Saturday, 27 December 2008

Vale Ernest(ine)

You remember the night she arrived? You know... the night that I had to use the Whiz?

That night I called her Ernest, but suspected she might be an Ernest(ine), and Ernest(ine) she has remained. Till now.

It is my sad duty to inform you that Ernest(ine) is no more. She is an ex-spider. She has shuffled off this mortal coil and - oops, sorry, Monty Python almost intervened there....

Ernest(ine), as I said, is no more. She violated The Rule. I only have one Rule - to steal a term from Star Trek - it's the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive for spiders in Chez Betty is this - stay up high. Sheesh, it's not rocket science!

But poor Ernest(ine) - after a couple of weeks of wandering around the house, partaking of whatever dubious joys there may have been Up High, Ernest(ine), for reasons only known to herself, decided to venture to more low-lying areas... and that, as they say in the classics, was that.

I tried to ignore it when she pushed a few boundaries, and came down to below eye level on my kitchen shelves. Honest, I did. I really hate having to enforce the Prime Directive.

But when she came into my bedroom, crawled lower and lower on the wardrobe door and eventually ran towards me across the carpet and disappeared under my bed.... I'm sorry. It was me or her...

I screamed and ran for the chemical warfare bottle. I felt so bad... I squirted poison in the general under-bed direction, and then ran like mad. I believe that a poisoned spider is a desperate and unpredictable spider. Ernest(ine) lived up to the hypothesis. Every time her poisoned neurons perceived my presence she made a desperate run TOWARDS me - so there was a bizarre spider-dodging dance as I tried to extract my tankbag from my bedroom, so that I could go to work - cunningly blocked by a dying and discombobulated Ernest(ine).

It was horrible, I tell you, horrible!

Eventually I grabbed the tankbag and made a run for it.. I paid for my haste when I arrived at work without my security pass and had to explain myself to the smirking security guards.

When I arrived home Ernest(ine) was curled in a noble heap of hairy legs in the midde of my living room floor... and I felt very sad. I also felt too scared to move her, in case she was playing possum... so she lay in state for 2 days before heading to a resting place at the bottom of my new Trash-Pak.

Vale Ernest(ine). I am sad about him/her. Honest. S/he was a good and gutsy spider.

Mobile Madness

A few years ago, my son moved back home and ran up a huge phone bill, calling his friends on their mobile (cell) phones and talking to them for ages. This was a problem because he did it from MY landline. "Awww, Mum, I was out of credit, I won't do it again..."

But he did. Eventually I had a bar put on my phone - it's impossible to call a mobile phone from my landline now - and even though Steve moved out (again) long ago, I didn't bother reversing the bar. I mean, I never call mobile phones from my landline anyway - too expensive!

Baaaaad mistake.

Today I put my mobile phone down somewhere when a violent thunderstorm hit and I ran to check on the chooks next door (another story). When I got back I had a senior moment and couldn't find the wretched thing. The easiest way to find it is to call it from another phone, then run around the house following the ringtone until I locate the phone - right? Simple.

Not so simple. Can't call mobiles from my landline, remember?

Pffft, I am a resourceful woman! I'll call my daughter and ask HER to phone my mobile... Now, where's her number...? Bugger, it's stored on my mobile.

What about the immense brainpower I used to be able to use to recall any number of phone numbers? (I was so good at it, it was practically a party trick! I was a human telephone directory...) But since I got a mobile phone I've kind of stopped trying to remember phone numbers, and the miraculous skill has disappeared - I just punch names and numbers into that little mobile phone of mine these days. The one that I can't find.

I search the house. And again. And again. Retrace my steps. Look in all the likely places. No luck. Look in all the unlikely places... Would I really have left my phone in the oven? I don't even use the oven for COOKING stuff, for goodness' sake!

I try really really hard to remember Kate's number, and dial a number that sounds very familar.

"Hellooooo?" It sounds like Kate putting on a silly voice.

"HI, it's me. Can you call my mobile phone for me? I can't find it.... I won't answer it or anything..."

Dead... Silence... It kind of reminds me of the time at uni when an enormous fart erupted from the loo cubicle next door to mine, and I said jovially "Sheila, is that you?" The silence was deafening. I eventually had to skulk from the dunnies with my hand over my mouth to stop myself shrieking with laughter. The dead silence on the phone right now stretches in the same deathly embarrassing way.

"Hello? Hello, Kate?" I say...

Eventually a lady with an Indian accent says "Who are you? I am Daphne..." How embarrassing.... I apologise profusely, tell Daphne the total stranger what an idiot I am (just in case she can't figure it out for herself) and do a metaphorical skulk by hanging up.

By now I am getting that awful twitchy anxious feeling. WHERE IS MY MOBILE PHONE? I'm irrationally angry with my daughter for not being at the number I called. I am furious with my faulty memory. And I am ready to kill my son because it's all his fault that I put the mobile phone bar on my phone in the first place!!!

