In Celebration of Fathers Everywhere

Today marks another Father’s Day in the UK, a day where children of all ages will remember their fathers in some way. Some dads will receive gifts, others will be proudly presented by toddlers with a home-made crayoned card depicting a round, colourful dad with cotton wool hair and twig-like limbs unattached to his body, playing on ten foot tall lurid green grass with their smiling, egg-shaped children.

Some, like me, will miss their dads today from afar, wishing they could be there in person to hand over the gifts that they have instead entrusted Mr Amazon to deliver. And the children of all ages whose fathers have passed away will sit in quiet contemplation of the enormous gap their father has left, whilst appreciating (with the experience that only an adult child can appreciate) the everyday lessons and wise advice he has intrinsically shaped their lives with.

My dad has been a consistent voice of reason throughout my life, a source of reliability and calm influence whose values have become my inner voice and eventually, the template I used (however unconsciously) to parent my own children.

He taught me that hard work will bring rewards, but you must love what you do for it ever to be worthwhile. He taught me that you should always do the right thing, even when it is not the easy thing to do. That to love your family and appreciate what you already have is the only way to be truly content, and that life owes you nothing.

With the arrogance of youth, I admit that some of these lessons were not ones that I necessarily listened to at the time they were dispensed, but they stuck in my memory like little pods of knowledge to be popped open at the appropriate times when life has laid its challenges in my path. Some of them I am only just learning to appreciate now.

Over the course of my life, my dad has good-humouredly allowed my sister and I to perm his hair (he cut it all off soon after without fanfare). He has tolerated the times I conducted childhood experiments to see if a Smartie would fit up his nose and rather more randomly, what would happen if I poured both sherbet and lemonade into his belly button while he enjoyed a Sunday afternoon nap on the sofa. He awoke in a sudden, blind panic thinking he was about to spontaneously combust, if you want to know the outcome. And no, I still don’t know why I did it, either. Science was never my strong suit.

He helped my sister and I with our homework, teaching us long division and multiplication. He endured with good humour our joint obsession with Duran Duran, the teenage angst and the repeated playing of our favourite music at top volume. He has sighed inwardly at my 14-year old self colouring my fringe purple with a felt-tip pen and waited patiently for my brief flirtation with New Romanticism  to pass.

Later on, he stayed by my bedside throughout the night equipped with a bucket and a glass of water when I was delivered home rather worse for wear and unable to speak coherently, and has imparted stern lectures on the compromise of my safety in drink the day after the night before. He gave me away on my wedding day to a man who has subsequently proved to be as good a father as he himself has always been. As different as they may be in personality, they share the same commitment to work, family, honesty and integrity which is so important to me.

My dad has protectively cradled my newborn babies with undisguised, raw pride. He taught them to swim, has taken them on holidays and repeatedly risen in the early hours of Christmas Day to answer the breathless and excited call “Grandad! Santa’s been, hurry up and come round and see!”

Regular readers know that my dad suffered a devastating stroke before he even retired. The very thought that my strong, hardworking, eternally busy father might not make it during the seemingly interminable months of his recovery in hospital was the most terrifying and unsettling feeling that I have ever experienced. He may not be in very good health any more, but everything that he stands for and his philosophy on life continue to be a guiding light for me.

My dad encouraged our eventual plans to move to the other side of the world, unselfishly hiding his tears at his profound personal sense of loss until the very last minute. He is indeed a very long way away, in a physical sense. 12,000 miles separate us and although I feel that distance every day, I also feel very close to him because of those little beads of wisdom that he implanted in my head long ago that keep popping open whenever they’re called upon. His inner voice has indeed become mine, and I am forever grateful.

If you have a good father, my advice to you is to love him unconditionally for he will not always be here. He may not be perfect, but in all honesty, neither are you. If he lives close enough that you can pop by and say hello, please realise how very fortunate you are and go there often to hug him for no other reason than it just matters.

As those who can’t be with their fathers on Father’s Day will no doubt agree, life is very fragile and we often don’t realise the importance of the things we take for granted until time turns them into precious and indelible memories.

Happy Father’s Day readers, wherever you are and whoever you may choose to spend it with.

Introducing Penny Pincher!

We recently took the plunge and adopted another rescue dog to keep Dougie company.

