Toads and Witches and Childhood Angst

When I was a child I had 3 or 4 quite prominent warts on the side of my little finger on my left hand. They disappeared as I grew older, but I can feel them now as I think of it. It was something I was terribly ashamed of, and I despised anyone holding my hand for fear – entirely warranted – they would shrink away, or ask if I’d been touching toads, or scream that I would give them warts. All of those things happened at one time or another, until I was so paranoid that I felt the ‘horror’ of the warts was the only thing anyone could see on my whole hand.

I used to rub them with the thumb of my other hand: not sure why – checking to see if they had gotten smaller, to see if I could rub them away, to focus on my ‘flaws’ because that’s all I could think of – all those things I suppose. I just found myself  rubbing that finger now, unconsciously, even though they have been gone for years.

I tried all kinds of remedies, over the years, to remove them; banana peels, bandaids (to keep out the oxygen), various creams and ointments from the chemist, cutting them out with scissors…nothing worked, and the remedies were frequently painful. The memories of the very specific pain from the cutting, the sight of the blood, the pale, washed-out look of them after removing another bandaid, are very clear, but I can’t remember what ultimately caused them to go. I have a vague memory of a doctor’s implement embedding itself again and again into them, so I suppose they were frozen, but it seems odd that I can remember having them so clearly, but the memory of the removal of them is so fuzzy.

I even hated the word, and I still don’t use it very often (like I’m avoiding it right now). I felt stigmatised, and every time there was a conversation about witches, or toads, or anything else that could be associated, I shrank a little, hoping that no-one would look at me. It seems very silly and overblown now, but I was deeply self-conscious about it then.

Just recently, a close friend and I happened to get to talking about warts and she mentioned that she had had warts in exactly the same place, as a child, and that they, also, had gone away. I was amazed, but even more so when we compared our hands as they currently are, and found a couple of tiny, barely noticeable, warts in, again, exactly the same places as each other.

I have one wart on a finger joint on the palm side of my right hand, that appeared just a few years ago. I often find myself unconsciously rubbing this one in the same way I did as a child, but, this time, strangely, I like it. It’s a quirk that reminds me I’m me.


Slamming Doors Can Lead to a Messy End

When I was a child, my family owned an LP of Stanley Holloway (I think) reading Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales For Children. It would send a delicious shiver through me every time I listened to it, as it didn’t feel like the normal watered-down namby-pambiness that is designed for children’s consumption. It felt as though I shouldn’t be listening to it – too much bluntness about death and naughtiness. It was obvious, even to a child, though, that they were designed by an adult to keep kids under control 🙂

I had a couple of ‘tales’ that were particular favourites, and this was one of them:

(Who Slammed Doors For Fun And Perished Miserably)
A trick that everyone abhors
In little girls is slamming doors.
A wealthy banker’s little daughter
Who lived in Palace Green, Bayswater
(By name Rebecca Offendort),
Was given to this furious sport.

She would deliberately go
And slam the door like billy-o!
To make her uncle Jacob start.
She was not really bad at heart,
But only rather rude and wild;
She was an aggravating child…

It happened that a marble bust
Of Abraham was standing just
Above the door this little lamb
Had carefully prepared to slam,
And down it came! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.

Her funeral sermon (which was long
And followed by a sacred song)
Mentioned her virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her vices too,
And showed the deadful end of one
Who goes and slams the door for fun.

The children who were brought to hear
The awful tale from far and near
Were much impressed, and inly swore
They never more would slam the door,
— As often they had done before.

Hilaire Belloc


It feels a little odd to be ordering our 10kg (22 pounds) turkey, stocking up on cranberry sauce, planning pecan pie and green bean casserole, pulling out the harvesty decorations, and investigating new stuffing recipes. We celebrate Thanksgiving every year here in Oz, just like we did in America – except we celebrate on the Saturday after the real Thanksgiving, and we host it, rather than HL’s grandparents. It’s such a lovely connection to our American life, and my parents adore it, but we feel a bit alone.

Usually everybody around is preparing for the same holiday at the same time: hence the million turkeys at Safeway (29c/pound, rather than $7-8/kilo), pumpkin pie recipes in every magazine, the line at the grocery store, the Norman Rockwell-like depictions of family dinners on every tv channel. But, here, Thanksgiving is a novelty. A holiday that very few Australians can grasp (“Well…you have turkey, and gravy, and stuffing, and pie, and…you have the whole family around…and…then you watch sport on tv…and…umm…most people have the Friday off as well…and there’s lots of history about American Indians sharing meals with the new settlers, and things like that…and, that’s Thanksgiving…”).

