Archie finished school at the end of last year. He didn’t get into the course he applied for so he’s having a forced ‘Gap Year’ before applying again. This can mean several things. Some ‘Gappies’ go overseas and work in boarding schools assisting house masters or coaching sport, some go to developing nations and assist charities with building schools or hospitals, and some undertake courses to further their education. Very few do nothing.
Archie is one of those few.
‘Nothingness’ crept up on us. We didn’t see it coming. It started in a subtle way. First there was the invitation to go to Mollymook with a few mates to celebrate the end of their schooling and new liberation. Fair enough we thought. So about 12 mates piled into five cars and off they went. According to them the week was ‘just awesome’ and there were only two car crashes to report.
Archie and his mates have a knack for sourcing people with holiday homes. After the week at Mollymook there was the week at South West Rocks, the week at Grassy Head, the week down at Bowral and a week at Blueys Beach. It’s amazing how the year can go by.
In between the weeks away, there’s the mess. Like ‘nothingness’, the mess arrived without warning. One day he was at boarding school, the next minute his time was up and home he came with six years of hoarding. Belongings that included textbooks (never used), sporting equipment, musical instruments, stationery, uniforms (some not even his), casual clothes, a suit, shoes, doonas, towels, trophies, two mice and 37 odd socks. Everything stuffed into garbage bags and dumped on his bedroom floor.
The mystery of the mess is how it is constantly given attention yet the appearance of the room never improves. It’s like finding ‘black-spot’ in your swimming pool. One tiny little spot that you attack with vengeance and it disappears. But the very next day it’s back, and this time, with a couple more spots. Black-spot is multiplying faster than you can treat it. Mess is like black-spot.
You put up with the mess but also the mates. They like to be here – all the time. There’s one called Red Dog (because he has red hair), another called Nemo (because he has a mouth like a fish), and one called Donkey and best not to wonder why. Then there’s Gooch, Lagudi, Wal, Wes, Skip, Schnitz and Ol. No one is referred to by the name their mother gave them.
‘Oh mum’, screams Archie from the other end of the house. ‘I forgot to tell you. Red Dog’s coming over and so’s Lagudi, Gooch and Nemo. We’re just having a few beers and going to play some music. Is that okay?’
‘Are they staying for dinner?’
‘Yeah. And I told them it’s okay for them to stay the night. That’s okay isn’t it mum?’
‘All four of them? Where are they going to sleep?’
‘Don’t worry about that mum. It’s fine. They’re bringing their swags.’
Who invented the swag? It’s created the ultimate problem of not being able to refuse a guest based on not having enough beds. How can you refuse when all they need is just a little bit of floor to roll out that swag.
They like to eat. Anything. The snacking starts in the pantry with leftover baking items like glace fruits and cooking chocolate, then it’s the fruit bars that are strictly for Alfie’s school lunch, the chips that were for Arabella’s friends when they arrive home from school, the Tim Tams, handfuls of Nutri-Grain eaten straight from the box, and a few spoonfuls of Nutella.
Bread is a big favourite. All that was left of a brand new loaf of Cafe Toast were two discarded crusts. Absolutely anything can be put on toast so there go the baked beans, cheese, ham, tomatoes, eggs and bacon.
They don’t consider the fridge to be off limits. Anything in a jar is at risk – olives (including drinking the brine straight from the jar), stewed peaches, beetroot, creamed honey and pickles. Next it’s the tubs of yoghurt that are again for Alfie’s school lunch, then it’s onto any dips or pastes and squeezable things in tubes like condensed milk.
All these snacks are washed down with the remaining juice, milk and soft drinks.
After their ‘appetiser’ they are ready for dinner. ‘Oh Charlie, something smells good, what’s for dinner?’ Topping and tailing beans is a complete waste of time. They like huge servings of protein and carbs. Schnitzel with mashed potato, steak with horseradish cream and potato bake, spaghetti with meatballs, butter chicken with naan bread, lasagne with garlic bread and a leg of lamb with pumpkin, potatoes, kumera and gravy is what they want. You don’t need to worry about packaging up leftovers because there won’t be any.
