June 18, 1986.
“Would an intravenous injection constitute a breach of rules in the 40-Hour Famine?” asked little Esmerelda.
Margaret Helen Elizabeth looked down her nose scornfully at the ever-diminishing Esmerelda.
“Of course it would. If you’re hungry, have another barley sugar.”
This year’s 40 Hour Famine began at 8pm Friday, and by ten minutes to nine, Esmerelda looked like a waif.
“I’ll never last,” she wailed, wring her hands. “Forty minutes have passed, and I’m starved.”
“Try and put food out of your mind,” I said, around another of Margaret Helen Elizabeth’s delicious scones, topped with whipped cream and strawberry jam.
“You’ve got no heart!” cried little Esmerelda, running to her room.
Our previous experiences with 40-Hour Famines have not been happy ones. Last year, Esmerelda’s older sister, Morgana, heroically embarked on forty hours of not eating. This was extremely difficult for her, as Morgana’s favourite hobby, next to nagging her young sister, is eating. She served herself a huge dinner, then set about drinking vast amounts of ‘Juicy Orangey’, her favourite fruit drink. By breakfast time on the Saturday, she was looking drawn and haggard - by lunchtime, she was a gibbering fool, looking at us quaffing fresh bread by the loaves, delicious meats and tantalising pastries by the bucketful.
“You’ve got no feelings!” she wailed, gulping down another barley sugar lolly and another large glass of Juicy Orangey. By 2pm Saturday, she was in urgent need of medical help, so we gave her an injection of a hamburger with the works. She felt satisfied but guilty.
“I’m weak, weak, weak!” she sobbed. “Why did I give in to my baser instincts?”
“Don’t worry, you still earned money for the needy,” I tried to console her.
Morgana’s remorse lasted till 6pm, dinnertime in our house.
Esmerelda lasted out the full forty hours, much to our delight and surprise. A young friend of hers, Chris went on hunger strike with her, but Esmerelda laughed at his efforts.
“You broke the rules; you had eggnog.”
“No I didn’t. Eggnog is liquid; it’s not food.”
“Eggnog contains egg, and eggs are food.”
“All right, you two,” boomed Margaret Helen Elizabeth. “Stop squabbling. You have only nine more minutes to go till the end of the forty hours.”
Esmerelda’s eyes were glued to the clock, and her chest swelled with pride and the knowledge that she had almost achieved her goal.
“Mother, when the Big Hand reaches the twelve, can I have a pack of Cheezee Twirls?”
“Of course you can,” replied her mother.
Esmerelda greedily clutched her packet of Cheezee Twirls and together with Margaret Helen Elizabeth, Morgana and I, she watched the Big Hand slowly, ever so slowly, reach the twelve. As the gong sounded noon, she ripped open the packet and in three mouthfuls, downed the Cheezee Twirls.
“OK, it’s lunchtime. What do you want to eat?” asked Margaret Helen Elizabeth.
“I’ll have a couple of sandwiches,” I replied.
“I’ll have a sandwich,” said Morgana.
“What do you want, Esmerelda?” her mother asked.
“Oh, I’m not hungry; I’m going out to ride my tricycle.”
The Age of Reason?
"How do you spell 40, Dad?" asked little Esmerelda. "Is it f-o-u-r-t-y, or f-o-r-t-y?"
"Why?" I asked suspiciously.
"We’re doing a composition at school entitled "My Father" and it has to be an accurate description of you."
"In that case, you had better learn to spell thirty-nine and ten months," I replied.
"It’s 39 and eleven months," butted in Margaret Helen Elizabeth.
Morgana ran to her room sobbing.
"What’s wrong with her?" Margaret Helen Elizabeth demanded.
"My father’s old," she cried from her boudoir.
"He’s not that old," replied her mother.
"He’s the oldest father I know of," she wailed. "All my friends have young fathers. Look at Allison Whitherspoon’s dad. He goes skiing and is always dancing with Mrs. Whitherspoon. And what about Phoebe Magillicuddy’s father? His hair is jet black and he surf skis."
"I’m not too bad for an aged person," I replied. "The reason I look so ancient is that I have to sit through endless sets of tennis, watching you! Last weekend it was the St Georges Basin Junior Championships and the weekend before that was the Bowen’s Tournament in Nowra. My face is sunburnt, my arms and legs are sunburnt and my hair is bleached from the sun."
"Bleached from the sun, my eye," Margaret Helen Elizabeth butting in. "you’ve been grey for years."
