13 Things Stagey People Do, That Normal People Don’t

This is just wonderful. Thanks.

Daisies At Dawn

Urban dictionary shows the word ‘stagey’ is used to describe all things excessively theatrical, including the people. Stagey people are almost a species of their own, you can tell one from almost a mile off (most of the time you will hear them first) – but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here are a few things that stagey folk do that most muggles (non stagey people) wouldn’t dream of doing for fear of being subject to ridicule and judgement…

1. We Like To Tap Dance – No matter how good or poor our level of tap is, we will occasionally be overcome with an overwhelming urge to perform a little rhythmic step and maybe a few time steps, for no apparent reason. Suddenly, we all become Gene Kelly.


2. Sing All Day, E’ry Day – Singing is not confined to the studio, no no. We stageys belt proudly…

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For My Darling Mum May, on Mother’s Day, Birthday and Every Day


I woke up this morning to another Mother’s Day and thought about how lucky I am. Not because I am a mother, but rather because I have a Mother. I wish I could take credit for this inspired piece of wisdom but I can’t. That kudos goes to the incredibly gifted poet, Gwen Harwood, who wrote about it in “Mother Who Gave Me Life”: ‘It’s not for my children I walk/ on earth in the light of the living./It is for you, the wild daughters becoming women…’ Gwen knew how it worked a long time before I did. She was born ten years before my mum, raised four daughters of her own, philosophised about life and the passage of time and many other things, giving them voice in ways that I could only dream of. Thank God she did.

She also says ‘Forgive me the wisdom/ I would not learn from you.’ Don’t we collective mothers all know that one? And we know it better and better with the passage of time and the deepening of each well earned, well deserved, well honoured facial line? The first time I heard the words leave my mouth that my mother used to say to me, the same ones I swore a blood oath in my youth to never say to my own children (who I think were probably four at the time) I wanted to bite off my tongue. Then I wanted to apologise – to my mother. I haven’t stopped wanting to apologise to her since. In fact I apologise on a regular basis, whether she can hear me or not.

I have so much more to learn from my mother. I haven’t acquired her tremendous generosity yet. She tells me “I  wasn’t so bad” even though I know I was, or that she “can’t remember” me “being difficult”. Ask my brother. He’ll tell you. He used to remind me of it constantly until only a few years back. Is that a part of the gaining of wisdom with the passage of time? Increased generosity I mean. I hope so. I truly do, because I aspire to be like my mother.  She holds families together my mother. Geographically distant relatives will detour on holiday to drop in just to say ‘Hi’ to her. A lot of them will be related by marriage rather than by blood. She has a particular type of wisdom that is hard to  describe – I’m no Harwood. My mother’s tough love kind of loyalty is measured out with a gilt spoon, velvet gloves and a steel strength. Oh, and legendary pasties, scones, the occasional divine quondong pie and bottomless cups of tea and coffee. Her fairy cakes and biscuits are right up there as well. Really, my mother’s cooking all round has been the stuff of family legend most of her life. She’s self deprecating and has no idea of either her levels of intelligence or power. It used to infuriate me, now (because fortunately as I’ve managed to clock up a few years some sense has    settled in) I love her because the fact totally escapes her. Although, I wonder if perhaps she does get it and she just doesn’t care.

My mother didn’t just keep families together, she saved people. She still does. Not in the conventional way. Not in the way that either she or they knew it was happening. My mother has some sort of magic that quietly sits within the least quiet woman on the planet. It baffled me as a child why friends would gravitate to my house when they had far younger, trendier mothers. “But your mum is great!” they’d say as if I was an imbecile and go off to have a conversation in the kitchen of our tiny house with her. I’d look at her and just see my mother and try to imagine what I was missing. Nothing but insight as it turns out. I had it all. Our house may have been tiny but it was a Tardis when it came to packing in love and people and time for both.

Mum still gets regular gifts and cards: Mrs May Robertson, Broken Hill, Australia… The postmarks say ‘Amsterdam’. One of those school friends told me many years ago that this boisterous, creative, nurturing, fierce, loyal, stubborn, loving, four feet eleven inches of giant inspiration was more of a parent to her than her own had ever been. That may have been said in a time of youthful fancy or pain. Any mother of a teenager (and we’ve all been one) knows the     rollercoaster of angst and myopic vision that can be. However, my mother held that girl together, she saved her, when neither of them knew it was happening. It made such an impact on my friend’s life that she keeps in touch with my mother more than she does with me. That’s the way it should be. She’s not the only person who my mother has saved.  Her life’s journal is littered with them.

What a story. What a ripple effect she’s had and keeps having, but then that’s mothers for you. If I could write poetry like Harwood I still don’t think I could pay tribute to my mother in the way she did in her wonderful elegy. To capture the beauty of motherhood, the childhood memories of your own mother and shared relationship and the essence of the fabric of life through a mother’s existence, nurturing and wisdom is something that only the most gifted poets and writers can capture without cheesiness. So, today the best that I can do is to give thanks for my mother on Mother’s Day, and to say I remember how blessed I am for her existence and the existence of all the mothers who came before her to give me life.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum. Happy birthday. Happiest of happy every days. May there be many more.  I love you.

