Turns out, she’s no oil painting…

She could have been the local psychopath. 

Dressed, as she was, in a navy boiler suit (prison issue?) with oversized glasses and an off-centre bun, Gyda whizzed by in her (stolen?) RAV4, screeched to a halt and backed up, brusquely asking if we were locals.

Concerned she was going to have a go at our allowing Monty-the-failed-guide-dog to meander chaotically off-leash, we defensively declared ourselves to be relative neighbours and proceeded to describe exactly where we lived.

Satisfied by our residential credibility, she peered at us myopically, mused aloud that we were both likely to be gainfully employed and then, apropos of nothing, enquired whether either of us would be interested in modelling for her local painting group.

Spouse demurred, while I, perennially on the hunt for the next great anecdote, thought why the hell not? Gyda was clearly delighted at the prospect of a fresh  victim  muse, promptly scratching around her car in search of a notepad and pen, eventually scrawling my number on a dry cleaning docket before speeding back off along the gravel road.

She had my number and knew where I lived, and, for all I knew, having just escaped a minimum security facility for post-menopausal delinquency, was also sporting an ankle monitor.

What? It could happen.   

A couple of months elapsed with no word from Gyda and the prospect of finding fame amongst the local bohemian elite increasingly remote. When one day, there it was, an excruciatingly polite voice mail message reiterating the modelling request and hoping to see me the next day.

Tucked away inside the heritage rooms of a railway station, a colony of painters were setting up their easels and paints on a Tuesday afternoon. Met by a gleeful Gyda, I was led to a couple of stacked wooden palettes with a chair on top, beside a small balustraded staircase that looked to have been filched from the prop. department of a community theatre group.

It took five people twenty minutes to angle the lighting required to best illuminate my visage, with the remaining three artists arguing about their own specific shading concerns for another ten. When my hilarious light torture sight gags failed to amuse, it was clear this whole exercise wasn’t going to be nearly as fun as I’d imagined.

Arranging my features into what I considered to be a benign expression of careless loveliness, but judging by the final results, was obviously a look of distracted irritation, I began the job of power-sitting during four twenty minute blocks over three consecutive Tuesdays.   

Gyda had promised a ‘small stipend’ for my efforts, which, while smacking of an Austen-esque clergyman eking out his livelihood in a small county vicarage, covered a couple of mid-range bottles of wine after each session.

Winning.

Ranged in an arc before me each of the artists toiled silently away, the only sounds a thumping  and scratching of brushes on canvas. Those on the periphery had to contend with a flash of ear which apparently nobody enjoys. As a result, every so often one of them would dart forward and arrange my hair to better obscure the offending organs.

Reinhardt, a taciturn Western European, sported a high-vis vest which made him easy to locate at the outer edge of my vision. He was also unaccountably noisy, sighing theatrically and loudly packing up his equipment well before each session was officially over. Along with Morris, a reptilian looking man wearing an old-school art smock, neither chap deemed their respective finished works worthy of viewing.

Not so Barbara, whose preference for watching ‘A Current Affair’ and fear of African gangs set her apart from the remaining social progressives, and whose finished painting, belligerently  brandished at me, suggested a measure of unresolved anger. 

Barbara

Barbara and I did not see eye to eye. For  this, I was duly punished

Anthony, a hairdresser by trade (“three years at Sassoons, darling!” ), would take regular photos of me on his smart phone which I assumed was to facilitate some out of session touch-ups. Or not. The final work, on a tiny canvas, revealed a pale and desiccated woman of around ninety, with blonde permed hair. 

Anthony

Pass my zimmer frame, I’m off to bingo.

Gyda’s working angle delivered an unsettlingly prominent double chin and heavy brows, while my nose was completely transformed by Justine, who also decided I should have brown eyes.  Susan and Rachel, standing front and centre in painting poll position, offered the most recognisable depictions, which while not necessarily flattering were at least obviously me.

So other than some mid-level leg cramping and major ego bruising, the entire project served to cement my resolve to avoid life drawing classes at all costs…

and, more pressingly, to invest in some industrial strength skin cream as soon as humanly possible.

Monty and me

Dogs don’t care how many wrinkles you get, as long as you have treats for them. AT ALL TIMES.

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Pet Sitting – A Cautionary Ta(i)le

House sitting, we’ve recently discovered, comes fraught with issues of trust and responsibility. When our beautiful local friends jetted off to Austria for a weisse Weihnachten trawling through Christmas markets and skating their way along the Eislaufverein trails, we moved into their home.

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This impressive hunting lodge-meets-the-Hampton’s property situated on some 10 acres, housed two beloved dogs, three well respected alpacas, two benevolently regarded goats and two barely acknowledged sheep. Along with our own two, Monty the failed guide dog and Archie the rescue canine, it was quite the rural menagerie.

My LTHW blog audience of long-standing may recall that Christmas for me remains a time of reliable angst; with no magic, little peace and absolutely zero good will toward human-kind.

In other words, time spent with family.

Compound this with the anxiety of keeping four dogs away from several resident wombats, trying to navigate frustratingly slow Foxtel downloads and attempting to cook edible food in the truculent AGA, and it was going to take very little to tip things right over the edge. 

But tip, I did.

