Jasper Fforde is one of my ffavorite authors…

Who couldn’t love an author whose main character is called Thursday Next, a literary detective who spends her days keeping the real world safe from literary crimes against humanity, and the rest of her time as an agent of Jurisfiction, protecting the literary world from literary crimes against…well literature. She has a father whose face could stop a clock…literally, is married to a Landen Park-Laine and has two children (Tuesday and Friday) and a pet dodo called Pickwick.

If you ever wondered what really happened in Jane Eyre betweenMr Rochester and the crazy woman in the care of Grace Poole, if you’ve ever wondered what Hamlet gets up to when you are not reading him, why some fictional characters seem so like others you have read elsewhere or why you suddenly fall asleep when reading a particularly dull book….then Jasper Fforde is for you!

Mr Fforde writes books that are the direct result of throwing the classics department of your local bookstore into a gene machine with Monty Python and adding a good dose of contemporary fiction for flavour. His works are original, intelligent and laugh-out-loud funny. I cannot fathom how he does it, but he creates a world in which literature not only takes centre stage, but becomes the clay with which he moulds his stories and the froth with which he decorates them. I sit down with a Thursday Next book and feel like I am eating a feast. If you like to read good books and are familiar with Austen, Shakespeare, Dickens, Pope, or Bronte, you will love these books- they are full of literary references- and if not, you’ll follow anyway! I love the way the author plays with literature without taking it too seriously, the way he pays homage to the classics without being afraid to be irreverent at the same time. His books are witty and utterly addictive! Everyone should read at least one in their lifetime and if you like British humour, have ever laughed at Monty Python or wished you could live inside a book, you should just negotiate a good price with the checkout chick for buying the whole series up front!

How could you not like a book that includes a character called Mrs. Malaprop who is incapable of speaking plain English and who can regularly be read saying things like:” [Our closest reader is] Nine teas heaven minutes’ read time away” ? There are parasites that steal grammar from books rendering them unreadable, a myspeling vyrus that destroys all common sense and a footnoterphone that makes you wish you could read your life rather than live it.

READ. THESE. BOOKS!

The first in the series is called The Eyre Affair. Buy or borrow it from a local library near you! And don’t get me started on his other series…The Nursery Crime Division and Shades of Gray

READ! Read……read….

Lest we forget…

Yesterday was ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Day in Australia, the day we remember and honour those who have served and died in the armed forces, demonstrating what we call the Anzac spirit- a spirit of courage, mateship and sacrifice. It is a day that Australians hold dear and many an occa Australian male-who would otherwise endure a leg-amputation (without anaesthetic) with ne’er a glistening eye-can be seen with tears rolling down his patriotic cheeks during the Last Post. If we are brought to tears in that symbolic moment, I cannot imagine what it is like for the family members of a fallen soldier to remember their loved one on a day like today. I have a friend whose son died while in service and although a number of years have passed, he still comes up in every conversation we have, in every milestone her younger children reach, on every birthday and holiday and should-have-been. We can never forget! We don’t want to …

I spent the day with a friend of mine whose uncle died in 1942 whilst on a reconnaissance mission. He was a navigator in the airforce and stationed in North Africa or Italy at the time. It was an incredibly moving experience to hold in my own hands, the letter his mother received informing her that the youngest of her three sons had gone missing in action, that the armed services and the red cross were doing everything in their power to ascertain whether or not he had been taken as a prisoner of war. The language of the letters was touching: “I would consider it a privilege to be of assistance to you in any way should you address yourself to me.” There were a number of letters dispatched to explain that he was MIA and that, until they heard from the Red Cross or Geneva, they would not be able to receive or dispatch correspondence to the airman as they would not know to which camp he had been sent. They begged for patience and tried to encourage the family that their son was well thought of and had performed his tasks with ‘a cheerful heart’, that he was respected and missed by his colleagues, and that the war office would consider it to be a privilege to assist in any way in which they were able in the interim. The telegram informing them that the war office had received confirmation that their son’s plane had been shot down and that their son was no longer classified as missing in action but killed in action in September of that year.

