The Bath In The Bedroom

It was the bath in the bedroom that sold me on the house in Sommieres. I’m a bath aficionado (you might even say a crazy-eyed obsessive freak) and the tub is my happiest of happy places, second only to my bed. To have one within three steps of the other is this lazy gal’s greatest dream. And the fact that this particular bathtub is directly across the street from the former home of Lawrence Durrell in the centre of a medieval stone village…well, that’s getting a little greedy for romance. But sir,  I’ll take it!

I had spent some fun hours searching the internet –  the north of France,  the mountains; but mainly the south, for a place to rent for a year. There were very few places that panned out, and none that captured my imagination like that bath in the bedroom. It wasn’t available.  But  then the landlady emailed us asking if we might be interested in the house next door. It had a shower in the bedroom instead of a bath ( not ideal; for a start, ones book gets terribly soggy) but retained all the stone-walled, higgledy-piggledy, history-soaked charm of the original.

Sold! To the lady reading memoirs with pruney fingers.

And now we are here. A year in the south of France is perhaps not the most original of ideas, but that’s OK with us. We’ll wash away the shame of being clichés with buttery pastries as big as our heads. Eaten in the shower.

Keith will run his small tech business from home, I will write and run the good ship Household and our children, who are ten, nine and six, will go to the village school for a year, although they don’t speak French. It’s called ‘immersion’ learning, and there is a knot in my chest at the anticipation of how tricky and painful their adjustment may be. I’ve been told that should take about four months for the babble of language surrounding them to coalesce into recognisable sentences. At that point, they should have ‘functional’ French, and from then on it will be a matter of vocabulary and nuance, and eventually, poo jokes. But at the start they will face an unfamiliar culture and language, a situation that will take all their courage and intestinal fortitude.

We joke about preparing ourselves to be the ‘dumbest family in town’ for a while. Keith and I comfort ourselves with the science that says that novel experiences spark neural pathways in the brain, and we hope that at the end of a year, the children will speak the language (at least conversationally), which will be a great gift to their adult selves.

I also hope that even the difficult and painful aspects of their adjustment will hold hidden gifts of resilience and compassion. And of course to be able to take such an adventure is an incredible privilege. Still, I feel sick at the thought that we are taking the trusting little hands of these people we love so much, dropping them into a terrifying ocean and shouting ‘Save yourselves!”

Can we withdraw routine, comfort and stability from the lives of these very small people in the hope of a future deposit of memories and skills? Is it a fair transaction? I hope so.

School will be challenging, but home life will run as always (lost hats, Captain Underpants, little arms and legs in strong, warm cuddles). I will be their soft place to fall when they have a rough day, and I will try to keep life as safe and as familiar as I can. But to be honest, our day-to-day life for the next year is hard to imagine.

Home is a beach town; down a dirt road in a house with a composting dunny and a rope swing. The frogs are noisy at night-time, fat possums jump across the roof, and wallabies visit the backyard. Down the hill is a beach called Sharkeys that booms with powerful, thundering Pacific surf, as well as the children’s familiar, beloved small school complete with whale-watching platform. In Sommiéres we live in a tall, narrow stone house built in 1973; underneath a castle, and near a Roman bridge ordered by Tiberius in 1AD. One feels a million miles from the other.

The future is bursting with possibility, which is part of the thrill, and part of the fear.  It’s all possible: stress, worry, emotional cheese-eating; but also: travel,  incredible new skills (is it really possible we could all be fluent in another language by next year?) and shared family memories.

On a good day, we will be living our dream adventure.  On a bad day, I’ll break in next door and eat pastries in their bath. Win win!

From Wollongong to France

Scrolling through an expat-advice thread one afternoon, in preparation for our move to France, I read (with mounting horror) how nicely put-together Gallic children are – their shoes are shined, their clothes are ironed, and generally, they are turned out with care and precision. I look at my three kids, who are playing Farting Rainbows with their stuffed animals ‘The Friendys’. This is a game in which the Friendys compete for the crown of Queen of Farts, and the rules are too disgusting to outline in mixed company. One child is wearing two odd shoes, another is wearing nothing but a single sock and the smallest one looks as though she has survived some kind of freak op-shop explosion.

I am nervous. We are moving to a little village in the South of France for a year, and we are not only from Australia: we are from Wollongong. I love Wollongong: there is a thriving art and music scene here, the food is amazing and our beaches are spectacular, but it must, however, be noted that a man was recently arrested outside local pub Dicey Riley’s for performing the ‘helicopter’ with his penis. I relay this crime with a certain amount of home-town pride, but while I’m sure that the medieval town of Sommiéres will have its own cultural idiosyncrasies, I’m fairly confident that the public dick-swinging is not one of them. I know how to handle an unexpected helicopter (‘Call that a penis’ ‘Does your mother know that’s out?’ etc) but whatever the French version is, I will be at a loss.

