Saturday, February 02, 2019

The fantastic day I didn't have at Wet n Wild

So this week I went to Wet n Wild, Sydney's only water park, expecting and hoping to have one of the best days of my life.

I did not.

I've been wanting to go to Wet n Wild for years, ever since it first opened in Sydney. I love water slides. I don't understand how other people don't love water slides. If it were up to me, there would be water slides in every suburb, just massive towers along main roads as though they were a service station or Officeworks. But there aren't. So I had to go to Wet n Wild. 

But whilst I happily do most things alone (it's that or stay home with my collection of talking potatoes), going to theme parks alone is one thing that's beyond me. It just seemed too sad. I needed someone to go with. Unfortunately none of my friends wanted to going to a water park with me. My friends generally are the kind of people only inclined to go places that are indoors, semi dark, and air conditioned. You should see their faces when I ask them to go bush walking! And if you do see their faces tell me, because we communicate exclusively through messenger apps; I haven't seen any of their faces in years. I wonder what they look like now?

But if my friends don't want to go, that's okay. I can make my own people to do stuff with me. Unfortunately the person I made, like all new people, started out rather small and with no control over his bodily functions, and I had to wait several years for him to get big enough to go on water slides with me (my attempts to speed the process up by giving him cake met with unverifiable results due to sample size). Finally this year, he was big enough. And he certainly seemed keen. He likes water, and I even took him to some smaller but still substantial water slides at Manly to make sure he could handle it without getting freaked out. No problems. We had a kid who was good to go to Wet n Wild.

There was also the matter of being able to afford it, which I couldn't for years, but now that I'm working I can Do Stuff. So tickets were purchased. Hey G, remember all the times I told you I was busy with uni work? It was all for you, so I can afford to take you to places like Wet n Wild. (And does your father take you to theme parks? No, he does not. If you think marriage is a constant battle for moral superiority, try getting divorced. It's a blood sport between you and the person you once gave your whole heart and life to and now don't want to share a word with. But that's another story). 

So I planned our trip. Rather than being located in an area designed to attract tourists, Wet n Wild Sydney is in the far western suburbs of Sydney, not far from the site of Sydney's now defunct and much lamented other major theme park, Australia's Wonderland (and I bet you didn't know that the song is about me. My body is a wonderland - in the 1990s everyone wanted to get in but now it's an abandoned wasteland). Incidentally, the final CEO of Australia's Wonderland, Stephen Galbraith, blamed the closure of the park on: the September 11 attacks, the 2002 Bali bombings, the collapse of HIH Insurance, the SARS virus, the bird flu virus, "consistent losses" on the Asian financial crisis, the collapse of Ansett Australia, the Iraq War and the 2003 bushfires and he might as well have kept going with a list like that and added political correctness, Y2K preparations, rodent infestation, ennui, pickles on Big Macs and ring around the collar. Anyway the point is, Wet n Wild is in the middle of nowhere.

Generally in NSW, there are buses. The might only come once every two hours, they might be over crowded and require you to transfer to get from your house to the city 3km away, but generally if there are more than a handful of buildings somewhere, eventually a bus will get there. And I'm the public transport whisperer. I can master routes, time tables, networks, lines and ticketing faster than you can say why bother just use an app. But despite my extensive research, there was no bus going to Wet n Wild. I seem to remember their website once promised a shuttle bus to a major nearby train station, but no longer. The best they can suggest now if arriving by public transport is to get an Uber or taxi from the train station. So that's what we did. I hate approaching taxi drivers and asking if they'll take me where I want to go. It makes me feel like...well anyway, I just don't like it. It didn't get any better as we settled into the first cab off the rank and G said to me "you sounded so strange when you asked for the taxi." Thanks kid. I brought you into this world and I can take you out.

Like any sensible person, I purchased our tickets in advance and had them on my phone's screen ready to scan as we went in. No queuing with the plebs for us, we're VIPs. Except after the (long) queue to get your bags checked by security, we couldn't get in the normal way because...my phone (a Galaxy S9+ for those of you playing at home) was too big to fit in their scanner. We had to walk over to the ticket office, queue again, have our electronic tickets verified manually, then take the wrist bands we'd been given and get back in the first queue once more. Okay, settle down, we told ourselves and each other. We got off to an irritating start but this was still going to be a fantastic day! 

