Sunday, June 29, 2008

Their sister has been carried away by giant wasps

On our way back from the supermarket yesterday, at the end of a long and enjoyable day in the city, we passed a couple of buskers: vaguely shaggy twentysomething guys set up on a bench in the dwindling triangle of park next to the train station.

F gripped my arm, urgently.
"Mum! We have to give them some money!"
This wasn't unusual. He likes to give money to buskers, especially the ones who seem to be down and out, or play one of his favourite songs. I encourage it: it's nice.
"Their sister has been carried away by giant wasps!" he continued.
"Their sister has bee carried away by giant wasps and they need money to buy fly spray!"
"WHAT? Where did you get THAT from?"
"They've got a sign."

He was utterly earnest. I looked down at his small, solemn face, his hair brushing over his eyebrows and stroking his cheeks.
"And you think that's true?"
Of course, Mum."
"I'll tell you what. You can give them some money if you ask them if it's true."
"Okay!" He ran back through the dark, his shopping bag banging against his leg, while I waited in the pool of train passengers who had spilled off the platform, and were waiting for the gates at the level crossing to let them over the road. I watched him bend to drop his money into the open guitar case; the boys smiling their thanks over their instruments.

"Sorry Mum," he said, rejoining me. "I couldn't do it. If it is true they're probably really sad about it. They probably don't want to talk about it."
"Hmmmm. Yes. And you really think it's true?"
"Why wouldn't it be true?"
I consider this. All the many, many reasons.
"Well ... they're being funny."
"Is that FUNNY?"
"Well ... giant wasps ... it's not very likely. Have you ever heard of someone being carried off by a giant wasp? And the wasp would have to be pretty big. And if it was that big, I don't think fly spray would kill it."
"Maybe." He was unconvinced.
"Do you believe it now?"

"If you found out they were making it up, would you be sorry we gave them money?"
"What if it was your money? Then would you be sorry?"
"Really? Because they're good at making music?"
"So if I told you that the money, that the $1.50, was actually your pocket money this week - all that you have left after paying for the train ticket you lost - that's fine with you?"
"Uh huh."
"Oh." I looked at his perfectly serene countenance, puzzling over how children can surprise you. "Well ... it's not your pocket money. You still have your $1.50."

And we changed the subject, to football (sigh) and continued on down Anderson Street towards home.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The shuddering wouldn't stop ...

No, that's not a description of my life right now, it's the beginning of my results from a random page meme Mark Lawrence has just tagged me for (and that he got from Galaxy).

You grab the nearest book, turn to page 123 and post the fifth sentence.

So, from page 123 of Novel About My Wife (Emily Perkins):

The shuddering wouldn't stop, even at home, even in bed through that cold, cold night.

The one that's more like my life (from under a cold) on the same page:

My meagre productivity slowed to a trickle, nothing more than surrounding myself with pages of redrafts and spending hallucinatory afternoons watching the telly at the foot of the bed.

I'm really not that sick though. Productivity has slowed to a trickle, but I only dream of abandoning myself to telly at the foot of the bed.

Okay, and a really GOOD sentence (or clutch of sentences) on the facing page, page 122:

I despised myself for the nervous middle-class grandad routine, getting down with the kids, but was aware of having no alternative. This was me: this was all I could do. For at least the last decade I'd been under the illusion that I was invisible to male aggressors, whether they were my own age or younger. It was the one decent thing about getting older: guys with something to prove didn't give a shit about you any more. Unless, like now, you were trapped on the other side of some bars like a monkey in the zoo, an early evening entertainment.

I tag ... anyone who wants to do this! Otherwise I'm just going to tag all the usual suspects AGAIN. Come back here and tell me if you've done it.

A good little five minute procrastination meme, this one.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Yarraville eatery reviews: 2

Midday yesterday, we did the trawl of Yarraville eateries, looking for somewhere to have lunch: my mother-in-law, her partner, their six-year-old foster child, The Husband and me.

I’m a big one for eating out – especially lunch. As I work from home, I figure that eating lunch in a cafe most days is really exactly what I’d do if I worked in an office, so it’s allowed. And Saturday breakfasts with the newspapers is a ritual I’ve had since I moved to Melbourne 11 years ago.

We had a horrible experience at one place, a great one at another, which inspired me to start this free-form, very amateur, completely self-absorbed review of the three cafes I go to most in Yarraville.

Cafe Urbano (Anderson Street):
okay for grown-ups, bad for kids, patchy service

Coffee: 9/10
Kid friendly: 6/10 (it has chips)
Ave price of meal: $10
Service: 5/10 (inconsistent – can be terrible)
Setting/atmosphere: 7/10 (you can sit in the window and people-watch on Anderson Street)
Flexibility/adaptability: 0 (eg. they charge $2-$3 for extra bread with soup!)

First we headed for Cafe Urbano. I get take-away coffee from here most mornings to kickstart my day. (Once again, if I worked from an office ...) And it’s a good Saturday spot – they do a traditional big breakfast with poached eggs, sautéed potatoes and roast tomatoes on crusty toast. I like to sit in the window and watch the world go by as I graze on the arts sections of the newspapers.

Yesterday, they pushed two tables together to accommodate the six of us: good start. But the waitress was pretty belligerent about not being able to adapt to accommodate the kids. We didn’t want to feed them a bowl of chips. They’d had crumpets at home for breakfast.

Toasted cheese sandwiches?
“Sorry, we can’t do that. We have a griller.”
Okay, no problem. Grilled cheese on toast?
“No, sorry. We can’t.”
But, you have a griller ... you do toast ... you have cheese ...
“No, we can’t. We can’t do that under our griller.”
Bullshit. Sigh. Try again. Okay, we choose the burger and chips, without the egg or onion jam.
“It’s very big,” she warns.
Oh, okay. Split it.
She frowns.
“Can you please cut it in half for us?” I ask.
“Oh no, we can’t really do that.”
“It’s a kind of open burger.”
So, it’s not two hunks of bread with stuff in between?
“Yes, it is. It’s on a roll. It’s kind of a big roll.”
So, can you cut the roll in half?
“No. It won’t work.” And she looks at us dumbly.

All through this tortuous negotiation, there’s no suggestions, no attempt at all to try to help. It’s as if she takes a kind of mute pleasure in popping up these obstacles. I’ve worked in powerless jobs. They suck. There’s a biggish turnover here. Maybe this is her power trip. Maybe she’s bored and tired and can’t be bothered helping. Maybe she’s stupid.

But we’ve had enough. I glance back at the menu and up again. We exchange looks around the table.
“Shall we just go?”
I look back at the waitress. “I’m sorry, I think we’d better leave it. This is too hard.”

And we all get up, grab our football cards spread over the table, jackets and bags, and file out the door, leaving out two pushed-together tables behind us. The chairs have been left out. I realise I will want to come back here for take-away coffee and – let’s face it – another breakfast, so I walk around the table and push them back in as I follow the others.

“Goodbye,” says the owner, and I smile and wave. Both of us are speaking through gritted teeth.