I search the house again. This time I use a torch, and find a little bird corpse under a bookshelf, a long-lost earring under the couch, and what appears to be a bit of some kind of construction toy (wtf?) under the griller. But no mobile phone.

A simple remedy would be to go to the house next door (not the house with the chooks, the one on the other side) and ask my lovely neighbour to phone my mobile number - but then she would know that I am an idiot, and I want to maintain my reputation in the neighbourhood. I'm the middle-aged mad biker woman. I don't want to become the tragic phone-losing no-brain...

Happy(?) Ending:
It took something like 2 frustratingly infuriating hours to find the stupid phone, but now I have it. I'm going to have it implanted into some fleshy part of my anatomy somehow, so that I can never lose it again.

Oh, and first thing on Monday I am having the mobile phone bar removed from my landline. Just in case.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Four Legs Good, Eight Legs SCARY

Did I ever tell you about the time I slept with my helmet?

It was the night that Gary Spider first appeared. Gary ended up being one of my most long-term spidey residents, and I felt a kind of grudging respect for him, mixed in with the terror that his spideyness inspired.

I heard him arrive. I'm serious - his hairy spidey legs actually made a sound as they scuttled down my hallway at warp speed. I thought it was an enormous mouse, and then it thundered across my bedroom floor and took up temporary residence on the bottom drawer handle of my chest of drawers. My helmet was sitting on top of the chest - a nice dark inviting hiding-place for a spidey refugee.

Now, I don't know about you, but I think sharing a car with a giant spider is bad enough. I've been known to abandon said car in traffic, when a giant spider has appeared from one of the vents. The thought of one of those hairy-legged suckers suddenly appearing on the inside of my visor, an INCH from my face while I'm out riding my bike - well, let's just say it haunts me. It happened to my friend Tempo once, and he survived to tell the tale. I wouldn't stand a chance.

So when I realised it was only a short spidey trip from the drawer handle to my helmet, I sprang into action. GO GO GADGET ARMS - I willed my arms to stretch further than ever before as I balanced on one leg, high on tiptoe and poised for flight, and snatched my precious helmet away. The safest place to put it was under the doona, right next to me. Sweet dreams...

Gary Spider eventually lived in every room in the house, but preferred the bathroom. There were some very scary moments when the steam in the bathroom made him lose traction. He would start sliding down the wall, closer and closer to my unclothed self... and I'm not sure who was more terrified! He'd be scrabbling like mad to climb higher, away from the madwoman who yelled "Don't come any closer, Gary, or I'll have to -!" (have to what? Concede defeat and give up my house? Run naked to a safer, spidey-free suburb?)

The day that I accidentally TOUCHED Gary Spider - ugh, I can barely recount the tale. I grabbed the bottle of saline so I could rinse my contact lenses, and got a fistful of Huntsman. The bottle and the spider flew towards the ceiling while I fled the room screaming. When I returned to the scene of the crime, Gary Spider was marching furiously up and down on 'his' bottle of saline where it had landed in the sink. I risked all sorts of ocular disasters that day by wearing unrinsed contacts. It seemed safer.

When the Bathroom Man came to renovate my bathroom, I got a bit worried about Gary. He'd gone into hiding, as he regularly did, and I suspected he had a little spidey hideaway behind a cupboard in the bathroom.

"Bathroom Man," I said, shuffling my feet and feeling a little silly, "Um, behind that cupboard is my pet spider. He's been living here for MONTHS now. When you pull out the cupboard..."

"Ja," said Bathroom Man, "if zat damn schpider shows its face -" He made a horrible SPLAT movement with his hands, and grinned. "Ja, it be shit rrreal fast, don't you vorry".

In desperation I called my friend Tempo, babbling about a race against time. I couldn't let the unsuspecting Gary be squashed by a cold-hearted tradesman who had no concept of the History Gary and I had...

What a pal. Tempo came and found Gary, who had obligingly come out of hiding, and bravely transported him outside in one of my rice bowls (I won't tell you which one, heh heh!) My hero!

I never saw Gary again. I like to think that he took his rightful place in the outside world, safe from the snapping beaks of hungry birds. The Huntsman spider lives for about 2 years, and I hope he lived a full and happy life Out There.

I wonder if Ernest(ine) is one of his grandchildren?

The giant spider currently in my kitchen may or may not be Ernest(ine). It's a lot less bulbous in the abdomen these days. I have pondered this, and come to the following possible conclusions:

  • It is a rival giant spider - which could mean I have TWO giant spiders in my house at the moment.
  • It is a rival giant spider and it ate Ernest(ine). If that's the case, I have one giant spider, but it's clearly of the predatory persuasion. And it knows where I sleep.
  • It is Ernest(ine). She has laid an enormous egg-sac somewhere, and regained her girlish figure. If so, I can expect my ceiling to be covered by hundreds of tiny, perfect huntsbabies sometime soon. I will have to dodge them as they abseil from the ceiling on tiny threads of web - or perhaps let them abseil onto my arms - they're very cute and non-threatening when they're tiny.
Sometimes I think chemical warfare would be so much easier - but I can't get past the thought that a poisoned giant spider is an angry and unpredictable giant spider... and I don't think I could stand that.

