Monday, October 27, 2008


Blast from the Past

Splinter stepped into our smoker's circle outside the pub, all soulful jarrah eyes, extremely drunk and wanting to converse, despite the obvious impediment of being articulatory challenged. "Sshe's a good woman," he said to Alice, nodding towards me.

I haven't seen Splinter for a long time and never this trolleyed. He stood on the concrete deck and waited for the sea to rise up and meet him again, which concrete decks rarely do without an earthquake. It's the illusion and I wonder, if drunk and at sea, whether you would experience the opposite.

Splinter shambled off down the alleyway between the pub and the bridal salon. "Do you know him?" Tilly asked me doubtfully.
"He's gorgeous, just a little messy tonight."
"Have you ever actually been into that bridal salon? Man it's a hoot, talk about a blast from the past! And what are those feathered thingies, you know, those French ticklers you put in your hair?"
"Fascinaters," said Alice. "They are called fascinaters."

"I've been there," I said.
"I used to live upstairs. It was a brothel in the early 1900s apparently. A secret door existed, a hidden passageway from upstairs at the hotel, across the alleyway and over to one of the bedrooms.

When I lived there it was just a party house inhabited by barflies and me, the white trash star barmaid. I'd jingle down the stairs with trays of middy glasses, to the bar on Monday mornings. The lease was taken by an overbearing kiwi by the name of Kiwi. He ran the flat with a meaty fist and a generous spray of expletives. In the room next to me lived a shattered man who'd lost his family in a car accident. We played cricket in the car park - smashing one of the hotel bathroom louvers was considered a six.
My bedroom window looked out over the harbour, the view broken by traffic, trains, boats and the ships of the wharf. It was a great view.

My sister stopped in once angry and in tears. Dad moved out of the marriage, to caretake the whalechaser. He didn't say why, perhaps he didn't know himself. Mum came, whitefaced, for a cup of tea. I retreated from the imploding family and into Pub World.

The bar manager, an imposing ex bikie from Bathurst, bought all sorts of interesting substances from Asian freight ship crew and patrol boats, selling them on over the bar. No one messed with him. Ben made six foot look ordinary and he had a mad flash in his eye. This didn't stop the police from rummaging through his apartment and dragging garbage bags full of wet weed back down the stairs.

Visiting skimpy barmaids and the cook were the only female company I had then, if you didn't count the Philipino bombshell who quietly cruised the bar for regulars on a weekday. She didn't speak much English though. Part of my job as barmaid was to button up the flannelet pockets of regulars who were obliviously displaying four or five foils. Ancient Rosie, the famous deflowerer of virgin boys, danced with her shirt off when the moon was full.

A few months ago, my daughter suggested we go to the bridal salon and try on dresses. We trawled through racks and racks of glossy satin bridesmaid dresses, the ones you'll forever hate your bride best friend for making you wear. "Come upstairs," she said. "There's wedding dresses up there."

The flat was spruced up. The skylight had been replaced in Kiwi's room, from the night he trekked across the roof and fell straight through to his bed. The old kitchen area was clean. Not a pile of dishes or king browns to be seen.

My old bedroom was the new changeroom. I couldn't believe it. The shabby fake wood panelling painted all creamy white and swathed in muslin, a huge gilt encrusted mirror covered the very same wall through which I used to hear the muttering product of the widower's tormented sleep. The view through the long sash window is just the same.

I stood there in a ridiculously frothy ivory wedding dress with mutton chop sleeves and stared at myself in the mirror. Eighteen years. Eighteen years ago, I had sex in this room with that man who just stumbled off down the alleyway. Splinter."

Tilly just stared at me and then down the alleyway. Alice was quite silent for maybe three seconds. "Bloody hell!" He said then. "How on earth did you just pull that story together? You should write that down!"

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Pearl Whimsy

It was another mental health day, one of those days when you just give up, go driving and perhaps even buy something. Some of the things happening at the time were so outlandishly outrageous that I was beginning to feel outpaced in my ability to keep up. So I went for a drive and after buying four top hats, as one does, I ended up at the Denmark Tip Shop.

And there she was, just sitting in the yard in a state of bedraggled magnificence amongst the usual tangle of broken push bikes and three legged plastic chairs.
She gave me a funny feeling in my belly. The squirming babel fish, that one that is responsible for most of my more reckless moments, whispered direct to my cerebral cortex. This babel fish translated from "You are a fucking idiot, don't go there, she'll only suck up all your cash and break your heart," into a siren song of the WineDark sea, a song of pelagic, oceanic fantasies and plied my ego with a very attractive vision of my own self.