She is an Australian Kelpie, approximately six months old and so full of beans that rumour has it Heinz want to put her in a tin and sell her.

Her name is Penny.

Penny is as fast as Dougie is slow, as cunning as he is transparent, as clever as he is, um…well, let’s not dwell ok that too much, shall we?

She comes into our lives with battle scars, both mental and physical. We have counted the ones we can see, and noted her absolute terror of the sweeping brush. We clean the floor when she’s out of sight now.

Since her arrival three weeks ago today, she has chewed all manner of things, stolen food and puddled on the floor inside. She has joyously broken free from her leash, leaving me to acquaint myself rather more violently with the road outside than I would have hoped, causing injury to my knees and my pride.

And yet, none of this is her fault.

She has clearly never before felt the warmth of a human hug, been patiently taught that the doggy loo is located outside, had a ball game or been treasured in any of the ways she so deserves. That is now our job.

In these last few days, we have already seen her blossom. She garbles with gruff joy when her human family returns home, her tail whipping from side to side so quickly that I almost expect her to take flight like a small black helicopter.

She is quickly learning that she no longer has to steal food to survive (albeit we have discovered a stash of contraband outside including a toy, a bone and the outside drain cover, all carefully piled together in case of some perceived canine emergency).

Hence the name Penny Pincher (thanks for that, Janette Cook!)

She proudly pops outside to go to the loo, basking in the praise of an encouraging family. She plays with her new friend Dougie and happily trots on the beach alongside him.

Penny came to us with a history she will thankfully never be able to vocalise. But with time, patience and lots of love, we know that this previously unloved puppy will know that she is wanted, cared for and ultimately, that she’s one of us.

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Thank You

Welcome back, dear readers, it’s been a while!

As a fledgling writer, I feel that honesty is important in all things and that without it, you cannot expect the people who kindly read your work to feel or understand the emotion behind it. People know when you’re being honest, and they appreciate it.

I always ask my husband to proof read my blog before I publish each post, and I scrutinise his face carefully to see if he laughs where I hoped he would; for the furrow of his brow where I have hopefully challenged him in some small way. That, to me, is the benchmark by which I measure the strength of my writing, and his opinions are priceless to me.

Whilst this may seem to be pretentious twaddle by some, please bear with me. I have had the absolute privilege of people who follow my blog telling me that I’ve often made them laugh and cry in the same breath. I fervently hope that these sentiments are not just kindly encouragement, because those same sentences made me laugh and cry too, when I first wrote them.

There’s nothing greater than to have someone nod in recognition at what you have written, to say ‘Yes! That happened to me!’ It is a huge rush to me.

I started this blog to combat my loneliness when I first arrived in Australia; and I always feel like I’m sharing my thoughts with a friend. It has been fun, confronting, exhilarating, upsetting, enjoyable…but most of all, so very compelling to write.

This blog is my pleasure to write, and I hope it is yours to continue reading it. I dream of being good enough to write professionally one day, in whatever form that may be. This blog allows me to practise, and without you here reading my posts, I’ll never have the courage to do it.

So, thank you readers for indulging me. I really appreciate you all, and I hope to continue entertaining you for some time to come.

The Grey Army – Beware The Nanja!

As regular readers may know, Australia is an island just off the coast of Bribie, where I currently live.

Bribie Island’s population is predominantly made up of retired folk, therefore there is proportionally little crime and a general feeling of tranquility (translated by my teenagers as ‘boredom’).

When insuring our first home here, the question was asked by the young insurance agent, ‘Do you want to be covered for riot and civil commotion?’

After he had finished laughing, my husband replied: ‘I live on Bribie, mate, there’s very little chance of a riot here!’ To which the young man imaginatively responded, ‘Perhaps the old folk might have a big argument outside your house and throw a walking frame through the window!’

Now, both my husband and the insurance chap had a point here.

Bribie is renowned for its sleepiness and its tendency to be all tucked up in bed by 9pm. We have been eyeballed by the local bar staff who then look pointedly at their watches should you be found outside your home after this time.

However, the insurance agent’s apparently wild suggestion of impending riot may well have been fuelled by knowledge of the behaviour of some elderly locals in a ‘shopping-type scenario’. And in this regard, I now agree completely that a riot may well unfold.

