When we grow up we don’t really shed childhood. It is tucked away inside us, nice and quiet, suppressed by what we perceive as Adult Behaviour. Until something triggers that child-proof gate. Our sillies jump out! Irrepressible, childlike joy will spring into our hearts, gleam in our eyes and beam from our faces. Oldies will smile benignly at us but a child will shriek with delight because they understand. ♦ Anything can trigger your past. A puppy, red shoes, a TV show, theatre tickets, sweets, that winning point, a favourite song, splashing in a puddle with a clear plastic umbrella, er, wait, what was that? “A clear plastic umbrella?” said Adult Voice. Yes, when I was young, the most coveted accessory for primary school students was a clear plastic umbrella. The plastic was plain, you could see the metal spokes through it and the handle was white. ♦ It was enthralling to watch raindrops falling on a see-through umbrella held over your friend’s head, water trickling off and dripping onto the ground while she stayed dry. If you were really fancy (or your father had enough money for kids fripperies) you could buy them with ladybirds or slices of fruit and suchlike imprinted on them. If you were really rich (and more of a teenager) you teamed it with a short skirt, beehive hairdo and white vinyl go-go boots with lipstick to match. Trés chic. ♦ I haven’t researched this but I’m pretty sure one or two models would have slinked down the catwalk twisting a clear plastic umbrella shaped like a mushroom. Or, shock horror, wearing a clear plastic raincoat! “Personally I think you would sweat horribly inside one of those,” said Adult Voice. Anyhow, here comes the sad part. I was not one of the groovy girls, I never owned a clear plastic umbrella. ♦ Somehow I managed to survive the ignominy of having a pale blue nylon umbrella. Its saving grace was a real bamboo handle and it lasted for years. Once I left it on the bus and my parents tracked it down in the city council’s lost property office. Hard to believe now, but there it was in all its pale blue opaque glory. I have since owned a stylish British brolly, frilly French parapluie, Winnie-the-Pooh bear parasol and various brands in various colours mainly used as sunshades. ♦ Until last week, drum roll please, when I came across a clear plastic umbrella hanging on a sale rack. It was the standard shape, with the usual opening and closing action and it was only a couple of dollars. Sold! I actually whooped with excitement. Finally, a dream come true. “Pity it’s a clear sunny day,” said Adult Voice. I brushed this aside. Once I was out of crowd eye-range, I shook it out. So clear, so transparent, so useless in the glare of a hot day. “Be quiet,” I snapped at Adult Voice. I pushed the umbrella open and twirled it wildly above my head. I’d made it. I had joined the Groovy Girls. My childish delight brimmed over! And delight brings recollections. ♦ My very own CPU has flourished several times in light rain, occasionally the plastic will stick together, but that doesn’t stop me opening it just to marvel at the concept. Truly, an umbrella worth waiting for. Now I’m thinking about those white vinyl go-go boots... ♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward More umbrellas https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2018/04/21/hrh-queen-elizabeth-ii-birthday/
A highly charged and deeply honest memoir, ‘Reckoning’ combines research into the life of assassin and Polish World War II survivor Zbigniew Szubanski , father of Australian actress Magda Szubanski, and Magda herself as she struggles to come to terms with her father’s legacy and forge her own career within the world of television and movies. This absorbing, eloquently written book contains remarkable revelations of wartime espionage, emotional family ties and facing the truth, and I was enthralled to the very last page.
First published in 2016, ‘Reckoning’ is Magda’s debut novel, and courageously written. I must admit my initial thoughts were ‘Wow, she’s brave putting that in writing’ but it made me love this book even more. Definitely a five-star read! Magda relates one of those true stories from childhood to adulthood which hits the right cord with just about everyone. We’ve had similar feelings and domestic issues and career changes and sexuality debates and, yes, sadly, the father we got to understand a little too late.
‘Reckoning’ has gone on to bigger things but here’s the first results:
Winner Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award, 2016
Winner Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Winner Biography of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Winner Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2016
Winner Indie Award for Non-Fiction, 2016
Winner Victorian Community History Award Judges’ Special Prize, 2016
Shortlisted Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2016
Shortlisted Dobbie Literary Award, 2016
Shortlisted National Biography Award, 2016
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Magda Szubanski is one of Australia’s best known comedy performers. She lives in Melbourne and began her career in university revues before writing and appearing in a number of comedy shows. Magda created the iconic character of Sharon Strzelecki in ABC-TV series ‘Kath and Kim’. She performs in theatre productions and has acted in movies – notably ‘Babe’ and ‘Babe Pig in the City’ – and currently ‘Three Summers’ directed by Ben Elton and ‘The BBQ’ directed by Stephen Amis.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
“Growing old is like being increasingly penalised for a crime you have not committed”
– Anthony Powell, English novelist.
Have you received an email, text message, Facebook request or card in the letterbox which made you wince? Me too. And it was today. I guess I should be grateful that the sender did not phone me. I would have spluttered my way through the conversation and tried to weasel out of giving this person any information about myself since I last saw them 24 years ago.
