Stories that capture NSW's social evolution are in the newly released Seniors' Stories, Volume 4.
Stories that capture NSW's social evolution are in the newly released Seniors' Stories, Volume 4. Jess Turner, courtesy of FACS

NSW Seniors stories: Dogs and Dongles

Mere children, the sales staff in the computer store, raised pierced eyebrows when Shirley and I entered.

'How can I help?' asked a boy child.

'Show us your dongles,' said Shirley.

We were beginners at laptop lingo ... dongles ended the day's excursion.

'It would be more fun vacuuming the ceiling,' Shirley grumbled when she arrived at my house for coffee. 'We were going shopping, not computer shopping.'

My daughter who is now my MOM - my Monitor of Madness, phoned then, cutting through the coolness. 'I'll pop over later,' she said, meaning she'd inspect my fridge for vegetables and my coffee cups for stains. 'How were the sardine sandwiches I left last week?'

The sardine sandwiches were mutating into a fuzz farm on the fridge shelf.

'I'm about to go computer shopping.'

'I'll come with you,' she said, 'but not today...'

'Shirley's coming...'

'Don't take Shirley computer shopping please Mum, anyone but Shirley. I'll come now.' Daughter's voice buzzed round my kitchen via the best mobile reception I've ever had.

Dog crept behind the sofa to howl. Shirley mimed the pair of us driving away very fast so I settled Dog on the sofa with the TV, binned the sardine sandwiches and we left in Shirley's car. We'd not cleared the street before we saw my daughter's car heading our way.

'Keep your head down,' Shirley ordered while she kept her foot down and raced away to the mall.

'We'll start with coffee since I didn't get any at your place.' Soon we were laughing and kicking off sandals to compare bunions as only old, old friends can. We agreed that if Shirley slogged around electronic stores with me, I'd consider joining her hiking trip to Utah.

'It'll cost a bomb. What if we break a leg?' I asked.

'Stay home then,' she said, 'but don't show me your photos.' Shirley popped the unused little sugar packets from her coffee and mine into her bag, as is her habit. 'I pay the same for coffee if I put sugar in it or not,' she reasoned. It always took her the best part of a day and fifty-six little packets of sugar to make a cake.

Soon we were mastering gigabytes and watching laptops fold themselves inside out and upside down into tablets. They displayed, Shirley noted, more muscle memory than her physiotherapist. Weight was important, it being a concept we could understand and a word we could spell, so Shirley worked her way along a line of laptops lifting one in each hand. At the end of the row where the laptops ran out and a line of shiny phones began, she paused.

Sales Boy pounced. 'Are you after a phone?'

'Perhaps,' said Shirley. 'We're going away.'

'Where to? What might you need?' he asked.

'YOU-TA,' she said, and he blushed. 'You-ta, Utah in the USA. We'll need excellent communication.'

For me to have Wi-Fi and for Shirl's camera to talk to phones and laptops we'd need dongles it seemed. Sales Boy suggested we return the next day or the next - any day but today - and speak to Maurice, the doyen of dongles. He walked us to the exit where the security guard poked at sugar packets in Shirley's bag.

'You'll get sticky fingers,' Shirley warned him.

With Utah in mind we eschewed escalators for stairs and climbed to another store where sales children were younger than Shirley's phone. A boy plugged in cords and thingummies. He proclaimed Shirl's phone too old for new tricks and he seized mine, introducing it to the laptops, speakers and thingummies on his shelf. They all talked to each other apparently, saying who knows what. When Sales Child was called away Shirley prodded my phone where it lay cosying up to its new-age friends.

'Where are you?' My daughter's voice called like magic through all the laptop and Bluetooth speakers along the row.

'Wow,' cooed Shirley, slapping my hands away from the phone when I moved to unplug it.

'I let myself in. Your dog has been sick on the sofa,' announced the speakers to the whole store.

Sales children stopped shuffling DVDs to listen.

'Sardines on cushions... he's ransacked the garbage.'

The sales children gathered round. Shirley raised an arm gesturing for quiet, glowing with the wonder of it all.

'Dog's GONE. I'm driving the streets searching.'

'Ohh,' went the crowd.

When my daughter broadcast that she'd missed a midday appointment with a blast of liquid nitrogen to remove warts, I ripped her from the shelf.

Shirl and I decided there was no need to mention the mall or computers or warts to my daughter. Instead I phoned her and said I'd been for a long walk.

'I'm afraid I'll get my story muddled,' I told Shirley.

'Make it an exercise in neuroplasticity,' said Shirley. 'Fact and fiction on different pathways.'

She stopped her car three blocks from my place to let me walk home in case my daughter was lurking and spotted the car. Howls filled the air.

'That's Dog,' said Shirley. And it was. He'd squeezed through a high picket fence to croon at a Newfoundland on heat.

'Come,' I hissed through the pickets. 'Come Dog.'

Dog wouldn't leave the Newfoundland. Shirley locked her car and joined me with about a year's stash of sugar packets. She laid sugar under the fence and when Dog came close for a sniff we reached through and squeezed him out through the pickets. Shirley offered to drive us home. Back at the car we spied Shirl's keys - locked inside.

No way would I carry Dog home after he'd had a sardine sandwich and sicky attack and Newfoundland so Shirl and I walked the three blocks backwards, opening eighteen sugar packets between us and sprinkling them in his path. And throughout this exercise in agility and problem-solving and balance, our bunions crunched on the sugar. Utah would be a piece of cake.

* Joanne Ruppin's Dogs and Dongles was first published in the Seniors' Stories, Volume 4. Loan copies of the book are in libraries across NSW. The book can also be downloaded for free from

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