Monday, 15 December 2008

An Outback Adventure - Home Sweet Homebush!

View Larger Map
Canberra to Penarie (say it Pen - AIRY) - 670kms or thereabouts.

Where the heck is Penarie? Well, it's a little dot on the map, about 28kms north of Balranald, on the Ivanhoe Road in western New South Wales. It's pretty much due west of Wollongong, and about halfway between Canberra and Adelaide.

Why Penarie? There's a fantastic outback pub there: , inhabited by a quirky array of characters. Besides, I don't get out west often. I've heard about the Hay Plain, but haven't ridden it - so it was about time!

So... the adventure begins on Saturday morning, after uncharacteristic downpours have dropped a couple of inches on Canberra AND parts west, like Hay - unheard of! The forecasts aren't great, but hey, I have wet weather gear...

At the servo in Yass I meet a trio of riders from somewhere out west. They're heading into Canberra for the annual Toy Run. Nice one! They warn me about enormous clouds of giant grasshoppers out west. Oh, great! Funnily enough, I don't encounter any at all - maybe because it's PIDDLING with rain by the time I get to Wagga Wagga, and maybe grasshoppers don't like the rain. I know I don't!

Out past Collingullie there's a place called Galore, which has the Galore Store (there's a store in Galore, the Galore Store, but out in Galore there's not much more!) and I start feeling as if I've stepped into the pages of a Dr Seuss book...

Well past Galore (and the Store) is Narrandera. That's pretty much the end of so-called 'civilisation', ha ha - and only about half way to Penarie. After Narrandera the distances between towns streeeeetch, and I'm basically heading into the outback. My next refuelling stop is a little roadhouse at Waddi. I stopped here once before, coming home from a Wintersun trip, in thick fog. Back then it was a haven of warmth, and I almost missed it because of the fog. It's unrecognisable in clearish weather!

In Hay a couple of people chat at me and tell me it's a crap day for riding. I agree! I've been on the road since about 7.30am. It's now 2pm, my shoulders are aching and I still have to fight the wind across the fabled Hay Plain. The wind is howling, the sky seems to have dropped MILES closer to the earth, and it's feeling pretty ugly. Press on, press on!

A mob of sheep is doing its thing on the road - sheep are so DUMB! I slow to a crawl, and the sheep run hither and thither across the road, changing course every couple of nanoseconds... The stockman, looking every inch the hero in an Akubra hat and a Drizabone, and astride a beautiful horse, gives me a noble and friendly wave as I negotiate a wobbly path through the mob. Forget Dr Seuss - all of a sudden I'm in a bloody Banjo Paterson poem!

Wow... the landscape out that way is amazing. It's almost sinister (but that could be because of the bleak weather...) I'm reminded of Henry Lawson's poem "Up the Country", where he talks about the hostile landscape that wants to trap the weary traveller...

Woodland gives way to stunted trees, and the grasslands disappear altogether. Dome-like shrubby things abound, and the colour of the ground changes from grey-brown to cream, to red-brown. It's so FLAT, you can see for ever.

Sad little piles of bones, in various states of bleachedness, appear every few metres by the roadside.

And then there's the dust... Between Hay and Balranald, big drifts of dust are whipped up by the wind and wafted across the road. Just what my bike needs - a good sandblasting...

My fellow travellers all appear to be trucks the size of apartment buildings, and mostly going the other way. If I forget to duck down as far as I can behind my screen to rest my chin on my tankbag, the enormous gusts of wind they generate try to rip off my helmet (and my head!)

The cattle trucks are the worst - the following blast of air is always full of cattle piss.

Why am I doing this? Because I want to get to the Homebush Hotel, that's why! Eventually I do! It's about 3.45 when I pull up out the front. Mine host, His Excellency Phil, kisses me hello - I ask you, how many places can you go and get that sort of welcome? - and gets me settled in.

After a shower I feel a little more human (although my shoulders still ache like buggery), and then the fun begins!

The Homebush Hotel is the last remaining pub of 15 which once existed on the 200km stretch of road between Balranald and Ivanhoe. (That must've been a helluva boozy pub-crawl on horseback, way back when...) Back in the old days it was also a Cobb & Co stop, and is one of the oldest continually-licensed premises in the country.

These days it's been extended (with grants from the Heritage Council that ensure poker machines will never EVER be installed there!) and Phil has grand plans to turn it into a hub of combined cultural activity and outback hospitality. The second "Country Muster" will take place next Easter. Don't miss it!

