The Settle Season

Febuary. The most difficult month to spell and for me, the most awkward month to get my head around.

February sees kids trundling around with heavy school bags, which will diminish in weight as their schooling experience grows, as the memories of life’s little lessons kick back into gear along with their academic pathways. Those same pathways which have been on hold for week after sunny, hot week.
Bleached hair, tanned skin, tough soles on shoe-less feet, our kids charge through the school gate with all the youth and vigour on display you wish you could still muster.

They have summer stories. Tales to tell and yarns to spin. Embellishments, mis-recollections, already tinted with rose, memories consigned to the backdrop as new phases sweep in.
There have been beaches and baches (cribs for you southerners), trips to see grandparents and relatives arriving on the doorstep. Caravans or tents and barbecues and hot sand and rock pools and sizzling sausages wrapped in bread, adorned with nothing more than a squirt of Watties finest.
Laughter and late nights and sun drenched days.

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Sunburn. Splinters and thorns and prickles. Chaffing. Sand in places from which it may never escape.
Arguments over the best way to fold tents (roll, always roll). Bruises, scrapes, bumps and bangs. Long hot days in a car, sleepless nights tossing and turning in the sweltering sauna of a tent. That wave pushing the kayak onto the sand, trapping your ankle, the swelling nearly the defining moment of the vacation. (Dad has always said get out the seaward side!)
The visits from people you hardly ever see, the trips to see people you hardly know. Mum and Dad seem to know these people, seem to like them, sitting up long into the night, getting progressively louder as their bottles and cans carry decreasing volumes. Worst still when parents make friends with the family camped next door, the ones organised enough to get to the campground early, pitching on the flattest spot with the best view and the greater shade!

Now there is no more salt or chlorine coating the skin, it is time to think about school uniforms. That first advert you hear on the car radio, extolling the virtues of stocking up a terms worth of stationary while one special or another is on, comes as a shock.
Routine is on the doorstep, demanding attention and with it comes our return to normality.
It’s time to get back to what we know and do best. While the kids are back at school, hanging with their mates, telling and re-telling their summer stories, for Mum and Dad it all becomes a bit different.

“Isn’t this summer fantastic?!” suddenly becomes “Oh my God, this heat!”
The fact not a drop of rain fell while you tossed and turned your way through sticky nights in a tent has gone from being a blessing to a torment, Still not a drop of rain, none on the radar and everything is starting to feel frazzled.
Maybe it all adds up to going back to work being a bit of blessing. The same old same old giving you the comfort of what you know, the joy of having a bubble shielding you from that which is out if your control.
Slowly, that feeling as been creeping back in, since you abandoned your routinised comfort zone sometime around the end of December 2019. It all comes roaring back, now that the kids lunchboxes are no longer containers for bbq leftovers, now that the car trundles to and from school and not the beach, no longer smelling of damp towels and wet dogs.

I find the hardest month of the year to spell one of the hardest months of the year to get through.
There is the lingering hangover of summer fun and sun, of friendships rekindled and new ones formed. A time of screeches filled with delight, screams of fun. Long nights with the windows open, mosquitoes be damned.
Those nights still exist but during the day jandals have been exchanged for steel-capped boots or heels or those comfy, sensible favourites your feet don’t seem to complain about and fashion can take a back seat.
There is still a great deal to come. There will more trips to the beach, more ice-cream to dribble down hands and wrists, all the way to the elbow if you aren’t vigilant enough. But if you haven’t made the lifelong memories from summer 19/20 by now, you are seriously running out time.

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At this time of year I am always left with the feeling something has escaped me, like there was a vital moment, a certain event, I missed. Whether it escaped my attention, didn’t happen because I failed to make it happen, or just slipped by, I never can tell.
It is not something I can look out for, because it is not a thing I know how to identify. A feeling, a sense. Almost, of loss.
The hope is my loss is just as the saying goes. Someone else’s gain. In this case, Numbers One and Two, the E-Bomb and WeeMan.
As an added bonus there were cousins included, as equally involved in the backyard bbq’s, the camping trip to the beach. While the sun scorched our south Pacific islands, the kids hung with extended family, stayed up late to greet the crickets, nodded along to the polite greetings of people they considered little more than strangers and tolerated trips their parents seemed to be taking them on for no reason more than the sake of it.

Too late to wish someone a happy new year. Too late for resolutions, most likely already beginning to fade and die even if they had been given the gift of breath.
Now, the year 2020 truly begins.

Taking the Piss

I sit down to pee.

I don’t throw like a girl. I never had a great arm, but nor was it a bad one. Besides, I preferred to field in closer to the action. Cricket is a great way to ruin an entire Saturday anyway.

If I have a feminine side, and I don’t believe I do, then I am not ‘in touch’ with it. Even typing it sounds a bit rude. I am not a woman trapped in a mans body, I am not experimental with my sexuality/gender. However, more often than not these days, when the need arises, I sit down to take a piss.

