Words of Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.

Friday, 6 December 2013

DONALD AND DAISY, You Little Bastards.......

The pale fingers of dawn are creeping around the edges of my curtains as something awakens me. I check my phone. There is a message from the Baby Angel many thousands of miles away in the UK so I exchange a few thoughts with her in the thinning gloom.

It is still quite dark when I heard the first quack.
"Hey, I hear quacking" I type. I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and shrug on the sky blue fleece dressing gown that will not wear out. Padding through the darkened corridor, lit by the glow of my phone, I make my way to the back door and peer through the glass to see if I can see the telltale silhouette of a bobbing head.

He (or she) is right there. Poised on one leg on the wall between spa and pool, its shadowy outline clear in the burgeoning morning.

The little bastard.

Bearing in mind the earliness of the hour, I employ only a partial version of my tried and true method, leaping across the patio, vaulting up the stairs and stamping my feet on the wooden deck. The duck slips into the water and hastily makes for the other shore. I race for the long handled pool scoop and wave it savagely at the slightly nervous looking creature who simply paddles off in another direction. I give chase; it redirects. I redirect; it paddles faster, just out of reach of my pole. I forget the hour and ROAAAAAAARRRRRRR like a beast.


The duck takes off in a whirr of wings and I settle back to still my heart.
No really, I am a bit out of breath.

I reach for my phone. As I am reporting the incident to the BA, another duck (paler, smaller) plops into the water beside me. BLOODY CHEEK!

I employ my methods again but this time the creature squawks furiously and shakes its feathery little tail insolently at me, lifting off the water for a few feet and landing again amidst a flurry of splashing and flapping. I swipe, it lifts and lands. I swipe it lifts and lands in the spa. I swipe again, roaring all the time; it lifts and performs a series of landings all the way across the pool with my scoop millimetres from its fluffy arse...rather like chasing a skimming pebble. Finally, it gives up and takes off proper, quacking indignantly all the while. I skid to a halt and realise I have broken out in a sweat; my heart is hammering and I have no further need of exercise for the day. I may also have pulled a hammy.

Quickly reporting my exploits on the phone to the BA, who is warm and comfortable on the sofa in England, I become aware, in the rapidly growing light, that Duck 2 has not gone far. It is up on the next level, near the shed, lurking. Waiting. Hovering like a vulture over the gasping breaths of an expiring animal (That would be my gasping breaths as I get my pulse rate down). I throw myself up the next flight of stairs, waving my stick again, and it saunters off behind the shed. I race back down the steps to retrieve some decorative stones from around the asparagus fern. Lobbing a few, ineffectively, behind the shed, I am satisfied to hear some scuffling and then stillness. I think it went over the fence. Or under. Pretty sure my girlie stone throwing had nothing to do with it though.

Returning poolside I station myself on the spa with pool scoop by my side.


A whirr of wings as the second duck buzzes me from overhead, on its way north.

Friday, 29 November 2013

It's A Good Job I'm No Longer A Maths Teacher

So I'm totting up hours and the like, for next year.

Our timetable consists of 7 x 40 min lessons a day.

There are around 7 'severe' kids who will need 1:1 or at least 2:1 support from me next year. I'll give them 3 lessons each, any less and you don't get the consistency for progress. 21 lessons.

Then there's 5 lessons of Curriculum Support in the middle school and 3 lessons of flexible Year 9 support...that's 29 lessons. Admin, allow 6 lessons, that's the same as I've had this year...not ideal but it'll have to do....so...all up 35 lessons! Perfect!

With a sense of smug satisfaction and nagging amazement that it has worked out so well,  I saunter out to ask my colleague if I have missed anyone.

"So, I've worked it all out and it adds up exactly to 35 lessons per week!"

She looks at me curiously, at about the same as the lightbulb goes on in my head.

"But Arizaphale, you only work FOUR days a week."

28 lessons.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Tales From The Chalkface: The Christmas Concert Edition

Scene: The stairwell. Myriads of tiny people in blue and white striped uniforms are returning from the gym, the scene of rehearsals for the Christmas Concert.

