Angie

Angie rises each morning with the sun.  She’s always been an early bird.  She stretches and yawns, devours a healthy breakfast, and takes the brief walk to join her colleagues at work for the day.  She’s lucky her commute is such an easy one.

She sees her boss, Brian, at the start of her shift in his usual scruffy attire.  Angie’s not convinced that he showers every morning.  He smells and often has dirt under his nails.  And it wouldn’t kill him to clean his shoes every once in a while.  She’s worked for him her entire life but they share no affection.  She’s indifferent to him, and he to her.

The daily work routine kicks in.  Everything Angie does is familiar and executed without thought.

She’s not bored.  Or maybe she is.  She doesn’t know.  This is her life as she’s let it play out.

She has no hobbies, she’s formed no real friendships.  She’s had children but they’ve grown up and now have lives of their own.  She met the father of her children at work in her young days, and he still works here.  The passion between them is long gone, and their relationship is now a perfunctory one.  Did she love him at the start?  She’s not sure, and it no longer matters.

Angie works all day, slowly, methodically.  Brian’s been in the open plan area for much of the day, busying himself with things Angie doesn’t care to think about.

The morning passes and she feels bloated from constant grazing.  She’s never been slim, but she’s not fat either.  She’s average when compared to the other women at work.  She likes that she fits in.  Chloe, two years younger than Angie, won a local beauty pageant when they were barely adults and has been slightly ostracised by the other women ever since.  Rhonda on the other hand ballooned after her last child and is grossly obese.  The women are polite to her, but they talk behind her back.  Angie knows it’s best to be middle-of-the-road.

It’s a warm day and in the afternoon Angie goes for a stroll.  The blazing sun leads her to rest under the shade of a tree.  Her full stomach has made her drowsy and she sits down for a bit, but the flies become too annoying so she heads back to work.  There aren’t many hours left till her shift is finished anyway.

The clock ticks on.  She’s looking forward to the end of the day as her stomach’s a little upset and she’s been to the toilet far too many times.  Ugh.  Why does  irritable bowel syndrome have to be part of her life?!

The brilliant pink sunset signals the day’s reaching an end.  She heads home, and after a light dinner, she settles down for sleep.  The day is over.  The sun has set and tomorrow there will be another.  Each day the same as the one before.

The sun rises the next morning.  Angela stretches, yawns, and looks out her bedroom window.  Angie’s resting under the tree near the milking shed that Brian’s hosing down, following the morning milking.

Angela remembers the day she named Angie (the only cow in the herd to have a name).  Angela had watched Angie for months, following the same routine, day in, day out.  That cow’s life was as inspiring as her own.   That cow was Angie.

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Fifty Shades of Shite

Friday, 10am.  Eucalyptus trees and dry yellow paddocks are all I’ve seen for the two hours I’ve been driving, and they’re all I’ll see for the next two hours. The scorched scenery never alters but my entertainment can – it’s time for me to take the plunge from listening music, to listening to an audiobook.  Any little change in the monotony.

The hype of “Fifty Shades of Grey” prompted me to purchase the book two years ago.  I managed three pages.  It’s a scramble of cringe-inducing gibberish.

However, with the movie about to be released, and the endless hours I spend driving on straight flat roads, I decide to give the audiobook a go.

I regret it.

My eyes roll a lot during Fifty Shades of Grey but never in pleasure.  I’m no stranger to erotic literature, nor any condemner of it.  But Fifty Shades is appalling.  The first smack is the poor writing, but the hammer blow is the barrage of clichés.

Without irony or embarrassment, Fifty Shades presents an absurdly successful, talented, classy, rich and assertive alpha male with model looks who is also protective, sensitive and troubled.  Batman, Jesus, or Captain America would be more realistic.  The female character is equally far-fetched in her innocent naivety.

Beware, the following contains spoilers – if there was anything to be spoiled.

  1. Anastasia (Ana) Steele (the female protagonist) is a poor, geeky bookworm, unaware of her beauty.
  2. Ana is also a 21 year old virgin who has never had an orgasm. Her first climax comes about solely by Mr Christian Grey (the male protagonist) fondling her nipples. Immediately after that they have sex and she also climaxes.  Three minutes later they have sex again and, yes, she has another orgasm. (Sounds like an accurate reflection of every young woman’s first time …).
  3. Ana’s father died from an accident during Marine combat training the day after her birth (give me strength …)
  4. Mr Christian Grey is commanding and immensely intimidating.  And 27 years old.  27 year old men are never intimidating.  They’re 27 year old men.
  5. Christian Grey insists on being called Mr Grey and calls others by their titles (eg. Miss Steele).  The first time we meet him, his secretary announces “Mr Grey will see you now.”  Ridiculous (and the tagline on the movie poster).
  6. Mr Grey’s biological mother was a drug addicted prostitute who abused Christian.  She committed suicide (naturally) and 4 year old Christian was left with her body for four days (naturally) before being found.
  7. Mr Grey was adopted by wealthy and good parents (of course).  His adoptive mother is a paediatrician and his adoptive father is a lawyer (not an administrator and an IT assistant?).
  8. Mr Grey (at 27) is a self-made billionaire who runs his own telecommunication business “Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.”  What he actually does is never quite explained.  His MI5-like phone calls are elusive: “They want two? … Okay, and what safety measures do we have in place? …. And they’ll go via Suez? … How safe is Ben Sudan? … And when do they arrive in Darfur? …. Okay, let’s do it. Keep me abreast of progress.”  Barney Stinson’s job was less enigmatic.
  9. Mr Grey’s a philanthropist, a helicopter pilot (he owns his own helicopter), and he attended Harvard.
  10. He speaks fluent French, is a classically trained pianist and a wine connoisseur.  His knowledge of art is perfect.

In short, Mr Grey is everything a 12 year old girl with no world experience, no knowledge of corporate environments, and no understanding of wealth would conjure.

The trailer to the movie is very good.  Money’s been put behind it, Beyoncé’s chipped in with a great version of “Crazy In Love”.   To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie’s very enjoyable.  But the book.  Oh god, the book.  Christian Grey may introduce Anastasia Steele to the world of BDSM, but the book is the true torture.  I’m sticking with music for my long drives.

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.

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 …