Abnormalities

It’s common knowledge around these parts that my family is full of eccentric-type nutters, myself included.  Not that it’s a bad thing but it has its moments.  In a world where mental illness and mental stress are now the norm – some members of my family can give those categories a run for their money, be somewhat challenging or at the very least, downright entertaining.  I’ve managed to keep a lid on most of mine over the years but I suspect that if I had ever done drugs or alcohol I would be spending a bit of time in the local mental health unit by now.

My father is no exception.  I wouldn’t call him crazy but he is definitely out there.  I suspect he has undiagnosed adult ADHD from my stints working with psychiatrists and my discussions with them about him over the years.  He has managed to navigate through his life in blissful ignorance in times of stress with a somewhat childlike attitude to problems and an attention span of a mudskipper.  Mum undoubtedly has shouldered most of the day-to-day burdens, bills and disasters and would probably only now just be getting out of prison for murder if they hadn’t separated twenty years ago.

I get along pretty well with Dad although it can be hard work keeping up with a conversation with him as he flits from one subject to another, talks loudly at lightspeed, looks blankly at me when I ask him a question, says “eh?” and then answers it.

Shopping is fun with Dad albeit a little scary because I never know what he is going to do next.  I have lost him in department stores because he has wandered off or stopped to have a detailed conversation about almost anything he can think of with somebody he doesn’t know.  Going to the cinema is a real challenge as I can’t hear the dialogue over my father’s constant queries about what is going on.

I often take him with me when I go to buy something because he gets bored and has nothing better to do but I try to refrain from taking him into electronic stores because he is likely to come out with something that he didn’t want and knew nothing about but just had to have because it was shiny and had a lot of buttons he could press.  I took him with me once when I went furniture shopping and he managed to smash a three hundred dollar lamp because he was so excited looking around at all the fancy items he wanted to buy he didn’t see the two-feet-tall designer lamp sitting on a side table near his gesticulating right arm.  The manager insisted, however, that we didn’t have to pay for it after I purchased a very expensive guilt-driven dining suite and my father purchased a plush leather recliner that he said he was going to buy anyway.

They certainly broke the mold when they made my father – and for all his oddities and foibles growing up with him was never dull.  He often took me on his adventures and I always returned home not always unscathed but still alive.  He added to my childhood ideals and experiences.  To me being different, odd or eccentric is just another facet of being human.  Thanks to my father and my family I don’t really believe that there is an ideal to live up to.  Human beings are made to be faulty – it’s just the way it is.  We break, cope or strengthen in different ways depending on our map of the world.

I’m not even sure that there is such a thing as being ‘normal’ or whether it is just a media-generated phenomena that the disillusioned and brainwashed feel the need to aspire to. Thank God for weird dads.

New Year Lament

Well, another Christmas has passed me by and I have come out the other side relatively unscathed, if you don’t count being insulted by a brother incessantly, and stuffing myself full of artificial colourings and preservatives constantly.  I’ve made it to the light at the end of St Nicks Christmas tunnel and am now preparing to run the gauntlet of  New Year’s Eve invitations, function offerings and the odd reveller who plants themselves on my front lawn because they can’t find their way home.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I live on an island, which is well placed just 800 metres off the mainland. Far enough away to deter a regular weekend invasion throughout the year, particularly in the winter months, but close enough to attract an assortment of holidaymakers during the end of year festivities, the highlight being the new years’ eve celebrations. For the most part, the locals can generally report low to moderate carnage that involves random beach bonfires and the usual unwanted debri that goes with it, but every now and again there are more marked displays of unpredictable behaviour that are brought about by the shared notion that being in a perceived place of  constabulatory isolation has certain extra merit for misadventure.

In the last few days I have noticed a more pronounced police presence here and there. I am not too worried by this, as I have nothing to hide and I don’t drink. I just have to remember to keep my motorcycle helmet on for a quick spin around the island, and resist the temptation of wanting to feel the rush of the wind through my hair, no matter how liberating.