Originally dedicated to May Irene Robertson, 12 May 2013, by Ann Robertson.






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Kids on Planes

I often have musings about child travellers. You know, kids on planes and stuff. When I say kids on planes, I’m not talking about sullen, smelly teenage boys who look like they haven’t used the cake of soap in the shower for its intended hygiene purpose since the onset of puberty. I’m talking about the ones under ten, and more specifically, the dwarf variety – the ones under about 60cm tall. Those small people who haven’t yet started school on a full-time basis at the very least, although those ones can be interesting too. If you’ve ever been on a flight, especially if you’ve been trapped somewhere within a five seat radius, often much, much wider, with one of these mini adventurers, chances are high that the memory of it may set your jaw to rock.

Before I get too much further in, let me establish here and now my own qualifications to comment about this topic. I quite like children. In fact I like them well enough to have had some of my own. When Princess II arrived in the world I even found myself the mother of three kids under three, and by the time she was 19 months old and the Deadly Duo – twins The Firstborn and Princess I – were 4, I was officially a single parent. So I understand completely the joyful highs and Marinas Trench-like lows of kid wrangling. And yes, they’re my babies and, as my mother always reminds me, your babies are always your babies no matter how old they get. Though to be quite candid with you, I’m the first to admit that it seems I bred flawed individuals. It’s true. Unlike some other families apparently, my children take after me and the rest of my ancestors and must have been otherwise distracted when the perfect gene was being given out so liberally. Sadly then, the tedious, thankless and time consuming task of pulling them into line when they needed it, and monitoring their behaviour in public (and between the ages of six months and 17 years old they needed it a lot), was left to me: The Parent.

Come on, let’s not try and pretty it up people. Really, I mean it. All jokes aside. Let’s get serious here.  I don’t know about you but it seems to me that there are a lot of folk who need to pull their heads out of their collective butts and get back in the game. No matter how much you love your children – and I love mine as fiercely as the next person – they can be complete pains in the arse. Yes that’s right. Your little darlings, those CUTE  little buttons with those adORable lashes and cheekylittlesmiles, can be absolute, hell-raising, seat kicking, food throwing,  snot wiping, tanty chucking, biting, pinching, spitting, vomiting, whinging, whining, moaning, nagging, lying (gasp!) shits. It’s only fair. You were to your parents. Didn’t we all hear it from the Olds? “I can’t wait until you have kids!” and all the variations on this theme? Worse still, for those with children in the appropriate age bracket, haven’t we found ourselves spewing those very same words in their general direction ourselves, even after signing the blood oath as teenagers that we would never say that to OUR kids?  

It’s ok. Have another drink.

So I come back to the kids on planes scenario. I choose this as it’s is the one with no escape. You can’t walk to another carriage. You aren’t safe in the knowledge that it’s just a quick trip that will be over very soon. You can’t open a window and get some fresh air to at least dissipate any headache induced nausea or to distract yourself. You can’t ask the driver to caution the passenger with the threat that they’ll be put off at the next stop.  No. There you are –  a complete hostage in the bowels an air born iron demon,  being tortured by a two year old – with no hope of escape.

And the airlines need to fix their policy on allowing these fallen angels to fly solo. Teenagers can’t get into a theme park without “suitable adult supervision” (aka The Parent), so why are these Harry Houdinis of horror left to board a plane on their own? Well they must be right? The large person they’re seated next to clearly isn’t related to them as they pay these misbehaving beasts zero attention. In fact they seem so immune to any and all shenanigans you have to assume they’re deaf, blind and obviously mute. The strange doppelganger-like similarities they have to each other in appearance is just a twisted coincidence. While this kid plants his size 3 mini-Croc encased feet rhythmically in the back of your seat like a striker for Brisbane Roar or Manchester United, throws various items of airline food over the back of your row and screams “NO! I want nuggets! Nuggets NOW! repetitively until a man across the aisle give the screamer The Look and said screamer switches the scream to “No man! Go way! Go WAY! – the adult seated with the child does and says absolutely nothing. If they do respond at all it’s a muffled “sshhh” or a vague (ok, piss-weak) “please don’t do that.”

Please don’t do that?  Please don’t DO that?  Dear God. The truth of it is that every other person on that plane has something rather more severe than please don’t do that bouncing around in their head, and it’s a toss-up who they’d like to take out first – the child or the negligent parent. Ooh it gets my dander up. How dare they subject other travellers to their display of disengaged parenting and its monstrous outcome. The worst part of it is that the anxiety levels of fellow passengers have been on the rise since the departure lounge. It was here that there were early indications of the torment that lay ahead as Buggerlugs was surreptitiously noted by others as he/she tore up the lounge area, climbed over cabin baggage, livened up seating fabric with a collage of melted chocolate, chips, masticated cupcake and chicken nuggets, bit and slapped The Parent and rifled through several handbags carelessly left clutched on the laps of their owners.

