Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Category: Modern life

Angry Birds: how I nearly failed the Aunty test

One of my more recent pleasures is having my brother and his family settle in Melbourne. This means I get to be Aunty Liz to my nephews, let’s call them, Gideon and Jonathan. I have in fact, been Gideon’s aunty for eighteen years but the small matter of him living in Africa limited tangible expressions of this relationship. When asked, recently, whether the boys could stay with us for the weekend, we agreed readily. Though, of course, I had forgotten how much energy was involved in managing teenagers. Especially when the said teenagers have quite distinct needs. 

Gideon is small and particular and funny and needs loads of time to himself. Jonathan is sporty and outgoing and busy trying to establish himself in Melbourne. He also eats a lot. I had forgotten how much fuel teenage boys need. I shopped for Shapes and bread and fruit but Jonathan got home before me and Andrew had recently flown in from Huston, Texas, so there wasn’t enough food in the house. 

Right, I thought, this is going to take a bit more forethought than I had envisaged.

 

We had an ESL dinner at church which meant I had cooked a risotto. This, combined with curry, rice and some home baked muffins did the trick for an hour or two. Andrew, due to the residual effects of jet lag, volunteered for the early Saturday morning sports run while I looked after Gideon (I am so good at this morning routine that I can do it in my sleep, literally). Having to take my hearing aids out the night before, helps significantly. I woke at a not unreasonable hour Saturday morning and thought, why is Gideon in the shower? Half and hour later, when I woke again, I thought, why is he still in the shower? Turns out the Wiggles played, over and over, down low, sounds like running water. Who would have thought? 

Around lunch time, Gideon and I met Andrew and Jonathan in our local cafe for brunch. Yes, turns out we are a hipster aunt and uncle. We asked the boys what they would like to do that evening. Jonathan wanted to see Captain Marvell, Gideon, Angry Birds. We searched for a cinema in which both movies were playing simultaneously. Northland, had an almost perfect solution as long as Andrew and Jonathan left early and cycled to the cinema, leaving Gideon and I to follow in the car in time for the shorter Angry Birds. The movies would finish within fifteen minutes of each other and we would buy dinner (yes, hipsters on steroids, or perhaps, just making up for eighteen years of neglect).  

Now, I had never been to Northland Shopping Centre (I’ve never done the 1000 steps either, or been to the MCG). Call me unadventurous but I wasn’t exactly lining up for the Northland experience. But I punched the address into my iPhone, started the navigation program, and set off nice and early. We arrived in plenty of time. Which was good because I parked pretty much as far from Hoyts as possible. Speaking of which, I haven’t been to a Hoyts since I left Neighbours country. A fact that will become patently obvious as the story unfolds. 

We bought our tickets. The woman mentioned something about Extreme Screen. But, you know, it’s a long time since I have been to a Hoyts cinema and I was looking for a number. Even though it said, Extreme Screen, on the ticket, right where the number usually sits, and even though we walked past a theatre labelled Extreme Screen. The penny did not drop. I saw L 12 and even though that is clearly a row and seat number and even though, theatre number twelve didn’t have a row L. The penny didn’t drop. Not when the movie didn’t start on time either. Or when there were no children in the audience. I thought: gee, it’s amazing how many adults have nothing better to do than watch Angry Birds on a Saturday night. It wasn’t until the film started to roll that I felt my first twinge of unease. Gee, I thought, fancy Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant being the voices in Angry Birds. It wasn’t until the words Florence Foster Jenkins filled the screen that the penny dropped.

‘Gideon,’ I said, ‘this isn’t Angry Birds.’

‘No,’ wide, serious eyes, ‘I don’t think so either.’

We left the cinema. The young girl who had sold me the ticket had great tact. I didn’t sense an inner eye-roll, or even the smallest hint of oh-my-God-what-loser in her manner, at all. 

‘Angry Birds started twenty minutes ago,’ she explained, politely. ‘But we have another session starting at 7.00.’

I turned to Gideon. We can go in now and miss the beginning, or we can wait until later. What would you prefer?’

‘I just want to see Angry Birds.’ Gideon replied, in what I am beginning to recognise is his wide-eyed, serious, trade mark style. 

By which I deduced he meant the whole movie.

