Friday, 21 June 2013

Teenage Dream

At 8.40pm on Wednesday 19th June, I officially became the mum of two teenage daughters. It’s about time I wrote YA novel I thought. I should know my audience.

A few days prior I'd hosted a coming of age party. Fifteen, 12 and just 13 year olds. It was an eye opener. But quite frankly what stage of parenting isn’t?

As I served the drinks I stated the rules. ‘First rule: No drinks in the living room please. Second rule: have fun.’

‘And have a sugar high,’ squeaked a smiley girl, stuffing her fluro striped face with a handful of party lolly mix.

‘Go crazy,’ I said. And they did.

As soon as I’d served red Fanta in paper cups and retreated to my holding pen. The kitchen. Some of the girls started a burping competition. Fair enough. They were thirsty young things and that drink was obviously carbonated. But even the three boys present were shocked by the volley of throaty belches emanating from these pretty tweenies all togged up in their fluro skinnies and white T-shirts.

It was a glow in the dark party. Oh yes. We had glow sticks, glow glasses, glow-earrings, glow necklaces and glow-bracelets. Thanks K-Mart. We had a happy birthday banner painted with glow paint. And as already mentioned we had a lot of faces covered in glow-paint. Thanks Whitcoulls; and FYI that pink colour leaves orange stains on coloured concrete floors. We had gazillions of white balloons with lcd lights inside. Thanks Warehouse.

And the piece de rĂ©sistance, reminiscent of 80’s nightclubs, the black light. $23 to hire for the night from Party Plus. If you stood too close to it you looked like an Oompa Loompa whose teeth had just been lasered Ultra White. Sick.

As Justin Bieber screeched out ‘Girlfriend’ for the third time, I busied myself with heating an array of nasty premade party snacks. My daughter wanted a dinner tray of freshly made sushi. I said that would cost too much. The kids gobbled up chicken bits the size and shape of popcorn and freakishly long oven fries. It was comforting to see Alison Holst’s youthful face on the packets of frozen sausage rolls I’d selected. They were good too. Blast them at 220 and the pastry’s all crunch and yum.

One boy complained the playlist was terrible. I was with him on that, but I wasn’t allowed near the stereo. I wasn’t allowed near anything actually unless required for photography or food replenishing. I had to bite my tongue and put Katy Perry on the stereo near the kitchen, loud. When in Rome.

They moved outside and toasted marshmallows over a brazier. Things started getting out of hand. An eleven year old male had taken his shirt off. The girls were jeering. He was taking selfies. For whom I wondered? They ate smores (molten marshmallows squashed between Chocolate Wheatens). Then they disappeared into the dark armed with only their glow in the dark arsenal to play spotlight. It was practically snowing. Some fell down banks, others in gravel. I let them get really wet them called them inside. Then I mopped mud off the floor.

The big screen we borrowed from a friend was a hit. They played One Direction parodies mostly to annoy the resident almost 15 year old. Hardened Beliebers all of them. Next they projected facebook and chatted to outsiders. Stranger things have happened I suppose.

Some of the photos were telling. Like the one of the lass gyrating with the empty wine bottle in her mouth. Now deleted. The bottle in question had been used to play spin-the-bottle-whose-present-will-I-open-next?

At the time I thought perhaps a plastic one would have been more suitable but her father assured me it was washed. And I was a bit preoccupied getting the oven to frozen pastry cooking temperature. Maybe plastic doesn’t spin as well? I can’t remember what we used when I was a young lassy. But it must have been glass; those midsize bottles we returned to the dairy then bought a ten cent mixture. Heady times back in the 70’s, when spin-the-bottle was a kissing game.

The party lasted three hours. It could have been three weeks. When the birthday girl said it was the best party, I knew my job was done. One parent arrived 45 minutes after the allotted pickup to collect four girls. I was lying on the sofa by that stage, wishing I hadn’t had the urge to try all the high salt high fat food on offer. At least I’d held back on the red Fanta. Having that cocktail of processed preservatives repeating would have been lethal.

A few days later the actual birth date arrived. Darling daughter announced at breakfast, ‘hey mum I’m legal.’

The words ‘For what?’ started flashing across my frontal lobes like a cheap Vegas neon.

I swallowed my toast, ‘For what?’ I asked, taking a swig of coffee.

‘Facebook,’ she beamed.

Now, about that YA be continued

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Welcome to the Land of Nong

I have mentioned fiction and lies before. Well, the art of lying really. So just in case any readers have ever wondered if I do what I say I’m going to do? I thought I’d give you an update in relation to some of my more outlandish claims.

