

"Fucking hard," said Claire, and when Claire swears, I know something is difficult.

"Do you...want to watch with me?"

Claire paused, at this pivotal moment in our friendship. Her love for Shannen Doherty was on the line. Would she lower herself to come down and watch Jennie Garth do a low impact aerobics workout? Would she be that good a friend?

"That's OK..." she said, pouting, "I just thought you'd like it, I didn't want to actually watch it myself..."

It was the perfect answer. Because Claire, being Claire, wouldn't actually deign to watch it. And throughout her psuedo-friendship with Lisa Davis, she was doing a lot of stuff she didn't want to do, to impress Lisa and her crew. The real Claire wouldn't care less, and if something was lame, she'd refuse to do it. I knew then, as she climbed back down the ladder, that we'd be OK...we were really back to being best friends - after all, there was no way in gods earth I'd sit and watch something as stupid as Blindfolds: Acts Of Obsession with Shannen Doherty in it...

I took home the DVD (I obviously paid for it first) and put it in for Claire, and as she came in, I pointed to the screen...

"You don't STILL watch that crap?" she said, shaking her head and putting on a mardy pout.

"Tina T would watch it," I said, smilling.

"She doesn't tell the truth, that's why I'm your best friend, I keep you right so you don't stray into benny territory - I failed in this case..."

At which point, Jennie Garth began doing some step aerobics, and Claire stormed off into her room,'s more than a workout video or DVD you's a true marker in a friendship...and that's far more than Melissa George ever managed...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Desperately Seeking Yo-Yos

Sorry I haven't updated, I'm battling to come up with ideas for some of the suggestions, but I think I've got my mo-jo back, and I'm keen to plough on, and with my friend Jacx wanting me to tell my yo-yo story, I thought this would get me over the hump...

Desperately Seeking Yo-Yos

Recently, a friend of mine suggested that people of my age were really the last generation who had to go out and play. I began to reply, but I was achingly aware that to say "oh we went out and played with a frisbee" or such like things was to invite derision at to just how old I was, and that to talk about how my childhood was devoid of Playstations and DVDs would make me sound like an old Grandma, and the queue to the Country Womans Association and the jam making club was calling.

The one thing that I haven't seen lately is anyone playing with a yo-yo. The only people who are hanging around Melbourne with a yo-yo are stoned students who can't afford a hacky-sak, and buskers who aren't talented enough to juggle. Even then, there seems to be a limited amount of tricks performed, the yo-yo profession failing to move forward from the big two, the round the world and the walking the dog. Once you've achieved those two tricks, there's not a lot else to do, and it's time to pick up the frisbee. There are times when around the skateboaring scene, the yo-yo comes out and people are vaguely impressed, but for the most part, yo-yos are not cool, and apart from one magical moment in 1986, they never really have been. I was present for that magical week, and I'm proud to tell the tale.

In Grade 2, it seemed everyone had a yo-yo, and the ultimate in cool was to own a Coca-Cola yo-yo. Well, gold in theory, more yellow spray paint really, but considering it came after sending in 24000 ring pulls from cans of Coke, it was quite the effort to get one. It said COCA COLA in red, swirly letters. Kevin McKay was the first person to get one, and then I got one just in time that they were still cool. We spent our lunchtimes trying to do tricks, failing, but just standing around looking cool in our tracksuits, the yellow paint glinting in the sunlight, looking to the casual observer just like gold. It was on one such day that an announcement came over the public address system - the following day, the Coca Cola Yo-Yo team was performing at our school, especially for us. Naturally, we couldn't concentrate on maths footy, and any discussion of Fungus the Bogeyman was suspended for the afternoon. The entire night passed so slowly, it seemed like a year until the big day came, and we gathered cautiously, our little hands clasped around Fruit Boxes, nervously waiting, until a loud, thumping disco beat came over the PA system...they were here...

We gathered in excited groups the following morning to chat and plan. It was considered that if we could somehow get our tricks in their eyeline, maybe we could join the Coca Cola Yo-Yo team, maybe we could travel the world. I desperately tried to perfect my walk the dog in a hurry, but it was the same old problem, not so much walk the dog as the less impressive trick "tangled up in string", and my hands wound up messed up in the yo yo string, while I desperately tried to convince everyone I really wanted to do a "cats cradle". Kevin McKay scoffed, and walked his dog perfectly. I snorted derisively. Secretly, I was very jealous, but outwardly, I had appearances to maintain. "That's SO not Walking The Dog!" I said, pouting. "It SO is Stringy!" he said, mockingly. We stared at each other, for most of the day to be honest, until it was time to assemble in front of a hastily constructed wooden stage, and as the magic of "Funky Town" by Psuedo Echo pulsed through our eardrums, on they came, one by one, pumping their fists. We moved uneasily. We thought they'd be cool, but they looked like bouncing, cheesy bennys, all sparkling white teeth. We quickly took our cue from Amber Bennett, who looked at her watch and turned her neck behind her to try and find a way out. We were already losing heart, but we thought if they could at least get through the yo-yo tricks, they might save the day.

For some reason, overnight they had become the American Coca Cola Yo-Yo team according to Dull Dave, who was in charge of the less than excited introduction, and the leader, Marv, bounded on stage in a Stars and Stripes tracksuit, exhorting us to keep the energy moving...and then it happened, Marv skipped backwards, and another guy in the same tracksuit bounded forward, to warm us up with a little Round The World...and as he spun, a female in a red cheerleader Wonder Woman style bra took up her position to the left...and I don't know whether she distracted him or the wind changed, but I can still see it, as clear as day, as the yo yo spun wildly above his head, and then, as it came down, hit him right in the back of the head, and knocked him unconscious, his previously body popping energetic body landing face down on the wooden stage, landing with a dull pop, and he rolled backwards, a demented, strange smile on his face. Marv looked at his fallen comrade, then bounded in front of him, and yelled "NOW WE PARTY" which was a strange declaration. As the other members tended to their fallen comrade, and dragged him away, Marv tried to keep up apperances, dancing and clapping. He then produced from his pocket a real gold yo-yo, that genuinely sparkled, and tried to make it dance and spin, but the spell was well and truly broken. It was clear that even with a life time of yo-yo mastery, these people weren't cool, just idiots in gaudy tracksuits. We swayed from side to side, suddenly bored, and aware of how cold it was. I looked over to Kevin McKay, who was smiling sadly. The craze was well and truly over. They tried to win us back, but nothing worked. After 1/2 an hour, they bounded off, defeated, to less than polite applause. Dull Dave was amused though, chuckling over the PA as we went back to Maths.

I think in many ways, that was my first childhood disappointment. I can still see the sun setting over the hill, and a group of disappointed, dejected kids, putting their yo-yos in the bin. I watched them go, sadly, from the top of the fort. I was aware that something had changed in our lives, that whatever we did, we would not be fooled by marketing again, that we wouldn't trust crazes, that we would be bohemian, individual, that whatever the man tried to foist on us, we would be suspicious....we would be wary...

Then Amber Bennett brought in a packet of stickers and yelled "Look what I GOT" and we realised that there was no way we could let HER get one up on us, and the whole crazy cycle of Grade 2 life was about to begin again...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Desperately Seeking Pandas

My #1 commenter over the Pop told me I had to write about Pandas, and so this is my story - I'm not sure if anyone is reading these tales, but hey, if not, I'll be finished soon enough!

Desperately Seeking Pandas

I mentioned the fact before that at my school, I had the moral authority to act as the negotiater between the different social classes of an average school. I was just about popular and rebellious enough (I had a tattoo I had to hide for a year) to be cool, but not cool enough to be unapproachable, while at the same time I was enough of a smiling, giggling benny that I could mingle with the downtrodden, but at the same time, I wasn't so much of a benny I was throwing peoples bags in the bin, and seeing how many times I could spin round really fast before I threw up. I could have really had a career in politics, such was the ease of my calling. It was never officially announced that I would negotiate the way things were going to be between the camps, it was just automatically assumed that if the whole school had to or wanted to go to something that was on, I'd do the arrangements, set the meeting times, and make sure everyone was happy.