I have a fabulously boozy evening with the entire population of Penarie (that's about 5 people) and a couple of "interlopers", like Wayne's Mum and his lovely girlfriend, Valerie. What a hoot! My new friends are great company!

Sunday is quiet - a gal has to conserve her energy for the monster ride home! A busload of RSL people from Sea Lake (Victoria) descends for lunch and a tour of the Historic Homebush, and those of us who are left when they go have a few quiet drinks.

The ride home begins at about 6.45am, in the midst of a dazzling outback sunrise. I've been warned by Wayne, one of the locals, that there will be roos on the Ivanhoe Road, so I'm not surprised when 3 of the little buggers start hopping along parallel to the bike. As long as they stay parallel it's all good. But you can never trust kangaroos.... I stay slow...

I see wedge-tailed eagles rising - enormous and majestic - from the side of the road... Major Mitchell cockatoos fly upwards, wings spread, their pink and white feathers back-lit by the climbing sun, and it's just breathtaking! There are emus watching me traverse the Hay Plain... I shriek and sing and giggle like a madwoman inside my helmet - I'm having such fun in this crazy alien landscape!

The relentless sameness of the landscape does strange things to your eyes, and creates optical illusions - but the lone man in the hi-vis vest, pushing a wheelbarrow across the Hay Plain is no illusion. The Australian flag flutters proudly on the front of his wheelbarrow and he looks so tiny and alone out there. [note to self: google to find out what the heck he was up to!] By the time I realise I'm not hallucinating, I've flashed past him and missed a fabulous photo opportunity.

A little later I pull over to take photos of the countryside (there are no grey clouds today!) Somehow one of my contact lenses is blown out of my eye, and I have to retrieve it from the bloody road! It would be quite a sight for a passing motorist (if there WERE any!) to see me crouching by the bike, trying to find a spot out of the ever-present wind so I can put the bloody thing back in!

The trip home takes me a different way - after Narrandera I go via Grong Grong, Matong, Ganmain and Coolamon. The grasshoppers start just before Ganmain. Clouds of them fly at me. Some are big enough to make me say Ouch when they hit my gloves, legs and boots. They make an interesting plick noise when they hit my visor.

At Old Junee a hare lopes across the road in front of me. I don't squash it - that would be mean...

I refuel at Cootamundra (I'm feeling peckish by now, but it seems close enough to home not to bother stopping for food.) I ride through ever-denser clouds of grasshoppers (Ouch, plick, OUCH!) and finally arrive home a bit before 3pm. The landscape here is so tame, so safe, so familiar - and I really want to head back over the Hay Plain to Penarie again!

There are three blokes who run the Homebush Hotel: His Excellency Phil, Sir Edward Edward Edward, and Captain Smyth - and what an interesting crew they are! His Excellency Phil, who's a muso as well as a publican, an entrepreneur AND a pisshead is pictured below. He's fabulous!

Turns out Captain Smyth and I went to the same primary school in Sydney, many many years ago (not at the same time) and we both remember certain teachers! That coincidence is just too amazing, and I intend talking to the Captain some more! Penarie (and home sweet Homebush!) here I come again!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Flashback: where it all began

I'm sure I had adventures before I started riding... I just can't remember them!

I learned to ride in April 2005. And May, June, July, August.... you get the idea. My friends mostly know the tragic story, but I'm recording it here for posterity.

Imagine this – a short, slightly-built woman. She's shy, a bit timid and has always been hopeless at tasks that require physical coordination. She can't work up a sweat in an aerobics class. By the time she's figured out how to put her arms and legs in the right spot to do the moves, the rest of the class has moved on to a new step. She can't dance either. She's stiff and unco. Learning how to drive a manual car is one of the great physical triumphs of her life. Got the picture? That's me.

I find myself, one sunny Saturday morning in April 2005, in the ladies' class at Stay Upright, scared but hopeful that by the end of the following day I'll be the proud holder of a learner rider's licence. I've already lined up a motorcycle to buy – a sweet little red Kawasaki GPX250. What an adventure!

An astute reader, especially one who rides a motorcycle, will probably be shaking his or her head right about now. You just know what's coming...

About halfway through the first morning, I've learned how to get on and off the bike. I've got over my shock at how big and heavy the riding school's Honda CB250 is. I've learned how to turn the engine on and off. Now I have to start the engine and ride the bike about 6 metres, to where the instructor is standing. My heart's pounding. My left leg is shaking with nervousness. My mouth is dry.

Somehow (you knew this would happen, didn't you?) it all goes horribly wrong. I crash the out-of-control bike into a concrete barrier, fall off, and learn the first big lesson of motorcycling – even small, low speed crashes hurt!

I get on again and promptly fall off. So I'm 'expelled' from the class, pretty much, and I limp home, a bundle of misery and bruises. Bugger. Motorcycling is harder than it looks.

