cuckoo nest

I am driving home from work listening to local radio’s Conversations with Richard Fidler. It is one of those chatty programs you can switch on and immediately you’re engaged – like eaves dropping on a couple, deep in chat, seated next to you at a restaurant, while you await your own partner.


Tonight, when I enter the conversation, he is talking to a parasitologist, Paul Prociv, about the life cycle of the rat lung worm and how there is part of the life cycle that requires development in a snail or slug. The larvae develop for a couple of moultings in the slug before the right host (a rat) consumes the slug and then the larvae develop into wrigglers that make their way to the brain or spinal cord, on their way to a large vein which will eventually channel them to the right ventricle of the heart. If, instead of a rat eating the mollusk, a human accidentally does so, the larvae will still go on their merry way, coursing through the tissue of the human brain and spinal cord. But, in the undesired host the damage can be catastrophic, leaving the person in a coma or paralysed. All from eating a slug.


I am repulsed. I am taken in.


I think of my careless washing of the lettuce. I think how easily a little slug could slip through into the salad. Eosinophilic meningitis here we come.


The parasitologist talks about the success of parasites. How, as a group, they out number all other living things. The word derives from medieval France meaning – some one who eats at the table of another. That sounds benign enough. And mostly they’re not trying to kill you. As Richard and Paul converse on the wonders of parasites they fall upon the word “cuckoo.” And then the cuckold man – whose wife’s has had someone else’s children whilst he is busy providing for what he believes are his. And the cuckoo birds who deposit their eggs in someone else’s nest for another bird to do the work of raising.


Their conversation drifts in another direction – to Paul’s family from Russia and his father’s own escape from a Stalinist regime.


I am still on cuckoo.


The obligate brood parasite cuckoo bird places its heavy shelled egg (some times disguised and other times not) into the nest of another bird and the cuckoo’s egg hatches first. Most hatchlings are able to obliterate the other eggs – either dispatching them out of the nest or outgrowing the other chicks  by squawking louder for attention and food.


The word mesmerizes over and over. The feel of it in your mouth. The look of it on the page. I think of “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” How the word cuckoo has come to mean crazy because of its link with this book. How brilliantly does Jack Nicholson play crazy? Think “The Shining.” Redrum. That sound of the wheels of the plastic trike moving from carpet to wooden boards. You know it. How cuckoo isn’t as crazy as crazy comes. Rather it’s a fraction bit off. Tilted. Who really minds being called a “little bit cuckoo.” Maybe it’s even a kind of compliment.


Buying grog at the Coles liquor shop, after my shop for dinner (salmon, dill, cream), two drunks are buying their booze. One has two large casks of cheap wine and the other a couple of bottles of fortified. Despite being at the counter before them I am overlooked and besides I don’t really mind them being served first. I am busy spying on the one with the crutches’ gammy leg. Doing my own kind of cuckoo work. He has a busted foot. He has a dirty bandage on it. He tells me the cast has just came off today (surprising considering the colour of the bandage) but he is still worried about the sullying (my word not his) of his skin. “It’ll take time, “ I say. He says it’s been good while already. I consider asking how the cream sherry helps. But that would be straight out cuckoo.

cuckoo 2

To Test or Not to Test



Who likes doing tests?

To see how much you know. To see how much you don’t know. To stare down a bit of white paper and be confused and angered by a question that, to your eleven year old self, makes no sense and is boring. Boring equals hard.

Is confidence built by doing well in a test?

Is confidence lost by doing poorly? Where does confidence go when it is diminished and trod on? What can we do to enliven it again?

What are we testing when we test boys? Their ability to sit still, like girls. Girls are good at tests. They are good at writing neatly and making borders around their work. But some boys like to move to think. Some boys like to throw a ball while they talk. Some boys like to skate. Some boys are messy.

Failure is supposed to help us succeed later. But in the moment failure is just that. It is flattening. It deadens us to that feeling that is success. Success seems slippery. Others have it. Not us. Skipping ahead, around the corner, the girl in the colourful skirt with the pretty curls. The boy child – his body sags and his shoulders push earthward. Shoes laces dragging undone, since doing them up just wastes time that could be spent running. They will come undone once more. The nature of shoe laces. Ugh another test.

And to have to miss Hockey because of a test. No reward seems good enough. He harps on It’s so unfair. My bargaining begins – Star Trek movie and a mint choc bomb perhaps.

