Fear of Gardening

About twenty years ago, I realised that I suffered from a terrible, debilitating, and seemingly rare affliction – a fear of gardening. It all began not long after my former partner and I bought our first house together. She had decided that we needed to upgrade the backyard. It was quite a large area, very deep, with a slight uphill slope from the patio to where the yard ended, just behind the garden shed. The yard was dotted here and there with bedraggled native plants, while the central area featured a patchy, brown lawn.

My partner had a friend whose boyfriend ran a landscaping business. She arranged for him for give us a quote for an overhaul of the yard – new trees and shrubs, a new lawn, a bark garden contained by old railway sleepers. After we’d seen the quote, and I said I didn’t think it was a good idea, my partner arranged for the work to go ahead anyway. This was particularly annoying, given that the quote was based on the fact that I would be doing half of the actual work.

So, as the middle of summer approached, I found myself hauling barrow-loads of bark and sand around the yard. I lost count of trips back and forth to the gardening supply store. As temperatures hovered around the 40-degree mark, I grew faint and weak, but stumbled on, afraid to appear too pathetic in front of the burly landscaper. My partner and her friend sat in the air-conditioned comfort of our house, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, while occasionally waving to us, sweating and sunburnt, in the garden.

As the work on our garden was confined to the weekends (the landscaper didn’t want this job interfering with his ‘proper’ work) it took about a month and a half before everything was finished. It seemed to take forever. The completed job looked ‘okay’, I guess, although I was never a big fan of the ‘bark chip’ idea, and the lawn never grew properly. As I surveyed the garden in the weeks afterwards, considered the time, expense and physical work involved in the project, I was struck by an amazing revelation – I never wanted to do such a thing again. The mere thought of gardening made me feel physically ill.

Years later, when it came time to buy a home for myself and my two daughters, I deliberately chose a house with a ‘low maintenance’ garden. We looked at dozens of places, but it was the house with the small, narrow – mostly paved – backyard that we chose. There was just a sliver of garden around the edges of the yard, and that was covered by the ubiquitous bark chips. It all looked so easy to maintain.

All was fine in the summer – it was easy to look after. An occasional watering and a little weeding was all that was required. But then winter arrived, and in particular, the winter rain, and weeds blossomed across the barked area. As I looked upon the green mass of unwelcome vegetation I started to feel faint and giddy. I had to force myself to confront them – filling rubbish bags and buckets with weeds. But the following week they were back in force. I tried spraying weed-killer. I tried digging up entire patches of the yard. But it was a losing battle. In the end, I gave up, and for about five years let the weeds rule the garden. Before I finally sold the house, I had to spend about five thousand dollars clearing up its fabulous ‘low maintenance’ garden.

We now live in an inner-city cottage. It has the tiniest garden imaginable, with a few vines, a couple of shrubs, a small tree or two. The back yard has a patch of lawn no bigger than a living room rug. But the other day, when walking at the side of our house, I noticed something green and wiry poking through the layers of scoria covering the path. And not just one, but several, dotted here and there along the lane. My heart started beating faster; I broke out in a sweat. I felt faint. Weeds.

A Larry David Moment

Fans of Larry David’s ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ will be familiar with the situation. What will start off as a seemingly trivial confrontation with one of life’s many obstacles will snowball into something far more threatening and unpleasant. Larry isn’t such a bad guy, he’s just unlucky. Sure, he can be stubborn and difficult, and he’s certainly his own worst enemy, but most of the time Larry’s really just trying to make sense of a world gone mad.

Well, recently I had my own ‘Larry David’ moment. I wasn’t looking for trouble. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I was just trying to apply commonsense to a fairly simple and innocuous transaction. But it could have ended in bloodshed.

It all began when I decided to help my daughter out with a little financial matter. She’d received a cheque for $10.00 – a refund from the SA Government for something – and, having never received a cheque before, didn’t know how to negotiate it for cash. I started explaining how she’d have to deposit the cheque to her account, then thought of a better idea. I was going to the bank later that day. I would give her a $10.00 note, then take the cheque and deposit it to my account.

Several hours later, I found myself in the lobby of an unfamiliar bank branch queuing up to deposit a sum of cash and cheques to my credit card account. I had about $300.00 to deposit, including the $10.00 cheque made out to my daughter. When it was my turn, I handed the cash and cheques to the teller, and waited for her to stamp my receipt and enter the transaction to my account. When she came to my daughter’s cheque, she hesitated, then asked; ‘Is this a joint account?’

