The irresistible trap of mini-golf parenting

The irresistible trap of mini-golf parenting

I challenge you to play mini-golf with a child and not give them tips on their game. Like singing the chorus to Informer by Snow, or saying no to an arancini ball, it’s impossible.

My brother and I, who would both like to think of ourselves as relaxed, non-obsessive dads, recently played a round with our four boys, and by the third hole we had both fallen into the irresistible trap of mini-golf parenting.

The problem is little children suck at mini-golf. They hold the club around the wrong way, they constantly forget if they are left, right or one handed, they swing wildly and aggressively with absolute disregard for Newton’s Second Law of Motion, they mix their grips up so their hands are crossed over like they’re in a straight-jacket, they push the ball along like they are brooming leaves, they constantly stand directly in front of each other, they take absolute liberties with the ‘club-head away from the edge’ rule, and sometimes it just seems they have completely forgotten the basic premise of the game. They suck.

And an adult can only abide such mini-golfing atrocities for so long.

We restrained ourselves for three holes but eventually a supportive parent seeks to correct and improve via unsolicited feedback; in a gentle and constructive manner of course.

“Hey, maybe look at the ball while you are swinging aggressively in its direction.”

“Have you thought about pointing the club away from your foot?”

“Weren’t you right-handed a minute ago?”

“Woah, probably would be easier to hit the ball if your hands weren’t crossed over like an octopus.”

“Why are you standing on top of the concrete Statue of Liberty?”

“Isn’t the hole that way?”

“Did you not see your cousin standing directly in front of you as you were bringing your club head back like a champion wood chopper?”

“Did you not see your cousin bringing back his club head like a champion wood chopper? Why are you standing directly in front of him?”

“Do you remember the basic objective of this game?”

“Do any of you care about your handicaps?”

We told ourselves the feedback was for them, not us. They would certainly enjoy themselves more if they played a little better, right? Then they would have more fun! Yes, fun is the objective. There is no chance any of them are going to join the Vegas mini-golf tour with its lucrative powdered orange juice endorsements and its all-you-can-eat frankfurter buffets, right? So what else is there but fun?

Well, they did not appreciate our feedback.

By the 5th hole they were grumbling and telling us to be quiet and by the 7th we had a full mini-golf mutiny on our hands.

“Yes I prefer playing with one hand!”

“No I don’t want to line up my club head perpendicular to my shoulders!”

“You’re not a mini-golf professional anyway so what do you know?!”

“You are the worst dads we have ever had!”

etc etc

To avoid a complete walk off we agreed to withhold our constructive feedback for the rest of the round, and for the most part we did. We focused on our own scores and passively watched them bumbling around the course; spanking their balls onto the footpath, brooming this way and that for 12s on par 2s, periodically whacking each other in the shins, helicoptering their clubs around single-handed, playing holes backwards and some of them not at all. Not once did any of them even attempt one of the 7 classic putting grips as laid out in the PGA handbook.

Their scores were atrocious and barely warranted tallying. But I must admit they did appear to be having a lot of fun.

So, now I can’t shake the slightly uneasy feeling that my mini-golf feedback may not in fact be confined to the hallowed astro-turf greens of the Holey Moley links. It is decidedly possible that we are constantly dispensing enthusiastic, perhaps over-earnest advice that is at best unnecessary, and at worst unwanted. It is possible we are diminishing their fun.

It seems unreasonable and unfair that parenting should be so complicated, that even our best-intentioned efforts could prove counter-productive. So what are us parents to do?

I think, in fact, that simply being there on the mini-golf fairway with them is the best our children can hope for, and the most we should expect of ourselves. And if they choose a lifetime of mini-golf mediocrity, and they never get to taste the sweetness of a free frankfurter buffet, then that is their misguided choice to make.

Mini-golf mutiny
A rugba league road trip with a 5 year old

A rugba league road trip with a 5 year old

I don’t know why I support the Canberra Raiders, I think it’s a childhood disease of the blood. Objectively, there is not much to like about this life choice: disappointment, cold fingers and luminescent colours that look good with nothing. But I do, and I fear I have passed this disease onto my five year old. And like all genetic family quirks that we hand down, I feel a confused combination of shame, regret and elation.

Monty’s first Raiders game was about a month ago. We sat in the sun, the Raiders scored constantly, there were flame throwers, a big horn going off all the time, the lady behind us gave Monty a voucher for free chips, green wigs and fairy floss. We even had an ice cream. This was an inauthentic experience and, I fear, a desperately dangerous manner in which to commence a relationship with the ‘Green Machine’.

So last week when I was discussing the possibility of travelling to Parramatta for the Qualifying Final Monty’s ears pricked up. “Ooh is that rugba league dad?” he asked, using the correct pronunciation, “the Green Machine? I’d like to come!” Well, what can you say to that? I asked Milo if he too would like to come. He looked at us both with a smirk that said enjoy yourself losers, replied “No” and returned to his book.

So off we went; a bright Friday afternoon full of promise. We packed light to remain nimble – 12 Dr Seuss books, the educational boardgame ‘Sum Swamp’, two soft blankets, three stuffed toys (Slothy, Grogu and Blue Bear), A3 paper in a variety of colours, and two lime green jumpers.

We arrived mid-afternoon at a salubrious purveyor of temporary accommodation in central Parramatta, our dwelling for the evening. I will protect the modesty of this establishment by withholding its name but certainly crimes have been committed there; both reported and un-reported. As we opened the door we were greeted with what I initially thought to be the whiff of stale cigarettes, but then soon after more accurately identified as stale urine. All of the various door and drawer handles came loose when you pulled gently on them, the beds were so concave you could play that marble game where it spins around and around endlessly, we had a beautiful view of the carpark and I wouldn’t even let Monty set foot in the bathroom. But he loved it.