I wasn’t up till this time, worried about turning fourty, or forty. But spurned on by my eldest daughter’s remarks, my mind started to think of all the dire consequences of reaching this milestone.
Up to this point, I’ve been young all my life. Now I have to face the reality that maybe Morgana is right! Will I react favourably to any mid life crises? Will my ‘sun bleached’ hair eventually fall out and leave me looking like an ancient Roman statue? When I am eventually installed in a retirement village, will my family visit me and bring me a bunch of grapes? These and many more questions will have to be answered in the future.
"I know for a fact that Phoebe Magillicuddy’s father dyes his hair, Morgana, and he broke his hand last week surf skiing," I tried to console Morgana. "Age is only relative. You’re only as old as you feel, and I feel, oh, about twenty-five."
"But if you’re twenty-five, that means I haven’t been born yet," she sobbed.
I walked out of her boudoir, shaking my (sun-bleached) head, wondering where I had gone wrong.
"You’ll get even more grey hair worrying like that about her," said Margaret Helen Elizabeth. "Don’t worry. It’s only a stage she’s going through."
"When will she get out of these stages she goes through?" I asked.
"Oh, she should be out of them by the time she’s forty."
A Blemish on Bowling
June 11, 1986
"OH NO! I’ve got a zit!" cried Morgana.
"It’s not the end of the world," I said in a reassuring tone to her. "Your hormones are changing. At your age, I was covered with pimples."
"But you’ve got a beard to hide them," she wailed. "How can I go out with that on my chin?"
"Where are you going?" I demanded.
She rolled her eyes heavenward and, with a look of scorn on her face said, "Your memory is fading with age, Father. We are going to the Nowra bowling alley with thirty-two other tennis players for a social day out."
"Oh, I forgot," I said, "Don’t worry about one lousy pimple, you’ll be right. And besides, who’s going to look at you?"
All Saturday morning, Morgana worked on the pimple with creams and lotions. Little Esmerelda wanted to help her.
"Can I squeeze it, Morgana?" she asked sweetly.
"You’re disgusting!" cried her elder sister, and ran hysterically to her room.
"What’s going on?" boomed Margaret Helen Elizabeth.
"It’s all right," I said. "Esmerelda just wanted to try her dermatology cleaning theory out on Morgana’s chin."
What, with Morgana’s pimple and cries of "I’ve got nothing to wear!", we were a little late at the Nowra Bowl, but we finally arrived and thanks to Marg, who organised the day, and John who organised the draw, thirty six average Erowal Bay Tennis players showed the world they were below average bowlers. With the odd exceptions.
Barré has almost decided to abandon tennis and take up tenpin bowling professionally. John showed great style, James bowled very well and Darren had a good score. But in the main, the pins were safe from the rest of us, but the gutter had a bit of a workout. Morgana didn’t bowl as well as she can. It is extremely hard to make a good delivery with one hand permanently fixed to the front of your face.
"Don’t worry about the blemish," I told her, "just enjoy the day."
"But everyone is looking at me," she wailed.
After two fun-filled hours, we wound our way to the Galaxy Chinese Restaurant for dinner. The food was, as always, delicious, the service excellent. Wayne’s plate groaned with the weight of the food her served himself. Darren, not to be outdone, gorged himself on rice, dim Sims, beef and black bean sauce, chips, sweet and sour pork and honey prawns. The then were thirsty, and proceeded to drink a concoction called a ‘fire engine’ - red liquid topped with whipped cream. The fire engines were apparently delicious, because the two youths went back for more. Morgana was looking lustfully at the drinks, but decided not to have one for fear of a major outbreak of, as she calls them, zits.
"I’m going over to see if Darren or Wayne’s face has broken out tomorrow," Esmerelda informed me on the way home.
"Oh? Why?" I asked.
"I’ve been giving the problem some thought and I think I’ve come up with the answer to pimples," she replied. "I think I can convert my Atomic Ant Blaster to an Atomic Pimple Eradicator without too much trouble."
"Well don’t think you’re trying your invention on my chin," Morgana said adamantly.
I tend to agree with Morgana. But then I’m lucky; my beard hides my zits.
April 23, 1986.
"I’b dot a told im da dose."
"Well, keep away from me with your foul germs," said Margaret Helen Elizabeth.
"But I ache all ober," I replied, hoping for some badly needed sympathy.