Do I feel annoyed, upset or beguiled by their surprise appearance on Facebook? I’m not sure. First, I wondered what prompted this bolt-from-the-blue contact. Second, I wrote down our backstory to get my head straight:
We worked together before our children were born, she was going into a new marriage and I was leaving an old one. This woman’s role was administration manager or something like that, she did a lot of accounts and moaned about the way forms were filled incorrectly. She had a corner office with a big desk and spent a lot of time talking to staff in an over-friendly, mocking way that unpopular people have when they are trying to be popular.
As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed to admit, I became part of her bridal party. I succumbed to pressure and involuntarily became a bridesmaid. Her friend or her sister was matron-of-honour and I think there may have been another bridesmaid but maybe I replaced someone who wasn’t up to task. Anyhow, I remember the gown fittings, the diamanté jewellery, the shoes, the bouquets, the whole rigmarole was exhausting. On the Big Day I had professional make-up applied (trowelled on) and I thought it looked hideous. My hair was whooshed back and I felt as stiff as a Barbie doll. A close-up photograph of me doesn’t look too bad – gosh, I was young.
Now, dear reader, I was in a relationship with an army sergeant at the time and the wedding photographer was an ex-boyfriend. I don’t remember feeling tense about them being in the same ballroom. Maybe I blotted out that part of the evening. I do remember my ex-boyfriend wilfully snapping a photo of me dancing with my new partner. I’m not a dancer. It was an okay wedding ceremony with theme colours of pink and maroon which were quite tastefully done. As befits the centre of attention, the bride played her part but the groom was a bit quiet, e.g. rather inanimate character. Predictably over the intervening years, the cake, food, groomsmen and speeches left no impression.
Not long after the Big Day, I resigned from the corporation where we both worked and I started another life. I briefly met the woman in question about two years later outside a local video store (remember videos, overnight rental, tape jams?) and she was with her husband and six months pregnant. From what Facebook will let me see, she has a couple of children now. With no family news or information, she perceptively called me ‘Stranger’, asked me if I was still living in the same place and did I want to meet up? Why, and why now? Truth must be told; I was uncomfortable around the woman. She had the knack of grating on me, especially when she initiated ‘jokes’ with co-workers.
A long-time friend, a dear person who lives in the countryside, says he has been contacted by various ‘friends’ he hasn’t seen in years and feels they are freeloading in their desire to drop in on his rural idyll, taking advantage of a convenient escape to the country. I, too, have had similar occurrences in suburbia but I tell people that I do not entertain at home and we don’t have a spare bed. And that is true enough, depending on the visitor. With this mystery reappearance of a workmate (as opposed to friend) who made no contact with me after the wedding, much to my relief, and now wants to buddy up as if 24 years is no time at all – I don’t get it.
Is she divorced? Is she retiring? Is she thinking kind thoughts about me? Or is she bored with her life and Facebooking randoms from her past? Another truthful moment; I don’t think we would have one single thing in common. Possibly she has changed, possibly I’m anti-social, possibly infinite variables.
Am I tempted? Sure, I’m tempted. I could click Accept or Decline on that Messenger button. Click Accept and, hey presto, all will be revealed. Also, it would expose a lot of stuff I don’t want to remember very closely. Then there’s the difficulty of worming my way out of it. I don’t want an added extra to my social life right now. As previously posted, I am cutting back on my social media. I want to move forward…write and relax…my way…I guess I could just say ‘hello’ and not get involved…I guess…
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
N.B. Apologies to friends and followers who would like a Comment box.
One hot day in early 1970s, sitting in a crowded bus on my way to business college in Brisbane central, I vowed to myself like most young people at the time, that the first thing I was going to do when I found a job was to buy a car. And I wanted a new car.
Thanks to my parents’ foresight, I was already taking RACQ driving lessons around the torturous hills of Bardon and Paddington in Brisbane. I was issued with my driver’s license at Rosalie on the first attempt, secured a secretarial job and started to save for my first car.
Vehicle window-shopping became a regular pastime. By mid-1975, after reading volumes of the driver’s bible The Road Ahead, and comparing models with my father, I purchased a brand-new white Datsun 120Y four-door sedan from Ira Berk in Fortitude Valley.
My new Datsun sedan cost me $4,000 in cash. Although I could drive a manual, it was an automatic. It also sported a thin stripe along either side. It had a tight turning circle and was economy-plus when it came to petrol consumption, two of its bragging points. The interior and seats were brown vinyl and the dashboard was black; basic but functional. It contained a radio player, cigarette lighter and, surprise-surprise, an analogue clock which ticked away the hours for 18 glorious years.
Many happy memories are linked to my first-car ownership which include boyfriends, marriage, having my child’s first car seat fitted, then school runs. There was no downside to my Datsun. The only challenge I faced was to keep the metal hubcaps on because they would pop off driving over speed bumps.
