Hairy House

Hairy House

Thursday, 30 October 2014

A little Spookiness for Halloween!

I swore to myself that I wouldn't do any writing until we had moved out of this house, as I can't afford to get obsessive about anything at the moment. However, I've been sick this week, so on Wednesday I was very evil and took time out to attend to my withdrawal symptoms and write a story for Lydia, so here goes.

All Hallows

It was the sort of night that usually had people huddling indoors in front of the fire. A blustery ice-wind had shredded the clouds so that only pale entrails of moonlight filtered down to the dark streets and leaves rattled along the pavements like skeleton's feet.
But tonight wasn't just any night – it was a night for excitement, for celebration, orange lights twinkling from the branches of trees, silk cobwebs floating across gateways and, from up and down the street came giggles, shrieks, a moaning and a groaning, the running of feet.
A group of children came down the pathway from number eight, black polyester cloaks streaming out behind them, pointed hats askew, bouncing with excitement, comparing their bags of goodies. Pete knew each of them by name, he had watched them so often before.
Jim, the redhead from the next street; quiet, shy, played the trombone and sang in a choir.
Raj – the handsome one of the group, the one the girls all liked, with his shiny black slicked hair and jaunty shoulders, loping legs.
Then there was Kiera, who he had seen crying in her bedroom too many times to count, while her parents fought downstairs. But she was alright now, safe behind her shiny armour of make-up and too-high-heels and wide bright smile. The others didn't know about her parent's fights. He knew secret things about them all.
Mandy, Ed's younger sister. Ed was too old for trick or treating now, in spite of the fact that he had been a babe in arms when Pete was a teenager.
Then there was quiet Jane, the book one – the one who came out of her house with her nose buried in a book every morning, walked to the bus stop reading, stood and waited for the bus without looking up. How many times had he wanted to pat her on the shoulder - “Look, I know this village is pretty quiet, but you do get reckless drivers sometimes you know. It's not as safe as it looks, you should watch out.”
And lastly, Gary, Jane's younger brother, dressed as a gangster, because he was always desperate to be the tough guy.
He licked his lips, swallowed. It had taken him a long time to pluck up the courage for this, years of loneliness - but surely they would see him - tonight of all nights? This was his night, after all. He ran a hand through his hair, stepped forward. “Hi.”
None of them looked up. He swallowed again, clenching his fists. If only they would just look up, surely they would see him? “Hi.” He said it so loudly this time it was almost a shout and this time they did hear – they all paused, looked round. And yes, they had seen him as well, they were all looking at him and he saw the expressions race across their faces in quick succession - surprise, disgust, fear - admiration.
“Yeah?” Gary said. Loud, like the Lad he wished he was.
“Hi. I'm Pete.”
“Yeah? So?”
Jane was frowning at Gary, waggling her eyebrows at him to be nice. Pete swallowed again, flexed his tight fingers. “I just wondered if I could come round with you?”
There was an exchange of glances, shrugging. “Why not?” Mandy said at last and he felt the relief surge through him as big as a tidal wave and his face broke out into a big beam. “Thanks.”
She smiled, but he saw that she turned and raised an eyebrow at Keira, who shrugged back. Oh well, so they thought he was weird - he didn't care. Not really. Not much, anyway. They had said yes, that was all that mattered. He could join them - be one of them - for the night.
They were moving off again, the boys too impatient - “No, not number 14, they're always stingy. Gave me an apple once.'” - and he followed along, tagging behind.
“Number 16 is a good one to stop at!” And then they were run-walking and he could feel the energy and excitement emanating from their bodies like warmth and he found himself smiling and trotting along beside Jane. Mandy was a little to one side and behind, Keira walking with her. He had been absorbed into their group as easily as that.
“I'm Jane,” Jane said and he nodded. “Yes. I know.”
She frowned, looking at him sideways, under her eyelashes. “Cool costume,” she said and he opened his mouth to speak but remembered in time not to tell her. They were moving up the path to number 16 and the door flew open and there was Mr Evans giving a booming, fake scream: “Ahh! What a frightening group of people! Linda! The zombies have arrived! We're under attack!” And Gary and Raj groaned and even Mandy said: “Oh F*** off, how old do you think we are?” under her breath. But they all reached out and dipped their hands into the bowl of Mars Bars that he was holding out. Mr Evans looked round at the group and his eyes rested on Pete and he held out the bowl to him just as though he were a normal kid. “Hi, not sure I recognise you under all that paint. Who are you?” he said.
“Right, Pete.” Mr Evans frowned for a moment but then shook the thought away and grinned. “Well, have some chocolate Pete. Great look you've got there.”
And then they were off again in a rush, off to the house next door, and then the next one and the next one and they walked close together in the cold night, jostling each other, giggling, pushing and shoving. Drunk with sugar, Keira tripped and fell sideways, landing heavily against Pete, her warm arm and shoulder hard against his own and he felt a smile heat his stomach.
“Hey, I've got loads of liquorice and I can't stand the stuff! Anyone want mine?”
“Swap you for some sour worms?”
“What about these mint things? They taste like cardboard and stick your teeth together.”
“Hey Pete, don't you want yours?”
He shook his head. “Not really. You can have them if you like.”
“What's the point of trick or treating if you don't eat sweets?”
He shrugged. “Well, it's just for fun, isn't it?”
Jane stared at him and then smiled. “Yes, of course it is.”
Her eyes, behind the thick black vampire eye-liner were warm and he grinned back at her. The wind had died down and the clouds had parted to show the moon, full and round and yellow as a pumpkin and his heart sang. The years of waiting for this moment didn't matter any more. Even the fact that he would have to wait again, for another year, didn't matter, right now. It was his night tonight.