"I must have her," I breathed and asked the handsome young feral with arms like a fisherwoman how much.
"Mmmm," she mused. "Forty bucks?"
"She's got a busted spine, for sure," grunted Relic, who seemed to spend the day there for entertainment. (A good lurk.)
"Now don't be so negative, Relic!" She bossed him.
"She'd make a great vege garden," he said, trying now.

I dropped in to see a wooden boat builder on my way home. "Wow! You bought the Pearl!" Matty started giving me instructions on copper nails, steamed ribs (not the pork ones, I discovered) and caulking. He told me the bloke next door would cart it back to Albany for me.
Well, it was really for him, because he saw me coming. Three hundred dollars later she sat in my front yard. And sat. And sat.

In the meantime I focused on making silk purses from the other reckless purchase that day, four top hats. Unfortunately, like my scarecrows, they are attractive only to a selective cliental.
I sold one with an amethyst and peacock feather crown to a singer who put it on and wore it straight on stage. Two more are sitting around at my place and Shark scored the red cockatoo feather one - yes, the one that got him into so much trouble!

Pearl sat on blocks at my place. Getting her up on these presented lever logic problems almost beyond my capabilities. She is twenty foot long and weighs at least half a ton. During the Week of the Herring, when Old Salt turned up daily at work with bucketfuls of herring, Bob and I sat in the shade of the Pearl and filleted, filleted, filleted.
Finally Old Salt got sick of seeing her surrounded with grass and sold me a trailer for $100. Another fisherman gave me a roll of hemp caulking cotton. It really was time to get started.

I felt struck down by this kind of ennui that creeps in when I set the bar too high for myself. What the hell do I know about twenty foot wooden carvels? She sat around for a bit longer, while I moved house twice and subjected myself to a few more dramas.

There are two distinct reactions when I show people the Pearl. One is; "She is so cool, how romantic, what fun, let's get her in the water and crack the champers over her bow, " kind of comment. These people are my friends. The other reaction is; "Um ... are you gonna caulk this endless pit of financial carnage, before you take our son fishing in it?" These people I have no choice but to be related to, much as I love them. (Karmically enough, they have no choice about me either!)

Actually there's three reactions. The third is; "What you need to do is - " People like Matty and my Dad in this respect are brilliant. They love old wooden boats and get all wistful and salty just looking at her, even though they know the work ahead.

Anyway, a few days ago I moved the Pearl to my place! She is perched up on the hill, overlooking the sea and I can wander out to scrape paint whenever I like. It's not that hard, scraping back paint and discovering the nooks and crannies of this shady lady. I'm learning new things every day, in the most enjoyable way imaginable.
Stay tuned for the voyage of the Pearl ...

Monday, October 13, 2008

The View From Here

Full moon over my shoulder and Venus ahead. (My Dad said once, "Venus is the oldest prostitute in the world. First out at night and the last to leave.") Sun sets over sandhills across the water. Wind turbines turn lazylike.

Phosphorescent blue navigation lights - when they line up you are home safe, burning off smoke lays low over the land, car lights track the edge of the harbour. Colours quick silver the glass-off sea.

A bird flies home, coo-ees coordinates.
Washing murmers on the hippy line, basket in the grass beneath, an up ended bicycle. A possum!

Our red flag undulates. The lime tree. Top step outside the chook pen gate - the best view in the world. Sausage curry smell. Black cat. Potatoes. A wheel barrow. Garlic.
My toes cooling.
Evans and Tate on my tongue.
(It's not so bad after all!)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bottle Shop Scenario

Hmmm. Cheap bottle of red? Or a Nice Brown Tequila With Worms? Too many choices. The sisters are in from Margaret River, one of whom I am not gonna see for a few years, as she is off to NZ and I feel ... yes well ... she is a gorgeous goddess-bodied Drummond girl... she may be a little longer than that.
The bottleshop attendant says "This cleanskin, it's Evans and Tate. A very nice red wine."
Don't believe him. It's bloody awful. No wonder they went down. Let's stick to brown tequila and give that wild tousle-haired Toa sister the send off she deserves

Flotsam #2 Possums

Wagyl Swamp
One hundred bucks each. A landscaper's bonanza! Aussie and I laid planks over blackberry briars and lurched into the soggy quagmire of the swamp to plunder feral but lucrative tree ferns.
We woke up a nocturnal ringtail with our graceless incursion and she straddled another feral, the Taylorina, glaring at us with huge indignant and bloodshot eyes. "What the HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING? I'm trying to sleep!"

