Friday, 29 May 2009

Drama Duck and the $327 hair-washing hose

You’ve seen them before. You may even have one in your home – those short rubber hoses with a thing like a shower head on one end and something on the other end to attach to your tap’s spout. You use them for washing kids’ (or pets’) hair in the tub.

I bet yours didn’t cost $327, though.

I saw one in the supermarket recently and thought how handy it would be for washing the kids’ hair in the bath. Better than the little red toy bucket we normally use to scoop already-soapy water over their soapy heads for rinsing. This could provide non-soapy, temperature-controlled water. A luxury experience!

Admittedly, I did hesitate for a moment. Not at the price – it was only about $7. But my friend who cuts our hair has one, and when she comes to our house to do hair, the only tap hers fits is the one in the laundry sink. But the packaging on this one said “fits most taps!” in big, confident letters, so I trustingly put it in my trolley.

“Look what I’ve got!” Full of enthusiasm, I display new fit-most-taps hose to ducklings.

“Cool!” says Drama Duck. “Can I see if it fits?”

“Sure,” I say. What could go wrong?

Drama Duck disappears to bathroom, where she attempts to ram the very small fit-most-taps fitting on to the very large distinctly-not-fitting tap. Undeterred, she twists evil, lying fitting back and forth, trying to somehow screw it on to persistently oversized spout of bath tap.

Moments later Drama Duck reappears with that “uh-oh” look on her face that every parent knows.

“I’m really sorry, Mummy,” she says, holding out the spout, which has sheared off the wall in a distressingly non-fixable way.

She’s clearly expecting to be roused on, but I’m so impressed at this bizarre feat of strength all I can do is laugh.

Of course, the plumber’s bill to instal a new tap was less funny. We are now the proud owners of the most expensive metre of rubber tubing in history.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

How do I know what I know?

Pandababy reviewed The Stars Blue Yonder by Sandra McDonald recently. It’s a fantasy set in Australia. I’ve read a few fantasies set in Australia, and this one sounds good, but normally I avoid them. To me, Australia is too ordinary to be interesting. Pandababy, on the other hand, is fascinated by Australia and Australians. What is ordinary to me is exotic to her and vice versa.

This led me to think some more about the old “write what you know” maxim. I’m a “virtual” traveller. I love to read stories that immerse me in some foreign culture or historic time. Bring on the geishas, the slave plantations of the deep South, bring on the Mongol hordes or the denizens of Edinburgh, or Toronto, or New Delhi – anywhere, really, except here. When I read I want to be transported to another place, to experience another way of life. I guess that’s why I like fantasy so much. It doesn’t get much further from reality than dragons and magic and impossible quests.

I can see, of course, that to someone who doesn’t live here, Australia is just as exotic and enchanting as these other places are to me. I can see that if I wrote “Australian” stories they could be fascinating to someone else, though they might seem “ordinary” to me. The problem would be determining what exactly gave them that Australian flavour.

Assume that I’m not talking about a story full of kangaroos and Uluru and the Sydney Opera House, the very obviously “Australian” things. I just mean a regular kind of story, with an Australian feel that makes it different to an American/Canadian/Indian-feeling story. If I write what I know, how do I know what’s “Australian” and what’s something everybody knows? To me, what I know is just “life”. Not having lived anywhere else, I don’t know which parts of that life are particularly Australian, and which are universal.

Confused yet? Let me give you an example. I’ve just discovered Joshilyn Jackson’s hugely entertaining blog, Faster than Kudzu. I’ve been visiting her blog every day for the last few weeks, laughing myself silly at her sense of humour, but every day I stared at that blog title and went “what the??” .

Kudzu. Maybe some kind of martial art? Or some fiendishly difficult mental game like sudoku? Finally it got too much for me and I googled it. Apparently it’s some kind of super-plant that infests all the southern states of America. In peak growing season it can grow a foot a day. My eyes were nearly falling out of my head reading about it. You’re kidding! People have to shut their windows at night to keep this stuff out? And it’s called “mile-a-minute” plant??? Wow! That’s so amazing!

So here I am, oohing and aahing over a noxious weed that probably every five-year-old in America knows about. The “faster than kudzu” reference now becomes clear – a reference that to Jackson needed no explanation, because it’s part of her “ordinary” landscape, but to me was impossibly foreign.