Oh. Two of the four water slide towers are closed today. Half of the major slides are out of action. Well...okay. We can deal.

After changing and lathering our 50 and 100% Irish skin respectively in SPF 50+, we needed a locker. I knew the lockers would cost money to use, everything does in a place like this and I'd made my peace with that. But arriving at a bank of lockers, there were no instructions, no automatic machines or indications how one might pay. G was hot, had already been through a long train trip and a lot of queuing and wanted to hit the water. And I couldn't find a staff member to assist (this was to become a theme throughout the day). Finally I saw, at great distance, one of the apparently five teenagers who worked in the park. She directed me to a kiosk at great distance, where for the moderate sum of twelve fucking dollars who do these bastards think they are I was granted a day's right to use of a locker.

The first locker I tried didn't work. I could put our stuff in it but couldn't get the door to stay shut, fulfilling the "er" part of its brief but not the "lock" part. When I managed, after another lengthy expedition, to locate another staff member to see if I was doing it right or what, they determined that all the lockers in that bank were broken and lead us to another distant corner of the park to find a working locker.

We grabbed a couple of photos - just as well we did it then, cause this was just about the last time I'd smile that day - stowed the last of our belongings, and set off to have fun.

Having theoretical fun. Also I apologise for misleading anyone about my legs; they are patently not "okay". 

But now I was blind. Understandably, you can't wear sunglasses on the water slides, and with no one to look after my prescription glasses whilst we went sliding, I left them in the locker. But the melanin my ancestry has given me is suitable only for drinking somewhere cold and drizzly, and on this very sunny day, I literally couldn't see. My eyeballs still feel burnt 3 days later. My advice if you have expensive sunglasses and this post is making you think "hey, a day at Wet n Wild sounds neat!" is to buy a cheap pair or two you don't mind losing to carry with you on the day. Meanwhile G began to sneeze. He inherited from his father the propensity to phototonically sneeze photogenically sneeze that thing broken people do when they sneeze when it's sunny.

We managed to find ourselves in the queue for a water slide. And find ourselves we certainly had time to do, as given it was the last day of the holidays and half the slides were closed, the queue for this one was well over an hour. Running along side the normal queue was the express line, where people who paid 150% of the admission fee for the privilege could zip right to the front of the queue, so at least you could occupy yourself during the wait time feeling resentful and wishing bad things would happen to the express pass people. Back in the long queue I was sure we were being overtaken. Finally we reached the top of the queue for the Double BowlsEye. This was what we'd been waiting for! I tapped my band to indicate we wanted an action photo of us on the slide. We climbed on the raft. I was seated in the backwards position and missed the whole experience cause I couldn't see where we were going.

Bu now it was time for lunch. In the early days of the park, Wet n Wild notoriously didn't let you bring your own food, but even as a 14 year old on rare family outings and with my bar set very low, I knew the best chefs are rarely falling over each other to work their magic in amusement park kitchens. Luckily now you can bring your own, so we had a little picnic that turned out to be the best part of the day - Wet n Wild I will say does at least supply deck chairs under shade umbrellas for free, once you've paid the costs of entry which includes the costs of all those slides closed today.

When I tried to put our stuff back in our locker after lunch, it wouldn't lock shut. Another hike to find a staff member, who moved us to locker number 3.

It was now getting on for early afternoon. Time for another water slide. This queue was even worse. And it was hot, and exhausting, and G began to cry, not because he's a whiny spoiled kid - he isn't - but he was dehydrated and tired and overwhelmed and he wanted to go home, but out of a stupid sunk cost fallacy I convinced him we should continue queuing for what turned out to be another excessive period of time so we could spend another what felt like 8 seconds on a slide. Then I made sure we sat down and I got plenty of water in him and bought him an ice cream. One of the luridly coloured frozen confection treats known as a golden gaytime, which in a minor but predictable disappointment promised to be an ice cream sandwich on the poster, but was a regular old ice cream on a stick when served. His nose and eyes were now running uncontrollably - turns out the earlier sneezing wasn't just the sun, but a heretofore unrealised allergy to chlorine.

