On Christian blogging, matted dogs and eating your own ear wax.

Spring has come to my part of the Southern Hemisphere and this morning I chose to sit out on the front deck for breakfast. Because this is Australia, the sun is already fierce fourteen days into Spring, even at 9am, and I had to put up the sun umbrella. I had to. It wasn’t at all about pretending to be some kind of fifties movie star lounging under a twenty-four spoke oriental-style sun canopy surrounded by my dogs, who are actually someone else’s dogs.

I have been dog-sitting while a friend has their side fence replaced. The furry friends have coats that are non-shedding, which means they are self-matting. And have I told you that I once trained to be a Registered Nurse so I have this thing about maintaining the cleanliness of any living creature in my jurisdiction? Your bodily hygiene is my bodily hygiene. Remember that, if you ever want to make any comment about personal boundaries to me. Conversely, if I want to get really stinky that is my own business. Try not to mention anything.

Anyways, these cute doggies came to me pre-washed and fluffy but with a couple of winter matts still in their fur and I felt the need to attend to them(see previous paragraph about personal issue).

When I lived in SouthEast Asia I had a white poodle called Mimi. She was an International Exchange Dog of sorts, since she had lived the majority of her life in a Thai-speaking household. After eventually finding herself in a somewhat dilapidated state, Mimi was rescued by a local dog rescue agency and then taken in by me. She adjusted breathtakingly well to my English speaking household for a year before being placed back into the care of a Thai family.

Mimi the International Exchange Dog was irregularly taken to the local Poodle Parlour for a shave and a hair cut. Once home from that journey, she would spend one evening recovering and be back out rolling around in the dust of the partially sealed access road first thing the next day.

Money well spent.
Money well spent.
Mimi also liked combing over the rubbish dump next to the house, looking for deceased food sources. She was pleased to pick up any seed or burr available and store it on her person for unknown future uses. Mimi the International Exchange Vector. Suffice to say that fur tangles are familiar to me, and I love, no, long to snip them out. 

So after my friend’s dogs arrived,  it didn’t take me too many hours before I wanted to take the paper scissors to these short-stay companions. They loved it! (Or one of us did.) And this morning after breakfast, I cut out the last, most difficult matt. It had formed up under one the dog’s ears, and was tricky to get at and cut out safely. The dog was a brave soul. He had just experienced the first hot day of Spring and the matt was obviously bothering him and he wanted it out, but he could only cope with a couple of snips at a time before needing to walk off and take a breather. Then he would return and present his ear for further attention.

Once the matt was finally released, I presented it to him like a prize, thinking he would be as impressed as I was, even without the nursing training. He sniffed at it and shook his head. I put in down in the pile of offcuts and picked up my tea. He delicately leaned towards the pile, collected the earwax matt between his incisors, pulled it away from the rest of the pile, slurped it up and gobbled it down.

And as I sat there, rapidly cooling cup of tea in hand, watching a labradoodle chow down on its own hairy clump of earwax, I thought to myself:

A proper Christian blogger would be able to work this up into an analogy of the love of Christ.

Because I am a blogger, and I am a Christian. And I believe nobody in the history of the world shows nor has ever shown deeper respect for our freedom to make our own life choices than God, and I am not about to up the ante nor lower the bar on that one. Even. For. Ear. Wax.

As for what other life messages may be conveyed through the story of a labradoodle eating their own hairy ear canal residue, perhaps any answer is best left to the consumer.

Give thanks and eat.
Give thanks and eat.

[Think about buying my book, Stroke the Tiger’s Tail. All royalties go towards assisting those fleeing war and persecution. You can buy it from amazon or my createspace site.]

Stroke the Tigers Tail: Chapter 2: Frost

Stroke the Tigers Tail: Chapter 2: Frost

Stroke_the_Tigers_T_Cover_for_KindleSTORY SO FAR: Amina and Ibrahim have received news from the Public Defendant that their daughter, Rahima, has been arrested for heroin trafficking in a faraway city. They are Grand-Apam and Grand-Dadam to one grandchild, Adiljan.

