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Things I’ve taught my Dad recently

4 Jun
  • What the snowflake button on the toaster is for
  • How to clean a laptop keyboard using a vacuum attachment and a fork
  • That wheat is different to gluten
  • To skype
  • That croissants and crumpets are not effective dietary alternatives to toast
  • That gay people can have children*
  • How to cook risotto
  • What I do for a living (I’ve been doing it for 3 years)
  • The difference between the internet and the world wide web
  • How to burn CDs into iTunes

Most of these are because computers “just crept up on him” (sneakily, over about 20 years). I’d write a list of all the things he’s taught me, but the world wide web would become full and servers would have to automatically delete stuff like our family’s orginal Macintosh Classic.

*This made him happy.


It’s Dinosaur Day!

31 Mar

Oh, you didn’t know? Let me explain.

When I was four I was given Land Before Time on video for Christmas. I watched it compulsively, soaking everything about dinosaurs into my tiny child mind-sponge. What I took away from the film was this: dinosaurs are awesome and they can probably talk. My brother’s brontosaurus figurines were dusted off and I started constructing tiny dino societies in my doll’s house. My godmother started constructing my most treasured possession: the dinosaur patchwork quilt I got on my 6th birthday.

And then came Disney’s Fantasia. I can’t be the only adult still bearing scars from that movie. Despite the dancing mushrooms, the frolicking Pegasus, the tiny psychotic axes, what I took away from that movie was dinosaurs are awesome, they probably talk and they all died horrible deaths under a dust cloud the size of the Gulf of Mexico.

This distraught me. The adults of the house quickly learnt that upon hearing the music, they’d have to launch themselves at the VCR before I was traumatised further. I fixated on the injustice of it. The dinosaurs died and nobody told me! Why wasn’t it on the news? Why aren’t people talking about it? DOES NOBODY ELSE CARE? So, like good the charity PR I’d turn out to be, I decided something had to be done. My solution was Dinosaur Day.

The day chosen was the last day of daylight savings. As people prepare to turn back their clocks it seems appropriate that we take the time to remember our fallen, reptilian brethren. It quickly became a pivotal point in the Cussen family calendar.

We would get together for a commemorative family feast featuring a slather of prehistoric food. From memory, these included avocados, custard apples, artichokes and large green Easter eggs. We’d all sit at the table while I shared my tiny clusters of dino knowledge. I would list  all my favourite breeds, separated into carnivores, omnivores and herbivores. And all this with my heart heavy with grief about their untimely,suffocating dust death.

Sadly, over the years the campaign lost its focus as I broadened the parameters to include other extinct creatures. The concept never caught on. I was much more willing to mourn a pterodactyl than a dodo.

So, readers, today of all days please join me in reviving our forgotten national day. Take a moment to eat an avocado, crack open the scaly hide of a custard apple and remember what we’ve lost.

How my parents convinced me the world was ending

28 Dec

I grew up in the Blue Mountains, a place two hours from Sydney famous for bush fires. Our family home sits in a valley, surrounded by flamable things. When my parents bought it in the summer of 1977 a massive fire stormed across the ridgeline eventually singing our fence posts. It hasn’t burnt since but every summer it comes close. Childhood summers to me were a bright red sun, ash falling from the sky and ABC radio constantly on to tell us if we had to evacuate.

You might think that this was scary, but really it was just exciting, mainly because nothing made my mother happier than imminent doom. One year a column of black smoke covered half the sky and evacuation seemed likely. My mother had been packed for days. There were photos in boxes, clothes in bags and, as an alternative to a cat box, poor Missy in a pillow case. For my mother this was the best Christmas ever.

So, at the beginning of 1999 when rumours of the millennium bug started to circulate my mother listened with interest. What’s that, you say? Planes falling from the sky? Techno apocalypse, I hear? As someone who feared technology as a concept, the idea of the toaster being scheduled to revolt against its human masters and kill us all made perfect sense. It was time to prepare.

Room was made in a cupboard in the kitchen. This was filled with dried grain, pulses, spam and seeds. Aware that the vats of water stored under the house would only go so far, my father was sent into the bush to find the nearest spring. I was told that I couldn’t tell anyone at school about the preparations because, come January 1st they’d all be banging down the door for their share of grain. I’d seen Mad Max. I knew the score.

Dad, usually a skeptical man, must have been caught up in the festivity of it all because soon he was preparing for the end of the world with the best of them. Such was their enthusiasm that I was totally convinced that the world could end a cruel week before my 12th birthday. At Easter, I found myself in hospital with a penicillin reaction. The nurse kindly enquired about me starting high school the following year. I replied casually “yes, bad timing, isn’t it?” she asked why and I told her “because of Y2K. Hasn’t anyone told you?” Had I been her I would have called Community Services.

We surely weren’t the only ones caught up in the thrill of Y2K fever. There were long specials about it on the ABC. Plane tickets for New Years Eve were sold at bargain prices. The Prime Minister went on TV to reassure the nation. But you can never trust a politician.

Not long after Easter Dad told me that my cubby house would be converted into a hutch and that I’d get to breed bunnies. Being slightly dim I didn’t connect all the dots. Days later, when my parents confessed what the baby bunnies were for I became hysterical. I can only assume that at that point my parents looked from the distressed child to each other and wondered if they hadn’t got a bit carried away with all this apocalypse business.

I woke on the first morning of the new millennium to the smell of spam being fried. The kettle was singing happily and the toaster seemed content. The air was filled with relief, but also, just a little, disappointment.