ON-LINE DANCING

Here in Melbourne, a bustling metropolis of some five million consumers, sorry, citizens, we are back in Stage Three lockdown. That means the only valid reasons for leaving home are work/education, exercise, purchasing food/essentials or medical appointments.

But what it really means is ON-LINE SHOPPING.

The joys of buying stuff on-line are so obvious we’ve integrated them into our lifestyle now… not needing go out (or even dress), the thrill of something arriving you don’t remember purchasing, returning items damaged in the post, the brilliant ideas that surface just before the second bottle of wine runs out… it’s bliss. And with interest rates this low, you’ll scarcely notice the monthly card repayments.

Wanting to spread the joy around, I’ve been purchasing little surprise gifts for some of the people in my life, and feeling a quiver of excitement as I imagine their delight when an unexpected pressie arrives (contactless!) on the doorstep.

My partner, commonly known as Ms Connection, has been loving the new electric coffee machine we acquired. So have I. The magic of pushing a couple of buttons and getting a cafe-style latte in moments obscures the sight of the metal espresso machines sitting forlornly by the stove. And that lovely white-noise shooshing sound as the milk heats entirely drowns out thoughts of landfill and profligate wasting of resources. It’s all good.

So I found a boutique coffee pod seller called Bling Beans and ordered a dozen different coffees, both leaded and decaffeinated. But to add some fun, I got them to empty all the various flavours and styles into one mixed box and omit the colour coded ID chart, so Ms C gets a lucky dip. To add to the excitement, if she has more than one shot of full strength coffee in a day she turns into an amphetamine squirrel so there’s a touch of Deerhunter roulette here too.

The other purchase was equally thoughtful. One of my oldest friends, who I met up with for a last supper the day before lockdown, told me a sad story. He was limping as we walked to the cafe and when I asked about this latest ailment (which is what old bastards do when they meet) he explained, with a degree of embarrassment, that he had injured his toes. How? I asked. He looked away and muttered something unintelligible, but I persisted. After all, this was someone who totalled his ankle after walking out the back of a camper van while staring at a compass to see where the sun would rise. So I persisted, and was rewarded.

“I couldn’t find my toenail clippers,” he said. “There were some wire cutters handy and I thought, being a simple builder, now that’s a good idea. But the bevelled edge of the pliers and the distance between my eyes and feet made it trickier than I thought.”

And?

“I sliced a bit off two toes.”

Ouch.

So I found this really neat kit and ordered it for him. It’s called Big Bloke’s Nail Kit and has a cutter, a trimmer and a buffer. They even threw in some fingernail clippers for free. He’ll be rapt, I know.

I’m working on a couple of home-based ideas to entertain the boy as well. I saw this on social media and had a good laugh, so I thought I’d re-arrange his newly organised library (sections for Sci-Fi and Fantasy, General Fiction, Myths and Legends, Dr Who, etc) into one long line of books ordered by height from largest to smallest. He’s scored an extra week off school due to the second wave of COVID, so that should keep him occupied.

With a little imagination and a credit card, lockdown can be fun.

 

COVIDEO #1

It’s become so close, so secluded.  Don’t mind the latter, but the crowding of life into a few modestly sized rooms is claustrophobic. Turn left for the work desk, right for the stereo, straight ahead to the canteen. I started distance therapy (providing, though I have a receiving session zoom scheduled). Two screens connected by electricity and radiation of some kind. I put on headphones and stare at the glass, straining to read signs that have suddenly changed font and size, listening to tones that are familiar yet different, noticing intrusive wonderings. What room of this person’s dwelling are we in? It is a surprise to realise that for all the detailed descriptions of lives and feelings, we never talk about wallpaper. About furniture. About working from bed. Have they gone silent or is it a screen freeze? What am I missing? Anxiety ripples like a chill breeze. A friend wrote that he’s teaching his eldest to cook, just in case Mum and Dad get ill. Jeez, we’d be in trouble, I think. Then realise the boy has done a couple of terms of Food Technology and has more in his repertoire than Dad. More skill. The son should surpass the father, as the sun outshines the moon. The moon, the big full Easter moon. How do people cling to medieval belief systems in a time like this? A desperate bulwark against despair, against futility, against vulnerability. I had a meltdown yesterday; yelled at the builder. He didn’t deserve it and the shame was intense. I want to buy him wine or beer or something to ease my discomfort. Water under the bridge, he says. But I need to say a tangible sorry and decide I’ll go out early tomorrow to the liquor supermarket. The house is still now… my son coughs  in his bedroom. Our street is still, infrequent cars startle as midnight approaches. The city is brooding, compliant but edgy. A teenaged girl was fined by police while doing practice driving with her mum. You are too far from home, they said. Too far from home. I go outside and commune with the moon before bed.

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.

