[I really need to learn how to post images and links on this blog because (1) I wrote this post last week but Chip has kind of turned into a SYSADMIN bottleneck - I can't publish posts until he locates images and links to previous posts, and by the time that happens, seasonally motivated posts like this have kind of lost any shard of appeal they may have once had and (2) he has included a full trailer of Skyrim, but refused to include a picture of Mariska Hargitay from Law and Order: SVU - because we have "run out of space" - because of the trailer, Chip]
Our racist TV, as you may recall, was some time ago taken away for repairs by a man who confidently predicted that it was probably emitting radiation.
We have had no confirmation on the radiation, but approximately an eternity after it being sent in for race re-education and racism eradication, the repair man called and said “no, there is no fixing on that TV. I bring you a different one, much better quality, yes”.
Given what I knew about the TV, I was quite happy to have it consigned to a broken TV gulag forever. And also given that the repair man was Indian, I suspected that he may have discovered the TV’s proclivities and planned some sort of punishment for it, on account of its racist ways.
Anyway, the replacement TV looked perfectly good to me, despite Chip immediately declaring it to be inferior and suggesting that we had been the victims of a sophisticated TV swapping scam.
Despite Chip’s negativity, Fred Ex and I were thrilled.
We kept waiting for the TV to try and assert its control over us by refusing to broadcast the full screen or any African American people, or any people of colour really, but to date the only issue has been that, once or twice, it has completely refused to turn itself on. Whereupon I have secretly agreed with Chip that yes, it was a scam, just not that sophisticated really.
But ever resourceful when it comes to anything involving a screen (and, regrettably, that is the extent of Fred Ex’s resourcefulness), Fred Ex has managed to find a way to coax it back into life. And yes, Life Is Good.
And has been immeasurably improved by one of Chip’s Christmas presents to me.
For some time, even before the TV’s racist tendencies became impossible to ignore, we had been having problems with the Foxtel IQ/TiVo’s remote. As in, we would try and fast forward through ad breaks. Then find ourselves unable to stop the fast forwarding and end up at the end of whatever show we were trying to watch.
This was, naturally, accompanied by much shouting from whichever of us was not holding the remote. ”Chip, just stop fucking fast forwarding. FUCKING STOP IT. We are through the ads and…… ” “Quesera, sweetheart. SWEETHEART. STOP IT. NOW”.
Anyway because of the problems with the TV itself, we had characterised this as a much lower severity TV problem and we hadn’t bothered ourselves too much about it. Frankly, we were happy to even watch whatever ads the TV permitted us to watch, that’s how desperate we had become.
But once we had our swapped-out, working TV, this difficulty now came to the fore.
Now and then, before Christmas, I was dimly aware that Chip just kept prodding about my manifest lack of fast forwarding prowess. But I was still revelling in the non-radiation emitting swapped-out TV to care.
It was just that you had to really jab at the button repeatedly to make the remote do anything. By this point, it wasn’t even like we were even daring to fast forward anymore. We were just trying to select a channel. Shifting positions on the sofa only seemed to go so far. And that wasn’t anywhere really at all, on really bad days.
Given that I think I am going deaf or am simply no longer able to interpret what the kids are saying these days, this presented quite a problem. Because whenever this happens, I insist on rewinding it so that I can hear. Or so I can make Chip stop playing Skyrim, and then repeatedly rewind the show so that he can render an interpretation that somehow gels with the narrative.
This makes Chip furiously angry.
Aela the Huntress, in full warpaint - this is Chip's ideal wife (in Skyrim and possibly real life as well)
Particularly if he declares that it was something I patently should have been able to hear or understand. Especially if he and Aela from Skyrim are trying for some alone time or he has taken to his flesh eating ways again and doesn’t want to be interrupted. And most of all if the whole exercise is not a 30 second diversion but rather a 10 minute one, because we can’t stop the fucking IQ/TiVo and we hurtle to the end of Law & Order: SVU. And then I have to try and wrangle the episode back to the point at which the misheard phrase occurred. Which, to be frank, is a fine balance.
But then, on Christmas Day, for the woman who likes nothing more than to lie on the sofa and watch hour after hour of crap TV, the perfect gift: a replacement IQ/TiVo remote.
Quesera's best Christmas present ever - FOXTEL HD & iQ2 Remote
I was ecstatic. And Fred Ex and I have been beside ourselves ever since. If we want to watch something, we just tap the button. Fast forward or rewind? No longer an arduous and frustrating challenge with a degree of difficulty that The Amazing Racewould welcome as befitting a worthy Roadblock.
We both squealed excitedly when Chip fished the batteries out from under the sink to put into the remote. And then when we first tried it out we each cooed and sighed, as though Chip were the hunter-gather who had managed to fell an enormous bison, which we could feast on the whole winter. (Yes, I know it is summer in Australia and we don’t have bison. But you know what I mean.)
Upon viewing my response, which was if course to immediately start watching whatever was on IQ/TiVo, Chip proudly announced that he had been deliberately taunting me about my fast forwarding skills in the lead up to Christmas because he was so happy with his gift selection. ”What?” I said, as I triumphantly rewound a critical piece of dialogue I had missed in Without A Trace because I hadn’t been able to hear over Chip’s yawing.
I think that Chip was trying to demolish the stereotype of men being the only people obsessed with TV remotes.
In the 6 days after Christmas, I ventured out of the house a grand total of once (and that was only because the cleaner was coming and I hate to be here and feel her silently judging my TV-obsessed slovenliness) because I spent the entire waking period lolling about on the sofa watching the OKC Thunder play or flicking from Gossip Girl to Wife Swap USA (7 hour marathon) to even worse TV, fast forwarding and rewinding at leisure.
Not one book read. Not one even started. Best Christmas Present EVER.
Note: Chip originally populated this post with multiple, revolting head-lice pictures which I forced him to remove. Phobia or no phobia, you don’t want to see them.
This is terrible confession and I know that it is ridiculous for a mother to have a phobia about this, what with all the terrible things that can afflict a child. But I have a serious phobia about….head-lice. Even writing these words has lead me to start scratching.
Chip's attempt at comic louse relief as a way to calm me down after all the hideous real action pictures he initial included
A little while ago I was in a state about a head-lice outbreak and of course shared with my colleagues and one colleague said, soothingly, as though by way of consolation, “oh it is just terrible isn’t it when something happens to the children, Tom has scabies at the moment and the poor lamb is just in agony”. Scabies is an entirely different prospect. I cannot even begin to think of the OCD rituals which would have to be imposed to deal with them. My point is, that her take on it was a much more appropriate maternal response to a child’s ailment. Than my own hysterical response to bugs.
Anyway, so about a month when Fred Ex’s current nanny (who has a fine head of very long and thick and curly hair) brought him home from tennis and casually announced “yeah, he’s got head-lice, it’s apparently going around the school”, I literally recoiled from her in horror. She continued, “yeah, so I bought the de-licing conditioner and did it once”, and went on “but, yeah, you may have to do it again in a few days, just to be sure. Yeah, I know because I remember getting them at school and it was just a nightmare. God if I got them now, I would have to have my head shaved”. But then sort of laughed carelessly as though, well, that’s life with children, no big deal.
“No”, I said firmly, “I can’t talk about this, I have a real fear of them. I MEAN A REAL FEAR. Any advice must be directed to Chip. I can’t hear this”. I think I started to put my fingers in my ears, but realised that even by my very highly strung antics, this was just a bridge too far.
Now that's a more sensible phobia
Fred Ex sort of rolled his eyes because he has seen this every time there is an outbreak at school. Funnel web spiders? I can tolerate them. Other bitey things. OK. (Australian snakes, not so much.) But head-lice is something I just don’t do with either grace or courage. I decline to even directly touch the fine-tooth hair comb that the pharmacist insisted we purchase after Fred Ex’s first bout. Instead I have to use paper towel to put it into the dishwasher, when required.
I think I paid the nanny double what was owed to her, because, frankly, the thought of having to de-louse. My own child. Is repulsive to me. And I literally cannot and will not do it.
I blame Miss Corry in 4th grade. During one particularly persistent outbreak at St Archangel’s, Miss Corry had been called upon, somehow as part of her professional teaching duties, to inspect every child’s hair. And this is absolutely my starkest memory of primary school. More than all the fark carry-ons at a low-rent Adelaide Catholic school.
This weary looking 30 something woman, with a wooden ruler, going through every child’s hair. Careful to rub her nose against her shoulder if it required itching, rather than potentially transferring head-lice if she used her hands. Announcing who did, and who did not have head-lice. And I was one of those pronounced to have nits.
The only other child fingered in my class was a strange little girl, Leanne Baxter, about whom we all harboured doubts as to hygiene. And both of us were sequestered in the far corner of our classroom, out of lice jumping range from the other children.
Leanne sat there scratching, perfectly unconcerned by this turn of events. But I was devastated. It was a truly traumatic event in my early schooling career.
Quesera doesn't even know where Chip found this image of crabs in eyelashes, but it is truly horrifying Chip. Just how hard is it to brush them out of your eyelashes??
I cried all the way home. And demanded that my mother check my thick black hair. But my mother couldn’t find any. Not one. And then said, that lie always repeated with every infestation to console children like me: ”love, they only go for clean hair. So it really is a good thing, when you think about it”. I thought nothing of the sort. (But I have just spoken with my mad Scottish friend Heather about nits (it’s clearly an everyday conversation for me) apropos this oft-repeated claim. And she said, to my surprise, that in fact this is true about crabs. She apparently managed to acquire a bout of them in Paris some years ago, in circumstances not at all sexual, and her DR confirmed that in fact this is true. Who knew?)
Dissatisfied with my mother’s inspection, I insisted we go to the DR. To get a second opinion on whether or not Miss Corry was correct in her assessment. We did. To this day, I am still astonished by my mother acquiescing in this way and whenever I am tossing up taking Fred Ex to the DR on account of some trifling complaint for, I don’t know like chest pain, I think of my mother and am shamed into action. But the DR seemed bewildered that a mother was prepared to fork out $12.50 (in 1978 Australian dollars, so quite a lot in retrospect), just to avert a 9 year old child’s neurotic crisis. This was up there with the no Catholic church in Goolwa meltdown. There is absolutely no chance the Colonel (parsimonious at the best of times) would have wasted $12.50 on something this manifestly absurd.
Miss Corry-like Joan "The Freak" Ferguson - minus the wooden ruler used to pronounce (albeit sometimes incorrectly) who was, and who was not, infested
So I marched off to school the next day, confident that all my peers would clearly prefer the opinion of a qualified DR over that of Miss Corry. Who really did seem to enjoy the power a little too much. Like the hanging judge who decides which person shall swing. And which shall be spared. In my mind’s eye, she has sort of morphed into a Prisoner screw. (And a nasty one at that, not Meg)
But my school-mates weren’t buying it. Although my primary school BFF did try to comfort me by whispering that at least I only had nits and not full-blown head-lice infestation, unlike Leanne, whom my BFF confidently predicted “had a whole family in there. I mean there are mothers and babies hanging out in that dirty, knotty bird’s nest”. It was kindly meant, but not of much assistance to me. And her body language spoke volumes. She didn’t get too close, no doubt wary that my hitherto benign nit eggs may have hatched and were waiting to spring into her beautiful, ribboned and lice-less pigtails.
Chip’s ideal Sunday afternoon
So of course began my ritual of every morning and night having my hair checked by my mother. This began in 1978 and continued until approximately 1984, well into my high school years at Stigmata Ladies College. And my mother enabled the whole phobia, by continuing to check, rather than telling me to shut the fuck up and behave like a normal child. Or at least a child who was frightened of something substantial. Say, the funnel web spider, for which, at that time, there was no anti-venom. As a consequence of which quite a few children died every year. Funnel web spider deaths and lice infestations – these are the stuff of my childhood memories.
But my mother, wisely, also used my phobia to her advantage. Like when I asked about getting a cat. ”But you couldn’t Quesera” she said. ”Surely you know that’s where head-lice come from?” She shook her head sadly as though this were a source of pain to her. But really she just hated cats.
What the FUCK? No one had ever told me that before. I had been touching cats for years with impunity. Is that where Leanne got them from and from there infected the entire school community? Plainly a cat was now out the question.
Through Stigmata Ladies College I worked as a shop assistant at a pharmacy and whenever a customer came in and asked for head-lice shampoo and conditioner, I did not ever decline to serve them. Not once, no matter how much I wanted to run screaming from the shop. No, I always strived to be professional and diligent. But right after I had finished with them, I went immediately to the dispensary out the back to wash my hands with the pharmaceutical grade disinfectant.
So fast-forward to my second year at uni, when I got a job at a child-care centre. This was very lucrative, in comparison with, I don’t know, working in a shop. And I was quite happily hanging out with kids (but with the lice fear still bubbling under the surface) rather than serving cranky middle-aged customers at a large department store. Until there was the inevitable outbreak. I had been careful up until that point NOT to let any children climb on me. And if they did, I made sure my head was as far away as possible. Without dropping them of course.
But what with every other child and most of the staff succumbing to these beastly little fuckers, I had no choice. I would return to my job at the department store. Earning half of what I earned minding children. The danger money wasn’t anywhere near enough for me to tolerate the prospect of infestation.
The director of the child care centre was incredulous. ”Let me get this straight. You are quitting this job, because you may get head-lice? And you want to go back to earn half what you are earning here. Standing all day, packing shelves, in retail-hell shift work?”
Yes ma’am I do. The customers may have been shitty and demanding, but there was little chance they were going to have me scratching my head and succumbing to drink at 4pm in the afternoon. Which is what I am doing right now.
Travis the Head Louse from South Park. His wife Kelly is in the rear
When the outbreaks first started at Fred Ex’s child care centres, I immediately acquainted Chip with my phobia and insisted he had to take full responsibility for this particular aspect of Fred Ex’s life. Sometimes I wonder if this is his greatest parenting gift to me. Other times I think he quite enjoys it – embracing his return to primate grooming behaviour.
Of course, my phobia is coupled with my OCD which meant all sorts of rituals had to be adopted.
