Friday, December 30, 2011

Reading Recap

So I've actually kept a record of my reading this year thanks to Goodreads. It's the first time I've kept any sort of reading journal, though I have long envied the friends I have who have always done this. I should get Fred and Una onto it.

At the beginning of the year I blithely signed up for a reading challenge at Goodreads - 100 books in a year. I assumed I'd easily read that. But in August I realised there was no way I was going to make it. Rather than write the challenge off, I amended it to 50. So far I've read 48. I am almost finished two books (The Man in the Wooden Hat on audio and Amy Bloom's astonishing short story collection Where the God of Love Hangs Out) so can comfortably say I will achieve this.

Of those 50 books, some are audio, some I read on the Kindle and some I consumed the old fashion way. Some are novels I read aloud to the kids. Anyway, here's a best of:

Best Kindle
The Summer Without Men was the first book I read on the Kindle and it cemented my love for it. I think the Kindle is especially well suited to novellas. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a short memoir of illness, in which a bedridden woman becomes absorbed in recording the life of a wild snail who shares her sick room. Another short novel, The Golden Day, is Ursula Dubosarsky's latest, a very absorbing fiction which transcends traditional audience (which means it has been published as YA), an urban Sydney Picnic at Hanging Rock, well matched with The Secret River which I listened to later in the year. I also loved the chilling We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a Penguin modern classic by an author I hadn't heard of before, Shirley Jackson. Castle is one of those books that pre-empts modern YA. Her short story collection The Lottery is also on the Kindle and I've been dipping in and out of it all year.
Speaking of short fiction, I've been reading quite a lot this year as that's what I've been writing. Also on the Kindle I loved Making Babies by Anne Enright, short memoirs about parenthood. I love her as a writer and feel totally bonded to her as a parent. Also after reading a recommendation by Louise Swinn I read Karen Hitchcock's collection Little White Slips. Hitchcock is a doctor and according to the interwebs a triathlete. She writes beautifully and seeringly about people touching on many of the same subjects I am drawn to as a writer, so it was fascinating to read fiction by someone who was "same same but different" (ahem, I am not a triathlete. Have I ever mentioned that? I am not a doctor either.)

Best Audible
Audiobooks are situated somewhere between reading and having a long gossipy conversation with your best friend. Below in my "best of" is actually all the audiobooks I've listened to this year. I attempted others but am more likely to abandon books when listening than reading.
Abide With Me Sprawling, compassionate, heartbreaking.
Old Filth My afterlife consists of a giant library of books about everyone I ever met. Many of my family would be in books by Jane Gardam. Actually my dad knew her as a boy.
The Secret River Bill Wallis narrated Old Filth, so I came across this when searching the audible website by narrator. It was a book I'd always meant to read (having loved Lilian's Story). So it was a done deal. I struggled through the first part set in England which is impeccably researched but burdened with so much detail I couldn't make a picture in my head. But from the moment Wallis spoke the words Part Two I was hooked. Listening is relentless and unforgiving, and there were some difficult scenes I would have skimmed if I'd been reading.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Amazing layered non-fiction book that includes as part of its project a deep and intriguing reflection on the act of writing about people's lives.
The Marriage Plot This is a wonderfully put together book, very much driven by character. I found the material very identifiable, though I am probably 10 years younger than the characters. But it was a world and a collection of experiences I recognised. I had a few issues by the end of the novel particularly regarding Eugenides treatment of his main female protagonist, but it was a fun and absorbing listen and I felt invested in all the characters.
The Man in the Wooden Hat is a gift of a book, a sequel to Old Filth that dwells with his wife Betty.

Best Read-alouds
Superfudge and the Lotta books made the whole family laugh out loud. Martin would finish the dishes and sit in the lounge to listen. I love these books, structured around incident and encounter. A friend described the genre as "the family down the street" and I think it might be one of my favourites, especially for very young children.
The Hundred Dresses is a book that's been recommended on here a few times by American readers and when I came across it last year just before Christmas I decided to buy it for Una who had recently enjoyed The Worst Witch. She struggled to identify with The Hundred Dresses but Fred listened fascinated. And then they both incorporated the book into their imaginative play.
For Una's birthday, I decided to go back to the picture book, but still wanted an extended and engaging reading experience. I came across Millie Starts School at the wonderful Eltham Bookshop and knew this would appeal. It is a picture book in four chapters and conjures up the school experience beautifully. Jane Godwin is brilliant at capturing contemporary Australian childhood and those sorts of experiences to which we can all relate.
Cicada Summer This was almost a bit beyond Fred but she loved the idea of the timeslip, and because she knows Kate well, and has played often with Kate's oldest daughter Alice (who bears a lot of similarities to Anna in Cicada Summer), the book resonated for her, so next we tried
Charlotte Sometimes which was definitely more challenging and actually is structurally very odd. Fred adored it though and we will look out Penelope Farmer's other books about the Summers girls.

Best of the Rest
Gilgamesh I read this after the Meanjin Tournament of Books. It's a strange book, often book people talk about being "in safe hands", feeling the author knows where she is taking the reader. I never felt safe with Gilgamesh and I doubted the author's ability to satisfactorily end the book right up till the last paragraph, but by sleight of hand she did it. That feeling of not being safe actually makes the book an oddly tense read, not entirely comfortable, but I was completely entranced. This is more like a spell than a novel.
The Shattering is great YA. As is This is Shyness. These both might fit into the "supernatural romance" category that most YA seems to be tipping towards these days but both are SO MUCH MORE.
After listening to Abide With Me I read Strout's other two books Olive Kitteridge and Amy and Isabelle. I love the way she writes, the richness of characters interior lives and their interconnectedness, the sprawl of detail and the small town as stage for human drama. These are books you can read page by page, sometimes I would devour a 100 pages in a sitting, then it might take me a week to read ten more. She builds her stories sentence by sentence, each one is its own artwork.
Kinglake-350 is a retelling and examination of the 2009 bushfires but also a study of the Australian male. It got a little *too* blokey for me by the end, but I fully acknowledge that this is a book written to also appeal to people who don't regularly read. And it is extremely compulsive, and more than a little unsettling (as it should be).
In the last months of my pregnancy last year I read the Little Women books so sometime after Avery was born I picked up March. I was disappointed, the connection to Alcott's world to me is the most problematic element of March. But I was inspired to read Year of Wonders and I loved it. I even loved the epilogue that dismayed so many others.
The first book I read this year was The Children by Charlotte Wood, the sequel (or companion or whatever) Animal People came out this year and it's high on my to read list. Charlotte is active on Twitter which is to say she and I spend more time than we should talking about our respective dinners on the computer.

