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smallglowYesterday we awoke to find Sydney bathed in a seriously eerie orange glow. Gale force winds had blown this dusty soup in from the west of our state. The day before, despite little water, this dirt had been trying really hard to grow our vegetables, so this colourful gift from mother nature pleased neither us nor our farmers. It was estimated that about 4000 tons of top-soil sprinkled down on Sydney alone and caused much mayhem as it did so. Planes and ferries were all cancelled, air-conditioners blocked up and many asthma sufferers rang 000 (our emergency number) to report severe breathing troubles. Even indoors you could smell and taste the dust and today the big clean up begins. Yes everything is covered in a red haze.

I took these photos in our street at about 7.00am and they show precisely what it was like yesterday morning. The last dust storm like this to hit Sydney, was back in 1939. As I pulled open Rodent Boy’s curtains and let the weird orange glow wash over his room, he leapt to his window, and noticeably struggled to make sense of this once in a lifetime event. In response to the inevitable “What the..?” I teased him it was ‘the revenge of the Rangas!’ Rangas is an Australian colloquialism for red-headed people, short for Orangutans. For a second he believed me.

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If you’d like to see more pics taken by other people in Sydney click here

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fpSunday morning was just ‘perfick’ as Pop Larkin would have described it. The weather – warm and sunny, the children – all at home for once, and the new coffee bean blend from the roaster – simply sublime. I knew it couldn’t last of course.

The phone rang…

‘Grandma’s in hospital.’ My announcement immediately bringing down our happy little poolside brunch.

‘She’s fallen in her fishpond.’

At this point, both her grandsons began sniggering like naughty schoolboys, much to the disgust of their sister.

‘Look I know it sounds funny…’ I said, trying hard not to also focus on the comedic aspect of the situation. ‘… she’s actually broken three ribs and ruptured her spleen. She’s in intensive care with blood in her urine… she’s really quite poorly.’

‘Are you going to go down to Tasmania to see her?’ asked Working Mum sensing my real concern.

My sister who found her and called the ambulance advised me there was little I could do at the moment. They have sedated her with morphine and she’s not really making much sense to anyone. So the recommendation is that I stay here in Sydney for now. I feel a bit helpless though… I can’t even call her as there are no phones in intensive care and her mobile is apparently still at the bottom of the pond. My sister is keeping me updated on her progress and whether or not the spleen will need to be removed.

‘Where exactly is Grandma’s spoon?’ queried Rodent Boy.

Princess, ignoring her younger brother’s anatomical ignorance, inquired herself. ‘What happens if they have to remove Grandma’s spleen?

‘Yes Dad, please ‘ex-spleen’!’ said Soldier Boy quick as a flash. I’m sure this boy will be cracking jokes at my funeral.

Actually, thinking about it, I really hope he does.

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hwMajor work deadlines to deal with at the moment so please expect limited posting for the next week or two. I’m under pain of death from Working Mum not to put blogging before my domestic duties. Mrs Rottweiler – my client for the next fortnight – is frankly, even scarier than WM when mad, so I certainly won’t be borrowing any of her time either.

Nine-year-old Rodent Boy was as enthusiastic as ever this year and simply couldn’t wait to go trick or treating last Friday night. His two apathetic siblings however, stopped finding the enthusiasm necessary to dress-up and hawk themselves around the neighbourhood some years back – even if it did mean forgoing a big bag of goodies. I suggested to Soldier Boy that he could combine it with his junk mail delivery, but convinced this was some kind of ‘brother supervision’ trick, passed up the opportunity. Rodent Boy though, excitedly dressed up in what he could find amongst the contents of our ever-dwindling dress-up box. Decked out in mostly black with a small cape and a trilby hat, he looked like a slightly camp vampire Frank Sinatra. With the absence of any fake blood or indeed vampire teeth, he smeared Working Mum’s best red lipstick around his mouth, which according to him, made it look like he’d been sucking blood. Unfortunately, he actually just looked like a he’d been snogging a pig – I feigned being really scared all the same. Still at least he’d made an effort, as did a couple of his mates – though not sure ‘Superman’ is what Halloween is really all about. The thing that annoys me though, is the one kid who refuses to dress up, then tags along scoring just as many lollies [sweets/candy] as the rest of them.

Following a trip to the city with his crew (who are mostly girls), 13-year-old Soldier Boy now sports what looks like a large brown birthmark on his cheek. He calls it his ‘love freckle’. I call it being a prat in a department store and letting a girlfriend spray you in the face with a can of fake tan.

Princess lost her mobile phone this week and has suggested that I should go halves buying her another one. She claims the phone provides the vital link between herself and the family she so dearly loves. Apparently we would be so much the poorer without this communication. It seems to me that I’d be poorer either way and given she has more disposable income than I do these days, what with babysitting, leaflet delivery and working in the bakery, I politely, and quite rightly, declined the request.

