I wandered through Broadbeach, wondering whether I needed to shake myself and wake myself up. Was this a bizarre dream? Or some kind of not-so-scary nightmare? Surely I wasn’t actually awake and walking down the streets of a tourist-focused beachside suburb. Something weird was going on. I looked around and all I could see were sparkles, extra-large bows, lycra, shiny backpacks covered in that silver holographic material, sequins, over-the-top makeup, fake smiles and high ponytails. I felt like I was wandering though some strange My-Little-Pony-Meets-Barbie world not the beachy-touristy place that I was expecting. After a few enquiries, I discovered that the Gold Coast Convention Centre, located just across the road from where we were, was host to the National Cheerleading Championships and two and a half thousand competitors plus their families had descended on us.
I’m a synchronised swimmer. I’ve gone through all that stuff with sequinned costumes, perfect hair and fake smiles. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Although, if I’m honest, I was really hopeless at the fake smiling bit, I could never see the point. But I have never, ever been around 2,500 synchronised swimmers in full regalia, accompanied by the requisite scary mothers, or possibly entire families come to cheer them along (sic)!
Working as a swimming coach in my 20’s was a great experience: it showed me exactly who I didn’t want to be as a parent. It doesn’t matter what sport we’re talking about here, some parents are just nuts. There was one moment that was pivotal for me. I’d been teaching some 7-9 year old kids to dive in 1.8m of water: “put your arms over your ears, hands together, bend over and just plop into the water”, that kind of thing. After the lesson finished, the head coach came over to me, and with his back to the grandstand where the parents were sitting, he said, “No matter what I say, no matter what you’re thinking, I need you to look really sorry and upset. Do you promise?” Unsure of what to do, I just nodded. “Right,” he said, “One of the mothers has just complained that her son hit his head on the bottom of the pool and now she has to take him to hospital because he may be suffering from concussion.”
I opened my mouth to protest: this was 1.8m of water and the kid couldn’t have been more than a metre tall! Not one of those kids managed to touch the bottom, they even had a competition going to see if anyone could touch the bottom and none of them did.
But the coach cut me off before I could say anything, “I know, I know! You promised to look sorry and contrite! Just look upset, not angry! I was watching; the kid’s lying.”
As the coach carried on with ‘telling me off’, concentrating very hard on keeping a contrite expression on my face, I looked up to the grandstand. The mother, predictably, was looking angry, while at the same time managing to also looking smugly satisfied at my reprimand. The son, little shit that he was, was gleefully dancing behind her, swapping the gloating, victorious expression that he wore when her back was turned, to a helpless one that was full of pain and suffering, whenever she looked at him.
That was a defining moment for me, and for my kids. I swore that I would never, ever turn into a mother like that. It has happened on a few occasions, I have been sucked into supporting one of the kids in what turned out to be a wholly fabricated story, but the child in question has wholeheartedly regretted manipulating me like that.
I’ve never got much involved with Parents Associations at school or kids sports for the same reason: they tend to attract the intense, fanatical parents whose life is utterly devoted to their children’s success. They’re that most dangerous breed of human: Homo Vicarien, humans that live vicariously through their kids.
Today, Broadbeach was packed to the rafters with them. It was a human behavioural experts dream. The female Homo Vicarien wear clothes that match their kids: oversized baseball jackets in their team colours, trimmed with silver, and adorned with glittery lettering, mostly spelling out the troop name. Cheerleading troops have very interesting names: “Force Elite All Stars”, “Xplosion”, “Cheer Factor” and “REBEL 4ORCE”. Astronomical names are big in this world, as are names that have anything to do with explosions.
A more interesting phenomenon were those mothers who had things like ‘Team Tyla-Jaydye’ or ‘2018 Champion: Cheltzee’ embroidered hopefully on the back. Obviously, these ones aren’t the team-player mothers. They’re not interested in the team as a whole or making sure everyone wins, these ones take things to a whole new level. Generally the cause of much bitterness and tension within both the parents and the participants, this breed are only interested in their own child, believing that their child is the star of the team, the one who holds things together and the who wins all the medals for the team. No other member of the team is as important as their child, in fact, it would be fair to say that there would be no team, if it wasn’t for their child.