So, we love the whole hoopla of it – celebrating American culture and history and HL’s background and childhood memories, and etc. – but, we feel a bit far from home.

12 litres of milk…

Mother and Son was a delight, and I remember the anticipation of waiting for the next episode. My family always watched it together when I was a child, and I was thrilled to find out recently that a friend owns the series on DVD. We’ve been watching from the beginning, and we saw the episode below last week. Ruth Cracknell was such a joy, and Garry McDonald the perfect son.

Well, that takes me back…

Was browsing youtube and had to giggle when I saw this ad. When it first aired I was about 13, and, even though I didn’t really like Crunchies at the time, the ‘coolness’ of the older kids, whose lives were so obviously transformed by their Crunchie-consuming experience, always made me long for one.

Dorkiness Will Out

I was kinda a moderately dorky kid; different enough to be on the dorky side, but perceptive enough to be aware I had dorky tendencies, which, surprisingly, dials down dorkitude.

When I was in primary school there was already clique-iness stirring, even though our class, school and town were all so small that we’d grown up with each other. I was well aware of my social standing – amongst the ‘smart’, middle-classy kids – so when a ‘cool’, rebel girl, from well outside that group, made friends with me, I was pretty stoked (well, I wouldn’t have used the term ‘stoked’, being only 8 or 9, which would have made it about 25 years ago, and ‘stoked’ wasn’t so big then, but you get the emotion). Let’s call her Kelly.

So, when Kelly invited me to her birthday party I understood that she’d gone outside the ‘norm’ to do so, and I felt like my whole social status was on the cusp of morphing into something more interesting.

The day of the party I spent time getting ready, wrapped a carefully-chosen present, and made certain that my mum drove me to the caravan park where Kelly lived, right on time. After Mum parked, she and I walked to Kelly’s caravan and tentatively knocked on the zip-up awning. There didn’t seem to be a lot of activity, which was a bit worrisome, but I figured that maybe I was just the first to arrive.

After a couple of knocks, Kelly’s mum came out to see us, with a question in her voice and a quizzical eyebrow raise. I, haltingly, stumbled out that I was here for Kelly’s birthday, had I got the time wrong?, was I too early?

There was a little laugh from her mum, ‘It’s not till next Saturday.’

‘Oh. I’m sure the invitation had today’s date, I’m sorry to bother you. See you next week.’ And then I hurried my mum back to the car, shamefaced, red-faced, and having lost face. I was hugely relieved that Kelly hadn’t been there – apparently she was at the pool – but also aware that there was no way that her mum would keep to herself what had transpired.

I can still feel the burning, roiling humiliation in my stomach as we drove home, knowing I would have to go to school on Monday and hear about it. I looked at the invitation when I got home and realised that I must have just been excited about going, and not checked too closely, because the date, very clearly, said next Saturday’s date.

When Monday rolled around there wasn’t a lot of joking at my expense, just a bit of teasing, but it was obvious to me that any burgeoning social status change had been shelved, probably due to my clear (to fellow primary-schoolers) display of dorkiness. I don’t recall a lot about the actual party the next Saturday, just a vague feeling of awkwardness, as the reality of spending a few hours with a party’s-worth of ‘cool’ acquaintances manifested itself.

Kelly and I were polite, even occasionally friendly, with each other through the rest of our concurrent schooling, but we never really got past the awkwardness.

Life is Capricious

I love cicadas. When my brother and I were children, we used to collect their discarded shells from the trunks of the many palm trees at our grandparents’ house, and my mum would tell us about the Green Grocers and Brown Bakers and Black Princes. There’s lots of happy memories associated with cicadas, for me.

A few days ago, after days of bucketing rain, I noticed a cicada, upside-down in his water-filled tunnel, vaguely struggling. After walking past, thinking ‘Hmm, poor thing, shouldn’t interfere with nature.’, I decided that it would be such a simple thing to go back and dig him out of his hole and rescue him. So I did.