I explained how I’d given my daughter $10.00 in exchange for the cheque. I told her that the money was a refund from the Government, and that I’d probably paid the fee in the first place, so the money was mine anyway. She wasn’t impressed. ‘You can’t deposit this cheque into your account. It’s got to be paid into an account in your daughter’s name.’

Now, before I go any further, I need to explain a few things. Once upon a time, I worked for the bank in which I was now attempting to deposit the $10.00. I worked for them for 19 years, and for many of them as a teller in the branch network. I’d also worked as a relieving manager, a loans officer and an investment advisor. I was well acquainted with the concept of risk, and the rules regarding the negotiation of third party cheques. In this instance, the amount of the cheque was negligible, and my explanation regarding ownership of the cheque was not far-fetched or unbelievable. I was also a longstanding customer (25 years) with numerous investment and lending accounts.

But the teller was having none of it. Stony-faced, she repeated as though a robot; ‘Your daughter will need to authorize the cheque before it can be negotiated.’

I am not one to lose my temper in public, in fact, I am regularly told how patient and understanding I am. But when the teller called her colleague over, and they both looked at the cheque, then said in the same robotic voice – ‘You can’t deposit this cheque into your account’ – I started to get a little annoyed.

‘But it’s just $10.00,’ I insisted, shrugging my shoulders as if to show how little it meant to me.

‘You can’t deposit this cheque into your account.’

I happened to look up at this point, and noticed the customer at the next teller’s window taking an interest in what was happening to me. He was a slovenly dressed male in his late twenties/early thirties. He was tall, with a medium build and an abundance of facial hair. I thought for a moment that he might have been sympathetic. But then he opened his mouth.

‘Listen buddy,’ he mumbled. ‘If you don’t talk nice to those girls I’m gonna take you outside and teach you a lesson.’

I think I laughed at that point, and looked around me, as though thinking he might have been talking to someone else. I could have ignored him. I could have pretended he’d said nothing. But I didn’t.

‘Why don’t you mind your own business!’

I looked away then, back to the teller, who was now suggesting that she refer the transaction to the branch manager.

‘But it’s only $10.00,’ I pleaded.

‘Hey mate,’ interrupted the customer at the next teller’s window again. ‘If you don’t leave them alone I’m gonna smack you in the head.’

I could have called him a moron. I could have elbowed him in the eye or urinated on his shoes, but I did neither. Instead, I meekly took my $10.00 cheque and shuffled away from the teller’s window. I didn’t run. I didn’t do or say anything but walk calmly out of the bank, leaving the thug to gloat over his ‘victory’.

Did I imagine them laughing behind my back? Did I imagine applause? Did I imagine the thug making chicken sounds?

As I walked back to my car I couldn’t help but wonder what Larry David would have done. If only I was as brave as Larry. If only…

A Night at the Show, Part Two

After about fifteen minutes of being swung around in the increasingly chilly night air, the rain whipping our faces, we emerged from the carriage bedraggled and soaking wet. L was feeling nauseous. I was just cold (and badly needed to pee). My hair had also taken on a very stylish ‘crazed lunatic’ look. We returned to the Jubilee Pavilion in search of a toilet. To my horror, it was almost as wet in the men’s toilets as it was outside (although it wasn’t water that dampened the floor).

L then decided it was time to visit the showbag pavilion. I suggested that it wasn’t the best idea if she was feeling nauseous (I could remember feeling sick after visiting the showbag pavilion many years ago) but she persisted. I needn’t have been concerned, as the rotten weather had ensured that even the showbag pavilion was not as crowded as usual.

Even so, I still felt a little dizzy after following L around for twenty minutes or so. The variety and complexity of the showbags dazzled me. Was there anything or anyone that didn’t have a showbag promoting their product? Pokemon, Bob the Builder, Scooby Doo, Spongebob Squarepants, the Wiggles (shudder), and the Simpsons. Even the Mafia had a showbag! And what on earth is a ‘Mega Sumo’?

When L insisted that I buy a showbag (apparently, you can’t go to the Royal Show without buying at least one) I relented and randomly chose the ‘Crunchie’ bag. Along with a dozen or so chocolate bars I was given a fibre optic lamp (approximate value 50c) that promised to ‘light up my home with magical fun’.

