There’s a Talking Heads song called ‘Once in a Lifetime,’ and occasionally, when Llew and I catch ourselves on a life path that makes no sense, or that we suspect is an utter waste of the very short time we all have, one of us will turn to the other and say ‘This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful life.’ (It’s actually ‘wife,’ but that could get messy and confusing, so we’ve adapted the lyrics). We invariably laugh mightily whenever it happens, because it’s just SO TRUE that I sometimes find myself in a situation and think ‘Oh no, how did I get here?’
I’ve had jobs, relationships, friendships, meals, conversations, flights, and fights that have all, at some crucial moment or other, left me profoundly aware that I have taken a wrong turn. Somewhere, deep inside me, there’s something less formed than a voice that knows, and has always known, who I’d like to be and what I’d like to be doing with my life. It’s not hard, because it’s always been the same answer. No matter what else I’ve said, done, studied, or considered, I’ve always wanted to be a writer (there, I’ve said it). In terms of who, well, I guess as trite as it sounds I’ve always wanted to be a decent human being and leave a footprint behind that isn’t that of a monster. I am a deeply flawed individual, of course, we all are, but I think I am a better person for knowing my faults, and always trying to understand and control them. Certainly I am trying to be a better person, if for no other reason than a better me exists.
Part of that better me is a me who can be honest with the rest of me. That me says SCREW EVERYTHING ELSE, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I am not traditionally or commercially successful as a writer, it doesn’t matter if Llew and I don’t ever turn to each other in some whopping pile and say ‘THIS is our beautiful house’ (I love our little home just as it is), I just don’t care. I used to care, and I used to care a lot. Public success, and the visible trappings of success, were two things I craved when I was a very insecure and personally unhappy teenager. Now I know – I really believe, and it’s ironic because I have always monumentally failed to have any “faith” per se – that if I just listen to that unformed thing in myself, that gut, and follow it, then I will be happy.
It is working an absolute TREAT. I have married the man of my heart, who has been my absolute and unwavering best friend for the last ten years. I have opened myself up to (saccharine alert) love in all its guises, and I have stepped off the ledge, trusting my feelings will be returned (not always, but sometimes, and more than enough). Now I have even more wonderful friends, and Llew’s family to call my own, and an abiding certainty that affection and feeling toward others is one of the only things my life is truly about. And I am writing, finally, despite the night terror of failure (there are voices better formed in me, too, of the doubters, and the fear mongers, and the ghosts of insecurities past), and I feel grateful every day that I have this one thing I love to do.
So many people – friends, some of you reading this, perhaps – tell me that they hate their jobs or, worse, their lives. They’re unhappy. They’re stagnating. They feel like they’re treading water. They’re drowning. They’re anxious. Sleepless. Feeling depressed. It’s truly shocking how many people I know who seem pretty unhappy about where they’re at, and where they’re headed. I worry about this a lot. The reason I worry is that I know time is limited. It’s obvious, we all know that at the end of our lives we are each of us guaranteed to die, but it doesn’t seem to penetrate in many people’s minds. I desperately want my friends to be happy and fulfilled. I want them to follow their hearts and stand up for whatever their own unformed thing inside is telling them, whatever it is. I want them to step off the ledge. I just CAN’T BE the only one with this thing inside helping signpost me to myself. It has taken me sooo long – 34 years – to really tune in to its frequency, but I’m there now, and I’m not changing channels for anything. If you are unhappy, please just give yourself the time and space to listen to yourself a little closer, because if there is one other thing I have come to believe, it is that the answer will never come from anywhere else.
What’s the emergency number for crimes against punctuation? I’d like to have it stored in my phone, and then I’d like to become an urban vigilante, wiping out grammatical atrocities wherever they lurk. It’s enough to DRIVE ME TO DRINK (kidding, yes, ha ha, yeeees, ho ho, just kidding, ha…ha…just GIVE ME THAT bottle, would you, damn you!).