Me: (walking past a lively group, lining up at the foot of the stairs) Hello Reception! Have you been rehearsing for your concert?

Child 1: (bouncing from foot to foot with excitement) YES!!!!!!

Me: (continuing archly)And are you all going to be 'WOW' on Friday night?

Child 1/2/3: YES, YES, (giggles and squeals)

Me: Are you all going to be FANTASTIC?????

General Melee of Children: YES! WE'RE GOING TO BE FANTASTIC!!!!!!

Small But Determined Voice from the back of the line: I'm NOT.

Some five year old has been watching too much Monty Python, methinks.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Garden Makeover Part 3

So now most of the major makeover stuff is done, we are concentrating on a bit of honest to goodness gardening. Naturally, there is a modicum of trial and error involved.

This was the original plant-up.
Now there is a slight bone of contention associated with all this. Lately, I have mentioned to Himself that, in the interests of marital harmony, we need to do more things together. We need common projects. He seemed to acknowledge that this would be a good thing so in the spirit of this, I asked if we could go to the nursery the following weekend and choose some plants for the new garden. I got a vague agreement and went off to church on the Sunday, excited to know that we would be browsing plant sales together afterwards.
I got back to find him potting up plants on the back verandah with multiple trays of veggies and my personal least favoutite garden flower, the marigold, ready to be installed.

I went ballistic.

He was completely stunned. He completely failed to understand why I was upset.  After all, he had certainly considered my interests at the nursery when he had mentioned to the shop man that I liked flowers. He had also talked to the shop man about whether I would like the planters he had chosen. He was allowed to bring them back if I didn't like them however; I'm not sure planting them up before hand was a good way to ensure they were easily returnable.

We planted the cursed marigolds and some sad looking petunias, but several weeks later they had not made any progress at all and so this weekend I ripped some of them out and planted up some perennials instead!

Look how well the tomatoes are doing up the back there!

 Himself has put some gravel on the slope down.

Can you see actual tomatoes on them thar vines???

Himself actually outdid himself with this application of gravel and bed edging last weekend.

So that's as far as we've got. It's keeping us busy though and seriously, has gone a long way to re-cementing our relationship. Which is a good thing.....  

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Garden Summary Part 2

So this is where I left you. The new wall was up and we had a whole of of dirt chucked back onto the slope where we wanted to create a garden, no paving and as yet, no pergola.

Meanwhile, down the other end of the garden, the decking and pool fence had gone in.

And, after a great deal of angst, the pergola went in.

 Then the paving went in just before the BA's birthday bash....

Once the big birthday was over, Himself charged No 2 Son with landscaping the other side of the garden. It took over 3 months to motivate him sufficiently to achieve anything but: we were impressed!

He re-used the old sleepers and excavated some overgrown, half buried rocks that we didn't even know were under all the overgrown shrubbery, to make the rockery.

He even created a sloping ramp from the top so we could access the middle level.

After the lads had dug out and refilled the horrid clay-ey soil with 15cm of topsoil, we started the fun part! These are capsicums.

Below: Some cucumbers. Unfortunately, only the middle one has survived. We are unsure as to why.

Lettuce, tomatoes on stakes, chillies and some random flowery things that Himself bought, probably on special and without consulting me. (Grrr. I don't like marigolds.)


The sloping ramp..

First stage of planting done...

Friday, 8 November 2013

Garden Makeover: The Summary Part 1

My husband and I are finally undertaking a joint project; something we can work on together and connect over. But first, let us remember what it looked like before.....

Here we are, shortly after we'd moved in. The challenge: failing retaining wall; Alcatraz-like fencing; random rectangle of lawn, the sole benefit of which was as a place to wash down sails after Saturday sailing; the garden slope at the far right of the picture, a mass of overgrown bushes and shrubs which seemed to signify.....nothing.....