I practice the phrase ‘Sorry! We are Australian!’ (I’ve been told that we want to make sure that locals know immediately that we are not British). Je suis désolé! Nous sommes Australiens!

I’m  really nervous about the throwing the kids in to sink or swim at French school where they will be in full ‘immersion’ mode, but I will be out of my cultural depth too. I am going to have to raise my standards. French women are famous for their sartorial flair, while at the school drop off I usually look as though I have been shagged through a hedge backwards.  Modern grooming feels beyond my skillset. It’s like painting the Harbour Bridge; once you get through the waxing, plucking, colouring and moisturising involved, not to mention the light trimming of one’s perimenopausal beard, it’s time to start all over again. My concession to fashion these days is putting on a bra for the run to BiLo (which I pretty much usually do. I am not an animal!)  I do wonder, though, how my style – I like to think of it as ‘derelicte’ – will fly in the South of France?  And how much do I care? Je suis désolé! Nous sommes Australiens!

I was not always this way. Ten years of being a stay-at-home mum who writes a bit have turned me into a sort of relaxulated mole creature; all about the elasticated waist and the ‘good’ trackie pants for special occasions.  But in a galaxy far, far away (my past before children) I was a city gal, a night owl, a butterfly in search of a party. Somehow, this year ahead feels a little like a step into another incarnation – the intense work of shepherding little ones through early childhood is waning, and I can, perhaps, strike out on my own a little again. Who will the new me be? And what will she wear?

It feels so sudden, but all the intense preparatory work is over and we have set off; into this possibly miserable, hopefully excellent, definitely memorable family adventure. It’s hard to know exactly how this year will unfold. But I shall do my best to spruce us all up a little. ‘Be kind, smile and avoid doing the helicopter,’ I shall tell the children. ‘Don’t teach your new friends Farting Rainbows on the very first day.’  Apart from that; stand tall and proud. You are from Wollongong – Wollongong the Brave – and you’ll be right.  Nous sommes Australiens!

The Panic Attack Is Scheduled For Monday

                           Parisian street in 1936 by Maynard Owen Williams for National Geographic

 

Less than two weeks until we blow this joint…  and we still have no visas. Dealing with the French Embassy has been both comedic and tragic.

Monday, we panic. But until then, there is too much to do.

Over the next few days we have a Sydney farewell, a family party, in-laws sleepover, a combined farewell/birthday party for the kids and two of the kid’s birthdays. I am losing track of the to-do lists scrolling in my brain, and this morning, in one of our manic information-exchanges (the current mode of our relationship) my lists fused and I asked Keith to grab me a unicorn if he popped into Bunnings. If only!

Biggest lass is sick with the nasty  virus that has sweeping the land. So amongst the sorting and cleaning and admin of the week, I’ve been administering cuddle therapy on the lounge and watching Chefs Table and Yonderland with my hot and sweaty little friend. This morning T-Bone (who keeps trying to kiss his sister in the hope of catching the get-out-of-school-sickness) was wildly scratching his head. ‘Stop that!’ I said. I have been ignoring the scratching for a couple of days. Cannot face the implications. Then T-Bone told me that the headmistress had said yesterday: ‘Every time I look at you, T-Bone, you are scratching!’

How I laughed! Then I violently hounded him out of my bed to cover his head with chemicals. There were five humans in the bed-built-for-two this morning,  and at least three of us spent a very restless night with the biggest having fever-nightmares. At 5am, we finally slept,  listening to the BBC Women’s Hour podcast.

Still, the to-do list is covered with satisfying scribblings-out, and all is on track so far. Appliances repaired, furniture mended, endless emails sent.  (Don’t mention the visas.) I even went to the GP this morning to fill some pre-emptive scripts (I’m reliably informed that French doctors are all about the suppositories, and I’d rather not put anything up the Bulli Pass if it’s not strictly necessary.)

The amount of stuff sent to the op shop is epic. I have cleaned and sorted every cupboard in the house, packing only what we can carry and saving for storage only what we might need in a year. It’s been extremely satisfying. Yesterday I sorted all the bathroom cupboards and found, amongst the assorted crap, an old and exceedingly strange cellophane-wrapped cake of ‘Peni-Wash’ bought at some ancient Asian market and that sometimes I enjoy placing on a the pillow of a visiting guest.  Peni-Wash didn’t survive the extreme cull, so I am clearly, finally Reaching Adulthood. I was happy, however, to happen upon the eponymous ‘peppermint foot spray’ and ‘foot cooling lotion’ that lurks in the cupboard of every home, relic of some long-ago regifted Body Shop basket. Probably there is only one of them, cycling through the land in an endless journey of disappointment.