"Get yourself to bed, and take two Aspirins. And please use your own handkerchiefs," she said icily.
I retired to the bedroom, making sure not to face her pillow in case my affliction would pass on to her.
The children were warned not to go within shouting distance of me, so there I was, isolated from my family, friends and relations. When one is lying at death’s door, one has opportunity to ponder life’s little mysteries. Like, why was I the one to catch this latest ‘flu bug that has hit the area.
I blame Halley’s Comet.
Don’t laugh! I’m deadly serious. Not that the Comet emitted germs, or looking at it caused my sickness. No. Merely the fact that I was forced out of bed at 3:30am late last month to look at this once in a lifetime event.
Both my children are scientifically minded. We bought Morgana a ‘Build Your Won Hydroelectric Dam’ kit for her birthday once, and Esmerelda gave us no peace until she received her ‘Catalytic Converter’ to go with her ‘Space Death Ray Emitter’. The fiendish delight she got from zapping ants made our hearts beat just that much faster, seeing her little face light up as the backyard slowly took on the appearance of an ants’ graveyard.
Luckily, Morgana’s ‘Hydro-Electric Dam’ kit served a dual function. Firstly, it produced the necessary wattage to run the ‘Death Ray’, and then, she opened the sluice gates and washed the corpses of the ants into the next door neighbour’s yard. "Gee, I’ve got thousands of dead ants in my yard," he called out to me shortly afterwards. "I wonder what caused that," I asked, and hurriedly ushered the children into the house.
But I digress.
Being scientifically minded, both Morgana and Esmerelda couldn’t wait for Halley’s to pay us his long expected visit. I told them that the best time to observe the comet was in the middle of April, when the press said we would have a ‘grand stand’ view. Esmerelda couldn’t wait, and late in March, at 3:30am, she raced into our bedchamber, shouting at the top of her voice, "DAD, DAD COME QUICK! I CAN SEE HALLEY’S COMET!!"
"Where, where?" I asked, being shocked into consciousness.
"In the bathroom," she replied scornfully. "Where do you think? It’s in the eastern sky, near the constellation Scorpios."
I stumbled out of bed, raced along the hall and into the kitchen, stubbing my little toe on the kitchen table leg in the process.
"Where is it?" I groaned in agony as I neared the children on the back porch.
"About 45 degrees up, in that constellation there," replied Morgana.
And they were right. A perfectly formed comet, a beautiful sight, and well worth the sore toe. We stayed out there for about half an hour, revelling in the glory of the heavens, the kids in their dressing gowns, and me in my, well, not much at all.
"Are you coming out to look at the Comet?" I asked Margaret Helen Elizabeth as I got back into bed.
"No, I’ll see it in April, and get over your side of the bed. Didn’t you wear your dressing gown and ugh boots? You’ll get the ‘flu, and you know how easily you catch germs."
"You don’t catch the ‘flu by being cold," I said.
"We’ll see," she replied. "Get over your side, and leave me alone. I’m tired."
The worst thing that any male can do is argue with female logic. I don’t really know if my ‘flu was caused by being cold, or by being told that I would be crook because I got cold. The fact remains that I got a bad case of influenza. My forced quarantine resulted in the children not catching the dreaded disease. I infected none of my friends.
On the sixth day after the sighting of Halley’s Comet, I was feeling a little better, and wandered out to the kitchen in search of a cup of tea.
"How about a cuppa love?" I asked Margaret Helen Elizabeth.
"Achoo!" was her reply.
The cup missed my head by inches as I ran out the back door...
A Higher Education
February 12, 1986.
At our place, things have been rather hectic. Morgana wasn’t worried in the least, but her young sister, Esmerelda, was a nervous wreck.
"Look Esmerelda, you’ll like High School."
"I’m worried about being bashed up. What about the bus, will I get a seat? And my books, when will I get them?"
Young Esmerelda was due to start High School - Shoalhaven High School to be precise.
Her sister looked at her scornfully.
"You won’t get bashed up. I’m a counsellor for the new Year Sevens, so I’ll keep and eye on you. The bus is no problem. Kevin Gordon is the driver, and you will get a seat. Your books? Ask Mother about them."
Margaret Helen Elizabeth had all that worked out.
I was on holidays and we would go into Nowra and purchase all the books she needed.
"Just give me a list of the books you need and I will purchase them for you."
Esmerelda’s first day at High School went off without a hitch, and she came home with a list of books. This was when the rot set in.
