Wacko Jacko

Jackson was your typical bully.

He was full of attitude, fat and horrible. He was unpredictable, violent, and a Ranga to boot (a tell-tale sign).

But despite all of this, I loved that cat.

When I was in my mid-teens, Mum came into my bedroom one morning with a box. Dad had found something while he was getting the header ready for harvesting the wheat.

When I peeked inside, I saw three little kittens.

He stood out immediately. He had a luxurious, fluffy ginger coat. I picked him up and asked the obvious…

‘Mum, can we keep him? Pleeeease.’

Permission was granted, much to Mum’s regret later. My eldest brother Nige gave the other two kittens a home.

While my brother’s two kittens grew into lovely affectionate cats, Jackson did not. He was a nasty piece of work. Beauty is most definitely skin-deep. Jackson was a picture postcard for this saying.

The signs started early. One night I woke with fright in the middle of the night. At first I was confused as to why. There sat the kitten Jackson on my chest, intently and silently staring at me.

Another night I woke up in agony with his jaw clenched firmly onto the end of my nose.

You would innocently walk by the bed in your room and he would fly out from underneath it, headed straight for your ankles biting and scratching.

Mum spoke to the vet, he suggesting de-sexing him might have a calming effect.

It did not.

He just got fat. And fatter still.

There were times I’d be sitting on the couch and he’d stomp by, belly swinging from side to side underneath him. I’d call him, he’d pause and stare at me as if to say, ‘What are you looking at?!’

His attitude problem wasn’t just reserved for the humans in the family. Our beloved dog Digger was terrified of Jackson. It’s not often you get to see a cat beat up a dog. They’d meet nose-to-nose, Jackson would rear up, claws out and box Digger’s nose with left and right jabs until the dog retreated from the room yelping.

He was lazy too.

Ours was a large house, and Mum installed a cat-flap in the back door for all the assortment of pets to let themselves in and out. Except Jackson. Rather than walk around the house in the early hours, we would just sit outside Mum’s bedroom window and meow constantly, until she finally relented and got up to let him in the front door.

If he decided he was hungry, he’d go looking for Mum. If she was in bed he’d jump up, stomp from the foot of the bed up to Mum’s face and tap her cheek with his paw to wake her up.

My parents went away one weekend, and Jackson, finding Mum absent, continued through to my brother’s room to find someone to get up and feed him. He tapped his cheek a few times, but Gus pushed him away to try and go back to sleep. He tried again, unsuccessfully. Next thing Gus knew a ball of ginger was attached to his face biting and scratching in a frenzy. He got up and fed the cat.

Jackson never forgot his natural instincts. They just never came very naturally to him. I’d laugh as I’d watch him ‘hunting’ birds in the front garden. The fat tub of lard would lay low under a tree, eyeing off a group of twelve apostle birds, bum jiggling in the air in anticipation.

Jackson would take off with the speed of my grandpa getting out of a Smoky Dawson chair. By the time he got anywhere near them, the birds had already safely regrouped up in a tree. Then the tide would turn and the birds would start dive-bombing Jackson.

This is when he’d make a beeline for the house, birds swooping down on him, and I’d open the door for him to make a quick escape.

Mum loves a lap cat. One who purrs and lavishes you with their affection. Unfortunately for her, Jackson was the opposite.

Although, in his defence, he did used to follow Mum everywhere. If she was hanging out clothes, he’d be snoozing on the lawn under the clothesline. He’d sit on the arm of her chair if she was watching television, but never on her lap. And like I said earlier, if she was in bed, he’d try anything to get her attention. But he’d never allow anyone to cuddle him. Or if you did dare put your face anywhere near him, you had to risk the biting and scratching.

One day, Mum had had enough of Jackson’s indifference and constant lack of affection.

‘He’s a horrible cat. He’s just, he’s just a F%&! SH*^!!’

All of us almost fell of our chairs, a) Mum was swearing, b) It was a pretty accurate description, and c) Mum was swearing!

After that outburst, Jackson had a new nickname, and it stuck. He didn’t seem to mind, he seemed proud of it. It became normal. My friend Liz came over one day and we were hanging out in the kitchen. Mum left the room and an astonished Liz asked, “Did your Mum just call the cat F%&! SH*^?”