The Big Storm
It was an all nighter. We'd not seen each other for four years. Our Sunshine drank tea and I warbled my way through two or three cleanskins. The wind began at six am. By that time, we'd sorted out what to do with our degrees, how to make a two bedroom house out of one and elaborated on various theories about dingoes and quadrupeds.
By seven am, whole trees flew across the paddock like witches on broomsticks. The childhood treehouse exploded. We stoked the tile fire and decided the kids were definitely not safe out in the caravan. We also decided to stay away from all windows. The phone and power were out for two days.

Today, at Mum's, I found a possum, a mummified baby hanging from a eucalyptus casualty, her tail still twining around one twig. Ring Tail. Dried out and desiccated.
I thought, two months ago, that storm. I remember that, our warm fire, our bottles of wine, our university degrees, our cups of tea, our comfort.
That night must have been pretty rough for possums, with those trees flying around like they did.

Like foxes, cane toads or rabbits, they made sense at the time. If you venture around the (many and irregular) corners from Queenstown to Glenorchy, past the chocolate box scenescapes beyond any landscape you ever imagined and past the iconic cabbage trees and snow mountained greenery and massive rivers of glittering mica, you will come across a little town where there is one cafe, one house and one shop that sells possum skin bikinis.
I had to have one.
At Customs on return to the homeland... I try to explain. These critters are native to our country! But it wasn't the possum bikinis that sent off the dogs, the buzzers, the hyped up airport goons. It was the children. They won't let them in because one has a suitcase full of knives and a school backpack that smells suspiciously of bananas. The other one...I won't say what she managed to smuggle into Australia but no wonder she was a bit twitchy at the air port.

Pure Drunken Confidence
They fly, they fall but always with illogical grace. Possums crash. They do. They crash with style. I clench up and wait for that nasty thud of body on earth but it never happens. They seem to survive that loose "I know this branch will catch me and swing and fling me back up to a better branch" kind of action. It reminds me of my teenage years for some reason.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Day I Changed My Handbag: a feminist critique

This feminist discourse on women's choice of handbag explores the corollaries of body, space and gender, utilising the subtext of the subjective and objective to illustrate the connection between genital dismorphic perceptions and worn accessories in the study of the female psyche.

I hate the brick wall that academia constructs to keep us mere rabble out. Let's start again. I was at Alice's Shed Party the other night, when a little brown boy burnt his hand on the gas heater.
"Has anyone got some Paw Paw ointment?" Came the mother's plaintive cry.
"Ask Sarah Toa to look in her hand bag," Alice the housetruck genius said. "She's an old witch from way back." He is faultless in his ability to insult me and grease me up at the same time. I never know how he does it.

Of course I had a whole jar of the stuff, along with a very sharp pocket knife, some bolt cutters, rego papers, two mandarins, a half full bottle of wine, a lock of hair, some sea shells crushed to pearlescent dust, Henry Miller's Plexus, an empty wallet, two cigarette lighters, a defunct floppy disc, a proper hand forged butcher's hook, ... you get the picture.

Jude leaned over and shouted to me over the music, "You know the theory about women's handbags representing the state of their vaginas." She was half way through labouring this point at the top of her voice, when the band stopped playing and everyone looked at my hand bag in shocked silence - my great big green, miner's tool bag with paint all over it and the pair of bolt cutters sticking out the top.
"That's why you can't find a boyfriend," Alice gave me a verbal brotherly pat with a simultaneous knee in the guts. "Even though you are very beautiful - on the inside at least - your hand bag does not reflect that. You need to resolve this hand bag issue, sister."
I went home and took my violin with me.

I decided to downsize to something prettier, all the while cursing Jude's amazing voice projection and Alice's double psyche major. It's useful to find scapegoats in these moments of of Cuntesian doubt.
Something cute, furry and kind of pouchy that I can tuck under my arm? Too Thatcher Youth. Okay, how about Brazilian leather? No. Black patent vinyl with silver studs? Mmm. Too Vagina dentata.

