Getting ready to remember my wonderful Mum. Just don’t trust her with the seafood.

May 7, 2013

For a tiny woman, Mum sure packed a punch.

Whether you were a school administrator, a local politician or a teenage son, it was wise not to tangle with her.

She was always polite, of course. But beware the terrier, if she thought the wrong thing was being done.

Mum had our primary school hall built. She didn’t think it was acceptable that we had nowhere to hold proper assemblies, or musicals. So she set about changing things.

My mother was a tireless letter writer. She penned notes to scores of people over that bloody hall. If they didn’t respond, they’d get another.

Mum took to the airwaves. She decided talkback was a valuable tool, to push her barrow. She painted a sorry picture of our rundown school. Politicians who had been sitting on their hands, were starting to look bad.

Finally, they relented. We would get our hall. More than anything, I think, to shut Mum up. She was delighted.

When I got to high school, she decided it needed a new hall too. Seriously. The letters started again. This project proved easier. The powers-that-be didn’t have the energy to fight her.

After Dad died, we used to have terrible fights. I was heading off the rails. She was trying to be mother and father, and it wasn’t working.

I eventually moved out, at 19. I know that hurt her deeply. She didn’t say a thing. Just went about supporting me any way she could. From pots and pans to cleaning cloths. Not that any of them were used in those early years.

When we were no longer living under the same roof, the fights stopped. I finally appreciated the incredible struggle she’d had, to keep my brother and I safe and well. She finally understood the difficulties a teenager had, after losing his much-loved Dad.

When I started work, she was so incredibly proud. I was employed by the same radio station she featured on, a few years earlier. She continued to call them, whenever something took her fancy. Always with a reminder about who her son was.

I moved interstate eventually, into a different part of the media. She demanded I send home tapes of stories I’d done. I’m pretty sure they were shown at morning teas, with her friends. Poor ladies.

Mum would visit whenever she could. We were lucky enough to live in some of Queensland’s most amazing parts. She was constantly amazed at the beauty of those places.

Towards the end of her life, she struggled. Her sight was all but gone. So cruel. This woman who loved her crossword puzzles, now had to use books with only the largest print. And even then, she could barely make out details.

On one of her final visits, I took her to a seafood shop, to get lunch. I asked if she wanted prawns. Yes, she said, that would be lovely. How about those ones there in the window? They look big and juicy.

They were indeed. Sadly, she was pointing at the lobsters. We had a laugh about that. She kept her sense of humour till the end.

In her final hours in hospital, I held Mum’s tiny, frail hand. She told me that the giant Indian was calling her. I actually looked about the hospital room that night, so sure was she that the big guy was there with us. I couldn’t see him. But she could. I still picture what he must have looked like.

She gave me so many valuable lessons. Near the top of her list, was to fight for what you believe in. And that if something will make your heart happy, then it’s worth chasing. Nothing is more important.

I miss Mum every day, but especially on Mother’s Day. Give yours a hug for me on the weekend. And if you’re having seafood for lunch this Sunday, make sure you check those prawns.

Memories of schoolboy survival. Why the back of the bus was a dangerous place.

October 4, 2011

Forget having your head flushed down the dunny. It was the bus that terrified me on the first day of high school.

I thought of this, as The Teenager whined to me about her travel habits.

Granted, she embarks on a fair trip. It goes via the absolute longest route, as buses tend to do. And she has to get up early to catch it, which is difficult for one who believes there should be no resting before midnight.

She could catch a train. I drive past the station every morning. But because her friends prefer the road trip, it’s a more social occasion.

Her complaint was more about other passengers. Apparently, ‘weirdos’ find the bus a handy way to travel. I assume this includes anyone over 25, those in suits, and the unwashed.

If only she knew. Back in the day, we risked life and limb just to get on board. Terror for a 12-year-old.

This wasn’t a private school. Public and proud. Rough and tumble. We knew no different.

The bus company had advised that it would no longer carry boys and girls on the same vehicles. Too dangerous, apparently. So while young ladies compared nail polish on one bus, we walked the gauntlet on the other.

Older boys were always up the back. For early morning fun, they would belt the tripe out of the Year 7 kids. A ritual that had gone on for ages.

From day one, we were warned NOT to get on first. Do that, and you were a sure thing to be pushed all the way to the back seat. And that meant you’d be fighting in the opening bout.

The trick was to let someone else get on, while you fumbled for your bus pass. It was always overcrowded. With an ounce of luck, you would end up in relative safety, jammed up the front.

It didn’t always work. So you took your lumps. Character building apparently. I can’t remember anyone complaining. I guess we thought the consequences would be far worse the next morning.

The bus bouts were a good incentive to ride your bike to school. It took a while, but I finally convinced mum it would be safe. If only she knew that dodging morning traffic was a breeze compared to backseat beltings.