It was serviced regularly and the service log book was an historical record in itself. When my Datsun was sold in 1993, it was in such good condition, amazingly, I was given $2,000 trade-in. The only reason I sold it was to enjoy the cooling breeze of air-conditioning in my second brand new car. Another white four-door sedan.
AUTHOR NOTE: This excerpt was written in 2004 and I would like to add the postscript that I am now a big advocate of public transport and catch a bus regularly, particularly into the city centre.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
My childhood nickname was “Apple Queen”. In later years, I have wondered why I wasn’t called “Apple Princess” but I think it may have had something to do with the name of a variety of apple at that time. One of my mother’s favourite early black and white photographs of me, taken in my grandparents’ long driveway at Hampton, Victoria, illustrates my love of apples. I have a Granny Smith apple in each hand, possibly from a homegrown tree. I was about four years old and, by the look on my face, quite serious about the art of eating apples.
I still am. One sits next to me as I type. If I need a snack, a lunch box filler or fruit for a picnic, I grab an apple. Drool has formed in the corners of my mouth when I’ve looked at apples with sultanas and honey. Strudel, pies, pureed or skewered on a kebab, the texture and essence of apples is never lost. That crisp, sweet smell pervades my senses, particularly when I walk into a room and get a whiff of that fruity fragrance. Immediately I want to chomp my teeth into the cool, smooth skin, break through that thin protective layer to taste its juicy flesh. That first crunch is like no other sound. The sound reverberates through my jaw as I munch the apple into cider and swallow.
In my haste to eat an apple, I have been known to choke on a piece but it has never put me off. My mother could devour a whole apple, pips and all, but that’s not my style. I denude the apple to the core then toss the remains into the garden for some foraging creature to finish off.
I have a vivid memory of apple blossom and then tiny green and red striped apples forming on a tree we had in our backyard at Mount Waverley, Victoria. Picking them too soon, I recall my disappointment at their unripe, bitter flavour. Just recently I have read that apples are helpful to asthma sufferers and, since I am a life-long asthmatic, I wondered if instinct might have played a part in my voracious consumption. It certainly had nothing to do with Adam or Eve.
Occasionally, I am asked about my favourite variety and I answer “Any. As long as it’s not bruised.” Apples creep into my salads, my sauces and, thanks to a friend, into my hamburger mince. To me, a dessert isn’t a proper dessert unless it contains apples. Imagine a world without apple pie and ice-cream! My father liked cloves cooked into apple pies and that’s the only time I didn’t like my mother’s cooking. To this day I don’t know why the odd flavouring of clove is meant to enhance cooked apples.
The very shape of an apple is pleasing to me, even the logo on my laptop. During my teenage years, I collected ornaments in the shape of apples. Two examples may have survived. A red china apple made in two halves, the bottom half containing candle wax. The other apple made of hand-blown glass, with a glass leaf, which contains layers of coloured sands from Cooloola Beach on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
Baby daughters are now being named Apple; it’s something I didn’t think of at the time and I’m hoping it’s after the apple blossom fruit rather than the corporation. My fruit bowl is really an apple bowl with other fruit scattered around for effect. Sometimes toffee apples will creep into the mix and I treat them with caution. Hard red toffee and my teeth don’t work well together but I never let that stop me.
Happy torta di mele!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Hmm . . . a puzzling book. Good, then it dissolves into vignettes.
It is a book which sometimes comes back to me in flashes. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it.
Lucy has an extended stay in hospital. I found the mother-daughter part of the story made me think. We all relate to our own personal experiences and I definitely got twinges when I related my mother’s attitude to Lucy’s mother – although my relationship was different. I didn’t like her father, troubled but not nice.
Much of Lucy’s early family life came out in tiny bits here and there. The trickle affect showed the reader the cruel hardship of her earlier life. Is that why Lucy was estranged? Why was she locked in the old car?
It was interesting how Lucy loved her kind doctor, she got no real love or compassion from her father or her husband. The author Sarah Payne was a great character, I wish she had been fleshed out a bit more. I liked her comment after that cutting PTSD remark “…And anyone who uses their training to put someone down that way – well, that person is just a big old piece of crap.”
After Lucy came out of hospital, the story took on the quality of snapshots as though author Elizabeth Strout saw or heard something and jotted it down then couldn’t quite flesh it out but wanted to use it anyway. There are very human insights but we don’t even know what Lucy wrote in her books.
Lucy’s relationship with her grown-up daughters was rather superficial but I liked the unnerving chapter about her brother, and also when she is bothered by the fact that friend Jeremy may have been the dying AIDS patient she saw in hospital.
The marble statue of Ugolino and His Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux in the Metropolitan Museum of Art fascinated Lucy but I couldn’t understand why. It’s graphic but to me just shows the agony of imprisonment.
Overall, I guess I’d give this book three out of five stars because I’m not poetic enough to read between the lines!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward