COUCH

I’m sitting on the arm of the leather couch in our family room. Its brown skin is pocked with scuffs and scars; ribbons awarded for fifteen years active service.

In the house where I grew up there was no couch. The lounge room had two armchairs and a matching ottoman. It had two in-between chairs too, used by my sister and I when we were big enough, but no sofa. The family living in this house did not sit next to each other. They didn’t do closeness.

So I’m looking with affection at the careworn covering of our family couch. Careworn. Worn through care. We’ve sat on it to watch Thomas The Tank Engine and The Terminator. In the cracks between the cushions are layers of crumbs and debris that probably support several complex ecosystems. Life on the surface filtering down, nourishing those below. I hope the microbes are happy in their microbey lives; falling in love, producing little microbes, making beds out of skin cells and sporting fields out of lost shirt buttons.

This lilliputian reverie is abruptly interrupted by the impact of my fourteen year old son, hurtling across the room and rugby-tackling me so that we both collapse backwards onto the cushions. He’s done it a thousand times before, a game we’ve played forever. A decade ago I used to have to push myself backwards to achieve the desired result—a tangle of limbs and giggles and a victory squeak from the boy as he grinned down at his vanquished Daddy. 

But he doesn’t need any help now. Almost as tall as his Mum and more than half my body weight, the moment of impact has a combined mass of 140kg. So backwards we go, thump! Ha! So loud and deep was the young fella’s triumphant shout that I did not hear the crack of splitting timber. It was only later in the evening when we were siting in a line watching a bit of TV that I noticed I was sliding forwards. Not just bad posture; the sofa had developed a pronounced tilt. Inspection revealed a fault line gaping between arm and body, the latter having subsided to floor level as if finally succumbing to years of play wrestling.

I pointed out the collapse to the others. They both stared at me, seeking to gauge my reaction. Because I am not always OK around stuff being broken or damaged. In the house of my childhood objects were supposed to last forever. Breaking things through overuse was frowned upon, even growing out of clothes viewed with suspicion. Wilful damage was a capital offence. I once hid at the top of the back yard willow for three hours after breaking a garage window playing cricket.

A kind of reverse scarring results from this insistence that things have to last. An obsession with protection stifles exploration and kills spontaneity. Scarring is the inevitable by-product of use. It’s a result of life.

I looked at the couch and at my partner and son, and smiled. It took a little effort. This couch has been good to us. It has opened its arms to a thousand cuddles, hundreds of rough-and-tumbles and we are sitting on it together now, despite the list to starboard. We continued watching tele.

Things wear out. People too. 

But love doesn’t.

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“I CAME THROUGH AND I SHALL RETURN”

Sometimes inspiration flags, sometimes life gets in the way of writing. Blogs go into a state of suspended animation. 

Here are a dozen opening lines to be avoided when returning after a hiatus.

I’ve been away.

No-one noticed.

Did you miss me?

Nup.

It’s been ages since I’ve sat down at the keyboard.

And…?

Such a very busy time…

Naturally no-one else in the entire blogging world is busy.

So much has happened, I don’t know where to start.

Come back when you’ve worked it out.

Thank you to all my loyal readers who’ve waited patiently.

You hope.

I promised to post regularly and I haven’t.

Self-abasement is charming.

I feel terrible about not posting these last six weeks/months/decades.

Ditto grovelling.

I’m so grateful for the support of my readers.

Such authenticity. Anyway, they’re not yours.

I’ve missed you all.

But mostly I’ve missed having my ego stroked.

Most sincere apologies for the silence.

Enough breast-beating, already. Who’s actually upset?

It is so good to be back!

Translation: I’m shit-scared no-one will even remember my blog.

*

Above all, only publish when you actually have something worthwhile to offer.

Now, what was I going to write about…

*

Title quote: Doug MacArthur, Adelaide, South Australia, 1942.

TIKI EVE

Some people are really good at casual social interactions. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I have to be convinced, cajoled or corralled into attending gatherings larger than four adults and even then it’s usually all I can do to avoid glancing at my watch with insulting frequency.

On reflection, my partner would probably substitute ‘and’ for ‘or’ in the previous sentence. Convinced, cajoled and corralled. I am just not that good at small talk.

It’s not that I dislike people. In low-density situations (preferably one-to-one) I relish human connection. In fact, I’ve made a career out of bounded intimacy. But parties aren’t my best thing, especially ones full of strangers. 

As we pulled up outside the New Year’s Eve party of a couple we’d never met, I glanced at said partner with a slightly troubled expression. Is this a bit odd? Rocking up to a tiki-themed NY party with a bottle of Margaret River Rosé and a garish pink shirt? She managed to roll her eyes and look lovingly amused simultaneously, which has a degree of difficulty of 4.2. I did wonder, she said mildly.

I knew the answer, of course. For the first time, a blogosphere entity was beaming from hyperspace into the real world. A fellow of diverse creativity, restless curiosity and a peppery reaction to intransigent stupidity, the source of our party invitation is also a prolific Facebooker, being responsible for more of my ‘Like’ clicks than anyone else during 2018.  (I recognise that last one, partner said in response to this observation. She does irony too). He’d also promptly and generously offered a sound production tutorial to a young musician friend and alerted me to one of the concert highlights of recent times: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Pity we didn’t actually meet on the night. 