Another shot of the useless sloped garden. At this time I was still attempting to keep it under control and had been hacking things back. This shot (probably 2005) was the last time I really made any attempt to do anything with the area. Firstly, the arguments with Himself which ensued around 'pruning' lodged heavily in my heart and kind of rendered me inert. I guess I was hoping if I did nothing and he saw how bad it got he would endorse my efforts. No such luck. He just didn't seem to notice. In fairness, I've got to say it wasn't an easy task anyway. Apart from the disapproval of Himself, the steepness of the slope; claylike nature of the soil and drought of 2006-9 all served to thwart any enthusiasm I had for working in that side of the garden. As evidenced by this shot, taken around 2007-8.

As you can see, things were deteriorating rapidly. The timber sleepers continued to rot and bulge  and the Small Boy, his brothers and mates delighted in using the paved area as a basketball court/ soccer pitch/cricket pitch/skateboard ramp, resulting many a broken branch/light fitting etc etc etc.

This was the eyesore at the other end of the patio/lawn. Note the ivy and lack of lawn where shade and soccer goals prevented growth.

By 2010 the state of the retaining wall was evident for all to see.

Christmas  2012 and we had given up all pretense of trying to keep the place neat knowing that it would be trashed by bulldozers within months.

I love this shot of A Free Man on New Year's Eve 2012/3. It was a last hurrah before the builders moved in on the 6th of Jan.

With their diggers.

 But finally, after all the chaos...some order.....

A bit of paving, a pergola and we were ready to start the sloping garden project.....

(OK so the paving hasn't been done here...but you get the idea....)

Friday, 25 October 2013

What Are They Teaching Kids Nowadays?

 I was down in one of the Junior Primary classrooms the other day when the alphabet chart caught my eye. I called across to the teacher.
"Hey! What's going on with your cactus here??? What's that supposed to be teaching kids????"

The teacher took several moments to gaze at it in puzzlement before she 'clicked' and guffawed.
OK. So maybe it's just me.
"Really," I admonished,"And in a lovely school like this."
"Ha!" she retorted, "That's nothing. Have you seen the weird cow on our door???? The Teacher's Aide put it up and I haven't had the heart to take it down."
I had to admit that I hadn't really looked closely at the door cow so I went back for another squizz.

Disturbing. Seriously disturbing. And anatomically incorrect. Do illustrators not check these things??

Have an udderly nice day folks.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

One More Departure Post

As she left on her great adventure, Himself and I were both impressed by the send off she received. In this age of disposable technology, superficial facebook style friendships and deteriorating values it was heartening to see a whole bunch of her friends come to see her off.

It speaks to the regard they have for her.

Another couple turned up shortly afterwards.

(I know. Do not ask me what they are wearing. It is some kind of fashion statement.)

And even though her flight was delayed by 40 minutes and she had to check her bags through gate 13 (!!!!!!)............

......there were still a sizeable group remaining  by the time she eventually made it down the gangway.

Even Himself, that inveterate avoider of all things emotional, came; although he claimed it was to support me (that works too).

And after she'd gone, the kids walked and chatted to us as we made that long, desolate walk back to the car park. I gotta say, Smirnoff aside, they are a nice bunch.

So it has been two weeks now since she left. People keep asking if I miss her and it's a strange question. She has spent a lot of time away from me since we got back to Australia in 2003 and she first went interstate to spend a week with her dad. After that first traumatic trip as an unaccompanied minor she took to the whole process like a duck to water and rarely looked back.

Which is exactly as it should be.

I am so proud of her independent spirit and her gutsy 'have a go' attitude. On the other hand, I am exceptionally grateful for facebook, Viber and Skype and the messages she sends me at 3 in the morning when she is awake and wavering over 'crucial' decisions. I love the emoticons that arrive randomly and the pouting selfie she sends when we have been accidentally disconnected...

This trip echoes the one I took in 1978 at a similar age. Every excitement, frustration and anxiety she experiences brings back a wealth of memories for me. I know I came back from my 9 months overseas with a far greater appreciation of my life here in Australia. I wonder how the BA will reflect on this time in years to come?

No more departure posts now.......