Yesterday, after coming home from the grocery store I saw a little blob of squished stuff near where the car usually parks, and had a closer look to see what it was. Sure ’nuff…

Sittin’ in the theatre, readin’ the program, and waitin’…

I posted the poem ‘Effanineffable’ a little while ago, and in the last few days there have been lots of people coming here because of that post. Not quite sure why the sudden interest, maybe there’s an English class somewhere doing a unit on ‘The Poems of T.S. Elliot’, dunno…anyway, I started thinking about the first time I came in contact with Elliot’s ‘cat poems’.

Even though we grew up in a tiny little town, many, many hours away from ‘the big smoke’ my parents, and, in particular, my mum, wanted to make sure that we weren’t disadvantaged culturally. Not only did we go to every possible theatrical, educational, cultural or musical performance within 200 kilometres, we were also periodically taken on the 7 hour trip to Sydney to see the ‘big shows’ – ‘Les Mis.’, ‘Starlight Express’, ‘Cats’

Every production we went to see was amazing and cemented a love and appreciation of performance which is undertaken with high production values, and I could rhapsodise about any of them, but I’ll confine it to the relevant one.

I think I was about 10, and my brother 6-ish, when we went to see ‘Cats’. (Actually, I just checked the Wikipedia page, and, yes, I was 10.) There’s a moment, right before a performance begins, when you’re flipping through the program, thinking about the possible plot/music/action, looking at the photos of ‘the principals’, and slowly immersing yourself in the experience, when the possibilities seem uncontained, when you get little glimpses into what the next 3 or so hours could hold, and the anticipation builds.

The set of ‘Cats’ is somethin’ else. The immersion of the audience into the action  environment  world is instant, even as you’re clambering to your seats (in the nosebleeds for us 🙂 ). The rubbish dump that houses these ‘effanineffable’ cats is built to scale and encases the whole theatrical space. As humans play the cats in this colony of strays, all of the props are built to dwarf the humans, so the proportions of the empty cans of Coke and the rotting tires and the old newspapers are huge. And, not only is everything supersized, it doesn’t stay on the stage. All of the seats in the theatre are surrounded by piles of massive and intricate garbage, close enough to touch.

As we were ushered to our seats I was truly aware that there would be no wondering in that moment before the start of the production. It was so apparent that there would be no desire to curl up on the floor and fall asleep during this show. I sat, entranced, feeling engulfed by the elaborate stage dressing that had leaked from the stage into the audience. Even though the excitement and joy was immense during that time of waiting, it was not, in any way, to be compared to the excellence of being swept into the actual show itself.

I remember the delight, even as I was not really understanding the ‘plot’, as Webber’s music and Elliot’s strange and magical and detailed words created something. Something that was about an unknown and obscure, but complex, world, that contained depth and mystery and…completeness, I guess.

I might be overthinking, over-remembering, but I can feel myself – 23 years ago – feeling transported and overjoyed at this glimpse of a world.

I wonder if I forget sometimes that, in terms of eternity, I’m still just sitting in the audience, reading the program, anticipating the world to come. The set’s pretty elaborate, and reminds me that the bit to come – the ‘real’ production – is gonna be overwhelming, and all-encompassing, and characterised by high  perfect production values. Effanineffable…

Childhood was a long time ago, and far away

Yesterday I was playing around on Google maps, street level, and I had a sudden inclination to ‘wander’ ’round the small town I grew up in. I ‘walked’ past my high school, down to the corner where I used to linger with the boy I liked, along the main street, looking in shop windows, past my church, from my house to the pool… The internal reaction was surprisingly visceral.

I was physically back there a year ago, just driving around with HL and a friend, and it was nice, and a bit nostalgic, but not a particularly deep response. This ‘visit’ was different. I felt almost physically ill from the assault of a million, million early memories. The smell of the chlorine, the pebbly feel of the post office foyer, the coffee shop where I had my first ‘grown-up’ birthday party, the crunch of the gravel under my feet as I walked past the 3rd last house before home, the steepness of the hill that I rode my bike up, the tall gateposts at school I would sit on and swing my legs…

I don’t, in any way, want to move back there, or ‘go back to childhood’ in any way, but the gut-wrenching realisation that all of that is past, gone, not even ‘visitable’, was affecting. The linear nature of living is hard.