When the bruises fade, I have another go at it – I may be unco, but I'm also remarkably (some would say 'ridiculously') stubborn. I rock up to my first 'remedial' lesson, and don't even get to turn on the engine. The instructor, a mature man with a bad back, spends the entire lesson pushing me around the riding range on the CB250, while I, for my part, keep falling over. Exasperated, Mr Instructor, whose back is killing him, calls an early halt to the lesson. I'm relieved, but also disappointed. I'd been so certain that I'd be able to ride properly by now. Mr Instructor asks if I have some kind of middle-ear problem and suggests I do some practice on a pushbike, where I'm less likely to kill myself. Once again, I take my bruised ego and shattered confidence home.

A new instructor greets me for my second remedial lesson. (I must've scared the first one off.) He's been briefed about my 'special problem'. He asks me to turn on the engine straight away, and to ride towards him. I can't believe what I'm hearing. Does the guy have a death-wish or what?

The engine purrs, I find friction point and start to ease off the rear brake. My left leg (that's the one that's holding me and the bike upright!) is shaking so much that I know I'm about to fall over, and that wouldn't be good, only 2 minutes into the lesson. I turn off the engine, rip off my gloves and remove my ridiculously expensive helmet which, just now, is looking like a complete waste of hard-earned cash.

I'm sorry,” I say, battling girly tears, “I'm just wasting your time. I don't know what I was thinking! I'm going home.”

Robert is astounded. “But you've paid for a whole hour! Tell you what, you can just sit on the bike for an hour if you like. I won't watch. Just get yourself comfortable.”

But even sitting on the bloody thing makes me tremble. I feel so demoralised and pathetic – like the world's biggest loser. I climb off before the inevitable happens. By this stage, Robert must be thinking he's got some kind of loony on his hands.

Let's get a coffee,” he says, “and you can calm down.”

I can't even get a spoonful of coffee out of the jar. The granules keep dancing off the spoon and flying around the room. Robert tries not to stare, and makes the coffee for both of us. I have to hold my cup with both hands to stop it spilling.

We talk about fear and about why I want to ride, (why do I want to ride? Just because...) and when the shaking stops, Robert suggests having another go at getting on the dreaded CB250.

So I mount the beast, which seems to be getting bigger and more evil with every passing second. By the end of the hour I've managed to make it move a total of about 15cm. Robert hasn't made me feel like the idiot he probably thinks I am, I haven't fallen over (although I've wobbled rather a lot, and nearly panicked a bit), and I've agreed to come back for another lesson - that's a Good Thing, right?

By remedial lesson number five I can spend 15 minutes at a time on the bike before becoming overwhelmed, and have managed to reduce the number of falls per lesson to one or two. I've learned how to pick up a dropped bike (a handy – no, essential - skill for someone like me!) I've had lessons in icy wintry weather and pouring rain, all through the long Canberra winter. I've had lessons with just about every one of the instructors at Stay Upright. I can just imagine their conversations. They probably have a book running on how many times I'll drop the bike every lesson. They can't believe I'm still chucking money at them to fall off one of their bikes. I want this so much I can taste it. I salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs every time I see a motorcycle – it's insane!

After remedial lesson number ten (yes, you did read that correctly – number TEN), I haven't dropped the bike for a while, and can ride around the riding range, changing gears and everything! I book in to do the weekend course again.

It's a proud moment in late September when Robert hands me my certificate of completion, and tells the class that Betty has just been awarded the most expensive L-plates in history. I'm in the Stay Upright Hall of Fame – Most Determined Unco Ever. Finally I can get on that sweet little red GPX that's been sitting in my yard for 5 months – hoo-bloody-ray!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Nose Hair

I always thought nose hair was strictly for older gentlemen. I was wrong. As I get closer to leaving my fabulous forties behind, my nostrils have begun sprouting downy little blonde hairs that poke just the barest of millimetres beyond my nostrils and quiver expectantly in the fresh air.

The fact that they are blonde is good. The fact that they are nose hairs is not.

I'm not bothered by them as a sign of my encroaching 'crone' status, ha ha. They're just one very small part of the wonderful process of ageing. With wisdom comes nose hairs - ok, maybe not. But hey, give me nose hairs over arthritis or hot flushes any day.

As a motorcyclist though, I have to say that nose hairs really suck. They're dangerous. A single rogue nose hair, wiffling in the breeze, can very quickly ruin your enjoyment of a ride - and your very sanity. The incessant tickle tickle tickle as it wafts against the tender skin just outside your nostril is enough to reduce the hardiest rider to a gibbering wreck in less than 10 kilometres. When you're riding, focus is important - it's not good to be distracted, but a nose hair will distract you to, um, distraction...

And there's not a damned thing you can do about it. Oh, you can try. You can pull up your visor and rub furiously at the tip of your nose with a gloved hand, but the nose hair just lays low for a couple of seconds. As soon as the coast is clear - boing! - out it springs again. Nose hair is extremely resilient, not to mention sneaky.

