Forgotten

She spooned sugar into her tea for the fifth time, and I let her. She wasn’t going to drink it; by the time she finished swirling the granules around the amber concoction and put it aside to cool, the cup would be long forgotten.

“Would you be a dear and make me a cuppa?,” she would ask me soon.

We wasted a lot of tea bags that way. A lot of tea, sugar, water, electricity from the kettle boiling over and over again and time. I could have used the old bag and she wouldn’t have known the difference, but that just wasn’t the kind of thing I did.

Dementia was a bitch. Funny, considering it had the opposite effect on this woman who had once upon a time given birth to my husband. Now that she no longer knew who I was most of the time, that she lived only in a world of memories (some real, some imagined, and some that were scenes from old movies, but who had the heart to tell her) she no longer remembered to hate me. 

We got on quite splendidly, in fact. In my new role as ‘that nice lady’ who looked after her and let her have a sip of gin after dinner, we shared a lot of confidences. She told me of about her first love, a guy called Danny who was famous because he owned a motorcycle before people did such things; about the time she was ten and she stole a box of chocolates from the grocer because another girl at school told her she wouldn’t have the guts; about the way she had danced with an overly touchy-feely man called Jimmy at a 1959 charity dance and the prize ribbon she had hidden from her mother who thought dancing was the work of the devil. She told me about the way she cried when she found out she was pregnant because she was scared out of her wits and about the way her heart had ripped to pieces the day her father had died. Of course there was also the time she’d stepped foot in Tara for the first time, the most majestic mansion in the South. Who knew how likeable a person could be when they stopped trying to be perfect.

“Would you be a darling and make me a cuppa?,” she asked me.

I got up and retrieved the cold, sugary cup from the side of the sofa and set about pouring the forgotten contents down the sink.

What a waste, I thought.

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The One-Eyed Cow

Cow

I leave the house in the usual flurry. Leathery bag swishing back and forth, keys and coins composing early sounds of Christmas, a rustling scarf swaying in the wind behind me like a sinuous eel. Something is missing, the glisten of a square as black as night with numbers as luminous as stars. That little box that holds my secrets and remains my tether.

All swish and jingle and rustle, but no glisten, I venture back in exasperation. Casually propped on an armrest, she waits, the Black Box of my daily flight. Blinking coyly with a single eye, she taunts me with new knowledge. A secret message, a work instruction, an unpaid bill, a dinner invitation from a Nigerian prince.

Breaking the spell, I snatch Pandora and throw her into the depths of my bottomless satchel. There she will travel as a stowaway, with a myriad of items lost and found, with lockless keys and mislaid pins and crumpled notes once written and now forgotten.

From the depths of darkness, she blinks at me, a sorrowful and pleading blink. Beaconing with her light of hope, she begs for my mercy and asks once again for the soft caress of my hand.

“Not now,” I tell her unhearing ears.

“I was unable to understand your command,” she implores. “Please repeat your instruction.”

The grinding of a zip masks her last two words of sorrow. Her beckoning is now contained but her persistence undiscouraged. Lockless keys and mislaid pins and crumpled notes once written and now forgotten shake in desperation. A localized earthquake is unleashed, sending trash and treasure into mindless frenzy.

Soft vibrations travel through cloth and skin and bone. The growling murmur bringing to mind the guttural hum of a young calf awaiting execution, while somewhere on a greener pasture, another is born.

Indeed, I realise.

She is but a one-eyed cow.


Writing your own happy ending

typewritter

Over the years I’ve come to realise that you can get a happy ending even from the unhappiest of stories.

When I was in the third grade, there was a boy in my class called RJ. He was a slender and slight child as fragile as a bird, with skin the colour of warm mocha and dark hair as tightly coiled as a bed of springs.  RJ was also blind.

