Wherefore Art Thou Jana?

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1987 was the year of Dirty Dancing, Lost boys and Nightmare on Elm Street, it was the year Robin Williams screamed Good Morning Vietnam and the term bunny boiler was coined from Fatal Attraction. 87 was the year Ben Mendelson debuted in The Year my Voice Broke and when Scott and Charlene were married to the serenade of Angry Anderson singing Suddenly.

How I looked at Ramsay Street with unadulterated envy. My street was nothing like that. I’m not sure that everybody needed a neighbor in our little stretch. Just a friendly wave each morning, helps to make a better day, next door is only a footstep away. Are you humming it yet?

Only a footstep away was the old mate over the road I had to bypass to get to the shops. That man could spit at least a meter or even two.

When I was a kid, Mum would give me all of the 1 and 2 cent coins in the house in a little bag to go down and get things from the corner shop. It wasn’t far. Just at the end of my street, but it was the adventure of a lifetime every time. Walking past the scary old guy on the corner was freaky, he would just sit there staring into nothingness, but his ability to urinate into the garden and spit meaner than a pissed off donkey was impressive. I often wondered what he was looking at and I am not going to lie, his wiry white hair and grunting made me nervous. You just couldn’t trust a grown-up who could spit like that; it wasn’t natural.

The next stretch was the empty block with very long grass. Now if you grew up in the Australian countryside, a block with long grass on a hot summer day could spell trouble. A small rustling sound in the dry husks could signify an early demise, for surely it was a brown snake or a red belly black ready to have a feed and snuff you out. Thankfully I was skin and bone, not much to eat. Too bony and crunchy for the likes of a Joe Blake. Even so, I could recall how quickly the adults jumped during Friday night drinks when one slithered in under the bar stools. You could understand my nervous hesitation.

Melting bitumen was the order of the day, the stuff that made your thongs tacky (melting rubber), with heat hovering over it like an invisible man hologram. Man that was hot potato, do you remember going to the local pool and having to hot step it with wet feet on hot concrete? Yeah, exactly. Ouch.

Then there were the hoons. Young men amped up with testosterone and P-plates, armed with their dole money chucking laps in their Toranas or Datsuns with White Snake pumping out of the cassette decks like an audio bomb. This was no Bose finesse doof doof folks. This was Uncle Mick’s old Clarion tape deck with second hand Alpine speakers, wires gaffa taped to the carpet. Rockin soul right there. imgres-6

They would yell things out, awful things I didn’t know what they meant. Later I did and they should have had their mouths washed out. Uncouth Youth of the other side of the tracks.

The ticker ticker of front lawns sprinklers with garden gnomes standing sentry would guard my path.

Eventually, I worked out that I needed a distraction. I found myself impersonating my idol, the mentor of my life and the keeper of my dreams and ambitions Jana Wendt. Good grief the woman was a shitstorm in a teacup. Nicknamed the perfumed steamroller by her male counterparts I had never seen anything like her. She was so smart, she had an excellent vocabulary and got to interview lots of interesting people. Her curly questions to men were the best bits. Kids watched He-man, I watched Jana. During the Fitgerald inquiry, her ability to break down to the facts and cut through BS were dynamite. I had no idea what the Fitgerald inquiry was about, the only Fitzgerald’s I knew was Fitzys, the local supermarket. But she was better than scrunchies and Debra Harry, she was smart and she got to ask cool questions.

So I would copy her mannerisms, tilt my head in a certain way, practise my voice pitch, my look of serious contemplation and oh yesses, yes of courses, and I understand, and interview the world’s greatest. One time I was interviewing Muhammad Ali about the San Diego bust up, and I would often have fascinating in-depth discussions with Michael Jackson and his opinion about Jacques Chirac’s deal to open a new Disney in France. MJ was the expert on amusement parks. I longed to meet his chimp and get the moonwalk- slight- heel turn spot on. This was the icing on the cake for a future author/ballerina/news anchor.

There was one time the year before, and my then step-father gave my cousin of awesomeness and me the task of going to the tuckshop to get supplies of some nature. All he could find was a one dollar note. This cousin of mine was the Joan of Arc to my Jana. Fearless and mighty she could give sass to a grown up at 200 paces. Now kids, back in those days a one dollar note was 100 of those 1 cent coins, and a 1 cent coin could buy a lolly. We entered with the clang of the shop bell, the sugary hot chip and newspaper scent greeting us. A slight glint of the sun outside illuminated the glass case to our right. Heaven descended upon us, a case filled with treasures of musk sticks, bananas, caramel drops and sherbert bombs, milky bottles and Big Boss cigars. imgres-3

Three things happened simultaneously so fast it was breathtaking, my cousin Kelly reminded me of our secret cousin nod, that we possessed the ability at that moment to purchase ONE HUNDRED OF THEM, the shopkeeper asked “ What do you kids want?” like a Scooby Doo classic, and my mouth watered. It was a trinity of circumstance out of my control.