“Ooh I love our hotel dad. I think this is the best hotel we have been in. Oh, my bed’s better because I have a beautiful view out the window (NB. of the carpark) but yours is better because you are in front of the TV etc etc.” Which of course goes to show, all of life’s rich experiences are deeply contextual.

We played some hide and seek, which is stressful when you don’t want your child to touch any of the soft furnishings. I terminated the game after I tried to hide under the ‘desk’ and it collapsed – like when you have half assembled some IKEA furniture using only the dowels – and we struck out to find food and rugba league.

After a quick meal on Church Street we joined the various lime and yellow tributaries that were flowing together to form a stream towards the stadium. Monty was well below the surface of this stream and clung tight to my hand. The sun was dropping and soon Monty, with his unique perspective, noticed the giant fruit bats that inhabit the skies of Sydney every evening in the warmer months, swooping and gliding. Captivated, he began to count as they drifted past, eyes glued to the sky, and the next time he looked down we were standing at the foot of the gleaming, disco-lit stadium. “woah – this is different to Canberra Stadium dad!” he exclaimed. Umm, yup.

We navigated our way up the stairs and through the cavernous walkways, Monty skipping ahead to explore and steal views of the grass and the lights. Eventually we arrived at our seats and I quickly realised a key flaw in my planning. I had purchased seats in the front row, which also happened to be directly behind a television camera. Monty could not see over the barrier without assistance, and even then the camera obscured 90% of our view. We were banking on multiple tries in the left corner, I mean right in the corner, to ensure we had a view of anything. Parramatta was running our direction in the first half, and those who happened to watch the game will know that we got our wish.

As we approached half time Monty, who had been on my lap for an hour or more, was less sitting on and more clinging to me. He looked somewhat overstimulated, and I could see he was starting to tune into the general restlessness of the great green mass that swayed around us. “It’s a bit noisy dad.” he said. I agreed and asked whether he would like to go home at half time. After a moment of consideration he agreed that might be a good idea because afterall we could still watch it on TV, or maybe Hey Duggy (which he charmingly calls Hey Doggy), or maybe read Dr Seuss.

So as half time arrived I levered us up out of our seat, enjoying the exquisite sensation of blood once again flowing unencumbered through my femoral arteries, and picked our way through the crowd. Around us middle aged men had taken to their feet, looking down forlornly, self consciously smoothing their jumpers with their hands as they wondered if lime green was, in fact, as flattering as they had always believed it to be.

The bats had evidently arrived where they were going, so the skies were clear as were strolled back to our luxurious dwelling. Only once were we the recipient of drive-by yelling “better luck next year!”, but I sensed at least a sprinkling of genuine sympathy to it; I think that’s what you get when you are accompanied by a little green person with angelic blonde ringlets.

Back at the hotel I was not surprised to learn we only had three television stations, and none of them were showing the rugba league. Probably for the best. So instead we watched Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom (I am 100% sure the first time it has ever been enjoyed in that room), read some Dr Seuss, brushed teeth (I brought the toothbrush to him) and fell very swiftly to sleep.

A rugba league roadtrip for the ages.

A somewhat obscured view
A small fire and some very kneady pizza dough

A small fire and some very kneady pizza dough

We recently purchased a small outdoor pizza oven as we thought it would add authentic, interesting, interactive culinary experiences to our children’s lives, and delicious pizzas to ours. So far, after one attempt, we have achieved a small fire and three ‘accidental calzones’.

I started mid-afternoon on Friday; Milo still at school, Monty my little pizza padawan. We rode the Flame Bike to the IGA to purchase an array of authentic ingredients that cost vastly more than our usual Friday night pizzas. We assembled homemade passata from scratch; Monty harvesting the pathetic miniscule basil remnants that had survived the winter and chopping it up. We prepared our pizza dough by hand (more or less) according to the recipe. I say ‘prepared’ but it was more like we coaxed it gently to life; the recipe was full of evocative words like ‘breathing’, ‘resting’, ‘springing’, ‘growing’. The dough was highly temperamental and moved forward strictly according to its own desires and timeframes. It would not be rushed.

Perhaps it was because the dough had seized my initiative, but while it slowly luxuriated I became disgruntled and lost interest in the instructions. This was a mistake.

I woke it from its slumber after 45 minutes. Jeepers – does it really need an hour of R&R before I can cook it? Yes apparently.

I broke the temperamental mass up into a few roughly similar-sized amoeba-looking globules and wondered how I was supposed to know how much dough each pizza might need. Does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t matter? I would easily have been able to answer this had I flipped the page. Yes it matters, very much. In fact one must deploy a small weigh scale to ensure consistency. The phrase roughly similar sized amoeba-shaped globules does not feature in the instructions. I know this now. The exactly weighed pieces of dough are in fact to be formed into precise and identical ‘doughballs’ – the dough is ‘balled’ to use a verb that has been fabricated from a perfectly good noun. The ball is to be smooth and stretched, and light and dense and balloon like and sealed and matte and shiny. Oh also one must ‘prove’ the dough after balling, and some higher end recipes even call for a pre-ball and post-ball proving. I knew nothing of any of this then, and having now read the instructions I continue to know nothing of any of this.

My other quite significant oversight was buying exactly 1kg of flour as the recipe called for, such that I had none for scattering or dusting or rolling or tossing or sprinkling or balling or proving. Again, I wondered if such flamboyant flour activities were a nice to have. I decided, yes, probably non-essential, and continued on smooshing my unweighed, undusted, completely unproven, unstretched and unloved masses of unballed pizza dough around our entirely utilitarian, jack-of-all-trades, non-artisanal, not-fit-for-purpose wooden chopping board.