“Oh yeah,” I replied casually, not thinking twice about it, “he’s a real asshole!”

How can this cute little kitten turn into...

How did this cute little kitten turn into…

to this angry, fat tub of lard!

this angry, fat tub of lard!

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There’s a snake in my boot

Snakes are just par for the course growing up in rural Australia.

In dry weather and during droughts, sometimes you’d see a snake sipping out of the dogs’ water bowl in the backyard. A few times, the cat even dragged a baby snake inside, proudly showing it off like he would a mouse.

Mum had a live and let live rule when it came to snakes…with one exception. If one dared venture into her house yard from the paddock, especially near us kids, they were sent to meet their maker.

Mum kept a special snake-killing stick in the old shower recess off our back verandah. It was a bendy piece of steel about six-feet long, with red electrical tape around one end as a makeshift handle.

Any snake sightings and squeals for help would bring Mum out of the house, wielding her snake stick.

It wasn’t unusual to come home from school after a hot day to see a king brown hanging lifelessly from a railing on the tank stand. I used to think Mum placed it there to send a message to the other snakes.

Our schoolyard wasn’t immune to snakes either. I remember when I was eight, during an outdoor assembly, about halfway through the national anthem, the school principal calmly got out of his seat, retrieved a shovel and used it to cut a snake up into little pieces.

Then there was the winter school holiday of 1990.

One of my brothers, Gus and I were on the hunt across the farm for some decent wood to build our cubby house. We thought we’d hit the jackpot when, over in the junkyard (where old trucks and machinery go to die), we spotted a discarded door lying flat on the ground partially covered. It was perfect for the cubby.

Both of us started yanking and heaving, trying to lever it out of the ground. Eventually, the door gave way, flipped over and there to our horror was a large snake, neatly coiled like a giant leathery poop, deep in its winter hibernation.

Someone may as well have fired a starter pistol for an Olympic 100m final, because we were out of there at lightning speed. Gus climbed straight up a bulldozer nearby, like a rat up a drainpipe, but I had my sights set on the house, 500 metres away.  I burst through the back door, breathless, shrieking to Mum.

The next day we worked up the courage to go back to the scene of the crime, but all the evidence of the sleeping snake had vanished. Not that we looked too hard for it.

Despite Mum’s best efforts and warnings to the local fauna, occasionally disaster would strike when a snake would penetrate the safe zone and get inside the house.

During a particularly hot summer when I was 19, Mum noticed the tail end of a snake disappearing up the main hallway of the house. It managed to slip through a small tear in the gauze of the front door. She raced to the phone, called Dad (who was at the pub) to come home and help remove the unwelcome visitor.

When she hung up and returned to the hallway, the snake was gone.

Mum and Dad spent the rest of the day stripping beds, looking under wardrobes, in cupboards, behind couches, under cushions, in the linen press and behind curtains with no reward. It was a nightmare game of hide and seek mixed with Russian roulette.

Eventually, they gave up and decided to go to bed. A cricket bat lay beside Mum’s side of the bed, and a shotgun next to Dad’s. I have no idea if Dad was seriously intending on blowing a hole in the side of Mum’s wardrobe if he saw the snake, but I’m sure he would have been in the doghouse for a while if he did.

Arriving home from a night out with friends I was oblivious to all this. When Mum heard me  I was summoned to my parents’ room. She explained what had happened and ordered me to keep my eyes peeled.

“I have searched the whole house, high and low,” she explained, “except for your bedroom. I have been asking you to tidy up your room all summer! It’s too messy for me to even know where to begin looking in there. Clean it up!”

Clearly I was quite dismayed to hear this. I gave my room a timid once over with no nasty surprises. However, that didn’t stop me dreaming about Joe Blake all night.

The next morning my room was as clean as a whistle.

For a while, I couldn’t decide which scenario would have been worse, finding it, or not finding it at all.

We never found that particular unwanted guest, and thankfully haven’t had another one since.

This guy crossed our path while out bike riding recently. A harmless one, but I still don’t like to get too close!

