Category Archives: January 2015 Posts

Black Pudding

26 January, 8am, Australia.  Bacon’s sizzling, eggs are frying, mushrooms and a token slice of tomato are already cooked.  The feature item, black pudding, is proudly occupying its own frypan.

It looks like a horse-shoe shaped poo ...

It looks like a horse-shoe shaped poo – or (while on that topic) a toilet seat …

No work this morning – it’s “Australia Day”.  The day this nation celebrates in patriotism that could shame America.

It’s a significant date for another reason.  On 26 January 2004, I became a British citizen.

But my Britishness was stirring many, many years before then …

When I was four, a doctor deemed me to be iron deficient.  His prescription?  A dose of lots of red meat, ideally black pudding.  It was a treatment that only an Australian doctor in the early 80s would make (“Feed the girl MEAT!!”), but it put a bit of colour into my translucent cheeks and gave me enough energy to stop my Victorian-esque fainting spells.

I was subsequently fed copious amounts of black pudding and I happily devoured it like a little vampire.

It looks like a massive horse-shoe shaped poo and it prompts turned up noses, and scrunched up faces expressing disgust.  But I love black pudding’s dark, mushy goodness.  And my love was rekindled when I arrived in England and discovered it was a staple in English breakfasts.  It perfectly blends my Australian childhood with my adult love of Britain.

The Black Pudding cafe

The Black Pudding cafe

My only criticism of the delicious, solidified fluid is that I’d prefer its traditional and more accurate name – blood sausage – to be used.  How is it in any way a pudding?  It’d be a cruel trick to serve it to a child with ice-cream and call it dessert …

Australia hasn’t changed much in 30 years, but it has changed in the public’s demand for black pudding.  The supermarket shelves no longer stock it.  And I’ve looked in every supermarket I’ve entered during the last 17 months.  The town where I do my shopping even has a café AND a restaurant calledBlack Pudding” … but neither actually serve black pudding.  Why taunt me?  I had to arrange for a delicatessen, “Bitemedeli,” to order it.  Apparently they receive “about one request per year” for it.  I’m willing to bet that’s a Brit.

So today, on my anniversary, I cook the blessed squishy sausage and it sits with crowning glory on my full English breakfast.  A symbol of my past, and a nod to the country I love.  The schizophrenic, push-pull, emotional tug-o’-war is the curse of the ex-pat.

Afterword

1. For readers who are relatively new to my blog, I’ve written about Australia Day in a previous post called “Foreign”.

2. My mother passed my prescription for black pudding to my babysitter, Jillian, who fed it to me for years – again, for new readers, I’ve written a previous post about Jillian called (funnily enough) “Jillian“.

3. There is now such a thing called vegetarian black pudding made with beetroot juice.  Jesus Christ.  That should be retitled vegetarian blood sausage and made with the blood of vegetarians.

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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.

Join the queue

Saturday afternoon.  Grey clouds hang low in the sky, releasing the rain.  A cool energising breeze blows away the hot dusty air that’s drained and dirtied the area for days.   I walk up the wet concrete steps to glass doors and enter the local cinema.  

I buy my ticket in the noisy, crowded foyer and join the meaty queue that will (eventually) let us into the screening area.  The river of people winds from the pimple-faced ticket collector’s podium (and plaited rope “barrier”) out to the damp street.  Parents hold the place in line so their youngsters can roam until summoned.

Children squeal, fight and scream.  Parents yell.  Leaving my earphones at home was an error I’ll only make once.  The school holidays are a joyous period.

After a 15-minute wait, a comfort washes over me and I come to life.  This is the first time I’ve properly queued in 16 months and it stirs a delicious fire in me.  This is not my first rodeo.  London has trained me for queuing.  I allow the irritation and indignation to build with a pleasant familiarity.  Let’s play this.

I tut.  I tut again.  I shake my head.  I let out a quiet but terse and tight-mouthed “For fuck’s sake!”, and follow-up with a much louder, exasperated “Oh hurry UP!!”