“Hey, Jane, do you remember Pete?”
A worm of memory stirred in the back of her brain and she frowned, but the worm flopped back to sleep again. Gary was pale as he sat down in the seat opposite her and beer slopped out of his glass as he placed it on the mat.
“No, sorry, I don't. Who's Pete? You okay Gaz? What's this all about?”
“Pete. The boy at Halloween.” He was breathing heavily and cracking his knuckles, running his fingers through his hair.
Halloween. Pete. The worm was wriggling now and the memories started to flood back – with an odd sense of guilt. Pete... Oh yes!
He had shown up one Halloween and asked if he could join their gang, but there had been something odd about him – nobody knew who he was and he had not eaten any of his sweets and... and the sense of loneliness had been so strong, it was as though it came off him in waves. At the end of the evening, he had drifted off to wherever he lived and they had hardly thought about him until the following year, when he turned up again – dressed in the same costume – a ragged T shirt and jeans with blood all down his face and arms.
Then the next year, he'd been waiting at the gate again when Raj came to pick her up to take her to the school Halloween Ball. Same costume again. He'd beamed at her, his whole face lighting up with excitement.
“Oh,” she'd said. “It's you. I'm afraid we're not going trick or treating this year.”
She hadn't expected the look of devastation that flooded his face and it had made her feel slightly sick, but Raj had laughed.
“We're getting a bit old for all that crap,” he'd said. “Aren't you?” And then he'd laughed again. “No, I guess not. You're still a kid, aren't you? What happened? Not taken your growth hormones?”
That had been the end of her and Raj. She hated it when he talked to other people like that, but by the time they had finished yelling at each other and he had stormed off, Pete had gone and she hadn't seen him again. Hadn't thought about him again, till now.
Now she looked across the pub table at her brother, who was cracking his knuckles and staring into his beer. There was a thin film of sweat over his skin, in spite of the cold. He had sounded really upset on the phone earlier – so upset that she'd jumped into the car and raced over to the pub to meet him as quickly as she could. Much quicker than she should have done, as it had turned out. “I remember now. What about him Gary?”
He wouldn't meet her eye for a moment, drank half way down his beer glass, but then he looked up. “Went round to Mum and Dad's earlier this evening to drop something off and there was a whole lot of kids out trick or treating.”
“Yes?” She pulled her coat tighter around her. It was cold tonight. Colder than it should be, surely?
“Well I saw this boy and – look, I know you won't believe me, but I could have sworn it was the same boy – Pete - only he still only looked about thirteen.”
“Do you remember how he always dressed the same – like he'd been in some awful accident, or something?”
Jane nodded. “Mmm.”
“You don't believe me, do you? I mean, I know it must have been someone else, but he looked exactly the same. He had that same – that same weird dent on his head as though it had been stove in -”
Jane shook her head. “Don't,” she said. She closed her eyes and the squealing of brakes came back to her, a crunching bang, then agonising pain in her side, quickly gone as it had come followed by cold, beckoning darkness. No. Not tonight. Not yet. She snapped her eyes open again, drawing herself back to the crowded room, the people chatting, calling out to each other, the sticky scent of warm beer, of woodsmoke and damp cloth; the sharp thud of pool balls, a singer, whining in the background about lost love.
Gary was sighing and rubbing a hand over his eyes. “I guess I must be going crazy, but you know, he looked at me and said hi and – well, he seemed to know me. I- I'm sure it was Pete, you know. The same boy, who used to come round with us.”
Jane nodded, a certainty creeping up on her that she knew she could do nothing about.
“You think I'm crazy?”
She shook her head, reached across the table and squeezed his hand. So warm compared to hers. She would miss him. “No, I don't think you're crazy. After all it's All Hallows, isn't it?”
“Well, it's the Night of the Dead. The night the dead can walk abroad. It's our night.”