However, my little Pudding has had a sore foot for a few days, and I haven’t paid much attention to it, distracted as I am. So I saved it for her, and after school I presented her with ‘foot medicine’. It was the best day of this budding doctors life. First we sprayed, then we lotioned, then I carefully bandaged the appendage. ‘Now, you’ll need to repeat this treatment quite a lot, Pudding,’ I told her. ‘Can you handle it?” ‘OF COURSE!’ she shouted. I would wager the opinion that it is the very first time that the Body Shop Peppermint Foot Spray has met with such enthusiasm.

I am writing this from the hairdresser where Danielle is trying to rescue my wild mane.  ‘Take the witch out of the bitch, Danielle,’ I said. ‘I am not up to Wollongong standards; and this may take some sorcery but you need to bring me up to Paris level.’

She nodded silently. She is a magician. Moore St Hair, local friends. Tell Danielle I sent you.

Wish me luck with le Consulate, comrades. I will keep you posted.

 

Whispering Is So Hot Right Now

(I wrote a version of this post recently for news.com). 

Whispering is so hot right now. Even Freelee the Banana Girl, notorious Australian rage-vegan YouTuber, has replaced her ‘meat is murder’ videos with ones where she talks softly about perms while brushing her hair.

It’s called ASMR, or Autonomic Sensory Meridian Response, and it’s one of the fastest growing trends on the internet.  Sometimes called ‘brain massage’, ASMR is the term coined in 2010 for the tingling, pleasurable sensation that ASMR practitioners or ‘ASMRtists’ can induce in a listeners body through such ‘sound triggers’ as whispering, tapping, and brushing.  ASMR is also induced with scenarios of nurturing, non-sexual ‘personal care’, so the ASMRTist may talk directly to camera in role-plays of haircuts and doctor visits. Narration is whispered, paper is scrunched, water is poured and microphones are brushed and tapped with different objects. Meanwhile, devotees (sometimes called ‘tingleheads’) slump smiling in their headphones, bones turned to jelly, and ASMRtists rake in the big bucks.

Truly, it sounds nuttier than a box of Magnums. But there is an undeniable physiological response being induced.  While not all people respond to ASMR, those that do describe sensations of tingling that originate in the back of the scalp and radiate down the spine, sometimes into the shoulders, arms and legs. People turn to ASMR for help with insomnia and anxiety and to induce a state of relaxation. ‘It feels like starbursts in my head’ says Andrea. ‘My body loosens immensely, like after drinking wine,’ says Nyx.’ The physical sensation ends almost immediately with the stimulus, says Jean, ‘but the euphoria and peaceful calm can last for several minutes afterwards. ASMR can really relax me for hours.’

ASMR is thought to be related to synaesthesia (which can cause people to experience otherwise unrelated secondary sensations to sensory stimuli) and to ’chills’, or ‘frisson’, the name given to the physical sensation sometimes experienced when listening to music. A great example: Lady Gaga’s rendition of the Us National Anthem at the 2016 Superbowl.

The popularity of ASMR is undeniable. There are 127, 000 subscribers to the ASMR sub-Reddit, 19 million results on a Google search and more than 7 million results on YouTube. Many people use the videos to sleep, with most searches occurring at about 10.30pm, across different time zones, according to Google Trends, and ASMRtists like Heather Feather and ASMR Darling (who called herself an ‘internet brain masseuse’ have huge follower numbers. 28 year old ‘Maria’, who runs ‘Gentle Whispering’ – the biggest ASMR channel on YouTube – has nearly 1 million subscribers.

So why does the ASMR response occur? Is it related to dopamine? To serotonin? To oxytocin? Is it some lizard-brain response to nurturing and calming sounds and behaviours that replicate infancy? Are ASNR triggers activating some biological bonding mechanism? All these theories are in play, but the science is not yet in. Dartmouth research examining the neurobiology of the reward system by using fMRI analysis is pending, and there have been, to date, six peer-reviewed papers including one that examined the personality types of those who experience ASMR.