Out of the 50 books I read this year, 13 were by Australian women (well, strictly speaking Karen Healey is a New Zealander but she was living here when she wrote it) plus there were 2 anthologies in which Australian women are well represented. Only 4 books of the total fifty were by men (2 Australian). There is an Australian Women Writer's Reading Challenge for 2012. Considering my "to read" pile currently includes Sophie Cunningham's Melbourne (I'm about a third of the way in and relishing it), Gillian Mears The Foal's Bread, Grenville's Sarah Thornhill, Wood's Animal People and Maureen McCarthy's Careful What You Wish For and my most anticipated books for next year include the conclusion to Michelle Cooper's compelling trilogy The FitzOsborne's at War (rock on April - also the month the new Anne Tyler is being released), the next Shyness novel, Margo Lanagan's Sea Hearts and Maureen McCarthy's newie inspired by her family connection to the Abbotsford convent I am almost there. But looking over the year's books I am beginning to think I might benefit from a few more Y chromosomes in my reading pile.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Changing Places

Our oldest daughter started school at The Local three years ago. It was a small school when we chose it. We shopped around because that’s what parents seem to these days, looking at three schools in the area. We were impressed by the big school 10 minutes drive away, charmed by the little (but not as little as The Local) school adjacent to Fred's kinder about 8 minutes drive away with its mix of new and old buildings. Both these schools are serviced by a bus that passes on the main road, five minutes walk from our house. But Fred loved The Local the best, and I favoured the idea of a local school, one we could walk to. When we chose it we thought there were about 85 kids, by the time Fred started there were 65.

Her class size, a combined prep/1/2, was fairly normal, about 25 kids total, with two teachers in the expansive double unit. It seemed in many ways an ideal set up. The extremely experienced prep teacher was kind and gentle. I have never in three years heard her raise her voice. The other teacher in the room was also experienced, but with a different style. They seemed to complement each other.

By the time Fred was in grade two, the numbers of the whole school had dropped dramatically to 37. Her grade of ten was down to eight. My other daughter, Una, started the school as one of only two preps, for the second year in a row. The art teacher had left, as had several other staff members. The school was down to three permanent teachers (all very senior), and there was no longer two teachers in Fred's classroom - it was her third year in a row with the same teacher.

The Local School offers many opportunities to students, inter-school sport where everyone gets a turn from grade 3 to 6 (sometimes combining with other smaller schools to make a team), a lovely music program, PE, and a larger than usual number of whole school excursions and incursions. There are discos and bush dances and this year the parents participated in a progressive dinner party. The whole school is performing The Wizard of Oz tomorrow night. The kids care for a small but productive vegetable garden. The students host assembly each week. The OSHC program is staffed by a dynamic and creative young woman.

In the winter terms the kids have Cubbyland: using found objects they make little houses in a gully of trees. They form tribes and beg, borrow and steal supplies (one year a talented boy sang for sticks). The cubbies are dismantled every Friday, new tribes form on Monday. The politics of Cubbyland are intricate and impossible for an outsider to really fathom, especially a grown up. The self governing works pretty well. It's kind of like Lord of the Flies, but, as the Principal once said to me, 'without the Piggy killing.'

We’ve had problems at the school, some of them resolved easily, even elegantly, and some not to our satisfaction. I am sure this is true of every parent at every school, but it can be hard not to take it personally in a school of 37 kids. Still, mostly our kids' experiences at The Local have been great. Fred particularly is devoted to the school.

I have to admit, it’s been a little demoralising to be part of a school that feels like it’s dying, that doesn’t have the support of the local community – so many parents travel out of the area for school. It’s a vicious cycle. The smaller the school gets, the less people are inclined to choose it for their own children. 'Our school is not very popular,' Una said to me out of the blue in the car a few weeks ago as we drove up the hill out of Warrandyte where - a long time ago, a whole year - she'd gone to creche. 'No,' I admitted. 'It's not very popular.' She sighed. 'I'd like to go to a popular school.' Una and I have had a conversation along these lines every few weeks since before she even started at The Local. In fact over three years ago, when I was looking at schools for Fred Una came with me. She walked out of the Big School and said, 'This is my school.'

When Avery was born last year a friend commented (on this blog I think) 'You’ll populate that tiny school yet.' Unfortunately she was wrong. In the last two weeks we have made the decision to move our children to the Big School ten minutes away.

So we are saying goodbye to our tiny school and it's a sad goodbye. I love the school. I love the staff: I respect them as educators; I like them as people. I feel invested in the other children and the idea that I won’t be there in 2015 to see Fred’s class graduate is a sad thought. Although I know my children are ready for the challenges of the big school, for a busy and vibrant program, and for a larger circle of friends, I do feel that I am taking something precious away from them as well.

Mostly though I am mourning for myself. I love the walk to school in the mornings. I like feeling a part of the place, the relationship I have with the teachers, the easy, casual vibe with the other parents. I’ll miss arriving early to pick up the kids and wandering the corridor with Avery. I’ll miss the relaxed school uniform, that I can send them in streetwear if we're behind in our laundry. I'll miss the way I can hold the whole school in my head, I'll miss knowing who they play with. I'll miss miniature army, and the way all the older kids are ascribed family titles "mother", "uncle", "aunt".

We told them on Saturday, after their Friday night school disco. We decided to tell them separately, so we took them out "Christmas shopping". I took Una. I pulled over by the side of the road, opposite the Big School. I told her to climb over into the front seat, I had something to tell her. She looked at me very seriously. I explained she was going to change schools, that she was going to go to a more popular school. Her face lit up, her eyes shone. Everything pleased her - the Italian and violin lessons

Martin told Fred. I couldn't, I was worried that if she cried I would cry, and it would send the wrong message. I've been crying a lot about it. For the week after we signed the forms and before we told them I'd been sick with anxiety over it. Every time Fred hugged me or just simply looked happy and at peace I felt like a traitor. And as I thought would happen Fred burst into tears. But almost immediately she was okay. She knew she would miss her school and her friends. Yet the idea of a big bustling population of kids was undeniably exciting, and her outlook now is positive.

The teachers who haven't taught Fred yet are sad to see her go, they've both been looking forward to having her in their classes. 'I just hope,' says the 5/6 teacher, 'that conventional school doesn't take away her spark.' What I don't say, but have discovered, is that there is more pressure to conform at a small school, perhaps not from the institution but certainly from the other kids. I think socially at least Fred will be able to be more herself. To some extent she'll be able to create the community she wants to be a part of, instead of being forced to fit in with the 5 other girls in her class, or risk being an outsider.