First of all, I pretty much cut off all physical contract with Fred Ex. I was only thinking the other week that I really have to explain to him (if he hasn’t figured it out already) why it is that I sort of duck out of the way whenever he tries to get near my head, because otherwise he is (I am?) going to spend a fortune in therapy. I look forlornly at those children who run up to their mothers and gaily through their arms around their mothers’ necks – all of them laughing, without a care. Because Fred Ex just knows if he tries that I am going to stand bolt upright and say “not your hair on me, not your hair“.
He is not even permitted, at lice-less times, to sit on “my sofa”. If he happens to defy this directive, I have to issue a stern reproach and he is instructed to move immediately. Then I have to swap all the cushions around. And then wait half an hour before I can sit on the sofa again. Because years ago a girl from school, knowing my “issues”, sent me a link to the Department of Education’s special site dealing exclusively with head-lice. And it clearly states that head-lice and nits can only live for 30 minutes without a living “host”.
Same with the phone. Fred Ex is not permitted to get the phone, unless I can see the number and I know it’s for him. Because if he gets it, and it’s for me, I have to carefully wipe it down. Just to make sure that any of the critters – that are lurking and lying low, in the hopes of finally, after years of yearning, getting into my thick hair – are squashed. Which means I have to sort of laugh off-handedly when I get on the phone, and pretend I was fumbling with it. Not fucking cleaning it with a Dettol anti-bacterial wipe.
Travis, minus Kelly
And once I know they are in the house, it is so much worse. If ever Chip happens to be sick when an outbreak occurs, I can’t insist he check my hair. Which is what happened last month. Though usually that is what eventually happens, because I just badger til he gives in, death-bed or not. I do feel bad about this, but I can’t help myself. I once even persuaded my old secretary to check my head, when Chip refused once too often. I am reasonably certain this was not part of her professional duties. But strangely, head-lice came up at work shortly thereafter when a former colleague told us all how his entire family, including him, had recently had them. He seemed quite upbeat about it, even though he had very tightly curled hair, which frankly must have provided quite the safe haven. I really had to think twice about standing too close to him after that. Sometimes I idly wonder what the fuck I am going to do in the event that Chip is infested. I may have to outsource his de-lousing to the nanny as well.
Anyway, Middle Sister has also been prevailed upon for inspection duties, particularly given she is a teacher. But I am not absolutely sure I can trust her. Because when my niece Charlotte had them a few years ago she concealed it from me, for some weeks. As she knew exactly what my reaction would be. Complete boycott of all family events other than major holidays. And even they are up for concession if all the children are infested. (Given what you will read below, I think I should have enforced the boycott this year.)
A few years ago, during the first full-scale attack, I was on the phone to Mariska, sort of in a state fretting about the whole head-lice fuckery. But then, by way of comfort (to me), I said “oh well Shaun cut my hair on the weekend, so I must be ok. He would have told me”. But Mariska said nothing at all in agreement. She merely offered in response: “you go to a posh salon and Shaun wouldn’t want to offend you. You might never go back”.
I didn’t say anything for some time, as I glumly pondered this. The woman who sent me the link to the Education Department website said her children had been run out of a salon when they had head-lice, so I have always adopted that as an article of faith. Hairdressers will come clean or at least furtively wipe their hands and put them nowhere near their own heads, so you can just sort of tell if you had them without them having to say anything. This friend had also suggested casually, when I brought the whole wretched subject up for the umpteenth time, that “some kids get them, while their siblings don’t. Maybe Fred Ex won’t?” I went to bed that night and wished, not for Fred Ex to be clever or nice, but to be A Nit-Free Zone.
Last month when Fred Ex had them, he had come home from the low-brow CheapCuts’n'Kids hair salon, his hair duly cut. And I suspect, with some foundation, that that’s where that whole outbreak began. Despite dismissing this possible source out of hand, Chip nevertheless seemed to get the whole thing under control.
Until last night. That is, approximately 4 days after Christmas Day, which Fred Ex had spent with his cousins. I noticed Fred Ex scratching alarmingly often and asked him to please move away from my chair. Now. He continued with the scratching today. And when I asked him if he thought he had head-lice he scratched his head and thoughtfully predicted that, yes indeed, he believed he did.
But I was sort of distracted from nagging Chip to do anything about it because the Oklahoma City Thunder were having a Western Conference Finals re-match with the Dallas Mavericks and I was all just: ”la-la-la I can’t hear or see you scratching Fred Ex, but do NOT come near me”.
For those of you who did not see it, this was a particularly thrilling NBA game. 1.5 seconds to go. The Thunder must win on a buzzer-beater. Hopefully by Kevin Durant. I was peering through my eyes at the screen, not daring to really even watch.
And then it happened – KD made a buzzer beater and Fred Ex and I leapt out of our respective chairs, shrieking and whooping and carrying on. Chip shushed us, but we continued, undaunted. Then I slumped back on my sofa, exhausted by the efforts I had put in watching 10 handsome mean run about a basketball court for 48 minutes.
Somehow, Fred Ex appeared to interpret this situation as meaning it was likely that my phobia would go into hibernation – it being such a joyous moment for us both. And jumped on me to continue the celebration.
The phobia was doing nothing of the sort. Even at such a moment of pure elation, there was precious little chance his head was going to be allowed anywhere near mine. I do not believe he was badly injured, but I basically shoved him off me and my sofa. Although he indignantly pointed to some weeks-old cricket bruises on his legs subsequently, when I was wracked by mother-guilt for my actions asked him if he had been injured. And insisted that yes, indeed he had been injured.
Now the shrieking had quite a different tone to it. “What is the rule? What is the rule?“, I shrieked. ”You know your hair is not allowed on me EVER. A KD buzzer-beater does NOT give you a leave pass buddy, not now not EVER“.
Hence the drink right now is both celebrating the KD buzzer-beater. But also to stop me scratching.
President Obama's female companion is yet to be definitively identified - we can rule out it was Quesera though - hair too fair
There is no point holding out til the end about whether or not we saw President Obama. Because honestly I have blabbed about this to anyone and everyone I have traumatised over the past week in my obsessive compulsion to see President Obama. So it is a little late to get all secret squirrel now.
Of course, it wasn’t easy or straightforward. And there were tears of disappointment, anger and resentment. Then finally, tears of joy. All mine. I am totally exhausted by the whole thing. As I am sure everyone who has even had glancing contact with me in the past week would be. So there’s no point trying to make you read the whole post just to find out. So stop reading if all you wanted to know is whether this plan, or as some of my colleagues have termed it “another one of Que Sera’s crazy schemes” has been a success. I don’t want to say “mission accomplished”, but it kind of was, despite the association with GW Bush’s aircraft-carrier erroneous boasting.
Anyway. Canberra is 262kms (approximately 160 miles) southwest of Sydney and on a good trip takes no more than 3.5 hours. So when we set off from Sydney at 4:15pm, it would be reasonable to assume that we would arrive in Canberra by no later than 8pm. But for some completely unfathomable reason I decided to heed Chip’s advice to take the M5, rather than the M2 and M7.
Which somehow meant we arrived in Canberra shortly before 10pm.
It pains me to say it, but it was not a pleasant trip, with much resentful blaming.
“HONESTLY, I do not know WHY I listen to you Chip when it comes to any navigation in Australia AT ALL”.
Chip: ”Sweetheart, they are just numbers to me. I don’t know which road is which and really I only picked a route so that you would have the ability to blame me when it all went south” – except we weren’t going SOUTH. We were going fucking NOWHERE.
There was also a minor panic attack on my part, because the M5 involves many tunnels which is difficult if you are claustrophobic (which I only discovered several years ago I am) but I can tolerate these tunnels when I am going at about 60kms per hour. But we were crawling along – it took us 2 hours to travel 15 kms. And I was really trying to hold it in, so Fred Ex does not later in life develop claustrophobia in addition to the neuroses that he is already down for. All of which made me even angrier at and resentful of Chip, who just sat beside me blithely being, well, reasonable, and who did not seem to be demonstrating any navigator’s remorse. AT ALL.
All of my frustration was constrained by the presence of Fred Ex and his cousin, Charlotte, which meant I could not fully express the extent of my fury in the curse-ridden manner it frankly deserved.
So I had to content myself with barking at them that “if we were in The Amazing Race, we would be ELIMINATED BY NOW PEOPLE. Do you understand? And no, this is NOT a non-elimination leg”. To which Charlotte innocently responded “but we don’t watch The Amazing Race at our home Quesera, so I don’t know really what that even means”. Arrrrrrrrrgh
This was the emotional place was Quesera in – but sadly without the drink but still female
I was so in need of a drink by the time we got to Canberra that I literally left Chip and the children in the hotel apartment we were staying in and stalked off to a bar across the road. But I was so overwrought by the whole thing I could not even go inside. Which is a first – and which speaks volumes, Chip. VOLUMES. Even being greeted US flags everywhere and being hugely excited by that did not placate me.
Anyway, I had called ahead on Wednesday afternoon just to make sure that our apartment hadn’t been, I don’t know, commandeered by the Secret Service and had had a very interesting conversation during which I cross-examined the manager Marianne as to road closures etc, so when we went to check out in the morning I introduced myself as the busy-body Barack stalker and again sought further tips from her.
Marianne was very sweet and gave us all sorts of suggestions which seemed eminently sensible – head to Lake Burley Griffin and look for the crowds. And which of course we discarded the moment we left when Chip (unilaterally as I recall it) decided that in fact we were going to adopt a completely different approach and instead head directly to Australian Parliament House (APH), which was within walking distance of our apartment. Which I KNEW was in lock-down. Because Erin Brockovitch had told me this repeatedly in her twice daily SITREPS*.
But I was still dazed because of the car ordeal. But also as I had woken bolt upright pre-dawn because I realised despite the maps and the schedules and the tips and the suggestions I really had no fucking clue where we were going to go.
Sure we had a vague plan – War Memorial, APH, chosen school. But what with the road closures, we figured we should just ditch the car and walk the 800m to APH. Yes I knew President Obama was going to be at APH but I really hadn’t figured out which entrance President Obama would be coming in from. And as APH has multiple entrances which are not close together, I was panicking. So I started my mantra affirmation to calm myself and possibly my companions: ”it’s not the end of the world if we don’t see him. It’s the journey not the destination, people”. Fred Ex looked perplexed. He knows this is what I say to comfort him when all hope is lost and he is upset about something. This sounded precious little like what he thought I felt. And he was right.
So I basically just went with Chip’s instinct (and it struck me, not for the first time, that if we ever do go on The Amazing Race, I am going to be the racer paralysed at every key decision-making point and end up just going along with Chip. And then spend the rest of the leg bitching and whining about his poor choices until we are finally eliminated by Phil). So we set off for APH.
For those of you have not had the pleasure of visiting Australia’s national capital – some features you need to know for the purpose of understanding this post. One is that APH sits atop what I think is an artificial hill. Surrounded by bush.
APH and its environs - Chip won't change "Base of Operations" to "Main Operating Base", which Quesera thinks is technically more correct. But as it took Chip an hour to do it at all, Quesera would be churlish to insist.
From this point, large avenues fan out from it, like spokes on a bicycle wheel. All the names are Australian capital cities, but, perplexingly, this only serves to make things more confusing. (As in: ”is it Melbourne Avenue or Adelaide Avenue?” ”I don’t fucking know Chip, I only remember which one is Canberra Avenue because that is where we are staying and which one is Sydney Avenue, because we live in Sydney, so I have made a mental note of that one, NOT ALL THE OTHERS OKAY?”)
And then to the north of APH is the artificial lake, Lake Burley Griffin over which there are only 2 bridges.
President Obama was due to be at the War Memorial, which is over the lake from APH, immediately before coming to APH. Consequently, he had to come over the bridge one way or another as we hadn’t heard anything of him being ferried about in his helicopter.
While we were on our way to APH, we kept seeing APH staffers sort of leave the main road and disappear up the hill. So after watching a few of them, I hissed to Chip: ”you ask them. You’ve got an American accent. It will sound legitimate from you. They are going somewhere and we need to find out where“.
So we approached a middle aged woman hurrying off the road and Chip called out, and I think he was really playing up the accent: ”Ma’am [this word is not in common use in Australia] how would we get to Parliament House?” And she turned around, quite flustered and said: ”oh, you can’t come up here. It is in lock-down, I couldn’t even get my husband in”.
Chip, peering: “is that a path up there?” Staffer: ”yes, it’s a bush path, but you’re not really allowed up there” (and then spying Fred Ex in his Obama 08 t-shirt and Charlotte waving bobble-headed Barack about) “look just follow me, then strike off onto the gravelled path and follow all the way up, but you didn’t hear it from ME“.
She took off at some speed, clearly trying to put distance between us and her, so she would have plausible deniability. But then inexplicably paused to turn around and sort of wave her hands frantically, to signal the correct directions to us.
There was nothing left to do but follow after her, noticing the CCTV cameras which dotted the bush and the path. Me, spotting them: ”I don’t think we should be doing this” (rule-obeyer). Chip: ”C’mon sweetheart I am sure they will stop us. Eventually”. So we clambered up this very narrow footpath and found ourselves slap bang in front of APH. No barbed wire. No barricades. Nothing. And really couldn’t believe our luck and started to congratulate ourselves on our canniness in locating this path that plainly no-one else had seen. I was giddy with anticipation.
Then we saw an AFP** officer (Dave) shoo a lone woman (most likely a crazed stalker) right back down the hill, to where the media were set up. Dave smiled broadly like an extra from Blue Heelers when he clapped eyes on this slow moving convoy – with Fred Ex and Charlotte with their Barack memorabilia and me in possibly a George W Bush Commander-in-Chief t-shirt – and said really very politely: ”G’day. This is a restricted zone. This place is in lock-down and you lot have penetrated The Zone.”
Chip, innocently but with that all important American accent: “Oh but we thought this was a public building?” ”Nah, mate. Not today. You’ve penetrated the restricted zone“.