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Grand Plans?

A few weeks ago, I had a Grand Plan and asked the kids to make a list of all the things they wanted to do/places they wanted to visit, before we left Brisbane. I was determined that we would not spend the remainder of our time here running around like headless chickens and being totally stressed.
So yesterday we made a trip to Underwater World at Mooloolaba for the last time. This meant that Saturday was spent in a screaming rush, trying to do all the things we wouldn't have time to do on Sunday, but we managed most of them. Sort of. Ish.
“We'll leave at 8am,” Rupert said and I gave him an irritatingly patronising smile but did not say anything.
We made it into the car by 9:30, by which time most of us were not talking to each other, but thank heaven for iPods and books. Got to Mooloolaba at 11ish, found a park by 11:30, arrived at the doors of the aquarium to be met by bright eyed teenager with camera: “Just stand here and I'll take your photo as a souvenir of your trip.” Looked back at family – at the jutting of jaws, the wild hair, the arms folded over chests. “Um, no thank you,” I replied. “I'm really not sure I want a reminder of how we look this morning.”
By lunchtime we had all calmed down, united by our mutual fascination of sea life, seal and otter cuteness overload and hunger, so we repaired to our favourite restaurant – actually it's not our favourite restaurant, we just like our traditions and we have been going to the Hog's Breath on our trips to Mooloolaba since Juliette was 2 days old and I had to sit on a pile of towels because the benches were too hard for me...
Then repaired to the beach, though it was freezing cold with a biting wind. The girls and Rupert braved the water for ten minutes and Sam and I sat and talked about his plans for world domination before we returned to car, to sit in traffic for three hours to get home.
Okay, we had a lovely day – really we did. The aquarium was fascinating as ever, filling us with the requisite wonder and awe at the beauty and variety of nature. The beach was stunning – miles of white sand, rolling waves bedecked with bright windsurf sails like butterfly wings, sandy children running around in the fresh air with kites and balls, being children in a way that you only tend to see at the beach. There was even a good ten minutes in the car on the way back when the kids weren't all fighting and we sang a couple of songs together. (A few more minutes of gritting teeth whilst Lydia regaled us with “Let it Go,” the world's worst fart song, but we won't mention that, because, of all of us, she is the least grumpy.)
But sometimes I wonder whether my Grand Plan is worth it. I am already wishing that we could give up everything in favour of concentrating on LEAVING. There are so many little itty bitty things to do – arrangements to make re purchase of new house and sale of old house, arrangements to be made for the hand over of String quartet and pupils; packing, cleaning - and of course life doesn't stop just because we are leaving. There is still housework to be done, shopping, pupils to be taught, animals to feed and water and walk; there are still ballet concerts and school concerts and choir concerts, school awards evenings, ballet classes and choir classes and school! Juliette's school trip to Emu Gully, Lydia's school trip to Canberra, I seem to have rehearsals or gigs or concerts most nights or weekends and the kids are wound up so tight that there are frequent explosions – though how much of this is due to normal teenage hormones and how much to the fact that we are taking them away from their home, friends and most of their animals, it is hard to tell. Rupert can't go to sleep at night without doing the Times crossword till 1am, whereas I, of course, am calm and placid as usual, only bursting into tears several day at the first bars of a song on the radio or the odd hysterical outburst from said teenagers.
But it will ALL be worth it in the end. Won't it?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Garage Sale - Bignall Style