I’ve devised a plan that I think may help overcome this problem for the majority of travellers. It could also have the added social justice side effect of reconnecting particular adults with their responsibilities as parents, and may give some small sense of vindication to travellers who paid for a ticket in good faith, believing their transport would come without being bushwhacked by unrestrained, marauding ankle biters. Literally. It works fairly simply on the ‘pay now get refund later’ principle. Basically, a seat booked for a child should come with a premium surcharge that can be refunded later for good behaviour. A reasonable surcharge should probably be, oh I don’t know, let’s say about $1000 for your typical Melbourne to Brisbane length flight and work on a sliding scale for longer or shorter flights. Anyway, that seems about the mark to me. So then, from the time the child boarded that flight until the time they got off, the child and the parent are on the meter. For instance, whinging and whining at low levels that are very brief: automatic deduction from refund of $25 per incident. Ongoing nagging at mid levels: automatic deduction from refund of $50 per incident. Any kicking of seats by child: automatic deduction from refund of $100 per incident. Any tantrum throwing, especially involving high pitched screaming: automatic deduction from refund of $250 per incident. Throwing of food or other items: automatic deduction from refund of $250 per incident. Vomiting: instant loss of complete surcharge. To make things fair, any instant, firm and effective intervention by the parent that results in no further incidents of any kind for the remainder of the flight, should result in a reversal of the most recent deduction.  

Is this a bit steep? Not at all. I know kids can be hard work. That’s my point. Unfortunately, in Western culture we don’t embrace the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ ideology and usually get a bit miffed if someone chastises our child in public. People tend to get pretty engaged then I’ve noticed, and turn into Superparent at warp speed to put the chastiser in their place. Well get on it with the kid! I know some parents who (now you’re not going to believe this) can actually take their children to restaurants and have a meal like sane people without junior terrorising the joint and making life Hell for everyone. They can take them on planes as well. Their children are well behaved, not perfect, but generally well behaved and engaging kids. I know more than one set of parents who have kids like this. And no, they don’t beat them, lock them in rooms or torture them in other ways. What’s their secret? They all tell me the same thing – they’re on the case 24/7 whether they’re exhausted or not. And they’re exhausted a lot.

I remember the days when flying wasn’t so cheap and families had to pack, sardine-like, into cars and drive from one side of the country to the other.  Those were the days when the crap that kids dished out was completely limited to harassing the people who chose to bring them into the world, and their own siblings, within the confines of the family car. They had to deal with it (or not) but the rest of the population moved about dealing with their own travel arrangements , more or less in peace. Don’t like to pay extra and then be responsible for your child’s behaviour among others who are powerless to do anything to improve their personal comfort levels? Go old school and drive.


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Knickers. There is a lot to be said on the subject of knickers – both women’s and men’s. Knickers say so much with so little. They hold us together. They provide security, modesty, good old naughtiness and the occasional soupcon … Continue reading

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Assertive Behaviour… (Or, if you’re a woman, “Being a Bitch”).

My ex-father-in-law, Donny, is one of the most ‘assertive’ people I’ve ever met. He’s so assertive that some people might call him rude. If they’re brave enough they might even mention  this fact in his company, however, this calibre of person is a rare beast – or has had no previous experience, or hasn’t been forewarned of Donny’s ways. Either that or they just like being caught at the worst point in a typhoon. Bizarrely, I’ve never been intimidated by Donny. It’s a character flaw I have to be frightened of things that normal humans shouldn’t be, like driving in city traffic and speaking on the telephone to perfectly lovely people I’ve never seen before, but not of terrifyingly aggressive bullies that regularly tear rabid Rottweilers to shreds for wry amusement.

Donny’s exploits and verballings are legendary. Last Christmas Day on our afternoon visit he was in fine form. Princess 2 was asking him about his golf and there was a story about someone who dared to interrupt his game. “Oh Jesus. Me and Billy McAllister were out last week. We were comin’ down the 17th and this dickhead was over there on the green with about 42 friggin’ balls practicing his putting!”, he waved a hand in the direction of the imaginary green. We all nodded, as you do when Donny is in full flight. “’OI! I yelled at him, ‘piss off outta there!’”, we chuckled knowingly. “He looks at us and then starts to pick up his bloody balls and takes his time about it. Then the arsehole walks past, and as he gets up to me he says, ‘what did ya think you were gunna do old man, if I didn’t get outta ya way?’” I make eye contact with Princesses 1 and 2 and the First Born and we start laughing. “’What was I gunna do?’ I said to the prick, ‘I woulda come down there and slowly shoved those balls up your arse one by one, and then followed it with, hmmm,  probably this two iron’. How dare he speak to a couple of old gentlemen like us like that”, he smirked.