Satisfied with my smooshing, I levered up the ugly masses and deposited them on separate plates for the boys to load up with non-conventional topping combinations. In hindsight I do recall noting how sticky and unwieldy these masses were at this point, and how rather unleverable they had become. I ignored my nagging sense of impending catastrophe and, well, cracked on. Of all the brainless choices I made which, when laid end to end, could have only had ‘small pizza fire’ as their outcome, smearing the sticky dough puddles onto ceramic plates with ridges around the outside and then allowing them to be drowned in passata, pineapple, salami, mozzarella, more mozzarella, more mozzarella, pineapple, was among the most brainless.

Well, the rest of this story is obvious so I won’t labour it. With the boys literally skipping, and hugging, and dancing right behind me I started with Milo’s. Of course, undusted, unproven and dangerously over its design weight, Milo’s pizza had no interest in separating itself from its comfortable plate. The instructions called for me to ‘confidently’ slide the ‘pizza peel’ (big paddle thing) underneath the dough. I think the only positive thing I can say about my dough was that it could smell fear. My confident peeling therefore made no difference whatsoever and I soon had a heaped pile of coagulated dough and eclectic pizza toppings perched precariously on the edge of the peel, tangled and not at all happy with their cohabitation.

I had shielded the unfolding pizza atrocity from the boys with my body, so they continued to skip and salivate. With a resigned shrug of my shoulders, I looked back once more at my beaming children and pushed the heaped mass into the fiery jaws of our pizza oven, with great, inconsequential, confidence.

The sticky mass clung onto the front of the 400 degree pizza stone like a cat into a carrier, tumbled over itself a little and then immediately burst into flames. Now I was on the clock. What is the optimum time for a quasi-pizza-ball to be on fire in order to minimise salami incineration and maximise the percentage of vaguely-cooked dough? I went with about 45 seconds, then desperately scraped the assimilated Borg-like memory-of-pizza out of the oven and presented it to Milo. Having repeated this terrifying process twice more we all sat down together to eat.

These two delightful children ate with gusto, only rejecting the truly charred, and stopping to compliment the moderately charred.

“You know,” said Milo between bites “some pizzas are really fancy, you know? But I love this one, it might be my favourite ever. It’s like, because you have no idea what you are doing, it’s not fancy at all, and that’s great.”

Which proves, that although most of the time parenting is like being whacked unsympathetically in the face with a damp hessian bag full of onions, once in a while… just once in a while, it is the loveliest and most uplifting pursuit you can spend your days and years pursuing.

The moderately charred

Skiing with children in Australia and other bad decisions

Skiing with children in Australia and other bad decisions

If you want a lesson in supply and demand in which scarcity is the driving force, like buying a battered, brownish $6 banana after a cyclone in Queensland, then try skiing in Australia. If you really want to be humbled, bankrupted and demoralised, take your children with you.

We attempted this recently; enrolling Milo and Monty in ski school for the first time, buying them four days of lift passes because absolutely there was zero chance they would not be cruising down blue runs by mid-week blowing kisses and high fiving each other, we purchased cute ski suits for each of them, gloves, boots, woolen socks. We were even close to buying one of those plastic bubble things you put on your roof for skis and other such alpine things, like skiing families have. Yup, we were going to be a ski family and live happily ever after.

The first morning we woke up early because, given we didn’t book our accommodation in 1986, we were staying in Jindabyne. Bad signs early; moans from the children, suggestions we should ski tomorrow, suits were uncomfortable, what are those strap things for on the pants? boots are too hot, will it be cold? can we have hot chocolate without skiing? To be fair, weather looked ominous, and increased its ominousness as we ascended the mountain (which can only be considered a mountain in relative, not absolute terms).

Arrived at the hire place. Boys put their ski boots on for the first time and looked at us with an expression that could only be translated as “what the fuck are these all about?” It’s a fair question and I could not give a cogent answer. Yup, they are super uncomfortable, weirdly angled, impossible to walk in and terrible for your ankle health. Put them on and get ready for fun! The upbeat atmosphere we were trying to maintain became quickly unmaintainable as we stepped out into the fresh mountain air and were blown forcefully back into the hire place. We gathered ourselves, said our goodbyes to the hire ladies for a second time then, unperturbed, again forced open the swinging door and stepped out into the squall, boys teetering around like they had just dismounted after a 5 day horse trek.

We quickly arrived at one of those terrifying, icy metal staircases with those tiny spikes that are supposed to enhance grip but only provide a convenient surface upon which icicles can readily form. Monty looked at me and with his eyes told me that even in good weather, in sneakers, he would find it difficult to walk down that staircase but now he was in a blizzard and he was wearing rigid, slippery boots that meant he could only walk like a Lego man. I silently told him I understood and grabbed his arm firmly.

We navigated our way precariously up through the well groomed, icy mud pathway that led to the ski school, otherwise known as patch of ice with some orange cones around it, the wind literally blowing small children over to our left and right. Upon arrival we were dismayed but not surprised to be greeted by a complete lack of signage or information. We stood around hopelessly until Bryn glided up to us and asked what our boys could do on skis. “Nothing” we both said. Bryn laughed, we did not. Bryn then scribbled their names down in his notebook and asked me whether they had any dietary requirements. I considered this an odd question and wondered whether Bryn had a packet of peanuts in his pocket which he intended to use as rewards, and wanted to understand his anaphylaxis risk.

We helped the boys onto their skis and shoved them in Bryn’s general direction, before backing away slowly. “Surely this is impossible” we said to each other in an admiring tone “how can Bryn possibly take care of all of these children?”

Of course it was, and Bryn didn’t.