Hausfrau (Ballarat Street, off Anderson St):
fantastic food and service, good for kids

Coffee: 9/10
Kid friendly: 8/10 (it has sausage rolls)
Ave price of meal: $6
Service: 10/10
Setting/atmosphere: 9/10
Flexibility/adaptability: n/a (never tried it out)

I come to Hausfrau often. Nearly every day, in fact. It’s an upmarket bakery cafe: stylish, cheerful and cosy; decked out with brightly coloured cushions on the window bench seat; jaunty 1950s aprons as decorations; and beautiful big floral lampshades on the ceiling lights. Much like the famous cake shops of Acland Street, St Kilda, the food is a decoration, too: especially the window of cakes behind the counter, ranging from old-fashioned treats (lemon meringue pie) to more exotic fare (chocolate torte ganache, pear and almond chocolate tart).

We sit by the door, me and the two kids along the powder-blue vinyl bench seat, the other grown-ups ranged around us. We all find something to eat easily. Sausage rolls with tomato relish for the boys, who squint suspiciously at the carrot embedded in the meat (vegetables by stealth!), but eat them anyway. Pumpkin and leek tarts for me and the mother-in-laws. A beef and mushroom pie for The Husband. And then cakes for everyone, the best part of the meal. Our meals are about $5 each, plus another $5.50 for the cakes.

So, we spend less than we would have at Urbano, get dessert, and benefit from the cheerful (and patient, I must say) good service of the staff. After we’ve eaten, the two boys push their bottoms up to the window ledge immediately and sit, hunched over comics on their lap, their feet resting on the seat. (And yes, I peel off their shoes immediately and wipe the dirt off from the milliseconds of contact F’s muddy shoes made when we leave).

While I’m reviewing it ... the daily vegetable soup (revolving flavours) is really good, and well priced. And if you get it to take away, it’s $4 for a small cup and $6 for a large. If you buy a loaf of bread to take home and cut your own to eat with it, it’s a good lunch and a good deal.

The coffee is excellent – and the owner, Christian, is nearly always at the helm of the coffee machine, making sure it’s consistently good.

And the service ... the people here are friendly, accommodating, nice to kids, and when I, bleary-eyed, do things like forget my purse and have to come back for it, they very kindly don’t blink an eyelid. And one of the women there signed F’s petition against the dredging of the bay and has chatted to him about it since, finding out what happened with it. So, Hausfrau has my heart forever, of course.

My favourite thing here is the lemon meringue pie. My mum makes the best lemon meringue pie evey year, at Christmas. Every year, we all hang out for it. Twice now, I have convinced her to make me one for my birthday. Which my whole family has appreciated: TWO chances a year to eat pie!

I took Mum here a few months ago. She tried a forkful of my pie.
"Well ... what do you think?"
"Hmmm," she said, cocking her head to think. "Mine has a bit more of a kick to it."

A month later, Dad came to stay. (He and Mum are separated - have been for about four years.) I took him to Hausfrau. He ordered the pie. I asked him what he thought.
"It's great!"
"Mum said hers' is better. She said hers' has more of a kick to it."
"Well," he said. "She is right."

Feedback (Ballarat St, off Anderson St):
great atmosphere, great service, great food

Coffee: 6.5/10
Kid friendly: 8/10 (they’ll make grilled cheese on toast)
Ave price of meal: $10
Service: 10/10
Setting/atmosphere: 10/10
Flexibility/adaptability: 10/10

I like to alternate Feedback with Hausfrau for lunch. I didn’t so much as pop my head in there on Saturday, but I can’t do a casual review of Yarraville eateries without mentioning it.

Feedback has the atmosphere of a Fitzroy or Brunswick cafe, transplanted to Yarraville. It’s mellow, laid-back and effortlessly hip. (Well, I’m sure there’s effort, but it’s subtle.) My latte can sometimes come with a third of a glass of froth, but the cosy setting, my favourite people-watching seat on a stool by the window and the chicken and leek pie make up for my frothy coffee. And the people here are great: really friendly and effusive but also give you your space. If you want to chat, they’ll chat. If you want to sit and look out the window or write in a notebook, they’ll take away your empty latte glass with a nod and a smile. (I’m generally a sitter, but I hear the chatters in the background.)

One really cool thing about Feedback that I just love: the walls are lined with books and magazines. Kids’ books and grown-ups’ magazines, from Vogue to Famous to SPIN to Time. And they have The Age. F has always been able to come here and pluck a book from a shelf and start reading. How often does a place provide for kids to do that? It’s special.

They do scrambled eggs. They have home-made salsa. I’ve asked them to make me scrambled eggs with salsa (hey, they do it in Mexico) and even though they laughed, they did it – and told me to tell them what I thought of it, because they were really curious. (It’s good.)

I had a lunch meeting here once with a colleague I like and mostly speak to via email. It was our day off. We were talking for three hours and didn’t notice. And nobody made us feel unwelcome. When we apologised (we’d only bought two coffees in that time), they just laughed and waved us off.

Here’s some notes I took at Feedback one day. That might be the best way to describe why I like it, because it’s less any one thing than the whole picture:

Bob Dylan is on the stereo, then some sixties crooner: a scratchy old recording. The retro laminated tables and counter are lipstick red and marbled grey. A pink-and-orange painted phoenix squats halfway up one of the buttercup yellow walls, lined with magazines and children’s books. The hiss of the coffee machine, the squirt of foaming milk, the hum of a blender punctuate the staccato symphony of conversation over food and drinks, much of it unhurried, unfurling in the warmth and calm. Outside, a youngish man in a suit opens the Age wide over his table, his pages spilling over the barrier into the street. His suit is neat, his hair deliberately messy, stiff with product. Tan trainers are on his feet. A local activist I remember seeing at a recent protest is kissing her companions goodbye on the footpath. Her hot pink t-shirt complements her spiked hair and fluorescent toenails. Garish flowers run riot up and down her legs. The dreadlocked waitress chats about dance and drumming workshops behind me. She seems, in my long, hazy experience of her, one of those socially talented people: effortlessly charming and at ease with all comers; manages to seem as if she loves her job here – something not many in the service industry manage. I turn back and my suited slacker is gone, his empty latte glass pinning his folded newspaper to the table.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

F Ramsay reviews Yarraville

I don't know about anyone else, but since we became hooked on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, The Husband and I can't help approaching local eateries with the thought 'what would Gordon Ramsay say?'

The local pub is a faux Irish affair that adheres to the old 'charge double for the same food as you get in the front bar in the dining room' rule. Business seems to have picked up considerably in the last couple of years, but I strongly suspect it's due more to the rocketing fortunes of Yarraville itself than anything to do with the pub. It's the kind of place where they manage to stuff up chips and a parma. Quite a skill, really.(The Husband was once served a chicken parma with a large round hole in the middle of it, and when he complained, was told it just came like that. It cost $18.50.)

Last night, I took the family out to a celebratory dinner at the pub. I had just achieved my (rather modest) stated career ambition by finally getting publication in a place I've been chasing for some years. And The Husband officially finished uni last week.

