Monday, 15 December 2008

A Kind Of Christmas Tree

We got into the car and went in search of a Real Christmas Tree. It had been raining for three days solid. We didn't know what to expect. The Australian had warned me not to get my hopes up. The Boy was articulating his extreme displeasure at being in the car by screaming. The Girl was shouting over him that she wanted THE BIGGEST TREE EVER IN THE WORLD. I just wanted to feel Christmassy, that's all.

There was a sign: XMAS TREES. It looked promising, mostly because we'd only been driving for three minutes and the screaming wasn't abating. A surfy-type sat nonchalantly on a chair with five Christmas trees around him. "Not many to choose from," said The Australian. "THAT ONE!" said The Girl. The Australian looked my way nervously. I was breezy: "Sure, why not? Great!" As the tree was forced into the boot I gave it my best false smile and fingered its long, feathery needles. What kind of tree are you? I thought.

We got home, but then waited for hours and hours while The Australian nipped out to buy a suitable pot for the "tree". Or it may have been only twenty minutes but I was anxious to get the trinkets on the "tree" as quickly as possible, to disguise it's true identity.

"It's a bit wonky," said Super House Guest (kind of like our third child, 'cept he cooks).
"It's fine! I don't mind!" I said, nudging him out of the way.
"But I could fix that," he implored.
"I SAID IT'S FINE!"
I banished him to the sofa so I could hurry up and get those trinkets on.

I tried my best not to stop The Girl from putting all the decorations at her eye-level. But when she wasn't looking I moved some of them. As a small consolation we went with her idea of putting a giant sparkly snowflake on the top instead of the traditional star. I'd always believed that less was more when it came to real trees, but I was even starting to think that *gasp* TINSEL might be an idea (sorry, Mum).

The Australian mainly kept his head down, but when we'd finished he looked at me sheepishly and said: "I think it's a fir tree or something."

I smiled, and put a little extra in the eggnog.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Faking It

It promises to be a very different Christmas for us this year. As usual I am syphoning out the doom and gloom of the situation and gargling with it.


For a start, the unofficial weather prediction for Melbourne is fine and 30 degrees. Does that sound like Christmas to you? How does anyone have the energy to pull crackers and argue about politics in that kind of heat? Even more bizarre is the thought of putting up all the wintery Christmas cards and decorations - and then switching on the fan to cool the stifling air and watching them blow all over the bloody place.

More serious is the fact that I cannot find any clementines. Clementines always put me in the mood for Christmas. Watermelon just doesn't do the job. Even seedless, despite the obvious joy that brings.

I am insisting on a real tree, though The Australian tells me I must brace myself as it will not be what I'm used to. But there will be no turning on the fairy lights for the children when it goes dark in the late afternoon, or sitting around it with hot chocolates, counting the sleeps until Father Christmas comes down the chimney. We'll be too busy applying factor 60 and swatting mosquitoes. We could hold Christmas in the under-the-stairs cupboard, I suppose; it's pretty dark and cold in there.

The other problem is my legs. I always looked deathly pale during a British summer but at least they were mercifully short. My arms and chest go a funny sort of reddish colour overlaid with freckles which almost looks like a tan, but my legs will not budge. I don't think they contain any pigment. They are alarming. They've got to go.

I will be attempting to solve the hot Christmas / white legs issue with two purchases guaranteed to help me Fake It: 1. body lotion which claims to build up a gradual tan (so far my legs look a little jaundiced but we are only 3 days in, give them time); 2. about enough fake snow to fill a bath tub.

So where will you find me this Christmas? Yes, in the fake-snow-filled bath, admiring my yellowish legs, with the lights out.


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Monday, 1 December 2008

The Wet Shoe Shuffle

I can't remember when it was that I became so hopeless at the basics. I was always a capable girl - irritatingly so, even. But now I struggle. We're talking Mr Bean territory here.

As you may know, I could write a book entitled Inappropriate Adventures With My Ugg Boots. Or a pamphlet at least. And then there was the incident with the size 9s and my plan to stuff them with cotton wool to get over the sizing issue. And then there were the 70s platform sandals, which were fortunately easy-peasy to walk in once I'd had seven glasses of wine.

In London I fared no better. A few days into our trip, the non-stop rain had revealed a slight fault in my trusty sneakers. Holes in the bottom of both shoes. When the day of my first meeting with my publisher arrived I was frantic because it was raining and the only other shoes I'd bought over from Oz were black patent high-heels (which, incidentally, The Australian chose and paid for, and bizarrely they are now my only 'sensible shoes'). Do black patent high heels say 'successful teen fiction writer' to you? My only option was to borrow my (young, beautiful, slim, young, we'll talk about this another day) sister's slouch boots. And then all I had to do was curl the toes of my right foot for the entire tube journey and 3-hour meeting, as her feet are a size smaller.

Surely the meeting with my agent the following week would hold no such problems. The morning was fine - great, I popped on my sneakers! Five minutes down the road - pissing down. I'm talking sheets of rain. By the time I reached the tube station both socks were sopping wet. The carriage was full so I couldn't take them off and wring them out. Surely the rain would stop once I reached Tottenham Court Road.

Nope! Soon there were sizable fountains squirting out of each sneaker with every step I made. My socks could not have been more wet. My toes could not have been more cold. I didn't want my agent to feel that the advance she'd got me for my novel was so low as to make it necessary for me to dress like a vagrant, so I decided to pop into the nearest shoe shop, make a quick purchase and change before the meeting. With five minutes till the meeting was due to begin. The resulting purchase was a little bit less than sensible. Like buying flip-flops for a skiing trip, say. Later on my father would say: "Why didn't you just spend longer looking for the shoes and turn up a bit late for the meeting? Aren't authors notoriously flaky with time-keeping?" Honestly, I would like to be able to turn up late, but I have a built-in mechanism that prevents it. I would need years of therapy to achieve that level of laid-backness.

During the meeting, I decided that the pinchiness of the shoes was merely due to the combination of wet feet and brand-newness. By the time I got home, I had rubbed two blisters so sore and raw that my family all winced in turn, and looked at me as if their once bright and capable daughter/sister/partner had be replaced by Muriel (It's Mariel!).

And where were my Uggs when I needed them? In sunny Australia, of course. Why would I take my warm sheepskin boots to chilly old England?

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Monday, 27 October 2008

Ideas for blog posts are like buses...

...you wait ages for one to show up, and then five come along at once. You stick your arm out for the first one but the driver sees you have a pushchair and some shopping bags, and tears past you, by which time the second has decided you were going to get the first and keeps going, so you stick your hand out somewhat aggressively for the third, until you realise it's not going where you want it to go, but it's has already come to a stop and the driver remonstrates with you for hailing a blog post under false pretenses; meanwhile the fourth speeds past, at which you waves your fists and yell obscenities, so that your final hope - the fifth - thinks better of picking up an irate Ugg-wearer and carries on by.


That was a rather long-winded way of saying that there has been a lot going on - exciting stuff, emotional stuff, and the usual mopping-the-floor stuff - which generally means my brain short circuits and I cannot put my thoughts into neat packages.

If it's any consolation, I feel bad about it. But it's no use, I shall have to ditch the idea of buses for now and get on that plane - I'm heading home in 6 hours. See you soon, London.


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Wednesday, 15 October 2008

What Not To Wear, 2

I'm being terrorised by a fashion-conscious six-year-old.


First it was the Uggs. Since that horrifying incident, during which she tried to forcibly remove the offending footwear from my person, she has kept up her Ugg-tormenting. 

"You're wearing your Uggs again!" she shouts from across the park. Then she comes closer, and looks from them, to me, with such derision that I feel a bit tight around the chest. She does this every time I wear my Uggs to the park, which is approximately thrice a week. It has gotten so that I can't bring myself not to wear them, because what if sub-consciously I'm ditching them because a six-year-old who wears Little Miss Chatterbox t-shirts thinks I'm a geek?

However, even I draw the line at wearing sheepskin-inners when it's 25 degrees, so today I went to the park Ugg-free. I felt confident - I knew I wasn't wearing them for the right reasons, and that I could also guarantee no sneering looks.

Or so I thought.

It began well. She raced over to where I was crouching down to brush tanbark off The Boy's head (he and a friend had been playing It's Raining Tanbark with much hilarity until the rain got in their eyes). She wanted to know why The Girl and Boy had orange and black stripes all over their faces. I replied that it was oil pastel, and they were playing tigers earlier, and I couldn't be bothered to wash it off till bath time. All acceptable, so far.

Then I stood up.

"Oh - you look ODD," she said. I pretended I hadn't heard.

"I said you look ODD. Why are you wearing runners with a skirt? Why?"

"Um, they're not really runners. They're kind of sneakers."

"They look like runners. And with a long skirt. That just looks weird."

"Oh," I said, looking down at my feet, and mentally agreeing with her. "Oh well!" I breezed, as I turned and walked away, thinking "I'm telling my blog on you."

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Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A Muesli Post

I was up early, at The Boy's insistence. We sat on the sofa; me bleary of eye and fuzzy of head, him raring to go. "Bugsla," he kept saying. "Bugsla," more earnest every time. I eventually worked out that he was saying A Bug's Life. It took me so long I actually agreed to let him watch it. Come on, it was 6am, not a time for wholesome activities like puzzles.