We retreated to a safe distance, out of view. Kuepps joined a 45 minute queue for coffee, because obviously there is only one machine on the mountain. I looked around at all the people in my vicinity drinking hard at 1030 in the morning. I presumed most of them don’t ordinarily drink straight Jaegermeister or pints of apple cider before lunch, and wondered why they had made the decision to do so today; now that, compared to their regular days, the chance of crashing into a tree at significant speed with no protection whatsoever had increased by, I don’t know, 100 times. Perhaps I was missing something.

I saw Monty get blown over, then Milo. I saw them walk up a small hill with one ski on, then I saw them both get blown over again. I saw some of the group ski awkwardly back down that small hill. Monty had zero skis on now and Milo was throwing snow balls at him. Then I saw Monty lie down in the snow. Then I saw Milo trying to escape. Bryn belatedly went after him and seemed to talk him into returning to the coned off icy area. I saw Milo sit down next to Monty then I didn’t see much else after that. Bryn wandered up to them once or twice and unless the lesson was ‘sit there in the freezing snow with no skis on and look sad’ I don’t think Bryn was moving them forward according the curriculum.

Kuepps eventually returned with tepid coffees and looked over at the boys, still sitting in the snow not learning to ski. With fresh eyes Kuepps asked an obvious question “how long have they been sitting there?” Quite a while I said… “perhaps we should check on them” she suggested sensibly and headed off to investigate.

Shortly thereafter Kuepps returned with two popsicle stick children, tears and snot frozen to their pink little faces. “I thought Bryn had it under control” I said limply, probably not the first to overestimate Bryn, and we began the process of hauling our rigid children and their pile of equipment back to the car.

Thus ended Day 1 of ski school.

Day 2, Friday, again commenced early. Grey skies and whipping winds had given way to driving snow which we only discovered as we crossed the Thredbo River. This brought hoots of excitement from the back seat, and a general air of trepidation in the front seat. The snow went from pretty and interesting to concerning and problematic within 7 minutes, and by the time we arrived at the ‘snow chain’ police road block Kuepps and I were looking sideways at each other. We had received a thorough briefing on snow chain deployment from the teenager at the petrol station who was wearing a leather hat with attached ear warmers. However, despite our 45 seconds of experience we felt neither confident nor enthused. We pulled over and asked the boys whether they wanted to continue given the conditions. “No!” they said in unison then cheered when we agreed.

Thus ended Day 2 of ski school.

We returned to Jindabyne, swam in the hotel pool, played handball and ate burritos. In the afternoon we rented two taboggans for $15 each and headed back up the mountain to build snowmen, throw snowballs and fly down the ‘snow play’ hill at dangerous speeds. Exhausted we wandered across to the restaurant refuge for a hot chocolate, the boys waddling like overfilled dumplings. Tired and satisfied the boys smiled and covered themselves in molten marshmallow. Monty fell asleep in the car on the way back to Jindabyne.

On Day 3 (Saturday) we were stopped at a roadblock just outside Jindabyne by NSW Parks employees who told us the carparks were full and we couldn’t go up the mountain. Yes, as baffling as that might sound, this happens. In this situation many questions occur to you like; what about the lift passes? and ski school/ icy coned-off area? and ski hire and the many hundreds of dollars contained therein? But you don’t ask any of them because the person in front of you presumably did and yet still performed a miserable looking U-Turn and returned to Jindabyne. So you perform a miserable looking U-Turn and return to Jindabyne.

Thus ended Day 3 of Ski School.

On Day 4 (Sunday – our last day) we departed even earlier, determined to secure one of the 37 carparks in the National Park. We were graciously allowed entry into the Park in order to avail ourselves of the goods and services for which we had already spent thousands of dollars. We were very grateful for the privilege. The drive was scenic and outrageously slow; a full hour and a half from Jindabyne to Smiggins. Although we are civilized people nobody really trusts the good nature of their fellow travellers, and so everybody glides into the right lane whenever an overtaking lane appears lest somebody interpret it as a genuine opportunity to overtake at 8km per hour. And yet from time to time a Land Rover of some description would overtake on the inside lane, thus saving themselves 12 seconds. I found this approach intriguing given the aforementioned scarcity of carparks. One’s chances of ending up parked adjacent to an irked and frustrated fellow traveller seemed high to me, and therefore the usual anonymity of poor driving etiquette is lost. Also, everybody’s cars are filled with poles and skis and any number of projectiles which could be used for spontaneous carpark violence. Intriguing decision making.

Oh also there is no internet for the entire drive. How is that possible? Only 37 carparks, and no internet. And one coffee machine as I mentioned before… but this is a diary, not a list of grievances so we must move forward.

The sun was out, we secured a park and so managed to convince our boys to don their ridiculous boots, snap on their skis and have a go with us in the ‘magic carpet’ area. Both enjoyed themselves (although Milo would never admit it) and in the 30 minutes we held their attention, both improved a lot. Oh, we finally got a chance to use our lift passes (for the magic carpet) but they didn’t work. So we pulled or pushed the boys back up the hill each time which tired everybody out pretty swiftly.

We had time for another taboggan and departed before any significant injuries occurred, which we viewed as a great triumph.

On the long drive home we asked the boys to list their favourite things from the holiday. Here is their compiled list (in descending order):

  • Swimming;
  • Playing handball;
  • Playing Nintendo;
  • Eating burritos;
  • Tobogganing;
  • Meeting the Fox Terrier with the interesting colouring;
  • Throwing snowballs;
  • Finding the long stick with the spikes all over it;
  • Dinner at the Italian place;
  • Marshmallows;
  • Oh… and skiing.

Money well spent.