And then I thought I really have to intervene here because Chip is too polite to badger to find out where to go, so I kind of beseeched: ”but we have come all the way from Sydneyyyyyyyyy. Where is he going to come in? Where should we go? Pleeeeeease”
And Dave kind of laughed at us and said, as though we plainly weren’t stalkers (what did he know? He clearly hasn’t seen my office. Or my house.) “yeah alright, you need to go to Melbourne Avenue, back down the back of Parliament House that’s where he is coming in”. And kind of waved completely in the opposite direction to where he had shoo-ed the crazed stalker.
So I insisted: ”but how do we know you are telling us the truth, Dave? Why did you send her in completely the opposite direction? Are you having us on?”
Which was probably not quite the tone to strike when we had “penetrated the restricted zone” but he just laughed again and waved us away and said “well you don’t, but just tell them I said you could walk around that way. He is definitely going that way. And you can always come back and take it up with me if he doesn’t but (looking at his watch) I may have finished up by then”. And then started chuckling again as though we were just ridiculous, rather than people who had probably committed a serious offence. And not just technically either.
So we set off in the direction he had sent us. But immediately noticed a large man on a push bike talking on a walkie-talkie and waving to someone behind us. We thought he was waving at us and naturally waved back. These AFP men, I thought, they are simply charming. But this man was not quite so friendly. And asked rather briskly where we were going and what we thought we were doing “penetrating a restricted zone”. (Truly, this was the phrase that was repeated over and over, without any sense of the possible double meaning.)
First official AFP escort out of the restricted zone
So we explained that another AFP man had kindly waved us toward Melbourne Avenue and he just sort of shook his head and said: ”No, you cannot get there from here. You are in a restricted zone and you have to go down (gesturing towards where the lone stalker had been shepherded) back into the non-restricted zone”. Me: ”but isn’t it significantly quicker to go down that way (pointing), we could just slip down there quietly and then get out of the restricted zone”. Less friendly AFP officer: ”no. You have to get out of here NOW and you must be escorted to make sure you make it out“. And he got on his walkie-talkie to summons an escort for us.
Escort guy was a little more laid back than walkie-talkie guy though and said: ”did you come up the bush path? Ha ha. That’s where everyone is coming up. They think we can’t see them. But we’ve got the CCTV cameras. We just catch them and escort them down.” And chuckled at us. But pressed for more details on the actual Presidential entry point and the best vantage point and he was not nearly as forthcoming as Dave. He just sort of smiled indulgently like we were very naughty children. Not people committing criminal trespass.
At this point, we thought it all quite amusing. We had “penetrated the zone” and been escorted from Parliament House. I was still exuberant. We had already had an exciting incident. And it wasn’t even 9am.
So we wandered past the national media, who had all set up so they could have APH in the background of their live broadcasts. Charlotte waved at them and to our complete surprise they waved back. This was invitation enough and I started to cross-examine them as well. They too were lovely and helpful. But did seem surprised we knew the entry point at Melbourne Avenue.
David Spiers (SKY News Political Editor) and (SKY News Political Correspondent): ”Really?? Where did you hear that? Wow, we haven’t heard that” (whispered discussions with their producer). At that point, Dave’s intel seemed confirmed. We knew we were onto something.
David Spiers (seated) and Kieran Gilbert (standing) from Sky News - lovely helpful people, despite the fact SKY News is owned by Rupert Murdoch
But still the issue as to which bridge President Obama would be taking remained a mystery. Or, as the producer came over and said “love, six of one, half dozen of the other”.
Which frankly did not help. But after some dithering and resting, we decided to make our way all the way around Parliament House to Melbourne Ave.
We were about 4 capital city Avenues away from it at this point (about 600ms).
And it was starting to get hot.
And we had no sunscreen or water with us.
I was no longer giddy with our escort off Parliament House, as the 4 of us trudged around to Melbourne Avenue, with me snarling “we will be ELIMINATED PEOPLE, go to that water shop and fetch water BUT you only have 5 minutes to get it, every second counts”.
And then I heard it. Overhead. Barack’s helicopter that Charlotte insisted (correctly) she had seen in the paper. And it was dipping over what I concluded (following map consultation) was Melbourne Avenue. Plainly, it hovered directly overhead when POTUS was exiting a secure vehicle.
Dispirited, we continued to Melbourne Avenue. Where there was precisely no-one. ”Where are the crowds, Chip? WHERE?? Not here. We should have listened to Marianne. PLAINLY WE ARE IN THE WRONG SPOT“. Chip, calm and reasonable as ever: ”let’s just go up the Melbourne Avenue entrance and see what happens”.
But Fred Ex was now moody and sullenly complained that he had blisters on his feet because he hadn’t put his socks on. ”And whose fault is that?”, I waggled my finger at him, “come on, move it”. And we got a fair way up the Melbourne Ave entrance hill, past all the AFP officers and a lone APH security man, us sort of disbelieving we were not being apprehended, but nonetheless continuing as though, “of course we are allowed to be here”.
When finally someone shouted from behind: ”hey, hey YOU – do you lot have security passes?” Chip: ”ah no, sir [again not a term in regular use in Australia], we thought this was a public building?”.
And predictably: ”You have penetrated the restricted zone. You have to get out. NOW“. But then he chuckled with a sort of fond indulgence. He must have spotted bobble-headed Barack. APH Security guard: ”what are you doing here?”. Me: ”one of the AFP guys told us to come around here, that the President would be coming in here”. APH Security guard: “WHAT?? WHO TOLD YOU THAT?”
I thought it best to leave the source of that intel well alone, Dave had been so nice, we didn’t want to get him in serious shit. Chip, low whistle and as an aside: ”wow, we almost got right up there.” Me: ”I know. I’m pretty sure the Secret Service has a different view on how best to protect President Obama.”
The APH security guard watched us for about 10 mins, as we carefully stood just on the right side of the lockdown zone. And then said: ”are you waiting for him to come out?” Me: ”[sigh] no we are waiting for him to go IN, what did you think we are doing?”
“You’ve missed him, he came in about 15 minutes ago.”
At which point I started to cry. All this fuckery was all well and good when we were going to see him. And years down the track may one day afford us a wry smile at our own foolishness in believing we would see President Obama. Or at least a motorcycle outrider.
Can I just pause to say: only in Australia could people twice approach APH, the centre of government, first by a side path and then by the most public and armed route, and be greeted not by aggressive, rude men with weapons who would frog-march everyone off the premises and into lock-up (children included). But by people who were genuinely very helpful and friendly. And amused by us. And as Mariska said – approach a parliament building via a BUSH TRACK? Where? I truly think it is a testament to the larrikin spirit of this country, where this sort of conduct is rewarded not by a criminal record. But by well-meaning and solicitous advice.
But now, we had come all this way, waked approximately 2.5kms and all we had were (1) two encounters with AFP and APH Security men (albeit perfectly friendly and non-confrontational) and (2) a pleasant interaction with SKY News reporters. We had discounted Marianne’s advice and look where we were? Melbourne Avenue, no crowds, missed by minutes. It was all too much. And I started to wail: ”we’ve come all this way and we won’t have anything to report, but criminal trespass at best. NOTHING”. I was traumatised.
And the children’s whining had built to a near crescendo and they were starting to demand Questacon. ”I don’t know WHY I brought any of you. You’re ruining it for me. This trip is NOT about Questacon, it’s about achieving a long-cherished fantasy of coming face-to-face with President Obama. I forked out $400 for a hotel for us, I drove here and now you are making these peremptory demands and you……” But Fred Ex cut me off and said: ”mum, we are not ruining it for you. You not seeing President Obama is what is ruining it for you”. I winced at his prescience.
Main Operating Base of operations, adorned with a homemade, bogus US flag - note the number of stars.
“Alright then people, we are going to return to the apartment, [where our car was parked] so we can collect it, go to Yarralumla Cake Shop, then try and work out which school President Obama was going to visit”. At least the car would be cool and we could sit the fuck down.
Now, Yarralumla Cake Shop must be accessed by going via Melbourne Avenue and when we returned, it was instantly apparent that the atmosphere had changed. A small crowd had collected and there were TV cameras. As you can see from Chip’s wonderful representation above, Melbourne Avenue intersects with a circle (possibly State Circle) and has a large median strip. And importantly, there were car parking spots in that median strip. We had been walking because everyone had insisted there would be no parking. We pulled over and started listening to Parliament on the radio. As we did, I noticed a man with a massive “Media” pass around his neck wander past. So I simply yelled out: ”hey, what school is he going to?” And he said: ”Campbell High School”. Me: ”you sure?”. Media guy: ”yeah why do you think I am schlepping about with a TV camera in my arms?” This lot sure did not sign the Secret Service confidentiality agreements I don’t reckon.
Erin had only said the day before that I should be looking carefully at Campbell High, but naturally, I thought I knew better and discounted it (I subsequently emailed her “who was your source? You had the inside rail”. Erin “I would have to shred you if I told you”.)
“People, we are off to Campbell High”. ”A Detour”, began Chip, “is a choice between two tasks, each with its pros and cons”. ”Shut UP Chip” because by this point Fred Ex and Charlotte had begun to tire of the whole “scheme” somewhat and their badgering for Questacon was next to intolerable and they didn’t need any ammunition from Chip.
I stubbornly ignored all of them. And started heading in the direction of Campbell High. But just as I rounded the corner, I saw yet more people gathering and made the split second decision that wins legs in The Amazing Race, Chip. ”Change in plan. We are going back”. I mean, really, we KNEW he was coming out the Melbourne Avenue exit. Virtually all intel, from very reliable sources, supported that.
We even secured our original parking spot. Got out of the car and walked the possibly 20ms (i.e. NOTHING compared to the kms we had already trudged) to the Melbourne Avenue intersection and joined the milling crowds.
There were 40-something women screaming “hug me MR PRESIDENT”, a sentiment seconded by a 67 grandmother (we got to chatting) who suggested that had she known, she would have made a sign to that effect.
We stood there, without anything happening for about 30 minutes. But one of the media guys had his van door open and President Obama’s address on the radio was audible. And really, we were part of a community, listening and making friends. And it did remind me of being in London when Princess Diana died. Except no-one was really sobbing hysterically (I don’t count my earlier incident – it was mostly out of frustration and disappointment, not grief).
Plus I had Chip, who I could parade about as a sort of show-and-tell: ”oh, my husband is American”. That kind of thing. Which really got the crowd on-side and he was quizzed with great interest which was beginning to annoy me, because Chip is not a real Obama nut. None of them were, they were just there for the ride. So pretty much out of spite, I slipped into the conversation that Chip had voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, which turned the crowd a bit. But really he should be grateful I didn’t bring up the Ross Perot voting incident in 1992.
Meanwhile, Fred Ex and Charlotte had started to chat with all the media and we had to screech out periodically “be QUIET, they could miss their SHOTS”.
So after all of us standing in the heat for sometime, with increasing fidgety enthusiasm, I noticed that the traffic lights at the intersection, instead of going periodically green and red (which they had been doing up until that time) had simply started flashing orange and all the traffic was stopped. ”That’s IT“, I shouted, “they have stopped the traffic! He must definitely be coming this way SOON“. And the crowd immediately hushed. American husband or not, I was proving a valuable member of this community.
I started emailing one of my long-suffering colleagues “is he still speaking? Has he left? ANYTHING?” Because plainly he could have slipped out one of the other hundred exits. She emailed back almost immediately “he is still shaking hands, still in the building”. Which of course I announced to my new “friends” (I am not kidding the 67 year old woman suggested a reunion at one point). I was beginning to wonder just how much more of this heat I could tolerate.
But then I spied a car coming down and duly shouted this out (though given I am 5ft 4in, I don’t know why the 6ft 2in man with the wife with rheumatoid arthritis (not present – he told me about her – I tell you we were A COMMUNITY) didn’t spot it first). And the excitement was palpable. Even more when we saw the number plates were “Advance”.
Then a very portly gentlemen with a sort of Bendeguz moustache cried dramatically “there’s another car” which was soon joined by my “and there are MOTORCYCLE OUTRIDERS following”. I was so nervous I began to shake and my heart was pounding. Like I was going on a date.
And then there they were. The whole entourage headed down the Melbourne Avenue exit. Both Beasts with flags. The security detail (complete with the open boot/trunk – which I initially thought must be a SNAFU***, but then I saw it on the news so it must be SOP****). And because we were at an intersection, they had to really slow down to make a right turn so it wasn’t just a rush-by. Then I really started crying.
Fred Ex and Charlotte were beside themselves. ”I saw him, he was in the second car on the right-hand side, the media guys TOLD US“, Fred Ex shrieked.
What the FUCK??? Why had Fred Ex not shared this information with US? Chip and I were both looking into each car not knowing which one carried the President. But nonetheless I was waving frantically and smiling and even wolf-whistling at one point hoping he could see my (not GW Bush) Commander-In-Chief t-shirt.
But we were there. We saw the convoy and we KNEW he was in one of those cars. We were as close as the Secret Service mandated 20ft perimeter would permit. And once we got to the Yarralumla Cake Shop. We saw it. Chip had the money shot. More sort of shocked sobbing. As I said to someone at work yesterday: it was not very enjoyable most of the time and was a trial some of the time, and we were hot and thirsty and there was too much waking for my liking: but it really really was worthwhile. Until a colleague sent me an email today in response to my excited email complete with boastful pictures: “humph – not much POTUS.” As Jonah from Summer Heights would say: ”Puck you, miss”.
* Situation Reports. I am trying to use as many acronyms as possible which I suspect will become very tiresome for readers
Please note: this post probably contains more swearing than even my worst cursing posts, but honestly the trotskyites have driven me to it.
Yes I am still on about this and in fact I have been hard pressed to think of anything else all week. I think it is driving some colleagues and friends bonkers.
A colleague and I had a meet and greet with a client on Friday – you know, where you make small talk and try and appear, well normal. For lawyers. Well conversation was flagging and my colleague seemed to be struggling so when the client said “do you get down to Canberra much?” I immediately said, “Well yes, I am going next week. Hopefully to meet President Obama”. My colleague jiggled a little bit sort of in embarrassment. But the client seemed very enthusiastic. In fact he even said that he had worked with the Clinton team’s advance party when they came to Australia in 1996 so I really felt that good be a good omen.
