Monday, July 28, 2008

At least it's a bit different

I wonder how many mothers spent about ten minutes positioned awkwardly up a tree this afternoon, as if playing Twister, shouting mournfully, at intervals, for their son to hurry up and emerge from the toilet to help them. At which point, having been handed the garden rake from below, they managed, after much manoevuring, to snooker the football from its perch in the uppermost branches and jump back down onto the muddy lawn.

And if they did, I wonder if that was after meticulously delousing their child (and themselves), explaining as they combed still-squirming giant bugs from fine boyish hair how The Simpsons reinvented a movie called Pulp Fiction in a recent episdoe they watched: leaving out The Gimp, of course.

And if they then decided, at midday, to keep their son home from school for the whole day, as so much time had passed in the process of delousing.

If the morning had stretched out partly due to one of their dogs digging under next-door's fence and having to be fetched home. If they had to finish serving up cheesy scrambled eggs for their son's breakfast VERY carefully, their fingernails embedded with damp black mud from having to fill in the hole their dog had dug, before returning to the kitchen to warm up the eggs and serve them.

I wonder.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Not so bad after all

I wouldn't say I'm a football convert, but I did have a great time at the MCG this afternoon, I did cheer and shout for F's team, and I have agreed to do it again some time.

It wasn't, of course, about the game. It was about the delightful company of F and Boy Next Door and the fact that, once we sat down on our raindrop-streaked plastic seats behind the goal posts, F caught me in a surprise hug and said 'I really do appreciate you taking us, Mum', in a voice that really meant it. And that BND leaned across and echoed his sentiments. I am so lucky to have such a lovely boy, with such a lovely friend.

And the book I'd brought along stayed firmly in my bag all day long ... though I did read the Sunday Age at half time.

My worst nightmare

I have been coerced into taking F to the football today. I can't think of anything I'd like to do LESS on a rainy Sunday afternoon (or any afternoon, really), but if I don't do it, I'm a Slack Mum. So, off I go. Feeling very sorry for myself indeed.

The only other time I have ever been to a professional football match is when my brother was about F's age and I took him to see Port Adelaide play a game for his birthday. I remember being grossed out by the bogan girls offering to eat one player's shorts, and not in a Bart Simpson kind of way. There were shouts of 'show us your DICK, Scotty!' and much stamping of ugh boots and clicking of synthetic nails. Of course, these days it's not just bogan girls who wear ugh boots and horrible plastic nails. And it's postively un-Australian not to like football (or un-Victorian, anyway).

When I was a starting drinker, aged 17 (of course), I remember being told by a horrified male friend, an afficionado of footy and Nintendo and dope and the arcade machine at the local milk bar, that I was 'un-Australian' because I don't drink beer.

Still don't.

I'm very, very un-Australian.

And I really, really hate football.

Maybe there will be some kind of natural disaster on our way to the MCG and I will get out of it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The morning after

It’s the kind of awakening that makes you realise you did get to sleep after all. You gradually realise that you’re conscious, which in turn makes you realise you must have been unconscious at some point, even though your memories of the previous night are full of staring at the red eye of the digital clock: 1am (you’re wide awake, might as well get up), 3am (back in bed, surely you can fall asleep now), 5am (please, please let me get to sleep).

It’s 7.10am, so you – I – close my eyes again, squeeze them shut, and try to eke out another half hour of sleep before I get up for Auskick.

My thoughts are full of work undone, deadlines looming, interview subjects not returning calls, work submitted ... and a dog biting a child on the face. A child who is coming over soon, to go to Auskick.

Once again, those thoughts stubbornly push aside the fog of sleep that hovers tantalisingly close. This means that I when I get up at last, at 8am on the clock (which means 7.45am), I am awake.

Mum is buried under a quilt on the couch, only her hair visible: light golden brown with a bolt of silver at her hairline. The Husband and F are at the breakfast table, eating rice porridge and crumpets respectively. The dogs are pattering around the room, their toenails clicking on the wooden boards.

I am in the hallway when the doorbell rings, and duck into the bathroom, pulling the sliding door behind me. The Husband is in there too, peering into the mirror. He looks at me for a moment before leaving to answer the door. I hear murmured conversation, lowered voices, excited small boy yelps.

How was he? I whisper, as The Husband rejoins me in the bathroom. BND’s father is still quietly angry, but affable enough, he reports.
“He’s here,” he calls over his shoulder, as he moves into the hallway. “That’s a good start.”
“Who’s here?” asks F, bouncing on the carpet outside the closed door.