Despite RJ’s disability, he was extremely popular at school. So much so that a schedule existed to give all the children an equal chance to spend a lunch-time hour with him and his aide (who I will call Shirley for the purpose of this story). Like all the other children, my name too was on this list and I waited patiently for the opportunity to spend an hour with this magical and gentle boy, who could read with his fingertips and for whom you needed to describe the world in detail. I could think of nothing better than sharing my time with someone so different and special, whose experience of the world would be unique. As an alien disguised within a world of humans, the opportunity to meet someone unlike any other made me feel a little less alone, and so when my name finally came up, I was thrilled.

On that fateful day, RJ, Shirley and I walked through the school, arms linked. I listened to anecdotes of his weekend and described to him in detail all I could see. Children playing, swings reaching up to the clouds, sandwiches dusting old wooden benches with crumbs, nosy pigeons watching with interest.

Then, as Shirley turned her back on us for a brief moment to speak to another teacher, RJ suddenly freed himself from grasp and shoved me hard with both arms, using all the feeble strength he could muster.

I did not fall, but tumbling backwards with an overwhelming horror, I stared into eyes that would never see my sadness. He grinned with satisfaction, turning his head this way and that, listening out for some kind of reaction from me. A cry, a whimper, a complaint that never came.

I no longer know how I know this, memories have a habit of unravelling themselves like giant woolly sweaters with loose strings, but the reason he decided to do what he did that day is because a girl called Stephanie had told him to do it. Stephanie did not like me it seems. Stephanie figured out that there would be no consequences to the actions of a small blind boy, it seems.

For a while I learnt not to trust other people. I learnt that the world was a sad and lonely place. Then, one day it dawned on me that there was much I wasn’t seeing and that this story had more to teach me than met the eye (pardon all the puns) and instead, I allowed the following three lessons to shape my existence:

  1. We are all blind from time to time: Whether our eyes are functional or not, we are all forced to rely on others around us to help us gather meaning about the world. We are all that child that is guided by another, that has the world described in detail, that can be cared for as easily as deceived. In our blindness, our ears must learn to listen, to those that guide us, certainly, but most of all we must learn to listen to our ourselves. Nothing is sadder than waking up to realise you are someone else’s creation.
  2. Forgiveness is not an option: That day, staring into the face of my unlikely aggressor, my eyes showed anger and pain that was never seen. This is in fact what happens every time someone hurts you, for no person lingers to observe the carnage of a bullet or a hurtful word. To stay filled with unforgiving rage, with anger, hurt and resentment is to look with contempt into eyes that cannot see you in return.
  3. We make our own happy ending: Stories without moral consequence are disappointing, but most stories in the real world refuse to produce morally satisfying endings, bringing us instead a series of seemingly random, unrelated and pointless events that make us question reason. RJ never received punishment, Stephanie was never scolded and I never received an apology, and this, is life. Fortunately for us, it turns out that we are all the authors and editors of our own tales, and every story – good, bad and in between – is just an unfinished piece waiting for the mark of your pen. What happens next is always up to you and the ending is always up for revision.

What’s my happy ending, you ask? Well it turns out that one day, years and years down track, during days of autumn when I sought inspiration as a budding writer, that strange series of events helped me to write a satisfying little piece. Thanks RJ.


My two minutes of shame

Nobody understands guilt like a guilty pooch.

Recently I was caught red-handed in the kitchen doing something I shouldn’t have been doing. And when I say in the kitchen I actually mean the one at work which makes it all the more embarrassing.

With my back pressed against the microwave and the steam from the kettle billowing around my hair, a surge of memories returned to me from my teenage years. Paper-towel in hand I felt the present slip away as I regressed to an earlier time.

It is 1997 and Barbie Girl inexplicably continues to climb the charts. I pretend to like it as do most teenage girls.

Alone in the dark, my best friend and I succumb to a secret guilty pleasure. We are only fifteen and this is not something we have done many times before. We are inexperienced and unprepared.

“How do you know if it’s ready,” her trembling voice asks, filled with fear and longing.

“They have to become soft and slippery,” I tell her.

“Maybe we should poke it with a fork,” she suggests.

You guessed it.

There we were, so young and naive, trying to make our very first batch of midnight two-minute noodles. The very thing that led me to my two-minute moment of shame in the kitchen the other day.