Christmas day passed in a blur of driving, eating, drinking, exchanging gifts and familial politeness. We arrived back to a riotous cacophony of barking from all four dogs and some frantic squeals from the Alpacas. Alpacas are like natures alarm systems, when they sense danger they emit a high pitched scream to warn off intruders. They’re also supposed to handle attackers with a combination of ninja kicks and Liverpool kisses, but these three just huddled in a corner and screeched like banshees.

The object of their distress was Archie the rescue dog. Accompanied by one of their own dogs, he was wildly careening about the paddock seemingly rounding up the various beasts. We’d caught and evicted the two of them on several prior occasions, noting their obsession with bailing up the smallest goat, but figuring it to be harmless canine japery. 

Now, I’ve been a suburban girl for most of my life, who, while embracing the central Victorian tree change, have nevertheless found aspects of a semi-rural kinda life challenging. Suicidal ‘roo’s, Jack jumper ants, Highland Copperheads and corpses of tiny pobblebonk’s unaccountably  wedged in door jamb’s, weren’t previously part of my lived experiences…

…So I WILL preface the next part with a defence of abject ignorance.

Wandering to the far corner of the paddock to investigate, we discovered all the animals clustered about the tiny goat as he lay quietly panting on the ground. We proffered some cut up bits of apology carrot and left them all to it, committing to re-check in the morning. 

Spouse had left to tinker in his man-cave, so D1 and I confined the dogs and popped down for a quick head count. While the rest of the animals had dispersed the tiny goat was not among them. We eventually found him folded in the exact spot, head bowed and covered in flies. This was not good.

After a frantic SOS to rally spouse and a fruitless attempt to coax the poor beast to stand, it was clear some form of  medical intervention was required. While my heroic husband awkwardly  lugged him across the field, I attempted to find a veterinarian open on Boxing Day. 

Ringing several emergency numbers to no avail, I eventually spoke to a tired sounding country vet several towns away who agreed to meet us at her surgery.  Laying the injured goat into the back of our beaten up Suburu wagon, D1 navigated, spouse drove, and I sat twisted in the back seat trying to keep him as upright as possible. Twenty minutes later and the goat was carried in a trail of blood to where the vet stood waiting with the X-ray machine set up to go.

How old is he?

No idea.

What’s his name?

Couldn’t tell you.

We explained that this was not our goat, that we were were his temporary, and obviously failing, guardians and could she just, you know, fix him?

The x-ray and examination revealed the leg was not broken but he’d suffered nerve damage high up in both legs. He may walk again, but it was too soon to tell and besides, it was highly likely that unless he received exemplary care, he’d die from infection anyway. Honestly? She wasn’t sounding overly optimistic.

So, what to do?

It was the middle of the night in Austria and both our neighbour’s phones were off; in desperation I called the mother of one. She told me that both chaps adored the animals and were generally inclined to spend vast sums of money keeping them in robust health. 

Ok then, so I guess we’re keeping the goat alive.

Spouse had done his part as animal paramedic, hauling the poor animal from field to car to vet to car and back again. Daubed in blood and goat urine, he was happy for me to step into the job of  administering daily intra-muscular injections, along with washing, dressing and covering the wounds with a virulent purple hued antibacterial spray.

Good times.

We set up a triage pen in the garage with temporary fencing and bales of hay, settled on Gary as a suitable caprine moniker and got on with the business of keeping him animate.

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Meanwhile the thorny issue of what to do about Archie hung over us like the sword of Damocles. The vet, unsentimental as she needed to be in this situation, advised that having tasted the forbidden fruit, our lovingly grateful little Kelpie cross would inevitably become a repeat offender, destined to maraud again.

Given Archie had yet to meet a fence line he couldn’t breach, there was no containing him, a fact made glaringly obvious when he began trawling the neighbourhood backyards for treasures to purloin. With a special fondness for footwear,  we had discovered half a Haviana thong, the remnants of two steel-capped work boots from two separate pairs, a mangled Nike runner and various eyelets, laces and tongue oddments waiting at the back door like proud hunting trophies.

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Testing everything he met for taste and/or durability

I contacted our own veterinary practice and regaled them with the whole sordid tale. Just as the emergency vet had cautioned, they flatly assured me that given the opportunity, Archie would indeed re-offend. Livestock was prioritised in the area and he needed to be put down.

I’d only ever put down one other dog and he, while adored, had been old and ready to go. It was nonetheless a devastating experience, the recollection of which can still bring me to tears. So driving our unsuspecting rescue boy, barely a year old and the very picture of canine health, was not going to be easy. D1 accompanied me and as we sat quietly sniffling in the waiting room,  Archie lay adoringly at our feet. The receptionist asked if I wanted to stay with him or just dump and run. The very least I owed his three months of great love and even greater destruction was to stay and hold him to permanent sleep.

So I did. And it was horrible.

Back at the palliative pen, Gary seemed reasonably perky – from the waist up. While spouse hand-fed him Alpaca food and bestowed head rubs, Gary was largely distracted from my invasive medical ministrations. We mucked out his prolific waste and swatted away an increasingly growing blow fly population, reasonably confident things were going well.

Ten days later the wound had opened into a suppurating chasm of decaying flesh. The smell was indescribably bad and I wasn’t at all sure I could keep going. Fortunately, the boys arrived back two days later and our care tenure was at a merciful end –

which sadly, and despite our best efforts, turned out to be Gary’s exact fate too.

Vale Gary, vale Archie – RIP

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Zoning Out Of The Zen

You should do yoga. It’d be so great for you.