One lady, who was on the phone having a highly agitated phone conversation that involved many flamboyant arm movements, sported a top with the logo “Queer And Dance” printed on it. I could be completely wrong, since my exposure to the cheerleading world is about five minutes long, but I felt that this was a… let’s say, interesting… name even by their standards. I was dying to ask her about it, but she looked so agitated and angry, that I didn’t have the bottle to go over and talk to her. Instead, I treated myself to a happy few minutes pondering the possible causes of her passion: maybe her daughter was pipped at the post for the championship by her totally unworthy arch nemesis. What if her daughter was unfairly eliminated by some judge who didn’t know what they were doing? Or - ooh, I know – what if they’d had a run-in with the judge before and the mother thought that the judge was getting payback for whatever happened in the past? Perhaps a jealous team member who wanted all the glory, elbowed her daughter at a crucial moment causing her to fall over or mis-step. It could be that another team/competitor had copied their outfits or <sharp intake of breath> they’d copied the oversized, sparkly bows the girls wore in their high ponytails.
I’m not going to talk about the bows. I keep trying and I keep sounding like I’m a complete bitch, which I might be but I don’t necessarily want to sound like one. I’m just going to say this: oversized bows. Sparkly oversized bows.
I’m off to Broadbeach again now. Hopefully, I won’t find myself in the Crystal Empire today.
PS In case you’re wondering, I made the little shit who lied about hitting his head pay. Swimming lessons can be great fun or they can be exhausting and very hard work. He he he.
PPS The mystery of the “Queer And Dance” t-shirt logo was solved a little later when I saw someone else with the same top on. The writing actually said “Cheer and Dance”!
*Image screenshot from Australian All Stars Cheerleading Federation
What do I want?
I shook myself, trying to regain some semblance of control of what was going on inside my head and quell some of the more strident voices that are clamouring for attention. Get a grip, I told myself, these are my thoughts, I am in charge here, it’s time to stop. Just stop, okay? What is it that I actually feel is right for me? Take what John thinks out of it, take what Keeley or Kira think out of it, what do I want?
Oblivious to the Pacific Ocean, its surface glassy and sun-kissed, its waves dotted with tanned, fit surfie-types who had succumbed to the ocean’s seductive call to come and play (and possibly drown or get bitten by a shark), I continued my stormy stomp down the beach, completely unaware of the sand massaging the tension from my feet but uncomfortably aware of the sand scrubbing away the remnants of the blisters there. Blisters that I got after a beach walk a few days ago, when I crossed the carpark while wearing no shoes.
It was one of those scenes that Aussies are gleeful about posting on social media with titles like “Stupid tourist burns feet trying to act like local surfies. I almost died laughing! Watch this, it’ll make your day!” As I stepped onto the carpark, it took a couple of strides for awareness of the heat beneath my feet to register with my brain. Doing my best to be nonchalant about the whole thing and pretend this wasn’t happening; I am Australian after all, I should be able to walk across a red hot carpark without looking like a shoe-bereft city slicker. I walked faster and faster across the carpark, until finally, all decorum and composure thrown to the wind, my feet blistered and burned, I broke out into a tippy-toe sprint, desperately trying to put as little of my body onto the red-hot tarmac as I could while I frantically scurried to the safety of shade.
Today, my feet-protecting shoes left at the top of the beach for the walk back to the car, I grumped my way down the beach, wrapped up in my own little anxiety-ridden, stress-filled, what’s-the-point world as I turn the question over and over in my mind: what feels right to me? This was really, really difficult, much more difficult than it ought to be.
Cue rolling eyes. I’m fifty-five years of age, I’ve done a bucketload of personal development work, I’ve been a life coach, I can smell this kind of block at a hundred metres in a rainstorm. Let’s face facts, after everything I’ve done, I should be transformed and enlightened by now, in spiritual nirvana, I should not still be doing the whole people pleasing thing. A vision of a book with the catchy and not-at-all-dramatic title of ‘How People Pleasing Nearly Klled Me’ flashed through my mind and another wave of guilt hit me. I still haven’t read the thing. I bought it knowing that I need to get out of the habit of doing things to please others but quite obviously, I also didn’t want to ACTUALLY stop the whole people pleasing thing.
I sighed. Then I sighed again, just because I liked the feeling of hopelessness that comes with that kind of sigh. You know the one, your shoulders lift as you breathe in, and then when the air goes out of your lungs, your whole body seems to sink down into the ground, so you feel two or three inches shorter, like you’re getting smaller and heavier, more depressed and insignificant with every molecule of air that leaves your body. Some sighs make you feel contented or blissful or relaxed, they enliven and invigorate you. Not this kind of sigh. This kind of sigh enhances your feelings of despondency and misery and poor-me-I’m-so-misunderstoodness.
