Category Archives: February 2012 Posts

A creature of habit

8:15am, Tuesday, Bendigo.  Muesli’s eaten, shower’s taken and I’m walking to the gym just like every other Tuesday.  Right on schedule, on the bridge just before the train tracks, I see the mother with the cherry tattoo on her shoulder pushing her baby boy in a buggy.  Her five-year-old daughter, dressed in a blue school uniform, carries a huge (though nearly empty) rucksack that hangs from her shoulders to her knees.  I walk behind them, watching the little girl’s blonde pony-tail bounce from side-to-side.  She trots frantically to keep up with her fast-moving mother and their large grinning dog.  Her small arm looks set to pull out of its socket as she’s yanked along, but she beams with adoration at her pet.  Every day this makes me smile.  As we approach the level crossing, the family manoeuvres to the left, to allow me to stand on their right – my regular position.

The family always turns left after we pass the bedding store while I continue ahead, and today is no exception.  Soon I’ll pass two workmen building an extension to a wood-fire pizza restaurant:  they’ll wave and comment on the weather.  Like clockwork they shout, “Beautiful day!”  I smile and agree.  Dead on time ten minutes later, I enter the gym’s studio where I pause, taken aback at the sight of a Step where I ordinarily put mine.  A girl calls out, “I’ve put your Step in your spot for you”.  I relax and thank her.  Though I do adjust the Step slightly as it’s not in exactly the right position …

It’s a relief that I have my usual location in the room because my clothing is a deviation from my regular attire.  I’m wearing my green sports top which isn’t the one I normally wear for Tuesday’s class.  We had some rain overnight so the washing didn’t dry.  Instead I’m wearing the grey top which is okay.  Yes, it’s okay … of course it’s thicker than the green one, so not ideal for today’s workout, but it’ll do.  It’ll have to do.  Don’t dwell on it, Rainman.

After the class I shower (in the third cubicle, always the third cubicle) and go next door to The Coffee Bean.  The owner greets me brightly before I’ve even spoken, “Double espresso to go!” and winks at me.  I’m startled by his confidence at my order; his certainty enhanced by the obvious pride in his wink.  Jesus, my comforting routine is apparent to complete strangers.  I return his smile and laugh, “No.  Actually a long black to have here”.  (Take that, Café-Owner!  You’ll think twice before aiming your judgemental wink at me again.  Oh yes, you will.   I can be as carefree and spontaneous as the next person).

I wait impatiently for my order; resentful of now having a long black, and having to sit here.  This was not my plan.  My plan was definitely a double espresso to go.  That’s how I always have my morning coffee … clearly.  But I’m being contrary, probably predictably so.

You could set your watch by my afternoon visit to Hudson’s Café.  I’m mildly disappointed that the girl with the nose-ring serves me as I prefer the guy with the beard (he brings my coffee to my table, rather than making me wait for it at the counter – plus he usually serves it with a chocolate).  Miss Nose-Ring looks at me, “Long black to have in?”  Hmm.  I don’t want to be predictable, but it is my afternoon coffee and my favourite seat is vacant.  Altering my regular choice would just be crazy.  Wild, reckless crazy and I can’t justify it.  I’ll walk a different route home – no, I’ve established the best route and I like it.  I’ll walk home on the other side of the road, yes that’s enough of a break from routine for today.  As nose-ring girl hands me my coffee, I turn to walk to my seat and stop.  Someone’s now sitting there.  God damn it.  I don’t drop into the foetal position and start rocking, but I leave.  And, as sure as the sun rises, I walk home on my usual side of the road.

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You choose, you lose

So last week I commented on your (slightly lechy and gratuitous) interest in my love/lust life.  This week I note that none of you have asked about my root canal.  Not so much as a single word of even fake concern for my wellbeing.  Well, I’ll lock that away in the compartment of my mind marked “bitter and resentful”.  And, never one to hold a grudge, I’ll draw a line under this little incident and get on with today’s post (you thoughtless, uncaring sods …)

“You choose, you lose”

The glowing orange sun hangs low in the sky like a big fat pumpkin.  Crickets chirp, cicadas hum and the warm breeze rustles through the eucalyptus trees; the familiar sounds of dusk.  Five hours have passed since lunch and the effects of the afternoon wine and dizzying heat have subsided.  Across the vast open stretch of parkland, a group of young men have started pre-season footy (Aussie Rules) practice.  Their dropkicks and handpasses make me smile.  How often did I watch the boys at school run through this identical routine two decades ago?     