Fortunately, we live in a technological age. I was able to convey the change of plans to Andrew and Jonathan, grab a quick, pre-movie bite with Simeon while waiting for the next session, which would be playing in an ordinary numbered theatre. I am still none the wiser about the Extreme Screen experience. But if Gideon’s doubled over laughter is anything to go by, Angry Birds was worth the wait and, I think, I may have even passed the Aunty Test.

An Easter without offspring

Biskit's 'Great Escape' is becoming a regular part of our holiday routine. At some point during the bag filling, gate opening and car loading, he works out we are going away. He slinks about with his tail between his legs waiting for a chance. Our journey always starts with Andrew announcing. 'Your dog's gone, Liz.'

To which I reply. 'Well I'm not going on holidays until we've found him.'

We always end up leaving late.

I'm not complaining. I like the way new rituals replace old ones and, as this would be the first Easter Andrew and I have spent alone, since Jack was born in 1985, it was comforting for Biskit to set the ball rolling on an otherwise untrodden course. We had no chocolate, this Easter. An absence of noisy debate. And warmth – seeing as I have given up camping. We were not huddled around a campfire. It was bliss. And odd. Here's my wrap-up of events.

Accomodation

We stayed in Queenscliff, a seaside town at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. It was hard not to think about my novel as its narrative finishes shortly after a ship bearing it's fictitious characters enters Port Phillip Heads. I enjoyed seeing the fine mist over the morning sea, the low lying, sandy peninsulas, pincered around the bay like a crab. You'd be excused for thinking I'd engineered the location to suit my mood. The truth is budget and availability dictated our choice. Andrew says I have an uncanny knack for finding accomodation that is not quite good enough to be expensive and not dreadful enough to be miserable. The general result being a quaintly eccentric kind of bungalow with clean but not too modern facilities. This one happened to be in Queenscliff. Among the features holding this particular cottage back from its five star rating being the owner's possession of a dynamo label maker and the amateur art work adorning its walls. After realising the paintings were all done by the owner, I said to Andrew. 'That's it. If my novel doesn't get published we are buying a cottage, calling it a B&B and pasting excerpts all over the wall. Then some poor dab will be forced to read my work.'

Exercise – of mind and body

A strange feature of our child free lives is that Andrew and I are both pursuing an intentional level of fitness. Andrew's being far in excess of mine. This week he:

  • Rode to Lorne and back twice (180km)
  • Ran a marathon (as you do)
  • Went on a couple of 10km runs

I, in turn:

  • Did two 8.5 km runs with small intervals of walking.
  • A 40km return bike ride to Ocean Grove
  • An 11km walk
  • And an afternoon cycle from Sorrento to the end of Point Nepean and back.

I did far less exercise than Andrew but I can assure you I ached and complained the most. What more can I say? Some patterns are set in cement. While Andrew was competing in his individual man iron-man contest, I did some late-night, lazy-pyjama-morning bouts of reading. Here's my list:

  • The secret life of bees (magical and uplifting)
  • The kite runner (stark and strangely grounded)
  • The Welsh language: a history (riveting – no, I'm not joking. I couldn't put it down)
  • Aspects of the novel (a bit dull – I started this book ages ago and vowed not to let it defeat me)
  • To kill a mocking bird (I read this in school – it's way funnier and wiser than I remembered)

Outings and Purchases

It wouldn't be a holiday without outings and purchases

I went to the National Wool Museum in Geelong (while Andrew trawled the junk shops). This marked an intentional beginning to the research phase of my next novel. Through, I'd been to the museum before and, in truth, I started the research an age ago. This time, I am almost at a point where I can keep going forward. Most of the information at the wool museum referred to an era later than my mine. But sometimes, seeing the way an industry has developed helps you to know what wasn't in place in the beginning.

We caught the ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento and cycled to the end of the peninsula. I had forgotten about the extensive fortifications built at the end of Point Nepean. Either Melbourne was in grave danger at some point in history or we had an inflated view of our importance in the overall scheme of things. I suspect the latter, as many men in uniform were involved. And that, in case you missed it, is my ANZAC reflection.

I bought a new pair of jeans (size twelve, slim fit, and yes, I'm boasting), two novels for my nephew's birthdays (which were back in January), and some Australiana type gifts for our trip to the UK in July (no, I'm not excited).

