The Joy of Sagging Umbrellas

I need to get out more. I don’t just mean out of the satin-lined coffin in which I spend my days for fear of melting in the daylight. I mean, get out of the house. When I moved to the Gold Coast, I was awed by the number of things to do. The words, ‘You could do something every day if you choose’ often left my lips. Then Covid happened and we were forced to spend more time at home, which became the norm. You know what it’s like – the less you do something, the less inclined you are to do it.

That’s why I went out for breakfast this morning. On my own. Laugh at my lack of adventurousness if you like, but baby steps…

Sitting outside while the leaves are falling on my table, Tamborine Mountain has never felt so inviting. I have finished my coffee already. It was good. And hot. Just what I needed on this suddenly cold day. This year there has been no gradual decay of hot summer days into golden autumn. It is just cold. I think the leaves accosting me might be confused. Normally they would have the waning warm gentle breezes to drift on, until bare branches shivered in the wintry air. Now there is only gusty wind. Chilly, gusty wind.

But still, I chose to sit outside. The umbrellas sagging under the weight of fallen leaves drew me in. I’m tired of the perfection demanded by modern life. We feel the need to dress well, gym well, eyelash well, and Hampton our homes. Sometimes you need to step away from that and relish the unexpectedness of a yellow gumtree leaf in your hollandaise sauce.

I’m glad I chose The Monkey Tree for breakfast, even though they are short of staff and signs everywhere tell me to be patient because my food will come. Eventually. Coming here feels like I have stepped into the past. I look around at the people and my soul sings a little. Gathered around the eclectic mix of tables, is an equally eclectic clientele.

A family sits across to my right. She has no makeup on, her hair in a ponytail, sensible walking shoes and cargo shorts. He looks like a lumberjack. The kids have snuggly jumpers on. They are talking and laughing together. Another family to my left has been waiting longer than I have. The dad is wearing a T-short and shorts, obviously a local, oblivious to the cold. One young boy is playing with a toy cat, until his older sister starts running and he has to chase her. They are reined in by the mum. A table close by has four young women, probably in their twenties. They chat among themselves.

All around me the sounds of conversation drift in a comfortable ebb and flow. What strikes me is that no one is on their phone. Parents are taking an interest in their children, friends in each other. Even the woman sitting alone at her table only touches her phone to take a picture of her food.

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Will someone please mow my lawn!

I know that sounds quite dodgy, but this is not a euphemism for anything racy. Although… there was an incident last year…but that might be a blog for another day.

Who wouldn’t want to mow this?

I tried to get the lawn seen to. The actual lawn – the grass growing around my house. This has been an ongoing battle for a while. In NZ I had a lawn man for 17 years. When I moved houses, he came with me. When I moved countries, he decided that was a step too far.

Having bought my house in Australia, I thought getting a reliable garden service would be a cinch.
– I had one that wouldn’t pitch up, and would sound surprised when I said the grass was long. Again. After only three weeks…
– My most recent one was reliable but doesn’t want to work in my area anymore.
– Others want to charge a gazillion dollars.
– The most bizarre quote I got was a company that would charge $10 extra if they took the grass clippings away. Like I want to keep them!
I’m sure their reticence to mow has nothing to do with my middle-aged bikini-clad body lolling around in the pool while they are busy. Nah, it can’t be that.

Anyway, I digress. Let me tell you what the last seven days in isolation have been like. Boring. Long. Slow. Having to stay home because I was a close contact is ludicrous. I wasn’t even sick! At least I had interesting internet and lawn misadventures to keep me entertained.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw some blokes mowing the lawn across the road, so I asked them if they could do mine on a regular basis. We had an accord. They messaged on Thursday to say they were on their way. An hour later they sent a bill and asked if I wanted the pile of rubbish removed. Pile of rubbish? I don’t have a pile of rubbish, unless they were referring to my car. Then my neighbour texted and said she had arrived home to short grass. She asked if they were meant to do mine instead. I laughed at their mistake, secretly offended that she assumed it was my lawn that needed doing! What was she suggesting?

And so, despite my best efforts, I was cultivating a jungle and haven for snakes and untamed tigers. Then today: my sister was about to bring her lawnmower over when I heard a familiar buzzing outside. Sure enough the errant garden service had arrived. And I didn’t even have enough time to don my swimsuit! Ten minutes after they left, another lawn man rang and asked if he should come over. Why does everything happen at once?

Just when you are questioning the depths to which my life has sunk, writing about the lawn, wait until I tell you about what happened with my internet!

