Thursday, August 27, 2009

Intergenerational Fun

Every time my Mother comes to stay she leaves something behind, which is fine, as long as it’s not a prolapsed uterus.

Last time she left three pair of her undies on the trampoline. I don’t know why she didn’t use the traditional drying method of pegging them on the clothesline (3 feet away from the trampoline), maybe there was dog poo on the lawn, or she was afraid of sniper fire, who knows? But there they lay, three pairs of Granny britches, the kind that reach up towards the armpits, with reinforced gussets, one pair alarmingly black and lacy. They lay there for three whole weeks. Seriously, what was I supposed to do? Bring them inside? That would involve TOUCHING THEM. I don’t think I’m out on a limb here, but there is something really oogy about the under-dacks of other women, shared DNA or no. I would probably be more willing to subject myself to blind testing in which there was the vague possibility of contracting Anthrax.

When I was eventually able to muster enough maturity to bring the dang things inside (I was expecting guests) I tossed them in the ironing basket. Loads of washing have come and gone but those three pairs of gunders remained languishing there.

It’s Mum’s birthday next Monday. At some point today I’ll make it to the post office with her gift, it would be sensible to post the undies along with the gift, right?


My Mother took many opportunities to torment my sister and me. She hid in dark corners so she could leap out and scare the shit out of us. She made me listen to sex education type talk WAY BEFORE I WAS READY. She left a trail of mis-matched shoulder-pads in her wake during the eighties, poorly anchored under her bra-straps; they were forever escaping and embarrassing me in front of my friends. Lately she’s going through a phase of being platinum blonde.

But it’s not about revenge, that’s not my style. It’s about passing on her legacy to my children, to teach them to stand tall in the face of knee-buckling self-consciousness and shame.

Which is why I put the black lacy ones on my 14 year-old son’s cushion. (Scroll down, go on!)

And Here They Are!

P.S. Upon entering his bedroom, the teen in question thanked his Mother for making his bed (Mother staked out in hallway quivering with anticipation). And then he began speaking in loud capitals. OH NO! THAT'S NOT FUNNY. GET THEM OFF. GET THEM OUT OF HERE. And then he picked up the corner of the pillow between his thumb and forefinger and began trying to flick the undies off with a metal ruler. I totally knew I would love Motherhood.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Getting our merde together.

So this looks like a post-it note with four different ways of saying “shit”, which it is, written by a fourteen-year-old boy. Here’s the context; it is stuck where said teen’s Father will see it first thing in the morning as he makes his way, bleary eyed, downstairs and gets ready for work, long before anyone else in the house has stirred.

Ten years ago the foulest insult the child in question was capable of hurling was, “Do a poo!”, so on some levels things haven’t progressed a great deal.

Perhaps it is maternal hubris to suggest that excrement, feaces [sic] and stool represent new levels of sophistication in the blossoming teen, but there’s more to it than that. I think what it really means is;

(a) There is eternal humour to be found in anything related to the anus.
(b) His vocabulary is totally on the up.
(c) He set up a remote control gag, one that would go off while he lay soundly sleeping.

It’s not that we don’t show each other affection in this house, we do, mawkishly, frequently, heartily and occasionally with a lick, but the currency of the belly-laugh is equally valuable around here as a means of expressing devotion.

Which is why a yellow sticky-note with four different words for crap on it makes my heart swell.

Here's what other people do with sticky notes.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fear and Loathing In Perth

According to a very bold headline in a weekend newspaper, we’re living in fear. I hadn’t been aware I was living in fear until reading the headline, suddenly I felt very afraid. Mainly of newspapers, headlines are running rampant in this town.

I’m mourning the untimely death of Hunter S. Thompson who had to consume quantities of hallucinogens and go to Las Vegas in order to feel the kind of fear that we’re experiencing in Perth. According to the newspapers, fear is readily available, one need not tamper with one’s synapses in order to experience a shoddy, chemical version of it. Perth fear is organic and FREE! Surely this is a contributing factor to our ranking among the top twenty cities in the world lifestyle-wise. Baghdad, where fear is inorganic and very, very expensive, was the worst. So there.