Last night, I went to Zana’s birthday dinner. I set a personal precedent for myself by having just TWO perfectly civilised glasses of champagne over the course of the evening – very pleasant they were, too – and caught up with Zana’s friends. It was all very nice. Not only that, but I am relieved to discover I might not have to become a tee-totaller after all. It seems I am perfectly capable of controlling my drinking. One down, 7,000 other social engagements to go…
But (and strictly speaking I shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘But’) I did spend the entire evening gnashing my teeth at the menu, the business card, and the signage around the restaurant. Why? Because it all says ‘Will and Tobys.’
NO, NO, NO. It’s N-O-T ‘Will and Tobys,’ morons, it’s ‘Will and Toby’s.’ What have they got against a simple apostrophe? I have nothing against putting everything in lower case if that’s what strums your guitar, floats your boat, and crackles your fat, but I take SERIOUS exception to the absence of apostrophes. It is like some kind of language disease in Australia, and it’s because grammar is not being taught in a lot of schools. Many people simply do not know the rules.
There’s also ‘Richards Chocolates’ on Whistler St, Manly. I’ve been served by Richard, and I have long dreamt of taking a spray can down to his shop sign in the dead of night and spraying an apostrophe onto it. Yes, a graffiti correction. Now that really would revolutionise the form. It should bloody well read ‘Richard’s Chocolates,’ and it actually stops me buying his confectionary delights because I CAN’T BEAR the fact that nobody bothered to get it right. It’s all over the packaging, too. Richards. It’s almost obscene. I can’t stand to look at it, so I can’t have his chocolates in my house.
What’s so hard about it? It’s possessive. I’m going to Zana’s birthday dinner. It’s Tara and Tom’s wedding anniversary today. Book club is going to be at Anna’s house tonight. It’s just not that bloody difficult. And if anyone is having trouble figuring out when it is ‘its’ or ‘it’s,’ let me clear that up whilst I’m about it: if you can’t make ‘it’s’ IT IS, then it’s wrong. See? IT IS WRONG. IT IS always, absolutely always, wrong if IT’S not IT IS. Is that clear enough? Please let me know, because I don’t want to be receiving any Christmas cards this year that say “Its that time of year again! Lets get together on New Years Eve, theres going to be a party at Matts house.” AAAAAARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Phew. All this ranting is making me thirsty…
Yoo-hoo, is there anybody out there…?? Hello (hello, hello, hello…)…? I’m amazed. I feel a little bit foolish. This is just a big old empty warehouse of a blog, isn’t it? Start a dialogue? A conversation? Well, I don’t think so. All I can say is, it’s a good thing I have so many personalities so I can keep myself company. It looks like no one else wants to talk to me. I’ve tried several topics – silly, serious, secular, and, ah, cirrhosis – and still no one wants to respond. I might have to rethink this whole writing project.
To be honest, because that clearly worked sooo well yesterday, I kind of hoped people would talk back, but that’s been the exception rather than the rule. Because if I can absolutely bare my soul and embarrass myself (and my horrified husband) by telling you the deepest, darkest truth about something in my life, and there’s still not a single comment, then I must be doing something wrong. There’s not one comment. Not a single word. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Silenzio! And I know people have come to the site and read the blog because it’s right there on the blog stats. Where are you? WHO are you? Why won’t you say anything to me…?!
I thought people would share wild tales of their own excesses – and I know they exist because I’m always drinking with friends who drink just as much as me. I know they exist because on top of the alcohol, many people I know also have a pretty interesting history with drugs, something I personally avoided because I always knew I had an addictive personality (I gave up cigarette smoking five years ago after ten years of hardcore smokin’ up Johnny). Or I thought if people didn’t want to say “Ditto,” or “Roger that,” or “Right back atcha” about their own drinking, I did think someone might say “Well, good luck with that, then,” or “We’ll miss you and your liver,” or “That’s pretty disgusting, Di, even if you were 17.” Better yet a total stranger might have said “You’re a sinner, but Jesus loves you,” and then we could have had a whole other crackerjack topic on our hands. But NOTHING…?
