The Great Sixth Birthday

Birthdays are pernicious little things – the older we get, the less appealing they become and yet still they stalk, tip-toeing up behind us with an ageist agenda. But I remember birthdays that, despite their wintery provenance, were suffused in a halcyon glow and the softly-lit memories of childhood, celebrations rife with love and laughter, and old orange boxes spilling recycled paper and spent sparklers.

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To celebrate not losing me in the supermarket each year, my parents would cast aside the prosaic traditions of old – cake, cards, sugar-spun chaos and a rousing battle of pass the parcel – and instead dress up in wild-haired wigs and 7″ flares, serve ham and salad to a tribe of seven-year-olds (with no scent of jelly or trifle or ice cream), and lead stirring renditions of the theme to The Muppet Show

IMG_0775It was chaotically beautiful, right up until that day Mum lost a kid in a snow-topped drainage channel…

But while these memories fuel a wistful nostalgia, they cast a razor-sharp perspective on the modern cult of kids’ birthday celebrations. In the searing light of the immediate, the cutting edge of ‘now’, kids’ parties routinely feature absurd extravagance – from baroque-inspired edible gold-leaf table decorations to glitter-spewing unicorn balloons, from disco-dancing for three-year-olds – squealing in sequins – at the Ivy, to a gift registry that specifies which brand of e-reader little Grayson would prefer.

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Nursing my horror (as if it were dying of shame) at having to accompany the Tin Lid to these prodigal parades, doused in the sodden hysteria of little darlings denied the sacrificial last whack of the pinata, and ambushing weekends like weakened prey, I am in denial of the ‘new normal’.

The party’s off.

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So, armed with a four-fingered beaver and the Tin Lid’s bestie – a free-spirited hybrid beauty, part clown part gypsy, with luminous eyes and a child’s innocence (which on closer inspection is adeptly skewered by a shrewd sense of ratbaggery) – we hit the road for the Great Sixth Birthday, a road trip into the abyss, beyond the rabid squall of an ever-evolving birthday culture.

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It should be mentioned that the Bestie is averse to kids’ parties too. Here she is moonlighting as a multi-hair-hued princess, in her other incarnation as Kids’ Party Entertainer:

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It didn’t take much to convince the birthday boy. In fact, the words: “Gem’s coming” and “Dad bought snakes” sufficed, even with the dawning realisation that the vertiginous pile of plastic commonly associated with little-known school friends and the last-minute K-Mart dash would be missing.

OK Mum, but can we take the Beaver? And have a midnight feast with Vegemite on toast and hot chocolate?

Sure we can darl’, because this is a journey for you, that we get to celebrate too, minus the clean-up and the chocolate-crackle comedown.

First up, the greatest show on earth, complete with giant popcorn and sadistic clowns. The Bestie had to hold my hand – as a child of the ’70s, I am cautiously terrified of clowns (you can’t show too much fear, obviously. They jack up on that stuff…)

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Then, with not a dead fairy pinned to white sliced in sight, we head south on rain-slicked urban streets, until the sky peels open its soul to reveal sparkling stars in an ocean of black. How easy it is to forget the true night sky, and fall for the acid-washed version put on for humanity’s seething mass, for whom bleeding light steals the firmament.

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To celebrate we stop at a neon-gilded servo and eat hot chips.

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Before the back seat falls quiet:

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In time-honoured tradition, we have found a “little house”, a generic home for much of the Tin Lid’s breathy excitement – cupboards and carpets and broiling hot air, bunk beds and pillow fights and dens made of sheets. I revel in unmade beds and crumbs on the floor, teetering towers of forsaken shop-bought packaging and countless tea-towels.

The Cowboy likes the little bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and the Bestie has spotted the spa…

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His birthday bleeds into a new day, the lights of the little house dim (It turns out running the spa, toaster, microwave and air conditioning at once puts strain on what can only be described as a paltry system), and I am content to leave the thick dusting of hot chocolate to get better acquainted with a synthetic carpet.

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At some point, the Tin Lid had requested a science party. In the knowledge that science parties often cause roof damage, the decision was made to take the party to a space so inherently scientific it vibrates with barely controlled kineticism.

He discovered that the air organ can be played with one’s head…

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Spent an hour mastering coffee-cup flight,

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Investigated heat hands and jazz hands,

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And won sartorial awards in a boilersuit. He also hurled his small frame down a 20ft drop, freefalling like a boss.

Ultimately, though, the highlight of the Great Sixth Birthday is the little house and the treasures it holds. Set in the desolate heart of a Soviet-inspired wasteland, it is made of plastic and cunningly disguised as one of its siblings/ spawn (the true nature of this relationship remains shrouded).

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There is much on offer, from the well-stocked reception shop – “of course you can have a Paddle Pop darl’, just try not to get the drips on your scarf and gloves…” – to the fire hydrant, from the multifunction space to the dining hall, all feathered with signs, as subtle as an ibis wearing a trout.

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This motel home has a utilitarian beauty, sharp lines over clear dictates – footwear must be worn in the dining hall – frosty grass speckled with oak leaves, a phone box to clatter open and shut, and a natty section of barbed wire between the site and the C3 Church next door, presumably to prevent the Christians getting in.
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The Tin Lid shows his deep appreciation for the post-mid-century faux asbestos architecture by taking pictures of his feet and other lenses:

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But in its decent simplicity – cold breath that crackles with life; a small hand curled into mine; an overly ambitious round of pin the tail on the possum – it wholly beats X-Box dancing games and over-excited children’s performers high on red cordial and strobe lighting. Although we fail to resist the temptation of Twister…

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The excruciating idiosyncrasies of children’s birthday parties – “do I invite the whole class? Should I get The Magnificent Man of Stripes or just wing it? Why do we not have a working stereo for pass the parcel? How many splintered pieces of dollar-shit gifts do I have to include in the damn parcel? Fuck! The fucking fairy bread! Can I start drinking now?” – remain at bay.