From time to time, my unchallenged negotiating skills were tested by a rival, such at Katherine McCormick in Grade 4. Katherine was a stickler for social etiquette, having grown up in the wilds of Swindon, England, and carved a great (she said) playground diplomacy style trying to get the wilder students, who had already graduated to smoking and groping one another, to mix with the bennys and the cool kids. She spun some impressive tales about this, and I could tell some of the bennys were greatly impressed, especially at her ability to stop bullying, simply through the power of negotiation. I could sense though a slight overblown bluster in her voice, as if she was trying too hard to be everything to everyone. I sensed that if I hung on, she'd make a tactical error, and I, as the playground moderator, would have to fix it.

Older readers of the Y might remember the bizarre Pepsi challenge that went around in the late 80s/early 90s. For anyone who doesn't know, to great fanfare, a truck would appear in your town/city, and a stage erected. From there, the kids were presented with two cups, one with Pepsi, and one with I presume home brand cola. The challengee would be asked which one they liked best, and if they picked the Pepsi, they would get a prize bag (usually containing M&Ms and vouchers for a hair cut). Children being children worked things out pretty easily, and word spread around our playground from Kevin McKay down that the flatter, more tastless drink was the Pepsi, and the fizzier, sweeter one was Home Brand. Easy. So when the Pepsi Challenge van rocked up to Richmond, we were primed and ready to grab free stuff (my life obsession, it seems, is to get nothing but free stuff). No one in the school wanted to miss out on the opportunity to get free goods, and possibly get on the local news.

If we were going as a group though, we had to make sure everything was fixed, primed, and ready to go. We had to make sure the cool kids and the bennys weren't jumbled up together. The cool kids had things to do, and people could see them. The bennys could wait until the end, lest the social order of things collapse. I let Katherine McCormick do the organising, just to see what she was about, and while I admired her style, I could sense the cool kids weren't really buying it, as she wandered hither and tither with a broad, slightly queezy smile, telling everyone where to assemble. Eventually, Amber Bennett came over to me as I was sipping on a fruit box reading Surf Monthly.

"Alyson, why aren't you organising this - it's a group event, she doesn't know us!"

I put the fruit box down on the bench, and shrugged.

"She wants her shot, I'm happy to give her a chance to try and cross the social divides we have."

"But she's terrible at it! Already, she mixed Mark the benny up with Mark of no fixed social standing! That's a recipe for disaster!"

I inwardly smiled at her rookie mistake, but outwardly, I remained calm.

"Amber, it'll be fine - if anything goes wrong, I'll fix it"

That re-assured her. Soon enough, after a week in which I finally did nothing for a change, we gathered in the local shopping plaza, pretty much as a school group. The cool kids were looking cool, and the bennys were playing Frogger in the chip shop. I was interested to see where I was in the social standing of things according to Katherine, but I was firmly in the background, despite the misgivings of Megs B, who wasn't sure whether to go or not. After an hour of waiting and watching and seeing if my position was threatened, I was tapped on the shoulder by a man in a Panda suit.

"HI!" he said in a goofy, hyped up voice. "WOULD YOU PANDA FOR A PEPSI!"

I giggled. It was a truly crap pun, which I've always enjoyed. The man in the Panda suit did a small dance, then stopped, and pointed his paw towards the edge of the stage.

"Oh no..." he said. I had an instant feeling of dread, like the feeling someone gets when they realise they've mixed up the salt and the sugar. Sure enough, when I turned around, at the front of the stage was our school benny Mark Leaman, dancing in a Coca-Cola T-shirt and trying to do that thing people do where they make fart noises with their arm. Worse, several rogue elements and passers by were encouraging him, clapping and applauding, in the way people clap a dancing monkey, just to see it dance some more.

"ALYSON!" said Amber Bennett, rushing up to me, "DO SOMETHING!". The man in the panda suit looked at me expectantly through his eye holes. "How did he get anywhere near the stage? How did he even get invited?" I said, swallowing hard. "McCormick" spat Amber Bennett, in an "I told you so voice". I sighed deeply, knowing in my heart the Marks had been mixed up, and that was a fatal mistake. I took the Panda by the paw, and lead him to the stage.

"You have to dance with him, it'll confuse him, he'll think it's a real panda"

The man in the panda suit hesitated.

"He'll get briefly confused! Go man go, there's no time to lose!"

The man in the panda suit took me at my word, even though he really was only a decoy, and sprinted on stage, and begun waving to the kids. Mark Leaman stared hard at his upstager, confused as to his next move.

"MARK!" I yelled, in my benny control voice, over the crowd noise and applause for the Panda. "Nathan just beat your Frogger score!"

Mark grunted an idle grunt, and got down off the stage, and sprinted to the chip shop. I had averted an embarrassing moment for the cool kids, saving them from points and nudges, and sentences that ended with "hey, don't you go to school with that kid!". Amber Bennett, who was with her Grade 6 boyfriend, Daniel, was particularly greatful, and was moved enough to give me a heartfelt "well done" before pushing her way to the front of the line, Daniel in tow. It was then Katherine McCormick came running up, taking nervous steps towards me. The Panda came down off the stage, pressed some stickers and a cap in my hand, and gave me a Hi 5, as Katherine began to look around nervously.

"What happened!" she said, in a sharp, pained voice.

"Ask the Panda," I said coolly. another rival seen off, another day on the streets, it's not easy out in the playground jungle - but you get by, one day at a day at a time...

Desperately Seeking Bananas

Our #1 commenter over at the Pop (you know who you are, you don't need your tyres pumped!) challenged to write about some things in order - starting with bananas...I have just the's a cautionary one...

Desperately Seeking Bananas

I mentioned before our school dentist, and her never ending desire to get the kids at our school to eat more healthy food. She even, as i said, dressed up some poor benny in yellow suit and called him Mr Cheese. This was far from the only attempt to add a little extra healthy edge to our diet. There never seemed to be a day go buy bar someone was pushing the values of apples and oranges on us. Mark, our school benny, was once taken aside from a maths lesson because a teacher had spotted him munching on a jelly doughnut he said to his friend Clayton was "his breakfast" - he was given a chart on healthy eating, and promptly ate it, so as to win 5 bucks on a bet. The irony was, munching on the healthy eating chart made him ill and he had to go home. He wasn't the school benny for nothing.

Claire and I, in our youth, were really good runners, who made the Victorian state relay team (only to screw up the changeover on one occasion, and have a trackside argument, before we were friends). When you are young in Australia, the ability to run really fast makes you quite cool, and very good as kiss chase, but that's quite another story. The Victorian state relay team, even when we were 8, was a full on affair. You got tracksuits, you got shoes, you got measured up for a singlet, you were given a lyric sheet of chants - the Premier of Victoria (whoever that was) even turned up one time to watch. There was definite pressure - one girl, called Alison Bentine, from Western Australia, looked at my singlet and said, quote, "Victoria sucks!" - not standing for that, I said "No, you suck" and we exchanged dark glares from across the track at each other for an age, as if by running round a track really quickly, we'd settle the state vs state battle once and for all.

We were sponsored by Uncle Toby's that year, and Sanitarium, who make Weetbix, so we had all the free breakfast cereal and choc chip muesli bars we could handle. Our school, naturally, was proud of us for making the team, along with another girl, Margaret Vynan, who threw the hammer. The prinicipal made sure that we were often paraded on stage, to tell deep and meaningful stories to our classmates. In short, we were held up as examples of healthy living, although obviously Mark, our school benny, was deeply uninspired, as one time, in the middle of a lecture about how anyone could work hard and run for Victoria, he let out an enormous burp, and then giggled about it as if someone had said "pants".

On the second last day of the school year, we were called up again, and by now, we were seasoned media professionals. They still wouldn't let me bring my agent on stage with me though, which I still rue. We stood in our pre-determined positions, me up front, smiling, Margaret Vynan taking up half the stage, and Claire trying to squeez between us. "Today," said our principal, "we'd like to pay tribute to our Victorian state little athletics representatives." Claire swears to this day that Mark, our school benny, said "Get on with it" but I don't remember that. He then threw to a surprise guest, Steve Walters from Uncle Toby, who was holding three bags, each with our names on a label. I was getting free stuff! He had also brought a friend, Toby: rarely a day went by at our school by we encountered a crap mascot, Toby merely being a guy dressed like a surf life saver in red speedos and a cap. Had I been older, he would probably have been cute, but he looked pretty bored, as if he had three schools and some nude modelling to do before bedtime.