I ate muesli. He had three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks came downstairs at 7.30 and then the day really began, with getting dressed and packing morning tea and packing ourselves off to nursery, where I was helping out for the morning. 

I washed paint brushes, and made "Ooh, lovely" noises about the children's artwork. One little girl said to another: "I'm not playing with you today, I'm playing with her instead." I told her that wasn't very nice at all. She looked at me as if she could not give a toss what I thought.

We went home and ate pasta. The Australian made me a delicious coffee on our delicious-coffee-machine.

We played Barbies, and vets, and shops, and farms with dingoes and koalas and platypuses. I wondered if it was correct to say platypi, or platypus-plural, or platypodes. Then I stopped wondering and cooked the tea. 

They ate, they jumped off every piece of furniture while I shouted "Someone will get hurt." Someone got hurt. We went upstairs and did pyjamas and teeth and stories and cuddles. I sang "Truly Scrumptious". They went to sleep.

And then I came downstairs and signed the contract for my novel! 

It's not every day...

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Sunday, 28 September 2008

Mit of a bix up

The Boy (22 months): Mumma? Cop porn.

Me: I'm sorry what?
The Boy: Me cop porn.
Me: Please don't say that in front of the neighbours.
The Boy: Cop porn?
Me: Yes, don't say that.
The Boy: Me cop porn? Me cop porn! Cop porn! COP PORN!
Me: Shush!
The Girl: Mum, he wants popcorn.
Me: Oh. Thank god.


Sappy hunday.

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Sunday, 14 September 2008

Short Play

Scene: Dreamworld theme park, the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. It's a scorcher (ok it's only 27 degrees but it's a scorcher if you're blonde and prone to freckles...even if the blonde is largely bottled these days *heavy sigh*). 


Act 1

The Teenager: You have to come on this amazing ride I've just been on. Come on come on, you have to, you'll love it.
Me: No-no-no-no-no, I don't do rollercoasters. We've discussed this. I just felt sick on that kids' swing ride.
The Teenager: But this is amaaaaaaaazing. You have to! Please please please please please you have to!
Me: Um. No.
The Teenager: But I don't want to go on my own! Pleeeeeeease, I really really want you to come. You have to!!
Me: But...
The Teenager: YOU HAVE TO!
Me: [follows Teenager to ... THE TOWER OF DOOM]

Act 2

Me: How could you let me go on that? How? You knew what it was like. You know how I feel about going fast: I scream at you if you go over 30 in the car! Why why why did you let me do that?
The Australian: [sniggers, while taking photos of my hair in disarray and my eyes wild with panic]
Me: You're a sadist! A sicko! I had to keep my eyes shut the whole time to stop my eyeballs from falling out! And it's like I'm still moving - I feel giddy, I feel awful - what if I always feel like this and it's your fault for not stopping me?
The Australian: But you agreed to go.
Me: You know I can't say no to teenagers! You know I'm only 15 inside! It was peer pressure.
The Australian: [shrugs]
Me: Look, thanks to you I just went 160kpm in 7 seconds, AND up 38 storeys, AND back again. 160! 7 seconds!! So as punishment you're going to have to do something that you don't want to do...I've got it: when we get back to Melbourne you're coming to the theatre with me. AND NO EXCUSES.
The Australian: Sure, I'll see a play with you. As long as it only lasts 7 seconds.

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Monday, 8 September 2008

A Head For Heights

When they're not growling at each other because one wants to build a tower and the other wants to knock it down, The Girl (4) and The Boy (21 months) are heartbreakingly nice to each other. She often calls him simply "Brother" and seeks him out for comfort if I've told her off; she tries to heave him off the ground in order to show how strong she is (she manages half an inch, him being only 2kg lighter that her). Last thing at night they do a duet of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. She takes the main part, and he interjects at HOW (I wonder what you) ARE, UP A (bove the world so) HIGH, etc... He listens patiently to her various renditions of Advance Australia Fair, and gives her a clap.


I've noticed recently how The Girl imitates my nauseatingly enthusiastic way of encouraging my children - Wow this and Cor that and general You are amazing's... She applauded The Boy's first steps months ago, and laughs and woo-hoo's along with me at every new word or cute new facial expression. But this evening she took enthusiasm and confidence building to a new and hilarious level as only a child could. We were examining his teeth (he was very slow to get any so it's still a bit of a novelty) and we had an all-round hi-5 for his having 10 pearly-whites. Then she started spouting excitedly about what a big boy he was getting, how very grown-up he was, with her eyes ever wider and her voice beautifully dramatic:

"You're nearly as tall as me!" she exclaimed, using her hand to measure a line from the top of his head to just below her chin. "Wow, Brother!" she said, "If I didn't have a head, we'd be the same height!!"

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Monday, 1 September 2008

Do-It-Meself

It came to my notice recently what a consistent approach I have to all creative projects - consistently mad, bad and stressful, with incredible highs and lows and a basic fingers-in-my-ears Lalalalala attitude to anyone daft enough to offer guidance along the way.


The thought struck me as I wrestled (almost literally) with a chest of drawers I'd picked up cheap on ebay for the children's bedroom (their clothes having been stored in those enormous blue IKEA bags ever since we emigrated). My intention was to pay next to nothing for them and, somehow - despite a glaring lack of D.I.Y skills - turn them into a work of art. I had a vision: I would transform them into, not just an ordinary chest of drawers, but OUTER SPACE. Outer Space with clothes inside - the picture in my head swayed between foggy and slippery but I believed in it.

As I conveyed my vision to The Australian, the look on his face told me that he was a non-believer and I determined to block him out completely - he just wanted to spoil my fun with his 'you're going to have to strip it first' mentality. As I toiled away in the garden, with the drawers placed on an old sheet, my sleeves rolled up and my energy for the project so high there was a slight buzzing noise in my ears, The Australian observed from behind the safety glass / French windows, screwing up his face as I grappled with spray-paint, mini-rollers and masking tape. I could tell what he was thinking: 'You haven't thought this through'. Lalalalala!

Three weeks later, the damn drawers were still on the damn sheet in the damn garden. Owing to a small oversight - which could also be seen as incredible attention to detail *ahem* - the drawers would no longer slide into the chest and the whole thing had to be re-done. I was horrified. Zapped of all enthusiasm. My vision was slipping away - the joy of chasing it was nearly gone. There was paint everywhere, and did it look like Outer Space? Not even if I squinted.

So I kicked it a bit, swore at it a lot, and decided to leave it there until it magically fixed all its own problems.

A further fortnight later I caved and went to The Australian with despair in my eyes and some sob-story about how I had only wanted to make something nice for the children and how it was so unfair that no one had told me that painting the sides of each drawer (so they'd look nice when you pulled them out...) with three coats was a really, really bad idea. The drawers were now covered in garden debris; I'd used so much paint that my ebay bargain was turning into a costly nightmare. So I finally took my fingers out of my ears and took his advice, mumbling 'yeah yeah, whatever' to his charitable 'well done' when the drawers were finished and carried to the bedroom. 

The scary part of this is that I still don't think I'd do it any other way, even with hindsight. That initial rush, that joy, the chasing of that slippery but irresistible vision, makes up for the wrestling and the hard toil that inevitably follows if you are allergic to planning. Chests of drawers, novels, umm, life in general - I guess I'm a buy-now-pay-later kind of woman.

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Thursday, 28 August 2008

Foxy

Here I am, trying to sound a teensy-weensy bit cleverer than wot I normally do, with my review of Kate Grenville's superb The Idea of Perfection.

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Thursday, 21 August 2008

Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)

Now that the taste of Moet and spicy crisps has gone from my mouth, and the novelty of sidling up to The Australian and declaring: "I'm a real and proper author, y'know . . . do you really think I should be mopping my own floors and changing shitty nappies?" has worn off (almost) I find myself wondering if it was all just a figment of my imagination because since the flurry of excited emails from my agent, and a request for some biographical information from the publisher: nada.


I know this is completely normal, I know it, I do, in that tiny part of me that still has the occasional rational thought, but it's a bit like being asked on a date by a boy you've been mad about for years and then told: "But not till 2010, ok? Because I've got a whole heap of other dates to go on before I get round to you, hot stuff." You'd start to question it, wouldn't you? You'd play the conversation over in your mind. By the hundredth replay you'd start to hear different words. He didn't ask you on a date, you moron! He asked you what time it was, while looking distractedly over your head at another, prettier girl.

I've been Googling: "Did I really get a book deal?" to no avail. Maybe I don't even have an agent. I might not have written a book at all. Or emigrated. Did I imagine the children, too? Perhaps I am actually a traffic warden who, trapped in her miserable job and growing ever more lonely in her grubby bedsit, has conjured up an elaborate alter-ego to while away the hours.

This is one of the more likely scenarios I have dreamt up in the last fortnight.

