Ma cheri, Claudette

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Claudette was one of the oldest transsexual ladies we had on offer in our brothel, a surreal, ramshackle cartoon of a place, clinging on defiantly in a gentrifying bayside suburb of Melbourne. One of the oldest, but unchallenged for the title of meanest, Claudette insisted we describe her to enquiring trade as being “39…and some months.” Though ridiculous, no one dared defy her.

She was still beautiful in her early 50s, blessed with fine, feline features and long thin limbs that’d helped her live unquestioned as a woman since her teens. Believability was incredibly important in the rough and ready Australia of the 1970s and 80s, when the discovery of a clandestine cock could have had her killed.

Dissatisfied with mere survival, Claudette was proud to say that she had stripped as a girl in Kings Cross, in the 70s. With a bit of prompting she’d proudly demonstrate how it was possible to manoeuvre a feather boa or oversized oriental fan to conceal the presence of her penis, safely tucked and gaffer taped up between her legs.

Claudette was always happiest when winding back the clock. We were blessed in our brothel with cable television, a very generous touch I realised later while making my way around Melbourne’s bordello’s and knocking shops. Claudette commandeered the television during her shifts and insisted it be tuned to Turner Classic Movies all day long. And it was long.

I was just glad she was occupied because in the early days I didn’t have the guts to talk to her at all, having bought in hook, line and sinker to her intimidating demeanour, aided by a face that rarely moved. I don’t know if there were cosmetic procedures at play or if it was just pure tension, but something kept Claudette’s jaw very tightly shut. She spoke almost entirely through her teeth. The most you got out of her, facial expression wise, was a lip curled sneer and an eye roll. Think Joanna Lumley as Patsy Stone, but less animated.

Claudette whirled in and out of the brothel all day long, ostensibly to conduct chores in the many shops and businesses in our street. They were the same chores every single Wednesday, which was our day together and they were in no particular order, to buy socks, look for photo frames and get something for Simon’s dinner.

I was not going to be the person to remind Claudette that leaving the premises while on shift was against the rules. Who was I to stand between “the oldest living transsexual in captivity” (as she called herself), and her socks?

Some of the other receptionists told me she’d been making the same expeditions several times a week for years. They suggested that she was not as focused on haberdashery and home wares as she’d like us to believe, but that Claudette was actually nipping into the bar down the street during those outings.

She was very upfront about her love of drinking, and equally honest about how nasty it made her. She joked about waking up to find her beloved white, fluffy cat Bridget covered in red lipstick, having been the victim of a late-night kissing attack from a very drunk Claudette the night before. She also told me once about the beautiful Jag she used to drive around town, until she attempted to drive herself home from the pub one night and plowed it right over a fire hydrant. The impact resulted in a 30ft water fountain she reckoned, which sprayed almost directly up, but angled just enough to pour millions of gallons of water right into the lounge room of the nearest house.

That was the end of the Jag, and of Claudette’s driving career, but no disaster was big enough to deter Claudette from drinking. That conversation came many months into our relationship. I concentrated on not drawing her attention initially, hoping she wouldn’t notice me and inflict me with one of her nasty nicknames.

There was only one biological girl on day shift, and she had a fairly low-level heroin habit. A sweet 21 year-old called Stephanie, who pretended to know who Ava Gardner was and made Claudette cups of tea all day. Claudette called her “Hammerhead”. In general she referred to the other biological girls as “gutted hares.” She called one of her fellow, less feminine, older transsexuals “Grandpa” and another one whose hormone treatment had caused her to gain some weight, “Ham hock.” I did my best to fly under her radar.

It was all going fine until one day when her friend Audrey rang up to speak to her. Audrey was an actual man, but she always called him “Tawdry Audrey in the Tea House of the August Moon.”

Audrey often phoned to talk to Claudette in the afternoon, and on this particular day it was the first sign of life we’d had for hours. It’d been deathly quiet, no one had made any money and Turner Classic Movies had put everyone in the girls’ room to sleep but Claudette.

With Audrey standing by on the phone, I used the intercom on my desk to speak into the girls’ room. “Claudette to reception please.”

Minutes went by without Claudette’s willowy frame lurching into reception so I went investigate.
“Tawdry’s on the phone babe,” I said just as I was entering the room. Claudette was at the mirror. Since my PA announcement she’d leapt up, pulled off the high-wasted mum jeans and woollen pull-over she always wore between client intros, popped on the heals and was fluffing her hair assuming a man had walked in and asked for her.

“Audrey? There’s not a job? Oh well why the fuck didn’t you say that you fat cunt?!” she bellowed as she threw her hairbrush and stomped past me.

I stopped breathing in her wake, standing outside the girls’ room hiding so the awakening ladies couldn’t see me glowing red with embarrassment. I was mortified and within a few seconds knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was going to cry.

I walked casually past Claudette in reception as she leant over the desk telling Audrey I was an idiot, and made my way into the laundry where I tried to cry my heart out as quickly as possible, because I knew at any moment I could be interrupted and have to show my red, teary face to the girls and to Claudette. By the time I came out, all red-rimmed, puffy eyes with no makeup left beneath them she was gone, back to her Mickey Rooney marathon. By the end of the shift which was the next time I saw the girls it all seemed to have been forgotten, by them at least if not by me, and no one ever spoke of it again.

