Bright friends

The sun hangs low in the sky like a big fat pumpkin.  It makes a dramatic exit from the day, staining the sky pink and orange.  I sit on the grass by the creek to welcome the evening.  Cicadas hum, mosquitos quietly buzz.  The birds chirp their dusk songs as they retire for the night.  I take a sip of wine and wait for the sky to put on its dark blue dress and glittery bling.  I’m tranquil … until a conversation from the morning strikes me. 

Him (a strong Australian accent): How long did ya live in the UK?

Me (reflective):  15 years … I’ve been back for 18 months.

Him (face scrunched up in distaste): You don’t miss it, do ya?

Me (nodding): Desperately.

Him (incredulous): Really?! Why??!! Why would anyone wanna live in Pommy-land?

Me (smiling):  I miss my friends.

Him:  Why don’t you make new ones? Aussie’s are better anyway – no one likes the Poms.  This is the best country in the world!!  

The exchange burns in my brain.  His words have left me sad.

I look up.  The milky way glows and illuminates the sky.  The night has arrived.

Stars shine brightly in lonely places.  Neon lights and crowds of people scare them away from cities.  But in the country, when the world is asleep, they creep out.

Venus pops forward first with a sharp, bright burst a theatrical attention seeker.  Her confidence entices her sparkly friends to join her, and one-by-one they arrive.  Stars and planets smiling brightly, unashamedly happy.

With the arrival of the sky-glitter, I visualise my friends on the other side of the world.  They and the sun have risen from their beds.  My physical surroundings are serene and isolated, theirs is hectic and swarming with bodies.

In my mind I see them on their way to work.  I hear the opening of the tube doors, and the woman’s voice reminding them to “Please mind the gap”.  My friends are full of energy, thoughts racing, ideas coming.  James gets angry as people push in front of him to get on the train.  Helen is suppressing a smile at the man who tripped in front of her and pretended it hadn’t happened.  They’re stimulated by the things they’re reading.  The collective intellect, creativity … and irritation is tangible in London’s morning rush.

My heart swells fondly as I picture my friends’ faces and imagine the sound of their laughter.  They’re a mixed group, but they all share sharp minds and quick wits.

One of them is searching for new friends, “Just two people I need Simone, one male and one female.  How hard can that be”?!

Very.

Real friends are hard to find, make, and sustain.  Friends who know your backstory, with whom you have shared experiences, shared values, common interests, and equal strengths.

Seinfeld knew the challenges of making new friends.  You can be stuck with the ones you’ve got.  Thankfully I’m very pleased with my little bunch.

The peaceful night is interrupted by my phone beeping.  It glows with tweets, whatsapps, and emails.  Slowing at first, like the first stars of the night.  Then fast.  My friends are up, out, and happy.  And they’re winking at me.

It’s time for me to go home.  The mosquitos are biting … though they’re less irritating than my morning conversation.  And probably more intelligent.

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Slippers

A friend collected a kitten last week to give to her daughter for her 7th birthday.  I agreed to look after the kitten this week while my friend was away.  Unfortunately the daughter turned out to be allergic.  And I have the kitten.  And I turned 38 yesterday.

Ella and Slippers

Ella and Slippers

Fate bestowed a kitten upon me during the week of my near-40 birthday.

And the cat’s name? Slippers …. Simone and Slippers.  An alliteration usually makes things better, but not in this case.  Simone … Slippers … Spinster.  I suppress an image of me in 20 years with a houseful of cats.

Slippers is named because of her white-feet.  The same reason my nana’s cat was named Socks.  Another reason to fear the symbol of the new kitten.  And the alliteration.

My friend commented “Oh it is nice to come home to something”.  No, it’s nice to not come home to something.