And so to loathing. We love an opportunity to loathe. Two weeks ago we were served a delicious chance to loathe two relatives of an eighteen year old boy called Wayne, who had died in a stolen car while being pursued by the police. The dead teen’s cousin pleaded for a change in the way police apprehend drivers of stolen cars. This plea for change was paraphrased in the story’s headline and read “...relatives plead with police to stop chases.” This subtle swap of the word stop in place of change gave the whole story a very different meaning. Suddnely it was about blame. And blame must always be met with counter-blame. Blame ping-pong.

Like fourth graders shooting their hands in the air, puffed up little smarty-pants exploding with the right answer, we wrote to that newspaper and said Wayne would still be alive if he hadn’t stolen the car. One has to admire such rigorous thinking.

Which forces me into a mind numbing chicken-before-the-egg spiral. Is this the response the newspaper sought to provoke? Is the newspaper serving up what we want or what it thinks we want?

I wonder how we would have responded if it had been the police officer who had wound up with a piece of fence piping impaled through his thigh, lower abdomen and exiting at his back, for this was Wayne’s fatal injury. Would we have written him off so neatly in smug little letters to the editor saying he’d got his comeuppance?

I don’t like to imagine what it must be like to experience the death of a child. I think I would feel angry at the universe. I’d make an acid freak like Hunter S. Thompson look like Mary Poppins. I’d blame everyone, including myself, no matter what the circumstances. I would also expect to be forgiven for this without having to beg. But comparatively speaking I’m lucky, rich and white. Wayne’s cousin made a plea for change and was met with vilification.

So our loathing comes at a higher price than our fear. Our loathing, it would appear to me, comes at the cost of our humanity.

Crimes Against Fruit

I am inspired to make a couple of points, perhaps the first in an ongoing series, something like a Rough Guide To Boring Things That Happen to Men and Women Who Live Together Too Much. Working title suggestions “I’m Okay, You’re Not” or maybe “The Wife Whisperer”. Suggestions welcome.

1. Never, ever ask a woman if she’s pre-menstrual. Particularly if she is in an hysterical state. The etymology of hysterical may interest you here. It was said that when a woman became of child bearing age and had failed to conceive (ie: she was pre-menstrual) her ‘hyster’ (uterus) broke free of its moorings and began to roam her body in search of said child, thus rendering her hysterical. That modern theory has moved away from this, having nailed it so concisely, is stunning to me.

There is enough legal precedent citing PMS as defence (homicide, credit card fraud - you name it) that the hapless male would be better off asking, carefully, if the angry woman before him had been bitten by a rabid dog. The repercussions might be less life threatening anyway.

I can offer up an affirmation which seems to help my husband. It goes like this:

I am a duck in a thunderstorm, my feathers are waterproof, soon the storm will pass.

Failing that, buy her a lovely, red Ferrari and everything will be fine.

2. Husbands, like children, require constant supervision while playing with secateurs and other pruning devices.

Recent events have forced a brief, qualitative research session with the men at my office “Have you ever been in trouble for pruning?” began the line of questioning. The response was fairly consistent. Hands went up in surrender, eyes widened, sphincters tightened. These overzealous pruners had all had to endure days of silent treatment and tears. They looked like they’d been busted at a 12 step programme called Pruners Anonymous and were working their way through things. Guiltily and with uncertain eye contact, they told me that since the “bougainvillaea incident” they had been careful to “ask first”.

The discovery of the top half of my lemon tree (the bit with fruit and leaves on it) on the rubbish collection pile last week is something I am struggling to process non-violently. Which means I am sulking. Initial talks degenerated into ‘tit for tat’ based on my treatment of a couple of tomato bushes some time ago. And while two wrongs don’t make an adult, he had a point. There was a history of crime against fruit in this family.

Whilst making way for a mass planting of herbs I had wrenched two tomato plants out of the ground, thinking them common, unattractive and unimportant. “It’s like coming home and finding your children with their heads chopped off!” he said, all high pitched and tense. “No it’s not.” I said, ducking a flying star picket. But his hyster had broken free of its moorings, and was looking for tomatoes, I suppose.