Before he reached retirement and mellowed considerably he was really much more assertive. I remember the year when the horror Easter shopping was peaking at the Westfield close to where he lived in the city. It was the Thursday before Good Friday and people were psychotically battling each in the multi level car park like dodgem-car drivers on crack cocaine. Never afraid of using the two perfectly good legs that he’d been blessed with at birth, he’d parked his car outside and down the street (I know! A bind blowing concept, especially to country dwellers), and was walking up through the car park to the centre shops. This was very unfortunate for a young bloke who, in the manner of testosterone driven males under the age of about 25 – with a female passenger and under pressure to secure the unattainable prized parking space and by default indicate the impressiveness of his genitalia – had nearly run down a mother and child in a pram.

As the Gods seem to do for Donny, they provide him with an opportunity for a life-lesson, and had positioned these events about 10 metres inside the entry way to the car park. He’d been given a front row seat to the events as they unfolded and placed him nice and handy the driver’s door. The mother had screamed in alarm and then at the driver, checked the child and strode off.  Without missing a beat, Donny put on his best “Wow, what a drama queen” sympathy face and knocked on the driver’s window, indicating he roll it down.  The fool followed instructions like a lemming. Donny reached in, turned off the ignition, pulled out the keys and, like a fieldsman from the boundary fence, hurled them out of the car park entry and into the middle of four lanes of insane holiday traffic. Without another word, without a backward glance, as if nothing had happened to interrupt his sojourn to the shops, he was on his way.

The thing with assertiveness is in order to successfully pull it off, you have to mean it, or at least act as though you do. Donny really means it, there’s no doubt about that, and one thing I’ve learned over the years is that people may think that he’s a bastard, but A: he doesn’t care, B: he isn’t harassed by people who try to take advantage of him and he isn’t taken advantage of, C: people know where they stand, D: his life is VERY uncomplicated.  He is also extraordinarily generous on his own terms.

However, and here’s the kicker, men are allowed to be assertive – women are not. It’s true. Donny might be called a bastard by some people, but those people can still be heard talking quite nicely about him. “Ooooh, bloody Donny rip into you did he? I can see your ears bleeding! Rude old bastard. Still… he has a point you know. And at least you know where you stand with him. You can’t say that about a lot of blokes around here, bloody backstabbing arseholes.  And you knew what he thought about that BEFORE you did it.” Essentially, they respect him for who he is, and at the very least, his honesty.

On the other hand, if a woman is assertive or brutally honest, it’s simple. She’s a bitch. This is because women only fall into two categories apparently. They are either nice or they are bitches. There are no shades of grey for women. Either niiiiiice or a BITCH. Get the wrong coffee in the cafe? “Excuse me, I ordered a flat white and I’ve been given a latte.” Surly cafe girl tells you they’re really the same but in different cups. In fact, you got the more impressive looking one and they went to more trouble to give it to you.  “Really? That’s nice”, you say in even tones. “I asked for a flat white. Three times this week I’ve been here and three times you’ve got my order wrong. I’ll wait for you to remake me what I ordered please – a flat white.” Someone in a booth behind you mutters bitch into their macchiato.

You’ve been waiting at the deli counter for ten minutes on a busy day. A corporate jock who’s been wheeling and dealing on his phone way back between the cucumbers and tomatoes dives forward as the deli assistant finally steps up to you. Before you open your mouth he’s snapped out his order for 700 grams of smoked salmon. “Excuse me”, you say to the assistant, “I was first.”

“Look, I’m in a hurry and I’ve already ordered. You don’t mind do you?” he says flashing what he assumes is an irresistibly charming smile.

Cocking an exasperated eyebrow, you turn to the deli assistant and say “half a kilo of green prawns, 200 grams of semi-dried tomatoes, 300 grams of Kalamata Olives and two chorizos thanks.” A phone shrills nearby and a familiar voice says in stage whispers,

“Hello? Oh yeah mate. You’re not going to believe it, this rude bitch has just bloody queue jumped me in the deli and ordered the place out. Yeah. I know. Bloody bitch.”

Could you have let him have his salmon? Could you have waited an extra 90 seconds? Yes, yes you could. But did he show you any courtesy? No he didn’t. Is his time more valuable than yours? Was he considerate to you? All evidence points to the contrary.

So women are left to be bitches while blokes are forthright and honest. Women who assert themselves in even minor ways are bitches, while blokes are to be respected. I shall contemplate this conundrum more on my walk to the neighbour’s to ask him to remove his car from my side lawn. The side that I “don’t use anyway and just sits there”…

I’m such a bitch.