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At the beginning of winter, the frost grows so fast along the window pane you can watch the small, white lines branching as they grow sideways away from one another. Adiljan stands with his hand to the glass for several minutes but the heat of his hand makes no difference to the crisp movement of ice along the outside surface.

“I know why,” he breathes into his transparent reflection. “Two panes of glass.” The frost is on the outer pane. He is inside with the warmth, the smell of the kitchen and the low, deliberate sounds of Grand-Dadam’s voice. The ice shuffles forward, slowly filling the pane with intricate patterns.

Grand-Apam says it’s not right to disturb someone’s rest, but Rahima shouldn’t be allowed to sleep through this. Some things only happen once a year. It’s now or never.

“Rahima!”

He runs to where she is lying on the floor of her room, her bedding a mess.

One time, when she had only just finished a rest, Rahima had invited Adiljan in here to play. Her bedding had still been unfolded and spread out over the floor.

“I have a gift for you, Adiljan,” she had said. “Under the bedclothes.”

He had crawled under the thick bed-coverings and made his way down to the bottom of the roll, all the time searching for what she had hidden. He had even gone so far under she had lost sight of him.

“Adiljan! Where have you gone? Why have you disappeared? Will you never come back to the bedroom? Haha!”

“I’m! Under! Here!” Yet even yelling as loudly as he could, he couldn’t make her hear him. How easy it was to become lost under the thick cotton wadding of his aunt’s covers.

Adiljan had tried to do the same in his own bed, but had never felt quite as lost. Curled up small or lying out flat, his body still seemed as obvious as mountains rising from the foothills. There was a magic with Rahima. What was it that she had hidden that time, anyway?

“The frost is here, Rahima. Come and watch it grow.”

She isn’t moving. He kneels beside her and puts his cool palm to her cheek but she does not stir. He pushes her face sideways on her pillow, then shoves it back the other way. “Rahima, the frost is just now coming! You have to see it.”

She lifts her eyelids for a moment, then falls back to sleep. Adiljan stands up and puts his hands on his hips. Then he turns, walks out of her room and shuts the door loudly behind him.

“Adiljan?” Grand-Apam is walking into the hall from the kitchen, wiping her fingers on her apron.

He looks down at the carpet and presses his lips together.

“What is the matter, my child?”

“The frost is growing on the windows,” he screws his toes into the carpet, watching them disappear into the pile.

“Oh. I would like to see that. Which window, my child? Come, come. Show me.” She is pushing him from behind towards the lounge room, hand in the curve of his back.

When Rahima had left Grand-Apam’s house for her new job, her bedroom had stayed empty. Then one day, Grand-Apam had taken Adiljan into the room and said it was his room to sleep in whenever he was over. That night, he had watched Grand-Apam pulling bedding from the cupboard.

“That’s Rahima’s bedding.” He had thought of the gift.

“It will do for you, too, will it not?”

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on Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair

Jasper Fforde The Eyre Affair cover

‘Emma Hamilton?’

My mother popped her head around the door from the kitchen.

‘You know her?’ she asked in a aggrieved tone.

‘Not personally. I think she died in the mid-nineteenth century.’

My mother narrowed her eyes.

‘That old ruse.’

You will know from my Welcome page that I am currently at Western Sydney University training to be a high school English and Music teacher.

For anyone in my position, a short cogitation on a future in front of a classroom of shiny-faced adolescents with nothing but their teacher’s emotional well-being and self-esteem both in mind and at the forefront of everything they attempt to do, and do not hesitate to say, can provide some pause. And last night, when there was nothing left on telly, Facebook, Twitter, the ABC News website or The Guardian online, I got to thinking:

Perhaps I should read a few HSC books.

So I go to the NSW Board of Studies website, find the prescribed texts for HSC English for the years 2015-2020 and it turns out that the list is…voluminous.

If I start reading tonight I should finish by 2021.

So what do I do about this egregious lack of understanding? How do I respond to this gaping cavern of unread literature that exists, right now, in the North Face of my mind? I walk to the bookshelf and pick out something I’ve read half a dozen times already.

