What you can learn from your neighbourhood psychopath…

A letter to my children…

People are like buffets.  You know how, when you come down for breakfast in a big hotel chain, they have a long table at the side with lots of nice things to eat on it – five different kinds of cereal, brown, white and pumpkin-seed toast, eggs poached and scrambled, Bircher Muesli, big swirly tubs of fruit juice and yogurt……you get the picture.  You never know what’s going to be on offer, but it’s usually fancier than what you get at home. Then maybe the next time you go shopping, you think, maybe I’ll branch out – try coconut yogurt on smashed mango instead of the old Weetbix and toast!

To put it another way, other people are like an open university.  You can study any subject you like, for free, and add it to your portfolio.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and also a cheap (and non-habit forming) way to become a more effective person.  For instance….

I grew up with not much idea about how to socialise with people.  My parents were Bircher Muesli (healthful, tasty, great values) – but I missed out on bacon and eggs.  So when I ventured out into the Great World, I had to study Basic People Skills.  The first subject I audited was called Elizabeth.  I was awed by her ability to talk for hours on end with barely any response required – whereas I was too shy to get out more than a couple of sentences.  I’ve got to learn how to run on like that, I said to myself – so I did.

For wit and charm, I got myself a plate of a woman called Sian (you notice the mixed metaphors? That’s on purpose.  Rules are there to be broken).  From Sian, I learned that charming people is all about making them feel that THEY are the sole focus of your attention, the most fascinating and delightful person you’ve met all week.  I did as well as can be expected, without plenty of application but not so much natural talent (and mendacity). I passed.

And so on, through life.  You meet someone, you think ‘I wish I was a bit more like that’, you take note of the essential points, and lo and behold – a little bit of THEM turns into a little bit of YOU.  I’m not trying to turn you into budding young psychopaths who see people as nothing more than useful (or not) to their evil plans. But –

There is wisdom even in psychopathy.  People are much, much more than tools for learning – or dishes to be ingested and digested.  But there’s nothing wrong with nibbling a little of her, a little of him, sampling a someone of every flavour.  Go on, indulge your inner cannibal, my beloved ones – you’ll be better for it.

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Forget the mouth, it’s all about the feet

To my children,

I don’t know about you but I’m a sucker for words.  I believe almost anything anyone tells me, especially if it’s nice.  For years I believed that those little windmill things you see in fields in the country were to keep the cows cool (nope, they’re for bore water).  Ok, I was only ten.

I believe – if a man says so – that I’m the most beautiful woman in the room, that he would walk a thousand miles just to spend an hour in my company, and that he is really sorry and will never do it again.  I also believe – if I say so myself – that I’ll write a thousand words a day, become well organised, and never lose my temper.

Words, words, words, as Hamlet said.  Sometimes I think it would be an advantage to be deaf and dyslexic – on the same principle as Odysseus tying himself up to the mast and sticking plugs in his ears when he sailed past the Sirens.  What I’ve learnt, is that it’s feet, not lips, that tell the real story.

Metaphorically, that is.  I’ve learned that it’s best to believe what people do, not what people say.  Say that man who said he’d walk a thousand miles for me – turned out he wouldn’t even go down the shops for a packet of panadol (‘what…walk?’).  Plenty of people will tell you they love you (because you’re beautiful and brilliant) but you can pick the ones who really do.  They’re the ones who make you dinner when you’re sick, and drive all night to rescue you from a highway breakdown, and make nice with your cat and your kid and your mother because they know how much YOU love them, even if they don’t.

The person you’ve got to watch the most is you.  You are always trying to bullshit yourself.  I tell myself I’m a writer – but whenever I get the chance, I don’t rush to the computer to write.  Instead, I potter.  So actually, I’m not a writer – I’m a potterer.  I tell myself that I’m going to start eating salad and fruit every day and going for long walks, just as soon as I move to the country – and whaddya know?  Here I am in the country and I STILL don’t like salad, fruit and long walks.

Some body language guru claimed you can tell if people at a party want to be stuck with you by looking at the direction their feet are pointed in.  If their feet are headed for the fridge but their face is pointed in your direction – pretty soon they’re going to come out with that age-old line ‘well, nice to have met you….I think I’ll get myself another drink’. Same goes for life.  We are what we do, not what we say.  You aren’t a lead guitarist stuck in the body of a truck driver.  You’re a truck driver.

Until you get up on that stage with your guitar, that is.