Perhaps it’s the faint crackle of tension emanating from every pore, or the more obvious lack of flexibility as I ‘oooff’ my way up from kneeling to stand, I don’t know, but for years the general consensus seems to be my lack of zen.

Look, I’ve tried. Lord knows I’ve given it a decent bash. With the best of intentions and regularly updated sweat wicking leggings, my tight hip flexors have wandered in and out of yoga studios all over Melbourne.

There was the inner city facility to which I dragged my overworked, physically debilitated and mentally drained spouse in a bid for complementary litheness and dual enlightenment.

man wearing white pants under blue sky

Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

Run by a humourless Hungarian yogi, whose gossamer thin leggings revealed far more than we ever needed to know about him, his practice of freestyle shadow yoga was designed to unfold our inner powers. After three sessions the only inner power I could unfold was an ability to hold in a fart.

The same cannot be said for spouse.

Twelve months later a new local business lured me in with promises of health, vitality and inner calm. The studio was empty but for for a young man perched cross legged on a stool at the front desk. Dreadlocked, heavily tattooed and wearing the beatific yet vacant expression of someone who’s found enlightenment only to misplace it again, he held a twisted willow staff across his tie-dyed lap. Unclear whether he was there to teach yoga or fend off invading Orcs, I beat a hasty retreat.

gandalf-the-grey

The next place began promisingly, with several classes run by a succession of gentle young women committed to retaining my skittish custom. Alas, following new ownership, the permanent instructors were replaced by a revolving door of casual staff. None more casual, than the petite French woman wearing capri pants and an oversized men’s shirt who began the class by saying,

I am ze teacher, not ze model. Do not look to me for ze pose. Do eet,  I will correct you.

Needing nothing more than a lit Gauloise and un double café to complete the cliché, she proceeded to suggest various poses in a voice thick with ennui. With the exception of Warrior One and Downward Dog, Shavasana is about the only other pose I can reliably manage without cramping or falling over. So when this indifferent Gallic yogi began languidly intoning instructions for One Handed Tree and Wounded Peacock (poses requiring a level of flexibility rarely seen outside of the Russian rhythmic gymnastic team) I sidled towards the exit in a series of moves I like to call, Failing Crab.

Well into my fifth decade, and having made the big tree change out of the city, I can safely proclaim that Yoga in all its myriad forms, is not my bag and while happy to strengthen my core at Pilates  and work on balance at Barre classes, the quest for oneness may have to remain an elusive mystery.

Unless of course, Nirvana turns out to have been at our local winery all along…

adult alcohol blur candles

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

  

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Slave To The Slav

The best stories are the ones you couldn’t make up. My husband has a friend who in 2016 quietly embarked on the relationship adventure of a life time.  Tired of the single life and frustrated by a lack of success in his own country, he decided to look further afield.

For the purposes of story telling, we will refer to this man as Simon. Simon, in his mid-twenties, had married a volatile young Serbian woman. The union foundered and failed for reasons unclear and Simon spent the ensuing years recovering from the financial shellacking of divorce.

He worked hard and set himself up in a nice place out in the North Eastern suburbs. From what I can gather, he had a succession of lady friends, but nothing too serious. He also had a penchant for an up market call girl, happy to spend some quality time with a well paying punter.

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, Simon began a cyber relationship with a twenty three year old woman on a Ukrainian dating site. Her name was Katya.

Of course it was.

Three weeks into this remote flirtation, he organised some leave time and booked a return flight to Zaporozhye.

Because love.

Situated about 600 km South-East of Kiev this was one hell of a long distance infatuation. His commitment was evident,  forced, as he was, to complete the journey aboard a Motor-Sich flight. An Airline that makes Aeroflot look like Royal Brunei.

An-24

Simon was uncomfortably aware of a pressing need to use the bathroom as the Antanov An-24 lurched into Zaporozhye International Airport. Hip and shouldering his way off the plane he ran for the closest bathroom. Standing at the urinal for the most prolonged piss of his entire life, it occurred to Simon that there was a possibility Katya may turn out to be two armed thugs in a beaten up white Transit van.

But hey, carpe diem, right? He wandered out to collect his luggage and noticed that the entire airport was all but deserted. His bag circled desultorily on the carousel and beside it stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was tall and blonde and, most important of all,  appeared to be expecting him. 

Ukraine model

Stock image – but a dead ringer for Katya

Katya led Simon outside where her driver waited with the car.

As the head of Ukraine’s special forces, Katya’s father was busily attempting to wrest Crimea back from the grasping hands of imperial-revivalist Putin and his nationalist agenda. Her brother too, was an active soldier in the fight for an independent Ukraine.  As a result, the entire family spent much of their time dodging pro-Russia separatist rebels and Katya scored a permanent driver/armed bodyguard.

The driver, whom I shall call Orek because it means defender of men and I don’t know his real name,  stowed Simon’s bags and then set off at high speed along some of the worst roads in Europe. Simon moved to fasten his seatbelt when Katya stopped his hand.

What you doing?

Erm, doing up my seat belt?

Why? Real man do not wear seat belt.

Orek was looking with a jaundiced eye in the rear vision mirror at this stage. Simon tried to explain that the 1977 Australian legislation for compulsory wearing of seat belts was the single most effective method available for the protection of vehicle occupants in road crashes, but was cut off by an impatient Katya.

We get hit by truck? We all die. Take off or get out.”

This signalled the tenor of the entire visit.