Knit One, Purl Two…

I’ve taken up knitting. It seemed like a good skill to have and a productive thing to do over winter. I learnt to knit one other time in my life, back in 1985, when I was 10. My school ran a program in our little town called ‘Granny Teaching’. All of Year 5 would troop down to the local retirement home once a week and the residents would teach us various ‘old skills’ that people rarely learn anymore: knitting, crochet, cross-stitch…

I was particularly excited to learn to knit as it had always seemed to be a mysterious thing, unknowable. I chose my wool very careful (a fuzzy periwinkle blue) and picked the right kind of knitting needles, and stored it all, including the growing scarf, in a little basket. Even after ‘Granny Teaching’ finished and the knitting energy had died off a bit I still kept all my knitting stuff for many years – just in case I decided to take it back up again.

I never did finish my simple (and very ugly and messy) scarf. But, I’ve started a new one. Nothin’ fancy, just a plain black, long, narrow rectangle, with no ‘purl’, ‘double basket weave’ or ‘garter rib’, and lots of dropped stitches, but satisfying, none the less. The wool (well, acrylic, really) is feathery and fuzzy enough, and the knitting needles large enough, that the dropped stitches/holes look like they’re s’posed to be there, and it’s been a good lesson that sometimes even simple and far from perfect attempts can be truly satisfying.

The Elaboration Pt 2

This is the continuation of this post, and then this post.

I developed a deep and pure love for The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a child and my mum read the whole series to my brother Lucien and me. Lewis created a world that was more than captivating, that felt real. The stories felt deep and true, like real mythology.

I have a sense of something that I’ve never been fully able to grasp/explain/understand. I can see it in the distance but can’t get close enough to focus on the detail. It’s a sense of majesty and honour and depth and righteousness and beauty and rightness and glory and harmony and perfection… A sense of reality that is deeper than we can see, but that is implanted in us. It’s why we respond to to stirring scenes in movies, to stories about honour and sacrifice, to beauty in people and things. My understanding of all these concepts, and even the bigger thing behind them is due, in a large part, to the stories and world woven by Lewis. He seemed able to not only sense these ‘big’ things, but to show us glimpses of them.

There was a BBC version of four of the Narnia chronicles many years ago. It was lovely, and truly brought some of the most fun aspects of the series alive (in particular Tom Baker as Puddleglum) but it, quite naturally, could only work within a BBC budget and the technology constraints of its time, so, while it provided a taste, a visually-realised Narnia was not possible.

The current series is actually doing a remarkable job of presenting a beautiful and rich Narnian world that draws you in, and I have truly enjoyed the first two movies. HL and I went to see Prince Caspian a few days ago. It had been a long day at work for both of us and neither of us were really overly enthusiastic, but it was the final showing at the local cinema so…well, we dragged ourselves there.

The movie was as heart-lightening and engaging as I had hoped it would be, and we both were pleased that we’d gone. And this story could easily end there, but it doesn’t.

I have always found the concept of Jesus, being both fully man and fully God, difficult to grasp. I cope quite well with the the thought of a huge and mind-boggling Father God, but the complex interaction between the perfection of God and the humanness of Jesus I can’t quite fathom. It has always made me uncomfortable. I love Jesus deeply for his sacrificial love for me, and am so grateful, but I’ve always felt a bit distant. Songs and talk about our ‘friend’ Jesus have always left me a bit cold. And this has made me incredibly sad for many years, feeling such distance.

While I was watching Prince Caspian, however, Jesus tapped me on the shoulder. The depth and purity and complexity and joy of the relationship between Lucy and Aslan has always stirred such delight in me, and there was a scene in the movie where Lucy meets Aslan in a wooded glen that is alive with…I don’t know…’rightness’. Everything is working as it should be: trees step aside to let Lucy through; leaves dance in joy; sunlight dapples perfectly; the wood is one flawlessly interacting creation. And into Lucy’s experience with the wood steps Aslan.

She is beside herself with gladness to see him because he is her beloved friend. She has so much history with him, both joyful and dark, and that has made them very close. When he comes he brings righteousness and light and perspective and clarity and love. And it’s obviously apparent that he takes an equal delight in his friendship with her.