Now weighed down with bags full of food and plastic novelties we returned to the outside world to discover that it was now raining quite heavily. L was losing enthusiasm fast, but I still wanted to take some photos of the colourful sideshows and rides. L trailed along behind with the umbrella while I splashed from one ride to another. After spending 10 minutes taking photos of a fairy floss vendor L ‘spat the dummy’ and stomped off towards the exit. It probably wasn’t such a bad idea. We were both drenched and shivering.

It was a relief to get home. L went straight into the bath, while I made a cup of tea. We were also both pretty hungry after missing out on dinner at the show (L didn’t want a dippy dog), so I promised to make us a hot snack. There was just one thing I had to do first. I hurriedly assembled my new fibre optic lamp, added a couple of brand new batteries, and held my breath as I flicked the on switch. It blinked briefly, fizzled and died with a very unmagical groan.

It was good to see that some things about the Royal Show had not changed.

A Night at the Show, Part One

As a child there were few things more exciting to me than going to the Adelaide Royal Show – the noise, the crowds, the arcade games and rides, the showbags. But the last time I visited, about eleven years ago, I was a parent with two young kids of my own, and the experience was quite different. I found the noise and crowds nerve-wracking, and the expense draining (both metaphorically and literally). It all seemed so superficial and ugly.

When L suggested we go to the Royal Show this year, I instinctively said ‘no’. But then I reconsidered. Maybe it was time to revisit the experience. After all, I no longer had little children to worry about. And the financial factor was no longer so important. Our busy schedules, however, made finding a mutually agreeable time a bit difficult. In the end, it came down to one option – Tuesday night.

When Tuesday came around, my enthusiasm had dissipated, and the weather forecast predicted cloud and rain. But it was too late to pull out, for L had taken showbag orders from friends and relatives. Somewhat reluctantly, I made arrangements to pick L up after work and drive straight to the Wayville Showgrounds.

We didn’t get off to a good start. The traffic situation near the Showgrounds was chaotic. Greenhill Road was at a standstill. To make matters worse, access to the carpark was restricted to traffic heading east. We were heading west. After a short detour down Richmond Road, we finally got to park the car. Always prepared for the worst, I assembled my ‘provisions’ (headache pills, snacks, umbrella, map, camera, spare batteries, tissues, notebook, pen) and we headed for the entrance.

We weren’t in the Showground a minute before the rain came down. Gently at first, then bigger, colder, more threatening drops. We took shelter in the Jubilee Pavilion. Here there was a mystifying collection of promotional stands assembled under the rather non-descript tag of ‘lifestyle’. Furniture displays stood next to stands promoting chocolate sauce; leathergoods next to hair extensions; the Red Cross next to face painting.

As we wandered aimlessly around the displays, where bored salespeople stood yawning, L practiced her ‘thank you but I’m not interested in your product’ face. This involved some grinning and a little nodding. Soon we had both perfected the expression and successfully grinned and nodded our way out of the Pavillion and into a crowded food court, where wet and hungry showgoers munched on hot dogs, fairy floss and chips.

L wanted to check out some of the animal displays, so we trekked around the Showground in search of sheep, dogs, cats and pigs. We got very wet, frustrated and tired, but didn’t see as much as a tropical fish, as all of the animal pavilions had closed for the day. I tried to cheer up L by tempting her with a ride on one of the many bone-shaking, back-shuddering thrill rides.

She decided the only ride she was brave enough to tackle was the Ferris Wheel. That was fine by me, although I was mildly concerned about the rain. It had eased somewhat, however, and it wasn’t that cold or windy. So we merrily clambered aboard the ride, and as we were hoisted into the air above the brilliant lights of the Carnival area, I pulled out my camera and began clicking away madly. It was a few minutes before I noticed that L was huddled low in the seat, her arms over her face. That was when it really decided to rain.

Postcard from Darwin, Part Two

We were out early on Day Four, heading south to the Territory Wildlife Park. Frosh Baby had counted on picking up fresh sandwiches for breakfast from his favourite roadhouse, but due to some silly bungle, we ended up with four very hot, very messy toasted ham-and-cheese sandwiches. I gave up eating mine after getting butter and melted cheese all over my hands. But FB persevered – never one to give up easily when it comes to food – and somehow managed to eat an entire sandwich while staying in control of the ute.