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Censored! The girls enjoy a night out in Kings Cross

“You’ve never been to a strip club?”

“I’ve never been to a strip club.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Right. So what are you doing next Saturday night?”

I’d secretly confessed to my friend Nadia that I was worried about my fiancé’s bucks night and the shenanigans that the blokes might get up to. Nadia dismissed my fears, assuring me that strip clubs didn’t really live up to all the hype that a pre-wedded lass’ imagination might lead her to believe.

I’m a big one for researching both sides of a story before making judgements. So I rounded up my bridesmaid Liz and met up with Nadia in Kings Cross the following Saturday night.

After a quiet dinner, we found ourselves in the queue to enter a club. Now ladies, the first benefit of being female and going to a strip club is – no cover charge for us!

Once inside we put Nadia’s credit card behind the bar, ordered a few vodkas and took a look around. There was a catwalk like stage with some girls pole dancing in their knickers. We found a table and ordered a few more rounds of drinks.

After a while Nadia asked me how I was enjoying my first time in a strip club.

I took a look around. “I can appreciate there are attractive women pole dancing, but now that we’ve been here for a bit and had a gawk, well…it’s kind of boring.”

“That’s because we need to see a private show!” Nadia said waving over one of the staff.

Next thing I know, I’m being asked to select a girl to dance privately for me and my friends.

I hesitated, a little unsure of myself. “Umm, OK. What about her?” I said, and pointed to a brunette who was busting some great moves on the pole (and it goes without saying, had giant norks). My fiancé informed me later that this is a rookie mistake, you should never pick the girl whose boobs you have already seen. You live and learn. At least I know for next time.

Nadia, Liz and I were escorted to a small room with a few chairs and a stage. The girl came in and sat down on the edge of the stage. There was a slight look of surprise on her face at the three of us giggling nervously, like a pack of school boys with their Dads’ dirty magazines.

“So ladies, what brings you to a place like this?”

We explained that with the upcoming nuptials, we were having our own ‘buck’s night’ so to speak.

She laughed, told us her name was ‘Cha-Cha’ and asked us what we wanted to see.

“Show us your dirtiest move!’ I yelled before all three of us collapsed with laughter.

Our eyes popped out of our heads as Cha-Cha arched over backwards, did a leg spread in front of our faces and started flexing muscles I wasn’t sure I knew existed previously.

Our giggling intensified. “No way!” we shouted.

“Show us your favourite move!” Demanded Liz.

Cha-Cha did a hand stand up against the wall as naked as the day she was born.

We started shouting out different moves and she complied willingly.

Then she sat on the edge of the stage and we all gas bagged like we were at our local coffee shop. She told us about her working holiday in Canada, what it was like to work in a strip club and what her mother thought of her career choice.  We told her about ourselves too.

All of a sudden she jumped up, told us to get on the stage so she could show us some dance moves our blokes would love. So we all climbed up and practised her recommended moves, shaking our booties. It was hilarious and a lot of fun.

Once our time was up, we said our farewells to Cha-Cha and headed back out to the main bar.

We stayed on for a few more drinks, then tried out a few other clubs in the Cross. Much, much later, after a compulsory kebab stop, we headed back to our respective homes in the wee hours.

I stumbled into the house and through the bedroom door, waking my fiancé with a start. He asked me how my night was.

“It was great!” I exclaimed. “One of the best nights out I’ve ever had! I went to this strip club in Kings Cross. We paid for a private show with a stripper called Cha-Cha. Don’t worry though, she was really nice, not cheap or nasty at all. She showed us this move (I was demonstrating wildly with my hands at this point) and you could see everything! Afterwards we had a really great chat and I gave her some money.”

My fiancé was amused and simply said, “That’s great babe. Now just stop and think about this. Imagine I have just come home and woken you up and said word for word what you have just told me.”

Touché.

Not long after my fiancé’s buck’s night arrived. Can you believe, that after all my efforts and research, the boys never even stepped foot inside a strip club?

There was just one downside to our girls’ night our in Kings Cross. When I got to work the following week Nadia told me what my share of the credit card bill was. Drink prices at those places are murder!

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Doggone!

