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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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Galaxy or Dairy Milk?

Galaxy or Dairy Milk?

Anthony’s paid for the petrol and returns to the car.  He opens his door, takes his seat on the driver’s side and holds out two chocolate bars.

 Anthony: I didn’t know if you were a Galaxy or a Dairy Milk person?

Me (smiling): Galaxy.  Definitely Galaxy.

Anthony (returning my smile and passing me the Galaxy): Well that worked out because I wanted the Dairy Milk. I believe people are always either Galaxy or Dairy Milk people.

I adamantly agree.

We launch into a series of questions, purely for fun.  They help pass the time while we’re sitting in traffic on our way to IKEA.  They continue to pass the time while we’re navigating our way through the crowds of people who are wasting their precious weekend by hunting for home furnishings.  I wish I wasn’t one of them but I need a wardrobe; I intend to find, purchase and transport one with military efficiency.  There will be no idle window-shopping, and any time that’s not productive (primarily waiting in queues) will be made entertaining by the interesting Q&A debate with Anthony.  You might also enjoy the questions …

1)      What superpower would you choose and why?  Flight, telekinesis or invisibility?

2)      Top three chocolate bars of choice?

3)      Which of your colleagues/relatives/friends do you think would be a bad date?

4)      Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or Catwoman?

5)      Pasta or rice?

6)      Paper books or Kindle?

7)      First person you thought of this morning?

8)      Ireland or Scotland?

9)      Company for conversation: same sex, or opposite sex?

10)   When you hear the “beep” that signals you have a new text/whatsapp/email, whose name do you hope to see?

11)   When you hear the “beep” that signals you have a new text/whatsapp/email, whose name makes you roll your eyes?

12)   What saying/expression do you use a lot? (If you don’t know, ask a colleague/relative/friend/partner – they’ll know)

13)   Favourite word?

14)   Least favourite singer/band?

15)   Best topping on toast?

16)   Worst feeling in the world? (One of my close friends answered this with “being busted/caught” which I thought was a great response)

17)   Would you rather look at a beautiful photograph (or view), or listen to a song you love?

18)   What trait of yours do you think most annoys other people?

19)   What do you think you’ll be doing on this day, one year from now?

20)   Would the 15 year-old you be happy with you and your current life?

I bought a suitable wardrobe (to replace my broken one) and we assembled it without too much difficulty.  IKEA instructions are often criticised but I find the piece-by-piece construction process quite satisfying. Though nowhere near as satisfying as answering imaginative and stimulating questions!

Afterword

In England, every man I’ve known has preferred Dairy Milk to Galaxy.  Most women have preferred Galaxy to Dairy Milk.  For those reading this outside Britain, “Galaxy” is called “Dove” for you, though your Dairy Milk tastes different.  I like Galaxy in England, but in Australia I prefer Dairy Milk to Dove.  And in America I’d rather not eat chocolate at all (English readers will agree – ask them about Hershey’s and you’ll hear a unanimous “yuck!”).  Who would have thought chocolate could be so complicated?

My special box

“Hi Simone, I hope you’re well.  I know you haven’t heard from me in a long time but I wanted to let you know that Ian’s had a heart attack. He’s okay, but I know you two were close so I thought you would want to know.  Did you know he’s divorced now? Martin”.

There was more in the Facebook message, but that’s the important paragraph.  I’ve not seen or heard from Martin in ten years.  The same time I last saw Ian.  We’d worked together but I haven’t given him much thought since leaving that workplace.  With the memory suddenly thrust in my face, I feel compelled to reflect on our most poignant time together. Belly-crawling like a snake under my bed, I pull out my “special box”.

GrasshopperThe contents of this are varied.  There are a lot of letters and cards, and more obscure items; a shoelace, a plastic grasshopper, a broken Batman key-ring, a cork.  To an outsider it looks like junk, but each of these items holds a specific memory.  Some have “romantic” associations akin to Monica Lewinksy’s blue dress (though more hygienic).  Others, like the alarm clock (a gift to mock my obsession with punctuality), are entirely innocent.  All items have a link to a person or moment I don’t want to forget – good and bad.

I find the envelope I’m looking for and take it to the living room.  There’d been a pub gathering to celebrate me leaving the place I’d worked with Ian and Martin.  At the end of the evening, when there were only a few people left, Ian drove me home.  He stopped the car outside my house.

Ian:  Well, this is it …

Me:  Yep.  The time has come.  It was a good night, though, wasn’t it?  And I’ll email you, obviously.

Ian:  Oh yeah, of course, me too … listen, before you go, I just want to give you this.  I didn’t want to give it to you in front of everyone.

Ian had handed me an envelope and told me to read it when I was inside. He said he’d be embarrassed if I read it in front of him.

