Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pleasing Yasmina Part 5

Yasmina scurried towards the toilets in a strange, knees-together waddle which carried her quicker than Laura could run. Laura pushed open the door and squeaked with surprise. Spreading down the front of Yasmina’s hundred-dollar surf-label jeans was a dark, damp patch the shape of a heart. The hot smell of accidental urine, fresh and sharp like a grater, cut through the other dull, chemical fragrances of the toilets. The navy-blue blotch crept obscenely over the pre-worn, pre-torn, broken in, faded out colours.
It'll probably be the next big thing, Laura found herself thinking.
‘Oh my god oh my god oh my god yuuuuck!’ Yasmina hissed. ‘Laura! What am I gonna do?’
‘What …? What happened?’ asked Laura quietly. The big, wet wee patch on her friend’s jeans was making the hairs on her neck stand up.
‘That stupid sumo guy was making me laugh too much and when I landed on you really hard it just happened.’ She squirmed and plucked at her waistband. ‘Oh, it’s so disgusting! I’m so embarrassed!’
‘Um, do you have any other pants?’
No.’ Yasmina glumly tried to pull the wet denim away from her skin.
‘Do you want me to go get one of the teachers?’
‘No!’ Yasmina’s face filled with shock, and then calmed. ‘Hey … I can wear your pants!’ she beamed.
‘What?’ Laura touched the tight thighs of her Kmart yellow-labels.
‘Let me wear yours! They'll fit me easy!’
‘But …’
Come on,’ she keened. ‘Your t-shirt’s heaps long. No one will be able to see anything, it looks like a dress anyway!’
‘Come on Laura, You’re not even getting a phone! It’s the least you could do as my friend.’
Laura bit her lip and rolled her bracelets up and down.
‘I’d do the same for you!’
Laura looked at Yasmina’s caramel coloured mid-riff and shook her head.
Yasmina swore and it echoed like an angry ghost around the basins and cubicles. ‘Some friend you turned out to be. You won’t lend me your clothes, you’re not getting a phone and now you’re just leaving me like this!’ She turned away dramatically. 'I don't know how we're even going to stay friends when term starts.'
‘I am getting a phone!’ trembled Laura. ‘I promise I will!’
Yasmina whipped her head back to face Laura, her hair swirling glamorously across her face. ‘All right, but you owe me. You have to think of something or I won’t let you be in the phone club, even if you do get one.’
Laura gasped and Yasmina peered into the mirror, scowling at her stain and shifting from foot to foot.
‘I know­,’ chirped Laura excitedly. ‘I’ll go and say that you tore your pants really badly and you need some more. They’ll get you some from lost property or something.’
Yasmina sneered. ‘Mmm ... all right. But don’t get me anything gross.’
‘Okay!’ Laura hurried out of the toilet.
‘And get me a couple of pairs so I can choose!’ called Yasmina after her.

Terry rolled his eyes when Laura told him about Yasmina ripping her jeans.
‘Yes, well. I'm not surprised with pants that tight. Come on.’ He marched off to the vacation care centre with Laura in tow.
The lost-property box had the same lonely mustiness as Laura’s grandpa’s cupboards. Terry took out a pair of pants and handed them to Laura. A light smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. They were faded yellow tracksuit bottoms, the same colour as Laura’s first friendship bracelet.
‘These should be about the right size if she does up the drawstring. And hurry up, please. I want both of you back to the gym in five minutes.’
Laura paused. Yasmina would kill her if she brought back custard yellow trackies. Then she imagined Yasmina walking around in her own Kmart yellow labels, bragging about how cool she looked in such baggy jeans. She tucked the pants under her arm.
‘Thank you.’

