Swing low sweet chariot

Two things.

First, the gravity of what something or someone means to you will never, ever be fully appreciated until you get even the smallest whiff of it being taken away. Or messed with. Or just not the way it should be. Once you get that feeling – the feeling that the ground could fall out from under your feet at any moment – you metaphorically grab hold of everything you have in your life and swear to every god there ever was that you will never, ever take it for granted so long as everything is made right in the end.

And I know it will be. It’s just that there is nothing more important in the world then your health and the health of the people you love.

Second, it’s really nice to know that your level of fandom (to the end of dorky ridiculousness) for a band and/or any of its members is shared by someone else out there in the intersphere. This blog post by Emma-Lee Moss of band Emmy The Great pretty much articulates why I have an aversion to meeting any of those musicians that I hold at pedestal height. John Darnielle included. I have no doubt I’d be a dribbling, mute mess.

I like this article for other reasons though. It manages to explain beautifully what it means for someone to have REAL charisma. It’s not about demanding attention when you walk into a room or how many 13 year old girls you can make scream and pass out. Also, it cements the absolute certainty I have about JD being one of the most fascinating people on earth. Not that I needed help there, but it’s nice to have the validation.

An iron fist

When I was 16 I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me attend a week long horse riding camp in the thriving metropolis of Holbrook. At the time it probably had more to do with Angus, the perceived dreamboat of the time, attending, rather than the thought of a week of riding horses and fresh air and the sun on my back etc. (Incidentally, I ended up landing said dreamboat through a cunning mix of nonchalance, following through on dares he never thought I would follow through on, and pretending to like Genesis. If that’s not a recipe for success then I don’t know what is).

My mother held fast for about 2 weeks with a solid no. There was never any money. Actually, there was usually minus money, and the combination of my weekly riding lesson and my brother’s basketball and both my sisters doing gymnastics meant that there was really no money for extra things. And the camp cost a whole 80 dollars – I remember it, because I remember vividly lamenting to her, at least daily, ‘but it’s only 80 dollars!’ all the while thinking that 80 dollars was a veritable fortune and I might as well be asking for a million.

I’m not sure what made her relent. Perhaps it was the fact that I was generally pretty gracious about these things – if the no held out for a day or two, I usually went away. But this time I was a persistent pain in her ass, so I’m guessing she realised this riding trip to the middle of nowhere meant a lot, for whatever strange reason.

So she came upon a bit of a plan – if I found $40, she’d come up with another 40. I’d have to earn that other 40 too, but she’d pay it. So I knocked on every door in the street and offered to wash their car. And really, at $5 a pop I was a real bargain. Presumably I ended up washing 8 of the damn things, because I came up with the money. Actually, I think I ended up earning some by raking leaves or something for the old woman across the road – she didn’t have a car, but I think she liked my get up and go.

So Mum, true to her word, fronted with the other 40. She did, however, make me iron 4 baskets of washing for it. And thus we are lead to the reason I’m writing this post in the first place – I have spent an hour of my precious time tonight ironing. I have this pure dislike for it – it’s up there along with emptying the litter tray and cleaning leaves out of the fish pond. I think that pure dislike possibly stems from those hours and hours of ironing my school uniforms, the uniforms of my brother and sisters, and my Dad’s stubbies.

The week in Holbrook was so worth it though. And tonight I listened to Andrew Bird while I was doing it, so that was kinda nice.

The picture outside the frame

There’s always a mental shift for me on my way to Wagga, and then again on my way home. It’s almost like a mini mental metamorphosis that takes place in the 5 hours between leaving Sydney and when I cross the Murrumbidgee near Gundagai. And I can’t really accurately describe WHAT it is – it’s more subtle than that. It’s more about mentally padding myself against the bombardment of my past, and then on the way home shedding all that padding so I can walk more easily as myself.

There are some things you can just never pad against or shed, though. If you’re known to someone or a group of people long enough, there are invariably things about you that they’ll take as given, regardless of how much you change and/or grow as a person. Like being a tom boy. I was never really a girly girl, but honestly, I think it had less to do with being a tom boy than it did with the whole competitive riding thing. It’s somewhat difficult to wear frocks and care about the state of your hair when you’re astride a horse and/or mucking out stables the majority of the day. But people assume things I guess. For the last few years (yep, I’m not talking about a short period of time here), every time someone from my family sees me in a skirt, I get the whole ‘oh my god, Karen is wearing a SKIRT’ thing. It’s like those years of non-skirt wearing have completely obliterated any part of their brain that can possibly comprehend it could happen.

And there’s also the whole assuming you’re still the same person you were when you were 16 thing. I mean, I appreciate every single thing I got for Christmas. It’s not really about gifts and the idea that someone put thought into what I’d like means a lot. But at times I feel like sending out a memo – U2 do not rule my universe any more. Also, there are only so many framed U2 posters and memorabilia one girl can take, year after year. Perhaps it’s my fault for being so hard to buy for. Which apparently I am.