My second-hand bike was a beauty. It had high, up-turned handlebars. I thought that was incredibly cool.

What wasn’t cool, was when those handlebars broke. As I was rocketing down a hill. I looked like a trainee unicyclist, waving the former steering device madly in the air.

I crashed, of course. Laughter echoed around the neighbourhood. I had to push my now bent and buckled machine to class, minus large chunks of skin.

A few years later, life became easier. While others had bus battles and bike bingles, I cruised into the car park in my trusty old Kingswood. There’s something very special about a Senior driving to school.

My new mobility had other advantages. It gave me lunchtime options. And every now and then, that involved a quiet flutter.

As ludicrous as this sounds, I would drive a few minutes down the road, to the local TAB. In my school uniform.

It all went well, until the Friday I bumped into a geography teacher, cheering home a favourite. Nothing was said. We were both caught out. He didn’t tell, and neither did I. The education system was different back then.

No need to let The Teenager in on any of this. She has her own problems. Until she gets her licence, she can stick to the bus, weirdos or no weirdos. She’ll be fine. As long as she stays away from the back seat.

A warning to all Dads – watch out for Year 8 boys who dance in baggy shorts.

May 31, 2011

The kid was looking straight at me. Blue eyes under a shag of blonde hair. I swear this young punk was mocking me.

He’d just done a high energy dance, with another young punk. Hip-hop, I think they called it. They wore caps, and drooping baggy shorts, designed to show off their undies.

The crowd was excited. What we’d seen, apparently, was good stuff. Girls were screaming. But this kid, he didn’t care about the cheering. He only had eyes for me.

The Treasurer accused me of over-reacting. He wasn’t looking at me, she said. He was a nice boy, she said. And good-looking!

Let us be clear. High school boys are now the enemy. Well, my enemy. No-one else seems to notice. Here they were, these thirteen year olds, confident and friendly. And talented.

It was high school dance night. Daughter One’s debut as a Year Eight performer. She was wonderful. Dads can say that. But there was a problem. Those damn boys noticed her too.

I’m no novice when it comes to dance concerts. Fathers with music-loving children become experts on matters of the stage. How ironic.

Dancing is not one of my strengths. I can sway with The Treasurer when ordered to, and have been known to break into an awkward tap late at night. Outside of that, I have nothing.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be attending these concerts. You just assume that as a dad, you’ll be at footy training. Or in cricket nets. If I’m to be perfectly honest here, it takes some getting used to.

Early on, the girls would wear cute costumes, and jump around on stage to the beat of Nicky Webster. I would sit and nod. Others around me would explode into applause. Not quite a length of the field try or a boundary through extra cover. But I played my part.

Later, it became clear that both girls were serious about this dancing caper. Afternoon practice sessions. Weekend concerts. As long as they took place outside of Saturday racing hours, I’d be there.

That last bit was a joke, of course. As if I’d put my punting ahead of the joy that is watching my daughters express themselves. A pocket transistor and earpiece worked just fine.

My greatest complaint with dance concerts, is that I don’t particularly care about other kids. No offence. I only have so much dance love. And I have to save that for my own.

These concert programs usually contain 70 or 80 performances. Yep, that many. Dance after dance. With 5 year olds, and ballet girls, and youngsters learning circus acts. All crammed into my afternoon.

It is the law of being a Dad that your child never comes on stage before act number 68. And you don’t know this until you’ve taken your seat. So you watch, and clap, and watch, and clap, and ignore the impulse to stab yourself in the eye with the nearest sharp implement.

I spent an entire Sunday at a cheerleading competition. I was not well, because of activities undertaken the day before. I took my seat, and suffered through a grand total of 112 routines.

That’s not to say that the kids weren’t talented. They were marvellous. Doing positive things to stay fit and keep out of trouble. It’s just that I had to watch them.

Just when I thought I had the dance spectator thing sorted, along comes high school. For all the problems associated with those junior outings, there was a positive; no boys. Except little ones in bow ties and bowler hats. Not any more.

As I watched the other night in the big auditorium, it hit me. My baby girl is growing up. At home, I can be blissfully ignorant of the signs around me. But here, at her high school, surrounded by these confident, talented, self-assured young people, I could no longer pretend.

She becomes a teenager in a few weeks. I’ll tell you more about that soon enough. With this new age, comes change. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not the only one who now marvels at her beauty. Others, too, have their day brightened by her laugh. And the absolute warmth of her heart.

I’m bracing for what’s ahead. I don’t have sons, but I know boys. That’s the problem. Those mums and dads who had to put up with my antics several decades ago are clinking glasses as we speak. Payback time.

Maybe the Year 8 punks aren’t so bad after all. I guess we could learn to get along. And maybe, he wasn’t mocking me. I must admit they were impressive up there. But if our relationship is going to work, could they at least pull up those bloody shorts?