Day shifts were hard to come by, so I was determined to find a way to get along with Claudette. I decided to love-bomb her, a tactic I learned from my Shit Tzu Brittany, who eventually won the acceptance of a tough neighbourhood cat by gingerly approaching it again and again, bowing deeply and wagging her tail, until the cat eventually stopped belting her and even let her sleep beside it in the sun. The technique is basically about deploying unyielding, pathetic humility in the face of nastiness.

Brittany remained determined while the cat suffered through stages of suspicion, annoyance and fatigue before landing inevitably on affection, and so it was with Claudette.

I think the turning point in our relationship came the day I dared to lay a nickname on her. “Up you go Grandma,” I said. It was bold for a second reason too, I was telling her to hurry up and get upstairs for a booking.

Everyone held their breath and wound their eyes around in Claudette’s direction, not game to let her know they were looking for her reaction. She stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes widened and her lip curled. After what seemed like a very long time in which nobody moved, the sneer turned into a sneery smile, she snorted a tight laugh and said, “I’m going as fast as I can, I’m an old woman!”

A minute or two later, as she walked up the stairs still snorting with laughter she shouted back down in my direction, “It wouldn’t hurt you to get up the stairs every now and then, you might lose some weight!”

It was glorious, we were friends and she was Grandma from that moment on.

We became a happy Wednesday club, particularly after the cable TV was cut off. We got invested in daytime soaps, brought food to share for lunch, and adopted all Claudette’s horrific but hilarious sayings as our own, which she loved. When she asked where someone was on her return from a sock run, we’d answer through tight jaws and still faces, “upstairs being sucked, fucked and corn-holed lovey!”

She’d often bring me treats from the bakery across the street, saying something like, “Here, this’ll fatten you up nicely,” as she dropped the bag in front of me on the reception desk without making eye contact. I’d thank her and take great pleasure in eating the sweet treat.

Claudette visited the bakery during every shift to get something for Simon’s dinner. Simon was her partner, with whom she’d lived for years and years and a source of much curiosity on my part. She talked about him constantly, but generally in terms of how much she’d ruined his life.

I could never figure out the nature of their relationship because for someone who was ruining someone else’s life, Claudette obviously thought often and lovingly about Simon. Neither she nor he seemed to be interested in ending their relationship, and she never spoke of any strife at all between them. I ascertained that they no longer shared a bedroom, but they seemed at the very least to be amicable flat-mates. Perhaps that was what Claudette found so painful about it.

Often times when Claudette was bored because it was quiet, she’d get a bit morose so I’d steer the conversation to the old days, to the Cross or to St Kilda hotspots Bojangles and The Prince of Wales, the scenes of the most glamorous high points of her life. In those days Claudette was a showgirl.

From what I can gather, drag, or “female impersonating”, as the wider community knew it in the 70s and 80s was a fairly respected art form. My own parents made sure to attend an evening of Les Girls in Kings Cross while on holiday in Sydney.

They never gave me the impression they were particularly homophobic, but both of my folks grew up in the kind of small Queensland towns where most people believed they’d never met a gay person, and few gay people told them otherwise. I’m not sure what their reaction would’ve been had they encountered a trans gender person in the street, but they felt very sophisticated at having spent an evening with the showbiz “gender illusionists” in Sydney.

They kept the glossy, color program and as a child I flipped through it often, marvelling at the stunning costumes, complete with sky-high headpieces, jewels and feathers. “They’re all boys,” my mother told me once, pointing to the 20 or so topless showgirls, wearing nothing but bedazzled G-strings, and silver pasties obscuring the nipples of their pert breasts. In retrospect I can’t help but feel the revelation called for further discussion, but none was forthcoming. She continued on with her spring-cleaning as though she hadn’t just blown the whole gender and sexuality paradigm wide open in my fertile young mind.

Many years later I found myself in the company of one of the ladies featured in that very program. She brought her own copy in once to show me, along with similar specimens from the famous Paris revues The Lido, The Moulin Rouge and The Follies Bergere, which she and Simon had visited together some years earlier. It was a joy to watch Claudette immerse herself in memories, reenacting dance moves and whirling an imaginary bower. We poured over the costumes together and she talked us through every minute of each show.

She performed a memorable reenactment of the Moulin Rouge’s famous snakes-in-a-fish-tank sequence, in which a huge tank of water is suddenly elevated from below the stage, and a topless showgirl swims elegantly with 3 enormous pythons. I saw the spectacle myself years later and remember thinking it was somewhat less elegant than Claudette’s interpretation. In truth it looked like 3 big snakes flailing around, trying desperately to get out of the tank, while a panting topless woman grabbed at them, yanking them back in and hoisting them around her neck whenever she had the chance, (with a wide smile painted on her face and her toes pointed beautifully at all times of course.)

That was the thing about Claudette. As fearsome as she could be in the present, the world she painted with her memories was a soft as a Turner Classic Movies close-up. Her contemporaries peppered their stories with some pretty harsh realities but Claudette never did. To listen to her, the 70s and 80s in transsexual Australia were a beautiful whirlwind of gowns, lashes and champagne. I was the present she found harsh and ugly.