If you leave your visor open you simply compound the problem because the nose hair acts as an attractant for small, very annoying flying things. They hit the nose hair and cause an instinctive gasp reaction which can (a) suck the stunned flying thing up your nose and down the back of your throat (not recommended) or (b) pull the stunned flying thing into your mouth and down the back of your throat (also not recommended). Choking and /or throwing up inside your helmet for any reason can really stuff up a good ride.

If the small annoying flying thing doesn't get sucked up your nose, it will usually end up lodged in the corner of your eye once the nose hair lets it go. Again, a good way to put a damper on an otherwise enjoyable ride.

OK, so close the visor. You'd think that'd help, wouldn't you? It doesn't. Actually, it exacerbates the NHTF (Nose Hair Tickle Factor). If air didn't circulate inside your helmet you'd suffocate, so all helmets allow a certain amount of air to circulate - and guess what? Nostrils being one (well, two...) of those important air-intake thingies, the circulating air always - ALWAYS circulates past your nose hair, flirting with it, tickling and caressing it even. The nose hair squirms ecstatically in response - and the rider goes NUTS!

Nose Hair is a Health Hazard!

Hot tip for today: if you must have nose hair (and it seems that, as a woman of a certain age, I must...) - keep it trimmed! I remember giggling at bizarre circular gadgets, years ago, that were called "nose and ear hair trimmers". I wish I hadn't laughed quite so derisively, and I wish I knew where to buy one now!

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Deadbeats and Deadlines

Working in the public service - some people would call that a contradiction in terms, and there are times I'm inclined to agree.

Time travels at a different pace in the world of government. The people at the top apparently don't have enough of it, the people at the bottom are flat out with menial and mind-numbing administrative tasks that no-one else can be bothered with, and there appears to be a swathe of middle-ranking people who, as far as I can see, spend their days drinking coffee and swanning about looking busy and important, but not actually doing much. Some jobs have an unreasonably frantic pace, while others could be done easily by a snail on Valium (often a fairly highly-paid snail on Valium...)

I've noticed that the seriously busy people tend to be too busy to tell the world that they're drowning in work. It's the ones with nothing to do who make the most noise.

There's one person I know whose voice rises about 20 decibels whenever a phone call is related to work. It's deafening. The bellowing actually drowns out the loud music I have coming through the earphones that I have jammed into my ears as a last resort to try and block it out. One or two of the tasks I have in my hideously unengaging paid employment demand concentration. When the Bellower is in full flight I can't hear the conversation of a colleague who might be standing right next to me. I've developed an almost Pavlovian response to the ringing of the Bellower's phone, and leap for my earphones whenever she picks up the handset. Ah, the joys of an open plan office.

The same Bellower can be heard from the other side of the room when engaged in work-related talk - or when explaining to new staff what her very busy and important role in the organisation is. I began to think perhaps she had a hearing problem. Maybe she was unaware of how loud she actually was. Maybe I was being mean and unfair. Then one day she took a call that she clearly didn't want anybody else to hear. She really should have continued to bellow in her usual way. I would've headed straight for the earphones and cranked up the volume. Instead, I found myself straining to hear her very interesting secret conversation, and marvelling at how quiet she could be. No, I'm not going to reveal what the conversation was about. I only managed to catch a few key words here and there, and had to fill in the gaps for myself, with wild imaginings and great leaps of logic. It's probably safe to assume that there weren't really any pole-dancers, gerbils or cans of whipped cream in that conversation.

And then there's the Princess. The Princess has a demanding job keeping track of a very important person. This makes her every bit as important as her boss. This is why it's imperative that she takes some time out every hour to abandon her ringing phone and stand outside smoking. Or doing her make-up. Or shopping while deadlines come and go, and other people answer her phone for her. And she has this really intense way of interacting over the most trivial things. She drops her chin and stares up through her lashes, a la Princess Di, and says things like 'I think I'll get a coffee now. I can tell I'm going to need one before I can [answer this ringing phone, do this report etc etc etc]'

Speaking of deadlines... as an ex-teacher I have a very healthy respect for deadlines. They actually mean something to me. I can't imagine blithely wandering off to class 10 minutes late while 25 or 30 adolescents run riot, and then not having any work for them to do because I was too busy talking on the phone to prepare a lesson. I can't imagine not getting exams marked in time to get reports written. I can't imagine turning up late to a parent teacher interview and not having my material ready.

Civilisation might not fall if a deadline is missed (well, I suppose it could, if it involved heads of governments and nuclear weapons and so on), but at the very least it appears unprofessional - and it decreases the turnaround time for the poor sucker who gets the work after you. It's unfair. When that poor sucker happens to be me, week after week, I get mad. There's no way my job really needs me to be at work for 10 or 11 hours in a day. But 11 hour days happen when little TGs (Tinpot Gods) think they are too important to have to bother with deadlines.