All I can think is that I’m just not doing it right. So I have to ask for help. Please tell me: what do you want this blog to be? What would make you want to write something in response to a post? What would make you read it every day (“Another author!” I hear the peanut gallery shout)? Or do you just like coming in, having a look, and leaving me to do the talking? That’s fine too – that’s how a lot of columnists work and I’m fine with that format if that’s what you want out of this blog. But if you want me to talk about certain issues or things, or if you want it to always be a light-hearted laugh, tell me, please. If you’re reading this right now, then you’re my reader, and that makes you just about the most important person in my life (after the obvious). And that’s true even or especially if I don’t know you. Writing just doesn’t work without readers.
Those of you who know me know I’ve never been averse to the odd tipple. I have been drinking for a long time. I come from a long line of drinkers. I used to joke that my liver was the result of genetic engineering, because for a long time I had a capacity for alcohol that seemed almost supernatural. My body seemed to welcome it, thrive on it, and for years and years I had virtually none of the side-effects that so slow others down. When I have pushed my body to the absolute extreme, the results have been embarrassing and foul. I have vomited once (NYE 1989, Vancouver, Canada, aged 17), violently, and still don’t drink vodka as a result of that night, where I capped off a thoroughly mortifying evening by wetting the bed. I’ve utterly disgraced myself, in other words. I’ve been aggressive, paranoid, hysterical, and spiteful. I’ve made bad mistakes and been guilty of gross errors of judgement. Since I contracted typhoid on honeymoon in India, I have also experienced recurring discomfort in the region of my liver every time I drink. I daresay that’s because when I do drink, I tend to do so to excess.
And yet STILL none of that has ever succeeded in stopping me. In over twenty years of drinking, I don’t seem to have learnt a single lesson. People think Llew and I drink far more than we do, but that’s because we’re always drinking when we’re socialising with others. At home, we don’t drink at all most nights, week in, week out. But if we introduce other people into the mix, we always seem to drink, and drink a lot. Our reputations are much larger than life, but I can see how people might mistake us for huge and constant drinkers. It’s because sometimes we are. Last week was unexpectedly busy. A spontaneous night with friends meant midweek drinking, which we hardly ever do, and in the end, because of catching up with different friends and going to the wedding, we had four consecutive nights of fairly large drinking.
I feel like absolute shit. My liver is sore, my gut is swollen, my skin is angry, and my brain is slow to action. I had a great weekend, but I doubt I would have had any less fun had I done it alcohol-free. I think about some of the nicest times I’ve had with Llew, friends, family, and colleagues, and they’re very often when there’s been no alcohol involved at all, or very little. I really don’t think I’m better company on the booze. So I’m giving up getting drunk.
That’s right, and you read it here first: I am embracing moderation, and if I can’t, just can’t, develop the maturity to have just two instead of ten, then I will give it away altogether, because this is getting ridiculous. I am a 34 year old woman with a PhD. I need to stop drinking like a frat boy on spring break. So please, friends, those of you who know me as the ever-reliable drinking buddy who never goes on detox and is always the last the leave, believe me when I say I need to move on, I need to outgrow the adolescent, I need to be kinder to a long-suffering body that has always been so tolerant of my worst crimes against it. It’s time for me to slow down and grow up. And if I can’t be moderate – and time will very, very quickly tell – then I must simply abstain. It feels like a big deal to be pledging this, and that’s the whole problem: it shouldn’t be.
Sydney is a town of tribes. It’s not just suburban tribalism, although I know for sure that exists, but it’s ethnic tribalism as well. Take the English. They arrive in Australia in droves – willingly this time – and some of them make their home here. I have English friends, mainly because I, like many people in my socio-economic demographic, have lived in London, and because some of my Australian friends have married Englishmen, and because sometimes I have hit it off with the friend of a friend or whatever. I love them all. The English are amusing, they’re polite, and they’re often very informed and inclined toward conversation topics more interesting and varied than property prices and expensive stroller brands, which can evidently sustain the rest of Sydney for years. There’s a lot to like. But so many English people come here with what seems like the express intention of avoiding befriending Australians at all costs. Maybe they love the Sydney lifestyle, they just don’t care for the Australians living it so much.