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Keep your hands off the wheel

Have you ever driven through a car wash and realised how remarkably similar it is to middle age? No? Me neither… But now that you mention it…

The only choice you have in the whole process is choosing to be there. You pay your dues and select a service, then you place the gears in Neutral and take your hands off the wheel.

The first thing you notice is the feeling of panic as your car starts moving forward with no one in control. You’ve always prided yourself on being the master of your destiny. Maybe you took the magic of youth for granted. Back then, you could stop eating potatoes for a week and lose 2 kilos. Or join a ballet class or belly dancing class, and manage to look graceful. You could pluck your eyebrows and have them grow back! The future was clear and bright, and opportunities were endless.

Now, you are moving forward and the big black rubber curtain strips are hitting your windscreen. You know they’re coming but they still take you by surprise. They are not subtle. One minute you’re still coming to terms with the fact that your car is in Neutral and the next – Bam! Darkness. That’s when things really start happening to you.

Moving forward. Skins starts loosening. Don’t touch the wheel. Hair starts greying. Stay in Neutral. Eyelids start drooping. Foot off the pedal. Double chin starts forming. Leave the brake pedal alone. Joints start aching. Moving forward. Moving forward. Not in control.

You know, when I was younger, I related differently to people. I was always ready with a cheeky comment or dirty joke. I would do many things for the sake of a dare. I’m planning to be the same when I’m old. I want to run amok in the retirement village and have people roll their eyes at my shenanigans.

For now though, I feel like I’m in a holding pattern. I can’t dress the same as a young person, or flirt in quite the same way. I’m the age of my students’ parents or, scarily, their grandparents. I’m waiting for the green arrow to tell me to drive forward into the sunshine and not to linger because there may be another car behind me. I don’t plan on lingering. I intend to dash out of that middle-age car wash, leaving behind the hair dye and eyelash curler, hurtling down the motorway with the volume up and the window down.

With my hands firmly on the wheel.

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Lives of quiet desperation

Films have the ability to move us like no other medium. I watched one last night and it made me cry. It wasn’t the cheesy romantic ending where the girl rides her horse alongside the train and the boy pulls the emergency brake so he can gallop off into the sunset with her. It was because said young man was choosing to stay in Italy and pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Why would that make me cry?

One explanation is that I have lost my mind. Those of you who have known me for a while have probably long been witness to the unravelling of my sleeve of sanity. Why else would I keep going back onto dating sites? It is only a foolish person who repeats the same behaviour, hoping for a different result. That is why I am no longer on one. Since yesterday.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… Actually, when you stare at me blankly like that, I have no idea what you’re thinking. But yes, I joined a dating site a few weeks ago, more out of habit than desire. And no, that is not the ‘quiet desperation’ in the title. What I found on the site was a whole lot of nothing. Everyone on there is missing something – for some it’s their hair, for some it’s muscle tone, and for some it’s a personality and the will to live. Seriously, when you get to mid-fifties, don’t look for love online!

Back to the film and why it made me cry. A more plausible explanation is that I too had dreams of being a writer. I could empathise with the blank paper behind the typewriter ribbon and the fingers poised mid-air. And the dull ache of scared eyes. And the voices asking who you think you are. And the light fading through the shuttered window.

How many of us actually get to do what we really want? How realistic is it to forsake a promising career in foggy London and live off cheap wine and dreams in sunny Italy? We get so caught up in the maelstrom of living, having, earning, spending, that we push frivolous pursuits aside. We might dabble, but not seriously consider them. We say we have no time for them, or no talent. We stumble towards the finish line with Thoreau’s words as our epitaph. It is this thought that saddens me.

I don’t want to go to my grave with my song still in me. I want to find the melody even if I have no one to share my tune. I don’t ever want my desperation to be quiet!

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It’s a bit cloudy. Did you get it mid-stream?

Last week was a bit of a medical mystery. I made the mistake of telling the doctor my throat was scratchy on Wednesday, so she went all Monty Python me and hid behind a box of specula while printing off a referral for a Covid test. That resulted in a further day off school and a Zoom interview for a job. I hope I get that job, because the other one I am being considered for requires a little more of me. One of the things is a medical examination.

I’ve heard of people being subjected to a medical when they are hoping to become a pilot, or joining the police force, or applying for a place in an elite sports programme. Not as part of the interview process for teaching English in a school. And to be clear, I haven’t had the final interview yet.

When I walked in the door of the treatment room, I was presented with a specimen cup. I dutifully peed into it, and all over my hand. It’s quite hard to aim as a woman. I was weighed and had my height measured. Why would the school need to know those details? Will I not get the job if I am shorter than my students? Or if they think I’m overweight? You’ll be pleased to know that my blood pressure is normal – whatever that means.