In search of some more sedate fun without an hours long queue, we went to the Dinosaur lagoon, which invites you to relax as you float in a soft tube around the half kilometre lazy river. Sounded like just what we needed. Alas, acquiring the tubes meant tackling the odd tube handover system where you needed to stand at the end of the river, taking tubes from the people who'd just completed the course. People who, in many cases, wanted to go around again or hadn't managed to get a tube in the first place. This put me and G at a distinct disadvantage against the family groups who were able to acquire the scarce tubes by forming human chains, tackling the course finishers and half drowning them until they handed their tubes over. We waited so long for the tubes we almost gave up, but I was determined to wrest some fun from the day, and we resorted to pathetic begging (Wet n Wild was resembling sex in more unpleasant ways than one). But it occurred to me, as we stood in waist deep water, surrounded by reeds, reaching our arms out to wet strangers saying "tuuuuubes....tuuuubes?" that this was about as relaxing and fun as the zombie apocalypse it felt like we were trying to survive.

I convinced G to give the water slides one last try. As we joined a queue, he said "Mummy, I think I'm going to be sick" and promptly was, lavishly all over the path, golden on the way in and golden on the way out. (So much for the control over bodily functions). As I desperately tried to flag down a staff member, G remarked "I guess it's not a myth that you shouldn't swim after ice cream". The first squeaky voiced teen staff member I managed to find didn't have a radio. The teen with a radio I did manage to find another few dozen metres further on didn't know how to contact the cleaners. I left them to it to attend to my son and once he was stabilised and cleaned we went home. On the way out I scanned my smart band to get the photo of us on the first water slide. It wasn't us.

Back home the zip on my bag got stuck and I had to cut the lining in order to extract the smelly wet swimwear contained within. I can't sew it back up, cause I can't sew. I was terribly sunburnt, despite all the cream. I don't think I've been really sunburnt for a decade, a decade I've managed to be an Irish person in Australia with Vitamin D deficiency. Anyway, I'd forgotten how much sunburn fucking hurts.

I spent five years and...I won't tell you how much money, but including Ubers, locker and my perfectly nice tote bag, on top of the tickets, it was a lot, to go to Wet n Wild, and I got to try out more lockers than I did water slides. And given I've vowed to never go again, unless some future paramour wants to drive us to the door, pack a gourmet picnic and pay for express passes, that was my total experience at Wet n Wild. It was a purportedly fun experience that I didn't even get to experience once.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Looking good

A recent opinion piece in The Independent rehashed a well-worn premise: that wearing make up is anti-feminist, that choosing to wear make up is conforming to the desires of the patriarchal system that dictates how a woman should look.

I don't agree. And whilst the article's writer, Julie Bindel, did raise some important points about the chemicals in one's makeup and the potential for lifetime harm (although everything in modern life is synthetic chemicals, and you can get paranoid trying to keep up with it all, or you can just sort of try to get on with things). And whilst we are constantly pounded with messages from the media about how we should look (and what we should spend money on to get that way), everyone wants to make themselves look better. If you really eschewed make up because it's uncomfortable and you won't conform to media images of how a woman should look, then surely you'd apply the same principles to your clothes, wearing only the cheapest, shapeless and comfortable garments you could find. But I've never met anyone who does that. The most intense anti-makeup feminist will still throw on some necklace she likes that goes well with the top she's wearing. Make up, to me, isn't much different from that. 

I'm not a liberal feminist who believes any choice a woman makes is a feminist choice; our liberation is all tied up with each other. And I don't believe my choosing to wear make up is a feminist choice. But it's not anti-feminist either. It's not really connected to my feminism at all. It's something I choose to do, cause I like it, for two main reasons. First, as a kid I was fascinated by paints and colours - still am - and make up is an extension of that. I enjoy the process of painting my face, I like getting in with the liquids and creams, squishing everything around. It soothes my sensory issues, it's a pleasant part of preparing for the day.

But I also do it cause I don't like the way I look without it. I'm mildly aware of how others might see me, but I'm mostly concerned with how I look to myself. When I look in the mirror, I want to see pretty. My skin is very red naturally, I have thin lips, and when I see these things in a reflective surface, it ruins my whole day. As the line goes, I'm not doing this for some man who doesn't know the difference between Ruby Woo and Russian Red (although I'm really into matte lip creams right now, and anyway my MAC lip colour is Diva). I'm doing it so I look good for me. I'm not doing it to attract a mate, but so when I look in the mirror I get as close to the cross between Victoria Frances model and porcelain doll thing I go for.





