"I'm buying," I rather grandly stated. "It's locals night at the pub." Big spenders, us. "We're celebrating!"
"What are we celebrating?" asked F, without lifting his eyes from his comic.
"Oh, well, I'm going to be published in ***."
To my surprise, he jumped up and threw his arms around me.
"Well DONE, Mum! That's great!"
"And The Husband has finsihed uni."
"For good?"
"WOW!" He turned to The Husband, who lifted his arm for a high five. F leaned past his outstretched hand to envelop him in a long hug. "That's brilliant."
He sat back on the couch and picked up his comic again. "And I have a guitar concert, too."
"Yes, that's right. Excellent."

We told F he could bring three comics if he promised he would talk to us over dinner.
"Of COURSE I will."

At the pub, The Husband and I chatted wearily about our respective days under a sepia frieze of nineteenth-century Ireland, while Today Tonight flickered on a suspended television overhead. (This was the setting of the dining room, the classy double-cost area of the pub. No seats left in the front bar.)

F sat, head down, absorbed in his comic. We tried to draw him out, to no avail.
"You promised to talk to us," I reminded him. Heavy sigh. Eyes flicker up and back again.
"F ..."
I swept the comic from under him and put it on the chair. He glared at us.
"When you go out for dinner, you need to talk to the people you go with. If I go out for dinner with my friends, I can't just sit there and read a book. I have to talk to them."
"FINE. What do you want to TALK about?"
"I don't know."

We all sat in silence a moment. Then, for lack of imagination, we grilled him about school and friends. It had been a week since we last saw him. The social landscape had, as we suspected, shifted a little. One friend has disappeared; a longstanding enemy has become a friend.

"REALLY?" We were hooked. (At least, I know I was.) "What HAPPENED?"
"Well, I don't know. He's just nice now. We play footy together. The only thing that's still annoying is that during tests, he always asks for the answers. I'm one of three people he always asks for the answers."
"Is he at your table?"
"Are the others he asks for answers?"
"One of them. The other one, he gets up and goes over to his table and asks for the answers."
"During the test?"

The food arrived. F stabbed into his chicken nuggets hungrily.
"They look good," said The Husband. The chicken parma on his plate did not look good. It looked slightly shrivelled. And soggy.
F chews thoughtfully.
"They're not."
"I thought you liked them last time?"
"Last time, yes. They must have a new chef. This one sucks."
F has never not liked chicken nuggets.
"And the chips, are they good?"
"No." He gives a thumbs down.
"Can I try one?
They must be bad, I thought. He never lets me try one, not without stern warnings and carefully picking the chip himself. I bit into one and put it back on the plate.
"Yeah, they're bad," I winced. "They're COLD." And chalky, as if they've been microwaved rather than oven-fried.
"And GREASY. It's all very GREASY."

"So, F, pretend you're Gordon Ramsay. What would you say about the food?"
"Right. Well, what would you do to make it better? What would be your advice?"
He considered a moment, then looked up from his plate, where he was swirling wilted chips in sauce.
"Get a new chef."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Madness at the MCG


Haul self out of bed, where I planted myself in a sulk last night after The Husband and I had a minor squabble that felt bigger than it was. The Husband is up already, stirring his rice porridge on the stove, ready for Auskick’s guest spot at the MCG.
“Hello!” he chirps. “I love you. Do we love each other today?”
“Yes,” I grunt. Back in the bedroom, I flinch as I pull on my jeans from the bedroom floor, where they seem to have absorbed the morning cold. A glance in the mirror, a brush of eye-shadow, fingers through my hair, and I’m out the door for take-away coffee. The Husband and I rendezvous at the train station, hunched into our black parkas.


Train arrives. Sit backwards. Feel queasy. Determinedly sulk out the window.
“Sitting backwards makes me feel ill.”
“Oh, is that why you’re so grumpy?”
“Oh. Okay.”
The Husband resumes his serene gaze over the industrial straits of Kensington and North Melbourne.


We walk from Flinders Street station to the MCG, along the river. The scenery is beautiful: bare-limbed European trees stark against the bleak sky; the Yarra a serene sheet of grey glass. Old-fashioned brick buildings, once sky-scrapers, squatting far below the cold modern columns of the CBD in the distance: the old Herald Sun building, with its block white letters silhouetted in the smoggy air, the gloomy post-splendour of the Forum. A Ferris wheel with pink-and-blue-and green seats stands by the river, beside a gelati and donut van and a roundabout, all of them empty. We cross the bridge over the tennis centre to the MCG and breathy voices whisper and chant by our knees, didgeridoo music swirling behind the song. The disembodied voices, indigenous storytellers, are emanating from loudspeakers built into the bridge. My head spins with the paradox of it: the expelled original inhabitants of the land singing over the sodden green lawns of the tennis courts below. The bridge feels quite literally haunted by those who came before us. In my bleary discontent, I am thrown off balance by it. I stop in the middle of the bridge and catch my breath.
“I don’t like this.”
The Husband laughs.


As we round the concrete stadium of the MCG, the conquerors’ playground, I feel that time to clear the air is running out. Any minute now, we will be deep in a sea of parents and kids.
“I was angry with you,” I blurt out.
The Husband looks at me.
I tell him my side of last night's argument.
“Okay, fair enough.”
“Yes. I’m sorry. I was just sharing my opinions.”
“Okay then.”
I fear I have overreacted, and wasted a good 12 hours on misdirected sulking.


The Husband is crushed when he’s told that the game plan has changed, and the AFL honchos running the day have decided parent helpers aren’t allowed on the ground today. He’s not a registered Auskick coach, so he’s stuck on the sidelines with us. He was looking forward to getting out on the lawn almost as much as F was. He’s been talking about this all week.

F bowls us over with a flying hug.
I look at his legs, pale and purple-tinged. He is wearing navy cotton school shorts with a khaki padded parka.
“Have you got my lucky skivvy?! Look at my footy shorts!”
“They’re ... great.”
I have a thing about F wearing shorts in the cold. He has no sense of the weather at all, only what he wants to wear. It’s part Asperger’s, part small boy. His dad, who is English, likes to argue that at his boarding school in Scotland, boys wore ‘short pants’ all year round and it never did them any harm. We have had shouting-over-the-phone fights about our differing views on appropriate winter clothing. I let this one go through to the keeper. After all, there are other boys in footy shorts. And he’s going to be running around anyway.
The Husband pulls F’s lucky skivvy out of the plastic bag we’ve brought with us, along with his prized footy boots. The lucky skivvy is yolk-coloured, close-fitting, with a number one drawn on the back with a black permanent texta and a picture of grass and a leg kicking a footy drawn on the chest. Artwork courtesy of F, of course. The mythic game where F kicked seven goals, he was wearing that skivvy, he told The Husband on the phone this morning, so it’s lucky, and must be worn to the G.

I watch him, in his yellow skivvy and navy knee-length shorts and long white socks, playing a ferocious game of handball with The Husband at the outside wall of the stadium. His hair brushes his eyebrows in its grown-out mop-top. I realise, ironically, that he looks like a little autistic boy*, surrounded as he is by kids in top-of-the range official AFL gear and smart, camera-ready combed hair. He doesn’t care. Neither do I, not really.