After they’ve eaten what would have been enough to save a small nation from the brink of starvation, they’re ready to explore their musical giftings. They can’t get enough music and it’s never loud enough. They descend to the downstairs room while upstairs we’re all just bracing ourselves. Archie has a guitar, a didgeridoo, harmonicas in different keys, an amplifier and enough cords and leads that if stretched out in a single line would reach from here to the outback. Some kind woman has just given Archie her son’s electric guitar and amplifier complete with a switch that when ‘on’ plays drum beats – loudly. Apparently her son wasn’t using the either so she thought Archie would like them. Why didn’t she check with me? The others have instruments too and they bring them with them. A banjo, saxophone, keyboards and a drum kit have been added to Archie’s ensemble.
It’s hard to say what goes on down there except for a lot of noise. They practise the ‘classics’ over and over and over. How many teenage boys can play ‘Wonder Wall’ by Oasis, Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple and Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan? But these boys also consider themselves composers. When they’re happy with their new creation they record it onto their computers then upload it onto U-tube. Once it’s on U-tube it’s a full-time job tracking their songs, clicking on their sites to see how many hits they’ve had, replying to comments, adding the lyrics etc. Very difficult to also work a paying job when you’re so busy.
They don’t have any money. Their bank accounts are empty. But it doesn’t seem to stop them going out all the time. They borrow money, usually from family members. Archie will ask Arabella if he can borrow her babysitting funds. When she’s bled dry he’ll make promises he’ll never keep like, ‘Mum, can I have 50 bucks and tomorrow I’ll clean your car?’ But of course tomorrow it will be raining and he won’t be able to clean the car in the rain, and the day after that he’ll need to take the car to a potential job interview so that’s important and the day after that he’ll be bedridden etc.
You have to be careful about suggesting they go look for work as this can turn around to bite you in the bum. We made this mistake. We thought Archie might like to ease the burden he was placing on the family budget by becoming slightly more financially independent. I found a company that was hiring young and able-bodied people to work as waiters at private functions. Perfect I thought. I drove him to the interview. It seemed almost too good to be true that they accepted him on the spot! I was proudly telling everyone that Archie the Gappie with the career excelling in nothingness was moving on to employed status.
It’s just that to actually work for this company, Archie would have to undertake ‘just a couple of courses’. So there were two courses in the responsible service of alcohol that cost $500.00 and a silver-service waiting course for $150.00. We adjusted the family budget and got him through the courses and celebrated when the phone rang and Archie was told he had his first job. It’s just that now he needed to buy the uniform. So by now we were in too deep to pull out so off he went with my credit card to purchase the uniform. He was home a few hours later with the uniform plus a few extras that he absolutely had to have like a silver drink’s tray and a waiter’s friend. ‘And I got all this for two fifty mum.’ It’s now a week since Archie had his first job with the company. It cost me $900.00 to get him there. He earned $80.00 and the phone hasn’t rung since.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have let it worry me that my son was a Gappie specialising in nothingness.
No time to ponder. Red Dog, Lagudi and Gooch are coming for dinner. Did I mention they like home baking?
Serves: 16 adults or 1 teenager
Degree of Difficulty: 2/5
Cost: Reasonable considering what you would pay in a Cafe for a brownie
150g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 x 65g free-range eggs
1/2 cup plain flour, sifted
100g white chocolate chopped into chunks
100g milk chocolate chopped into chunks
Preheat the oven to 160°. Grease and line a 20cm square cake tin with a single sheet of baking paper. Place the dark chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water) and heat, stirring occasionally until melted. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and set aside to cool slightly.
Beat the eggs, vanilla and sugar in an electric mixer until thick and pale. Fold in the chocolate mixture. Fold in the flour. Lastly fold in the chocolate chunks.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 40 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the brownie comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely in the pan then lift out using the baking paper and cut into 16 squares. Serve dusted with a little icing sugar and double cream.