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Panic In Sword Town

Now that the Baby Angel's absence is, kind of, the norm and my maudlin maternal moments are minimising (did you see what I did there...with the alliteration??...oh never mind), I thought I would tell you about the lead up to her departure.
The Saturday before the BA left for the UK was the weekend of the AFL Grand Final. She decided to combine the event with a farewell party and asked us if we'd facilitate the affaire. Festivities were due to commence at 1.30pm and, on the dot, a minibus full of teenagers pulled up at our doorstep and disgorged seven boys and three girls. This was the first wave, but they wasted no time in pulling seats into an appropriate ringside position and settling in for the 'big game'.

Realising our modest TV screens were not going to cut it with the youth of today, Himself brought the big screen up from work and rigged it under the new pergola.

The boys were initially confused by the nature of our ring-in AV equipment and spent some time fiddling with the aerial until they realised it was not an HD screen. Heaven forbid!! In the end they seemed to cope.

Somewhat disturbing to the middle aged mother in me, although not necessarily to my 19 year old subliminal self, was the notable presence of multiple bottles of vodka. I mean! Sheesh! What happened to BEER????? (What's worse is that they dilute it with rubbish such as Passiona and Raspberry Crush!)

Anyway, we fed the crowd and as the afternoon progressed, another 10 or so teenagers joined the throng. It was in this atmosphere of both relief and frenzy, as we thanked God that it was all going smoothly and we could relax and watch the said football ourselves.....before putting on the next batch of spring rolls......... that the BA approached me, ashen faced.

"Mum, I can't find my passport folder."

Me: I am sure it will be somewhere in your room.
BA: No, I've looked...it's not there.
(sounds of guests coming in looking for food, looking for the hostess and cheering the most recent goal by the favoured underdog team).
Me: Well BA, now is a really bad time to try and look for it! I'm sure its around somewhere.
BA: The last time I saw it was yesterday afternoon in the city.....

Maybe it was the glass of wine I was sipping. Maybe it was the coming and going of guests. Maybe it was the bemused look on the faces of our adult guests? Maybe it was the frantic morning of shopping, cleaning and preparing for the event that influenced me. For whatever reason I was not going to let this blip on the radar ruin our afternoon.

Me: BA...chill out. You've got a house full of guests and we are not likely to be able to find your folder now. Go and have a glass of whatever it is you people drink and relax. We'll deal with the issue later.

In retrospect I was ridiculously calm.

I suppose I really thought it would be somewhere in her room. I mean, if you could see her room you would understand my nonchalance. My BA, for all her beauty, brains and charm, can be a bit of a ditz. I was sure that once the floor had been cleared, the bags emptied and the coat pockets checked, the offending folder would turn up.


On Sunday morning once the minibuses had departed, the collection and recycling of Smirnoff bottles completed and the detritus of the party rationalised into a mountain of dishes and food scraps, I started to address the issue of the missing passports. And e-ticket. They had all been in the same folder.

I nagged the BA out of bed and enforced a radical cleanup of her horrendous room. Nothing. We looked behind things, under things and in things. Nothing. She checked her car. Her friend checked her car. Eventually, I went and checked her car. No passport. I did find a wet tent which had been in her boot (trunk) for three months, since her last camping trip, but that did nothing to solve our problem or sweeten my mood. We went over her movements and the last time she'd seen the folder, hoping for some revelation. I suggested she call the police to see if it had been handed in. The police told her to file an online 'missing item' report. I decided to check the passport website.

The news was not good. The first thing it said was that it was a federal offence not to report the loss of a passport. And she had lost TWO passports. It also said that as soon as you reported a passport missing it would be cancelled and a new document would need to be issued, costing approximately $200. I had only just shelled out $200+ for the original passport so I was not feeling particularly generous, as you can imagine. I decided to call the travel agent and see what they recommended. After all, at this point it was about 55 hours until her scheduled departure.

The travel agent was incredibly helpful: sympathetic, practical and informative but at the end of the day it boiled down to this; she could get an emergency Australian passport within 24 hours (of calling on Monday) but it was going to cost, although not as much as rearranging her flights. The last time this had happened, the girl informed me in comforting tones, the passport had arrived at 3pm the following day. The BA was scheduled to depart at 6pm. Cutting it just a bit fine I thought.