Once the Carnivore and I were taking some visiting Americans around town. He suggested they might enjoy a wander through the Botanical Gardens and a stickybeak at the harbour.

One of them looked alarmed at this. “Er … my wife doesn’t drink.”

He thought “stickybeak” meant something like “to wet your beak” and the Carnivore was suggesting we go for a drink. To "have a stickybeak at" means to look at something. Till that moment I hadn’t realised it wasn’t a universal expression.

So when I’m writing, how do I write what’s uniquely Australian? How do I know what my kudzu is?

Not that I’m getting my knickers in a twist over it (is that an Australian expression or not?). It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. To write what I know, first I have to know what I know that’s different from what everyone else knows. It sounds like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan. “A paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox …”

Friday, 8 May 2009

Confessions of a worrywart

My mother has a black belt in worrying. Nothing is too large or too small for her to fret over, and if she has nothing to worry about, well, she just dreams something up.

It’s possible I may have inherited a tiny little smidge of this worry gene. I’m nowhere near her level of expertise, and I do try to keep it under control, but it’s not easy. “Hello, my name is Marina and I’m a worrywart.”

It also seems to be infectious. The Carnivore will occasionally give me an accusing glance and say, “I never used to worry about things like [insert trivial thing here] before I met you.”

It’s certainly been worse since I had children. I worry about every little facet of their lives. I worry that they’ll turn out like me. I worry that they won’t.

It seems as if the girls may be turning into sportswomen. Nothing could be more astonishing to me. If they grew wings or sprouted an extra head I wouldn’t be more surprised. There are rocks that are more interested in sports than me. And yet here they are, both keen and competent netballers. And today they had their first tennis lessons and loved it.

I would think that there must have been some mix-up at the hospital and I accidentally brought the wrong babies home, except …

Yeah, I worried about that too. And let me tell you, there is no greater worrier than a crazy, hormone-filled pregnant worrier.

When Drama Duck’s due date was approaching, I sprang a special surprise on my obstetrician.

“When the baby is born, I want to write on it.”

My obstetrician was a lovely man. He didn’t laugh or offer to prescribe drugs for the crazy pregnant lady.

“I seeee. Would you mind telling me why?”

“I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to create this baby, and I don’t want to accidentally bring the wrong one home from hospital.”

“You are aware that they put ID tags on the baby’s wrists and ankles in the hospital?”

“Yes, but I’ve heard they can slip off and I want to be sure that I get my baby.”

“You know that every time the nurse brings your baby to you, she will check the ID tags and ask you to check them too? They’re very careful about it.”

Don’t care don’t care don’t care I want my baby. I had nightmare visions of getting the wrong one and then five or ten years later being told I had to give back the child I had raised and loved as my own.

When he saw that I was set on it he asked what I was going to write with. I hadn’t expected that question.

“Um – a texta?”

“I’ll give you a surgical marker. It won’t wash off for days.”

See? I told you he was a nice man. And he did, too. I have the photo to prove it.

Then the only question was what we should write. The Carnivore and I discussed options such as “Ours” or “Property of …”. In the end we decided on the nickname we had given her through the pregnancy, when we didn’t know who she was. Actually mainly he had given her.

Thus my flawlessly beautiful baby daughter came to have the word “SLUG” printed on her back in her daddy’s messy handwriting.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Happy Star Wars Day!

May the 4th be with you.

I have no reason for posting today other than a wish to make you all groan at the terrible lameness of that pun. I promise a real post soon, but how could I resist? It’s a once-a-year opportunity.

Tomorrow serious I will be, my young jedis.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Curse you, Dav Pilkey!

The ducklings have discovered Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books. Demon Duck and Baby Duck are particularly smitten. Not only do we have Captain Underpants stories at bedtime every night, but they have both written Captain Underpants stories themselves, which they read to each other. Demon Duck also does comics. Nor can we enter a bookshop without purchasing another volume in the saga. We also have Captain Underpants songs, computer games and much discussion of wedgies.

In short, our house has been taken over. Not even Drama Duck is immune. I have a whiteboard in the kitchen where I write the weekly menu. The other day I discovered my menu had been vandalised. Drama Duck explained that this was something they did in the Captain Underpants books – the boy heroes change the letters around on the school noticeboard to make the notices say something funny.

So last Tuesday, instead of beef skewers for dinner, we had bee sewers. Captain Underpants would be proud.