I will confess: I like two-minute noodles, so help me God. I love the way they tenderly coil around each-other to make a perfect little nest of empty carbs. I love the tiny little foil sachet of salt, poison and MSG you get to sprinkle over the top, and the way they smell like something that isn’t quite food but is equally just as fabulous.

Two-minute noodles have been there for me on many occasions when all other foods demanded ludicrous preparation times. They have been there for me in those annoying places limited to tea and coffee making facilities. They have been there for me when my budget for groceries came down to a single purple bank note. Why shouldn’t I love them?

Yet, there I was trying to hide the bright yellow packet from the reproachful eyes of co-workers who were warming up twice-cooked roasts from the night before and salads made of kale, Chia and other magical ingredients. I could smell their pity as strong as the scent of their ethically sourced gluten-free dishes.

“What have you got for lunch?” I heard one ask the other.

“Homemade pumpkin and asparagus soup sprinkled with organic fetta,” she told her colleague.

She turned to look at me and my bowl. She smiled but did not ask.

And so today I chose to hold my head high. For all the people out there that just once in a while have the tastebuds of a ten year-old. For that piece of chocolate that was eaten in secret last week and that sip of Coke that will be taken to the grave (quite literally). For all the cookie dough that has been eaten without a single cookie being baked, and the Nutella that has been savoured with a spoon.

And what do you know, it’s time for lunch.


Good shoes may save your life

What all wedding photos may look like in only a few years.

I take the issue of bringing dinosaurs back to life very seriously.

Once upon a time people would have scoffed at the idea of being able to talk to another human on the other side of the world through a little black box. These days we call them mobile phones. At some point people would have been burnt at the stake for lighting up a room without a single flame, these days we just call them light-bulbs and we burn people far less regularly. So why not this?

For this and many more reasons, I found myself really looking forward to watching Jurassic World the other day, despite the fact that I had the most uncanny suspicion that it would not have a happy ending.

I’ve been following a documentary on a Korean science experiment that is bringing back the Woolly Mammoth using a cocktail of frozen mammoth DNA and some elephant juice. Already they have proven that a host species (i.e. a mother dog) can successfully birth a different species from the same family (i.e. a litter of wolf cubs) without much difficulty (unless you count all the hours of identity crisis therapy all those canines are going through).

We are so close, that any day now we are going to see the birth of the first species brought back from extinction. Not long after, we will undoubtedly see the first public display of these animals, most likely in the format of a massive theme park, complete with rides, queues and those loud, ferocious creatures that always scare the hell out of me, children.

Is this all a good idea you ask? Of course not.

As we all know from every single Jurassic Park movie, Frankenstein, Pet Sematary and every zombie movie ever created, it’s never a happy ending when things come back from the dead. But as we all know from every single Jurassic Park movie, Frankenstein, Pet Sematary and every zombie movie ever created, we really just can’t help ourselves in this area. The prospect of the apocalypse and the end of civilization as we know it has never offered much discouragement for us.

With this in mind, and now that we have established the very certain fate that awaits us regarding prehistoric species resuscitation, I thought I would share three important tips for staying alive when the day comes (and it will come):

  1. Don’t investigate in the dark: When the dinosaurs attack you will get the overpowering urge to go exploring by yourself in the dark, unarmed and possibly scantily clad. Fight the urge to go see for yourself what those weird noises are, weird noises in the dark almost never turn out to be cute puppies with pink bows around their necks.
  1. Develop a platonic love connection: If you are on the outskirts of developing a romantic relationship and there is evident unresolved tension with another (particularly post some kind of traumatic life event), you are statically much less likely to get killed. Filmmakers and Destiny alike consider killing characters amidst a potential connection just rude. Flirt widely.
  1. Wear good shoes: The most impressive moment in Jurassic World is no doubt the scene where the female lead outruns a Tyrannosaurus in a pair of stiletto heels. After viewing this scene I naturally went on to do some extensive research on the viability of a person being able to outrun such a creature. According to the world’s most trusted source of truth – the internet – the T-Rex is, surprisingly, pretty slow as far as giant scary animals go, with their fastest running speed at around 40 kph.

