Merry Christmas from Matts Notes. I really hope you’re been way more gooderer that the guy Santa is visiting in this picture 😉
Tuesday 22nd November – Evening – Botany / Banksmeadow Area
The incessant yet gentle precipitation had left me feeling mildly depressed. My Monday morning jog had been washed out and the Tuesday morning raincheck was, well, rainchecked again. On top of that the exercise bike was broken, which tends to happen when you plug the incorrect transformer into the socket. I knew something was wrong when the digital display began smoking like a peer-pressured teenager. Riding was no longer a possibility.
All out of options, and feeling a little stodgy from the weekend excesses, I hit the road in the rain for a seven kilometre dash.
The first kilometre was reasonably uneventful. My Nike GPS application on the iPhone was reminding me of my pace whilst shuffling through my playlist of motivational songs. Richard Clapton sang ‘Get Back to the Shelter’ as the Telstra truck clobbered the puddle in front of me. It was like wading into a cold, muddy ocean. First your calf muscles get goosebumps. Then your hamstrings begin to shiver. Finally your undies soak and creep up into your crutch. I was destined to spend the next six thousand metres with a very wet wedgie. Perhaps Mr. Clapton had a point.
Traversing Botany Road is always a scary experience. For some reason the semi-trailer drivers don’t believe in pedestrian crossings and when the guy in the BP tanker finally saw me it was all I could do to get out of the way. A blast on the air-horn, and a verbal assault from the shadowed cabin, left me in no doubt that I had made him late for whatever life-saving appointment he was due to attend. How dare I use the zebra crossing.
In spite of British Petroleum’s attempt on my life, I eventually made it to the park with its peace and saturated tranquility. Tiny droplets danced across the pond as the concrete gorilla glistened in the gloom and the empty swing set swung silently in the breeze. Large grey eels slithered through the murky water while giant carp gorged themselves on the soggy bread crusts that were floating on the surface. The only sound out-of-place was the thwack and cheer from the dedicated golfers on the fifth tee of Royal Botany Golf Course. Seriously guys – golf in the rain?!? You’re crazier than I am.
Traffic on Foreshore Drive was at a standstill, which probably explains why the eighteen-wheelers were tearing through suburbia and not on the expressway. An A380 lifted lazily into the air on its way to Singapore or some other salubrious destination and a plump of swamp hens honked at me as I interrupted their bath.
By the third leg of my journey I was in the zone. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Trampled Underfoot’ offered a raucous testament to the growing death toll of snails that kept finding their way below my Reeboks. A drenched Kookaburra perched on an old fence post looking more like a drowned rat than a kingfisher. I laughed at him. Is that ironic?
Water dripped from my wet hair as another wet hare shot out into the path in front of me. Perhaps he had been flushed from his warren by two days of deluge. Maybe he had been routed by one of the mangy foxes that are sometimes found lurking near the golf course. Possibly he was just late for the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Either way, he was certainly not expecting to run into a large bipedal mammal in this weather and almost collided with my right leg. I watched on amazed as the brown bunny zig-zagged across the track. His ability to change direction with such a tight turning circle was incredible and after a couple of 90s, several 180s and a full 360 degree backflip, he was gone.
As the Nike app noted the completion of three kilometres I came across the only other person I would see in the park. An elderly lady with a floral dress and matching umbrella wandered up the wrong side of the bike lane. Her face was hidden, her shoes were tattered and I briefly wondered if she was a local, or lost. Before my thoughts could dwell on her I rounded the corner and there, sticking up out of the grass ahead like a signpost for addiction, was a syringe – needle down into the soil. I paused mid-stride and stooped to pick up the dangerous object. It was the third time I had found a needle in the park and I knew I would have to carry it with me until I could find a garbage bin.
After a fruitless five minute search for more sharp objects I resumed my run. Unfortunately I had begun to cool down and now my ankles were aching. As my Achilles spontaneously combusted I briefly entertained the concept of quitting, until I remembered the pothole in the pathway up ahead. In all this rain it resembled a little lake and my feet achieved nirvana as they plodded through the cold water.