The Wildlife Park is near Berry Springs, nearly an hour south of Darwin. It covers quite a large area, and getting around to all the exhibits takes some effort. It is so large, in fact, that they have a ‘train’ that runs around the park, connecting all the major attractions. Surprisingly, perhaps, we decided against the ‘train’ and set out on foot. I was generally impressed with the open, roomy enclosures and the connecting parklands. The only thing the Wildlife Park lacked was…well, wildlife! After walking for well over an hour the only animals we’d seen were a couple of motley wallabies and a brolga.

The second half of our tour proved more interesting. The walk-through aviary was impressive, as was the aquarium and the nocturnal house. It was after 3.00pm by the time we got to the exit, and we were both feeling tired and hot. Luckily the cafeteria was still open, so we stopped for ice creams and soft drink. But as we headed back to town, FB’s appetite yowled for more – something quick and meaty – so we pulled into McDonalds for a burger. (Frosh Baby loves great food, but he is not a food snob!)

That night we met up with Astrogirl at the Mindil Beach Markets. After a quick look at the food stalls and a yummy tropical fruit whip, we walked to Cullen Bay for a meal at Raccana Thai. We nibbled on delicious satays and other treats while Astro filled us in on the Darwin singles scene. At around 11.00pm we wobbled towards home.

FB and I were out early again on Day Five. He was eager for me to hear a particular sound he’d discovered in the lift well at Parliament House. We hung around for as long as we could without attracting the attention of security guards, but didn’t hear the sound. (Frosh described it as an ‘electronic bird call’.) We drowned our disappointment over breakfast at Café Uno, where a gorgeous English girl served up the most delicious scrambled eggs.

We took the late morning ferry ride to Mandorah, and went in search of lunch. The hotel on Mandorah Beach boasts of being ‘Darwin’s only beachside resort’ but is far from ‘resort’ material. In fact, it looks like the sort of place David Lynch would film a movie. I half expected to find Bobby Peru sunning himself outside one of the grubby apartments. Inevitably, the lunch menu was sad and tired – all schnitzel and chips.

By the time we got back to the city, Frosh Baby’s belly was making sad moaning sounds, while I was feeling quite faint. It had been hours since our scrambled eggs at Café Uno. We ended up at Kozy on Mitchell Street, which featured an unusual Asian-meets-Mediterranean menu. There was certainly nothing wrong with my vegetarian cannelloni, while FB gave his curry the ‘thumbs up’.

Later that afternoon we found ourselves at the Ski Club on the Fanny Bay foreshore. I didn’t see much skiing, but there were plenty of people at the bar or scattered around the grassed area that served as the group’s ‘clubrooms’. FB and I bought some champagne and drew up a couple of chairs to watch the sun go down over the Timor Sea.

It was my last night in Darwin – the City of Eternal Summer. The air was warm, the atmosphere fresh and friendly, and the sun, as it disappeared beneath the horizon, was a perfect orange ball. As I sipped champagne, and watched the sky turn a beautiful orangy-pink, I decided that Darwin wasn’t a bad place at all.

Postcard from Darwin, Part One

For some reason I had imagined Darwin as a dry and dusty place – a sort of ‘Alice by the Sea’. This notion was dispelled before I’d even set foot on Darwin soil, for my plane flew over the city when landing, curving around over the sea and allowing for views of the lush green gardens adorning houses along the foreshore and nearby suburbs. Soon enough I was rattling through these same streets in a dusty ute, my good friend, Frosh Baby, at the wheel.

I was in Darwin primarily to spend some time with FB, whose recent past had included a week in hospital with a nasty bout of pancreatitis, and a horrific crash on an outback highway, which ‘wrote off’ his nearly-new Suzuki 4WD and sent him back to hospital. We planned on eating out, listening to music, watching movies and maybe a little sightseeing. After a short tour of the surrounding suburbs we returned to FB’s temporary home in Ludmilla.

The house was situated in its own little slice of Top End forest, complete with towering palms, screeching bats and squawking ‘bush chooks’. We sat on the patio until well into the night, talking about music and other nonsense while listening to possums fight in the undergrowth. It was hard to believe that only twelve hours ago I’d been in the middle of a South Australian winter.