Part of the problem lies in the fact there is no latch on the toilet door. Anyone, even little toddler sized little ones, can push the door open.

I am not precious. Mike Bracey is not the type to suffer from ‘stage fright’. While I agree there are some things best done alone, I am still capable of doing them in the presence of others, if need be. What bloke hasn’t been to a urinal? But a toilet bowl in an en-suite bathroom is no urinal. Theoretically, I should have the place to myself. I don’t.

I’m all for a little up and coming man being taught the ropes of manhood by his male seniors. Isn’t that part of being a parent, the point of being a Dad? Raising the next generation, training and guiding and encouraging and mentoring and all that.

Yes, I hear you all chorus, so is the way of the world. Man and boy. But the way to teach a man to urinate is not to shower him in my own steamy stream.

“For goodness sake boy, get your head out of there.”

My Wee-Man (suddenly that moniker has taken on a whole new meaning) has a fascination for all things wet. He loves water, in all its forms. Cool. I am a bit of a water baby myself. My love of the water, however, does not extend to the toilet bowl.

Wee-Man will lift the lid, stare intently, drop this and that in, lean too far and threaten to take a dip. And if he hears the tinkling sound of piss, he is all for the yellow waterfall.

So I have taken to barricading myself in. I sneak away, careful to make my departure is as unnoticeable as possible, suitable distractions in place. I close the bedroom door, then the bathroom door, then due to the lack of a latch, place the heaviest available item up against it. That item isn’t the scales in case you are wondering. They don’t get heavy until I put my feet on them.

Seems excessive just to avoid pissing on my sons head, but at least it avoids the inevitable clean-up and any awkward questions from the Mrs. His time will come. Right now, he is vertically challenged and is yet to fully master the concept of balance.

At least he is yet to wriggle his way onto my lap why I am reading the sports news.

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Runnin’ Down A Dream

When those that made you are dead and gone.

Sound off the names: Leonard Cohen, Glenn Fry, Prince, Lou Reed, David Bowie…David Bowie for goodness sake!..and now Tom Petty.

There are other names I have missed and I have touched on this subject before. It is just, with the passing of Tom Petty of  Heartbreakers fame, I am once again struck by a few things. The fallibility of your idols, the way I am clearly getting old, how people can have such an effect on you without you necessarily being aware of it and how powerful that effect could and can be.

For me, it is musicians in particular. A song, a tune, a melody, even a lyric, can transport you back to a time and place, just like that. The work of a musician can reach you, touch you, get inside you and take a hold. When that happens you are marked. That musician, that artist, has left his or her imprint. And you aren’t even aware it has happened.

Think about it. What song was on when you had your first kiss? The proper one, not the peck you got playing catch and kiss in the playground.

When you were handed the keys to the car, for your first solo drive, what tape did you slide in, to blast out, speakers up and windows down? High School dances and that first big hall party or the bonfire, what tinny sound system or thumping P.A channeled the tunes of that day? Beat boxes on the shoulder to that first MTV music video, the first vinyl 45, EP to LP to CD.

The tracks that get you hopping and bopping and jumping and throwing your hands in the air and waving lighters (sorry, cell phones) and the songs that you scream for if you are lucky enough to see that artist perform them live.

The songs that bring a tear to your eye, or an outright sob. I mean, who hasn’t thought of the track that will lead your coffin out of the service? (Simply Red’s If You Don’t Know Me By Now for me thanks).

Of course it isn’t about music for everyone. Maybe it is something political, a world leader, who inspired/inspires you. A JFK or a Che Guevara or Martin Luther King. Think of all the philosophers who have blessed us with their thoughts, the great thinkers of our time and times gone. The poets and the painters and the sculptors and the writers. Perhaps it is nature which inspires; a landscape, the eruption of a volcano, a glance to the stars and planets and galaxies above. Maybe your cultural heritage and history, maybe crafts, or architecture or something botanical.

Many get hooked on sporting idols. I won’t get into the debate around if a man or woman can kick, pass and catch makes them a  role model or otherwise, because either way, kids inspire to be like them. David Beckham, Mohamed Ali, Jonah Lomu, Jesse Owens, the Williams sisters, Lydia Ko. You could do worse than pinning some hopes and dreams on emulating a crew like that.

When these idols and legends pass, the rock stars and the superstars and the greats and the awe inspiring, don’t despair. Reflect, cry, bemoan the unfairness of the world it you have to, but be comforted in the knowledge the works of these idols, the people who inspired you, lives on as long as you allow it to.

The potential to inspire is endless and it is personal. I guess the point is to be inspired. Find those around you doing it, whatever it is, their way. Then find your way to do it a bit like them, if that is what works for you.

And while your at it, crank out the tunes.