Month: July 2015


When I was a child, I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandmother. My parents both worked full-time, and Grandma was a widow who lived in the next street over, so most of my primary school holidays were spent at Grandma’s house. I could write reams about Grandma, and one day I probably will. She was born in 1903, married at 16 and had five children. She went through wars and the depression and was a working class woman who lived in the same house her whole entire life. She outlived four of her children, losing one to cot death, one to drowning, one to a car accident, and one to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She also outlived her husband, who died of a heart attack on Boxing Day. That she kept going, lived her life, found joy in the small things into old age is a testament to the determination of the human spirit. She was no saint of course, having purposely miss-spelled my mother’s name on birthday and Christmas cards for 28 years. There really aren’t many ways you can spell Shirley.

I have so many memories of the years I spent hanging out with Grandma. One of them is washing day, which was always a Monday, when she would run her step-ins, stockings, petticoats and brassieres through the mangle. I cannot begin to describe the level of fascination I had for that mangle, which looked something like this, and would SQUASH YOUR HANDS FLAT LIKE A PANCAKE IF YOU GET ANYWHERE NEAR IT, DON’T TOUCH IT JULIE!! I remember standing, transfixed as Grandma fed her mysterious underthings through the rollers, desperately tempted to stick my hand in and see if it really would come out the other side cartoon-character flat.


Most days for lunch, Grandma would make me a grilled cheese sandwich in the Sunbeam electric fry pan. She’d fry a knob of butter in the pan until it was golden brown, then add the sandwich and fry it gently on each side, using a spatula to flatten it out and make sure the cheese melted. Other days, as a special treat we’d have corn meat fritters – also cooked in the Sunbeam – fried golden patties of battered deliciousness, served with a ridiculous amount of tomato sauce. Grandma never questioned how much tomato sauce I plopped out onto my plate.

Once each week, we would go into town, which involved walking to the corner and catching the bus, which was driven by Mr Teakle. We’d go into the locally-owned department store, where Grandma would go to the food hall to buy beef tongue for her sandwiches and ox tail to make soup, and maybe some kidneys for a pie. She’d buy an unsliced, high-top loaf of white bread, and put her paper-wrapped parcels into her string bag, and then we’d head off to the in-store restaurant for a toasted sandwich each and a milkshake for me and a pot of tea for Grandma, before catching the bus home again.

On Fridays, we’d again take the bus into town, for Friday was bingo day, the greatest day of the school holiday week. Bingo was held at a couple of different venues, and which one we went to depended on who had the biggest jackpot on offer. It mattered not to me where we went, all that mattered was my own card to play in each round, my specially chosen felt pen from Grandma’s pack, and Fantales that Grandma would pull, with a big smile, from her special bingo bag. I still vividly, as if it was yesterday, remember winning the $50 jackpot one day – yelling out bingo in an hysterically high voice, having my card checked, and then receiving two twenties and a ten. I would say they were crisp, but those were the days of paper money, so they were actually well-worn and limp. Grandma allowed me to put the money into my little snap-top purse with the beaded orange flower on the side, which was quite the leap of faith considering that in the late 1970s, $50 was a small fortune, but the $50 made it all the way home, where I breathlessly recounted the glorious win to my family. I honestly don’t remember what happened to the $50 – given how much money it was and how little my parents had, I suspect I was given a bit to spend and the rest went into the family budget. But the excitement wasn’t about the money, it was about being at bingo with Grandma and getting a full house and yelling bingo and winning! I won!

My beloved Grandma died in 1987, the day before my 18th birthday. She was 84 (but told everyone she was 82) and dropped dead from heart failure in her bedroom, after returning home from a morning spent at bingo. She must’ve had a win that day, because there was a little wad of cash in her purse, more than she would usually carry. She would have been delighted to die the way she did – quickly, at home, in her good going out frock, a winner.

As a tribute to Grandma, I took my boy to play bingo at the local hall last night. We went with our friend Duane, who has very similar bingo memories to me, and we were adopted by the lovely older couple next to us, who helped us work out which game we were meant to be on, and kept us supplied with Minties. They were desperate for Hugh to have a win, and everyone – especially Hugh – was sad when he didn’t, but it was dead-set one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time. There is something almost meditative about methodically marking numbers on a card with no time to look up or chat because the next number is already being called. The process of gradually watching your numbers get called builds a beautiful, simple excitement, the tension of which is only broken by the sigh of the crowd when some lucky bugger yells bingo.

Grandma, thanks for bingo. I’ve been told I look a lot like you, so I probably should also thank you for bitchy bingo face. The genes run strong, because apparently they’ve been passed on to Hugh as well. He didn’t really like not winning, but I told him that if we keep going, one day we will. You taught me that, in so many ways.

bitchy bingo face


Moolabia is how you spell Mooloolaba if you are typing too fast when you’re messaging your husband whilst talking on the phone. I shall of course never been allowed to forget my error which brings about unfortunate mental images of a cow’s nether regions, so for now and always, the glorious holiday destination on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast will be known to my family as Moolabia.