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Mullets (first printed in FOCUS, July 2011)

Some fashions remain classically timeless. Think simple black shift dress, plain gold wedding bands, a white James Dean style t-shirt, a French chignon. A mullet does not fall into this category. Mullets are one of those horrendous mistakes in the universal salon experience of hair fashion history that should have been hidden under scarves and hats until they could have been styled out – never to be seen again. But no. The mullet still launches the occasional surprise hand grenade-like visual salvo on the sensibly coiffed, cunningly disguised as a current trend: the metrosexual faux-hawk; the frullet; the skullet. People, this is not uber cool. All it does is encourage closet Bogans to step out again in confidence.

I even Googled “mullet” because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the logical explanation behind the label. Ever wondered about it? The name for the hairstyle I mean. Go on. Think about it. Just for a second. Got nothing have you? There’s a reason for that. It’s as ridiculous a concept in name as it is in practice. However, blogs and message boards are filled with arguments about the origin – no-one agrees. I was astounded to see that people actually care enough to fight about it. Countries want to claim ownership of it. Seemingly intellectual types wax lyrical about the historical and cultural basis of the style and the name – they  to and fro with in depth discussion. I just wanted an explanation on something absurd. At least that other hideous blight on the hair styling landscape, the rats-tail, sounds logical. Stupid but aptly named.

No body looks good in a mullet. It’s not ‘all business on the top and party in the back…’ The party wound up a long time ago and people moved on. A mullet doesn’t match anything. It doesn’t cover anything. It doesn’t highlight your eyes or the shape of your manly (or womanly) jaw. It does not make you look good in profile. Your silhouette is not enhanced. It will not trick the eye and make your gut look slimmer. You cannot gel it, spray it, tweak it or streak it to improve it.  It. Does. Not. Look. Good.

Ok, so it’s breezy and it keeps your neck warm. Find a new stylist and buy a scarf.

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My daughter loves a metaphor. It’s a shame that they’re so dear to her heart because she’s really quite useless with them. In fact she’s so bad, that as an English teacher in a past career incarnation, it hurts me. “But I’m good at English… I did Advanced and Extension and stuff”, she interjects.  I know, I nod sadly. “And I’m good at it.” Uh huh. Her latest offering was “He gets right up in my goat!” Thank you Kath Day-Knight.

“Grill”, I say.


“He gets all up in your grill.” I expand.

She gives me her doe-eyes as I step around her to put the milk back in the fridge. “He gets ‘all up in your grill’ or ‘on your goat’ or ‘up your nose’.”  The fridge door closes with a weary sigh and we stare at each other for a minute before she breaks into a grin and starts to giggle. If there’s one thing about Princess 1, it’s that she can laugh at herself. She may have inherited my father’s complete lack of I-get-a-joke gene, but she can laugh at her own ditzy-ness. “Even by your standards, mixing three metaphors at the same time is a sterling effort”, I chuckle, and we try to remember some of her better ones. It’s pointless. There are so many.

That people mix metaphors so brilliantly is a paradox of joy and irritation for me. A great metaphor is one of life’s wonders. It can sum up a volume of thought in a gem-like nugget, encapsulating moods of entire nations or blips on the historical timeline.

Metaphors are a thinking person’s phraseology and Australians are particularly gifted at the art of metaphor, I believe. I think it goes hand in hand with a laconic way of life and using minimal words to say the most, or to say it in the quirkiest way. Why say someone is incredibly unlucky when you could say “you don’t have to be stiff to be dead”? Why say you could really do with a drink when you could say you were “drier than a nun’s nasty”?

When I think about the gems Princess 1 could mess with, it becomes frightening and somewhat of a relief that she isn’t aware of great Australian classics such as “they could eat a watermelon through a wire fence”, “all over it like a seagull on a potato chip” or “disappearing faster than a fart in a fan factory”. Actually, it’d take her a while to decode those three so I think we’re right for a while.

Metaphorical speech is so much a part of Australian language that it’s long caused conversational issues between us and other English spruikers, especially our American friends. Even more so when we shorten our metaphors because we all know what we mean. “He’s a few roos loose, mate.” I beg your pardon? “You know, a few chips short.” Chips? Who’s short? “No mate. He’s not the full quid.” The full what? At this point the frustration levels on both sides are usually starting to peak.

Perhaps Princess 1’s mixed metaphor recently of “Pfft… he’s not the full basket of eggs”, might make far more sense to our less metaphorically and culturally astute northern associates. I nearly died laughing.

“Please don’t use metaphors”, I gasped through the tears.

“Well I knew it was wrong but I couldn’t think of the right one and it just came out that way!”

“Stick to song writing. You traded in any talent for metaphor delivery for a genius with lyrics”, I said still laughing.

“I understand metaphors completely!” she tells me when I reminisce about this recent misdemeanour. “No Mum. I really do. I knew that it was about not being smart.” There’s a moment silence as we settle back into watching the movie. “What’s that one”, she asks “about wire?”