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Thursday, 14 August 2008

Fly Me To The Moon

Partly because I'm scared to tell you this for fear of jinxing it, I'm backing into some news slowly and gently... Prepare for lift-off:


5. 
I lay awake, thinking: "Oh god, oh god, oh god, what have I got myself into?"

4. 
The Australian dashed out to buy champagne and when he returned we stood opposite each other glugging it at great speed while I broke the World Record for talking very fast with a mouthful of inappropriately spicy crisps (with Moet! I'm all class...)

3. 
I got up, paced around and walked over to the sink whereupon I seized the washing-up brush and scrubbed frantically anything within reach, humming a deranged tune and waiting for hell to freeze over / a month of Sundays / flying pigs.

2. 
I giggled briefly and my vision blurred and the words I was looking at did not make sense so I read them again, and again, and again...

1. 
My agent sent me an email and the subject header was: OFFER.


LIFT-OFF!

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Sunday, 3 August 2008

Have A Break, Have A Wordle


Last night I delivered the first draft of my new picture book to the kindly goddess-like editor who commissioned it and *might* want to make it into a series.

Here it is in Wordle form. I'm not saying you should be interested, but you might want to make your own

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Saturday, 2 August 2008

Read Without Mother

You may remember last month that The Girl was giving me a bit of trouble on public transport (see Read With Mother). An update, of sorts, on her reading skills . . . 


But first, a newsflash: our stuff has arrived. Yes, all 31 boxes and 2 non-box-but-bubble-wrapped-to-within-an-inch-of-their-lives-es. This was supposed to be a euphoric moment. I'd kept saying to the "Have You Settled In Yet?" Brigade that once our stuff was here the house would feel more like a home. We'd no longer feel like we were on holiday, cooking with one saucepan and staring at empty shelves. Turns out that was exactly the problem earlier this week when I started unpacking - this is really, really it (I know I've said this before but now this is really really really really really it). It's as if I felt secure in the knowledge that only we were here, not all our things, which meant we were still a bit there. But as I unwrapped photo frames and mugs with the children's faces on and the blender that still has a tiny solid bit of soup stuck on it and the old wooden wall thermometre that belonged to my grandmother, I saw my old life wash into my new life and that made me bawl. When the thermometre found itself a perfect place on the wall (which seems to have some of the most bizarrely positioned picture hooks I've ever seen), I bawled more (but quietly, you understand, so the children wouldn't see).

The following day I'd gotten over myself, and started to see more of the benefits of having stuff on the shelves (less acutely visible dust) and toys filling every inch of floor space (impossible to hoover, oh well). And today we've had a truly almighty unpacking session, while the children ran around in their pyjamas helping themselves to popcorn and satsumas and trying to play with every single toy they could lay their hands on for approximately 17 seconds before moving onto the next.

The Girl suddenly went quiet. 

"Is she with you?" I yelled to The Australian.

"No. Is she with you?" he yelled back.

"Let's think about that for a second . . . "

We were both knee-deep in bubblewrap so we shouted for her.

"Yes?" she yelled back.

"Where are you?"

"Here."

"Where's here?"

"Here."

"Give us a clue."

"OK. C-O-O-N-A-W-A-R-R-A. Coonawarra! That says Coonawarra!"

"Huh?"

"And this one says: K-O-O-N-U-N-G-A H-I-L-L. Koonunga Hill!"

Oh, we realised, she's at the wine cabinet.


Cheers.


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Monday, 28 July 2008

Switcheroo

I've just added a new post but because I started writing it last Sunday it appears underneath The Girl On Time (Again). I know there's a way of switching them, but I'm the kind of blogging illiterate who could wipe a year of posts without even trying. So just scroll. Please. I hope you don't get RSI because of my technical blunder. I worry about you, y'know.

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Sunday, 20 July 2008

The Girl on Time (again)

Part I:


[at lights-out time]
The Girl: Dad, can you just stay with me a bit longer?
The Australian: I can't, sweetheart, because my mum is visiting us this week and I've got to go downstairs and spend time with her.
The Girl: But Dad, when you were a little boy you spent every single day with your mum. Now it's my turn.


Part II:
[while waiting for the prescribed 15 minutes to pass before I'd take her to the park]

The Girl: Is it 15 minutes yet?
Me: Nope.
The Girl: [ten seconds later] Yet?
Me: No. Go and play.
The Girl: How much do I have to count to for it to be 15 minutes?
Me: It would take me 15 minutes to work that out. Go and do something to distract yourself.
The Girl: [deep sigh] Mum, WHY does time move SO much more slowly when you are a child than when you are an adult?
Me: You are mistaken. Time moves the slowest of all for writers. Then for children. Then for grown-ups. And then for editors, agents, and anyone else involved in the publishing industry.
The Girl: Oh. You're a writer, aren't you, Mum?
Me: A bit.
The Girl: Poor you, Mum.
Me: Aww, thanks, darling.
...
The Girl: So can we go now?
Me: Sure.

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The Grapevine

I've always wondered how I'd fare living in a small town. I've wondered, calculated I'd feel exposed and scrutinised, and chosen to squish myself in with about 4 million others, in a place where I could blend in and go about my barmy little ways in peace.


What I wasn't prepared for was moving into a street that thinks it's a small town.

This has had its benefits, of course. We'd not long moved in before a chance meeting with someone in the park had us introduced to the Top Five Families (there's a hierarchy . . . being new and interesting has had us hovering around the middle for a while but I fear we're on the wane), and we'd walked away with a ton of cast-offs to welcome us in: cot, scooter, pair of gum boots (I'm getting the lingo, see), hall table, assorted toys . . . Feeling slightly thrown by their generosity, I hot-footed it to Haigh's and selected some truffles tied up in pretty bows to give to each woman who'd extended a welcome. It all felt so simple when I bought them. A gesture. 

'Course then I started having flashbacks to my all-girls' secondary school - where I'd backed myself into a corner marked Loner simply because I couldn't deal with all-girls' politics - and decided that I couldn't bear to hand over these gifts in person; I'd have to be a secret squirrel. Ever the pragmatist, The Australian pointed out that my plan to leave the chocolates in their mail boxes overnight was flawed: ants. I think he said ants; might have been wombats or possums or highly venomous red-back spiders. So I attempted to be a secret squirrel by day, tip-toeing down the street with the chocolates hidden in a brown paper bag, popping them discreetly in each mail box, looking this way and that and maintaining a cool composure. Until the last box: the almost-recipient was standing in her window, burping one of her many children (they breed like rabbits round here . . . ), so I had to make a choice - A. knock on her door and hand over the goods with an unprepared speech about being grateful for her help and wanting to be in her gang (clearly no), or B. wave and leave the chocs in her mail box (sounds perfectly plausible when I write it down now but at the time it was inconceivable), or C. pretend I hadn't seen her and hurry back home and bang on the door and wail at The Australian about how hard it was to make friends and how pathetic I was . . . 

The end of that tragic little story sees The Australian saving the day by taking over secret squirreling, while I cower in the kitchen, but give him the third degree on his return: Did anyone see you? Are you sure? Did you put the box right inside? Are you sure it didn't drop out? Do you think the boxes were too small? Will they think I'm cheap? Why haven't they called? It's been three and a half minutes and they haven't called to thank me! Oh god, they hate me!

Etcetera.

Over the next few days, I saw each of these women and they thanked me and I blustered a response and began to feel a little more rational. I said a little. The small town nature of this street, with its prime Shiraz Grapevine, is beginning to make me nervous, and I think I've reached a new stage of emigration (are there seven, I wonder?): after Jetlag, Childlike Excitement, and then General Confusion (Mainly In Bakeries), there comes Paranoia.

Last week I woke up ill. Really ill. The kind of ill that I don't want to go into in case you're eating. Or have ever eaten. Or are ever planning on eating . . . ok, you get it. I spent all day in bed, not even reading or watching telly, just vegetating, quite sweatily. At first I worried that this was a dreadful physical reaction to some possibly very exciting news I'd received the night before (which I shall either soon blog about or brush under the carpet while drinking a stiff gin), but my main concern was getting better because I had an important phone call to get through the following day and a couple of The Australian's relatives coming to visit. So I was relieved to wake up the following day and find that I could function almost normally again - I felt a bit weak, having had nought but a glass of water in 24 hours, but only in that "ooh, I wonder if I've lost weight" slightly feeble way.

It was a bit of a shock, therefore, to hear various neighbours shouting across the road to me as I took The Girl to kinder: "Hey, we heard you were really sick! You look ok now!" "Oh, you're better? We thought you were really bad!" "What was it? It seemed to pass pretty quick, hey?" By the time I got home I was a nervous wreck! How had the news spread so quickly? Why were they all so suspicious about my recovery skills? I quickly went down the road of Illogical Conclusions: they must think I wasn't ill at all . . . they think The Australian was lying . . . they think he's covering for me . . . they think I'm an alcoholic . . . they'll never let their children come over and play with me now . . . I've ruined my child's life just by having the ability to get over gastric flu at record speed!

So that's where I'm at. I'm over the fashion quandary posed by my Uggs, and they continue to have their regular outings, and the children hardly even point any more. But now I'm at the stage of wondering who I can trust, who I can make jokes with about having had a few jars the night before, who's going to tell who about such-and-such and thingummy.

