Category Archives: October 2012 Posts

The calm before the storm

Thursday 25 October, 2012.  Central Park, New York.  It’s 20 degrees and the sun is shining.  After walking for three hours I climb some rocks and sit down.  I’ve deliberately left my iPhone at the apartment I’m staying in so I can enjoy the day without electronic intrusion – no texts, no emails, and the music I hear isn’t pumping synthesized bass, but live from the buskers.  My red handbag contains only a camera, my purse, a bottle of water, a pen and a notepad.  I open it and pull out the pen and pad.  I’m going to write the old-fashioned way.  I’ll fill the crisp pages with blog entries, stories, letters … anything that comes to mind.

Josefin the Viking!

After two hours my hand aches and I put down my pen.   As I emerge from my writing trance, I realise that I’m having the best day I can remember having in my adult life.  It’s made better by the fact that I know it’s the best day.  Usually I recognise the good times retrospectively, but I’m in one right now and I feel it.

The next few days are filled to the brim with experiences and events.  In different ways I’m looking forward to all of them – including a work dinner tonight.  I’m visiting my Swedish friend and I smile at the memory of seeing her this morning in her Halloween costume – she was born to dress as a Viking, complete with horned helmet and blonde plaits.  I mentally run through my weekend schedule and savour the feeling of anticipation.

I don’t know that my body will become a vessel for wine during the approaching 72 hours and I’ll suffer the consequences.  I don’t know that I’m soon to get so lost that it takes me two hours to return home.  I don’t know that my father’s in hospital.  I don’t know that I’ll wake tomorrow with a stye on my left eye so large that I look like I’ve been punched.  I don’t know that Hurricane Sandy will wreak so much havoc.  I don’t know any of these things.  All I know is that I’m very excited about the good experiences and encounters heading my way.

I hear people near me and look up to see a dark-haired girl of about five standing directly on my right side.  As her parents catch up to her she speaks.

My feet in the Central Park leaves

Girl: What’s your name?

Me (smiling openly): Simone.  What’s yours?

Girl: Rebecca.  Thimone’s a funny name.

Me (laughing):  And Rebecca’s a nice name.

Her parents must be a bit embarrassed by her comment because her father joins our conversation.

Him: Rebecca, there’s a song about a girl called Simone.  (He starts singing) “Oh Simone, my heart is aching …”

Me (surprised that I’ve never heard these lyrics): Is that a real song?!

Him: Of course! It’s as old as the hills.  “Simone” by Boz Scaggs.

Me:  Well I’ve just learnt something new!

We chat briefly about where I’m from (they’re New York born and bred) and they head on their way.  I enjoyed the fleeting interaction and I’m left to my peaceful, flawless day.

The bright yellow leaves lie still at my feet.  Things are calm, things are perfect.  But there’s a storm coming …

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A time to spit and a time to swallow

Sunday morning, the rain hasn’t stopped all night.  I’ve boiled the kettle and am now sitting down with a comforting cup of hot coffee.  I’m wrapped in a thick dressing gown.  The day ahead is mine and it will be full of indulgences.  I switch on the TV and prepare for E4 to pleasure me for the next few hours.  My black coffee is now cool enough to drink so I take a mouthful.  I feel something in my mouth and freeze … what the hell is it?  I drop my jaw and allow both the liquid and “thing” to drop onto the plate that’s holding my toast.  I stare at the now soggy toast and see the “thing” sitting on top of the raspberry jam.  A slug.  A Big. Fat. Slug.  I thank God I didn’t chew.  I close my jaw and sit, stunned and disgusted. 

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I returned home and opened the back door to let some air through the house.  When we went downstairs into the kitchen this morning a little trail of four slugs had trooped through from the garden.  Three were on the floor and one was on the kitchen bench.  We threw them back into the garden (my boyfriend refusing to kill any living thing, unless he’s eating it).  Clearly an ambitious slug had sought out the closest source of water and promptly trotted (slid) himself into the kettle.  I can’t imagine he was best-pleased when I switched it on …

This slug “incident” happened in 2004.