At least the fashion was good

Monty is not a psychopath (and the untimely demise of our chicken Henri)

Monty is not a psychopath (and the untimely demise of our chicken Henri)

We have a small flock of urban chickens; Goose, Cluckles, Silas, Strawberries and Henri. They are ISA Browns, Rhode Island Reds and a Leghorn. Lovely. Recently we noticed Henri had a large bulge on her chest, more accurately an enlarged ‘crop’. Now, short chicken anatomy lesson – chickens are skittish creatures and eat whenever they get a chance and as fast as they can, always mindful that when their beaks are pointing down their juicy thighs are pointing up; enticing a python, or a baboon or a hungry human. They must eat fast and then flee, back into the jungle I guess. If they find a bountiful meal they need to ingest it much faster than it can be processed. Therefore chickens have a handy pouch above their stomach called a ‘crop’ which is basically your school bag at an all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut in 1994. Very convenient. From time to time a chicken’s crop can become blocked (food, infection, injury etc) and things can get nasty if the blockage is not cleared. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened to Henri.

My google diagnosis/ treatment advice led me to attempt all sorts of things, each more agricultural than the last, and most beyond my agri-suburban threshold (I wear old Palladium boots to collect the eggs afterall); massaging her chest, eye droppers with olive oil, apple cider vinegar in her water and finally hanging her upside down to allow the crop to drain out because (another fun poultry fact) chickens can’t vomit. This goes down exactly as you are imagining it, messily. The boys sensibly watched through glass from inside the living room.

After a few days it was apparent that our efforts were not serving to clear the blockage and Henri was now just sitting quietly in the shade, looking around at her wildly pecking and digging friends, and probably not feeling too wonderful. After a few phone calls we found an avian expert vet and so Monty and I packed Henri up into a cardboard box and drove her across town.

The vet was lovely and said the things we had been trying, although not without risk, were essentially the right remedies, and that unless he could clear the blockage there was no medicine that would make a difference. Henri would ultimately starve to death if we left her. He did not look hopeful as he carried Henri away but said he would use his ‘crop syringe’ to get some saline liquid right down into her crop, and do his best.

At this stage Monty was bored and was asking to go home. We had already discussed the possibility that if the vet couldn’t help Henri we might have to put her down, to avoid further suffering. He said he understood but in the 10 minutes that we sat together in the small consultation room he clearly hadn’t really processed that possible outcome.

The vet returned somewhat ashen faced (a genuine but well-practised look), said he too had been unable to get much out of the crop and that euthanasia was now the most humane step. I explained this mysterious word to Monty and he caught me by surprise with his immediate and desperate sobs.

It was clear to me from his reaction that Monty is not a psychopath. This is good, and something that a parent may go years not knowing for sure about their child.

Monty was bellowing loudly, rivulets running down his cheeks. The vet asked if I would like to ‘settle the account’ in the consultation room so we did not have to stand in the queue outside, I agreed. This is a very awkward, and unavoidable human transaction. I signed a consent form, tapped my credit card and then said goodbye to Henri. Monty and I gave her a nice back rub such that her little eyes closed for a moment, and then the vet took her away in her box.

I carried Monty to the car, sobbing quietly now, and strapped him in. It wasn’t long before he had fallen asleep, his cheeks tear-stained, his faced still anguished and his little body heaving up and down involuntarily every so often. But before he fell asleep we had both agreed that Henri had always had delicious food to eat, a warm spot to roost at night, and good friends to kick around with all day. And for that we were both glad.

Henri

A 42 year old man buys his first record player

A 42 year old man buys his first record player

This weekend I bought a record player, my first one. My pretext for doing so was to make my boys aware that the crisp, multi-layered sound booming out of my iPhone is not as Tay Tay intended it to be. Although true, the purchase was really about exorcising some persistent 1995 demons involving 16 year old me who was not cool enough to see Pearl Jam on their Australian tour, nor resourceful enough to own any decent hi-fi on which to listen to Pearl Jam on a beanbag in my room via Yamaha Orthodynamic Headphones on a super long cable while feeding my Tamagotchi, nor stylish enough to own Pearl Jam paraphernalia of any kind.

As those simply designed Vitalogy t-shirts, worn by self-assured youths at the bus interchange, the woolshed parties, in the food court, at the skate park, the bowling alley and under school uniforms, faded, so too did my faint hopes of musical and social credibility.

Well, today that has all changed and somewhere in the time/ space pretzel 16 year old me is smiling. Although, it is a cruel trick of life that one can have really nice hi-fi or hair, but not both at the same time.

There is a fabulous shop in Newtown that sells refurbished turntables, amps and speakers to chaps like me who will spend more than they want to, but less than they can. I had visited a few months previously so I understood the general investment quantum and some of the bare facts of 70s/80s hi-fi. Still, I let the store owner give me the full tour, and the spiel again. I engaged sufficiently and asked enough questions to make it appear I was weighing up the various technical aspects at each price point when really I knew right away I wanted the one with the walnut case because it looks really nice.

“So, this one’s stylus cartridge comes out…” he tells me.

“Ah ha I see, well that’s not good” I say nodding “is it?”

“Yes, that’s good. For cleaning.”

“Yup, sure. Okay, so that one has the removable cartridge for cleaning, that’s great.”

“Okay, this one’s tonearm does not return.”

“mhmm” I say nodding again, looking at him for clues “so that’s why it is a little more expensive?”

“No, it’s better if it returns.”

“Of course.” I say, wondering if it comes in walnut.