I tried again: what DO I want to do? What feels right to me? I struggle to take everyone else’s opinion out of the equation. The thing is, when you love people, it’s very difficult NOT to take into account what they want and as a parent, a good portion of your life is given over to making other people happy. Sure, there are times when you have to put your foot down and do things the child doesn’t like, but for the most part, the driving force is to make sure the child is happy. So how does stopping people pleasing come into the equation then? I’m damned if I know.
An attention-seeking wave made a solid attempt to get higher up the beach than its friends and after a brief but bitter struggle with my inner King Canute (the one who believed his innate Kingliness was sufficient to stop the tide), I irritably adjusted my walking course to avoid the wash of water, vaguely wondering whether the tide was coming in or going out because I wanted to walk in a fairly straight line and I wasn’t going to be able to do that if I was going to be inundated with water every few strides. I wrestled my mind back to the problem in hand. I’m in completely new territory here, a land never before inhabited by Mummy Karen: what do I want? If I ignore what anyone else thinks and whatever possible consequences there might be if I do what I feel is the right thing for me to do, then what would I do?
I listened to all the thoughts skidding across my mind. I can’t just ignore what other people think, if I do that, they might not like me. What if – gasp of horror – people think I’m wrong? What if – stomach lurches in a sharp descent - I actually AM wrong? What if I’ve been doing it wrong all these years? What if I’m really a crap mother and I’ve screwed up my kids’ lives by behaving the way that I do? If I ignore what John says, came one thought, maybe he’ll finally get sick of me and leave me. I felt like a knife was twisting in my stomach. Then the rational side of me snorted. ‘Mate, if he hasn’t left you yet, he’s not going to leave you over this. Next!’ The Poor Me thoughts took a turn towards the unexpected: well, what if I really do have an emotional IQ of about 2?
I blinked. Well, if I’m perfectly honest with myself, that is probably an accurate depiction of my emotional IQ. I can be very immature in a lot of ways. Like right now. If I take away all the frills and fluffy stuff and get down to the bare, brutal facts, what I want to do, what I REALLY want to do, is emotionally hurt Keeley to the same extent that she’d emotionally hurt me. I cringed; there is such a thing as being too honest. But there it is: what I want is a bit… okay a lot… of righteous retribution. It’s what I’d normally do, how I’d normally react and to hell with the consequences for myself and the impact on others.
Tonight, though, Keeley is going to her first ever formal and is up to her well-trimmed eyebrows in nail-biting angst about the whole thing. Or she would be nail-biting if she hadn’t just had her nails done. I want to be included in that, I want to know what she’s up to, I want to share it with her and be involved in the excitement. But I also want to make her DEEPLY sorry that she lied to me. I’m almost afraid of talking to her… alright, I’m avoiding talking to her because although I do want to talk to her and find out what she’s up to and be a part of it, I also want to scream at her and make her understand that she is never to lie to me again. I’m avoiding calling her because I’m not sure which side of me will rise to the surface when I speak to her.
I groan to myself again because that’s me pussy-footing around the truth (again) but it does bring me nicely back on topic because John’s stated opinion, and the cause of this beachside existential crisis, was that I should just drop the subject until after the formal. Because, he said with upsetting candour, if the past is anything to go by, I’ll just make her life hell, ban her from going to the formal, then possibly catch myself because I’m being mean, and relent and let her go at the last minute. But I’ll only relent AFTER I’ve made sure I’ve embarrassed her in front of her friends and caused her all sorts of heartache and stress. Continuing his frank declaration, he stated that he doesn’t blame her for lying to me, what do I expect? Keeley knows how I’m going to react to what she’s trying to hide, and she’s not going to risk that getting in the way of her going to the formal.
He’s quite right. That’s exactly how I want to react. With an effort worthy of Wonderwoman, I grab hold of all the bickering factions in my mind, wrestle the different feelings - that I’ve let John down, that I haven’t done the right thing in raising the kids, that I’ve got everything completely wrong – to the ground, then firmly sit on them to give myself a bit of space (peace & quiet) to think. A couple of errant self-recriminations escape from under me and echoes of “I’m not good enough” and “I haven’t done this right” bounce around in all directions.
I really need to figure out what feels right to me. My immediate reaction of telling Keeley she can’t go to the formal is an old and well-used one, but is that just my ego wanting to spread the pain that I felt from being lied to and have the person who’d caused the pain to understand how I felt by making them feel the same way? Probably. Do I want to react like that? Yep, sure do. Is it mature and indicative of a high EQ? Probably not. Should that be a gauge in how I behave? Not if I’m going to trust myself.