All thoughts for fulfilling our quest for my step-father’s goodies evaporated quicker than you could say chocolate freckle. We bought a paper bag so large we could barely hold it. I cannot remember if I ever got into trouble, the memories must have been overcome with Jube Hallucinations. The rebellious joy of it was almost too much to handle.

The joy of the one cent coin never translated to the faces of the people at the shops, and I could never work out why. On my interview walks by myself, carrying the big heavy bag of treasure, bypassing hoons and snake infested paddocks I would cross2819a41b7f78b5c07b4ab59c364c5c0f the last path of fear. Jumping the cracks in the footpath and ignoring the Magpies as they sharpened their beaks on the branches like Samurais sharpening lethal swords, then there was the house with THE DOG. A big brown fence was the only thing keeping me away from a Rottweiler the size of Kong. He didn’t care that I was an 11-year-old bag of bones, he wanted to eat me. You could literally hear his foamy spit. Have you heard spit before? Between old mate over the road and the Rottweiller, it was a freakin spit parade. So I would pretend he was Joh Bjelke Petterson and I would give him a Jana -what for’ as I ran a stick across the fence.

On arrival to the shop, the shop people would look at me funny. It was a ‘here comes one of them again’ look. I would hand over my bulging bag of 1 and 2 cents to buy milk, or bread or some such thing for mum and they looked at me like I had dropped a poo in their palm.

One lady would look at me and smile with an “oh poor love” look. She must have recognized my frustration at being a Pulitzer prize winner in an 11-year old’s body stuck in the Bronx.

Flash-forward 30 years later, and childhood is a vast haze a whole dimension away from conscious thought.

When I was asked to be an editor for a woman’s magazine it was like being handed the keys to the Kingdom. A branch was gently pulled away, and there was the entry to Terabithia in all its awesome glory. What joy! The joy I felt was that of a child, so excited and very hard to be professionally cool and suave about it. Then yesterday happened.

Yesterday I was sitting in my office and doing a phone interview with Prof. Fiona Wood. I was interviewing this terrifically skilled human who not only saves lives but is the Marie Curie of scar technology in the world. The world! Gosh moment I can tell you.

About ¾ of the way through, Fiona told me something incredibly witty and funny, and it must have been the tilt of my head with a aha-combo and a ‘yes I see” response that caused it. I am not entirely sure, but suddenly I was transported back into the moment of crack-jumping, snake avoiding, Jana interviewing Thug Life. My apprenticeship worked, it happened. I realized that at that moment, I was holding in my hands a dream realized and it was bloody amazing. That night I told my sister, who and said I should write a blog about it.

Our dinner table conversation last night was stellar. Jana Wendt if you are out there somewhere: you are my hero and rescuer from White Snake ballads and $2.50 worth of hot chips in 1 cent pieces.

For my darling cousin Kelly- today I am buying a big bag of lollies while I write this, and every one of them will remind me of my adoration of you and your terrific ability to be Joan of Arc in a child’s body, ready to protect and teach me to be brave and mighty. You made my childhood awesome x

Want to Build Treehouse?

I may have mentioned to you before that I had this thing for the Magic Faraway Tree as a kid that verged on madness. I climbed a tree in our street, nailed some pieces of wood to make a ladder and seat in it and charged every kid within a 2 km radius 20c to climb the Magic Faraway tree. Yes the entrepreneurial spirit was just kicking off. What I wasn’t counting on was the fact that a lot of those kids didn’t have the same imagination as I did.

My imagination was as close to natural hallucinogenic mushroom mind as you could get. So I got a lot of confused looks and anger, had to give money back and ended up losing my street cred. First lesson in always Keeping the Customer Happy and possibly keeping the magic to oneself. We moved to a nicer house and a bigger street where most of the people were old people. They indulged my imagination and it was sweet.

My Then -stepfather decided to build us a tree house. It was not a plank of wood or nailed into a tree it was a huge spectacular castle nestled in the crisp, caterpillar squiggles of a Eucalypt. Magnificent and all beautiful, the frame of an old water tank had been chopped, wrapped and welded around a huge gum tree in the center of the yard. A ladder, a proper lacquered, polished ladder rested against the truck and you climbed up into it. The Tree house itself was a collection of old fruit bins put together to create a fort. It was high. So high, that when I looked out I could see all of Kyabram.

