Monday, November 3, 2014


Hi Readers! Here's my special love and romance column which appears in this month's That's Beijing/That's Shanghai/That's Guangzhou magazines just in time for Valentine's Day. Enjoy!

WHEN I became a father of girls two things happened. Half the population laughed and rubbed their hands together, chortling that I’d get my just desserts for how I’d treated their people as a single man.

When I didn’t understand this at all, I asked my wife for an explanation. When I didn’t understand that either, I just dropped it.

The other thing was I had to decide what approach I’d take to parenting. It seemed a simple choice between two sets of values. At the one extreme was Victorian. Way down at the other extreme came Edwardian.

In time, though, I opted for “groovy”. I realised as the girls grew up there’d be no use fighting what the heart wanted and nature demanded. I decreed the two of them could start dating as soon as they turned 30.

But this Valentine’s month I’m reeling in shock. Our eldest, Lani, is only eight but already the heart-tingling idea of love has reared its ugly head. It’s only the third grade but boyfriends and girlfriends are all the rage. In the wonderfully transparent style of that age group, the targets of “crushes” have been firmly decided, and publicly declared in formal announcements.

There’s also a game, a bit like Truth or Dare, in which girls have to nominate boys at school in one of four “categories of the heart”. It’s called Kiss, Marry, Punch, Kill. When I heard about this I felt I had to step in and say something. It baffled our girls a bit but I explained that when we grow up we usually attach ourselves to just one person, and that that person ticks all four boxes. They’ll learn.

I didn’t start with girlfriends until the ripe old age of 10. And contrary to a wealth of public evidence, I treated women very sensitively indeed in the years before I married. And then I stopped. No. You know what I mean.

It all started at a grade five school camp, where everyone acquired a girl/boyfriend as a grown-up thing to do while away from our parents, and with all the grace of piranhas on a carcass.

My best friend was a girl, Kerryn Johnstone. It seemed we were sat next to each other every year. I figured this was fate, that our hearts should beat as one, and that we should soar together like swans. Or maybe lobsters. It wasn’t until years later I fully understood. We were sat together because of alphabetical order.

Kerryn and I decided we should naturally become boyfriend and girlfriend, or "go with each other", in the language of the time. The result, of course, was the immediate cessation of all contact. We could no longer be seen within 50 meters of each other for fear of being teased. This went on for several weeks. It was a huge relief that our relationship finally got back on track when, also in the language of the time, I "dropped" her.

Leanne Miller was next. She’d asked me to go with her four times before I acquiesced, telling her softly that it was her “reward" for having "guts”. After a few weeks of more no-contact I knew this one had also run its course. I respected her, however, and felt it needed to be ended nicely. So I asked my friend Eddie Foster to do it.

Eddie rose to the task without a moment’s hesitation. In hindsight I wish he had hesitated, because at that moment we were a good 20 meters from our class line-up when he screamed: “Hey Miller! You’re DROPPED!”, and the poor girl shrank while everyone laughed, etc etc.

I had my own heart broken in turn a few weeks later by Sonia Favero. I loved her so, and had fantasies about her. Being 10, these consisted mostly of me picturing myself taking out the bins, without complaint, at the home we would share when adults. But that ended abruptly when Sonia done me wrong with an unforgivable act of betrayal. She had her hair cut short.

Nowadays, though, even the third graders are into it. But as lunch with Lani and her friends revealed, even at that age love is a battlefield.

One girl had been convinced a particular boy was her soul mate, and that they should be together "4 eva", until she made a shocking discovery. “Was he seen with another girl?” I asked. No. Far worse. He was seen wiping his nose on his sleeve.

Another boy had asked Lani’s friend out on a date. I asked what a “date” could possibly mean at that age, and was told that - “D’uh” - it meant a trip to the movies. This seemed very grown up, but still the plan was scuppered by a problem fairly common to the eight-year-old.

“He hasn’t got any money,” the friend told me. “So he said he couldn’t buy me popcorn. I’m not buying my own!”

Another girl was similarly dismissive of Lani’s crush interest.

“He’s too short,” she huffed.

“He’s only eight!” I said. “Give him a break".

She was unmoved.

This girl was even able to inform the group what sex is, owing to the fact she possesses that most useful of things, a big brother.

“Well, the man lies on his back and the woman gets on top of him,” she said. “And then the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina, and he stays there for about an hour and then he takes it out.”

Thankfully, for my wife was there, the big brother’s credibility was soon dashed by another revelation. It’s a fair bet he’s the only person alive who knows what sex is - give or take 58 minutes - whilst still believing in Santa.

Then again, they’re learning early these days.

I googled "young love" and got this. I was shocked.
Little kids shouldn't be up to this sort of thing. But
more importantly, where did he get the money for that?

Ban this filth!

Back in my day we had a far different way of
approaching girls.

The author on his first "date".

Pop dickhead Miley Cyrus. I blame
her getting about in her undershirt
and putting her buttocks on men
for inspiring girls to want to fraternise
with the opposite sex far too early
these days. She, too, should be banned,
obviously. There are plenty of other
"cool" female rock stars. 

What's wrong with a bit of this?

Or this?

And if it's racy clothes they want ...