I felt my heart leap watching the two so happy to see each other, and at that moment Jesus told me that I didn’t have to grapple with the man-Godness of him, but that he would be Aslan to me. He would be was/is the being that I already understand through my long-term interaction with the kingdom of Narnia. Being able to recognise Jesus as ‘my own Aslan’ was a relief to my soul. If I can grasp the lion who ‘isn’t tame, but he’s good’, then I’ve already grasped the person of Jesus. Instead of feeling very distant he feels as though he’s never been far away. And I’m so grateful.


I remember being a small child in the playground at school and calling the black stuff that we were playing on ‘bitumen’, and having another child ‘correct’ me, saying, “No, it’s called ashfelt.” “Ah,” I thought, “I feel less ignorant”. I continued to use the term ‘ashfelt’ for many years after, even when I knew that it was spelt ‘asphalt’. That seems to be how we pronounce it here in Australia.

When I moved to the US and used the term to HL he seemed entirely ignorant of the concept of ‘ashfelt’, and I had to explain to him what I was talking about. Once he grasped what I meant he laughed at me, long and heartily, that we could be so silly as to pronounce the word ‘asphalt’ as ‘ashfelt’, not ‘ass fault’. “But you’re adding an extra ‘h’ where there isn’t one,” he said incredulously, “it just sounds silly”.

And yes, he was right, it does sound silly. So I now pronounce it ‘ass fault’.

Tonight I was watching Can We Help? , and the ‘Wise Words’ segment dealt with this exact question – why do we mispronounce ‘asphalt’? Apparently it has something to do with the British propensity for turning foreign, unfamiliar words into something that sounds more like a word that might exist in English – so the Latin ‘asphalton’ becomes the pedestrian ‘ash felt’.

Huh…so I guess the playground ‘correction’ wasn’t so helpful and enlightening as I first thought it to be. Turns out I was given the lazy and uninspired version of a much better sounding word. And, in hindsight, ‘bitumen’ is actually a much more interesting term. There’s so much to unlearn from childhood…

The Night Watch

As a child we lived in a big old brick house with a verandah. My bedroom had a window which looked directly out onto the verandah, and I would sometimes lie in bed with the lights out and the curtains open, and watch the night before falling asleep. One night the outside dark was so compelling I had to sneak out the front door to sit on the verandah and watch.

The pageantry in the sky became so beautiful I wanted to seize and remember it, but, being only 12, I had no camera or video to record it. I crept inside, trying desperately not to alert my parents that I was up and about; I didn’t want to share my night, I felt it would have been ruined. I found a pen and paper and went back out to perch on the edge of the verandah.

It was too dark to actually see what I was writing, but I scrawled down what was happening in the sky as I watched. Once the night sky closed in with the rolling clouds I went back to my room and tried to decipher what I had written. This is it, and, while the writing’s obviously naïve and somewhat contrived, it evocatively transports me to that night, and I am that 12 year old again, in my nightie, sitting on the wooden boards of our verandah, with my feet on the cement path, my body huddling against the wind, and my soul trying to soak up the eternal moment before my parents discover me and damage my connection to it.

Dark clouds almost entirely cloak the endless sky. The moon’s not visible except by the glowing illumination of his clouds. He, shyly, reluctantly, makes an entrance, confidence expanding by the second. He shifts the clouds, gaily dancing as the star of his realm.

Suddenly, confidence wanes for, apparently, no reason, and he abruptly slips behind a cloud. Quickly and defiantly they seem to take over the sky, governing on their own. Swallowing the moon, they seem to dominate.

The wind acquires speed and intensity, ignoring polite conventionalities, as though in league with the evil, scheming clouds. Unrest consumes the sky kingdom, the wind at his most forceful. An unwitting victim of his own subjects, the moon king is captured.

I can still sense the gusts of wind, and see the muted glow of the king shaded by his subject captors, and feel the joy of the bond with the night spectacle.


‘Go, Speed Racer, Go’

Me, affectionately, to HL, as the first flash of Speed Racer begins: Are you 6 again?

HL: *nodding head with a big boyish grin*

Web 2.huh?

There was a course run at work recently which was designed to introduce people to the Web 2.0 concept. I was having lunch near where the session was taking place and it was a fascinating thing to watch 20 or so middle-aged plus (mostly) women struggle with internet networking, blogs, youtube, wikis and the like. I spoke to a friend who was at the course about how she thought it was going, and whether she was learning anything, and she said that she still didn’t really know what the session was about.

