Smokey the Magnificent

Failing the Turing Test since 1986



Me, I dunno, ten or so, at a school camp talent show, playing on a piano of the kind of quality one would expect in a school camp hall: “Mr Hockin, this key won’t go down.”
Mr Hockin, from far away in the audience: “Just keep going.”
Me, several bars later: “Mr Hockin, this key won’t go down either.”
Mr Hockin: “Just keep going.”
Me: “…That was the last one.”
[Exit with dignity. The applause was surprisingly enthusiastic. They may have thought it was a skit.]


Me, twelveish. A Chinese girl who doesn’t speak much English has come to our school, and a socially-conscious teacher has handpicked me to Be Her Friend, on the grounds that I’m too meek to object and my friends docket isn’t precisely overbooked. So far our terrified, polite exchanges have gone no further than her showing me a photo of her dog on her cellphone.

After school one day, I see the girl hugging her dog. Nobly, I approach her and shout slowly into her ear “What a cute dog!” She smiles politely back, and as the engulfing silence descends upon us both, I cast about frantically for a way to prolong the conversation. “It looks so much cuter than it did in the picture!” I gush.

It is not the same dog.


I have left the school. I am now thirteen and homeschooling. I run into a friend from school at the foodcourt. I am wearing a black turtleneck and a pair of dark blue jeans. I have recently started growing my fringe out, so my forehead is exposed.

Weeks later, I hear she has told everyone at school that I’ve gone Goth. I am simultaneously flattered that anyone would believe I’d do anything so daring, and dimly aware that buying foundation in my shade is going to be a lifelong struggle.


I am in the doctor’s waiting room.

Practice Nurse: “Smokey the Magnificent?”
Me: “Whoa. That was quick.”
Practice Nurse: “Oh, I’m just the practice nurse. Before the doctor sees you I’d just like to weigh and measure you.”
Me: “Huh! That’s a thing now?”
Practice Nurse: “It’s just a screening service we provide, to make sure nobody’s getting too…”
Me: “…”
Practice Nurse: “…”
Me, thinking: Should I help her out by saying ‘Short?’
Practice Nurse, realising there’s no coming back from it now and it’s almost the weekend: “…fat.”
Me: “Excellent.”


I had to get a blood test today. Miles came along. He likes watching me exsanguinate.

Small girl in waiting room: “I don’t want to play with your boy.”
Me: “Oh! Why?”
Small girl: “He’s biting at me.”
Me: “Oh. He’s just being a cheetah. He does that. Miles! Can you stop being a cheetah? You’re scaring this girl.” To girl: “It’s OK, he won’t really bite you.”
Miles, kindly but firmly: “I will, though. ‘Cause I’m a cheetah.”


Miles: “Ooh Mummy, there’s a scales here! I can see how heavy I am.”
Me: “Oh, cool! Let’s see if you’ve attained a pood. …Wow, you’re 17 kilos!”
Miles: “Does that mean I’m a pood now?”
Me: “It does!”
Miles: “YAY! I’m a pood!”
Me, thinking: “Should I explain to the phlebotomist that a pood is a Russian unit of weight, namely sixteen kilos or the weight of a smallish kettle-bell, and that we as a family are so enamoured of this unit that we promised Miles, a runty wee thing, a celebratory Pood Cake when he tipped the scales? Ehh. She’s over there. She probably didn’t notice. Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen.”
Miles: “I’m a pood! I’M A POOD!”


Miles, watching me wince as I am drained of lifeblood: “Do you know, Mum, when I had my constipoops it hurt even worse than having blood taken out. I weeped and WEEPED.”
Phlebotomist: [no reaction whatsoever]

[On the way out, after Miles spotted an exciting loo and felt a consequent need]

Me: “That took a long time. Did you wash your hands?”
Miles: “Yep! I washed them.”
Me: “Excellent.”
Miles: “They had yellow soap.”
Me: “Awesome.”
Miles: “It smelled nasty.”
Me: “Oh ar?”
Miles: “And it tasted HORRIBLE.”