I’m sitting cross-legged on a thick log, shaded by a tall Red Spotted Gum.  Following lunch, the day has passed in a serene daze, and I’m not drunk from alcohol, love or the sun; the book I’m reading has held me entranced like a magic spell, in the way only good books can.  A hopeless bookworm, I’m still absorbed by the characters long after I’ve put down my Kindle.  What are they doing now?  What are they going to do next?  By the time I’ve finished thinking about the make-believe people, the footy-guys have finished their robust training and the sun has been replaced by the glittering stars of the Southern Cross.  Their silver bling is beautiful against the navy sky.  The tranquility is intoxicating.

Yesterday I was in Melbourne, the only place in the world that makes my heart ache with longing.  Today I’m back in rural Victoria, one of the few places in the world that soothes me.

I’ve always found Australia to be an ugly, harsh country.  Away from the beaches and mountains, a dry haze of khakis, browns, yellows and beiges stretches on.  Unlike the striking lushness of England, Australia’s beauty has to be sought.  Australians, in their dogged patriotism, berate me when I comment on the unappealing countryside.  But finding it unattractive doesn’t remotely undermine my affection for it.

Though I’ve lived in cities for eighteen years, I was raised in the country and often yearn for it.  I wasn’t living on a farm, but was based in a farming community and there was no escaping the lifestyle and enduring impact of the environment.  I miss the paddocks, the animals, the long arid grass and the muddy river banks.  Sometimes I even miss the terrifying sound of the flapping wings of a maggie as it swoops and aims to peck the back of my head (I certainly miss the amusement of it happening to others!).  I miss the rusty barbed wire fences keeping the sheep enclosed, and I lament the skills that are now useless to me.  No one’s ever going to ask me to assist with a lame calf, or test the voltage of an electric fence with a piece of grass – both skills any girl should have, surely?

I’ve lived in West London for almost as long as I lived in rural Victoria and whilst I love it, I don’t yet miss it.  Perhaps pining doesn’t come until the absence is much longer.

I’ve chosen city life.  But for every choice, something hasn’t been chosen.  I think about this in relation to all manner of things:  Careers, relationships, places.  Choosing a certain path doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have enjoyed, or don’t still want, the un-chosen path.  As I walk home in the bright light of the stars, I grieve for some of the things – people and places – I haven’t chosen.  Thankfully, I can still experience and sample some of them.  Others won’t ever be mine again.

Vengeance and Valentines

First, thanks for your emails encouraging my recent romance.  Alas, I won’t be providing the intimate details you requested (you lecherous bunch of pervs!).  I apologise if this is frustrating but I’m exercising a degree of censorship because:

  1. My mother reads this blog.
  2. So do some of my colleagues.
  3. I would like to cling to a smidgen of dignity.  

Anyway let’s get down to business and see if it’s possible for you to be entertained without X-Rated content (seriously, shame on you!).

Courtship is on my mind and not just because of Cafe-Man.  Many of my friends have recently embarked on new relationships, Valentine’s Day approaches, and in my family home I’m surrounded by paraphernalia from relationships past.

In December Mum touchingly toasted my arrival in Australia with champagne in glasses that, in a previous life, were an engagement gift to me.  My stomach lurched when I saw them and I hoped she’d forgotten where they’d come from.  She hadn’t.

Mum:  These glasses were an engagement present to you from Tom’s sister, remember?

(Yes, yes I do).

Mum:  It was such a shame about the two of you.  Do you think you’ll ever get in contact with him again?

I closed down this conversation quickly.  Tom’s divorced and working in Sydney; thankfully enough time has passed for me to smile at my ridiculous behaviour after being dumped, but I still don’t leap at the thought of seeing him.

My break-up meltdown was classically psycho; when young love turns sour the wounded party often loses their mind.  However one instance of my bunny-boiling conduct continues to trouble me.  A few weeks after I’d moved out I agreed to drive Tom to work.  I sat on his waterbed (yes, waterbed – it was the nineties) and waited while he was in the ensuite showering.  Tom always wore a silver ring, however on this occasion I saw it resting on his bedside table.  In a moment of inexplicable insanity, I picked up the ring and heaved up the corner of the waterbed (it’s possible you’ve never lifted a waterbed mattress – believe me, they’re heavy).  I calmly threw the ring onto the base and lowered the hefty mattress.  What on earth was I thinking?!  When Tom emerged ready for work, I carried on as though butter wouldn’t melt.  Nothing was said about the ring until later that week when I ran into him in a shopping centre.

Me:  Hey, you’re not wearing your ring? (Knowing he’d be puzzled and frustrated by the lost piece of jewellery wasn’t enough – I had to hear him say it!)

Him (with a look of confusion): Yeah, I can’t find it and I’ve looked everywhere.

To this day I can’t explain why this caused me such delight.  Love, or lost love, had temporarily made me crazy.

