The news came through early last week. My much loved 87 year-old uncle, the last of my mother’s siblings, had died. The funeral would be on Friday. I spoke to my cousin to inform her that I would be flying up to Tweed Heads for the service.
After Thursday’s two hour root canal session, which was considerably less painful than Wednesday’s two hour session, I grabbed my carry-on and headed to the airport. While waiting for the call to board my plane I received an email informing me there was a family gathering “at the Tweed Heads Bowling Club at 6pm NSW time”. I did think that the wording ‘NSW time’ was somewhat superfluous as Tweed Heads is in NSW, although I’ve always had my doubts for different reasons. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight every ‘Danger, Danger Will Robinson’ nerve should have been tingling but my mind was preoccupied with the pleasant anticipation of seeing family members I hadn’t seen for ages, even though it was in such sad circumstances.
Parnell family dinners, yep I have Parnell genes in my DNA along with the Evatt ones. Parnell family dinners are legendary. Our Irish ancestry, from way back who knows when, used to come to the fore during these culinary, family occasions. Grandparents, great-, as well as not great, aunts and uncles, plus all the cousins would sit around a huge table, and it would then be on for young and old.
These dinners became a learning exercise in conversational multi-tasking. (A skill I’ve found especially useful on twitter so many years later). There would be nothing less than four conversations being conducted at once. Each member of the family was expected to be able to follow each conversational narrative and then make meaningful contributions at the appropriate time. Children were encouraged to participate. Contributions to the conversation often meant interruptions where the loudest voice won so the definition of ‘appropriate’ really meant: for the family member making a ‘contribution’ at a time that best suited them.
The dinner din grew to a certain decibel level resulting in my grandmother looking sweetly around at everyone and then starting to fiddle with her extremely beautiful, curly, silver hair. Of course, everyone at the table knew she had turned her hearing aids off so they shouted even more loudly in the hope that one word in four would be heard. Fat chance! These dinners were raucous, slanderous and great fun. There was this heightened sense of the absurd running through members of the older Parnell generation who had a talent for then being able to turn the most seemingly commonplace into a delightful story where the ridiculous ruled. Raconteurs: one and all.
I make no apologies for the digression. You now have a glimpse of a fondly remembered childhood, one which puts Gordon, my late uncle, into a context. The Evatt family get-togethers were not quite as enjoyable as they were intellectually more rigorous and daunting for all sorts of reasons I won’t bother with as they have no bearing on this story.
On arrival at Coolangatta Airport my phone automatically jumped to QLD time, which was to be expected being in QLD at the time. A cab took me off to Tweeds but, despite crossing the border back into NSW, my phone didn’t jump back. I arrived at my cheap and cheerful motel, which serendipitously was opposite the Tweed Heads Bowling Club, site of the family get-together. I was given my key and a breakfast form to fill out. The times the reception desk was open for business were NSW times.
A box of chocolates and a Thank you card from my cousin, who could organise a Royal Coronation with one hand tied behind her back, were waiting in my room. Again the missive in the card included the dinner being at 6pm NSW time, the funeral would be at 10am the next day QLD time, no NSW time, the motel’s digital phone was in NSW time, my phone and pad were in QLD time, the breakfast menu room service delivery times were QLD time, check out was in NSW time.
Beginning to get the picture?
I arrived at the family dinner, 6pm NSW time, 5pm QLD time, and instead of the usual greetings and expressions of sympathy as you would expect at such a time, my first words to the assembled throng were, “What the fuck is going on with the time thing?” To which there was a chorus of “Welcome to Tweed Heads”.
My lovely aunt started with the arguments against daylight-saving involving curtains and cows. Only a few minutes, in either time zone, had passed since I had arrived at the restaurant and already everyone was having their say about two time-zone living. Being a Parnell family dinner, all opinions were being given simultaneously and the decibel level of the restaurant immediately increased ten-fold. I was home.
My poor beautiful Aunt still grieving for the man with whom she had shared so much for so long, was lambasted by the rest of the table. But not for nothing has she been a member of the Parnell family for over 63 years. Against one and all, she gave as good as she got, and I got into trouble for using the F word. You could hear my laughter in both time zones.
Later on in the evening individual members of the family started detailing the difficulties of living with two time zones. In this matter the state border no longer exists. Businesses choose whether to follow one time or the other, and indeed often both, depending on which time zone best suits. It is not a matter of crossing a metaphorical bridge and, ping, you are in another time zone. The town of Tweed Heads is not having to endure parallel times rather simultaneous time zones seemingly occupying the same space.
The refusal of Queensland to join the other Eastern states in daylight-saving causes all sorts of problems for those living in the border towns. If you live in the NSW time and work in QLD time, or worse, if one partner works in NSW time and the other works in QLD time, kids going to different schools in different times, etcetera, life is suddenly faced with a seemingly endless list of additional difficulties. On the face of it they may seem trivial, mere irritations solved by simply adding or subtracting an hour. In reality they morph into a living nightmare for the family. FREE TIP: Taxis are best ordered in QLD time.
I am no slouch when it comes to mathematics, but this schizophrenic approach to having to organise your life would drive me completely dippy. You know when you have that first bite of ice cream on a very hot day and you get brain freeze, which hurts. Now you know how I felt for the day and night I spent at Tweeds. I became so neurotic that I would miss both my breakfast and the funeral I had alarms set at various times, on every time piece, in both time zones. For an hour the following morning all you could hear was the sound of alarms going off at regular intervals.
Gordon would have thought the whole palaver with the time and alarm clocks an absolute hoot.
There is an acceptance within Tweeds that Queensland will never introduce daylight saving because of curtains and cows. I don’t believe it and I can’t help but feel that I am having my leg thoroughly pulled. I can understand a perverse recalcitrance on Queensland’s part causing them to do the exact opposite to that which NSW or Victoria have adopted. (Remember the railway gauge debacle). I applaud any desire to continually march to the beat of a different drum. These philosophies I understand even if they cost the Queensland economy a motsa because of the impact on tourism and the additional cost of doing business interstate. But if anyone still seriously uses the argument of curtains and cows to oppose the introduction of daylight saving I’m starting to think disenfranchisement should be the order of the day.
My cousins deal with dual time zones by being either early or late.
My phone and pad didn’t return to NSW time until I arrived back in Sydney.
My brain is still thawing out.
(1925 – 2012)