Tag Archives: family

Book Review: Love Your Sister – Samuel and Connie Johnson

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Two memoirs for the price of one plus you help raise awareness and give to cancer research, sounds like a good deal right?

In part it is the heartbreaking story of a mum in her 30s who has been given the news that she will die from cancer. More over this brave woman has had cancer twice before and beaten it. The first time she got cancer she was only a child of 11. And also happens to be the sister of an Australian celebrity.

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On the other hand it is a travel memoir of Samuel Johnson as his sickness makes him a better person and he raises money for charity, all on a unicycle whilst overcoming depression.
I have heard some people criticise Samuel Johnson’s story as self indulgent and that this memoir should have told the brave tale of his sister Connie and that his perspective added very little. However,  we live in an age where celebrity is king. People rush out to buy Kyle Sandilands book simply because he is a celebrity. He hasn’t done anything spectacular for mankind but people want to know about him and so it gets published and sells like Kardashian Cakes. Through Samuel Johnson’s celebrity this important message gets shared. Yes people will complain that it could have been two memoirs one on overcoming depression and one on living with terminal cancer,  that both issues deserve the attention. But let’s be honest, there are other memoirs that do just that. So for now, enjoy this book about an inspirational mother who has a brother that road around Australia on a unicycle (who coincidentally is a celebrity) just for her, and love your sister.

If you want to learn more go to loveyoursister.org

Review also here https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1098896441

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Memoir of a Teacher: Chapter 2, Nothing to be Frightened of

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Memoir of a Teacher: Chapter 2, Nothing to be Frightened of

Continuing on with my inspired memoir from yesterday in honour of #NaNoWriMo and my dear friend Pete. I’d say enjoy but how could you not?

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Memoir of a Teacher: Nothing to be Frightened of

I don’t believe in frogs, but I miss them. That’s what I say when the question is put. I asked my brother, who has waxed philosophical whilst drunk in pubs in Wollongong and Newcastle, what he thought of such a statement, without revealing that it was my own. He replied with a few words: “What a load of Wank.”

The person to begin the second chapter of my illustrious memoir with is my maternal grandmother, Grandma Cindy, although neither her first nor last name is Cindy, that was her dog’s name. She was a secretary in Edinburgh until she married my grandfather, Arthur James. He may have had a snazzy nickname like Arty, King or Jimmy Jim Jim Jaroo but as he died when my mother was fourteen I never met him so can’t really comment. He was an architect with a certain Scottish dash to him: a man without a tartan, which my grandmother often lorded over him, but born and raised there no less. By the time I knew them, my grandfather was ashes under a rose bush and my grandmother was living in Wollongong an hour away from her nearest child. Grandma was an avid church goer; she was in the choir, on the board and working in the op shop. She was petite, outwardly very opinionated, and had the paper thin skin of old age that made me live in constant fear that she might burst open at any given moment. Her wardrobe was full of kilts, not necessarily in her tartan, and beige petticoats of every length. She had regular appointments with God and being Godly and had bern advised she was a top notch sheila. Mainly by me, I thought she was the cat’s pajamas.

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My brother remembers that once, when he was very small, he went into Grandpa’s garden and pulled up all the flowers. Grandma yelled at him until he howled, then turned uncharacteristically white, confessed everything to our mother, and swore she would never again yell at the children. Actually, my brother doesn’t remember any of this — neither the flowers nor the yelling. He was just told the story repeatedly by our mother. And indeed, were he to remember it, he might well be wary. As a soccer player who has suffered from severe concussion, he believes that memories are often false, “so much so that, on the Cartesian principle of the rotten apple, none is to be trusted unless it has some external support.” I am more trusting, or self-deluding, so shall continue as if all my memories are true. Yet also acknowledge that my siblings’ memories are probably nothing more than rotten apples.

Our mother was christened Anne Margaret although my father often spelt it Anne Magarat. She hated the Rat, and complained about it to anybody who would listen, whose explanation were genereall that Dad was a bit of a turd at times. She has followed in her mother’s footsteps and goes to church and tries to run as much as possible.

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In my childhood, the three unmentionable subjects were the traditional ones: periods, politics, and sex. When I got my first period I thought I was dying of cancer, my father still refuses to mention who he votes for and sex I worked out. I’ve got three kids to prove it.

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As for religion, this was discussed at length my father would tell me if I didn’t follow his church exactly I’d not only go to hell but get a belting and my mother would yell us how much better and cooler her church was and put equal amounts of pressure, through guilt rather than fear, to tow the line. Consequently I developed huge social anxieties around going out for public rituals like picnics, dinners and dances.