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Possessed by a demon? Don’t chuck him out, he may be useful!

To my children,

Back in the day, Socrates had a daemon – a sort of guardian spirit.  It didn’t keep him out of jail (actually I think it may have got him into it) but it did tell him what NOT to do.  Thusly,

…a voice is present with me, a certain agency of God, somewhat divine…Now this began with me from my childhood ; a certain voice, which always, when it comes, turns me aside from that which I am about to do, but never impels me to do anything.

So a sort of compass that tells you the direction you shouldn’t go in – and nothing else. Useful, huh?

I too have a daemon. I’m pretty sure it’s not divine – it’s probably all the neglected bits of my brain putting stuff together and going ‘hey, how about this for a theory!’ – but for what it’s worth, it’s worth listening to.

It tells me when something is NOT a good idea.  I always listen – and then I often ignore it, being the sort of person who does what they want anyway, so there!  When this ends in disaster – as it usually does – that’s how I know it was right.  It told me not to take up with Mr Cheating Bastard.  Sometimes, it stops me telling certain people things I shouldn’t – and that’s an achievement, because I normally tell everybody anything.  It tells me not to follow my friends over cliffs (or on motorbike rides, or to rave parties, or ‘who’s a chicken’ scenarios).  Sometimes, it’s a party pooper.

Still, I have learned over this half century that if I get a ‘feeling’ something’s not right, I shouldn’t discount it.  Ok, I might go ahead anyway – but I’m going to keep my eyes wide and the back door open behind me.  This may not end well.  When it doesn’t, I’ll be ready.

I bet you have this daemon too.  In fact, I think everyone does (except real idiots – I do know a few of those.  People who date serial killers and invest their life savings in pyramid schemes).  So when you hear that feeble tapping inside your brain, and a small voice calling out ‘Erm…excuse me, but I just wanted to give you a heads-up…if it’s alright with you?’ – don’t shut the door in her face and pretend you’re not home.  Pause for a minute and think.  Is this cowardice…or is this instinct?  Most of all – trust yourself.

Cowardice never killed anyone, but ignoring your instinct, well.  Of course, in Socrates’ case, it was his instinct and not cowardice that got him executed – but then, his daemon wasn’t bent on self-preservation, but on doing the Right Thing.  Now it’s getting far too complicated, so I will leave you with this thought.  Which would you rather be, good or dead?

love, mum


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Get rid of of that unsightly….embarrassment

To my children.

Kids, I used to be the Mistress of Embarrassment – as I don’t need to tell you.

Remember that time we were in the video store and you were being a pain and I said, keep that up and I’ll do something Really Embarrassing.  ‘Like what?’ you said. ‘Oh, like lying on the floor and kicking my legs up….or starting to talk really loudly about when you were babies and you -‘

Ok ok, you said, we’ll behave (or something like that).  Next week, I thought I’d try it again.

‘That’s ok, go right ahead,’ you said. ‘How about WE do something Really Embarrassing.’

‘That won’t be necessary.  I’m sure we can come to some arrangement,’ I said, ever the perfect parent.

And my point is?  At my stage in life, I’m relatively immune to embarrassment. Maybe because so many embarrassing things have happened to me – like the time I wet myself in a tube underpass in London (not the first person to have done that, by the olfactory ambience), or the time a boy presented me with an empty plastic glass at the Year 6 formal and I threw it at him in a fit of pique (it turned out to be full of lemonade). I was born embarrassing.

At some point you have a choice – avoid it, or embrace it.  I couldn’t seem to avoid it, so I embraced it.  So now I rarely think about whether a thing’s embarrassing.  If I want to do it, chances are I will – dance alone in public, wear red velvet to work, make my own CDs in my scratchy little singing voice, go swimming at the beach in my bra and pants.

The upside of this is FREEDOM.  I get to do a lot of things that more hung-up people don’t.  I don’t spend much time thinking about the things I’d do if only I had the chutzpah.  I kind of have the chutzpah (how DO you pronounce that?).

The downside is that sometimes, inhibitions are good.  Like brakes on a car.  Sometimes I say and do things I shouldn’t – as you know well.  You have to explain me away to your friends ‘yes, well, mum’s a bit unusual, but she means well’. I have to explain myself away to more tight-arsed – I mean normal – friends.  I wasn’t showing my tits off to your husband, I was just out in the rain in my tee shirt.  I didn’t mean to offend you by dancing on your coffee table.