Wolf Mother

I can pinpoint the moment motherhood flooded me with a joy so unexpected I wept. These moments have continued to surprise me in the last eleven years but the first one, which took my post-natal euphoria and turbo-charged it, was memorable more for what happened directly afterwards. It was an every-mother moment, my four-week-old son smiled at me for the first time. If one were to try to recreate the moment for the big screen it would be replete with a chorus of angels, the whole scene would go soft-focus and be drenched in heavenly white light, with cutaways to the tear filled eye.

It was probably five minutes later that he smiled at the washing machine. The chorus of angels became silent and sharply drew in their breath, the heavenly white light became a buzzing fluorescent tube, life was once again thrown into sharp focus and I understood from that moment on, there would be drudgery punctuated by moments of indescribable joy.

Eleven years later the list has expanded; drudgery, hand wringing, anxiety, exasperation, overwhelming love and indescribable joy - an utterly sustainable balance.

Last night this bolt of joy come from sharing music. It started with a debate about Wolfmother, a bunch of nice young Australian boys who fancy a heavy lead guitar, a crashing high-hat dominating the percussion section, hammond organ solo riffs, and a wailing lead vocalist on a search and destroy mission for ecstatic high notes, ie: Led Zeppelin. When sandwiched between the uniformly boring hip-hop mish-mash that dominates radio play-lists it’s not surprising that an eleven-year-old-boy might see Wolfmother as the saviours of modern music and then be completely indignant when his clapped-out, washed-up, has-been parents respond to this epiphany by snorting DERIVATIVE!

What followed was an air-guitar face off. We opened with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, he volleyed with Wolfmother’s “Woman”. Burning with inspiration and nostalgia, an outstanding feature of which is poor memory, I countered with Led Zep’s “Battle of Evermore” and found myself playing air-mandolin, which sucks in comparison to the air-Fender Stratocaster. The coup de grace was delivered with Wolfmother’s “Mind’s Eye”, which enables the deft air-musician to show off his guitar, keyboard and drum skills.

I was gracious in defeat, stumping off to the bathroom for an anti-inflammatory after all that head banging, content that youth and vitality should shine over old age and cynicism, with the realization dawning on me that I was no longer letting him win like I used to at Scrabble, he could trounce me single-handedly.

Later that night, tucked in with a good anthology, I read the following by James Hamilton-Patterson “A drawback to getting older is that we find ourselves compulsively skipping to the end of things and experiences out of sheer familiarity. We know in advance how most conversations, people, jokes and regimes will turn out. And even when they’re a little different from expectation that, too, will fall within our bounds of recognized variables.”

Which sort of explains our feelings about Wolfmother, but not those indescribable bursts of joy.

Love Thy Neighbour

I infiltrated the Golden Triangle four years ago, having journeyed from the far-east, that is, Midland. I quickly noticed I was the only fat brunette within a five-kilometre radius, which, far from making me stand out in a crowd of thin blondes, gave me amazing powers of invisibility. Nobody spoke to me for weeks. I set about trying to fit in. I bought Capri pants and a couple of pairs of slip on loafers. Still nothing. I volunteered to be the “Class Parent”, whose duties included making new mothers feel welcome, so I took myself out for a latte. I managed a sustained campaign of zeroing in on other mothers at the school, affecting what I thought was a pleasant smile, and endeavouring to make eye contact. The empty space around me at pick-up time appeared to grow a bit wider.

I made a note that many mothers were wearing tennis whites, so I bought some of those too. Three days a week I’d stroll in to school for drop-off looking ready for a quick hit, then go home, eat cake and smoke.

I would go to work, where I felt noticed and loved by the few people who’s lives had been entwined with mine for fifteen years, people who had come to my aid at five o’clock in the morning to help me find a lost cat, who arrived with flowers within hours of hearing of the birth of my children. We would marvel at my powers of invisibility and wonder how to remedy it. One of them came up with the crazy idea of me going up and saying “Hi”, just like that, but it was too freaky. By then the weeks of being unseen had sucked from me all but the courage it took to deliver my son to his classroom and scarper.

I spoke briefly to my new neighbour about my invisibility, “Nobody smiles at me,” I mewled.

Higher in the parenting ranks than me, she gave me a bemused look and an unsympathetic snort. “You can’t just go around smiling at EVERYONE.”