While googling "the stages of emigration" I happened across an article about migrants and mental illness. I think I might not read that.

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Thursday, 10 July 2008

Fickle, me

I'd quietly promised myself never do to a Meme. It's not that I don't like other people's meme's, it's that I'm frightened of questions that will shine a bright light on my inner-dullness and reveal my past to be the incident-free cushy ride it has been. Aren't writers supposed to struggle? Plus I like to change my mind about things so I'm a bit wary of the commitment. But here I am, about to commit.


I'm doing it because I've been trying to write a short story that came to me suddenly while I was taking The Boy for a naptime stroll, only it has taken me three nights to write exactly no words whatsoever while my legs reach boiling point under this laptop and I end up doing searches for people I hardly know on Facebook, just so I can say I've achieved something. The story came to me as a whole in the time it took to walk around the block. For the first time ever I know what it's about from start to finish, I know why I'm writing it, and I know what I want to say but I just don't know the actual precise individual words I want to use. I always thought it would be easier writing something if I knew where it was going (this is not my usual approach), but I think I've killed the story by making all the important decisions already.

So here I am. Fickle me. This is not the first time I've been fickle. I've quietly and not-so-quietly sworn myself off plenty of things only to change my mind later. 

Meat (10 years)
Men (10 minutes)
Telling my mother anything (10 seconds)

I think I'll just get on with it. (I think I'm supposed to say here that I was tagged by Charlotte.)

1) What were you doing 10 years ago?
Wearing smaller clothes. Drinking larger gins. Smoking. Working at Penguin. Spending most of my day worrying that someone was going to ask me to do something I didn't know how to (oh, that's no different to now actually). Inventing reasons not to be at my desk in case the phone rang. Having impure thoughts when I was supposed to be writing Peter Rabbit books. (Nb. no innocent rabbits were used in the making of these impure thoughts.) 

2) What 5 things are on your to-do list today?
I've already had my day. I did one of my to-do's: Post letter. I did not do the other 4: write brilliant short story, mop floor, take wet jacket off washing line (it has been out there for half a dozen heavy downpours; I think the dye is starting to run), avoid cake.

3) What snacks do you enjoy?
What snacks do I not enjoy would be faster. If I could think of any. I don't like porridge, which some people may use as a snack. I don't like Monster Munch either but I would probably eat them for old time's sake.

4) What would you do with a billion dollars?
I would have forty million pedicures. And some champagne.

5) List the places you have lived:
London
Brighton
Melbourne

6) List the jobs you have held:
Miniature train driver (only one child injured while I was on duty).
Felafel seller (left after I was asked to clean a perfectly clean table).
Ice cream seller (in November. Quite dull).
Waitress (dropped hot chicken in police woman's lap. Given caution).
Classroom assistant (shunned staffroom in favour of playground. Used to sneak off for crafty fags. Still have all the goodbye pictures they drew for me).
Runner (answered the phone once to a man with a very strange accent, couldn't understand him, asked him to repeat his name about 25 times. Turned out to be Loyd Grossman.)
Editor (far too many stories. Buy me a gin and I'll tell).

7) List the people you'd like to know more about.
I'd love to know more about the man I live with, but he doesn't have a blog.

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Monday, 7 July 2008

Tradition, innit

I've been feeling slightly ashamed of my constant moaning and griping on this blog. For the record I do appreciate that what I have here is not a real problem, as problems go. (And, sshh, I am secretly loving the adventure of being here and the challenge of being a fish out of water.) Never was that more obvious than during a visit to the wonderful Immigration Museum last Saturday morning. 


This was such a treat. I took the train - alone! No wriggly Boy wanting to run up and down the carriage, no chatterbox Girl wanting to read out every piece of advertising or graffiti, no one to pacify with crackers and satsuma, no one demanding a reading of The Gruffalo "with all the voices, Mummy". (And speaking of The Gruffalo, check out Vulpes Libris today for a great interview with The Queen of Picture Books, Julia Donaldson.)

The sun shone on me all down Flinders Street and I felt electric with the promise of three solid hours to delve into something fascinating by myself. I think I must have taken down, in my own made-up short-hand, almost every word in that place. I inched round with my moleskin, feeling wonderfully insignificant in the scheme of this country's immigration history. They even had a 17-metre replica ship, featuring a cabin from the 1840s and one from the 1950s, with accompanying sound-track. I thought of our own 24-hour journey here - how dreadful I'd proclaimed it to be, with The Boy (who is built like the proverbial shit-house) sitting on my lap 90% of the way, and no sleep in the company of hundreds of slumberers, and your basic gelatinous mess in place of food. All that seems pretty weak compared to journeys past: the stench of sweat and urine in the cramped sleeping berths, the outbreaks of several killer diseases and the small fact that it took about four months to get here!

In one section there was a short film about a woman whose family had brought with them a huge loom that they'd made from scraps of wood in a displaced persons camp in Germany just after WWII. They'd arrived in Australia in 1950, and had kept up the tradition of weaving their national costumes. They said the loom had "eased the pain of displacement". Well, I ain't got a loom and can just about sew on a button but I know I'll feel less displaced when our belongings get here (especially my books). As for keeping up the traditions of my home land...

- I am keeping us well-stocked in Marmite.
- I am maintaining a slightly bonkers/shy/stuttering/blustering approach towards these smiling, uninhibited Australians I keep meeting.
- I hardly ever wear my coat, even though it's winter here: "Winter?? This is NOTHING!" *shiver*
- Today, I actually said "Rather!" in agreement with someone.

So, not so much a loom but a loon.


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Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Elsewhere

People keep asking me: "Have you settled in yet?"


I'm getting it three or four times a day. By email, by phone, face-to-face - it has become a pre-requisite to any conversation. They mean well, I know. But it feels like nagging, the way all well-meaning questions do when you know that the answer you're going to give will slightly disappoint (you as well as them). It's a bit like "Is the baby sleeping through yet?" (And no, he's not.)

Sometimes I answer "No" straight away, and probably more aggressively than I intended, so then I try to make light of it and gesticulate wildly at the empty bookshelves - the big glaring sign that I cannot possibly feel settled in when my book collection is bobbing up and down on some ocean. Other times I pretend that I'm really thinking about the question: "Am I settled in? Hmm, am I? That's a new one. Let's think..." 

Maybe I'm in denial about feeling settled. Maybe I see it as some huge betrayal of my family and friends and all that is British. And how do you know anyway? Is it like how you know when you're in love? You just do? Is it like the way you have to guess if a shook-up can of fizzy drink is ready to be opened?

Let's look at the signs that this Pom has not quite acclimatised:

1. I still haven't cancelled my British mobile phone account. (Yes, that means I'm still paying the monthly amount.) The phone is somewhere in this cavernous house, dead. There is an Australian sim card in another part of the cavernous house but they are too shy to meet. They are not sure they'll get on.

2. I cannot buy anything without working out what it would be in pounds. As I'm not very bright, this mean that shopping takes an age. I handle Aussie money like a person with very poor eyesight and annoy everyone in the queue.

3. Speaking of shopping, I have not opened an Australian bank account either. But I am still carrying round my British Library card (now expired) and my Body Shop card (never used, and expired) and my Oyster card. 

4. For the first time in my life I am making loose leaf tea in a pot. How terribly English.

5. I keep the keys to my parents' communal gardens in my bag. The Australian keeps taking them out and jingling them at me: "What have you got these for?" 

There are a worrying amount of administrative clues that show I've not settled but thinking about them is giving me a headache. 

My feeling is that it will never happen. I know, I know - "Give it time." Even so, I think I have a strong internal resistance that no amount of lemon trees in the garden / beautiful "winter" weather / lorikeets instead of pigeons / consistently amazing coffee / good cheap eat-outs / stunning scenery / street-party-type address / muffin-bringing-neighbours  etc etc, is going to change. 

But just in case it happens to me and I don't realise, let me know.




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Sunday, 29 June 2008

Brewing

I might start a new novel.


At least, it feels like a new one is creeping up on me. Reading a story by Miranda July in bed the other night - "The Man on the Stairs" - I felt stirred up not just by the chill and depth of the story but by my own need to create something like that (I mean "like that" in the loosest sense, since I am much too flabby and mainstream to be anything like July). I fell asleep with my mind racing all through the novel I'd been rewriting before we came to Oz - the one I insisted on taking a hard copy of in my hand luggage because I didn't want to be parted from it . . . the one that made it safely here and has been shut in a drawer ever since. For its own good, you understand. I mean, no one could expect me to carry on writing when I had all this freaking-out-about-emigrating to do. Least of all me.

Only I'm a bit bored of freaking out. I'm still friendless, still Ugged-up, still being laughed at by the local children - that's not likely to change so I might as well get on with it. So the morning after the July story I opened the Sacred Drawer and had a peek though some of the manuscript, and breathed a sigh of relief when it only stank slightly. I could fix that, I thought. Shut the drawer pretty damn fast but felt I'd be back soon.

But that's not the novel creeping up on me - that's the novel I have to fix up and send out on its merry/tragic way before the creeping novel can begin properly, only this time I feel like there's going to be a lot of research involved and I want to start that right now.