I held the actual telegram, the same telegram that a mother held and wept over, that a father stared at in blank disbelief and shock, that two sisters would have re-read to be sure that there had been no mistake. it was like a window in history, a time portal or some other secret wormhole. I felt the history screaming at me from those yellow pages. I myself cried when I read the letters including the one sent to his brother who was still serving in the war efforts (somewhere in North Africa- possibly Addis Ababa) to inform him that not only were his friends dying around him, but his only surviving brother had been killed as well. I read this same brothers’ letter home to his parents and sisters the following Christmas, how he was thinking about them and what he was sending money home for for them- for a warm coat for his father, a rug for his mother, whatever his sisters’ needed. His love was carefully constructed on each page to make sure that they did not worry about him, that they knew he was getting enough food (though he did say he was continuously hungry), to tell them that he had a lady friend and that he wished he could be home for Christmas- enough that they knew of his love, but not enough to worry.

I will be grateful for the privilege of that afternoon’s reading for years to come! But it got me thinking about the price that is paid not only by those servicemen who go off to war, but by those they leave behind. The sacrifice that wives and mothers and sweethearts made, that children and neighbours made. Did the young man who died in 1942 have a young lady over there who had also loved him…and lost him? Had she had a child? Did her parents like the dapper airman who’d swept their daughter off her feet and promised her a life after the war?

And then the war was over and they came home- some of them broken on the outside- disfigured, dismembered by bombs and shrapnel, disillusioned, destroyed. How many of the men who had seen their brothers-in-arms felled in the field, did not live to hate themselves for having been the lucky bastard to survive? How many of them could not love their wives or enjoy their children because of the ghosts of others who would never return? How many were unable to drop the defenses that kept them from losing their sanity in the heat and horror of battle enough to let their wives in? How many of them swallowed their pain, their memories, their fears, their nightmares? What price did their wives pay then? What price was required of their sons and daughters?

These are the sacrifices that still touch our lives today, that shaped a culture of stoicism and kept our grandfathers from us, their sons from them. And still, our brothers and sons and sisters and mothers go off to war. And still they return…some of them broken, some of them disfigured, some of them disillusioned. How can we forget? We don’t want to…

I’m back….

This little blog has been quiet of late because I have been away from cyberspace, braving the very real world and encountering nature at its finest. I have been camping. Now to those who don’t know me, this sounds quite natural and to be expected of the mother of three boys, that she would go camping…outdoors…away from her hairdryer…and computer…and flushing toilet (OK! They had flushing toilets and there was power and I did have a tv in the tent but I promise I never actually watched it!) but it was unusual for me because I like the comforts of home…four walls, tables and chairs that have no folding joints, ceramic dinner plates and a fridge to store my milk in. It was more than a little stretching to cram my living, food preparation and bedroom into two small rooms (though I did insist on taking my 7ft6in custom orthopaedic mattress to sleep on- a girl has to have standards) but I did it…and with a smile to boot.

I did not complain when the friends we went with and our collective six children decided to go on a six kilometre bike ride-even though I have barely ridden a bike in 15 years and the six kilometres did not cover the ride home!!!- I smiled and actually enjoyed it. Its hard not to when you are pedalling along a track that leads through some of Australia’s finest vineyards, the grapes oozing their sticky sweet fragrance into the warmed autumn air! I did not complain when possums kept me awake until the wee hours of the morning with the plastic rustle of their foraging through the rubbish bag we’d mistakenly left dangling from the handlebars of one of the bikes. When I finally worked up the courage to step out of the tent and into the night to investigate the unnatural rustling that was happening right outside the thin layer of canvas that separated me from whatever it was that was making that horrible noise, when I finally unzipped the thin barrier that was my last protective shield against the looming evils of outdoor life, when my eyes lit upon the small greyish furry creature that was sitting on the saddle of my bike I realised with horror that there was an instinct that pulsed through me more viscerally horrifying than the flight or fight response, something out there that was a greater threat to my health and safety than the small possum and her baby: I may have to get back on that saddle tomorrow. With an aching reminder of the frailty of the human posterior I removed the offending rubbish bag, apologised to the possum and her baby for interrupting their meal, and went back to bed. About fifteen minutes later, once I had negotiated the various positions that were required to get my gluteus maximus horizontal with my mattress, I decided that it didn’t matter, I was on holiday, I could sleep in, refresh, recover; but it was not meant to be.