A beatific carrot-topped marshmallow totters past, throwing a small red ball at the MCG wall. He barrels into the concrete and turns back again, as if on auto-pilot. A blonde woman snatches his ball and puts it in her pocket. I am appalled. How dare she steal a strange baby’s ball? The blonde woman looks up. It is The Stepmother. I’m impressed. We exchange wary smiles and she looks away again, following Baby Brother’s trajectory into the crowd, as he heads for the yellow Auskick ball passing between F and The Husband. The Ex ambles over with his own ball, just for Baby Brother. The Stepmother appears at my shoulder.
“Hey,” she says. “I’m going to get coffee from the van. You want one?”
I don’t really, but appreciate the gesture so much that I decide to have one anyway.
“Sure. Thanks.” I fumble in my over-stuffed bag.
“Nah, I’ll get it. Don’t worry about it.” And the crowd swallows her up.


Kids and parents enter the MCG via different lines. F squirms with excitement in the line beside us. We offer parting encouragements.
“Have fun!”
“You’ll be great!”
“Remember to have a positive attitude!”
We don’t want it to be like last year, when the game ended with him wandering a corner of the vast oval, blinded by howling tears, snot running into his open mouth. Punching himself repeatedly in the head, growling “I suck at this! I’m no good! I hate myself!”. Last year we didn’t know he had Asperger’s, or at least we didn’t yet believe it. Last year, we hadn’t briefed the coaches on his condition, or convinced them of the fact that his tantrums were due to something other than over-indulgent parenting.


We sit in at the bottom of the stands, just metres away from where F is training. There is The Husband, me, the Ex, The Stepmother and Baby Brother. The Husband stands up in his seat, his eyes hopefully on the oval.
“What are you doing?” I hiss. “Sit down next to me.”
“I’m looking to see if the security guards disappear so I can get onto the ground.”
I leave him to it and look around glumly, unable to get into it. I don’t really know most of the parents here.
“I don’t think we can have another child.”
“I don’t think I can bear the idea of starting again with having to make friends with parents. You know, starting at the beginning again.”
The Husband doesn’t reply. He is intent on the fun he’s missing out on.


The Husband and I have moved closer to the action, away from The Ex and The Stepmother. The drills are going well. F is joking around with the kids on his line. They take turns jumping on each other’s backs, grabbing for imaginary balls. They shout excitedly to each other. It looks like there is real interaction going on, not like last year when it was F crash-landing endless jokes against a blank wall of bemused indifference.
‘This is going great,” I say. “Much better than last year.”
“Yeah, it is.”

Baby Brother appears in the row of seats in front of us, propelled by unsteady legs. He is like a jagged game of Tetris: zooming back and forth in one direction, then another, seemingly automatically, often for the sake of movement itself. A shiny red football gleams atop an open bag: a patent leather apple. Baby Brother moves towards it as if hypnotised. He stretches out a small hand to stroke it. The owner of the ball laughs as he pulls it away onto his lap.
“You can’t blame him,” I say. “It’s a great ball.”
He grins back with an edge of forbearance. Baby Brother’s face crumples for no longer than a beat, then he turns and waddles back along the row of seats, into the arms of his mum.

I move to the edge of the seating and take photos. Through the lens, the small figure that is F stops, looks straight at me and waves proudly. They are handing out black and red bibs. The game is starting.


And it is sadly, predictably, awful. The four parental figures and one toddler negotiate the maze of seating together to follow the leaping figures on the field to the twinned goal posts where the game is being played. We lean over the pooled water on the ledge of the oval fence and shout encouragement across the ground.
“You can do it!”
“Get in there!”
“Good on you, F!”
“Remember your attitude!”

We marvel at his doggedness, the way he throws himself in front of the ball, under the scrum, his arms clutching for it at every chance, however slim. He is a rag doll, forever flung to the ground, picked back up and flung forward again. Physically, he is remarkably hardy. But it doesn’t take too many setbacks before the first tears come, and once he cracks, he is soon broken.

Normally, they’re not allowed to tackle. The referee, who isn’t usually with this group of kids and doesn’t really know them, shouts for F to get in there and tackle. So he launches himself at the kid and takes him down like a ten-pin bowl. And gets a penalty. Because the coach didn’t literally mean ‘tackle’, he meant ‘knock the ball out of his hands’. And F doesn’t know the difference. He passes the ball to a team-mate near the goal and the team-mate kicks a goal. F was trying a manoeuvre where the kid was meant to kick it back to him once he repositioned himself. So, he was inconsolable over that. There were other moments, including one where he charged a team-mate who had kicked a wide ball to him, stopping just short of thumping him. Once, he listened to me when I said “F! NO! DON’T DO IT!” The other times, I was shouting into a vacuum. Making a fool of myself, I’m sure, but I couldn’t help it.
“You can’t get upset,” says The Husband. “It won’t help him.”
I nod despairingly, watching him drag his feet across the field, pinned by the weight of his melancholy.


At the end of the game, he bleeds towards us, howling his frustration.
“This is the worst game ever! It’s the worst day of my life! My team-mates wouldn’t pass to me! No one would pass to me!”
His coach tries to comfort him, as he has throughout the game, but now that there’s no next step to hurry him onto, no game to pull him back to for a moment, he has come completely undone.
“Come for your team photo mate,” urges the coach.
“No, I don’t want to.”
“It’s to remember the day by.”
“I don’t want to remember this day. I never want to remember this day.”
“Come on, mate.”

F stops to the side of the gathered crowd, the whole of Yarraville/Footscray Auskick, smiling for the cameras crowded on the other side of the oval fence.
“My feet are pinned to the ground,” he wails, holding his whole body determinedly still, his arms rigid by his side, his fists balled. The coach scoops him up in his big arms and carries him over to the group, where he stands him back on his feet. The Husband, the Ex, The Stepmother and I cheer and whoop. We call out that he’s played a good game. Last year, we greeted this kind of behaviour with stern admonitions. I’m still not sure which approach we should be taking.

F plants himself apart from the group, to the side. Separated by a good metre or two from the rest. His arms crossed, he scowls at the cameras.

The Husband and The Ex leap up the maze to meet him as he leaves the oval. The Stepmother and I stand looking at each other. For a moment, we don’t talk; but it’s not awkward, not really. We are joined in this moment. Despair, frustration, confusion, melancholy, embarrassment.

“He said he doesn’t want to remember this day, but he'll remember it now,” she says. “And the pictures will tell the story.”
“Yep. I wish I could pay the psychologist to come here, watch a game, and give me notes afterwards on how to handle this.”
We both laugh.
“I wonder what it must be like for you ...” begins The Stepmother, a little uncertainly. “Do you understand what’s going through his head, what he’s thinking ... you know ... You must understand the way he thinks.”
It’s the first time that she has ever acknowledged that I have Asperger’s, too, and one of the most personal conversations we’ve ever had. Or that I’ve had with anyone outside my family, really.
“Yes,” I say, after a pause. “I do, to some extent. I understand the thinking behind it. But I don’t know what to do about it or what to say or how to help him.”
“I hate team sports myself, I’m terrible at them,” she says. “So, I would never be in a situation like that anyway.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We slowly ascend the stadium, together, bonded by caring about what just happened, by having to deal with the fallout, and by hating team sports.