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As they were growing up, my kids used to positively insist I reminisce to them about the time before they were born. It didn’t matter a jot that they would often have no idea who I was talking about – they just loved hearing ‘dad’s stories’. Now, no longer impressed, they simply make fun of me if I dare to mention anything about the ‘old days’. Hmmm, time to put these anecdotes away until the grandchildren are born. But before I do, Working Mum has suggested that some of my favourites might make an interesting blog. So if you find this a little too self-indulgent, please blame her. I’m not clever enough to make this stuff up so I assure you everything is true.

1 – I’ve had a bath with Sir Bobby Charlton
Bobby Charlton was a Manchester United and England football legend. In 1966 he played a pivotal role in England’s greatest ever footballing triumph, winning the World Cup. In 1979 when working for a football magazine in the UK, I was invited to play in what was billed as the ‘Bobby Charlton All-Star Eleven’ versus the British Army. I felt just a teensy bit inadequate trotting out onto the park given my ‘all-star’ credentials were, well let’s be honest, piss-poor compared to teammates Graham Gooch, John Bond and the many other notable sporting celebs taking part. ‘Who’s that tall bloke?’ I heard one fan say ‘… Never heard of the wanker.’ It was a fantastic day though and raised loads of dosh for a worthy charity. But best of all  I got to dine out ever since on the slightly perverted notion that I’ve had a bath with Bobby Charlton. Well I have!

2 – I’ve insulted Kylie Minogue
Commissioned to take some photos of our Kyles for a magazine, the shoot got off to a bad start. After the introductions, such was the power of thought rushing through my head, it just kept on going rushing straight out my mouth… ‘Gosh, aren’t you short.’ I said.

3 – Dannii Minogue signed my undies
Another Minogue photo shoot and this time I was determined to be much more polite. Might have been a little too familiar though, when I asked her to sign my undies. The lovely girl that she is, said yes and even wrote ‘Got into you pants at last. Love Dannii xx’. Working Mum gave them away a few years ago to a charity shop claiming I didn’t wear them anymore. Oh derrr!

4 – Shared a Guinness with Bono in Sydney’s Irish Pub
To be truthful I just happened to be in there when U2 came in and sat near me, so I suppose this claim is a little tenuous… but I was there, to be sure, to be sure.

5 – Shared a cigarette with Mick Jones
Mick Jones was the lead guitarist and a vocalist of the British punk rock band The Clash and later Big Audio Dynamite. Mick generously passed me his cigarette and being a non-smoker is simply no reason to refuse a gift from a legend. Not sure what brand they were but we laughed and laughed about it for ages.

6 – Clive James came to my wedding
Clive James is an expatriate Australian author, poet, critic, talk show host, TV presenter, travel writer… the list is endless. He’s also a family friend of Working Mum. I think he approved of her choice. Well he came to the wedding didn’t he?

7 – I’ve danced with Samantha Fox

Arguably Britain’s premiere sex symbol of the 1980s. After famously insuring her breasts for a quarter of a million quid, she went on to win The Sun Newspaper’s Page Three Girl of the Year award for three consecutive years between 1984 and 1986. Around this time she also got to dance with me in Stringfellows Nightclub for about two minutes while her boyfriend went to the toilet.

8 – Marcia Hines made me a sandwich
Born in the USA, Marcia Hines is vocalist, actress and TV personality who achieved enormous success in her adopted homeland of Australia. She also does a well tasty bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

9 – Played five-a-side football with Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg, is an English musician who blends elements of folk music, punk rock and protest songs. Playing on Clapham Common in 1987, our team got to the semi-finals but were knocked out by pop band Tears for Fears – which is more than I was about their music at the time. Actually that’s unfair, I did quite like Shout, Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Mad World.

10 – Appeared on the cover of a national magazine
in my underpants
Mmm, probably the less said about this one the better – it wasn’t pretty.

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‘Come on get up it’s ten to nine. I’m really sorry mate, I forgot all about you. You were just so quiet.’

‘Of course I was quiet, I was asleep you idiot!’ screamed a very annoyed Rodent Boy.

‘Yeh whatever, right here’s your clothes, get them on, I’ll go and make your breakfast… We’ll have to tell your teacher I had an important phone call or something.’

Just then the phone rang. Excellent I thought! I won’t have to lie after all. It was the editor of the magazine I’ve just finished designing. With the phone shoved hard between my ear and shoulder I tried to give the impression of working at my desk. In reality, I was in the kitchen in my underpants picking bits of blood off Rodent’s bagel. As the bakery had only done half the job, I’d cut my finger separating it all the way with the new bread knife.

