Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Blue Plastic Chair Leg

What if you decided to set up a little stall on a street corner. And you found strange things around your house, many of them broken— or actually, you made strange things out of the broken items around your house. Craft out of egg cartons and glued-on glitter, maybe. And let’s say you placed all these objects in your stall.

And then people came by and said, ‘oh, that’s nice,’ about your strange broken pieces, and you were silent. Now and then you said, ‘Thank you,’ or, ‘Thank you so much. You are kind.’ Then, a while later you brought out another strange little piece and put that in the stall, and the people wandered back and looked, and didn’t say much. Or maybe they said, ‘This is nice. I made something like this once,’ and a long time later you came back and said, ‘Did you? How about that.’ And so on.

But then, let’s say you went home and just left the stall there. Months and months went by. Years even. And now and then the people would come back and they might call out, ‘Hello?’ or they might say nothing. They might say to themselves, ‘Well, I’ve seen all these before.’ And the strange things at the stall would be getting rusty. Rain-damaged. Spiders spinning webs and laying eggs in the shadows.

Until people stopped coming by at all. The corner would be empty. The whole street empty. The stall leaning sideways, uncertain, dusty. Tumbleweed, I guess – if this is some old country ghost town that we’re talking about — tumbleweed blowing down the street. Or old plastic bags floating by on the grey breeze, wrapping themselves around telegraph poles, then floating on — if it’s more of a contemporary setting.

Well, how could you ever come back?! How could you return to your strange little stall and bring new strange pieces, and expect any people to come and look again!

You couldn’t. Not really. And certainly not until you’d finished your next book.

The only reason I’m here now is because a friend pointed out that my latest post on this blog refers to upcoming events in August and September of last year. And, he said, if you don’t update your blog, people will read that and think you’re referring to this year.

It was a good point.

So here is a thin blanket. I’m just quickly cross-stitching a thin blanket, which I am going to place over the stall, to hide the old and rusting objects.


What’s been going on. Well, I’m nearly finished the first book of The Kingdom of Cello. It will be a trilogy: the first book is set partly in Cambridge, England, and partly in the Kingdom of Cello. There’s a girl called Madeleine and a boy called Elliot.

Also, not long ago, on a cold, bright night, I went to the Sydney Opera House for the Premier’s Literary Awards. Dreaming of Amelia (or The Ghosts of Ashbury High) was shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Award. I was honoured to be on a list with these wonderful writers: Michelle Cooper, Cath Crowley, Kirsty Eagar, Belinda Jeffrey and Melina Marchetta. And I was so glad to be on the same table as the lovely winner, Cath Crowley, whose Graffiti Moon is beautiful, dreamy and hilarious.


I was never good at cross-stitch. In fourth grade, we had to do a cross-stitch pattern on a piece of white cloth, and Mrs Mackenzie chose mine to show the class how bad cross-stitch could be.

Nobody knew it was mine.

‘I don’t know whose this is,’ Mrs Mackenzie said, ‘because whoever did it was too ashamed even to write their name on it.’

A gasp ran right across the classroom.

Actually, I’d done it maybe seven or eight times. Each time I tried it looked terrible! So I’d pull out all the stitching and try again. I did this over and over, and each time it got worse, and meanwhile the white square kept getting greyer and more smudged. Crumpled and food-stained like an old tea towel.

I tried one more desperate time – undoing it all, and starting again — this was at Little Lunch, and I got some of my raspberry iceblock on it. The bell rang and the cross-stitching was half finished and worse than ever. But it was too late. We had to hand them in. Forgot all about putting my name on it.


What else has been going on? Well, I saw the movie Mrs Carey’s Concert, and it’s a documentary. I was so interested, and so moved. All the chaos, and the chasms between what teachers say and what students understand them to be saying, and then all the beautiful music. It’s about the Sydney girls’ school, MLC, and how they have a concert at the Opera House every two years, and the whole school participates. That school, it seem to have an extraordinary number of talented musicians with smiles that light up rooms. Also, a gathering of bad, wild, giggling, beautiful, defiant girls.


That cross-stitching episode. The one where the teacher held up my work. Well, the whole class was hushed and shocked. And so was I, but only mildly. Mostly I felt interested. A detached curiosity. The distance between the truth and what teachers believe! How wrong teachers can be!