Of course not. Clearly I was on the edge.

Whilst watering her front lawn one afternoon she shouted across the street “Have you got any mates yet?”

Wounded that my friendless state had been broadcast to the entire street I decided to mount an attack and hollered in response “No. And how are your haemorrhoids today?”

“Fine,” she roared, an evil grin creeping over her face, “the abortion knocked them around a bit.”

In that second, the impenetrable armour of niceness and decorum that I had imagined to be cladding the women of the western suburbs seemed to dissolve and something within me shifted. It wasn’t them, it had been me all along.

The very next day I struck up my first conversation with another mother at the school. That we were discussing how I had just backed into her car simply didn’t seem to matter.

War Stories

I happen to be quite good at giving birth. My first child weighed in at 9.11. Numbers more suited to Porche cars and major terrorist events, numbers that cloak me in serious birth-cred.

Birth statistics are worn like General Stripes on new mothers and can be discussed among friends in a kind of shorthand, for example “12 hours, eleven pounds, home-water-birth…” (pause for full affect of statistics to sink in) and then, sotto voce “She now has the asshole of a Baboon.”

If we divide women into two groups, those who Have Given Birth and those who Haven’t, the Haves move quickly to the next-best right of passage for women, that of frightening the gusset-pants pants off pregnant first timers.

It’s an odd sense of entitlement that inspires the Birth Veteran to place her hand on the pregnant belly of a L-Plated Mother and then insist on describing her prolapse in shocking detail.

As a veteran of two births and pit-crew to two more, I love nothing better than to grab some peanuts and settle in for truly horrendous stories of labour. Even non-horrendous ones, explosions of lycor, the foul language screamed by librarian types during transition, the fleeting moment when a plan to flee the hospital might make it all stop, the stupid husband who utters a suicidal “Jeez, I’m stuffed” in the middle of it all.

These threads make up the fabric of what becomes our personal legend and seeing as how most of us aren’t interesting enough to warrant a guest spot on Andrew Denton, the mere whiff of excess oestrogen on another woman is enough to jolt us into telling the tale of that moment when we were at the centre of the known universe, single handedly responsible for launching a whole human being into the world.

It replays in our minds like a Hollywood block-buster and we want to share it with everyone, the beginning, the middle, the plot twists, the villains, the good guys, the happy ending. And the lovely thing about those L-Platers is that soon enough they’ll be replaying their own moment and they’ll have forgotten the B-Grade highlights of ours.

I’m starting to pack away my birth stories in a velvet-lined box, getting them ready to store in the attic. Squinting ahead at my maternal future I see teenagers at Rottnest Island during Schoolies Week, older Mothers have told me what happens there. Their enthusiasm for doing so is strangely familiar.

It’s dawning on me that the violent pain of childbirth will be looked back on like it was a sweet and uncomplicated time compared to what lies ahead, that I might’ve graduated from L-Plates but I’ve been rattling around on trainer wheels in the interim and what I’ve packed away in my velvet-lined box are not General Stripes at all but the decorations of a low-ranking Lance Corporal. To all of you with a child at Rottnest this week, a hearty salute.


Perhaps it’s time I surrendered quietly to lovely middle-age and bought myself a nice, comfy pair of slacks that come up to my armpits, elasticised in the waist, raising my head from a crossword puzzle for just long enough to murmur “That’s nice dear” at whatever passes me by. I am exhausted from pondering ‘Beauty Therapy’ to whit, The Brazilian.

Nice girls don’t do Brazilians. Nice girls guffaw about needing a whipper snipper before charging into the surf and emerging to find all that was tucked in has become un-tucked and is causing people on the beach to blanch and flee.

I’m thinking the Brazilian is just another unavoidable blip on the popular culture landscape, like Pilates classes and shoulder pads, except there’ll be no photographic evidence for the future, which on one hand is a complete bummer because it would be fun to squeal “Oooooo! You had a Brazilian! What a loser!” but on the other hand, photographic evidence would seriously offend my sensitive and priggish nature. Nice girls don’t do Brazilians and they don’t have friends who have Brazilians and then photograph them like they were the family pet.