At the top of the steps, we pause and talk about dealing with F, how much of his behaviour is about Asperger’s and how much it’s kid stuff, and she talks about the division of labour in the house – how she’s mostly with Baby Brother so The Ex can spend time with F. Which I knew, but seems more benign, more practically driven, the way she outlines it. Even as we’re talking, I’m moved by the boundaries that seem to have dissolved between us, maybe not entirely, but certainly a little. And the emotion and interest in her voice heartens me, reassures me that even if she doesn’t ‘get’ F, she does want to.


The boys rejoin us and we leave the MCG together, F's family, The Stepmother and I ambling behind the four men.

They pause at the ice-cream van.
“I think one of those would make me feel better,” F tells his dad, with a weariness that is only part affected, and he buys him a chocolate-coated soft serve with coloured sprinkles. I watch him bite into the surface.
“Hmmm, I’m glad it’s you and not me today.”

And we peel off in separate directions, F lost in his sugary consolation as we call out our farewells.

* by this I mean that autistic (or Asperger's) kids/adults often don't care much about what they wear, or about wearing clothes to fit in with what everyone else is wearing.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Love Our Way

It’s a special day at Auskick. F’s father is overseas and he hasn’t seen his little brother for just over a fortnight. He asked me on Friday night if I would invite his stepmother and brother to come to Auskick.
“No offence Mum. I really like this house and it’s really fun ... but I miss Baby Brother.”

His stepmother has never been to Auskick before, though Baby Brother usually comes once a fortnight, with his dad. They live on the Other Side of the Westgate Bridge. I doubt that she’ll come.

To my surprise, she emails back to say that she’ll be there if the weather is fine. (Baby Brother has a cold.) Saturday morning is crisp but radiant: a golden haze bathes the world in a cold glow.

I like the fantasy of a Love My Way kind of blended family. You know: they have dinner at each other’s houses and joint family celebrations, they babysit for each other, the stepmother and real mother occasionally meet for coffee. Sure, there’s the occasional barbed comment, but generally they’re one big family, where all the people who have to see each other on a regular basis all feel comfortable with each other, and invested in each other’s happiness.

We’re pretty good, as these things go, but we’re certainly not the fantasy. F lives with his dad and I on a weekly rotating basis. His dad and I talk on the phone a fair bit about how he’s going at school and how much sugar he’s having and who needs to put in what forms to school. We do run joint birthday parties for F, though we draw the line at Christmas. And we swap days a lot – when his dad goes overseas, when either of us has an after-school-hours meeting or an evening engagement. (And, for those who watch LMW – I’m a slightly dishevelled dark-haired arty type; the stepmother is a cool, organised blonde with a real job.)

Anyway, it’s well known that The Stepmother and F are not the best of friends, which is why I’m surprised that she decides to come to Auskick. He says she’s “cranky”. She says she “doesn’t understand him”. F was almost the deal-breaker in their relationship, but somehow they got past it: bought a house in a blue-chip suburb, got engaged the same day, then married and had a baby. Just add water for an instant happy family. Except it’s not.

It’s a segregated household. When F is there, The Stepmother looks after Baby Brother and The Ex takes care of F. Sometimes they meet in the middle for family time. Until The Ex quit his job three weeks ago, I picked F up from school every day. Every second week, when he finished work, the Ex would drive across the Westgate to pick F up at 5.30pm or 6pm and bring him home for dinner and bed. The Stepmother works from her lounge room at home, often with Baby Brother in the background. But F is not part of her equation, or her responsibility, unless specifically called upon.


F’s godmother is also coming to watch him play this morning. She emailed last night to ask me what his team colours are. “There are no team colours,” I write back. “They do wear black or red bibs, though. And his team is North Melbourne. They’re blue and white.”
I spot her as I climb through the hole in the cyclone wire fence separating the skate ramp and the football oval. Her neck is swaddled in an enormous blue and white scarf over a navy knit top. She is buttoned into a 1960s style knitted coat, white with navy pin stripes. It skirts her hips in a jaunty A-line. She is scanning the field from behind large prescription sunglasses. She is a vision of childlessness in a sea of tracksuits, padded parkas and misshapen woollies. She is even wearing lipstick. When she sees me, she responds with the energetic wave of a morning person.

“Nice colours,” is the first thing I say. “I’m impressed.”
She gives a little half-twirl.
“Coffee?” I ask, after pointing out The Husband and F on the oval.
“Any good?”
“We-ell ... it’s okay. It’s not BAD. It’s pretty good for coffee you can get at a kids’ football game.”
“I can only do one coffee a day.”
“Skip it.”
She follows me across the bitumen fringe of the oval and past the huddle of parents standing around the card table where they will later sell $2 hot dogs and alarmingly coloured ‘fruit’ drinks. There is no line in front of the small van parked in the oval’s driveway: a coffee machine, some jars of marshmallows and cartons of milk, and stacks of Styrofoam cups. A small boy takes my money as I place my order for a latte with his apron-clad mother.
“Wow,” says The Godmother.
“I know.”

We sit on a bench facing the oval, within (far) sight of F and The Husband, deep in footy drills. I unwrap a muesli bar from my bag. The Godmother and I exhale gossip in heady clouds: people we work with, people we used to work with, our partners. We talk in the uninterrupted flow of freelancers on day release – which we are. It’s exhilarating, having real world conversations like this at a kids’ event. Worlds are colliding, and I like it. F spots us and sprints across the oval, his face urgent.
“Hi, Godmother! Water, mum! I need water!”
I pull out the Auskick drink bottle he left by the front door this morning and hand it over. He gulps at it, hands it back, and disappears.

The Godmother and I jump the fence and follow him across the oval to stand at the edge of the training drills: rows of small figures, most of them in official AFL jumpers and shorts, stand facing each other across the grass. The coaches and their helpers – The Husband among them – stand in the centre. The lines wriggle back and forth, side to side, as the boys push and shove and wrestle each other. Headlocks, grabbing at torsos, skipping and dodging. I see F. He is a wrestler, his face intent. It’s just fun right now, but my stomach twists with the possibilities of it all.
“I hate the way boys do this,” I tell The Godmother. “I can’t watch him. By the way, The Stepmother is coming today. She’s bringing Baby Brother.”

That’s when we see her, standing just outside the fence of the oval, head darting about in search of a familiar face. She is easy to spot: a smooth blonde curtain of hair falling over a sensible black woollen coat; a marshmallow blob of puffy parka and oversized beanie wobbling at knee-height.
“We should wave, right?” I say. “We should go and bring her over here?”
“Yes,” says Godmother. “We should.”