Web 2.0 in a nutshell, to me, means connection, communication, co-operation, and so we talked a bit about how the internet used to be seen primarily as merely a tool for recording and passing on information, but how it’s now seen as much more of a people-linking interactive ‘new way of doing things’. It was a real insight into how difficult and alien the grapple with technology can be for a generation who were adults before home computers were commonplace, ubiquitous.

I was a very small child when we first had a computer in our home in ’79 or so. It was one of the very first ‘regular’ computers in our town, probably one of the earliest in the country. Lots of families had Ataris and Commodore 64s but my dad was one of the first to jump on board with the new technology coming out of a small American company called Apple that would evolve into the multi-billion dollar Mac brand.

We had an Apple II+ if I recall correctly, and I recall, with delight, the utter joy given by hour after hour playing Mystery House, The Wizard and the Princess (the first 2 hi-res adventures), Turtle and later, the original Print Shop. It felt as though a door was opened, through which an ever-expanding and complexifying landscaping could be viewed, and, ultimately, romped in.

My dad was able to see the amazing potential of these machines as being far beyond the ‘super calculator’, and has instilled in me, from a time almost before I can remember, my connection with technology that feels normal and natural. I am utterly grateful to my dad and so, so proud of his enthusiastic ‘jumping aboard’, which pushed him far ahead of many of his contemporaries in the area of personal computing.

Part of the reason that I am grateful to my dad is that computers were so much a part of my growing-up that the internet just seemed like the next door, which then opened onto an even bigger, and more amazing and bewildering and exciting landscape. And then, in 1997, I met HL online.

Web 2.0, schmoo point oh… The computer was ALWAYS about connection and communication and co-operation for my dad.

Oh! So that’s what one of those is like…

A lot of my childhood memories are a bit blurry. I do have quite a few specific memories of incidents, but mostly the memories are generic: my pink and green bedroom; walking to the pool in summer; playing the flute in the school band; swinging in the hammock under the mulberry tree with a stack of comic books.

My first memory, though, is quite specific and vivid. Train of thought follows:

“Well, here we are, in the loungeroom with Mum and Dad and those nice people who come to visit sometimes. They’re paying lots of attention to me and laughing and happy, which is good. Wait, Mum seems to have gone…Where is she? I’ll just reach around and look behind my back here…oh, there she is, in the kitchen. Mum? Mum? What ya doing? That looks interesting, I think I’ll come and join you. Hey! Stop! Lemme go! I’m a kid, you can’t stop me from going to see my mum. She’s my mum, I’m a kid, I have a right to be with my mummy ANY TIME I WANT. You’re making me feel sad and mad, stop stopping me. I need to go into the kitchen, I need my mummy now…now. MUMMY! MUMMY! They’re stopping me crawling into the kitchen where you are. I need you, why are they stopping me? I’m going to cry, really, really loud because I’m a bit scared and angry. Huh? What? What are you singing? What’s that thing you’re carrying? It’s pretty, and it’s got a flickery thing on it, and you’re singing something like ‘…happy…day…you…dear Aili’… Hang on, this feels familiar. This feels like that thing…what is it? Oh yeah! A birthday! That’s that thing that I heard about and wished I’d had one so I knew what it was like! A birthday! Now I can say I’ve had a birthday! Yay! Oh yeah, so that’s why they wouldn’t let me into the kitchen…birthdays are about surprises!”

So, yep…that was my first birthday. I wasn’t so eloquent as a one year old, but that’s a pretty fair rendering of my first concrete memory.


I have a bit of a thing about bugs around my head. I’m not quite sure how it began, possibly because of the following…

Buggy Story #1

I used to have very long hair as a child and I would have nightmares about grasshoppers and praying mantises (manti?) getting tangled irretrievably in my hair, and of being unable to remove them without squishing them into a tangle of carapace, guts and hair. This never actually eventuated (yay!) but I did have a boy once put a grasshopper on my head when I was about 11.