The wind grows colder as we walk down the road towards the oval, climbing the path past the skate ramp and towards the hole in the wire fence. I duck and stand, holding up the wire that runs horizontally across the hole to make more room for Mum.
“I hope you remember soon that I am getting older,” she says, as she straightens her back.
“Nah, you’ve got at least another ten years. Or more. Look at your mother!” Her mother was still tap dancing, performing in travelling revues at nursing homes in fishnet tights, when she was sixtysomething. HER mother, when the show stopped at her own nursing home, would stand in the aisle, holding tight to her walking frame, to shout and wolf whistle.
“Hmmph,” says Mum.

We queue for coffee and carry our stryofoam cups to the edge of the oval, where we sit on a bench side by side and squint across the grey expanse of sky to where the boys – The Husband, F and BND – are forming lines and starting their drills. The wind assails us, sending a spreading chill through my body that settles in my toes and marbles my hands, even as the coffee warms my palms through the Styrofoam.

We move onto the grass, where it is even colder, and I shrug into my (fake) fur-lined gloves and hunch into my scarf. BND’s father appears behind the goal-posts, drinking from a silver column and sucking on a cigarette. I try to catch his eye, then try not to. Mum demonstrates how penguins take turns shielding each other from the wind as I think about the mark on BND’s cheek and watch warily, intently, as F frowns and pushes his shoulders out in the first sulk of the match: disturbingly early.

Needless to say, my early, unwanted hunch is correct. Mum tries to distract me with stories about football matches on the oval at the high school where she teaches as F’s behaviour descends from bad to worse. I watch him throw himself onto his stomach on the grass; wander the oval crying; limp behind the ball, crippled by tears; punch an opposing team-mate in the arm; wave his arms in the air, giving himself up to the rhythm of his wailing. Finally, he drags himself towards us, his face red and eyes swimming, shouting that he doesn’t want to do Auskick anymore, not ever again, that he wants to go home.

I am glaring into the wind and the grey day that I have unwillingly emerged into after a sleep I don’t remember having. I am thinking that I have a dog who bites children in the face and a child who has tantrums on the football field and punches people and that this is the first day of Auskick for Boy Next Door and that his father is there watching, watching our family’s atrocious, antisocial behaviour once again.

“I don’t want to EXIST,’ wails F and I snap back at him, like a rubber band suddenly let go:
“Neither do I.”

Mum, on holiday from Adelaide, on the second real day of her long service leave, looks at us both as I grab him by the arm and pull him after me under the rails surrounding the oval, hissing at him that I am ashamed of his behaviour and that he is a bad sport and that I will be very happy to take him home.

Tears and snot run into his mouth.

The Husband calls from the oval as we stand by the hole in the fence: me on the street side, F on the football ground: just. He beckons F back, and I let him go, on the provision that he doesn’t let him back into the game. As The Husband holds him by the shoulders and talks him out of his hysteria, the team begin shedding their red and black bibs, dispersing to kick a shower of footballs towards the goals in a celebratory frenzy.

The Father who has told his children not to play with F because he has a bad attitude climbs through the hole, his two sons behind him. He smiles at me, too brightly, as he passes.
“Terrible weather we’re having.”
“Yes,” I say, as his sons look at me with interest. “Yes, it is.”

I wave at the mother whose son plays at my house every Monday, standing by the canteen at the bottom of the hill, but she doesn’t see, or pretends not to. When I climb down to join my boys – and the next door boys – she is gone. Through the grey haze in my head, I impute dark motives to her disappearance.
Our next door neighbour chats about the football game and his son’s enjoyment of it before his tone drops an octave, and he addresses the elephant (or dog) in the room.
“I was angry as all hell yesterday,” he says. “When I saw how close it got to his eye. But, as I was saying to The Husband, we don’t want to make you get rid of your dog. Maybe you should get him a muzzle?”
“Oh no! We want to get rid of him. I can’t have the risk of ... I feel sick about what happened ...” Tears enter my voice. “I’m so sorry.”
We change the subject quickly, as he gives his son money for a second hotdog.

The coach pulls me aside after The Husband kisses me goodbye and escapes to his scheduled Chi Gung session in South Melbourne.
“Are you alright?” he begins, his hand comfortingly on my arm. I nod. We talk about what he said to F, and what I’ll say to F, and how I lost it a bit, too. I tell him that we’re getting F emotional management therapy, which might help, and he reiterates that he has good football skills, if only he can manage his emotions.
“I told him that he’s my star player, and that I rely on him. That when he gets down, he’s letting down the team. Because they rely on him for morale.”
There are no words for my appreciation, but I do my best.

