Memories of A Foam Breast and Fish Bones

Egyptian Dancers
Nan had an Egyptian style plastic vase with dancers like these on it.

Last week I was nearly overwhelmed with an irrational need to cry and cuddle a man with a large single fake breast under a pink satiny nightdress. To place my head where the other breast would be and where I’d be safe. I managed to resist luckily but it was disconcerting and took me a few moments to work out why. The man was of course Stanley Bad (my arch nemesis) but that is somewhat irrelevant. The reason I wanted to cuddle him was because the dress with that single breast reminded me, at some deep non-conscious level, of my Nanny Queen.

It always surprises me when I remember Nanny Queen (Queenie Fisher was her real name). She died when I was about six and I don’t really remember her as a person, I remember her as moments. She had one breast removed due to breast cancer and a foam breast to replace it. Sometimes when she was indoors the foam breast would become uncomfortable and she’d take it off. I have a picture of it in my head now, biege coloured, a bit like someone had torn off a lump of sofa foam and stuck a nylon flesh coloured pop sock around it. I don’t remember her being there but I remember me and my brother playing with this foam breast.

I remember she used to make delicious moose deserts in fancy wine-like glasses but only when we deserved something special. I remember her slapping my brother, he was climbing the shelves where she kept all her china and glasses. She must have been terrified he’d hurt himself, but I was just shocked that she was angry.

Her and mum used to go to the fresh fish market together and come back with lots of stinking fish that they’d behead and bone in the kitchen. This fascinated me. I’d sit at the large pine kitchen table and Nan would give me a plate with bits of fish on it for me pick out the bones, so I felt just like a grown up.

These memories are very vivid but picturing her face is difficult. In my head I can see a picture from a photograph of her in which she has a big smile and looks well, and then I remember her face in the hospital under the breathing apparatus when she was nolonger my Nan and I realized the poem I’d drawn for her about sunflowers, which I was so proud of, was never going to be seen.

And I remember the plastic egyptian style vase she used to have in the bathroom with dancing figures painted around the middle. If I turned the vase in my hand the picture of the figures would go on and on and on forever. It was magic.

Dissecting frogs and other childhood pursuits

Frog Painting
Frog painting on handmade paper recycled from a Jeffrey Archer novel.

Placed the pond in the garden this lunch time. I say pond, it’s more of a plant pot, round and flat and plastic. But I read in an article somewhere that any pond, no matter how small, is good for helping frogs and toads. As I mentioned in my bones blog amphibians are becoming extinct rapidly, due to pollution, loss of habitat and the devastating effects of a fungus that grows on the frogs skin preventing it from being able to breath – http://www.amphibianark.org/.

Frogs are going extinct! I repeat this because my head has trouble taking it in – no more frogs! Whole childhoods absent of frogs. Sounds (have a listen) that were ancient by the time the first dinosaurs evolved are now to be silenced. I can’t imagine a childhood without frogs, they were a defining feature of mine; water coming over the tops of wellingtons as we waded knee deep at Footscray meadows in search of frog spawn; Mum digging the pond; me refusing to believe that tadpoles turned into frogs (well it is weird). Then the huge plague of minute baby frogs covering the lawn, the whole garden leaping about, Mum’s lawn mower chopping them up into tiny pieces (accidently), frog blood and guts everywhere.

Then the dissections. We didn’t catch the frogs ourselves, didn’t need to, our cat was fond of delivering half dead frogs to the kitchen floor. Dad, trained in anatomy and medicine, would whisk the frog from the floor and place it on the kitchen table. Us four excited children would gather round the table in anticipation as Dad went to get his scalpel. A moment of heavy silence passed before the first incision. The skin would split and the creature would deflate like a tiny green beach ball. Dad fished around the inside, taking out bits to show us, explaining what did what. There was a tiny little bubble inside the frog that facsinated me, I played with it turning it over and over, can’t remember what it was though.

My memories of the intellectual aspects of these dissections are vague, for a 12 year old the grotesque splendour of frog body fluids and bone on the kitchen table was too delightful to be educational.

“Right!” Mum would shout in an authorative manner, “clear the table its time for dinner”. Dad would sweep away the frog remains, leaving them outside for our dog to contemplate. We’d reluctantly go off to wash our hands for dinner, somehow feeling more grown up because we knew what the insides of a frog looked like.

A childhood without frogs? Real riggling, leaping, croaking frogs? Without watching tadpoles grow legs? Just computer frogs with no body fluids, no mess, no temptation for the cat and Dad?

Now that would be cruel to children.