Increasingly, I’ll be sitting in a bar or restaurant and realise that seated nearby is a table heaving with English accents. Often there’s not an Aussie drawl among them. Despite John Howard’s best efforts, this is still a free country, and they’re perfectly within their rights to gather with their countrymen, but I just find it curious, especially since it’s happening with increasing regularity. It’s not like there’s any shortage of Australians. We come in all shapes, sizes, and colours and we’re everywhere you look around here. I think you have to make a special effort to avoid us, especially in a city like Sydney, which is, after all, in Australia.
Last night at Opera Bar, where I was catching up with Sarah over several champagnes and enjoying the lovely views of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the water, I noticed a large group of English friends to our right. They looked like they were having a good time, and they definitely formed their own very self-contained little tribe of exclusive Englishness. One English friend, who has lived here for years, has always maintained that Sydney girls are bitches (oh, I always say indignantly, but I’M a Sydney girl!!), and maybe that’s the justification for not socialising outside their tribe, but it’s a bit chicken and egg, too, because you have to actually know some Sydney girls first.
When I was living in London, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was hang out with Australians. Earls Court and I never really saw eye to eye. Why on earth would I want to surround myself with Australians when I can do that back home? Llew felt exactly the same way, so we really threw ourselves into making English friends. It was difficult, and sometimes I cried I felt so rejected, but in the end we met some of my absolute favourite characters in a very rich play of life, and had an absolute blast with them that without a doubt transformed and defined my experience of living in their country. I just wish sometimes that all these tribes – and I only single out the English because I have lived in England – would loosen up a little. Although there’s undoubtedly safety in numbers, it always pays such dividends to bother to meet the natives.
Yesterday was a scorcher in Sydney, about 38 degrees, I think. Much hotter than that and they send the kids home from school. Luckily we live by the beach, so I was able to have a couple of crisis swims. A haze settled over the streets of my suburb, an unmistakable, hot and reddish smoke that can only mean one thing: bush fires. The bastard about these terrible and sometimes fatal forces of nature, and sometimes the consequence of shocking human stupidity, is that the brutal heat is often accompanied by a mighty wind. The combination is breathtaking in its power and fury. It’s one of the ways we talk about the weather: “Feels like bush fires today.” Is it a particularly Australian thing to be able to almost sense a bush fire kind of day?
Yesterday, Cas and Jac and I got back from an afternoon dip (I’m never doing that again – they both have these perfect bikini bodies and I felt like a lumbering sow next to them with my memories of Italy displayed so abundantly around my waist). We were having a glass of wine in my courtyard, when massive flakes of ash started to land on Cas’s arm. Keeping in mind we’re nowhere near a forest, don’t you think that’s amazing and eerie and peculiar? I remember the same thing happening in Bondi, and it just blows me away that the ash from so far away can travel so effortlessly through the air all the way to the ocean, and totally transform the air until you can see its colours. This is summer in Sydney for me.
There. You can’t say I didn’t warn you. If at some point during the reading of this blog, you think to yourself “Ewww,” you can’t say this post didn’t come with its very own version of a Surgeon General’s warning.
It’s about my toes. I run – not very well, not very fast, and not very far, but I do like to try to do at least one lap of the beach (5 km there and back) on average three times a week. Sometimes when I am feeling particularly jaunty I might do two laps. After my first City to Surf, a 14 km fun run from downtown to Bondi Beach, the long and the hard way, I discovered my two big toes were badly bruised. I didn’t think much of it, until the two nails eventually and simultaneously lifted right away from their respective toes. They stayed stubbornly attached, arching back painfully in the surf and at times standing at right angles to my feet, until they eventually fell off altogether, and some nubbly, poor excuse for a toe nail was revealed struggling for life underneath. Such has been the pattern ever since, some five years later.