Steve spoke about healthy eating, healthy living, plugged the company for all it was worth, then lead the school in the most 1/2 arsed round of appreciative applause since Emma Cobb came third in a statewide crossword competition. Steve handed us our bags, clapped Mags V on the back, shook hands with Claire, and gave he a hug. Even at a young age, I was worried about wandering hands. He whispered in my ear something that sounded like "keep up the good work, we need you": I hope that's what it was anyway. Then he and Toby got in the Uncle Toby mobile and drove off to the next school. Actually, they made a cute, subtly homo-erotic couple.

We went backstage to compare our loot: Mags V got chocolate, stickers, a ruler and a hat with UNCLE TOBS on it (the Y had fallen off in the bag). Claire got the same, except her hat had the Y still on it. Me, I didn't get any chocolate, I got a lunchbox, a bright blue Uncle Toby's lunchbox, which contained a banana, a salad sandwich and a fruit box. I also got my stickers, and my hat, but also an Uncle Toby's jumper and a pair of socks, plus a medal that said "Outstanding Achiever".

I took all of this in for a moment, and stared at the lunchbox - clearly, they had got me mixed up with someone else, an actual proper achiever who had done something worthwhile. That explained the hug, that explained the extra gifts - I was pretty happy to keep it all though, especially the medal, but at that moment, I went right off little athletics - I mean, if you were ordinary, you got chocolate, but if you did well, you only got a banana and a salad sandwich. No one at Uncle Toby's had heard of the incentive scheme clearly.

I give my banana to my friend Megs B, because she loved bananas, with a monkey like passion.

"Do you want me to autograph it for you?" I said, proudly holding up my medal.

"Nah mate, I want Toby to autograph it for me," she said, with a faraway look in her eyes. I had found out that running wasn't worth much, and had lost the attention of my friend to a bored surfy male mascot who looked kinda cute. It was a day of valuable, life changing lessons, that only a banana in a lunchbox could truly provide...

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Desperately Seeking Ghosts

Well, striking out on your own is all care and no responsibility! Someone from Blog Explosion gave me a 1 out of 10 and I keep checking for comments! What a palaver! So anyway, the lovely Mr Panda'lus over at this fine site wants nana to ramble on about ghosts for a bit . So this is what I came up with my lovely 2 readers...

Desperately Seeking Ghosts

I was driving my child Tanaya to the doctors yesterday, and trying to teach her the joys of Hilary Duff. She screwed up her face, and inevitably began to wriggle as if her existence depended on impressing some kind of invisible wriggling judge, who was scoring her out of ten. It was only when I skipped the CD to "I'm Still Alive" by Alex that she settled down and settled into a routine of merely quiet, contemplative gurgling.

My mind began to wander, past the point where I wonder who actually watches that show where you've got 30 seconds to perform your act, past even the part when I get bored and start reciting Rodney Dangerfield jokes, and to the point where I begin to drift to whether ghosts really exist. I don't have any real basis for a decision either way, except our Grade 8 camp, and that was purely circumstansial anyway, depending on how you listen to.

Our Grade 8 camp (and I'll milk the 3 days before I'm out of stories I promise) was in Ballarat, and it was the first real quality time I got to spend with Claire since her return from living in Scotland for 4 years. She was still my unofficial best friend, but she was pretty unhappy for a while, proclaiming everything was better in Scotland, and missing going to watch Celtic. Worse, her previous school trip had been to Zurich, and Ballarat just wasn't cutting the mustard. Much like Jennifer Danielle's obsession with Sweden, we were tiring of Claire's endless tales of skiing and drinking white wine spritsers and cute skiing instructors. For most of us, the chance to pan for gold in a puddle with a bloke called Russell trying to look ye olde authentic and keep his fake beard on was sounding pretty good. After all, there would be no parents around - we could sit up to 1am, and maybe even watch Chances.

On the first night, after the teachers had all gone to bed, tired from too much Trivial Pursuit, the girls retired to the rumpus room, which was very girly, apart from a giant pool table. Even though I wasn't in the cool circle, I was pretty much friends with everyone, and thus was able to negotiate across the room what we would do with this strange, intoxicating freedom. The bennys wanted to go to sleep or play cards, the cool girls wanted to watch a video of Beverly Hills 90210, and the bitches wanted to go and meet some local boys who had invited them out earlier (we warned them off - too much flannel). I took all this in, and came to a fair compromise, we would watch Chances and Beverly Hills 90210, the bennys could control the cassette player, if anyone wanted to meat a Ballarat local called "Dwayne", they were free to do so, and then we would tell ghost stories. Everyone applauded. I could sort the worlds problems out me, if I could be bothered.

So that was everyone happy, except Claire. "I've seen this episode" she pouted, as the tape player showed Shannen Doherty wandering into Steve's car for a lift to the Peach Pit. "There's too much Jennie Garth!" she moaned, and sighed deeply. "How can you have too much Jennie Garth?" I said, spinning on my heels to look her in the eye. "Jennie Garth sucks!" she said, filing her nails. I was stunned, and swallowed my gum. "What's wrong with Jennie Garth?" "Everything!" "Everything?" "Yeah - Shannen Doherty's heaps better!"

A life long debate was born - who's better, Jennie Garth vs Shannen Doherty, a debate that's never been settled. I looked Claire deeply in her mardy blonde eyes, and pursed my lips.

"I don't even know you any more..." I said, storming off. After 5 years of friendship (albeit with 4 via mail) we had our first fight. It was a tense moment. We wordlessly sat through the rest of the episode (I think someone stole Steve's car, maybe even Garth) and then an episode of Chances, while at least two of the bitches went off to find Dwayne, and some of the bennys went to bed to read Proust or Smash Hits or whatever. We were left with a smattering of cool kids, hangers on, Claire, one or two of the skipping team, other Claire, some of the bennys who couldn't sleep because they'd had too many push pops, and me, brokering the awkward peace between everyone, and fending off Claire's insistence everything was really lame.

There's a particular ghost story about a ghost killer which involves turning all the lights out, and then spinning a torch round a circle, and the key part of it involves a loud thumping noise. To cut a long story short, the end of the story is "...and the killers next victim was....YOU!" at which point, you stop spinning the torch and just shine it on someones face - scary stuff. I felt that my role as peacemaker across the school would be jeopardised if I didn't at least try to make peace with Claire, and obviously the best way to do that was to attempt to scare her with my amusing ghost story. So I span through it, blah blah, thump on the roof, thought it was rain, get out of the car, "What is it", don't look behind you...all that stuff, I had even the cool kids going - and then, the big finish...

"...was YOU" I said, shining the torch in Claire's face. Everyone squealed, except Claire, who casually began filing her nails. Amber Bennett (who was utterly desperate to do anything to get her cool points back by this time) turned the lights on, and I went up to Claire, and got in her face (I wouldn't do it now by the way, she'd kill me).

"Oh what - ghosts stories not what they do in SWITZERLAND" I said, as angrily as I can.

"It's so little league, everything is just so - backward!" she said, motioning around the drafty room.

"FINE - go to bed then, we don't want you up!"



And with that, Claire went down the corridor and to bed, as Amber Bennett tried to suck up to the room. "What's her problem!" she said.

"She's just...I don't know..." I sighed sadly. Was it true, Claire had changed, she wasn't my best friend anymore? I slumped on the beanbag, and even the cool kids were sympathetic.

We sat in silence for 5 minutes, while Amber Bennett made Milo and said "please be my friend" a lot. It was Megan Barker (not Megs B) of no fixed social standing who first piped up "Do you hear that?"

There was a loud, repetitive thumping noise coming from down the corridor...thump...thump...thump...we all stopped, Amber Bennett put down the sugar...thump...thump...thump...Megs B hid behind a beanbag..."You heard it!" opined one of the cool kids, maybe Lisa Davis, to Megan Barker, who shook her head vigorously. Thump...thump...thump..."maybe it's the ghost killer, Alyson summoned her" said Siobhan De Vogt. "Hey, don't blame me!" I said, nervously. But it was obvious Siobhan had struck a chord with the room, and pretty soon, I was being sent down the corridor to investigate the thumping...and it was coming from Claire's room...with great bravery and personal disregard for my own safety, I pulled on the handle of Claire's room, and Claire came tumbling out, breathing hard and looking extremely anxious...Amber Bennett made her a Milo, and she sat in the middle of the room recounting what had happened.

"I left my watch on the beanbag, but when I tried to get out of the door, I couldn't...the door wouldn't open...I couldn't get out..."

"It was the ghost, it was angry," opined Siobhan, and we all nodded in agreement, turned off the TV, and took turns to guard the corridor, lest the ghost come and attack us all in our sleep...