A hair raising drive along un-lit dirt roads later, Orek screamed into the driveway of a dingy hotel where Simon was duly deposited. From the rolled down back window, Katya called for him to be ready at 9.00am the next day and then sped back off into the night.

In preparation for Simon’s stay, Katya, having taken leave from both her day job as a high school Russian Literature teacher and weekend FIFO pole dancer at Antalya’s busier party resorts, had prepared a list of holiday activities.

Today we shop”.

Unbeknown to Simon, his intentions towards Katya would only be taken seriously with the provision of gifts for her entire family. These included: a food processor for her mother, lap-top for her sister, two bottles of Johnny Walker Blue for her father and a bottle of Clive Christian aftershave for her brother.

First credit card maxed.

That night, following a rich Slavic dinner where cocaine was openly snorted between the Borscht and Holubtsi, and Katya, brandishing her own six inch Louboutin stiletto,  had to be pulled off a woman who’d looked at her sideways, Simon was once again driven back to his hotel. Orek accompanied him to his room and silently handed over a bag containing the unmistakably skunky aroma of weed.

Ah, no thanks mate, I’m good”.

Simon wondered if this was some type of test, but given the huge amount of blow he’d just done over dinner with Katya, he wasn’t sure refusing the marijuana was actually a pass.

Barely awake the next day, Simon clambered into the waiting ride where a fresh faced Katya declared, “today we take photo.”

It was clear considerable planning had gone into this enterprise as they drove to a large regional shopping centre for some necessary ‘props’. These turned out to be military grade weaponry on loan to Katya from the friendly gun shop owner right next to Toys’R’Us.

Blithely indifferent to the stares of passing family groups and ignored by the heavily armed store security guards, Simon and Katya carried back out to the car a Ruger 10/22,  Intratec TEC-DC9 with a 32-round magazine, Kalashnikov rifle and a garbage bag wrapped grenade launcher. These, combined with the tactical vests, camouflage pants and helmets that Katya produced, gave the concept of photo shoot a whole new meaning.

Rifle

That night, weary from all the artillery posing, Katya sent Simon off with Orek for an evening without her.

We go to place for fun with girls”, intoned Orek, sounding anything but joyous.

Out in the middle of nowhere they pulled up to a heavily fortified stone building. A grille on the studded iron gates slid open and Orek spoke a guttural password. Inside was the last days of Rome. Girls, drugs, guns and booze.

Which one you want?” Orek gestured expansively across the room.

Ah, no thanks mate, I’m good”.

Simon was convinced he was being tested this time and spent the next couple of hours nursing a scotch and imagining cold showers.

He must have passed though, as the next day Katya had organised for a super testosterone surprise. Handing across the rocket propelled grenade launcher she pointed to a couple of derelict Lada’s in a quarry and said, “now you shoot”.

Yippee Ki Yay, motherfucker!

The rest of the week passed by in a blur of horilka and vareniki, with bonus rounds of shopping for additional family gifts thrown into the mix.

You make mama happy with new pressure cooker? My nephew he need Jordan XII sneakers, you buy.

The penultimate day saw Simon purchasing Katya a chinchilla jacket and sitting in on a family arranged appointment with a diamond broker. Katya chose a five carat pear shaped diamond and looked over at him expectantly.

pear diamond

At this point Simon felt like he needed more time.

And more air.

And a hell of a lot more money. 

Telling Katya he would arrange the diamond purchase back in Australia, he returned home. Nightly Skype calls saw them planning visa applications and choosing baby names, while the coercion to keep buying family gifts continued. Soon discussions included the room Katya’s mother would need when she came to live with them. Then of course, when her widowed sister with nephew in tow, understandably followed, would the house be big enough?

The answer, of course, was a resounding NO. No to mama, no to sestra and son, and unfortunately, for the romantic pretensions of our lust-blinded hero Simon, a big no to happily ever after with Katya.

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It’s Been A Ruff Week

Archie, the newly adopted Kelpie cross, has brutally assassinated one of my Peter Alexander purple sheepskin boots a mere two days after arriving here. With the fluff lust still raging inside him, he has gone on to hunt and disembowel several soft toys and a cushion. Suffice it to say, i’m finding bits of foam and polyester fibre-fill in every corner of the house.

Archie toy

Monty, our incumbent canine, clearly put out by the murderous interloper, looks upon this wilful carnage with a faintly martyred air, as if to sniff, ’Tell me, who’s the good boy now??’

Monty judgy

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The labrador was in dire need of a companion willing to spend eleventy-billion hours on the other end of a tug-o-war rope, an occupation in which we humans displayed little commitment. I’d clock his sad brown eyes peering soulfully through the fence each time I left the house, anthropomorphically imagining his palpable loneliness and being consumed by guilt.

Spouse and I had talked about adopting from a shelter, as two pedigree dogs seemed fairly selfish given the sheer number of abandoned animals in the world, but were yet to settle on a time line for doing so.

Preparing for D2’s one-way departure to Sweden last week,  I became fixated on the last minute purchase of a light weight cardigan for her to wear on the plane. Determined to spend as much time as I could subliminally whispering ‘you will come back, won’t you?’, we trawled through every retailer within a 25km radius, eventually ending up at the local Country Target. Located in the same strip of shops, was an animal shelter. We wandered in.

Now, D2 has spent the last few years working on and off at an inner city Doggy Day Care Centre and her love for dogs is rivalled only by her love for ‘The Mighty Boosh’. She was immediately complicit in my not entirely considered decision to house a furry wastrel.