I’m sure the majority of our local species will do their own liberating thing on year’s eve and have enough sense not to drink and drive. Having said that, our island is a small community surrounded by beach, so there is not much trouble rustling up a lift home from a sympathetic neighbour, or using the elaborate and mass mobile communication service at hand to warn of impending visits from the law. Sadly for the local law enforcement, as fast as the police barge is, it can be heard a good 3 kms out from the barge ramp, therefore giving those in the know a chance to hide, stash, get to where they need to go in relative comfort, and stay put for the duration of the visitation. This is usually a bad thing for the troublemaking tourists, who are the only ones left outside of the ‘magic circle’ to apprehend, fine, or let off with a stern warning.  This in turn can be a good thing for the local element, as it tends to cull the real troublemakers that are intent on misbehaving away from home as much as they can and hang the consequences to themselves or anybody else, including the aforementioned local element. It’s basically a win/win situation, where the locals get to have a relatively trouble-free and decadence packed function without to much interference, and the police get to do their thing with a reasonably good reward for effort.

I’m probably starting to sound like the ‘fun police’, but don’t get me wrong. I like to see people having a good time, but it’s like anything else in this world. Move into a new neighbourhood, country, community, group.. even for a short while, it pays  to learn the code, play the game, keep a low profile, go with the flow and see what happens. If you aren’t generally a player then your inability to confirm, indifference, and ‘me’ mentality will serve as a neat beacon and draw the heat off the more interesting activities that are part of the circle.

I have observed many incidences  and apprehensions this year, none of which were of a local undertaking. It’s working already.

Angel

I wasn’t happy when my grandmother came to live with us when my grandfather passed away. I loved my grandmother, but I was just a kid. I had to give up my room and my bed and sleep in Mum and Dad’s room, with no possibility of return.

The only upside to the situation at the time, was that my grandmother brought her dog, Angel, with her as well. Now this was something that I could deal with, and having a dog to play with took my mind off the fact that I had absolutely no privacy and no space of my own.

After a while I got used to having my gran around, and we would go for walks together to the shops. I started to look forward to this for two reasons, it got me out of the house and away from my brother, and gran always bought me a milkshake. I would always leave some in the bottom of the container and rip it open so that Angel could share it with me. We’d sit on the front step of the grocery store in vanilla bliss while gran went off to buy her usual newspaper and loaf of bread.

When gran went off on holiday, I was in charge of Angel’s welfare. I was in heaven. Not only did I have my old bed back, I had my ‘own dog’ to sleep on my feet at night. I’m pretty sure Angel enjoyed it too, and cried at the door to get in with me after gran returned. There were a few times after that when I was found fast asleep on the lounge with Angel sleeping on my feet. My childhood had it’s ups and downs, but I had the love of a dog – what more could I want?

Angel and I grew older and eventually Mum and Dad sold the house and moved north. Gran went to live at the beach and took Angel with her. I missed her a lot for a long time, and we moved to a place were I couldn’t have another dog, although I had my own room. I would have gladly shared a room again just to have Angel with me.

I left home at sixteen and went to live with my Gran for a while. It was like a homecoming. We were together again. We’d go to the beach and stop off at the shops on the way home for a vanilla milkshake.  I’d just settled into a routine when Angel passed away. We had grown up together and were the same age. Unfortunately sixteen in dog years is a very long life.  I was devastated.

Angel came along at a time when I was a shy lonely child. She made my loneliness more bearable, which allowed me to grow and experience life differently to what might have been. I was able to express my love to another living creature, and not be afraid. Angel accepted me for what I was, and I was happy. I will never forget my beautiful Angel girl.

When I was a kid…

You hear it a lot. ‘When I was a kid…’ Usually it’s to let somebody know that you’ve had it a lot harder than them and that they should be grateful that they have what they have. I’m no exception. When I was a kid you had to go outside to play sport. Now you just stand in front of your television and take a swing.

