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  • Published: 31 October 2023
  • ISBN: 9781761046759
  • Imprint: Viking
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $34.99


Spiels, scoops, emotional outbursts and the occasional recipe


While procrastinating from a quite important deadline, I often find myself doing what I always do when something really, really needs to get done: noodling around the internet, letting my finely tuned algorithms take me where I need to go for the highest amounts of dopamine and avoidance as possible. YouTube, Instagram, even in its death throes sometimes Twitter can still give me what I need. I have a system, for this is not just your average procrastination. I’ve spent almost two decades refining my technique to a fine art. I could write an entire book about it if I could find the time. The key is to let yourself be taken by the dilly-dallying for about twenty minutes, telling yourself you’ll get back to your more pressing task straight afterwards. When twenty minutes is up, look at your task. Really look at it. Feel as stressed and as guilty as possible about how you haven’t been working on it. Really marinate in those feelings. Stare at your task, making your eyes as wide as possible to cram your optic nerve with the sheer breadth and depth of what you should actually be doing. Think about all the time you haven’t spent on it. After about forty-five minutes of this intense activity, you’ll be majorly exhausted and ready for another twenty-minute break. Hey, you’ve earned it. Give it a try, why don’t you, and let me know how it goes. I can’t guarantee I’ll reply because I have quite a few emails backed up, for some reason.

Some days I cast myself adrift in Wikipedia. Not too long ago I bargained with myself that if I am going to wade into the calm, warm waters of unaccountability, I may as well learn something along the way. Link to link to link to link. Click, click, click, click. I hop from one page to the next, hoovering up useless facts and filling what precious last bits of ram I have left in my brain. Aimlessly noodling around the internet is my happy place and it’s become a real problem. Nothing to worry myself about, though. That’s future Rhys’s problem. That guy has a lot on their plate. Me? Current Rhys? Easy breezy. Sure, I have trouble remembering important dates and responsibilities such as birthdays or how to give CPR, but did you know the original voice cast of Captain Planet included Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Sheen, Jeff Goldblum and, in my opinion, a career best from Meg Ryan? Did you know the guy at the start of the movie Hook who gets put into a box is Glenn Close in drag? And did you know I have no idea how tax works? One day I’d clicked and clicked until finally I was resting my eyes on a page about, believe it or not, llamas. A bonkers creature the longer you look at it. It’s nature’s answer to the question, ‘What if a sheep and a giraffe had a baby and it was furious at you to the point of spitting?’ More specifically, I was reading about guard llamas. No, I’m not talking about a new indie band out of Perth. I mean llamas who guard property or livestock. I had never heard about them, so imagine my surprise and delight when I learned that in some countries they use these lanky creatures to watch over livestock on farms. ‘What do you mean?’ I literally mumbled out loud to myself. How does something like this happen? One of the wildest parts I found out as I read on was that you don’t really have to train them up at all. If you put a llama among a flock of lambs, it will instinctively just start watching them and keep the herd safe from harm. By this point I had entirely thrown away the idea of ever finishing the task that was due and was now full pelt down a YouTube chasm watching these guys in action. I highly recommend it. Foxes, coyotes and even some wolves. Each time the predator approaches the vulnerable lambs, the llama charges forward without an iota of hesitation. Sometimes they protect by sheer force and sometimes you can see in the footage the fox wander over, then notice what must look like a gargantuan mutant sheep on stilts and just get the fuck out of there. Llamas: nature’s secret service.

It must be nice, to have that type of trust put in you. To have some internal instinct that just switches on to save the day, day after day. An innate want to help others and keep them safe. I know plenty of people who possess this: my partner, my family, my agents. I decidedly do not hold this inborn tendency. Your ol’ pal Rhyso is a real sheep in this metaphor. I’m probably not even a good sheep, because at least sheep are followers. I can’t even follow very well. I think I just get unknowingly lightly nudged into place by a small group of dedicated individuals. A full herd of llamas watching over this singular, little dumb-dumb lamb.

As we stretch this already quite thin analogy even closer to breaking point, I put it to you that in your life, you can boil anyonedown to two camps. The llamas and the sheep. It’s a spectrum, of course, but each and every meaningful relationship, romantic or otherwise, requires at least one of each to exist. The llamas are the pragmatists to keep things moving along, while the sheep mostly let the world trickle over them as they try their hardest not to make too much of a fuss. It’s basically the people who complain at restaurants when an order is wrong and the people who stand behind that person mouthing the word ‘sorry’ to the waitstaff.

It’s not a one and done situation, this llama business. You can easily have several of them working concurrently in the one gene pool, but there will always be one to rule them all – a leader of leaders; a sort of grand high llama. It could be anyone and although not strictly gender based, we can probably agree it’s almost always a woman. More often than not, it’s a woman letting a man believe he is in fact the llama. He isn’t. He’s just a big sheep trying to tell everyone what to do while she’s nodding and quietly trafficking the herd around. In my family tree, there is no doubt who ours is. When I was about five, my parents, my sister and I, through circumstances that are none of our business, had to move in with my grandmother, Nancy. A few years earlier she had been widowed far too soon in life after my grandfather Owen, the undisputed and much-loved patriarch of our clan, had passed away. She gladly took us in to her big empty house and did whatever she had to do to help us get our shit together.