Bold Claim Number 1: from - A Bum Like Blancmange

I am still running. Okay, I have had the odd five day gap. Like when there was snow on the ground. And I haven’t kept a tally of total runs completed. However, I can now run for 35 minutes non-stop, uphill and down dale and feel fabulous. High even. Post run, wrapped in a cuddly cloak of endorphins and sweat, my face reddened from chill mountain air, I return home elated and ready to stretch. Then sit.

Bold Claim Number 2: from - Reading Aloud in Bed

Thanks to I have read Ernest Hemingway’s  Pulitzer Prize winning novella, The Old Man and The Sea. Not as a read aloud beside the newly chimney swept bedroom fire. But to myself, alone with a cup of tea in my chenille dressing gown in bed on a rainy Saturday morning. And I thoroughly recommend it. According to the blurb on the back, of my library borrowed copy reprinted in 1995, “Hemingway’s tough, terse prose and short, declarative sentences did more to change the style of written English that any other writing in the 20th century.”

Published in 1952, this is the story of an old Cuban fisherman who hasn’t caught a fish for 85 days. Desperate to regain his reputation he takes his skiff far out into the Gulf Stream. There he hooks a giant Marlin and an agonizing and often emotional battle between man, fish and the ocean begins.

I’ve just borrowed, The Torrents of Spring, Hemingway’s second published work. Supposedly the first ever ‘anti-western western…a brilliant satire on conventional fiction’. With much of the south island under flood water and snow to lake level due in Queenstown tomorrow, another read-in will be happening soon. Perhaps with a friend and  a fire?

Bold Claim Number 3: (as above)

Talking of fires and mandarin peels to cure writers block. The family is still munching its way through kilos. But I haven't tested Hemingway’s theory and thrown peels into the fire and watched them curl into blue flames, while waiting for my creative muse to ignite. But I need to. So soon.

Bold Claim Number 4: from - Christchurch: The Heart of a Damaged City

One thing I said I would do but didn’t, was attend the Golden Yarns Hui in Christchurch. Dang, because I really did want to see all my children’s writer friends. And go back to, Head Over Heels to inject some more money into the Christchurch economy by way of a new black leather handbag. 

NB. My current hold-all is Cellini and leather, but it came to me courtesy of daughter 14, attending a pay-and-grab charity fashion evening. Functional, but a tad embarrassing. I live in a small town. I may meet its real owner; the one who left a nail file and a half sucked lozenge stuck to the lining.

Any-how, why did I not attend? I stuffed up my travel arrangements. I made a  simple enough mistake, one which is probably more common than we think, in this buy-online, book-on-line world. However, a mistake that cemented my place in the kingdom of Nong.

So be warned. When hastily grabbing your next grab-a-seat remember - the computer is not that smart, as in, it doesn’t know where you live. Yet. Do NOT type, ‘To’ when the box wants, ‘From’, because you cannot re-route online.

You can, if you want, spend an inordinate amount on penalty fees by allowing a real-life-person to correct your stuff-up. Note: this will also include buying higher price fares because all the good deals will have gone. If you want? Or you can see sense, count your losses and stay at home.

I tried to fob off my wrongly routed ticket to a friend. I felt less silly when she said. 

‘Oh hell I did that the other day trying to get to Auckland, ended up paying the penalties to change.’

‘Welcome to Nong-dom,’ I said.

‘What?’ she replied.

Ah the land of Nong is not empty.

Thankfully the following weekend I was able to attend the very lively, NZ Society of Authors, AGM in Dunedin. I met some witty and long serving NZ authors. Dined at the home of YA writer, Tania Roxborogh. E-work-shopped with Elizabeth Pulford. Made new writer friends like Anna Mackenzie.Caught up with the lovely, Maria Gill. And toasted the new president, Kyle Mewburn.

I probably told a few lies. And I got there by car.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Horses for Courses


Lately I’ve been wondering if the ‘truth’ I’ve been recalling in my weekly blog-posts stands up to my ‘stranger than fiction’ testament? Then Lynda Hallinan, Sunday Magazine columnist (one of my favourites), confessed a couple of weekends ago that her husband thinks she sounds like a horse when she pees. And not in a, you could win a red ribbon on show day way, but in a you should put paper in the bowl beforehand way. I was impressed by her ability and by her confidence and willingness to share.

Because sometimes when writing this blog I deliberate for far too long over content that is strange but may or may not be suitable.  Like this…

The other night when I woke at 2.18am (for a pee) I looked out the window to check on a nearby ancient willow tree. Only because this still-standing-but-mainly-dead tree had been smoldering on and off for 36 hours, thanks to the errant flames of a nearby garden fire. Were my half-awake eyes playing tricks on me? Was that a gaggle of hobbits roasting a possum over yonder? Or was the tree in question cheerily aglow in the pitch blackness?