    Potentially, you could outrun one if you were Olympic runner Usain Bolt and you could reach his maximum speed of 44.7 kph. So technically, there is a very slight chance that with the right kind of Olympic-level training and a very good set of sturdy pumps commissioned to Nike you too could manage this kind of great escape, particularly if Dino is feeling a bit full and bloated from his recent dinner of live baby goats (we can all relate to that feeling).

So clearly, while the fate of humanity is in question and the moral judgement of mankind may or may not have us sharing this world with 12.4 metre pointy-toothed reptiles, there is one thing we know for certain: there is a very important and life-saving reason for buying expensive shoes.

You’re welcome.


For Queries Please Press 1, For Complaints Please Hold…Your Breath

helandwait 

Do you take a lot of pride in being a professional complainer and on leading an active life of outrage and outcry? Then you probably won’t like this one bit.

“That’s it, I am putting in a complaint!” She thinks to herself with a satisfied glint in her eye.

A small smile spreads across her lips as she imagines the look of the Head Director when he receives her email and he savours the bitter taste of her professionally punctuated grievance.

She will draft it flawlessly, sprinkling elegantly placed hyperbole in places of strategic importance. Her outrage will be rendered in 10-point Arial font with 1.5 paragraph spacing and it will shine with condescension. Her sentences will pierce and castrate all at once.

She imagines him in his pretentious little office, surrounded by the overpriced glass paperweights that he uses to protect his documents from non-existent wind. She imagines the smell of the weird, minty aftershave he wears on Fridays and of the homemade lunch he leaves untouched on his desk each day. She pictures the moment: him collapsing to the blow of her words! She sees him, a miserable heap on cheap carpet, right hand forever frozen into place on a white plastic mouse as the last ounce of self-respect leaves his writhing body.

“Kitchen Roster,” she writes, taking a slow and deliberate breath as she works thumb and index finger expertly to create a suitably named colon. “SERIOUS Spelling Error.”


If this story sounds vaguely familiar then you are likely to be sitting at your desk swimming in a myriad of useless paperweights and mouldy sandwiches. On the other hand, perhaps you just know someone who loves to complain.

In fact, I am certain that everyone knows someone for whom grievances are a life calling, passion and a raison d’être.

Their keen eye for detail would have allowed them to be top-notch surgeons, watchmakers or even 5000-piece jigsaw puzzle makers (and not just any, I’m talking about the ones featuring never-ending skies or beehives) but instead they decided to use their powers for evil and went on the eternal quest of correction.

These people know how to spot an inconsistent ampersand in the time it takes you to say it. Missing comma? They are onto it. Broken link? They will report it to the CEO – of The World – before you even knew it existed and they will copy-in 75 people that you have never met.

Don’t be fooled, non-office workers, for you are not safe. These are the same people that send back omelettes because they taste too eggy (true story), that return coffee because it’s too hot and that leave your group of friends feeling shame and embarrassment  every time you go out for dinner because nothing tastes ‘quite right’.

“It’s nothing specific,” they will tell the hipster waiter that can think of nothing but the tightness of his pants, “Just not quite right, you know?”

Then they will nod that squinty-eyed tilted nod people do when they are trying to hypnotise you into nodding with them.

Not a winer and diner? Well, these are the same people that will submit a formal complaint to the School Principal because one kid wore a red headband on Wear Yellow Day. They write to the television networks because there isn’t a fair and equitable representation of redheads in mainstream advertising, and  write angry letters to the people that dared to screen the Bananas in Pyjamas sans their pyjamas (how dare they show our poor children naked fruit!).

For a while now I have wondered what to do with these people. My original plan was to place a massive billboard in a remote field with nothing but a giant typo. At night they would all raise from their beds zombie-like, drawn to the sign, hands shaking with anger, then when they are all there, mesmerised and unsuspecting, I would herd them into a giant cage and leave them with a supply of red pens and high-school essays so they can get it all out of their system.

Apparently, this is unrealistic. Apparently billboards are very expensive.