The following day, FB took me on a guided tour of Darwin and surrounds, his commentary peppered with observations on the culinary curiosities of the area – ‘That’s where I bought some fabulous spring rolls’ or ‘They make the most delicious noodle soups’. Given FB’s obsession with tasty food my stay in Darwin was likely to include more than a few great meals.

We visited Cullen Bay, Mindil Beach and East Point, then headed north through Nightcliff and the suburbs of Casuarina, before returning to the city via Palmerston and Berrimah. Predictably, the tour ended in food. We stopped briefly at Stokes Hill Wharf, but were not tempted by ‘Schnitzel Magic’ or any of the other harbourside eateries. Instead, we stopped at a place imaginatively called ‘Chinese Restaurant’ for some satays, fried wontons and beef ho fun.

On Day Three, we visited the Darwin’s Art Gallery and Museum, and then returned to Cullen Bay for a wonderful meal at ‘The Sicilian’. The afternoon was spent at the Aviation Museum, where we marveled at assorted instruments of destruction, before heading to the Casuarina Shopping Centre for a last minute cd and dvd splurge at JB Hifi.

That evening we lazed about at home watching trashy movies (’The Doll Squad’) and large chunks of David Lynch’s cult tv series ‘Twin Peaks’. I hadn’t seen the show since it aired on tv back in 1991, and enjoyed getting reacquainted with Dale Cooper and friends. The show still seemed very fresh and funny. In fact, it was a lot funnier than I remembered it.

I went to bed at about 1.00am, but didn’t fall asleep quickly. I lay there for an hour or so, listening to the sounds of wildlife in the garden below, the ‘Twin Peaks’ theme music tumbling around in my brain.

The Failed Vegetarians

L has always been a caring, sensitive person, particularly when it comes to animals. It was always assumed that she would grow up to become a vet, a zoologist, or work with animals in some other way. This might have been the case had she not organised work experience at a local wildlife park. She’d arranged to spend a week there, but didn’t make it beyond the first day.

One of the first things L was asked to do was sort freshly killed baby chicks. She found it heart-breaking work. The chicks had been gassed, but some were not dead, and chirped pathetically amid the piles of tiny corpses. The people L worked with made stupid jokes about the job, particularly when they saw how upset she was. They jokingly told her that she would have to shoot and cut up a horse the following day. She didn’t go back to find out if they were telling the truth.

L was traumatised by the experience. She subsequently changed her mind about working with animals, and decided she would no longer eat meat. The problem she had with becoming a vegetarian was that she didn’t actually like vegetables. With no meat or vegetables, L was left eating bread, cereal and not much more. She has since tried become a vegetarian, and failed, on several occasions.

I’m not sure what brought on this latest attempt to convert to vegetarianism. It might have something to do with the chicken incident earlier in the year. In any case, a few weeks back, L announced that we were no longer eating meat. I said that I was happy with that, but asked that she organise and help cook the meals. I’m not that fond of meat myself and pleased to get any help in the kitchen. L sifted through a pile of cookbooks, wrote a lengthy shopping list, and helped buy the ingredients.

The first night L made a mushroom frittata. It was a bit thin and crumbly, but otherwise quite okay. That’s if you liked mushrooms. L tried very hard, but ended up eating around them. The second night we had a leek risotto. L spent all afternoon cooking the dish, and was so pleased with how it looked and smelled that she rang me at work to tell me how wonderful it was going to be. She was right; it did look and smell terrific. Unfortunately, eating the dish was hard work. The leek was thick and chunky, and the rice wasn’t cooked through properly. I ate half of my serving, while L only managed a few mouthfuls.

The week’s remaining meals were a little more successful, if not entirely satisfying. We had veggie burgers one night, then tomato, basil and fetta pizzas another night, and lastly honey-glazed potatoes. By the end of the week, L was tired and grumpy, and sick of working in the kitchen (I was tempted to point out that I’d been doing it for 16 years), and I was feeling more than a little hungry.

On Saturday night we bought chicken-and-chips from the local takeaway store.

The Manhattan Fantasy

It must have something to do with watching too many New York-based sitcoms or Woody Allen movies when I was younger, but I’ve always fantasized about living in the middle of the city, close to shops restaurants, cinemas, theatres and so on. With young children, a mortgage and a job in the suburbs such a proposition remained a fantasy until only recently, when my eldest daughter moved out, and my other daughter left school. Other factors fell into place, and suddenly living close to the city became a possibility.