Lord, sometimes I hate being able to think. I wish I was a cat and I could just laze around in the sun, looking for the next opportunity to irritate some human by sitting outside the door looking as though I want to come in and then walking away when they open the door for me. Life would be so much easier if I could just do that. Sadly, no can do. Realising that the sun is beginning to burn a hole in my nose and my chest is feeling suspiciously raw, I turn and walk back towards the car and continue my convoluted deliberations with the occasional distraction. It’s interesting how different the ocean looks, depending on whether you’re facing the sun or looking away from it; the light seems to reflect differently.
The thought that here is an opportunity to grow keeps niggling at me. I don’t know how to handle this, I’m in a strange new world of behaviour, I’m learning something new. Maybe I really could just sweep the lies under the carpet until the Formal is over. Doing that would be completely out of character, for sure. Dropping the whole thing and pretending it didn’t happen feels weird. In one sense, it goes completely against everything I believe in; I’m allowing someone to tell lies and get away with it, even if they only get away with it for a few days. That doesn’t feel right, it feels strange, it feels wrong.
The cries of self-recrimination and screams for righteous retribution were now quiet enough to allow a few new thoughts to come through: what is more important to me, communicating how upset I am (i.e. making Keeley pay) or being a part of Keeley’s first formal?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. My feelings of worthiness as a mother are intricately tied up with my children’s behaviour. If I allow Keeley to think for a second that lying to me is okay, then I’m letting myself down. I indulge myself in another one of those heaving, heavy-hearted sighs.
As I’m thoroughly enjoying wallowing in my moral crisis and pondering the depths of the ethic quandaries in which parenthood places us, a lady, who’s at least ten years older than me, overtakes me like a Porsche going past a Reliant Robin (the three wheeled car that Mr Bean had).
Where the hell did SHE come from? This is NOT acceptable. I am fit and healthy, the epitome of fifty-something womanhood. I will NOT be overtaken by galloping geriatrics.
Fine, I think to myself, I’ll leave hauling the little madam over the coals till Monday. This is an opportunity for personal growth, is it? Right, grow I will. I pick up the pace, heading after the striding woman with the sturdy legs. As I lift up my head to look around, I come to a second decision: you know what? I’m just going to go at my own pace and not worry about what anyone else is doing. Now THAT is an opportunity for growth for me.
I have my money stories like everyone else. I hug them to my chest and hold them close, treasuring them and trying to protect them from prying eyes. Sometimes, I fail miserably, and my precious stories get hauled unceremoniously out of their safe, cosy hiding place, after which a dazzling spotlight is shone on them for all the world to point at and analyse.
Today is one of those days. There’s a certain point where my money stories and John’s money stories meet. It’s a dark and seething maelstrom of twisted beliefs and painful, partly-formed ‘facts’. Most of them time, I manage to avoid getting caught up in the whirling vortex of intertwined dogmas, I know how it’s likely to go if I do get trapped in there, so as soon as I see the likelihood of this clash happening, I fire the five P’s into action: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
This time, for some inexplicable reason, instead of putting my usual preparations on high alert and pressing the big red button to launch everything in into action (Plan A in place? Check! Plan B ready to go? Check? What about Plan C? Do we have a Plan C ready just in case? We certainly do, sah!), I ALLOWED myself to be persuaded not to do that by my errant husband. It was a moment of barriers coming down, a moment of trust in my fellow man, a moment of hope for the future. I don’t know what I was thinking.
You see, I have this money belief that there’s never enough, money will always run out. I can live quite happily for. A few weeks or even months, never a whiff of a money shortage darkening my existence, and then it starts, and swear to god, within two days, I’m flat broke. There’s no money in my wallet and no money in the bank and panic begins to set in.
But then – ta da, ta DAH! Cue the trumpets and heroic music because here comes John, fully kitted out in half a tonne of stainless steel and tied to a huge white cart horse (he can’t ride for toffee, so he needs something to hold him on there), its long white mane and snowy feathers waving in the wind as they gallop to the rescue (the horse has obviously just been bathed because as every owner of every grey (that’s horsey speak for ‘white’) horse that has ever existed knows if it’s in the paddock, it will find the only patch of mud that exists for a thousand kilometres in any direction because of the drought, OR – and I know what you’re thinking here – you can just put it in a stable, right? Then your problem is solved. No! It doesn’t work. Every grey horse is genetically programmed to sleep using its manure as a pillow for its head. Or its bum, side, neck, legs, everywhere, in fact). Leaping from his snowy steed, clothes magically transforming in mid-air from noisy steel plate to suave black top hat and tails, John whips the hat from his head and pulls a rabbit out of it.
