This being the day before tomorrow (i.e the last day before school goes back), something was guaranteed to go wrong.
Not to disappoint me, the kids who know drinks don’t go anywhere “within cooeee” of the computers, spilled their fruit smoothie splat right onto the keyboard. That’s right. There’s now soy milk and fruit oozing around the keys in a thick, pink, oozy sludge…not to mention honey and all that Natural Tasmanian Yogurt all the way from the Tamar River!!!
“Not Happy Jan!!” (this phrase has swept across Australia following this ad for Yellow Pages Advertising)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2akt3P8ltLM
However, all was not lost! While the kids ran for the hills while Mum went berko, Lady came to the rescue. She was only too willing to help: “You Can Count On Me!”
I’m in two minds about having the dog lick the keyboard but I know enough about IT to know that drinks in the keyboard is pretty much a terminal event. That keyboard was looking so much like a dodo, that a bit of dog slobber wasn’t going to be fatal and there’s always disinfectant.
Besides, the keyboard is hardly a dinner plate. At least, it shouldn’t be!!
Lady must have taken a few lessons from Geoff in IT maintenance. So far so good. I haven’t tried plugging the keyboard back in yet and it’s now sitting face down on my desk until Geoff gets home.
Hmm…After Lady’s efforts, I’m thinking she could get a job in tech support and Geoff could stay home and sleep all day. Indeed, Geoff would look quite a sight lying on his back next to the couch with his arms and legs in the air looking for a tummy scratch! I don’t think he’d be complaining.
I don’t know what dog slobber is going to do to the overall damage but either way, the keyboard is going to need a good clean and my nervous system is going to need a good sedative…and we’re still not ready for school yet!!
Something tells me that it will be easier to get ready for “back to school” once the kids are already back at school!!
Last Friday, I was booked into an author talk with two-times Logie-winning Australian actor and author, William McInnes. However, after a huge day on Thursday, I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d make it. There was the trip down to Sydney and the emotionally confronting brain MRI but 5 minutes before my MRI, I also heard the dreadful news that Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes had passed away. Having survived brain surgery myself in the past, his death was pretty confronting. I wasn’t in good shape after all of this and more in the mood for deep hibernation. Yet, I was particularly keen to meet William McInnes and hear his story. There are many, many layers to this man.
Exhausted, sombre and dazed, I arrived at Woy Woy Library and sat in the front row where I could literally reach out and touch him. This was a delightfully small and intimate venue where you’re really up close and personal with the author. I was in seventh heaven!! Here I was inhaling the same air as William McInnes for a precious few hours and you never know quite what impact that will have. If you’ve heard his wild and wacky stories, you’ll know what I mean.
If you’re not Australian, you might not realise that Woy Woy is a bit of an unlikely location for an author talk of any sort let alone by a two-times Logie-winning actor and best-selling author. Although Graeme Simsion author of the Rosie Project recently spoke up here, Woy Woy is better known as being home to Spike Milligan’s Mum, having the best fish & chips and for its flocks of hungry, aggressive pelicans self-educated in the fine art of food theft. They’ll snatch your bag of fish & chips straight out of your hand without so much as an apology. That said, there has been quite an influx of refugees from Sydney and Woy Woy is becoming more eclectic.
It is no understatement that McInnes literally burst into the room converting this humble space into a stage…his stage. This man has presence…serious presence. There was gag after gag after gag.
After watching McInnes for years on the hit TV cop series, Blue Heelers, I at least thought I knew how he looked. However, the man who entered the room didn’t match up. His reddish hair was grey. He was exceptionally tall and he was casually dressed. I think I’m used to seeing him in uniform. Police uniform, that is. While he cracked jokes about his middle-aged spread, he still has the physique of the male lead and has been cast opposite glamorous beauties including actresses Sigrid Thornton and Claudia Karvan.
McInnes was there to promote his new book Holidays. I was there not only because of his professional credentials but also because he has publicly spoken and written about his wife, Sarah Watts’ heroic battle with breast cancer, which finally claimed her life around 3 years ago. They co-wrote a book: Worse Things Happen At Sea. I haven’t read this book yet because I needed a bit of a laugh after the last few weeks. Instead, I’m reading: A Man’s Got to Have A Hobby. I was told this book was hilarious, as is McInnes.
Indeed, I found him too funny. We all know about the clown and the tear and I’ve noticed in my own writing that the worse it gets, the funnier I become. When someone is exceptionally funny, I think you’re almost obligated to look for the scar tissue. More than likely, it won’t even be concealed beneath the surface. You’ll see it. Hear it. Even feel its pulse.
However, according to his wife, McInnes has always had a gift for comedy and after seeing him in action, I have no doubt that he’d even do well in that bear pit of stand-up.
While some author talks can get a little dry, McInnes rolled off tale after hilarious tale about his childhood growing up in Queensland’s Redcliffe, a popular beach suburb and on various family holidays. Much of this humour revolves around his father who makes your average embarrassing Dad look like a boring pussy cat.