Yasmina was not impressed.
‘Are these seriously the only ones there?’ She jammed an indignant hand on her hip. She still smelled strongly of salty wee.
Laura nodded quickly. ‘Terry said there weren’t any others.’
Yasmina snatched the pants and flounced into one of the cubicles. The sound of metres of toilet paper being un-rolled was accompanied by moans of ‘So disgusting …’
Yasmina flung the door open. Laura stifled a smile. The pants were too loose to be cool and too short to be pants. She looked as though she were wearing an enormous, used teabag. She held the jeans at arm’s length in a tight little ball.
‘What are you laughing about?’ she growled.
‘Nothing! They look fine.’
‘Yeah right, Laura. Thanks a lot. See if I ever waste any phone credit on you.’
‘Oh, but Yasmina, I can still …’
Yasmina marched out of the toilets. ‘Whatever. I look like a retard.’
Laura tripped along sadly behind her, wondering how she could get Yasmina better pants and herself a mobile phone. She could still get Yasmina’s number and call her from her home phone, that would …
‘Yasmina! What happened to your phone?’
Yasmina looked down at the ball of denim in her hand and swore again. She unrolled her pants on the sunny ground and reached delicately inside the damp pocket. She pulled out a shard of pink plastic, then another. Then came the rubbery key pad. Then the metal body and the naked circuit boards, clinging to each other by thin, colourful wires.
‘Oh my god,’ whispered Yasmina.
Laura could only stare, open-mouthed at Yasmina cradling the pieces of her new phone. Suddenly Yasmina was up and screeching at her.
‘This is all your fault! You pulled me down! You made me land on you! You made it break in my pocket! You owe me a new phone!’
Laura looked at Yasmina’s red face and her teabag pants. With her skinny legs and her baggy trousers and her broken phone, she was just like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Laura tried to cover her smile with her hand.
Don't laugh at me!’ hissed Yasmina.
‘You’re just a baby, Yasmina. You wet your pants and you broke your new toy and now you’re crying about it.’
Yasmina’s howls followed Laura all the way back to the gym.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Pleasing Yasmina Part 4

Laura’s face burned hot as she scuttled after Yasmina. The thin, blonde ballet-dancer was already giggling at Simon and asking him questions as he helped her into a sumo suit.
‘Is this hard? Is it fun?’
‘I sure have a good time!’ he recited. ‘I just have to make sure everyone else doesn’t have too much of a good time, if you know what I mean.’
Yasmina laughed as though they were sharing a sophisticated joke. Laura looked at the floor.
‘My friend Laura thinks you look like Matt from Neighbours!’
Laura yipped with surprise. ‘Yasmina! I do not!’
Simon held out the suit. ‘Okay, Laura. Left leg first, keep your toes pointed.’
She raised her foot and tried to put it in to the leg hole, but Simon stopped her. ‘Try the other left.’
She realised that she had instinctively gone to put her right leg in. A loud giggle leap-frogged her tongue to cover her embarrassment while Yasmina cackled beside her. ‘Don’t you know left and right?’
Laura tried to stop laughing her stupid isn't-being-silly-fun laugh, but it kept vomiting out. Everything was suddenly so ridiculous that the laughter was being sucked from her: Yasmina wobbling in the other sumo suit, Simon tickling her chin as he fastened the helmet, Terry telling them sternly to calm down, everything was making her insides convulse and shudder.
‘Hey Yasmina!’ called the girl who had tried to touch her phone. ‘You’re like a sumo Barbie doll!’
Yasmina loved every microsecond. She danced around tossing her hair, bumping Laura and saying loudly, ‘So this is what it’s like to be fat!’
Simon guided them onto the mat and Laura kept ha-ha-haing her protective laugh - the same disgusting, open-mouthed gulping noise that sounded just like her mum on a Saturday night. The boys who had crushes on Yasmina and the little girls who looked up to her began chanting her name and more hysterical giggles gushed from Laura’s stomach.
‘Yasmeeena! Yasmeeena! Yasmeeena!’
‘Hey Laura!’ called out one of the boys. ‘Where’s your suit?’
Laura stopped laughing.
‘Oi!’ yelled Terry. ‘That’s enough of that, whoever that was.’
Simon blew the whistle and suddenly Yasmina was bounding across the ring, all flying blonde hair and rolls of skin-coloured foam. She crashed into Laura, making her stumble backwards, twisting and flailing to keep her balance. The gym echoed with laughter and the chant of Yasmina’s fan club. Simon blew his whistle and guided Laura back to the mat.
‘You okay?’
Laura gulped and nodded and he patted her on the helmet. ‘Atta girl!’