It is charmingly strange, this is certain. ASMR video titles include ‘Little Bat Yawning and Flapping It’s Wings’ to ‘Ear Massage with Reading Classic Slovak Short Story’ to ‘Eating a Whole Rotisserie Chicken’. One of the most beloved tropes of the ASMR scene is the painter Bob Ross, whose 80’s cult-classic TV show, which featured his distinctive gentle voice and the notably loud scraping of his paintbrush on canvas, has an undeniably soporific quality.

Freelee the Banana Girl for ten years styled herself as a YouTube provocateur, exhorting her many subscribers to ‘Carb the F$%k Up’ and landing herself in the Supreme Court over defamation at one stage (the case was settled out of court). She has long known how to gain pageviews (and paydays) on the platform, and her move to ASMRtist indicates that there is money to be made.  W Magazine recently posted a celebrity ASMR series, in which Cara Delevigne swore, sotte voce, and Kate Hudson fondled sequins and snipped fabrics with a giant pair of scissors.

Brands too, are taking note of the commercial potential of ASMR. It’s been used to sell beer and chocolate, and recently KFC recently hired actor George Hamilton to whisper about pocket squares and crunch on fried chicken, conflating in listeners minds the ‘comfort’ of fried food and relaxation. At least, this was the aim of the marketing wonks at KFC. Whether it sold more chicken, it’s hard to know.

ASMR is definitely bizarre. But also, perhaps, brilliant: a comingling of technology and neuroscience, where the freedom of YouTube – to be a citizen filmmaker, to build communities, to do nutty, experimental things – has ended up creating a product way too odd to have gained traction in the traditional business world.  ASMR may truly help people suffering insomnia and anxiety, and it may have other implications too, yet to evolve. It’s a quintessentially youTube phenomenon, like Freelee the Banana Girl. *whispers* Watch this space.

Light Bladder Leakage

Picknicking In America by Leanord McCombe for Life)
Comrades! I live! Yea, though my fingers have not been tapping out inanities at this address, still, I have trundled along, the same old middle-aged hot mess that you know (sort of) and adore (right guys? Right?)
Since last updating this space I have driven approximately one million kilometres, cleaned approximately seven metres of ripe compost from the backseat  of the car and grown at least twenty eight new grey hairs – not yet, I hasten to add, in the Bermuda Lady Triangle (bragging).

 

Also, am giving up on trying to format this blog post. Code is not my friend today. Please just take the weird pauses, stuttering prose and awkward transitions as a little taste of what it’s like to hang with me in real life.

My last post here was at the beginning of last school term – feels so long ago!  I did recover from my meltdown at the letterbox but the year has unfolded with some intensity.  A lot of emotional  life to manage, and then halfway through term we took a sharp left into hospital craziness when Peanut had to have a tendon graft repair to her hand. Serious microsurgery. She touted a ’duckbill’ splint for a few months that she called Bobbi Jo Jefferson, and she stepped up to the challenges and frustrations very well. I’m really proud of her. But it’s an ongoing drama. (Hand therapy tips received with thanks.)

I spent a week in Fiji with some of my ladies for a wedding,  and it was wonderful but, home now, I am re-adjusting to the fact that I can no longer call Housekeeping and Room Service, because I am Housekeeping and Room Service. Also Concierge, Front Desk, Restaurant, Chauffeur, Medical, Psychiatry and Emergency Clean-up (Depts Vomit, Piss, Misc.)

Plans are afoot for our move to France for a year in August. We’ve rented a place in a small medieval town called Sommieres and I am so excited I have light bladder leakage at all times. Much to do though – more on the list than there are hours in the day.

 

Keith and I are good. Trying to carve out moments to watch House of Cards and rant about Trump to each other in the hallways. We have gathered a massive pile of documents for our French visas – there must be 100 pages of paperwork in all – but we cannot by any means make contact with the consulate. Still, I am trying to find it all a comedy. Ha ha! See the lady smile! See smile not reach the lady’s eyes! See the lady cry and smile! See the French man laugh! See him throw his baguette in the air!
My book is coming along, I got a lot done in Fiji and even though it is still a massive unwieldy beast that I feel will never be finished, it’s forming more shape and structure all the time.
The children are well.  They keep making their stuffed animals sing a song they call ‘It All Revolves  Around The Sausage’ which is disturbing but preferable to their other number ‘I Want To Be Annoying’ (sung in falsetto). Peanut remains obsessed with the Hunger Games.  T-Bone is working on a board game called Warlords and Babies and borrowing lots of library books along the lines of ’100 Most Disgusting Things In The Universe’.

Pudding is writing a book called Unicorn and Fairy about two best friends who, over eight chapters so far, have been to the shop and bought a computer. It is a rollercoaster of non stop emotion.