One of my favourite silly books is Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. I first went looking for this novel in the bookshops after reading a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, one particular sentence of which captured my attention: “a silly book for smart people”. It was a marketing ploy. But it worked. Why, I said, I am a smart person! I like to think I am! Perhaps I could cease this incessant rereading of nineteenth century English literature and actually try something new.

Above is a picture of my battered old Jasper Fforde novel, about as travel-weary as I am on certain days. It has been on bookshelves in the tropics and bookshelves in the desert. Once it was in a terrifying earthquake and it might tell you about that sometime if it is feeling in a safe place.

‘Well, it’s a bit of a co-incidence, wouldn’t you say?’

‘What is?’

‘Nelson and Wellington, two great English national heroes both being shot early on during their most important and decisive battles.’

‘What are you suggesting?’

‘That French revisionists might be involved.’

‘But it didn’t affect the outcome of either battle,’ I asserted. ‘We still won on both occasions!’

‘I never said they were any good at it.’

The Eyre Affair is a prescribed text for English Extension 1, in the elective ‘Genre: Comedy’, described below in terms that provide a rich vein of essay questions which practically mine themselves. Some of them even lay down on the side of the road waiting to be picked up like nuggets of…really easy (to set) essay questions:

The humour generated by comedy can be verbal, visual or physical. Comic texts often celebrate the resilience of human beings and their capacity to triumph over adversity. They construct a world in which conflict can be resolved through laughter and disunity can give way to harmony and a ‘happy ending’. Through comic treatment, human mistakes or weaknesses may be exposed for effect. The effectiveness of comedy and its humour often depends on the cultural context and values of the audience.

The more books you’ve read, the funnier The Eyre Affair will be. It’s been around for a while, I know. But maybe it’s time to put down that Jane Austen novel and have a post-modern giggle.

Stroke the Tiger’s Tail: Chapter 1: The Call (part 2)

Stroke the Tiger’s Tail: Chapter 1: The Call (part 2)

Stroke_the_Tigers_T_Cover_for_KindleSTORY SO FAR: Whilst Rahima is trapped in prostitution in a faraway city, her parents, Amina and Ibrahim, with their young grandson Adiljan, celebrate the annual Corban Festival of the Sacrifice.

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The skull was heavy, hard and warm and it knocked against Adiljan’s knees on the way up the stairs.

Amina ran down to help and the two young men accompanied the whole family up to the apartment, everyone lugging fresh sacrificial meat.

Before long, Amina had seen the entire sheep arrayed warmly along the second kitchen bench. She would put it in the fridge later. Firing up the cooking pot, she scooped ingredients from the prepared piles in the kitchen and made four bowls of mutton soup and four bowls of tea for the men.

They sat in the living room and ate and drank as fast as possible then got up and left. The two younger men had more sheep to slaughter. The old man and his grandson would spend the day visiting every house that offered them a salaam and accepted one in return, eating the tiniest bit of mutton and slurping down the quickest bowl of boiling tea before moving on to the next house and the next. In each house the women and girls stood waiting to serve them. And in turn the husbands and sons and grandsons of their houses would come and execute exactly the same manoeuvre in Amina’s apartment.

Once they had left Amina slipped out of her orange plastic kitchen shoes and padded barefoot onto the deep reds and blues of the carpet’s traditional design. The white lace curtains were newly washed and pulled back to welcome the weak sun reflecting off the snow in the courtyard. She had directed Ibrahim to wash all four sides of the double glazing yesterday and he had done a passable job. She moved to the window and saw a couple of neighbours on their way to her stairwell.

Less than a week after the sacrifice festival, while each family was enjoying its own freezer full of lamb, Amina received a phone call from a faraway city.

“Are you Amina Ibrahim?”

“Yes.” On marriage, Amina had taken her husband’s given name as her last name.

“Rahima Ibrahim is your daughter?”

“Yes.”

“This is the Public Defendant’s office. Your daughter has been arrested for heroin trafficking. If you like, I can make arrangements to work on her case. The cost will be two thousand. Call me back on this number when you have the money.”