Growing up on a farm had its benefits when you were a kid.

Ample space meant plenty of room for pets, and while we had our fair share of cats, chickens, pigs, cows and sheep. We all loved dogs the best (except Mum, who leans towards cats. Remind me one day to tell you about Jackson).

In my 18 years growing up on the land we had many dogs.

There was Ruffy, Rastus, Bill, Grover, Ralph, Boston, Rover, Randy, Fred, Barney, Odie, TS, Woofty, Butch, Collie, Spud, Meg and Digger.

Digger was everyone’s favourite. When I was about 16 I looked out the backdoor and there he was.

“Mum! HEY MUM! There’s a black cattle dog out here! I think he wants to come inside.”

“Well don’t pat him! He’ll go back home eventually.”

But he didn’t. He stayed with us for the next eight years.

No one knows where he came from but we have our theories. A drover taking sheep through the district was camped not far from our place and we think he left Digger behind. Once we saw him working with sheep, we realised why. If he was a person, he would have been fired on his first day at work. Useless he was.

We never knew his original name but he seemed happy enough with Digger.

While he couldn’t pen a sheep for quids, he did like other farm activities.

You’d often see Dad driving by in his ute, and sitting up proudly in the front seat, head out the window with tongue flapping about in the breeze was Digger. He would sit in the tractor with my brother for hours and hours on end just going around and around the paddocks.

He also did your typical dog things. He’d roll around in a dead sheep down the paddock (you can imagine what that smells like), and then innocently sneak into the house until Mum started screaming at him to get outside. Then there was the time he got into some oil at the shed, tip-toed inside and rolled all over Mum’s freshly cleaned carpets.

One night, I got into bed and to my horror found a big, juicy, meaty bone that had been buried neatly in my doona. Not quite as bad as The Godfather, but bad enough from a teenage girl’s point of view.

Like all dogs, Digger was easily bribed with food. His two favourite things were Schmakos and chocolate. All you had to do was mention either word, even in a whisper or monotone and he’d go nuts.

One day I was helping Dad take a mob of sheep from one farm a few kilometres up the road to one of our other properties. He was way too close to the sheep, pushing them too fast (he really was a terrible work dog), and no matter how many times Dad called him back, he stubbornly stayed up front. I leaned out the window of the ute and shouted, “Digger! Choccie!” and in two seconds flat he was back inside the ute.

He loved going for a drive. Anyone would just need to say ‘drivies’ and he’d be dead keen to get outside and into the car. If my Dad went to the back verandah to put on his RMs, Digger would tear outside, jump through the open window of the ute and wait in there for Dad. Luckily, Dad would usually leave the window of the ute down (there was one unfortunate time he didn’t).

We used to go yabbying when we were younger. I caught a huge one once, down at the bottom paddock dam with my brother and Digger. I let it go on the edge of the water, and Digger went in for a sniff. The yabby latched onto Digger’s nose with its claw and Digger started yelping while shaking his head (and the attached yabby) from side to side. All of a sudden, the yabby flew through the air and landed with a plop, back into the safety of the dam.

Digger loved games. A few whacks on the head with a pillow and it was on! He’d fight for life for the pillow in a fierce game of tug-o-war until it was all his. But he wouldn’t stop there, he’d shred the pillow and rip all of the stuffing out until it covered the loungeroom floor. Poor Mum, she was constantly cleaning up after him.

My brother would pretend to shear him like a sheep. Digger would growl and growl, but if my brother stopped he’d jump up on him for more.

But by far, the funniest memory I have of Digger is of him sleeping peacefully on the lounge room floor. All of a sudden I heard a loud fart and Digger jerked awake, looked around startled, then started sniffing his own butt. I was in stitches for about 15 minutes after that.

There are so many stories to tell. Whenever I think about that dog, I can’t help but smile. My family spent many, many nights laughing at him and even now, 10 years since he left us, we still chuckle when he’s mentioned at the dinner table.

Mum reckons he was sent to us for a reason. Whatever it was, I’m so glad he wandered up our driveway that day and chose us.

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Cheers to the Dads!

It’s Father’s Day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dads lately. Most probably because I nearly lost mine recently. This year is also my husband’s second Father’s Day.