Overheard While Demolishing a Brick BBQ Surround With the Back of an Axe

Miles: “Rowan! Let me get past!”
Rowan: “I’ll let you get past if you can answer three riddles. If not… I will SHOOT you dead.”
Miles, cheerfully: “OK!”
Rowan: “First riddle! …Who was the first Israelite?”
Miles, with enthusiasm: “I don’t know!”
Rowan: “Abraham! That’s one dead. Now. Second riddle. Why did the chicken cross the road?”
Miles, venomously: “Because it was dumb and it got squished, and it wanted to get squished.”
Rowan: “I don’t know. That’s probably right. Now. Third riddle. What colour do you get if you mix yellow and green?”
Miles: “Red!”
Rowan: “No. Purple. That’s it, you’re dead. Pkew!”
Me: “Um, Rowan, you don’t get purple from yellow and green.”
Rowan: “What do you get?”
Me: “Sort of a yellowy green.”
Rowan: “Oh, well. Never mind.”

Miles: “Now it’s my turn!”
Rowan: “OK!”
Miles: “I’m gonna do five riddles. OK. Who was an Israelite?”
Rowan: “Abraham!”
Miles: “No! Judas.”
Rowan: “Miles, you can’t do that! Anyway, Judas wasn’t an Israelite. He was a Jew.”
Me: “It’s the same thing!”
Rowan: “No it isn’t.”
Me: “It is.”
Miles: “OK. Now. You have five colours. No. Three.” *long pause* “No, two.”
Rowan: “What are they?”
Miles: “Purple and red and blue.”
Rowan: “I’m gonna ask a question now.”
Miles: “No! It’s my turn!”
Rowan: “What do you get if you’re a polecat, and you’re hunting a beast, but when you get really close it suddenly STENCHES, what is it?”
Miles: “Um. A spider!”
Rowan: “No. A skunk.”
Miles: “You have to ask me an easy one now. One that I’ll know.”
Rowan: “OK. …What do you call it if you twist Batman into a hat?”
Miles, after an interminable pause: “HATMAN!”

So, homeschooling’s going well.


I am building a chicken hutch. With power tools. It is tremendously ensmuggening. If Rambo and Wonder Woman had a baby, that baby would grow up and be me building a chicken hutch.

The best part? It impresses Rowan greatly. When I began she was following me around saying in escalating tones of worry “Um, Mummy? Not to be rude at all, but don’t you think you should wait until Daddy gets home? Are you serious about building a chicken hutch? You’re a twenty-nine-year-old woman! This isn’t going to end well! Won’t Daddy be mad if you wreck his wood? Are you allowed to use his tools?”

For the record, the wood in question was salvaged by me from a building-site dumpster (while wearing circle skirt, no less); and while the tools (a DeWalt multitool on heavy discount) were indeed bought by Daddy, they were bought on my advice because I knew I’d want to cut drywall at some point. Not to mention that Daddy’s experience with hutch-building is as null as my own. So, y’know. There’s legitimate acknowledgment of broad gender differences, and then there’s just being a git, pig.

Three days later, she stares at me in frank admiration while I wield the screwdriver and says “Wow, I didn’t know you had such skills!”

To be clear: I’m not saying her awe is entirely justified by results. At one point she and Miles were helping carry the half-completed hutch into the carport and a vital component fell off… for instance. And the lines have a sort of casual, hand-drawn quality, due to my cutting out hardboard with a tiny hand-held oscillating drywall-cutter instead of, say, a table saw. And the mitring on the A-frame has a certain ventilated, let’s-all-give-each-other-some-personal space aesthetic which doesn’t bode well for longevity. Plus I almost gave myself a C-section in a moment of slippage because I don’t have any clamps.

But still. As far as Rowan is concerned, I am Rosie the Riveter, mallet-twirling lumberjill who don’t need no man. I am now basking in the ill-defined but gratifying expectation that she will grow up changing her own tyres, kung-fuing muggers and pursuing a profitable STEM career. All because of me.


1. We moved house. Oof. I’d forgotten what a horrific experience it is. Specifically, revealing one’s filthy underfridge to a room full of one’s nearest and dearest. I realise that most people’s underfridges aren’t exactly pristine, but I doubt they have ecosystems of such breathtaking complexity. Speaking of which, there was a dead mouse under my desk. And a lovely older woman from church did the vacuuming for me and kept coming up to me with small bits of smeg held gingerly in her fingers, asking politely “Do you want to pack this?” So, y’know, that was fun.