Returning to the present day, 23 October 2012.  This morning I was standing on the tube in my favourite spot (by the open window where I can delude myself into thinking I’m getting some “fresh” London air).  As part of my daily routine, I have a “keep-cup” cup of coffee.  I take a mouthful and feel stuff.  I freeze … what is it?!  My instinct is to spit it out, but I’m in a train carriage.  Social appropriateness is as ingrained as breathing.  I close my eyes and swallow, my stomach lurching and my gag reflex putting up a fight.  I know the “stuff” is only coffee granules that haven’t been filtered by the plunger.  It can’t be anything else.  It can’t be a slug … I watched the water pour in.  Since “the incident” I always watch the water pour in.

The “stuff” is swallowed.  This is no “incident” and I should now be back to listening to my music and mentally preparing for the day ahead.  But instead I clench my jaw and battle the phobia that rises.  Coffee is my drug of choice, my one true addiction (placing ibuprofen and alcohol in second and third place – though all three are often co-dependant on each other).  I cannot become phobic about coffee.  I love coffee.  I need coffee.  I assure myself that the chances of pouring a slug into my cup once were incredibly low; twice is ludicrously improbable.  But I will buy a new cafetière tonight.  Another new cafetière.  That slug has cost me a lot of money in the past eight years.

Crazy lady

A rainy Sunday morning at a bus stop opposite The North Star pub in Ealing.  Approximately fifteen people wait for the 427, including a woman holding a picture of Jesus and wearing a huge wooden crucifix around her neck.  She’s dressed in a mash-up of clothing.  A baggy brown skirt hangs past her knees, ending about two inches above her ankles – exposing white socks in black sandals.  A frayed purple fleece and a tattered green woollen cap attempt to keep her warm.  She holds the 20 centimetre crucifix in her left hand and the picture of Jesus in her right; staring intently and murmuring at each person she sees, occasionally shouting “Jesus will help you!”

I’ve seen this woman for about the last ten years.  She’s a regular Ealing crazy.

Dressed in a hot pink dress and black knee-high boots, I don’t epitomise wholesomeness.  In an attempt to blend in, I step back into the crowd of people and try to avoid her gaze.  I fail.  For the second time in a decade her radar zooms in on me, “Sinner! You must choose Jesus!”  She stares directly at me but her eyes flicker from side-to-side, reflecting her brain’s faulty wiring.  A nearby couple suppress their giggling and smile sympathetically at me.

Her judgment doesn’t remain on me for long, as the bus arrives and we all board.  I remain standing near the driver, Crazy Lady sits in the middle section, gripping her Jesus picture and clutching the cross.  She selects her targets one-by-one and turns to them, praying loudly for their salvation, “He’s the Way, the Truth and the Light! Let him in!”

At a bus stop close to my home a young woman wearing a full burka boards.  I feel a juvenile thrill at the confrontation certain to take place, though I know my excitement is wrong – like a child in a school yard about to witness a fight.  I exchange a knowing look with the couple who had just sympathised with me: we recognise a new victim has arrived.  The young Muslim woman heads to the back of the bus, passing Crazy Lady who visibly tenses and sits bolt upright.  In my head I hear ten-year-olds chant “Fight! Fight! Fight!

Crazy Lady spins around and holds the cross around her neck out towards the girl – stretching the chain to its limit like she’s warding off a vampire and fervently shouting a barrage of phrases, “Jesus will save you! Let him love you!”  The young Muslim lady smiles (I can’t see her mouth, but I see the twinkle in her eye) and lifts her hand to give Crazy Lady a playful little wave. I look at the Muslim girl and smile.  We both know her presence is sending the already Crazy Lady insane and we’re both finding it amusing.

The bus stops and a Sikh man with a long grey beard and a red turban boards.  It feels like a joke in action: a Christian, a Muslim and a Sikh board a bus …

Crazy Lady spins her head around to confront the Sikh man but she’s then distracted by the scantily clad teenage girls who are standing behind him.  She can’t work out where to focus her energies and the effect has disoriented her.  She’s a malfunctioning robot ready to implode.

