Category Archives: Australia

Sex note

A motel room in Bendigo, Tuesday morning.  It’s a cold day and I put my on coat in readiness to check-out.  It’s time to get to my meeting.  I see a note wedged under my door.  It must have been placed there last night or before my alarm went off this morning.  I pull it out and unfold it, presumably it’s from the staff advising me of checkout times or passing on a phone call.

Unless I misread the chemistry when I checked in, that’s not from the staff.

I turn the page …

 

And they say romance is dead.

Sadly I’ll not meet the Shakespearean lyricist whose sweet words have melted my heart.  I’m leaving.  What could have been on Tuesday night will never be.  Sigh.  Yet again I’ve missed out on a man who is clearly The One.

At reception I hand in my room key and inform the woman of the note.  She’s shocked, “And he’s used that horrible notepad, he didn’t even write it on nice paper”!  I’m not sure that would have made the difference.  But I’m not fully up to speed with Australian courtship and standards here may be lower.

As I drive to work, I’m bemused at the thinking of the man who wrote the message. It’s not a short note.  It’s not a single sentence, or a few words.  When Mr Motel decided to contact me this is the approach he took.  At no point while writing did it cross his mind “Maybe this isn’t a good idea …”.  No.  He pulled out a pen and paper, he wrote the first page … then he turned it and KEPT WRITING.  Then he ripped the page out, folded it, and slipped it under the door.  Through all that, he didn’t think “This is utterly ludicrous. What am I doing?!” He had focus and ploughed on … logic and rationale firmly discarded.

My main response to this incident?  Aside from laughter, it made me a little homesick for London.  The city where being sexually accosted is a weekly, if not daily, event for young women.  Black British men in particular are very open in approaching ladies who take their fancy.  Muslim men are equally brazen, though tend to use a different style.  White British men need a pint or 10 before their cheeky chappy (no euphemism) inevitably emerges.  Australians are a little shyer, a little less confident, and a lot more prudish.  It’s been a while since I encountered men letting their weird sexual thoughts blurt out, uncensored, and the amusement that can provide.

I doubt Mr Motel was aiming for bemusement and nostalgia, but I don’t really know if even Mr Motel knew what he was hoping to achieve.  Certainly the absence of his name or phone number indicates that he was hoping for anonymity … and his wife not finding out.

Afterword

Yesterday I voted in the Australian election (less exciting or important as the big vote of the last 10 days – Brexit). As I walked into the polling booth a man rushed up next to me “I imagine you’ll be voting for the Australian Sex Party”! 1) Ugh. 2) Yes, there is such a party.

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Feast in the Field

Friday night, a dark and cold winter evening.  Six rustic wood tables sit in a bush clearing in the middle of the Australian countryside.  Candles are on each table. A few strings of fairy lights are stretched above the tables, loosely attached to gum trees.  The smell of eucalyptus gives the air a fresh clean smell.

Small bonfires surround the outskirts of the tables, creating an atmospheric enclosure and providing warmth.  The flickering light is dim and only enables us to see the table next to us but no further. The pagan tone is seductive.  Our bonfire circle, the twinkling stars, and table arrangement in the middle of nowhere is our Stonehenge.  Tonight food is our god and we shall worship it justly.

This is “Feast in the Field” at Tree Tops, Victoria – an outdoor dining experience that takes place in the local bush area every six months.  Australia does food very well.  Rural Australia does it superbly.Feast in the Field

The feast begins and the banquet is brought to us:

  • Pork bone broth, kale crisps
  • Dorper lamb, verjus and parsnip
  • Hereford beef brisket, heirloom beets and carrots
  • Berkshire pork loin, celeriac and kohl rabi remoulade, crispy pork skin
  • Koshi rice pudding, quince and vanilla

I’m on a table of 10.  Seated directly around me are:

  • Kesenya, my colleague and friend
  • Chloe, a talkative, entertaining, and accomplished woman
  • Don and Jo, local “Restdown” vineyard and winery owners who lived in London for a decade (so it’s a pleasure and relief to talk to them).

Both Chloe and Don are guitarists so much of the conversation is about music.  It’s a fitting topic as the sound of crackling bonfires and clinking glasses is overlaid by the singing of Tyler Hudson (local musician and contestant on X Factor, Australia).  His performance enriches the event.

We eat, we drink, we talk.  It’s both a calm and stimulating evening.

Feast in the Field 3Despite the pagan setting and atmosphere, there’s no burning of the Wicker Man (that I witnessed), no naked dancing (that I took part in), no druids (or anyone wearing a hoodie), and no animal sacrifices (well, none that weren’t eaten with appreciation and gratitude).  But it’s a magical night.

Afterword 

Feast in the Field” was catered by Lauren Mathers from “Bundarra Berkshires” (who provided the pork for the event).

Local producers and Red Gum Food Group farmers grew all the food for the evening.

Don and Jo Hearn from “Restdown Wines” provided the organic beef (good wine and good beef go well together).

Other suppliers include: Peninsular Fresh Organics, Jonesys Milk, Plains Paddock Lamb, Belmont Biodynamic Produce, and Delicious Vanilla.