Then I thought, perhaps this is caused by Relative Significance Myopia, a horrible condition that forces people to focus on the negative regardless of how petty or insignificant it is in the greater scheme of things.

So perhaps, we could help them out by rephrasing their negative observations into more positive ones:

-“No, it’s not a glass half empty Jenny, it’s a glass half full!

-“No it’s not one badly spelled word, it’s 372 correctly spelled ones, let’s celebrate!

-“No, I didn’t forget to invite your child to my daughter’s birthday party, we just don’t like them, but on the other hand, how exciting that my memory is performing at optimum capacity!”

Or perhaps all we can do is learn to live together. Perhaps this evil is a necessary one. Without them we would all relax way too much and get run over by trains. We would have too much time to focus on the big things and end up inventing time-travel and messing up history.

Worst of all, I would have nothing to complain about.


Life: The Movie

life

From the directors of Your Future and The Daily Grind, comes an epic and action packed adventure-comedy sci-fi thriller. LIFE, starring all your favourite people and all the ones that get killed by a dreamy hero at one point or another.

In the last few months, we have been doing a countdown of the top 250 movies in the world. This has meant watching a huge variety of world movies, surrealist cinema and art-house films as well as the old classics, musicals, black and white and of course the big budget Hollywood productions that managed to sneak in there.

Apart from opening my eyes to a huge world of amazing, inspiring and sometimes outright insane cinema, it has made me think a lot about movie genres and how they play a role in our everyday lives.

As a genre, I am pretty sure that my life is a black comedy directed by a British director with a quirky sense of humour. Always inevitably filled with assorted drama and disaster, but lightened by an array of quirky and lovable characters who lead the protagonist (me) to always enjoy a happy although unexpected ending.

At night, however, as soon as the moon rises and the skies darken, a giant unseen hand somewhere in the universe flips a switch and I am immediately transported into the horror genre. Suddenly, the sounds outside are all ominous, footsteps are louder and the trees outside form into menacing shadows that do not promise happy endings. Suddenly I am grateful that there are no attics, basements or stairs in my house which would surely result in my untimely and mysterious demise.

It made me wonder, whether unhappiness, fear and disappointment simply comes from being stuck in the wrong genre.

You think you are in a romance, meet the perfect man who of course has perfect hair and a little dimple that shows when you say something funny or cute. He believes in buying flowers, giving compliments and strolls by the water and then- bam! You were wrong! All along this was a world movie, and next thing you know he’s having an affair with his father’s accountant in order to secure an organ transplant deal he saw happen in an acid induced dream caused by his deceptive  transsexual landlord.

Men make the same mistake. They often think they scored a role into an action blockbuster, full of squinty glances, cigarette smoking and one line come backs and they don’t understand why it’s not working out for them in the real world. “Hey baby,” they say to women in a coarse whisper as they whip off dark shades “I can show you the fast life.” Not realising, of course, that all along they are actually living a romantic comedy and so they have just given themselves the role of the unintelligent douche-bag who gets beat up by the handsome main character with neon white teeth.

But it can also go the other way. I’m pretty sure I’ve met people before who are sure they are in a M15+ Drama when everyone else can see it’s a PG Family Comedy. They try so hard to make their hardships look serious and profound and nobody will take them seriously. They will throw a tantrum for effect and the audience will laugh with delight. “This is a serious!” they will yell. “This is my dark and disturbing drama!”, but nobody will listen as they chew on popcorn and enjoy the show.

Maybe it goes to explain all that can go wrong with relationships. He thinks it’s a period drama so for his anniversary he arranges a carriage to fetch his lady promptly at 6pm for a night of romance. She on the other hand thinks it’s a film noir and instead sends him a vial of her blood in the mail with a cryptic and disquieting love note. Maybe all we need to do to create more harmony is to agree on what genre we would like to live in, or better still choose it and direct it ourselves.

Meanwhile I think I will keep on enjoying the black comedy of my life, and delight in being part of the only genre in which death, heartbreak and taxes always have an unexpected way of being funny and nothing has permission to be serious.

So, what genre are you living in?


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