I did not complain when the cackling of a pair of kookaburras woke me a mere four hours after I had finally dropped off to sleep (What’s with that!! I thought exercise was supposed to exhaust you, not give you insomnia…oh yes…possums). I did not complain as I gently lowered myself into the most padded foldable chair I could find with a plastic of tea (no cups…remember?) and watched as the children race off to the day’s activities. In fact, I had a wonderful time. We bumped into friends, watched a five or six year old fulfil her wish with an impromptu concert on the stage in front of a campsite of strangers. I learned to hula hoop…at 35 years old! I ate barbecue chicken and took sneaky photographs of a chandelier my girlfriend and I are going to copy and then spent hours op-shopping for the materials we’re going to need to make it. I bought a poetry book and counted rabbits as they hopped around in the dewy grass first thing in the morning. I read stories to six pajama-clad children with their tired eyes glued to my face as I squinted like a pensioner trying to make sense of the black and white scribbles by the light of a torch. I loved it, languished in the sheer joy of having nothing but the moment to occupy me, nothing but memories to build and nothing but my plate to clean.

My favorite moment by far was not the near-hysterics C and I dissolved into when something BIG with six legs crawled out of her shirt (or another BIG thing with six legs poked its head at me from the visor a mere hands-breadth from my face)but when six tired little people clambered onto my 7ft6in custom mattress (did I mention I was dumb enough to leave the white cover on the blankets?!!! Yes!! Well, you live and you learn!) to hear the Easter story which I read from the children’s Bible C had found at an op-shop for $2 or $3. I read about how Jesus was tried before Pilate, beaten and crucified. I read about how the two thieves on either side of him mocked and honoured him in turn and about how, in his last moments, as Jesus hung beaten and dying, with the weight of the sins of the world on his shoulders, he called his friend over to the foot of the cross where his mother stood watching her son die and told him, “This is your mother,” and to his mother he said’ “This is your son.” And then he died and three days later, was raised to life again. Six pairs of eyes were glued to mine, six little faces showing different levels of interest and understanding. It is a difficult story to tell children, one that can frighten them and raise interesting questions. I wanted to end on a high note and answer any concerns they may have so I asked a few questions and let them share their thoughts, which were insightful, but none so much as the answer one of my boys gave when I asked them what they thought Jesus was thinking about when he died on the cross. My boy looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, “He was thinking about his mother.” I could have cried! My little boy had seen something in the character of Jesus that so many of us miss in the blood-and-gore story of His death and resurrection. Jesus was not so busy saving the world, that he forgot to ask his best friend to look after his Mum for him. As they say…out of the mouths of babes…

My New BFF

This girl is amazing. I have decided that I want her to be my new BFF, though I daren’t tell her in case she says no…

21 Accents

I have lived most of my life with a few extra people in my head- a schadenfreude Russian, a fat little South African girl, a French waitress amongst others. This girl is the same…but better… and after all these years, I have discovered that I am not alone! Thankfully my platoon of imaginary friendlies insures that I’m never lonely (I have been known to drive to school to collect my kids practising my deaf accent- my then two year old forgotten in his car seat while I jabber on until a tiny voice in the back breaking the spell with an innocent question: Mommy Whadoo doing?).

I love the idea that there is someone else out there who is as obsessed as I am with studying people, with listening to them and analysing them. But I guess that means that my secret is out! When I was still studying Psychology, every new person I met would use the old cliche, “So are you psychoanalysing me?” and I would smile politely and shake my head and reassure them that I wasn’t looking for Oedipal complexes or oral fixations. But secretly I was analysing them, and not just their psychological processes, but their posture, their body language, their accent, their idiosyncrasies, the way they held their mouth when they talked, who they looked at and for how long, what nervous habit did they try to hide with a glass of wine or a change of topic…all so that I could absorb them into my little collection of people in my head, a collection that has grown from a village to a city over years of people watching!