In all this discussion of replacement of Australian passports I had minimised the issue of the missing UK passport. After all she could always get a replace that once she got to England. Couldn't she? "Does she have a visa for the UK?" asked the agent.
"Well, no," I replied, "we normally go into the UK on our UK passports. But I understand you can get in on an Aussie passport nowadays anyway, can't you?" The girl's brow furrowed, over the phone.
"Hmmmmm. How long is she going for? What date is her return ticket?"
"About 9 months. Her return ticket is for June."
There was a slight, barely discernible, but ominous pause.
"Ummmmmm, they're not going to let her into the UK for 9 months without a visa."
                                                          Oh f***.
"But she's a UK cit," I protested," she was born there!!"
"That may be," my adviser pointed out, "but without a passport, they may not let her in."
"Well how long will it take to get a visa??"
Again that momentary but ominous hesitation.....
"About two months. And you need to go to Victoria for an interview."


I drew breath and tried to focus on stilling the bongobeat of my heart. SURELY, she would be ok to get into the country? I mean, she has a UK birth certificate for f's sake! She would have grandparents (also citizens) waiting for her; surely they wouldn't stop her from entering the country???? But it was a real possibility. With a brow like thunder I informed her of this fact.

There were tears. Oh yes, there were tears. There was the suggestion of cancelling the trip (but your ticket is non-refundable BA...... >:-(....this will fix nothing!). There was remorse and fear and insecurity. Now, from a distance, it is hard to recall the sinking feeling that accompanied all this because, after all, now I know it turned out ok. But for several hours there on Sunday 29th of September I was in that place where a $2000+ ticket was in jeopardy; I was possibly up for a significant amount of dosh in terms of replacing passports, and the whole emotional build up to her Tuesday departure (including the whole 'why am I going away? Everything I have here is so good and it may not be here when I get back...') was possibly going to have to go onto the back burner and come up on repeat again when things got sorted. I gotta tell ya folks, I have been feeling a little fragile of late and this was not doing my heart/blood pressure/sanity any good at all!

But I am nothing if not pragmatic. I refused to report the lost passports until we had retraced her steps and assured ourselves that they were gone for good. I actually really thought they were. I thought someone must have lifted them out of her handbag or something. I really didn't think, as we set off into town, that we were ever going to see that mint green passport folder again.

We drove to the place she had parked. She paced about looking in bushes etc. We moved to the tram stop, which was a whole other kind of awful since it is outside the entrance to what was my Alma Mater, now a huge vacant block (do not start me on this). I couldn't wait to get out of there. No passport folder though. We drove into town, parked and walked down to the cafe/health food shop where the BA had been working this year. She had called them earlier in the day and told them of her loss but hadn't heard back so I had no great hopes of finding the missing items here. As we walked into the shop, one of the girls on the counter called out, "Oh, BA, I haven't had a chance to look for your passports yet. We've been so busy!"

The BA thanked her and made her way out back to look in the lockers. I put thoughts of immigration, money and passports out of my head as I looked at the herbal weight loss drugs and rubbed hand cream testers into the back of my hand. The things we do when stressed!!

I think I will forever hold in my memory, the moment when she appeared through the 'staff only' doors holding that Goddam Passport Folder in her hands. We looked at each other from opposite sides of the room and our mutual breath hold was practically audible. We paled, then we teared up, then we hugged, then we had to go and sit down.

It had been sitting up against the side wall of her locker, which was a similar light colour inside. She had been called away by the staff at the end of the day, to be given farewell gifts etc and she had pulled her bag and coat from the locker, not realising that the passport folder was not amongst them. In all honesty I cannot think of a recent time that I have been SO relieved. Which just goes to show how blessed I am. Cos after all, it was not the end of the world! But OMG for a few hours there on Sunday the 28th of September it sure felt close.

In a way, it was good it happened then. I'm pretty sure, for the BA, it was one of those life lessons which never leaves you. I just thank God it didn't happen when she was backpacking in East Germany.

Onward and upward I say!