On the bright side: we have a house. We are Legitimate Adult Homeowners. We could rip out walls, if we wanted. Only of course we can’t, because we’re paralysed with fear that whatever we do will introduce dry rot, constitute a fire hazard, short out the electrical work, collapse something load-bearing or melt the drywall. Which, indeed, it might. We’re not what you’d call DIY wizards. We’re not what you’d call DIY barely-competent. So for now, the rashest thing we’ve done is plant a lime tree; and even then, I’m not entirely confident we put it in the right place.

Actually I’ve planted quite a few things. The previous owners left the garden in a barren but impeccably tidy condition with a bare raised veggie bed, which are the sort of conditions which suit a Smokey, gardening-wise. I’ve put in beetroot, broad bean and cauliflower seedlings, sown dwarf peas, replaced a collection of octogenarian succulents with dwarf snapdragons in a rather attractive trug, and made a sort of potagery herb garden with rosemary, parsley, thyme, alyssum and chrysanthemums. I even bark-mulched the herb garden, which is, like, Level 4 Adulthood.

Good for the soul, gardening. Especially if it gets you out of the kitchen, which is, shall we say, quirky. Like in the fact that the pantry, which makes you go “Oh well, not much storage, but at least there’s a pantry”, is actually the water heater. And how the oven turns itself off when the timer goes off, in a spiteful “Well, if you’re not cooked by now you’ve lost your chance” sort of way. It’s not even broken – the manual states it, unemotionally, as if this is a perfectly rational thing for an oven to do. And the fact that the dishwasher now resides on the back porch. I like to think the neighbors are soothed by the nightly sloshing. Like living in their very own bilge.

2. You could write a tragic tale about a giant who tried to get the attention of his human lady-love by throwing pebbles at her window, only misjudged the scale and ended up throwing a rock *through* her window and being charged with a hate crime. I don’t plan to; but you could.

3. Sometimes I feel my children need more socialisation. Today Rowan climbed a tree to watch people playing cricket in the park next door. She watched them like they were zoo animals. She didn’t even need to climb the tree. It’s a chain-link fence. On the bright side, I think she unnerved them and they went away.

Miles is more proactive. The day after we moved in he went for a walk next door and greeted the neighbor with “Hi, I like your lawn mower!” Several minutes (and apparently a long conversation about superpowers) later, the neighbor brought him back saying “I found this”. Cue a long, serious discussion with Miles about how we live in town now and can’t just go wandering around the streets. He agreed solemnly. Two minutes later, I caught him trucking off down the driveway again.

Me: “Where are you going?!”

Miles: “I’m just going back to say hi to the neighbor again and meet his dog.”

Cue a much lengthier discussion, this time with visual aids and complex negotiations about exactly how close to the crack between the driveway and footpath Miles could put his toes, as well as the painful revelation that claiming superpowers isn’t a valid defence of unsupervised street-wandering. This time, so far, it seems to have sunk in. Miles has limited his communication with the neighbors (all three sets) to bellowing cheerfully at them over fences and across roads. Though it does seem a bit suspicious that he reports these conversations as consisting, on their part, of saying solely “I like talking to you, you should keep talking to me, you’re not being pesky.”

4. Miles enjoyed the moving process greatly. We hired a truck and a guy from church volunteered his father, who we don’t know very well, to drive it. Said fellow kindly asked Miles if he wanted to ride with him in the truck, and being a four-year-old boy, he was thrilled. Then when the truck turned up, worryingly later than expected, at the new house, he was perched way up high on the front seat chowing down on a hamburger. Turned out he’d needed to go to the loo halfway there and a McDonald’s was the most convenient. Nice work, Miles. And ten minutes later he spotted a ginger kitty in the front garden and exclaimed in tones of extreme delight “We have a CAT!” I had the sad task of persuading him it didn’t come with the house, like the stove and curtains. (Though of course, being a cat, it kind of does. The pigs have named it Pumpkin.)