Onward, and so on and so forth. We listen to an untold number of amp/ turntable/ speaker combinations as I sit in that well-worn demo armchair, each one devastatingly loud and significantly better than my iPhone. I nod at that kind of head angle you use to express understanding and agreement when he plugs in the $2500 speakers just to “give me the benchmark”. It sounds identically excellent to all the other combinations we have experienced together and I give him a lame double thumbs up. In the end I spend a little over my self-imposed budget and buy a really pretty wood-cased speaker/ amp/ turntable combo. All Japanese made and all jaw-dropping for my 16 year old self and his Tamagotchi.

Excited and empowered I left him to prepare my speaker cable and grounding wire, whatever that is, and charged up King Street to purchase records. Of course, as I stepped into the first phone booth-sized record store I experienced Vitalogy exclusion all over again, 2022 style.

Immediately I became horribly aware that my jeans were from General Pants, and everybody else knew it. At least they are one of the brands that sound like they may have been designed in Europe, but deep down I know Birmingham is no longer part of Europe. Also, somehow, I was sure the other customers knew I had bought them online. How embarrassingly practical.

I move quickly over to a large wooden vat filled with records spine up and look sideways at what my hemp-clad fellow customers are doing. They are thumbing manically through the boxes like an accountant looking for receipts right before the tax deadline. Occasionally they stop, withdraw a record, hold it aloft for a moment or two then drop it back in before returning to their frantic thumbing. I start to do likewise but I have no idea what I am looking at. The boxes are loosely and confusingly labeled; ‘re-drops’, ‘classics’, ‘fresh’, ’80s’, ‘funk’, ‘soul’, ‘Australian’, ‘imports’, ‘house’, ‘deep-house’, ‘trance’, ’90s’. The ven-diagrams are spiraling in my head and taunting me. What if I want a fresh deep-house Australian record from the 90s? What then??

I become aware that I am still thumbing and have not removed anything for closer inspection. What is the appropriate time ratio of thumbing to holding aloft in order to be taken seriously? I pull one out and hold it up to the light. It just has a picture of a croissant on it and no words. I plunge it back in and wipe my hands on my thighs desperately.

Separate to the very helpful categories, I notice there are also records sorted by alphabet. The catastrophic ven-diagram implications of this parallel grouping aside, even as a stand alone system it is confusing. Some are single lettered, some in groups, but not sequential groups, like O,P and T. Why? Also, I have no idea if the O,P,T records are above the label or below it. I thumb back and forth but the album covers are giving me no clues. I am yet to see one record by any bands I have ever heard of.

“Where is John Williamson?” I ask myself. Hopefully not audibly. But probably audibly. Just in case, I leave.

The second store is worse. I am the only customer and it feels like the shop assistant and I are stuck in an elevator together.

“Why did he not give himself a stool?” I wonder. He is just standing there, leaning on a concrete bench writing on record sleeves the colour of butchers paper. What is he writing?

“Hi” I say, limply. He notices my General Pants jeans and knows I won’t stay long. He doesn’t look up from his work.

I go to the record vat as far away from him as I can but he could still easily push me with a broom if he had one handy. I am aghast to realise this shop does not even have album covers, just those butchers paper sleeves with a little peep hole to a tiny circle of the record which you could only recognise if you spent all your days studying ‘vinyl album cover flash cards’. On the butchers paper sleeves were esoteric descriptions of the albums with word combinations I have never seen in sentences together; like ‘luxuriant and thirsty’, ‘pre-pubescent and steadfastly’ and ‘hammerblow and effervescence’. I thumb horizontally away from him and out the door.

The third record store is larger but heaving with frantic thumbers; making their way swiftly through the music world alphabetically – a, b, c, d/f/q, e… etc. then genre-ly – reggae, R&B, punk, punk/reggae, R&B/punk. I stand and watch, waiting for my chance to enter the stream, like merging into traffic. I spot a gap and seize it. I am delighted to find myself at the box which was not labelled, but should have been labelled, expensive albums for dudes in their 40s who just bought a record player; Pearl Jam, Prince, Led Zeppelin, Men at Work, AC/DC, Beatles, Foo Fighters. Wonderful. I take a selection of this most wonderful genre, along with some Tay Tay for Milo and some Tones and I for Monty and I escape the vinyl district. Still without the Vitalogy album, still without much credibility, but now with some very nice hi-fi equipment and a smile on my face.

And so this evening we listened with joy at volumes far greater than is necessary for our 15m2 ‘analog room’. The boys marveled at the tiny grooves, the weight of the vinyl, the fragility of the needle, the speaker crackle that beckons in the rich music, the comforting, industrious spin of the turntable and the satisfying resistance of the dials on the amplifier. Milo read Tay Tay’s lyrics from the album insert to Monty and I felt strangely liberated to think nobody was counting how many times we had listened to All too well. Like it had never happened at all.

Hi-Fi

Coughing at School

Coughing at School

Last Friday I received our first ‘your son is coughing at school and endangering all of our lives how dare you come and get him before we put him in one of those decontamination tubes from Monsters Inc and shave all his hair off’ calls from Milo’s school. The call is abrupt and accusatory and not very pleasant, but probably fair enough given that person probably has to now make that call 20 times every day.

Now, I am very supportive of keeping sick children at home, but I am sure most parents would agree in the post-COVID, or mid-COVID, or post-mid-COVID, or rump-COVID world, or whatever world we find ourselves in, the threshold is somewhat lower than it once was; a polite clearing of the throat in an enclosed space is likely to earn you an express trip to the infirmary.

So, I picked up Milo post-haste (with all the shame entailed therein), removed him from the hermetically sealed zip-lock bag in which they had placed him, and took him home. The Friday was a pleasure. The three of us had grand adventures and complimented each other on the positive and healthy father/son, brother/brother relationships we had fostered and built together as we played, listened and respected each other etc etc. Friday flowed effortlessly into the weekend.