Also, since I was 16, I’ve found out there’s a whoooole rainbow of wonderful colours out there. I still love the colour yellow, really, but I don’t need every cushion, towel, rug etc. in my house to BE yellow.

You can’t really explain these things to the people you love though, can you. Not without someone’s feelings getting hurt. They have a snapshot of you, right before the time that you stopped being primarily the daughter and the granddaughter and the sister and started becoming yourself. And because of that I guess I will continue to store and/or rotate those U2 pictures/calendars/wall hangings.

And I will also continue to be unerringly grateful for the people I have in my life who understand me as I am. And keep up with me as I grow and change – not inherently, but subtly. Because if you’re not changing, then you’re not learning. And it’s an honest to god tragedy I think to go through your life not learning.

Deck the halls

Okay SO I’ve neglected to mention (or maybe I did, actually, I probably did, but anyway) from Friday this week I have annual leave for TWO AND HALF MF WEEKS. It’s the first truly long break I’ve had in a really, really long time. And not only do I get to vacate my god damn office for this period of time, and all my god damn clients with their god damn annoying phone calls, I have it stacked full of fun plans plus plus. Like a trip to Brisbane to see Angela. Not Wagga Angela, UK Angela. Just in case anyone was wondering. And a trip to one of my favourite cities of all time, Melbourne. Including live music and wonderful restaurants and spending time with the boy. And time at home. Yes, I’m even looking forward to Wagga.

This Christmas is building itself up to be very good. No right way to say it – Christmas in the last few years has been wholly awful. And it’s no one’s fault – sometimes bad feelings and bad situations just compound upon each other, and when you put 10 + people in a room who are too close to all the shit going on, it’s only going to end badly. But this year, even with Dad’s health and the oftentimes volatile sister club, I think it’s going to be fun. There’s a baby now, and that definitely helps. There are a lot of things to be thankful for. And for once, at least, right at this very second, everyone seems to be getting along. They’re not BFF mind, but they’re being civil. And holy moly is that something to be thankful for.

The only truly annoying thing I have to do then is the Christmas shopping. There are no words to describe how much I dislike doing it, and the lengths I’ll go to avoid it. Which is why we’re here on December 4, with Karen having bought a total of 3 books for gifts.

Oh well.

52 weeks

Today, 12 months ago, Nan passed away. It was at around 10:30PM. I remember this because when the call came through I was having dinner with Cynthia in Chatswood and I remember seeing the time on the phone when it rang and knowing it could only really be one thing. I remember taking the call, telling Cynthia what happened, and then reassuring her because she seemed more upset than I did. I said goodbye to her, wished her luck on her journey into the German unknown, and walked to my car. I opened the door, sat in the drivers seat and then closed it behind me. I remember thinking how I was sure the temperature outside had got warmer rather than cooler, and I could smell rain on the air. I remember putting my hands on the steering wheel without starting my car and just sitting there, willing the tears to come. But there was nothing. Nothing save an overall numbness and a faint, distant feeling of relief.

I called Mum again and sat in the car listening to her cry. I had no words for her because really there was nothing I could say to stop it. Nor should she. I remember driving home that night and before I even hit the M2 turning off Damien Rice and putting on talk back radio, because I needed to feel like there were people out in the world functioning as normal.

Tonight is a night for remembering how strong she was. For remembering the trips we used to take to Faulconbridge to see Ivy when I was a kid, and our last trip to Woy Woy and Newcastle. It was to be her last trip away from Wagga and I know that she knew it at the time – each place we went she would sit quietly – taking in the places of her childhood and early adult life, remembering friends and feelings and experiences and silently saying goodbye. She used to come up to Sydney on her own and stay in hotels she’d never seen before. She used to spend all day riding public transport – from a bus, to a train, to a bus, to a ferry. She told me more than once it was the best way to see the city and meet people. She was the first experience I had of Newtown – seeing where she lived, where she grew up, and where she was first married. She once came up without telling anyone where she was going or where she was staying, and we spent a frantic two days trying to track her down. She finally called me from a hotel in Kent Street and told me she was in town and asked if I’d like to have lunch. I got off the phone, fell down on the couch and laughed until I cried. When I told her off for worrying us like that she called me daft and told me she always carried her umbrella with her and she could handle herself. I never doubted it.

She lived more heartache and pain and sorrow than anyone else I’ve known. But she lived, and as much as she was the first to admit she had made mistakes she had no regrets. And the woman had JOY.