So be free – but not too free.  You have to live with these prudes I mean people.  Even if you decide NOT to act appropriately – it’s still useful to know what appropriate is. You don’t want to be like the guy at the nursing home who’s forgotten it’s not ok to pee in the front garden, or the socially incompetent bloke who tries to score with the line ‘you’ve got a great ass, want to fuck tonight?’.

But you could take a tip from the eighty year old who dances up a storm on Senior’s Day at the Show in her dirndl skirt and lurid makeup.  Why the hell not – you’re only eighty once!

Love

Mum

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I have news for you. People change.

Dear children of mine,

I grew up in a nondescript suburb in Sydney, Oz, and left it as soon as I could for the exotic climes of our capital city (ha!).  But one day, I went back for a visit.  Wandering up the high street, I looked up to find a woman staring at me, all honey blonde curls and drifting perfume.

You’re Rose, aren’t you? says she.

Yep, says me, and you’re…..?

Lucy, says the woman, and I realise that this here is my best friend from about age 8 to 12 – a pretty little thing and the most swashbuckling thief I’ve ever known.  Course, I was a better liar.  Anyway.

You haven’t changed at all, says Lucy, bathing me in a fatuous smile.

I have news for you, Lucy.  I have changed.  I might look the same, roughly, but most of me – as they say about icebergs – is under the water.  What I’m trying to say, kidlets, is this.  Don’t let anyone tell you what you are and or are not.  Sure, they can have an opinion – it’s a free country – but you are a work of art always in the making.  You began as a masterpiece, and with every day you become.  Become what? Only the artist knows – and you’re the artist.

Somewhere inside me is that awkward kid, all pointy elbows and pugnacious attitude, who couldn’t make more than one friend at a time and whose understanding of life was mostly limited to The Three Musketeers and Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances.  But since then, I’ve learned to chat to anyone, speak in public, trust my instincts, clean up after myself (sometimes) and that babies don’t come out of your belly button.

Of course I’ve changed and so will you. Hope you don’t mind if I still call you ‘little one’ though.

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To my children: about Plan B

Sometimes, my darlings, you’re going to find yourself a sticky situation.  An unexpected turn of events.  A nasty surprise.

You’ve heard me say this before, I’m sure – way too many times – but over the years, I’ve learnt that there is only one way to insure yourself against Total Disaster.

Actually that’s not true.  There IS another way, but being the adventuresome, fearless progeny of mine that you are, I don’t think you’ll be interested.  Basically, it goes like this – if you don’t get in a car, you’ll never have a car accident.  Substitute ‘living’ for ‘driving’ and you’ll see what I mean.  Take no risks, pay no premium.

Anyway, I expect that you’ll charge into things much the way I did, hoping it’ll work out somehow.  I hitch-hiked around Europe, slept in parks, flew off to the US to visit a cocaine addict, ditched three secure jobs, a husband and countless boyfriends, moved country, moved to THE country.  I survived (sometimes, by the skin of my teeth, but still, here I am).  There was a lot of luck involved.  A LOT of luck.

Nowadays, I still leap in where angels run shrieking away – but always, always, with a Plan B.  Sometimes also C, D and E.  I ask myself ‘What’ll I do if this doesn’t work out?’ and ‘What’ll I do if the Worst actually does come to pass?’.  Say, I move to the country and can’t find a job, pay my mortgage or abide my chosen life partner?  I think about it, imagine the scenario – and make a plan.  No plan? No jump.

On the other hand, if the Worst does happen, there’s always – in my experience – a Save Me button.  As a person who regularly fucks up, I’ve used this often.  One of the reasons I left my last responsible job is that I don’t wanna be responsible – for another embarrassing cockup.  Like a wombat, you need three exits for every grand entrance. Now, when I get myself in a mess, I just pause for a sec and think – now let’s see.  What can be done about this?  There’s always something – even if it’s fronting up to the boss with ‘I’m really sorry, it was me.’  Last resort, obviously – but after all, they can only sack you.

It’s funny – I can’t play chess for the life of me, because I can’t see two moves ahead – but I have learned to play life.  I haven’t exactly won, but then I haven’t yet lost – and that’s the point of this unsolicited homily.  As the man said, life is what happens when you have other plans – so make sure you HAVE other plans – don’t let the bastards checkmate you, right?

