Nothing makes me feel better than hearing the sound of An der schönen blauen Donau
Op. 314 on Thursday nights when the week grows wobbly and the wheels threaten to fall off. Nothing warms the heart like the sight of that out-of-control Catherine wheel firework, fizzing brightly, briefly, then crashing to earth. Nothing makes a flawed human being feel better than ABC-TV’s Rake – the escapades of lawyer, lover, liar Cleaver Greene.
Ah, thank god, here comes Cleaver. Our own lives may be crumpled heaps, deeply stained, but nothing as bad as his. No one swears as much and crashes as spectacularly. Roll up and behold Greene’s life, so much promise, so much genius, so much disaster.
Behold Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube played as a creaky old carnival tune in the opening credits, and the rickety, fizzing and ultimately crashing Catherine wheel.
Yes, we think on Thursday nights, that’s exactly how life feels. We start the week full of promise with vast ambitions, but the wheels fall off by Thursday. Thursday is when the fridge, packed full of virtuous green fresh produce on Sunday, is bare. Thursday is when the laundry pile teeters, the beer runs out, when Friday deadlines tighten, tempers fray, especially in winter, when days are short, breath ragged, house cold.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Catherine wheels – the fireworks, not the medieval torture device said to be used when Catherine of Alexandria was condemned to death, but it miraculously flew to pieces when she touched it. They got her in the end: beheaded. Yet, having a firework named after you is cool. My love of Catherine wheels goes back two decades to South Africa on one Guy Fawkes night.
Back then, nothing unites the colour-coded community like the shared life-endangering allure of fireworks. Arsenals of dodgy fireworks are sold at every corner store to light up the back yards. All the boys are away playing cricket, so we decide to make a night of it at someone’s house. Myself and another Australian girl hammer the Catherine wheels – large round rotating fireworks with angled rockets mounted at the centre – onto posts around the pool.
Seeing our expertise at pyrotechnics, the others herd all the women and children inside to watch and drink safely behind glass doors. Undaunted, after all the tom thumbs, rockets and sparklers, we ignite these babies.
These Catherine wheels seem 10 times more powerful than anything sold in Australia. They spin furiously, throwing sparks and coloured flame. We laugh at the scaredy- cats behind the doors, because there is nothing like being out there showered in sparks and frightening light in that soft, dark African night.
Then – as inevitable as night following day – in spectacular unison the Catherine wheels break loose from the now-scorched posts and take off towards us, sparks showering 360 degrees. I see it in slow motion, screaming, laughing, the faces behind the glass registering shock, horror, thrill, the lightshow reflected on the glass and therefore their faces, eyes bright. We skedaddle, chased by windmilling fire along the pool deck and beyond, until they run out of fuel. It is still officially my favourite Guy Fawkes night ever. Laugh? We nearly died. Literally.
So you see Rake’s poor old Catherine wheel failure? Completely understandable. Can happen to anyone. All the best people have little mishaps in life, make slight misjudgements. But at least, they reach for glory. Things sometimes go wobbly. The wheels fall off once in a while, even when we’re striving to be good. Annoyingly, often precisely when we are trying to be good. What’s that about?
To counter drinking red wine in goodly amounts, a mate and I start Bikram yoga, embracing the intense heat (on wintry days) and the deep stretches for 90 minutes. We will be calm and lithe and enlightened in no time. Yet, somewhere among the 26 postures of full locust pose, balancing stick pose, of back bends and foreheads on knees, I unknowingly send little calcium carbonate crystals encased in fluid tumbling from the labyrinth of one inner-ear canal into another, a no-go zone, which triggers intense vertigo. The simple act of head-turning in bed puts me atop a mast of a tall ship crossing ferocious Bass Strait.
The doc diagnoses BPV, benign positional vertigo. These tiny “ear rocks’’ stop any big busy life in its tracks. You cancel everything and lie down hanging on for dear life as the room spins wildly, equilibrium shattered.
All this from simply trying to heal the body and calm the mind. Seriously. Maybe it’s better to follow Rake’s sex, “marching powder’’ and rock ’n’ roll motto.
My girl turns 21. All those years ago, we walk out of hospital with that full baby car capsule thinking, do the nurses know I’m not even a grown-up? Then, in a blink, these babies are 21, working, saving, driving, travelling. I hug her “happy birthday’’ this morning and her peach cheek is so soft and fresh, my heart shudders in its ribcage.
I know life on this blue planet is one long unpredictable Catherine wheel: sometimes burning bright, sometimes a dull fizzer, sometimes dangerously leaping off the bloody posts and chasing you, flames flying. Sometimes your eyebrows get scorched. I keep all thoughts of disaster to myself and together we watch Rake. Cleaver survives, the ginger rogue tomcat using up another of his nine lives.
With rest and a couple of GP-recommended manoeuvres to put the ear crystals back in place, my head stops spinning, and this circus of tumbling bears stays on the road for another week. Until next Thursday.
The wheels fall off once in a while, even when we’re striving to be good. Annoyingly, often precisely when we are trying to be good