“No one dresses up to go out anymore,” she moaned. “I saw women at the Follies in jeans!”

Eventually I left that brothel. I moved on to another and another and then finally caught a lucky show-biz break and moved interstate for a time. When I returned to Melbourne in 2011 I set about tracking my favorite girls down via the Internet.

I started with Claudette, and I’m very sad to say that I quickly found the one piece of information one dreads most when searching for an old friend. I found Claudette’s obituary.

Here’s an excerpt of the lovely tribute that was printed a prominent gay paper at the time, noting that Claudette had succumbed, all to predictably, to liver cancer.

“Claudette’s life had been one of glamour. A bit like Vera Charles in Mame, she always had a drink in her hand and loved the glamorous fife. One day she was walking down Chapel Street decked out in Dr Zhivago-like full faux fur and six inch heels. She bent down to pat a dog as she adored animals, and the poor little terrier thought it was a 6 ft malamute wearing ice picks, and broke water on the pavement – the dog not Claudette. She was one stylish girl.

I’d only missed her by 10 months.

I googled her again not long ago. I don’t know why but unexpectedly I found a new entry, in the Herald Sun’s Tributes from November 2013. It read,
“NOONAN. Claudette. 06.03.1954 – 23.11.2010 Cherished memories don’t fade. Still very sadly missed each day. Much love Simon and Lido.”

Oh Grandma, I hope you knew in the end how much Simon loved you, and that far from ruining his life, you obviously lit it up, and mine besides. As for Lido, whom I suspect is a cat who followed in Bridget’s pampered footsteps, may you smother both their heads in red lipstick again in showgirl heaven, my darling.

An abridged version of this piece was first published in The Monthly in July 2014.

Murder in the jungle harsh enough for you Australia?

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A person has died in an Australian prison camp in PNG, scores are injured. Trapped and defenceless, they were, according to advocates and people in the facility, set upon by PNG police and locals.

I called Scott Morrison’s office a minute ago. I said, “I wish to convey my concerns about Manus Island please.”

The receptionist made that nasal noise we women make when our lips are pressed and sucked very tightly together in annoyance, “mmm.”

“Right,” she said.

“Well would you mind taking my name and number?” I asked.

“Fine,” she said.

I gave her my details and she made that “mmm” sound between every word and digit. When I was done I said, “would you mind reading my number back to me please?”

Silence. Not even a bitchy noise. Then, “aherm, I’m sorry, I must have missed it.”

Not really making notes of concerns then I take it. In fairness, she’s not the only one who’s not really interested in the bloke in the body bag on Manus.

As of 4pm, literally hours after Radio NZ of New Zealand carried a detailed story, News.com.au showed literally no signs of “the disturbance”. Instead the AFP raid on channel 7 in the hunt for Schapelle’s millions takes center stage. Scott Morrison’s guilty verdict gets a Guernsey, there’s even a feel good lost/found dog story, but no mention of the person fleeing murder and persecution who’s ended up murdered in an Australian immigration facility. Weird.

Channel 10’s news page is leading with the cast of Modern Family who’ve finally touched down in Sydney – phew! Channel 7 is loving itself sick (understandably) with thanks again to Schapelle, a story even arch nemesis Channel 9 deems more newsworthy than our asylum seeking friend. If you think for one moment I’m going to venture into AM talk-back territory even for research purposes, you’re crazy! I’m feeling fragile enough as it is.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that refugee news was hotter than a Mercedes Corby Ralph shoot, but for some reason this bon mot’s being somewhat sat upon by those we trust to tell us the news. It was only a week ago we were assured that “most” Australian’s wanted Asylum seekers “dealt with more harshly.” So what’s up? Terrifying, bloody murder in a jungle too harsh? Not harsh enough? I’m confused, but then, I’m often confused by Australia these days.

If I was really tough I’d tweet the shit out of this blog link, but I’m not going to. The truth is I’m scared of the repercussions of calling out the Australian news media – for a lot of reasons – so I’ll just let this sit here as my own private little protest. Better out than in I guess. Feels pretty empty either way. :(

Osher Gunsberg just blew my mind. (not in a good way.)

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I was working at Channel 10 when the news broke.  Part of the fun of working on a TV show is the gossip you pick up around the traps, and for a couple of days there, it was ALL about the new host of The Bachelor,  Osher Gunsberg.  The name glided across the screen in the sparkly promo we saw before everybody else.  Actually, I was late to the meeting, so everyone else in the room had seen it before me.   “Who’s Osher Gunsberg?” I asked quite sincerely.  The other faces in the room  lit up in that way that faces do when they know they’re about to blow your mind.

Initially, I assumed “Osher” was his real birth name, and that he’d been using Andrew all these years as a stage name.  Nothing about that would’ve surprised me, because it’s very common in radio, where he got his start.  If you’re considering entering the world of radio and have a name that’s interesting in any way, especially if it’s interesting in an “ethnic” way, be prepared to be re-christened by a radio exec.  I assumed that was where the earlier moniker of Andy G had come from.

Realising this was about to be the hottest topic of conversation in my world, I decided to Google just to be on the safe side and lo and behold, Osher had provided a thorough, if thoroughly eccentric explanation of the name change on his website.  Turns out it had nothing to do with his past at all, and everything to do with a profound  spiritual journey.  The new name was a sort of talisman of the future he intended to live.  It means “happiness”.