She gave me so much, and the one on one time I spent with her in my early 20’s played no small part in the woman I am today. I had the enviable position of growing closer to her at a time in her life when many people were drifting away – I am forever grateful for that. There is a lot of her in me – when I’m challenged I feel her strength rise up in me. If I’m pissed off it’s her anger people are dealing with. I also see so much of her in my mother it’s sometimes scary.

There’s no way I can articulate how much I miss her, so I’m not going to try. 12 months ago tonight the tears wouldn’t come, but now they won’t stop. And I guess that’s some sort of progress.


Ring ring.


‘Hi!’ It was Mum. ‘What are you doing this weekend?’

‘Stuff. Why, what’s up?’

‘I’m coming to Sydney! I’ll be there in around 6 hours!’

‘Um, great!’

Cue panic.

It’s nice though. And she’s doing my washing.

Somewhere in between the folds of your memory

I’ve done something a little out of character tonight. I haven’t had the stereo on at all, and I’ve watched about 4 solid hours of TV. This includes a movie with Reese Witherspoon in it and at least 20 solid minutes of Big Brother.

I feel so dirty.

So I did something today at work that I’ve been building up to for a couple of weeks – I pitched for time off in the next couple of months. I was careful about how I did it, in that I gunned for time off around Hell’s wedding before I went for something sooner. I got March/April last week, and today I went for the last week of July and the first week of August. And I got it.

I’m not sure if it’s getting easier because my negotiation skills are getting better, or she’s getting less anally retentive about me leaving the office. It might be a little of both. When I first started with the company (what, over 8 years ago? holy fuck) she’d been working on her own for 6 years and in that time had barely had a day off herself. Then, within 12 months of me starting we’d grown to 4 full time staff. Then within 4 years, 6 staff, and now we’re 10. The bigger the team gets, the more she’s realising she’s got to compromise. ??And every one of your 10 staff accruing 4 weeks a year can only end badly – imagine if we all left at once.

Man, if I left now, I’d probably bankrupt the place 😉

So I’m faced with two weeks leave in July/August. The original plan was to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide with Hellen, but she (rightly so) is saving her leave for the wedding, and work is nuts for her right now, so she can’t afford the time. I should head down to the big WW for at least a few days, because I’ve no plans to go there before then. ??I thought maybe, after some time in Wagga, I’d head to Wangaratta and see Nathan. He’s suggested while I’m there maybe we drive to Beechworth and see a bit of the area, which sounds cool. Then, instead of driving home via the Hume Highway, I thought I’d come home via the coast.

There are a couple of reasons for this. I thought I’d head south, instead of straight for the coast, and start my coast drive around Lakes Entrance in Victoria. When I first finished university I heard of a job at an Australian Stud Book Pony farm in Orbst, which is in the same area. I spoke the woman a couple of times and she was really keen to give me the job. We’d spoken about a salary package, accommodation, the whole shebang. I didn’t take that job – at the time I had only been with Alan 12 months so was still a bit silly about that and gunning for something in Sydney, and there was a lot of me who was terrified about stepping into a part of the world I had never laid eyes on.

I have always had this morbid fascination with taking the wrong path, or wondering if I’ve taken the wrong path, or wondering where the hell I’d be if I’d taken a different path. It’s like there’s this whole other alternate life of mine happening without me. So I’m thinking I’ll pay a visit to my alternate life in Orbst in August and see what I missed out on/what missed out on me.

Secondly, I want to go back to Bermagui. When I was in Year 8, so about 12 or 13 years old, the whole family decided we were going to start doing a pamphlet run (which, incidentally, might be the shittiest job in the world) and save up to go away on a holiday. We had never been on a holiday, save day trips to Paddy’s River Falls near Tumut and trips to Sydney that were never really a holiday but were to take Nathan to a specialist about his migraines. There was never any money, and we had a car that was like a Sherman tank (a Holden Premier) that guzzled fuel, so a holiday was a very exciting prospect.

The big plan was for a REAL holiday, where we rented somewhere to stay, we went to the beach and we didn’t have to worry about money. I remember eating more than once in a real restaurant and being able to choose what I wanted from the menu. I remember going to a newsagent before we got in the car to start the drive and Dad saying ‘pick any magazine you want’ – I picked a copy of The Horse Magazine with Haflinger ponies on the front.????

I had never, ever seen the beach in person before. The strongest memory I have of that trip was the first time we went down to the beach at Horseshoe Bay – pretty much the second we drove into town. We went down to the sand and approached the water with some trepidation – Mum hung on to Tara and Hayley so tight on each side of her. I edged close enough to the water so that the sand was wet and hard under my feet. Then, without realising it was going to happen, a wave rushed in and swirled around my legs and engulfed both my feet. When the water rushed back, and the feeling was nothing like I’d ever experienced – the power of the sand rushing around my legs, the suction of the sand through my toes – it was such an exhilarating thing. I remember noise coming out of my mouth involuntarily, and looking at Nathan who had the same look on his face that I did – absolute joy at the discovery of something so new and so good.