 

 

I made the mistake of stating an unpopular opinion on a Facebook page for women writers last week and got royally serviced up the jacksie for my troubles. It reminded me that I’m not cut out to be a provocateur, and also that the online world is not that civilised a place, which saddens me. I’ll leave the debate to the feisty youngsters and keep my mouth shut in the corner. However, I am reading lots of lovely books in the bath, the electric blanket has appeared, and hot-chocolate -afternoon-tea season has begun, so winter is going alright by me.

In short, all good in the hood. I hope the same is true for you all out there.

X

 

Emotional Casserole

As I write, I am sitting in an empty house. Apart from the cicadas and the occasional drip of sweat down the back of my neck (this Australian summer is a fiery one), there is not a peep to be heard.

It is quiet.

SO quiet.

In this quiet house, I’m reflecting on the wildness of the week behind us. My biggest girl started a new school for Year 5, my boy started year 3 and the baby, my Poo Poo, my  little constant companion, began kindy. And I  started this next phase of my life which, for the first time in a decade, doesn’t involve the very specific and particular joys and stresses of tiny children at my feet all day.

We’ve been preparing for this big shift all summer. I’ve been re-arranging bedrooms, sorting stuff and de-cluttering like a crazy lady.  I’ve been labeling, organising and list-making so that all of us can enter the new routine with order and positivity. I think I’ve been trying to simplify and refine our lifestyle  because I’ve felt, so strongly, the change in the air and the coming of a new era.

A draft post titled ‘thoughts of a mother during the last week of the school holidays’ never made it online. It was the usual ranting and I never had the time or headspace to write it but my scrawled notes remind me of how I felt – the heat oppressive , the children always hungry, the housework overwhelming.  Even though we had a beautiful summer – lots of visits with friends, lots of time together – the ‘mum-work’ was never-ending, and the day that all three children would be off to school, leaving me in the glorious quiet, was like a shining vision of utopia. I thought I would be absolutely partying with my bad self. I dreamed of quiet space to think, freedom to temper boring mundane housework jobs with interesting radio, time to write, a schedule of my own. Bliss!

But last week the shining day finally came, and instead of partying like a crazy fool, I fell to pieces. It was a bit of a shock.

My big girl is off to start a new school for year 5. It’s a city school, much bigger than her tiny, nurturing primary that we love so much, and she is catching the public bus. She starts her day an hour earlier and ends it an hour later, and in the middle she navigates her way though a sea of new rules and requirements. She is so brave, so small, and so tired.

It is, I am sure, going to be a wonderful year, full of incredible opportunities, new friends and experiences, and she has a great friend at her side, which has made the transition so much smoother. She is stepping into her own future and I am so proud. But, my god, what a week it was.

My beautiful boy, going into year 3, has his own set of worries and challenges, and if he could stay at home with me all day, he would. School is not his favourite place, and helping him manage takes particular thought and attention.

Finally, my little one, my darling last-born buddy is off into kindy. She was so ready to start school and has taken to it with gusto, as I knew she would, but friends, the heart-punch of losing that little companion came like a blindside. Because I  am always, always craving solitude and time with my own thoughts, it just never occurred to me that being without my little sidekick would feel so sad. The first day that we dropped her at school, I was like a leaky sieve all day long. The tears just flowed and flowed. I felt so fragile, unmoored and weird, and I felt like that all week long.

It’s the end of the beginning. My mistakes, my regrets, my worries, the past, the future, they all weighed heavy on me.  There was car crying and then the floppy exhaustion that follows a big emotional release. Throughout it all, there was the mum-work of shepherding the kids into their new routine. Baking and washing uniforms and packing bags. Lots of hugs and long chats.

Rather than feeling like I’m released from some part of my mum-contract as they all go off to school, it’s felt the opposite. My big girl needs me so much at the moment, in ways she hasn’t for a long time. This is fleeting, I know – she’ll get the hang of her new school, the bus, city life, and I can step back again. But for now, looking after her in all the intimate little mum-ways feels really important. I’m trying to do my best at it, to cherish it, as I am with my darling last little chick leaving the nest. It’s bittersweet, and it’s harder than I thought it would be.

But today is Monday, where all the possibilities of the week lie, and I  feel good. I hope that the emotional casserole of last week has been turned down to just a gentle simmer. This next era of family life will start to take shape as the dust settles.

I will have that longed-for quiet time to myself. I will be able to stop worrying about the girls as they settle into their new lives, and hopefully my sweet little boy will have a good school year too. And I will have a little space to turn to my own plans and dreams, and I am really, really damn excited about that.

