Sunday, January 18, 2015


This afternoon a taxi driver beeped at me in the car park outside the supermarket. It was my ex's stepmother and I was so happy to see her that I jumped into the passenger seat and gave her a huge hug. Her partner, Stormboy's grandfather, died in November. Here is a link to that story. The air conditioning inside her car was an alien environment. It was so hot outside and quite chilly in the cab. I hadn't seen her since her partner's funeral. "I still go out there in the afternoons and have my glass of wine," she said. "Xxxx keeps telling me I should stop going out there. That it's just making me sadder. That I'm revisiting the past and to move on. I should stop going out there, she reckons."

She's in her seventies. She's driving cabs and looking after her kids and their kids. Her life (and our conversation) was consumed with the problems besetting her family and the whole time she was dealing with this quiet, unconsecrated grief. Stormboy's Dad said that when he rang her after finding his Dad's body at the farm, her first words were: "What am I going to do now?" He said that he found her reaction strange. I don't.

This is a morbid post (sorry) but I've been thinking a lot about grief over the last few weeks. The initial work of clearing someone's house for the/ tip shop/ op shop/ contacting people you don't know to have 'that' talk/ organising a funeral/ selling their car/ listening to every other friends' feelings about the whole thing ... these small acts of love can gobble up any emotional reactions you may have, while you just fucking get on with it. And then suddenly, when it is all over and you have done everything that is expected of you, the grief hits. And that kind of shit is just not fair.

So when my ex-step-mother-in-law was speaking about her family's censuring of her grief process, I was thinking about fair play, about justice and judgement, and I errupted, "Just do what feels right. It's no one else's fucking business how long it takes or how you do this thing at all. Fuck them! They can all fuck off, the fuckers."

There is hope for all us griefy people. My ex-step-mother-in-law hates my sweariness at the best of times because she's old school but today, sitting in her taxi, she just nodded and smiled at me.

And then there are the poems like this one:

Those who will not slip beneath
The still surface on the well of grief

Turning downward through its black water
To the place we cannot breathe

Will never know the source from which we drink,
The secret water, cold and clear,

Nor find in the darkness glimmering
The small round coins
Thrown by those who wished for something else.

David Whyte, 'The Well of Grief'

Saturday, January 17, 2015


From First Dog on the Moon

Pickled sardines

Just putting it out there ... does anyone have a tried and true recipe for pickled sardine fillets?

We call them 'mulies' where I come from. These particular fish are my formative experience as a worker, when I dropped out of school and the folks packed me off to the fish factory. I think they reasoned that hosing rotten mulies out from under brine tanks would make me question my footloose tendancies and send me hightailing it back to the comfort of the English Lit, Social Studies, Algebra and Art.

Not so. I fell in with the lot whose Tshirt sleeves were squared with packets of winnie blue, who smoked joints in the car park at lunch time and brawled over errant husbands and wives. I loved it. (Well, Mum and Dad did say uni was too expensive.) I loved seeing the salmon fishers come in with their trucks full of fish seined straight off the beach. I loved working at that cold factory on the channel where the southerly blew straight from Antarctica to my spot at the the conveyor belt. We waited in our woollies for the mulie fishers to come in with their bounty. At 11pm the women working in the vegetable section brought us ice cream containers of  hot par-fried potato chips. Salted. I think those partially raw potato chips were the best meals I've ever eaten in my life.

In 2008, a few weeks before my mate Bob died, he said to me, "I've been cooking up mulies for Bobcat. I buy them in the bait section, rinse them, wipe off the scales with my fingers and cook them real quick, add a bit of gelatine and give her this kind of beautiful sardine brawn." I only realised later that he was giving me instructions on how to nourish the black cat he was bequeathing me. "She really loves it," he said gently.

Ebby has thrived and grown glossy and fat from my work as a fisherwoman but lately we've had to buy fish. Today I saw a bag of mulies in the supermarket pet food freezer that looked remarkably, really, fucking yummy. I've spent enough time in fish factories and on commercial boats to know which fish have been handled badly - the bruised, the inedible and nothing but bait fish - and which ones will be good fodder for us bipeds.

This bag of bait looked particularly tasty so I bought them, took them home, filleted them and salted them down. I'm wondering now if you pickle sardines the same way as I pickle herring every year. Any ideas or old family secrets you are willing to impart?

(And the cat? She's pretty happy.)