It was upon reading that explanation that I decided I loved Osher Gunsberg. I felt as though I recognised a fellow dreamer, only unlike me, he had the courage and the purity of heart to dream out loud, to hell with the sniggerers. I thought the name change was cool as shit and the more I read about Osher, and learned by following him on social media, the more I liked him and wished we were friends. So I was stoked when he asked me to take part in his podcast.

We finally sat down together today and did it. He came to meet me at a theatre in Melbourne where I was later to conduct a workshop for Deadly Comedy, a showcase for Aboriginal comedians that’s part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. We talked a lot about that stuff, about Reconciliation which we’re both passionate about, and about Buddhism with which we both identify. It was so lovely I didn’t want it to end, until he reminded me of something I’d written on this very website. A long time ago. About him.

I couldn’t remember ever having written anything about him before, but it slowly dawned on me as he broke eye contact and said rather evasively and repeatedly, “I’ve read your blog” that whatever it was, it wasn’t nice. My mind was racing, and I think he realised that I had no recollection of the blog in question so he helped me along by adding that I’d written something about his marriage break-up.

Even though I still had no memory of what I’d written, i was… I don’t know how to describe the feelings that flooded my body like sea sickness. I was mortified, terrified, confused and a bit dizzy. He didn’t want to tell me what I’d written but I insisted I had to know.

It turns out he’d only read the blog the night before, so he was able to repeat the most hurtful line to me. “I feel sorry for people too pretty to share their ugly.” It started coming back to me. I’d assumed a lot of things about the break up of Osher’s marriage and the failed marriages of other celebrities around that time, a time in which my own marriage was secretly struggling. I’d decided it was their shallowness and vanity that’d been their trouble, trying to convince myself I think that my marriage was different to theirs and thus would survive. Now here I was sitting centimetres from the sweetest man in the world who had the courage and the purity of heart to call me out on it. His face was not alight with the knowledge that he was blowing my mind, instead his gentle, disappointed eyes told me that that I’d been very wrong in assuming any flippancy on his part about the break down of his marriage. Of course I had been. What a cruel and stupid assumption to make.

The next few minutes are a bit of a blur although they were recorded and will be podcast, (which makes me feel sea sick again of course but I think I deserve to take my medicine.) I remembered muttering something about being the worst Buddhist in the world, and him saying that he knew that people saw him that way and it was ok because he knew it wasn’t really him. Then I said that yes, I was obviously writing about the image I had of him in my mind at that time, but that I shouldn’t have been so judgemental and harsh………….

Oh God, it was a nightmare. It IS a nightmare. I won’t bore you by spelling out the lessons learned because I’m sure you’ve ticked them off in your own head already. I won’t delete the earlier post either because again, I think I deserve to take my medicine but be warned, you’ll want to pull your own teeth out you’ll be cringing so hard while reading it and imagining reading something like that about yourself, written by a stranger you’ve never met.

Ugh. I’m such an a-hole.

I want to take the opportunity to say, as publicly as I insulted you, that I’m so truly sorry Osher Gunsberg. Thank you of not cancelling our meeting when you realised I was obviously an a-hole. Your grace and dignity humbled me today.

Now if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to go and look for a hole to crawl into.

X

And so, I say goodbye to Meshel, Tim and Marty.

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I write this post at the request of Kirsty, a listener who commented on another post and then added that she’d like to read about my departure from drive time radio. I hadn’t thought about writing a blog on the matter, although the idea makes me smile immediately because Marty famously hates blogs and bloggers, having never read one himself.

Of course Marty famously hates a lot of things – twitter, too much information on an information sheet, and all of my friends – but he loved our show, as did Tim and I. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime show, but to be honest, they all are. Every radio show has it’s own personality that’s invariably more than the sum of it’s parts.

Working on a radio show is a very intense experience. Every day a small group of creative people attempts to collaborate on a brand new performance. They’ll perform it once and start afresh the following day. There’s none of the hand-wringing second guessing of television, or the nervous executive input, but there’s no sushi either which is one of the few ticks in television’s column.

Of course, everyone secretly thinks they should be the Mel Gibson of the daily radio production, writing, directing, starring, producing and getting away with appalling behavior because of their genius. If you’re very lucky, you’ll find yourself in a group of people who are too tired to actually fight about it though. Who’ve been around long enough, and fought about stupid radio stuff hard enough that they all know better than to let a studio become a war-zone.

The next level is that at which everyone admits that everyone else knows what they’re doing. That even though it’s not the way you’d have executed an idea, it’s still excellent because they are.

This is the point at which radio Nirvana is possible. Radio Nirvana is working with people who delight and surprise you every day. People who don’t just show up, but who really “show up.” Thinking, listening and belting the ball back over the net every single hour, every single day, every single week, for years. It can’t happen unless the other conditions are in place, because it requires a level of trust and respect that can’t exist in a three-way Gibson war-zone.

With listeners at a party.  Tim is pointing at Liza, whose grace under pressure astounds me.  Good one Lize.

With listeners at a party. Tim is pointing at Liza, whose grace under pressure astounds me. Good one Lize.