I am glad that I developed the habit (of people watching) while I was still quite young- it has been useful when it comes to developing characters for my stories. I take a little High School Crush and throw in an Uncle Richard with a side serve of Schizophrenic Neighbour and Gym-junkie Steroid Dude and voila…a 3D character ready to inhabit the pages of my next story…or joke…or fantasy. Don’t pretend you don’t do it! Surely you have imagined the pro-wrestling ex-bouncer into your front seat (crowbar in hand) to jump out at the traffic lights and deal with the person-of-less-than-average intelligence who pulled out in front of you on the speedway doing about 60 km/hr less than you were at the time and who insisted on pulling out in front of you at a snail’s pace when the road behind you was as empty as his head at daybreak? NO? Liar! How about the gutsy Brooklyn BFF who doesn’t hesitate to send back a $60 steak at the restaurant and manages to convince the maitre’d  not only to replace the overcooked hunk of beef, but to deliver it to your table with a smile and for free? No? Maybe I am a freak….oh well, if you haven’t done it, you haven’t lived!

Anyway, even if you don’t appreciate the finer points of my argument, at least go have a look at Amy Walker, if not for a shared interest in the study of human beings, then because, at heart, all of us are voyeurs and like to have a look at the freak. I hope that will be enough of a reason for the rest of you to keep talking to me too…otherwise a small, padded room and a few months to myself will do…

Staring contest…

One of my children is particularly gifted in the staring department. He always beats everyone else at staring contests. His eyeballs don’t need moisture apparently and he can out-stare a statue. Staring contests are fast becoming a favorite past time for the boys after our evening meal, when they need a dose of competitive fervour to end the day. I lose every time so it makes for good sport on their part. I consider my frequent humiliations a self-esteem building exercise for them. See what a good mother I am!

It was while I was wiping the tears away from my dried out eyes and praising my champion son’s efforts at eyeballing me sans blinking, that I noticed my smallest boy sitting next to the fish tank, his little face propped on his hands as he stared in at the fish. The angelic pose, the golden ringlets falling around his face and the soft glow of the fish tank lights made it a moment to freeze in time. Every mother wonders what her precious little one is thinking when his expression looks this intense, his concentration so total that he lost touch with the world. I had to find out what was going on in that little head of his. Was he sad about losing his bout with the other boy? Was he thinking about the meaning of life? There was only one way to find out…

me: “Sweetheart. What are you thinking about?”

Angel: “I’m playing wis de fish.”

me: “What are you playing?”

Angel: “We’re having staring contest!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that fish have no eyelids. I may just have found a way to keep him out from under my feet in the kitchen….

Who said running was healthy for you?

The world is full of people who love to run along the beach with the sun beating down on them. They run until their lungs burn and their legs ache and little rivulets of sweat trickle their way down the small of their impact-weary spine to soak the waistband of their short shorts. They look healthy and tanned and wear an air of superiority as they run past those of us who do not smell hot, salty or pungent.

I am not one of those people.
I like to walk along the beach listening to the waves rather than the hammering of my own heart as it tries to keep up with my feet. I like to feel the sun soaking gently into my skin, allowing it to slowly absorb the vitamin D without poking it’s UV fingers into the cancer cells lying in wait to be activated by the furious sweating off of sunscreen. I like to walk gently, allowing my spine and knee joints to warm and flex through their range of movement, absorbing the impact calmly and steadily as any suspension system should.
When those joggers are sitting slumped in a chair in the corner of the old age home, their zimmer frame untouched because of the sheer effort it will take to unstick their knees and hips so that they can stand, I will amble over to them and smile sweetly, trying not to look too obviously at the brown spots marring their prematurely aged skin, and I will offer to pass them the remote control before I head off to the beach for a nice walk. And while the glare of their too white feet will blind me for an instant, I will be thankful that I was never a jogger!
And besides, I look terrible in a sweatband!

Goldfish mating behaviours and other things

There are times in a woman’s life that she realises that she has been living in a state of ignorance , that mysterious things lie just beneath the surface, waiting for a curious mind to unearth them.