Thursday, January 15, 2015


They’d been friends for fifteen years. 
When Sal sat with Kellie at a beachside cafe and told her of her affair with Crow, Kellie burst into tears. She'd been giving up cigarettes. It was ten days since her last one, so she was crying a lot anyway.
The waitress placed their lunch in front of them. She wore tiny black lacy shorts.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to see me as one of those women. You’re married, you know ... you may be one of those women who despise ... my kind.”
“You deserve so much better than this Sal,” Kellie said, mopping her tears and then some salad dressing with the same napkin. “Why did you ... how long?”
“A few months ... okay six months.”
“Oh!” Kellie sounded both titillated and dismayed. “And this is a casual thing?”
"No." Sal told her that she’d originally hoped he’d set her up with one of his friends.
“Well, he’s not going to do that now is he?”
“No, no. That would be a bit creepy.”
“God Sal. What the fuck are you doing. Of all people ... You. Crow!”
“Shh!” said Sal, glancing around the close tables in the cafe. “Don’t say his name too loud.”
“You will get crucified, Sal.” Kellie laid her dark Scorpio eyes on Sal. “No one ever punishes the man. It’s you. You’ll get tarred and feathered. He’s high profile, loving family, three beautiful daughters, perfect life, small town, blah blah blah. Jesus, Sal.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Half an hour later, she was riding pillion on his motorbike, whipping past branches and slewing into sand holes. They reached high, hard ground in the track and she grabbed at his oilskin jacket and hung on, the wind stinging her face. The dogs ran like ghostly, lean hunters beside them.

As the bike stood clicking with heat, he lifted the bonnet of her car. Sal went to the tray to check the state of the fish. They were still covered in a thin sheet of ice. She unscrewed the icebox bung and let out the excess water, stepping back as it sluiced through the tail gate and splashed into the black puddle.
“Okay, start her up,” he shouted.

The car roared into life when she turned the key. She leaned out the window as he slammed down the bonnet. “What did you do?”
“Put your battery lead back on. Musta shaken loose.”
She worked the gear into first and eased the car out of the water. Once on higher ground, she put it into neutral and stepped out, the car rumbling and dripping water on the track. He waved to her as he kicked over his bike. The dogs leapt to their feet and galloped after their owner, his hair flying, along the track.

Monday, January 12, 2015

5 am

This morning I woke up to Selkie barking on the front veranda. She's about eight months old and her usual modus operandi at dawn is to rip underwear with a ping of pegs from my clothesline and leave it on the doormat. She's not that into barking yet but she's a huntaway and huntaways are supposed to be barkers ("Their bark is deep and repeating, usually with a short pause between barks, which allows the barking to be sustained for very long periods.") and so I lay in bed this morning thinking 'Oh, joy. The age of barking has begun.'

I shouted commands like 'Shut it!' and 'Shut up dog!', and then some expletives that naturally follow on from those commands at 5 am. She kept on barking. Something is wrong, Sarah! Something is wrong! At 5.05 I grumbled out of my bed and opened the door. Selkie fell inside, wriggled at my feet, then followed me back outside.

Two huge, grizzled rottweilers stopped their snooping and stared at me. The male had a docked tail. The female had the tits of a bitch who had recently pupped. Both of them wore heavy silver chains around their neck. People jokingly call the diamante-studded collars on their dogs as bling, but these two looked like serious incarnations of Mr T. They even clanked as they came over to me, ears pricked.

Selkie slunk behind my legs. She was terrified. The rottweilers were friendly. ('Oh, here is a human. Maybe she will pat me/feed me.') I told them to sit down and the male did. I checked his collar for a tag and a phone number. Nothing. I could see the bitch had a council tag but as I called her over, everything changed.

They looked at each other and I could see a message move between them.
"Rotties freak me out," my sister said later. "They're clever and they know how to intimidate. They manipulate that knowledge."

Let's get her. That was their look.

I was standing on the veranda in my petticoat and no shoes; nothing covering my legs and arms. It was stupidly early in the morning. Crows were still calling up the sun. I suddenly felt really scared as both dogs focused on the pup. She was grovelling around my shins and I knew that if they attacked her, I didn't even have a decent pair of boots to kick on with.

As the dogs went for the pup between my legs, I opened the front door and she fled inside. I bounced the door against her hind quarters, banged it shut. I turned around and shouted at the rottweiler husband and wife.

"Get out! Go on, go home. Fuck off!"

Saturday, January 10, 2015

how r u?

I keep getting asked how I'm going.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm okay," is my answer.

(A low level sense of self-loathing. A quiet and unspectacular kind of grief. A hope that 2015 will usher in a time when we all strive to be better.
A hug with the dog as dusk falls.)