Lord knows we need it.
These are the people who are fucking going to RUIN Quesera's embrace with President Obama and - TROTS
Initially I thought that crowds were being excluded because of the intense admiration for President Obama and the Secret Service was worried that it might be like Beatle-mania. But with 40 something liberal women, not teenage girls. But tonight I read that there are going to be people staging protests outside Parliament House (lord even Julian Assange’s freaking mother is planning to protest outside Parliament House against what exactly is not clear to me, given that her son is still holed up in a Sussex mansion arguing about who is going to comp his legal fees, last I heard). Honestly. Fucking TROTS. Truly they are fucking RUINING this for me. In fact, I think one of the protest leaders was on the Sydney Uni Students’ Representative Council years ago. And is still organising protests and boycotts. Full-time. Just saying. (Chip doesn’t see it this way and said “what, he didn’t sell out to big end of town corporate interests. Like you?”, when I scoffed upon seeing this man on TV at the “Occupy Sydney” protests, waving his placards menacingly at passers-by.)
Anyway, despite the risk that we now may be encountering a hostile crowd of aromatic sandal-wood hippies in our Barack family t-shirts and possibly US flags (if I can locate one between now and then), the party has now grown to include my niece, Fred Ex’s cousin. She is very excited and even called me last night to ask when I was going to drop over the Barack pop quiz I had compiled for them to complete before we leave. I sort of said to Fred Ex’s teacher that it would be educational for him, but I don’t think completing a formal quiz is the sort of thing he had in mind.
2004 DNC keynote - Fred Ex was forced to watch this in its entirety - but the WHINING, honestly.
Anyway, he has largely completed it, except for the question “What did Barack Obama study at Columbia?” He has given up on that one. But has added quite a bit of detail about the madrassa Barack attended in Indonesia, so god knows what Tea Party website he has found as the source of his “information”. Anyway, no way are they going to leave Sydney until they have both watched the 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. And can answer basic questions such as “Where was the Convention held?” And “what colour was his tie?” (Checking for visual and aural acuity).
I printed out 6 copies of the pop quiz because as I have told them both, “I don’t want shoddy work with nonsensical answers. And your writing must be perfect”. Fred Ex has given up writing on the actual pop quiz piece of paper itself, because he says he can’t write without LINES and instead I caught him writing on some paper scrap he had torn out of a book. So fuck knows how he is going to keep up his pen-pal correspondence with Malia. Anyway we have agreed tonight that I will reprint the pop quiz. With lines on it. Look, I think that’s in everyone’s best interests.
So 2 days out and Erin Brokovitch is now being asked for twice daily updates. And is supplying me with every piece of media she can find on the itinerary, together with handy hints. And from what the media is reporting, we can work out where he might be at certain times so we can put together a game plan.
So I have a broad sketch of what is going to happen and that is (1) 9am War Memorial possibly for “brief” (Embassy’s word, not mine) meeting with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott (who hopefully will not have a near aneurism moment and glower at the President if he asks a question that Mr Abbott doesn’t like, like he did some months ago with a Channel 7 reporter) (2) addressing Parliament at 10:15am (3) public school visit (4) midday US Embassy to meet with embassy staff (5) wheels-up at 4pm (Australian Eastern Summer time (AEST) (6) arrival in Darwin 4:30pm (Darwin time) (6pm AEST).
The difficulty with that plan is obvious. Unless Air Force One is supersonic, there is no way that President Obama can make it from Canberra to Darwin in 2 hours. It is more like 3.5 hours (according to another colleague. The one who vigorously opposed the extra judicial killing of bin Laden and who used to live in Darwin).
So plainly what is being released through the media is, to some extent, a decoy schedule. Probably because of the fucking trots.
Meanwhile, I have Googled all the public primary schools around our sketchy itinerary and studied what their particular attributes are. Researched the type of school President Obama and Prime Minister Gillard attended in Virginia, US, to see if that yields any details (it didn’t). And I have come up with a short list of about 4 schools. People keep coming into my office with the lists of Canberra primary schools and maps of Canberra I have printed out – and sort of just hand them to me, shaking their heads.
But yesterday presented a whole new set of problems. Fred Ex started coughing and claiming he couldn’t go to school, so I took him to the Doctor, just in case. She rather officiously insisted he have a WHOOPING COUGH swab just to be on the safe side. And this is the hippies’ fault as well I verily believe, given they won’t have their children fucking IMMUNISED. I figured I don’t mind him coughing all over me in the car, but as my niece is now coming I have to wait to get the all clear so that we can go. And the Dr is INSISTING that we return Wednesday morning to get the results as they can’t give them over the phone. Either that, or Fred Ex is home alone and will have another complaint to file with DOCS [UPDATE: this morning I cajoled Dr into releasing results over the phone in a pathetic and plaintive wail that if she didn't tell us we would miss our chance to see President Obama. NEGATIVE. HURRAH]. Then Fred Ex repeatedly claimed he couldn’t find his Obama t-shirt and sought to lay the blame at the feet of our cleaning lady. He routinely attempts to frame her for everything: lost school excursion backpack, lost school sports socks, lost library books. So each time he returned from his room, coughing, I would send right back in there. Until finally I resentfully marched him in there so he could assist me, but he kept coughing and asking for water (and I think at one point actually moaned “whooping cough”) but I wasn’t buying it. And I found HIS Barack t-shirt in about 30 seconds.
But then when I went to find my Obama-girl t-shirt, she TOO had disappeared. (Truly, she says “Obama-girl”. She is wonderful and Mariska has a matching one.)
I am now rethinking Fred Ex’s accusations. I believe that the cleaning lady may well have located my Obama-girl and is now wearing her at Penrith Panther pokies lounge shovelling her winnings into Fred Ex’s school excursion bag.
Me? I am left with a Commander-in-Chief t-shirt which we ALL know could have been purchased for George W Bush’s 2003 visit. I am going to have to take along bobble-headed Obama doll, which was one of the most lovely wedding gifts I got. And just generally wave him in the general direction, like “I come in peace”. And hope that the Secret Service doesn’t think it a cleverly, albeit ironically, disguised IED.
Before Erin notified me of the latest update on Saturday, which included the actual time of school visit, I had already extrapolated that of course President Obama was going to be visiting a school after Parliament and therefore the school had to be somewhere en route from Parliament to US Embassy. And concluded that of course it was going to be near Yarralumla (which is where the US Embassy is and near where Fred Ex and I used to live AND just down the road from the cake shop that sells the best meat pies in Australia). And realistically, I think that’s the only real option. But yet another colleague piped in today with his school forecast and that made me rethink. Yet again.
Thank god I have Erin. While she is forwarding me schedules and hints, she has also taken a less lawyerly approach to the construction of my schedule. She has concluded that road closures will need to be notified in advance to the public. And has undertaken to tweet the roads authority to see what she can get. Tonight she came through with ALL road closures and they have some interesting hints. And I am certainly not revealing what we have both now concluded is the “chosen” public school.
These people are going to get it in the head with Quesera's bobble-headed Barack if they get between her and President Obama
So I have 2 last resorts: (1) email someone whom I believe is going to be at the formal dinner on Wednesday night – but as I haven’t seen him in a few months, that’s a bit opportunistic, so I am contemplating going through a mutual friend. (I was actually going through the fantasy conversation with him while Fred Ex and I were driving home the other day: “Would you like to be my date for the State Dinner and possibly meet President Obama?” Me: ”Well, I think that would be wonderful”. Except I was saying it OUT LOUD. Fred Ex was mystified – “what would be wonderful Mum?” And then when I told him he just looked wearily out the car window) (2) persuade Chip to start following the fucking trots on Twitter. It seems to me that it is highly likely that they have their sources as well. And unlike me they intend to publicise it far and wide. One thing is certain - if I find out the name of that primary school there is no way I am going to tweet it and possibly have other liberal women lunging at President Obama.
President Barack Obama - Chip picked this photo because he said Barack looked "Presidential" but plainly Quesera and her straight female and gay male friends and colleagues would have preferred the Hawaii summer vacation one, Chip
Yesterday a colleague, who is fully aware of my fervour first for Senator Barack Obama, then for President Barack Obama, asked me if I were going to travel to Canberra next week to see him address the Joint Parliamentary Sitting on the 60th Anniversary of the ANZUS Alliance.
Since I first read about Senator Obama in 2006 under a headline entitled “Crossing the Colour Divide” and cut out his picture and put him on the fridge, he has remained there ever since, beaming at me every time I open it. He has since been joined by Barack the Fridge Magnet superimposed in front of the White House, and Magentic Barack with cut-out outfits so you can dress him (bathers include) which are both just opposite the coffee mug of Obama/Biden 2008 and …. you get the picture.
And when he took to the stage in Grant Park to claim victory 3 years ago and thanked all those people who had gotten behind his campaign, Mariska said she and Cat were yelling at the TV “and the lounge rooms of Middle Cove” (where we live) because plainly my devotion to him had something to do with it all. Hell, I have even passionately defended him to fellow (outraged) lawyers against their criticism of him for the extra-judicial killing of Osama Bin Laden. I pretty much think I could forgive him almost anything, although Chip’s father said if I had to listen to him every day I would be sick to death of him. I am not convinced.
I am positively giddy at the prospect of him coming to Australia. Although I remain mystified as to why, if he had only 2.5 days, he wouldn’t want to spend some of those precious hours in Sydney? (The headline of the NT News, where Darwin, the other city President Obama is visiting, reportedly said today something along the lines of: ”Shut up You Rich Sydney Shitheads – he is coming HERE” Normally it reports on croc attacks, so at least this was mixing it up.)
He has promised to come to Australia twice before and each time some trifling occurrence has prevented him from fulfilling the sincerest wish of, I would venture the vast majority of Australians. Yes I know that his healthcare plan and the BP oil spill were important to Americans, and that Australia does not really have any votes in the US Electoral College.
If she achieves nothing else in her Prime Ministership, Quesera thinks this series of photos should be more than enough
But Mr President, this is something that, speaking on behalf of my fellow citizens, we are all particularly interested in. All you had to do was see Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s coquettish chin tilt at the G20 last week in Cannes, and you could see the little minx was itching for him to get Down Under with his “erotic capital”. I have just re-read that and I did not intend any Benny Hill allusion. Truly. It is plainly Freudian. (But I did read a long article about erotic capital last week so maybe that has something to do with it. And along with this President and his fine lady wife Michelle, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has it too. They didn’t mention Nicolas Sarkozy, possibly because of his height and the fact that he resembles a garden gnome, albeit with a very tall pretty lady garden gnome by his side.)
Anyway, it got me to thinking: why shouldn’t Chip and Fred Ex and I go? I still speak (I suspect Chip thinks it is more “boast”), almost 20 years after the event of seeing Nelson Mandela on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. It was a magnificent and historic day.
And I am sincerely quite worried that President Obama will be voted out and poof! we will get a charismatic US president who “energises the base” (i.e. charms the pants off crazy evangelical nutters, most particularly into wanting to exercise their Second Amendment rights). But who decidedly terrifies the rest of the world. While I was relieved in one way, when Sarah Palin decided not to run, I also believe that Barack would have trounced her, so I had mixed feelings about her decision to “help” all the other candidates out from the side-lines. Though that could become another thrilling sideshow to the 2012 general election in itself. I comfort myself that there is always a chance that someone will co-opt her for their VP running mate, but I seriously don’t believe any of the front-runners at the moment is that insane. Yet. A few more months with Karl Rove in his ear and who knows what Gov Rick Perry may do?
So the problem is: if I don’t go now, will I never see him? Clearly with the racist KKK TV taken away, I wouldn’t be able to see him properly on TV given how it feels about African-Americans. And almost certainly even if it were here, radiation aside, it would be in one of its moods and not let me see him unless he is the far left screen.
It is only one day off work. Plus I do undertake work in Canberra so I can always sell it to my colleagues from that perspective. AND on the day he was elected I had booked the day off months in advance, which everybody who had come within 20 metres of my office knew because it was festooned with Barack memorabilia, and Electoral College maps and predictions and screen-savers and….Again, you get the picture. Anyway, somebody emailed me at 2:50pm, Sydney-time, just before Senator Obama was going to claim victory. And that person very politely requested that I urgently review a document and have a response by 9am the next day. (Naturally, the 3 bottles of Champagne I had bought in the event of victory were all Veuve so I did not have a discernible hangover the next day.) So I kind of feel OWED the day off.
So I began to try and find out his itinerary, which as you can imagine is impossible. I emailed a friend who works in Canberra to ask. This woman can normally locate anything government-related – an obscure Parliamentary report from 1963, a politician’s doorstop interview that s/he has tried desperately, and for the most part successfully, to have buried. Truly she is like Erin Brockovich without the slutty clothes. But she couldn’t come up with anything other than a vague pronouncement in Parliament a couple of weeks ago as to the dates. ”Top secret” she emailed back. ”I can’t get anything“.
Another colleague gave me the number of someone at Parliament House to call and see if we could get tickets to the Joint Parliamentary Sitting. A very nice man called Keith said: ”nah love, can’t help ya. Sorry about that.”
If you look closely enough, PM Gillard has her eyes closed, as though in reverie. In Quesera's opinion she is unlikely to be thinking of First Bloke Tim Mathieson
That was a long shot and I didn’t expect anything of it. And I have just read an article which concluded that “of course the public were going to be excluded from Parliament House, for fuck’s sake, you could go and see the Queen there last week, wasn’t that enough for you ?” In fact, it was because so many more people wanted to see him, than the sovereign, and all the tickets were immediately nabbed by politicians’ families and friends.
As I searched lastminute.com.au and saw that room rates for our dreary national capital soar next Wednesday, I really started to fret. What if we went all the way there, paid $400 to stay the night and then didn’t catch a glimpse of him?
What if he couldn’t see us in our matching family Obama 2008 t-shirts (in Chip’s case a Bob Marley type brown t-shirt which says “I roll for Barack”)? (Chip has here mulishly refused to include images of the t-shirts, whining “it’s 10:30pm and I want to go to bed”. I will not forget this Chip when you start on again about your multi-media podcast empire that Mariska and I are meant to feature in. Neither will Mariska I would say.)