“Oh. No wait. That’s ‘screws’… ”

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I don’t understand the male obsession with gadgets. Gadgets and ‘big boy’s toys’. My brother is a collector of gadgets and is a connoisseur of boy toys. They include a selection of blower-vacs that vary in size and power and apparently only work before 7 o’clock on Sunday mornings, to a coffee machine that takes up a cubic metre of space on his kitchen bench for the sole purpose of providing him with a single shot espresso on alternate weekday mornings. He polishes that coffee machine after each use so that the stainless steel monolithic beast gleams with a fine patina. He could buy a perfectly good espresso from the cafe down the road on his regular pre-dawn power walks, but I guess it wouldn’t impress the dinner guests.

He also has a plane. Some single engine blow fly of a thing that he tries to convince me is perfectly safe, but looks like he bought it in a kit and put it together with a bit of superglue and some pop rivets he keeps in an old jam jar in the shed (a shed that was purpose built to hold gadgets).  Before the plane there was the boat. He gleefully sailed the boat up and down the coast for a couple of years before The Bride mutinied and threatened to scuttle it if she wasn’t returned to terra firma toot sweet. A deep tropical low hovered over his mood for some time at this point, but miraculously lifted before the ink was dry on the purchase agreement for the blow fly.

Before the boat there was the other plane. Before that there was the fishing boat. Before the fishing boat there was the speedboat.  That even looked like a phallic symbol. And there has been a never ending turnover of cars since the day he got his driving licence.  It seems that big boy’s toys are somewhat competitive and their ability to make other blokes envious is a highly desirable quality – an observation that is regularly met with raised eyebrow denial. Women, it seems, don’t have the same need to acquire overpriced, impulse-driven items to make them feel special and raise their self-esteem and/or social standing amongst their peers. Shoes, handbags, jewellery, fashion, decorator cushions and cosmetics clearly not included.

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Merry Christmas! It’s that time of the year again when the best and worst of human behaviours can be observed, en masse in shopping centres everywhere, and watching evening TV has a certain sense of déjà vu as programmers re-run the same “holiday” movies and series Christmas Specials as they have for the last however many years. For many it’s also a time of great Christian religious significance, a fact that my friend Holy Hel – an Anglican vicar – reminds me of with great regularity. She’s not trying to convert me, in fact she appreciates my singular and determined rejection of organised religion of any sort as it might pertain to me personally. She says it’s part of my charm and I think it’s some of the glue that cements our friendship. She reminds me constantly of the religiosity of Christmas due to her constant buzzing about, whipping up a storm with her “Jesus this” and “Advent that” and being already tired from thinking about the fifty-two services she has to fit in to 48hours in a couple of different locations from Christmas Eve on because that’s what you do when you follow the bible like she does. It’s the tradition of the whole event.

About as far as my family ever got into religion at Christmas when I was growing up was when my mother would tilt her head slightly to the side as we all sat down to a meal that we called ‘Christmas lunch’ but was normally eaten sometime around afternoon tea o’clock, and ask in pious tones that I only ever heard her use on this one occasion each year, “who is going to say grace?” I dreaded this moment. I dreaded it because I knew that someone would always immediately nominate me, and the rest of the gathered assembly would breathe out in a monsoon of relief and instant muttering of collective approval at the suggestion. It was a case of singling out weakest in the herd, youngest being the equivalent of weakest in this case.

What did I know about grace? Bloody nothing outside what I’d gleaned from an education of nostalgic early black and white American movies on Sunday afternoon ABC TV. Poignant filmic narratives, where stereotypically traditional but bland families seemed to bless every meal in their lives.  That was the total extent of it. (And I have to say that it was the mother or father, or the crusty old grandfather or spinster aunt at the very least, who said grace in these depictions. Not the children. Never the children.)

It wasn’t that none of us were religious. My mother’s German heritage was deeply rooted in the Lutheran church and while, to my knowledge, she never attended church outside hatches, matches and dispatches, she has always had a very quiet but solid faith. My father on the other hand was a self confessed atheist. This didn’t stop him from being Mum’s biggest advocate on the Christmas grace issue. As far as I was concerned it was a complete betrayal, and ruined the three hours of Christmas Day leading up to the meal for me. “Righto Tupp…” he would say, not daring to make eye contact, hands clasped and head bowed as if he was the most holy of all pissed blokes that ever drew a festive breath.  Every year from the time I could talk, and that was early, we did the same dance.

“I don’t know how to say grace”, I would petulantly mutter.

“You just say, ‘Thank the Lord for the food we’re about to receive’”, my mother would helpfully suggest.

“Well you say it then!” I’d retort.

“No, I’d like you to say it.”

“I don’t know why I have to say grace. Why can’t someone else say grace? I said grace last year.”

No-one else spoke. It was a bit like those moments in school when the teacher asked for a volunteer to escort the kid who’d just vomited all over the front of their uniform to the sick bay. Fear of drawing attention to oneself with any movement, utterance or random bodily tic created an eerie, deathly still silence.

“I’d like you to say it”, my mother would go on in ever increasingly agitated tones, “because it’s the right thing to do.”