‘Oh look I’m really sorry…’ still trying to sound professional. ‘… my computer is processing a large file at the moment so I’ll have to get back to you on that…’

The dog had now run off with half the bagel after it had slipped onto the floor while I was flattening it to fit the toaster. Actually, believe it or not, I once won a new video recorder, video camera and large television by flattening a bagel. After flirting with a bit of DIY a few years ago, I proudly installed an IKEA folding table. Next morning, pressing down on the bagel, the table gave way pulling the screws and plugs clean out of the wall. Working Mum said it was really very funny and she wished she’d had a camera. Seeing an opportunity, I pushed the whole assembly back in the wall, added some saucepans for better sound effects and got out the video camera. To my surprise, this hammed-up repeat performance was voted second on Australia’s Funniest Home Video show and a whole heap of technology arrived by courier.

‘It’s burnt!’ said Rodent rejecting his bagel not realising that this was just one of the many faults.

‘Just eat it or you’ll die! We’ve gotta go!’

Using unnecessary exaggeration, I hastily scribbled a note to his teacher about my unavoidable phone conference with three continents. Then the doorbell rang.

‘Oh terrific! Where are the hell are the keys?’ I yelled at myself.

Searching madly for them, while at the same time trying to stop the dog from savaging the courier through the door, I called out that I was just coming. Eventually finding them under a pile of someone else’s stuff, I ran to the front door only to tangle ‘Frank Spencer-like’ with a misplaced skateboard. Stepping heavily on one end, it shot off and hit the door with a thud and I went crashing to the ground. Quite what the courier must have been imagining was going on on my side of the door I can only guess at. Getting up unhurt, I opened the door to find it was not a courier after all, but two ridiculously good-looking and far too smartly dressed male Jehovah Witnesses. Screwing up my face into that obvious fake grin they must see all the time, I told them I was sorry but I never buy anything from the door, including religion and said goodbye.

Pulling into the school driveway fifteen minutes late, who should be waiting at the drop off point looking like he’d been tipped-off by a rejected Jehovah witness, but the headmaster.

‘I was hoping to catch you…’ he said in an unnecessarily pompous voice.

Oh dear, I thought, here we go.

‘I need a few amendments doing to the website. Would you be able to do those for me today?’

Relieved to have escaped a lecture on punctuality and incorrect school uniform, (Rodent was wearing odd socks, neither of which were school issue), I asked him to explain the job in more detail.

After watching Rodent dawdle up the path with the urgency of Spanish builder and finally disappear into his classroom, I felt it was probably now safe to leave.

‘No problem Sir, I can do that. I really don’t have much on at all today.’

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Rodent boy slept on the floor last night, away from his bed and cuddled up closely to Muppet Dog. When I asked him why, he said it was because Muppet wouldn’t get up on to his bed, so he joined him on the floor. As cute as this is, it also highlights why we got the dog in the first place. As our children pass through that invariably tricky adolescent phase, the mutual unconditional friendship animals provide, can be so helpful. So, when one of our kids occasionally ‘hates’ us for some trivial reason, Muppet Dog is still likely to be able to gain access to their bedroom for a cuddle. Ultimately, and without wanting to sound too melodramatic, this interaction could, we believe, potentially cushion them from spiraling into depression or other behavioral problems. Now while I’m not overly worried this will be an issue for us, it can and frequently does become a problem for many families.

We waited until Rodent Boy reached seven years old before we got Muppet. Being the youngest child, and assuming the dog lasts the full term, Rodent will be nineteen or twenty years old (adult anyway), and so better placed to deal with the passing of what has rapidly become a fellow sibling. Having a sensitive teenager dealing with the death of a dog-brother could, we thought, make a difficult time even harder.

“So what dog should we get?”
I said enthusiastically one morning just after Rodent’s seventh birthday.

“Look, I really, really don’t want a dog.” said Working Mum. “They shed hair, they fill the garden with poo, they bark all the time, they need exercising, they chew everything… Do I need to go on?”.

All valid arguments of course from someone like her who’s never had a dog. But what she was failing to appreciate, was that like children, dogs always give back far more than they take. After much research, I finally found a breed that I felt met everyone’s criteria, Working Mum included – well except for the poo bit, they all do that.

“The Australian Labradoodle!” I proudly announced to the family at dinner.