Now, I’m going to a wedding on Saturday, Bronwyn and Matt’s to be precise, and these two big toes and their rancid nails are just not up to scratch. The nail of my left big toe is still discoloured by a blood bruise, and upon closer inspection the whole mess looks suspiciously like a half-chewed lozenge that someone spat out after having second thoughts about its medicinal properties. It does not even remotely resemble a toe nail. All the toe nails on my right foot look almost respectable, but for the blisters bursting out at the end and to the side of…you guessed it, my big toe.
I’m grateful for my toes, I truly am, I just don’t understand this mutilation of my nails. I thought exercise was supposed to IMPROVE my appearance, not completely massacre it. They are so unsightly, they really are, but I just don’t know what to do about them. My gut tells me that if I get fake, acrylic nails placed over the top, the real nails will simply fester and finally die underneath. That’s a mighty pretty thought, don’t you think? So I feel like I have to persevere with my own nails, but they seem determined to peel off and play dead. What to do?
I have recently bought these gel protector things to wear whilst I am running, so perhaps they’ll do the trick. They just don’t provide a solution to my immediate problem, which is Saturday’s open-toed wedding shoes. I am even loathe to go and get a pedicure, although that’s exactly what I am going to do, because quite frankly I don’t think anyone should have to touch the things. They’re gross. I’m going to spend the whole pedicure embarrassed and doing pathetic repeats of my “I’m really sorry, I run” mime for the Korean ladies at my local nail place. It’s just mortifying. Besides which, they’ve heard it all before. Desperate measures are required, all advice welcome.
I have already talked about Italian style in an earlier blog. It’s all very nice, and very high-end, but in the end it’s all a bit homogenous, too. By the end of the holiday, neither of us was overly impressed simply because there was so little evidence of individual flair, not to mention a real absence generally of small boutiques selling unique designs. At the time, we felt a little bit of smug pride, certain that Australia delivers a little more in the way of young designers, and that the general population more or less has the ability and inclination to dress as individuals.
I stand corrected. At the Australian Open, there was a golf spectator’s uniform just as generic and yawn-inducing as anything we saw in Italy. Again, it’s not like it’s BAD FASHION, it’s just disheartening when any one brand or any single look becomes so dominant it loses all sense of difference and interest and becomes BANAL, BANAL, BANAL. I’m talking about Ralph Lauren, the look du jour. I literally lost count of all the Ralph Lauren polo shirts, but I can tell you men, women, and absurdly, expensively dressed toddlers were all proudly strutting their uniform as they lurched from one hole to the next or holed up, no pun intended, at the clubhouse.
The thing about uniforms is that they are designed to convey some kind of information about the wearer. Like “this is an employee of this store,” or “this is an Australian cricketer.” What Ralph Lauren polo shirts convey is “this Ralph Lauren top cost me a lot of money. And so did this monogrammed Ralph Lauren cap. And so did my Ralph Lauren chinos. All of this clearly makes me better than you, so get out of my way. My outfit means I belong at the golf, with my kind, and you don’t. Oh how I wish they just wouldn’t let you in unless you’re wearing Ralph Lauren like me. It’s just so much easier to recognise the suitable spectator from the riff-raff this way.” Well, tossers, I think you all looked ridiculous and desperate and hopelessly arriviste in your identical outfits. Not so exclusive after all, eh?! How irritating it must be for you, how CONFOUNDING, now your once aspirational label has become so blatantly…um, how you say “mass market”? I could but laugh, and amend my position on Australian style, because it looks like the join-the-affluence-dots uniform is flourishing here after all. Pity.
My Tamworth familiarisation was great…lovely people, cool accommodation, perfect weather, and some great food and wine. I was also lucky enough to be part of a really fun group, which made the experience even more enjoyable.