Meshel, Tim and Marty was radio Nirvana, for sure, and to say I’m proud of our achievements is an understatement. I won’t bore you with the numbers but let’s just say that Tim, Marty and I will never tire of them.

The numbers represent a group of strange and dedicated listeners, who’ve proved that a lot of the prevailing wisdom about commercial radio success is bullshit. That none of the formulas and fashions and platforms and conventions are as endearing to an audience as original, risk-taking, boundary-pushing, balls-to–the-wall entertainment. The numbers are also testament to a network that accepted and encouraged our unique style.

With my new radio partner, Tommy Little.

With my new radio partner, Tommy Little.

I’m moving on now, to fulfill a long-held dream of presenting the 6 til 9 Breakfast shift on Nova 100 in Melbourne. Anyone who had the misfortune of working with me in Brisbane from 2004 to 2011 will tell you how long and how hard I’ve coveted this job. I’ll be working with Tommy Little who is not only very funny, but one of the most genuine and gentlemanly fellows I’ve ever met. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime show no doubt, because they all are, but to this one I’ll bring more confidence, generosity and peace than I’ve ever taken into a new show. Those are all gifts from the Meshel, Tim and Marty Drive show.

They also gave me pink Crocs on my last day.

Thanks boys.

Farewell Crocs.  Our strange and dedicated listeners will get it.

Farewell Crocs. Our strange and dedicated listeners will get it.

Is it going to take zombies?

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My husband is a zombie guy.  Oh he knows all about them; what attracts them, how to kill them, the latest science behind them, because he’s seen every zombie movie and TV show ever made.  It’s a strange and somewhat incongruous passion I think, for a mild-mannered 46-year-old artist, but that’s men for you.   They’re so good at keeping childhood fixations ticking along in the little shed at the very back of their minds, until middle age allows them to time and space to dust them off again.

So a recent romantic break from the kids, spent in a nice hotel in the city included an in-room screening of Brad Pitt’s zombie blockbuster, “World War Z”.   I didn’t mind too much, having read the fascinating article in Vanity Fair about the trials and tribulations of finishing the film.  Also, I’m embarrassed to admit that watching Brad, aging so beautifully, hair at my favorite length, smoldering around the globe, for the love of his family and all of man-kind, while sporting an on-trend, light-weight, man-scarf draped jauntily around his powerful chest and shoulders, was really and truly relaxing.  The over-priced mini-bar shiraz wasn’t hurting either.

There’s one scene in particular that’s stayed with me, and it comes to mind often, sometimes several times in the course of a day.  It’s an artistic rendering of the effect an apocalyptic incident might have on the tumultuous and divided city of Jerusalem.

The controversial West Bank Barrier (wall), built to “protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian violence” is depicted as the savior of the citizens inside from the soul-less monsters outside.  That would feel like some pretty tacky symbolism were it not for the scene taking place within the city.   Jerusalem, by this point of the story, has become a refuge.  The community huddled together behind it’s walls is made up of all denominations and persuasions and most notably, Israeli and Palestinian people are seen embracing and singing together.*  The zombies have at last, united them.  United us.

I know it’s a bit cutesy and facile, even clichéd and predictable, but it really got to me.  “Is that what it would take,” asks the zombie blockbuster, “is that the kind of threat that would make human beings unite, and fight together?”

As I write, 12 million people are bracing for the impact of Super Typhoon Haiyan, currently off the coast of the Philippines.  Yesterday the black Rhino was declared extinct, and every day 300 tons of radioactive waste from the Fukushima power plant flows into the Pacific Ocean.  That same ocean has an island of domestic waste the size of Tasmania floating in it.  As it becomes more acidic, the Pacific Ocean produces “dead zones” in which nothing can live, as it becomes warmer, it creeps ever higher over its coastlines.

Australia’s famous droughts and flooding rains continue to break records and destroy communities, while our government concentrates on tightening thresholds for financial assistance to victims, sacks scientists and pointedly snubs it’s nose at international climate change bodies.

This stuff is beyond point-scoring politics, beyond tax-breaks, middle-class welfare and budgetary black holes.  It’s beyond super contributions, maternity leave and travel rorts. This stuff is real, and it’s happening – to us.

I can’t help but think how silly we’ll look, all of us to whichever generation of our descendants ends up having to actually deal with the threat, when it’s finally climbing the walls of our very existence.  How weak they’ll think we were, clinging to the assurances of smug old men, whose “instincts” on climate change happen to dovetail beautifully with the financial benefits of exacerbating it.

“How cutesy and facile, how clichéd and predictable,” they might say.  How selfish, pig-headed and dumb?”

They’ll be right of course, just as we know we are about the mistakes of our ancestors.   Israel as the setting of the great epiphany of humankind?  Perfect casting I’d say.

 

This post was first published on The Hoopla November 8 2013.

Queen Bey and me.

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So much for the year of blogging seriously eh?  What a balls up.

You can’t complain about being overworked in my business.  It’s a bit like admitting your kids are driving you nuts when everyone knows you went through IVF to have them.  It’s like you forfeit your right to whinge like any other mother because you whinged so much about not being able to be one.