This ‘designer dog’ came about when in the early 1980s Wally Conran the breeding manager of the Australian Guide Dogs Association in Victoria had the idea to cross a Poodle with a Labrador Retriever to produce a hypo-allergenic guide dog. A lot has happened since then, not all of it good. With the rise in popularity of this breed every Tom, Dick and Harry has been crossing Poodles and Labs in their backyard in an effort to cash-in. Unfortunately, 87% of first cross puppies will shed hair and therefore not be hypo-allergenic and some very strange looking dogs have resulted. Thankfully however, a handful of breeders in Australia are working very hard to refine the breed and they believe that it will only be a few years before the required criteria is met for it to become a recognised breed with the Kennel Clubs around the world.

So what’s so special about Labradoodles? Well to start with, they’re great looking dogs. They have no doggy odour, seldom, if ever, need bathing, and of course are a Godsend if, like us, you have any allergy or asthma sufferers in the family. They have a vivacious nature and a joy of living. They have a unique and delightful way of ‘melting’ at the touch of a human hand, even when bouncing around and full of play.

We got Muppet Dog from CloudCatcher Labradoodles about two and a half years ago and he is without doubt maturing into a mighty fine young man. He’s a fifth generation Labradoodle and I have since met both his parents, a couple of his grandparents and an uncle. Several of his siblings were dispatched around the world, a couple to the US, one to Denmark and one to Germany. I’ve now just about got used to cars driving past us slowly with excited young occupants staring longingly out at him. Women too, often just stop me in the street and initiate meaningful conversations. [Sigh…] If only I’d had him a few years ago!

Money will buy you a pretty good dog, but it won’t buy the wag of his tail.
Henry Wheeler Shaw

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‘What are you going to tell your girlfriends about today?’ said Working Mum in a churlishly juvenile tone. I know she was just attempting to be amusing so I simply smiled a sarcastic squint back in her general direction.

‘What are they going to do [for the next five days] while your down in Tasmania?’ she continued on. I didn’t rise to the bait, a skill I’ve learned well from having two teenagers. I know she sees this blog as another fad or a product of some mid-life crisis. Either way, she doesn’t see it lasting.

I will admit, my track record for new endeavours isn’t great. I have on numerous occasions thrown myself enthusiastically headlong into things, only to then lose interest equally as quickly. Unfortunately these ‘fads’, as WM insists on referring to them, usually require the purchase of essential equipment or instructional books and DVDs. When I invariably come across these ‘once brought home with pride’ purchases at a later date, they seem to stare back at me, with an evil look of a jilted girlfriend.

The least sensible ‘hobby’, as I prefer to call them, taken up in the last few years would have to be cheese making. This required so much stainless steel equipment, assorted rennet and cultures, special milk, not to mention the whole day to make it, that it was hardly surprising to anyone, not least of all me, that I only ever made the one batch. Working Mum however, was exceptionally impressed with my Feta cheese and in fact proudly gave out tastings at work. As the orders began to roll in, sadly my enthusiasm had long since rolled out and Dairy Farmers breathed a sigh of relief.

Other notable failures would include:
Mountain-biking (Initially reluctant to get my $1200 state-of-the-art bike dirty, I then hurt my knee. Possibly might come back to this though)
Table tennis (Getting the table out and setting it up proved too much effort after a while, then the dog chewed up three of the bats and most of the balls)
Tennis (Despite my $500 racquet I kept getting beaten by the then twelve-year-old Soldier Boy so lost enthusiasm quickly)
Over 35 football (Made it through the season just! Some of these guys though are like… err, 35, so couldn’t keep up with them really)
Going to the gym (Working Mum does this regularly so I thought I’d join her. But I could never seem to put in the time it inevitably required)
Personal trainer (She shouted at me more than Working Mum and made me do hundreds of lunges carrying heavy weights. Eventually my knee gave way… so I gave her away!)

Some of my hobbies have lasted though, like bread making for example. Okay maybe just the one loaf a week these days, but I still make it. Then there’s Coffee. WM loves my coffee and I enjoy making it for her. The grind of the beans, the thick viscous crema trickling into the cup and then the skillful texturing of the milk, not to mention the final delicate dusting with cocoa. Arhhh! I could be a Barista anywhere I reckon. Tropical fishkeeping, that was fairly successful and lasted a good few years. After the third replacement tank once again sprang the inevitable leak, (this time while we were away) killing all the fish and the hall carpet, I knew I would keep no-more.

I guess I’m pushing Working Mum’s tolerance a bit at the moment as besides taking-up blogging, I’m also learning French. Oui… it has required an investment in a language course, but I need to have something that might actually facilitate real progress, do I not? I tried the library first, but all they had was really ‘old school’ packages with assorted tapes which we no longer have the technology to play at home. So I bought Fluenz, which I think is really proving quite successful. In fact if I were to give up now, as long as I was to only meet a girl called Chloe with a friend called Marc and they didn’t want to talk about anything other than ordering coffee or orange juice, I’d be pretty darn impressive.

A la prochaine!

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