And what is gifted anyway? Gifted – handed to you. Unearnt. Something someone else gave you that you played no part in? Gifted through good genes. Gifted and Talented exam. GATE to the parents who, like me, might have signed their child up, hoping for a spot in an elusive school. Saying GATE somehow seems less irksome than gifted and talented. And so if you don’t get in, then you are Not gifted and Not talented. Just a regular eleven year old kid with no interest in a test on quantitative reasoning and abstract thinking. Just an ordinary kid who must go to an ordinary school with ordinary teachers. Only 2.5% of kids can be labelled Gifted and Talented, so it’s a stretch to get in.

The acronym GATE is apt. Maybe WALL would be even better. For most students the GATE is locked and high and barbed. The GATE is not open wide or welcoming. It is latched and chained and bolted. Combinations and passwords and special handshakes required. It is the beginning of difference. Is eleven too young to begin to know? Maybe this is the first real gate they have come across. You have always held the door wide for them. Perhaps you are discriminated, as I am, by steps and stairs and steep driveways. Or maybe it’s the colour of your skin and the curl of your hair that prevents your inclusion. Maybe you can’t relate to people or you relate too much. Maybe English is not your first language. You live in the wrong part of town. Maybe you are a woman.

This afternoon, after school, I must ask him to sit and look at the sample questions so the exam paper does not come as a shock tomorrow. I need to tell him to not rush the paper, in the hope he can leave the room early. Only guess if you really don’t know and have no time to try to work it out. I already know it will be a battle to get him to look at the samples. When the sun is shining and friends are meeting at the park it is less than alluring to ponder a puzzle your mother looks pained to make you do.



I’m Back

Database error

Don’t know if you even noticed but, over Easter, my site went down. No little chook house…

It was a blank white page with the gobbly gook words Error Establishing Database in big black letters written across the top. Of course this means nothing to me. I don’t even know what a Database is. I don’t want to know either.

But ignorance of these things leads to panic when you are left trying to fix it. All I could think was that my blog had evaporated and how sad that made me feel. I love my blog. My little bit of internet heaven. I did a google search. I got help from help and support pages but there were too many slashes and dots and commas and semi colons. I could feel it making my heart beat race.

When the internet company fixed it for me just moments ago – I don’t know what the man did. He sent me a smiley face.

So No Need To Panic Any Longer…


Are Montessori kids weird?

When you write a blog and you check your statistics you can see how people ended up on your site. You can see a list of search engine terms readers put into Google to end up pecking thechookhouse floor.

Like when they have searched for Guns. Imagine their dismay when they end up reading of small boys collecting branches and bits of old wood. Of a balcony full of adults while below on the dunes children run amok searching out wood for pistols and rifles freshly washed up from the sea and dropped from the Pines. This is because I wrote a piece about small boys marauding with stick guns on our holiday isle, Rottnest Island, and called it Young Guns. No doubt people searching for guns were not meaning this innocent, old fashioned play with driftwood.

Also having written about my son leaving his Montessori school I have found people searching for; Are Montesorri children weird? My short answer is No.  And perhaps a little affronted – how dare they? They are ordinary kids given a chance to learn in a non-competitive environment. They are self-determined, love to learn for learning’s sake and think tests and bells and a scheduled morning tea are a little strange. Because Montessori schooling is not the norm in Australia it has been mystified by those who don’t know it and people get an impression it is a flaky, hippy kind of education where children simply do as they please. This is the view of people outside of Montessori.

Jasper sees the difference in his new school. He sees that kids are less attentive to learning, need to be reigned in constantly by teachers and show little self direction. Strangely, even acknowledging these inadequacies, he is happy at his new government school. He likes the bigger social engagement. He likes the soft ball at lunch time and the kicking around the playground waiting for the bell to signal the start of the day. He tells me he is one of the four in the class to get all his spelling correct, something he would have had no notion of previously.

Montessori has given him resilience to work independently, something that is well ingrained in him now and hopefully cannot be eroded.

But if there are people searching this query perhaps there is some truth in the belief. Perhaps it is weird to not be motivated by tests and gold stars. Perhaps we are so used to pushing children to strive and do better and beat their peers we don’t know how good they are at pushing themselves. My conclusion is that parents are weird. Being a parent is weird. Being weird is weird. I am weird.