Whenever I’ve lived with people I’ve always walked up to my door at the end of the day with a feeling of dread.  Knowing (or worse, not knowing) that someone’s inside.  I loathe it.  I turn the key praying they won’t be there, while I simultaneously try not to get my hopes up that I’ve got the place to myself.  Fear and anticipation is too often met with plummeting disappointment and (irrational) anger when I hear the cheerful “Hello!!” from the person behind that door.   Ugh.

Of course if they’re not home, I get a rush of euphoria and elation.  “Woo hoo! No one’s here!!”  But for how long?  They’ll be back, but when?!  I can’t enjoy my solitude with the knowledge that the door will open and at any time.

I like living by myself.

Slippers’ mother was a feral cat who was tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident.  Slippers’ siblings were subsequently drowned.  For reasons unknown to me, Slippers and her brother were granted a reprieve from a watery execution.  And as they start out on the journey of life alone, I look out on the journey of middle-age equally alone.

Slippers doesn’t seem to have embraced solitary life as much as I have.  She follows me from room-to-room.  She sits on me when I sit down.  And she lies on my neck when I try to sleep.  In a nutshell, Slippers is very needy and has no idea of personal space.

I’m sorry Slippers that you’re the orphaned daughter of a feral cat.  I’m also sorry that I’m a solitary singleton who struggles to co-habit.  We’ll just have to give each other some space and see how we get along.

We stand a better chance if you stop trying to sleep on my face.

“Roll on up! The show is in town!!”

Showbags

The showbags

It’s a dying tradition, the travelling show.  But in rural Australia it remains an annual fixture, and this weekend it was firmly on Cohuna’s calendar.

I pay my $15 entry fee and enter the footy show ground.  Fairy floss and Dagwood dogs are the food vendor staples.  Giant sticky lollipops that’ll end up on the ground covered in dirt also feature.  Speakers blare out songs, and stall holders try to entice people to spend their money to win prizes they don’t want.  The bright colours and lights are too much for children to resist.  Sugared up, they run from temptation to temptation, barely able to keep their focus on which thing they’d like to do or have.  Parents need to be prepared to fork out, or say no, a LOT.

It’s been 25 years since I went to a town show.  With the exception of the clothing fashions and my aching knees, there’s no way of telling if this is 1985 or 2015.  And it’s nice.

Clowns

The clowns

Three sections make up the show; the “trashy” section (showbags, rides, games), the animal section (dogs, horses, cows), and the pavilion.  There’s used to be a shed full of animals (chickens, ducklings, goats, kids, lambs, piglets), but not today.  I don’t know where children will buy pink, green, blue and purple dyed chicks from now.  What has the world come to?

Ducks

The catch-a-duck game

1. The trashy section. This area belongs to the young teens and the night. If it’s anything like it was in my youth, flirting will be the core activity … performed to a background of whooshing rides, pumping music, and flashing lights.

The fairground music, shoddy toys, and gaped-mouthed clowns’ slowly oscillating heads haven’t changed in decades.  These three things prompt my nostalgia associated with the show, to be overlaid with nostalgia from the 80s movies “Big” and “The Lost Boys” (did any other movies make such an impact with their fairground scenes?).

Cows Judging

The cows

I don’t take many photos in this area because, to be honest, I’m a little frightened by carnies.  And I was so vehemently abused in New Orleans by a busker when I took a photo that I’m on guard.  Carnies and (some) buskers are cut from the same cloth and it’s no fine silk.

Horses

The horses

2. The animal section is a pleasure. Teenage girls with tightly braided hair sit astride handsome and perfectly groomed horses.   Farm children are dressed (impractically) in white and are judged both on the handling of their cow, and the cow herself. More than one cow ruins her chances by refusing to move and/or defecating.

Sponge and yo-yos

The sponges and yo-yos

But the dog section is my drug-of-choice, and it’s high-quality cocaine.  I wander the dozens of tents, smiling at the variety of breeds.  For two hours I’m fixed to the spot as I watch the judging.  Hounds, spaniels, and terriers trot about – grinning much more than their stressed owners.  Showing dogs is a serious business.

