Thursday, January 7, 2010
Monday, September 21, 2009
Today we will eat lunch at a café. It will be Kell’s first re-introduction to civilization from the wilderness of hospital food and personnel. Not that Berlin café food truly ranks as civilization, and as the for the coffee, I wake having dreamt of Latteria to the nightmare of over-watered swill made with UHT milk. A macciato in Berlin is served in a very tall glass. I shudder as a write.
My apartment is opposite Hasenheide Volkspark, a huge rolling parkland with forests and sports fields and playgrounds. On my first morning I went running and saw one red squirrel, one dog being walked, no joggers, no boxercise class, no tai-chi and about twenty five groundsmen raking leaves and trimming edges. It was a surreal comparison to Rushcutters Bay park where they are considering putting in lane ropes for the joggers. I guess Berliners don’t need to jog when they cycle everywhere, on real cycle lanes.
I chose Kreuzberg only because it was close to the hospital, but it is a fortunate choice. It’s a very cosmopolitan part of town with a very strong Turkish flavour. Lots of students, lots of music, lots of cheap food and life on the streets. However, now Kell has been moved to the Auguste-Victoria Klinikum which specializes in infectious diseases and is more appropriate for step-down care. It took me over an hour to get there by public transport yesterday. Admittedly there were a few backtracks and some unnecessary walks, but it is no longer an easy stroll through Kreuzberg to the Klinikum Am Urban.
I have discovered where all the joggers went. They have been tapering for the Berlin marathon. As I write the marathon is pouring along the road in front of my apartment building. If I have actually sent this, I must been able to make a break. The marathon runs between me and the internet café and it is a fast flowing stream. There is a breakfast café on this side of the marathon, but it serves only ice-cream and cake so I am having one of the more disgusting breakfasts of my life. And my breakfast habits are pretty disgusting at the best of times.
It is not my most disgusting culinary experience in Berlin. Last night, a beautiful couple, Florian and Tini, took me to Curry 36, a Kreuzberg institution for the locals as yet undiscovered by tourists. It was the type of food that should only be eaten after midnight, fortunately it was 2am. Currywurst is a Berlin specialty. A wurst sausage sliced up and smothered in a processed ketchup-like sauce and sprinkled with powdered spices. It is served with pommes rot-weiss – chips completely hidden beneath a mound of mayonnaise and another of tomato sauce. In defence of curry wurst at Curry 36, it was accompanied by a lecture in Dinglish (Deutsch/English) about Bauhaus, given by a very drunk Berliner whose front teeth grew sideways and whose beard started at his eyebrows. It was surprisingly informative.
My Bauhaus lecurer was definitely the most incongruous person to perform the traditional Berlin response to meeting an Australian. The custom is to put two hands in front like a kangaroo and do a Skippy impersonation. It does make it difficult to shake hands, and had a known in advance I would have brought along some gum-leaf whistles.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Not Brenna’s drink of choice yet. However, she did have written on her hand “I love Jack” in large flourescent letters. I asked her whether one of her friends had written it. She agreed and showed me where another girl had written the same thing in even larger letters on her leg. I dreaded to ask, but couldn’t stop myself, “So. Who is Jack?”
She was completely nonchalant, “He’s a guy in my class.” I would have stopped there, but Bruce rushed in where angels fear to tread. “And do you love him?” Brenna played coy, “I can’t really answer that question.” Bruce didn’t see the danger signs and plunged right in. “Why can’t you answer it?”
Brenna fixed him with her cool blue eyes, “Because I’m in frickin’ primary school.”
As true as I sit here typing. I’m scared for the future.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
My favourite moment by far is when Mrs Donald Draper is on the telephone and her children run through the room. Her five year old boy is in a cowboy suit and carrying two colt pistols. Her seven year old daughter is swathed from head-to-toe in one of those plastic bags from the dry cleaners, the ones that in 2008 are covered in large print warning that the product is a choking hazard and should be kept away from children. The appalled Betty puts down her cigarette and shouts at her daughter, “Sally Draper, come over here right now…if I find that dry cleaning on the floor of the closet, you will be in big trouble, Miss. Now go and play with your brother.”
Sally makes a face by sucking in a good lungful of plastic then runs off.
When I was a child growing up in a farming town, it was not so unusual for kids in my class or in my school or even in my extended family to die at regular intervals. Children drowned in dams, were run over by tractors, fell off horses and every few months or so shot each other with rifles – sometimes by accident.