This ad would have been useful a week ago.

Then I was tested for colour blindness – obviously so I will be able to tell my students apart. My eyesight and hearing were checked – no doubt so that I can hear a hurled missile coming my way and see it before it hits me. My balance was checked – which could be in case I do a field trip on a boat, with 27 students, teaching English. My flexibility – bending backwards, forwards, sidewards – and turning my head were next – I expect this was to check I’ll be able to dodge bullets Matrix-style.

This is when it gets bizarre. The doctor waved a stethoscope at me and asked me to lift my dress so she could listen to my hearbeat. There I was, with my dress bunched up above my boobs while she checked that I was still alive. Luckily I wore (fairly) new, matching underwear. Then she told me to lie down on the bed and she lifted my legs in turn, turned my ankles, checked my reflexes and bent my knees. As if that wasn’t enough, she got me to drop my bent leg to the side, an action reminiscent of my child-birthing experiences. I’m not sure where my dress was at this stage – probably over my face so I could pretend I wasn’t there.

Bizarrer still, she said she needed to check my lymph nodes. She poked my underarms and my throat. Then she moved lower. Let’s just say the last time anyone poked around that area, he at least had the decency to buy me dinner.

I left there, bewildered and perplexed, feeling like I had been probed by an alien. But with the knowledge that I am quite flexible ‘for my age’.

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When an ugly guy dumps you

In my young and reckless days (as opposed to my old-er and equally reckless ones) I would take pity on poor souls who had plucked up the courage to ask me out, and I would say yes. And I don’t mean they were necessarily ugly to look at. It could be a guy who was shy, or short, or who your friend said she didn’t like. The usual flow of events would be:
1. an awkward ride to the movies (often in Mum’s car)
2. having to dodge – as surreptitiously as possible – the sweaty hand that drifted over to my seat, or the arm that was draped across the back of my chair and started sliding down to touch my shoulder (I have to admit to needing to tie my shoelaces by bending down to the floor to avoid this!)
3. an equally awkward ride home, with Mum making overly bright conversation
4. getting one of my friends to tell him I didn’t want to go out with him.

Then it happens. The moment every pigtail-wearing, self-righteous young teen dreads. Before you can tell him (or get your eye-rolling friend to tell him) that you just want to be friends, he dumps you. You become all Greta Thurnberg on him. ‘How dare you!’

File:Protest gegen das Klimapaket 2019-09-25 16 (cropped).jpg - Wikimedia  Commons

You feel as if your rights have been stripped away. You want to rail against the injustice of the world. You tell anyone who will listen that it was you who ended it because you can’t abide the slack-jawed wide-eyed stares from girlfriends who ooze pity for you. The consoling hand on your arm while they plan how they can spread this juicy gossip in pre-internet, pre-cellphone, passing folded pieces of paper days. And you vow it will never happen again. Never again will you say yes to anyone who you don’t actually fancy.

Never again will you apply for a job you don’t really want only to have them turn around and say they don’t want you. Same indignation. Same feeling of being cheated because I was supposed to be the one to say I didn’t want the job.

Same ‘How dare you’.

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Stop trying to eat Grandma!

It’s not every day you hear those words. But then it’s not every day my son and his fiance bring my grandpuppy to visit! You know, when the kids were young and had pets and called me the grandmother of said pets, I didn’t mind. But as I become more aware of my ageing self, I think I would rather be Zoe’s aunty, or better still, her older sister.

Zoe’s first birthday party

I didn’t think I had an issue with getting older. I have always maintained that I am fascinated with the changes in my face – the wrinkles, the hooded eyes, the chubby cheeks. Well, I have decided that I don’t like being old.

It hit me rather suddenly. I was bra shopping at a fancy mall. When I went to pay for my purchase at a fancy shop, the woman who served me asked if I needed help installing their app on my phone. She added that she always helps the older ladies with technology. The older ladies! The stupid cow was older than me! Older ladies…

Then I went to another fancy shop and went into the change room to try on a rather elaborate bra with four hooks on the back. Who invented bras with four hooks? Feeling decidedly not double-jointed, I spent a good two minutes trying to do up the lace contraption. Every time I got one hook done up, another would come loose. Eventually my arthritic fingers were aching and I had to give up. I stood in the brightly lit cubicle and cried, while a much younger, cheery voice asked, ‘Need any help in there?’ I left the mall.