This was the plan:

Get the children to organise big garage sale, appealing to their mercenary instincts in the hopes that they would overcome any sadness at the thought of having to give away well loved but no longer needed items which will not fit into a house a quarter of the size of our present abode. Crowds of people would come thronging to our gate, all throwing money at us.

This is how said plan actually eventuated.

I spent a couple of weeks frantically sorting through various cupboards and shelves, making piles of stuff for the family to trip over, throughout the house, with NO HELP from kids. Kids were much too busy reading, having dramas, playing computer games, doing the odd tiny bit of homework. Day before garage sale, we have ballet, I have wedding in Manly, barbecue with friends in evening, but two children actually start to pull their weight and by some monumental effort we manage to get garage almost clean and most of our household moved into it, plus three batches of fudge cooked.
Morning of garage sale, wake at 4am (“People will be turning up from 6am, you must be prepared!”) and then at 4:05 am, and then at 4:10 am, etc, till eventually drag my carcass out of bed at 5:30, shower and go downstairs to finish sorting goods, pricing them.
7:30 am, the valiant and wonderful Leslie turns up with a bag of croissants, has to push her way through the hordes, i.e. Guinny, the cats, chickens and us.
8:30 am Layla turns up. Things are really hotting up now. We have a customer!!We all hang around in the garage, drinking tea, catching up on gossip, Layla (bless her heart) buys some camping gear and assorted sundries.
9:30 am. Is that another customer? No, it is Ash and Warwick and little baby James, come for a cuppa and moral support.
9:45 another car door slams, the excitement builds... and here's Beth, come to see how a garage sale works....
More tea and coffee, croissants all round, we have now moved to the sitting room where we indulge in baby gazing, reminiscing, looking at photos of the house. I receive some text messages from Kory and Julia, bidding on items remotely.
10:45, John, Leslie's husband arrives.
11:00 Sam's friend Tom arrives with little brother and mum Katrina, more tea and we all sit in the sitting room and play word games.
Everybody departs at 12ish and my cousin Meg, plus kids, arrives, followed by Helen, with son Jack, and the afternoon is spent in the pool, the kids trying to drown each other etc etc. adults getting soaked in the process. End of Garage Sale.
Well, we didn't make enough money to pay for that violin case and our garage is still stuffed to the gills! But we covered the fudge expenses, (I think!) And, more importantly, we had a lovely Sunday hanging out with beautiful friends. Thanks to them all xxxx