Rather than being shielded from the gruesome details of child death, the descriptions of tiny bodies plummeting into abandoned wells or sinking beneath the golden quicksand of a grain silo were dutifully retold as a bald warning about what could be expected from life. It didn’t even come with a suggestion to play where adults could see you, because that would have been ridiculous.
It was only when I became an adult when hearing of a child’s death was shocking and immediately brought thought of all the lives irrecoverably wrecked that I realised how completely cavalier I children can be about things that adults consider so important. I was utterly relaxed about the second cousin who drowned in a dam. He had six brothers and sisters, I might not have to top and tail in the bed next time I stayed at the farm.
Every cracker night some kid I knew or knew about lost a finger or an eye or a significant percentage of their hearing. Seatbelts were unthinkable, even if you were sitting up front on the bench seat and especially not when your twelve year old cousin who could barely see over the dashboard was screaming around the paddocks in a Valiant.
My mother was one of twelve kids, all of whom survived to adulthood. This is despite the fact that the family vehicle was a Bedford truck. So when my grandfather had to take the kids any distance, he would grab a bit of fencing wire and use it to attach a wooden cage made from plywood scavenged from the side of the road to the tray of the Bedford. He would toss in as many kids as he could catch and they would head off like the Beverly Hillbillies with children, dogs and luggage tumbling and bumping, open to the elements, in a plywood box. Now my mother would panic if someone suggested her eight year old grandchild may have outgrown the booster seat.
The massive shift in attitudes came to mind this week when I read this article in The Australian
Although my first reaction is to think that everyone concerned, especially the journalist and sub-editor, should take a bex and a good hard look at themselves. What if I’m wrong? What if this kind of rudie nudie behaviour among five-year-olds is the 2008 equivalent of the double bunger? One day people will look back in horror and say, “Remember back when we allowed five-year-old kids to pull each other’s pants down behind the tractor."
Now I didn’t just pluck that example from the air. I have only hazy memories of pre-school, apart from my absolute indignation that my previously reliable mother had left me among strangers. I didn’t know these people. What was she thinking? That memory is shockingly close to the surface. Just below that is the memory of being told by another child that boys and girls went behind the tractor near the sand-pit and pulled each others pants down. For me that was right up there with maternal abandonment on the scale of dismay. The strange child, whose name I never discovered because I didn’t speak to people who weren’t relatives until half-way through kindergarten, may have been lying. She may have been exaggerating. She may have been retelling as present fact some pants pulling down incident lost in the mist of time but handed down from pre-school kid to pre-school kid in an unbroken oral tradition dating back to the first ‘Do you want a lolly? Go to bed and kiss your dolly’ joke. Or maybe, in 1971, some five-year-olds were engaged in what the Australian would describe as child-against-child sex abuse. I am unable to confirm or deny the veracity of pre-school pantsgate because I avoided the tractor, the sandpit and the path leading to it as if they were a cold dam, by a wheat silo in a rifle range.
Ironically my third great horror at pre-school were the toilets which were small and all in a row with no cublicles. If any child was actually keen on some pants pulled down action all they had to do was use the toilet. I never did.
Obviously this behaviour wasn’t caused by DVD’s or internet porn. It would be a year before a child could be exposed to Barry MacKenzie and two years before Alvin Purple made pants pulling down an Aussie tradition. It is more likely it was straightforward child behaviour, perhaps even normal and healthy. At the same time, it deeply traumatised me and made me scared of pre-school. I hope no teacher would have allowed it to go on if they’d known about it. But what should they have done? Counselled the children? Informed the parents? Called DOCS? Sent in the Army?
A year later, in infants school, I remember standing on a bench in the boys toilets at the local swimming pool with six or seven other boys chanting “We won the war in 1944. We lost our guns so we used our bums. We won the war.” All accompanied by waggling of relevant body parts. It wasn't quite pole dancing but it was ballpark. It is quite possible some other little boy was as traumatised by the display as I had been by the pre-school tractor. However, I don’t think it would have been appropriate to call this child-against-child sex abuse, nor to complain to the Department of Education. In fact, what happened was Sister Monica burst into the male change rooms and laid about left and right smacking as many bare bots as she could get a hand to. Even with the benefit of hindsight, the punishment seems appropriate to the crime.