KATH­LEEN NOO­NAN

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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

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