I wanted to write a post about my Dad and also my husband now that he’s a Dad too. Even though they are totally different personalities, they have both always been generous with their love and time. They have both brought a sense of safety and security to my old and new family units.

Mum used to always tell my brothers and I as kids that we didn’t know how lucky we were to have a father like we do. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate it back then, I sure as heck do now.

I love my Dad. He has a wonderful disposition. He’s unbelievably slow to anger (the teenage version of me tried my best!). He’s patient. His positive outlook and determination have saved him from death’s door twice now. You have to admire that.

And now, over the past 13 months I’ve had the privilege of watching my husband as a new father to our son. It has been heart-warming seeing them together and listening to them ‘talking’. They have already learnt so many things from each other.

Our son’s first word was Dad. Now, when my husband walks into the room, he stops what he’s doing, points, laughs and yells ‘Dad!’

They look the same too, which I love. Because two of my favourite males, remind me of each other.

My husband spends most of his time doing things for our family. Like making money, fixing up the house and yard, cooking and cleaning (yes, he helps with these), planning and researching our next investments, and basically taking on stresses that he doesn’t want the rest of us to worry about.

Our family’s success, way of life and security, is largely a result of his hard work, love and commitment to us. I hope he knows how much we appreciate it.

He’s a good bloke with an honest heart and we love him. He deserves a wonderful day tomorrow, and a lifetime of happy memories with our son (and future kids).

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY TO ALL THE DADS OUT THERE!

In the baby lies the
future of the world.
Mother must hold the baby close
so that the baby knows it is his
world but the father must take him to
the highest hill so that he can see
what his world is like.

– Mayan Indian Proverb

Happy Father’s Day!

When I was little…and other overused childhood quotes

Did you hear that phrase at least once a month growing up?

Me: “Dad, I want a pair of Nikes.”

Dad: “You know, when I was a little boy, we didn’t need fancy shoes. In fact, we only had two pairs of shoes…”

About here I’d normally tune out, not because I was rude, but I’d heard it all many, many times before.

But last weekend it happened. I said it. Out loud. “When I was a little girl…

Here’s how it unfolded.

I am back from up the country, up the country where I went (any Henry Lawson or Banjo Paterson fans out there?), and while I was in my home town, I took this photo of an old mechanic shop that closed down, ‘when I was a little girl.’

Can you see the phone numbers? That’s right, the servo’s complete phone number is 10. The after hours number is 16.

My family’s phone number was 19. When I was a little girl, our area didn’t have direct dialling! And I’m only 33 years old.

Then I thought of other things. We only had two television channels (ABC and Prime) until I was about 12. I never got to see a single episode of Neighbours with Kylie Minogue or Jason Donovan in it. Ripped off.

My baby is much too young to bore with these stories, but they are in the bank for later.

Until next time!

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Betting on a 20% chance

Last month my father was given a 20% chance of living past a week.

He spent the previous two weeks in intensive care fighting a lung infection after a bout of the flu. Fluid was building up in his lungs, slowly choking him, and he was forced onto an oxygen machine. He was coughing up blood. He couldn’t eat, so had a feeding tube. He wasn’t strong enough to walk and barely had enough energy to keep a conversation going.

The doctors told us that he wasn’t improving and we needed to have a discussion as a family to decide on Dad’s ongoing treatment, that if he deteriorated further, would he want to live on a respirator or have the machines turned off.

On Saturday I went to see him, not knowing if it would be for the last time. I didn’t know what to say. Or how to say it. I just hugged him close with tears stinging my eyes. He told me he wished he could get out of that place. I told him he was the toughest bloke I know.

On Sunday Dad told Mum where he wanted to be buried and a song he’d like to be played at his funeral.

On Monday I called work and told them I wouldn’t be in. I cried and I cried. Mum called to say a new doctor would perform a procedure the next day. He wanted to put a camera down into Dad’s lungs as a final attempt to find the problem. If no problem could be found, then Dad’s machines would be turned off and I’d need to go home right away to say goodbye. I postponed my son’s christening for that weekend. I didn’t know whether to cancel his first birthday party.