The top of the trees had birds and more air, the wind in the leaves and the sky seemed so much closer. Grownups couldn’t fit through the hole. This was important. This was good.

I would sit there for hours and it was the most magical place on the planet and even the entire universe. I snuck out and slept out there one night, carrying my old red blanket and my dog Deefa. We snuck back inside before the grown ups could find out. I’ve been scared of the dark my whole life, but that night I wasn’t scared. I was excited and felt like an adventurer. After that I couldn’t see why I couldn’t live out there. I argued the point with my mother. She must have been amused at the time. I remember she made me a picnic to take up there and a little stool.

Looking out over our town I would think about what it would be like as a grown up, the amazing travels I would have, all the chocolate I would eat, unfettered, the books I would write. What a marvelous life I would have, I wouldn’t have any grown ups around except my Mum and Nanna, and if I had babies that would be nice too. I liked playing house in my bedroom in between magic carpets and coming up with Toad inducing magical potions in the fernery.

That tree house was mine for 2 whole weeks. Then the day came that we went to go get milk and never went home. I knew when she gripped my hand it was forever. Don’t ask me how I knew that, but I did. It was a resolute feeling in my tum. I gripped my little sister’s hand, and my little brother held my mothers hand. With the simplicity of my child’s mind I remember walking up the street looking back at the house thinking, “I’m really going to miss that Tree-house.”

I was also really disappointed in myself. You see 2 weeks previous I had come up with the concoction of a lifetime. I mixed, blended and infused a variety of ingredients inspired by Chapter 19 – The Land of Enchantments (The Folk of the Faraway Tree for those that are Blyton-ignorant). In Chapter 19 a nasty green goblin had Beth trapped in a magic circle and she couldn’t get out. A spell was needed. So I used some tadpole slime, a couple of gum-nuts, some moss I found under a pot-plant log out the side and a small hair from my dog. (I had heard hair of the dog was good???) I smashed up an apple for good measure and mixed it all up. It took a long time, my arm ached and I remember feeling so intensely amazed at myself with coming up with such a plan. It was an ointment. A perfect ointment, just like the Magic Wishing Chair ointment. Two wonderful sources of information right there- it was un-foilable. So of course I painted it in the most obvious place you would put an ointment on a goblin- His Thongs. The bottom of the Then-stepfather’s thongs had magical ointment on them. He would mow the lawns in them like he always did and by the morning he would be nice. He would lose that angry goblin face that hit out and the nice man would return, everyone would be happy and life would be good again.

The very next day he started building the tree house! JOY! I couldn’t believe my good fortune, mixed with a little bit of excited fear that I had managed such a thing. I wonder what Nanna would say? Would Jesus approve of that kind of thing? Magical ointments? Oh-My-Goodness Gracious as that Tree house took form I cannot tell you the bubbling crazy run around the backyard with your t-shirt pulled over your head joy it gave me.

So the ointment must have worn off, either that or the prayer I said the day Things- Went –Topsy- Turvy worked. We left and I was glad to leave the Goblin but sad to leave my Tree house. Luckily my mother was brave enough to weave a magic carpet, I don’t even know how she did that. But she did and it really was quite beautiful, all its patterns and weavings twisting together for a new future in a different land. It ended up being the Land of Crossthwaite Street, the land of Fringe dwellers otherwise known as Housing Commission filled with interesting people, but it was Interesting and you must never ever knock Interesting! The stories we tell about it now would make Aladdin’s cave look lame. It was a place of treasure I can tell you, I found a special treasure in that Land; it was called Jacqui- a special friend that I still have to this day.

I grew up and knew that there is magic and hope and I can tell you that I grew up and I had my gorgeous babies, I wrote a book and my Nanna lives around the corner, as well as my fetish for Tree house Architecture I have an uncanny addiction to chocolate. The ointment isn’t really very effective, I tried to perfect it and worked out my Alchemy blossomed in saying prayers and making Candles.

I hope that the Goblin found his own ointment and his heart mended the anger, maybe he just needed to change his thongs. Now I look back and realize that as a child I was taking much too responsibility for the grown ups. Surely one must keep one’s ointments and magic to themselves and the Grown Ups need to make their own. I learned a lot from that time, and there have been moments this year where I wish with all my heart I could use an ointment to fix this old scarecrow brain of mine, take away my family’s fear, climb a treehouse and look at the world with the innocent and simple perspective of a child. Not sure which would make sure sense. One thing I am most certain of, everyone needs a bit of imagination, a whole lot of magic, prayer and love. Even if you are a grown up. Till next time, I am off now to find some wood and nails…

Blessings x

For Lisa- Thank you for reminding me of adventures, I still feel sorry for the sheep though. Our inner child’s shall have such fun!  x

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