I can tell I want to start right now because when I was pushing the ever-heavier Phil n Teds (seriously, it reminds me of pushing drunk students in shopping trolleys) towards Melbourne Aquarium this morning I was tempted to buy a huge bag of bribe muffins for the children and instead visit the Immigration Museum, where I suspect the research will germinate. If I thought the muffins would have lasted more than five minutes it would have been a more likely plan. But instead we made it to the aquarium, where I chased the children - in different directions, obviously - through shark tanks and turtle pools, and then when we got back I did something that convinces me I'm about to embark on a new project:

I cleaned the fridge.

This might be a normal, perhaps even weekly, chore for some people, but to me it signifies a profound need to get my house in order before I completely neglect it for about a year. It was a great clear-out - I'd thought the fridge was full because I'd been diligent at supermarket shopping, but it turns out I'd merely been slack at chucking out because it has gone from rammed to bare.

Just to seal the deal, I then made a roast dinner. On a Monday night! This might be "guilt cooking", to make up for the possibility that my head will be somewhere-else-ish from time to time in the near future, and I might distractedly say "Mm," a lot when asked if they can use the big scissors, and they might be wearing the same socks two days in a row, and I might only have time for one round of "My Favourite Things" before bed because I'm desperate to punch my card and get back to my research. 

Yep, I'm kind of a cross between Julie Andrews and Mrs Sugamo.

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Friday, 20 June 2008

If The Shoe Fits

I am sensing a pattern.


Since our arrival in Melbourne, less than two months ago, three of my Major Issues have been in relation to shoes.

First there were the Ugg Boots - well, not 'were', as I am still resolutely putting them on and going outside in them, despite the pointing and laughing from the local children as they are pulled away from me by their embarrassed-at-their-conduct-but-still-clearly-concerned-about-their-child's-fascination-with-Crazy-Slipper-Lady, mothers. The other day I saw a girl in the street wearing them, and I was so overjoyed to find a fellow Outdoor Ugg Wearer, or OUW as we're commonly known, that I nearly crossed the street and hugged her, until I realised that I was walking through a university campus, that she was a student and had merely popped out for some milk in her slippers . . . Back off, Crazy Slipper Lady.

Then there was the glamour party. The next-door neighbours (not the ones we're secretly in love with but the ones who invited us to their bbq after knowing us 45 seconds) sent out invites to a 'Glam Party'. We fretted for days about what 'Glam' might mean. Glam rock? Dynasty-type glam? Hollywood proportions? Or merely 'please don't wear your Uggs'? I planned my outfit in the same cack-handed way I plan novels - I chose one detail and tried to build something around it. In this case it was a blue-green (fake) fur stole. At a second hand designer store (where I made the mistake of telling the store owner that I wrote children's books, and then had to stay and listen to her idea for a children's book for a long, long time - one of those "I'd love to write a novel but I simply don't have time" types) I managed to find a dress that could have been made for the stole. But the shoes were eluding me. In a moment of panic - mainly because the children were demanding "Park Not Shopping!" and I'd run out of cookies to buy their silence - I ran into a charity shop, picked up a pair of gold(ish) heels, tried them on, saw the $8 tag and thought job done.

When I got them home I realised they were a size 11. Never mind, thought I, I'll buy insoles and cotton wool and stuff them till they fit me. It was at this point that The Australian took me in hand - or rather, by the hand, and to the local shoe shop, whereupon he made me buy a brand new pair that fit. Am I the only woman in history to have been frog-marched to the shoe shop by their partner? As it was, being a confirmed Ugg-Boot wearer I couldn't handle being in heels at all and wished I'd worn the huge gold boats to the party instead.

And finally, tomorrow night there's another party - this time a fundraiser for the nursery that The Girl is attending, with live auction, finger food and 70s fancy dress.  As everyone around here knows each other, and each other's business, in a spooky quasi-Stepford Wives way, The Australian and I will be appearing as The New Folk and as such the only thing that is required of me is To Not Look Stoopid. Not being one to learn from my mistakes, I dashed into the charity shop yesterday and bought a pair of shoes for the event. The good news: they are my size. The bad news: they are enormous wedge-heeled sandals that I cannot walk in. I don't just mean I'm a bit wobbly. I mean I have to hold on to something. Preferably on either side. And even then for only three of four steps at a time.

So tell me, were Ugg boots around in the 70s or what? Perhaps what I really need are a pair of ruby red slippers . . . 


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Monday, 9 June 2008

Read with Mother

The Girl has just started to read, and couldn't be more proud of her new skills. Nor could I, though I have now realised that jumping three feet in the air and screeching 'YOU'RE A FRIGGING GENIUS!' every time she gets a word right might not be the best approach . . . 


However, being able to read has been causing me a few problems on Melbourne's public transport as The Girl points to every piece of graffiti and attempts to sound it out.

'P . . . O . . . U . . . F . . . POUF . . . POUF! Hey that says POUF, what's a POUF, Mum?'

'Sshh, you have to whisper on the tram.'

'No, you have to whisper in the library, not the tram. WHAT'S A POUF?'

'Ah look! a bird! out the window! - see?'

'Nah. Anyway I'm reading this word now. C . . . U . . . N . . . . . .

And thus it continued, so I have decided that I must either:

(a) blindfold her on public transport,
(b) gag her on public transport,
(c) teach her every rude word there is, and then tell her if she ever says them out loud in a public place all her hair will fall out and witches will come in the night to steal her teeth,
(d) carry a big marker pen with me and edit all graffiti into acceptable language.


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Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Merde

Readers should note that the following incident took place after the French Windows Collision but before the Pineapple Fiasco...


It was dusk. The children had played themselves into a state of exhausted ecstasy in the park at the end of our street and I carried them both home to our beautiful, big, empty new house. At the gate was a young girl.

"Bonjour," she said. "I am French student of ze art and I make paintings for sell. You have a time?"

Perhaps I was drunk on the perfect sundown, or seduced by her accent, or lulled into a false sense of camaraderie all this way from 'home' - France! my old neighbour! - or maybe that facial collision did some permanent damage to my brain, or . . . the truth is that I am rubbish at dealing with doorstep salespeople. On one of our last nights in England I'd bought oven gloves and two types of cloth from a perky young door-to-door elf with a Cockney accent for about £20. So the upshot is that I allowed this French student of ze art to show me her portfolio.

As she described each painting, she occasionally stumbled on a word and I filled in with the French, for which I got a pretty little round of applause from her. Which made my pathetic heart swell, like some dopey poodle catching biccies in its mouth. I hated most of the paintings, but The Boy and The Girl were moved by two very bright, slightly wacky paintings of dogs. However, I said I didn't keep cash in the house so I wouldn't be able to buy anything from her. She said she could come back later, when "Your usband is ome". And at that point I obviously sent her packing, told her I didn't have a 'usband and that I wasn't interested in her crummy, gaudy art anyway.

Only I didn't. I said, "Sure! Au revoir!" and then waited for The Australian to come home, whereupon I set about convincing him that Renoir's great-great-great-grand-daughter was calling round with some rare bargains at 7pm, and could he please deal with her as I'd be extremely busy at that time putting his two highly energetic children to bed. He could tell by my guilty smile that I'd done something Typically Me, but bless his heart he opened the door to the mademoiselle and bought the two dog paintings for a pretty price and hardly scolded me for being so utterly spineless.

I have grown accustomed in recent weeks to communicating things to The Australian via this blog - partly because he spends a lot of time in his office (the only carpeted, properly heated room in the house - suspicious?) on the computer, and partly because I sound better on paper (seriously). So - excuse us for a minute - Darling, I've just been reading the local paper and I thought you should see this snippet:

"Police have warned people about an art scam in Kew. For the past few weeks people have been knocking on doors selling what they claim are original French paintings. Sgt Bruce Pingo said most of the artwork could be found on the internet for a far cheaper price. He said the scammers used French backpackers to sell the paintings so the work appeared genuine..."

Merde.

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Monday, 2 June 2008

Crazy Slipper Lady Strikes Again

I think I'm starting to believe that we really, truly, definitely live in Australia. Trust me to be fashionably late to this particular party - I usually suffer from arriving places intolerably early, but on this I seem to be a bit slow.


And as it dawns on me, so too has the fact that it is difficult. It is. Oh god yes, it's difficult. For so long I have tried to cover that up, because I didn't want my deepest fears to affect the children's experience, but now that the initial excitement has died down a little and normal life must resume, I find myself feeling vulnerable and frustrated and quite pathetic because I know that I must set about making friends if I'm to live happily in Melbourne, and that terrifies me.

Every day I watch The Girl skip into her new nursery - a tiny, smiling English dot amongst these robust Australians - and I wonder how she does it. 

"Hello, I'm Madeleine. Can I play with you?"

I've heard her say it a hundred times. I've watched as other children have turned their backs on her (sometimes), or nodded and smiled and let her in (more often). I've watched her and cried behind my sunglasses at how brave she is, and then I've walked briskly home as other mums stand around chatting or walk in pairs to coffee shops and look like they've known each other a million years and are probably wondering: who is that weird Pom with the nervous twitches and why on earth is she wearing Ugg boots?