We’d just come back into the classroom after lunchtime and he had a lovely green surprise waiting. Fortunately, the bug disentangled itself quite easily when I flicked it off and it went on its merry way, while I was in a state of shuddery shock for the rest of the afternoon, hardly believing that my nightmare had almost come true. (In hindsight, I perhaps shouldn’t have mentioned my nightmares to schoolfriends as this was prob’ly the instigation of the ‘lovely green surprise’…)

Buggy Story #2 

We lived in a very old house in a very small country town, growing up, and one of the things common to both old houses and the country is the huge amount of bugs living in them, so, combine the two, and there is more insect life than you can poke a stick at (or point the Mortein at). Couple this with the fact that both my parents are of the hippie-ish, ‘No,-don’t-kill-that-nasty-thing-with-the-huge-fangs-that-could-very-conceivably-kill-you,-it’s-got-a-right-to-live’ variety, and spiders were certainly a very common element of life in my house.

Consequently, I would often have a ‘happy little spider’ living in a ceiling corner of my bedroom, directly where I could glance up from my book that I was reading in bed at night. Occasionally I would look up and notice that, in a remarkably short time, the spider had scuttled many metres closer to my bed. This led to all kinds of panicky thoughts about spiders creeping down from the ceiling in the middle of the night and meandering across my face.

Even after I turned the light off and tried to sleep the thoughts would frequently become too much and I would have to turn the light back on just to check that the spider was still there and hadn’t made a mad dash for my bed under cover of darkness. (Why it would want to do this I have no idea, the thoughts were hardly logical.) I never did find a spider creeping across my cheek in the middle of the night, but I’m still a little wary.

Buggy Story #3

The third in the trilogy of ‘bad bug experiences as a child’ happened when I was 5. I had just been sitting, eating my ‘play lunch’ (Whoever came up with this name that meant both the small school break mid-morning and the food that was eaten at said break should be embarrassed.) when I felt a horrible and forceful ‘bzz’ shoot into my ear. At first I thought there was just a fly buzzing VERY close to my ear, but when I couldn’t make it go away by waving around my ear I figured maybe my ear-drum had burst or something (I was 5, kai?).

At this point the bell rang and I had to head back to class with a persistent ‘zzz’ reverberating. The realisation horrifyingly stole over me that this was something that wouldn’t ‘fix itself’ and was most likely an actual fly in my ear. Obviously I couldn’t settle in class, and kept pressing my hand against my ear, feeling a disturbing vibration far enough in that it felt like it was my brain buzzing.

Finally I had to tell the teacher that there was something wrong. She didn’t believe me at first – s’pose she thought I had an over-active imagination – but when I wouldn’t stop fidgeting and looking anxious she sent me to the principal so she could deal with it.

Well, the principal was teaching her own class (it was a small school 🙂 ) and so she sat me in the ‘Book Corner’ to see if it would ‘go away’. This normally would have been a very pleasant and privileged treat, being able to be in with the ‘big kids’ and read book after book, but I could not shake the feeling of a sinister presence in my head.

After an hour or so the buzzing became fainter and less frequent but I still was aware that the problem hadn’t ‘gone away’. The school eventually called my mum, who picked me up and took me to the hospital. After a short ear inspection the nurse confirmed that no, I wasn’t making it up, I did, indeed, have an insect in my ear – a flying ant.

The removal process was unpleasant. The nurse had to fill my ear with liquid (warm water?) and suck it all out with a big bulb syringe. It didn’t feel good, but I did feel relieved that I had been vindicated. *smile* I think the nurse even let me keep the bug in a specimen jar so I had proof.

Hence, I don’t think my ‘no bugs around my head’ rule is overreacting. 


Reasons I’m Grateful For My Husband #1

He taught me to burp.

All through my growing-up my mum drummed into me that burping was ‘yucky’, and that it wasn’t a ‘nice’ thing to do – ‘Piggy’ was the term applied, in jest, to anyone in my family who burped within earshot.

Consequently, I think I learnt to swallow my burps, which made for very painful stomachaches and a strange gurgling in my throat whenever a burp tried to ‘escape’. Over time it became an automatic response and I wasn’t even able to force a burp (I tried, goodness me, I tried…”Drink lots of Coke.” “Swallow a lot of air.” “Contract your stomach.” “Gurgle in your throat a bit, and then push the air out.” “Drink from the other side of the glass.” – oh, wait, that one was for hiccups.). It was just never something I was able to get past.

And then I met HL. For the first time in a long time, maybe ever, I must’ve relaxed. It was as though my body remembered what I’d taught it to forget, as though a latch had unlocked, and something that had hampered me since childhood was gone.

I almost never get stomachaches anymore. This has been HL’s impact on lots of other areas in my life as well – “Just relax.” – and tensions which have been coiled inside for decades have unsprung.