 

Now being a story teller I like to bring things back to full circle. You can therefore imagine my delight when I came across a fluffy white dog on my final afternoon jog. He had long silky ears like Biskit's and the same off-white colour with a hint of rust showing through his recently clipped coat. I saw his owner standing at the base of a hill hollering. The dog stopped, looked back over his shoulder and, with a cheeky white flick of his tail, scampered along the path, leaving his owner no choice but to lumber along in pursuit. I laughed. I'd played this game before. Only, today, I wouldn't be on the losing side. I waited for the dog to stop, cock his leg and glance back over his shoulder. Before he had a chance to resume his miscievious dance, I scooped him up. He didn't resist. He'd played this game multiple times too. With a resigned doggy sigh, he settled under my arm in a Biskit sized shape and permitted me to jog him back to his owner.

'Thanks.' She bent double puffing. 'I don't know why he does it.'

'Me either,' I said, passing the dog over. 'But I've got one just like him, back in Melbourne. He thinks it's a game to run away.'

 

A strange, surreal week involving long awaited goals and archaic parish practices

This week has been a big one. So, big it's interrupted my blogging schedule. What? You didn't even notice. I have, in fact, been dancing with the devil.

Here's how the week panned out.

Saturday – I flew to Adelaide for the fiftieth birthday of a friend. Andrew had been working in Chicago all week. So, I met him at the airport. I managed to get through security without ringing alarm bells. Checked my bags. Didn't think I'd left anything behind. Though, when I met Andrew in the Qantas club lounge, he said. 'Gee. You're travelling light.'

'Yes,' I said, glancing at my bags. 'It's only one night.'

When the flight attendant called our flight, I gathered my belongings. That's when I noticed my back pack was missing. I made a piston-hearted dash to security, praying it would be safe in a cupboard somewhere nearby.

It was.

I filled out the necessary forms, showed ID and tried to make knowledgable comments about the contents of the back-pack. This was where I started to come unstuck. I told the man I had a power board in my back-pack, forgetting I'd transferred it to my Crumpler earlier. The man gave me a dubious glance. I started babbling. 'There's a cooler bag in there (don't ask) and a red toiletry case and my hearing aid drying out kit and…

The man held up a silencing hand. 'The cooler bag's enough,' he said, 'you're cutting into my lunch hour.'

At this point I was feeling pretty rattled. When Andrew announced he was ducking into the loo before boarding, I followed. Through one door. And another. Right until I caught sight of the man at the urinal. Andrew heard a gasp, he told me later. The sound of doors banging. When re-united, he shook his head and said. 'And you want me to travel to Europe with you?'

Monday – Andrew headed off for a week long hiking trip in Tassie. After I'd dropped him at the airport, I started typing like a woman possessed. Went to my writing group. Announced I would finish the re-draft of my manuscript the following day. Received all manner of appropriate, writerly encouragement.

Tuesday – I wrote like the devil was on my tail. Didn't quite get to the end of the final scene. With about five hundred words to go, I pedalled off to my Welsh class. Now normally, after class, a few of us have a drink in the bar of the Celtic Club. When my friend, Dai Tren, asked if I'd be staying. I said, no, in Welsh, I had only about five hundred words to write and I was going home to finish. At least, that's what I thought I said. From the incredulous look on Dai's face, I knew this wasn't the case.

'What? You only write five hundred words a week!'

I pedalled home with Lucifer still on my tail. At around midnight, I finished the final, polished five hundred words of my novel. I wanted to jump up and down. Shout. Break out the champagne. But…you know, it was only me and my dog. So, I did the next best thing. Wrote on Facebook. And Twitter…and any other social media outlet that would let me.

I didn't sleep much that night. I hovered like a star on the ceiling of my delight.

Wednesday – I edited the first five chapters without a hitch. They were brand new. I had decided, early on, to start the re-draft in a completely different place. I'd sweated blood over those early chapters. But they were in pretty good shape. It was the next chapter, chapter six, that caused a surge of panic. You see, sometime, while re-drafting I've learned to press the delete key. How to re-write without hanging on to favourite paragraphs. This chapter was my first unlearned attempt at this process and I saw with crushing certainty that it needed radical work.

My heart started to pound at this point, I kid you not. How was I going to hold my head up? I'd told people, I'd finished. This would take days to re-work. I calmed myself by journaling. Threw in a bit a of cognitive therapy (as my medical man in a cardigan would have recommended). Realised, I might not finish the edits this week. And that it didn't matter. I went to bed almost sure of how to proceed. More journaling at dawn (who'd ever write a novel) and I knew exactly what had to be done. I banged those three re-written scenes out in a few hours. You see, I've learned to kill my darlings with the unflinching nerve of a sadist

Thursday – I realised the devil wasn't such a good dance partner. I started to restore a bit of calm and order to my life. So much calm, that I failed to notice the address of our Vestry meeting. Rode all the way to the Vicarage, only to find the meeting was at the church, about five hundred metres from my house. Okay, so maybe there was a bit of demonic pedaling at this point. But, hey, it was a good workout. And we prayed before the meeting. So, I'm exorcised.

I'm enjoying being parish secretary (although, it could be the end of worship as we know it in the City of Moreland). It's great to be taking ownership of what is happening in our small community on Sydney Road. I sat tapping the minutes into my iPad, in an aura of good-feeling-ness, until, at the conclusion of the meeting, a vestry member passed me the minute book.

'You have to cut the A4 pages to down size,' the vestry member explained. 'And paste the minutes into this book each month.'

I glanced at the Vicar, expecting him to refute this statement. Turned disbelieving eyes on my fellow vestry members. 'The rules say the minutes have to be kept in a bound book,' someone explained. 'It's not much cutting. We print the pages out single sided.'

Now call me naive. But when I took on the role of parish secretary, I imagined typing minutes, drafting letters, archiving official documents. Making a meaningful contribution to the life of the church. But never, in my wildest dreams did I envisage cutting down A4 sheets of paper and pasting them into a book.

It was odd. But, hey, I can do odd for God. I took the minute books, feeling like I'd morphed into a female version of Frank Pickle from the Vicar of Dibley. As I pedaled the short distance home, I found myself wondering when these strange, keep-minutes-in-a-bound-book rules had been instituted. Some time back in the twentieth century, perhaps? Before PCs and printers and desk top publishing? For I must confess, as I laid those minute books on my dinner table, I couldn't help wondering whether, despite losing my bags at the airport and walking into the mens's toilet, I was, in fact too sane for the Anglican communion. 🙂

 

Diary of a summer virus

Day one: you wake up with a sniffle and the ghost of a sore throat. You don't tell your husband because it was thirty five degrees yesterday and, though he warned you against it, you slept all night under a damp towel and a full strength fan.

Day two: your daughter asks what's wrong. Daughters are perceptive. Nothing, you tell her. Only a summer cold. That night you sleep in the lounge under the air conditioning.

Day three: you take two Panadol and head into work. It's going to be forty four degrees. You hope the library air conditioning is working. It is in the work-room. But less so in the library. You take two more Panadol. Drink lots of coffee. Spend the day going between library and chilled workroom

Day four: you barely sleep for coughing. You wake feeling like your throat has been sand-blasted. Of course, you're going to work, you tell your husband. You rise. Down more Panadol. A strong, full, plunger of coffee. No effect. Your legs wobble. You think perhaps driving isn't such a good idea. You call the library. Sink back into bed. You sleep all morning. What about tomorrow, your husband asks you that evening. We're going to the movies. You'll be fine, you tell your husband. You feel an improvement. But when the cool change comes your body is still burning.

Day five: you call the Doctor. Make an appointment. Facebook your friends. Cancel appointments. Your grandson visits. You wave from a distance. More Panadol. A script in your pocket. Not for now, the doctor says, only if it worsens.

Day six: it's worse. Your head pounds. No matter how much fluid you drink. Or how you lie still. You send your husband to the chemist. You're not sure if it's an infection. You think perhaps maybe. You also think just-in-case prescriptions are too much responsibility

Day seven: you feel an improvement. Not so tired. You think maybe you'll go to writing group. Your husband says you've got to be joking. You cancel. Mope. Spend the evening in front of your Apple TV

Day eight. Much better. You feel like working. Though your throat's still sore. At least you're not coughing. Your husband comes in. Tells you not to overdo things. As if you would, you snap back. You know your limits. No gym of course. You're taking antibiotics. But you walk the dog. And pick up the thread of your Welsh lessons. Though you still feel sluggish and tired. You hope you're improving.