The logical part of me knows that we all get old – if we’re lucky. The Christian part of me is thankful for the beautiful life I have been gifted. But the naturally optimistic part of me that is finding new aches, and watching the weathering of my body, is having a bit of a hard time.

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Trying to find my Peppermint Crisp

I was making a South African dessert yesterday – a Peppermint Crisp caramel tart. For the uninitiated it consists of a biscuit base topped with caramel, cream and Peppermint Crisp chocolate. Fattening, but beautiful. Anyway, I remembered back to when I was first in NZ and feeling very homesick. We went with a friend to a shop attached to service station that stocked South African products. I bought a Peppermint Crisp and proceeded to scoff the entire thing in the forecourt before getting back in the car. In my chocolate-eating trance I felt safe and loved, even if only for 42 seconds.peppermint crisp

That memory made me realise there is something missing in my life. Something that will give me the same feeling I had at the Shell service station 23 years ago. Something that will pick up the fragments of my shattered spirit and stick them together. Something that will claw back the soul that has been sucked out of me. Something that will ignite the bonfire hiding under a bushel. Something that will nudge the ashes of the phoenix to spark new life.

A new job. That’s what I need. You probably thought I was going to ramble on about needing a man. Ha! The Peppermint Crisp I am craving is a new job.


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I paid someone to touch me

Ever heard of a Lomi Lomi massage? I hadn’t until last week when I had one. It was great, so I might make it a habit. It would be good to cultivate some GOOD habits. The thing about it, and what made it so enjoyable, is that the masseuse knew what she was doing. I have had my shoulders massaged at an instant place in the mall with questionable success.

You see, when we leave things up to an expert, we get far better results. When I was on a dating site, I had a few guys claim to be good at massaging. I ever understood that. Why would I get some half-arsed touchy-touchy from a random man when I can pay someone to do a good job?


That is the same with teaching. As high school teachers, we specialise in certain fields – fields that interest us. I qualified as an English and Geography teacher. Over the years I have honed my English teaching skills and become quite passionate when analysing a novel or guiding a student to improve a piece of writing. I have studied my Masters in Creative Writing. I have helped lead English departments. I have been a national marker for senior English exams. I have become the best English teacher I can possibly be.

Why then, in the school I am about to teach, have I not been given any academic English classes? I applied as an English teacher and said that I was okay with having a Religious Education class thrown in – Catholic school, Catholic teacher. However, most of my timetable is teaching Religious Education. I have questioned this decision but been told that my timetable is set.

I do not subscribe to the idiotic belief that any teacher can teach anything, especially if you are going to do a good job. I could probably teach Maths or Physics because I did both of those subjects at high school. Would I do it well? Not likely. Would I evoke passion for the subjects in my students? I doubt it. Would I be happy? Definitely not.

I am trying to lean on my faith and believe that there is a bigger plan at play. That there is a reason why I find myself in this space and place. But right now I’m battling.

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The New Normal

English is a great language.
Because it has more exceptions than rules? ‘Add -ed to make a past tense verb, except for these 1,574 words.’ Um, no, that doesn’t make it great.
Because it has so many words that look the same but sound different? Maybe not that either.
English is great because it is dynamic. It borrows from other languages to build itself and then, just when you think you’re getting the hang of it, it changes on you.

Take Covid-19 for instance. Who would have used the phrases ‘social distancing’, ‘grim milestone’ and ‘the new normal’ a few months ago? Even ‘coronavirus’, which existed in the medical dictionary and possibly some research fields, was not on anyone’s lips. Now there’s probably a baby somewhere who said this as their first word.

My students were writing creatively as a character from John Marsden’s novel,  Tomorrow, When the War Began, where teenagers are struggling to survive against an invasion. Two of my kids had the character reflect on their ‘new normal’ of hiding in the bush. This got me thinking about what MY new normal is.


The old normal

This photo is the old normal – I spent six hours last Sunday baking for my students because I am leaving my current school – again. This is my new normal. Since moving to Australia, I have to look for another job every six months. Hopefully, the school I am moving to next term will be my forever school.

My new normal is not dating, not looking for a man, and telling everyone about it.

My new normal is hot flushes and never knowing what to wear because I sweat in anything slightly wintery and then shiver when the flush passes and my skin is damp, and never having great hair because when beads of perspiration break out on my forehead my cowlick springs into action, and never wearing a watch because having something so tight against my skin heats me up too much.

Yes, my new normal is not normal at all. I’m going to have to start using the phrase ‘new abnormal’ to convince myself that these things will pass, and so that I can start looking for the ‘normal’ light at the end of this tunnel.

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