I try to lock eyes with my fellow queuers to get their facial agreement at what is clearly an unacceptable delay and borderline violation of our human rights, but no one’s engaging with me.  It’s almost as if they think I’m overreacting …

Strange.  In London, a mini middle-class riot would have started.

It takes all my will-power not to approach the ticket collector and instruct him to let us in.  It’s 3:12pm.  The movie starts at 3:15pm.  WTF?  Let us be seated!

In the motherland many others would have already done this, but not here.  And if I lead the army, these soldiers won’t back me.

I’m not ready to be a mutineer.  So I wait.  Finally we’re granted entry … so late that the people are noisily finding seats through the trailers.  My anger is sustained.

I take my seat.  Three rows from the front, on the aisle with a vacant seat next to me.  The only other spare seat I can see is in the front row.

10 minutes into the movie a couple enter.  In the dark, they make their way to my row.  They rustle and “whisper” like elephants next to me.  I deliberately put my finger to my ear so they can see I’m blocking them out.  I know what’s coming.

“Excuse me, but would you mind moving so we can sit together?”

I smile and speak politely.

“I’m really sorry, but I queued for half an hour to get a decent seat so no.  Sorry”.  (It’s an English sorry.  Translation: I’m not remotely sorry).

I’m triumphant.  Didn’t expect that did you, my late friends?  You didn’t suffer the crowds or the queue, and you can’t just saunter in and relegate me to another sub-standard seat.  Next time, get yourselves to the event on time.

The woman sits next to me and the man moves to the seat in the front row.  It’ll be an awkward couple of hours, but I’m up for it.  This little battle is mine.

I smile.  London is still in my blood.

In less than three minutes the woman gets up, gets her husband, and they both leave the cinema.

I nod in satisfaction.  And turn my attention to the person near me crackling their crisp packet too loudly …

You vill comply!

SATURDAY

The aqua sky’s cloudless and the chirps of the birds are carried by the gentle breeze.  I casually cycle past a man watering his front lawn, my skin and spirits feel pleasantly warm.  My yellow bike reflects my mood.

Me:  Perfect day for a ride!

Him:  Mmm.  It’d be even more perfect if you were wearing a helmet.

Ugh.  The sun’s gone behind a metaphoric grey cloud.

MONDAY

I cross the road to go for a walk in the park beside the creek.  A car drives past.

Jaywalker”!

I spontaneously laugh.  It feels like a 5-year-old just called me “poo-face”.

Are there people out there who genuinely think jaywalking is a crime so severe that it needs to be policed by civilians?  Really?

Yes must be the answer, since three separate jaywalking vigilantes have reprimanded me in the past year.

WEDNESDAY

I stand at a pedestrian crossing with six others.  There are no cars in sight, and we can see the road for miles.  I want to cross, but I know the rules here.  I can also do without the crime of “jaywalker” being yelled at me twice in a week.

No one moves.  We all stand still, dead still, waiting for the green robot man to tell us we can walk.  Minutes pass in silence, the vacant road glaring in front of us.   Finally the green robot man blinks on, instructing the humanoids who obediently step forward.

FRIDAY

I open a small bottle of wine and cross the road to the creek.

“Excuse me”?

“Yes”?

“Um, you know you’re not allowed to drink on the street”?

Sigh.  Of course you aren’t.

Bike helmets are compulsory in Australia, jaywalking is illegal (and the law is actively enforced), drinking in public is banned, and you cross the street when you’re told to cross the street.

Last year it was proposed that Melbourne becomes a smoke-free city.  No smoking in the entire CBD.  Prohibition in 2014.  Oh and voting’s also compulsory – not voting incurs a $74 fine.

This is a land of laws.

Compliance is everything.