And the next time a certain TG scowls in horror, to see a minion of my lowly level in his office (at my manager's request, mind you), I may just go postal.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Customary vs Habitual

OK, the dictionary tells me they're synonyms - but I reckon they are very very different.

Having my "customary" after dinner drink(s?) somehow doesn't sound anywhere near as bad as having an habitual after dinner drink, right?


Saturday, 22 November 2008

Of Mice and Me

It's just as well mice don't freak me out the way big spiders do. There was another nocturnal adventure at my place yesterday.

It's not the first time Oscar bin Laden has tried gifting me with a mouse. I'm no stranger to teeny weeny mouse corpses, but I prefer not to be a witness to the corpse-making process.

A few months ago Oscar was dancing about on my bed at around 2.30am. He was insistently plucking at a throw rug that I'd put on top of my doona for extra warmth. The constant poke, poke, poke suddenly triggered a response in my sleeping brain - and I became very awake very quickly, and gingerly lifted a corner of the throw rug just in time to see a long mousy tail wriggle closer to me. Oscar saw it too, and prepared to deliver the death blow. Yuk - not on my bed you don't, you mouse-murdering little bastard!

2.30am in a Canberra winter is no time to be wandering the back yard in your jammies, looking for a safe spot to liberate a traumatised mouse, but that's what I found myself doing. Mouse, 1 - Cats, 0. Betty Mouse-Friend - frozen but metaphorically warm & fuzzy.

So anyway, last night's mouse, which had eluded both Oscar and Miff during the 2am mouse-chasing fiesta, was nowhere to be seen this morning. I was sort of glad - the tiny little corpses always make me feel a bit sad.

Mice aren't very bright, I discovered. When I saw that my slipper had an inhabitant, and picked it up to take it to freedom, stupid Mousie leapt out, into the waiting jaws of Oscar bin Laden. My God, the GUILT! I had delivered him to his doom! I would be responsible for an innocent (but stupid) mouse's tortured demise. NOOOooooooooo!

Mayhem ensued. Oscar kept catching Mousie, releasing him and batting him across the floor. Mousie would recover and run, which Oscar found very exciting. Miffy joined in, and suddenly two fanged Furies (or Furries, if you prefer) were having great fun playing mouse-tennis.

Ernest(ine) the giant spider watched the proceedings from her new corner, high above the front door, while I ran around the house with a plastic takeaway container to catch Mousie if I got the chance. It was exhausting.

Mousie ran beneath a wrinkle in a rug, and cowered there, catching its breath. The cats took turns poking their arms under the rug, right up to the elbows (do cats have elbows?) with no luck.

Oscar ran out of patience and did something I've never seen him do before (sometimes that cat is scary). He leapt upon a corner of the rug, and in a brilliant display of fancy footwork and sleight of paw, flung the rug back to reveal the unmoving mouse.

I pounced with my takeaway container. My moment had come; my chance to be a hero and to redeem myself. I hoped I was in time...

Mousie was released into the wild (yes, my grass is growing back at an amazing rate) and what passes for normal life in Chez Betty resumed. Betty Mouse-Friend, smug but weary, gave Ernest(ine) the Giant Spider a friendly wave, and shuffled wearily back to bed for a much needed rest.

I must empty the kitchen dresser and move it - I am almost certain that's where the mice are getting in. I like an adventure as much as the next person, but mouse-murders at midnight aren't my idea of fun.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Shiver me timbers, change the lingo!

I'm thinking it's time we found a new word for 'pirate'. Somehow, every time I hear the word pirate I have images of Johnny Depp camping it up, or Captain Hook - or even that scoundrel Long John Silver. Parrots and wooden legs and eye-patches come to mind, aaaaaarh, they do.

It doesn't seem right. Storybook and Hollywood pirates are figures of fun and romance. Kids gleefully devour tales of pirates, and even relatively sensible grown-ups get a big bang out of stuff like International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Storybooks and Hollywood have turned callous cut-throats into lovable larrikins.

Pirates have been claimed by storytellers and film-makers, romanticised and given an overlay of folk-heroism that's at odds with what they really were - and more importantly, what they are today.

Ask the terrified refugees who left war-torn Vietnam behind in the '70s, to try and find a better life, and who were attacked by Malay pirates who robbed, raped and murdered without a second thought. Ask the crews of ships recently taken by pirates off Somalia what they think of the lawless thugs who've captured them, terrorised them and held them and their ships for ransom. I bet the lovable Jack Sparrow is the furthest thing from their minds.

But it's the first image I get when I hear yet another news story about pirates. Damn it, it's Hollywood's fault!

Pirates are very, very bad people, no doubt about it. That's why I think we need a better word for them; one that doesn't have a whole swag of likeable associations attached to it. One that doesn't make you feel like a wide-eyed kid snuggled under a doona while someone reads Peter Pan or Treasure Island to you.