I now live within walking distance of the parklands, the East End and Rundle Mall. In less than five minutes I can drive to the Central Market or the cafes of Norwood or North Adelaide. This should be a ‘dream come true’, and I’m sure that once I settle in I will begin to enjoy some of these conveniences. But at the moment, to my disbelief, I find myself missing some things about life in the dreaded suburbs.

Firstly, there are the simple things like service stations, supermarkets, snack bars and takeaway food stores. In our previous life we had a cluster of such amenities at the bottom of our street. Service stations are so rare in our new suburb that I can only assume that the owners of all the BMWs and enormous SUVs I see around the place buy their petrol at some secret, private refueling station. And where do the locals buy their junk food? Or is it only the working class districts that are infested with KFCs, McDonalds and Red Roosters? I did actually find a ‘corner snack bar’ a few streets away, but it’s impossible to get anywhere near it. You cannot park outside the store and the adjoining streets are always filled with parked cars. It’s almost like a mirage. You can see it, but only from afar, you can’t actually touch it.

Car parking, and traffic in general, is the second thing noticeable about living near the city. It’s just as well we have off-street parking, because we would never find a park in our own street. Cars are parked outside of our house twenty-four hours a day, but I have no idea who they belong to. My parents visited the other day. It was in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday, but there were no free parking spaces near our house. They almost had to park in an adjoining street.

And I expected the traffic to be much heavier on local roads than the suburban equivalents, but I didn’t anticipate the impact it would have on our day-to-day life. As we live near several main roads and a couple of horrendous intersections, even the simplest trips need careful planning at certain times of the day. My daughter is so terrified of said intersections that she will drive well out of her way to avoid them, or leave the car at home and walk.

I’m really embarrassed by the third thing I miss about the suburbs, mainly because I ranted against them so convincingly for thirty-odd years. I miss the big, ugly, impersonal, suburban shopping mall. We lived within five minutes of three shopping malls in our previous house, and one of them was one of the biggest in the state. Yes, they are sterile and soulless, and they look exactly the same throughout the Western World. But they are also warm and dry, and everything is there under the one roof. In the old-fashioned shopping arrangement you have to trudge through wind and rain, criss-cross busy streets to find what you are looking for. And, once again, parking anywhere near such precincts can be a nightmare.

So there, I’ve said it. I miss the shopping mall. For me, that is a substantial confession.

Meanwhile, I’m ‘living the dream’ here in my inner city cottage. The city is on my doorstep. The funny thing is that since I’ve been living here I’ve only eaten out or gone to the cinema once. And I’ve not once been to the Central Market or the cafe strips of Norwood or North Adelaide.

If only I had the courage to go out the front door.

May Daze

My daughter moved to Canberra in January. Not long after, we made arrangements to visit her for her birthday at the end of May. Since then, delays in the sale of our house have meant that settlement, and our subsequent move to a new house, have ended up coinciding with our return from Canberra. It was likely to be a hectic few days.

My anxiety levels were already at ‘eleven’ before landing in Canberra. I spent the entire flight worrying about all the things I had to do when we got back. My daughter, E, and her boyfriend met us at the airport. They then proceeded to argue all the way to our hotel. Canberra is a small city, but its road system is designed to cause the maximum frustration and confusion. Often, traveling from point A to point B is no simple matter. E and her boyfriend argued about the best way to get to our hotel, then about their comparative driving skills. By the time we got to our hotel I needed some tranquilizers and a soft pillow.

We were only in Canberra for five days, but it seemed a lot longer. Every morning I woke at 3.00am and lay huddled in the freezing dark worrying about things I had forgotten to do at home, or imagining all the things that could go wrong on ‘moving day’. I imagined the removalist’s van bursting into flames. I imagined them not turning up at all, and our possessions left by the side of the road. By the time I got up I felt sick. I spent the rest of the day stumbling around like a zombie.

Concerned about my debilitating anxiety, my daughter gave me a hypnosis cd that promised to provide peace and tranquility. I listened to it in the evening after we’d returned to our hotel room. A monotone voice soon lulled me to sleep. Unfortunately, I still woke up at 3.00am the next morning. I didn’t feel at all tranquil or peaceful. I was cold, tired and pissed off. I tried listening to it a few more times and either fell asleep or developed a headache.