Yasmina guffawed louder than ever as she rubbed her fat sumo stomach for the crowd.
Once again, they were stood on either side of the ring and again Simon blew the whistle. Again
Laura stayed rooted to the spot and again Yasmina toppled her over backwards. She landed on her bottom with a jarring thud and had to hold her breath to stop her bottle from tipping over while Yasmina sprawled on top of her, gibbering with laughter.
Simon blew his whistle and lifted Yasmina away. Yasmina tried to perform a bowing dance for her audience, but tripped on the hem of the suit and fell across the mat, howling with laughter.
Simon shook his head as he pulled Laura to her feet. ‘You’ve got to push back, mate. Otherwise what’s the point?’
He left Laura standing there and tried to pull Yasmina up, but she was beyond standing. The more she laughed, the more helpless she became as she rolled around, cheeks flushed and glossy with tears. Laura almost didn’t recognise her as she flailed about, howling with laughter every time Simon tried to pull her up by her floppy arms. Eventually Simon knelt down and Laura heard him giving the ‘you’re-wasting-other-people’s-time’ talk before hauling her to her feet.
The whistle blew and this time Laura leant into Yasmina’s charge. She wrapped her arms around Yasmina’s shoulders and clenched her jaw against Yasmina’s screams. Each time she pushed against her, Yasmina would whoop louder and harder. They twirled around the mat, shaking each other in a violent waltz, Laura grunting and Yasmina wailing hysterically.
Suddenly they tripped, and Laura fell flat on her back. The wind coughed from her lungs as Yasmina landed on top of her with a loud, mirthful yelp. Laura pulled for air, but none came. All she could do was close her eyes tight to stop the hot tears from squeezing down her cheeks. The cheering vibrated around the gym and she felt Yasmina suddenly fall silent and leap away. Simon helped her to sit up.
‘You okay mate?’
‘Uh-huh,’ she wheezed, concentrating on getting her tear-bottle up straight.
‘Got a bit winded eh?’ he was saying. ‘It’ll be okay. Just relax, take big slow breaths and I’ll unzip you.’
Laura sniffed a wet sniff into the thick sleeve of the suit. Yasmina was already out of her costume and scurrying to the back of the audience again. Laura trudged after her, but Yasmina wasn’t sitting down. She was hugging her jumper and sidling towards the gym door, grimacing and beckoning furiously for to Laura to follow. Laura groaned and looked at her inviting chair. Yasmina stamped her foot.
‘Laura!’ she snarled.
Laura flinched and hurried outside.

To be continued ...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pleasing Yasmina Part 3

The school gym was just big enough to fit a small basketball court. The line-markings on the grimy parquet floor were so old and peeled that you couldn't tell if they were for basketball, volleyball or some ancient sport that involved a lot of confetti. Sagging banners hung between faded colour photos of soccer players with tight shorts and puffy haircuts that reminded Laura of photos of her dad.
The young man with the whistle stood in the middle of the gym on a big black mat with a large red circle sewn into it. He waited for the door to slam shut and then blew his whistle. It echoed loud and shrill around the gym. Yasmina screwed up her face and clamped her hands over her ears, mewing a faint ‘Oww.’
‘Good morning everyone! My name’s Simon!’ He paused and waited for the kids who still droned ‘Good mo-rning So-And-So’ whenever an adult introduced themselves.
‘Okay — now, the first thing I need everyone to do is: choose a partner.’
Kids dived under and over each other to grab their best friends. Groups of three suddenly took on the hunted expressions of hungry people drawing straws on a lifeboat.
‘Okay! Has everyone got someone?’ He looked at Terry, who gave him a nod. ‘Pretty much. Great! Now what I need you all to do now is: take your shoes and socks off!’ He watched the throng of kids remembering how to untie laces and throwing their shoes in a pile by the wall.
‘I think he’s cute,’ said Yasmina thoughtfully as she tucked her ballet footlets into her sneakers. Laura’s heart tried to hide in her guts. Suddenly she couldn’t look at Sumo Simon any more.
‘He looks like Matt from Neightbours, don’t you think?’
Laura made herself look. The man was only a couple of years younger than her own mother. Laura knew her mum wasn’t very old when it came to mums, but Sumo Simon he was still an adult with hairy arms and a deep voice and Yasmina was giggling like she did when the skater boys did tricks and offered her cigarettes outside Westfield.
Laura pushed out a giggle for her. ‘Yeah, he does!’
Suddenly Yasmina grabbed Laura's arm. ‘I want to do it,’ she declared. ‘Oh, we are so doing it! Let’s wrestle each other!’
‘No!’ Laura shook her head violently and laughed her puke-prevention laugh. ‘No, it’s dumb! It’ll be so embarrassing!’
‘Nah, it’ll be heaps fun!’ Yasmina flicked her long blonde hair with both hands. ‘You can meet your new boyfriend!’
‘Shut up!’
Laura tried to swallow a laugh, but all she got was a dry tonsil. She watched two boys putting on the sumo suits. The suits were disgustingly real; skin-coloured foam shaped into wide, flabby rolls of fat. Each had a colourful g-string, big brown nipples and a black, hairy belly button. Laura sucked in her stomach and pulled her long t-shirt down.
Simon led the first two contestants to the centre of the ring and stood between them, brandishing his whistle. The two boys were laughing like ticklish chipmunks and squeezing their foam boobs at the audience.
‘Righty-o boys! Are you ready?’
‘Yes!’ they cried in unison. Simon blew the whistle. The two bales of fat waddled into the centre and grabbed each other in a bear hug. The crowd went berserk as the noise in the gym tripled. Yasmina crowed with shrill laughter. It wasn’t her real laugh — the one that sounded like an asthmatic seal — but the one that she used for the year seven boys who mucked around in PE.
Laura hated how everyone chanted for the most popular kid. No one ever went for the shy one with no friends. She slumped down in her chair. She would sulk her way out of this if she had to.
The bout ended and Simon called out the score in a bad American accent: ‘Fooooourr to werrn!’