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Dear child of mine

I’ve been reflecting on what makes all the effort I go to – learning things, collecting experiences, talking to people, thinking and thinking and thinking, as I do – worthwhile.

Kids never listen to what their parents tell them.  As the song says, it’s their life not yours. Sure, you’ve learned some lessons – but they’re lessons for YOU.  Our truths are not their truths.

And yet.  What’s the point of having 54 (and counting) years of experience under my belt if I have nothing worthwhile to say about it?  Isn’t there ANYTHING I can tell my kids about life, that will give them something of a leg-up in this game?

I think maybe there are a few things.  So here goes.  The First Thing.

I remember back when I got seriously riled up.  I got riled up about homosexuals (disgusting!), people who weren’t willing to die for their beliefs (cowards), religious people (criminally insane), and my parents (boring reactionary old farts with no idea how to live!).  I was a very intense 16 year old.

But add thirty plus years, and I sit on the fence a lot more than I used to.  On the one hand…and on the other hand…I may be wrong, they may be right.  Of course, like everyone, I still think I AM right – the difference is, now, I don’t KNOW I’m right.

That’s what comes of thirty years of trying to see things from other people’s point of view. Thirty years of listening. Thirty years of saying sorry, maybe I got it wrong.  Thirty years of coming to believe that the personal is always more important than the political – that decisions which are made for ‘the people’, ‘on principle’, ‘for the greater good’ and so on, ultimately rebound on A Person.  Maybe even you. Or your kid.  So think carefully before you come out with statements like ‘All Moslems should be deported’, and ‘This war is worth fighting.’  Yes you can remind me I said that, next time I mention that someone should blow up Barnaby Joyce.

Thirty years of having to about-face (did I really hate gay people?), finding myself doing the very thing I said was unthinkable years before (adultery, abortion), becoming close to people who live and think and believe so differently from me I pretty much need google translate to make small talk – taught me something.  I’m not always right.  In life, most things are not True or False.  People who do bad things are not always bad people.  Your opinions will change over time, and if they never do, you’ve learnt nothing from living.

So go easy with your opinions, my children.  Tread softly on the moral high ground.  Yeah, there are a few things worth getting riled about, and some principles worth having.  But don’t carve your rules – your Shoulds and Should Nots and Should Nevers –  in wet concrete and then stand in them.  Save your indignation for a few things that really matter (like when your burger’s not cooked properly) – don’t spread it around everywhere like shit in a vege garden.  The louder you talk, the harder it is to hear.  If you don’t change your mind about something at least once a week, you’re ossifying, and you don’t want to do that at your age, do you, my lovely ones.

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Turnips for breakfast

I’m about to move to Paradise.

You know how moving is.  Your house is full of boxes.  Every spare moment you’re thinking about your to-do list – hire the moving truck, get the carpets cleaned, disconnect the gas….

So you don’t get much time for keeping up with blog friends (or any kind of friend, really) – in fact, half the time you and your computer are having a long-distance relationship anyway.  It’s at the place you WERE staying for the time being while you’re at the OTHER place.  I’m talking about the last six months.  But –

Paradise is beckoning.  Here it is.

Burragate

As an urban chick who knows f-all about fencing, solar panels, fireweed, chickens and how to maintain virtually anything – I’m moving out to the country and going fully (well nearly) sustainable.  I mean, cooking your own bread over a fire, eating stuff you’ve grown in the vege patch, off-the-grid electricity, bathe in mountain-stream kind of sustainable.  And leaving my day job.  This is a what you might call a BIG move!

And of course, I’ll write.  Paradise has internet, luckily (solar-powered, satellite-facilitated) so as soon as I get myself hooked up to it, I will blog.  Well, hey, I’ll have precious little else to do except…fight the bush and lose.  New start, new blog – called Turnips for Breakfast.  Why? Cause that’s what I’ll probably be reduced to before I get the organic Weeties production line up and running.

Three weeks to go and then…pfff!   And by the way, PLEASE consider buying my friend Irena’s cookbook, Lifting the Lid off the Goulash – or sharing the link with your friends on Facebook.  She’s been the victim of elder abuse and could really do with both the moral support and the money (and it’s a great book!). Alternatively, I would love it if you could try making one of her recipes (see my previous post, I’ll be adding more recipes shortly) and send me a photo of it that I can post!

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Lifting the Lid off the Goulash

May I introduce the best traditional Hungarian cookbook EVER!