But my mind was made up.
I collected Chip on the way home last night and said “Oh Fred Ex will be that excited that we are going”. But Chip responded: ”I don’t think he could care less”. Me: ”oh but it is a school day anyway, and anything that causes him to miss school would be a cause for great excitement”. Chip: “don’t tell him we are going on a school day and then we will be able to measure what his real response is”.
Truly sometimes I really do wonder if Fred Ex belongs to me.
But not last night. Me: ”so Fred Ex, Barack is coming next week to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the ANZUS Alliance. Do you want to go to Canberra to see him?” Fred Ex: ”YESSSSSSSSSSSSS. Can we really?? REALLY? WOW. Can I tell everyone at school?” You would have thought that we had told him we were going to see Anakin Skywalker immediately following the massacre of the Jedi babies.
So I enthusiastically emailed Professor Pacific, an Australian friend who lives and works in DC and begged her to speak with someone, anyone, she knew at the Australian Embassy there to see if they could get general vicinities so we could just turn up and snap some photos.
And hopefully, somehow Fred Ex could wriggle his way to the front and charmingly say to the President, in an accent that all Americans find adorable, but sometimes we fear strays into Bogan territory: ”President Obama, I would really love to be Malia’s pen-pal. We could form our very own ANZUS Alliance” [wink, but not in a creepy way. (He and I have to practise that bit again)].
I even tried to get Fred Ex to practise this conversation opener. He was, frankly, initially tepid about the whole thing. Like all 10 year olds he then began to get bogged down in details: ”what would I write to her about? What is her postal address? Do I just write ‘The White House’ and it gets to her?” He sighed at the difficulty of it all and then concluded: ”perhaps we could be Facebook friends”.
Quesera is not even going to spoil this beautiful photo of Bo Obama with a silly comment
But then I said perhaps they could correspond about both having, I don’t know, BLACK WOOLY DOGS, but that hers was a gorgeous well-trained Portugese Water Dog who was a gift from Sen Edward Kennedy and who looked fetching in a lei. Whereas his was an ill-tempered she-devil who we bought from Pet Paradise and who hates women especially if they get near Chip or Fred Ex.
At which Chip crossly interrupted and said he had never had a pen-pal and that it was a ridiculous idea. And told us both to stop constructing complicated fantasy meetings.
A spirited conversation then ensued about him disdaining pen-pals because they were “ferreners” (me) and him then equally disdainfully responding that pen-pals were “just not the done thing in OKC when I was growing up”.
Which got us nowhere except it did lead to more logistical questions from Fred Ex (“if I wear my blue Barack t-shirt, do you think I could wear my white cricket pants, too? Do you think that would be appropriate? Or should I wear navy?”). Which was frankly STILL getting us fucking nowhere, so I just waved my hands vigorously at them both as though to say: ”be quiet! You are both ruining it for me”.
Undeterred I have now emailed: both the White House and the American Embassy to see if I can obtain some details. With each of them I have been careful to point out that (1) my husband is a US citizen! (2) I have a 10 year old child whose hero is Barack!!! (3) I understand the security concerns and that they won’t be divulging detailed scheduling information.
There are no exclamation marks/points with this last statement. I am quite happy to appear excited about the other elements of my case, but I don’t want to get myself on the radar as a terrorist security threat and find myself under surveillance and prevented from getting anywhere near him. And I figure that by carefully removing the exclamations I may be toning down the enthusiasm so that it comes across as “I am a huge fan”, not “I have a huge IED”. I have seen several seasons of 24 and we know CTU monitors all such correspondence. And the last thing I want is Jack Bauer getting between a photo-op of me and the President. One possibly modelled on PM Gillard’s coquettish chin tilt.
Chip, I believe, laughed at these efforts to make contact with a person (well, he sent me an email with (((((= in it, so I am assuming that was mocking me) – because plainly any idiot knows that I would only receive an automated response. But today, remarkably, the US Embassy in Canberra returned my email and very politely said: ”Ms Sera, the schedule hasn’t been finalised and even if it were, we couldn’t give it to you”. In worse news, Professor Pacific, at the instant that I confirmed my lastminute.com.au booking, emailed to say (1) she didn’t know anyone who was coming on the trip (2) “Emb people will be tight” and most devastatingly of all (3) “you might travel all that way to see a fleet of speeding cars and sirens”.
But it is too late now. We are booked. And seriously, the Prime Minister’s polling numbers are that bad, that I don’t believe for one moment she would squander all of that Obama erotic capital by not having one public appearance, somewhere in Canberra. So that our 3 hour car trip and $400 hotel room will not be in vain……
Then I forwarded Erin Brockovich the US Embassy response and she said: ”Ah, not very forthcoming are they”. But when I said “Nope but we are coming anyway!”. (No problems with exclamation marks with her.) she immediately responded “I’m digging around – there’s a few people here with special contacts. I will keep you posted”.
I figure anyway that even if we don’t get to see him we have a story to tell. And I am wildly excited by all the intrigue and tips and hints and gossip and the prospect of us driving all over Canberra trying to find him, cajoling doormen, embarking on wild goose chases and errant tips. It will be like our very own Amazing Race episode. And if it comes down to it, at least we will be able to go to the Yarralumla Cake Shop which has the best meat pies in Australia. In fact, it would be the perfect place to for the US President to have a photo-op.
I was driving Fred Ex home from school today and I was feeling very twitchy and I couldn’t immediately determine why. Surely it couldn’t be that I had been interrupted by work while on a day off, could it?
Have you ever seen this sign on a TV? Quesera hasn’t either
No. This is something far more serious. Our TV is broken and last night was hauled away by a repair man who said gravely, in response to my query as to how long it would be before we knew whether it could be salvaged, that “it could be a week or 10 days, but really you can’t be watching it anyway what with the radiation coming from the damaged picture screen”.
The fucking WHAT??? Since when is uranium a component of domestic appliances?
So I spent all of last night repeatedly saying to Chip “do you think we have been exposed to radiation? Do you think we should go and get tested?”
Though for what precisely and where we could be tested I am not sure. Fred Ex overheard and said: ”if we’ve been exposed to radiation that means we are going to get cancer and die doesn’t it?” ”Well, at least we were doing something we love”, I wanted to respond but didn’t think this would comfort him much.
My persistent questioning about the potential radiation exposure is because, really, I am feeling rather guilty about the whole thing. I had decided that for once I was not going to take responsibility for getting something fixed and was trying to make a point to Chip that he has to take on organisational responsibility for something around the house – for something that the entire family holds so dear. That does not involve, I don’t know, erecting a card table for his Gran Turismo game, by way of example.
This lack of TV is critical for me. I watch so much of it and I use the IQ/TiVo rewind function so frequently, that I now instinctively try and hit replay when we are at the movies or when I am listening to the radio. Sometimes I want to do it with real life people as well. When I questioned Chip tonight about whether he does this too, he said “no I thought you were making that bit up”. So perhaps I am on my own in reflexively trying to rewind people.
The whole fuckery started a few months ago when the TV started to take a while to “warm up”. Like in the 70s and 80s when you would turn your TV on and it was the natural order of things that it would take a while to get its shit together and produce a focussed picture.
It was Other Jackie who coined the phrase “warm up” as it pertained to our TV. She had come over and I was trying to show her some TV show Fred Ex and I had been on and she said after about 10 minutes of waiting – “Quesera, it is like an olden days TV. What are you going to do?”
And I did precisely nothing. Just to prove a point.
County General's Dr Peter Benton - only viewable in left hand 25% of screen when TV in ill temper
This made for very difficult TV viewing. Sometimes we would have only one quarter of the screen, on the left had side, and if anyone were in the other three quarters we would have to rely solely on their voices to try and divine what the fuck was going on. It was even harder if the actors were African-American (actually anyone even slightly darker skinned), and I spent a large amount of time shouting at the screen “Dr Benton (brilliant yet wilful surgeon at County General on ER), stage left STAGE LEFT”. In retrospect, quite possibly the TV had some sort of 21st century racist KKK thing going on and we are best rid of its malevolent presence, even without its radiation emitting qualities.
Some nights it would come good and we were too frightened to turn it off, so we left the TV on all night and day, just so it would be there when we got home. I am just hoping it wasn’t emitting radiation even when it was in a good mood.
Fonzie - picture him with a 44 inch Sony Bravia - and you have Chip* (*actual Chip may not resemble pictures)
Then Chip figured out a way to get it going – a sort of bang on the screen, Fonzie style, to get us more than 25% of the picture. But after a few weeks even this would no longer work.
So we were reduced to relying on a temperamental TV that, for no apparent reason, would, on random days, snap out of its sullen refusal to broadcast the whole picture – and we would be that excited.
Chip: ”ooh the TV is working. The whole screen”.
Quesera: ”I am leaving the office right now”.
Other days it was like we were a 1940s family, sitting around listening to the wireless. But as TV relies so much on, well, visual images, it was often very difficult to understand what the hell was going on. I was reduced to watching only those shows with characters’ voices I knew intimately, so that I at least had an approximation of the action.
It also tolerated, possibly grudgingly, us watching animated shows – so I think I have seen all 24 seasons of The Simpsons in the past couple of months. Unsurprisingly, Fred Ex enjoyed that immensely.
Then it dawned on me. We were at a Mexican stand-off (though of course it would be next to impossible to watch it televised on TV, if it only involved Mexicans).
Chip was not going to organise it. And as the vast majority of NBA players are African-American, I had to get it fixed otherwise I would never be able to see any basketball action, assuming the lock-out is finally resolved.
So now I am left with: (1) no TV; (2) the possibility that my determination to prove a point to Chip has lead us all to be exposed to radiation; and (3) a recalcitrant Fred Ex who refuses to hand over the 10 inch TV – which I originally bought to watch the NBA at work. In fact Fred Ex disappeared for 15 minutes after the TV repair man took the family TV away and I could hear noises from his bedroom which sounded distinctly like he was trying to hide the 10 inch TV to prevent me taking possession of it.
Seriously Chip? This is your attempt at a picture of a family assembled around a wireless? It is not like Quesera has ever LOVINGLY STROKED our KKK TV like these women are doing
Chip is insisting that we use this TV-less period to interact as a family, and has sought to prohibit computer use as well. Fred Ex listened carefully to this proposition, then said “no thanks” and put his headphones on to keep watching TV on a computer.
Me? I am particularly anxious. I missed Beauty and The Geek last night and am desperate to know what has become of the newly made-over Bendeguz. Plus we have missed an episode of The Amazing Race, a repeat of ER, a new episode of Law & Order: SVU and god knows what else we had on series-link recording.
And I can’t help but think: my mistakenly praying to the patron saint of TVs, St Clare, when I thought she was the patron saint of the blind, has really come back to bite me.
Evidently that incident with Cat in the crypt of St Francis of Assissi’s Cathedral, talking about matters sexual, potentially involving Saint Clare, has not been overlooked and our racist TV has been turned against us. Possibly with grave health consequences.
The other morning I was getting my coffee and was engaging in some polite chit chat with a colleague’s partner, talking about, kids, bedtime, what you do at night. You know whatever it takes to pass the time until the cafe people finally holler: ”bacon and egg muffin and large skim latte” instead of just my preferred signal “Quesera”. Because if they don’t remember my name or if they’ve got new people working, I have to do the walk of shame past all my colleagues who consequently all know, then and there, what dietary abomination I start my day with.
The centre of Quesera's world
But this morning was taking longer than usual and somehow this guy and I found ourselves somehow on the topic of: why when you get home you have to decompress from the horrors of the day once the children are finally asleep. Just the usual pre-caffeine babble I engage in most mornings, really.
His opening gambit on this subject was: ”yes it’s so important to just get some time to read on your own, you know the latest Rohinton Mistry novel and then of course there are the period dramas which [his partner] loves so much”. So I just nodded and smiled, as though in agreement, because really that’s not the TV that’s on at our place. We don’t really do “quality TV”. This whole what-we-do-to-relax-after-work chat had gone on for some time and still no shaming with my breakfast being announced and by this time I was twisting about to see what the hell was going on back there because really I didn’t want to continue with what I watch at night. In the privacy of my own home. And which I have no appetite to disclose to a work-related acquaintance.
But then he kept going on about the popularity of English period dramas at his place (“you know, the classics”) and for some reason I just came out with “at least you are talking about BBC productions. It’s all reality TV at our place”. He seemed mildly taken aback but said: ”oh yes, MasterChef – that’s such a wonderful show for the whole family”. But the thing is, MasterChef is but the slightest of my TV vices. I will just get straight to it: Chip and I are hard-core reality TV viewers.
During my 20s and early 30s (so really, not that long ago) I was typically snobbish in my TV viewing. Back then it was all ABC (Australian equivalent of the BBC or US National Public Radio, um, except it is on TV) and SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) which really has no functional equivalent in the US or UK – so it is best to say: it is a publicly funded TV station which broadcasts news in 40 something languages and at night has racy European “cinema” which Chip records and then I have to explain to Fred Ex why Chip has recorded movies with titles like “The Blonde with Bare Breasts”.
I strayed to a limited number of low-rent shows in my 20s, like when I was first at uni I got hooked on Days of Our Lives and then at law school I used to watch Melrose Place religiously – but Mariska and I watched Melroseironically Chip.
Dr John Forest - bad boy surgeon from the Young Doctors - but you may know him as bad boy Vice President to President David Palmer in 24
It was probably just a regression to my adolescence because when I was growing up we never watched the ABC (SBS wasn’t even invented then). I used to pity my poor classmates who never got to see commercial TV and enjoy The Young Doctors or Chopper Squad.
Strangely, the only time I ever recall Patience objecting to commercial TV was an episode of Cop Shop, an Australian 70s/80s show about well, police, which featured one of the main characters as a stripper. Patience objected to one particular scene of this character with nipple tassels on, which, in retrospect, I don’t think was that authoritarian or even that Catholic. I mean, if iCarly starts featuring that kind of content I might confiscate the remote control too (not that Patience had access to a remote control, as they weren’t invented then either).