Archie, or ‘Alfie’ as he’d been dubbed for the purposes of on-line profiling, was bright, alert and super waggy. We arranged a meeting between Monty the failed guide dog and this wannabe of indeterminate lineage on the morning of D2’s departure. Judged to have been a success by all concerned , we agreed that Archie join the family fold and arranged to collect him the next day.

As D2 hurtled across the world, spouse and I, after stocking up on collar, lead, toys, bed and food bowl arrived at the animal shelter to be informed that all adoptions included a non-negotiable $250 collar, lead, toys, bed, food bowl pack along with the requisite $500 fee. Great, spares.

After two days of gleeful cavorting and doggy rough-housing, Archie had begun to appropriate every bed, couch space and human lap, and Monty was giving me side-long glances heavy with judgement.

Monty HALP

So, you know, this has been fun and all, but when’s he leaving?

Just shy of a week later and Archie’s discipline deficit early life is screamingly obvious.

me: Sit!

A: No.

me: Stay!

A: I don’t think so.

me: Stop humping Monty!

A: No idea why , but it seems like the right thing to do. Problem?

me: Get down off the stairs!

A: I’m consumed with curiosity. Why do you keep disappearing up there? I must know.

me: Drop it!

A: Can’t. Lock jaw.

me: Stop following me!

A: I halp.

We’ve put in the call to a local dog obedience trainer. Until then, I’m A) relieved summer is nigh and the need for sheepskin boots, shredded or otherwise, is mercifully months away and 2)  I’ve been quite distracted from any maternal pining. I think that deserves a round of a-paws.   

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Wax on, wax off.

It’s been a while. Not since the last ill-fated winter escape to Fiji, had I professionally denuded the pasty pins. As we hoisted ourselves from the winter couch and crawled back towards the prospective light of sunnier days, I got a bee in my bonnet about maintenance.

For no discernible reason other than feeling a bit bleurgh, I became fixated on a lady garden tidy-up and leg wax.  There was no immediate call to swim with dolphins or model lingerie, and my next pap smear was at least a year away, but the hankering for depilation persisted.

My appointment with a local beautician made, I sent spouse a text message flagging both the impending withdrawal of an unknown sum from our account and the reason for said purchase. He fired back with the optimistically clueless,

“Enjoy!!!”

The salon owner, Grace, came highly recommended and was considered a veritable institution in the area. Much like my new thoroughly dull local dentist, I was reassured by her experience and professionalism.

So what are we doing today? 

Just after some leg waxing and a bit of a bikini line tidy up, thanks.  A short back and sides?

Double X, Triple X or Brazilian? 

My blank expression seemed to confirm her worst suspicions;  the all too evident hallmarks of a sporadic groomer.   Snapping into action she commanded the removal of all lower half garments and ordered me onto the operating table for an examination.

Gloved up, Grace began a forensic assessment of the offending area. Nodding and murmuring to herself she eventually settled on a game plan and began to execute it, quickly and aggressively redressing my blatant offence to the sisterhood of hairlessness.

In between the conversation cheerfully delivered through clenched teeth, there was wincing. So much wincing. From me too. She finished with the obligatory slapping application of tea-tree oil lotion and told me to get dressed.

amy-pohler

Nether regions ablaze, I hobbled out, paid the exorbitant bill and found myself making another appointment four weeks hence.

Can’t let things get out of control like this again, can we? 

Um, No?

My excuse for not attending a gym class the next day was the very real issue of being unable to wear pants. I may never live that down.

Spouse remained necessarily ignorant to the precise nature of my personal housekeeping for some time, due in large part to the blisters, welts, and generally angry appearance of a previously benign body part.

As I loofah away like a woman possessed, fixated on avoiding in-grown’s, while simultaneously exacerbating the raw skin, I ponder the great offence of hair. Down there hair.

Belonging to that small generation that slips between the bombastic Boomers and put-upon Gen X’ers, I can recall an era of celebratory hirsuteness.  A gentler, Nair free time, when a quick slash of the pits with a razor and bit of judicious bleaching were all that was expected.

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Butterick’s Bikini Bottom of Discretion

Then suddenly the latch-key generation came along, presumably got a little bored after school and started the rapid descent to porn star. Decades on and I’m wavering in the middle, poised between a fully feminist embrace of the natural pubis and the aero-dynamism of the fully shorn. I console myself with the ‘it’s my body and I can do what I damn well please’ mantra, but I remain confused.

Fortunately the next holiday will be in the midst of a European winter where I’ll be swathed entirely. Except for the week of Lappish sauna’s, but then the Nordic are infinitely more relaxed about these things than we are, aren’t they?

A Sauna in Munich

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Let’s chat, you don’t have to say a word.

I may have become that woman. She’s been waiting for me and now I’m here.

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I love freelancing, I get to wander into cafes with my laptop, order a coffee and settle in for a couple of hours of free wifi. It’s the best. My favourite local haunt has teeny tables for one with barely enough room for my phone and a coffee cup, let alone my Macbook Air (gratuitous Apple plug) , notepad (I’m a digital immigrant, I note ideas on parchment. With a quill), glasses case, Kikki K diary (I know, alright… it’s up there with the abacus, shut up) and bottle of water.