One more time:

If you sent kids off to little or big school this week, I hope you weren’t hit with the same unexpected emotional tsunami as I was. And if you were, I hope you are OK. x

Bad With Money

Happy new year, comrades!

How is 2017 beginning for you? We are home this week, on holidays together, with nowhere to be and nothing on the books. It’s fabulous. Keith is building a new grey-water pipe, which means he is ringing in the new year covered in sludge and smelling like a tarts arsehole, and I am systematically making my way through every room in the house; sorting, spring-cleaning and decluttering. We are busy in the best way, and spending lots of down time too, reading, watching movies and playing Bananagrams.

I miss writing here, and inspired by Kate, I think I will try and write once a week in this space, to decant some of my thoughts onto the page and sort them out. Like Joan Didion, ‘I don’t know what I think until I write it down’.

Today I thought I’d explore something that makes my toes curl and my heart race. If  I had testicles, this subject  would make them retreat into my body.

Money.

I am bad with money.

This is shameful and humiliating, and I have always been like this.

I sabotage myself constantly. I am frugal – I menu plan, I shop at the op-shop, I don’t buy much ‘stuff’. But the part of me that is thoughtful and careful with money is constantly undermined by the other part of my brain that is weird and anxious about it and so avoids thinking about it as much as possible. Which makes me on the one hand careful, and on the other hand, utterly unaware of where the money is going.

As in; I make careful lists and then buy the sparkly things as they appear before me, like a child.

As in; I think about and plan my shopping and then never check my change or keep track of things in process.

As in: my actions make my plans a waste of time and energy.

Self-sabotage! What fun!

I open up to this failing to you guys in the hope that there are some of you  that feel the same. Are you bad with money? Are you good with money? How does one get from one persona to the other? This is one of my great www.ativan777.com intentions for 2017: to improve on this aspect of life.

Being bad with money is childlike and infantilising. It upsets me because I am good at managing the complex family life of work and kids. I can handle it, I like it, and I actually pretty rarely drop the ball even though I definitely play up the parts where I stuff up (which are frequent) for comedy purposes.

But this inability to keep track of my financial life blocks me; it holds me in the eternal hopeless present, and it undermines my sense of achievement or agency in other aspects of life.

Keith and I had one of our finance conversations yesterday. These fun chats are the ones where my hands get shaky and my voice gets squeaky and I basically hold my breath until we can stop talking.

Poor Keith.

Lucky us, though. If I was married to me we would be in dire straits, living in a yurt somewhere and wondering what happened to our superannuation paperwork.  Keith, however, is a scientist, engineer and a master of all kind of nerd-craft, and has a complex spreadsheet of such matters. It is colourful and  complex and looking at it makes my palms sweat.

As you can imagine, I am not at all frustrating to be married to. Over the years we have refined our systems to avoid conflict in this regard, and we largely do. But yesterday, I was baffled by ‘purchase charges’ on my bank statement and Keith lost his cool. He can’t understand my stupidity about this stuff, and I am ashamed and defensive.

The good thing is that I am not extravagant. Just a fucking idiot. So there is hope.

I’ve been looking for some advice around the place. I really like the podcast Bad With Money, by Gaby Dunn. and I tried listening to a couple of others but they are either all about investing or leap unexpectedly into bible verse, which is disconcerting. I tried watching a couple of budgeting YouTubers but they put me to sleep and have crazy eyes. Lots of people seem to be reading The Barefoot Investor. Yay or nay?

That’s me for 2017. Bad with money. Hoping to get better.

x

Post-Fact Universe

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth: an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

It’s a new landscape, where as fascism takes root around the world,  ‘fake news’ is a massive industry,and Donald (who is himself an invention who didn’t even write The Art of The Deal, the book that underscores his entire persona) has appointed a white supremacist as chief White House strategist.

What can we rely on? What’s next? Can I have a blanky? And a drinky?

Here’s Karl Rove, the later-outed ‘unnamed source’ from a 2004 New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind: ‘ The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

‘We’re an empire now, and we create our own reality.’

Guess we’ll just have to watch how that plays out. Fun timez ahead!

Clive James once said that humour is ‘common sense, dancing’. In this frightening and confusing cultural moment, Joe Biden memes have been bringing me joy, as Joe puts orange powder in the bathroom for Donald’s nose, threatens to throw hiswig in the fireplace and stashes fake birth certificates and ‘Secret Muslim Agenda’ files about the place. Obama is kind and big-daddyish; and Biden is all of us.