The gentle sprinkling had now become much heavier and a mist was rising from the grass. Small birds had stopped singing and the larger ones were nest bound or grounded. The family of marauding magpies that usually pecked at my ears as I jogged through their trees, were feasting on fat, juicy worms. Shiny black and white parents with their gangly grey offspring were so engrossed in their meal that they didn’t even pay me the slightest attention. A flock of large Puddle Ducks waddled across the road. White feathers, orange beaks and no fear of human beings made them an interesting obstacle, so I was left with no choice but to plow right through the middle of the brace. As the Catatonia song ‘Road Rage’ began playing through my speakers, Jemima let out a loud hiss and nipped at my knee. Perhaps she was related to the man from BP.
Leaving the Sir Joseph Banks Park brought me back to reality. My floral friend was still meandering her way around the grounds in a wide arching loop. She had a bag of bread crumbs for the birds and I figured that she was a local after all. I found a bin for the dirty hypodermic and, frankly, I was glad to be rid of it. There are many isolated spots to seek solitude, but collecting thoughts and clearing your mind are not the only things people do there.
The Steggles van on Botany Road also pretended not to notice the pedestrian crossing and only missed me by the narrowest of margins. Live ducks, dead chooks, something fowl was out to get me. The sun was setting, light was getting dim and I picked up my pace.
Suburbia was silent and still. Christmas lights twinkled from the windows of early decorators and wreaths hung in the closed doorways, but the families had settled in for dinner and the houses were locked up tight. There was no yoga at the cafe, no tai chi in the reserve and nobody to welcome me home except a battered old tom cat wanting his dinner. I think I’ll have leftovers tonight.
Late last year the National Geographic Channel ran a series of fantastic shows on the Great Migrations of the animal world. Monarch butterflies, nomadic elephants and herds of bleating zebras graced our screen and entertained the children. One of my personal favourites was the red crab from Christmas Island. Each mating season millions of these land animals make the move from the rainforest to the beach to lay eggs and propagate the species. On the way they have to contend with car tyres, commuter trains and the yellow crazy ant, which has decimated the crustacean population. I think the reason I am so fond of these single-minded creatures is their dogged determination to get to and from the beach in spite of the adversity that awaits them, much like the coastal migration we humans undertake every Christmas holidays affectionately known as – The Sydney Summer Evacuation.
Every year, as if spurned on by the arrival of the summer solstice, families of bipedal gnus work themselves into a frenzy in preparation for the long and perilous northern road trip. In what can only be described as a miracle of nature, large metallic beasts, engorged with human detritus roll along the tar in a honking, hooting symphony of sound and colour. This is not a trip for the faint hearted though. As the mechanised mammoths plod along in the intense heat and humidity the symbiotic relationship between the four-wheeled host and its two-legged parasites gets severely tested. In an effort to make ‘good time’ the poor, ever-obedient animal often gets pushed beyond its boundaries and many end up being herded away by one of its blue-flashing cousins.
In one of the more gruesome spectacles, the many McCrocodiles that lurk beside the busy stretch of bitumen between Hornsby and the Gold Coast often pick off weary travelers. These ambush predators decorate themselves in brightly coloured plumage to attract the adolescent humans and entice them to stop with promises of fried fat coated in sodium chloride. Even the lure of eleven secret herbs and spices can prove too hard to resist for the tense iDad teetering on the edge of insanity. Sadly, many of the older and weaker creatures are frequently found by the side of the road hissing and steaming in the last throws of life as their perplexed passengers look on aghast.
Two weeks later, as if drawn by some invisible magnetic force, these pitiful critters will endure hardship all over again – in the opposite direction. It is an anthropomorphic adventure the likes of which are not seen anywhere else in the world.
Yours truly has undertaken this odyssey on many occasions and has lived to tell the tale. I hope that my advice below will help you to plan your next great migration.
A portable DVD player will distract even the crankiest child. However, as most cars only have one or two accessory charging points, which are usually filled with teenager’s iPods, make sure you bring plenty of spare batteries. Sure you can pick extras up at the service station, for three times the price, but if money was no object then why aren’t you flying? Also ensure that you have comfortable earphones for the little movie goer. After listening to Finding Nemo for hours on end I was really wishing that Bruce the shark would recant on his slogan, “Fish are friends, not food.”