He sent the pair to sit down while the two biggest boys stepped up grinning and punching each other in the arm. Soon they were suited up and charging across the mat. One caught the other in the chest so hard that he gave an involuntary grunt and hit the gym floor with a deep thump. Laura’s toes clenched. The suits weren’t very thick at all. If she fell over in them it would really hurt.
Laura hated falling over. She hated her out-of-control flailing that achieved nothing. She hated the jarring shock that pounded through her arms when she tried to catch herself. But more than anything, she hated how the bottle she carried her tears in would get knocked over, and how hard she had to work to stop too many coming out.
More pairs went through and each time it was the same. The wrestlers bumping and rolling around the ring. Simon blowing his whistle. Everyone vying for the next shot.

In the middle of it all, Yasmina’s phone chirped and vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out like a gunslinger: quick-draw, eyes gleaming.
‘Oh great,’ she groanedand casually flashed the phone to a group of goggled-eyed girls. ‘My first text ever and it’s from my mum.’
One of the girls leant over, reaching out to see the phone, but Yasmina ignored her and slipped the phone back into her pocket like a well-practised magician.
Laura couldn’t take her eyes off the wrestlers. She could see them gritting their teeth and holding their brows tight to stop anything spilling from their own bottles. At least she wasn’t the only one.
‘How about some more girls?’ called out Simon as he helped a pair of boys from the suits. He was looking straight at Laura and Yasmina. Laura shrank into her chair and shook her head, but Yasmina was already on her feet, flicking her hair with one hand and grabbing Laura’s wrist with the other.
‘No,’ hissed Laura. ‘I don’t want to.’
Yasmina groaned loudly. ‘Come on, Law-ra. If you’re not getting a phone, you could at least try and prove your friendship.’
‘Yes, come on Laura!’ called out Terry, who had only heard the first part of what Yasmina had said. ‘Go and have a shot for a change! It’s fun!’
Laura was still staring at Yasmina in shock. ‘But I am getting a …’
Yasmina raised an eyebrow. ‘Yeah, right,’ she hissed. The gym began to fall quiet. Yasmina pushed the phone down into her pocket and skipped out to the mat, swinging her hair. ‘Come on, Laura! I'll take you on!’

To be continued ...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pleasing Yasmina Part 2

‘So isn’t my phone the coolest!’ trilled Yasmina as Laura’s mum's car roared away from the school gate.
‘Oh, totally.’Laura nodded obediently.
‘And wook!’ Yasmina put on her simpering "cute" voice. ‘He’s even got a wittle smiwey face on the screen! I’m going to call him Bwadley!’
‘Oh, it’s so wicked.’ Laura agreed breathlessly, reaching out to touch the gleaming new phone.
Yasmina whipped it away and began tucking it into the tight pocket of her expensive jeans. ‘Is Bwadley's wittle swiley face peeping out?’
‘Yeah! It looks really cool!’ Laura nodded.
‘Can you make sure he can see out pwoperly? I want him to wook koot.’ Yasmina rolled her jazz-ballet hips at Laura and looked her straight in the eye. ‘Make sure he can see out.’