Even when they’re speaking in their low, slow, impressive voice with flashing, angry eyes.

I mean, she was right that it was terrible work. But the whole thing about me being too ashamed to put my name on it. Seriously, why would I have deliberately left off my name? What would be the point of handing something in without a name?


I just realised that MLC —the Sydney girls’ school that featured in that documentary movie— well, I spoke at that school last year! It was good, I remember that. But do you know what, it’s one of the 'upcoming events' that I refer to in my latest blog post! So, that’s interesting.


Not long ago, I was asked to bring a blue plastic chair leg inside the house. It had been lying in the garden, this small chair leg — and I was asked to bring it inside and wash it at the kitchen sink so it could be used as a telescope.

Anyway, while I was washing it a dark shadow flew out of the end of the chair leg.

‘What was that?’ I said, thinking, just a leaf. But my friend cried, ‘It’s on your back!’ and then the next instant, ‘Where’s it gone?!’

That’s a bad time. That’s a terrifying time in anybody’s life. When your friend explains that a giant huntsman spider was just sitting on your back, but now she can’t figure out where it’s gone.


The other day, my mother called to say there would be wild winds in the night. At 4 am, she said, wild winds. People are supposed to make sure that there’s nothing lying around in their yards, she explained, ready to fly away.

I thought of my back yard and all the junk and toys. I imagined the wading pool flying through the air and shattering a neighbour’s window. This was about eleven o’clock at night, and cold, and to be honest I didn’t want to go into my backyard.

But I put my jacket on over my pyjamas, and went out there, and started bringing in the broken toys and junk and pieces of cheap outdoor furniture.

I stamped on the cardboard box which Charlie and I had been filling with dirt the other day. He wanted to make snowglobes out of dirt, he said. The first step, he decided, was to fill up this cardboard box with dirt from the garden. He named us ‘clerks’, and what clerks do is, they make snowglobes out of dirt. His job was to pat the dirt down in the box, and mine was to dig it out of the garden. He was pretty bossy. The whole time I was worrying about the next step — about what would happen when the cardboard box was full — because I knew it would be my job to turn that box of dirt into the snowglobes. I just knew it. Luckily, we got distracted by lunctime, and after lunch we had new job titles and descriptions, and essentially what we had to do, was to empty all the dirt into the wading pool.

Anyhow, so I stamped on the box and put it in the recycling bin, and carried all the broken toys and pieces of plastic furniture and the dirt-filled wading pool— I carried them all into the house from the dark and gusty yard, and all the time I was thinking about flying shadows. That night, the wild winds never came.


The giant hunstman spider turned up later that night on the kitchen wall. I got it with the fly swatter. I thought: I have just one chance here. And I hit it hard and fast, and I got it. Then I felt sad and ashamed. Thinking about how happy he’d probably been, that spider, living in his plastic tube home, not harming a fly. Well, maybe a fly now and again. But still! Next thing it had found itself in the chaos of a human kitchen sink! Poor little guy. Big guy, I mean.


What else. Well, I just made a tuna pasta bake for Charlie’s dinner. Just now. Downstairs. It’s in the fridge, ready to put in the oven later. At one point I thought the recipe said to add eleven and a half cups of cheddar cheese. I was, like, what?! But I looked again and it was just one and a half cups. That makes more sense, I thought. So then I chopped up some butternut pumpkin and some eggplant, and I’m going to roast that in the oven, and that’ll be my dinner. After that I had this weird urge to make an apple crumble. I haven’t made one in years. But there were all these apples in the fridge, and I suddenly really wanted to make an apple crumble. I looked up a recipe and it was talking about putting ginger in the crumble and I was, like, ginger is totally good for you! My mum was just saying the other day! As for apples, well, don’t get me started about those. That whole scaring away the doctor thing? Anyhow, but in the end I decided I’d better not make an apple crumble. I’d better come back upstairs to work.


That paragraph I just wrote. The one about the tuna pasta bake and, etc. I’m thinking, if anybody comes along to my stall on the corner, and they see that paragraph, well, they’ll pick it up and turn it over and put it back down. Then they’ll go, “Oka-a-a-ay,” in that way people do, and then they’ll move on.