That’s how it goes: I run out of money and John comes to the rescue by - to paraphrase his favourite saying - pulling a rabbit out the hat, thereby assuring himself of remaining my hero and injecting himself with the fuzzy and warm feeling that he gets knowing that once again, he’s taken great care of his family.
All this happened yesterday: I ran out of money, John did his usual dance around his office for a few minutes (I think it’s something close to a Shaman’s Rain Dance only this is John’s Money Dance. It’s very effective) declaiming as always my profligate spending, the working of his fingers to the bone and how he dislikes having to “keep on pulling rabbits out of hats” (bwahaha!). I suggested (this was Plan A) that I transfer some money from another account into my spending account to give him a bit more time, but John assured me that no, the rabbit was already out of the hat and the money would be in my account this morning. Awesome.
I have no idea whether what happened was done on purpose, whether it was a subconscious thing or whether it was a complete accident. The thing that makes me suspicious is that this is the second time this has happened in the last couple of months: John put the rabbit into the wrong account.
Note to self: Put the 5 P’s into action next time.
For anyone who hasn’t been on the internet or seen the TV for the last week, it was the Melbourne Cup last Tuesday and social media is full of horror stories about the Cup & horse racing in general. Fortunately, the onslaught of annoying posts is starting to die down now.
Here’s the thing, right: this is not an article about the pros and cons of horse racing. This is not an article about animal rights, cruelty, veganism or anything else like that.
What this is about is whether what you’re posting is in alignment with your personal values and giving other people the freedom to live by their own personal values.
What’s happened in the last couple of weeks is that there’s been an onslaught of posts about the horrors of horse racing. They’re written in highly emotive rhetoric, stating “facts” about the racing industry and its poor animal welfare record and they’re usually accompanied by some outburst from the person sharing it along the lines of “Oh my god, this is terrible, it’s got to stop!”
A friend of mine posted an article with “statistics” about the Australian horse racing industry. Her comment on it was something along the lines of “I didn’t know any of this when I posted earlier about wishing they’d ban the Melbourne Cup but knowing this now, it’s got to stop!”
The article she shared opened with the headline: “If you don't like home truths keep on scrolling!!!!!!”
Seriously? FIVE exclamation marks? Good grief.
It went through a series of “statistics” and ended with:
“Spare a thought today for these guys [horses] who aren't being given a second thought while you're placing your money down at the TAB!!!!
Happy Melbourne Cup Day!!!!”
I put the word ‘statistics’ in inverted commas because the “statistics” quoted come from the US Racing industry not the Australian one, and they’re two completely different beasts (pardon the pun). If you’re going to argue something, get your facts right. Someone tried to point out to my friend that the statistics were inaccurate, but the damage was done.
This kind of article is sensationalist story telling with enough of a kernel of truth to make people believe the rest of it. It's designed to get people worked up with its eye-catching headline and emotional heartstring wording. It's manipulative, melodramatic and is filled with half-truths and outright lies cited as “facts”. It’s designed to get people up in arms and make them come to a certain specific conclusions and take certain actions, in this case, to share the post, get worked up and demand other people do the things that the writer of the post wants them to do.
Believing the things written in posts like these is like taking what's written in gossip magazines as being the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Core value #1 - Truthfulness. Broken.
Core value #2 - Honesty. Broken.
Core value #3 – Integrity. Broken.
Here’s what I find more disturbing: the nature of these articles is such that no one cannot comment against them. There is no reasonable middle ground and there is no tolerance or understanding of any viewpoint other than the one it puts forward. This kind of article is not a laying out of the facts in a way that allows people to make an objective choice based on their own moral compass. There is no free choice in articles like this; the tone of the article makes it quite clear that if you don't agree then you're wrong, you're guilty and you’re condemned. There's no freedom of choice and there's no room for discussion.
Core value #4 – Freedom. Broken.
Core value #5 – Choice. Broken.
There is no freedom in this kind of article/speech, there's no listening, no compassion, no thought that there may be another side to the story, that someone else has the right to their own beliefs. It's judgemental in the extreme. It's bullying. It's not a reasoned, well-argued point of view whose author is unafraid of dissent because they're confident, self assured and clear in their beliefs. It's all fear-based.
Core value #6 – Compassion. Broken.
I feel exactly the same way whether the article is talking about something I agree with or not. The style of writing/talking in the article is sensationalist manipulation. You can't even talk about the style of writing without people assuming that you disagree with the point the article was making. It’s divisive. It requires you to agree with what it’s saying or be proved wrong, believe or be condemned, support or be shown for 'the kind of person you really are'.