So far the other parents have been disappointed but understanding. The sick feeling is slowly subsiding. As my friend Jelly said, coming and going is part of school life, even (perhaps especially) at our small school.

Yesterday the girls did a practice at the Big School. We got there during the lunch hour and the girls went off to explore the playground. I tried to keep both of them in my sights, worried that they wouldn’t know what to do when the bell rang, and got a little panicked as Una chased a boy she knew from Kinder in one direction and Fred wandered off with two preps interrogating her in another direction.

Instead of a bell they played music to signal the return to classes. I found Una staring at three rubbish bins, oblivious to the sudden tide of kids heading back to the school buildings.

'There’s music coming out of that bin,' she told me.

I delivered Una to her teacher, a warm woman who lives out our way and used to be the library teacher – so I think we will like each other. She was expecting Una and greeted her by name. One of Fred’s prep groupies from the playground was in Una’s class and volunteered to take care of her.

I took Fred round to her room a small, slightly pokey portable - so different from the expanse of space at the Local. The kids were lined up outside and Fred recognised a girl from kinder who lives near us, who we see regularly at the library bus. Her new teacher is tall and smily and used to captain the Australian volleyball team. Apparently he asked the class if anyone knew what an acrostic is and Fred-the-poet stuck up her hand and explained it to the class. Her acrostic was:

Funny

Reading

Eating

Doesn’t like eggs.

I love that she chose Funny and Reading to describe herself.

As I write this I hear the Local School bell, signalling recess. I love that sound, it makes me think of my children, I can picture them dropping their pencils, running outside to play.

I know they’re going to be fine. I just hope I can say the same about me.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The quiet of this blog

I feel I should write something.

Something about my days, how one falls into to another. How they seem to flick past, like cards expertly dealt in a game of chance. How each day travels with its own startling velocity, and I am a passenger of time, being travelled. How I don't mind it, the brisk pace, the whirlwind, the clear breathless days.

Time is a contradiction. Its relativity is relative: an eccentric uncle, a distant grandmother, the child of your cousin, strange intimacy, the intimacy of strangers.

I go to parties and it's nice to see people but I feel like I am pretending to be someone else. I feel like I'm pretending to be myself. I talk, I laugh, I drive home so tired that inky shadows begin to take shape at the corner of my vision and I have to pull over and rest my eyes.

I count up the words I've written this year, the stories I've completed, and I realise I've actually been quite productive, all things considered, though I feel like I haven't been working at all.

I think in novels but I don't write them. I dream in stories. But I'm not writing. Inside I blog, I journal, I diarise. I write nothing down.

It's left me, the compulsion. I am adrift from words. When I try to force them out, they sit on the page and go nowhere. Sentences clatter. There's no music.

So I read instead. I wait. I try not to panic. I'm not writing right now. I'm not righting write now. The days go on, the hours slip by with ease, and I'm comforted by that, because if the hours were eternal, I'd be lonely inside them without the words.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Halloween, it's unAustrayan

And yet...

In St Andrews, as in many suburbs and towns all over Australia, kids go trick or treating on Halloween. My kids went last year as part of a group, up the main street with a couple of plucky parents. They asked to go again this year, this time just with me. I angsted about it. It's not part of our cultural tradition and it felt wrong to let my girls go round knocking on doors caging lollies off the neighbours (though I know that wasn't the main appeal - they just wanted to dress up and parade around the area). I said yes with all sorts of caveats, with a plan that I would email our immediate surrounding neighbours to forewarn them or that I would send the kids out with treats to deliver rather than simply to receive.

The reason I said yes (apart from the fact that an expectation had been created from last year and also because from the year we moved in) was because I more than understood that desire to go knocking on people's doors. My childhood bestie Zoe and I as kids would take any excuse to go rapping on people's doors. We had gone Christmas caroling one year for instance, another thing that is not really a tradition in Australia. And I like the idea of the kids being out and about. They have a good relationship with all the immediate neighbours, so the idea of extending this to the wider area is appealing.

Apparently in other Australian suburbs there are letter box drops and sticker systems to alert people that you're okay with them knocking on your door. But we don't have letter boxes in St Andrews (you have to go to the General Store to get your mail). And there was no point putting signs up at the Store since it wouldn't apply to most of the area - it's such a far flung suburb. And for the same reason we couldn't just include families from the school, as we have only 20 families and they live many kilometers apart.

Anyway in the end the same mum from last year rang and said she was happy to take the girls again and so, loving a cop out, that's what we did, drove the girls down to their place (opposite the school) and left them with that brave mum and a small gang of zombies and witches. They made it as far as our place and back again. I drove down to pick them up, but I was too early, they were still walking along the main road. So I ducked into the access road where they couldn't see me and watched them walk along, carrying their bags of spoils. Una lagged a little behind, tiring perhaps. She stopped to look at something on the road. Fred broke away from the group and tugged Una along. They caught up. There was something deeply satisfying about secretly watching them out in the world.

There were other gangs of kids out too, four of five small clutches, all dressed up. I drove up to the house where Fred and Una were headed. There were still a few houses for them to try so I waited with some of the mums out the front. One was spectacularly dressed up herself. We admired her soft brown curly wig. She said 'It even looks good without make up.' The girls came running back, wired on sugar, thrusting their stuffed, disintegrating paper bags into my hands. They had cups of jelly with them that someone had made, with lolly snakes crawling out. So. Much. Sugar. And just before dinner too.

Anyway, in the end I had totally changed my mind about the tradition. Instead of bothering the neighbours, I realised the girls were bringing joy to people who didn't get to see kids all that often, either because theirs had grown or they didn't have any. People had dressed up, had bowls of lollies, were waiting for people to come and knock on their door and would have been disappointed if no one had come knocking. I remembered from the year we went caroling (1986), one woman who was so overcome with joy and nostalgia and homesickness for England that she thrust a five dollar note into our hands despite our repeated protestations that we didn't want money.

Watching kids milling around, most unaccompanied by adults, reminded me of my own childhood, growing up in a bushy suburb. We door knocked for all sorts of reasons - sponsorship for walkathons and readathons, our Christmas caroling adventure, offering to do odd jobs, looking for my dog who ran away on a regular basis and a menagerie of imaginary pets and even just mooching house to house looking for someone to 'come out and play'. In a world where this doesn't happen anymore, partly because of a societal fear of some shadowy stranger who wants to do unnameable things to our children, there is a particular pleasure in seeing them dress up as the things that scare them and march up to a door to ask in a clear singsong voice "trick or treat?"