Having learnt the hard way (subtle reinforcement of blog) I now make a beeline for the large communal table where folk scramble to occupy the head spot. I feel like the CEO of some multi-national organisation whenever I nab it, garbed in my magisterial looking jumper and attempt at edgy ripped jeans, spreading out the various accoutrements of my happy trade, and waving an imperious hand for more Guatemalan filter.  Good times.

I’m also an introverted extrovert, who, while requiring the energy of others to effectively function, nevertheless finds that interactions generally need to be kept to a minimum. Because people. What a bunch of bastards.

people-what-a-bunch-of-bastards-meme

For instance,  there was the man having an animated conversation with a client on loud speaker in the cafe toilet,  who flushed, strode out into the unisex space where I was waiting to go, and walked out still talking.

HE DID NOT WASH HIS HANDS.

Either of them.

Bastard.

Back at the communal table I sit opposite a young woman reading a book. An actual book made of paper. A paperback, if you will. This, amongst all the swiping and double tapping,  warms my curmudgeonly heart. I notice she sports an enamelled pin on the floppy collar of her designer op-shop blouse. It’s the head of Frida Kahlo.

georgia-perry-frida-pin

Bangin’ brows

I must know from whence it came. Waiting until my burning, and possibly uncomfortable,  stare causes her to lift her eyes from the book, I say,

Nice pin. Where it’s from?

Thanks. It’s Frida Kahlo (yes, it is) it’s a Georgia Perry pin. She does a heap of celebrities, Kanye, Kim, Rihanna, Oprah…she does a great Iris Apfel one too.

Ah , yes, Iris. I’d rather like to head down that path, but I fear any attempts to pull off masses of eclectic costume jewellery at this late stage may come across as inauthentic.

Pin wearing girl smiles thinly and resumes reading. I continue musing aloud.

Of course, I could increase the diameter of my glasses over the next couple of decades until I end up with frisbee sized lenses and vermillion frames, couldn’t I?

iris_apfel_thumbnail_01

She nods (did she sigh?)  I’m on a roll now,

Such a fraught thing, isn’t it? Being a woman and navigating the whole ageing gracefully palaver – not that you have anything to worry about, you’re young and fabulous, and surely the Ponds Institute will have discovered some genuinely miraculous skin preserving lotion by the time you develop a crows foot?

She casts her eyes about the room now, clearly searching for some kind of intervention.

I saw the documentary, ‘Embrace’, a while back. It was all about the importance of accepting your body and not continually beating yourself up over the odd bit of extraneous belly flab or untoned triceps.

Pin girl looked interested again.

Oh, my god, that is some important shit, I fucking hate being judged…and by other women too! I blame the patriarchy…and advertising….and men….and Tinder…

I’d rattled a cage here. Best get back to me.

So, ok, I’m still high on the idea of embracing the loveliness that IS me, and ignoring decades of insecurity and poor body image, when I tune into a discussion about Invisible Woman Syndrome. The idea that we morph into ghost-like creatures, invisible to the hipster barista eye, unable to order a proscecco without bellowing at the barman, forgotten by tattooed sales assistant’s as we stand shivering in a change room waiting for the right sized pair of jeans…(*snort, like there’s ever a right sized pair of jeans) Anyway, the point is, now I’m a bit confused about what I should be focussing on – should I continue to work towards personal body acceptance or just accept that as an Invisible Woman, no one is freaking looking anyway? Does one cancel the other out?

Pin girl has closed her book and is putting on her coat. I’m not finished.

So I guess this may explain Iris Apfel.  She epitomises the woman of a certain age who has declined the invitation to slump quietly into the Jason Recliner to binge watch Miss Marple. She is the standard bearer for those women who have decided to thwart the system. Who are actively subverting the less is more rule by wearing virulently hued clothing and implausible hair colours. Who are activating entire muscle groups by hauling masses of resin jewellery about their person. Who employ a pashmina to dramatically swathe about themselves, heralding both arrival and leave taking. It all makes sense to me now. Where once I pointed in derision, I vociferously applaud. Well done to you dazzling vintage woman. Long may you reign!

She’s gone. I am absolutely talking to myself.

Now, If I could just catch the waiter’s eye….

Imiss-marple

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Dog Day Afternoon

We really do have the very best of intentions. Flattering ourselves we are ‘giving back’,  our disconcertingly small act of altruism comes in the form of weekend respite care for guide dogs in training. That’s right, we selflessly agree to play with a labrador for 2.5 days a week.

And yes, I can feel the collective admiration.

So, from what I can gather, the dog-in-training spends Monday to Friday in a type of canine military camp. They engage in endless training drills all day, eat spartan amounts of highly concentrated kibble at regimented intervals and sleep in caged barracks overnight.

We arrive mid afternoon most Friday’s to collect our allocated dog for its weekend furlough. Along with bedding, a sleeping crate and a plastic container of dried food rations, we are handed the leash of a wildly excited animal. The working beast, while delirious with exhaustion, is nonetheless mad for interesting new humans and spends the next few minutes leaping about like a gazelle or running around in circles until it can be coerced into the car. Once in the passenger footwell, the dog completely loses interest in us and falls asleep.

Upon arrival at its temporary pied a terre, each new dog has forensically investigated the kitchen, hoovered up anything the mop has missed and done a nervous wee on the floor – usually the carpeted bit. Often twice.

Along with a staff directive to enjoy puppy playtime, each dog comes with an explicit list of Do’s and Don’ts – Ok, Don’ts.

1) DON’T LET DOG ON FURNITURE.