"I need all them by next Tuesday."
"No worries, my girl. I’ll get them tomorrow," said her mother.
The six ninety-six page unbounds were no problem, the four two hundred and sixty-eight were purchased readily, and the manuscript book was eventually found.
"Now, what is a ‘Grid Book’?" demanded Margaret Helen Elizabeth.
"It’s probably a ‘Graph Book’, used for Science and Maths," I replied.
We trudged all over town, getting hot and bothered but no matter where she looked, Margaret Helen Elizabeth had no luck.
"I’ve got to get it for her, if I don’t she’ll be in trouble. Poor little Esmerelda, she will be in trouble with her teachers if I don’t get it."
"Calm down, teachers know how difficult it is to purchase books at this time. Come on, let’s go home, it’s too hot here, and I’ve got the mow the grass."
Margaret Helen Elizabeth wouldn’t listen to me and rushed hither, thither and yon searching for the elusive ‘Grid Book’, all to no avail.
On the way home, I got an ear bashing.
"You don’t care, I can’t shop with you.. You bother me.. I can't wait till you go back to work and things settle back into some order.. Esmerelda will be worried, what will I tell her? ..It’s all your fault," she said, stubbing an accusing finger at me.
I drove home in a rage, and at 4:30pm Morgana and Esmerelda came home, Esmerelda carrying a large parcel.
"I’m sorry, Es. I couldn’t get the ‘Grid Book’. He hurried me and I wasn’t allowed to go to all the shops.
My chin hit the floor in amazement, but before I could get my reply in, Esmerelda showed us the parcel. It contained six ninety-six page unbound books, four two hundred and sixty-eight page books, one manuscript book and lastly a ‘Grid Book’.
"Where did you get those from?" her mother asked.
"Oh, from school. The school sells them all. What’s wrong, Mother, you look faint..."
Fears and Tears
March 11, 1987.
At our house, superstition takes the back seat.
Because we are a ‘modern family’, we have no time for superstitious nonsense.
"Look out, Dad, there’s a black cat," cried Morgana before she was old enough no to believe in luck.
"Bah," I replied, and blithely walked on.
That evening, pieces of Esmerelda’s Build Yourself a City Block were left in the darkened hall, and one of the 23rd storey steel girders embedded itself in my left heel.
"You had better watch out for that ladder," remarked Margaret Helen Elizabeth while we were taking part in that great Australian Ritual, Thursday Night Shopping.
"I don’t think that my walking under a ladder will cause the laws of physics to be turned up-end," I scoffed.
"Alright, but I have warned you," she replied as she ran off to catch the Red Light Specials on Brussel sprouts, which I loathe.
Two days later, I was on the mend from a sever case of food poisoning, caused by, according to our local doctor, a bad batch of Brussel sprouts.
At the tea table, Esmerelda spilled some salt and asked her mother over which shoulder she should throw some.
"Your left," her mother told her.
"Nonsense," I said as I got up from the table to refill my glass.
It took two hours for my sight to be fully restored, cold tea applied to the eye is not all that effective against salt, in future I shall use Clear Sight which is guaranteed not only to remove foreign objects from your headlights, but to "restore that adolescent gleam to your eyes."
Morgana and Esmerelda get pocket money for washing the family car. One Saturday morning, in clear skies, with the temperature in the low thirties, that asked if they could do their weekly chore.
"Yes, of course," I replied.
"We have tennis this afternoon," cautioned Margaret Helen Elizabeth.
"Do you think that the children have such powers that they can change the weather by merely washing the Kingswood?" I asked her, and told the children to go ahead.
Needless to say, the tennis was called off after an unprecedented 849-mm of rain had completely submerged the Erowal Bay Tennis Courts.
Last week, Margaret Helen Elizabeth came home ecstatic.
"I’ve always wanted one of these," she exclaimed. "One of these" was a bed tray with legs.
"Why have you always wanted one of these," I enquired.
"To feed people when they are in their sick bed, and more importantly, so that you can get me breakfast in bed."
Because we are not superstitious, we did not believe that Morgana’s flu; Esmerelda’s horrible cough and Margaret Helen Elizabeth’s headaches were caused by the bed tray.
"I’ve just noticed that this Friday is March 13, Black Friday," said Morgana.
I put on a brave front and told her not to worry - it’s just another silly superstition that has been handed down to us. I won’t be worried at all - my lucky rabbit’s foot is safely in my pocket and I will not be losing it.