I looked back and Tanaya and smiled. "What Claire has never known to this day," I said, smiling at my little baby, "was she was trying to push the door when you in fact pull it open...I found that out the next day when I was searching for the ghost..."

I smiled gently at Tanaya. "I know you'll never tell will you? As far as Claire's a real life scary ghost..." And with that, we pulled into the doctors, laughing together at our little secret...

Desperately Seeking Anke Huber

I have so many good suggestions still to get through, but Claire wanted me to tell this particular little tale, and the poor little lamb is having a rough week, so ya know...this is for you babes!

Desperately Seeking Anke Huber

If you know me even vaguely, you'll know that I look like a particular low ranked tennis player who I have developed a paternal instinct for following. Supporting her through her trials and tribulations has given me an appreciation for failure...what it must be like to perpetually front up to tournaments, knowing you had no hope of winning. It must be amazingly frustrating to never quite seize the spotlight. In contrast, when you play a player that you know you can whip, it must be tempting to just see how much hope you can give them before dropping in the big guns. I do have some special insight into tennis though, and I got it in Fitzroy of all places...

Melbourne hosts the Australian Open tennis every year in January, which means it's school holiday time and as a kid, you can see big name tennis players casually wandering around Melbourne ordering sandwiches and coffee. For me, this was no big deal, until for some vague reason in the middle of 1994, I had gained a giant passion for tennis. To the point of picking up a racket and seeing if my hand eye co-ordination was good enough to make me the new Kristine Radford or Kerry Anne Guse. Alas, I was such a benny, I kept not only missing the ball, but positioning myself in such a way that I would slap my arm with the racket. I had a pretty good Monica Seles grunt (a sort of HEY-YAHA!) but by the time the grunt the out, I had usually already missed the ball. I realised then and there that I was probably best suited to keeping a tennis scrapbook, alongside my penned in results for the world surfing championships.

So it was tennis time, 1995, January, the big names in town: so there I am, casually wandering through Fitzroy, on my way to get massaged (I had a weird back thing going on in 1995, it was really worrying, especially given my surfing career would have been over) and get my back clicked into place, when a Mercedes with a chaffeur zoomed past at 100kmhs, straight past two old men on their way to bowls or something in a Skoda Bravo, overtaking illegally, and just managing to get back into its lane in time to narrowly avoid a head on collision with a Toyota Crown. Everyone stopped and beeped their horn loudly at the Mercedes. Out of the window came a defiantly feminine middle finger, and the Mercedes drove off, leaving the old men to put their teeth back in and recover from the shock. "Bloody hoons doing blockies" sagely noted a Jamaican woman, who then bizarrely did a black power fist in the direction of the old men. "Right on sistah" I said, under my breath, and continued on my merry way.

When I got to the masseuse, about 1/2 an hour later, I noticed the Mercedes was in the private parking space, and the chaffeur was reading a German newspaper (Bild I think) and chuckling at the German equivalent of Fred Bassett. I was going to go and introduce myself, but he was so into Herr Bassett, I didn't have the heart. I went through the double doors, and as always the receptionist greeted me like a long lost cousin. "Hey Y!" she said, beaming. "Hey Betty" I said, smiling broadly. "Have you lost weight?" said Betty, handing me my swipe card to the waiting room. "Not as much as you have you old fox!" I said, and swiped my card. We had quite the banter, Betty and I. I wish we'd exchanged numbers.

I went into the waiting room, and sitting in the waiting room in an all white outfit and a cowboy hat was top 10 ranked German womens tennis Anke Huber, sitting reading a copy of German Vogue from about 1976. She was intently studying the orange pastel colours that lit up the rooms in those days. I couldn't believe it. From my scrapbook! I mean, THE Anke Huber! I didn't know what to do, but I was sufficiently star struck to hold in a burp that I had to do after drinking too much fizzy orange juice. I sat in this weird tense state for about a minute, then I had to blurt it out.

"I saw you before - you're Anke Huber!"

She looked at me funny and pulled her face into a mask of disdain. "At the car...thing...your driver...he el loco..." I said, clearly mixing Spain and Germany up, but I didn't know the German for crazy. She broke into a dis-arming, if slightly patronising smile, and put down her magazine.

"He is crazy," she said, spinning her finger round her head in the internationally approved sign for crazy.

"Crazy," I repeated, as if I had made a breakthrough with a Sri Lankan man who had just got off the plane, or in the voice Jane Goodall used to communicate with chimps, as opposed to someone who could speak English just fine. She went to pick up her magazine, but put it down again and looked at me oddly.

"Is he GOOD?" she said, pointing to the name of the masseuse on the door.

"Yeah, really good!" I said, nodding. "Dr Oldfield, he's...well he's good...he's worked on my back..."

She smiled again, and paused, like I was going to ask for an autograph. She even held her hand out like I should give her a pen. I didn't have a pen, and if I asked Betty for one, she'd tell me people are people and I shouldn't be lowering myself for autographs. It got the point where Anke was clearly bored of waiting, and took out her own pen, and signed a piece of paper she tore off a doctors pad, and handed it to me wordlessly. It said "Best wishes, Anke Huber" next to the address for a gynaecologist. I studied it for a second, and she smiled warmly for the first time, and went back to reading.

After two more minutes of tense silence, Dr Oldfield came out, and said "Ms Huber - time for your ankle workout..." Ankle workout? Did they not have a problem blurting out such information at this time? I could have gone to the Herald Sun with such vital news that Anke had a an ankle problem. Anke turned to me, looked me dead in the eye, and said, I swear to god: "Champions...drink milk...good for the bones..." And then she was gone, forever, out of my life, and my doctor, Dr McLooe, took me into his room, and clicked my back into place. When I went out into the carpark an hour later, the Mercedes was gone, the German Vogue was gone, and Anke went out in the last 16 to Mary Pierce, and made the final the year after, losing to Monica Seles. Betty, citing patient confidentiality, wouldn't tell me where she was staying, and it soured our relationship to be honest.

I still that autograph somewhere, and I've thought a lot about meeting Ms Huber. I've thought it must me great to be a champion at something, to live out your dream. To be athletically gifted, to be strong, self confident, to tour the world doing something you utterly, utterly love, and being paid a fortune to do it.

It doesn't, however, mean you still can't be a spaced out absolute benny though...

Friday, January 21, 2005

Desperately Seeking Aliens

this is kind of like the "ten minutes writing" we used to do in grade five. my much beloved mrs watson would flick a topic at us and then nonchantly wander up and down that tiny stage at the front of the class room while we scurried out strange tales of "aliens" or "breakfast" or "heroes".

Sounds Sjusju like just the kind of topics the Y Bird needs to peruse...

Desperately Seeking Aliens

Every school, in addition to having a school benny and a school spirit girl, also has a school clever clogs. I'm not necessarily talking about clever academically, I'm talking more generally, the boy or girl with a firm grasp on facts. Generally, it will be someone with a big sister or big brother, and it will parlay itself outwardly into the ultimate fast facts, all those lies about sex you hear when you are 12 ("'s big brother said his girlfriend did it!")

Our school clever clogs was called Michael Millar, a kid with a big nose, glasses, and possession (we thought) of a book called 1000000 Fast Facts to amaze your friends. Whatever the situation, we relied on Michael to settle debate. His speciality, as it happened, was "Footy Maths", a game our teacher made us play in Grade 2, where the teacher would squeal out a maths question ("3 + 2") and the first one to correctly answer would move the ball closer to their goal. Michael was awesome at this, and also speed spelling. He could spell hippopotamus in 3 seconds. A great effort you'll agree. He rarely left the library, and he always had a book under his arm on the history of cricket: if you needed to know anything about bodyline or the Kerry Packer take over in 1977, he was able to provide you with dates and scores. In short, he was our guru, and we looked up to him.

I can't remember the exact date our faith in him crumbled, but we had our doubts by Grade 3 (I think it was Grade 3) mostly because cynicism had entered into our lives. Claire (who was vaguely my best friend) was the first to catch the disease, muttering an "AS IF" when Megan B was telling a story. We turned around stunned. Someone had dared to challenge a story, and from then on, it was open slather. Michael Millar was now required to prove things - we didn't just take his word for things anymore. It threw him for a bit, but he regrouped, he read more books, he worked harder, did more research, and was ready to back anything he knew up with reference numbers and books, lest cynics rain on his parade.