Every dog has intuitively known we are basically at their will. Eyeing us speculatively on the couch (a couch, I should add, that begs to be replaced, but as getting something up to our living room requires the engineering capability of an Incan constructing the Saksaywaman wall, we’re in no rush), in no time they are happily insinuating their plush coats between us and snoring like a horse.

FAIL.

2) DO NOT FEED DOG TREATS.

Clearly the trainers do not spend time having brunch with the dogs. Can anyone, faced with the tilted head and pleading brown eyes of a labrador, deny it bacon? I didn’t think so.

lab head on side

What? You’re going to eat ALL of that yourself?

Enough said.

FAIL.

3) DO NOT TAKE DOG FOR WALKS

So, this is to prevent you, the hapless non-Cesar Millan from reinforcing poor walking form – as in ‘crab walking’. This would be decidedly easier to abide by were we to live in a place with a garden…or a courtyard…or even a nature strip, but , for purely ‘toileting’ purposes, our closest grassy knoll is a block away and unless we piggyback all 35 kilos of Labrador they are compelled to walk. If in their haste to evacuate, they choose to tread in the manner of a decapod crustacean, who am I to judge?

FAIL. (not my fault)

4) DO NOT PLAY TUG OF WAR WITH DOG

Yeah, right. When a dog has your favourite cashmere sock in its gob, you’re playing tug-of-war, whether you want to or not. The sock always loses.

lab with sock

Nope. Haven’t seen it.

FAIL.

5) DO NOT LET DOG ON BED

Who would do that? They shed hair everywhere, they smell, they do that running man thing after a pee and get clods of dirt on their paws…I mean, what kind of blithe idiots would be happy with that?  On their bed for heavens sake?

Our current regular dog is being trained to work with sufferers of Young Onset Alzheimer’s. Trained to follow the afflicted about the house, I note with mild consternation, his particular adherence to me. He is never far away; his perfectly cold wet snout pressed up against the sliding door of the bathroom waiting for me to emerge or his head in the crisper as I fossick for broccoli.

Eschewing the crate in favour of piled up blankets in the corner of our bedroom, he creeps ninja quiet around the perimeter of the marital bed before leaping into the narrow chasm between us and then resting his head and paws on my head. My guess is he’s checking to make sure I’m actually there and not wandering the streets in my pyjamas.

Or he could just prefer the pillow top mattress to the floor. He’s not an idiot.

labrador-in-bed

What? But I blend right in.

FAIL.

The staff and trainers ask us to report any incidences or concerns after each weekend, which I initially took very seriously. It was shortly after the entire un-lidded contents of a tupperware container full of banana muffins, paper baking cases and all,  was inhaled not once but on two separate dog minding occasions , that my reports diminished in detail. Now they simply read “All good, See you next Friday”.

Eventually they’ll put together the unaccountable canine weight gain and cavalier approach to furniture and we’ll be exposed as the shamefully lax temporary carers we actually are.

In the meantime, its cold and I’ve got a beautiful 18 month old golden Labrador to lie across my feet while I binge watch OITNB. Volunteering feels good.

 

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Let them eat cake…please…

I am a stress baker. The greater the emotional torment, the more prolific my carb heavy offerings become. Cakes, muffins, slices and cookies, all whipped, creamed, beaten and blended into golden brown and risen submission.

In a form of dietary self flagellation, I will then eat the cake whilst simultaneously cursing my lack of calorific restraint. So. Much. Butter.

In my early days of fledgling motherhood, I’d assembled quite the compendium of loaf recipes and could, depending on the behavioural vagaries of my infant daughter, churn out several in a day. In what was to become a barometer for exactly how bad things had been, the freezer was quickly lined with row upon row of cling film wrapped cake bricks.

It’s been a three loaf day, I’m afraid. Would you like butter on that?

I daresay there was some low grade PND going on, but in the absence of anyone noticing or a “Ten Signs You Might Have PND” internet article, an oversupply of cake and occasional oven burn proved an effective distraction.

Several weeks ago our landlords announced they’d be doing a property inspection for the first time in the four years we’ve been living in their inner-city Superannuation Townhouse. Other than the “Great Leaks and Moulding Ensuite of 2011”,  any minor issues with taps or shower heads have been attended to by spouse. Handy AND clever.

Wandering through a miasma of Glen 20 and Pine-O-Clean disinfectant, we quietly pointed out some of the property’s more obvious failings to our increasingly dismayed landlords:

  • The non-functioning security entrance or rather, unrestricted access for the general populace
  • A bathtub tap plastered into a void and hanging on by a corroded nut
  • An en-suite ceiling fan that channels shower steam into a roof cavity where it re-liquefies and seeps back creating a topographic map of mould
  • Rooftop decking laid in the wrong direction and directly onto beams causing a swamp above the family room ceiling.

All these rental issues paled into insignificance beside the most vexing of all grievances however, which was that the oven was a dodgy piece of shite with a thermostat that fluctuated between barely tepid and Dante’s inferno.

Raw or cremated, your choice.

Recognising the wild eyed countenances of people wondering whether they’ll ever experience an evenly browned sponge again, our landlords purchased and had installed a new oven. A shiny stainless steel Smeg.

I spent the first few days poring over the instruction manual and warily circling this Italian marvel much as I imagine Medieval man must have done around some of Da Vinci’s whackier inventions. Robotic Knight?! Pffffft! Un pazzo!