5. Morris enjoyed moving also. Morris enjoys most things. We enjoy Morris. It’s a good system.

An Alphabetised Guide to Morris

Axis of Evil – a 45- to 90-degree alignment along which Morris likes to lie at night, for the purpose of minimising parental bedspace

Bedpigs – a chronic infestation, generally most acute in the early morning and along the Axis of Evil.

Continental Drift – when a nappy works its way around the squish so as to expose an entire porcine buttock to the elements

Dactyling – a barbaric, continuous, ear-splitting yawp of Enthuse, named for its resemblance to the cry of a pterodactyl

Enthuse – the overflowing life-force of a Morris, manifesting itself in dactyling, tromping and undirected but intense excitement. Enthuse frequently bursts forth at curtains and ceiling-fans, thus lending credence to the theory that Morris, while fat and pleasing, is a bit of a thicko.

Facial Fats – Morris’ prime export. Self-explanatory, except to note that when consoling a Morris, it is polite to sing this song, to the animated Spider-Man theme tune:

Facial fats, facial fats

Tiny Morris has facial fats

Some like dogs, some like cats

We like babies with facial fats

We doooooo… we likes ’em when they splats!

Fontanelle – Morris’ off-switch. How did I not know about this before? Sleeping through the night rocks!

Helium Bottom – a serious medical condition in which, during milksing, a baby’s posterior rises gently skywards and begins to sway in the breeze. Actually, to date, Morris is not afflicted with Helium Bottom. In this respect he is a better baby than either of his siblings.

Morris – the babe in question. Known aliases: Morris Minor, Señor, Young Sir, Fatty-Boom-Boom, Short Stack, Heffalump, the Exceptional Fatsome-Sausage, Thumb-Sucking Fool, Small Fry, Creature-Beast, Blobfish, Tiny, Fish-Sticks, and basically any other combination of words which comes to hand when one’s brain is temporarily dazzled at the sight of Morris’ mighty thighs.

Neck-cheese – a uniquely piquant superfood formed between chins 3 and 4 from milks deemed surplus to requirements. See Scummy-button.

Odorflowing – a term coined by my small sister to describe the rejection by Morris of perfectly good milks

Saturated fats – Morris on a hot day.

Scummy-button – a baby’s navel between washings (see Neck-cheese)

Spoon of Justice – Morris’ preferred wielding item. Uniquely, and this is deep, man: unlike many magical artefacts – the Lasso of Truth or Mjölnir, for instance – any spoon, correctly wielded, can be the Spoon of Justice.

Squissues – Pronounced ‘squishues’, squissues are simply issues of the squish: a woeful continuum ranging from constipoops through pesto-poops, boips and pootles to squirtles. Squissues are Morris’ leading cause of sadness and require him to be thoroughly wrung out, folded up, twisted, turned upside-down and occasionally balanced on his tum on someone’s head. The Enthuse of a Morris whose squissues have been resolved has to be seen (or, at a greater distance, heard) to be believed.



Yes yes, I know; I do not call, I do not write. It’s not my fault. I was kidnapped by buccaneers and forced to prepare croquembouche in a cave for the wedding of the Pirate King.

1. My children do not get knock-knock jokes. I tried “Knock-knock”, “Who’s there?”, “Interrupting cow” on the pigs this morning, and they thought that was the end of the joke and laughed hysterically.

2. You know what pleases me about babies? Most things, actually, but other than that? I like how they manage to give off a very low impression of helplessness.

Take young Morris, for instance. Being a wee bit gormless and hampered by his fats, he is still more or less immobile. He does not sit, he does not crawl, he rarely rolls; mostly he just lolls about like a sea-slug. If he wants to be taken anywhere, he has to be carried; similarly, he is of course incapable of feeding or changing himself or doing anything remotely useful.

But does this distress him? Does one feel a sense of pity looking down at his stationary self? Not a bit of it. By sheer chutzpah and joie de vivre Morris manages to convey a sense of autonomy. One gets the impression he is doing what he wants. Lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, he acts as if he is exactly where he wishes to be. And should you pick him and take him to a window to see the chickens, well, he wanted to do that too.

It’s impressive. And presumably one would not feel the same way about, say, a quadriplegic. And I realise it isn’t a trait that applies to all babies; there are go-getters in the infant community who register displeasure at their lack of crawling ability, and pitch out of one’s arms trying to reach the curtains.