Core value #7 – Respect. Broken.
Core Value #8 – Fairness. Broken.
Even writing this post, about the style of writing in a particular kind of article, I feel the need to defend myself and say again that what I’m writing here has nothing to do with the pros & cons of the racing industry or the moral rights or wrongs or anything else, this is just me getting the shits about poxy half-truths written in a way designed to manipulate and dominate. And I don’t care how worthy your cause is…
…the end never justifies the means.
This is about freedom, about everyone having a right to their own opinion. It’s about the fact that if a child behaved this way in a schoolground, they’d be hauled up in front of the teacher for bullying, yet we tolerate it in the media and in posts like this because, oh well, they’re getting worked up about something, and you know, they’re right in what they say, something ought to be done about it, so it’s kind of understandable, just ignore it if you don’t like it, but definitely don’t say anything because they’ll get all rabid on you. We’re not allowed to disagree with any part of it under any circumstances.
There are many, many examples in history of leaders/causes using exactly this kind of rhetoric and method to convince people to behave in a certain way or to evoke change. Have a think about that.
If we try to change things and we use a lie or a half truth to convince people, regardless of how wonderful our cause, it’s never going to work because we don’t have a relationship or a cause that’s based in truth. There can never be any trust there, there’s no integrity or honesty in the relationship.
If we try to force people to do something (i.e. bully them), they may go along with things for a while, but it will backfire eventually. We’re showing people no respect, we’re giving them no freedom or choice.
Kira moved down to Melbourne this year and she was shocked when she saw some animal rights protesters yelling and shouting outside a steak house, then storm inside and scream and shout at all the diners, calling them murderers and animal killers.
Nice. What a bunch of respectful, compassionate and caring human beings. But I can’t even make a comment on how poor I think their behaviour is without being accused of supporting animal cruelty.
I’m very glad that people feel so passionate about things, that’s wonderful. But before we start sharing posts and getting all up in arms about things, we need to check out the facts that we’re promoting for accuracy and check out the other side of the story to see what their take on it is. Let’s show some compassion and respect for our fellow human beings. Let’s not rationalise lying or manipulating, coercing, bullying or disrespecting people. There is no excuse. We cannot justify it, regardless of how worthy our cause is, because when we try to do that, we’re going against one or more of our own personal values.
After a long day working my fingers and my brain to the bone yesterday, I decided to reward myself by binge watching some episodes of Project Runway. I only intended to watch one episode then go to bed but I got into things. Finally, at about 11pm (and I’m normally up before 6am, so 11pm is not a good bed time for me), after a brief but bloody struggle between my desire to watch more episodes and my need for sleep, I manage to stop myself from downloading any more programs and head upstairs to my bedroom.
As I’m faffing around like I normally do in my lengthy preparations before sleep, I hear a thump. Followed by another thump a few seconds later. I cautiously head towards the noise, treading very carefully in case the source of the thumping is something really vile like an oversized cockroach (though how an oversized cockroach would make a thumping noise, I don’t know), I gingerly look around.
And then instantly leap back with a shriek when the curtain moves with another thump. It’s a frog! In my bedroom. That’s located upstairs and nowhere near an external entrance. We have security screens on all the windows and doors. How did a FROG get into my room? And more to the point, how am I going to get the frog OUT of my room? Because I’m certainly not going to try to pick it up, it might squirt me with some foul-smelling and poisonous gunk, or worse, it might try to leap away, at which point, I’ll probably scream and let it go, then I’ll have to chase it through to the and I might never find it and it might die a horrible death under one of the beds and we won’t know where that awful smell is coming from until we move house. So, I need to get it right to avoid the disaster movie that’s running through my head.
I have a bit of a think and come up with the solution of a bowl and plate. I dismissed the idea of using a plastic tub because this was a big frog and if it leapt hard enough and made the lid move, I’d probably shriek and throw the whole thing up in the air, thus releasing the frog and resulting in a scenario like the one I was imagining. No, the capturing apparatus had to be something heavy. Crockery it is. Armed with my bowl and plate, I spend the next 15 minutes or so chasing the little croaker round my bedroom and, let me tell you, he played extremely hard to get. There were a couple of occasions where the bowl went spiralling through the air because Froggie jumped at me and not away from me, causing me to leap several feet in the air and squeal like I’d been stabbed.