One day, the week before Easter, we ran outside for lunch and assembled duly by the pipe. In the 1980s, it was perfectly acceptable to put some concrete pipe down on the ground and call it playground equipment, and for kids to crawl through it regardless of the amount of rainwater, litter and dog piss that was in it. Still, it was always easy to meet "at the pipe". As we gathered, Kate Marie had a big announcement to make.

"Come and see what I found!" she said, emphasising the "I".

She lead to us to one of the outside concrete paths, and pointed to a series of suspiciously chalked footprints on the ground. The footprints lead inside the school, but only after veering off in a mad direction towards the hut where dull Dave, our groundsman, kept his lawnmower. We took in this strange turn of events for a moment, and scratched our collective brains.

"Where do you think they came from?" said our friend Megs B, puzzled.

"We better ask Michael," I suggested, gently.

"As If!" said Claire, in the middle of her phase of saying "As If" to everything.

We gathered in the library, and waited for Michael to put his book down (he was slumming it - reading a Betsy Byars book, another sign of his fading intelligence). When he did, he heard our story and smiled smugly.

"It's's aliens..."

"As IF" said Claire, emphatically.

"No really, have you heard of Haley's Comet?"

"Leave Hayley out of it!" said Megs B, thinking he was referring to her sister. Michael Millar explained patiently and at boring length what Haley's Comet was, and how it brought aliens to earth all the time, to look for somewhere to work amongst us, and how this was well known, and how if we followed the foot prints, we'd find an alien, a real life one.

"Not one like ALF?" I said, curiously.

"No, it'll be green and ugly, but friendly, as long as you don't provoke it," said Michael. And he put his book down on his chair, and motioned for us to follow him.

When we got outside, and he clocked the footprints, he pointed to dull Dave's hut and where the footprints lead to the locked in Flymo.

"That'll be where their ship came in," he nodded to Megs B.

"I thought they came in on Haley's comment" said Megs B, wearily.

"Yeah, they ride in on a ship that's on the tail of the coment - it's only little" said Michael.

"As if!" said Claire, who by now was immensely bored and eating an Uncle Tobys muesli bar.

The footprints lead windingly past dull Dave's hut, past the glass doors, and inside. Oddly, the footprints were textaed when they were inside, on bits of paper. Michael began shuffling uneasily. By now though, we were desperate to see the alien, which sounded like it brighten up a dull day. It was then that we looked down the carpeted assembly hall, and saw dull Dave, taping bits of paper on to the ground, texta in hand. Claire raised an eyebrow and tutted loudly.

"What! Your alien was dull Dave!"

Credit to dull Dave, who seeing his carefully crafted Easter surprise ruined by some nosey kids, played it beautifully. "Hi kids...I found this texta and a footprint...think it was the Easter bunny...he hopped off that way...I think..."

We could buy that, and our outrage cooled, but we all eyed Michael Millar with deep suspicion. He adjusted his glasses and then spoke casually.

"I KNEW it wasn't an alien - I knew it was the Easter Bunny, I was just tricking! I mean - aliens aren't real like the Easter Bunny!"

I think that day we learned that you can put your faith in aliens, religion, bunny rabbits or celebrities, you can put your belief in some grand plan in the universe, but if you put your faith and trust in a 9 year old kid with social problems and the hope you don't challenge what he says, you only end up down blind, carpeted alleyways, looking at a bored groundsman holding a texta in his hand...

Desperately Seeking Giddiness

The lovely Adrian off of the Life Itself board said "Oi Alyson - why don't you write about Giddiness" - "Giddiness" I said - is that how you spell it - and after watching a video clip of a girl in roller skates, I figured out just what was required...

Desperately Seeking Giddiness

There was at some point in the mid to late 1990s a public information character created called Giddy Goanna. He had a theme song that ran "Giddy...Giddy Goanna...what shall we do shall we run and play?"...frankly, he was a fraud. In much the same way we refused to be conned by Mister Cheese, real kids knew that if they went to "run and play" with Giddy Goanna, they'd be subjected to a tedious 3 hour lecture on road safety. Giddy Goanna would only be trusted if he'd lived up to his name, and had done a dizzy whizzy until he fell over, or at the very least, ushered the kids to a nearby roundabout, and said "go for it little ones."

In the summer between Grade 2 and Grade 3, our school prepared for us a special surprise. Some brand new, state of the art, prime model, 1987 top of the line kis playground equipment, Firstly, they invested in a big yellow caterpillar, that wound on for miles, that all the kids could climb on. Secondly, they spent up big on a metal disc they had nailed to the ground, with handles on it to grip on, a flimsy looking thing that looked unfinished, but which spun off it's axis whenever it was gently pushed. "I guess it's a roundabout" said Claire, before we were friends. "Give the girl a chocolate bar", said Amber Bennett, preening. We stood in magic awe, oblivious to the fact that the caterpillar was actually gleaming and finished. This thing in the ground, it looked sexy and dangerous, like the kind of thing that should have yellow tape around it. Then the bell rang. It pierced the silence. We trooped into class to meet our new class teacher, who wondered audibly why everyone was so quiet. We sat through two tedious hours of that thing you have to do sometimes where you stand up and say a fast fact about yourself ("Hi I'm Alyson - I'm on crystal meth" "Sit down Alyson, you're only 8!") and some pointless games, when all we wanted to do was go back outside into the sunshine and examine this new contraption. And when the bell rang, we, as a grade, sprinted back outside to examine it with quiet reverence and awe.

Kids naturally gravitate to anything that involves running or spinning or rolling or throwing themselves about. Some of my happiest memories involve sprinting down the hill, chasing a brightly painted easter egg, and falling on my bum about 20 times, laughing all the way. We were hardy kids though, no public liability insurance for us, oh no. We didn't need it, we had PC. I mentioned before that Paul "PC" Clark was our go to guy when we wanted "shit tried out". He was just earning that hard won reputation, having the year before tested whether it possible to jump from the top of the fort, not from the top of the ladder, but the other way, by leaping over one of the wooden walls (it was, but it wasn't easy). There seemed no doubt to us that if anyone was going to test whether our so called round a bout was magic or dodgy, it would be PC. He looked hard at it, and rubbed his hands together in a tense motion.

"Look PC, if it's too much for you, I don't mind having a go," said Adam Bastick, who luckily would later change his surname to avoid the nickname "Bastick the Spastick"

PC glared at him fiercely. You should never challenge the moral authority of the "try shit out" guy in Australia. "Let's spin," said PC, gripping on to one of the handles. The roundabout was so poorly constructed, even a 7 year old had trouble sitting on it to be spun, so PC had to stand up on it, holding onto a handle that wobbled unsteadily in his hand, a handle that more or less blu tacked into the ground. Worse, the handles were positioned as if the roundabout was to be spun clockwise, when in fact it spun anticlockwise. Still, he wasn't our try shit out guy for nothing, and he motioned it was time to go.

I can't remember who span the unfinished roundabout that day, but it was a tense moment. As girls, we had to stand back, this was no place for the weak of heart. Claire and Amber Bennett even bonded, wincing together as PC held on for dear life. He gripped on tightly as the rickety contraption span uncertainly off it's flimsy foundations, round and round, round and round, and even past the 7 second attention span we had at the time, we were still completely gripped, as PC went round and round...and suddenly, he was airborne, as a nail came out of the roundabout, landing on the ground with a plop in the mud. The roundabout wobbled like a see-saw, but it was too late, PC was going to fast, and had to grip on with one hand. Through the crowd, Kevin McKay and Kevin Patterson grabbed onto him, and managed to pull him away, just as the roundabout went completely mental and the handle PC had been holding onto seconds before came out of the hole it had never quite been in in the first place, and fell on top of the roundabout. The roundabout wouldn't stop spinning, wobbling unsteadily for most of the rest of the day. We looked at the roundabout, going completely crazy, and then at PC, who was being held up by the arms.

"I'm fine!" he said, in the manner that made him the go to guy. The Kevins let him go and for a moment, there was a beautiful calm in the air. Seagulls cawed their appreciation. It was then PC, in front of his appreciative audience, said something so profound, it's stuck with me to this day.

"I'm giddy," he said, with a demented smile, as he fell face down into the mud.

