Wednesday, December 5, 2012

why i love op shops #362

Last night I watched the endlessly enthusiastic Jennifer Byrne and friends as they counted down the  publicly voted 10 best Australian books. I've watched First Tuesday Book Club a few times lately and it always amazes and inspires me how passionate the guests and regulars are about books. I have to confess that when reading was my job I lost interest in doing it for pleasure, even if I could have found the time. But lately I've found the old urge coming back, the desire to lose myself in another place, with people I've never met but who I know I will miss, just for a little while, when I turn the final page.
So I watched last night and again I was amazed and inspired. I am compiling, as we speak, a summer reading list that includes The Harp In The South by Ruth Park (number four on the list, and they all loved it) and of course, the book that I and probably most of Australia confidently tipped as number one, Cloudstreet. I have read it before, a long time ago, and I no longer have a copy of it but as I watched last night and saw four book fanatics get all glassy-eyed as they spoke of Tim Winton's beautiful and brilliant novel, I knew I had to read it again. Starting as soon as possible.
Today I was on a mission. I visited the first of four op shops down the street, sure I would find a copy in one of them. In it I found The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, number three on the list, and a brand new copy of William McInnes and Sarah Watt's Worse Things Happen At Sea, published only this year. And they cost me one dollar each.
Next stop: no luck, but as I kneeled before the rickety pine bookcase in op shop number three my eyes fell on the bright orange spine of a Penguin paperback, and there it was. Almost perfect. And for another dollar, it was mine. Oh Cloudstreet, I have missed you so.

Friday, November 30, 2012

a new address

So, I have a new baby. Not a human baby, whoa there, although I am completely addicted to One Born Every Minute but that's another story. No, my new baby is in fact a new blog, which is not to say that I will be abandoning Harriet at any point, although bless her she's been left to her own devices for quite some time. My new blog is about homes and why they are not just houses. My home, maybe even your home. I saw many people's houses in this past year, while I was writing a weekly Home feature for the Herald, and I waited on the threshold of each house with that same feeling of excitement and anticipation of what I would find when the owner opened their front door. Mostly I found not just a house, but a home, but the recipe for what made that difference was never precisely the same. I saw beautiful homes and met beautiful people, and the experience has inspired me to keep opening new doors. Please come and visit me here and let me know what you think. If you send me some happy home snaps I might even come and visit you!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

no longer necessary

Redundant is not a pretty word. It conjures up others, like outdated, unwanted, archaic, obsolete, surplus. to. requirements. It used to be my job to think of several different words to describe the same thing. My sixth class teacher Mr Snape clearly had a premonition of this, since he awarded me a Collins Thesaurus (yes, a real book made out of paper in which to look up synonyms, since we're on the subject of redundant) as part of my prize for being dux of the school. It was not a very big school, I hasten to add, but a small victory is still a victory and there were few to be had once I started high school. I guess I have Mr Snape to thank for starting me on the path to journalism. Who knew that would turn out so well? I don't wish to wallow in my status as ''redundant'', and apart from the odd, brief wave of panic and self-pity I haven't been. It has forced me to put in place a few streamlining measures of my own, in fact. Turns out there are quite a few redundant factors in my life, starting with five garbage bags of toys that were recently deposited in a local charity bin. There are also several pieces of furniture but they're not so easy to throw in the back of the car so they're in limbo at present. The reading of local newspapers? Redundant. The wearing of shoes other than rubber thongs? Redundant. And I've freed up huge amounts of room in the cavernous storage compartment between the two front seats of my car. This was once filled with coins to feed hungry parking meters. These days it's more likely to feed hungry children ice cream from the drive-through on the way home from school. So I like to think I've turned the whole redundancy thing on its head. A bit like all those hip young things who I believe are called ''slashies'' because they don't like to be pigeonholed into one vocation. They're IT specialists/film directors/burger salesmen, or something like that. They don't get sacked from anything, because they get in first. They're all, "You're fired as my boss because I can do SOOO much better than this job". Or something like that. I won't ever be a slashie, of course. And I'm not looking for the next big thing. I'm just trying to get by on the little things for now. Like the dog-eared Collins Thesaurus that gave my 12-year-old self such hope for the future.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

the way in

I went to see a dear friend today and she reminded me, as she always does, that the little struggles which sometimes threaten to overwhelm me are just that - little. No less a struggle, of course, but when kept in perspective with the great wide world and the endlessly expansive universe, hardly worth losing your head over. I am so grateful for her presence in my life, she has taken me by the hand so many times and shown me how to save myself. And every time, it seems a little harder to get lost.
Now that I'm awake again, the world seems literally buzzing with potential. Quiet, determined potential. Like the hundreds of tiny buds on our peach tree, which has for many years been my anchor. Its branches are reaching higher this year than they ever have, and it is fit to burst with impending blossom. Just to add to its mighty promise, there are three egg sacks on its branches that have been laid by praying mantis, the little holy men of the insect world, harbingers of good things and prophets of positivity. Amen to that.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

objects in the rear-view mirror

I have never learned to drive a manual car. This is because I cannot focus on two things at once. I am either steering the car and taking care to stay on the road and not hit anything, or I am changing gears. I cannot be doing both. And now I find that more than two decades after getting my driver's licence, my brain has not progressed one inch. In fact it may even have crawled back a centimetre or two. I went to a workshop today on the use of Photoshop and Illustrator in blogs. I love my blog and I wanted it to look prettier, to get people's attention and maybe even, one day, to make me some money. But it turns out I cannot be creative and functional at the same time. The technology is beyond me. Sometimes I wonder if it's not all beyond me. Or behind me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