Twenty

Friday 10am.  I’m walking up the steps to the crowded hall where the presentation will be held and I spot him. My heart jumps.  

We’d met in the café last Tuesday.  I was with a friend, he was with three.  Our two groups talked for a bit – all of us fresh to the area and looking for new friends.  I discovered he’d be at this presentation today, but that doesn’t stop my heart pounding.   

I’m certain he spots me.  His voice becomes louder.  Is that for my benefit?

Across the pool of people he waves hello.  I wave back.

The crowd shuffles into the hall and I sit about 10 rows behind him and his friends.  The 90minute presentation is white noise.  My focus is on him.

The presentation finishes, the crowd applauds.  We exit and through the hordes he finds his way to me.

“Hello! Um, we’re going to the pub tonight – to that comedy thing they’ve got on … you should come”.

“Yeah, Anna and I were talking about that yesterday – we’re definitely going”.

10 hours later I see him in the pub.  He’s drunk too much.  Nerves?  We chat and the five of us decide to walk from the pub to the local bar.

It’s a hot night and the bar’s packed.  I sit outside.  He sits with me.  Our friends go inside the bar.  Hours pass.  We walk to the bridge and talk in the dark while looking over the still lake.  The lights from the bar reflect in the dark blue water, and the muffled music beats in the background – pulsating louder when patrons open the door.

I turn around.  He kisses me.  We spend the next three years together.

That evening took place two weeks from today in 1995.  My first year of university.  A life of hope on the horizon.

I was 17 and a virgin.  Literally and metaphorically.

I’d not been in a plane, I didn’t have an email account, a mobile phone (let alone an iPhone), a driver’s licence.  I’d not even used a fax machine.

I hadn’t met my best friend, tasted a decent glass of wine, stayed in a 5-Star hotel.  I hadn’t heard of Debenhams or Selfridges, used the tube, experienced the otherworldly bliss of an English summer evening spent drinking with friends in Hyde Park.

I hadn’t been called recalcitrant or lugubrious … and had to look up what they meant.

I didn’t know what a Burns Supper was, or Guy Fawkes night … or Eurovision or Notting Hill Carnival.  I didn’t drink coffee.  I pronounced the “z” in Ibiza.

A lot changes in twenty years.

I’m 37 and no longer a virgin.   I’ve experienced enough things to have forgotten many of them.  My labyrinthine memories are textured and colourful.  They’re my stories and I read them with pleasure, pride, sadness, embarrassment, warmth, and amusement.  I love them.

In the next twenty years more stories will be told to me.  People I know will die, and new people will come into my life.  I might lose a limb, get cancer, change careers, win the lottery.  I will experience periods of extreme grief, and moments of exhilaration.  I will hurt people and people will hurt me.  I will make some people laugh and some people will make me laugh.

I don’t know what my stories will be by 2035, but I know the time will pass quickly.  Or maybe it won’t.  A heart attack may strike me down on a warm night in 2028.  I might die tackling a terrorist in a hostage situation in 2021.

There are stories yet to come.

Cheers

A beautiful sunny afternoon in London.  Standing at the Starbucks counter, I order a black Americano.  The young olive-skinned girl asks my name.

Me: Simone

Her: Shamone?

Me (slowly): Simone

Her: Shemona?

Me (slowly, loudly, clearly): Simone.  S. I. M. O. N. E.

Smiling and nodding, she takes my money and I move forward to wait for my coffee.

In a few minutes the tall male barista passes me my drink.  I look at my name written in black marker on the side of the cup.  “Semen”.

Ugh.  Not once in the past year has my name been spelt correctly on a coffee cup.  And this is the third time I’ve been called Semen.  Seriously, Semen.

Tomorrow I leave London.  A new home and a new job await me in Australia.

My marriage to England has lasted fifteen years.  We’re separating, but I’m not yet filing for divorce.  I’m returning to my mistress, but England will always be in my blood.

I love and loathe both.

London has Monsoon, H&M, M&S food, pubs, quality TV.  And, crucially, my friends.  But it also has the tube, queues, hard water, bad customer service, crowds, and an ingrained culture of inefficiency.

Australia has space, great food, quality cinemas, soft water, open roads, comfort.  And, crucially, my family.  But it also has an obsession with Aussie Rules, upward inflexions, giant spiders, and an absurd preoccupation with both politics and political correctness.

Both nations delight me.  Both nations infuriate me.

One of them knows me as a child, a teenager, a student.  The other as an adult, an employee, a professional.

For now I’ve chosen Australia.  Because sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.  I can’t be sure that they’ll always be glad I came.  But as I sit with my coffee typing this, I’m looking forward to my name being familiar.  I don’t want to drink another cup of hot semen.

Afterword

My last month has been a wondrous whirlwind.  I saw two impressive musicals; “The Book of Mormon” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and two incredible films; Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and “This is the End”.

I went to some great restaurants including Sketch where the toilets are giant egg-shaped pods, and Scott’s where Nigella Lawson was choked by her husband (no choking occurred when I visited).