Laura crouched down. She adjusted the phone so the smiley face on the screen peered over the edge of the pocket. The smooth metal phone felt heavy and solid and the jeans felt soft and stretchy. She wished she got comfortable jeans from the surf shop rather than rough yellow-labels from K-Mart. ‘It’s not worth it, Muffin Tops!’ Her mum would laugh and pinch her tummy. ‘You’ll just grow out of them!’
‘So when are you getting your phone?’ asked Yasmina suddenly, causing Laura to wobble on her haunches.

Laura steadied herself and pretended to concentrate on getting the phone to sit just right. She didn't want to look up at Yasmina's raised eyebrows.
‘I don't know. Soon. Mum doesn’t really have enough, um … time, to take me this weekend.’
Yasmina gazed down, hands on hips, saying nothing.
‘There’s your wittle phony wony!’ Laura squeaked to disguise the effort she had to make to stand up.
‘Oh isn’t Bwadley wooking koot?’ simpered Yasmina. She leapt into a pirouette and grooved off towards the vacation care building.
‘Yes he is!’ sang Laura, dancing after her.
‘So what are you getting for your screensaver?’ called Yasmina over her shoulder.
Laura stopped dancing. ‘Um … a frog!’

The vacation care centre was in a transportable classroom that smelled like PlayDough, instant coffee and detergent. Everything was organised into ‘corners’: the board games corner, the craft corner, the reading corner, the TV corner and the computer corner. No one ever used the board games (‘the boring games’, Yasmina had scoffed when Laura suggested playing one), the crafts or the books unless they were banned from the TV and the computer. The TV corner only showed videos for little kids in case parents complained and the computer corner was always elbow-to-kneecap with boys waiting semi-patiently for their shot.

When Laura and Yasmina’s eyes had adjusted from the spring sunshine, they saw the vacation care manager, a tall man with floppy grey hair called Terry, shaking hands with a younger man wearing a whistle around his neck.
‘The sumo suits are in my van,’ the young man was saying. ‘I just need you to show me where to set up.’
‘Great great,’ said Terry. He steered the man past Yasmina who stayed in their way and Laura who stepped out of it. ‘Morning girls! (Look out Yasmina) Come and I’ll show you the gym.’
‘Sumo suits?’ hissed a boy who was ninth in line for the computer.
‘They’re those things in Austin Powers where you wrestle each other!’ said his spiky haired friend. ‘I’ve got the movie at home.’
‘Oh wicked!’ cried a chubby cheeked boy, hooking his arm around a thinner boy’s neck. ‘I’m gonna verse you!’
The thinner boy shook him away, pouting at the floor. ‘I don’t wanna do it!’
Soon, every boy in the room was charging around, sizing one another up, pairing off and sulking about not having a partner.

Laura rolled her bracelets and prayed that this wasn’t a compulsory thing like ice skating and the beach. She hated being in front of people and trying to do things she wasn’t good at. She hated the half-embarrassed-for-her, half-laughing-at-her look that people got on their faces when they watched. She hated the loud laugh she did to pretend she was having fun at playing the fool. And the gulp she did in between laughs to stop herself from puking with embarrassment. She hated the way someone would always say ‘atta girl!’ or ‘good effort!’ when it was over.
She hoped that Yasmina would find it as distasteful as she did.
Terry came back into the room and clapped his hands loudly. ‘Right! Everyone onto the listening mat! Now! Computer off!’
The kids around the computer sighed as one in disappointment.
‘Okay. As a last day of holiday treat, we’re all going to do sumo wrestling for the next two hours! Now, I want everyone to follow me in a neat line to the gym.’
All the boys bounced on their bottoms, hugging each other with glee.

Yasmina wrinkled her nose and a wave of relief washed through Laura’s stomach. If Yasmina didn’t want to do it, it meant that they could sit on chairs up the back and indulge in Yasmina’s favourite pastime: acting bored and paying people out.
She was safe.

To be continued...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pleasing Yasmina Part 1

This is a short story I entered into a competition a while back.
I didn't win anything.