Throughout the next little while my parents worked an absolute fucktonne so Granny and I spent a lot of time with each other. Wherever she went, I went. During weekdays this involved a lot of visiting. Old people bloody love to visit each other. They’re utterly obsessed with a morning tea and a catch-up. It’s as if they want to service the meaningful relationships in their lives. I find it all very peculiar. I suppose it’s what you had to do to fill the time before there was the option to sit on the corner of your bed for several hours, scrolling alternating social media apps before settling into a bit of a panic attack in the afternoon.

We’d visit in the morning but every day we’d be sure to get back home to catch our soaps, Days of our Lives and The Young and the Restless. But never, ever The Bold and the Beautiful. According to Nancy, that show is utter trash for people with nothing to do in the afternoons. Our shows were just a treat in between tasks as we ate lunch. The two of us, with our sixty-year age gap, eating corned beef sandwiches, would sit together in her frozen-in-time loungeroom and discuss the episodes. There was so much going on! What would be the exciting ramifications now Marlene has been possessed by the devil himself? Will this affect Stefano’s important cocktail party? How do they make their hair so big? Then Granny would get back to her errands, chores and teaching me how to sew. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m gay or perhaps I’m just deeply emulating my hero, a woman born in the late 1930s.

After a couple years we moved out, and by this point I was at school. I hated school so much and would often, and I mean often, fake being sick so I didn’t have to go. She’d never admit it, but having not been a huge fan of school herself, I’m almost certain she was happy to play along. I recall being so devastated to not have so much time with Granny. My sister is much older than me so she was out having fun. Luckily on Fridays, Granny would pick me up at school and I would stay at her place. At the time I thought of this as a treat for me, but now I think about it, it was most definitely so Mum and Dad could have some well-deserved time to themselves. Plus I had to know what was happening on our shows now school was getting in the way. Friday nights meant two things with Granny: we’d watch a movie and she would cook one of my absolute favourites, fried rice that was so goddamned delicious but can only be described as deeply, deeply Caucasian in its execution and taste. Granny, like many women of her generation, had never gotten over the advancements in modern kitchen technology. Anyone born after the late 1970s might take something as simple as the microwave oven for granted, whereas these ladies are passionate about magnetrons and the way they make the molecules of food vibrate to the point of frictional heat. She’s the only person I’ve ever seen microwave bacon before popping it into the rice.

I’m biased, but whenever the phrase ‘They are just of their time’ is used to explain someone’s problematic views, I think of Granny. Because of just how irrelevant the sentiment is to her. I never had to come out to her. When I was about seventeen I was invited to go on a float at the Sydney Mardi Gras. The news reached Granny and when I saw her next she asked if I was ‘Ready for the big day?’ A cousin of mine recently changed their name and pronouns and there is Granny, in her late eighties trying her best not to deadname. She’s so easily grasped that times change and that’s usually a good thing. I think if you’re fortunate enough to have a good grandparent, it’s safe to say we’re getting the best of them. We’re lucky as grandchildren. For as long as I can remember, Nancy has had a magnet on her fridge thatreads, ‘If I had known grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first.’ It’s good stuff. As a child I took this as a beacon of hope to my generation of cousins. It let us know this lady was on our side. Of course as an adult I can also now see she’s absolutely fucking roasting our parents for everything they must have put her through when they were young. It must have been strange for our parents to see the shift a grandparent like her makes. Mum sometimes remarks on the stunning transition Nancy has gone through since she was little. Having been a working mother of four in the fifties and sixties, she’s apparently far softer than the 1960s working mother they had experienced. The way older siblings of the family talk it’s as if she’s been gentrified like a tough suburb. When I call Granny, which is not at all often enough, I ask her what she’s been up to, and she tells me how she’s been rewatching Game Of Thrones, noting that Jason Momoa is ‘a good sort’. She’s read more books than anyone I know. When I visit her, which is not nearly enough, sometimes I will read the back cover blurb of that day’s tome and notice it is some deeply horny tale set during a war somewhere exotic. If you tease her about it she’ll arc right up and make you very aware: ‘At least it’s not Danielle Steele! At least it has a story!’ This flabbergasts my mother like you wouldn’t believe. Mum can often be heard remarking on how this same woman, sixty years ago, was so coy she couldn’t even muster up the courage to say the word ‘breast’ in front of the butcher. ‘Years of having to eat bloody drumsticks,’ she says, ‘and now her favourite shows are basically hardcore porn!’

At eighty-nine, Granny is still sharp and kicking but undeniably her world is, by her own design, getting smaller. These days she seems happier at family gatherings in a role closer to a spectator and fact checker. Piping up from time to time to correct a story being exaggerated by one of her kids. ‘Oh, it wasn’t that bad,’ she’ll assert. Then if one of them pulls her up on some sort of inaccuracy, she’ll lovingly snap back with one of her all-time classic lines, ‘Don’t ruin a good story with the truth.’ When a vaguely annoying distant relative arrived at a function a while back, I watched Granny turn her hearing aid down. When this person tried talking to her, she just pointed at her ears and shrugged as if she was powerless to it. I think I’m most blown away by how she keeps up with her duty as a grandparent and now great-grandparent with her seemingly genuine interest in all our lives. Every Christmas and birthday, both Kyran and I, along with all my cousins and their partners, get a card with $50 each in it. Every time she writes how proud she is about some specific thing in our lives and always finishes with, ‘I love you both. Thank you for loving me.’ Even in her advanced years and as we begin to grow our own families, she’s keeping a watchful eye on all of us. Her herd.

Dish Rhys Nicholson

This is a semi-stream-of-consciousness written tapestry, squeezed out by a profoundly apprehensive overthinker who’s doing their best to unapologetically stop apologising. (It’s funnier than it sounds.)

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