The entertainment industry is a fickle mistress.  You can woo her for decades with barely a sniff of acknowledgment in your direction to keep the fire of hope burning deep down in your gut from extinguishing, but when she wants you, she wants you.  She rides you like a racehorse, whipping your rump relentlessly with reminders of how lucky you are that she wants you.  You run like Black Caviar because you know she’ll jump off one day, that fickle friend of yours and you’ll never see her again.

Long story short, it’s been a big year and I’m buggered.  Grateful, but buggered.

It’s been the sort of year I’ve dreamt of pretty much all my life.   I’ve done a radio show, a television show and had a book published.  My husband is preparing to move back into our family home after a separation we’ve successfully negotiated (fingers crossed), and today I sent out invitations for a fourth birthday party which I have already booked and paid for, so as I write I feel more like a fully functioning adult than I ever have.  Unfortunately, I no longer seem to be a fully functioning member of the popular zeitgeist.  I think I may be broken inside.  You see, I can’t be bothered going to see Beyonce.

My Facebook feed is chock full of pics, posts and videos of my friends and acquaintances at Beyonce concerts.  Some of these same souls attended One Direction and Rihanna concerts recently, which I find nothing short of admirable.  I mean seriously, who could be bothered?  How do they do it?  Why can’t I bring myself to do it?  Is it because I’m living through possibly the most demanding period of my life, during which kids and career collide?  Or am I just getting old and joyless?  I don’t know what it is, but I do know I’m not going to Beyonce, in fact the idea never crossed my mind.

It’s not that I don’t love and respect Beyonce, I mean, I’m not an idiot.  I get it.  I just can’t come home from work, get dressed up, leave the kids when they’re so sweet just before bed, drive in, find a park, get to my seat, make small talk with people I bump into, watch the gig, get good selfless with Bey in the background, get back to my car, drive home, creep around the house in the dark removing my make up and digging out my jim jams so that I can get less sleep than usual before I’m awoken to prepare the daily breakfast buffet for 2 kids 2 dogs and 2 chooks.  What’s the point of it all?  I can’t see a point anymore.

So I can’t upload Beyonce-in-the-background selfless to Facebook.  So what?  So I can’t discuss my fave costume change with the kids at work.  I don’t have “I Heart Bey” sunnies as souvenirs, but how long are they going to be amusing?  I can’t be part of the hottest conversation in town at the moment and it really doesn’t bother me.  I wonder if it has anything to do with this weird kind of reconnection with my childhood self I’m experiencing lately.

There’s a lot going on there, but for the purposes of this conversation I’ll just tell you this bit.  Growing up in Toowoomba, it felt like everything cool was for other people.  Our television came out of Brisbane, so we grew up watching ads for stuff that we could never do/buy/experience.  For most of my life I’ve been trying to redress that balance by doing/buying/experiencing everything, but just lately it hasn’t felt so important anymore.  It all just seems so intangible and fleeting.  Like things that appear crucially important at the time are quickly forgotten and just stirred into the soup of life with everything else until very few ingredients really stand out against the rest.

In the soup of my life, I don’t think the Beyonce gig of 2013 would’ve ended up being a flavour changer.  It may be for some people, but not for me.  Now the all-ages Uncanny X-men gig in Toowoomba in 1986…..  That spicy little number still looms large in the broth.

 

I guess it’s all about time and place.

 

(Apologies for errors.  Written on the run.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My fondest hopes for you, my little destroyer.

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I hope you will always know that girls who make you feel bad are crippled with self-doubt themselves and should be pitied, but never believed.

 

I hope you never think that Rihanna and Chris are fine and what’s the big deal anyway?

 

I hope you understand that privileged, western women who say they aren’t feminists are part of the problem.

 

I hope you never stop doing your bit to solve the problem.

 

I hope you’ll never grant sexual favours to the undeserving, (or underaged!)

 

I hope you’ll make a great living at no one else’s expense.

 

I hope you won’t groan when you see my name as an incoming call.

 

I hope you’ll never fear other women, and won’t be too hurt by other women who do.

 

I hope your twenties will be a wild ride.

 

I hope you’ll love the shit out of someone, and he or she will love the shit out of you.

 

I hope you’ll find an exercise you actually enjoy.

 

I hope you’ll always recognise bullshit, no matter how badly everyone else around you wants to believe it.

 

I hope you’ll know how much you and your brother brought to my life and my work.

 

I love you little D, and happy International Women’s Day 2013.  I hope you destroy the joint.

 

Mx

 

 

 

Meat me.

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I am sitting in my home, which is quiet and clean because my children are at their Nan’s, and I am indulging in a little bit of that fabled “me time”.  Some women will exercise their way through their “me time”, but I don’t know those ladies.  Some will pamper themselves by paying a pittance to young asian women to sand back and paint their enormous western feet, while they sit atop a back massaging throne reading old mags and nagging their husbands via text message.  I would be one of those women, if I ever got my act together and made an appointment, but alas I never do and so my enormous western feet remain pitifully unadorned slabs of meat at the ends of my legs.  Just another job haunting the endless to-do list in my head.