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Rat on Top of the Cupcake

Last weekend saw my last performance with the Queensland Pops Orchestra.
Though the last year has seen many changes, I have to say that, for the previous seven years or so, playing with Pops was one of the highlights of my musical life. And while the music that Pops plays is not, perhaps, the most challenging, mentally or physically, or the most musically fulfilling, it is usually a great deal of fun!
Over the last seven years, we have worked with some truly wonderful musicians – The King's Singers and Burt Bacharach were particularly lovely to work with from a musical point of view. And then there were others who I would put in the “interesting” category, like Michael Bolton – until you have sat on stage whilst he attempted to sing opera, reading phonetic French from the Autocue, while 5000 salivating Gold Coast matrons screamed and threw their knickers at him – you haven't LIVED. (Actually, I'm exaggerating about the knicker throwing - at $1000 a Gucci gusset, I don't think those Gold Coast ladies would risk throwing their knickers at anyone - but you could see they wanted to..)
Some of my favourite memories are of the Brisbane seasons of Australian Opera's My Fair Lady and The Pirates of Penzance; building Pit Camaraderie and flu germs; ogling Richard E Grant and Anthony Warlow/aka Johnny Depp/aka Captain Jack Sparrow, sharing books and many jokes.
Then there were all the Lord Mayor's Christmas carol concerts at the City Botanic Gardens – playing amidst thunderstorms and heat waves, trying to protect one's violin from the elements, whilst tigers and Guy Sebastian danced behind us; trying desperately to keep from giggling, with television cameras zooming in on one's face (The Lord – creator of the Universe, the stars and the planets, atoms and bacteria, creator of oceans and volcanoes, of forests and rivers, disease and war, love and death – looked down and saw that his people had decided to honour him by dressing up as giant velour Clown Fish and galumphing round the stage, “Thank you Jesus!”)
With the Pops orchestra I have played with many well-known singers I had never heard of before – Glenn Frey (The Eagles, I think?), Troy Cassar-Daley, Katie Miller-Heidke, Sarah Blasko – and enjoyed most of their music. Or some of it at any rate. Possibly. If you see what I mean.
And then there have been some I had definitely heard of before – Tim Minchin, Eric Idle – it is not generally known that we here in Brisbane gave the World Premiere of Not the Messiah - and jolly good it was too!!
The list of memories goes on: Cirque de la Symphonie - trying to play Wagner with young, virile, tighted men dangling over our heads, playing for Tony Abbot and Campbell Newman ...yes, well, the money was good....
The annual concert series, The Best of Britishes, the Celts concerts, with the wonderful Irish and Scottish dancing, the Country music concerts – they have all been great fun.
But one of the things that has made all these concerts so special, of course, has been the people, the wonderful friends I have made along the way. The dinners between shows, the curries and Hot Chocolates and lots of wine. It wasn't until I started playing for Pops and found that musicians in Australia are as mad and quixotic, as beautiful and fragile and friendly as they are the world over, that I began to feel at home here in Brisbane. The last year, as I said, has been a difficult one, but I will miss my pops family, Katie, Donna, Chris, Anna, Geraldine, Jenny, Jenny V, Celine, Inga, Paula,Ken and Tam, Natasha, Jane, even Kylie who I only met during the last concert. Hope you all have a wonderful time with the New Pops, and, drink a glass of red wine, occasionally, for me! (yes, I realise I'm asking a lot, but just think of it as a sacrifice to old friends.)