Walking down the driveway, a little ahead of Ms Lonely Keyboards and the boy, I felt a pang of anxiety, instantly dissolved by the warm greeting and firm handshake of our host. We both grinned. Good to meet you. Come inside.

As we passed through a jungle of exotic decorations—all tiki-themed, of course—I realised that we were, in fact, the first to arrive. Gulp. The hostess was jamming small coloured edibles onto toothpicks, her smile of greeting just a little strained. Preparations were still very much in progress. We were unfashionably unlate. Double gulp.

Well, one thing I do know is that if you have a task, you feel less at sea. Ms Keyboards knows that intuitively, probably because her work rate is about triple that of normal humans. Or perhaps just mine. Anyway, within moments she had taken over the toothpick business, freeing the hostess for something else. Our host was also into spearing; bits of chicken onto pointy sticks. A-ha! Let me relieve you of that job, I said. Stabbing diced dead animal is a culinary task within even my limited capacities. As people dribbled in, I cheerily said hello and promptly forgot the names, but it didn’t matter. I was on the team and the pyramid of impaled chicken was growing steadily. 

When our jobs were done, we adjourned to a little table on the verandah and enjoyed the summer night, the wonderful range of tropical set decorations and even the tiki-themed music. Our host joined us for a few minutes, which was nice. It didn’t matter that our conversation was interrupted by welcoming duties; that’s the role of host, isn’t it? To facilitate the enjoyment of others. These particular others were a friendly couple; Peter said, sotto voce, you’ll like David, you have a lot in common. Off he bustled, off drifted the new arrivals, off drifted Ms Keyboards to see if there was any food for the boy. I wandered too, noting that the barbeque was starting up. Another job! Within minutes I’d commandeered a spare pair of tongs and was rotating the very same kebabs I’d prepared earlier. And sausages too. And some things with pineapple on sticks. You can take this Hawaiian thing too far, I said to the host. Fortunately he took the crack with good humour. There is a bond that forms when you’re sweating over a hot BBQ; a camaraderie forged in smoke and sweat and grilled meat. It’s a primal encounter where you also get to chat and drink. Having a yarn confirmed all I’d gleaned from this new friend’s posts and our email correspondence. It was really nice, and if I hadn’t been concentrating so hard on not cracking the halloumi, I’d have noticed I was remarkably relaxed.

Later, after supper, I was chatting to the musician Peter had introduced earlier. That was great too; lively, funny, filled with forays into different topics and random jumps from sound compression to Steve Winwood joining Steely Dan for an encore. 

Later again, Ms K and I were chatting to David and his wife. So, asked David, how do you know Peter? I just met him tonight, I said. What can only be described as a guffaw exploded. Seeing you barbequeing together, I assumed you’d known each other for years. I grinned back. Couple of hours.

Which just goes to show that what the world really needs is more barbeques. 

Or maybe more Tiki parties.

LAVA BAR

Lava Bar constructed by Peter and photographed by Wendy

CHRISTMAS ADAM

Morning, I said to the boy. Isn’t it a lovely day? Clear, bright sky, not too hot yet.

It is, he replied. And Merry Christmas Adam.

Christmas Adam?

Yes, he explained, the day before Christmas Eve. Oh, OK.

Funny what they come up with, kids. Raised as a strict atheist, the mythology of this centrepiece of Western civilisation still infiltrates. Even here, downunder, where all the trappings and symbols are entirely out-of-place. No need for strings of lights to brighten dreary streets when it’s warm and light until nine o’clock in the evening. Yet we add to global warming with our tree lights and exterior displays though those who would most enjoy them are tucked in bed by the time you can actually see them.

Don’t be a Grinch, says the boy’s mum. I don’t do Seuss, I snap. I learned from a newspaper quiz that the Grinch has a dog named Max. The boy enjoys reading me the quiz when we get the paper. Sometimes I score well, mostly not. The Grinch’s dog? What kind of opening question is that? Who was the bumbling spy in the 60s sitcom? What was the name of the wild boy in the wolf suit? He laughs and carries on with the questions. I do awfully, as usual.

It is indeed a glorious morning. Perfect for busking.

That’s what the boy is off to do in a few minutes. There’s a community market in the car park of the university not far from our home. Same university I worked at for fifteen years. Can almost walk around it now without a shudder, which is good because the grounds are lovely and there are ducks on the lake.

The market will be bustling on Christmas Adam. Fruit and Veg, garden stuff, food caravans, trash and treasure. And buskers. A middle-aged pan flute player, a stringy girl scraping at her violin, the sullen adolescent whose cheap acoustic guitar is drowned by the hubbub. 

Our boy wants to get there early to get a good spot. He expects stiff competition for his Christmas Carols. Last week it was raining; few punters, even fewer buskers. The market organiser invited him to stand under his awning, which was sweet. He did well, partly due to the lack of competition, partially from compassion on the part of the marketeers. Compassion. A good word for any time of year. Most of the people who gave me money were older, he said. 

Today it will be a barrage of Silent NIghts, a cacophony of carols. Should a non-believing child with a clarinet profit from a once-religious ritual? Commercialism. A good word for this time of year. There’s nothing we need; let it go.

What do you want the money for, his mum asked. Anything special? 

He hesitated. I want to buy you and daddy presents, he said.

Isn’t it a lovely day?

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