Though Una as a mouse didn't engender much fear. 'NO ONE was afraid of me,' she said at the end of it all, mystified, because isn't everyone afraid of mice?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

a game in a game

The girls are playing. Una is a dog. She has bunches in her hair for ears, and a scarf stuffed into the back of her tights. Fred wants to join the game. She gets the stethoscope from the dress ups. She's the vet.

But Fred the vet is bossy and interventionist, and it was Una's game. Una comes to us. "I don't want Fred to be the vet, I just want her to be normal." By normal she means she wants Fred to be a dog too. 'I'll play my own game,' Fred says. Una wants Fred to play, she just doesn't want Fred to be a vet. This is an ongoing daily drama. Fred running from every disagreement with a quick and cutting 'I'm not playing!' and Una's copious tears. Martin starts to intervene. That way madness lies. He gives up. Fred goes down to the bedroom and comes back with an armful of stuffed toys which she dumps on the ground.

'I know!' Una offers. 'Fred could be a dog playing a game that she's the doctor. It could be a game in a game.'

Her words give me a shiver. A game within a game. A story within a story. A girl within a girl. Are metatexts are as primal as stories themselves - peeling back layers and layers of reality and illusion? Or is this trickery learned? Putting one Russian doll inside another, another doll already concealed inside the first.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

10 Quick Questions*

What was your earliest inspiration to write?

I was born with an ear for stories. Composing (music, songs, poetry, plays) seemed a natural thing to do, rearranging found objects into new structures.

Who is your favourite book character (any book) and why?

I’m going to be cheeky here and pick one of my own – I don’t think you ever really love a book character as much as one you have created. At the moment it’s Clara from Only Ever Always. She is brave and stern and fierce, but so vulnerable and has an enormous capacity for love. Her very existence is a philosophical conundrum, and I like that in a girl.

What is the best feedback a reader has ever given you?

Before my first novel Undine was published, Random House sent the manuscript out to teen readers for feedback. One girl answered the form questions in a positive but fairly perfunctory manner, but then added a note at the end saying she couldn’t put into words how the book had made her feel and how it was unlike anything she’d ever read. Her speechlessness was very touching.

What was your favourite picture book as a child?

John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat. I find it impossible to put into words how that book makes me feel, and I suspect it's more in the pictures than the words. So I'll tell you about another book, an odd little number called The Little Slipper Man. It’s a German picture book, quite nihilistic, about a miniature invisible man who no one can see. One day he steals a pair of psychedelic slippers (his little stalk legs slipping around inside each one) and runs down the street and feels very special and important until he realises everyone is looking at the slippers and not him. So he goes back into the meadow, disappears into the long grass and continues his insignificant, inconsequential existence. Not sure, now I have recounted the tale, why it appealed so much. I must try and track it down.

What are you reading right now?
Reading has been a challenge this year. I've wanted desperately to do it, but I am short on space. Avery sleeps in our room during the day and we only have one living area so in winter when the girls are home I have nowhere to go. Still, I am managing to find some reading spaces. This year I've been reading books concurrently, frustrated by how long it takes me to get through a book. I always have one or two collections of short stories on the go because I am enjoying them so much and sometimes I can even manage a whole one in a sitting before the baby cries or the television fires up or a child wants a snack.

I am reading quite diversely in terms of genre, though looking through this list I see that nearly everything is Australian, except for The Lottery. I had a deep craving about a month ago for Australian writing, which is what led me to seek out Patrick White. I am hooked, and plan to read another after this one. The only other I've read was The Vivisector in my early twenties. I am keen for recommendations.

Novel: Patrick White The Aunt's Story
Non-fiction: Melbourne by Sophie Cunningham and Kinglake 350 by Adrian Hyland
YA: Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith
Audiobook: The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Short Stories: Little White Slips by Karen Hitchcock and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

If you could set a story in any time or place, where would it be?

44 rue des Écoles, on 25 February 1980.

If there is one book you wish you’d written, what is it?

The Gruffalo. I greatly admire those effortless rhymes. How gloriously smug Julia Donaldson must feel, and so she should.

If you could sit next to any historical figure on a plane, who would it be and why?

An ordinary person with a tale to tell from any period in history (which is why I like Malouf’s Ransom so much).

If you could give one sentence of writing advice what would it be?

Interrogate reality.

Which literary quote best defines you?

“There is an extraordinary charm in other people’s domesticities. Every lighted house, seen from the road, is magical: every pram or lawn-mower in someone else’s garden: all smells or stirs of cookery from the windows of alien kitchens.”
C.S. Lewis, Time and Tide, 16 June 1945

*Originally answered for the Ballarat Writers and Illustrators Festival, though I've updated my reading list.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Walnut and nutmeg cake

The recipe for this cake has a curious method, where you rub the butter into the flour, spice and sugar and then pat half of this flour mix into the cake tin. You then mix the rest with the wet ingredients and chopped walnuts to make the rest of the cake. It means you end up with what is almost a pastry base, very thin, which gives the cake an excellent textural dimension: a crunchy, bitey, buttery, sugary bottom. The rest of the cake is soft and fluffy, a little caramelly from the brown sugar, balanced by the earthiness of the walnuts. The original recipe called for pecans but I had walnuts and I suspect this was an improvement - pecans would be sweeter but they're a little prissier, don't you think? We had this cake for morning tea and it was lovely as it was: unadorned, washed down with tea or coffee. But if you wanted to serve this for dessert (and I really think you could), then I think a thick sweetened yoghurt would be a perfect accompaniment. If you really wanted to go the whole hog and ice it, then a cream cheese or sour cream frosting (like you'd use on a carrot cake) would be the best match. The recipe suggested dusting with icing sugar. The cake is VERY nutmeggy. (I grated my own. First time. I liked it.) Una loved it, Fred not so much.

I did my "rubbing in" in the food processor so it ended up quite fine and I thought it was way too dry to stick together, but once baked the base was perfectly firm and solid, I suspect I could have done a lap of the house with it in my hands and it would have held together. I guess some of the moisture from the rest of the cake mix seeps in.

Ingredients
2 cups (250g/8oz) SR flour
2 tsp ground nutmeg
125g (4oz) butter
1.5 cups (345g/11oz) brown sugar
.5 tsp bicarb
1 cup (250ml/8 fl oz) milk
1 egg
.75 cup (90g/3oz) chopped walnuts (pecans, almonds...I don't see why you couldn't use any nut)

1/ Preheat oven to 180ºc (350ºF/Gas 4). Grease and line a 20m springform tin. Sift SR flour and nutmeg int a bowl (I never sift) and add the chopped butter and brown sugar. Using your finger tips, rub the butter into flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. (I did this in food processor).
2/ Place half this flour mix into the cake tin and press it down until base of tin is evenly covered. Press it down smoothly (using back of spoon or hands).
3/ Combine egg, bicarb, milk, nuts and add to the remaining flour mix. Stir till mixture is just smooth (except it won't be smooth because you have chunks of nuts in there, stupid recipe)
4/Pour this walnut mixture over the crumb base of the prepared tin and smooth surface with spatula. Back 35-40 minutes or until skewer comes out clean. (In my whizzbang fan forced oven I needed the full 40.) Set cake aside for at least 10 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cook.

