Monday, January 29, 2007

The West Australian, Saturday, Weekend: ironing


I’m not alone. There are other men like me. Men who love ironing.

We meet, surreptitiously, suspiciously and sometimes out in the open. We talk in quiet, subdued tones, not because we are embarrassed, or afraid of a community backlash, no, because that’s one of the side effects of a man ironing, a kind of peace.

I can’t remember the first time I ironed, it certainly wasn’t at home. My country town home was a place of men, real men, men with guns and axes, men who wore footy shorts to barbecues.

The only person at home who wasn’t a man, was mum, and it was obvious. She shone out like Sharon Stone umpiring a state of origin rugby league game and, boy, could she iron.

Mum seemed born to iron. She ironed everything: sheets, pillow case, underpants, handkerchiefs, table napkins, placemats, socks, towels, wash clothes, hair, carpet, curtains, lawn, skin.

All right, maybe the list is longer than I remember it, but she certainly ironed hair. Dad’s hair. Dad had the curliest hair this side of the Blackwood River and it was a never ending source of embarrassment for Mum.

Mum was a neat person and she believed that when one went out into the world, one should be neat, tidy, well ironed and curly hair was an abomination organised by Our Maker to try us, test us and to see if we could fix it because Mum believed that the Maker himself had the same problem.

Poor old dad would come home for lunch, eat it, then long for a long, flat, lie down before he hit the shop-floor for the afternoon of retail madness. And he could, as long as his hair was straight. If it wasn’t, he was looking at 30 minutes with his head on the ironing board.

As a consequence, all my brothers grew to hate ironing and not one of them has curly hair. Neither do I, in fact, I long for curly hair. No one has done more for curly hair than yours truly.

Someone told me that if you ate bread crusts your hair would curl. I saved bread crusts, roamed the city seeking restaurant tables laden with uneaten bread crusts, stole them, stored them and ate them until my teeth ached.

Not a single hair on my head has ever curled. Some days they look curled, but that is because I love sticking my head out the car window while driving at a reasonable speed from Kalamunda to Scarborough for an early morning swim.

You’ve probably herd of the Extreme Ironers, those mad people who iron naked while skydiving, who take their irons on roof tops, up rock faces, on marathons, deep sea diving and into lifts in busy city buildings.

These people give ironing a bad name and their behaviour defeats the sole purpose of running hot smooth-metal over vulnerable, passive, clothe. The main purpose of the task is to seek the attainment of a kind of peace, a oneness with the flatness, a Zen of ironing.

The other purpose is, of course, a practical exercise related to the look of the garment and it is only through practise that one can begin to explore the mythic beauty of the ebb and flow, the back and forth, the neat corner entry and the often difficult shoulder thrust.

I’m a two handed ironer myself, none of that one hand moving this way and then having to turn back the other, shift the board, or stand the other side, no, not for me, when I’m ironing I use two hands in a seamless flow: first the left along the left sleeve from behind, then the left along the right from front on, then a change of hands and a change of sleeves.

As a boy I loved the harp and the highlight of a Marx Brothers’ movie was not Groucho tossing insults at the toffs, but Harpo playing his sharp.

I’ll never play the harp but when I’m ironing, I’m thinking harp, I’m playing harp, I’m harping.

There’s another meeting tonight, of Men Who Iron. I’m excited. There are only two items on the agenda.

1. Will Kevin Rudd come out and admit to the Australian people that he is one of us?

2. If he doesn’t, should we out him?

The West Australian, Saturday, Weekend: trees & heat


It’s getting hot. You can feel it. And, as usual, I’ve left the heavy gardening until the last minute.

When I say the last minute, I mean that minute before the local ranger drops by and says: “You got a house under there, or you living up that tree?”

I love trees, always have, right from the very beginning when my father brought me down for the first time.

One thing I hate doing, is bringing them down, but sometimes a man has to do what another man didn’t, or won’t.

I live in the hills around Kalamunda and a man before me planted a lot of wild and outrageous tress that belong on other continents.

Then I turned up and planted a lot of trees that belong on this continent but on the other side and, I don’t know about you, but I am a patriotic Western Half of Australia and anything from the other side is fine with me as long as it stays there, or is visiting.

Trees don’t visit. If they drop by they tend to stay forever and before you know it, they have take over your garden, your suburb, your city, your psyche.

That’s why I blame most of our current problems on the wattle, not our wattle, the Golden Wattle, the one eastern folk refer to as our national emblem.

It’s isn’t, because to be truly national it must belong to all states, all environments. It doesn’t and is symbolic of a typical eastern-centric view of the world.

We have our very own wattles and if I could remember their names I would record them here and now.