We all walk home together – Mum, me, F and the next-door crew, the boys running and skipping ahead, stomping their spiked football boots into the cement pavement. As we reach home, F is invited over to play. He comes home first, to change his shoes and socks, and I apologise a bit, explaining that although I was disappointed and his behaviour was bad; I’m tired, too, and I might have overreacted.
“I only slept a couple of hours last night.”
His warm body is a soft blanket around my chest and shoulders.
“Mum, you should go inside and have a nap, Really!”
And he is running to the gate and across the footpath, leaving Mum and I alone on the porch.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thought of the day

Sitting in the floral armchair in the corner of the study, F is bent over a 'Healthy Eating' find-a-word in his North Melbourne Football Club Activity Book. I am checking my emails and carrying on a half-assed, half-to-myself monologue.

"Mum," he says matter-of factly, temporarily abandoning his search for the word 'lettuce', "You worry too much."
"About what?"
"About everything."

I take him by the hand and lead him back to the lounge room, where we huddle over the activity book together on the couch, looking for various fruits and vegetables together until we have circled them all.


Less than an hour earlier, the Evil dog bit our next-door neighbour on the face while he gently stroked his fur, sitting cross-legged by the heater. Evil barked frenetically as I leapt from the couch to stand between them, then chased him into the laundry. When I got back, blood was spilling down Boy Next Door's cheek in a bright stream as he sat, stunned, where I had left him. It was 10 long minutes before he could remove the red spotted tissue I'd handed him and follow me to the bathroom for a band-aid. His cheek was pink with smeared blood and had to be wiped clean with a face washer.

The Husband was the one who had to explain to his mother what had happened, including the assurance that we will get rid of the dog.

We will pick up Boy Next Door for Auskick in the morning and I am dreading looking her in the face.

I wonder if she, like me now, is awake at 2am, trying not to think about how much worse things could have been if BND had turned his head and the dog had bitten his eye.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hypothetical bad mother story

Imagine you gleefully told your son that you were going to mention him on the radio the next morning. Imagine you told him exactly how you were going to do it and then together you giggled at the thought and looked forward to his moment of glory.

When you put him to bed and kissed him goodnight, you smiled at the thought.

Imagine you walk out of the radio station this morning and realise, as if someone jumped from around the corner and splashed a bucket of water in your face, that you FORGOT TO MENTION HIM. You forgot the whole delightful anecdote that centred around him, without seeming out of place in the context of what you were there to talk about.

Imagine you then call him from the street on your mobile as you wait for your tram home, hoping against hope that he slept in this morning. You can't hear much over the morning traffic, but you do hear that he is hurt and disappointed. You can only decipher every tenth word, but you can tell he is reciting, word for word, exactly what you had planned to say this morning, followed up with 'that was what you were supposed to say, why didn't you say that?' All you can say is 'I can't really hear you darling, but I'm really really sorry. I was just really tired.' It's a crap excuse.

Imagine you then spend the whole tram ride going over and over it in your head, unwillingly replaying the dawning disappointment on his face when he realises it's not going to happen, cuddling up next to your husband under the quilt in his mismatched flanelette pyjamas with the stuffed dog he still takes to bed. You wonder how you can make it up to him. Can you mention him on air next time? Not really. This was a one-off chance to do it without sounding like you're appearing on a game show ('Can I say hello to my son F at home? Hi, F!'). Can you buy him a present to make up for it? Let him eat chocolate after school, despite his sugar restricted diet? No. You can't buy his forgiveness. You don't want him to think money excuses thoughtless behaviour. Okay, you need to be thoughtful. What if you go to school and pick him up and spend the day with him?

You know that you're going over the top, but you can't help it. You try to talk yourself out of feeling bad, but it doesn't work. You call your husband, in his car on the way to work, hoping he'll talk you out of it, but - unsurprisingly - you only succeed in annoying him.

Imagine you stop off at the CAE Library on the way home and borrow an armful of manga graphic novels, a Simpsons graphic novel, a Pokemon he hasn't read. You are making up for it with a thoughtful gesture.

On the train, you still feel sick with guilt, but you move on to wondering how this happened in the first place.

