So I’ve been doing a bit of writing lately. Apart from my Very Own Column at Australian Catholics magazine, I’ve also started to write features, as a freelancer, for Melbourne Catholic magazine. I often get confused looks when I try to explain this to people (and I often try to explain this to people, even if we weren’t, in fact, talking about it). Melbourne Catholic is a separate magazine, despite the similar name. It comes from the Archdiocese, rather than the Jesuits.
Features writing is fun and interesting, but my great love will always be in trying to make people laugh (which is why that first paragraph is such a side-splitter). I’m not the greatest at interviewing people (you actually have to stop and let them talk, I’m told), but I do like the feeling of having yet another Important Writing Job and more opportunities to talk loudly about expecting an email from MY EDITOR and looking around impressively whenever I’m in a crowded place. I think the staff at Aldi are a little over it, to be honest.
So far, I’ve written a feature on crochet and another one on grief. I’ll share them with you when they get published (the crochet feature is out, just not electronically yet). The most recent one I’ve been writing has been about the refugees in Eltham. It’s a topic I care about, but it’s been a real pain to write. I’ve had to interview no fewer than eight people. I don’t mind the talking-to-people part of interviewing; I can even do the listening-without-interrupting part if I concentrate hard enough. It’s the finding-ten-minutes-of-peace-to-make-a-phone-call that I’ve struggled with the most.
Now there was a particular person I’d been especially keen to talk to. Many of the other interviews had left me with important questions that this woman could answer for me. But I’d had a bit of trouble, first with tracking her down, then with finding a time I could talk with her. Many a time I’d put the TV on for the kids, locked myself in the bathroom with recording equipment all set up and made the all-important call, only to find that she was in a meeting or off-site. Getting information wrong on a crochet article would be one thing. I didn’t want to get it wrong on such an important topic. The deadline was looming and still we hadn’t spoken.
On Mondays, the kids and I go to a homeschooling co-op, held in one of those amazing mega-churches. It’s the best. On this particular Monday, I was upstairs in the cafe, sitting at a table and trying to get this article written. Christopher, Harry and Annie were in their various classes, run by the mums and dads. Daisy and Poppy (who are now two-and-a-half-can-you-believe-it) were in a cute little play area with a pool fence around it. I scratched my head as I looked at what I’d written so far. If I didn’t speak to this woman, there would be a lot of holes in the article.
Then my phone rang. It was her! It was totally her!
I knew these weren’t ideal interview conditions. The cafe was noisy and the twins were unpredictable. But I also knew if I let it go to voicemail and tried to call back later, I would find she was off working hard doing her actual job and not at her desk. This was my one window. I answered the phone smoothly, set it to speaker and set my iPad to record.
“So tell me, what is the history of this project?”
Of course I knew the history of the project. I’d done my homework. But I wanted a neat little ‘expert’ quote from her to put at the start of the article. It would frame things nicely. Interview Lady launched into a description of the situation in Eltham, sounding a little perplexed at my apparent ignorance (she later would recommend a series of fact sheets she had written) just as Daisy started to shriek piteously.
I looked across to the play area. Daisy stood wretchedly beside the toy oven as Poppy did a victory lap, holding several golden strands of her sister’s hair aloft as she strode along. I bustled silently into the pen, admonished Poppy with only my eyebrows and a very pointy finger, scooped up the whimpering Daisy with the arm that wasn’t holding my phone and iPad and brought her back to the table with me. “Mmm.” “Yes.” “Really?” I said calmly, taking the sugar and placing it on a different table.
Foiled in her sugar-eating attempt, Daisy picked up the pepper and began shaking it liberally onto the table. I took it from her. She let out an unearthly howl. I put it back. She continued in her redecorating.
“What would you say are the challenges facing refugees, given our current housing situation?” my voice didn’t waver. I don’t think Interview Lady could tell I was trying to wrestle my iPad out of Daisy’s grasp. But then that stupid free U2 song started playing at full volume. She must have bumped something.
Daisy lay down on the ground in (thankfully) mute protest as I desperately jabbed at buttons to make Bono shut up. “Tell me more about that,” I said (to Interview Lady, not Bono), as one of the security guards waved to get my attention.
I looked to where he was pointing. Poppy had pushed the toy washing machine up against the side of the play pen and had used it to clamber onto the quite-high fence. “Hi Mummy!” she cackled as I solemnly hoisted her onto my shoulder and brought her back to my table. Interview Lady was on a roll, telling me all sorts of things without pausing for breath. This allowed me to go into a silent panic without having to think up another question. Daisy was gone.
“Is there anything about the Eltham project you would consider applying to future projects?” I pulled Daisy out from under the table. She had run around the corner and was lying at the feet of some other cafe patron. I now held a twin under each arm and was balancing my phone and iPad under – actually, I’ve no idea how I did it. All I know is, when I put them down to try to organise myself, they ran for the stairs, shouting “SLIDE!”
I should explain. This particular very-large-church has a tunnel slide that children can take downstairs to their well-resourced kids’ ministries because of-course-they-do. I mean, I’ve tried suggesting to my parish that perhaps we could set up a small box of toys and a play rug for children to use after Mass when the grown ups are drinking (instant) coffee and it’s been all too hard to think about. Noooope we wouldn’t want to encourage children to come to Mass or anything. Heaven forbid.
What was I talking about? Oh yes, the dratted slide. A couple of little girls and their mums were already having a play on this contraption. One of the girls is a four-year-old I’m going to call Buttercup who is friends with the twins.
So Daisy makes a dash for the slide, pushes past Buttercup and dives straight down it. “MRS KATE! MRS KATE! IT WASN’T HER TURN! MRS KATE!” I know Buttercup said this because it’s right there on the recording, drowning out whatever salient point Interview Lady was making. I nodded expressively and sympathetically (and silently) at Buttercup and said “do go on” to Interview Lady.
“MRS KAAAAAAATE!” Poppy was jubilantly sitting at the top of the slide. This was her position of power. If she sat at the top of the slide, without actually going anywhere, all the children around her would go berserk. Poppy loved this. Buttercup gave Poppy a shove.
“What do you see as your plans for the future?” Poppy made it halfway down the slide tunnel, stopped herself, and began climbing back up (“THAT’S NOT ALLOWED! THAT’S NOT ALLOWED!!”). Daisy, meanwhile, was climbing back up the stairs for another turn. I gave the other mothers an apologetic smile. I was that mother: nattering away on her mobile phone whilst her children cause havoc.
“Do you have any final thoughts?”
“I HAVE A STINKY NAPPY MUMMY!” Daisy did have a stinky nappy. A real eye waterer. And Poppy had come out at the bottom of the slide and was not coming upstairs. I walked down the stairs with Daisy (“NO! NO! SLIDE! SLIDE!”) to fetch Poppy before she went running off down the corridor and out of sight. The interview was wrapping up. I thanked Interview Lady, saved the recording and emailed it to myself seven times. Then I apologised to the other mums and trudged upstairs with the twins to clean the peppered table.
While I might have relived the trauma of the afternoon when i transcribed the interview later, it did provide me with some very useful information and quotes. I’ve since written the article and am waiting to hear from MY EDITOR to see if she thinks its any good. I expect to hear from MY EDITOR any minute now and am checking my phone rather agitatedly. Of course, she’d need time to actually read it and then to formulate a response. Plus MY EDITOR would have other articles to read as well. I really mustn’t worry about it. I really must stop.
At least, that’s what the assistant manager at Aldi tells me.