You spend your whole life chasing that feeling, the out of control magical moment of falling, of being giddy and off in another world. Forget drugs - the seagulls knew the score - it was still best when all it took was a cheap hunk of junk roundabout, and a quick, hard push...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Desperately Seeking Scandinavia

I could just rest on my laurels, and listen to Billie, but the lovely and wise Mr Fop (the kind man who gave us our first plug and said nice things about the Y) asked us to kindly tell a tale about was very difficult...but ya know...I'm happy to help...

Desperately Seeking Scandinavia

One of my best friends in life, the devine Tina T, actress extraordinaire, came from Denmark, and is always at me to go with her to see her family, and Legoland. Denmark of course welcomes Australians since the marriage of Princess Mary to whatever the Prince was called. It's inspiring that you can pick up a prince in a bar called the "Slipp Inn". Conversely, I have no desire to even once go to Sweden. I'm sure it's lovely and nice and the people are awesome, but I've been put off for life.

Jennifer Danielle Wiley was our school spirit girl. Every school has got one. I can remember whenever tins were needed, or a fete was to be organised, there she was, rattling the donation tin or a raffle ticket book in your face. When we went to high school, she took my place as a house captain, mostly because she bailed up the principal on orientation day with ideas as to how the Grade 6s could be more involved in school spirit. I was probably wondering why I had to walk so far to get a cupcake or something, but I was blindsided and was back to being a body on the hill. I even had to hand in the clipboard. For the next three years it seemed it wasn't possible to have an event, not even a game of "Celebrity Head" (of which more later) bar Jennifer Danielle was standing up in assembly banging on about it, and tying it into our latin school motto, whatever that was.

Our Grade 9 teacher was called Miss Lennon, and she was always trying to be super funky, even though she was the SUPER old age of 27, and we were turning 15. She clutched a copy of Charlotte's Web to her chest one day and proclaimed it would change our life. She tried to tell us one day how much she loved Nirvana (Claire visibly blanched). She one day tried to show us how she danced at nightclubs, only to spin around so fast her dress flew up (a recurring theme at our school, seeing peoples pants). And most of all, she thought she was funky because she "rejected" making people read books. We had to feel the text, and the best way to do this was through endless stand up presentations and verbal speeches. We always knew we were in trouble when Jennifer stood up to talk, her perky voice and shrill manner were designed to irritate all and sundry, and her hand gestures are embedded in my head. Worse still, she insisted on participation. Audience participation. She read off cards, but when she put them down, you knew she was working the room. Claire and I, in the back corner, always tried hard to avoid direct eye contact. It was fatal.

The one thing about Jennifer Danielle was that she went to Sweden when she 10, and LOVED it. She was going back to Stockholm University to study - well anything. "And ohmigod, you should SEE Stockholm! It's SO pretty - and did I mention how friendly the people are and how great the weather is and blah blah..." She managed to work a reference to Sweden into every single topic that was meant to be discussed, even if it was just a reference to ABBA. Claire once took a sweepstake as to how soon she could mention Sweden in a supposed debate about animal cruelty: 35 seconds, Jay Nicholls won 50 bucks after she read out research from the Swedish government. So when Miss Lennon announced one day that it was open topic day, there was no doubt we were about to be harangued beyond belief about the wonders of the land of Volvos.

Sure enough, in she came, with cue cards, and a Swedish flag. Claire headbutted the desk. Miss Lennon (who loved audience participation) was visibly beaming. The rest of us shuffled like livestock sensing danger.

"WHO...has been to SWEDEN?" she said, beaming. She visibly fixed the class with an eyes and teeth stage school smile, pausing and counting to three to carry


It was a sound no one had expected or prepared for. From the back of the room, Mark Leaman, our ertswhile school benny, had raised his hand, a first. Mark was a big man, who spoke in snorts and grunts. As far as we knew, he had never gone further than Geelong. His idea of school spirit was not kicking the footy into adjoining gardens. All we ever knew about him was he supported Hawthorn in football, since he often wore a Hawthorn beanie. This was a meeting of the minds, a collision of social levels. We sat in silence, waiting the confrontation.

Jennifer took an awkward step back. She had asked for audience participation, and now she had it. Even Claire lifted her head, caught up in the moment.

"Oh," she said, nervously standing near her flag, and blinking nervously. " did you think of it?"

"I thought it was a fucking hole," said Mark, beaming proudly. There was uproar, Jennifer Danielle stood in bewilderment, trying to think of a comeback. Miss Lennon couldn't flaunt her true colours and throw Mark out, lest her down wit da kidz persona slip, and so stood like a mute, mouth agape. Claire lead a mini ovation, and Mark basked in most memorable school moment with a proud smile, and the tiniest, most impercitable bow. Jennifer had to sit down, for nothing she could say was going to change our minds now about Sweden. She had to get back up, defeated, and symbolically unpin the flag.

And it put me off for life. Because if Jennifer Danielle loved it, and the fabulous, one-moment-in-time-triumphant, Mark Leaman didn't, it's really not the kind of place I want to go to...

Desperately Seeking Y-Fronts

Young Michael over at Lizjournal, he set me a challenge to ramble on a bit about Y-Fronts...only one thing truly came to mind...and this was it...

Desperately seeking Y-Fronts

Anyone who grew up in Australia in the 1980s would almost certainly have been in a house. No, not the comfy one your parents may or may not have given you, but a house for school sports day. This was the first form of strict social segregation you were exposed to, the day you were handed/told to bring in a single in one of four colours, and told "that was your house". And depending on whether you got a red, yellow, blue or green singlet, you'd either sit with your friends and have a lovely day, or plot to change behind the teachers back because you were bored and lonely and surrounded by bennys. I was in Yellow house in primary school, and we were feared and always won (even yours truly put in a couple of 1st place ribbon winning efforts). We were a bit like the East German sports program though, ruthlessly ensuring that everyone ran to their full potential. "You can't let the HOUSE down!" we'd say to slackers. Claire was in the far more laissez-faire Red house, the Aussies if you will, who sometimes would just stop running if they couldn't be bothered, or who would sometimes just not show up for their races. How we mocked them from our elite place on the hill.

Incidentally, sometimes the houses were named after other things like explorers (Cook house, Bass house etc) or whatever, but any school that broke the colour code and had a pink house or a purple house, they were rogue elements, and were not to be trusted with your childs education.

I digress. By the time we got to Grade 5 (house carnivals mean a lot until Grade 5, at which point, they become an excuse for a day off), I was captain of yellow house (and school vice captain dontch'a know) and my first task was to motivate yellow house at the swimming carnival. I had a lot of pressure on me - but I wasn't worried? Why? Because we had Brendan Malcyzk. Brendan was a Polish born swimming machine, literally not good at anything else, including speaking, walking or colouring in, but a man fish born to reign over the pool, the Rachel Lee Peacock of the Richmond swimming scene. Interestingly, like Rachel, puberty wasn't kind to him, he moved to another school, got over a terrible case of acne, and then blossomed into a honey, lost interest in swimming, and shacked up with a 36 year old cleaner named Patricia, causing quite the commotion. At this point though, this was all before him. At this point in his life, we had him in 9 races, and with 9 wins in the Grade 5 section, and a guaranteed win in the non swimmers kickboard section thanks to fancy paperwork putting people who could swim in the races (like the East Germans, we had spies and ways to cheat too), my reign at Yellow house was about to begin in glory.

When I got to the swimming pool, I was armed with my clipboard, pen and all the self importance a Grade 5 can muster. I had the little kids primed to paint their faces in yellow sunblock, I got us the prime "middle of the hill" spot, I even arranged our house to get free ice creams for our race winners from Tony's Milk Bar. I had things going my way. I only had to marshall our crack diving crew (and convince Kevin McKay not to do a bellywhacker, even if it was "for a Freddo cos it was a bet"). It was then I looked over onto a small brick wall, and saw Brendan, if not crying, then certainly visibly distressed. He was looking around anxiously, and had a towel around his shoulders. It didn't look good at all. I certainly didn't want to be the first captain of Yellow house since the 100 years war to lose a major event. It was with great tact and diplomacy I took it on myself to deliver a motivational speech of great class.

"What's up?" I said. Allan Jeans would have been proud.

Brendan said nothing. He put his head in his hands, taking his trembling left hand off his face long enough to gesture behind him. Through the wire fence, was a man in beige/brown Y fronts that redefined the words "budgie smugglers". He was clearly a child of the 1980s, and he was leaning against a brown and battered Torana, taking giant gulps of Solo from a can. He had a fantastic mullet, the kind that looks in the middle like the mullet might stop, but then carries on and on, and he had nothing else on except for his Y fronts, save for a fair of bright blue thongs, and a handlebar moustache homaging cricket great Merv Hughes. It was quite the sight, but then it dawned on me. I looked at Brendan, I looked at Solo man, cracking a thirst, then back at Brendan.