English singer and meerkat lookalike Phil Collins was
wrong  on many levels, but particularly when
he decreed: "You can't hurry love". Kids today are
showing that's exactly what you can do!
Collins did prove, however, that you could hurry
the end of love - by once dumping a wife by
sending her a fax, rather than spend the extra time
telling her face-to-face or getting his mate to do it.


(Hi Readers! Here's my piece published recently in That's Beijing, That's Shanghai and That's Guangzhou magazines. Yours etc, TTF.)

When I was three, and my sister Sandra five, one normal Sunday morning in our small town of Griffith, New South Wales, was interrupted by some terribly exciting events.

Without warning, a car pulled up outside our humble, fibro house and two men got out, one with a fancy camera. They spoke to our parents and soon, with the photographer snapping away, Sandra was striking the very odd pose of standing at an easel painting a painting, in our front yard.
The next Sunday she was in the big city newspaper, Sydney’s Sun Herald. It wasn’t just the most exciting thing to happen to our family - it was the most exciting thing to happen to our town.
The reason was she had won a statewide art prize. A painting of hers had won a local competition, had then been entered at a higher level and was later declared “Best-in-State”.

The statewide judge positively had his beret knocked off in excitement about Sandra’s piece, which may or may not have been called Woman With Triangular Body and Dress. The judge said it showed “a rare level perception, a breathtaking honesty, and an age-defying sense of neo-cubist bravado”. I’m embellishing a little, but he definitely said it was “honest”. Hell, he might have said the painting was truth itself. Good to see my sister hadn’t yet learnt to lie through her paintings aged five.
My two older brothers and I also joined the critiquing, promptly declaring the work “a load of rubbish”. We were brothers. It’s what we do.
Still, we didn’t care. We were just agog that Sandra had clearly become our family’s ticket out of the working classes. There would be no starving in garrets for us. For the rest of her childhood, with our zealous backing, she was encouraged to pursue her rare gift for painting. And then, once she finished school - like so many others whose junior artworks are so heavily lauded - she dropped it like a hot potato.
It’s a funny thing, art. There can be few other pursuits we so eagerly encourage in our kids which are so widely abandoned by adulthood. There’s calculus, of course, and the recorder, but who misses those when they’ve been given up/snapped over your knee?
Kids simply must paint paintings, make sculptures, glue collages, and stick raw pasta onto paper. It’s as if, like dressing yourself or getting food into your mouth, these are skills you can’t get through life without. But how many of us find ourselves as adults saying “Oh I must pick up a new paintbrush”, or “Hey mate – fancy coming round for some beers and papier-mâché”?
It will, however, be slightly sad if our kids join the 99 per cent who stop doing art when they stop being kids. While it’s easy to get carried away with our critiquing, it’s a fun thing to do, even if it comes under my mother’s headline of “Things to occupy your kids until bedtime”.
Of course there is one defining characteristic of children’s art. No, it’s not honesty. It’s mess. The art gets everywhere. Because of this, there is one vital component every spoiled expat parent needs - an ayi, or housemaid.
Other than that we once bought a large shower curtain. It gets spread on the kitchen floor, then the kids put brush to paper on top of that.
Now I’m no art expert, but our kitchen has spawned one unquestionable masterpiece. The shower curtain is now an artistic tour de force to rival anything of Jackson Pollock’s (whose name fittingly lives on in the world of Cockney rhyming slang to describe anything which is “bollocks”). Nomatter how hard he tried, the spills and splodges of a couple of kids put Pollock’s work in the shade. He just couldn’t match their honesty.
The kids’ paintings themselves are a mixed bag, like most children’s. Some have made it onto the wall. Many have made it into the bin – a sad martyrdom for their efforts in filling a rainy afternoon. Many started off well but were abandoned halfway through when something else took the artist’s fancy, like an iPad.
Of course some kids have a natural gift for it. They’ll go on to be famous artists. Others, sadly, will have no talent whatsoever. They may also go on to be famous artists.
I love the absurdity of children’s art. I love huge heads on little bodies, fingerless hands on elbow-less arms - all on 2D people rendered in the pre-Renaissance or “Flat Stanley” style. Some more serious art critics could really go to town with it. And it’s all done without a hint of hallucinogens, save perhaps for red cordial.
There are of course some downsides. Some art makes it onto the wall without the involvement of a piece of paper. And occasionally a child can get worked up and miserable if their painting doesn’t turn out the way they’d hoped.
For this eventuality I have two action plans. First I’ll quote them no less an artist than Salvador Dali: “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.”
If this fails I’ll show them a Jackson Pollock and tell them it sold for millions.

Self Portrait, by our daughter Lani. I may have to
check what's in her red cordial.

Another piece of work by daughter Evie,
said to be so good by her teacher it was
worthy of framing. Fortunately, framing
is cheap in China. Unfortunately, the
painting is of a horse.

A load of Jackson Pollocks, yesterday.

Something my daughters did which was just as good
and for half the price. It's been hailed by critics as
"a shower curtain de force".

Something else my kids did. If you look closely you'll
notice it's a beautiful rendered work celebrating the
history of art. But don't look too closely or you'll
also notice it's a jigsaw puzzle.