Times have changed, that’s for sure. But I’m not so sure that it’s all been for the better. We have access to better technology and global information at a press of a button, which is great. I’m not knocking the internet and the fact that I can order anything online and it will be shipped to my door pronto – you just need to have a credit card. I live on and island and while the isolation is great for those stressed out muscles, it can be a bitch to get to the shops in a hurry if you need to.

Anyway, back to the island. I’ve been here for a couple of years now, but we had been holidaying here for at least ten years before we decided to buy. It’s like a small country town with a beach around it. Kids can wander around in reasonable safety and in the summer you can find them selling the spoils of the local fruit trees for a few bucks at the side of the road. Life is pretty slow and cars don’t usually go more than forty kilometres an hour. For you folks that are used to miles, that’s not much over twenty. 

It reminds me a lot of when I was a kid. I grew up on the outskirts of a city when there was still a lot of pastoral land around. It was like a country town, and you would only drive into the city for an outing or to visit a relative on the other side of town. There were  cows everywhere and a lot of grass, fields, trees and ….quiet. Things didn’t move too quickly and we got up to the usual stuff that kids did. I was a bit of a tomboy and owned more tip trucks than Barbie dolls. I had a lot of fun climbing trees, digging tunnels, fishing for tadpoles and blowing up backyard sheds….but that’s another story…

Suffice it to say that I’m from another time and place, and I think that I’m lucky. Sure, now kids think they have it all and would die if they had to go all day without watching television, or had to go outside without their gadget of choice and actually play using their imagination. But when I look back I see something worthwhile that shaped the person that I am, and probably gave me the independence and the skills to get through life’s crap. We did it tough when we were kids, outside and in the dirt. But we had fun, and we didn’t get sick or die from being adventurous and roughed up a bit.

The world is a different place now. I wonder what kind of memories future generations are going to look back on when they look at their offspring and say…’when I was a kid….’

 

My mother, my friend

As a child, I was never really close to my mother, and the gap widened when I reached adolescence and became an authority on myself, and what was good for me.

When I hit sixteen my parents separated, but lived under the same roof for a while, until they could afford to go their separate ways. The situation became intolerable, and my relationship with my mother went beyond the point of no return. So I packed my bags and hit the road. It would be many years before I could bring myself to speak to my mother without feeling like I was that angry, unloved kid with a point to prove.

My unresolved anger was a strange and destructive thing. It affected any relationship that I had, and was based on my need to recreate the same childhood scenario –  again and again, so that I could ‘resolve’ it with anger and indifference. In a weird way, I was happy being angry, if that makes any sense. I was happy with my first husband because we argued a lot. My mother opposed the marriage of course, which made it all the more enticing.

My first marriage produced a son before it dissolved into a bitter separation, and an anti-climactic divorce.  There was no custody dispute and I never saw my husband again, but I saw plenty of my mother, who was always there to make sure that her grandson was being brought up the way that he ought to be.  It irked me at times. Was this an attempt at yet another put down, from one mother to another? It hurt me, and I remained argumentative when it came to my son’s needs.

When my son was around six years old I met the man who would become  my second husband. Motherhood was good for me –  I had evolved and matured a little. I was more able to negotiate the terms of the kind of relationship that I wanted for myself, and my son.  My new beau had a wonderful relationship with his mother, a lovable Scottish woman who was not difficult to adore – which was the one thing that I had craved all my life. I was drawn to him like a magnet.  When my husband kissed his mother and told her that he loved her – often – I was jealous. I wanted some of that for myself.

As I threw myself into a relationship with my future mother-in-law, I discovered the importance of understanding the separateness of another human being. She was the wilful child, the contemptuous adolescent, the young woman in love, and the married matriarch all in one. It was this slow revelation that would open me up to new possilbities of  holding out the olive branch to my own mother, to get to know her too.

At first my mother and I circled each other warily. Neither one of us wanted to say the words ‘I love you’, or make the first move. I had become open to the possibilities, but my mind had frozen in unfamiliar territory. Familiar fears and resentments bubbled just beneath the surface, waiting for the inevitable rejection.  My husband, bless his generous heart – could take it no more and handed me his half of  the two gold seats  to The Eagles’ concert, three days out – pleading an early onset of  flu and telling me I would have to take my mother instead, who would enjoy it more than him anyway, as they were one of her favourites.