Meanwhile, our time in the national capital passed pleasantly enough. We visited galleries, museums, restaurants, shops and monuments. We also went to Cockington Green, a village of miniature buildings. I wasn’t as awful as you might imagine, although I did find myself fighting the urge to impersonate Godzilla and stomp on the little people and buildings.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I relaxed the entire time I was in Canberra. It wasn’t the fault of the city or my daughter or even the hypnosis cd. I just couldn’t stop worrying about the upcoming move. From the moment we arrived back in Adelaide I was busy packing and making lists of things to do.

On the day of the move itself I awoke at 5.00am. By the time the removalists arrived at 8.00 I had all of our possessions ready to load into the van. I’d done everything but actually drag the stuff down the driveway. The removalists were two beefy guys who made moving enormous pieces of furniture looking simple. I tended to heighten this impression by attempting to move things on my own and appearing weak and pathetic. Within an hour or so they had everything we owned stacked neatly into the back of their truck.

Of course, the van didn’t burst into flames, and everything was delivered to our new address and unloaded without incident. That night I slept more soundly that I had for several weeks.

I have to remind myself that worrying doesn’t achieve much besides encourage stomach ulcers, tension headaches and wrinkles. And the things I worry about never actually happen… do they?

Saving the Chicken

We’d counted on capturing the chicken on Sunday morning, assembling nets, boxes and a foolproof plan. However, on Saturday night a fierce storm struck the city. I was home alone trying to concentrate on a writing project, but I spent more time worrying about the chicken. The rain verged on torrential, falling in cascades from the guttering above the carport, and the wind was so strong it blew the rain straight in at the lounge room windows.

It was after 10.00pm when I finally decided to go out into the storm and find the chicken. I couldn’t imagine it living through the night. Apart from the wind and rain, the temperature had dropped sharply. It was icy cold. I put on two layers of clothing and some thick boots. Our one torch was broken, so I opened my bedroom windows and switched all the lights on in an effort to throw some light on the chicken’s hiding place. But once outside it made no difference. I could see nothing. The wind and rain whipped at my face, and the bushes and vines in the front yard slashed at my face and tangled round my legs.

On my first attempt, I scrambled around the base of the bush. I’d seen the chicken nestled right up against the plant, and imagined this providing the best shelter against the weather. Visibility was so poor I could only scrape around blindly in the bark and leaves, hoping to scare her into the open. But she was nowhere to be found. Already drenched and cold, I retreated to the house to reconsider my approach.

Maybe she had gone in search of shelter elsewhere. Maybe she had finally gone home. I had to be sure.

I ventured back out into night, but this time approached the bush from the front. Here the garden sloped up sharply from the road. I clambered up the slippery incline and grabbed at the lower branches, pulling myself up the final metre or so. I pushed my way into the bush; its wet leaves scratching at my face. Almost immediately I spotted the chicken, a dark shape against a darker sky. She was huddled in the higher branches, a bedraggled, forlorn figure. At first I thought her beyond my reach. I leant against the branches in front of me and reached out with both hands. Any moment now she would leap into the air, squawk and disappear.

But I moved steadily and surely, and grabbed the bird with both hands. She struggled momentarily, but without much energy, and I was able to get to the house without dropping her, or falling over on the slippery ground. I placed her gently into the pet carrier I’d had waiting by the door and took her inside.

The poor thing was absolutely drenched, and for the first ten minutes or so, I thought I might have been too late to save her. But as she dried off and become familiar with her surroundings, she gained energy. Within half an hour she was hopping about the cage and clucking enthusiastically. Later on, when I attempted to clean up a fresh chicken turd, she scrambled over my shoulder and flew across the room. After several minutes of chasing her in circles I came to the conclusion that she was not about to die.

The next morning, we took her back to her home. I was surprised to discover that her owner was not nearly as old or disabled as L had described him. In fact, he seemed just as capable as me of catching the bird. In any case, he led us through his ramshackle yard to a makeshift chicken hutch. Scrambling and scurrying in and around the hutch were several little hens like ‘ours’ and a more colourful rooster. When ‘our’ chicken spotted her friends and relations, she began clucking with excitement. She was out of the pet carrier before I could even finish opening the door, and joined the other chickens in a silly little dance about the hutch floor. It was a nice moment.

I was still pretty annoyed with the chicken’s owner. I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t made a greater effort to retrieve his pet. But he said he was pleased and seemed sincere. He even offered us free karate lessons.