Recipe from Family Circle Quick Mix Cakes circa 1996

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lines written to amuse Una on holidays

Under a figtree,

never seen by waking eyes,

a fairy girl creeps.


Petunias and daisies grow wild in her

eyes, she is

all flowers and cobwebs.

Remember her name? It’s on your

lips, like a half kiss.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

You are 10 months and 10 days old

A month ago you would get yourself up on all fours, rock back and forth and then collapse onto your tummy with your arms and legs elevated, balancing on your torso, as if you were trying to fly or swim, kicking your legs behind you. Though I also wondered if that was your impersonation of walking, from a horizontal perspective. A few weeks ago you began the labourious art of synchronising your arms and legs, and a sort of plodding on all fours began. Now you are an expert, speeding around the loungeroom. With crawling came the ability to sit yourself up on your own and it is surprising how much more human this makes you. In the last few days you have learnt to pull yourself up onto your feet at the couch, but once up your locked knees are stuck, and you can't sit yourself down again.
When you crawl sometimes you stop and press your ear against the floor, listening.
In the last few days you have sprouted your first tooth.
Your language is all music: repetition and intonation and emphasis. 'Na na na na na?' you ask me, with rising intonation. You punctuate our conversations with "yeah" or "oh?" The only word, used regularly and in context, is 'boowa' for a breastfeed. But there is also a recognisable greeting: 'Aiii!' or 'Ai Deh'.
You feed yourself, and eat all sorts of things - avocado, tuna sandwiches, pasta.
You are fascinated by your hands, more so than any of the other babies we have known. Sometimes you carry on whole conversations with gestures. You have three different waves.
You have discovered your pointing finger. You like to touch things - prod prod. You like to touch your pointing finger to my pointing finger. 'ET phone home?' I ask you.
You smile and smile. You are happy to be carried around by your sisters, held under the arms and hauled about the house or the park or the garden. Your brown eyes crinkle with amusement.
Watching your eyes turn from blue to brown has been a fascinating display of colour. For some time your eyes were both blue and brown, an impossible colour, but after many months they darkened to a convincing brown. Your brown eyes are a connection that only we share - mother, son.
You sleep pretty well during the day, except when you don't. You wake often at night. I don't mind. I look to the girls and know somewhere along the line they learned as you will learn. When you wake around midnight, I bring you into bed with me.

You are the child you will become but you are still a little unfamiliar. I wake in the night with you beside me. It dawns on me in the timelessness of dark night - slowly, then with a jolt of memory - that the baby beside me is a boy baby. A moment later I remember: it's you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why don't grown ups cry?

Recently you said to me "Why don't grown ups cry? Why don't you ever cry?"
Amazed, I said "I cry! You've seen me cry."
You said, "Have I?" And again, incredulous, "Have I?"

I have sat down on the floor beside you and sobbed, from tiredness or grief or anger or hunger or because my blood burned with sugar. I have cried from hopelessness, because I am terrible at motherhood, because loving you hurts. Because I used to be one thing, and then when you were born there was a tearing, a splitting, like antarctica calving an iceberg, you split from the continent and I lost a part of myself and I must bear that loss over and over. You have borne witness to two pregnancies, and overfilled I leaked tears. You have seen me cry in public, in cities all over the world, in Paris by the Seine, in London as we crossed the street, in Helsinki, in Hong Kong. I have cried because you have used up all my oxygen with your hunger and your need and your love. I have cried because you would not sleep, would not eat, would not leave, would not stay. I have cried reading you sad stories and watching movies with you on my lap. From love and from pride, from exhaustion of feelings, I have cried.

It is a strange trick of your memory that you have forgotten all this. For the first time I wonder if you have repressed these memories, if you have actively chosen to forget. Or perhaps the mind cannot hold what it cannot process, the impossibility of a mother who melts like snow. Perhaps this is why grown ups don't cry.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Verse Novel in Miniature*

1.
Walking in Clifton Hill
River dank,
Blossoms sweet with promises
I meet...myself

2
My young self walks past
Meets my eyes and looks away
She does not know me.

3.
I have become
In these familiar streets
A stranger to myself

4.
Though there's things to do,
This day I tread in her steps,
Watch her daily life

5.
She visits the shops
Buys bread and cheese
Takes an hour
To choose a video
And then goes home
Through yellow light

6.
Three cats drape themselves
In the garden, at the door,
Their eyes blink open.

7.
My husband to be
Young like the child of my husband
On the front porch lights up

8.
They smoke cigarettes
And weave dreams from smoke and air
In the park across the road
I am in darkness

9.
The park around me
Grows greener, richer, deeper
Until I am all but lost
to myself.
She looks out at the dark.



____________
*This semester I am teaching a Young Adult fiction group as part of the creative encounters subject at Melbourne Uni. Last week we did a class on verse novels. We talked about voice in YA fiction and how the verse novel as a genre foregrounds voice.

'I sing the song of myself,' wrote Walt Whitman.

I think this is why the verse novel has been so readily adapted for the YA market. We experimented with the form through writing exercises (or provocations as one student called them) and because I was encouraging the students to be very honest and personal (the verse novel strips back descriptive writing and tends to convey in a simple pared back way raw emotional experience), I participated. I set them the task of writing a verse novel in haiku. As you can see I have departed from rigid syllable structures in terms of haiku. I haven't really edited what I wrote in class, so this is, indeed, very raw.

Friday, September 02, 2011

LAUNCH REDUX - in conversation

So the lovely people at Eltham library along with the divine Eltham Bookshop have arranged a local launch for me.

I have invited Karen Andrews (aka @miscmum) along and we will have a conversation about the book. I asked Karen to help me with this one because our first "in the flesh" meeting (well we were fully clothed) was at Eltham library. She recognised me from here, Eglantine's Cake, and introduced herself.

Only Ever Always is a book for readers, thinkers, philosophers and explorers of the human heart - of all ages - and I know Karen is a thinker. I know the conversation will prove to be fascinating - I am looking forward to Karen holding up a microscope to the novel. Please come along.