I frequented familiar bars all over the city, as well as a few new ones – including the fantastical Mr Fogg’s in Mayfair where the toilets have a soothingly refined voice reading “Around the World in Eighty Days” (Sketch’s toilets may be striking but Mr Fogg’s gets top toilet marks … and I don’t dish out that loo-rating willy-nilly).

I had a great date with a young city banker (I never thought I’d entertain a toy-boy), and experienced the best sex I’ve had in years (that delicious indulgence was with someone more age-appropriate, and my sincere thanks to him for that particular memory).

I saw my favourite comedian, Daniel Kitson, perform his sagacious show “After the beginning. Before the end”.  And I experienced the hottest summer I’ve ever known in London.  In fact I even spent a sweltering afternoon in a park in Brixton … and can now admit that I quite like the place.  West will always be Best, but I can occasionally dip my toes in the seedier side of town :).

In summary, I had a great finale.

But most importantly, I said my goodbyes. Whether it was breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, afternoon tea, drinks, an email, a text, a whatsapp, a tweet, a movie, a show, a date … or even sex, I said goodbye to everyone.  And I thank all of you for listening to me over the years (my poor, poor colleagues had to listen to so much!). And thanks for making me laugh. I’ll miss you and I’ll see you next summer (yours, not mine … mine starts again in three months: I’ll be a giant freckle by the time you next see me).

Cheers to those I’m saying goodbye to, and those I’m about to greet :).

Virus

A warm April evening, Albury.   I lie in bed, my stomach churning.  I need to throw up, but I’m next to Mum and David’s room and I’ll wake them if I rise.  For half an hour I fight the nausea but it’s a futile battle.  I head to the toilet.  I’ve never used this bathroom, and I can’t find the light switch.  In the dark, I kneel over the bowl and vomit, sweating and shaking.   Mum quietly emerges, switching on the light “Can I do anything for you?” I look up from the floor “Could you please just bring a bucket to my room?”

My mother has visitors so that afternoon I’d moved my belongings from the guest room to the room her grandchildren (my nieces) sleep in when they stay.   The last time I was this sick was when I was visiting last year.  For three days I hibernated in the guest room – where I thankfully had a large bed and an ensuite.  Tonight I crawl under Dora the Explorer sheets on a single trundle bed on the floor.  I reach for my iPhone to check the time, and my hand hits a large plastic fairy castle.  The street light shines through the Tinker Bell curtains.  In stark contrast to my sickness, cheerful toys fill the room.

The virus children with their germ-infested hands all over me ...

The virus children with their germ-infested hands all over me …

An hour passes.  I heave into the rectangular yellow bucket.  I should get up and empty it, but I don’t.  I can’t.  Another hour passes and I fill the bucket further.  My hair hangs down, covered in vomit.  Two hours later I wake; this time I need the toilet.  Diarrhoea is joining the party.

If I was in my usual room, the guest room, I could stumble to the ensuite.  Groan and heave privately in all my naked glory.  But tonight I have to cross the hallway and use the main bathroom.  Clothes are needed.  My mother will be spared the visual battering of me giving up on dignity, and giving in to the power of a viral assault.  Her guests will certainly be spared.

I put some clothes on my sticky body.  The items are possibly on backwards and probably inside out.  With bra-less glamour I greet the toilet.  Eventually I return to my room …

The stench I’d left the toilet in is rivalled by the smell that hits me when I open the bedroom door; the bucket of vomit has its own life-force.  Unbeknown to me, my ninja-quiet mother is in the doorway right behind me.  I have no doubt she heard the recent toilet activity.  She wants to help “Can I get you anything?” “No, but could you please empty my bucket?” (Somehow throwing up in it so often has suddenly made it “my” bucket).

Without saying anything she takes the offensive bucket, and I hear her rinsing and washing it repeatedly.  She places it next to me and leaves, closing the door.  She knows I need to fight this battle alone.

My drug-pushing father, demanding my company

My drug-pushing father, demanding my company

Morning comes and I hear sounds from the kitchen.  I call to my mother.

Me:  Have Audrey and Phil gone? (I’m not emerging unless they have).

Mum:  Yes, they left an hour ago.  How are you feeling?

Me:  I’ve been better.  Can you please ring Penny and let her know that I won’t be able to make it to Emily’s school assembly today?  Tell her I’m really sorry, but I just can’t.

Emily gave me this virus, Eliza gave me the one last year.   Ordinarily I could eat a rotten ferret without getting sick, but my nieces have the ability to infect me with unearthly illness.  I’ve recently realised why sweet little girls are always so creepy in horror movies: they carry invisible plagues.

Afterword

That same day, my father was driving to see me for the first time since my arrival.  He was first turned away, as I was sleeping, so he visited my sister for a few hours until he was informed I was awake.

When he arrived, he entered my room, laughed and threw a plastic bag at me “I don’t care if you’re dying! It’s bloody typical of you to ruin my trip! Anyway, I’ve been to the chemist and got you stuff.  Take them all so we can go out for lunch tomorrow.  I don’t want you being sick and boring the whole time I’m here”.

It’s fair to say my mother and father have very different nursing styles.