One of my favourite stories was about when he went to get a haircut which, of course, turned out to be no ordinary haircut. If you lived through the 70s, you’ll know that the generational gap wasn’t just about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. It was also about hair. Usually his mum gave him a haircut but she was busy so she sent him down to the local barber’s with the presumption that he’d return with the usual mandatory, short back and sides. However, it transpired that the barber shop had recently been re-birthed as a unisex hair salon, a new and intriguing development back in the 1970s when getting your haircut was like going to the toilet. There was the men’s, the ladies’ and nothing in between. Definitely no fraternization!
Anyway, McInnes goes into the salon and spots this hot girl he’d seen at the local rollerskating rink. At this point, all sense and reason evaporate and he’s putty in her precious, manicured hands. “Would you like a perm?” She asks. Being a little naive and nothing of a fashion plate, McInnes didn’t know what a perm was but swooning in her orbit, he agrees. Looking something like Goldilocks, with fear and trepidation, he headed home.
Now, you can just imagine how his father, who is renowned for his colourful vernacular, responds to this development. A WWII ex-serviceman, he was far from impressed. He tells him: “When I was your age, I was jumping out of planes chasing Germans”. The kids at school screamed: “Let’s get Horshack” (a character from this his 1970s series Welcome Back Cotter with an afro) There was also a hilarious run in with one of his school priests which I can’t even begin to relate. A bloke having a perm was beyond the pale! The whole experience was even too weird for McInnes. He soon shaved it off and his Dad was happy: “That’s a real man’s haircut”.
His memoir: A Man’s Got to Have A Hobby is full of such stories. The funniest I’ve come across so far, relates about when he needed to go to the toilet on the way to his football match. They pulled into the service station and Dad reminds him to watch his mouth. After all, back in the day, it wasn’t polite to say you needed to go to the toilet. Oh no! Like many families, they used a swag of euphemisms instead. Out of respect to his mother’s sensitivities, at home they called it: “going goggers”, which in the great tradition of Australian speech, was abbreviated to: “I go gogg goggs.” You can just imagine why the poor petrol station attendant was so confused! He continues:
“Dad must have seen me having trouble from the lime-green ute and flung open the door. He tried to make things clearer. “For Christ’s sake…the boy wants to go goggers.. Goggers…gog…gogs…”
Still no comprehension from the attendant… ‘Listen, chief, the boy has to back out a mullet…Oh, Jesus wept, he wants to strangle one’…Still the attendant stared, …I whispered, ‘I have to poo. Can I use your toilet, please?’My father poked me with a finger. The attendant gave me a key. Dad growled. ‘Don’t let your mother hear you talk like that.”
Let me reassure you that this is not how the average Australian speaks. We usually ask for “the throne” although we’re quite capable of using the word “toilet” in public these days. After all, it’s only natural!
As you can imagine, after all these laughs, I was not longer feeling lugubrious and had cheered up. Humour really does work magic.
While it really is impossible to separate William McInnes actor and author from the William McInnes husband and father who lost his wife, this journey requires further work and consideration. I don’t want to do a rush job but give their story the time it deserves. It is a journey that our family is potentially walking although I seem to have more lives than a proverbial cat. I seem to be doing pretty well.
Stay tuned for the next installment.
 McInnes, William; A Man’s Got to Have A Hobby, Hodder Australia, Sydney, 2006 pp 38-39.
Sometimes I’m flapping my wings so much that I can’t even see what, or in this instance, who was standing right in front of me waiting to get into the very same lift. It was Michael Leunig…the cartoonist, poet, artistic visionary, philosopher, humourist. Of course, being my usually oblivious self, I had no idea. Fortunately, my friend tapped me on the shoulder and the next thing, I was boldly introducing myself and we shook hands. I actually shook hands with Leunig. Oh my goodness! I was never going to wash my hand again!!
Not only did I get the chance to shake Leunig’s hand, we talked. Even though I talk underwater, I somehow had to condense so much into just a sentence or two and managed to mumble something about him being a light bulb in the darkness when I had brain surgery. That was enough. After all, when you say you’ve survived brain surgery, people know that you’ve suffered. That you are a serious survivor and not some Mickey Mouse character who has simply stubbed their toe and had to write a tell-all book. I didn’t mention my subsequent battles with a very rare muscle wasting auto-immune with the unpronounceable very long name, dermatomyositis, or how that disease had spread to my lungs and I’d had chemo for Christmas. This collection of vicious diseases was too much to explain to anyone in a lift, even Leunig but I was using my walking stick and its presence alone spoke volumes.
I’m not sure how well Leunig is known overseas but in Australia, he has officially been cited as one of our greatest living treasures. Leunig is a man with such vision, that he can see through all those camouflaging layers we’ve so carefully wrapped round and round our fragile souls and he can put his finger on our broken hearts and heal the hurt…or at least offer a good dose of empathy and compassion.