“Well why don’t you say it!”

“Tupp!” By this stage my father’s patience had usually run out. His turkey was going cold and he was always worried the gravy was going to touch his pork crackling and impact on its quality before he got to rate it – a Robertson family Christmas tradition that was never spoken of but somehow always expected. Dad’s crackling window was closing fast. Usually this one word was enough and I regurgitated mum’s instructed line immediately at lightning speed, with an elevated tone of resentment, far removed from the sentiment I’m certain my mother was hoping for. Every year was the same and every year I hoped the next year would be different.  It never was. So in our house one of our Christmas traditions was that lunch usually started with tension over a religious observance that was resolved, religiously, by an atheist.

Another of our traditions was Dad giving a running commentary on the Christmas leg of ham. This commentary usually started about mid November when he’d be organising the ordering of the ham from one of the local butchers. New year, new butcher. This was inevitably due to the fact that the previous year’s ham had fallen short in some key regard (moisture level, texture, correct colour level of pinkness, saltiness, lack of saltiness, sweetness, smoking technique or duration, tenderness etc). Around October, before the real organising began, there were general rumblings after boozy discussions at the local watering hole with his mates – all ham connoisseurs – of “having to think about this year’s ham”.  My mother’s anxiety levels began to rise exponentially from here.

One particular year is infamous in family folklore as the year dad decided to bake the ham. “What about the year the old man decided to bake the ham!” someone will say. There is a family eruption of collected anecdotes and my mother’s pitch raises an octave and phrases such as ‘he would never listen to me’ and ‘no, no NO, there were THREE hams that year’ are tossed from her end of the kitchen table. The abridged version of the story is that the family business put dad in contact with a baker. After several collegial ales one night talking hams, the baker had convinced dad that cooking a full leg of prime ham, encased in bread dough and run through his industrial ovens would deliver a culinary Christmas delight, nowhere before witnessed. A ham that would go down in
Robertson family history for its magnificence. The holy grail of hams if you like.

What was produced instead, was a concrete encased nightmare that was brought home by attempted stealth at night and deposited in the laundry. Here my father shut himself in and tried to free the ham from its tomb with several knives at first. Eventually he resorted to a hammer to break it open. It took a long while. Mum and I sat in the kitchen and listened to the activity. Every now and again she’d quietly mention that my father never listened to her… that nobody ever listened to her, and sigh. When dad eventually emerged, he declared that the ham was “Bloody dry! It’s bloody dry. You can’t eat it! I don’t know what Johnny was thinking – bake the thing in bread dough my arse. We’ll have to get another ham”, and went to bed. He was right. The ham was inedible.

My sad confession about Christmas traditions is that even though I perpetuate many of the lovely sane ones like Nana’s German potato salad and Christmas pudding and Mum’s wonderful stodgy, rum laced Christmas cake, as well as building a bank of my own, my father lives through me with the Christmas ham. I start thinking about the leg of ham around about October.  Then I get a bit serious about who’s got a good quality product in November. I like to look over the Christmas hams and check for colour and smokiness. I don’t like them too fatty or not fatty enough. The rind has to be exactly right. I can’t help it. It’s not until the first slice that you can be sure if you’ve picked a winner, and I feel truly judged by the ham. That’s my father’s Christmas legacy to me… ham anxiety. I guess I can live with that.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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A friend of mine has just bought a bike. Not as in Ducati. As in pedal power. She picked it up from the bike shop where it had been specially ordered in, as per her colour request, donned the Australian regulation safety headgear and coasted over to my place, where I could ooh and aah over it with the appropriate degree of admiration. I use the term “coasted” loosely. I’m not sure of the exact timeframe, but she did indicate that it has been a while since she her rear end last connected with a triangle of torture. In all our years of friendship I’ve never once heard her talk yearningly of wanting a bike. I’ve never actually heard her discuss bikes at all outside telling her own children to “For God’s sake! Go for a ride on your bike!” Anyway, she arrived at my front door red faced, sweaty, breathless and complaining that she was probably “a little unfit”. You should know that the distance between our homes is about 700m by road – pretty much without incline – so I figure her self assessment probably had some truth to it.

I don’t like bikes. My relationship with them has been tenuous since childhood. I didn’t even learn to ride a bike until I was about twelve and in high school. This had nothing to do with me not wanting to learn, rather it was a parenting blip that probably had a lot to do with lack of interest on their behalf, coupled with my older brother’s history of having several of his bikes stolen from our front yard. I was the youngest by ten years and my folks were really a bit over it all by the time I came along. They were also, by then,  very skilled in the art of deflect and ignore, so even my most well aimed and executed childhood pleas, whinges, blackmail attempts and tantrums for a bike fell on them like zephyrs on a pleasant spring day.