I have three of them in my garden. They are tall, handsome and proud, as you would expect from a native Westerner and when they blossom they do so with decorum and aplomb.

Not a plum, aplomb.

A plum is a small fruit which, when dried, is known as a prune. When you get to my age you’ll know all about prunes and their therapeutic value.

The bloke before me planted a prune tree at the back of the house. I say prune because I never saw a plumb. By the time I got to the tree, right after the 28 parrots, all that was left was a dried bit of plum, so I took it out.

Not to the movies or anything like that, far from it, I took it out to the road where another bloke came along with a machine that mulches garden debris and then you throw it all back where it came from.

He calls himself The Mulcher Man and when working he sings “Mulcher Mulcher Mulcher man” to the tune made famous by the Village People, or ABBA, I forget which, but certainly a group of people wearing clothes not normally seen in my street.

Now this brings me to the point, or something that might resemble a point if a point is what you are looking for.

Cutting down trees is a thing that men and women have done ever since they learnt to cook meat and sleep out in the open on a cold night without a blanket.

The trouble is there has been too much of it ever since the Romans built forts and the Dutch made clogs and if we don’t watch ourselves soon there will be no wood to touch.

Touching wood is something we need to do when we are hoping the thing we just mentioned won’t ever happen and the thing that will ensure it will never happen is the touching of wood.

Ok, you still waiting for the point?

The point is, these days, the taking out of the tree is made too easy.

For a start, there is the chain saw.

Then there is the D9 bulldozer.

Not lot of people in my street us a D9, but they do resort to the motorised spinning chain and once fired up it takes about a minute to bring down a standard wattle and, even if it is a weed I planted myself, I think it is deserving of some respect.

As a consequence, whenever I take a tree out or down I use an axe.

An axe makes you work hard, sweat hard and use the rhythm method.

There are only a couple of things that excite more than finding the rhythm of the swinging axe. I’d like to mention them but given this is Saturday morning and the kids are looking over your shoulder, it is probably not the time or place and, besides, I’m getting hot.

The West Australian, Saturday, Weekend: Christmass

Now that there’s a good distance between me and Christmas I am able to reflect on its past glories. The thing is, it is nothing like it used to be.

In the old days, Christmas for my family was always a fight: a bun fight, sometimes a pudding fight and often a watermelon fight.

In the later years, it has become more a fight for the most comfortable chair in front of the big screen playing the DVD that Uncle Paul brought in from his electrical shop.

The Christmas I miss most of all was the water-fight. It lasted a long time, probably five fun and dangerous years.

Here’s what would happen.

Everyone arrived at my brother’s Bridgetown farm, greeted their cousins, siblings, visiting friends, parents and in-laws, then sat peacefully while the four Doust brothers and their father barbecued a seafood lunch.

This was not the time for fighting, this required a team approach. We didn’t argue, we cooked, each one taking his turn at the hot plate and working up his own, personal recipe.

My favourite was a lavish mix of garlic, chilli, ginger, prawn and home-made tomato sauce.

The wives and mothers, meanwhile, sat back under the old willow tree beside Hester Brook and basked in the glory of their men working together.

You never knew when it would happen, there was no plan, but at some point, without warning, someone would bring out their brand new super-soaker and blast the nearest, but not dearest.

This, inevitably, led to a complete soaking of the immediate area until everyone present was dripping wet and wishing they had stuck to their original plan: Christmas lunch with another family totally unrelated to the Dousts.

None of us can forget Christmas 2000, it was huge, water burst from a vast range of receptacles and was finally topped by the farmer-brother arriving with his fire truck.

He didn’t hold back with the nozzle, aiming indiscriminately, knocking parents from chairs, grandparents from wheelchairs and hurtling one unsuspecting visitor into the Brook, from which he emerged with three marron attached to his thigh.

e He He wasHHHHHe was promptly arrested for out-of –season fishing and, as far as we know, is still serving time in the Pemberton Trout Hatchery on a community service order.

This year also saw the first water-slide, a long sloping stretch of black plastic, bounded by hay bales and ending on the edge of the brook. We lost three visitors that year.

We’re still not sure but we think they picked up too much speed, plummeted into a hay bale, couldn’t find their way out and accidentally became Boxing Day fodder for the cattle on the hill.

We knew it couldn’t last and the final year resulted in serious injury to yours truly and peels of laughter from anyone not feeling the pain.

Here’s how the day started.

I woke into the traditional early morning Bridgetown cold and got stuck into the preparations, putting out chairs, erecting umbrellas, and putting down animals required for human consumption.

