very allama-ing

Mum’s always been a worrier. As her children grew and the family circumstances changed so, too, did the list of cautions issued whenever one of us left the house.

Don’t break any arms, legs or teeth, mind you don’t step on any stonefish, look out for blue-ringed octopus, never turn your back on a goat, watch out for the creature of the black lagoon (code for be careful driving around the reservoir) and – the favourite for visiting terrorist hotspots like London – don’t stand next to rubbish bins at railway stations.

Since mum’s stroke she doesn’t worry so much.

And, let’s face it, she had pretty much covered all the bases. Or so I thought, until a recent visit to a famed foodie hotspot where, it turns out, she’d been terribly remiss about what to do when confronted with an alpaca … on your plate.

Now, it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with alpacas per se. We regularly babysit two of them when the neighbours go on holidays.

Feeding Siegfried and Roy was one of the last special moments I shared with mum before her collapse.
Perhaps it was that instinctive thing some animals have with sick people, but they’d paid her particular heed, whiffling gently through her hair with their soft muzzles.

They’d communed and she’d been so enchanted she talked of little else for days.

Photographs of the pair became part of her rehabilitation as she struggled to make new pathways through fried synapses, raising a lopsided smile at the sight of them.

What would mum say to tempura alpaca tenderloin?

Never eat anything with eyelashes longer than your own.


the suitcase rocks

One of my favourite belongings is not in fact mine, but a piece of luggage some how lost in life’s transit and bought in a central Victorian second-hand shop for $50.

There is nothing prepossessing about the small, vinyl covered suitcase. It’s a sort of unpleasant tan with a checked interior that wouldn’t look out of place in an Eastern European bus terminal prior to the wall coming down.

As an object it’s unlovely. All the charm lies in the contents … upwards of 4000 postcards seemingly from every country on the globe.

Most of them are impenetrable being written in Dutch or German and addressed to a Professor Jean-Jacques Dozy and Dr Margot Dozy-Schroeter at Pompstationsweg 21, The Hague, Netherlands.

The earliest dates from 1947, the latest in 1989. Some are in French and there’s a precious handful in English from which I deduced not much more than Dozy’s and their acquaintances had a preoccupation with rocks.

“Carved stone is plenty and mostly is granite, we’ve never see so much slate in new buildings,” wrote Mair and James from Dournenez in France in 1978.

Barry dropped them a line from Alaska in the early 80s advising “here to investigate a report of eruption of Mt Sanford. Turned out to be a rockslide with 3km vertical drop, a heated slide mass at base and meteorological phenomena producing a plume that looks like an authentic eruption.”

Okay, so its hardly explosive stuff.

But, it transpires that Jean-Jacques Dozy was a famous Dutch geologist credited with identifying Ertsberg (Ore Mountain) in West Papua in 1936 which later became site of the largest gold mine and third largest copper mine in the world.

He died, aged 96, in the Hague in 2004.

How his treasured brown suitcase wound up here is another mystery. Some might think I’ve rocks in the head, but to this fool it’s gold.

no skirting the truth

For the past three years, since her stroke, all my mother has wanted for Christmas is a pure wool black box-pleat skirt.

You see, mum’s occupying another decade, a time when she could walk unaided and stand up tall.

It’s a year when you wouldn’t dream of going without stockings, skirts fell below the knee, hems were perfectly even all the way round and the stitches invisible.

We haven’t quite figured exactly how much younger than her 86 years she believes herself to be.

But it’s clearly not the same age as her nursing home contemporaries who she refers to with fond, but detached indulgence.

How were the Christmas carols mum? “Pretty grim,” says she, “but it was nice for the old dears.”

That first year I went to Fletcher Jones looking for her heart’s desire, the saleslady laughed, though not unkindly. “Oh my, we stopped making those years ago,” she said. Too old-fashioned perhaps?

“There was that, but mainly we just couldn’t afford to keep making them the way we used to … But, you could try an op shop.”

In almost every one of the hundred-plus op shop visits in the intervening years, I’ve discovered the marvel of engineering that was the Fletcher Jones skirt – though, sadly, not the right size or colour.

Pure wool, with creases as sharp as the day they came out of the factory in Warrnambool, they have outlived many of the women for whom they were made to measure.