"THAT'S your Dad?" I said, in perhaps a tone or two away from soothing.

"It's embarrassing isn't it," he said, dejected. "Don't tell anyone, I hope he's not wearing those to watch me - I can't swim - what if someone finds out..."

It was at this point that our school cheerleader, the most popular girl in school, Amber Bennett, joined the group. Her eyes were bulging out of her head. She looked hard at the porn star in our midst who if he had not come to clean ze pool, had come to embarrass Brendan, and steal our hopes of victory. Amber was in Red House, and in the blink of an eye had clocked Torana man, and was keen to gossip and gain a vital psychological edge for her team.

"Who's the DUDE!" she said, pointing behind us.

I had at this point, a powerful choice to make. I could have betrayed Brendan, I could have sided with Amber, I could have upped my popularity a little bit had I spread the gossip that I saw Mr Malcyzk in his beige Y fronts, and that it was SO embarrassing - instead, I looked her with a cool, captains gaze...

"Dunno, some guy," I said, defiantly unaware of my social standing.

"YOU," she said, "don't know nuffink."

"YOU don't know nuffink" I said, in an exchange that would be repeated many times over on the Jerry Springer show in future years.

"Whatever," said Amber, walking off to join her posse, unaware that in the future, her cool points would drop after a Grade 6 "did she eat out of the bin!" incident clouded in mystery to this day.

Brendan looked at me appreciatively, as his Dad finished his last drop of solo, and went into the change rooms to dress more appropriately. We basked in a bonding moment, and then we had to re-focus. And re-focus we did. Brendan won 8 of his 9 races (we would have won the relay for a clean sweep except Kevin McKay fell in the pool and did a bellywhacker on the changeover) and thanks to a great effort from the Prep kids, we caned it in. Me, Brendan, and two of our kickboard champs posed for a photo in the local paper. I had (well, we had) kept our yellow winning streak.

Parents mean well generally. Certainly, it must have been hard for Brendan, but he came through. I can't think of many more embarrasing things your Dad could do than parade around in brown Y fronts. I was so proud of Brendan, and for weeks afterwards, whenever it was time to take the trophy out for polishing, we'd share a knowing glance, the kind of wink people do at the end of a bad heist movie.

But this was one occassion, for sure, when the power of Y was not a good thing, but a very wrong and bad thing...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Desperately Seeking Office Furniture

Well people are nothing if not challenging I guess. The lovely SjuSju over at this fine place left a lovely comment and politely asked that I start writing about Office Furniture...OK...I'll certainly be keen to try...

Desperately Seeking Office Furniture

Jewel, when challenged to tell the world just one thing, declared she'd tell it that it's all OK, and not to worry, since worry is wasted, and useless in times like these. Me, I'd tell the world that if you are doing Grade 10 Work Experience, have a very clear and passionate goal (even if you don't - fake it) to work in art or media - or at the VERY least, something cushy. Luckily, I've always loved painting so it came naturally to me, but so many of my friends didn't know what they wanted to do with their lives, and so were sent off to factories and chemists, to slave away for a week. Me, I got sent to work in an art gallery, thus continuing my lives ambition to never do a proper days work in my life.

I should say, I work and earn a living painting surfboards and skateboards. I'm fascinated by the office culture, without ever desiring to work in one. The clockwatching, the Christmas party, the chain mail e-mails, and of course, having your own desk, with pictures and toys and wacky little office in jokes. I've never had any of that. I was going to take up work for a brief period of time, just to try and see if I could do it. But then I remembered I really can't make a good cup of coffee and I get drunk within 2 drinks, and it would eat into my surfing time. It's not likely to do a lot for my career prospect if I show up pissed with a surfboard.

Our career councillor was a homely, bespectacled possibly lesbian lady called Ms Eaves. She had many books on war, and an entire shelf of motivational tapes that she would lend to students and probably never see again. She was always running late for things too - an appointment with her set aside for an hour would run about ten minutes because she had to be somewhere. It was Ms Eaves who organised for to work at the art gallery though. She was very, very excited about this, and I was very excited back. I think she also liked the fact that I was happy to have a chat to her (as I do to anyone) and that I returned her tapes on time. She lent me one once which was the speeches of Winston Churchill set to ambient mood music. I think she made it herself while tripping out to be honest.

The art gallery people had never had a work experience person before, and pretty much let me either wander about with tourist groups, or use their pens and papers to draw designs on. In fact, the curator told me after I went to a sandwich shop for an hour that "I shouldn't skimp on my lunch break". For some reason, I began talking to the security guard, Liam, who guarded the pricless art armed with wit, cunning and the ability to say things like "nah mate, none of that round here". He was a pretty cool guy though, but he was most proud of one thing. Out the back, round the corner, down the corridor and past that Aboriginal display everyone said they liked but never visited, was an antique, but abandoned, old desk, in the middle of a cold, dark, abandoned gallery that once housed Belgian art or something.

"This is me office kid," he said proudly. He motioned to me to look over this desk, his treasure. and pulled back the top. When he did, there was a hollowed out drawer, like a big plastic tray. He was clearly very proud of this desk, but even more proud of the hollowed out plastic tub inside that held his stash. Proudly, he took out a packet of jelly snakes and eat one longingly. He picked up his paper and sat down on the chair.

"This is the good life, bastards don't know about it!" he said.

"Very impressive - tres chic," I said, nodding in approval.

And that would have been that, except for a dishevelled American man, who was suddenly amongst us. He had wandered out the back, round the corner, down the corridor and past the Aboriginal display everyone said they liked but no one ever visited. He had golf clothes on, and looked stereotypically Jewish, although that might just have been a stereotype.

"Excuse me, is this modern art?" he said, bemused.

"Nah mate, just me fucking desk," said Liam, eating a snake, and getting up and leading our Jewish friend back to the Aboriginal art display.

I don't know much about office furniture, I've never had to order a pen on stationery, but I know one thing - they might not be art, but you can at least hide shit in them, and sometimes, that's really you want out of life - functionality, not beauty, black and white over colour - a packet of jelly snakes instead of caviar...

Desperately Seeking Smile cream post...0 comments...OK, I'll do my best to improve...

Jonny at Jonny's site esoterically wanted me to write about the word "smile" was tough...but I respond to ALL suggestions...

Desperately Seeking Smile

I don't mean to sound like Kevin from the Wonder Years here, but when I was 7 and growing up in the suburbs, I was always running around and couldn't sit still. I didn't have ADD or anything, but the world just seemed so cotton picking BIG, that I thought if I sat still for a moment, I'd miss out on something. Claire, my best friend, would probably think nothing has changed. I can see her now, sitting with arms folded, looking at me with her mardy blonde face, and saying, "Alyson - slow down! What's with the big dopey smile on your face?"

I can't help it though, although I did have a brief lose my smile phase. It seems as though my mum loves to remind me daily of my Grade 2 PE report - "Alyson has not fully participated in games this year - she seems unhappy at the thought of any physical activity" - in fact, it's a house catchphrase now - even though I'm pretty fit (even post baby) and surf and skate and gym up a storm, I'm still tagged as the "lazy one"...I think I know why they wrote that though...

We played a game at school called Bootball which is possibly the most demented game I've ever played. The rules were that the fielding team...well they fielded, and it was played the same way as baseball. Except that instead of pitching, the "pitcher" just threw a basketball to you to catch. Then, if you caught it, you could kick it anywhere you liked. Our school playground was on a big sloping hill, and that made the game even more demented. Provided you could kick it with a tiny amount of force, you could get the basketball to pitch and spin on the edge of the hill, and roll amusingly just out of reach of the fielder. Our school nun (yes, I am Catholic, although deeply lapsed - the same nun told me to shush up in church one day, and that was that) invented it, while bored out of her mind watching Highway To Heaven one Sunday. Given she also to visit the students (I remember she came to my house one day to play Connect 4 and my Dad was deliberately losing so she'd go home quicker), I can imagine that inventing silly games to play were probably her idea of a fun night out.