I looked again then nudged my husband. ‘Your tree is glowing. RED.’

It did cross my mind at that point whether I should wake the volunteer fire brigade as well, due to the proximity of this burning tree to our large transformer box. The one with a sign on it which reads, DANGER 20,000 volts DO NOT DIG. But I snuggled back under the duvet as my personal fire fighter stepped out into the night. The outside temperature was cruising around minus 5 degrees Celsius so the hose was frozen solid.

What’s a man to do to get the job done and back to bed? Well this is where being able to pee like an actual horse, not just sound like one, comes in mighty handy.

Talking of horses, recently one of my geldings had not been able to pee like a horse. His sad efforts were more akin to a small boy sitting on the potty. Something was up with his retractable waterworks. Up being the operative word, because his penis wouldn’t come down. All the way. And whatever was going on had caused the surrounding area to swell into almost stallion-like proportions. I felt for him.

To add insult to injury the horse in question is not hung like one. He has what my son charmingly calls a choad. Wiggling my little finger right now. Nuff said. And horse urine is very syrupy so if a horse can’t manage to hit the ground, cleanly, the result is a lot of dried black sticky stuff on legs and belly.

My ever helpful blacksmith arrived the next day.

‘Something’s up with his waterworks,’ I announced. ‘The vet said it’s the change in season. Grass and such. I don’t think so.’

He dropped the hoof he was working on and bent down to inspect. ‘Nah, you’ll need to get that cleaned out. The vet does it. Sedates them. They can get so gummed up they don’t even bother dropping them out to pee.’

‘Eek. What do they wash them with? Some kind of solution?’

‘They used to use Lux Flakes. You need a good equine vet.’

He gave me the number of someone out of town.  I dialed and explained my geldings predicament.

‘The vet isn’t due up your way for a couple of weeks. But you can try washing it yourself.’

Well needs must. So later that afternoon daughter 14 and I headed out armed with a half full bucket of warm soapy water, rubber gloves and an old tea towel.

‘Hold up his front leg,’ I instructed. ‘And if he moves around don’t let go.’

I started cleaning. And gagging. My tea towel came away blackened. My gelding didn’t budge. He must have known his public humiliation was a means to an end. Clean willy =  happy willy. Only my attempts were a bit halfcocked. It was like cleaning a snail tucked into a shell. I picked off black sticky bits and tried not to breath.

‘Why is it that I get all the penis jobs?’ I complained to my husband. ‘Cleaning them ETC ETC. I don’t even have one.’

I found an article on the internet, ‘Horse Sheath Cleaning. This should be done regularly to avoid smegma beans which can be cancerous’.  Seriously? That’s not in my, Care of Horse & Pony (1972).

I fed my gelding some windfall apples; he didn’t seem too perturbed.  Then he twisted his head back towards his tail and scratched his right fetlock (think ankle) with this teeth. I’m sure he would have scratched his willy if he could. Horses for courses I guess.

When the equine vet visited the swelling had subdued. But the poor boy still got the full monty. Glands check, thermometer, then sedation to make him relax himself. His eyes drooped, his front legs splayed. He swayed like an old drunk on his way home from the pub. I hoped he wouldn’t nose dive into the water trough. The vet assured me he wouldn’t go down as she donned her rubber gloves and waited.

‘Does he respond when you whistle?’

‘No,’ I laughed. But don’t because competitive riders train their horses to pee when they whistle.

Finally he relaxed. ‘It smells normal. Lots of smegma, but that’s normal too. Don’t believe what you read, it’s not cancerous. I can feel fat here,’ she said, pinching the folds of his sheath. ‘That’s caused the swelling.’

Post clean the gelding swooned, eyes shut, lower lip hanging, in the recovery pen.

We moved over to horse number two. He’d had me worried after having his tongue out for an inordinately amount of time the day before, like he’d just grown a cancerous tumour on the back of his throat. Turned out that was not the case. However he got the dentist gag, sedation and the battery-powered grinder for a bulbous tooth that had formed in front of a missing molar.

Gelding one looked on almost laughing now. Ha ha, I only got the willy-clean, you got the drill!

Thankfully everything was back to normal when the bill arrived. 250 bucks. I guess sometimes you have to pay, to pee like a horse. And that the truth can be stranger than fiction.

*Saskia Leek: Desk Collection. Go and see it at the Dunedin Art Gallery.

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