Pleasing Yasmina

Laura had noticed that when people were nervous, they did odd things like jiggling their legs or pacing up and down. When Laura was nervous, like she was now, she rolled her friendship bracelets up and down her wrist. The sound of the plastic threads clacking over each other was relaxing, like scrunching paper or rubbing your teeth together.

Laura was nervous because it was the last Friday before school started and the car was almost at Yasmina’s house.
If she didn’t ask her mum now, she would never be allowed to join Yasmina’s new club.
Laura had joined Yasmina’s Bracelet Club when Yasmina had given her a custard-coloured friendship bracelet on the first day of school holidays and told her that it meant they were best friends.
Now Yasmina had decided to form a new club and had been talking about it for the entire two week break. And for two weeks, Laura had been rehearsing how she would ask her mum if she could join the new club. She rolled her bracelets up and down.
‘Um … Mum?’
‘Yes, sweetheart?’
‘There’s going to be this new club at school and it’s pretty good and I think I want to join.’
‘Sounds interesting!’ Her mum smiled. So far, so good.
‘Yeah, it’s a totally cool club. All these cool people are going to be in it, and we’re gonna do all this really cool stuff together, and call each other and stuff.’
‘Great. Like a friends club or something?’

'Yeah!' Getting warmer.
'What's your club called?'
Now for the hard part. ‘Well, it’s like a group of girls and we all call each other and keep in touch and organise things together and we all need to be able to be in touch all the time in case something happens and we all need to know about it. You know?’
They pulled up at a traffic light. Her mum looked over at her as if hearing her for the first time. ‘Sweetheart, what are you talking about? What kind of club is it? Is it organised through the school?’
Laura swallowed and brushed her hand up her wrist. ‘No, not really. It’s kind of a mobile phone club and so we all have to have mobiles and that’s how we keep in touch, like best friends and stuff.’
Her mum screwed up her face as though she could smell something dirty.
Laura rolled her bracelets and kept talking.
‘So can I get a mobile? Yasmina says they’re really cheap and it’ll be so handy for like when you need to get in touch with me, and Yasmina say they’re really convenient for like, in an emergency or something and I’ll be able to talk to all the other girls in the club and …’
‘Laura! You’re eleven! You’ve never needed a mobile before and you don’t need one now!’
‘But Yasmina says that they’re really cheap and …’
‘That Yasmina girl has never had to pay for anything in her life. This is just like that bracelet club or whatever it was a couple of weeks ago, isn’t it?’
Laura bit her lip and said nothing.
‘Look. I don’t mind buying you a bunch of bracelets so you can be in with your friends, but we just can’t afford a mobile phone, Laura. I’m sure it’s lovely for Yasmina to get everything she wants, but you’ll just have to do without.’
‘But Yasmina got hers last night and I have to get one before school starts or …’
‘You’re not getting one, Laura. I don’t care what Yasmina said, we just don’t have enough money. ’
‘But Mum, I …’
Her mum slapped the steering wheel. ‘I’ve said my bit, Laura.’
They pulled up outside Yasmina’s house just as Yasmina came skipping out to the car. She was waving a hot pink mobile phone and wearing the sunglasses she said her mum would buy her to go with it.

To be continued ...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Maybe they were very strict about changing the water in everyone's bowls

We, I should have started ringing child care centres twelve months ago. At some places they were politely upfront about my chances: "There is a very long waiting list."
At others, confrontingly honest: "Your baby will not be a baby any more by the time a place for a baby opens up on our books. By then he will be a toddler!'
"Ha ha," I laughed.
"Our toddler spaces are also full."