The reason for this? Aldi’s ‘Special Offer Days’ on Saturdays (and Wednesdays, if you’re passing through).

Any Bribie resident intending to set foot in the island’s Aldi store on these days of the week must first equip themselves with a riot shield and nerves of steel. They may want to leave a note for loved ones stating where their scattered body parts may be located in the event that they get fatally caught up in the ensuing mêlée.

Aldi is a unique place where such a random selection of items is available that you never knew you needed an angle grinder, a blowtorch and a tile cutter until you find them at home in the shopping bag with the solitary onion that you went in there for.

My own traumatic experience resulted in the identification of a hitherto unknown species of being: people, I bring you … the ‘Nanja’.

The Nanja can generally fool the public with her white hair and benign expression. She is polite, considerate and an upstanding citizen. A nanna to be proud of.

Except on Bargain Day at Aldi. Then she morphs into a smooth-operating killing machine, using well-versed tactics and commando techniques in the shopping aisles.

The Nanja is a silent, deadly, bargain-seeking missile. And this is how I discovered her existence.

One particular Saturday, we noticed that Havaianas were on a very low price offer at Aldi. Being the most comfortable and practical footwear for living on an island made of sand, we innocently took it upon ourselves to queue outside with the elderly ladies of Bribie until it opened, in the hope of gaining a bargain.

We chatted with them. They chatted with us. It was pleasant. Until the doors opened.

Then, with all the blood-curdling force of Mel Gibson portraying William Wallace in the film Braveheart, this collection of cheery senior citizens surged forward as one. They burst through the entrance and with single-minded determination and tactical stealth, they filled the aisles in an attempt to beat everyone else to their prize.

To our horror, we realised that the store manager had seen fit to place the Havaianas right next to the other special offer of the week – orthopaedic gardening shoes!

We found ourselves carried along on a throng of suddenly vicious and grim-faced Nanjas, intent on securing themselves some comfortable gardening shoes at any cost.

Orthopaedic shoes were passed seamlessly from Nanja to Nanja in a display of sheer mastery, as they tried them on for size. ‘A six here, Marjorie!’ ‘An eight here, Doris!’

Swarms of locusts have moved in a less devastating manner, I swear. A pregnant lady was jostled in the crowd. Roars of approval went up as the correct sizes were identified.

And then, they were gone. Along with every single pair of orthopaedic gardening shoes in the bargain basket.

Just like true ninjas, they had completed their mission with ease and without mercy.

Despite our disconcerting experience, we got our cheap Havaianas.

When we looked in the bag when we got home, we were nonetheless surprised to find an angle grinder, a tile cutter…and a solitary onion.

That’s Aldi!

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Just For The Record…I Miss Vinyl Music!

As I drove to work a few mornings ago, I was happily warbling along dreadfully as usual to the random selection of songs that Pandora had chosen for me when it suddenly began playing the very first single I had ever bought.

The song was Ghost Town by The Specials and hearing it transported me back in time to the Saturday morning that I bought it.

My mother has always sworn that ‘money burns a bloody big hole in our Susan’s pocket,’ which is Yorkshire-speak for calling someone completely financially inept. I have not improved since then.

So you may appreciate that the experience of walking into the record shop and handing over the pocket money it had taken me so long to acquire in exchange for this revered disc of magical vinyl was something quite special to me.

I really treasured that single. I studied the sleeve artwork and the lyrics printed on the reverse, the etching on the outer rim of the label where the master engineer had left a message for the owner. I felt a little frisson of shock that the lyrics of the B-side (Saturday Night, Sunday Morning) contained a naughty word, but I soon got over that and loved that song too. I even knew what label the Specials were signed to (and soon, which other bands were too).

And for every vinyl single, 12-inch record or album that I subsequently bought, that feeling has never left me. Walking into a record shop with the intention of physically owning this or that piece of music was like a tangible connection to my musical heroes, however tenuous. To this eternal music nerd, it felt special and important.

As I warbled badly to this song again over 30 years since the advent of the digital era, it struck me that the creativity and talent of so many bands these days is just as throwaway to society as a McDonalds burger wrapper. Don’t like that album? Delete it from Spotify or Rdio knowing that if you want it back you can just download it again. Meh, doesn’t matter.