Finally, I managed to capture the slippery little fellow and put him downstairs, outside, back in the garden, where he belongs. Unfortunately, all that adrenaline pumping round my veins as a result of a confused and disoriented amphibian leaping at me, meant that it was very late when I finally managed to drift off to sleep and there wasn’t a single dream of frogs.
There’s a lot in the paper about the upcoming 2018 Schoolies Week, which actually isn’t a week, it’s more like Schoolies Month, but the mere thought of there being a ‘Schoolies Month’ would send most parents and every local council in the tourist areas running for the hills while clutching at a bottle of Valium.
For any non-Aussies reading this, you may not know what I’m talking about. I first heard about Schoolies Week when my kids were at Primary School, but at that point in time, it was simply a vague event in the possible future, so far away that I could patronisingly chuckle at the stress and terror of the parents of the students who were about to embark on their Schoolies adventure. Then as my kids began to approach the second half of their Secondary School career, I started to experience the full onslaught of the worry, anxiety and outright panic about my children’s upcoming debut into drunken debauchery, as I heard them begin to discuss with their friends, ‘Where are we going for Schoolies?’
‘Schoolies’ happens when the Year 12’s finish their exams. Finally released from all school restraints, intoxicated with their new-found liberty, our fresh-faced young adults take off with their friends and head into unknown territory for a week. Alone, without the supervision of any ‘responsible’ adults (i.e. parents or teachers), intent on experiencing the full gamut of life that’s available to them now they’ve left school and achieved adulthood, they head off into uncharted waters (especially if they’re going to Rottnest Island), where an entirely new dimension of experiences awaiting them.
Experiences like getting so drunk that you can’t remember a) where you are or b) how you got there, closely followed by confusion about the people you’ve woken up with, i.e. who are they? After that it’s time to embark on a little investigative detective work because there’s a vile smell. This detective work is much trickier than you vaguely remember that it ought to be; your brain just doesn’t seem to want to work. At all. Like, really not at all. This isn’t Calculus, for heaven’s sake, you’re just trying to work out what the smell is. Regrettably, your brain won’t surface from the murky depths in which it’s wallowing.
After a bit of a struggle, with you trying to wrestle your brain and get it to wake the eff up, for Christs’ sake, you then realise why your brain was so reluctant to move: it’s damaged! Holy cow! Some serious head injury must have happened during the evening because the simple act of lifting your head causes extreme agony to the point where you get dots in front of your eyes! You didn’t know that could actually happen except for at the moment of impact when something actually hit you. You spend a few moments reflecting on this new-found piece of information and hazily wonder whether you’ve just discovered a new scientific breakthrough.
Then you try to open your eyes. What the hell happened? Is Armageddon here or something? The sun is so much brighter than it normally is. Did some star go Supernova or something? And the sound! The noise coming from the air conditioning unit is like standing in front of the speakers at an AC/DC concert! What is wrong with the thing? Someone needs to see to the damned device.
There’s another period of time spent while you lie there feeling disgruntled about the appalling smell (as well as the ear-splitting noise and the blinding light), wishing that you could cobble together enough brain power and energy to get out of bed (or up off the floor), close the curtains and switch off the air con to give your poor, damaged brain a little respite, but most of all, you want to tell whoever it is that’s stinking the place out to get their act together and go and clean themselves up, because it’s disgusting and extremely selfish to just lie there, smelling as badly as they do and imposing that stench on everyone else. You’re assuming it’s a person, you’re hoping that it’s not the floor or a piece of furniture that’s smelling because even in the state of damage that your brain is currently in, you know that it’s much easier to clean a person and get the smell out of them, than it is to clean a floor or a piece of furniture. Pray to god, it’s not a piece of furniture that’s smelling.
Raising your head, taking care to move your head as slowly and gently as you can, you gingerly look around to see if you can locate the source of that awful smell. That tiny movement of your head sparks a foggy memory and you can put a name to the smell: it’s the stench of vomit! Some moron has puked somewhere. And the main reason you’ve identified the smell is because that tiny head movement has brought you close to barfing yourself! Swallowing the urge to throw up, and moving as carefully as you possibly can, you look around for the selfish moron who’s spewed and hasn’t bothered cleaning it up. You mentally sneer at your pathetic roommate: obviously, they can’t take their drink, the lightweight. Your eyes drift over your own body and your brain slowly begins to light up in a horrible foggy realisation that you’re the lightweight who’s vomited all over themselves and who’s stinking the place out.