In the end I settled for beautiful blood red. (Oh please, can I write about my periods on my blog? Please? It's my blog dammit. James Joyce has, with all his mutterings about the tides and the wine dark sea and everyone still thinks he's hot.)
Really, this hand bag is a fave. It still smells of patchouli from the last essential oil incident. It is faithful and beautiful and kind of shiny. It can sit on a sun bleached jetty and a chair at the most expensive restaurant in the same day and still be stylish and fresh. It carries baggage - but not too much.
At the next Shed Party, I might mention to Alice something about big toes and penises, then sit back and watch him covertly check out his own feet. Meanwhile, as Alice is otherwise preoccupied and not doing my head in, Jude and I can discuss our periods, the state of our hand bags and corollaries of body, space and gender in peace.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Flotsam #1 How to build a chookpen.

I messaged Shark this morning,"I've run out of things to write about."
My real agenda was to get out of going to sea. It was hailing sideways bullets of ice and Old Salt wanted to go fishing, as he frequently does when it is hailing sideways.
Shark's response was immediate and comprehensive,not bad considering it was early and he had the flu.

"Rubbish. Write about Albany's nude beach or how hard it is to give away a stove or finding possums or someone who lived in a storage unit or how to build a chicken coop. Or Buswell's announcement that Homeswest homes in wealthy suburbs will be sold off and the people relocated to somewhere more appropriate or what you would put in a suitcase if you had to live in a light house. Or the Shed jam sessions or write a recipe for stingray. Or the warrior painting."

Okay... one thing at a time. I think it is chicken coops today but stay tuned for other subjects on this list to appear.Think of Shark's text as a contents page of flotsam, strange wreckage to be found floating on a wine dark sea.

I come from a long line of chook pen builders. So about ten years ago when the Ranger began his regular visits to my front door,(think Chuck Norris style Ranger without the mustache and a leery eye) I knew it was time to put my birthright to the test and contain those feathered vagabonds.

These chickens were feral. Oscare Wilde once wrote, "If you want to see pure evil, look into the eye of a chicken." These girls roosted on my bread maker because it was warm and it smelt good. They also roosted in the bathroom. A nice time to experience true evil is at midnight, having a grumpy chicken watch you toilet.

I enlisted the help of Our Sunshine,who is also a chookpen construction blue blood. We spent the best day building the most kick ass chook pen you have ever seen, such a great day in fact, that I forgot my sisters graduation and she still hasn't forgiven me.
At the end of the day we shared some beers and looked at our creation, our power tools hanging from our hands, feeling that glow of a job well done and a girls can do anything kind of macho cool."Let's go into business," said Our Sunshine."You and me. Let's take our chookpens to the world."

It was a better business proposition than the one I was working on, creating custom scarecrows. I was trying to educate the public in the kind of scarecrows they really needed but people were slow to catch on and sales were down. Looking back, I think I was the Kate Bush of scarecrows and way ahead of my time.There simply wasn't the demand for scarecrows dressed in petticoats, stockings and high heels back then.

These days the Rangers and I have a jovial relationship based on jokey reminiscences of those days when I tried to exist a block away from the main street with eight chickens and a brindle kangaroo dog who was hip height with raised hackles. There was also a fraught exchange over my 'supposed'ownership of some Damara sheep. (Damaras are like goats in their contempt for fences and their culinary delight in other people's washing.) They were $100 on retrieval from the pound. ("What, are you saying they are MY sheep?") The last time I saw all the Rangers together I was waitressing at the annual dog catcher's convention. Now that was a fun afternoon.

Bob always attacked the building of chookpens with prolific industry. Despite me finding six chookpens here and currently discovering the remnants of more, he and I spent many a happy day crashing through undergrowth, chasing down feral chooks and their babies, trying not to crush them underfoot.When dismantling the defunct chookpens recently, I discovered that most of them were held together with rusting bicycles,baling twine, electrical conduit and double bass strings. Plus the one that leant against the true blue still, of moonshine origins.

I decided to build a new, really great chookpen.
The Secret
Just do it. Buy a brand new roll of chicken wire. Go on.
Always dig your corner strainer posts really deep, so they don't sag inwards.
Always dig in the bottom of the chicken wire, or peg it down.
Always put the top nail too high on the strainer posts, so you have to stretch the wire up to meet it.
Always put the gate posts leaning slightly outwards, like a victory sign. Then.
Wrap some wire between the gateposts, a few layers, and twitch it, just like the snake bite tourniquet used before pressure bandages became fashionable. This pulls the gateposts together until they are parallel and tensions the rest of the fence. Clever huh? Then hang a beautiful gate, something really pretty. Your chickens will thank you for it.

I told my son, the heir to the chookpen throne,"If anyone asks you what your Mum does, tell them she builds kick ass chookpens ... And also mention that she has some surplus scarecrows for sale - on special this week."