These photos are from the day of my uni graduation. 40 minutes of make up, and I think it was worth it (although it took me only a few days to work out that short fringe was a mistake I shan't be repeating). I stopped wearing make up unless I was going out for the night for about ten years, but I'm back on it now, and the hell with it, it's just what I do.

There's been a pretty major shift in my wardrobe lately, too. For reasons too complicated to delve into now, about 2012 I seriously looked into conversion to Judaism, which being me involved reading everything I could find. And although I was never looking to convert Orthodox, I was intrigued by the Orthodox notion of tziniut, the laws of modesty, intended to "protect our souls from assault from a coarse world". The laws themselves cover a great deal of issues of mindset and behaviour, but for women the jist of it is skirts only that must cover the knee when you sit down (experience will teach you this means calf-length), tops that cover the collar bones and elbows, and for married women, covering their hair. reserving sexuality for the home, reserving a woman's body for her husband

As grossly anti-feminist as this no doubt seems, the idea struck a chord with me. I'd had many engagements with a coarse world before I met my then husband; this seemed like something I could give him now, that now my body was reserved for him. I modified the guidelines slightly for the Australian climate; but for many years I dressed only in skirts that covered my knees and tops that covered my shoulders and cleavage. That was it. No sleeveless tops, no shorts or short skirts; even at the beach I wore a long sleeved swim top and a swim skirt (I saved a fortune on sunscreen).

It was only recently I came to two realisations. I was shopping for clothes and automatically applying my mental filters about too short, too low cut etc, when I thought why the frilled hemline am I doing this? We've been separated for 3 years and I've seen other people; who am I saving my body for? But more importantly, whilst it's been a relief in many ways to cover myself and all my problem areas - which is basically all of them - I realised recently I have quite nice legs. They're not spectacular, and they only go up as far as where the abdominal fat begins (which seems to get lower every year - no wonder I'm terrified for the future; every year sea levels rise and my love handles fall). But I walk quite a lot, over 5km almost every day and usually carrying stuff, and my legs are reasonably firm and a nice shape and anyway, I like them. Why was I covering them? I should show them off. I'm not quite ready for shorts yet, and modesty aside I'm not much of a shorts person. But I wasn't doing myself any favours cutting off one of the nicer parts of me in dowdy long skirts, so I've been venturing into skater skirts lately.

Not that it's been easy. I don't know what it is with me and retail. Sure, I could shop online, but I'm impulsive and shopping online in Australia often means waiting 1-2 weeks even for items which you bought for Australian retailers that purportedly had them in stock. This is why malls in Australia continue to thrive even as dead malls scar America. Saps like me keep going there. So I hit H&M in the vain hope they'd have something in my size. They did; I saw one size 18 item in the store, a pair of cream trousers I'd never ever wear. That was it. One size 18 garment. And I looked through lots and lots of racks after that, hoping they might have clothes I would wear in a size 18 but they didn't. I suspect the trousers were a decoy they put in to get my hopes up. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Second Life

To celebrate several life events and also because I haven't been overseas in literally fifteen years, I'm planning an overseas trip in the middle of the year.

Of course, it's a somewhat daunting prospect. I've never done this by myself before; all my previous trips were organised for me. I have to confess I'm even a little scared. Every morning at 10am I eat a pink lady apple. It doesn't matter if I'm at work or going out to brunch or that right now being summer there's a vast array of much cheaper tropical fruit available. It has to be a pink lady apple and only a pink lady apple. So yeah, how am I going to manage if I can't find them? I'm picturing myself freshly arrived in Los Angeles after 15 hours in economy and scouring supermarkets in that city famously hostile to walking and public transport, trying to find pink lady apples, getting hot and dusty and semi-delerious, bursting into tears and giving up, or worst, settling for red delicious apples, whose name we all know is a filthy stinking lie.

I'm sure you can understand when I say I've had frequent thoughts of cancelling the trip altogether, and staying here with my geriatric cat and duck down pillow and shower I can get flowing just so by muscle memory and the new 55 inch TV I just bought me and my pink lady apples.