As my parents are still very much alive I think I’ll leave the “appropriation” there and start thinking of the third chapter of my highly anticipated memoir.

This was of course taken from Nothing to be Frightened of by the brilliant Julian Barnes.  Read the real thing here http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/books/chapters/chap-nothing-to-be-frightened-of.html?pagewanted=all

Read the first chapter of my “memoir” here https://riedstrap.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/memoir-of-a-teacher-a-red-hot-tip-for-nanowrimo/

Confessions of a Mad Mooer: hi, I’m a mad mooer

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So it happened. I’ve gone completely around the bend. Had a nervous breakdown, got post natal depression, had a meltdown, chucked a wobbly, got myself in a tizzy, whatever you want to call it. I’ve been a bit of a cow and I’m mad. I’ve evidently got mad cow’s disease. So I’m currently in the nut house. Or should I say, “I’m convalescing in a supportive environment whilst I recoup from exhaustion.”

And who wouldn’t be exhausted with newborn twins and a toddler? Who wouldn’t need help under these circumstances? Well, one of my cousins for one managed not to turn into a jibbering mess when she had a two year old plus newborn twins. And in my mind everyone else in these circumstances sailed right on through but not me. At three months I cracked it. I just cried and cried and cried and cried a bit more. My body hurt from trying to settle premi twins that never wanted to sleep. My brain hurt from trying to juggle my three babies. And my heart hurt from feeling like I was failing all three of my children simultaneously. I couldn’t get my twins to settle so I was spending so much time with them that my toddler was missing out. On top of that if one twin had been crying for ninety minutes straight I was so exhausted from dealing with him that I didn’t have time for his brother when he inevitably started his round of crying.

So what did I do? Kept telling the husband that I was exhausted. That I couldn’t cope that I needed help. That I couldn’t do it. He told me to “crack on,” as it was only a tough phase, in a years time it’d all settle down and I just needed to ride the wave. Turns out I don’t know how to surf. Not even body board, or boogie board as it used to be called. Heck I can’t even body surf. To be perfectly honest I don’t even know if I can swim at this stage. (I know what you’re thinking, can she stretch this metaphor any further, surely not, let dead horses lie, don’t whip sleeping dogs, but oh I can stretch it further.) It was like I’d been paddling in a kids wading pool and all of a sudden had been thrown into the middle of the ocean, during a storm at night, with only one oar and nothing else to help me. Sure an oar is useful when there is also a row boat and another oar but when it’s by itself it just drags you down. So my husband’s pep talks, his attempts at blind optimism simply dragged me down further rather than helping me to rise to the occasion. With added support I may very well have been able to rise to the occasion with his encouragement.

But there wasn’t any and I just sank deeper and deeper into depression until when all three of my children got sick (joys of having a toddler in childcare, they bring every plague going home) and I ended up in hospital with my little boys who had developed bronchiolitis from their sister’s cold after I’d just gotten out of hospital myself for Pancreatitis I lost it. I couldn’t cope. I was just sobbing uncontrollably in the hospital room when the paediatricians began their rounds. By coincidence one of the doctors was Dr Rowel who had been my daughter’s paediatrician through reflux and operations for hip dysplasia. He saw me, could see how bad I had gotten and immediately referred me to the hospital social worker, who referred me to the phychiatric team. So in turn I got referred to a mothers and baby unit at a psychiatric hospital to get my bearings, physically recover a bit and try to sort through some stuff in my head.

So how’s it all going? Well I can tell you inside my head is a terrifying place to be but I’ll keep you updated with my progress through more Confessions of a Mad Mooer.

If you or someone you know has postnatal depression you can find good resources on the following sites:

  1. Gidget Foundation http://gidgetfoundation.com.au/
  2. PANDA http://www.panda.org.au/
  3. PIRI http://www.piri.org.au/
  4. Black Dog Institute http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
  5. Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

Teulu

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Warning: Not for the faint hearted.

Once upon a time two children lived in the forest with their poor but kind parents. Each day the children would go out into the forest with their father to chop wood. One day the children became lost and could not find their father. They searched high and low but still they could not find him. Eventually they stumbled across a lovely cottage in a clearing. The dear children, now cold and hungry, went to the door and knocked. They were immediately captured by the witch who lived inside. She set the poor children to work as slaves. Oh how the small children missed their sweet father. Together the children planned to make good their escape. That evening as the witch stirred her witchy brew over the fire the children seized their opportunity and rushed forward pushing the witch into her cauldron. The witch howled as she boiled and bubbled. The children ran from the cottage and straight into the waiting arms of their loving parents who had just discovered the cottage… Except there was no forest, and there were no loving parents, and come to think of it there was no wicked witch. There was a dirty hovel and there was a lovely lady who lived next door who would take in the frightened, shaking children whenever they were in need. She offered the children sanctuary and they adored her in return. She was a bright star in a bleary existence. The children visited the lady often until one day they woke in their hovel to the sound of screaming and the smell of smoke. The children ran outside and saw that the kindly old lady’s house was on fire. The lady was inside. Their father sat outside laughing. The children never saw their fair neighbour again.