"With parallel stories, worlds and characters, this is not a novel for a casual reader—it requires close attention, not just from the intellect, but from the heart. It's a book where not having all the answers is the most satisfying and in fact only conclusion—because life isn't always neat and tidy, and open endings suggest adventure and the great wonder of uncertainty—for the brave. If that sounds like a book for you— as it is a book for me—then I whole-heartedly commend Only Ever Always to you. "

"...the toughness is part of the charm, as Russon explores complicated literary illusions and offers up a very different form of storytelling. ‘Only Ever Always’ will be a rewarding read for the intrepid young bibliophile who dares to try – but it’s also a novel to captivate and challenge older readers, as I found."

"Do we have another self somewhere, a self that leads a different life but is somehow connected in dreams and at the periphery of our daily lives? ...It's a clever open-ended plot device that leaves room for the reader's own interpretation... Russon's background as a poet shines through in her lyrical prose and eye for detail. Parts of the novel are told in second person which draws the reader in as an intimate participant in the story. An interesting, thought-provoking novel."
Michelle Harmer The Age

Monday, August 29, 2011

Odd Numbers

A kilometre away, I hear the bell ring for recess, or snack-snack as the girls call it (to differentiate it from fruit-snack).

Who did you play with today? Martin asked Una a few weeks ago. She said No one. He asked Fred the same question. She replied: Bedda.

Last week the teacher rang me to tell me that Una's pants were loose in the waist and Una was worried they might fall down. I walked down with Avery in the pram and new pants. I happened to arrive at recess. A group of four or five girls, grades 2 and 3, ran around the school building arm in arm, conspiring about something.

Una! One of them calls and sets off running back in the direction they'd come from. I follow her. I find Fred and Una together, drawing with chalk on the pavement. The girl who had set off to find Una kneels down and joins in the drawing. Una wants to draw so I wait with Avery, hanging back a little.

At the periphery skulks Emily (not her real name). I gather that Emily has done something to Fred and Fred is upset. The group of girls I'd encountered before are looking for Emily and they find her. What's wrong Em-ma-lee? Emily runs off, shouting: Just leave me alone. It is not exactly bullying, but there is an undercurrent. We only want to help, say the group of girls. I feel awkward and out of place, not sure where to position myself in this political landscape - a mother in the playground doesn't belong. Luckily the bell goes and they are back under their teacher's jurisdiction. The kids crowd outside the classroom all trying to get a wave out of Avery. Look at this little guy, says one of the boys to his friend. He's awesome. Avery who is so talented at waving he often does it with both hands at the same time, stays absolutely still, staring with wonder and awe at all these faces, which though a small class (13 children including my girls), must seem a tidal wave of children to him.

I take Una inside to the toilets to put on her new pants. Her old pants are a little baggy but fine. That's funny, she says. Before they were falling down. Anyway, I promise her we will throw away the old pants, which are old - they were a hand me down from one of the grade two girls. As I help her dress, Una tells me that Emily threw away some kind of flower arrangement that Fred had been working on for days. She just picked it up like this Una demonstrates and scattered it over the basketball courts and Fred cried and I looked after her. I am glad. I am sad. Fred cried about it again on Friday night, feeling left out, that the kids are all pairing up, there's an odd number of kids in her class. But the up side of this is that Fred and Una are playing together at school, sticking up for each other, also enjoying each other more at home. I point this out to Fred and she agrees. But she longs for a best friend.

Last week on the walk to school, Una ran ahead so she could cross on her own with the crossing guard. Fred and I dawdled. I reminded Fred of all the friends she has that don't go to her school. Fred said sadly that she thought we should move to the city, closer to our other friends, tugging a sensitive nerve in my own heart. But on another day she looked around at the trees, the sunshine, the dazzling sky and said: I am lucky to live here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

LAUNCHED

So on Sunday Only Ever Always was launched into the world with the help of Kate Constable and my lovely girl Fred. Karen from Miscmum put a video of mine and Fred's bit on youtube (apparently it cuts out midthanks, so if you don't see yourself getting bethanked, you can be assured that YOU did, of course YOU did, YOU were integral to the whole business.) Readings were wonderful hosts. Every time I turned around I saw another lovely face of someone I really like, friends, families, writers, readers. It was a WHOLE ROOM full of people I really liked. So worth doing, for that reason alone. I haven't had a wedding (or an engagement party or a kitchen tea whatever that is) and having Christmas birthdays, Martin and I don't throw many parties. So it was actually really nice and a little unusual, just to see all these people gathered, a crowd made up of likeminded friendly book people, all their for me. *SOB*. And many people who didn't come sent lovely thoughts and messages of support, so all in all I felt...liked. It's a nice feeling.

So, in case you missed it or want to relive the good times:
Kate blogged the launch here
Megs blogged it here
You can read the anatomy of Only Ever Always at Simmone's blog (what a lovely project, how fascinating to till the foundations of people's imaginations)
Misrule reviewed it here
Alphareader reviewed it here
And you can buy it here or here or at your local independent bookseller in Australia and NZ.

And here's the video:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Easy Cupcakes



This is a recipe I found on the Taste forum, lost and then bashed a whole lot of combinations into google to find it again, so I am recording the recipe here for future procrastibaking. It's an odd method, but there is something oddly satisfying about it and the cakes looked lovely (they did shrink a little but I forgave them). I made them for my mother-in-law's birthday, along with the mini flourless chocolate cupcakes also on the plate. I decorated the white cupcakes with a marshmallow dipped in white chocolate and then hundreds and thousands and stuck to the cake with more white chocolate melted with a touch of cream, which is also what I drizzled on the flourless cupcakes. They were so cute and I wish I'd got a close up but I only took the quick snap above. (I felt like a bit of a dill standing in my sister-in-law's kitchen photographing the food.) I did the marshmallow thing because I wasn't sure if my mother-in-law (who has to avoid fat for health reasons) would eat a cupcake but I knew she wouldn't resist a marshmallow.