Why did you promise your son you'd mention him on air, when you know it's difficult for you to prepare anyway, let alone with a random obligation like this thrown in? Why did you put the extra pressure on yourself? Why did you feel the need to bring him into your work life, make him the centre of that, too? Especially when you started feeling tired just after lunch yesterday and were nearly comatose by the time his two friends went home after 6pm. (The main reason you forgot was due to being very, very tired and forgetting to write down that you would mention him last night - thus, forgetting this morning.)

You realise, with the click of recognition that you get when you hit on the right answer, that you did it to impress him. You wanted him to think you were cool and interesting and that you could provide him with benefits like 15 seconds of fame. You were feeling a bit insecure after not seeing him for a week. The easy camaraderie you shared at the end of last week, when you were finishing each other's sentences and laughing at each other's jokes before you even said the punchline, had dissipated on his return, and you are once again feeling your way towards that easy intimacy, and you cheated and thought this might be a nice shortcut.

You write a blog pretty much all about him and most of your writing ends up about him and you think about him all the time. But sometimes it doesn't feel like enough, because he only spends half his time at your house.

But this is all hypothetical, of course ...

Monday, July 14, 2008

A hairy situation

It's very strange indeed to send your child away for a week and have him returned with a new haircut. A haircut that is exactly the same as his father's, that makes him look exactly like his father, so every time you speak to him, as you're getting used to it, you have to concentrate hard not to hear his father in his voice.

You don't speak about it, but when your husband nonchalantly offers to give your son a buzz cut, you know that he is thinking the same thing.

And a couple of weeks ago, when your friends and your mother-in-law were remarking admiringly on his shaggy mane, you received an email from his father that said 'Time for a haircut!' When you replied that he looks fantastic, you were informed that there was no way he was sending him up to his parents on the Gold Coast 'looking like that' and had to have an argument behind the closed door of your study that afternoon while your son and his little brother kicked the footy around the lounge room.

Your son's father said 'no son of mine is walking around looking like a rock star!' and you said ' ' in such a way that he laughed at you and called you a child, because he knew what you were thinking. And what you were thinking was that you LIKE him looking like a rock star. And you said that he always gets his way, because he always gets all your son's hair chopped off when he's got him safely at his house, and you never get to have him looking the way you would choose. And you argued like this for far longer than was sensible. Secretly, you reflected that you will let your son get his ear pierced and have tattoos when he is a teenager and his father will not be able to do anything about it. (Well, maybe not tattoos.)

Life's hard enough for him as it is, you thought, without stupid haircuts. 'Life's hard enough for him as it is,' said your son's father, 'without stupid haircuts.' And he meant something quite different, even if you were thinking in the same words. You meant that kids already judge him as a bit odd anyway, with the Asperger's, and that a faintly cool haircut couldn't hurt in evening up the stakes. He meant that teachers already judge him as a bit odd anyway, with the Asperger's, and a nerdboy haircut couldn't hurt in evening up the stakes.

You were also thinking of your own childhood, when your mum plaited your hair in two braids and made you wear a skivvy and a navy pinafore to school, with white knee socks and navy Mary Janes. While the other kids wore tight denim jeans or skirts and striped polo shirts and sneakers. And that it really would have helped if, instead of sending you to school as Nerd Barbie, she'd given you sneakers and jeans and bought you an AC/DC album. (You wrote 'I love AC/DC' on your pencilcase because everyone else did, but you didn't even know what it meant.)

'You're just thinking of your own childhood and your mum making you wear those crazy outfits,' said your son's father, and because it was true you couldn't help laughing, and then you both sighed and agreed to a compromise - that you would take him to get a haircut before it was time for your son's father to take send him to the Gold Coast to stay with his parents. And that it would be neater, but still long.

On the way home from the barber's, you realised that the haircut you'd kind of instructed him on hadn't quite worked out. That it was a bit bizarre. That he looked like he had stepped out of a 1970s clothing catalogue (if you didn't look at his clothes) or run away from The Partridge Family. And your son's father, who had just pulled up at the kerb, fell about laughing as he assured you he would get it fixed up.

So, a week later, your son came back to you looking like he always does after a haircut - exactly like a smaller version of his dad, not at all what you would choose. And you feel disconcertingly like the balance has been tipped and that he's his dad's son, and you are borrowing him. The feeling doesn't last long, and you know it's irrational. But it's the cost of compromise, of co-parenting, along with the impossible dreams to move to New York, or to live in a coastal town, or send your son to an alternative hippy school, or to go back to Adelaide and live near your family.

And you have to admit that the result of your attempt at getting his hair cut was almost as anachronistic as your mum's dressing you up in a pinafore and Mary Janes.