My “me time” is never well-planned or well executed, but it always begins with food.  I really like food, and as my children get older I find it harder and harder to spend the quality time with it that I’d like to.  I mean sure, there’s always food around, sometimes I even manage to find and/or prepare some pretty nice food, but the experience is generally compromised by one kid not wanting to eat it, and the other kid eating most of mine while I’m making a cheese sandwich for the first kid.  If I’m very unlucky I’ll turn back toward my longed for plate, having placated both children to find my dog quietly licking away at it.  Last time that happened I was so overwhelmed with anger and just the bloody wretched inhumanity of it all that I threw a Thomas the Tank Engine water bottle at the dog while moaning like a wounded beast and actually sort of blacked out for a few seconds.  It was a very low moment for a lot of reasons, and yes it’s humiliating to share but I hope it goes some way to demonstrating how much lunch means to me, on these quiet days when the kids are at their Nan’s.

Today, my lunch was a humble salad sandwich.  I bought it from my favourite cafe in the main street near my house which is called “Salt and Pepper”.  The thing I love about Salt and Pepper is it’s complete lack of airs, graces and mood lighting.  It is very old school, and full of old ladies nibbling at toasted sandwiches and wearing cardigans when it’s 38 degrees outside.  They make great, old school sarnies too.  Just big slices of white bread enclosing perfectly parallel layers of brightly coloured salad stuff, skilfully assembled so that the jucier components never sog the bread.  Real Mum sandwiches.  The perfection of the Salt and Pepper sandwich always reminds me of the worst salad sandwich I ever bought which was in Brisbane, about 4 years ago.  It was a chaotic abomination of vegetable chunks, including the end bits of the tomato.  It was a Dad sandwich.  It was a mess.

“Chicken love?” the Salt and Pepper lady asked me.

“Yes please,” I said, aware that no one else in the cafe knew the terrible implications of my sandwich.  You see, I’m vegetarian, well I really, really want to be vegetarian.  I tell people I’m vegetarian, but I just can’t lay off the meat.  It’s delicious, it’s nutritious and it’s everywhere, and I just don’t have the time to create a meat-free life for myself.

A friend of mine who was unable to quit smoking, even as she dealt with a health issue that demanded it, told me the other day that she just didn’t have the energy to give up, and I totally understood what she meant.  Like me, she has a couple of jobs, a couple of kids, and is stretched to the limit just holding it all together, and holding herself together, let alone improving herself.  Like me, she hopes she’ll live long enough to enjoy the fruits of her labours, but until then she just drags herself out of bed every morning and does the best she can until she’s allowed to go back there.

If I were to plot my stress levels on a scale from 1 to James Hird, I would say I probably live at about a 7.  That’s “at rest”, until the next drama hits.  Blacking out for a few seconds while shouting at the dog is not a great sign of overall wellbeing and connectedness, but my responsibilities aren’t going anywhere any time soon.  As far as I know there’s still no app that adds 5 hours to your day either, so the yoga and meditation regime I dream of will have to wait.  What I’ve decided to do then, is to chip away at the problem from the other direction, where my expectations and demands on myself emanate from.  Weirdly, my marriage troubles brought into sharp focus the difference between my actual responsibilities which are largely immovable, and the demands of my self image (ego?) which are deceptively malleable if you give them a poke.

I’ve stopped my weekly volunteering, I’ve farmed my kids out a bit, I’ve curtailed the hours I work at home and let some great ideas go because I accept I just don’t have the time or energy to pursue them.  I’ve given in to meat, because I don’t have the time or energy to shop, cook and eat indipendently of my family.  I don’t feel great about any of that, or lots of other things I’m too embarrassed to tell you, but I am getting a little bit more sleep, and at least one peaceful lunch a week.  I reckon that sometimes in life you have the luxury of being who you want to be, but sometimes you just have to be what’s left.

 

 

*The worst of it all is that I have chickens myself.  Those one’s in the photo above are mine.  They’re wandering around my garden just meters away from me as I type.  They were there as I ate.  It’s terrible, but right now, it’s me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Australia Day

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Don’t freak out, this is not a veiled “Invasion Day” post in which I’m going to try to make you feel guilty about anything.  That said though, I do believe we should ditch Australia Day, (hear me out!!!)  Instead we should have a long weekend every January called “Flag Fest” during which everyone is encouraged to display the flag in creative ways, or at least in bulk, to argue about the Hottest 100 and get a tattoo they don’t understand.  Why over-complicate it?

I’m quite serious.  Why persist with a day that makes Indigenous people feel like shit?  What benefit does it have for anyone?  Just how passionate are non-indigenous Australians about the events we commemorate on January 26 every year anyway.  How many even know what those events were?  Hmmm, Captain Cook came (or left?), ummm the First Fleet….happened, Ned Kelly won the America’s Cup?  It could be Phar Lap’s birthday for all the average flag-cape wearer knows, so what’s the big deal?  Why don’t we just change it and have a holiday to celebrate stuff that makes us all happy, like the nice weather and the fact that Christmas is over for another year.

I guarantee that the Gen Y patriots who crack the sads about the change initially will completely forget about it in the flurry of Flag Fest preparations, not to mention their Gallipoli travel plans.  Bob Katter’s loyal subjects will have their focus split between Flag Fest and Marriage Equality and will worry themselves into dust about things that have no bearing on their lives what-so-ever.  The apathetic majority will continue to believe that International Newspaper moguls and AM radio millionaires are the only people who truly understand them.  Those guys will in turn lie and break some laws while vilifying everyone who isn’t them, but no one will pay a bit of notice and the world will turn, seasons will change and the Logies will continue to embarrass us all.