Now, readers of this blog will know Milo’s general attitude to all things is no corners cut, no compromises made. A fine attitude which will no doubt lead him to the very apex of science, the corporate world, or an organised crime syndicate. Anyway, his uncompromising attitude extends, of course, to his management of phlegm. If he identifies a small globule lingering in his throat, a globule that could perhaps be gently coaxed away with the gentlest of train-friendly rasps, he will instead gather all purging forces at his disposal and deploy them with impunity, each and every time. There is a deep intake of air, a pause, a wind-up and then an unholy hacking exhale that no globule could possibly endure. He waves the inside of his elbow around the general vicinity of his mouth, like all our virus-conditioned children now do, but that slender little elbow pocket has no chance of even stymying the progress of that great gale. Every cough invokes for me those slow motion videos of nuclear tests in the Nevada desert from 1945.

I have no doubt his immune system had almost declared victory over the weekend; little white blood cells cart-wheeling, jigging and playing drums on the helmets of their vanquished viruses like victorious Ewoks at the end of Return of the Jedi. His mucous was on the wane, his disposition brightening. We even secured a negative RAT; a nostril tickler, not just one of those lolly-pop jobs we all received from school which you only use if you want to guarantee a negative.

Still, as the sun set early on our wintry weekend it was obvious to us both that, despite our delusion, Milo’s no-holds-barred uber cough was going to do us in. There would be no school for him on Monday.

The famous lolly-pop placebo

Getting our nails did

Getting our nails did

Recently, on a Friday morning, Monty and I have been taking in a mid-morning movie and getting our nails did. It’s a positive model.

The movie cinema is busier at 10am on a Friday than you think; but very few people are taking in utilitarian animated offerings like Pils Adventures and Bob’s Big Burger Movie (or something like that). In fact over the two movies we have only had one other patron sharing the cinema with us, and he claimed to be reviewing the movie for a local paper. This seemed unlikely based on his jittery eyes and his frequent use of incorrect verb structures. I would strongly assess he was paying for two hours out of the cold, much like we were. Given the disjointed, dubbed, Francophile oddness of Pils Adventures he probably wished he rather invested in two caramel lattes at Gloria Jeans, with whipped cream. We did.

Anyway, if you think you can breeze into a cinema mid-morning on a school day, pick up a ticket and a dangerously-sized popcorn with three minutes to spare you can think again. If you plan your time like this you will absolutely miss the commercial for a local menswear store starring the owner of that menswear store wearing his own menswear to the soundtrack of Italian opera. No, the queue will be at least 12 deep.

There’s the guy by himself who does not take off his pom-pom beanie buying two choc-tops, there’s the retired couple who spend quite some time debating whether they need the medium or the large popcorn. They choose large and are then embarrassed and shocked at the size of it. They leave the monstrous box sitting on the counter for a moment or two unsure what to do with it, while the clerk tries to make eye contact around or over it to secure payment (always in cash). They then cart it away together muttering muted, bashful explanations. Also, there is usually a shabby but amiable looking chap who orders a glass of wine with his Maltesers and says something like “it’s after ten isn’t it?” to the ticket/ snack lady who does not smile in response. He smiles anyway and wanders off into the gloom. None of these people chose the movies we did.

On our second visit the ticket/ snack/ parental advice lady told me she had been told “by management” that the Big Bob’s Burger Movie (despite being animated and shown at 1040 in the morning) was not “suitable for children”. She herself does not have children, so she explained, but she was just passing on the message she had been asked to pass on to any adults who appeared intent on making a dangerous movie choice on behalf of their infants. Now, this is a tricky spot to find yourself in as a parent-in-public. The next most ‘child friendly’ option appeared to be Top Gun: Maverick but I presumed the plot was likely too complex for Monty to follow. The only other option was leaving again without movie and without popcorn; a poor option indeed. So I publicly proclaimed that indeed I was choosing to ignore the direct, expert advice of the Dendy Corporation and that yes I would be exposing my four year old to adult themes, and we went for it.

The movie was pleasant enough; there was an animated teenage boy riding a horse in his underwear at one point and several tangential references to male genitalia but Monty enjoyed himself and didn’t seem particularly scarred. I am not confident ticket/ snack/ parental advice lady was entirely correct in her advice; but that depends greatly on your parenting ethos I suppose.

As we discussed the pros and cons of upgrading to a medium popcorn next time we strolled down to the New York Nail Salon and Monty chose ten different colours at random (5 sparkly and 5 plain). We assumed our positions behind the thick perspex and held our hands still as statues (Monty is amazing at this). We were treated throughout with detached antipathy, we were scolded sharply for moving our fingers prematurely, I received judgmental incredulity for having not removed my wallet from my pocket prior to the polish application, we received no smiles, no thank yous and no polite platitudes. In short we were treated like everybody else. The sight of a father and his son getting their nails did at lunchtime on a Friday raised exactly zero eyebrows. For me, this is great progress indeed.

A bold assortment
The Second Child

The Second Child

Monty turns five in a month or two so I thought it worthwhile to reflect on the rampant inequality with which a second child is treated; in terms of parental care, interest and general nurturing. I think those of us who have or know a second child will agree this neglect generally yields good results. The relative disregard with which they are treated generally reduces neediness, increases independence and heightens resilience.

Firstly, I am writing about Monty on a blog entitled ‘The adventures of Milo and Jupiter’. This will surely be one of the many aspects of this blog that will cause angst between me and my teenage boys many years from now. Although Monty is a second child, so he probably won’t care. I will explain to him that the popularity of the blog depends on brand recognition, and that our 17 loyal followers would be horribly confused if we tried to alter the website or title in any way.