They had rented a house for two weeks about 2 blocks away from the beach. It was old and run down and overrun with frogs and Huntsmen the size of my face. The best thing about this house, though, was that I had my own room. This was really something for a 13 year old girl who’d shared a room pretty much her whole life with her two little sisters. As much as this was exciting, it was also terrifying – that room was so dark, and I could hear the ocean clear as a bell out my bedroom window.

Those were good times. It was about fishing and swimming and Mum’s coleslaw and everyone getting along. Halcyon days indeed.

So I’m thinking about winging by there again, so reinforce the memories, jog some forgotten ones, and make some new ones. Also, to walk down to that beach again and put my feet in the sand and feel it suck around my toes.

In other news, it’s nice to not be planning and packing right now for a work trip to the Hunter. The 4 day epic has turned into a day trip. I could not be happier about that.

What you don’t know, you can feel it somehow

Was it me? Maybe it was them? Whatever it was, this was one of the easier trips I’ve made to Wagga over the last couple of years.

As previously mentioned, the trip down there was a little arduous (I think owing in no small way to the shitty week I had and the absolute exhaustion I was feeling). I got there late on Friday night and by the time I got to bed I was more or less cross-eyed. I had, though, about 10 hours solid sleep. This is a first for me in many weeks, so maybe that had something to do with the relative ease of the weekend.

On Saturday I got up about 11 and headed to Dad’s place. He was really excited to give me my birthday present, and has been for a couple of weeks now. It’s always with some amount of trepidation that I receive gifts from Dad – in the last five years gifts have fallen into two categories – framed prints of cricket players, and kitchen appliances. For a girl who A) is particularly fussy about what goes on her walls and B) has really no kitchen to speak of, those gifts (while thoughtful) aren’t really useful. This time, though, he aced it – he bought me a stereo.

It was way too much, and because of this I felt a little weird about it. Still, he was so excited to give it to me, and had gone to a lot of effort to make sure it was a good one. It’s not what I would have got for myself, but that doesn’t make it bad. It’s a fuckload better than what I have now, and for that I am thankful. Just the knowledge that he knew me that well makes me glad inside. And he was so happy to make me happy.

Only thing is, it’s very silver and blue. It kinda looks like a rocket ship control panel. Aesthetics aren’t everything though, right? It sounds pretty awesome and that’s the most important thing.

Saturday night Mum and I went for a walk into the dark, which was nice. The air at that time of the night smells amazing – fire smoke, dinner cooking, cool wet grass – all with a hint of dark and cold. It’s one of my favourite smells.

Sunday was all about Mum. We went to the cemetery in the morning, in the howling, driving rain. It was a little harrowing actually; seeing Nan laid like that in that sort of weather. Cemeteries always leave me feeling both contemplative and a little dark – I guess that’s to be expected.

We then drove around for a few hours looking at houses Mum was interested in. It was nice just sitting in the car talking – something we haven’t done for a long time. I bought her lunch (in leiu of Mothers Day next weekend) and then we headed back to her place. I managed to leave town about 3PM – some sort of record I’m sure and another reason why the weekend has a good feel about it.

Each time I leave there I feel I understand a little more about my family. Following that, I guess I understand a little more about myself and where I’ve come from. I’m learning to be accepting, and I’m learning that I can’t fix everything. Leaving there today on such good terms has left my head clear for work tomorrow. The next two weeks are going to be tough – I know I have enough in me to cope with it though.

And that’s a good feeling.


Remember how I said I wasn’t going to Wagga this weekend? Remember when I said I was going to have a WHOLE weekend free?

Yeah. Not so much.

I’d completely forgotten about a business trip to the Hunter Valley next weekend. A lot of thoroughbred farms to visit and meetings with regional councils about labour shortages. I’m not sure how I will bear the excitement.

Work is not letting up at all. With every increase in the level of stress, so increases the severity of the boss’s mystery illness. If I ignore the signs of sickness she less than subtly points out, she gets more and more hysterical until every eye is on her. If I notice and make a big deal about how overworked she is, I get nothing done while she’s there. I got to the point today where I told her to go home because she looked so ill – only to get her out of the damn office so I could get some work done. My office seemed to be full of people today too. Clients in and out, staff appraisals. It made the day go quickly, but ultimately I don’t feel like I got much done.

So Wagga this weekend. The organising has already started.

‘Well, I thought we could have lunch on Sunday with your grandparents.’
‘I’m having lunch with Mum on Sunday.’
‘Oh. Well, I’m not sure what we’ll do then.’
‘Umm??? we could have lunch on Saturday?’
‘Yeah. That might work.’

Oh. My. God.