My mother, Tutti, has always been a bit left of centre. Well, if ‘centre’ is Earth, and ‘left’ is somewhere extraterrestrial, far west, beyond the solar system.
When I was a teenager, and as shy as I was gawky, my parents were a constant, consistent source of embarrassment.
Allow me to share a few (deeply-ingrained-into-my-psyche) examples:
Example A: My Dad, Paul, ‘The Guru’ (more on that another day) belting out an operatic number, as we walked through Pitt Street Mall at peak hour. OK, many years ago, he was in the Queensland Opera Company and he has the sort of beautiful smooth voice that could bring even the most muscly of men to tears, but just, for a moment, picture me: 13 years old, dorky as hell, unfathomably shy and easily humiliated, walking through a busy shopping thoroughfare with my father: a brightly-dressed, fluffy-white-haired eccentric who could easily pass for a charismatic cult leader, baritoning, ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’ at the top of his proud little (by little, I mean ‘gigantic’) lungs. Shoot me.
Example B: Walking with both parents through David Jones – past a little jazz band. That in itself doesn’t sound remotely painful. After all, jazz can be wonderful! I love a good Satchmo-style trumpet solo as much as the next bystander. But most adults, walking through a busy store, past a jazz band, might stop for a moment to appreciate a tune, they might even smile widely, tap their feet and bob their heads. They probably wouldn’t grab each other’s hands and launch into a wild jive routine, swing each other around the store with gay abandon and attract a clapping, whooping crowd. They wouldn’t, I swear. Unless – of course – they were my parents. I remember hiding by the towels thinking that if I was to be buried, and suffocated, by a towel-avalanche (a towelvalanche?) in that moment, it would be pretty bad. But not as bad as being subjected to the humiliation of Tutti and The Guru doing an (admittedly brilliant) jive, in the middle of a Sydney department store.
Example C: For some reason, I look back at this one and can remember with the most vibrant vividness, the burning, creeping blush that started at the base of my neck and, with the violent speed and heat of a bushfire, exploded up my face. Let me set this one up properly. Tutti has always been known for her quirky dress sense. She always looks fantastic. She is the direct antithesis of conservative – essentially, the lower-North-Shore-of-Sydney’s answer to Dame Edna Everidge (she’s rocked some similar glasses in her time, too). Anyway. On this particular day, she was accessorising her outfit with a black rubber and silver-studded handbag in the shape of a cat. So far, so cool. So what’s the opposite of cool?
Q. The opposite of cool is?
A. Leaving your cat-bag in the car, and asking your gangly, poodle-haired, metal-mouthed, mouse-timid, excruciatingly-socially-awkward daughter – in front of all her school friends, at the top of your voice this question:
“CECI, CAN YOU PLEASE GRAB MY PUSSY?”
I can still hear the hysterical, bawdy cackling of my teenage peers ringing in my ears. Did they let me live it down? Like hell they didn’t. Children can be such little fuckers.
The funny thing about growing up, and gaining life experience and subsequent confidence, is that now, despite enduring years of embarrassment, I think the fact that my parents are completely bonkers-bananas is brilliant. (What doesn’t kill you, right?) They couldn’t be more fun. They get more inappropriate with every passing year, and dress more flamboyantly too. Tutti and The Guru are now 63 and 65 respectively, but it’s as if they’re ageing backwards. In fact, The Guru recently informed me (well, me and his 3,898 Facebook disciples) that he’s manifested the age of 30 in his mind, which means he’s now younger than me – his eldest daughter. (He tried being 25 but found it too taxing. More on that another day).
Tutti cannot walk a metre down the street without strangers randomly leaping out at her to layer her with compliments. “Oh my GAWD I LOVE your bag!”… “Your glasses are AH-MAY-ZING!”… “What a FABULOUS haircut!” (I can take credit for that – I cut it regularly with a battery-operated bikini trimmer. Does the trick.) … “You. Look. SO. Fantastic!” (said in a breathless fawn) … “WOW LOOK AT YOUR GORGEOUS SHOES!” … “Your head scarf looks so FANTASTIC!” (Yes – ‘fantastic’ again!) … “What an INCREDIBLE necklace!” … “O.M-G-D I LOVE YOUR OUTFIT!” and so on and so forth until my sister, Fluffy* and I, eventually roll our eyes, look at Tutti and each grab a hand so we can propel her more swiftly through the gauntlet of admiration. If Tutti could get a job whereby she could simply walk up and down the street and earn a dollar for every compliment lavished upon her, she would hope she could be paid via PayPal, because a trillion gold coins (and maybe a few silvers if you only have a 50C, two 20c and a 10c in your wallet) would weigh a bloody tonne.
*Fluffy is not, of course, my sister’s real name, but she was born when I was four years old and Tutti said I could choose a name for her. Because I so desperately wanted a little (fluffy) dog, I settled on ‘Fluffy’. Nowadays, Fluffy is 28, and is a very talented fashion designer in London (with an inexplicably brilliant and quirky blog about a nun and a crocodile which you can enjoy here: http://thenunandthecrocodile.wordpress.com/). You may think 28 is too old to have a name like Fluffy, but as far as I’m concerned, I will still be calIing my sister Fluffy when she’s 90. At least by then, though she will never be canine, she may at least have a few whiskers.