I’ve been asking around and a survey of my inner-circle revealed the following:
My sister-in-law said a friend of hers got one for her husband’s fortieth. I’m still trying to work out who actually got it and how they wrapped it.

My neighbour reckons that men who like that sort of thing are sick and perverted.

A mother of two small girls who attend swimming lessons has noted from enforced observation in the change rooms of the public pool, that this, well, hairstyle, knows no particular age barrier and that on more than one occasion she has had to discourage her daughters from staring.

Another friend said she accidentally got one in Singapore and that she thought it really ought to have been administered by a health worker. There followed a discussion about how my Mother had plucked her eyebrows so severely in the 1970s that they’d failed to grow back and now she has to draw them on. Without saying anything further, be warned.

It may not be quantitative research but I feel it’s qualitative.

You know things have become part of the universal psyche when your aging parents are onto it. My Dad brought it up the other day which ordinarily would have caused me to implode with horror and run screaming from the room. I can’t remember what context enabled him to introduce it to the conversation, a repressed memory which no doubt will give me nightmares down the track. The reason I have survived to tell the tale is that he got the name wrong. He called it a Mexican. As the meaning of what he was talking about dawned on me, I managed to blurt out “What does it do? Stand up and wave?” Then I fainted.


The devil makes work for idle hands. Which would explain the impending sense of doom I feel when doing nothing. Doing nothing leaves one wide open to bursting into a state of sin. Hubris, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth – all lined up and waiting for the hands to be idle in order to possess the doer-of-nothing like an airborne virus. Before you know it, there she is - a boasting, money-grabbing, decadent, fornicating, green-eyed, angry, lazy monster; but that’s enough about Western Suburbs women, this is about ME.

In spite of the enormous amount of doing being done on my part, there seems to be a confounding amount of nothing getting done. Everything I did yesterday needs doing again today, it never stays done and I wonder if there is some Big-Cahuna-God-type-entity watching me with bemused fondness, like me watching the dog chasing its tail, wondering when I’ll work it out, when I’ll stop, curl-up on the spot and lie down for a guilt-free snooze. As long as there is Catholic on the nucleotide sequences of my DNA, it’s never going to happen.

It was inevitable that somewhere along the way something attractive would catch my eye, distract me from all this doing, offer some sort of respite, it would give back to me what I put into it, and that one simple fact would render me hopelessly, passionately, irrationally, head-over-heels in love with it. It did…knitting.

Knitting is a way of doing nothing while actually doing something, which wards off the devil. What’s not to love? While all hell breaks loose about me and the young complain that their stomachs have been stapled to their backbones for lack of food, I sit, blithely knitting.

I blame it on the gravitational pull exerted from the best wool shop in the world, Calico and Ivy, which is around the corner from my house. I blame it on Lynne, who works behind the counter and tolerates my incessant questioning and flapping of patterns printed from dodgy Internet sites. “Well”, she intones in her Northern English lilt, with patience bordering on the saintly, “this pattern is American”.

I nod gravely. How could anyone possibly decipher anything American? I screw up that awful American pattern and resolve to never subject Lynne to such an ordeal again. I want her to adopt me.

Malcolm McLaren, speaking on Enough Rope, described the Anglo Saxon desire for order as driving out the potential for “the streets to become a really exotic, amorphous, chaotic, organic place where ideas can ... develop” and then corrected himself, the streets were there for anyone wanting to hang out on them, on the internet. You should SEE the knitters on those streets. There are knitters against Bush, there is a woman who knits her own breast prosthetics and there is a pattern for a knitted uterus. I have found my tribe.

And so, with a contented sigh, I have stopped chasing my tail. My hands may not be idle but the rest of me is. And the rest of me is loving it.

Faith Off

I am in dire need of a faith lift. It’s not so much that I’m suffering a loss of faith – more that I never really had one in the first place. I need radical faith reconstruction.

I have been half-heartedly window-shopping for a faith for years. Sometimes I designate the serious research work to a diligent friend and she brings me stories of Baha’i, Islam and Judaism, I listen to the rules and whine.

Having given up my personal space and my brain space to family life, I have difficulty coming at anything that involves more self-denial.