On Tuesday morning I woke up, and was playing with my son, wondering if that day would turn out to be the worst day of my life. I cried more when I realised my son might never know his Grandpa. I spent all morning packing clothes and baby supplies to go home. It was all sitting in the hallway while I waited anxiously for Mum to call with an update.

At 4pm I finally got the call. The doctor had found an auto-immune disorder. Dad’s immune system was attacking his own organs, primarily his lungs. It could be treated with steroids, but there was only a 20% chance it would work.

I was so relieved. They’d found the problem. BUT a 20% chance of survival. And they wouldn’t know for sure the treatment was working for 72 hours.

Three whole days.

I struggled with the 20% chance. It seemed so low. Eventually I decided if I was at the races, I’d make a bet on a horse with a 1 in 5 chance. I waited. Wished. Hoped. Prayed.

On Wednesday morning, my eldest brother went to see Dad and was amazed. Dad wrote on a piece of paper ‘starting to feel better’. The doctor said the early indication was the drugs were working.

By Friday, the feeding tube was gone, the oxygen had been turned down. Dad was still very weak, but sitting in a chair and talking.

On Sunday I went and told Dad all the things to his face that I thought I’d be saying at his funeral.

That was two weeks ago. Dad is still in hospital but in a normal ward. He’s craving fish and chips and talking about driving a truck at harvest time. In other words, well on the way to recovery.

I’ve learnt some big lessons in the past month.

1. When you are given a chance, no matter how small, take it and run. Sometimes the slimmest of margins is enough.

2. Appreciate life, and the people you have in it right now, they can be taken away from you at a moment’s notice.

3. Tell the people that you care about that you love them and are grateful for them. Make sure they know how much they mean to you.

4. Thank God for doctors, nurses, physios, dietitians, social workers and other health professionals. The difference they make in the lives of their patients and families is significant and the treatment Dad received was excellent. We can’t thank them enough.

5. Sometimes miracles do happen.

So where to from here?

I’m planning a trip home to spend quality time with my parents as soon as Dad’s home. I’m not wasting anymore time. I’m even going to watch the three-hour home movie Dad’s been asking me to watch with him for the past year.

I’m grateful.

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First things first

Wow, my first blog post. I feel like I should say something really profound…but nothing comes to mind. Have you ever had an argument with someone, then got home and thought of the perfect thing you should have said? Inspiration never strikes me at the right time either.

My husband just called (there, now you know something about me, I’m married, a bombshell I know). I told him I’ve just started a blog and his teasing reaction was, ‘How very 2002 of you.’ Yeah, he’s a keeper 🙂

Here’s the first thing (well second thing now) you should know about me. I’m a tad lazy. It takes me a while to get around to things. But I think we can all be a little like that sometimes. I’m going to try to publish as often as I can though.

This week I’m heading out west for few days. My heart is in the country. It’s quiet. There’s no traffic, no queues and not many people. And the people you do see are friendly and smiley. I like that.

I love standing down the bottom of my family’s farm and turning 360 degrees, knowing that I’m the only person in a five kilometre radius. Well, during the day I do, in the dark it can be a bit eerie.

It’s so quiet at night your ears ring in the silence. When there’s no moon, you can be laying in bed, put your palm up to your face and not be able to see it. Pitch black and silent. It’s good thinking time. It’s easy to relax when two of your senses don’t have to work overtime.

My absolute favourite thing to do is drive down the paddock on a night like that and star gaze. You can see from horizon to horizon in every direction. The sky is so clear you can see the fog of the milky way. The Southern Cross. The saucepan. Shooting stars.

I saw a shooting star once glow bright green as it burned a trail down the sky. It was so beautiful in its simplicity. A little gift from nature, just for me to see.

The stars are so vivid, so close. Sometimes I feel like I could jump of the bonnet and pluck one straight from the sky.

It’s peaceful and beautiful. It’s one of the things I miss most since moving away. I’m putting it on my list of things to do this week.

Here is a photo I look a few years ago in 2010, driving between my brothers’ farms. There is a group of wild emus that just roam freely about, I always try to spot them. Look how dry it was then. It was flooded at the start of 2012!

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