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

A Series of Lasts

We have now got to the point where our life has become a Series of Last Things. 
I've had my last pupil's concert, probably had my last soiree. The kids have had their last school holiday and this weekend we had our last Aussie camping trip with my cousin Meg, her husband Chris and their three kidlets.
I am ashamed to say, that after nearly fifteen years here, we have not managed to master the true Aussie art of camping; I don't think we're really cut out for it. For instance, I have heard that other people play a car game: "I went on holiday and I packed my .....". You probably know it - the idea is that you go round the circle and each person adds something to the list and has to remember what has come before. In our family, we play a game called "I went on holiday and I forgot to pack the .....etc etc." 
This holiday was the same as usual. We had to stop en route to buy groceries and the torches we had forgotten to pack, stop again to buy the groceries we forgot to buy. We arrived at the camping site, admirably prepared, or so I thought, with the tent, some food (mostly crisps, cereal and fruit) in a cool box, plates, cutlery and cups, a pan and a frying pan, a table and a camping stove. After all, what more could you possibly need? But Meg and Chris, though they have been in Australia for less time, seem to have adapted better; they had the whole big gazebo strung with lights, the dining-room-table-living-room-suite-and-coffee-table thing going on, though that was nothing compared to most of the tents around us, which looked like soup kitchens for the elite. I always thought that the whole idea of camping was to "get away from it all," but apparently, no, the idea is to "take it all away with you."
Still, in every other way it was the typical and rather wonderful Aussie camping experience. King parrots fighting in the trees as we set up the tents, kookaburras waking us at dawn with their hysterical cackling, having to barricade the food away from the possums, (feeding them chilli sauce seemed to keep them away for one night - inadvertently, I hasten to add) ticks galore, getting bitten by green ants, nearly dying of hypothermia at night, though getting overheated and sweaty during the day. In other words, we had a wonderful time. The kids played endless games of cluedo, we adults drank rather a lot of wine, we feasted on barbecued steak and sausages, bacon and eggs. We sat around the camp fire and played games, sang songs, told stories, read a little, slept a little – a very little – swam in the creek, went walking in the Bush (though I was wearing flip flops, so whilst everyone else charged ahead, I had to do a sort of mincing, crab type walk al the way up Mount Barney and down again, which has left me almost unable to walk.) 
The were only two things that marred the experience. One was that the Big Hairy One was not with us, due to the fact that he was in Mexico at the time, so it didn't feel quite right, in spite of the fact that I knew that if he had been there he would have spent the whole time crouched smelling in his tent, complaining and grunting. 
The other thing was just the simple fact that I felt so sad that we wouldn't be doing this again, and not with Meg and Chris and their children who are so close to ours, though so much younger. How we will do without them all I just don't know.
It wasn't, thankfully, until we left the camp that I read the sheet of RULES we'd been given, which included “ABSOLUTELY NO noise after 9pm,” (whoops), “No unaccompanied children below the age of 15 allowed in the toilet block, (double whoops), no Bad Language, no Spitting, etc etc. For those non Aussies who might possibly be reading this, I would have to say that, in my experience, this is NOT what I would call a typical Aussie camping experience. More like a Nazi camp. Still, we had a lovely time and it is very strange to think that the next time we unpack our tent, we will likely be in the New Forest or Dorset – or by the side of the road, if our house sale doesn't go through.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

First Act of Betrayal

Not that I like to me dramatic or anything - anyone who reads my blog, will know that I am never dramatic - but I have just paid the deposit to transport two cats to England and I feel like Judas. I feel as though I have blood on my hands.
Because, you see, there is our third cat, my cat, my baby, who will be staying behind.
Simba is my three legged, 17 year old, depressed Tonkinese cat, who wakes me up several times a night for cuddles, to go outside, to come in again, to retch filthy smelling breath into my face, or just because he feels like it. He is the main reason I have been a zombified mess these last many years. He has cost us an arm and a leg in vets bills, what with tick bites, leg amputation, a magpie attack, cystitis and, now, renal failure that he should have died from two years ago. I have spent many, many hours nursing him, force feeding him, comforting him when his brother died, massaging him when he suffered from phantom pains, cleaning his blood and gunge from the floor and our bed. He poos in the bath, wees on our bathmat, pulls out his fur and leaves it all over the house. 
And, for some, unexplainable reason, I love him. I love his little grouchy brown face, his hop-a-long gait, his skinny, patch-haired body, his knobbly sharp spine.
However, the Gods, (otherwise known as Rupert and the vet) have declared that is is really not worth spending a fortune transporting a cat in his state to England - in fact, the flight alone could be the end of him. So I am farming him out, as though he were nothing but a pet that is no longer wanted. 
Why is it that we feel like this about animals? What biological/evolutionary trait, is it, that makes us humans love something which does not bring us any sort of advantage, that, in fact, cripples us with exhaustion and stress?
I am just hoping that he doesn't feel anything like as strongly for me, that he will forget me as soon as he gets his first piece of cheese from my friend Julia, his soon-to-be-new-Mum.