Giddy with excitement at the prospect of having this kind of experience first hand, our school leavers head for territory that has already proven itself, places that are already legend from previous Schoolies Weeks. Bali, Rottnest Island, Byron Bay and the Gold Coast feature highly on this list and the newly-hatched educational alumni head to those destinations in their droves. Once in these iconic locations, they do what young adults in the Western world have done since time immemorial: they get hammered on whatever substance they can lay their hands on, cause chaos in the local neighbourhoods, trash their hotel rooms like the rock stars they said they were going to be in their Year Book, get into fights and generally seem to do their best to get themselves banned from every bar / nightclub / restaurant / café / event / shop / taxi / uber / public transport / hotel / motel / B&B / AirBnB and every other facility in the area, with the main focus being on behaving in a way that is guaranteed to make anyone over the age of 45 say things like “what’s the world coming to?” and “humanity is never going to survive this generation” or even “we would never have been allowed to do things like that in our day, we wouldn’t have got away with it. We’d have been beaten to within an inch of our lives.”
When it boils right down to it, Australians are a very pragmatic breed who set great store by the adage ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’. They know Schoolies Week is going to happen, so they manage it as best they can. It’s basically three or four weeks of inebriated teenagers wandering round and, for the most part, having a good time (hangovers notwithstanding, but when you’re at that stage in your life, a hangover is hopefully a pretty new experience, and is treated with the utmost pleasure, as in “Oh mate, I was so hungover, I puked my guts up” or “I was so out of it, I don’t remember a thing after the 8th tequila we had in the fourth bar we went in” or “I felt so bad that I didn’t get out of bed till 5p.m., then I just got dressed and went back out to the pub to get a hair of the dog”. That kind of thing).
Schoolies Week doesn’t started for two weeks, but last Saturday night in Broadbeach it was as though Schoolies was already underway: gangs of inebriated men and gaggles of intoxicated women were staggering round, having a great time, being really loud, dressed up in all sorts of matching outfits so they could still recognise their mates even though they were off their faces after drinking for 6 or 7 hours straight. It was packed, it was loud, it was just like Schoolies Week…
Except the people wandering round in a noisy state of inebriation, laughing, giggling, falling over, yelling, losing their friends, forgetting where they were staying, wanting to hug everyone, sitting in the gutter because they were too “tired” to move, dancing down the street on bare feet because their shoes were hurting them, and dressed in feather boas and silly hats, were the parents of the kids that are about to descend on the Gold Coast for Schoolies.
The Gold Coast is currently hosting the Pan Pacific Master Games and thousands of “athletes” (I use the term loosely) have descended on the area and, free of kids and other familial responsibilities and obligations, are intent on having a good time, getting as drunk as possible, dancing the night away at the dinners and events that are an integral part of this kind of thing, vomiting in the Uber and possibly competing in one or two events if absolutely necessary. And if they’re not too hung over and are feeling up to it. So long as someone else drives and maybe brings a puke bag with them just in case.
Kind of like a Schoolies Week Class of ‘79 Reunion. These guys did Schoolies many, many years ago and they’ve been practising ever since. They out every bit of that partying expertise into practise on Saturday night. And they’re still going.
I sometimes think that there are occasions when the universe gets a bit bored, so it gathers its minions round and they all amuse themselves by creating things in my life that no one, and I mean NO ONE, would ever dream possible. If I’m going to be fair, I have to admit that the things that happen are, on the whole, equally balanced between positive experiences and negative, but just occasionally I get one that makes me curl my lip like Elvis and say “Whaaaaa?”
Last night, I’m fast asleep, the air con is on, the fan is going and the air purifier is buzzing away taking all the nasty bits of pollen that cause John to sniff and sneeze and get very grumpy. I’m happily curled up under the sheet, secure in the knowledge that if a mozzie does come into the room, I’m not going to hear it over all that background noise. Bliss.
Then I hear the familiar mosquito drone. “Are you kidding me?” I think, ducking my head under the cover. Then I stop. The droning is still there, but it doesn’t sound right. It sounds like the mozzie is injured and can’t fly properly. I must have already swatted it in my sleep. It drones some more. It also sounds like…
…the mozzie is in my ear!
I leap out of bed, desperately trying to hook it out with my fingernail while, in the pitch black of night and desperately trying not to make a noise so I don’t disturb John, I dive into the bathroom cupboard and scrabble round to try to find some ear buds so I can get the little sucker out of my lughole.
After the first foray into my ear canal with the bud, the droning stops but it’s too dark for me to see whether I’ve got all or even any of the bits of mosquito out of my ear canal. A bit of poking and general cleaning round later, I go back to bed to lie in the dark, sleep evading me, wondering what kind of warped sense of humour would create that kind of event in anyone’s life.