But Morris does not. He takes life as it comes and finds it goodly. He is secure enough in his place in the cosmos that the thought people might find it tiring to lug him about simply does not occur to him. “Here I am,” he says. “I have joined you now. You’re welcome.”

3. We’re buying a house. Rather, we’re attempting to buy a house. It is a hideous, grinding, demoralising process and I don’t want to talk about it.

4. Few things in muggy weather make me as ambivalent as cosleeping with a fat, loving baby with a low melting point.

5. This baby.


“Can I tell you a story?”

“OK. A short one.”

“How short?”
“As short as your finger.”
“Which finger? This one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one?”
“As short as this one here.”
“How about this one?”
“No, I like the one I chose.”
“Morris is so CUUUTE! He’s a wasp!”
“Is he? Don’t pesk his head, I want him to sleep.”
“OK. Now. What animal?”
“Um. How about… well. A wasp?”
“No, wasps have stings.”
“How about a pika.”
“No, you always tell me stories about pikas. How about a snake?”
“No, snakes are scary.”
“How about a manatee?”
“I think I’ll do a bat.”
“Oh, OK.”
“Yes. A bat named Batman.”
“A bat named… OK. Go.”
“Once upon a time there was a bat named Batman, and he could fly and crawl along. And he thought he heard something scary, so he went to see, but it was just Robin, his partner. So they were flying along and then they heard something like this: SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. And it was SSSS-ing along, and they flew down to see it. And they thought it was a snake. But it was just a dragon. So it was Robin’s friend, because Robin liked dragons. And then they thought they heard something spotty, so they went to see, and it was a pika.”
“Goodness. But pikas aren’t spotty.”
“This was a spotty pika, with eyes.”
“Yes. And it was Robin’s friend too, because Robin’s favourite animals are dragons AND pikas. And then – now they’re talking. “Look, Robin! I can go upside down on my head! And I can hop on my head! Bup bup bup!” “Wow, cool, Batman! So can I!””
“This story is getting quite long. I think it’s longer than your finger. Can you finish it up?”
“Yes. ….That was the end.”


An Incident I Regret

Recently I made myself a chai latte. I am fond of chai lattes. They make my non-tea-and-coffee-drinking self feel like a grownup at cafes which don’t serve iced chocolates. And this particular chai latte was made from some incredibly delicious chai latte mix I got at the Food Show. It is a sweet, spicy, creamy nectar of the gods, and simple enough to make in the dark.

This proved to be regrettable.

You see, I had invited my mother and sister over for dinner, and, seeking a bit of light and airy escapism, we were watching The Shawshank Redemption. This is a long movie. So when the urge for a chai latte overcame me, I refrained from pausing the movie out of respect for my mother’s bedtime and quietly sneaked around the kitchen.

The latte was delicious. I slurped it happily to soothing scenes of prison violence – out of a soup spoon, because there was froth and I am a pig. (Seriously though, it’s by far the best way to drink milk-froth.)

Seven-eighths of the way through (the latte, not the movie) I schlped another spoonful. My lips met a sort of congealed, slimy mass. “Ew”, I thought, “the milk skin’s gone all oobly”.  I tipped it back in and had a couple more spoonfuls. I met it again. Off-put, I put down the mug and continued watching.

Then a slight niggle of doubt began to creep into my mind. I wondered how milk-skin could survive the intense frothing process a chai latte requires. Some time later, I remembered that the milk-frother is kept on a windowsill regrettably prone to slugfestations. Shortly after that I remembered actually finding a slug on the milk-frother a few weeks ago.

The movie ended. I tipped the rest of my chai latte into the sink and viewed the dregs. And for some time afterwards my mood could best be described as pensive.


Yesterday Rowan lost a tooth.

This isn’t the first tooth she has lost – the two bottom front ones went the way of all flesh many months ago. At that time I first broached the subject of the Tooth Fairy, only to be roundly ridiculed by the pig.

She: “Mummy, fairies aren’t real! That’s ridiculous!”

Me: “Well, you don’t have to believe they’re real. But it’s fun to pretend, because when you put your tooth under your pillow you get money.”