For the first time in a decade I open the envelope and re-read the eight hand-written pages.  Ian says he has feelings for me.  He outlines detailed accounts of our interactions at work (we’d never seen each other socially).  He wants to see me again.  He wants to know if I feel the same way.  He makes no mention of his wife.

Mini Alarm ClockWhen I first read this dramatic and detailed declaration I was flattered, and genuinely stunned.  In the years we’d shared an office I never had any idea that he’d felt this way.  I was shocked that I’d been oblivious and tried to recall any moments that I’d missed – I drew a complete blank.  I met him the following weekend to have an awkward and emotionally charged conversation.  That discussion ended the possibility of any friendship and we haven’t spoken since.

Ian must have confided in Martin for him to send me his elusive Facebook message.  I feel like I’ve been shoved back in time; I’d never expected to hear from Ian, or anyone connected to him, again.

I throw out the letter, along with many other items from the box.  Some things are best forgotten.  I don’t want my memory of Ian to be of that uncomfortable shift in our friendship.  He was a colleague who I’d laughed with each day.  I’d enjoyed our conversations, both the meaningful and the frivolous.  He was a good work friend and that’s how he’s going to stay in my head.

Present-day life is filled with things that make me feel bad.  My special box has been exorcised and is now only filled with memories that make me feel good.

Cinema vigilante

A cold Sunday afternoon in West London.  Snow is lightly falling on Day 10 of my house imprisonment.  My last shower was Tuesday, and only owing to an appointment with my consultant.  Showering while sitting on the tiles with a leg propped up on a stool is not to be undertaken without reason.  My greasy hair is wrapped up in a full headscarf, chemo-style.  I have an inexplicable rash over my forehead – a reaction to the pain killers?  In a seated position I steadily get myself down the stairs, step-by-step.  I place my crutches over my lap and sit in the communal reception area to wait for a taxi to Shepherd’s Bush.  I’m going to see a movie.

Watching films is a source of deep pleasure for me.  For two hours I get to be told a story.  For two hours I’m taken to another world.  I sit in the cinema with twenty others and wait for the modern-day bard to transfix me.

Two teenage girls move from where they’re sitting to the previously empty row behind me.  One of them puts her shoeless feet up on the seat beside mine.  Let it go, Simone.  Pick your battles.  They talk for the entire duration of the trailers.  Again, Simone, let it go; you know there’s a good chance you’ll have a bigger battle with these two.  The movie starts, they keep talking.  I look at my watch.  They have three minutes.

Three minutes pass.

Me: Excuse me, can you stop talking now. (I pause) And take your feet off the seat.

I hear my Australian accent; flat, low and masculine.  It sounds more threatening and aggressive than I intended and the girls get a fright.  My grotesque shopping-trolley-pushing, pigeon-feeding-lady appearance probably helped.  As I turn to look back at the screen I struggle to contain my grin.

Ten minutes pass and two women in their late twenties arrive.  Lateness annoys me.  Lateness for movies really annoys me.  They take their seats on the opposite side of the cinema, one row back.  In a few minutes one of them receives a text message (I see her phone glow).  They start talking.  Twenty minutes later they’re still talking.  Empowered by my success with the teenagers, I rise and hobble over to them; crippled, greasy and rash-ridden.

Me: Excuse me, can you not talk through the movie?  If you don’t want to watch it, you can leave.

They’re horrified and obsequiously apologise.  I return to my seat.

Forty minutes later something goes wrong with the projector and an orange rectangle of light covers a third of the screen.  The audience shuffle about and murmur to each other, expressing their discontent.  The restlessness continues but no one does anything.  My rage at the apathy and cowardice intensifies.  A woman in front of me uses her iPhone to take photos of the faulty screen, presumably as evidence to substantiate her complaint  … when the movie’s over.  After fifteen minutes I’ve reached my tipping point and I stand.

Can someone please go out and say something about the screen?  I’d go, but I have a broken foot.” (I raise a crutch to emphasise my point)

A man jumps up “I’ll go!”  His motivation, I strongly suspect, is to impress his new girlfriend with his sudden can-do, take-control action; action that had been absent for the previous fifteen minutes.

I thank him.  Whatever his motivation, I’m grateful.

A few others speak supportively, including the woman who took the photo “Are you going to complain at the end?  I took photos to show them.

I struggle to not roll my eyes as I smile politely “I haven’t really got the energy.  I mean, it’s too late by then and I’ve already dealt with the talkers.”  I gesture to the teenagers behind me and the women opposite, deriving gratification from their embarrassment.