The marshmallow is clutching a fist-sized green ball. He is beaming from beneath wisps of orange hair that have escaped over his forehead. He staggers determinedly across the oval, towards the boys and their balls. More specifically, he staggers towards the nearest bright yellow football and bends to pick it up. It is bigger than his head; the size of his torso. He drops it and kicks it along the ground, then follows it with a beatific smile. I have seen him do this before, but it still staggers me. F at his age had no more interest in a football than he did in a bug or a leaf – that is, some, but not much. And he certainly had no idea what to do with it.
“I remember when F was five, his teacher told me we needed to teach him ball skills. I used to kick the footy with him in the driveway after school, and he’d be practically in tears. I used to bribe him, saying that after one more kick he could go back inside to his books and comics.”
The Godmother laughs. I look over at F now, chasing the ball with the fierce, unyielding devotion that usually drives him to tears of frustration at least once a game.

The Stepmother and The Godmother and I settle into a rhythm of small talk, mostly about working from home, which we all do.
“How’s it going with The Ex working from home now?” I ask.
“Well, he hasn’t been here much.” Pause. “But he’s ... I guess you MUST have heard about the new MacAir laptop?”
“He loves his toys. Anyway, the week before he left he spent all this time playing with the computer and trying to get the Macs to talk to each other and I was in the lounge room, working, and the network was going down because he was playing with it.” She sighs. “So, I’m getting more work done now he’s gone. But a week’s long enough. I’m ready for him to come back now.” Baby Brother is snuggling into her chest, his little arms diving into her armpits.
“Muuummy!” he wails. She holds him close.
“It’s his cold. He’s a bit clingy,” she says. “I had to take him to the toilet with me this morning. I had to sit him on my lap.”
“Wow. That sounds awful.”
It’s conversations like this that convince me I don’t want to have another child.
This is alright, I think. This is really going well.

Baby Brother totters across the oval again as we talk. He stands, transfixed, between the goalposts. A flock of boys swoops back and forth in his direction, following the ball sideways towards him. The Stepmother runs to rescue him. While she’s gone, I start telling The Godmother about my fights with Australia Post this week, and the fact that I’m not getting my mail. The Stepmother comes back for the end of it.
“You should get a PO Box,” she suggests.
“I did. That’s the problem. The redirection isn’t working. Parcels are going to my house. Or they’re just going missing.”
“Oh, I hate that,” says The Stepmother. “I’m always having to chase missing parcels for work.
“The Husband won’t let me talk to Australia Post anymore,” I admit. “After I swore at them the other day.”
“You swore at them?”
“Yeah. I ... it was after a couple of weeks of phone calls, and they’d been really stuffing me around. They kept saying that everything should be working, and then this woman realises that the parcel redirection has never been activated at all. And that she couldn’t do anything about the missing parcels. She suggested I ask everyone to send everything registered mail.”
“You can’t do that.” The Godmother.
“I know.”
“Yeah, I get that at Christmas. Parcels going missing and they tell me that nobody took them. Yeah right! I bet lots of people would like a new tent for Christmas!” The Stepmother manages a camping supplies business.

“So, what did you say?” The Godmother asks me.
“Oh, I told them to go fuck themselves.”
“Yeah, I said fuck you. She was going to hang up on me. She said ‘goodbye, Ariel’. And I said ‘Oh, fuck you.’ I know.”
We’re all laughing now. I am emboldened.
“Yeah, that’s right, before I said that, the thing that made her decide to hang up on me, I said ‘if you weren’t owned by the government, you’d have to be accountable. I pay for a service, you wouldn’t be allowed to not deliver it’. So she said ‘goodbye Ariel’ and then ... then I said ‘do I have to call A Current Affair on you to get a result?’ And then she said ‘goodbye Ariel’ again. And THEN I said fuck you.”
The Godmother and the Stepmother are looking at me in disbelief.
“I know ... I know ... I don’t know why I said that. I don’t know why I threatened to call A Current Affair on someone.”
I decide not to tell them that, after I swore, a small voice piped up from across the room and a small head bobbed above the couch and said “MUM!”
And that I said: “I know darling, that was so naughty of me. I said it after they hung up, but it was so naughty of me.”
“You said it after they hung up, huh?”
“That’s $2 in the swear jar.”

I’ve revealed bad behaviour to the other side of the family, though only part of it. But we’re all laughing, we all hate Australia Post, and we’re all exclaiming over Baby Brother’s ball skills and cheering for F when he gets the ball. This is going just fine.


At an Auskick earlier this year, the second of the season, things between The Stepmother and I didn’t seem to be going so fine. She wasn’t there, of course. She’d been a bit short with me on the phone lately, and I asked The Ex if she had a problem with me.
“Oh, no more than usual,” he replied distractedly. “You know, no more than she usually does.”
“What do you mean by THAT?”
“You know, nothing more than the usual.” His eyes glanced off me and skittered over the field.
“What problem does she USUALLY have?” I asked.
He turned and looked at me blankly, deliberately, stretching out the moment.
I walked off and took a seat by the goalposts alone, too irritated to follow the conversation further. I sat and glared into the game.

About ten minutes later, The Ex came to squat beside me, Baby Brother following some metres behind him on precariously steady legs.
“He-eyyy, what’s GOING ON between you two?” asked The Ex. Nothing much, I’d thought before this. I told him that it was just her tone on the phone lately, and that last time we’d come to pick F up, instead of inviting me in, she shut the door in my face and went inside to get him.
“Oh dear,” said The Ex mildly, and drifted off again, drifting back a minute or two later. Just standing there.
“I mean, I’m always nice to her. The Husband is always nice to you. And it’s not like she’s the best stepmother in the world either. F isn’t dumb. He knows she doesn’t like him and he reacts to it. I guess it’s not her fault if she doesn’t like him. But still.”
I didn’t mean to say any of this. But after I had, I was shocked at The Ex’s reaction. He didn’t deny it; he didn’t try to spin it. He just stood there, accepting it. Which chilled me to the bone, because I’d hoped I was imagining - or at least exaggerating - the situation between F and The Stepmother.

I’d nursed a subterranean, complicated anger at The Stepmother ever since.


The Stepmother and The Godmother and I are chatting. I mention that I am doing something mundane, like taxes or cooking meals more often. Something too boring for me to remember what it was.
“Why?” asks The Godmother.
“She’s becoming a GROWN UP!” says The Stepmother, gleefully. I look at her. Did she really say that? Has she forgotten who she’s with? Does she think she’s in the kitchen with The Ex?
“I wouldn’t want to be a grown up if it means being like you,” I think, cattily. “So what if I don’t own a house and I don’t earn a lot of money? At least I’m interesting. At least my work is interesting. At least I’M NOT LIVING WITH YOUR HUSBAND!”
We move on, quickly.


It’s the final moments of the game. F gets the ball in a daring semi-tackle. He runs towards the goal posts, aims and kicks. It’s a goal! The three of us cheer and call his name. He runs in a circle on the field, his grin visible from the sidelines. He directs princely nods at his team mates, acknowledging their admiration even before they give it. The boys gather in a tight circle, then scatter. F runs towards us. The game is over. He runs, smiling, in a straight line. He is going to hug someone. He bends and embraces his brother in a running tackle, picking him up and running him towards us. Baby Brother’s arms flail at right angles from under his embrace; his legs dangle as if bracing for a fall. His orange head nestles in F’s chest. Happy (muffled) squeals emerge from his resting place. F puts him down and smiles into his face, their eyes just centimetres apart.
“Did you see me kick a goal at the siren?” he asks us.
“Yeah!” says Godmother. “We all cheered your name. Didn’t you hear us?”
“No! Did you? Thanks for coming, Godmother. Thanks for bringing Baby Brother, Stepmother.”
And the brothers are off, following The Husband across the oval to kick the footy one last time.