Still. When he had long hair, they said that he looked more like you.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The man date

“I met a Colombian guy today,” says The Husband.
“Oh yeah?” I am at the kitchen table, working my way through my inbox.
“Yeah. We’re going to meet for coffee next week.”
“That’s nice.” Typing away.
“Yeah. I was working on my report when the doorbell rang. It was this guy fundraising for the Asthma Foundation. He had this big card around his neck with his name on it. It was [The Colombian]. So I said, hola, com est as? And he just stared at me. And I thought ... oh no, I’ve made a mistake. So I said, sorry, do you speak Spanish? And he just starts talking to me in Spanish, doing his whole fundraising spiel – in Spanish. I think he thought I was Spanish-speaking. You know, that it was my native language.”

I have stopped typing.

I am staring at my husband in a kind of awestruck amusement. What I like best about this bizarre story is the fact that he’s telling me about it as if this is a perfectly normal way to behave. I don’t want to interrupt or alter the flow, so I just watch and nod, acting as if this is the most ordinary story in the world. All the while, I’m thinking this is shaping up to be the kind of thing I might pay to hear at a comedy club. I congratulate myself on having married such an interesting man.

“Anyway, he’s from Colombia, he’s a student here, and he wants to stay. He’s actually an engineer.”
“Wow, really? And he’s knocking on doors fundraising?”
“Yep.” He shakes his head. “So I gave him some money, and he was leaving, going out through the gate and onto the street, and I thought ... hang on ... so I chased him onto the footpath and stopped him and said do you want to meet up for coffee?”

“You DID?”

I have broken the spell. He is starting to ponder the strangeness of his behaviour. I watch his expression flicker and regret my reaction. I was really enjoying this.

“So, what did he say?”
“He said okay. We’re meeting at 11am on Thursday.”
“Wow. Was he surprised?”

He considers.

“Actually, he was a little.” He seems on the cusp of crestfallen.
“I think that’s fine,” I assure him. “There’s nothing WRONG with it. It’s really nice. I’m just surprised, that’s all.”

My husband is a softly spoken man, friendly but reserved. I don’t think of him as the type to befriend strangers on a whim. Although, come to think of it, in Mexico he once followed a man in a Socceroos tee shirt while he worked up the nerve to approach him. “Are you Australian?” And he was. And my husband earned the blessed relief of a conversation in English, amid the waves of sped-up Spanish that crashed over him daily, along with the breakers of homesickness.

He must have been driven by empathy – and, maybe, a rare moment of reverse homesickness, for Mexico.


I am daydreaming in the shower the next Thursday morning when The Husband arrives unexpectedly through the steam, making me jump in fright.

“You’re back early. What happened?”
“I got stood up,” he says glumly. “He didn’t show.”
“Oh darling, I’m sorry.”
“I waited until 11.30am, thinking ... maybe he’s working on Colombian time. Maybe it’s like Mexico. But ...”
I pat his sleeve sympathetically with a wet hand.
“I guess it WAS all a bit weird,” he sighs.

It turns out that the Colombian was operating on a misunderstanding, a cultural mistranslation. He assumed they were meeting at 11pm at night.

“Really?” I laugh. “For COFFEE?”
“Well, I guess that’s probably common in Colombia.”
“Mmm, I guess so. So, are you going tonight?”
“No, next week.”


Thursday morning. I am due in the city at midday to meet friends for lunch. At 10:30am, I peel myself away from my laptop and shuffle into the bathroom in my flannelette pyjamas, holding my unwashed hair from my face in one fist. My nose is thick, my eyes prickle and my ears swim. I feel as though there is a clothes peg pinching the bridge of my nose. It will be an effort for this Cinderella to crawl out of the ashes.

The Husband is at the bathroom mirror, meticulously attacking his beard with an electric razor, centimetre by agonising centimetre. For the first time in days, his tracksuit pants are replaced by jeans and a collared shirt.

“What are you waiting for?” he asks, as I watch him silently in the mirror, the doorway propping me up.
“A shower. I don’t want to fog up the mirror and disturb your work.”
“Well, I still need to have MY shower after this.”
“Bloody hell ... what are you ... ohhhh, that’s right. You have your DATE.”
He makes a face at me in the mirror.
“Where are YOU going anyway?”
“Lunch. With The Godmother and Old Friend.”
“Vue Du Monde.”
“The cafe part. It’s $15 for lunch.”
“That’s still expensive, for lunch.”
“A bit.” I sigh and return to the study, where I wearily click send/receive on my Outlook over and over, killing time in the most useless way I know how.