SCOUT'S* CUPCAKES
2 eggs
Cream
vanilla essence
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup SR flour
  1. Into a 1 cup metric measuring cup break your eggs and fill to the top with thickened cream.
  2. Beat 1 minute.
  3. Add a splash of vanilla essence and the caster sugar.
  4. Beat 3 minutes. It will go lovely and thick.**
  5. Sift the flour in and fold into mixture.
  6. Spoon into 12 patty pans (about half full). Bake in moderate oven until light golden and cakes spring back when lightly touched in the centre (I think this took 12 minutes in my fanforced oven).
*Scout is the user name of the person who first posted these cupcakes. They seem to be somewhat legendary on the Taste forum.
**I actually timed this and realised I was quite bored of beating after one minute and thought it MUST have been AT LEAST THREE MINUTES OR OMIGOD FOREVER, so it was good to user the timer.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tomorrow it will be August


And a new month brings a new book. Come out and see me.
And if you can't come, you could buy a book, stand for about 30 minutes, eat a biscuit, smile and nod to someone standing next to you (real or imagined, kudos if you manage to get someone to do it with you), applaud politely, mingle and pretend you are there.
I will blog a little more about the book in the days to come.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

This



The Ship Song Project - Sydney Opera House reinterprets Nick Cave's iconic song. Performed by Neil Finn, Kev Carmody and The Australian Ballet, Sarah Blasko, John Bell, Angus and Julia Stone, Paul Kelly and Bangarra Dance Theatre, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Opera Australia, Martha Wainwright, Katie Noonan and The Sydney Symphony, The Temper Trap, Daniel Johns and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Directed by Paul Goldman.
Arranged by Elliott Wheeler.
Photography by Prudence Upton.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Conversations after dark

Una: Those lights were very bright in my eyes.
Martin: They were bright. I flashed my lights at him to tell him his lights were too bright.
Una: (thoughtful pause.) He or she.
Martin: Yes.
Una: Why do you always say he when you're talking about someone you don't know?
Martin: Do I?
Una: Yes, when you mean she or he, you always say he. Why do you do that?
Martin: Social conditioning.
Una: I know why Daddy always says he. Because he likes boys the best.

...
Una: I am going to close my eyes and dream about Raphael. I am going to dream he gives me the true love kiss and then we will dance the tango.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Things we talk about before school

I get up. Fred and Una are sitting on the couch side by side. Fred is holding a giant rubber spider up to her face.
Fred: I'm hiding.
Una: From you.
Fred: Well not from you. From a person called You.

***
After watching Justin Bieber (Una is an out and proud Belieber and I suspect Fred is a closet one) on the Tubes I said, "Do you want to see someone I used to love when I was a teenager?"
They were both extremely keen on the idea. So I searched for the film clip of Never Tear Us Apart, my favourite INXS song. My goodness, what a festival of eighties New-Romantic glam-pop gender-bending aesthetic that is, I had to keep pointing out which one was Michael Hutchence and which the random wafting girl. And of course the whole thing is filmed in Prague. Of course it is. Wikipedia describes the song as "a sensuous ballad, layered with synthesizers and containing dramatic pauses before the instrumental breaks. Kirk Pengilly lends a cathartic saxophone solo near the end." You gotta love a cathartic saxophone solo. You just don't get that anymore. Music today. Etcetera. Everytime Frederique sings "I'm wearing all my favourite brands brands brands" a little part of me dies inside.
As I watch the clip I think how young Michael Hutchence looks, how soft in his jawline, how clean and safe.
"Did you really like him?" Una asks.
"Yes," I say.
"Really?"
"I like him," Frederique reassures me.
"Do you know the really sad thing?" I say. "He died."
"Was he old?"
"Not very old. About my age I think."
"How did he die?"
"Well, he was all alone in a hotel room. No one's really sure if it was an accident or if he did it on purpose."
"Maybe he was murdered," Fred suggests.
"Mm," I make a non-committal noise.
"Maybe," says Una with relish, "it's one of the world's last mysteries."
"Like Tutenkahmen,' says Fred.
"Yeah," says Una. "No one knows how he died."
But later Una comes up to me and says "I think he must have done it on purpose. If he was all alone in the hotel."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Earth Music

Outside the morning is progressing. The sun creeps across your bed. Your parents mutter on the other side of the closed door.
‘I’m going to wake her,’ Dad says.
Not yet. You squeeze your eyes shut. It’s too soon.
‘No,’ Mum urges. ‘Let her sleep.’
Climbing the stairs are the steady, dogged tones of an arpeggio. There is no magic in the relentless rise and fall of these broken chords. This is earth music, hard music, the most grounded music there is. It marches into your dreaming, and though you try to hold onto the dream, you can’t.
You are awake.

From Only Ever Always, in bookshops August 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Conversations

With Martin
Kettle: boils.
Martin: from kitchen where he is scavenging bread. Were you making me a cup of tea?
Penni: Yes, I was! Do you want to finish the job?
Martin: Most of the work is yet to be done.
Penni: I boiled the kettle. I had the vision.
Martin: You're a big picture person. Big picture.

With Una
'I don't like him,' Una says (about her friend's mother's boyfriend). 'He looks weird.'
'Have you met him?' I ask.
'I've only seen a photo of him. B showed me a photo on her mum's phone.'
I have a premonition. I ask casually, 'Was he wearing a hat?'
'No,' Una says. She thinks about this for a moment and goes on, her voice clear as a bell, 'But I haven't seen a picture of him with clothes on. He was naked.'
'Oh.' The atmosphere thickens, well for me it does. Una seems oblivious. 'Was he going swimming?' I ask.
She shakes her head no.
'Was he about to get in the bath?'
Una puts a biscuit in her mouth and nods. All wide eyed innocence.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Eight Months

8 months, give or take a week.
He can wave. Maybe. He flails convincingly.
He eats nearly everything we offer him, though he is not fond of avocado or plain yoghurt.
He stores toast in the roof of his mouth which I find at the next breastfeed.
He has this funny panty noise he makes, and we make it back and he smiles and makes it again. It may sound like hyperventilating but to us it is the beginnings of a conversation.
He says "ahdare". Sometimes we take it to mean "oh, there." Sometimes it might mean Daddy. Sometimes we say it means "thank you." Sometimes it seems to mean "look, my dummy, would you like it? Actually I might keep it." Really I think it means "ahdare".
Sometimes he sleeps beautifully during the day. Sometimes he sleeps like crap. He has never slept for more than four hours at night (I am coping fine though). Lately in the evening, when we're watching tv, he will wake in the cot and cry. I lift him up or Martin does and carry him up to the lounge, where I will feed him or rock him back to sleep, and hold him in my arms. The weight of a sleeping baby is a particular pleasure, watching dreams ripple over his features is a private and intimate and fleeting joy.