I’ve known aggrieved exes to do far worse (both illegal and dangerous), but guilt has stayed with me about this little incident and I want to make amends.  During our years together Tom wrote a book (a fantasy novel about a green elf and an angry dwarf – I didn’t say it was a literary masterpiece).  This book is on my laptop and I’m determined to retrieve it (he never saved it to a “floppy disk” for his own possession).  Unfortunately the software is museum-artefact ancient and I can’t even switch it on.  I’ve taken it to an IT professional who’s old enough to remember DOS to sort it out.  Will I actually send it to Tom?  I don’t know.  I don’t want to cause him unnecessary shock but I do want him to have his piece of creative work.

Luckily I’m at peace with almost all my other past loves and haven’t engaged in any vengeful or sociopathic behaviour for fifteen years.  Okay, at the start of the millennium I may have indulged in a few phone calls where I hung-up without speaking, but it’s been a good few years since I committed so much as a drive-by (you know, just to check if he’s at home …).

And as for the International Day of Romance, well my Valentine’s Day date is with my dentist.  At 2pm on 14 February I’ll be having a root canal, so any X-Rated action will be gory rather than lewd.  I’m sorry to say that you’ll have to get your dirty titillation elsewhere.

A caffeine hit

I’m sitting in a crowded café with a travel brochure.  By the end of the day I have to make a decision about whether to tour around Vietnam and Cambodia.  The trip deposit is due and I’m assessing if my decreasing bank account can take the hit.  An attractive dark-haired man in his late thirties is with a colleague at an opposite table.  He’d smiled at me when I’d ordered my coffee and now I’m struggling to look like I haven’t noticed him glancing at me; I feel distinctly self-conscious and I’m certain it’s obvious.  He calls out.

Him:  Did you want the paper?

My heart jumps.  Is he talking to me?  I think so.  I look up and see him smiling in my direction with the paper in his hand.

Me:  No, it’s okay.  I’ve got to look at this (gesturing to the brochure).

Him:  No, seriously – take it, I’ve finished with it.

Me:  It’s okay, really.  I’ve got this.

In spite of my refusal, he gets up and brings me the paper.  For the next twenty minutes I feel obliged to pretend to read it as he talks to his colleague – acutely aware that he’s continuing to glance over at me.

I look up at the sound of shuffling chairs.  The two men are leaving.  The dark-haired man smiles at me and speaks to his colleague, “I’m just going to grab another drink, you go on ahead and I’ll catch up with you”.  He hovers uneasily at the counter until his companion is out of sight then he walks to my table.

Him (visibly nervous):  Got the day off work?

Me (smiling, hopefully reassuringly):  Actually, I’ve got a few months off work – it means I get to enjoy sunny days like this.

Him:  Lucky you!  …. um, I know this seems kind of forward, but I was wondering if you’d maybe like to go for a coffee or drink sometime?

[Okay what he actually said was, “Blah, blah … … this seems kind of forward, but you’re really beautiful and I was wondering blah blah …” I didn’t want to write the “beautiful” bit because it seemed arrogant – but it’s been soooo bloody long since someone commented positively on my appearance, so I’m letting you know.  Sod modesty!  Anyway, back to the story].

Me (smiling, I look at my cup and back up at him):  Well I can’t claim I don’t like coffee.

He laughs, allowing him to release some of his nervous tension.  We exchange names and he puts my number into his phone.  Both of us will spend the next few days excited and anxious in anticipation of the phone call, imagining the future conversation and the date that’ll be organised during it.

He’s made my day – I’ll be living off his flattery for some time.  Suddenly decisions seem much easier; I’ll book the trip to Asia.  What’s money in the big scheme of things?  Laughably, one little instance of mutual attraction has made everything brighter and trouble-free.  Nothing can hold me back when I’m in the buzz bubble.  The mild euphoria makes me feel unstoppable, but I’m aware that it’s both ridiculous and temporary.

Like a caffeine hit, sexual attraction provides energy.  Unfortunately this is followed by an inevitable slump and the buzz bubble will burst.  It’s likely this potential new flame won’t last and possible the ending will be awkward.  At least the only thing I have to lose is my local haunt; having been a regular in this café for weeks, I might have to relocate to another coffee-house.  It’s an insignificant price.  In the meantime I’m going to enjoy my fleeting moment of elation.

So the holiday decision is easily settled but replaced with another quandary – what should I wear on the as-yet unmentioned and non-existent date?  I don’t know if it’ll be a coffee or a drink, during the day or at night, on a weekday or weekend.  Each option alters the appropriate level of displayed skin, heel height, and hair style.  Heaven help me if he suggests an active date; jodhpurs or a wetsuit are definitely not making it to my short-list.  Ugh.  And world leaders think they have stressful decisions ….