Not a grape

Long time ago, when I was ’bout 9, my family and I went on an extended vacation around Europe and Asia. We needed to take quite a few flights to get from place to place and I (even though I’d never flown before this trip) was starting to think of myself as a ‘jet-setter’; a ‘woman of the world’; a ‘burgeoning sophisticate’, if you will.

The routine and rhythm of flying was something that I found both comforting and exciting, and I especially looked forward to mealtimes – the whole ‘sssh’ of the cart down the skinny aisles; the hoping they hadn’t run out of chicken by the time they got to me; the quick bathroom break before the stewardess reached my seat; the clearing off of one’s miniscule table; and, most specially, the perfectly-packaged, neatly-designed, compartmentalised meal-tray.

The whole meal-delivery process just filled me with joy. It was so efficient and wrapped and little – all specially purposed for lots of people in a tiny space. Each time a meal arrived (which is VERY often on a long flight) I would carefully and gently unwrap the cutlery and the food packets, and eat every morsel, even if the food was not something I would usually be that fond of. It was all about the experience. Somehow it tasted more interesting, more grown-up, more … just more.

Two particular meal incidents stand out from that overseas trip as a child. Unfortunately, they stand out because they both introduced a fly into the delightful aeroplane-meal-ointment.

The first meal-time that I recall so clearly proceeded uneventfully until the point when I decided that I was finished…  I must introduce an aside here: One of the things that I loved/love about flying was the fact that I had a large chuck of time that I could use however I wanted. I could get up and go to the bathroom, I could watch the movie, I could listen to the looped music channels, I could wander down the aisle, I could have a snooze – all when I chose (pretty exciting for a 9 year old).

After my meal was finished I thought about what I might like to do next in my grown-up flying journey. I didn’t have to ask my parents if I could leave the table, I didn’t have to clear said table of dirty dishes, I didn’t have to wait till my little brother was finished eating… On the other hand, it wasn’t that convenient to get up and go for a wander either, as the stewardess hadn’t yet cleared away the meal-tray, but I could stretch out and read and have a bit of a nap. I extricated my book, leaned back and reclined my seat.

There was a yelp from the seat behind me. As I’d pushed my seat back I hadn’t quite thought through the fact that there would be another passenger who was eating his own meal, which was balanced on HIS miniscule tray table, which, unfortunately, was attached to the back of my seat… The first course of this meal had been soup, which, needless to say, had ended up all over this poor gentleman, along with the remains of his second course.

I was, of course, hideously embarrassed as my, also mortified, parents tried to help the stewardess clean this man up. The rest of the flight was quite spoilt really, what with the not feeling game to recline my seat again, the shame every time I went for a walk and had to glance at the man, and the feeling very much like a child again.

When I went on another flight some years later I noted, with satisfaction (mingled with some righteous indignation), that, these days, the tray tables seemed to be attached to a common swivel point below the row of chairs, not directly to the back of the seats. I’m still nervous every time I recline though… 

The second of these stand-out meals was, if I recall correctly, on a flight into Greece. To prepare us for the spring weather – it was May – we were served a meal soon before descending which mostly consisted of a large salad. This was one of those menu items that I wasn’t normally keen on, but, when served it on a plane, I ate with gusto.

I’m usually an ‘eat-what-I-least-enjoy-first-and-save-the-yumminess-till-the-end’ kinda person. The yummiest part of this salad, I had decided, was the delicious black grape garnishing the top of the green salad. It was plump and dewy, indicating how recently it had come from the fridge. I ate my way through the lettuce and cucumber and tomato and cheese, looking forward to the lovely burst of crisp sweetness at the end.

I finally had nothing left on my plate but the grape, and so I popped it into my mouth and bit down, expecting the flavour of perhaps a muscat or seedless flame. The next thing I was aware of was that I was, involuntarily, spitting up/vomiting all over the gentleman in the seat in front of me. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what had happened until my, again mortified, parents shot out of their chair and tried to clean up, while questioning me as to what had made me do it.

I, at that point, realised that what had previously been in my mouth was not, in fact, a lovely grape, but a disgusting black olive. My very-first olive. On the way to Greece. All over another passenger – along with the rest of my lunch. How sophisticated was I?

I’ve never really been able to appreciate olives, as an adult…