Finally a place became available. Two places, actually. Both near our house.
We're mildly suspicious, but we visit the one which confirms over the phone that he has a place.
Our first experience of the place occurs on the way there when I am tailgated by an arsenecked maniac in a black Commodore. He's swerving, trying to pass at high speed on a suburban street. I block. I play dumb. I drive towards the centre. I speed away from roundabouts and slow again when he catches up.
He is, of course, one of the parents coming to pick up his children from the centre. I give him a friendly wave as we park next to one another.
The place is a converted house, surrounded by fake grass, interrupted only by single faded plastic slippery-dip. It looks deserted; an impression intensified by the dozens of photocopied notices flapping about on the veranda.
The door is opened by a slightly confused, heavily pregnant woman who informs us that the director is sick while the familiar ethereal waft of the nappy bucket floats past her from the darkened hallway.
The place stinks.
She shows us the baby room in which half a dozen poppets sprawl around on mismatched mats, loudly playing with a few plastic toys. Intermittent lonely crying can be heard from an adjoining room. Our host reveals its source when she cheerfully whips aside a curtain to reveal a red-eye little boy rubbing his eyes from on of a row of cots with thin metal bars. Like cages.
'Oh hello, sleepy!' she coos, and leaves him there. More crying. She recites the daily routine for the babies, including the time for sleeps, changes, eating, sleeps and more changes. She directs our attention upwards.
'And we have a hanging wire for Xmas artwork!' There is indeed a length of fencing wire from which hang green squares of paper daubed with red paint.
As we leave that room, a little boy tries to show us the aeroplane toy he has been shouting excitedly over since we arrived. He seems older than the other babies plopped around the room.
'What a cute kid,' we both remark.
'Oh that one!' Our host replies. 'He is a biter! So we move him to the baby room.'
We laugh. Nervously.
The tour of the baby room complete, she leads us past another sleeping room and a small kitchen with a vintage stove.
'What do you feed them?' asks Mele, Queen of Culinaria.
'Oh we give them mixed mashed vegetables once a day and their bottles, and we also give them fruit mixed with custard or jelly.'
She shows us the nappy change room, tightly-packed with every child's quota of nappies, and the miniature toilets. The odour is strongest here. The entire building smells like a place you'd board an unloved poodle.
Speaking of small canines, the toddlers room does resemble an exercise yard. Small children roll under foot, growling and barking. One child lays prone on the floor clutching a shoe. He looks like his owners have just left for two weeks in Port Douglas. A young girl with a green, monogrammed shirt smiles at us from the corner as she watches the roiling mob.
The pregnant director-of-the-day leads past the pack, over depressed boy and outside to the back area. It is identical to the front, but for the addition of an extra plastic slippery-dip.
'Sometimes when we have too many children, we just take everyone out here to run around!'
We take the forms. We ask questions about availability and cost.
"Fifty-nine dollars per day."
"How much for a half day?"
"We do not do half-days. If you leave him here, it will be fifty-nine dollars. It doesn't matter when you want to come and pick him up." She smiles encouragingly.
We thank her for her time and she looks for a pen to write down Mele's mobile number.
We step out into the light once again and breathe the fresh air.

At the second place, the director immediately sits us down in her office and spends five minutes cooing over Charlie before remembering herself and talking us through accreditation, Centrelink, nutrition, safety, how beautiful Charlie is, acclimatising children to childcare, activities and the different pens Charlie can play with in her lap.

Guess which one we chose?


Answer to the last poost: Option e). I left them in the tree. I felt bad about it, but I left them there. Your heart hardens in a certain direction when you become a family man.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Train them to hunt native species?

You're out walking with your family of an evening. Strolling, I believe it's known as. In a small tree you discover not one but two adorable little kittens. No collars. No microchips. Cowering, frightened, hungry. You pick them up, tuck them into your t-shirt and knock on a few doors around the place.
No-one wants to know. Some people clearly decide that a young male with a hill-billy pube-beard and a stained shirt brandishing two stray kittens on their porch at twilight is significant cause for alarm. (One accupant speaks in such a terrified, yet condescending tone that it becomes apparent that he has come across this sort of two-penny ruse before, out in the colonies.)
One family does want to know. They have two little girls who are just as wide-eyed and adorable as the kittens. They want to know big time. Their dad ushers you out the front gate. You are back where you started, but with a shirt full of adorable kittens.
Your wife is very allergic to cats.
Do you:

a) Take them home, put them in a nice dry little box in the shed and turn them into outside cats who stop the birds from savaging the apricots, grapes and other crops.
b) Take them home, call the RSPCA, take them there in the morning (45 minute drive for interstate readers) and wave them goodbye, imagining all the pretty little girls who will be getting a pretty kitty for Chrissy.
c) Take them home, pose them in a series of adorable photos and plaster the neighbourhood with posters containing vague references to euthanasia and a pre-Xmas deadline.
d) Leave them in the tree, but bring them some food and whistfully watch them eat while clutching a handkerchief and trying not to imagine anything Dickensian.
e) Leave them in the tree. Drink whisky as the rain comes down.
f) Put them in someone's letterbox.

An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32