 

My fave is the one where Joe says ‘these memes are just an illusory escape from the public’s feelings of utter powerlessness and uncertainty right now’…

Stay safe out there, comrades.

x

 

 

The End of The Adventure.

Home from our travels, where the T-Bone, like a cat, immediately re-accqainted himself with his favourite spot: in a patch of sunshine in Mum and Dads bed. I didn’t have to put butter on his paws or anything.

As for me, I immediately re-acquainted myself with the normal run of Sunday: 4 loads of washing, purchasing half the supermarket, producing meals every ten minutes, washing the school clothes and searching for the hats (unsuccessfully.)

That right, I remembered. In real life I am Cinderella.

For the last 2 weeks we’ve been on the move; riding on the back of trucks, sleeping in tree-houses with rats, eating whatever is placed in front of us, and wearing the same two filthy outfits. Amazing how much time in the day there is when two parents are there to negotiate the battle that has erupted during the children’s game of Farting Rainbows, when you have no laundry to do (rather, no way to do the laundry you have), and when you have no food to cook, and must just wait for ‘dinner’ and whatever appears then, good or bad.

With all that time, we played endless games of cards and Bananagrams, read books and slept. It was a marvellous, epic adventure, one that has opened our eyes to many possibilities, and now that we are back, I feel a little smothered by all the stuff in my house. Be warned, Salvation Army. Mama has the crazy eyes.

Pics and details to follow – for now, I have a lengthy to-do list to tackle. First item on the agenda: start dreaming of the next adventure.

South Pacific Postcard #1

 

Here we are, rolling into our third week in Port Vila. I  thought it was beyond time I started recording some thoughts.

 

What an interesting adventure we’ve had so far. We are renting a little n air bnb place next door to a village outside the gates of a large resort. The family that own this place live downstairs, their two kids have made friends with ours, and the five children are in and out of both houses all day.

 

I spent the first two weeks running a little home-school out on the porch.

 

 

It was really fun, and really intense. The children downstairs have not been going to school for a while, and lots of the village kids don’t go at all. School is not free here. Like many locals, our host family was hit hard by Cyclone Pam – th economic implications of the cyclone are still clear around town.  Little L and T were excited to join in with my guys doing school. Much more excited than my own crew!

Our plans this year were to learn some natural history, so we’ve done a lot a talking about the Pacific Ring Of Fire, a lot of making maps. The skill levels of these five kids under ten vary wildly so I had to do a lot of juggling around reading, writing and maths. We read The Enchanted Wood out loud, sang songs, learnt some rap (!), played Bananagrams and cards.

 

There were times, as a fake-teacher, when I felt so deep in ‘flow’. One day, I tried to explain to eight-year-old L how to take his ‘five-sentence’ challenge to the next level  - how I had just finished a book that morning (A Little Life, for the bookworms out there) in which the lead character Jude moved me so much that I cried real tears at the end of the book. Jude was real to me, and I cared about him, even though he was just a collection of words on a page. I told L that words could be like magic, and books like magical objects.

 

The next morning L bounded up the stairs to show me the ‘feelings’ he had added to his sentences in the night.  Moments like that were so amazing. And there were lots of hilarious times too, of course. But it was full-on, jumping from child to child, all calling for my eyeballs on them. ‘Miss Rachael!’ “Mum! ‘Miss Rachael!’ ‘Mum!’ On the last day of school I had an extra kid from the village with almost no English who called me ‘Teacher Mummy.’

 

The village was a mixed bag for me. Port Vila is a pretty run-down place and it took me a couple of weeks to get over the sense of menace I felt when we arrived. On our first afternoon there was a big kid- showdown in the yard. The village kids shouted insults in Bislama at my kids (my favourite one so far:  ’why don’t you wipe your arse and eat it?’How to respond? ‘Well, maybe I will…?’) ‘You is gross!’ they told nine-year old Peanut. ‘Your hair is gross!’

 

It was West Side Story, writ small. Young L chased the ringleader out of his yard while my big girl, wide eyed and teary, took some time to process what happened. That night, there was a lot of shouting outside our windows. Our downstairs host came up to explain that a nine-year old girl from the village had gone missing. Everybody was out searching. A couple of hours later, she was found. She’d been hiding from her dad, because he hits her with electrical cords. I was warned that the kids were pretty violent, that they got hit and then they hit each other, and that there had been a few rapes lately, so I shouldn’t walk too close to the long grass.

 

Outside our window, dogs barked, cats fought and roosters crowed all night long. There was a lot of laughter from the nakamal, the kava bar nearby. Birds were nesting in our roof. The bed was tough on my back. The shower never got hot.