the word's worth

Since I was old enough to pick up a pencil and write something down, words have never failed me. They are a constant solace, a light in the darkness and an infinite joy. I could not live my life the way I do without them. But just lately I've been forced to acknowledge that for many in the world out there, words no longer have any currency. There are so many people out there writing so much, being paid so little, just to fill the blank space between revenue opportunities on company websites. And who is listening? Who will take the time to craft their words carefully, and who will take the time to read them and consider the weight of their meaning, when everyone knows you can get your message across on Twitter in 40 characters or less?
There have been many words written and spoken about the demise of the newspaper industry in this country. Stirring words. Heartfelt words. But words that mean nothing to the men who would rather look at numbers on a page than the strange and foreign language that is human sentiment.
I will not be turning my back on words, just as they have never forsaken me. This blog will be my therapy, just as it has always been, and hopefully soon I will have new ways of making words with my pernickety press venture.
In the meantime, I have a few choice words I could share with Fairfax management, if I had the inclination. If nothing else, 21 years of journalism has educated me on the finer points of swearing like a fucking trooper.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

a word on emotion

This week I found out I'm probably going to lose my job. But not just me. Also about 40 other people, some of whom I have known since I was 18 years old. I say probably because the decision has been made but we have a week to fight it, and fight it we did at a public rally today that attracted an estimated 1000 people.
The people closest to me will know that I don't necessarily love my job. I have been a journalist for almost 21 years, but for the majority of that time I have struggled emotionally with what it means to work in the media. About three years ago, just before I fell pregnant with my third child, I reached what felt like the closest thing to a balance I could handle. I moved from the news desk, working afternoons and dealing with the increasingly bleak state of the world, back to features where I had learnt my trade. Day work, mostly positive content, friendly faces. I reduced my hours to 10 a week, which allowed me to drop off and pick up my two school-aged daughters each morning and afternoon. I worked around my husband's irregular shiftwork, and we managed to avoid the expense - emotional and financial - of childcare for our youngest. It was the best I could do, even though some weeks it felt like barely enough.
Now I am facing the prospect of losing even that. At first I was practical, and when my husband and I did the sums we figured we might just be able to manage, if he did regular overtime shifts. But then I went to work, and I saw the faces of those people I've known for two decades, who were there when I had my heart broken, who had their babies when I was having my babies. And I can't quite believe it's come to this.
As much as I have struggled against my job at times, I know that I have never been happier going to work than I have in the past 18 months. I know that I always work hard to do things right, just as I know that of my friends and colleagues. I know that as a mother, some days I am so grateful to be getting five hours of adult conversation, hot tea and oxygen. I know that the days I go to work are sometimes the only days in that week that I will brush my hair. And that anyone will notice.
And so I'm scared. That I will lose my job, and that with it will go a little part of me that I've become accustomed to having, ever since I was 18 years old.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


I loved The Muppet Show as a kid. But when I heard about the new Muppet movie, I confess my first thoughts began with the words ''I'd rather bleed to death''. Fast-forward to this afternoon, two-thirds into a fairly shitty day from my perspective and not much hope of it improving. Three clicks of the Apple TV remote later, the girls were entranced. I have to admit I avoided the first two-thirds, apart from the opening which gave me the general gist and enough cheesy musical numbers to see me through. But what I did catch turned out to be quite the therapy session.
Imagine my horror to find that one of the muppets to get a gig in this new movie is the very same muppet that caused some of my childhood's most horrific nightmares. It was a blue dragon, and I didn't know its name at the time but apparently it was Uncle Deadly. That's right, Uncle. Deadly. Quite pleased I didn't have that dimension added to my six-year-old fears. I recall he was in an episode of The Muppet Show with Vincent Price (again, what were they thinking?) and as Wikipedia tells it, he only made a couple of appearances in the show's history. So why, oh why, did they have to bring him back in 2012 to scare the shit out of me and possibly my children?
But then, the magic of the muppets came back to me too. When they're back in the theatre and the curtain rises on all the little arches .. it's time to put on make-up, it's time to dress up right .. I just felt really inexplicably happy. Like I did as a child when that music started at the same time every week. There was something very comforting about it. Throw in Kermit, a riverbank log and a reprise of Rainbow Connection and I was ready to give Jason Segel an Academy Award.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

the route of the problem

Driving home yesterday along the Pacific Highway after a long but lovely day, there came a question without notice from the back seat.
"Mum,'' said the serious voice.
"Where is U Turn Bay?''
As I drove on, marvelling at the clarity and innocence of the nine-year-old mind, I wondered. Where is U Turn Bay? And how on earth do you get there?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

come sunday

There is one member of this household who is always overjoyed simply to be in my presence. When I go outside to hang out the washing, he sits beside me and just adores everything I do. Can't take his great big eyes off me. He never asks me for anything, never yells or sulks or demands to know where his pyjamas/favourite socks/pointless toy is. Never has to be reminded to say please or thankyou. Or to flush the toilet. Or to hang his towel up after his bath. When he's hungry (all the time), he will eat anything you give him and it will be the most remarkably delicious thing he has ever eaten. In his whole life. Some days I just really need that. And I was thinking yesterday, as I hung out the washing and my beautiful boy Sunday sat smiling up at me, I know what every mother should have this Mother's Day. Every mother needs a dog. They just make the bad days better.