Friday, July 08, 2011

School Holidays

Martin is being very busy and important writing a book.
So the rest of us went to the zoo. It was free for kids. It would have been a reasonably inexpensive day out if I hadn't got a parking ticket. Turns out you have to pay to park at the zoo. I am sure I would have noticed that if I hadn't been busy wrangling three children on my own. OH WELL.
Snake charmer (I freaked Freddy out by telling her the snake was trying to hypnotise her. She never wants to go in the reptile house again. Which is a shame because it is my favourite part of the zoo. Also it was warm.)
The butterfly house was also warm. This butterfly hung out with us for ages, allowing itself to be passed between the girls, then to another boy, then back to Fred again. Finally it flapped slowly away. It was either new (drying its wings) or very old.
The bears I love the bears the best.
video
Just to prove he was also there, this is Avery in the butterfly house. He liked looking at the butterflies, but his two favourite things at the zoo were the people and the fat greasy pigeons at the caf where we sat and ate our sandwiches and peanut butter and white chocolate blondies (another holiday activity).

Yesterday we went to buy new boots but the shoe shop lady poked the toes of Fred's beloved old boots and declared them fine till the end of winter. Fred was extremely pleased and we saved, ooh, about the cost of a parking ticket. We wandered through the dark dim shopping centre to the scrapbooking shop to buy some paper for making with. They were doing classes and on a high from not spending money on boots I booked the girls into an afternoon class.
Oh the cute.

I also bought Fred a dress at the winter sale in the kids clothing store. She picked one out herself and I told her to try it on. She wandered into the change room, giving me strict instructions to wait outside. A minute later she came out, still wearing her own clothes, carrying the dress still on the hanger.

"Do I take off all my clothes and put this on?" she whispered. Yeah, we mostly get hand-me-downs.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Kill. Your. Darlings.


I have a story Trick of the Light in July's Kill Your Darlings. Apparently they spelt my name wrong, but I have forgiven them because I am a magnanimous mammal.

Doesn't Kill Your Darlings look evil when you put fullstops in it? It's actually writerly advice from Faulkener - it basically means delete all extraneous writing (which is usually those frilly self indulgent bits, in my case it's nearly always in the form of a prologue or extended character thinkery).

Friday, July 01, 2011

Flowering

The Hardenbergia violaca
is awake.
It clambers the fence
and waves purple flowers.
Happy wanderer!

The dusky green haze of
wattle trees
on the high side of the house
is suddenly shocked with gold.

The sun looks down
on the early jonquils,
surprised to meet itself
in my winter garden.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Faultlines

A few weeks ago Fred and Una and I got separated on the way to school. At the corner of our street and the street that takes us down to the main road Fred ran ahead. It is not uncommon for Fred to run ahead and walk by herself and in fact last year she chose to walk to school alone a few times a week rather than drive Una to kinder, with never an incident. So at the corner I called out "We're going to go the back way" and Una and I set off on the hilly scenic walk, down the dirt road, under gum trees where parrots flit from tree to tree and occasionally you come across a quietly grazing kangaroo. It doesn't take much longer than the main road walk but for some reason Fred doesn't like to do it. Fred wasn't *that* far ahead and I assumed she had heard me, but I also assumed even if she hadn't she would keep running all the way to school and beat us there, as she often does.
Anyway, Una and I wended our way to the crossing.
"No Freddy today?" the guard asked us.
"But she's already crossed hasn't she?"
The crossing guard frowned, trying to remember. "I don't think so." But she wasn't sure, though there's probably only half a dozen or so families who regularly walk to school (there's only about 30 familes at the school, and many of them are too far away from 'town' to walk). Anyway, Una and I crossed over and looked around the playground. No sign of Fred. I wanted to leave Una with the pram so I could run back and look for her, but Una, also worried, wanted to come too. I was making a plan (leaving Avery and Una with Jools in the office) when Fred came hurtling into the school yard, tears streaming down her face, followed by one of the other Grade Two mums.
She was crying and shaking, still frightened, in shock I think. Seeing me safe and well, with Una and Avery, also made her a little angry I think. I took them into the classroom and then Fred and I went to the staffroom where I held her while she calmed down. It took her a long time to stop shaking.
"I called out," I told her. "Didn't you hear me?"
It turns out Fred hadn't heard me. She had run ahead to talk to Jake the dog. When I didn't follow she got increasingly worried. She walked back up the road, realised I'd "disappeared" and began howling.
"What did you think had happened to me?" I asked later, guilty, exasperated.
She couldn't tell me.
Anyway until Saturday I thought that the next thing that had happened was the other mum had picked her up, driven back to our place to see if we'd gone home for something and then taken Fred to school. But on Saturday night we had a progressive dinner in the area, moving from house to house to eat the various courses. It's not something I've ever done before, but Martin used to do it as a kid. It was a great night, a fundraiser for the school, and the cooking was exceptional - a few foodies among us I think (highlight was the slow roasted tomato tart with pistachio crust). It was an utterly charming occasion, like everything out this way, a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. Anyway, during the soup course (one long table in the big kids wing at the school) I was sitting opposite Jake's owner and she told me of her encounter with Fred.
"Jake was barking this really weird bark," she said. "I knew something was wrong. It was very strange."

She came outside and found poor howling Fred.
"My mum's disappeared," Fred told her. Fred has dramatic tendencies and has a flair for following things beyond their logical conclusion. "She was right behind me and now she's gone."
This was when the grade two mum saw them talking and stopped to pick Fred up.
I apologised to Fred a few times that morning before I left her (I stayed in class for an hour to do some reading activities with the prep/one/twos) and again when I picked her up.
"Don't worry about it Mum," Fred said, but she looked hollow and haunted every time I brought it up.
We've been playing scrabble together on the iPhone and her iPod Touch.Okay, so it's not like in my childhood where a game of scrabble was a companionable hour or so with my Nanna, but I really enjoy playing with her. One of the best aspects is the chat feature. It's like a meta-narrative:

"Mum, I don't want to talk about it." That took the wind out of me. I wanted to talk to her. I like to think I am a persuasive talker, and I wanted to convince her of my version: she was never really in danger for a start. It was a misunderstanding.
"Are you angry with me?" I asked her that evening.
"A little bit," she admitted. Then, not looking at me. "I don't want to talk about it."
We've mentioned it since then, in passing mostly. This morning I told her what Jake's owner said about his unusual bark, she liked the idea that Jake had helped her.
You know it's not a big drama. If it's the worst thing that happens to Fred this year then she's a pretty lucky girl. And look at what a great community we have, how quickly she was cared for by other mums, and by the neighbour's dog.
It's funny these hairline cracks. So faint they hardly show. But it's a faultline (a fault line) between mother and daughter. It's part of the continental shift, the stretch and pull and collision and rupturing of our two selves. How can such a thing like maternal separation not leave scars? It's almost like this had to happen. Oh not exactly this, not necessarily this sequence of events. But somehow: the acting out of the conflict within, the dramatisation of the internal drama of the self in which the archetypes, mother and child, each play out their role, like puppets on a string. She had to know that one day she could turn around and I will be gone.