All of my friends had bikes. Early on it was the golden age of the Dragster. Kids would congregate after school and on weekends on the corner and outside the local shops with their two-wheeled totems of collective neighbourhood terror, comparing spoke decorations, handlebar grip streamers and the intensity of glitter in their ridiculously long low-rider saddles, while dripping melting ice block juice onto crossbars from Sunnyboys, Razzs and Glugs.  When dragsters were no longer cool, they all upgraded to 10-Speed racing bikes. Not that one of them raced anyone or anything except the roll-call bell on school mornings. But they all had gleaming machines and would jockey for space in the bike rack, oblivious to my sensitivities and bicycle envy.

So imagine my surprise when, after restarting a campaign of particularly potent and incessant pre-teen badgering regarding my state of humiliating bike deprivation, my father took my mother’s advice (a startlingly unique occurrence), and retrieved my sister’s bike from the dusty, redback spider infested recesses of the back shed. My sister’s bike. My sister’s bike. My sister is sixteen years my senior and let’s just say a few things had changed in bike design in the intervening years. The woman had been married for six years by that stage and I have zero recollection of her ever pedalling anywhere. It was a bottle green horrideous fright of thing that looked like it could have actually belonged to my mother before it had been my sister’s. It bore no resemblance to the sleek machines I desired so covetously. It had an obnoxiously oversized white chain guard that might have been the height of cycling fashion when Elvis was hitting the big screen in “Love Me Tender”, but was seriously cringe-worthy within a generation of Flashdancers who thought the “Star Wars” series was a getting a bit tired.

Undeterred by my look of horror and extremely rare inability to utter anything other than a strange choking sound, the old man declared that he’d get one of his mates “to have a look at it and give it a bit of a cleanup. Be as good as gold, Tupp”. He delivered this news while balancing on his left leg, trying to hold the thing with a hand unsteadily gripping a recalcitrant saddle, the other hand vice-like on a handle bar and his right foot trying to push the jammed left pedal without any success.  I just wanted to die.

When the bike reappeared sometime later after having had its overhaul, I wanted to look grateful. I really did. But I know I failed. It took me weeks to find the “right time” to get the bike out and have a crack at teaching myself to ride the thing. During these weeks, my parents clearly congratulated themselves on not having wasted money on buying me a brand new bike due to the lacklustre reception I’d given its return. Of course the “right time” was at night with low visibility, when the streets were deserted and, most importantly, when none of my friends could see the bike or me wobbling about on it.

Eventually I got the hang of riding, but I never got to like it. I would occasionally ride to one of my friend’s houses on it, taking back streets, and only because she didn’t have a bike and didn’t care for them at all. She thought they were all equally stupid. Consequently, my lack of experience led to a lack of confidence which led to a lack of desire to ride. When you added this to my underlying seething resentment of not having a bike like all normal kids at age 4, having to teach myself to ride in high school, and the ignominy of the fossilised bike itself… well, I don’t like bikes.

Some years later this was confirmed when my now ex husband got it into his head that I should have a bike one particular Christmas. He had a bike that I’d bought for him for his birthday when he’d asked for one. He’d ridden it about half a dozen times – he was such a committer. Was he aware of my cycle history? Yes. Was he aware of how I felt about bikes and my personal engagement in the pastime/sport of cycling? Yes. Did I tell him: A) I didn’t want a bike for Christmas; B) Not to buy me a bike at that point or at any point in the future; C) If he bought me a bike it would be stupid and a complete waste of money as I would never ride it? Yes. Did he buy me a bike a few weeks later for Christmas? Yes. It was a goddamn girlie bike. And it was Barbie pink. For anyone who knows me, and you would think that a woman’s husband would be somewhat clued in, when it comes to my sporty pursuits, they know I’m not a “girlie” type. I am into solitary gym style activities that involve cardio and free weights, and would not be seen dead anywhere near pink. I wanted to take the bike back but he wouldn’t let me. He sulked and I believe there were even tears about how he just wanted us to have a hobby together.

Through my deepening bike-bitterness I reneged on my stand of never riding it, just to shut him up, and we went for a ride together one weekend. Two blocks from home I hit a pothole in the road and came off over the handlebars. I limped the bloody thing the rest of the way home, spitting vicious invectives at his retreating back through a split lip, and hurled it in the garage. He never mentioned it again. We parted company not many years later but the bike remained there until recently when I put it out for a council cleanup and someone helped themselves to it from the front lawn. Good riddance.

I’ll wait and see how seriously my friend takes her new bike and how soon the novelty wears off. She informs me that it’s going to save her on a gym membership, that she’s going riding with her boys and her husband, and that she was a fanatical rider in her youth. Okay. I remember when another friend of mine spent six months paying off a top-of-the-line bike for exactly those reasons about seven or eight years ago. It had a pretty good work out over the first summer of weekends. Now it does a tour of duty once a year I think, if that. I guess her intentions are good. At least she’s bought a good looking, current model town bike. Sadly though she special ordered it in pink. I could almost live with that. It’s the matching pink safety headgear that brings me undone.

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