But now, what with cable and IQ (Tivo to the Americans), we spend approximately 3.5 hours each night watching TV and, as a percentage, the dominant genre (if it could be described as such) is, well, it is reality TV. So yes, Chip and I are really reality TV whores.
I blame Fred Ex. I remember reading somewhere shortly after Fred Ex was born that a mother’s IQ drops on average 25 IQ points after giving birth. Whether those points are ever regained remains a mystery to me, but in my case, I suspect not. Especially if you are watching 3.5 hours of reality TV per night. If pregnancy takes 25 IQ points from a woman’s IQ, I think there is at least an additional 1 point squandered per reality TV episode watched. Pretty soon I am going to be minus Mensa range. And that doesn’t even take into account the trashy mag reading. It’s amazing with all the Veuve added into the mix that I am still a functioning professional.
The first reality TV show I ever watched religiously was the pioneer reality TV show flag bearer – The Real World. That was 1994. But as it was when I was nannying Il Diavolino Marco in Perugia and was one of the few shows in English I could access, I think that was defensible. What was probably not so defensible was, en route to see Chip in New Orleans after a long and wine-filled flight from London Heathrow, approaching my favourite housemate at Dulles Airport (he had gone on the show because he was HIV positive and thought it would be a good chance to provide educational moments) and gushingly assuring him that he was a wonderful role model for hispanic gay men – none of which I identify as. And which he really took with remarkable composure and grace.
Not a great photo of Phil - THANKS CHIP
My first post Fred Ex reality TV show watching I would like to characterise as “highbrow”. Mariska and Cat got me addicted to The Amazing Race when we went away on holidays once. And what is there not to love? You get to see the world and point excitedly when the teams go somewhere you have been. But mostly you just enjoy criticising them for their idiocy. Notwithstanding the ever-present schadenfreude it is actually educational I have persuaded myself. Sure, none of the “traditional cultural activities” seems legitimate. I mean, how many times have you seen Sydneysiders sprint from Circular Quay to Hyde Park to ask a “sheila dressed in an Aussie Cossie where the ankle biters are”? (Official translation: ”ask a woman dressed in an Australian flag bathing suit (lolling about with no beach or pool in sight) where the children are”).
How many times, Phil, HOW MANY?
And when do you ever see locals being forced to eat 5kg bowls of spicy goulash while demented fiddlers torment them until they vomit the whole lot back up? Not often in my experience.
But still The Amazing Race seemed to me superficially enlightening and plus there was no cursing on it, so we thought Fred Ex could watch it with us and, well, travel the world. And Mariska and I texted each other the whole way through it (we had “racing nights”), which I like to think was a precursor to live blogging reality TV shows, minus the audience.
During that period, I used to say, with an air of superiority, reminiscent of my TV snobbery of my 20s and 30s, oh I don’t watch reality TV. Just The Amazing Race. But these days, I tend to look on The Amazing Race as the Shakespeare of my TV viewing.
Chris Rock begged Flavor Flave to put away the clock in 2008 - "America is THIS close to electing a black president man, lose the fucking clock"
And there is a consistent pattern as to how I become enmeshed in these shows. Chip says for example: ”oh Flavor Flav has his own reality TV which is about to start in Australia where he is looking for a wife/girlfriend and he was in Public Enemy ["one of the first political rap groups"] so we have to watch it”. Predictably I then object vehemently and say I don’t want to watch what will be a waste of my time (and possibly IQ points). Then he starts watching it, I whine through the first through episodes. And then inexplicably I am completely suckered in. And kind of co-dependent with him. And then I start initiating viewing reminding Chip that “isn’t Flavour of Love on tonight? It’s set to series link isn’t it? Are we watching Flave and Punkin tonight?”
The other week (after I started this post) I even discovered that my work Christmas party this year boasts a reality TV theme. This is going to be the first such party I have attended since 1996, because, unlike other years where I have had zero inspiration for costumes, this year presents an abundance of opportunities. I could get hair extensions and locate and then badger a 6ft 10in African-American man to accompany me and go as Khloe Kardashian from Khloe and Lamar.
How Quesera envisages herself for the 2011 Christmas party. Except that Ruby likes dogs
Or I could keep eating bacon and egg muffins and go as Ruby.
Chip has even suggested that my ideal career is a reality TV creative consultant as I seem to be able to foreshadow those twists in reality TV that now seem mandatory to lure us back in for another season of watching the same “real” people who are just variations on a theme.
I mean how many teams of blonde sisters or twins or cheerleaders or models or actresses has The Amazing Race had? I would suggest there has been one team that meets at least one of those criteria at least once every season since series 4. Some seasons I think there has been a team which meet all of the criteria above.
When I first started this post I was going to put in a list of all the reality TV shows I watch on a regular basis with great enthusiasm, but then it just started to resemble the Wikipedia list on reality TV and really I struggle to see why anybody would even bother reading that list. Not that there is a Quesera paywall or anything, but really you’re paying with your time, and I would like you to come back so so I just didn’t want to do that. After all, what all these shows about is a journey. And a Wikipedia list just doesn’t do that for me.
So instead of describing the siren song of Tommy Lee Goes to College or Ocean’s Deadliest Catch or how BBQ Pitmasters or Celebrity Apprentice or My Fair Brady or (refer to Wikipedia list) have toyed with my affections, this is instead a much abbreviated list of my favourite reality TV shows. Describing my own journey – to that prevailing 21st century destination – not into darkness but unbridled ignorance.
Patisserie shop assistant, and alleged 2011 "Geek", Bendeguz
First up Beauty and The Geek, primarily because we’ve just finished this season’s first makeovers. The Australian version of this show has, shock twist, a male beauty and female geek for the first time. Both of which I foreshadowed some time before it happened (in either Australia or the US). I am just hanging out for the next makeover episode, because last year there were 2 bona fide hot guys revealed once they ceased to be so hirsute and got rid of those 70s brown framed glasses and matching tweed suits. I have finally concluded though that they must be dressed from a wardrobe department because there is simply not enough tweed in this world to kit out 3 dozen geeks. This year it is particularly compelling because of one of the Geeks, who is called something like Bendeguz. Bendeguz has one of those moustaches which twirls all the way up to his eye level and consequently results in him looking like he is a circus ringmaster. Possibly an indicator of geekiness but then again it could also just be garden variety insanity. Anyway the thing about Bendeguz is that Chip insists that he works in a local patisserie which kind of intrigues me because HE IS ON THE SHOW BECAUSE HE IS A GEEK PROFESSIONAL HISTORIAN. NOT A SHOP ASSISTANT. So what the fuck is he doing at the patisserie? Anyway, I like this show in particular because I can answer both the Beauty AND Geek questions during the elimination round. Surprisingly, this does nothing to assuage my conviction that I am now down in the 60s IQ range. Or worse.
If I had chosen this photo myself, I could not have so completely captured the essential smugness that defines Dr Drew
Next there is Celebrity Rehab and Sober House – these are 2 separate shows but as they both feature Dr Drew Pinsky, I am combining them because he is kind of annoying (and Chip is severely limiting word length). These are shows where E list (not E! Channel) “celebrities” attempt to overcome their addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex – no gambling – not yet – next season will it feature the Pokers Lounge at Panthers Leagues Club?). Anyway, the vomiting and detoxing and breakdowns are all graphically documented with Dr Drew’s smug omniscient narrations. Mostly I have never seen any of these people before Chip demands we watch the shoes. I mean never. But nonetheless I am completely sucked in: ”What happened to Amber Smith? Is her mother really co-dependent? Was she really an escort? Is she transgender? Chip have you set it to series link yet? CHIP?”
Then of course there is MasterChef Australia – last season this show “united” us as a family and we made a 5 nights a week commitment to watch it. By the end of the season I was completely exhausted by the tension and challenges. And I was just lying on the sofa watching it. It’s not even like it inspired me to make anything. Other than perhaps coffee on a weekend if Chip refuses to do so. But after I put the kibosh on Chip auditioning for it last year, he wouldn’t watch it at all this year – except to loudly express his displeasure at the stupidity of the whole season. So it’s lost its gloss somewhat.
Mrs Harbord upon discovering the destruction of her latest floral arrangement with Mrs Shrager - immediately prior to one of the Ladettes taking to her with a pair of seccaturs
This is possibly the one I am most reluctant to confess to – Ladette to Lady. We (I?) have sat through multiple seasons of this show – in its UK, Australian and US incarnations. Just what the magic of this show is that has seen me waste probably 60 hours (excluding the reunion shows, when you can see just how far the “ladies” have fallen back into their previous crack and exotic dancing ways – mostly a lot) I really just cannot fathom. It can’t just be for the sake of mere mockery. Because every season I have cried at the “graduation” ceremonies. This is the ceremony when the final 3, who have miraculously managed to avoid vomiting into Mrs Harbord’s floral arrangements during one of the mandatory floral arrangement “classes” and who have likewise resisted striking Mrs Shrager (which in some instances may be justifiable), float down a grand staircase, in white debutante dresses, the tattoos cleverly camouflaged by a professional camouflage artiste and the most unladylike piercings not quite visible. And then one of them is pronounced a “lady”. There is something about this show that gets me. Even Donald Trump buying the US version and oddly installing a former Miss Universe who had had her fair share of ladette moments (cocaine perhaps? Or is that too high-brow for a true ladette?) as the “host” did not dim its appeal. And yet I still remain unclear just quite what that appeal is. Perhaps I could pitch that as a premise to my own reality TV self-discovery journey?
And of course Wife Swap (US and UK). I just love when they “swap” and the wives get to overturn the juntas (of the other wife’s husband’s rules) under which they’ve been chafing for a week and instead decide that, no, the children will no longer be beaten with that tool known as a “whacker” conveniently hung behind each child’s door and, yes, the husband must cease the unnatural relations with the barn animals.
They’ve yet to do a series in Australia but Chip and I have discussed applying for it. I am just not sure we would make good TV, quality or otherwise, if we were accepted. The only rule I can think Chip that would come up with for his swapped wife? No rules. Just permission to watch the only reality TV shows I really won’t countenance: World Cyber Games: Ultimate Gamer. Yes, it’s a reality TV show about people, well, people playing video games. I live that reality every night of my life. Why the fuck would I want to watch it on TV as well? It is like a play within a play when it’s on, especially if Fred Ex is simultaneously playing games on the computer. In addition, Chip would make the swapped wife watch America’s and Australia’s Next Top Model, Ice Pilots, Flying Wild Alaska and Jersey Shore. These ones are where I draw the line. Even those of us in minus Mensa have to have some standards.
About 5 years ago, Fred Ex, his cousin and I were invited to a children’s birthday party at Fred Ex’s grandparents’ house.
Fred Ex’s grandparents are rich and kind of snobby and they had decided to throw this birthday party and invite their kind of rich Sydney upper north shore friends. And because Fred Ex’s grandparents are European they have interesting groups of people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds which given I am of about 15th generation Antipodean convict stock, I always found really fascinating.
But the assembled party goers at this BBQ were quite unlike any of the multi-lingual, sophisticated Opera-going set that is usual for Fred Ex’s grandparents’ events.
The minute I walked in the door I sensed that this was a different crowd. The proliferation of tatts and piercings, on both male and female guests, was the first signs that this BBQ was going to have a different feel. And they were, and I don’t know how to put this politely, fatter than most groups I usually encounter. But I sensed that this was a bit of a volatile situation and it would just be churlish or at least snobbish to do anything other than just go with it and attempt to blend in. Which was kind of hard given that I was fully dressed. In the sense that my muffin top stomach was neither bared nor pierced. And my clothes were largely intact. I hesitate to describe these outfits as, in any sense, edgy street style - you know when there are designer rips in a pair of $400 sass + bide jeans. But they were pretty much up to date, the latest Bogan-style-flesh-revealing outfits that can be purchased. Or stolen.
Kat Von D - Chip has confessed he finds her "pretty"
My first default posture in these situations where I know nobody is notsort of remain silent and hope to go unnoticed. There was never any chance of that happening at this BBQ. So instead, I started to ask people questions, because people just love to talk about themselves, don’t they and, really, what did I have to lose?
So when I overheard a woman whining in a very screechy voice that she had been working night shift, I thought this was an excellent opportunity to kick off some conversation, and I politely inquired: “oh are you a nurse?” Whereupon she reeled around and said: “no, I’m a screw at a ladies’ prison”. Which frankly I thought would afford a very interesting tete e tete, given that I had studied criminology at law school and visited prisons and even corresponded with a poor woman for some time (battered woman syndrome, eventually released – not through any efforts on my inept part).
But just as I was about to start serving myself some lunch in preparation for further polite small talk, a man, (whom I subsequently learned was “Uncle Phil”) dressed in the prevailing party-going fashion, turned and shouted at the guests, many of whom were small children: “C’mon youse lot, lunch is served and it’s FUCKIN’ FREE”. And to say it appeared like people were rushing the UN grain helicopters is harsh. To the poor refugees who are in fact starving and whose helicopter rushing is perfectly understandable. (I stress there were children everywhere during all conversations I describe. Including Fred Ex. I think if I had had my Project Compassion swear-box there I could have made a fortune. Assuming I weren’t robbed of it.)
Prisoner - Cell Bock H - see "Top Dog" Bea Smith at left
After the commotion had died down, I made my way to a BBQ table and positioned myself next to the “screw” whom I shall call Taylah because I really can’t remember her name but it seems entirely plausible that that was her name or at least a close approximation. “So Taylah”, I began, “what is it like working in a women’s prison? Is it like Prisoner?”*
She looked at me like I was completely moronic. “No”, she barked back, “because they are all fuckin’ BITCHES. Criminal BITCHES”. Despite this most unpromising start, I continued: “don’t you think that sometimes circumstances conspire and these women just find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time?” “No” she snarled. “They are all fuckin’ guilty and they all fight among theirselves and I just let those bitches go at it”. Me: “you don’t stop them?” Taylah looking at me like I was like one of those fucking bitches: “no, why should I? Let ‘em fuckin’ hurt theirselves”. I then started on about rehabilitation and how prison could do more than punish people, that it could take steps to …. “NO” – at which she put her hand up as though to swot me away and screamed “they are BORN that way and there’s fuckin’ nothing nobody can do about ‘em”.