Shit. I was planning to get an early train at 11.16am, to make lunch at midday.

The Husband examines himself in the disappearing glass as I step into the shower, wiping a porthole for his reflection.
“Have fun,” he sings.
“Yeah, enjoy your date. Don’t put out.”
“Even with a man?”
“Really? You’d be mad if I had sex with another man?”
“That would count?”
“But I wouldn’t mind if you had sex with another woman.”
“That’s different.”
“Because you’re a man. You’d LIKE me to have sex with another woman.”
“Of course.”
“So, the idea of you having sex with another man doesn’t do it for me.”
“Doesn’t it?”

And he’s off, looking very neat and handsome.

I get out of the shower and check the time. 11.20am. Loads of time to catch the 11.56am or the 12.16am and be at Cafe Vue in loads of time for midday.

I actually think that. These are the words that run through my brain.

I fuss with my clothes and linger with make-up, bothering with eyeliner and mascara. I am too tired to wear anything fancier than jeans, though I do wear my nicest cardigan. I check my email again.

And then I wander down the road just before 12 midday, feeling relaxed despite the dragging weight in my head.

At the train tracks, I see The Husband across the road, with a dark-haired man in jeans and glasses. He squints at me, as if concerned. I wave back at him.
“HI!” His friend looks at me, then back at The Husband, who shouts over the stream of cars running between us. “COLOMBIAN, THIS IS MY WIFE, ARIEL. ARIEL, THIS IS COLOMBIAN!”
“HI!” I shout back. “NICE TO MEET YOU!”
The Colombian smiles slightly, looking a little perplexed, and waves back, his movement as tentative as mine is energetic.
“JUST GONE 12!” The Husband points at his wrist and gives me a strange, concerned look.
There is a flurry of waving, then I wander on to the newsagent to buy a new pen.

Plenty of time, I think. I can catch the 12.16am and be there at 12, not a worry. I choose my pen, testing it on the scribble pad on the counter. As I hand over my money, a switch flicks in my head.
“Um ... what’s the time?”
“It’s 12.10.”

Oh shit. Finally, I think: 12.10, and I was supposed to be there ten minutes ago.

I go home and leave a message on my friends’ work phone, explaining the whole sorry affair and that I will see them another time. And I return to work in my study, much better dressed than usual.

My date is over before it’s begun.

Friday, July 04, 2008


The ocean sings its siren song in a stage whisper that carries from the shore to our house, a few streets away. It sucks and spits, sighs and roars, sends the salt water rippling out in shimmering curtains that are quickly dragged back again, leaving pearly beads of foam to sputter out on the sand. The dogs chase each other in snarling, joyful circles, kicking up gritty clouds in their wake.

F peels off his clothes impatiently, tossing his hooded jacket and balled-up socks into the wind. A citrus orange beanie keeps his shaggy hair covered; tendrils escape as he runs: chasing the tide in and out, skimming his toes in the shallows, planting his feet in the sinking sand as the ocean forms sucking corridors on either side of them.

We are in our bathers at the edge of the world, the sea and the sky stretching out forever. We hold hands and run into the waves at the lick of the ocean, shrieking and dashing back to the sand dunes and the dogs. We run back again, metres apart this time, venturing further, until the waves slap at my knees (his thighs). More shrieking. More running. And again and again. We mirror the rolling, repetitive rhythm of the sea.

“My thighs are hurting!” F shouts into the descending darkness, as I rub a towel over his mauve marbled legs. “Ow! Ow! It’s like knives! Be gentle!”
His trackies are pulled on, with difficulty, over damp, sand encrusted legs. His bare toes shuffle through the sand, chasing The Husband over the rising inlet and up the hill towards home. I know how he feels, though I don’t tell him that. My thighs are tingling too. Numb toes, numb feet, prickling calves, stinging thighs. A thousand tiny needles dance over my legs with every step up the beach; pricking especially deep as I reach the sandy gravel of the road. I am The Little Mermaid, suffering for her sea legs. Only I’m being punished for dipping into the sea, not for venturing onto land.