Leonardo's Robots - Book Mario Taddei -_Page_189

It looked ruthlessly efficient, which was not, if I’m being totally honest, a quality I’d previously  associated with your Italian anything; Stylish? Si! Efficient? Non cosi tanto…

Eventually I bit the bullet and dragged out Nigella for some Domestic Goddess baking action. The well used book flipped open to a recipe for baby bundt cakes and thus, the inaugural offering to the culinary gods was decided. They emerged, some 35 minutes later perfectly risen and palely golden. A triumph.

Flushed with this success and mad with appreciation for the Smeg, I continued to bake my way through some family favourites over the next week.  A lemon syrup cake, a tray of coffee nut tea-cake, banana muffins, a lemon and almond cake and a batch of brownies – I was a one-woman cake stall.

Recognising that this amount of cake was too much for our current household of three, l began to farm off the excess to our next door neighbours, handing plastic containers over the fence between our two balcony’s. Given the fence obscured our faces, these exchanges had an amusingly Tim and Wilson Home Improvement quality about them.

home improvement

They seemed to appreciate it at first, thanking me profusely and telling me how much their friends had enjoyed the cakes.  After day five, however, the handover had begun to take on a certain strained quality.

“OH-KAY… More cake? Wow. I don’t know what to say. Look, we’re really trying to cut back on, well, sugar and stuff…so, you know….if you could just….”

They were silently screaming STOP, of course, but I was oblivious, caught up in the euphoria of evenly burnished cake tops. Having thoroughly road tested the Smeg for baking purposes, my only excuse for continuing to cream butter and sugar, was stress or distraction.

Fortunately one of my best friends has become quite the dumpling aficionado and has offered to show me the wonders of the wonton. This seems like a much healthier obsession and may go some way to repairing the diabetic havoc I’ve potentially wreaked on my lovely neighbours.

I certainly hope so.

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My Left Foot

I am at war with my foot. Unlike Christy Brown, my left foot, for no discernible reason, is betraying me. I haven’t fallen (well, not since last years infamous Fijian spa episode), landed heavily on an irregular shaped object or run a marathon (LOL), I just woke up in pain four days ago.

According to the podiatrist what we have here is a plantar fascia failing. Some microscopic tear that may have resulted from the prolonged wearing of flatter than flat shoes. Damn those alluringly high arches of mine.

I wonder what your Paleolithic woman did about her high arches? It’s not like she could lace up a prehistoric pair of Yeezy’s to support her feet while she hunted and gathered, is it?

I think about this stuff.

So i’m strapped up and favouring the right foot which makes me walk like Mi from National Velvet. I’m also committed to wearing trainers for the next six weeks so there’s the whole 90’s Jerry Seinfeld fashion aesthetic to deal with too.

Jerry Seinfeld

I’m not happy about it.

I decided to use this period of enforced inactivity to sort through some ancient artefacts from my childhood and found a prescient poem written in late primary school:

The foot, as you know, is really quite useful

you use it at work and at play.

You use it for running and jumping and skipping,

quite versatile in its own way.

So when it get hurt, you know, twisted or broken,

with a rip and wrench and crack, 

the darn thing no longer is useful,

it’s a jolly great handicap!

I was extremely proud of this poem and after it was published in the school magazine, increasingly certain of my literary destiny. My rhyming super powers ensured I was going to be Australia’s answer to Pam Ayers. Pam Ayres

I might even get on the Mike Walsh Show. My dreams were big.

Reading over some other equally laudable childhood pieces, it is evident my early influences were heavily based on English boarding school novels. Not many other twelve year olds in 1970’s Australia were calling people ‘Jolly good sports’.

Althea’s Term at Winterton, Monica Turns Up Trumps and Elizabeth’s Green Way introduced me to a world of kind hearted Head girls called Daphne who hosted tea in the common room and remembered to include Bessie, even though she was a tubby lass who got into the most terrible scrapes.

vintage school girl

Kitty’s cream bun prank had backfired,  she was sure to cop a sound thrashing.

I remember being severely punished over my use of the word ‘ejaculated’ when describing a friends sudden and hilarious outburst in class. I’d read the word over and over in these variously dated novels and, like so many other words, had managed to glean its meaning from the context.

Harold Robbins and Jackie Collins scattered amongst the Readers Digest sets in the good room weren’t helping my linguistic case. Fortunately my stepmother was able to stop frothing at the mouth long enough for me to produce an appropriate definition in the ever reliable Pocket Oxford Dictionary.

Despite stinging from both the humiliating parental tirade and accompanying facial backhander, I revelled in the superiority of my vocabulary. My parents were dolts, I consoled myself.

I could go back to my bedroom and write “Dear Diary, mater gave me such a thrashing tonight, which was jolly unfair and I am most vexed. I think I may be truly in love with David Soul. His ‘Hutch’ deeply touches my soul. Deborah says that Starsky is better looking, but no one agrees with her. She’s such a ninny!”

For a time my diaries were full of ‘references to ‘frightful old bores’ and ‘fast chums’ until it was evident I was becoming the ‘weird’ one and would never seduce Craig Barnsley in 1B.

I packed away Fanny’s Final Term at Brompton and borrowed a copy of Dolly magazine.

Dolly magazine

Armed with a recipe for rolled oat face masks and “Ten Ways To Nab Your Guy Before Christmas”, Craig didn’t stand a chance.

Well he did, but I’ve moved on now…

…on my good leg.

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