It’s tiring, it’s absurd, and it’s a constant challenge to those who have lived anywhere else.  It’s not the snakes, or the spiders, or the bushfires, or the sharks that’ll get you in Australia.  It’s the rules, the laws, and the cultural mindset.

Like a stint in prison, you have to brace yourself to live here – and the final sentence in this note from one American to another about living in Australia reads like the end of a custodial sentence:   “Those of us from the American south know an unbridled, exceptional amount of freedom and (aside from missing our loved ones), the rules and general rigidity of Australia can seem oppressive.  It wasn’t until my Aussie hubby came here and experienced our freedoms, that he understood why I found it so difficult to adjust in Sydney.  Living in Australia was extremely challenging for me, and it was an experience that made me a stronger, more resilient person.” 

Australia’s refreshingly wide and open land contradicts the human oppression and indoctrination.  A friend who visited Australia last year sent me an email which captured how it’s strikingly restrictive to those who have spent years in more relaxed countries.

“I never thought of the UK as free until I visited Australia. Whenever people have asked about my trip, the dismaying nanny-state rigidity of Australian society is all I’ve been able to talk about.  I couldn’t believe the constant, on-going presumption that various public authorities know best!  The rules and ever-present rigidity of Australia is genuinely amazing.  I’ve never experienced anything like it in any other country”.

Of course, there’s a positive side to the compliance.  The rules mean that we have high quality standards, cleanliness, “good” behaviour and civic order.  These are good things … though they also describe Germany.  I guess it’s a matter of whether you consider the price of those things to be worth it.  I’m not sure I do. I’m okay with a few cycling fatalities if it means all of us can have the wind in our hair.  I’m okay with the occasional smell of smoke if it means we can have the freedom to make our own choices.  I’m okay with a few drunks in the street, if it means I can enjoy a cold glass of wine by the creek on a warm summer evening.  Hell, with any luck, I’ll get a little tipsy and be one of those drunks! (And yes, I realise the risks of drinking by a river.  Yawn).

18 months ago, I had a word approved by the urban dictionary; Convictistan.  It’s used by non-Australians (often New Zealanders) when referring to Australia.  I meant it as a nod to our convict history.  Perhaps it’s not history.  Perhaps we’re all currently inmates in an open prison.

Afterword

In October last year Jeremy Clarkson wrote about Australia in “The Times” …

So I was in a helicopter.  The doors were off, I had a rifle and the pilot was hovering 100ft from the ground so I could shoot a wild pig.  Later we butchered it and over a few beers fed it to his pet crocodile.  This is the all-male, rough-and-tumble image we have of life in Australia.  But it’s wrong …

The following morning, all I wanted was a cigarette and a cup of coffee in the morning sunshine, but down under, this is no longer really possible.

I made the short 300-yard walk from the restaurant to what was billed as the smoking terrace. But a waiter sprinted over to say that the actual smoking terrace was even further away, in a cave by the bins.

And that, yes, he could bring me a coffee, but only in a paper cup.

This is because he’d have to walk past the swimming pool.  Never mind that it was completely fenced off, and accessible through a gate so complicated that only a child could possibly work the latch, there was a chance that he would trip over one of the signs advising visitors that it was 0.2 metres deep, that diving was banned, that no lifeguard was on duty and that the water may contain traces of diarrhoea.

I’m not sure there’s a county on earth where the global perception is as far removed from the reality as Australia.  We see it as a land of spiders and snakes, where you are born drunk and with an ability to barbecue yourself. But it’s not like that at all.

Today the unholy alliance of the nanny state and the trade union movement has created a culture of health and safety so all-consuming that no one is allowed to die, or even fall over. Cigarettes are sold in packets made from the diseased lungs of dead babies, drinking outside is not allowed and there are speed limits on roads where there is literally nothing to hit.  You could have a crash lasting two hours and you’d still be fine.

The last fatality from a spider bite was in 1979, and every single river in the outback is garnished with floats … Australia can keep its ludicrous attitude to health and safety …”