So now if someone is again searching whether or not Montessori kids are weird, the first place they might end up is here. Not weird, just given a different way of looking at what it is to learn.


Going without tea….

Having almost completed Feb fast- a month without alcohol; I am wondering what else I could do without…

Anger, frustration, voice raising. If I could have a serene household without the morning yelling; get your shoes on, brush your teeth, have you got your hat? If I could channel more zen.

I could go without chocolate or dessert. Because if push comes to shove I don’t really care about them.

What I couldn’t go without is tea. Made in a pot from water boiled in a kettle. A green enamel kettle that whistles, screamingly, when it is ready. The tea pot is a Zero, made in Japan. It holds the tea leaves in a sieve suspended in the water. It is almost spherical, black with a stainless silver lid. The tea is fine leaf ceylon. It makes strong tea. No herbs or petals. No scents. Just tea. The water is turned molasses brown. It is sweetened a tad with raw sugar and a dash of milk. It is hot and soothing. It is calming. It is tea.

Old fashioned Ruler and Wafer Biscuit


Because I don’t know what else to do….

Seeing the teacher this afternoon. Guts in a knot. Ate one biscuit. Wanted another. Stopped myself.

Took a photo of it instead.

Yesterday Jasper left his hat in his bag in the corridor at lunch time so could not go out in the sun. He sat undercover and watched the others running amok. No Hat No Play. The classroom is locked at lunch time. A no go zone. Perhaps this is because children might graffiti or vandalise. Perhaps someone might turn the word on the black board from lock to fuck. Even a girl.


When My Site Went White

When I tried to access my blog this morning the screen was white. As the driven snow. Not that I know that colour living in the dry hot earth of Perth. But it was. White. Blank. Zilch. No nothing. I felt my heart rate rise. What if my blog had gone? Then where was it and how to find it? Was it lost in the cloud that is the internet? Of course fear feels worse, comes on most strongly, when we know not what we are dealing with. And for me technology beyond word processing is fearful. I don’t really understand the internet, let alone begin to know how it works. How does it store all the words we write? All the pictures we make? It is too ethereal to believe in and so when the site is white it really does seems lost completely and down a rabbit hole it has gone. To follow it would surely end in madness.

Who would miss it apart from me? I have used it as a diary, a place to store the thoughts, to practice the thing I hope one day to master. To have it read by my followers is a bonus but not something they need. It is a distraction to them, as it is to me. So what if it was lost down the whitest of white holes?

In a whoosh and a poof it is back. Magic of the most magical kind. But there is a need now to print stuff. Just in case. To save it in a word document on another thumb drive. Because maybe…oneday…


Beauty on the cricket field.

Slips, gully, silly point, deep cover, extra cover, square leg, backward square leg, long on, deep fine leg, silly mid off and the list goes on. A mesmerising description of the lay of the land on the cricket field. Roll on summer roll on.

Perfect Spaces

We all crave the perfect space in which to work and create. Graham has a thing about the long view. He claims to need to view the distance to feel good about the space he works in. I think Alain de Botton probably agrees with him. Our little Fremantle cottage doesn’t really have the long view. Watching a TV show last night a prisoner in orange coveralls looks out of his barred window at a magnificent Seattle view, water and mountains, and Graham says ‘good view.’ A good view is important to him. Is it because he grew up in Hong Kong, where he viewed a bustling life below from a high-rise? My childhood was decidedly suburban. No view. Hydrangea from one window. Hibiscus from another. Sounds of lawn mowing.

From our study window we can see the oval and often the noise that accompanies it is that of children engaged in sport. There are hollers and screeches from adolescents fighting for the ball. Sometimes the high school students, who are skiving off early, fan across it on their way to the town and the train and bus station. They grab one another by the bag strap and throw each other to the ground. There is a need to be physical and rough. A boy will run down the slope, keep running and then jump onto the back of another. The force will send the jumped-on to the ground. Greened knees. Socks are loose and grey bundled about their ankles. The public high school on the hill has amazing views of the port. From classrooms ships can be seen as they shuffle along the quay, pushed in and out, by the snub-nosed tugs. The red cranes, large giant Meccano, move the containers like they are blocks of Lego. The Catholic boys school is on the flat, their windows facing courtyards and the street.
Here, in the Museo de Arte Abstracto Espanol in Cuenca, this space has it all; wonderful book shelves and out the window a cliff edged location allows for amazing views.