It's not as if people round here are not friendly. They are a whole new world of friendly for this Londoner. Our neighbours on one side invited us to a bbq after knowing us approximately 45 seconds. On the other side, they are so friendly I think The Australian and I have slightly fallen in love with them, in an unhealthy way that I suspect we'll never talk about. But friendly is not friends. Friendly can lure you into a sense of believing that friendship is just around the corner, but that is not necessarily so. Soon we will not be the new, interesting Poms. We'll just be the Poms. Oh, god.

At the park today, the little girl who has become obsessed with my footwear came to say hello.

"You're wearing your slippers again," she said. I nodded. She went on. "I saw your husband or whatever yesterday and I asked him if you were wearing them, and he said you were." I confirmed that he was my "whatever". "But why are you?" she said.

"They're stuck on with glue," I replied.

"No they're not! You're lying."

"It's true. I can't get them off."

"Ok, let me try to pull them."

So there I was, wobbling on one leg while a very determined 6-year-old tugged and heaved my right Ugg boot, and her mother starting shouting from the other side of the park so that anyone who had not noticed these strange goings-on were now alerted: "What are you doing? Put that poor woman's leg down !!"

Now, if that's not a way to make friends, I don't know what is.


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Saturday, 31 May 2008

Crazy Slipper Lady

Months ago, when the conversations about what it'd be like when I moved to Melbourne still sounded like a script about someone else's life, I'd joke that I planned on taking the role of an eccentric English writer-type, enigmatic underneath gigantic hats to shield my pale complexion and all my interesting English writer-type thoughts.


(I must sound like such an arsehole sometimes.)

The reality has been slightly less elegant. On my first shopping trip in our new neighbourhood, I braced myself and went into the bakery. A ridiculously friendly girl asked me what I'd like.

"Umm, ahhh, oooh, not sure, errrr, some bread, ummm..." I was trying to read the signs on the many loaves behind her, while she beamed manically at me and then cocked her head to the side like a slightly surprised puppy. "That one. Sliced, please," I said, relieved that the ordeal of choosing was finally over and not entirely sure what I'd pointed at.

"Sandwichortoast?" she said. No, she squealed. She really was quite ridiculously happy, and I began to wonder what exactly was in this bread. 

"Huh?" I replied.

"Sandwichortoast?" 

"Um, could you say it just one more time? Sorry."

"SANDWICHORTOAST?"

"I have no idea what that is." I tried to lip-read but all I could see was her alarmingly big smile. 

"Slices. Sandwich slices, or toast slices?"

"Ah. Right." My brain went into overdrive - was I required to tell her what I planned on using the bread for? Had I chosen the wrong kind? What if I wanted to make sandwiches AND toast? Why couldn't she just stop smiling at me so I could concentrate? My old baker in London had smiled just the right amount and only had one size on his slicer. 

"You choose," I said, and the girl managed to look extremely concerned at my ignorance but still bizarrely happy. I shuffled away with my loaf and realised with alarm that though I'd moved to a country where the people spoke my language, they spoke it so fast I needed an interpreter. 

And so it continued, as I fumbled my way around a new city, catching the wrong train home and taking forever at a shop counter to establish which of these damn coins is a dollar; less enigmatic foreigner and more utter goon. To console myself, I bought myself a beautiful pair of chocolate brown Ugg boots - not the fake, highly-flammable Primark variety I'd worn in my Kilburn days, but a real-deal Aussie pair, guaranteed to get me accepted in my new neighbourhood as well as keeping my tootsies toasty. Nothing like a bit of retail therapy to get your spirits back up, right? Rejuvenated, I decided to ditch my boring old English shoes and wear my new Australian ones home.

Ugged-up, I strolled back to my house through the park, and felt warmed of heart as one of the charming local kids I'd met days earlier ran up to me to say hello. As we chatted, she looked down at my feet.

"Why are you wearing your slippers?" she said, with a tone that hinted she would be appalled at any answer I'd care to offer. Typically, I gave into the irrational fear I feel when most people talk to me, and the self-loathing that usually follows, and said:

"Because I'm crazy."

She giggled. "You look silly."

I thought of the eccentric English hat and the interesting writer-type thoughts I was supposed to adopt as part of my new, emigration-special reinvent yourself persona, and slowly shuffled away.

"Seeya, Crazy Slipper Lady," she said.


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Tuesday, 27 May 2008

If It's Not Pineapples...

Before my mouth was taken over by the hideous pineapple boils, it had befallen an altogether more tragic accident, which caused me acute pain and caused my little sister to experience the first signs of bladder weakness.


I'll explain.

Our new house has six French windows looking onto the garden. The day we arrived they were beautifully clean - while pleasing, this did induce in me the sort of internal anxiety that rots your guts as I pictured one of the children hurtling into glass on their way to marvel at the lorikeets in the lemon tree, etc. Meanwhile, another danger had presented itself in the form of a sneaky passage from the garden down the side of the house to the front, where the white gate might easily be opened by a canny Girl. An hour into our first day here, both children had made Great Escapes and I'd become accustomed to running out from the kitchen - where I'd been making a carefully balanced tea (um, peanut butter on toast with a side of apple) and chatting to my travelling sister - grabbing one or both of them as they ran down the side, and plonking them back on the grass with a stern word or two.

I may need to practise my stern. For on the fifteenth-or-so escape, and me nearing the end of my rope (actually, a tether might be a good idea), I marched towards them and - you know what I'm going to say, right? There's no point in trying to make it sound like a surprise. You knew from the first sentence of paragraph 3.

BAM. I literally bounced off the window - with my face - and landed on the floor, clutching my nose and mouth and eye.

"OH MY GOD DID YOU BREAK YOUR NOSE?" said my sister, running to my side. I was a little concussed, but through the haze of mild brain-damage I could see that behind the sisterly concern was a strong urge to laugh. And I wanted to laugh, too, but I couldn't move my huge sore lips into position. We both looked up at the window and saw the ugly smudge of my face - eye, nose, mouth and chin smeared on the sparkly glass. And that was it - my sister laughed like a drain, soon crouching down and gasping for breath, "THAT'S THE FUNNIEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN. I CAN'T BELIEVE I DIDN'T FILM IT! PLEASE KEEP THAT SMUDGE THERE FOREVER, HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

I guess you had to be there. But I'm glad you weren't.

(I did keep the smudge. And the children have now helpfully added copious amounts of sticky finger marks so that Mummy doesn't have another little accident.)

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New Talent

Just when you think you've got a handle on the talent required to look after your small children...


- nurturing
- patience
- bit more patience
- willingness to watch one's furniture get splattered in porridge/yoghurt/paint and not tear hair out/sell splatterer to nearest circus
- willingness to dress like shit because there's no point putting anything better on if you're going to get covered in porridge/yoghurt/paint, and sometimes excrement let's face it
- bit more patience
- good knees (required for getting down to pick up bits of fish finger coating / Cheerios / squashed raisin from floor)
- ability to survive on almost no sleep
- guts to tell family that yes you ARE going to parent this way and no you DO NOT require their input, thank you
- did I mention patience?
- there's more
- but I need to go to bed before the 2 hours of available sleep before the Fun Begins is cruelly snatched away
- where was I?

Oh yes, so just when you think you've mastered those skills, along comes a new requirement for talent: the ability to withstand a deep and profound urge to administer a right good slap to the mouldy old dragon of a teacher who is currently telling you your child is - not too stupid, or too withdrawn, or too emotionally immature, to start school next year, but TOO SHORT.

Next time, we are emigrating to Lilliput.

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Wednesday, 21 May 2008

On Parenting

The Girl and Boy are sharing a room for the first time. We bought them an educational bedside light - a globe, which also has animals all over it in their countries or seas of origin. As The Girl turned it gently last night, taking it all in, she sounded out the letters A-F-R-I-C-A and then said "Africa! That spells Africa! It's hot there. I learnt that from the television. I learn so much from the television don't I, Mum?"

I said I supposed she did, but could she please not say that in front of the other mums at the park or at nursery. Then, somewhat foolishly, I asked what she'd learned from me.
"Oh, just that silly song about ants being desufficated in your pants," she said, matter-of-factly, and then sang a tuneful, "In an English country gar-ar-den."
"Right. And what about Dad?" I said. "What has he taught you?"
She thought for a second and then put her finger up her nose:
"He taught me how to pick my nose, because I've seen him do it and then I started to do it when I was about two and a half or something."
I smiled, more than a little relieved that The Australian's teachings are more pathetic than mine. Just.

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Warning: 5-a-Day May Be Health Risk

Just before I start at the beginning, I must begin at the present, because something small but significant has occurred - involving a large piece of fruit - which has rendered me incapable of thinking back to a time before this small but significant occurrence with fruit, err, occurred.


I've always loved fresh pineapple. I've loved it so much that it never bothered me if it started to sting a little at the corners of my mouth after I ate it. Or if my tongue got a bit itchy. That was normal. It probably happened to everyone, and what was a little pain when it came to the lovely juicy tanginess?