The screen regains its normal appearance and I sit down.  I’m angry at the rudeness of the talkers; the rudeness of the latecomers; the lack of staff to control the audience, and, in this case, even ensure the movie runs effectively.  But most of all I’m angry at the indifferent and listless attitude of people.  If there’s a problem you can do something about, DO something about it!  Don’t just sit and complain when you can rectify it.  (And if your first instinct is to seek compensation for the fault then there are a host of questions you need to ask yourself).  Take action.  Fix the problems you can fix!  And, above all, don’t get in the way of me and the magic of movies.

Afterword

My invalid condition is clearly stoking the fire of my fury, but I stand by the fact that “Cloud Atlas” is the worst movie I’ve seen in many years.  And I watch made-for-TV, true-life dramas screened on True Entertainment (when hungover or under the influence of painkillers).  Abysmal.  The only reason I didn’t walk out (aside from the fact that I can’t currently walk without taking too long or looking ridiculous) was that I had made such a scene about watching the movie (I recognise the irony).  I will never get those 172 minutes back.

“Few things alienate friendship than a want of punctuality” William Hazlitt

Boxing Day, Kildare, Ireland. Our frosty breath is visible in the cold as Lisa parks the car and we walk towards Murphy’s Lounge, the pub where we’re meeting her friend for lunch. As we approach we see that it’s closed.

Lisa: Oh bugger. We’re going to have a wait ahead of us. Niamh’s a late person.
Me (nodding in understanding): Ah. Right. What time does she think we’re meeting?
Lisa: Well I knew we’d –and I mean you and me – would want to meet at 1:00, so I told her 12:30.

I look at my watch. It’s 12:50. Lisa and I have a few friends who are “late people” and we’ve put in place systems to make it a little easier to manage them. We tell them we’re meeting half an hour earlier than the actual meeting time, knowing they’ll arrive around half an hour late. We also meet at a place where we can sit indoors. Before our system we’d accumulated many hours standing uncomfortably in the searing heat, or the biting cold. Though it’s often requested, we never arrange to meet standing outside a shop; that’s a guaranteed recipe for physical discomfort and a school-boy error. Unfortunately today the closed pub has thwarted us.

Without speaking we turn and walk back to the car where we can sit and be spared the glacial wind. Ireland’s a tough place in the winter.

We put the radio on and chat when Lisa’s phone beeps with a text. It’s 1:10pm. We both laugh.

Lisa (rolling her eyes and smiling): Here we go. I’m guessing it’ll say “Sorry, running late! Be there soon!”
Me: No, I’m going with “Running late. On my way!”

We read it. “Sorry, running 10 minutes late. On my way!”

Yep. We’ve read a lot of these messages over the years and they’re always minor variations on the same theme.

Lisa replies “No problem, see you soon”. Our replies are also minor variations on the same theme: “We’re perfectly happy to spend our time waiting for you because we didn’t have anything we needed to do before heading out to meet you – your time is obviously more valuable than ours, so don’t you go rushing yourself on our account …”

At 1:25 we see Niamh pull up, park her car and walk towards the pub. We exit our car, greet her and Lisa introduces me.

Niamh: I’m so sorry I’m late, it’s impossible to be on time when you have children!
Lisa (smiling warmly): Yeah, it’s hard. There’s always something they need at the last minute.

I don’t have to look at her to know what she’s thinking. She’d risen an hour earlier this morning to make sure she’d clothed, fed and organised her two young children so we’d be here on time. Niamh clearly hadn’t made equal arrangements and doesn’t recognise the inconsistency.

With the pub being closed we walk to a nearby café for lunch. Niamh’s lovely and we enjoy chatting about her Christmas family celebrations – complete with venting niggles that go hand-in-hand with family get-togethers. After an hour Niamh and Lisa exchange gifts. Lisa opens her present and I make sure I keep my eyes glued on the item rather than Niamh or Lisa. My face will give away my amusement and I’m also in danger of giggling inappropriately; Niamh’s gift to Lisa is a watch.

Afterword

Back at Lisa’s house we chuckled about Niamh’s ironic gift. Lisa reminded me of the Billy Joel concert we attended in 2006 (yes, Billy Joel – I’ve never claimed to be cool) at Croke Park, Dublin. The concert had commenced when some people arrived very late. As they shuffled leisurely to their seats, disrupting the audience around them, Billy Joel stopped speaking. Smiling and good-naturedly pulling up his sleeve, he looked at his watch, making a joke of the situation “Nice of you to join us … we’ll just wait for you to get comfortable and we’ll continue”. The pause in the concert while thousands of people all watched the latecomers was only made bearable by the collective laughter.

The rudeness of tardiness clearly bothers people from all walks of life and when it comes to punctuality I sit firmly in Billy Joel’s camp; timeliness is next to godliness.