THE LONG FAREWELL

When your child starts school, one of the biggest changes is the use of the refrigerator. Not the inside—the essential foodliness of the contents remains the same—no, I’m referring to the outside.

Where once a clean brushed-aluminium surface gleamed in the morning sunlight, perhaps adorned with a socially aware sticker or a novelty magnet, now sprouts a wilderness of notes, notices, essential phone numbers and lists. It’s like the chaotic desk of a harried admin officer has been flipped to the vertical plane and had a handful of advertising magnets flung willy-nilly at the mess.

When the boy was young, we had a couple of non-matching sets of letters and numbers on the fridge door as an encouragement for him to forever associate words with food. Just joking. They were for play, and for announcing special timelines or events.

“Four weeks to Xmas!”

“Cats for the premiership!”

“8th Birthday party on Saturday!”

The exclamation mark was one of the most used tiles.

As he became a little more sophisticated, sometimes I’d put up a phrase relating to current affairs and see how long it took him to notice the covert communication. In the lead-up to the last election, for instance, I mounted a political message:

“Darth Vader for President”

Usually it took the youngster mere seconds to notice the change on the fridge door, but he’d only comment when he thought the line was worthy of notice. Our fault. We’ve trained him to be a critical consumer of media, even fridge-memes.

Change is constant. Every phase of childhood is more complicated than the previous one; the new version overlays the old so effectively you can sometimes forget what the little fella was like. Browsing old photos or mini-films can mist you up quicker than you can say “The long farewell”.

Because that’s what it is, being a parent. A series of lettings go coupled with moments of holding close. When he’s sick he still needs us for comfort and re-assurance, but other times he’s immersed in a world for which we have no key, no entry pass, no real training. It’s how it should be, and doesn’t change one jot the immense love I feel, but often I notice a twinge of sadness, a stab of pre-emptive grief. Childhood, endless when we traverse it ourselves, passes in a blur of days for a parent—especially when there is you and a single child.

In our home, we are fast approaching the end of Primary School. Six years of elementary education have been completed; the new year will usher in a new adventure. Not sure if we are ready, but the boy is. He is tall and twelve and up for the next challenge. Deep into the endless Wheel of Time fantasy novels, downloading complicated sheet music for Undertale tunes, using language I was grappling with in senior high school. I hope I can keep up.

Yet in the rush of daily routines and weekly cycles, some things stand out.

Recently the lad was unwell. Just a cold, but a nasty one that laid him low for the best part of a week. Mum re-arranged things so someone was at home, offering paracetamol and comfort as required. He lay on the couch and read or watched old DVDs. It’s funny, that. When he’s unwell he reverts to entertainment from long ago, like Thomas the Tank Engine or re-reading Captain Underpants.

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A.A. Milne’s classic books were featured one sick-day. As I departed for work he was well into Winnie-The-Pooh and when I returned around supper time he had just finished The House At Pooh Corner.

I sat next to him on the couch. And after checking on his recovery, I made an observation.

You look a little sad, I said.

He fiddled with the sash on his Star Wars dressing gown and nodded. The books sat next to him on the other side. The same volumes that had entranced and entertained me as a child.

Not quite knowing how to proceed, I waited (a skill still needing considerable practice on my part).

It’s the ending, he said.

Of the books?

Yes, he said. The second one especially. Christopher Robin is leaving. He’s going to school. It doesn’t say exactly, but that’s what’s happening.

There was a very slight quaver in his voice.

It’s a long time since I’ve read The House At Pooh Corner, I said. Maybe I better refresh my memory.

He reached for the book and carefully opened it.

CHAPTER X

IN WHICH CHRISTOPHER ROBIN AND POOH COME TO AN ENCHANTED PLACE, AND WE LEAVE THEM THERE

The boy sat quietly as I read the chapter, easing a little closer as he detected the occasional sniffle.

Eeyore’s poem provides an eloquent summary.

Christopher Robin is going.

At least I think he is.

Where?

Nobody knows.

But he is going—

I mean he goes

(To rhyme with “knows”)

Do we care?

(To rhyme with “where”)

We do

Very much.

Yes, we care very much.

And when Pooh and Christopher Robin are at The Enchanted Place, and Christopher Robin knights Pooh and Pooh worries about being a bear of little brain and how he’ll live up to being a knight if he doesn’t understand Christopher Robin’s world, and when he wonders if “being a Faithful Knight meant that you just went on being faithful without being told things” it was all the boy’s daddy could do to contain his love and grief and overflowing heart. So he reached his arm out for a hug and the boy nestled in and they held each other and who’s to say whether there were tears or who was comforting whom but it felt good.

A few days later I noticed a new message on the fridge door.

Time g0 to

colLge and

make U prouDs!

Eeyore would complain about the grammar, but Pooh would understand.

It’s the long farewell, you see.

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