In the introduction to The Prayer Tree, a gorgeously inspiring little book which is the perfect gift for anyone going through a hard time, Leunig writes:
It is difficult to accept that life is difficult; that love is not easy and that doubt and struggle, suffering and failure, are inevitable for each and every one of us.
We seek life’s ease. We yearn for joy and release, for flowers and the sun. And although we may find these in abundance we also find ourselves lying awake at night possessed by the terrible fear that life is impossible….
It is difficult indeed to accept that this darkness belongs naturally and importantly to our human condition and that we must live with it and bear it. It seems so unbearable.
Leunig is absolutely superlatively amazing and yet, Leunig the man…the man you meet in person …is humble, seemingly ordinary and easily blends into the crowd. He is neither tall nor short with curlyish light grey hair and when he speaks, he is very natural and very down to earth. There are none of the airs and graces mere mortals expect of greatness or from the pseudo artiste! This is why we love Leunig. He is real…so very, very real and authentic. It is this authenticity which really stands out in what can be a very superficial world. As does his kindness and compassion.
Despite my many years of attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival, I have never been to a session with Leunig before and only recently I’d became aware of that gap, which was so much more than a missing notch on the bedpost. I really felt I could learn a lot not just about creativity, writing, art but also about life and being spiritual from Leunig. After all, aren’t so many of us desperately seeking that inner transformation and some way of overcoming our struggles and learning how to glow in the dark? This has been my journey…to suffer yet find happiness. Go through periods of light and dark and as a writer to share these experiences with others and help us all feel a little less alone. I want people to know that they can also live with shadows and still know happiness, joy…life!
At the end of the session, there was question time. They are pretty strict with this question time. It’s not the sort of place you can stick your hand up and tell your entire life story or even more pertinently ask Leunig about the colour his underpants. Definitely not! You need to sound smart and your questions also need to be succinct, to the point and as carefully crafted as that elusive first novel. There is even an official “keeper of the mike”, so you almost need to have the full dress rehearsal before you even stick up your hand.
Despite these very intimidating surrounds, I always ask questions at the SWF because I figure this is my only chance to plumb the depths of some incredibly successful writers and somehow perhaps actually launch my own small boat into that enormous sea. Last year, I was very proud of myself when I actually dragged my shaking self up to the mike to ask Hollywood actor and now writer Molly Ringwald of Breakfast Club fame a question in the equally intimidating Sydney Town Hall with its ginormous pipe organ towering overhead just to intimidate me even further. Yet, this was the chance of a life time for this little pipsqueak of an unpublished Australian writer to actually speak to Hollywood super-stardom and I couldn’t wimp out. I did it.
So there I was a year later in the middle of yet another potentially intimidating and erudite crowd along with the gate keeper of the mike, and I stuck up my hand. Not to stick to the rules and actually ask a question. Not to tell my life story either but I wanted to thank Leunig for being there for all of us who have been lost in the dark and Leunig has been that light. While the theatre erupted in applause, this was a little controversial and involved bending the rules. I can’t remember what I said but the words just came out. I was amazed at my own eloquence as I can stammer and stumble over basic sentences even at home, but I have a funny feeling that these words didn’t come from me but were something of a wind or spirit simply passing through. I was just the messenger.
Thanks to meeting up with Leunig in the lift prior to the session, I had arranged to meet his publicist afterwards so I didn’t have to queue up during the book signing. However, we somehow managed to arrive before the hoards and there was this ever so small gap while they were getting set up… you could say a very pregnant pause. While he was signing my books, Leunig and I exchanged a few words and a glance. I felt such warmth and compassion in his eyes. I knew that he knew. He knew all those thoughts and feelings of light and dark that even I with all my great love of words, can not truly express. Leunig and I had made a connection, which for me was an incredibly deep and penetrating connection…two fellow soul travellers. I immediately felt so much less alone.
You can’t encounter Leunig in any medium and not emerge a changed person. It is an old cliché about the butterfly emerging from its chrysalis but it is oh so true! Our modern world can be so fragmented and isolating and then there are horrific experiences which also isolate us, even from those we love and love us. That is possibly the greatest problem…those toxic private tears which drip one by one down the back of our throats and into our hearts because for whatever reason, we just can’t get them out. Sadness and an acute awareness of our own failings are not easy feelings to share and most of us can’t just go and paint these feelings on a t-shirt and show the world or even our nearest and dearest. Leunig does. He knows our humble feet of clay and is more than willing to walk with us through the abyss. He might draw us a nice little window to look outside into the sunshine or add a light. He might even lead us outside into the sun to walk with his duck through the flowers because he wants us to know that just as life isn’t all light, it isn’t all darkness either. That we can more than survive our hurdles. Indeed, we can thrive. Yet, if we’re still not thriving, that’s okay too. He seems to have a real understanding of that little person who never, ever makes it.
To experience more of Leunig, you can read his bio and check out some of his works on his web site at www.leunig.com.au
I’m sure you will more than understand why his works mean so much to me!
Love & blessings,
 Michael Leunig: The Prayer Tree, Harper Collins, 1990 no page numbers.