So yesterday evening I was a little bored, what with The Australian working his UK hours as well as his Aussie ones, the children asleep, and the only programme on telly being 'Ladette to Lady'. (I still had it on, but in a kind of 'seen this; rubbish the first time' way, whereby you watch the entire show and then feel dirty and used at the number of minutes you've wasted but subconsciously agree to tune in same time next week.) 

'Ooh, we've got pineapple!' I said, happily diverted while the ladettes practised How Now Brown Cow, and went to the fridge. I cut myself a few slices and sat back down. 

Lovely juicy tanginess.

'I'll have a bit more of that,' I said, and felt fairly wholesome about all the fresh fruitiness. 

And then I had a bit more.

And a bit more.

And before I knew it I'd eaten half a pineapple. As I got to the end, my mouth started to tingle and I thought 'damnit, I've used the same knife The Australian used to cut the chilli earlier.' But I figured that my palate is pretty weathered and I'd be ok in a minute.

But the tingle turned to an itch, and the itch turned to a sting, and the sting spread all over my tongue and lips and down my throat until I was sitting there watching the latest ladette get booted while quietly contemplating whether this was how my life was going to end - a sudden tongue-swelling-throat-closing death and only a handful of pineapple skin shavings to show for it. (Admittedly, during the panic I did wonder if someone would publish my novel posthumously, and briefly considered writing a dedications page.)

I called The Australian in and tried to get across the severity of the pain while retaining some dignity about the fact that I'd consumed an insane amount of tropical fruit. He tried to douse me with water, and when that didn't work, milk. He asked me why I'd eaten so much - I said it was because I was bored, what with him leaving me all alone with only Ladette to Lady for company. A pint of milk later I felt the sting lessen. I decided to go to bed, sure that by morning I wouldn't feel like I'd swallowed a bunch of stinging nettles. Only I did. And I still do. And the responses I'm getting are not nearly sympathetic enough. I have these weird lumps all over the back of my tongue, which I think is about 15% bigger than it was before the fruit. I feel grossly punished for eating my 5-a-day all in one go, and a bit like I've lost a friend - I mean, obviously I can never eat pineapple again, and I really really liked it.

Hopefully by tomorrow I will be able to think about something else.


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Monday, 19 May 2008

The Blog That Time Forgot

Actually, I wish I had forgotten about my blog, but since April and all that moving to the other side of the planet business I have been feeling terrorised by the blog. "Must blog about this," I have thought. An awful lot. At 3am, mainly. Once I even got out of bed, went downstairs, made tea  (loose leaf, in a pot, which you will understand if you've ever tried Australian teabags) and prepared to sit down at the laptop. But it is very cold in Melbourne and the house makes noises that I cannot be sure about yet so I went back upstairs and lay quietly with The Girl for a while.


I don't know what's different about today. It might be that this life is starting to feel more real. Some very friendly, very stocky men delivered our sofa this morning. I went for a walk without getting lost. The Girl has a place at nursery. The Boy is no longer sleeping in a 'travel cot'. The Australian is holed up in his office working Aussie hours as well as UK ones. I have been doing quite a lot of homely things - things I used to put off in London to make way for blogging and writing and sitting by the laptop waiting for someone to reject my novel.

The truth is that I am bored of the homely things. The washing and the scrubbing and the preparation of different meals for different palates, and the picking up of squashed bits of said meals from the polished floor. So I'm back. Only, I think to make sense of everything I am going to have to blog about April's goings-on before I catch up with May. Because if you don't know where to begin, you should begin at the beginning.

Tomorrow.

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Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Potato That Time Forgot


Amazing what you discover when you have a clear-out. Looks like it's chips for tea then.

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Sunday, 30 March 2008

Out of Order


I've got bloggers-block.

Ignoring it doesn't seem to make it go away, so I've decided to take practical action and Google "How to clear a blockage". Here's the advice:

1. Pour a bucket of warm water into the pan - from a height would be best. This often clears minor blockages.

Right, here goes with a warm gush . . . The "first date" was wonderful, despite the fact that The Zit had babies overnight and I looked like a half-and-half pizza. She told me my book was great, and that she also liked my bag. I blushed. We've decided to go steady. 

Damn, still blocked.

2. Place a large plunger over the outlet and pump vigorously.

There is less than a month to go before we emi- . . . emi- . . . go on a particularly long holiday to Australia taking with us all our worldly goods. As a good friend commented today when she popped in to see us: "Oh, I thought you'd be a bit more packed than this." We have done ten boxes, seven of which contain books. The Australian is very tickled by the fact that I've insisted on logging every single title, as apparently I'm very slapdash in all other areas of my life. He might also be amused to discover than since we decided to have a big clear-out of my books pre-packing, to lighten our shipping load, I have somehow acquired fifteen new books . . . It's like they seek me out; they need me. Surely this is acceptable, as in other respects I am very thrifty. For example I buy shoes for £6. God, I can't wait to live not-next-to a Primark.

Meanwhile, the final piece of our visa puzzle arrived last week - my police check. I'd managed to work myself into a small but fairly violent frenzy, worrying that I had committed some crimes of which I was not aware, which would show up on this report. But I haven't. I'm clean. The pigs ain't got nothing on me.

Still not shifting. Hmm . . . 
 
3. Use a toilet auger.

I had to look that up (see photo). Unfortunately I don't think I have one. Or maybe I've already packed it. Just give me a minute and I'll open up all these boxes . . . 


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Tuesday, 18 March 2008

First Date Nerves

I have changed my mind, Doctor Olay, I do not want younger-looking skin.


You remember how it used to be: you're fifteen (32) and the boy (literary agent) you've fancied for ages (done a redraft for and exchanged some promising emails with) has finally asked you out (invited you into the office). You'd started to think it would never happen - boys (literary agents) usually pass you over in favour of your prettier (more talented . . . possibly also prettier) friends (fellow writers). But here you are, the morning before the date, lying in bed wondering what to wear, how to act, which way to tilt your head for that first kiss (we'll probably just shake hands first off) . . . But hang on, something's different - you can feel something lightly throbbing on your cheek and as you rush out of bed and stumble to the mirror you see the full horror of what has erupted on your face overnight:

A ZIT.

Waaaaaaaaaah!

You rush around in a blind panic - you've got to do something! He (she!) can't see you like this! Can you hide it with your hair? Can you casually leave your hand on your face for the entire date (meeting)? Use brown eyeliner to make it into a beauty spot? Some sort of head scarf, wrapped tightly around one cheek? A balaclava? HELP!!! You run downstairs and ask your mum (children) if it's really noticeable. "Not at all," says your mum. "Now hurry up, you'll be late for school." ("Eurgh," says your child, "what's THAT on your face? Hurry up, I want some Cheerios.")

Waaaaaaaaaaah!

You rush into the kitchen to find instant spot remedies: a lemon? Hmm, might work. You cut it open and slam it onto your face. Ow! OK, how about some alcohol: brandy, vodka or damson gin - which one, which one?? You wet a piece of kitchen towel with the vodka and dab it on. Ow! What else? Cumin seeds, porridge oats, fish sauce, plum jam . . . curry paste? dab, dab, dab. Ow! Ow! Ow! You run upstairs to the bathroom and grab the toothpaste - YES, TOOTHPASTE! You're sure you've read somewhere that toothpaste is an excellent remedy. You squeeze it onto your cheek and try to calm down as you contemplate yourself in the mirror, wild of hair, flushed of face and white-blobbed of cheek. You breathe deeply, clutching the basin for support as you think to yourself: Sod it. If he (she!) doesn't like me zits n' all, he (she!) isn't the right boy (agent) for me.

You see, this is why I'm so suited to teen fiction, because I feel like a 15-year-old on the inside, and I look like one on the outside.

Umm, except for all those laughter lines.

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Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Testing, Testing . . .

Emigrating is very testing.


Take the medical, for example. I arrived at the Terribly Posh hospital (you can tell it's posh when you don't pass out on entry at the smell of sick, bleach and indeterminable stew) and sat waiting for over an hour before I was seen by the Terribly Cold doctor. 

First, she was cold of heart, firing questions at me about my medical and sexual history and then giving me a very perplexed look when I told her I was breastfeeding my son. "But, isn't he over a year old?" she said. I said he was. She gave me a kind of 'have you farted?' look and said: "I assume he also eats PROPER food?" At this point I had to make a quick decision: 1. Give the woman who is responsible for either passing me or failing me on the medical a long and passionate lecture on the benefits of extended breastfeeding; 2. say YES and move on.

I went with option 2 but gave her evils when she wasn't looking. After the questions, there was the strange "you go and strip off behind a curtain and I'll wait here" thing, which always strikes me as odd - I mean, she's about to see me in the buff, what different does it make if she sees me take off my jeans? I had a panic about whether or not I should fold my clothes neatly, and where exactly I should put them, and went for 'mildly folded on the floor just next to the bed', which turned out to be exactly the wrong place because it was where she wanted to stand, so there was an awkward moment of me reclining in my underwear while Doctor Freeze shifted my belongings out of the way as if they were covered in dog shit.

Then I discovered that she was also cold of hand.