My mother enjoyed herself immensely – it was her first concert. Her happiness was breathtaking, and the moment that had elluded me for most of  my life. I forgave myself and my mother for years of misguided malice and misunderstood intention. The rest was plain sailing – and history.

I have learned more about my mother in the last ten years than at any other time of my life. I have learned the reasons why she is like she is and behaves in certain ways. My mother has had a difficult life, and the fact that she is able to be the person that she is, is a testament to her ability to rise above it, despite it all. I have a new respect for the person that is my mother, the person who has had a life that is separate from my own, unique in her experiences.

I have learned not to judge her and listen more. As she shares her experiences,  she lets go of her predisposition of ‘mother’, and we become something more. I have gotten to know the lonely eight year old girl who went from one relative to another after her mother died. I laughed with the ‘mature’ adolescent when she got drunk at the local dance and threw up on my future father’s best jacket. I grieved silently as I thought about the dreams of a young woman that were lost to the reality of the times, and a difficult marriage.

I have had so much more opportunity in my life than my mother.  And I have inherited so much more from her than I had realised. My husband tells me that we are very much alike. I’m happier about that statement than I ever thought that I would be, thank god.

The library

When I was a kid I used to read a lot. I would spend most of my lunchtimes in the school library. It wasn’t that I was anti-social. I just enjoyed Enid Blyton a lot more than I liked being chased around the playground by Peter the pig-tail puller.

Just down the road from my house was the local community library. It was a small building – only about as big as a one bedroom house. Looking back I think it might have been a one bedroom house once – bought and renovated as little as possible by the local council for the good of community book borrowing. It had a front gate and a garden path that lead to the front porch, where you could sit down on a garden chair and read the latest classic at your leisure.

The librarian sat behind a big desk that was located just beyond the entrance. She would nod and smile while stamping  books and filling out check out cards. Now and again she would look up and scowl at some noisy kid at the back of a book aisle, put her finger to her lips and emit a loud ‘ssshhhhh.’ I’m pretty sure that was the standard tactic of librarians in those days, and it seemed to work most of the time. The errant kid would either disappear out the front door, or scuttle off into the corner and read for a while. The power of the librarian knew no bounds!

I spent most of my afternoons after school trawling the shelves of the library for interesting fodder. I was a librarian’s dream. I was quiet and unassuming, borrowed the right amount of books, and always brought my books back before they were due. In all honesty, I had finished them all and was in a hurry to borrow some more, it had nothing to do with  courtesy or the librarian code of ‘correctness.’ Even so, it was better than bringing the supposed apple to the teacher in the morning. Being a good borrower definitely paid dividends, and I was privy to all the latest releases that a kid could borrow. I was always first on the list.

This routine went on for a few years, until the local RSL club bought some land and built a swish three storey, multi-carparking, licenced poker machined venue at the other end of town. The library was relocated, with as much fanfare as possible, into the old RSL premises, which was considerably bigger than the old one bedroom house. At last, a place for the library to really be a library, with multiple aisles and an insurmountable supply of new books. They even had two new librarians on shift work as the opening hours were increased. I was in library heaven.

Not long after the grand opening of the new library, my Dad informed us that he was going to get a second job at the newly opened RSL club, so that he could ‘learn the ropes’ of bar operation and management, because he was thinking of buying a hotel. I didn’t think much of it at the time – Dad had many dreams and schemes that often didn’t come to fruition, we were all used to it. Twelve months after his ‘workplace bar training’, I was waving a sad goodbye to the new library and all my friends, as we headed north into the country, so that Dad could manage the pub of his dreams, and Mum could be a barmaid.