But I know I have to go. For so many years I dreamed of trips I couldn't go on. This, I can do. It doesn't need to be the perfect trip. I'm looking at round the world fares, planning out the stops I could make. But unlike the 20 something backpacker planning out their big overseas adventure before they settle down to career, serious relationships, possible children, I don't have to see everything now. There can be plenty more holidays in the future. For children and marriage aren't in that future. All that is behind me now.

For most people who go down that path, the days of freedom from the mechanics of family life don't come until you're in your fifites or sixties, at which point you call yourself a grey nomad, cash out your super to buy a camper, and spend the rest of your days roaming Australia and the world annoying everyone you cross paths with by doing 95km/hr in the right hand lane on the freeway, delaying busloads of passengers by treating bus drivers as mobile tourist information centres, blocking aisles with your luggage and talking very very loudly in every cafe you darken with your presence. "This is my time! I deserve it!" say you, a member of the generation for whom everything has been yours, and you haven't deserved any of it.

But what do you do when family life and all the hopes and dreams that went with it are take from you not in the natural course of things in your fifties, but suddenly and painfully through divorce and custody losses in your thirties? What do you do with yourself? You mourn, you grieve, you tear your hair out, you bang your head on the carpet. All of that. But eventually, eventually, with psychiatric care and medication and the damned healing properties of time, you start to get to a point where you can live with it, can even enjoy your new life.

For I have been given a strange gift. It has arrived in separate packages I couldn't always appreciate at the time, and I've had to assemble it myself, but here it is nevertheless; I have been given a second life. It has arrived through grief subsiding and a permanent place to live and a good job and learning, from the work of various alumni of RuPaul's Drag Race of all things, to embrace being the most and best me I can be. So I've decided what I'm going to do with this life is no longer suppress all the parts of me that I locked away for so long, because of the rigid standards I was raised with and society's expectations and the little (normal) voices in my own head telling me what is the proper thing to do and being mostly closeted most of my life and living my life in a permanent state of exhaustion masking my autistic behaviour without realising what I was doing and all the goals, hopes, dreams, dignity and joy I sacrificed in futile attempts to make other people happy - I am done with all of it.



I decided that, since my attempts to be normal and pleasing didn't really work out, from now on I am going to live life how I want, never harming other people, but not caring what other people think or what is the right thing to do - especially the dreaded right thing to do at my age.

So far, it's working out quite well. Take my bedroom. It's the bedroom i always wanted growing up but never had, and now I have it, and after waiting all my life I finally got to paint my bedroom purple, and there are butterflies and Victoria Frances prints on the walls, and I don't care if it looks like a moody (but very tidy) teenager's room. There is no one to complain about my Living Dead Dolls in the lounge room, or my morbid posters and postcard wall, no one to pressure me into throwing away my art supplies and books, no one to mess things up. (Mr G comes over on weekends, but he's very sweet about tidying up).

I will wear a Hello Kitty t shirt and glitter eyeshadow to work, and no one minds. Three months in, and I'm already the office eccentric - technically very proficient, excellent industry knowledge, very caring, but a strange soul nevertheless. My Drag Queen Funko Pops are arriving tomorrow, being sent to the office cause, well, we've discussed what my home postal service is like. I explained to my supervisor/friend that I'm happy for people to look, but if anyone touches the dolls, I'll reject them like a deer.

You'll what?!, she said.

You know, I replied, deer. If they smell human on any of their fauns, they reject them. Abandon them and leave them to die.

She said she'd love to get inside my brain and see how it works.

I told her it's a nice place to visit but she wouldn't want to live here.


Sometimes, fully embracing my identity as a queer autistic person in my late 30s - after a lifetime of trying to shove myself into the boxes society set out for me - feels like a giant playground. At other times, it feels like - nah, I'm kidding, it's always cool. The fun and freedom - was this what childhood was supposed to be like? I mean, actually admitting to myself and the world that I want to date women and putting myself out there and doing it hasn't always worked out so well, but the point is I am doing it.

But whilst I might be boring my friends stupid with the bisexual memes as they think "it's a sexuality, not an identity" and flap my hands if I get excited and wear metal t shirts paired with polka dot hair accessories to meetings, the true difference is in my own head, where you can't see it. But it's there. I have given myself permission to be weird, permission to not feel guilty if I do something nice for myself, permission to put myself first, permission to be happy. It's too late for all the opportunities I missed so far in life but it's not too late to do things differently now. I'm free. I have been given that rare thing; a second chance at life.