Tip 2. Resist the temptation to allow your teenage son to play his iPod through the car stereo.
I like to think that I have a rather eclectic taste in music, but screaming death metal at any volume is too loud. It is especially offensive after your five-year-old daughter has finally gone to sleep. This is your time for peace and quiet. Nemo has been found, the Little Mermaid got her man, Barbie is still a fairy princess and everything is right with the world. Why spoil it with a toneless howl bellowed from the diaphragm of a psychotic wannabe rock star?
“But dad, it’s a love song. Listen to the lyrics.”
“You mean there are actually words to this banshee’s wail.”
“Yeah. See! He misses his girlfriend who got run over by a freight train.”
“Lets listen to Cold Chisel.”
“Old stuff is rubbish.”
The sulking teenager goes back to his earphones and begins to actively destroy his aural capacity with a sound that is best described as someone trying to scream over the top of a whining jet engine.
Tip 3. Not all sunscreen is created equally.
Everyone knows that under the harsh Australian sun an SPF factor of 30 or higher is essential if you want to go out and play. What a lot of you probably don’t know is that the wrong type of sunscreen can really put a dent in your day. Holiday dollars never seem to go as far as you had planned so this year iDad tried out some budget branded lotion in order to save a few cents. Big mistake.
The first problem I noticed was that the cream itself had the consistency of molten tar and a smell that reminded me of industrial paint. Rubbing it on my children was an excruciating experience. Ensuring that your five-year-old is sitting still is a hard enough job at the best of times. When there is a beach to get to this task becomes practically impossible.
I spent hours coating the kids in white treacle only to find that it washed right off within thirty minutes of hitting the surf. This became my second problem. Luckily my children have great outdoor skin inherited from their Lebanese ancestry. iDad on the other hand does not and by the end of the first day even the lobsters were laughing at me.
Tip 4. Sweet treats are great to keep the kids quiet on those long drives, but not so good to clean out of the upholstery.
Regardless of the week-long scorching third degree burn that eventually managed to exfoliate ninety percent of my six-foot frame, our holiday was a great success. With the car packed and extra batteries in the centre console we began the long journey home. I had purchased some lollies to distract the kids from the various fast food restaurants we would pass along the way and before we were one third home the complaints started.
“I don’t feel good daddy.”
“What’s wrong little man?”
“My tummy hurts.”
Being somewhat of an expert with motion sickness I know exactly what to do.
“Adjust the air conditioner so that the cool air is blowing on your face. That’ll make you feel better.”
As my eight-year-old leaned forward to do as he was told his breakfast, lunch and a dozen or so jellybeans exited his oesophagus, poured into the aircon outlet and all over the carpet. His brother, who had been feeling ill himself but had suffered in silence, followed suit and proceeded to coat his siblings in the same masticated and partly digested mush.
I don’t remember the name of the backwater burg we stopped in but I will never forget the barely stifled guffaws from the locals as five kids and their father stood staring blankly at the barf bag my Landcruiser had become.
My final tip for surviving the holidays is to make sure you have a change of clean clothes inside the car. Climbing onto the roof in forty-two degree heat to rummage through the luggage when you are already sunburned is no fun. Accidentally giving your teenage son dirty socks to wear is a stench worthy of its own postcode. Combining that aroma with congealing bile that you cannot get out of the air conditioner is… well I’m going to leave that to your imagination.
At long last our arduous journey is at an end. As the family wagon pulls up inside the garage children leap from open doors like baboons escaping a lion, leaving iDad with half a dozen suitcases to unpack and a mountain of washing to get through. Thirty minutes later the banshee is shrieking abuse from the stereo upstairs, the youngsters are watching Nemo yet again and the teenagers are demanding to know,
‘What’s for dinner?’
In 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono rented twenty-two billboards across eleven different cities and posted a simple message, “WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko.”
The message became a song in 1971 which began with the following words whispered by Yoko and then John, “Happy Christmas, Kyoko” and “Happy Christmas, Julian”. John and Yoko are wishing their children a Happy Christmas. People have mistakenly thought that they were whispering greetings to each other.