Sensing this conversation wasn’t going very far, I then decided that celebrity prisoners might yield a more measured response, you know those women who kill their children or allegedly abusive family members. “Do you know Belinda Van Krevel? Do you think she was telling the truth about her father or was it for the inheritance? What about Kathleen Folbigg? Do you know her? Isn’t it terrible what she did to those 4 children”.
And she paused eating for a minute and narrowed her eyes suspiciously: “you seem to know a lot about them bitches. How come? Do you read the news?” What – did she imagine that I am one of those people who take an unnatural interest in convicted felons and correspond with them in a sort of romantic way? Yes, I said, I read “the news”.
Meanwhile, Uncle Phil, who was now seated on the other side of me, and who, it seemed was related to Taylah, shovelled the last remnants of the jelly salad in and cleared his throat. “You know, when I got done, I said to the judge, I said: ‘your honour, I don’t know what I done but me mate said I fuckin’ done it, so I must’ve fuckin’ done it’”.
Naturally, I thought he must be referring to a drink driving charge and really I just couldn’t believe all this was taking place in front of a dozen or so children so I just blurted out: “oh were you caught drunk driving?” And he laughed condescendingly, as though it was going to be something far less serious and said “no, assault with a fuckin’ deadly weapon”. And slapped his leg as he recounted the story as though “hey, wasn’t that a great anecdote to tell at a children’s birthday party”.
At this point I sensed the conversation was flagging. I was really very interested to hear how Taylah’s philosophy of “them bitches being born way” applied to Uncle Phil, but it seemed too dangerous to ask Taylah if she thought Uncle Phil had been born that way. They all appeared vaguely related in that sort of trailer way (I would say “Arkansas way” but Chip’s sister lives in Arkansas and she may be offended) and given the numbers of tattoos and piercings I concluded that their pain threshold was probably a lot higher than mine. I knew I stood no chance in the event of a fracas.
While these discussions were happening, friends of Fred Ex’s grandparents were beginning to look really quite uneasy. They too were rich AND posh. I think, like me, they had no real knowledge of the guest list and may have elected to decline if they had been fully across the attendees ahead of time. One of them (let’s call her Penny) started raising her beautifully manicured eyebrows expressively at me and said, sort of sotto voce, but not sotto enough for my liking, “oh Quesera’s a lawyer aren’t you” and I think at that point I kicked her under the table and gave equally expressive eyebrows back to say “you let these crazy fuckers near me to get free legal advice and Uncle Phil won’t be the only one done for assault with a deadly weapon”.
By this point though I could begin to feel a rising sense of panic and was trying to look at my watch furtively to see when it would be polite to leave.
POLITE TO LEAVE??? WTF? There appeared to be few social niceties observed among these people and I was worried about leaving early?
I then fell into my other default position when I don’t know people. And that is server mode. The questioning had elicited all manner of information which frankly I had no desire to hear so I started to move around the crowd and serve coffees. Plus this gave me the added bonus of an opportunity to slip off, undetected. But as I was doing so, I noticed one very young mother, and I mean very young, possibly late teens, with a baby who was about 3 months old. Which to me is pretty much a newborn. The ones who are exclusively breast or bottle fed, with Farax some months away. Not this mother. She was attempting to feed it a red jelly baby (a Starburst baby).
I am sure Babylove has something to say about when the right time to introduce this food group is
I started back and said rather primly: “I think that baby’s a little too young for jelly babies isn’t it?” To which she replied “no, we gave Cassidee them things when she was about Jayden’s age and she’s just foine”. And indeed, Cassidee did appear fine – she was swimming in the pool – fine apart from the fact that another of the guests was hitting her on the head with a pool noodle saying “why are you such a BITCH?”. Which, given Cassidee appeared no more than three, seemed rather uncalled for.
It did lead me to wonder, however – were all those bitches in Taylah’s prison also beaten about the head with a pool noodle and called “bitch” and thus nominative determinism had come to pass?
But Uncle Phil was hollering for “more fuckin’ coffee” so I had little time to ponder this for as long as frankly I think it deserved and instead I made my way quickly over to him where there was some issue with teaspoons. Or lack thereof. I poured Uncle Phil’s coffee and he stirred his sugar in and naturally sucked the spoon. And then Penny remarked that she was missing a teaspoon – and sort of looked to me hopefully – when Uncle Phil lurched across her and started stirring her coffee. With his sucked spoon. Which of course was the only polite thing to do. If you were in lockup following assault with a fuckin’ deadly weapon. Penny looked ashen.
But really I couldn’t be distracted by Penny’s distaste for her social situation – one of the children (not Fred Ex, but possibly a birthday child) had picked up a cricket bat** and after being taunted by an adult for having a girlfriend (this child was about 6 ) – and with this cricket bat took one giant swipe at the taunter’s head and said “you are FUCKIN’ FAT”. Which may have been the case, but really. So my immediate efforts were not to Penny’s spoon “issue” but rather to to disarm the child. Or at least keep the cricket bat away from Uncle Phil.
Having averted a near riot I made my way to the kitchen ostensibly to call Elder Sister so that I could fake her response that she needed Fred Ex’s cousin home pronto and happened to pass one of the adult males saying to a group of other adult males apropos his estranged 50 something wife “youse should have a go with her, she’s a real goer and you can’t get her pregnant”.
How. Can. I. Get. THE HELL away from this, this parallel universe the existence of which I had only glimpsed on the evening news, without running foul of Taylah and her family? I dragged Fred Ex and his cousin out of the pool and we made our way to leave, our good-byes barely heard.
Halfway across the garden, I heard Taylah shriek at me “hey YOU, you know WHAT?”, and I froze. ”If you are THAT interested in them cases”, she continued and I thought I was going to be subjected to more tales of retributive prison justice, and what them bitches really deserved, ”you can read them at www.lawlink.nsw.edu.au” and then she repeated the website address very slowly and deliberately so that I wouldn’t mess it up and, you know, find myself at nbc.com/law-and-order-special-victims-unit.
Which on balance I thought was really very sweet. And quite possibly redemptive
* Prisoner is also known as Cell-Block H – depending on which jurisdiction you are in.
** Chip has refused to put an image of a cricket back in, as I asked nicely for – he says that non-Australians will know it is like a baseball bat, but still, Chip, I think you are straying into the creative lane, here.
As I think the Power of Prayer clearly indicates, I came from a Catholic family and, in retrospect, I think it was really quite ABNORMALLY Catholic.
At first it was just your run-of-the-mill baptism, first holy communion, confession (strangely (for a period) re-named “reconciliation” – what was this about? Reconciling one’s self to one’s sinful conduct? Reconciling with the Baby Jesus? I am still not sure) and confirmation. As I was driving Fred Ex to vacation camp today I was waiting at a set of traffic lights adjacent to a Catholic Church and learnt that reconciliation is now known as the “Sacrament of Penance”. The Catholic Church, is ever the re-branding shape-shifting chameleon, perhaps because it believes it has to embrace a few new gimmicky sacraments to guilt the sinners back into weekly mass attendance.
Regular confession presented an issue to me as a child. At the age of 7, really, what the fuck did I have to confess? Lying? Stealing? Swearing? Propagating anti-Catholic sentiment at school? None of the above. (I comprehensively made up for the not swearing as an adult) Because I was a smug-faced little crawler, who, after mass each week, would ask my mother to adjudicate on who had been best behaved during mass. And it was invariably me (which was strangely rewarded by being allowed to sit unrestrained in the front seat, which is probably where you would be seated these days if your parents were looking for a less suspicious way to kill you). The truth was that I was way way too frightened of committing a mortal sin and being sent straight to hell.
This naturally led to my practice of actually making stuff up to tell the priest so I wouldn’t be wasting the priest’s time (with all the guilt that followed from that). It was also like killing 2 birds with one stone, as fabricating transgressions then gave me the sin of lying to confess to the following month. I think this early childhood habit has manifestly shaped my adulthood. Anytime I do something that is even slightly less than 100% morally defensible I am wracked by guilt and spend a huge amount of time effectively substituting Chip as a confessor figure. As a fundamentalist atheist, he H-A-T-E-S it.
In addition to my anxiety about finding sins that I could confess to – not too serious that they were mortal sins, and hence fast-tracked to hell, not so minor that I couldn’t be given a suitable penance – I was also frightened by the prospect of non-Catholics. What we would call “Christians”. I don’t believe I ever really self-identified as a Christian. I was a Catholic and that was quite different to being a Christian.
I started to attend Brownies, but sometimes it was a trial. There were virtually no Catholic children and I fretted it was a fertile recruiting ground for Christians. I remember, at about age 5, innocently asking one of my mother’s friends if she were a Catholic. She looked at me as though I were mad. Of course she was a Catholic. What did I think she was? CALATHUMPIAN? Something I didn’t understand but it did not sound at all reassuring and merely confirmed my view that there were Catholics. And others. In fact, the first non-Catholics I knowingly met were Jewish boys in my teenage years – which comforted me, because Jesus was originally a Jew before he established Catholicism. And therefore, by logical implication I thought, Jews were closest to Catholics.
Almost immediately before we moved in with our grandparents, the Colonel decided to take us on a road trip to South Australia. I had a sense of foreboding about the trip. The Colonel was an Anglican, and although this fact was troubling to me, there wasn’t anything I could realistically do about it. I could hardly encourage my mother to re-marry a Catholic because plainly that would lead her to be excommunicated she informed me, when I really pushed it. Apart from my concern at the extended period without a Catholic adult, our holiday destination, the township of Goolwa, only had one church. It was shared between the Catholics and the Anglicans and thus moonlighted as an Anglican church every other fortnight. I was beside myself and had a complete meltdown. (Something more to confess? This temper tantrum would surely fall into my target sin range.) I was quite literally having a panic attack at the age of 8 because I was not going to mass but instead a service at a schizophrenic Christian church. The Colonel was hardly a patient and benevolent figure at the best of times, but this fuckery was something that would seriously piss off even the most reasonable of fathers. Particularly given he is Anglican himself. How my grandmother Patience consented to that I do not know.
But then following my parents’ SECOND parting of the ways we moved in (with our mother) with our grandparents and things took a less normal turn (if possible) than merely being concerned to ensure that I had something to tell the priest each month and working to ensure my circle was populated almost exclusively by Catholics.
First there was May*. “May is the month of Mary” Patience would announce at the start of May each year. And every night in May, as a family, Patience, my mother and The Sisters and I would have to say a decade of the rosary accompanied by the ancillary prayers which come with that. The Our Father, the Glory Be, the Hail Holy Queen and the many others which I have mis-remembered and now are barely pigeon cant-prayers. But which are in nightly use now that my OCD has taken on an alarming prayer-focussed character.
There were scapulas involved with Patience (I never got mine – why, Patience, why? ) as well as memorising the 3 mysteries of the rosary. The Glorious, the Sorrowful and the Joyful. Each night would be a different mystery and it would alternate, just to mix the praying up. I don’t know, perhaps some bored Vatican cleric thought that it was the spiritual equivalent akin to swinging? Anyway, whatever the motivation, there are now four mysteries of the rosary, I discovered when I was googling for an image for this post, with a newbie mystery – the Luminous. As all of our Mary May months were post Vatican II I can’t blame the new Luminous mystery on some Vatican II pronouncement imposing a new mystery. Perhaps Patience had simply forgotten about it – she was in her 70s after all at the time. Or perhaps it was her way of passively aggressively rebelling against the “reform” agenda of Vatican II. But what I do remember about those May nights is that the Sorrowful mystery was a particularly doleful affair as we had to been even more repentant than usual. Which was a hell of a fucking lot.
THE Charlie's Angels poster which adorned Quesera's bedroom wall. Note Sabrina is the only Angel with a "modest" neckline - Patience approved of her. The other Angels, not so much.
Then, perhaps inspired by the May festival of nightly rosaries, I decided to establish my own altar in the bedroom I shared with my Middle Sister. In retrospect my unilateral decision seems rather unsympathetic to her. She was 3 and a half years older than me – and of course was ashamed and embarrassed by what she regarded as an immense irritant. Me. On the brink of her adolescence, I had decided to devote the wall under the only window in our room, to my own shrine. She didn’t see it this way, claiming, I believed unreasonably at the time, that it undermined her careful cultivation of credibility by blu-tacking James Dean and Marilyn Monroe to our bedroom walls. Not to mention the Charlie’s Angel poster.
But given that I believed I was merely doing God’s will, I ignored her protests and self-righteously claimed that as I had God on my side, what was the problem? Piously, I would think to myself: I am really doing this for her as well. Can’t she see I am working for both our souls? I pitied her. I believe I smugly told her as much. And I comforted myself by imagining that she was going straight to hell where she would no doubt be joining the God-less James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Magnanimously I would pray for her. Which she objected to: “mum, she is praying loudly again REALLY LOUDLY and I can’t get to sleep”, she would shout nightly, a touch belligerently if you had asked me.
Patience naturally sided with me.
That little brown-nose exercise was going along very well, until Patience happened by once and caught me genuflecting at my little altar.
And why wouldn’t I? After all, I was immensely proud of it, despite my Sister’s opposition – with its statue of the Infant of Prague, plastic images of particularly revered saints, holy cards and sometimes when I was really sucking up, little bunches of flowers. I even had a little bottle which Patience insisted had, sometime in the 1950s, held the miraculous healing water of Lourdes. Sadly it contained virtually no water in the 1970s. (WTF? How could that water be considered miraculous if it evaporated like normal water?) but it was still accorded all due respect as the Vessel Previously Known to Have Held Holy Lourdes Water.
All of this, apart from the flowers, and the Lourdes bottle was acquired at the merchandise stall up the back of the Holy Family of Somewhere Hot and Swarthy Church which I would hasten to immediately after every mass in the hope of picking up a new artifact.