*        *        *        *        *

She stood watching. Coolly, calmly waiting. Her prey was grappling at the back of a dank, derelict, dead-end alley. Desperately trying to climb the dilapidated, rain soaked walls. Old decaying bricks crumbled in his meaty hands. Knuckles bloodied and fingernails torn off with the futility of his actions. The big man crumpled to his knees and began a long, low, keening wail. Starving dogs howled in answer and locals hurriedly shut their windows against what was to come. The sight did not move her. It did not change her. It merely elicited further contempt. She walked slowly, measuredly up the alley, all the while keeping her eye on her mark. There was no need to rush. The end was inevitable. The fetid tub of human refuse at the end of the alley crouched blubbering like the coward he was. She stopped in front of him. Disdain twisted her perfect mouth into something ugly. She towered over the giant of a man despite her fine frame. He looked up at her, eyes filled with tears, pleading.

“Mercy?” He begged. “Please have mercy on my soul.”

She leaned over him; her blue eyes flashed ice cold in the dim light.

“Why should I?” She snarled.

“I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry.” He gasped in big racking sobs. His whole body trembled with the weight of his impending doom.

She was on him. Knives out. One grasped in a fist at his throat the other at his groin. He froze. Helpless. He was nothing but a limp puppet in her hands.

“Where is my brother?” She hissed.

The man still locked in terror could barely move his mouth.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”  He knew this was not the answer that she wanted to hear and gasped in pain as she temporarily removed her knife from his trembling throat and thrust it in deep, just below the clavicle. “I really don’t know!” he sobbed, she twisted the knife. He saw stars. She leaned forward and bit him hard on the cheek bringing him back to his senses. “I gave him to Lester. He works for the blacksmith. He hired me. It’s all I know. I swear it.”

“Good to see your memory is back.” She spat his blood back into his face.

Tears tumbled freely down his bloodied face. Urine trickled down his legs.

“Please.” He begged. “I needed the money. My sister is ill.”

She twisted the knife again. He screamed in agony. Then managed to gasp down some sense of resolve.

“How can you be so ruthless?” He sobbed.

In an instant the knife was reefed from his shoulder and back at his throat. His eyes widened in fear. Her eyes fogged over.

 

The little girl awoke with a ringing in her ears. It took a moment for her to realize that she was being slapped and yelled at. She was cold, wet and frightened. She stared up and saw her father. She was in his bed. Why was she in his bed? She hated him. Surely she would not have climbed into his bed. No nightmare could have been so bad that the three year old would have willingly turned to him for comfort. She despised him. THWACK. Another great slap knocked the thought from her tiny head. Then she was being held down. Shoved into the damp bed. The infant struggled in vain against her enemy. It was no use. He was too strong. He was a monster. She whimpered.

“You’ve wet the bed you disgusting dog.” Her father spat into her face.

He picked up her tiny form with one hand and threw her across the room. She hit the wall and slid down limply like a rag doll. Her tears had dried up in fear and she sat staring up at her father unblinking in terror. She knew she was not to wet the bed. She knew she was to be in trouble. But she also knew she could not help it. He leapt off the bed and grabbed her hard, lifting her by the throat, shaking her.

“You disgust me.” He hissed. She tried to shrink back from him. “If you can’t stop from wetting yourself then you can’t wear pants.”

Her father ripped her pants from her body. Her mind screamed. This was wrong. She did not want to be pantless and alone with this demon. She began to struggle and kick. She had to escape. She did not care what the cost was. She did not realize that she was screaming until her father’s fat hand fastened across her mouth. She bit down hard. She tasted blood. Good. She knew he would not want her near him now. He would lock her in the hall cupboard. He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her wet pantless form into the hall. He threw her into the cupboard. She blacked out.

Sometime later she roused to the sound of tapping at the cupboard door. It could not have been too long as she was still damp.

“Are you okay?” Concern flooded from her older brother’s voice.

Great big tears leaked down the little girls face and she began to shake.

“Gerhart, it’s dark and I’m scared.” She sobbed.

“Don’t worry little one. I have brought you Dolly for company.” Gerhart said tenderly.