There’s no skirting the truth. Hanging alongside them, the mass-manufactured garments of latter years are rags by comparison.

Mum’s peculiar self-chosen timeline starts to make sense – quality belongs to another era.

mooning around

My brother-in-law recently expressed interest in buying some real estate.

He has in mind some acreage by the sea, which is hardly original except this is an ocean with no water

The plot in question in on the north-west “shore” of the Sea of Tranquillity – described as “a premiere lunar location” by Earth’s leading lunar real estate agency.

The moon has once again become a hot destination: strategically as a launching pad for further space exploration and economically for its reserves of helium 3 for use in fusion reactors which some believe will solve the world’s energy problems.

The notion of strip-mining the moon will not only upset environmentalists, but devastate romantics.
La Bella Luna not only dictates the rhythms of our lives, but gently illuminates walks hand-in-hand along the sand. Who hasn’t longed to catch a moonbeam?

Sadly the world’s first moonbeam collector – a five-storey high multi-mirror marvel built in Arizona – has closed indefinitely.

It seems no one was buying inventor Richard Chapin’s idea that his $2.3 million Interstellar Light Collector which can gather and focus the light of the moon with the “precision of a Swiss watch” might provide a cure for everything from depression to cancer.

But what if everyone was dancing in the moonlight? Would it be so bad?

Given the choice between mining the moon for nuclear power and bathing in its light to investigate possible medical benefits, I know which I’d prefer.

There is a Chinese proverb that when a finger points to the moon only an imbecile looks at the finger.


Getting information out of people can sometimes be a bit like extracting teeth. So it was with some trepidation I headed off this week to the dentist – I can’t tell you his name – and asked him to open his mouth.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. “I have more fillings than I have teeth,” he admitted. “I have had teeth extracted, capped, crowned, root canal therapy. Pretty much anything I do to my patients I have had done myself, so I have a certain empathy.”

He still vividly recalls his own first terrifying visit to the dentist at age five. “I was taken to this building, led upstairs where this man dressed from head to toe in white picked me up, put me in a chair, shoved a mask on my face and the next thing I remember was waking up with a mouth full of blood.”

He was the last of the generation of Australians with really bad teeth. By the time he entered the profession himself, flossing, fluoride and improvements in diet had done wonders for our dental health.

Right up until the mid ’90s things continued to improve and at Australia’s dental health peak the average 12-year-old had just one decayed, missing or filled permanent tooth. But now the incidence of dental decay among children is dramatically on the rise.

It seems the children who grew up with “tough teeth” thanks to Mrs Marsh and her liquid and chalk demonstrations in the ’70s and ’80s are neglecting their own children’s teeth. Children are brushing less regularly, not visiting the dentist as often and consuming more sugary drinks than water.

It seems astonishing that advanced dental decay, an entirely preventable condition, is now the main reason for hospitalisation of children under 14.

Perhaps more dentists over 55 should be opening their mouths.

bring back bruce

When the conversation recently strayed to the dangerous subject of baby names, I knew I should have get my mouth shut.

A friend’s daughter is heavily pregnant, and armed with the ultrasonic evidence she is carrying a boy, has been trying to find a name to fit for months.

She is certain she wants her son’s first name to begin with ‘B’ so it resonates with the family name.

The short list includes Bali, Bayleigh, Bejay, Bijan, Bracy, Braydon and – barf with bells on – Brockley.

Looking at the associated meaning it all becomes too much. To think the son of a third generation wheat farmer risks being named after a blinking badger meadow.

“What about Bruce,” I blurt out breathlessly.

“I can’t believe you would even suggest that,” the bountiful one says clasping her hands to the imagined ears of the burgeoning bump.

Once upon a time the name Bruce was considered as Australian as beer, B&S balls, blowies, barbies and billabongs.

And, perhaps that’s what did for Bruce.

He became a cliché that could not be saved by the combined efforts of Bruce Lee, Bruce Springsteen and Bruce Willis, much less Bruce McAvaney, Bruce Baird … even with the backing of the whole suburb of Canberra.

The very last Bruce to take a mark for the AFL was Bruce Doull, the Carlton defender known as “The Flying Doormat” who played his last match in the early ’80s.

It seems since then there has been nary a Bruce born.

Bring Bruce back, I say, but let’s be really “creative” and make her a girl.