The diminished attention and care begins almost immediately. With Milo we paid a ‘car seat expert’ $250 to install his capsule, to ensure we had cut zero corners on his safety. That’s genuinely hilarious. With Monty I bunged in the capsule while Kuepps was inside with the bags and the 2nd born as we were being checked out of the hospital.

For their first child parents can reel off all the stats – like a basketball card collector in the late 80s – Milo was 3.6kg and 50cm long at birth. If anybody asks us how big Monty was we say “Big. Real big”. And over time this gets worse; second children do not live in absolute terms, only relative. Monty slept through earlier than Milo, Monty crawled and walked later than Milo etc etc. Goodness knows in specific terms when any of these milestones occurred.

And it continues:

When we bathed Milo in a baby bath we used one of those floating thermometers to ensure a satisfactory temperature. For Monty this technology was replaced with an elbow.

Milo got soothing rainforest music at night. For Monty we generally turned the drier on, but not always.

For Monty’s first Christmas he wore a suit which says “Milo’s first Christmas”.

Milo got a Women’s Weekly swimming pool cake for his first birthday – I went to three supermarkets to find blue jelly – for Monty we had bought a pile of brownies, and in fact his party was cancelled due to inclemency.

We sought to nurture Milo’s hand/ eye coordination, environmental awareness and ‘sense of self’ by taking him to Gymbaroo and Jitterbugs (baby gymnastics). Monty got a tennis ball, previously owned by Milo.

By the time Monty came around we had disposed of the ikea change table and instead removed the soft insert and whacked it on top of a low wardrobe; to save space.

Monty’s first bike (also known as Milo’s first bike) is right now sitting in our front carport, rusting.

And we genuinely have no idea how or when Monty was toilet trained. The trappings of training were all around our home; potties, toilet seat inserts, cute little urinals suction-capped to the wall with turbines to encourage good aim. We presume Monty just started using these things because all of a sudden his nappies were always dry. He never received any stickers for producing a pebble; no kinder surprises, no books, nothing. And then one evening before bed he pointed out his nappy had been dry overnight 7 days in a row and maybe he could wear jammies. We obliged and kaboom – toilet trained.

Recently Monty discovered the green hard-back edition of The Adventures of Milo and Jupiter which I printed out after my first time off with him (another classic first born gesture). “Daddy, where is the book of our adventures together?” He asked. Hmmm… I thought I had a decade or so before having to deal with this issue. No matter, let’s deal with it now.

I am now off work for an as yet non-determined timeframe with Monty. I will seek to invigorate the blog somewhat in order to produce enough material for a second hard-back edition to secure a prosperous future relationship with my second-born. Milo hasn’t bothered to read his yet, even though he has the capability. If and when he does he may be alarmed by some of the careless or callous parenting documented therein. We probably have another 6-12 months with Monty before he can read my version of his childhood. Hopefully COVID home schooling will return and buy us a little more time.

Who is this child?

Guess Who I Am

Guess Who I Am

This evening we played a short round of the provocatively titled game Guess Who I Am. Presumably the designers of this game gathered around in their boardroom, or garage, and, with reference to the law firm that represents Hasbro, cheered defiantly “LET THEM COME!” One can only imagine those fine litigators did, indeed, come.

Anyway, simple game. Everybody dons a pair of annoyingly ill-fitting cardboard spectacles. The other players then write the name of a famous something-or-other in non-permanent ink on the white part at the front of the spectacles. Actually, they probably do this before you put them on, that makes more sense. From there each player asks a series of increasingly pointed questions until they deduce the something-or-other written on the front of their spectacles, or they don’t… nobody seems to care one way or the other.

Monty did not appear to immediately grasp the broader purpose of the game, or he did but was unwilling to put forth the effort to develop a cogent questioning strategy to achieve his objectives. Monty wanted to decide on his own something-or-other. I said no. This was foolish, particularly given it was after 1930hrs. Monty cried, I relented. Monty decided on a rather obscure character from the Dog Man book series known as ‘Ratterfly’. In carefully formed letters I penned the word, pausing briefly to wonder out loud if Ratterfly has one t or two – it’s two. I don’t know why I went to such effort; Monty knew what I was writing, and also he can’t read.

As Monty pulled the absurdly large spectacles up over his ears and held them there with both hands he had one last stipulation for me and Milo; even though he knew the something-or-other, and we knew that he knew, we had to pretend we didn’t know. He would do likewise. We all agreed.

Monty’s first three questions went like this:

“Am I a character from Mario? No.”

“Am I in a movie? No.”

“Do I wear a cape? No.”

Milo expertly probed his way towards ‘Pikachu’ with precision questions, almost zero wastage. I blundered my way around the pseduo-verse, hapless, making zero progress.

“Am I in a movie? No.”

“Am I famous? No.”

“Am I a cartoon? No.”

“Am I real? No.”

“Am I alive? No.”

“Am I a thing? Sort of.”

Confounded I returned my attention to Monty’s charade.

“Am I rainbow coloured? No.”

“Am I from the Land Before Time? No.”

“Am I a cat? No.”

“Can I fly? Yes.”

Meanwhile, Milo went from cartoon to Pokemon to electric type to Pikachu with impressive speed and whipped off his specs with a grin.

Shortly thereafter Monty triumphantly asked “Am I Ratterfly?” to which he received an affirmative answer. Coming in a close second was, for me, impressive commitment to his subterfuge.

Oh and by the way I was butt, not ‘a butt’, just ‘butt’ (although spelled ‘but’); the fleshy amusing kind. Seemed a little niche but at least it gave me an excuse for coming last.

Monty demanded a second round. This time he saved some time and wrote his own something-or-other – he chose 22 slightly wiggly Ls. He got it on the third guess.