Of course, the trauma I have survived will always be with me. I can't separate one part of myself from another. Aspies can be quite suggestible. So can emotional abuse survivors. (Is there a word that's not victims or survivors. I am "a victim" but that term is so loaded. I'm nothing as thriving as a survivor. Or maybe I am). There are days when I'm hit with torrents of despair that make me think oh shit, I thought I was over all this. But I know now, that it is normal, that it will pass. I reach out to other survivors online and we assure each other that the brain takes time to recover. You will be all right. 

There's nothing about living as my true self that's problematic. I could say I'm lucky to work for a queer friendly company who make allowances for all my aspie ness, but every company should be like this. (But for now, I'm lucky). Mr G knows that his Mum isn't "normal". Do you want a Mum who wears capri jeans and yells all the time? He's got a Mum who goes on waterslides with as much glee as he does and scoots her booty across the lounge room and dresses him up as a drag wolf warrior. He's happy, and it's what he knows. When he's with me, he comes first. When he's not, all bets are off. This is the beginning of the rest of my life.

I'm working with what I've got. I didn't choose this path, but I'll walk and skip and flap my hands and stare vacantly along it anyway. When life gives you lemons, make lemons your thing. Tell the world you're all about lemons now. Wear lemon hair accessories and post lemon memes and talk incessantly about lemons and put up lemon posters and live a lemon life. Have meaningless flings and finally get around to giving stand up a go and decide that's it, this is the one haircut you're sticking with for the rest of your life and if you want to try something different, you'll wear wigs. After trauma, things will never be the same again. Use what you've learned and make them better. And if you're nervous about spending thousands of dollars travelling alone, just buy a VIP ticket to Drag Con before you've even sorted your passport out oh God what have I done. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Hungry for the good old days

Recently some colleagues and I were discussing food. They were mostly younger than me, and from ethnically diverse parts of Sydney, and they spoke of the food they grew up eating. Lebanese, Italian, Vietnamese, yum cha, festivals, neighbours sharing dishes from their home countries, dumplings for Lunar New Year or sweet sticky baklava; a wonderful array of flavours and textures that made you grateful for just a tiny slice of the many great goods immigration has brought to Australia.

The food I grew up with? Not so much. A statement you'd express literally when served some of the dishes that predominantly featured in the Anglo-Celtic inspired cuisine of Australia in the 1980s, which I grew up eating. I pretty much hit the "no thanks, I'm full. Really." jackpot when it came to the food I grew up with. My parents were immigrants - from Ireland, a nation noted for its rich literary heritage but where, alas, for centuries we were either being starved, or too drunk from writing to care what we ate. My father was a traditionalist, scared of anything new and rigidly adherent to routine; my mother hated cooking and had marked issues with food. We lived first on the Northern Beaches, then moved south of Newcastle, so the cultural influences at play were pretty much when white met bread. The neighbours would be having a BBQ chook, pasta salad and soft white bread rolls. We would be next door having a BBQ chook, pasta salad and soft white bread rolls.

I'm sure it won't shock any of you to learn the menu prominently featured mashed potato. There was also a heavy rotation of frozen food. We had mashed potatoes and grey, crumbly chicken nuggets; mashed potato and grey, crumbly fish fingers; mashed potatoes and Findus crispy pancakes (I love those and have missed them dearly ever since they were withdrawn from Australia); mashed potatoes and lamb chops; mashed potatoes and - oh god, the PTSD of writing this - lamb's fry, aka liver, which is so revolting that I'll eat most anything today but the smell of makes me flee the room. 

But those were just the meat and potatoes of our diet. For special occasions, in would come to play the crown jewels of white Australian cuisine. When my mother got to cooking, we would enjoy such treats as:


Apricot chicken, involving tinned apricots and French Onion soup mix





Coronation chicken, involving cold BBQ chook, Keens curry powder, and more French Onion soup mix


Shepherd's pie. Possibly more French Onion soup mix; definitely more potato. I had a hard time finding a suitable image for this. All the photos I saw looked golden and enticing, nothing like the grey lumpy dish of my childhood which I have never made since and - unless forced at gunpoint by some bizarre robber who breaks in and forces me to prepare an bland English main course -  will never make as an adult. I'm not curious to see if I could do it better. Shepherd's pie? You and me, we're through.