The thing about faith is that it looks so good on other people, and every time I try it on it just doesn’t seem to fit. An experience which is devastating enough on Bay View Terrace let alone within the darkened corners of one’s soul.

Faith on other people is beautiful, and light, like a Collette Dinnigan dress, and I want to sniff at it and touch the hem of its garment while I clump around in my spiritual sack-cloth and ashes. And deep down I know that if I just had me some of that faith, my sack-cloth and ashes would feel like a Collette Dinnigan dress. But maybe I accidentally got bleach on my epiphany and now I just can’t seem to find it.

I have a friend who is a Buddhist and while I know little about this faith other than that it was HUGE in the late eighties - like Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, I do know they don’t like to kill things, even little tiny terrifying things with lots of legs. Whilst suffering our yearly caterpillar infestation, an annual gift from our Cape Lilac tree – I sought advice on the Buddhist approach to such a situation.

“You have to ask them to leave.”
“And what if they don’t?”
“Well, you apologise, and then you kill them.”


Then I wonder if faith is like a buffet, if one can be a little bit Country and a little bit Rock n’ Roll, as it were. Say, Shamanism early on in the week and hell-fire and brimstone on Fridays, which would fit perfectly with my Circadian Rhythms.

My diligent friend and co-faith-window-shopper recently found herself in Buddhist Temple in Thailand, witness to a cleansing ceremony. Strange things happened there. Inanimate objects moved of their own volition. An egg, which had been rubbed on someone, FLEW across the room. Her Manolo Blahnik's felt strangely inappropriate.

“I’m a Buddhist now.” she said later, sheepish, fresh-faithed in her divinely fitting epiphany.

As I watched her scamper, bare-foot and blissed out, off into the white light, I was filled with envy. “Can I come too?” I wanted to bleat.

But epiphanies, like Manolo Blahnik's, aren't for sharing.

A tired tirade about George W

I like to torment my children by reading poetry to them. While perusing Hillaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales For Children, (1907) I found the following, which I have brought up to date by adding one letter to the title.


(upon the dangerous toy exploding…)

The Lights went out! The windows broke!
The Room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with Electric Bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The House itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below –

Belloc ends the poem by simply stating “The moral is that little Boys should not be given dangerous toys.”

We are the company we keep. Our PM is fraternising with a man who led his nation, and ours, to war based on five falsehoods. Weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, links between Saddam Hussein and Al Quaeda when one was secular and the other fundamentalist, Iraq, he said, posed a threat to its neighbours, each of whom had superior military powers, Saddam Hussein, we were told, with his antiquated and exhausted military, posed a real and present danger to the juggernaut United States and finally, altruistically, George W wanted "liberate" the Iraqi people.

But all of that is old news and I am merely joining the long queue of Bush Bashers.

As John Howard and George W approached the media throng last week, their dual images beamed into my lounge room on the six o’clock news, I couldn’t help but notice the matching blazers, the twin pale-blue shirts, their button down collars jauntily askew – the absence of a necktie on both of them seemed to say, “We do more than just business, we’re pals.” And while giving our PM a verbal pat on his bald pate, George W declared their hair to be their only difference.

In the daily deluge of stories from Iraq it’s easy to forget this started (sort of) in 2001, as one plane and then another crashed into the twin towers when with dreadful shrieks and worst of all, the House of George began to fall.

At tables lit by 19th century candelabra and dressed in pistachio-coloured silk cloth, feasting on squash soup and barramundi, our PM toasted the President “a world without a dedicated, involved America will be a lesser world, a less safe world, a more precarious world."

Elsewhere, in our precarious world, in the darkness shrieks and yells were mingled with electric bells, and falling masonry and groans, and crunching, as of broken bones as another 36 liberated Iraqis were added to the daily body count.

If it bleeds, it leads.

In the swamp that is a commercial television newsroom I am something of a bottom feeder. I am quite happy to show up once or twice a week to do my insignificant job for an insignificant amount of dough.

The newsroom, if nothing else, has made me a nervous mother. One occasionally hears or sees details that will never make it to the six o’clock news and it is these tidbits which have arranged themselves into an un-fun show-reel in my imagination.