The song was recorded October 1971 and released December 1971 originally a protest against the war in Vietnam, but it is now seen as a message of hope from the murdered Beatle that the people of the world could put aside their differences and live in peace. Whatever your personal feelings are about John and Yoko you have to agree that the theme is pertinent to all of us, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one without any tears.”
Press play below for a little theme music.
Christmas has always been a magical time of the year in our family ever since iDad was a baby himself. As soon as God Sakes learned to talk Bynel and Mynel became Gam-pa and Gam-mar, which made my mother very happy, and for as far back as I can remember their house has always been a Christmas wonderland. Tinsel hung from every corner of the ceiling while festoons of multicoloured fairy lights twinkled inside and out. The tree was never shorter than six foot two and adorned with baubles, candy canes (fake and real), glass ornaments and an old family heirloom angel on top. Lunch consisted of roasted turkey and pork with crunchy crackling. We had home made Christmas pudding with brandy sauce, baked vegetables, peas, beans and a big fat leg of ham. I’ve never seen such a stupendous spread as the one Gam-mar and Gam-pa dished out every 25th of December. How my mum managed to slave it out in the kitchen during those notoriously hot Christmas days I’ll never know.
There were always presents as far as the eye could see. No one who visited their home missed out on a gift, nor did many of their neighbours. Bing Crosby crooned about chestnuts roasting on an open fire before taking us all to Ireland to experience a Christmas in Killarney. After a massive feast for lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon in the swimming pool before the extended family descended upon us and we ate and drank all over again.
Competing with the Griswolds was going to be tough 😉
God Sakes, Granny and No.1 are excitable enough at the best of times, but with the promise of the fat bearded fellow in the bright red suit squeezing down the imaginary chimney with a sack full of happiness…. well I’m sure you can understand why December in our house was the longest month of the year.
‘Is it Christmas yet?’ [Excitable chatter from one little boy.]
‘Not yet sweety.’ [Kind and loving answer from a weary mother.]
‘Will it be Christmas tomorrow?’ [Equally enthused enquiry from same little boy.]
‘No honey.’ [Audible sigh.]
‘But I want it to be Christmas noooow!’ [Dejected whine from disappointed little boy.]
‘Don’t wish your life away darling.’ [Typical grown up answer that kids don’t understand.]
Gloomy little trooper leaves the room and is replaced by another hyperactive tyke with similar questions. Thus the Christmas circle of life continues to spin.
Poor Blue Eyes had to deal with this every single day from December first until Christmas Eve and each visit to the North Pole (Gam-mar and Gam-pa’s house) only made matters worse.
By and large, the present shopping for little boys is very easy. Trust me when I tell you that you cannot go wrong with Tonka trucks and toy dinosaurs. Living within a meager budget, though, meant that Blue Eyes and I had to be creative with our purchases. A twenty-four pack of Matchbox cards could be split evenly amongst three children, as could a bag full of dinosaurs, and this trick served to really pad out the Christmas stocking. Kids don’t care if their T-Rex is made in Taiwan.
Special Christmas Tip 1: Substituting monsters from old Japanese horror films does not work. Any five-year-old boy can tell the difference between an Allosaur and Godzilla.
Wrapping on the other hand was an untidy mess. Carefully folding coloured paper over tiny individual odd-shaped items can be a frustrating experience filled with paper cuts and misplaced sticky tape. Did you know that children do not care about the paper you use? In fact, I have serious doubts that they even notice what images are printed on it. Its true! One year we ran out of Santa wrapping and had to use some old birthday paper to finish off. Granny’s rampage didn’t miss a beat regardless of whether the wrapping had Rudolph or birthday cake.
Finally the 24th arrives, the last window in the Advent calendar has been opened and excitement reaches fever pitch. Trying to get overly animated children to sit still in Church the night before all their dreams come true is hard enough. Getting them to go to bed is nigh on impossible. My boys were like sweaty pink pinballs ricocheting off invisible flippers, careening around the house, bouncing off the walls and crashing into the furniture, all without the aid of red cordial, Coca Cola or any other sugary stimulant. Like the energizer bunny they were wound up and without an ‘off switch’. Blue Eyes would manage to get one of them into bed but as soon as she left to grab another, the first child was up, out and wreaking havoc. It was a futile effort that soon gave way to a glass of Chardonnay as we watched God Sakes push Granny into the tree. Eventually they wore themselves out and we were able to corral our two-legged horses.