It’s only 6pm when we venture out to collect our fish and chips dinner, but it’s already dark outside. F plays with a torch in the hallway, flicking it on and off like a disco ball. He shines it into my eyes and laughs when I flinch away. He shines it into his own eyes. And into mine again. I snatch the torch away and set it down firmly on the washing machine.
“But it’s dark outside.”
“We don’t need a torch. There are street lamps.”
There are, in fact, no street lamps. As we leave the lights of the house and step into the driveway, we’re entering an eerie blackness. True darkness. We walk with our arms outstretched, feeling our way forward.
“Keep to the right!” I warn. “Away from the dirt pile!”
I hear F veering to the left. The dirt pile in the driveway holds an inexorable attraction for him. In the daylight, when we’re watching him, he creeps around the edge of it, his sneakers half-touching its muddy plains. I yank his arm.

As we reach the road, it’s still dark, but we can see again. Our way is lit by the windows of the houses we pass. I tip my head idly back and gasp at the view.
“F, look!”
It’s like static fireworks. Trails of glittering dust streak the ceiling of the enveloping darkness. These are real stars, not the isolated, faint pinpricks of light we see at home. I explain to F that normally we can’t see these stars, because they’re drowned out by the streetlights.
“I know, Mum.”
We walk to the main road with our heads tipped to the heavens.

At the fish and chip shop, F marvels at the ice creams on display in the freezer while I graze on a Who Weekly. We walk home from the bright lights of the shops, passing through a stretch of darkness on our way to the main road. There is a squelch as my foot sinks into an invisible puddle.
“Oh Mum,” wails F. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Because I didn’t save you from the puddle.”
“That’s okay.”
There is a long pause as we continue towards the main road.
“We really should have brought the torch,” says F.
“Yes. I know.”
“I could have saved you from the puddle then.”
“I know. I am very silly.”

At home, we dry our ugh boots by the fire and munch our way through mountains of chips.


We watch four episodes of Round the Twist in a row. It’s an old ABC TV series that used to screen after school when I was a kid, based on Paul Jennings’ surreal short stories. There’s a haunted lighthouse, an evil real estate magnate who wants to sell the lighthouse to developers, a close-knit coastal community, green babies who grow in the cabbage patch, a little brother with feet so stinky they’re a secret weapon that makes people pass out, and a spaghetti pig-out that ends in lots of vomited-up spaghetti ... that’s eaten again thanks to the rewind button of a magic remote control. F loves it because he loves Paul Jennings. I love it because it reminds me of being a kid. I love the 1980s puffed-up fringes and rolled-up jeans with white socks and lace-up black shoes. I can taste the Milo (three heaped spoons, half-stirred, half eaten) and hear my brothers and sisters squabbling beside me on the couch.

The series was filmed here. The lighthouse where the Twist family live is the one we can see from the lounge room window. You can buy the whole series on DVD at the video store next to the fish and chip shop.

When we hike up to the lighthouse, F stands and looks longingly at it, itching to go in. You can take a tour for $20 per head, but so far I’ve resisted forking out for it. He points at the cottage nearest the lighthouse.
“Is that Nell’s cottage?”
“Yep. We stayed there when you were little, you know.”
“I know, Mum.”
I told him last time we were here, when he and his ‘cousin’ discovered the joys of Round the Twist.

I’m amused by the fact that Round the Twist gazumped Sea Change by a decade with the crazed, shifty real estate developer and kooky, but loveable, community thing. (And the romance between Dad and the teacher Miss James was surely a forerunner to Laura and Diver Dan.) But more than anything, I can’t help reflecting on how Aireys seems to have changed since the series was filmed – certainly, since my mother-in-law bought her beach house here about six years ago. House prices rival those in the city. Tour buses are commonly sighted not just during summer, not just on weekends, but even mid-week in winter – and the lighthouse is a key attraction. And tourists (yeah, like us) are seen everywhere.


The whole of Aireys Inlet smells of smoke. It is the aroma of wood fires burning in every house.


I am sitting on the balcony, eating vegemite toast and sipping plunger coffee. I am wearing my mother-in-law’s robe, which swims about my ankles and threatens to swallow up my arms. The pants leg of my purple polka-dot pyjamas protrudes from the hem. I am basking in the sunlight that flashes on and off all day here, alternating with shrouded grey skies and light curtains of rain. F stands at my side and we look out at the lighthouse in the distance, the postcard-perfect view marred only by the blocky mansion that seems, from this angle, to climb from its base.

A trio of rainbow birds pass overhead in a shock of primary-coloured feathers, alighting on the balcony rail, barely a metre from where we stand. F runs inside to get my camera. He leaves the door open, and Snuffy rushes the balcony, sending the birds fleeing to the electrical wire nearby. F arrives with the camera and shoves it into my hand.
“Quick, Mum, quick!”
I point the lens and focus. There’s only one bird left. I lean in. And they’re all gone, streaking across the yard and disappearing into the uppermost branches of a nearby tree.
“You were too slow, Mum.”
“Well, I had to set it up first!”