3. The pavilion is the gem of every show. A huge shed is packed with artwork, photography, craft, plants, vegetables, flowers and baked goods. I walk past two women “It’s all in the beating, apparently”. I suppress a giggle. They’re looking at the prize-winning sponge.

Will Marie’s fruitcake beat Ann’s?  Has Kevin put too much at stake by entering his silverbeet instead of his carrots?  Are Lee’s eggs the right shape and shade of brown?  How will little Ella cope when she sees her drawing came in second, when her older sister’s painting came in first?

The vegetable creations

The vegetable creations

This is where we find out.  X-Factor has nothing on the suspense, competition and drama of the pavilion.

The passion and creativity in this section is heart-warming and inspiring.  People having hobbies, and taking pride in them, is refreshing.  And that pride endures.  My mother has a photo album filled with awards my sister and I won at the Kyabram show, 30 years ago.

Portrait

The art

The show reminds me of my father.  Partly because he used to take me, but mostly because he got as excited by the entire thing as I did.  As an adult, I can appreciate the show from a different perspective.   The sense of community, the enjoyment people receive from their individual hobbies and accomplishments, and a feeling of innocent fun (provided you don’t make eye-contact with the carnies).

Veggies and eggs

The veggies and eggs

Afterword

My friend’s little sister purchased a dyed chick from the Kyabram Show about 25 years ago.  To keep it safe she used tables to create a “fenced” area for it in the living room.   She placed the fourth and final table (wall) down …. on the chick.  I didn’t witness the chick-crushing (thankfully) but I’ve never forgotten the story.

Women, put the word out

Sunday morning, February.   We lie in my bed as the light shines through the window.  He picks up my phone to absent mindedly play with it.  I panic and grab it from him. Phones are not to be shared.

Me (smiling): I’m a woman who is very protective of her phone!   

His face grimaces.  

Him: Ugh, I don’t like the word ‘woman’.  You’re not a woman, you’re a girl.”

I smile, bemused.

Me: Are you a boy?

Him: No! I’m a man. 

I laugh.  We’re in the flat I own (he rents), I earn three times his salary, and I have a Masters to his GSCE Levels.  If one of us is a child, it’s not me.

___________________________________________________________________________

Four years later, Sunday 1 March 2015, I’m sitting in a café near a group of retired women.  The waiter approaches their table, “What can I get you girls”? These “girls” are in their seventies.

Sigh. The word “girl” continues to haunt me.

There are the office “girls”, the girl on reception, the bargirl, the girl at the gym.  Males work in the office, serve at bars etc. but are never called office boys, the barboy, the boy at the gym.

It’s an insult to call a man a boy.  It’s common place to call a woman a girl.   But women are not girls, because adults are not children.

Words.  Words are wonderful.  But they’re also weapons, and they’re powerful.  They subtly reflect and create the views of a culture.

  • Twice today I’ve heard the expression “he’s a family man”. I’ve never heard of a “family woman”.
  • I’m sometimes referred to as a “career woman”. I don’t know that I’ve heard of a “career man”.
  • There’s the word “emasculate” but what is the female equivalent? What’s the word that deprives a woman of her female role or identity?
  • News headlines scream about “murdered girls” who are in their twenties. I’ve not seen a male in his twenties referred to as a boy in the media.
  • Women occasionally talk about their “girlfriends” (e.g. “A few of my girlfriends met up at the weekend”). Why not just “friends”? I’ve never heard a heterosexual male say he’s “meeting his boyfriend for a few drinks”.

Words are important, they make us laugh, reflect, cry.  Without words, we’re grunting animals (too often we’re grunting animals even with words).     

Blurring the line of women (adults) and girls (children) through our words is dangerous.  It sends a subconscious message.  If we call women girls, then the sexualisation of actual girls becomes more acceptable because all females (adults/teenagers/children) are “girls” and since it’s okay to have sex with “girls” (adult women) it becomes mentally acceptable to think sexually about actual girls.  Those “she’s all grown up” media headlines are skin-crawling.