It’s like getting to adulthood and still having a monster under the bed, several, in fact.

Headlining my show is an eleven-year-old boy roller-blading behind his brother on the way to the shop. Somewhere along the way he is snatched, fifteen days later he is found dead.

During the course of this story unfolding I was corralled into an edit-suite by the then newsroom director, a man I was so mindful of I had installed a rear vision mirror next to my computer lest he should appear anywhere outside of my peripheral vision. He had a special talent for materialising behind me just as I had been saying dreadful things about him. For the purpose of this story I shall call him Ratings Man.

Ratings Man had me pegged as someone typically representative of a commercial television news target audience. An audience known affectionately by journalists as mouth-breathers, inbreds and oxygen-thieves. I had been invited into the edit suite to watch the opening shots on a story about the missing boy. Ratings Man wasn’t particularly interested in what I thought; he wanted to see what I did. I watched the story and Ratings Man watched me.

The shots were home video of the boy. Performing confidently for the camera, his vitality was palpable. I imagined one of his parents behind the viewfinder of the camera with nary a thought that, one day, this two dimensional version of their son would be broadcast into the lounge rooms of tens of thousands of strangers when a stranger had taken the story of their lives and written its most abominable chapter.

Given the circumstances of the story I did what any Mother might do. Winded with grief, I clapped my hand over my mouth to stop myself from crying. Monitoring my reaction, Ratings Man seemed pleased, in a bloodless sort of way. He said, “That’s exactly what we want”. I was thanked and told I could leave. I went to the ladies toilet to cry.

There’s every chance that Ratings Man was familiar with a report by Mediascope, a non-profit media-research and policy organisation in the US, which stated in one of its reports that “…stories of crime and violence increase newscasts’ ratings.” Or, in the vernacular of the newsroom, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

These memories sit side by side in my heart, a shocking crime against an innocent, and a man who appeared to have forgotten how to feel about it.

For Eileen Dorothy (My Gran)

Recent news that the government provides funding to pregnancy counselling services who advertise their organisations as being non-directive, but refuse to provide abortion referrals, has been a good excuse for folk on both sides of the debate to dust off their polemics and give them a good airing.

The thing I find sinister is that pregnancy counselling has been singled out to receive its own medicare item number, when counselling for no other surgical procedure is deemed worthy of such an honour. In announcing this initiative, the Ministers, Prime and Health, stated, “Australia’s abortion rate is far too high.”

No doubt that Medicare number will allow a compilation of data, which can be polished up and worked into a nice graph, which the current Medicare numbers for the abortion procedure don’t allow, they remain politely unclear.

Based on statistical data compiled from both sides of my extended family it seems that as soon as it was possible to avoid having six children, one tended to avoid it like the plague. Of my ten Aunts and Uncles, five on each side, none of them was keen to repeat the experience. One of them became a Nun.

Catholic and poor, my maternal Grandparents had four daughters and two sons over a period of twenty years. In an attempt to terminate her fifth pregnancy my Grandmother drank gin and took a hot bath, which was rumoured to induce miscarriage. As a young woman, unable to imagine the shame and terror of seeking an illegal abortion during the 1950s, I found the story sort of funny. My austere old Gran knocking back a bottle of gin and soaking in a hot bath while elsewhere in the house her children fought each other over food. Rethinking it, aged forty, as she was, I feel profoundly sad.

Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, links the startling decline of crime in America during the nineties to the legalisation of abortion 18 years earlier. It’s not much of a leap to interpret the impressive display of graphs and statistics as saying that the sort of woman who sought an abortion was the sort of woman bound to raise a future criminal.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point, counters the argument. The fertility drop caused by the pill, which was far greater, “… didn’t lead to a decrease in crime eighteen years later. In fact, that generation saw a massive increase in crime.”

Gladwell writes respectfully of Levitt “if we are to have an honest conversation about things like crime and abortion, we are obliged to consider those phenomena in all their dimensions.” And “It takes a certain amount of courage to make an argument like that.”

All the number crunching and theorizing doesn’t change the fact that every abortion is experienced by a woman who is scared, confused and sad and that what she chooses to do is nobody’s business but her own. Whatever her decision, it’s one that will take a certain amount of courage.