There's nothing cartoonish or buffoonish about the real pirates of today. The amusing pirate caricature in my mind is just that - a caricature - and it's totally at odds with the terrifying and lawless skullduggery - the stuff of recent news stories - that the current crop of 'gentlemen of fortune' engage in.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


Today is an important anniversary for me.

42 years ago today, my mother, my two younger brothers and I stepped off a BOAC flight onto Australian soil for the first time ever. 15 November, 1966 - the weather was gorgeous as we stepped onto the tarmac in Sydney. It was some ungodly hour like 6am, but it was light, and bright, and WARM ( we had just left a dark Novembery England, remember...)

Brand new Pommies. It was balmy, the light was eye-stabbingly bright, we were blindingly white and English. We were fried to crisps very shortly thereafter!

42 years ago I was 7 years old, and while it was all a bit exciting coming to a new country and all, and going on an aeroplane for the first time (yeah, great, all I did was leave a 12000 mile trail of vomit across the planet) I didn't want to be here. My life (such as it was!) was back in England.

This hot country where kids ran barefoot in the everlasting summer was not where I wanted to be. Oh God, I cringe sometimes when I think I must've been the most pompous 7 year-old Pom in the entire country. All I wanted was to go back to England.

When did I become Australian? I'm not sure...

I stopped missing England when I started high school in 1972;
I became an Australian citizen in about 1998, I think;
I started thinking that England was a foreign country when I visited in 2005, and the green hurt my eyes...

It happened sometime in amongst all of that - and I still can't say exactly what it means to be Australian, because all that "football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars" stuff makes me cringe.

I suppose what it means to me is that I can't seriously imagine living anywhere else - this is Home. I don't love everything about this country - in fact, there's plenty of stuff I don't like - the racism that pretends it doesn't exist; the worship of larrikinism (yeah, it can be cute in small doses but after a career as a schoolteacher I'm over it); the underdog mentality that seems to coexist so uncomfortably with the "wannabe" mentality; the "cringe" mentality (I confess, I cringe about Strine, but still feel as if it's somehow mine)...

When I think about being Australian, though, I guess what I'm identifying with is a love for the enormous expansive varied mish-mash of people and landscape that makes this place so wonderful.

I notice it most when I'm riding, and particularly when I'm riding a long way from home, especially when I'm by myself. Nothing makes me feel more Australian, and more comfortable, than pulling up at a country pub on my bike after a 500km ride, staggering into the bar, asking "can I have a room?" - and hearing the publican say "course you can, love, where you from?" It's the voice of belonging, of Home. I tried it a few years ago (sans motorcycle) in Portugal, and somehow something was lost in the translation... Give me a country Aussie pub any day!

I came to Australia in 1966 as a child of my parents - it was their choice to come here, not mine... I floated here on the waves they created - and quite frankly I resented it for a long time. It took me a while to appreciate what a great choice it was, but after 42 years here I can say this: I'm an Australian and I love it!

Whizzing Past Spiders

So tonight I walk out of my room into the dark hallway, and an enormous shadow detaches itself from the ceiling and abseils in a graceful arc in front of me. It drops to the floor and scuttles off. It's dark, so I could be mistaken, but it seems about the size of a small car.

Of course, barefoot and terrified of giant spiders, I jump up and down and scream a bit, and fumble for a lightswitch.

No sign of the giant spider, but I KNOW I glimpsed it abseilling and scuttling, and when I walk into its effing web I scream a bit more. The sticky rope clings to my hair, my shoulders, my back.... What if the spider is clinging to me as well?

Aaaaargh, I hate this!

I run around the house a few times, shimmying and shaking and waving my arms in the special spider-dislodging dance, then I check the bathroom, the loo and the study. No sign of anything enormous and eight-legged. (Aside: I'm not absolutely sure, but I think that's actually worse than seeing it and knowing where it is...)

After I spend the next half hour huddled in my room in abject terror (with my mate Johno laughing at me via Messenger), nature wants to take its course. Of course. Murphy's Law dictates that the wall behind the dunny will have become the favourite stopping place of Ernest the Giant Spider (they're marginally less terrifying if I name them). Of course again. Yep. That bugger is even bigger with the light

A couple of years ago I bought a nifty device called a Whiz, which I thought would be ideal for those terrible times when you're caught short on the road and you don't want to have to drop your dacks in snake and spider territory. It's just the thing for big tough girl bikers with tragic bladders, ha ha.

I have diligently packed it on every long trip - but have never had the opportunity to try it out properly for real etc, by the side of the road,where God intended. Have had a couple of half-hearted attempts at home, butyou feel a bit silly really.

But not tonight. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Turning my back and baring my bum at a spider the size of New Zealand is something I simply cannot do.

Thanks Whiz.