Family: Mum's the Word

Moving stories from the Outback and closer to home



Get rid of the clutter and buy throws, cushions, that kind of thing,” says the estate agent. “One or two objects on shelves, nice details. Buyers like that.”

With Middle travelling in Australia, and a house to sell, I start with his room. He’s gone to stay with a friend. No, he wasn’t sure of his last name but he lives in Wallaby Road, Melbourne. Aye right.

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I find the friend’s name in Middle’s contacts and Facebook friend him, taking care not to look too far, but couldn’t miss the pictures of him juggling snakes. Hmmm.

At least I have a contact if I have to jump on a plane and stage an intervention. But Middle had texted with pictures of him and friend in his flat, no snakes to be seen, and it looked normal enough. It’ll probably be fine.

So, painting. I’m aiming for the Greek cottage exterior look, expanses of white and the occasional cat dozing on a window ledge. Biggie Smalls obliges.

On day two of the pre-painting clearing I uncover the skulls. Two little beaky skulls alongside four sets of my tweezers (this will be why I’ve bought tweezers so often they’re under Favourites on my digital shopping list).

I message Middle in Oz. “When did you take up taxidermy?”


“Stuffing animals. I’ve just found two skulls. What are they?”

“Good, been looking for them. Seagulls, Tyninghame Beach,” he writes.

“I’ve put them away safe. Anyway, are you having a good (ie safe) time?”

“Yeah, just driven Perth to Melbourne.”

“Ha, ha. Yeah, right, that’s thousands of miles.”

“See video.”

It pings its arrival, I press play and there’s Middle, driving a truck through the Outback. Oh god.

“Took us three days, saw everything – kangaroos, pelicans, emus, wombats, galahs, parakeets, wedge tailed hawks, eagles... don’t worry, was a lot safer than you’re imagining,” he messages.

Oh, that’s all right then.

I distract myself with painting furiously, muttering ‘he’ll be fine’ and with everything packed or binned, it’s a simple matter of sloshing around white paint and repeat shampooing the carpet. Finally, it’s time for the details. Throws are thrown, cushions cushioned but it looks a bit bare, needs a little something. What about two little skulls on a shelf? Will that attract the buyers? Or is it just plain weird?