I’d like to say that things worked out well for us, but they didn’t. The pub management and ownership business wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and Mum liked working in an office far better than she liked working behind a bar. There wasn’t a decent library to be found, and I was back to square one with another converted old house and half the supply of books that I had already read. Consequently, when I was old enough, I rebelled and left town for the big smoke, leaving Mum and Dad behind to work out their differences and get back to home ownership and debt in two different states of the country for a while. I went off books for a few years, and discovered that there was a life that didn’t involved reading, although I did learn quite a bit about how to hang ten off a surfboard and how to hang onto a motorbike.

I have now come the full circle, and have once again settled into quiet suburbia and gone through the discipline of study. I have discovered a local library in the area, many miles out of the city. A small, one bedroomed building, with a nice garden out the front, and a veranda that you can sit on to quietly read or watch the world go by.

I’ve also discovered the world of internet book buying, and can be seen quite often with my gold card at the ready, typing my details into a ‘secure’ browser, in lieu of  my latest purchase. At this very moment I’m waiting in antcipation for the latest Bryce Courtenay offering, with few reference books on Stone Age history, an Artists bible and a book of quotes thrown in for good measure.

I find I’m still an avid reader of books. My tastes have changed and my subject matter has expanded, but the thrill of opening a new book and immersing myself in it’s journey never leaves me. I can expand my mind or my imagination, simply by turning a few pages every now and again. Reading has given me an education, it has cheered me up when I’m feeling down, excited me with a new discovery, and calmed me when I’ve been anxious. It’s a great form of meditation and medication for what ails me.

Have to go. The local library is only open for two hours today, and I’m running late.

The Dog’s Tale

Part One

I opened the back door and squinted into the sunlight. ‘Oh geez!’ I hadn’t counted on this. Mum was going to kill me.

 The clothes-line was hanging on its side with bits of my brother’s jeans hanging off the other end. And that was only one end. There were clothes everywhere. It looked like a helicopter crash I’d seen in a movie. Except it had no blood, and no bodies. Just a great big dog lying in the middle of it all with a pair of mum’s lacy nickers hanging out of his mouth. My stomach started to flip like when I was sick that time in the boat. I was supposed to be watching him, not watching the television.

  Mum had almost had a heart attack when she spotted me trying to sneak him down the side of the house.

  ‘You take that dog back to Mrs Green’s.’ She paused for effect and wagged her finger at me. ‘Do it now Michael. And no Playstation.’ Mum jingled the car keys in my face and huffed off down the driveway towards the car. She turned and frowned at me and the dog. ‘I’ll be back in an hour….maybe less.’

  I nodded my head, like I always did. Mum never gave me an exact time, just to keep me guessing, and hopefully out of trouble. This was her logic, although Dad reckoned it hadn’t worked very well so far.

   Well, it was working this time. My legs felt like jelly as my stomach twisted into knots. I looked at my watch. How long did I have? I thought my brain was going to explode. What could be worse? Mum finding her undies chewed and slobbered on in Butch’s mouth, or my brother dunking my head in the toilet over his ratty pair of jeans?

  Bits of mud and dog saliva stuck to my fingers as I stuffed the clothes into the washing machine. I pressed a few random buttoms and started to breathe again as the lights came on and the machine hummed. I’d heated up a few pizzas in the microwave, how hard could it be? I stuffed my brother’s jeans behind the cupboard. I’d have to think about them later.

 The clothes-line made a loud pinging noise, but slowly creaked back into place as I pushed all my weight down on the high end. It looked ok, even if it wobbled a bit when I rotated it a couple of times. I looked at Butch and frowned. Maybe a Great Dane had been a bit too ambitious. Mrs Green had better find somebody else to dogsit. No amount of extra pocket money was worth this. I threw and old peg at him and swore under my breath. He stopped rolling around in the dirt and looked up at me. He eyed the peg, yawned and started licking himself. Great. He was either too stupid to know what he’d done wrong, or he knew that size mattered, no matter what. Either way, he wasn’t used to being told what to do. I needed to get him out of here and back to Mrs Green’s before he realised that he was bigger than our back fence.

To be continued….