The Stepmother, Godmother and I continue to chat. We talk about the boy next door, who I love.
“Oh ... he’s so difficult,” says the Stepmother.
“REALLY?” I say.
“Oh, well he used to be.”
“I never have any problems with him. Though if he ever spoke to me the way he speaks to his father, I’d be giving him a good smack! But he’s fine with me.”
“Oh, YES!” says The Stepmother. “And where do you think he gets THAT from?”
“His mother?”
“OH yes. She’s AMAZING.” Said in a tone that implies she’s not really amazing at all, not in a good way.
I actually really like Boy Next Door’s mother, who is almost the age of my own mother, but is also practical, sensible, and has child-rearing ideas that are surprisingly similar to my own. She’s a bit of a drill sergeant in manner, but she’s got the proverbial heart of gold. She does nag her laid-back husband to death, but he’s the kind of old-fashioned bloke who stops at the pub and has a beer and a smoke while he’s waiting for his fish and chips to be ready to pick up. (At 5pm in the afternoon.) Their whole dynamic is based on her being the in-control nag and him being the put-upon husband who gets to roll his eyes when he’s told to do things. They seem to like it that way.

“I like to listen in on their conversations,” I admit. “F and Boy Next Door, I mean. The other day I heard BND imitating his mum. It was hilarious. ‘HUS-BAND, do the dishes! HUS-BAND, fix the dishwasher!’ He said that he reckons women do all the work because his mum’s always telling his dad what to do. I told him that his mum’s the one who makes sure the work gets done, and that I’m sure she actually does plenty.”
We all laugh at the imitations, united in judging someone other than each other.

It’s in this spirit that we get a bit carried away.

“I have to be at work soon,” says The Godmother. “If we’re going to get that coffee ...”
“Yeah, I’m going to get a coffee, too,” says The Stepmother.
The Godmother and I look at each other.
“Why don’t you join us?” says Godmother.
“Yes, go on.”
“Um ... okay, sure.”

And so we all end the morning squeezed around a 1950s laminated table built for four (The Godmother, The Stepmother, Baby Brother, F, The Husband and me), eating muffins and sipping lattes/hot chocolates/babycinos and continuing a polite conversation that is beginning to strain at the seams, but manages not to tear.

Maybe we’re not quite so far from Love My Way after all.

Even if The Husband and I do get home and exclaim over the way The Stepmother talks about how F “comes to stay” with them. (“He LIVES there half his life!” we exclaim, a little self-righteously.) And I’m sure I saw her file away the fact that I gave F a hot chocolate, even though the two families have agreed to minimise his sugar intake.

Ah well. The road to blended family heaven is paved with barbed comments. But at least we’re all trying.

* btw, this all happened a week ago, but I'm a slow writer

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sex and the City and the Big Screen

As I sat at my laptop at my kitchen table, dressed in my pyjamas, I couldn't help but wonder ... why are women flocking to the Sex and the City movie in such numbers? Why did I line up for a ticket, just this afternoon? And why did both papers I read – The Australian and The Age – choose male film reviewers who admit they never watched the series to review a movie whose audience is made up almost entirely of female fans of the series?

I’ll try to answer the first question first ... Female fans of the series are lining up to see the movie for a reason that has been around as long as stories themselves. It’s the same reason that the king in Arabian Nights stayed wily Scheherezade’s execution over 1001 nights: to find out what happens next.

That’s the answer to the second question, too: it’s why I lined up outside Yarraville’s Sun Cinema to see the movie this afternoon, after missing out last night and heading dejectedly home to eat chocolate and watch a DVD. (I arrived at 8pm and the 8.20pm and 9.20pm sessions were both sold out. As I walked home down Anderson Street, towards the railway line, I passed squads of girls dressed in their best skinny jeans and heels squealing about Carrie and Miranda and co., on their way to get the same bad news as I had.)

And why did we all want to watch the movie so much? I’ve read – with interest – a series of articles in the past month debating this issue. And, love it as I do, I know that, in many ways, the show is shallow and materialistic. And, of course, supremely unrealistic. As if a once-a-week columnist could afford Carrie’s clothes, shoes, party lifestyle and Upper West Side apartment. The best article I’ve read (fittingly, from New York magazine) claims that the appeal of the four feisty women is that they are the female equivalent of superheroes. No, not superheroes with capes and nifty gadgets, but women who can do the impossible. Women living fantasy lives.

“Superheroes exist outside the laws and boundaries the rest of us have to abide by; while men want to see themselves flying and fighting, women are more interested in pushing other limits. How old can you be and still be hot? How many times can you break up and still be in love with someone? How many hours of the day can four working women conceivably spend together? Pointing out that Carrie could never afford her apartment, let alone her wardrobe, is about as useful as questioning Robert Downey Jr.'s ability to create cold fusion in a cave in Afghanistan — it misses the point of the movie entirely. Why is it okay for Iron Man to collect expensive cars but materialistic for Carrie to collect shoes? Surely her carbon footprint is the smaller of the two.”

Genius, I think. Carrie’s gadgets are her wardrobe, apartment, shoes and lifestyle. And the relationships – between the four women and their men – are what make the show so appealing, for me anyway. Personally, I couldn’t give a toss about Manolo Blahnik (I can’t wear heels and prefer to wear my zippered Doc Marten boots everywhere). I like clothes, to some extent, but have no desire to ever attend a fashion show. I’d read Vogue at the hairdresser’s, but that’s about it. But I think I would like to live in a New York apartment and eat out for every meal, be witty and attractive, write a well-known column about pretty much anything I like for a living, have a publishing contract and successful books ... And I tend to analyse relationships as relentlessly as a Carrie Bradshaw.

To drill down still further, the core appeal of the show is that it presents four different but attractive female archetypes, all different in personality and looks. Most fans will identify with at least one of the women. The four have an ideal friendship, one that holds through all manner of crises, one where they can always rely on each other. Is it feminist? Obviously not, in all kinds of ways, but it is in the sense that the central tenet has always been that, while a man is a good thing to have, it’s not necessary. The women can always fall back on each other. With or without a relationship, they will never be alone.

The Age’s Jake Wilson (who I often like) says: “Too bad for those of us who never caught a single episode of Sex and the City on TV, and now find ourselves enduring a round of hasty introductions to a group of people less amusing than reputation would suggest.” At which alarm bells start ringing loudly, for me as a reader. Why would you like a movie that is basically a continuation of a TV series if you have never seen the show? Then he describes Mr Big as “a bland Victor Mature lookalike whose eyes dance ironically without giving any hint of his thoughts”. Again: if you don’t like Mr Big, you probably won’t like the show, or the movie. He makes some good observations, and, as I don’t think it was the best movie in the world either, but that’s not THE POINT. The point is, you should at least start with an appreciation of where the movie is coming from to review it.