Infant of Prague - Quesera's dear little holy Santa baby
But it was the Infant of Prague statue that I treasured most. With his little red cape and faux gold tinselly-like crown, he was like a tiny little Santa baby. My dear little holy Santa baby. He even had a little tray under him for loose coins. For my out-of-Lent Project Compassion collection, I reasoned. I loved him immensely. Which infant he was or how the Baby Jesus ended up in Prague has never been explained to me. And an Anglican ex boyfriend wasn’t about to let me find out the only time I have been to Prague – denouncing my lapsed Catholicism and the false idols that accompanied it.
But Patience’s reaction when she saw me genuflect was hardly what I had expected or craved. She shrieked that my zealous actions were blasphemous and unsurprisingly demanded an extra decade of the rosary that night. There was, after all, no tabernacle in my bedroom which seems to be a condition precedent to genuflecting. Which seemed kind of over the top, even for me – where was I going to get one of those? Theft was clearly out and I had never seen one for sale at the merchandise stand up the back of the church. I was bewildered with this response. What else what I was suppose to do to demonstrate my Catholic commitment?
The Bible was of no earthly use because the (now) bizarre thing about being brought up a Catholic is that you never really do any Bible studies. To this day Mariska, who was raised as a Methodist, is startled my complete ignorance of even the most basic elements of the Bible. She shakes her head whenever anything Bible-based is raised and I object that, no, that can’t possibly be? Didn’t Jesus go to Egypt for a census and then get arrested as a false profit while tearing down a temple sheet? Weren’t Cain and Abel distant cousins of Jesus?
But while I lacked some basic elements of Biblical lore, I “knew” all sorts of “facts” about saints. For example, St Bernadette was the patron saint of tuberculosis of the knees. (True. I believed this until well into adolescence.) As well as about probably the most important teachings the Catholic Church has to offer. Those that relate to sex . And we small Catholic children were drilled that it was the natural order of things that priests could neither be married nor women and of course there was to be no premarital sex and no divorce. Which left me fearing for my own mother’s divorced soul, even though I secretly wanted her to re-marry a Catholic father. Because of course this is all decreed somewhere in the Bible.
There were also complicated Catholic rules which came into play at certain times of the year. The one which I still shudder when I recall centres on the Palm Sunday Gospel. This is the longest Gospel in the whole year, at about 20 minutes, even longer if Father Farrer was in a bad mood. From the time I was old enough to remember going to mass, we were exhorted that if we stood still, absolutely still, during this Gospel, a soul would be liberated from purgatory and would make it to heaven.
By the end of most Palm Sunday masses I was a mess, solemnly believing I had consigned some poor sucker to another year in purgatory because I could not stop myself wriggling or jiggling. Patient’s incessant pinching didn’t help either. And to make matters worse, we were encouraged ahead of time to pick the person we were trying to liberate. So consigning that person to eternal damnation (or at least until the next Palm Sunday) was personalised. And of course there was the Project Compassion rules each Lent with the deprivation and frightening starving faces that involved.
Finally, contemporaneous with all of this, I became fixated with having A Calling. As I saw it, this would happen if God found me to be exceptionally devout and “deserving” of joining a convent. That is, foregoing a life and instead becoming an indentured slave to a monstrous parish priest.
I simultaneously wanted and feared A Calling. On the one hand, it would mean that God found me a particularly deserving and good child, worthy of devoting my life to God. On the other, it would mean wearing a nun’s habit (at that time, 70s brown was the favoured hue), a veil covering my then lustrous dark hair and, naturally, no boys. And quite possibly a not insignificant black moustache, like Sister Regina. I was seriously torn. If God wanted me, did I have any choice in the matter? What did my own happiness have to do with it? But then again, there was something strangely enticing about being selected. It would make me special and could lead to me one day being immortalised as a dear little plastic statue on some demented Catholic child’s personal altar, if I were canonised.
Coupled with this fear of The Calling, every move at home was policed with the constant threat of: you can’t do that, Father Farrar might come over and see up your skirt. (Yes I know, in retrospect this was probably the sole motive of the visits of most priests.) Don’t sit like that it’s immodest. Father Farrar might see up your skirt. Of course, Father Farrar never came and Patience led us to believe, and I think believed herself, that we were Catholic pariahs.
The only person who didn’t regard Father Farrar’s absences as a grave blow was Grandpa who was more than happy that Father Farrar wasn’t blowing in, interrupting the Saturday afternoon horse races. He also no doubt considered himself fortunate that few of Patience’s exhortations to stop sitting immodestly, Father Farrer might see up your skirt were directed at him. But like all lapsed Catholics, he of course repented on his death-bed and permitted Patience to have the last rites read to him. Probably just to stop the rosaries which were on a consent loop through all 3 mysteries.
But I was still expected to attend weekly mass under the gaze of Patience. But not so careful that she actually spotted me engaging in the vandalism of a pew (she would have been well into her 80s and no doubt had macular degeneration). I am not sure how it came about, but it had to do with me obtaining a pen from my mother (no doubt I lied (at least there would be something new for next month’s confession) and said it was for writing on the weekly offering envelope). Then tracing over the word F-U-C-K (correctly spelled, we were back from the low-rent Adelaide suburb, although I didn’t realise at the time that this was the correct spelling) which had been carved into a pew by a much naughtier child than me. Hey, I was just tracing. This kid had brought a weapon to mass to carve the f-word into the pew. My penance was a weekend at the church with boot polish (supervised by my mother) to try and remove all traces of my defacement. It didn’t work.
The likelihood of A Calling seemed remote. No amount of boot polish could erase the stain of that sin. At least I had something new (and true) to confess to Father Farrar.
* I still subconsciously consider May to be the month of Mary which I think should comfort Chip and Fred Ex both of whom are May babies, but as Chip is a fundamentalist atheist it has the exact opposite effect.
(This post has quite a belligerent feel to it and I have had trouble writing it because as I wrote it, the more and more resentful I became about Chip. Most other posts have been straightforward and self-mocking. But this one – not so much. Plus Chip read it and was upset because I think because he believes this post to be accusatory. Especially because we had a huge fight the night I came to my realisation – so maybe he has a point…. Sorry Chip)
When I first moved in with Chip about 7 years ago I had just been diagnosed with an illness the fad treatment of which involved a diet that required me to have less than 20g of fat every day, in return for which, I don’t know I would feel better and my symptoms would diminish or something. I was understandably concerned about what I considered to be an inhumane limitation of daily fat intake as, at the time, I calculated I was eating approximately 110g per day, and as I was only 52kgs I figured that if I adopted the Gulag diet I would get even thinner, which I had no real desire to do.
So I pretty much ignored the diet directive and went on about my normal business of consuming a bacon, egg and mushroom muffin for breakfast, chicken schnitzel sandwich for lunch and pizza for dinner. Practically every day. And that doesn’t even factor in the alcohol. In fact, I think if you added all of that up it would be much much MORE than 110g of fat per day.
quesera wishes ...
Then I read that the diet was bogus, with absolutely no scientific basis, so I immediately called Pizza Hut and I actually began to eat even more poorly if that is at all possible.
Still I hovered around Australian size 8-10 (US size 4-6 – but on one internet conversion chart I was smaller but whatever – it’s not like I am that size anymore). At that time, I actually struggled to keep weight on and had to sleep with a pillow wedged between my knees because they were so bony. At the time I said to colleagues (in jest – ha) that my years of rubbish food would come back to haunt me in my 40s when I would be one of those people who need to be removed from their houses by a crane once they have wedged themselves into the toilet so tightly they are unable to extricate themselves without the assistance of heavy machinery.
And then I moved in with Chip.
The other morning I was getting ready for work and, as usual, I was listening to the radio and heard a story of a woman who was attempting to put on additional weight to “achieve” her desired weight of, I don’t know, 200kgs because that was what her husband/partner/boyfriend wanted her to achieve. From what I could tell, the man was a Feeder.
Hot feeder action
These men exist, I know, because David Sedaris confessed that at one point he was paid to write fake letters to a magazine devoted to this special interest. I have never seen a Feeder magazine but I have no reason to doubt their existence. But from my cursory search on the internet to find a nice Feeder magazine graphic to include with this post, I have discovered that there is a entire genre of PORN devoted to the fetish. In fact it would seem that Feeder publications are ONLY PORN.
Personally, really fattening someone up when the eater is allegedly deriving some happiness from it doesn’t seem quite as bad to me as starving them and locking them in a basement. But the (American) National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance has said that Feederism is in fact as bad as coercing people to lose weight – but to me coercing someone not to eat and starving them aren’t quite the same sin. So personally I don’t have such a poor opinion of Feeders as the NAAFA. Particularly since I now think Chip is one. And plus, and I am sure this is heretical to NAAFA members, but isn’t Feederism just kind of the enabling component of the whole Advancing Fat Acceptance anyway?
I didn’t really think much more about Feeders until last Saturday as I was angrily trying to squeeze myself into a dress which was almost impossible, even with Oprah approved spandex. The thing is, I last wore this dress back in April. And it seemed just fine. It has been, for the past few years, as my weight has moved steadily up, my stand-by dress, which I generally have no reality-based concerns that I won’t fit into. Most often they are just crazy paranoid fears.
Kim Kardashian in a beautiful, blue trash bag
This is the dress I wear when, if I try on something else, I am confronted by the site of myself akin to what Paris Hilton described, in relation to Kim Kardashian, as: “gross. Like cottage cheese fighting to get out of a trash bag”. Or words to that effect. And so I am generally comforted by this basic block LBD which has previously done a fine job of camouflaging my cottage cheese.
But on Saturday it dawned on me – Chip is a Feeder. I am beginning to believe he may be one of those men who encourages their partners to eat.
I asked Chip to find me a picture of Nicole Richie. This is what he came back with.
As I stood appalled in front of the mirror at my reflection and surveyed my newly bulging body parts, I resentfully pondered my changed shape. And compared it to when I first moved in with Chip about 7 years ago. At that time, I was skinny in a way that I liked. But Chip never liked it. He would always say “sweetheart, you are beginning to look like Nicole Richie. Why don’t we order another pizza?” ”Nicole Richie” is Chip’s code way of saying you look repulsive.
Dr Wikipedia describes feederism thus: “Feederism describes sexual relationships where both members obtain gratification from the gaining of body fat. Feederism refers to the acts of feeding, encouraging eating, or being served large quantities of food.”
But the issue is: I have obtained no such sexual gratification from my weight gain.
In the time we have been together, I estimate that I have gained approximately 20kgs. Which is roughly 44 pounds. For someone who is 5ft 4in that is a HUGE amount of weight. And it is not like I have big boobs, even when I am fat, so it is clear that unlike Kim, I can’t just wear a dress that shows nothing but my huge boobs, and draw everyone’s gaze away from the cottage cheese which now accounts for approximately 90% of my body. I am now an Australian size 12 on a rare good day – but on most other days, when I am not delusional, I am a 14.
Given my diet was so appalling before Chip and I moved in together, perhaps I was just eating less crap, whereas now Chip encourages me to eat more of it – go on sweetheart, just a little bit more. That combined with the man size portions he serves and I dutifully eat (“go on, you look like Nicole Richie” – translated into my head as “you are physically repulsive to me unless you can consume as much food as me, a 6ft 2in man”) is what I think has tipped me over into a 20kg weight gain.
20kgs is equivalent to what a regular woman puts on AT THE VERY UPPER END OF THE WEIGHT GAIN DURING PREGNANCY. But I don’t even have a baby to show for it. All I have is cellulite in places that the ads for cellulite cream never ever zero in on (calves, for example) and burgeoning ill-will towards Chip – as it seems that the only logical explanation for my BBW* size is due to him being a Feeder. So now I don’t just have to have work done on my face. But any dispassionate assessment would confirm that I should be looking much further afield. To everything below my boobs. And even my upper arms could do with some work.
Crazy Jackie and I went to visit her designer at her suite at the Hilton a few months ago when the designer was in Sydney (I don’t think I need to say it, but Crazy Jackie is the only person I know with her own designer – and Crazy Jackie on her own buys more than some of the designer’s own boutiques in Melbourne). And while Crazy Jackie twirled about in a whole range of virtual sample sizes, modelling every fucking thing in the collection, I just sat there drinking the comped Moet, sulking, but really trying not to. Why should I resent Crazy Jackie just because her husband is not a Feeder. And it finally dawned on me that the only thing I could shoehorn my Feedee shape into was a sort of shear long sleeved evening wear wrap thing (almost one size fits all) which defies description, but is really very pretty. It not only provides a bit of colour to the cottage cheese hiding LBD. But it also has the most welcome quality of hiding my cellulite-laden arms. I am contemplating wearing it to work as the temperature soars and I need to abandon my daily work uniform of black only purdah-like couture, because of the heat. Plus I really REALLY need the camouflage over my upper arms.
Anyway, apart from the inevitable coronary heart failure or at least type 2 diabetes which awaits those of us who are in relationships with Feeders, it also seems to me that our choice in men is likely to be quite severely limited – pretty much in inverse proportion to our weight gain. Because, really, how many Feeders are out there? And how many Feedee women appear attractive in sweat pants only. Which is the only thing I can wear on a weekend which don’t dig into me and create not just intense pain, but also an unsightly angry horizontal gash across my midriff – which is of course visible because I can’t get my jeans up over my now pregnant-like belly area. For fuck’s sake I even have “sleeping” underwear which are the cast off, years old undies which have no elastic and hence do not interfere with sleep.
And I am not convinced Chip loves BBW per se. As he is not entirely disinterested in the uni student nannies in bikinis, I am pretty sure this is a strategy not to make me more attractive to him but less attractive all other men. Well, any men except other Feeders.
But Cat emailed me to say she had heard I had confided to Mariska, after the dress incident, that I believe Chip to be a Feeder. And she referred me to some famous actress who claims that since she has become morbidly obese, men, handsome men in the manner of Antonio Banderas, have pursued her relentlessly. So I perhaps I am wrong and could look to trade up to Antonio Banderas if my weight gain continues unchecked. That opportunity is something to ponder. Perhaps Chip has bitten off more than he chew. But given he has fed me up, I doubt it is more than I could chew.
* Dr Wikipedia tells me that’s what I am – a Big Beautiful Woman