Amina sat with her hands cupped around the phone and rocked back and forth. “Balam, balam. My child, my child.” She would have to pay the public defendant’s office, and she’d need the release fee. Where would she and Ibrahim get the money? She entered her husband’s number into the phone.

She had not chosen him herself. Thirty-year-old Ibrahim had been picked out by her mother and father and the wedding arranged before Amina had known anything of it. At that time the law was already in place that a girl could not be married off without her consent. Yet as soon as Amina turned sixteen her mother forged her signature on the permission papers and informed her she was married. Amina had sat under the dining table and wept, insisting she would not go with that man until finally her mother told her that her choices were to marry Ibrahim or be beaten to death. There was no getting out of it. Her mother had six other younger children to care for and Amina was old enough.

She cleared the telephone screen. Where was the man?

It was her turn to host the next women’s Chai event. The women at the monthly Chai were ladies of the same age that had been meeting together since primary school days. Every month each woman took two hundred to the Chai as a gift for the hostess. And each month a different hostess collected all the cash. Money circled the group, with each woman able to plan on receiving one thousand once every ten months.

But just one thousand was not going to be enough. The Chai ladies were not well off. More than half struggled to collect just the two hundred needed to attend each monthly event. Which of them had the money to give her a loan on top of that? Why did she have such penniless friends? Why had none of them sought for more in their lives? For anything more than to keep that extra bit of money away from the men each month?

Those women knew nothing but primary school and marriage. They got together every month and all they did was talk about their children and grandchildren. She used to be like them until her stories filled sour with grief and loss. They hear about her cleaning job and tell her she is doing “black work”; the sort of labouring only desperate and underfed migrant workers do with shovels, sledge hammers, buckets of sand and concrete. What does it matter? Clutching their handbags on their laps. Those bags are so beautiful, but inside them is nothing but a handkerchief and front door key. Let them talk. You can’t spend someone’s good opinion at the bazaar. In her handbag is money.

She cleared the telephone screen and punched in Ibrahim’s phone number again. Sometimes she would go out leaving him details to prepare certain food, or pick up something from the shops but the fool always chose his own method and timing to do things. One evening after work Ibrahim had come to her in the kitchen while she was kneading dough for noodles.

“That fellow who owns the downstairs restaurant came up today,” he had said. “He asked to rent our apartment as a dormitory for his employees.” Ibrahim told her how much they had offered to pay.

Amina had turned around from the workbench. “With that money we could rent an apartment with an extra bedroom. There would be room for the grandchildren, and money left over to pay for groceries.”

“This is our home,” he had said, eyes swimming.

She had turned back and pummelled the dough into the base of the bowl. “Is this place not ours to do with as we wish?”

Amina got up and walked to the window with the phone at her ear. She pulled out a grey rag from behind an indoor plant and scraped it along the dry window ledge. The windows had been built with a stone bench jutting into the apartment and the couple used this for a row of indoor plants. By the glass the plants took full advantage of the short days and pale light of winter and their roots benefitted from the radiator which warmed the stone from below. Ibrahim watered them daily. Once a week he would give the plants a half turn to interrupt their desperate strain towards the weak semi-arctic light. His indoor garden revolved in slow-motion, like television footage of dinner plates twirling on the tall bamboo rods of a stage performer. A philodendron shot leaves out on new stems, budding another leaf and another in a journey away from the origin of growth. But what the plant intended as linear escape ended up curled around the base of the pot.
She waited for the phone ring out, then put it down on the stone ledge. She needed to get to her youngest daughter. A train would be cheapest, but the tickets were sold out months in advance, so it was not an option. She needed to buy an aeroplane ticket. Miriam and Yacobjan could find that money. Miriam would gladly give the money for her sister. She would visit them tomorrow.

The phone buzzed with Ibrahim’s return call.

“Fingers too busy to answer the phone?”

“I smoke.”

“And your other hand?”

“My other hand smokes, too.”

Amina picked three yellow leaves off a struggling geranium. “Will you come home?”

“I always do.”

“There is a matter to discuss.”

“I’ll finish this cigarette and come.”

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