Canning Australia Day won’t lower the cost of petrol, get us a decent Prime Minister or win Hugh Jackman the Oscar, but jeez it’d be a nice thing to do for a couple of thousand humans who used to run this place.  They can’t even survive as long as the rest of us in the Nation that we created from theirs – couldn’t we spare them one shitty day a year?

I really can’t think of a good reason  not to do it, but then I suppose a lot of things don’t make sense to me.  Maybe I should listen to more AM radio, life seems so simple for those who do.

For now though, Australia Day is what we have, and so, from the bottom of my heart though, I wish a Happy Australia Day to everyone, wether you grew here or flew here, we are so very lucky to be where we are, so let’s not be dicks to each other.

 

Mx

 

(Please forgive the spelling and grammatical errors.  I actually have an excuse this time which is that my children are hooning around me as I write.

ALSO, thank you all for the suggestions regarding involvement with the Indigenous community.  I have just joined two really great orgs as an ambassador, which I’ll write about soon.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

am i cursed, or just human?

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My husband, from whom I’m newly separated, is deathly ill with gastro. I’ve just done another food drop to his flat, which consisted more of fresh linen and anti-bacterial products than food of course, but it required a supermarket stop none-the-less. I had a work commitment this morning, the nanny was late, and I barely slept a wink last night dealing with the ups and downs of children and dogs unaccustomed to a Melbourne heatwave. The youngest, (but biggest) dog and I are just discovering that he tends to spew when he’s hot, so yeah, there’s that.

I did have a brand-spanking new air conditioner installed in my children’s bedroom scarcely eight months ago, but it has almost never worked and the guy who installed it is an arrogant, illusive arsehole who no longer takes my phone calls, but sneakily phones my husband who I’m sure agrees with him about what an unhinged fish-wife I am as they call each other mate, chuckle understandingly and agree to meet up and discuss the problem 6 or 7 days from now. They’re so busy you see. My daughter’s quite busy too.

She’s three, has a broken arm as of a recent late-night parkour session with her twin brother, and will succumb to heat exhaustion at the drop of a wide-brimmed hat. That may be why she awoke at 2am this morning screaming about “people at the door” and demanding to spend the rest of the night in my bed. Now, I am a good sleeper. I can sleep through the heat. I can sleep with another hot little body jamming itself up close to mine, but what I struggled with last night was the intermittent bursting into song as moments from the Giggle and Hoot concert we attended yesterday obviously flashed through her mind. Here’s a taste for the uninitiated.

I haven’t had much sleep since the night she broke her arm and she and I pulled our first Emergency room all-nighter. I’d worried about that exact scenario for years. You know, there’s mum, minding her own business, in my case ignoring the carry-on in the bedroom while burrowing down in an episode of “The Thick Of It” before I succumbed to sleep myself, when a blood-curdling scream signals a mad dash to the hospital followed by hours of maddening waiting. It sounds so routine when I say it like that, but it was one of those things that filled me with irrational dread and fear. Yet, as we sat there together, my baby girl and I, actually doing it, I kept thinking about a lady I’d been emailing with that day. She’d responded to my last blog in which I asked people to share the details of their charities with me, because she started her own charity Spinal Muscular Atrophy Association of Australia back in 2005 after the death of her first daughter, Montanna from the disease.

1 in 35 people carry the gene that can lead to Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and even though they knew they’d passed it on once before Julie Cini and her partner decided to try for another baby. About 3 months into her second pregnancy, Julie’s partner was involved in a car accident and killed. 6 months later Julie delivered her second daughter, Zarlee, who was also found to have Spinal Muscle Atrophy. She died on Christmas Day 2007. As Julie puts it now, “she got to spend Christmas morning with her mum and Christmas night with her Dad and sister Montanna.”

Julie’s story is unfathomable I know, and she says people have actually asked her if she thinks she’s cursed in some way. she’s also been told by some media outlets that her story is “too tragic”, “too sad,” and will upset people too much. Today Tonight interviewed Julie last August, and have never aired the story. That kind of insensitivity seems impossible but unfortunately it’s all too common for Julie, who wants to use her experience to help, to educate and to inspire other people. If Julie is brave enough to tell her story, shouldn’t we be brave enough to hear it?

Julie is one of those people who makes me wonder if we all have massive reserves within us, and if the depths of our abilities lay undiscovered by most of us, lucky enough to live our lives without ever having to dig that deep. She makes me believe we can all find a purpose in life’s lottery, no matter how harsh our draw. Ordinarily upon hearing a story like Julie’s I’d tell myself I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t go on if it were me, I’d be overwhelmed with pity and my compassion for her would go nowhere, but Julie’s true grit is a call to action. Her commitment to helping others inspires me, her example tells me I can survive anything, and her losses reminded me of everything I had in that hospital waiting room the other night. It’s certainly hard to feel “cursed” in the face of Julie’s optimism and grace.

You can support Julie by checking out her website, becoming a corporate sponsor, participating in one of the many fundraising events, sharing her story through whatever channels are open to you, and of course, by donating.

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