There was a girl at our school called Rachel Jane Peacock. She was our school whiz at sports. She was proper athletic, and the first person I ever saw in my life do the splits. I was an OK runner, I made state relay titles and things, but she was just a lightning rod of pace. Sadly, she grew breasts and was never the same again. But back then, we used to point knowingly at the map as we waited for the 88 Olympics, as if a 10 year old kid was going to win gold. Silly kids. A bronze was at least realistic.

To cut a long story short, Rachel had kicked the ball and got the right amount of spin, but a diving Kevin McKay had thrown the thing back quickly just before it ran out of reach down the bottom of the hill, so she had only made it to third. It was my turn to kick, but I was picking daisys and talking to my friend Jess. "Cerm orn Alyson" said the nun, gently. "Geez!" I said, in my best sulky teen voice. "Come on Y" yelled Rachel, in a manner that was just a bit too matey for my sulky self. Incidentally, I've tried to remember why suddenly at 7 I was feeling sulky, and I honestly can't think...was that the week I was dark because Live Aid was on instead of Punky Brewster? Anyway, whoever the pitcher was threw me the ball, and I caught it, and I really did try my best to kick it, but I had new Hush Puppies on, and I think that in my mind, I was probably concerned between drop and kick that I'd scuff my shoes, and the ball dribbled a centimetre from my toe. There's a rule in Australia - "tippernay run" - which means if you have made contact with the ball, everyone runs. And so, I ran. Oh I was fine, made it to second. But Rachel, she was screwed. She ran like a girl heading for the gallows, and was promptly "tagged" with the ball by a fat kid, revelling in the fact that he had beaten the star in something athletic. She was out.

She didn't take it well. She stormed up to second base, where I had found a ladybug to be my friend.

"WHAT..." she said sternly, "...was THAT?"

I stood quietly for a moment, looked at Rachel, looked at the ladybug, looked back at Rachel. The nun sprinted (well ambled) over to us, and said in a stern voice "Now girls...remember...Jesus would turn the other cheek...he would accept mistakes happen..."

Rachel turned and looked the nun dead in the eye and said "Jesus...would have got me a HOME RUN!" in a "I'll screawm and screawm until I'm sickkk" voice.

And something about the whole situation was just so utterly funny, so weird, and so demented, that I laughed. I sat on second base and cried with laughter. I couldn't play anymore that day. In fact, every time I looked at Rachel after that, I just burst into laughter, the harder she played, the funnier I found it. Every time we went out to play sport, as she stretched and limbered up, I couldn't help but fact, I casually picked on her many times in the years afterwards...once she dropped a library book in Grade 12, and I wandered past muttering "Jesus wouldn't have dropped it". She looked like the weariest girl in the world.

She can always rest assured though that she has caused me to never lose my smile...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Desperately Seeking Ice Cream

From cheese - to a suggestion I write about ice cream from the lovely Hannah at Whatevers Left UK Chart site - so yeah, why the hell not...

Desperately Seeking Ice Cream

Who was the genius who made up the childhood chant "I scream, you scream, we all scream, for ice cream?" - do people who make up childhood chants get credited? Artists rights? Royalties? Who was the first guy at a football game or whatever to start support by just spelling the teams name. "Give us a G" "Why?" "Just go with me..." "What do I do?" "Just when I say give us a G, you say G" "Why?" "Just do it! We'll spell the teams name!" "Can't we just say the teams name?" "NO! Spelling is inspirational!"

But I digress - I said before candy is the most illicit of substances for a child, but ice cream signifies a more special treat. To be honest, candy was everwhere, and cheap - 1c, 2c - but ice cream? That could cost a whole 20c minimum. Whenever I think of ice cream I think of the song "Pleasure and Pain" by the Divinyls, which posited there was a fine line between pleasure and pain. Ice cream was like that - it could bring joy and it could bring misery. And the biggest causer of pleasure was the treat that was the Golden Gaytime - an ice cream named in more innocent times, a yummy treat containing nuts, and nougat and which was also so cold on first bite, it hurt your teeth. It was a good ache though, a slight tremble ran through the eater as they enjoyed such a treat. It was (before Vodka laced Magnums) the high end of the ice cream spectrum.

There was a milk bar Claire and I visited on one of our trips to Tasmania, in a town called Pengiun, so called because once, fairy penguins were spotted there. There a milk bar we went into, and there was a moustached man behind the counter. He was putting salt on chips, even though we were the only two people in town, just in case someone needed chips NOW damn it. He had a giant signed John Farnham poster behind the wall, and green plastic garden furniture all through his store, that we figured he took home at the weekends. It took a moment to register he had customers, but when he did, he slowly put the salt down and looked at us calmly. He didn't speak, he just nodded slowly. I pointed to two Golden Gaytimes in the freezer. "Sorry...two Choc Wedges?" he said, smiling. "No," I said, pointing again, while Claire tried to demolish an antique version of Pacman by hitting the buttons too hard. "Two Bubble O Bills?" he said, motioning to another boy, his son I presume, as if my request was too difficult. "No, two Golden Gaytimes!" I said, shaking my head. At this point, the son and father bonded with a look, and then had a hearty chortle. He handed over the ice creams, saying "Enjoy your...Gaytime!" and waving us off, laughing at us as if we'd told him the one about the three nuns and the runaway rabbit.

We've often wondered about this, and whether he did this to everyone. Whether eventuallly the towns folk passed an ordinance to ban the sale of Golden Gaytimes from his store, or a passing gay rights activist had one day found this offensive, and complained. Maybe this was just the only way he could communicate to his son, the only common bond they shared. Or maybe, they laughed when anyone wanted an ice cream, chuckling at people buying Eskimo Pie's or Redskin Splits...

The Redskin Split was a strange ice cream, the kind your mum bought you when she had no money left in her purse, the lower end of the ice cream spectrum. It was like an Icy Pole, but with ice cream in the middle. It cost 20c back in the day, and doled out as an irregular treat round our house. One of my favourite memories in life is that once, my Dad, doing some work for charity, received about 100 Redskin Splits he was meant to distribute to the poor, but instead, he just bought all 100 and gave them to us. I hope the delivery guy gave the money to charity. Also, oddly, there was a Green Redskin split, which seemed to defeat the purpose.

My first best friend was called Emma Cobb, a pudgy girl with mannish hands, but a fantastic taste in back packs that I hope outlasted our friendship. Text books try and tell you a girl changes in puberty - real girls know the biggest change in any girl comes in the summer between age 5 and 6 when girls discover something more powerful than boys or drugs or all that other so called life changing stuff. They discover the power of being a bitch. They discover gossip, and very quickly form the cliques that will set them up for their high school life. One or two will even discover that if they just share a little bit of their lunch with the boys, and say that anything anyone carries "totally sucks", they can climb the social ladder.

Emma Cobb went from being a normal kid who liked stamps and running really fast into walls (well, avoiding them at the last minute) to a moody ball of angst, who cried when her lunch order bag was late, and who wouldn't do colouring in or play with lego because "it was for babies". One day, in the playground, I was munching on one of the 100 Redskin Splits we had (I think we had about 70 left at that point) when Emma Cobb came up to me, and wordlessly took it out of my hand, and threw it on the ground. I stood stunned, coming face to face with my first experience of bullying, of someone deliberately ruining something for pleasure. It was a pivotal moment, one that would set up my life. Word got round the Grade 1 playground quickly - "come quick, Alyson is having her first experience of bullying, let's hope she cries!"

I could have hit her. Well, I could have aimed a slap at her blotchy face. I could have walked away. I could have cried, given the masses what they wanted. Instead, out of nowhere, I screwed up my face, smoothed my brunette hair with my left hand, looked at the fallen ice cream, offered a moment of silent reflection, and hit the big Grade 1 1-2 punch...

"Oh...that was so funny, I forgot to laugh! Just cos your family is too poor for ice creams!"

Too poor for ice creams! I had hit her where it hurts. If needs be, I could have started up a chant about picking her nose, rubbing it in the dirt and eating it for desert, but the damage was done. Emma ran away to the corner of the playground crying, and didn't speak to me for the rest of our primary school lives, unless forced to be my partner in something. I realised then that I wasn't cut out to be a bitch, that I would embrace my role in life was to be a benny, dispassionate to social standings. Emma Cobb moved to Adelaide at the end of Grade 5, having seemingly made peace with the world, even bringing lamingtons to her farewell party.

There's a fine line between pleasure and pain? There's a finer line between ice creams bringing people together and tearing people apart - life is based on the motto - the better it tastes, the more people want took ice cream to teach me that lesson...