I return to my toast. F decides to fish out his own camera and do some nature photography, inspired by my failure.


We play Indiana Jones on the paths winding through the scrub and down the sandstone cliffs, past the lighthouse and down to the beach and the inlet. A stone monument is an “icon” that Indy is hunting. F chants the Indiana theme song as he leaps and runs down the path, occasionally veering into the scrub to look for “relics”, which he solemnly tucks away in his cloth library bag, embroidered with his name and a red-and-white gingham star.
“We’re on a search for the opal shell!” he announces. “Chase me! You’re that French baddie!”
I halfheartedly run down the cliff, pausing every few jogged steps to photograph the view.
“Hey! Come on! You’re meant to be chasing me!”
“I’m documenting our journey,” I ad-lib. “I’m recording evidence. Explorers need evidence.”
He considers this, hands on hips, peering up at me from down the hill.
“Okay! Good thinking! Now, take a photo of this bush. I reckon there’s evidence here.”


It is just hours before we leave for home. We are squatting on the edge of the beach in the rain, the dogs wandering at our feet, sniffing around the toilet block just metres away. The Evil One's lead dangles from his collar. I am distracted, helping F wedge his wet, sandy feet into his sneakers. No one is around. And then there is.

A tall man in a navy beanie. Broad shoulders, blonde hair just visible, an outdoors tan even in winter. He nods at us, and I nod back, bending back to urge F's heel into his shoe. An eruption of barking and scuffling rends the air, just over my shoulder. I jump up to see the man kicking the dogs off his leg. The Evil One tumbles in one direction, the Good One, who never bites, or even growls, only jumps on any human being nearby as if she can't believe her luck to have this chance for attention, goes flying in the other direction. He's not just kicking them off; he's aiming at and kicking them. Hard. There are terrible, piercing squeals, like they've been hit by a car.

F and I gape as the man strides over and leans into us, shouting and swearing. The dogs run to us and sit still, barking. I am mortified, but I don't know what to think. As I gather my jumbled thoughts, he draws back his leg and delivers a hard kick to the guts of the Evil One, with the force of a footballer aiming for the other end of the field. There is a sickening thud as his foot connects with the dog's underside and it flies across the sand, literally twisting in the air before it lands, dazed, on the grass.

"You could apologise," he yells. "Your f*ing dog f*ing bit me!"
"Well, I would have," I find myself saying. "I am sorry, but you shouldn't have done that. I would say sorry if you hadn’t just kicked the dog like that. You can't do that."
"Well, he can't bite me! You're going to pay for this. You're going to get an $800 fine for this. I could report you!"
"Fine, do it," I say.

F dissolves into tears as he runs for the Good Dog, burying his face in her damp, gritty fur.
"She's a good dog!" he shouts. "She didn't deserve that! How could you kick her? She's a good dog!"
The man stalks off. F sobs into her neck as he strokes her.
"She doesn't deserve it," he cries. "She loves everyone! She just doesn't deserve it."
I hug him and hug the dog, pulling the Evil One back towards us. I pat him, too. I can understand the first kick – a reaction to shock. But the second, calculated revenge kick was just wrong. And it could have seriously hurt the dog.

When F is composed enough to keep going, we get up and head for home. The man suddenly appears again, beside a glossy four-wheel drive. A woman and a teenage girl are shutting the doors behind them.
"Their dog bit me!" he is yelling. "I got bitten!" More swearing.
“Right! I want your name and phone number,” he says, and I see that he is holding a scrap of paper and a pen.
“No.” I keep walking, holding F’s hand.
“So you know you’re wrong!”
“I could report you to the RSPCA for kicking the dog like that.”
“Fine, give me your name and I’ll see you in court. We’ll see who wins!”
F turns to look at him and clenches his fists.
“Well, it won’t be YOU!” he yells. I squeeze his hand.

I know what happened: the Evil One barked at his heels, the Good One joined him – barking with excitement – he kicked at them, the Evil One bit him, the Good One barked, he kicked them both properly. I know I was wrong for not having Evil at my side, but the truth is I’m just too shaken by the big kick and the aggression to know what to do – and my instincts are to just get out of there. So I do.

“I wonder just what happened back there.” I muse, half to myself.
“You know how they say dogs know if someone is a nice person or not?” says F.
“Well ...”