All of a sudden, all hell broke loose: teenagers were running amuck with water bombs, adults were toting high powered hoses, the farmer ran for his fire-truck and Stan, our father, was seen filling a balloon with helium and water at the same time.

Responding quickly, I grabbed a bucket and washed an unused youth down a drain.

This seemed to excite my son, the ungrateful lump and he decided he wanted to show his father he was fitter and could run faster and further.

He chased me for seventeen kilometres with a helium filled water bomb and just when I thought I had him beat he started closing in.

It’s probably useful to make it clear to those of you wondering about the combination of water and helium that water is heavier than the gas and the only discernable objective in combining the two seemed to be the fun of accidentally filling your lungs and screaming: “I’m in love with a pineapple.”

When my fruit loving son was within one metre I dropped to my knees.

And that’s when it happened. Instead of falling over me and tumbling head first into the nearest hay bale, as was my plan, he bent both knees and slid, right into my rib cage.

It was all over in seconds because, as any one who has ever parented a teenage man will know, when they stick the knees in, they hurt and at our age, they break, not the knees, but whatever it is they have stuck them in.

On the way home a couple of days later, I stopped off in Donnybrook to visit the local pharmacy.

Loaded up with painkillers and anti-inflammatories, I drove with a steely resolve that next year would be my year and that no-one the southern side of Donnybrook would be ready for the water from the fire-fighting helicopter I had hired.

It didn’t happen. The next Christmas we played volley-ball.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The West Australian, Saturday, Weekend, page 2

On this day, the first column written by Jon Doust appeared in the This Life section of the Weekend insert in The West.
You can read it in full here and now:

Good morning.

This is the first time I have been in this position.

Normally at this time on a Saturday morning I’m lying flat out in my own house minding my own business, but, suddenly, I’m scattered right around this vast state.

If you don’t believe me, go next door, you’ll find I’m there too. And down the street. And at your mum’s place in Mandurah.

Scary for you, sure, but how do you think it is for me: doesn’t matter where I go, there I am.

It’s not easy, writing a column.

For a start, you have to find all these words, then put them in an order so they make sense, or approach sense, or look like they might make sense if only you had finished high school.

Which I did, but only just and not successfully, because I don’t think an average final score of 24% could be considered a pass.

To be fair, I did notch up 50% for history, my favourite subject, and 45% for English, my next favourite.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, that’s an average of 47.5, so how come he averaged 24?

Well, when you add 3, 7, and 15 to the 45 and 50, then divide by 5, you get 24.

Not bad, hey?

Who would have thought that a boy who got 7% for maths A and 15% for maths B, would finish up a man who could add all those numbers together and then divide them by the total number of numbers?

My mother did. She believed in me.

Mum always said: “You could do anything you wanted, my darling.”

And I did, but I don’t think that’s what she meant.

It was hard, back then, being a baby boomer in a family dominated by a generation of people with no name.

They had individual names, of course, but no generational name, no name to mark their culture, their attitude, their reason for being.

When I was a boy if your parents’ generation had anything important to say they asked you to leave the room and this, naturally enough, left a gap in our learning.

These days Generation Gap is a hip recycled-clothing shop in Hamilton Hill.

The first lot to get a name were the silent generation, the mob that got born just before the war and spent their childhood in a place so noisy with battle that they couldn’t hear themselves speak and so never got used to the sound of their own voices.

The strange thing is that most of the rabid revolutionaries who led the baby boomers in their mad charges on parliament houses, multi-national corporations and cheese cloth retail outlets, were silent generation folk.

And most of the musicians singing songs of protest, yes, you guessed it, silent gens.

My guess is, my mob, the baby boomers, excited them with our openness, our enthusiasm and our loose fitting cheese cloth and they could see we were just kids ripe for strong leadership.

They stepped in. We followed.

Eventually most of them took sensible jobs in marketing, real estate, stock brokering and cheese cloth manufacturing and we followed, again.

It all came to a head in the 1980s, when most of us moved to Denmark, which was then just a hamlet.

These days, of course, Denmark is a thriving metropolis full of four-wheel drives, vignerons and hemp cloth manufacturers and if you drive down there this morning you’ll find me there too.

Before you get carried away, I should point out that I don’t actually deliver this massive lump to your front door, no, that’s Tom, he has a license to operate the crane.

And when I say front door, I use that in the metaphoric sense, because one folk’s front door is another person’s back step.

But let none of us, this fresh January morning of a new year, see this new column as anything remotely resembling a back step.

Let us see it rather as a door opening into a bold new world, heralding a new era for this great State of Western Australia, an era when all generations will be named, appropriately and in keeping with their time, place and group culture.

Apart from that, just know one thing, this is my column and I’m here to stay. Baby boomers don’t give up easily.