She: “That’s insane. I’m not going to do that.”

Me, disbelievingly (revealing, perhaps, a strong streak of Scottish blood): “But you GET MONEY!”

She, dismissively: “I have lots of money.”

But that was then. Now, Rowan is a wiser and more practical pig, not above taking advantage of a parent’s whimsy in order to fund her chocolate-bar habit. So yesterday when a tiny canine dislodged itself – quietly and with minimal fuss, I’m happy to say – Rowan announced with a masterful blend of cynicism and condescension that she would try putting her tooth under her pillow just this once, but that she didn’t expect it to come to anything.

And so help us, we were out of cash.

Who carries cash about with them these days anyway? I mean, now that I drive I do try to keep the odd coin about my person for the parking meter, but between that and the pigs’ addiction to those child cancer wishing well gizmos, I rarely have twenty cents to rub together – let alone a dollar, which I had incautiously revealed as the going rate.

It was 10:30 at night. Neither Helpdesk Man nor myself was prepared to actually drive into town in search of an establishment a) still open, b) not a strip club and c) willing to put through a $1 EFTPOS transaction. Helpdesk Man checked his wallet, my purse, his coin pocket, the coin pocket of his other pants, his desk drawers, the back of the tallboy and the wardrobe floor. No dice.

Our options seemed to be as follows:

-Leave the tooth in situ and give Rowan a lame “Oh dear, she must have forgotten; let’s try again tonight” speech in the morning. (Rejected due to obvious patheticness.)

-Write a tiny IOU note in wobbly Tooth Fairy writing. (Rejected due to Helpdesk Man’s claim that this was just as pathetic. I thought it was clearly less pathetic, but I was already in bed and would have to get up to write the note, so I conceded graciously.)

-Print out a picture of a Tooth Fairy, slip it under her pillow and claim in the morning she squashed the Tooth Fairy in the act with her enormous heavy head during the night. (Also rejected by Helpdesk Man, who has no sense of Charm.)

-Replace the promised dollar with chocolate. (Rejected after brief consideration as potentially melty and liable to be scorned by the pig, who knows her rights; besides, Helpdesk Man had eaten it all.)

-Find Rowan’s current stash of coins and borrow a dollar out of it, hoping she wouldn’t notice until we got a chance to replace it. (Helpdesk Man had qualms, but I would have totally gone for this; unfortunately, she’d asked me to count it the day before and I recalled she only had a bunch of silver and a $2 coin. A pile of twenty-cent pieces would make a noticeable dent in the stash, as well as implying the Tooth Fairy was pitiably broke; and setting a $2-a-tooth precedent is the way down which lies madness.)

We were staring at each other in despair when I suggested Helpdesk Man check the car. We have a Forrester – a big, ugly brute of a thing (and the fourth most stolen car in New Zealand, whodathunk?), but its one redeeming feature is a plethora of little slots and compartments. I’m fond of small hidey spaces, and you can’t plop your elbow down in the Forrester without it falling into a hitherto-unsuspected bit of moulding designed to hold one’s sunglasses, Coke cup, knuckle-dusters, police-amusing baggie of oregano, etc. It seemed plausible one of them might contain a spot of coinage, popped thoughtfully there in richer days as a safeguard against the chaps who clean your windshield at the lights.

Anyway, off he trucked, and returned after a very long time with seventy cents and a Samoan tala. (“They were in the coin compartment. They must’ve been from the previous owner.” “Wait, we have a coin compartment?” We do, apparently. No idea what it looks like; the Forrester reveals its secrets slowly, like unto the unfurling rose or, come to think of it, the TARDIS.)

Long story short? Our Tooth Fairy mythos now contains special Tooth Fairy coins, which are prettier than regular money but can be exchanged for boring old Kiwi dollars when Helpdesk Man next goes to the supermarket. Tooth Fairy coins are largeish, gold, slightly fluted around the edges, and if by spectacular coincidence they happen to have a profile of the king of Samoa on one side, what of it? Maybe the Tooth Fairy’s a fan of taro.

Of course, the hard part now is preventing Helpdesk Man from losing the tala before Rowan finishes losing her teeth. After all, regular non-magic money isn’t going to cut it any more… We may have erred.

Older entries