She heard the closet click open and her brother gently handed in a chunk of wood. The little girl hugged it to her chest fiercely. She loved it. It was her only toy. A small log of wood that her brother had carved a face on, just a simple face, two small dots for eyes and a crude line for a mouth that curved up slightly at the ends. It was the best that the young ten year old boy could manage. The little girl loved the toy as she loved her big brother.

“What are you doing?” Her father’s voice shattered her lovely moment. “You’re trying to let that piece of garbage out aren’t you?”

Her father was crazed with anger. She trembled at the tone of his voice.

“No, no, no father.” Her brother was stuttering. “I just thought she could have some company. I only gave her Dolly.”

CRACK. The little girl heard the sound of her father’s heavy hand connecting with her brother’s kind face. Then big hands were reaching into the cupboard. The toddler shrunk back in fear. The hands grabbed the doll. She reached after it desperate to keep hold of some warmth. But her father was too strong. Her doll was wrenched from her hands. She tried to take hold of it again but her father slammed the door on her fingers. She yelped in pain and grabbed hold of her fingers.

From outside the cupboard the baby girl could hear the sickening thunk, thunk, thunk, of her doll thudding into her brother over and over again. He did not cry out. He remained stoic, defiant. He would not give their father the satisfaction of his suffering. Eventually all was quiet and the baby curled up and drifted off to sleep.

The child awoke to the soft filtered light of the morning sun drifting through the cracks in the cupboard. She smiled. Her mother would be home from working the night soon and would let her out. She sat and waited. Soon she was rewarded with the creak of the cupboard door and the sight of her mother.

“What are you doing in here?” Her mother asked. “Playing stupid games with your brother again?”

“Daddy put me in here.” The little girl replied.

THWACK. The toddler teetered from the hard slap to her face from her mother’s soft hand but she did not fall.

“Don’t tell tales.” Her mother barked. “It’s a sin to lie. And go put some pants on. You look like a slut.”

The toddler darted away and put pants on. She felt much safer now that she was covered. Pants were a good barrier against her world. She then tottered outside into the fresh air. She was finally away from the fetid stench of her parents atrocities. Her brother sat with his eyes closed underneath a large tree, peacefully cradling her doll. His face was a mash of purple, black and red. She tottered over to him and sat down. Gerhart opened his eyes and smiled as much as his freshly distorted face would allow him too. He handed her the doll. Its face was stained with her brother’s blood and charred.

“He tried to burn it.” Gerhart said simply. “I saved it.”

She hugged her doll tightly to her.

“Gerhart?” She asked her brother. “Are all mummies and daddies like ours?”

Gerhart looked sadly at his baby sister and ruffled her hair gently.

“I hope not.” He answered.

Her childhood continued much the same, moments of brutality interspersed with moments of tenderness and sometimes even laughter, until her brother was conscripted into the King’s Army on his eighteenth birthday. The young girl, then eleven, fell into a deep melancholy and withdrew from the world. She learnt to keep quiet and to absent herself from home as much as possible. The attacks were less frequent if she could not be found. Things plateaued until one day, when she was sixteen years of age; her father came to bait her as she prepared his dinner. He jeered and snarled at her as she cut his potatoes but she ignored him until,

“I hope you’re brother dies in his service.”

She turned and looked at her father coldly.

“Shut up.”

In a flash he was on her for her cheek. Never talk back. Never rise to the bait. She knew this. He picked her up and cradled her roughly in his arms like a baby. She shrieked, she howled, she felt helpless and scared like the trapped baby she had been not so long ago. He continued to crush her body to his and hissed into her hair.

“You’re my baby. I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” Her father was mad, he was raving. “You’re mine. I can do whatever I want to you.”

In a moment of inspiration or insanity she thrust up with her potato knife and sunk deep into his throat, severing his epiglottis. Her father stared at her shocked and fell to his knees. He still kept her locked in his arms. Her father’s lips trembled as he tried to formulate words. Blood came bubbling out of his mouth instead. The girl, her knife and her father’s corpse pitched forward onto the ground. She wriggled out of his death grip and was gone. She was running. Never looking back. She was free.

The girl’s life had changed from that point on. She had made her own way. She had found her own luck. She had met a wonderful man, they had a wonderful daughter and together the three lived a wonderful life. The memories of her past had all but been washed away by the perfection of her new existence. All was fair and just, until one day she received ill tidings. Her brother had gone missing. The next day she collected a few things and informed her new family that she must go away for a short while to visit distant relatives but that she would return to them soon with much love.

 

Her eyes cleared and she looked at the blubbering mess before her,

“It’s easy.” She answered.

Shhhhick. Her potato knife ran cleanly across the man’s throat and she was already walking away before he even fell.