Moolabia was in all its glory last week. Stop thinking of cow’s bits. The sun shone the entire time, and the daytime temperature sat at around 23 degrees. We swam in the indoor pool, and the boys even had a crack stop thinking about cow’s bits in the outdoor pool.  We didn’t swim in the ocean, but spent hours playing in the rock pools and digging in the sand, the winter sun warm on our backs, and our pasty white skin lighting the way for passing ships.

dave and hugh at mooloolaba

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was somewhat anxious about going to Moolabia, because the previous time we’d been there, I was in the middle of chemo and all my hair fell out and I wasn’t allowed to swim or go in the sun or have a cocktail or a massage or pretty much do anything any normal person would do on a beach holiday, because cancer had fucked me over well and truly eeuuww stop thinking about cow’s bits. But pretty much as soon as we got there I felt the weight shift, as I let that particular piece of baggage float out to sea.

julie at mooloolaba 2

We ate some glorious food, went to Aussie World (highly recommended), and spent inordinate amounts of time playing air hockey and pinball. We reset ourselves before the start of a new term of school for Hugh and the start of a brand new career for Dave. And I remembered that cancer doesn’t own me, or Moolabia. The only thing cancer owns is my right breast, which was unceremoniously dumped in the hospital waste two years and nine months ago. Everything else is mine.

As well as having beautiful beaches, Moolabia has some fabulous shops, and given that it was mid-year sale time, I was in my element. I got some bargains, including a gorgeous grey top with a digital print of an orchid on the front. It was only when I tried it on to show Dave later that night, that it became apparent that I’d unwittingly purchased myself a wearable Moolabia souvenir.


Digital print of an orchid, or a vagina? You decide.

It really doesn’t bear thinking about what sort of subliminal souvenir I’d purchase if we ever holiday in Cockburn.


I am tired of cancer. Tired of, for now, being a survivor, tired of wondering if I am actually going to be a survivor in the longer term, tired of talking about it, tired of being conscious of not always talking about it, tired of being so physically tired that I spend much of my free time during the day fantasising about how early I’ll get to bed that night. Tired of living my life in six month bursts, in between the check-ups. Tired of wondering if the pain in my knee at night in bed is cancer in my bones. Tired of being resilient, being remarkable, being that funny girl who gave the speech at the high tea, she’s so brave. Tired of living with the stinking remnants of my fear and terror, tired of being worried about going on holidays to Mooloolaba because that’s where I was when my hair fell out during chemo and Dave had to shave my head with his razor while I sat on our apartment balcony, watching bits of me drop to the ground and willing myself not to cry. Tired of two and a half years later, still crying when I type that story out – how did any of this stuff actually happen?

The irony is that the last couple of weeks have been intensely good, and happy, and wonderful for us as a family. After five years of study – a four-year degree extended by my cancer (the ultimate studious interruptus) – my amazing husband completed his degree and will soon graduate. Before he’d even finished, he already had a job offer, and will start work in his new profession in the coming weeks. When he started this degree, I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like when he finished because four years is such a long time, and three years later when I was diagnosed, I thought I wouldn’t live to see him finish. On his last day of uni we went out to dinner to celebrate, and he admitted that when I got sick he thought he wouldn’t finish, because either I would die, or I would live, but life would change so much that the dream would remain unrealised. But we picked ourselves up, brushed ourselves off, shoved our fake titty into our bra (well, that was just me) and here we are. Living the actual dream.

Except for the tired. I feel like I’ll never escape cancer’s clutches. That even if I live on, past that magic five-year mark, I’ll still be hauling bastard cancer along with me, the ugliest, tattiest, most travel-worn baggage you can imagine. Zippers broken and stuff spilling out, wheels fallen off so it has to be alternately dragged and pushed, handles repaired with gaffer tape, the sticky bits of which have picked up disgusting bits of dirt and detritus along the way. No need for name tags on my baggage, or a natty pink ribbon tied to it so I can recognise it on the carousel. No-one in their right mind would ever mistake it for theirs, and no matter how fucking hard I try, I cannot seem to lose it.

There’s no poor me in this story, for it is what it is. With the good comes the bad. With the joy comes the sorrow. With the living comes the tiredness. The ebb and flow of life rocks my boat; sometimes gently, so I can trail my fingers through the water and feel the sun on my face, and sometimes in crashing waves that see me bailing water like a crazy woman and pining with every fibre of my being for dry land.

Tomorrow there will be both water and dry land, as we make the trip to Mooloolaba. I won’t be leaving my hair there this time, but if you’re in the region and you see a tatty overnight bag bulging at the seams with dirty laundry floating in the surf, don’t try to drag it back in. Hopefully, by the end of our stay, it’ll be well on its way to the bottom of the ocean.