Worst of all - except for the liver - was ham steaks, cooked under the grill, each served with a pineapple ring on top.



I began to be disturbed by the fact that the ham steaks had the same perfect, round shape as the pineapple, and wondered what weird perfectly round pigs they came from. It was at about this age when I decided I wanted to be a vegetarian. I was told in no uncertain terms that whilst I was under my parents' roof, I would eat such food as they saw fit. It was probably just as well. If the meat we ate was bad, the veggies were even worse. The bland, mushy peas were all I would eat. Other veggies in the rotation were boiled cauliflower in white sauce, the broccoli which was boiled for so long I thought my mother was trying to cleanse it of evil spirits, and god bless and save us the brussles sprouts which thank god only made an appearance at Christmas and ruined more than one due to the arguments they caused over eating them.

Our taste horizons were not expanded at restaurants, either. Going out to eat was less of a thing in those days, and we kind of lived in the middle of nowhere, but there was also the fact that my father was also of the view that children didn't belong in restaurants. There was a local Chinese place, which my parents regarded with suspicion, but which would have at least allowed me to sample such suburban Australian Chinese delicacies as honey chicken. We did get to go to Sizzler and Pizza Hut occasionally, and boy were they an occasion; excited beyond all sense by the wonders of the buffet, the 30 minute car trip home from Sizzler was not a pleasant experience for anyone, and I would spend much time after we finally returned home groaning in a darkened room.

Please don't think, however, that our lives were restricted and wretched. Sometimes we got to go to parties. Or at least, backyard barbecues. For the uninitiated, let me tell you how an Australian backyard barbie works. Unlike in most countries, where it is beholden on the host to provide the utmost hospitality, if you are invited to an Australian backyard barbecue you are expected to bring all your own food and grog. I don't know why, but that's what they do. Most of the time, this means sausages for the kids, cheap steak for the adults, endless onions, and more pasta salad and soft rolls, if not a loaf of Sunblest bread (white, 60% air), which the hostess would remove from the bag to slather each slice in margarine, before returning to the bag.

So what do the hosts provide at a barbecue to deserve the title? Well as well as plastic plates and cutlery and a sliver of space on the barbecue until the alpha male of the group takes the tongs from the host and starts turning everyone's sausages*, they did offer a selection of delicious nibblies.

Welcome to 1980s Australian party food.


Party

Adorably, Coles still sells a platter of old style Australian nibblies. Cubed cheddar cheese, rolled up ham, chopped cabanossi and twiggy sticks. (It's lucky I wasn't a vegetarian or I'd have starved to death). The Coles platter is however missing the pineapple chunks and cocktail onions I remember as being a fixture of party snacks. Whether it was a tupperware party, an 18th birthday or a funeral, I don't think I attended a single gathering of more than 3 people without the jatz and footy franks combo (along with wine coolers for the women, beer for the men, and Cottees cordial or - if we were incredibly lucky - a bottle of actual Coke - for the kids) until I was well into my twenties.

All I can say is thank god Australia matured, I matured and moved to Sydney, and I got to experience a broader range of food. So when I see a Boomer on Facebook yearning for the good old days of White Australia in practice if not in legislation, I think, do you want to go back to the food? But some people do, and that's why Coles knows there's still a market for their twiggy sticks and whatever that dip in the centre is. There's even hipster goat cheese types getting into this stuff for nostalgia. In fact I reckon if you opened a restaurant in Newtown or Fitzroy serving savoury mince, apricot chicken and cabanossi on jatzc crackers, it would do great business for five months until the novelty wore off and you blamed the lockout laws for being forced to close.

You may even be right. People only pretended this food was bearable. When you're a kid, terrible food tastes good. Witness all the children (most of them) who'd rather have Smarties than actual chocolate. They like mild room temperature cured meat, bland cheese and sugary sauces on rice. The adults, well, remember the wine coolers and beer I mentioned earlier? They were drunk. If you think Australians drink a lot now, think back to the 1980s, with 2 KB beers before dinner, wine coolers in foil sacks and no drink driving laws. Everyone was pretty much completely sloshed all the time. Australia spent generations being too drunk to notice they were eating shit food. They were drinking shit grog too, but after the first drink that is a minor matter.

* No pun intended