Moving on... I was quite pleased to hear a fortnight later that I'd passed the medical, and it turned out that The Australian was thrilled because he'd been secretly harbouring dark fears about them discovering some rare and incurable illness in me while poking around. He's a little ray of sunshine usually so I don't know why he got so worked up. Maybe I'm looking a bit peaky these days. I suggested he send me to a spa for a week if he's so worried about my health. 

So, one test over with, but plenty to come. We continue to compile the evidence we need to prove that our relationship is 'genuine and continuing' so I can get my proper spouse visa. ('Spouse' - there's an attractive word.) I have gathered some photos together to show various moments of our time together, including a shot of a giant heart-shaped cookie I made him for Valentine's Day, covered in chocolate drops that spell out 'I Love You'. I will refrain from telling the visa people that he left it on the shelf to go hard and mouldy, and that I have still not forgiven him. Although that probably makes our relationship sound a bit more realistic, doesn't it?

On Monday, a test I wasn't prepared for. The Australian took me along to meet his personal banker - a Very Nice Man with almost no teeth - who was going to set me up an Aussie bank account. But first, some questions... What is your home phone number? Umm, no idea. (The Australian stepped in with the answer.) How long have you been a freelance writer? Umm, not really sure. (The Australian gave the month and year.) What is your annual income? Err, let me see . . . *panic look at The Australian, who provides the answer*. The Australian and I were secretly laughing at my hopelessness, but I was quite horrified at what a dreadful stereotype I am. I might as well wear a frilly pinny and spend the evenings darning his socks. Except that I only touch his socks with tongs.

But this morning I felt a lot better when The Australian, when presented with a tangerine to peel for The Girl, held it out and said: "Is there some sort of trick with these? Do I just, what, take the skin off somehow?"

Umm, sorry-what??

"Well, I've never peeled an orange before."

Thank goodness I'm here.


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Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Question Time

Here's something refreshing: me not talking about Australia, my children, or my rewrite! Hurry over to Vulpes Libris for "Talking to Sarah Stovell". Sarah's debut novel, Mothernight, is out now.

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Monday, 3 March 2008

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String...


With only eight weeks to go until we, y'know, do that getting on the plane thing, I decided it was high-time I gave a little mention to what I truly love about Australia. For all my moaning (and let's face it, it's what I do most, if not best) there's a part of me that longs for the adventure of emigration. Actually, I wanted to move to Melbourne in my mid-20s, after my first trip there, but for one reason or another it never got off the ground (one reason was Love, another reason was my deeply ingrained inability to organise), which means that my love affair with the country is almost a *ahem* decade old.

So here are, for the benefit of all those who are bored of my moaning, which includes me, 
A Few Of My Favourite (Australian) Things*

A genius mockumentary based in an Australian high school, in which the three main parts - a stuck-up girl doing an exchange from a private school, a delinquent 13-year-old from Tonga, and a flamboyant drama teacher - are played by the same man.

I love this band. Even went to see them on my own. A gig, on my own! What a geek. Best album is Eternal Nightcap.

Easily in my top 5 Favourite Authors Ever list, were I ever to write one.

Three is enough for now: I don't want to run out too soon.

On another note, but still on the Brown Paper Packages theme, my rewrite is just about wrapped up and ready for the final verdict. Happily, this means I can get on with reading the wonderful Split By A Kiss by Luisa Plaja, which is out this week. I s'pose I could also do some packing.


*Normal service will no doubt resume shortly

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Tuesday, 26 February 2008

All's Not Lost


In my rant about stereotyping, I forgot to mention the one big and beautiful example of bucking the tired old gender-based trends. The Girl and I arrived at a 4th birthday party - she in fancy dress - to be greeted by no less than 5 pink ballerinas. 
"You were supposed to come as a ballerina," said the obnoxious birthday girl.
"Well I'm a pirate," said The Girl, proudly, and proceeded to spend the rest of the party chasing the boys around the church hall, waving her homemade telescope and shouting "Arrrrr!"
That's my girl.

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Sunday, 24 February 2008

Not For Recycling

Sometimes it seems like the world is trying to tell you something - the same message gets played over and over in a 24-hour period until it finally clicks. And then it's up to you to do with that message what you will.


It started yesterday. We were enjoying a typical evening at home (typical when you have two young children and require a month's planning to do anything but stay in watching telly), catered for adequately by Lloyd Grossman and Uncle Ben, followed by a parting of ways to Do Our Own Thing. I sat in front of the telly, half doing my rewrite and half watching Pride and Prejudice, followed by a documentary on why Pride and Prejudice is so utterly brilliant. It was heaven. There's the moment in the Jennifer Ehle / Colin Firth version when she tells him her feelings for him have changed and she doesn't think he's a complete arse any more - real chest-tightening, heart soaring stuff; the kind of scene that makes you want to swap your jeans for an empire line dress.

At around midnight a friend cycled over for a cup of tea. He'd been boozing with other friends since lunchtime, so he was feeling fun and spontaneous (and he won't be able to drop in on us for much longer . . . *sniff*). I noticed he was wearing slippers.
'They're nice, are they new?" I said. He nodded, grinning, the way people who've been drinking for 10 hours do. 
"They're Ted Baker," he said. And then he lifted one foot and then the other to show me the soles, which had messages on them intended for The Wife: the right foot said "Tea, Please", and the left said "I'm busy". His wife had bought them for him for Christmas, completely unaware of the "hilarious" messages, and I could well imagine how many times an evening he lifts one or both feet. Jokingly, of course - he's a lovely man. But it's the kind of funny that I find incredibly sad and wearing, like babygros with "I'm A Complete Pain-In-The-Arse" written on them, or t-shirts for pre-pubescent girls that say "Total Slut". Jokingly, of course . . . 

This morning we met for breakfast with Slipper Man and his wife and another couple, and while I divided my English breakfast into thirds to share with the children I was vaguely aware that The Australian (munching his undivided English breakfast) was telling the others what a completely hopeless map-reader I am, hahaha, and how many times I've got us lost, hahaha, what a silly woman, hahaha. He too is a lovely man, and yes I think I may  have got us lost once or twice, but it all felt a bit disappointing, somehow. 

But the icing on the cake came this afternoon in WHSmith, when I spotted a retro Ladybird collection "For Girls" in the children's book section. The titles were: Helping At Home, A Book About Knitting, In A Big Store, The Nurse, Shopping With Mother, and Understanding Maps. I'm pretty sure that this collection is intended by the publishers as a nostalgic purchase for adults, but that's not how it will be interpreted, is it? Well, not by WHSmiths, who have it alongside Charlie and Lola and other titles for tweenie girls.

So, the world has been trying to give me a message and the message is: Emancipation my arse. As to what I'll do with it: I've got a scene in the novel I'm rewriting between a teenage girl and a boy who has treated her very badly, and I think she's just about to have her say . . .

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Friday, 22 February 2008

Let Me Eat Cake!

I have found a small chink in the armour commonly known as: You ARE Going To Live In Australia, Like It Or Lump It. Australia is worried that I may be a burden on their health care system. (They obviously haven't read this blog or they'd know that I'm not even a burden on my own health care system, preferring to give birth in my living room attended by horror-struck family members - in fact I saved the NHS money by providing tea for two (tardy) ambulance crews.) They are making me undergo a full medical on Monday morning, followed by a chest x-ray. For the knock-down bargain price of several hundred pounds.


I was really dreading the medical, until I read up on the some of the reasons I might be denied a permanent visa . . . apparently, they don't want fatties. Granted, I can just fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes and I'm not exactly what you'd call large (I'm exactly what I'd call large but that's rather dull and typical), but I reckon if I defy all logic and breathe out instead of in when they take my waist measurement, and bear down really heavy when I step on the scales instead of willing myself off them, I might creep into the 'Access Denied' category. With my family history of diabetes and heart disease, it'll be a shoo-in! 

So, I've got until Monday to really pile on the pounds. I'm starting tonight, with a big fat Chinese takeaway and a large glass of wine. 

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Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Dotty

The arrival of The Girl and Boy's Australian citizenship certificates brought a lump to my throat. I know Australia isn't exactly stealing my children but that's how it feels. 


It got me wondering (not for the first time - I'm not that bad a mother) how this move will affect them. The Boy probably won't notice, I guess, though he may wonder why mummy is permanently covered in a thick white film (Factor 60) and keeps reciting How Now Brown Cow. But The Girl is nearly four, as she tells me fifteen times a day, and has a solid foundation here involving Very English Grandparents, Marmite and Mary Poppins. She is the happiest little thing I've ever known - what if our Big Adventure turns out to be a Big Disaster for her and she can't adjust to life Down Under? 

And okay, she might be running around the house all day since she got her certificate yelling: "G'day! G'day! I'm an Australian!" But what if that's just a smokescreen for the trauma she's going through?

The trauma doesn't seem to have affected her love of asking me difficult questions. "What's a polka dot?" she asked earlier. Which was fine. "Yes, but why is it called polka? What's the polka bit? I know the dot bit." Anyone? Anyone? Maybe the Australian heat will slow her down a bit . . . 



 

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