Evan Williams (who I also often like) was the lucky male novice to the series who reviewed the movie this weekend for The Australian. “I watched a couple of episodes of SATC on pay TV in preparation for writing this review, which of course makes me an expert.” And yes, I do sense a tongue firmly in cheek there. But he makes some pretty irrelevant criticism as a result of his scant knowledge of the series. “Here is an unashamed celebration of materialist values, an orgy of labels, brands and product placements as sinful, by implication, as the behaviour of the characters.” Bloody hell. It’s a series where the main character once figured out she had spent $40,000 (the equivalent, apparently, of a deposit on an apartment) on shoes. Where she announced that a Vogue fashion column was her equivalent of poetry. The materialism is not new.

He says that “the film has more depictions of sex, in its many athletic variations, than were permissible on the small screen”. Just not true. Remember Samantha on the swing? Or maybe just Samantha in general. It seems to me to be business as usual as far as that’s concerned. Not that it’s a big deal.

And – last criticism here: “Carrie is something of a celebrity and her writings are largely based (to no one’s apparent objection) on the sexual experiences of her friends”. Once again ... it’s the basis of the whole show. Why bother to poke holes in it?

Basically, I would have liked to have read the opinions of women who liked the show, instead of men who were dipping into it. I’m now waiting for when they ask Sam Brett to review Indiana Jones. (A bit unfair – the woman is an idiot and these men are not. But still. In terms of suitability for the material, it fits.)

So ... my opinion ... as someone who loved the show. SPOILER ALERT (I think).

Yes, the materialism did get on my nerves, perhaps because I haven’t seen the show in so long. Perhaps it always did. Yawn, yawn, get on with it. And there was a New York fashion show scene that felt redundant. In the show, there were fashion shows that were relevant to the plot, and funny (remember Carrie stumbling down the runway in tall, tall heels and sequinned undies?). This was just THERE.

I don’t think the film was funny enough: it lacked the sharp wit and observational humour that the show had.

The Jennifer Hudson character – Carrie’s personal assistant – felt embarassingly tokenistic (‘ooh, let’s have a black character’) and had too much of a touch of Mammy to Miss Scarlett about her. Though, to be fair, I guess that the job of personal assistant to a writer with connections would be sought after. Still, as she was the only black character, the dynamic made me uncomfortable.

I thought Carrie over-reacted to Big’s mistake at the altar. I wouldn’t even call it a ‘dumping’. He got nervous about the spectacle of the thing (which he’d warned her about the night before) and took a turn around the block, before coming back to say, as she whacked him over the head with the bouquet, that he was ready now. He was bad, but not THAT bad.

I thought Miranda made a mistake ... but then, so did the other characters, so I guess that’s not a criticism, that’s a comment.

But, criticisms aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Don’t know that I’d see it a second time, but it was immensely satisfying to re-enter that world and follow what happened to the characters. I confess to getting a tear in my eye a couple of times about the fates of the couples I liked most (Carrie & Big, Miranda & Steve).

I liked the play on fairy tales. Carrie reads Charlotte’s daughter Cinderella and then turns to her and gives her a solemn lecture about how things don’t always turn out happily ever after in real life and she should know that now. The little girl watches with big eyes, then asks for the story “again”. Carries smiles to herself and opens the book at the start. It’s a nice wink to feminism and to the fact that sometimes women know the whole palaver is a fairy tale, but they want it anyway, as much as they try to tell themselves they don’t. (Not all women – but certainly Carrie.) There’s a nice ongoing Cinderella reference, too.

So, in conclusion: a couple of smart moments, but mostly fairly standard chick-flick stuff that will be satisfying if you like the characters and want to spend a bit of time with them, but not otherwise.

It’s superhero escapism, for women.

Some facts about me! meme (or: procrastination)

Some facts about me! meme

Courtesy of Elsewhere. Thanks for the procrastination material!

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning

2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

3. At the end of the post, the player tags 5 people and posts their name, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they've been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

What was I doing 10 years ago?

I had recently moved to Melbourne and I didn't yet have a child. I was living in a flat in Elwood with a view of the sea with the man who was to become the father of my child. He was very bossy. We had a big stand-up fight outside the local supermarket once because he said no girlfriend of his was going to buy two-minute noodles and I said I wanted it, it was MY comfort food, and no one was going to tell me what to do. Wow, how surprising that we broke up. I worked as a marketing manager at an academic publishing company and I was secretly terrified they had given me the job by mistake, not realising how incompetent I was. This turned out to be partly true: I was very good at one part of my job and didn't have a great grip on the other. My boss at the time was too busy shagging a girl from customer service behind his fiancee's back to notice. My best friend from Adelaide decided on a whim to move to Melbourne and crashed on my couch until my partner kicked him out. Then he invited my 17 year old brother to come live with him in a share house near Southlands with the head chef from his work, who turned out to be a gambling addict and stole all their money. The two chefs ignored my brother (their kitchenhand) for a while because they were both in love with the 21 year old head waitress, a blonde from the Gold Coast, who was in love with my brother.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world:

1. Magnum Envy (chocolate coated with mint ice cream)

2. Chocolate coated raspberry bullets

3. Haigh's chocolate almonds

4. Lindt orange filled chocolate

5. Gelati from Al Fresco's in Adelaide. Preferably mint choc-chip, hazelnut or chocolate. Banana and mango are also good.

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world: (or really my favorite snacks 6-10)

6. Um ... all of the above when I'm being bad. When I'm being good, almonds and Carman's muesli bars, cut-up Granny Smith's apples and barbecue rice crackers.

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:

1. Stop working and travel the world, writing immersion type journalism stories and other stuff. (What Elsewhere said. But probably would have to wait ten years, due to nearly-nine-year-old. Or maybe I could bring him.)

2. Buy two houses. A Victorian terrace in North Fitzroy (with a pool if I can find room in the backyard) and a beach house at Airey's Inlet.

3. Buy houses for my family. Big family, so a lot of money eaten up there.

4. Start my own publishing company. And hire good staff to do all the things I can't.

5. Make a fat donation to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Five jobs that I have had:

1. marketing manager (publishing)

2. deputy editor (magazine)

3. bookseller

4. public relations consultant (this one felt a bit too formal and poncy as a job title, I'm not sure why)

5. deli counter at Coles (worst. job. ever.)

Three of my habits:

1. over analysis (self and others)

2. general domestic slovenliness

3. judging other people's parenting and then feeling guilty about it

Five places I have lived:

1. Norwood, Adelaide

2. Golden Grove, Adelaide (actually Wynn Vale, but nobody really knows the difference - and it WASN'T MY CHOICE)

3. Carlton, Melbourne

4. North Fitzroy, Melbourne

5. Yarraville, Melbourne

Five people I want to get to know better: (A nice way of saying TAG!)


2. (maybe it will lure her back onto the blogging wagon?)