The bus reaches my stop and as I disembark from the centre doors I see two drag-queens (one with mascara smudged under his eyes from the previous night and the other with bare feet, holding navy high-heels in his hand) boarding at the front.  It takes a lot of self-control not to jump back on the bus.

The pros and cons of London’s diversity are often debated, but you rarely hear about its comedic value.  This city frequently infuriates me, and then out-of-nowhere brings a smile to my face.

Telling tales

SIMONE’S QUITE THE STORYTELLER is the headline of the “The Kyabram Press” on 8 February 1980.  Underneath the bold headline it continues, “We weren’t quite sure about the authenticity of three-year-old Simone’s enthusiastic claim that an aeroplane had flown her to the local swimming pool.   But she was so solemn in her declaration about how she came to be at the Saint Patrick’s Swimming Sports Carnival that we were reluctant to question her.  With a happy smile she firmly reiterated that she had flown here in a big gold plane to watch her sister compete.  She was clearly sticking with her story”.

The local swimming pool was 15km from home … we’d driven our giant, canary yellow 1973 Ford Falcon.  Why would I change my story? Falcons fly, don’t they?

The day of the swimming sports carnival – I’m clearly tickled by something!

My mother shows me the faded article and rolls her eyes, smiling.

Mum: I thought you might have grown out of it.

 Me (laughing):  No, some stories need to be told.  And all stories need to be told in a certain way for them to be worth telling.

Earlier this week Mum arrived from Heathrow.  On my way to meet her I’d thought about all the travel stories I or my friends had experienced;  drunk and abusive passengers, intimate dalliances, unscheduled stopovers, luggage searches, lost passports, rejected visas.  I’d contemplated turning one of these into my blog this week.  There’s a story in most things if you look at them in a certain way, and my penchant for playing bard entertains and frustrates my mother in equal measure.

During my teenage years I was often mocked at the dinner table for my theatric accounts of daily incidents.

I exasperated my mother: When you report on what happened during your day you don’t need to commence by “Setting the scene”!

I irritated my sister:  Just spit it out – don’t make it a bloody movie!

I amused my father:  Alright bloody Shakespeare sitting in the corner – let’s hear your tale of the day. 

I’ve always loved stories – others as well as my own!

Mum’s brought some old photographs.  The swimming sports article is too faded to scan, but she has a photo that had been taken later that day.  I’m laughing as heartily as I do now, but probably not so loudly.  I’ve recently cut my own fringe and my red swimsuit demonstrates my usual subtlety.

These days the authenticity of my blog entries is questioned.   “Did that actually happen?!”  My answer is always “Yes … pretty much so”.  Some aspects are embellished and many are omitted but essentially, they’re true.  More or less ….

Life is filled with concrete facts; mortgage statements, electricity bills, mobile phone contracts.  Certainly my work (dealing with the resources that are human) is about data and accuracy – policies and procedures reign supreme.    But a world filled with statistics, spreadsheets and pie charts isn’t a world to be enjoyed.   As a notorious fan of structure and logic, I happily adhere to order and routine.  Precise information is a necessary evil, but daydreaming is a necessary bliss.  My brain is a wonderland of whims and fantasies.  In my mind the pixies freely roam the magical forest.

Creative non-fiction tells the story, but makes sure it is a story.  If you arrived at the swimming pool in a huge yellow Ford Falcon, then surely you flew there in a plane made of gold?  It’s all just a matter of semantics.  And what’s a little poetic interpretation amongst friends and family? …

So how did I pick Mum up from the airport?  By jetpack, obviously.

Afterword

My father phoned me last night and, as always, he gave me his forthright greeting, “You have 20 seconds to say something interesting or I’m hanging up.  And you know the rules”.  The “rules” are the banned topics – anything he’s deemed subject matter too dull to be discussed.  This list includes home decorating, standard ailments (colds, stomach bugs, tiredness, headaches etc), the weather, anything financial, politics, sport, and work.   No wonder I’m a story-teller.