 

I felt, for a week, pretty nervous about this place.

 

 

But now, a few weeks later, I’m all good. I’ve stopped clutching my pearls and started getting the hang of Port Vila.  We get the bus everywhere, we’ve found the good coffee, the food market, the secondhand bookstore, the French boulangerie, the Italian supermarket. The kids can all say ‘tangkyu tumas!’ and I can say ‘Name bilong me Rachael. Wass name name bilong you?’ to all my new friends. That’s the limit of my Bislama though, unless I add ‘why don’t you wipe your arse and eat it’ to the conversation which, I’m no Emily Post, but….

 

The village children are scrappy, fierce, funny and adorable. My three, fresh out of the nerd factory, are prone to weeping about being emotionally ‘triangulated’ by their siblings (I take full responsibility for that.) It’s been fantastic thing to watch them form a new gang together with their Vanuatu friends. They read to each other, play with the Rubiks cubes, carry the cat about, have water fights.  They have developed a minor obsession with a little Lego man they call Mister Squishy.

I feel pretty sheepish about my early worries about this gang from the village, these sparkly-eyed little people who now run to me in the yard and ask me to sing ‘Miss Polly Had A Dolly’.

 

Yesterday a toddler appeared at my screen door. There was nobody in sight, so I took him to the village next door to find his Mum. It was the first time I had been inside the compound, and it was an eye-opener. I followed a young boy through shanty-town laneways, corrugated iron and cardboard huts, piles of garbage. It was dusty and hot. Eventually, we found the boys Mum playing bingo with her friends, and I handed over the baby, a cutie called R with a winning grin.

 

Keith is working through the week, like a champ, and on the weekends he’s in holiday mode. We have been spending a lot of time with his cousin, her husband and their six children, a really lovely family  - totally unflappable, even with such a big tribe! The kids have spent four years living in Port Vila, and maybe that’s the key. They are self-sufficient, kind and charming. I’m taking mental notes.

 

We’ve visited blue holes and snorkelling spots, fire shows and little islands.

 

Our favourite thing is to take the the bus around Efate and watch the people out the window: the women in their beautiful flowery dresses, the children everywhere – yesterday, a dog racing at speed down the road with a wrapped newspaper package in its mouth – hot chips perhaps? It looked like a guilty dog!  The billboards in Bislama – a Creole language , a hybrid of French and English – make me happy. ‘Plis yu mus no jam jam’ on a wharf; ‘Numba Wan Yumi!’ on a rice ad, the chicken house in our backyard with a sign that reads ‘Kingdom Bilong Fowl’.

 

The bus drivers all love a chat and the girls play a game they call ‘Sweet and Sour’, waving at passers-by from the bus window and rating whether they respond  (the ‘sweet’ hit is very high around here) while  T-Bone barely looks up from his Harry Potter. Still – he’s happy. Port Vila no longer feels like a scary town, but rather a vibrant, bustling, exuberant one.

We are eating lots of pamplemousse (grapefruit – very sweet and delicious here), long-life milk, paw-paw and peanut-butter Saos.

 

 I’ve been reading some great books and am trying hard to sit on my hands and leave the two I picked up today for the next leg of the trip. (I will fail.) The kids are Harry Potter all the way, of course. Some things never change.

 

 

Next week, we’re blowing this town. Keith is finishing up work and taking two weeks of actual proper holiday, and we’re planning on taking a ferry to an island called Malekula, and exploring an area called the Dogs Head. Malekula is much quieter than Port Vila and the most culturally diverse island in Vanuatu. We’re looking forward to seeing the two main tribes: the Big Nambas (who wear massive penis gourds) and the Small Nambas (who presumably buy sports cars to compensate). Also, hoping for a few wonderfully quiet days on a little coral island off the mainland, Robinson Crusoe style. It’s time Keith tried out the fire-lighting flint he got for Fathers Day.

 

We need to take lots of food, malaria-preventatives and an Girl-Guidey, can-do attitude. (Oh dear, this is my challenge…. )  But I think it will be amazing. From there we’ll head onto another island called Santo and then  (funds permitting!)  to Tanna Island where we are keen to see the cargo-cult rituals that date from pre-WW2, and also look into the mouth of an active volcano! We’re doing all this all the super-cheap, but it’s not a cheap place, Vanuatu. Everything costs a bomb.

 

After that: home, a bonfire to dispose of our festy clothes and – praise the Lord and pass the Terry’s Chocolate Orange! – my beloved bathtub and my comfortable bed.
Tropical love to you all! Another update, at some point, I hope. Gud naet. xx