It’s argued that some women prefer to be called girls because it makes them feel younger.  The glorification of youth (particularly female youth) is another problem in itself, though it’s linked to the value of women.  It partners with society’s emphasis on female appearance.  Yes, women can now succeed in business … but they must look “hot” while doing it.

There’s nothing wrong with being a girl, if you are a girl.  Female children (girls) are loud, quiet, funny, serious, strong, vulnerable … they are young humans who encompass all the talents and frailties that humans (young and old) have.  The ad campaign “Run like a girl” poignantly illustrates the negative perception that many people have of girls and this must change.

However we are not girls.  We are women and we need to call ourselves what we are.

I look forward to International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March.

Afterword

Joss Whedon (noted writer/director/producer of feminist characters) gives a fantastic talk on equality for women and discusses the word feminist.  The speech is here as well as a good article about it.

Some great twitter accounts to follow for information about feminism are: @glosswitch @Jsoosty @FeministPics @EllieCumbo

Water Birds

Tuesday, 6pm, Australia, 41 degrees.  The working day has ended and I’m driving to the local swimming pool.  The beating sun has made the car an oven and sweat drips down my forehead.  There’ll be no one at the pool – this is rural Australia and no one is ever anywhere on a week night.  I’m looking forward to a cool and tranquil dip.

I arrive and see the packed car park. Ugh. I can hear the noise from the pool before I’ve even opened my car door.  Apparently the one place everyone goes on a week night is the local pool.

I pay my $4 entry fee, and open the gate.  The squawking assaults me.  The flock of children are yelling, laughing, diving, bombing, swimming and running.  Icy-poles and ice-creams are dripping in abundance.

It’s swimming season in Australia.  Children are aplenty and families dominate public venues.  In each lane of the pool a squabble of young seagulls screech and splash about with no reverence to personal space.

I discover that they’ll all leave when their swimming lessons finish at 7pm.  I’ll have an hour of peace before the 8pm closing time.

I sit on the grass near the toddlers’ pool.  These little ducklings are quieter.  Lulled by the warm air, and the soothing water.  They bob quietly, their plastic arm bands and small ring floats keeping them from sinking.

A tubby little boy in flippers shuffles past me.  He’s a penguin if ever I’ve seen one.

7pm ticks round and the children leave in a loud exodus. Towels wrapped clumsily about their dripping bodies, parents rushing them home for dinner.

It’s finally time for me to heave myself into the water.

At that exact moment two football teams stride through the entry gates.  Approximately 44 young, extremely fit men (physically, if not mentally).  Simultaneously they strip off their t-shirts.  The peak physical condition is extraordinary.  If played in slow motion, this would be a scene from Magic Mike … their sweating torsos and chiselled six-packs are almost obscene.  They enter the pool in a spectacular display of strength, coordination and confidence.  These are the swans – large, strong, striking and agile.

All that’s left is for me to walk from my spot on the grass under a tree … into the pool.  In my swimming costume.  With 44 fit young men watching the only thing that’s there to watch – me.

I stand and pull my dress up over my head, my swimming costume (or to use the Australian “togs”) on underneath.

I waddle, glowing white to the shallow end of the large pool and descend the steps.  I’m a plump, awkward goose making its way to the water.  The lads of course have no interest in me (or, to be fair, me in them).  The two young female lifeguards come out of the canteen when they see the lads, altering their posture to best display their feathers.  These flamingos don’t enter the water but strut around the outside, preening and primping.  The male swans puff out their chests in response and dive theatrically.  There’s an unsubtle mating dance taking place.

The hour ends.  We exit the pool and return to our nests for the night.  The early morning will belong to the athletic birds – goggles firmly fastened while they diligently swim laps.  The pool is public and hosts a very diverse range of birdlife.