 

Running the gauntlet of the Facebook police

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Confession – I have friends on Facebook I have never met in person. Until recently, I thought everyone had such companions – until I got a message from Facebook. They said I’d been making inappropriate friend requests. Can you believe that? I was banned from requesting new friends for seven days.

Now I have to tell you this didn’t sit well with me. I had that flushed all over shame sensation that I associate with certain teachers in primary school. I’m a librarian, for crying out loud. A middle aged, church going, lefty-leaning librarian. Who would not want to be friends with me?

Okay, so I had been home with a virus. And, I had just read this great book on social networking. And I did think hmm… I wonder what my old friends from WMRLC are doing? Oh, and while I’m at it, I’ll just try connecting with some of my new Coburg church community and…some of their friends. In retrospect, think that’s where I came unstuck. It was the friends of friends. I don’t think anyone has told them about the ignore button.

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I received polite messages. Like:

‘Who are you? I don’t make friends with anyone I wouldn’t recognise walking down the street.’

To which I replied: ‘No worries. Please ignore my request.’

One lady was so put out, she lectured me in haughty you-naughty-little-girl tones.

‘That is not what Facebook is for,’ she said.

To which I replied: ‘Sorry, I go to St Aug’s. We have about fifteen friends in common. I thought it might be nice to connect.’

‘You could be anyone,’ she said. ‘People lie on their profiles.’

To which I replied: ‘Sorry, to bother you. Truly. Please feel free to ignore my request.

I don’t think she did. I think she reported me.

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Then I was banned from friending anyone for seven days.

That’s when I read the Facebook rules.

Have you ever read them? You’re not supposed to friend anyone you don’t know. Really? Half my Facebook list are people I didn’t know but, strangely, over time, I’ve come to know them pretty well. Some send me writing quotes. Others talk about their kids, their wife’s cancer, hospital visits. Still others post book reviews or memes or pictures of their latest craft projects. I mean, what, in the modern world constitutes knowing? If not these serendipitous online friendships?

After my ban had been lifted. I had another go at requesting. I’d caught up with a whole load of people from our old eastern suburbs church at a wedding. It was so nice, I thought I’d do some friending. Mostly I wrote to people I had met. In many instances we had about thirty-five friends in common. I mean, the mother of the bride, the father of the bride, people whose young adult kids I know. I thought, I was safe. I thought, I was playing by the rules.

But, no, banned again. This time for fourteen days. Fourteen days! Can you believe that? As if I were a child of six.

I sent some carefully worded feedback to Facebook.

Then I made up a set of guidelines for people who are not used to receiving friend requests.

1) If you get a friend request from someone you don’t think you have met it is okay to press ignore. No further correspondence needs to be entered into.

2) If you think, hmm…I wonder where I know that person from – check their friendship list. A friend of multiple friends is probably someone with whom you share common interests.

3) If you accept a friend and have cause to regret that decision you can delete them. Liking someone on Facebook is not a lifelong commitment.

That’s it. Three rules. Not that difficult.

As a special bonus I also add a couple of tips for those running the gauntlet of the Facebook police.

1) If you are home with a virus, or bored, or curious about an old friendship group make requests in small, spaced-out doses. From discussions with others, it seems pressing Add friend too quickly and too many times sets Facebook’s alarm bells ringing.

2) If you are sending a friend request to someone you don’t know, like the friend of a friend, perhaps add a message.

Something cheerful and head-bangingly specific like:

Hi! My name is Elizabeth Jane Corbett. I am not a creep, a paedophile or a stalker. And I’m not trying to sell you anything. But I notice we have quite a few friends in common. In fact, if you take a look at our shared friends list, you will notice we share common interests. Added to which, if you if look through my photos, you will notice that I am in fact a real person. If you decide not to be my friend, that’s fine, just press ignore and I won’t bother you again. Only, please, please, please don’t report me to Facebook.

If that doesn’t work, I have nothing to suggest. Except, you are better off without those friends.

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