My 89 year old friend Irena has finally published her book of traditional Hungarian recipes Lifting the Lid off the Goulash– a heritage cook book representing almost a century of cooking experience.  The recipes are drawn from Irena’s early life watching her mum make home-made pasta, dumplings and market-fresh dishes back in Budapest – and from Irena’s post-war life cooking for her English husband and gazillions of new friends in Australia.

Despite rave reviews from everyone who’s tried her recipes, Irena’s never made any money out of this brilliant and lovingly written book – in fact, she’s literally given it away. She’s a warm and generous person, so much so that she now, in her later years, has very little money to call her own.  So I’d like to invite you to buy the book if you can – because Hungarian food has got to be THE best food in the world, because this book has got recipes for damn near everything – but to help Irena at last realise her lifelong dream of passing her mother’s and grandmother’s traditional recipes on to the world.

Here’s a recipe for vegetarian goulash, which as a vego I love!  If you make it – and like it l- let me know via the Facebook page for the book, at https://www.facebook.com/liftingthelidoffthegoulash/.  I’ll be adding more stuff there soon!

MOCK GOULASH

Hamis gulyás

2 tablespoon cooking oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika

400g soup vegetables cut to bite size

½ teaspoon caraway seed

¼ teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground

1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)

1 small tomato, skinned and chopped

½ medium capsicum, in one piece

¼ piece chilli pepper (optional)

½ kg potatoes, peeled and cubed

salt to taste

Nokedli (Hungarian dumplings) or soup noodles

 

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed 2 litre saucepan. Add the onion, stir, and simmer until the onion wilts. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the paprika, then add all the other ingredients except the potatoes.

Blend in well, then replace the pot on the heat and add ¼ cup of water. Simmer while covered to allow the vegetables to release their juices.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in four cups of salty water.

Check the vegetables and stir occasionally so that they don’t stick to the bottom.

When the vegetables are cooked down to the fat, but still firm, add the half-cooked potatoes, together with the water in which they are cooked, and boil until both potatoes and vegetables are done. Adjust the consistency by adding more water if needed.

At this stage you can add dumplings or soup noodles, and cook together until they are also done. Serve with rye bread.

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Best Friends in the Bath

Suppose you marry your best friend – and ask your soulmate to be the bridesmaid..

I was reading Chaotic Soul’s blog recently in which she celebrates her intense and sometimes stormy relationship with her soulmate – who just happens to be her BFF. It’s not a lesbian thing, it’s not about sex at all, it’s a meeting of, I don’t know, souls, for want of a better word.

Long ago I had a girlfriend.  We’ll call her Sian. She had charm, brilliance, beauty and a huge bum. Only the last saved her from my undying enmity (well, naturally – who likes to hang around with a girl who has everything you don’t!).

Sian liked men, motorcycles, Mensa and me.  I liked anything my conservative parents didn’t.  We fell into a certain obsession with each other – at least, that’s how it felt from my side.  We moved in together, sat in beanbags having immensely complicated conversations about the true meaning of life (which basically boiled down to ‘will the real genius in this room please stand up!’) and sometimes, we had baths together.

We would sit in the bath, little Rubinesque Sian and me, and talk about why we didn’t want to sleep together.  Basically, because neither of us were bisexual.  But we sort of felt we should be.  How could we be this close, our souls entwined, and not want to play with each other’s bits? I don’t know, but so it was.

The day came when it was clear I’d have to choose between Sian and my man.  One stood for security, solid middle-class values and babies.  The other lived on the wild side, and it was getting steadily wilder out there.  Marriage could be boring, but life with Sian – while intellectually stimulating and satisfyingly rebellious – was too far out of my comfort zone.

So I chose my man, and left my soulmate behind, no regrets.  I met Sian once, in some innocuous neutral situation, years later.

‘I don’t think about you often,’ she said, for some reason.

I think about her, though.  She’s one of the few people I’ve ever met who always understood what I was getting at, no matter how abstruse.  In her presence, I could strip down to my very heart.  I doubt she felt the same, but then Sian was a mirror, and showed only the room she happened to be in at the moment.  She had the knack of reflecting people back to themselves as they would wish to be seen.  I never worked out if there was a real Sian- or just an endless series of reflections in other people’s besotted eyes. I didn’t want to be a reflection of a reflection.

Do you have a soulmate?  How do you know when you’ve got one, as opposed to when you just both like shopping?

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