There is no longer any of the magic of stepping over the threshold of a music shop owned by someone whose passion and knowledge for music far exceeded your own as a youngster. Rifling through the racks to see if you could find anything to broaden your musical tastes.

Hearing an album playing in the background and needing to know what band it was so you could save up and buy it. Walking out clutching a brand new record and practically running home so that you could hear that first glorious crunch of the turntable needle hit the record for the first time.

And as I pondered all this, the irony that the decline of vinyl music has turned the industry into a Ghost Town all of its own was not lost on me and The Specials’ singer Terry Hall’s melancholy face lingered in my memory a bit longer that morning.

The Unspoken Rules of “How Are You?”

There is one seemingly straightforward question that we all ask of each other on a regular basis that no one really waits for the answer to. Everyone knows the unwritten rule of responding to this question, with the small exception of an honest and talkative few.

The question is, “How are you?”

Nearly everyone knows that in this modern age, the correct response to this simple enquiry is affirmative, cheery – and, most importantly – brief.

Any dissenters to this unspoken rule who are found to reply with unsolicited information concerning their bothersome ingrowing toenail, the death of Jim (“the family tortoise, he’s practically an heirloom you know!”) or their terrible day that will have them running for the bottle opener as soon as they reach home, is really not to be tolerated by busy people such as us.

These over-responders, who fail to honour the unspoken code of “How are you?” fill the vast majority of us with unfettered dread as they begin their sentence with a “Well…!”

Honest responses to this question (particularly long ones involving any form of ill-fortune) will provoke a series of reactions. First, a fixed grimace that Wallace and Gromit would be proud of gradually emerges as the regretful greeter instantly sees the error of their polite enquiry.

A hasty yet imperceptible retreat backwards towards the nearest open door will be made as we make our excuses to leave, along with a mental note never to ask such an ill-considered question ever again.

“Why the bloody hell did I ask that when all I really wanted to do was get to the frozen pizza aisle and leave the supermarket within a two-minute timeframe?” they inwardly groan. They kick themselves metaphorically and make flimsy excuses to move on. “Must go Bert, this frozen pizza’s getting quite warm! Take care!”

You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

But really, why don’t we have time to stop and pass the time of day with the people we ask this question of? When did “How are you?” become a byword for ‘I’m really very polite you know, but I’m in far too much of a hurry to care”?

We are all so busy, time slips by without us even noticing. Life is so full of endless commitments to school, work, paying the bills, checking our emails, that we have stepped aboard the treadmill and begun to treat each other as just another task to complete as quickly as possible. When was the last time you really sat and listened to another person and truly heard what they are saying?

I used to travel to work on the train as most of you know and day after day, everyone there (including me) was wrapped up in their own electronic world, tapping away at spreadsheets on a laptop or uploading attachments to presentations. Reading John Grisham’s latest on their Kindle.

Being very busy and important, scrolling through urgent phone messages, texting their boss. Resolutely ignoring their fellow passengers at all costs.

No one ever spoke to each other on the journey, we just concerned ourselves with our deliberate isolation until it was time to rise and wait by the doors in collective silence to exit the train. All of us, communicating with the outside world without ever actually speaking to one another face to face.

We no longer notice the leaves on the trees or the clouds in the sky when we walk down the street. We don’t talk to people working in shops. We’re too engrossed in the screens of our smartphones to do that.

We no longer pick up the phone to talk, we can just send a text whilst simultaneously reading an email from Jane in the next office.

Busy, busy, busy.

The irony of writing this on an electronic device is not lost on me, dear reader. I do intend to take my own advice, believe me.

My entire job is focused around listening to and helping others, but I tend to switch off when I get home and I need to make a conscious effort to make sure I see real meadows, not just the artificial ones on my work computer screen in the windowless office I sit in all day.

How many times have you emailed someone who sits a two-minute walk away from you? It’s easier, isn’t it, then getting up and having an actual conversation with them? I know I do it regularly, and yet I’m very aware of how ridiculous it is. I even texted my daughter from the sofa the other night, and she texted me back…all the way from her bedroom.

I do wonder what the world was like before the invention of all the devices which only serve to make us so much busier then ever before. They were created to make life easier, simpler, better. Yet in the end, they have caused us to lose the focus of life itself.

So, the next time you find yourself asking someone “How are you?”, try to stop and take the time to really listen. After all, you asked the question.