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In fact, by the time we hit the cake display in the retro splendour of the Paragon Cafe, heartbeat of a sleepy town’s main drag, talk has turned to next year’s not-birthday, and how many pieces of banoffi pie a six-year-old can have (as opposed to a five-year-old)…

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Six apparently, despite a single piece of said pie being the size of his newly grown head.

As we thread our way home along chugged arteries amid his long-thrown snores, the Cowboy and I make a pact – a deal to ensure there is always an option for the ‘new normal’. Because it is here, in the shadows of convention – clattered full of little houses, midnight feasts, spontaneous frivolity and greasy-spoon roadside diners – that we belong.

It’s time to drop the wishing wells and catered hors d’oeuvres, time to axe the multiple entertainers and the lavish party bags. I’m begging here. Please move on from the marquees and pony rides with white-coated waiters and retreat back into the world of pass-the-parcel and chocolate crackles.

Shauna Anderson, Mamamia.com.au

 

 

Another one bites the dust

It was the Tin Lid who found the passageway, cowering behind a pile of poles, neglected and long unknown. It is the  green mile for a old girl losing herself to the times, a concrete snicket snuck between towering walls dank and abandoned. We ducked beneath meaty railway sleepers stacked and forgotten, over rusted manholes and between discarded shards of life…

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What we found was the relic of a memory, the fading glow of nostalgia dispersing softly into empty air, no-one to hear. I don’t know who once lived here, though I can guess at the sound of ready laughter, the scent of rollies and nag champa and cheap snags, the clink of toothbrush mugs brimming with Fruity Lexia and the rabble of joy at the end of a long night on King Street.

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I can taste the stolen lust of a pool-room hook-up, the splash of pizza grease on a tatty sleeve that gets you through till lunch, and grazing for food at Newtown’s happy hour haunts. I can hear the opening strains to the midday movie, the slam and rattle of a favourite track and the crinkle of hot water hitting instant coffee.

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I remember lost afternoons adrift in a sea of marigold green, limpid skies that stretch to forever, and long nights of venal delight roaming in packs along wholly owned streets and in bars that bawl and titter with conspiratorial vim.

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And I sense the familiarity, that innate understanding that life can wait – there’s living to be done.

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In the fading breath of a dying life the ghosts of the past are ripe. Fat veins of memory pulse with propriety while the deeper recesses crank out serotonin-laced recollection, hazy chapters with happy endings. Words clatter into my mind, sodden with the past: the Oxford and its sticky carpet; a snort of tequila from the depths of the gutter; a pride of marchers howling righteous discontent; a velour sofa, home to a family of four on a summer’s night. Light spilling from open doorways, no need for an invitation; sprawling across a robber’s grave drinking in the moonlight that blankets the cemetery; a vigil beneath I Have a Dream

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Those days are gone my son…

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And the remembered corners of the city will be sold to the highest bidder, reams of DA notices papering over the folds of history.

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The former glory of this happy realm lies dormant, waiting for its next incarnation, “prime commercial units that front a nineteen-unit four-storey build” like a gap-toothed wallflower dreading the slow songs.

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Show’s over folks, the fat lady has sung.

 

 

 

 

Wasting away again in Margaritaville

Wasting away again in Margaritaville, there’s a woman to blame… the immortal words of Jimmy Buffett who also wrote Why don’t we get drunk and screw? and Cheeseburgers in Paradise. Legend.

And that woman to blame? She is probably me. I am the one that bitched and screamed about “going on a family holiday” and now we are here it is incandescent. If I could bottle it I could sell it. With a shaker of salt. And lemons that bite.

The weather on the Sports Desk today is balmy, with potential for balm. The truck is arse-up to the beach again, the growl of the surf replaced by painfully typical gentle lapping. Perched on the edge of the rocks at Seal Rocks, the tide sucks and gluts, a living, pulsing beat that marks nature at her finest. From the grommet-filled rock pools, epicenter of teenage bravado and slick with lust and sun-scorched skin, to the rocks, reminiscent of Piggy’s last stand in Lord of the Flies, a blighted, bleached lost space, home to a tribe of vicious kids with a strange hierarchical law – the teenagers are hunting.

The beach is small, at the end of a dirt track, but it is a busy stretch of real estate. The endless parade of the caravanning masses squeal and burn down the hill, acrid smoke marking their arrival at the caravan park. Zippered into conformity, a blue esky for a blue esky, these mobs are families making their yearly pilgrimage to the coast, like Margate. In the bush. And no roads. And fewer Chavs. OK. So it’s not like Margate at all, but you get the drift. It is the destination for a pilgrimage. Some of the craggier tribes, adrift in a storm of hot pink boogie boards, souped-up clackey clackey toys, cheap Chardonnay and snags, have been coming here for over 40 years – with a passion and dedication that bears witness to another life in another place.

This is nostalgia at her hazy best, a prism on the lost years of youth, when the crackle of overcooked skin and a salty tideline around the neck were worn as badges of pride, and when you knew you were living as the park lights dimmed and the cheap wine came out. They flirt, flit and fondle. a license to play extended into the witching hour as parents slumber in holiday mode and the air reeks of fumbled misadventure.

Hello holiday romance!

Seal Rocks