In spite of the shenanigans, Blue Eyes and I always enjoyed the manic antics of our boys. There is something absolutely beautiful in the look a child has when he or she is deliriously happy. Its the kind of joy that stays on their faces long after they have collapsed into unconsciousness and reminds you that even if you are unsure what you are doing, and lets face it most of us are not given a parenting manual on the day you conceive, today you got it right.
One more quick check to make sure they are still asleep and its time to go up into the attic to retrieve the presents from iSanta.
Special Christmas Tip 2: Attics have spiders – that’s a fact of life. So if a dirty great huntsman the size of a Landcruiser crawls over your hand try not to squeal like a pre-teen girl at a Justin Bieber concert and definitely do NOT hurl the gift you are holding across the room, especially if it is made of glass.
Click here for more theme music:
Monster arachnids aside, the only real problems I ever encountered at Christmas began with those infamous words, ‘Some Assembly Required’.
One year Blue Eyes decided that we would get the boys an outdoor swing set. Auntie Pedie and Uncle Bop had come over for ‘dinner and and a show’ so after the circus had left town for the night we pulled the pieces of my dark green nemesis out of the garage and got started. Blue Eyes and I had never been good at building things together. All our Ikea constructions ended up with her laughing and iDad spitting the dummy, usually after a bashed finger or cut hand. I remember the day we built a wardrobe. In the kit was a bag of approximately 900 panel pins. I made sure that I used absolutely every single one of them and they were all perfectly spaced apart. Moving the unit a few years later I spent three hours cursing the ‘idiot who put so many bloody nails in the back’. Some days you’re the rider, other days you’re the horse.
Wisely Blue Eyes suggested that Bop the BMW mechanic should help me. With his technical skills and my managerial abilities we should be done in time, right? WRONG!
It was a particularly hot Christmas Eve that eventually turned into a thunder storm and by the time we got the boys to bed it was still drizzling.
‘No problem’ says iDad, ‘the sliding back doors will be wide enough to get the swing set out. Let’s build it inside.’
Special Christmas Tip 3: Beer may be nice to drink on a hot day but you can be sure that it will also impede your motor skills and capacity for logical thought.
Two and a half hours later and without referring to the instructions, Bop and iDad stood proudly in the living room inspecting our Colosseum. It was a grand design with a single swing on the right, a two person swing on the left and an enclosed swing seat for Granny in the middle. To top it all off, there was a shiny slippery dip bolted to the right hand side. Sheer beauty.
‘That’s not going out the back door, you know.’
Bop was right.
Thankfully the ales we had consumed had kept us in good humour so the concept of pulling apart our masterpiece and reassembling it in the backyard was not a huge worry. With the last of the libations in the Esky iDad and Bop stood in the dimly lit courtyard being eaten alive by mosquitoes and cursing the fact that Santa would be getting all the credit.
Some time after three a.m., I crawled in between the sheets. Luckily, the boys let me sleep until it was almost six. We had a rule in our house that if you woke up and the sun wasn’t shining, then you couldn’t get out of bed. Foolishly I had hoped that the storm clouds would still be present and I would get a little lie in. The Southerly buster that arrived just before dawn cooled the city down and blew away the grey skies. It was bright and sunny and the frenzied pinball machines were dancing on my head.
Aside from the exhaustion it was a perfect Christmas morning. The boys rode the swing set whilst iDad cooked ham and eggs on the BBQ. Afterwards we had ‘Jurassic Park’ in the lounge room complete with Velociraptors, plastic soldiers and a bright red Ferrari that God Sakes refused to let No.1’s Spinosaurus step on. Granny was lying in the remnants of the wrapping with a gold bow stuck in his hair trying desperately not to fall asleep. Every so often one of his brothers would throw a dinosaur at him and he would climb out of the detritus so his Brontosaurus could munch on a plastic Marine.
Blue Eyes and I would sit with a cup of coffee and watch our little angels play. We’ve been doing this for seventeen years now and for me, these are the memories that make Christmas special.
Mele Kalikimaka everybody.
iDad © Matthew Green 2010