Friday was a busy day. Again. I had held such high hopes of writing my blog and savouring the creative moment in the chaos, but it was not to be. Friday was a deliciously sunny autumn day here in Adelaide and our friends M & S invited us and another family to join their family for an impromptu barbecue at their place. It took all of seven seconds to think about our response-their house is brand spanking new and gorgeous. There are no fingerprints on their white walls (yet), no scratches on their wooden floorboards (yet), no stains in their spring-loaded, soft-closing toilets (yet) and the plastic has only just been removed from their refrigerator. But the real bonus is that the house is big enough that our cumulative eight children (ranging in age from 9 months to almost 9 years old) can disappear into the cavernous interior where they can play safely while the grown ups pretend that there are no children, that the bags under our eyes are from nights on the town and the smiles on our faces are from the sheer joy of living (and not the sad truth that we’ve just watched all those overweight people exercising their guts out on Biggest Loser while we eat a pavlova with raspberries and cream).

I should have seen it coming- the epiphany that would shatter the cocoon of my ignorance- but I didn’t. I had been hastily preparing our culinary contribution to the evening’s festivities (an Asian salad, some marinated kangaroo steaks and un salad de potato) when the phone rang: our impromptu bbq was now going Korean. I was not particularly flustered because the salad was already Asian, the meat was already marinated and not un-Korean (Korea and kangaroo both begin with K) and the potato salad would probably not last through the feeding of the juveniles and did not, therefore, count as bbq food.

I was smiling to myself when the phone rang again…it was my friend C, one half of the other couple that were coming to the bbq. D & C are virgins in the Korean food department, never having tasted seaweed or kimchi, and certainly new to the concept of throwing something un-Australian on the barbie, Mate! C made my day, when she muttered something about trying her luck at picking up a little Korean on her way over to M & S upon which I had a vivid visual image of my gorgeous friend swanning into the bbq with one husband, two sons, one daughter and a small Korean gentleman in tow. It was going to be a fun night.

The food, as you can imagine, was delicious! The children were somewhere in the bowels of the residence (well fed and watching Mr Bean) and we were finishing the remnants of the pavlova with a few half-finished glasses of wine or coffee scattered precariously close to the white leather lounge (also with no stains on it…yet) when the topic surfaced. It was innocuous at first: Did I ever follow up with the guy who was selling discus fish? Now to those who do not know, we have recently begun cultivating an aquarium. Shocking, I know, but I (who up till now have a history of so traumatising goldfish that they commit suicide) have inherited the responsibility of keeping a whole tank full of tropical fish alive. Fortunately there are no police clearance certificates required before previously convicted fish killers can purchase pisces again!

So the answer was that I had neglected to make contact with said seller of discus fish, but I think I made it sound like I had a good reason because I rattled something off about how our fish (platies) like brackish (sounds intelligent and knowledgeable to me!) water with a pH over 7  while discus prefer a pH of about 6 (Booyah! She done her research!). Apparently not! My friend, with an expression somewhere between pity and ‘what-kind-of-an-idiot-are-you’ told me that my information was correct ‘in theory’ but that discus live with platies all the time and that I had missed a darn good deal for no reason! So, even though I had already eaten several thousand calories more than were allotted for the day, I swallowed a nice fat piece of humble pie and…changed the subject.

“So Platies are livebearers?” I said, knowing that my friend is somewhat of an expert on fish (evidently) in more ways than just theoretical (evidently), but I had no idea what I was about to unleash. What followed can only be described as a harrowing, embarrassing and too-intimate-for-comfort discussion about the methods of artificially inseminating goldfish (Don’t ask how we went from platies to goldfish! I can’t remember the details past the discussion about how one might go about getting male goldfish to inseminate the roe of the female. There may yet be an untapped market in fish porn by the sounds of things). Though the information may come in handy at the next school quiz night fundraiser, I doubt any goldfish of mine (suicidal as they seem to be) would like to  know that I not only have the information, but the means necessary to interfere with their love lives!

Knowledgeable Friend threw me the rope I needed to save myself from the embarrassment but, instead I brought it on myself, the bombshell of truth that shattered my ignorance…

“Do you know how to tell when your platies are exhibiting mating behaviour?” It was a fair question, on topic, off of artificial insemination and fish porn, so I asked: “No. How?”

And then he delivered it. D (husband to C and friend of many years, upon whom I should be able to rely) dropped the bombshell… “Just look for flowers, little bunches of flowers, and candlelit dinners, and boxes of chocloate.” I mean seriously! Seriously!!! Friday night!!! Pity she didn’t bring a little Korean, she could have gone home with him instead….! )

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