What have we to lose except a few minutes of our precious time?

My To-Do List for This Week

Get outside and breathe fresh air
Notice the sunset.
Smile at someone you don’t know.*

*Disclaimer: Smiling at a person unknown to you may have the effect of them clutching their smartphone uneasily whilst crossing the road to get away from you as quickly as possible. I know, because I’ve done it before. Do not let this deter you. One day, someone will look up from their busy life and maybe, just maybe…they’ll smile back at you.

Calling Out The Mothership

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I only recently decided to revive this blog after a long absence. The story of our emigration had been told to the extent that it needed to be.

No-one needed to read any more about our lack of furniture, friends or family back in those early days. Much less the tears and snot involved in me missing my family.

So I have made the decision that this blog will from now on have no direction whatsoever, rather like me. I will waffle on about whatever takes my fancy on any given day, and you are invited to share in my (hopefully) regular musings of whatever occurs to me to write.

If you don’t want to follow the often worrying contents of my mind, that’s okay too. I probably won’t notice anyway, I’ll be too busy talking utter rot either here or on here or Facebook, as usual.

You may as well, though. After all, JK Rowling has  famously stated that Harry Potter ‘just strolled into my mind one day, fully formed’, so maybe I too will become a genius millionaire writer and philanthropist and go live in a Scottish castle sometime soon.  That’d be ‘rad’, as the kids say nowadays. And you can say you read the first edition, too!

This post is in honour of mothers everywhere. Mothers are rather like idiots; if you’re not one yourself, you certainly know one.

And it has to be said that a large proportion of us turn into idiots only once we become a parent, where previously we have been well-adjusted and competent human beings capable of rational thought and a manageable laundry basket.

So mums are worthy of a post, bearing in mind that Mother’s Day is almost upon the UK population.

My own mother is what people describe as a ‘character.’ She is small in stature (like me) and openly opinionated (unlike me, at least in real life). She tans easily and has beautiful brown eyes.

These attributes are open sources of envy to me, having spent a lifetime cursing my pale complexion and hoping my freckles might eventually join up and give me an enviable tan if I sat in the sun long enough.

They didn’t.

(And I don’t sit in the sun any more, by way of a disclaimer to the horrified Australians shaking their heads and tutting loudly at this shocking disclosure).

My mum is the original Mrs Malaprop, I’m certain that Charles Dickens must somehow have travelled in time and used her for his inspiration.

This is the woman who refers to ‘Bonsai Beach’ in Sydney and, when my older sister requested a compilation album one Christmas, boldly entered the record shop (it was the 80’s, darlings) and asked the horrified sales assistant if they sold ‘copulation records’. I imagine the poor man is still recovering from this ordeal today.

She often calls me to tell me what disaster has befallen her that day, from discovering she’s wearing one high heeled blue shoe and one flat black shoe. On that occasion, she only looked at her feet because she wondered why she kept tripping up.

As I get older, I open my mouth and my mother invariably comes out. While this would have caused me untold agony as a teenager, now I couldn’t be prouder.

Back when I was 13, I remember being genuinely disgusted that my mother had never held aspirations of being a pop star. Now, I see that she’s a superstar all in her own right.

My mum faces every challenge that life presents to her with her sleeves rolled up and a look in her eye that says ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.’  Life still hasn’t got the better of her.

I live my life every day with her as my benchmark, and hope I can be every bit the kick-ass awesome mother that she’s always been. She has been with me every step of the way of my own often calamitous journey through motherhood, and I suspect in the early days that I may have mislaid my children or forgotten to feed them at all at times if it wasn’t for her.

So yes, I may be an idiot, but I’m an idiot that loves my children unconditionally and I look forward to providing hours of unintentional entertainment to them in the same way as my mum still does to me.

If you have even only one parent in your life, treasure them. Yes, if you’re young you might think that they’re a source of unimaginable embarrassment and shame. You’re right, they are. But so are you.

It’s only as you get older that you begin to realise what a rare gem it is to have someone in your life who loves you unconditionally. Who will fight for you, cheer you on, put your happiness above their own, again and again and again.

Forgive you and start again, when they’d never do that for anyone else.

Be sure to tell your own idiots that you love them, as they love you – because after all, you’re their idiot too.