I am now full of useless pieces of Tamworth trivia, like its airport is one of Australia’s top ten busiest, based on landings and take-offs. What else could these ratings possibly be based on, you ask? Well, it has a training academy there, so their training exercises require lots of both, but neither have anything to do with commercial flights and their somewhat less than awesome frequency in and out of Tamworth (although I was amazed and impressed to discover Tamworth supports five Sydney flights a day – pretty good going for a country town). I love bogus statistics like that top ten busiest one, because upon even the most cursory examination, it emerges that such a claim doesn’t really mean anything. One of the journalists on the trip, a very sweet lady, was quick to point out that per capita, the Melbourne-Sydney shuttle is the busiest route in the world. I think that’s a fantastic use of “per capita” bogus data. When you consider the entire population of this enormous country throbs permanently through the one city of Tokyo, you can’t help but appreciate how truly meaningless such a claim to air traffic fame really is. I am fascinated by that kind of wilful blindness. Australians are great for it. Oh, and Tamworth has an obelisk commemorating the arrival of street lights – apparently Tamworth was the second place in Australia, following Sydney, to get them. Why? Nobody knew. But the obelisk is there, and beneath it lies buried a time capsule that’s due to be opened on the bicentenary of Tamworth’s street lights. That’ll be 2088, so unfortunately none of us will be around to see what those crazy kids back in 1888 thought worth burying for the future.
Anyway, after a smooth as silk Sunday morning Qantas-link flight back to Sydney, including truly jaw-dropping views over the harbour on the way in, Llew picked me up and we went to the Australian Open at the Royal Sydney Golf Club for the day. He’d been the day before, and had a sheepish look when he picked me up that said he hadn’t missed me at all, and that he had in fact fallen madly in love with someone else whilst I’d been away. It turns out that’s exactly what happened. Once at the Open, it became quite clear who had stolen his affections away from me: Greg Norman, a.k.a “The Shark,” “The Great White Shark,” “Living Legend,” “National Sporting Hero,” or just plain Greggles, as I like to call him.
Llew and Greg had sealed their love the day before, when Norman apparently had a blinder on the course, and ended up back in the middle of the field after being close to not making the cut. Llew was thrilled – he was only there to see Norman in action because the man himself has allegedly said he won’t play another Australian Open. Happily for Llew, Saturday’s round was a beauty. His admiration – Greg Norman leads the life Llew desperately wants to lead – was complete, right down to the fact that Norman seemed genuinely embarrassed by the crowd he was pulling. Being nowhere near the leaders’ board, his star power was curious and yet simultaneously completely undiminished. A massive swarm of devotees – us included – fell over each other to watch every swing and putt. We enthusiastically applauded when the ball eventually went in the hole, even though I personally didn’t see Norman putt one first shot on the green – they all just missed. What was I applauding, exactly? I’m still not sure. I think I was applauding his charisma, not his golf. We famously like to cut down tall poppies in this country, but once we’ve collectively decided – and who knows how these things happen in the minds and hearts of a population? – that you’re one of our heroes, we will be slavishly devoted, long after death has parted us (exhibit A, with all due respect: Sir Donald Bradman). Greg Norman doesn’t even live in Australia to the best of my knowledge, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the crowd surging behind and alongside him on the weekend seemed to think that he was any moment about to take the title, and sure to claim the spot that, however inexplicably, seemed rightfully his. It was a bizarre and telling spectacle, Australian hero-worship nothing if not a complicated, hardy, and many-tentacled beast. I was swept up in their – no, our – love for him, and then I was a little disturbed by it. A beer and a meat pie on the 9th hole helped shake me free from the hypnotic grip of mass idolatry, and in the end Llew and I were able to walk away.
I love airports. Not as much as I love hotels, but then, that would be difficult, as I am completely obsessed with hotels and motels, from an architectural, literary and social point of view. Naturally airports and hotels are obvious companions, but even alone the airport is a compelling space.
Right now I am at Sydney’s domestic terminal, waiting to board a flight to Tamworth, country NSW. I’m going on a press famil for the weekend, which should be pretty damn cool. I’ve already stood in several queues to get to this point, and no doubt there’s one more waiting for me at the gate. There’s a group of us, but I don’t know anyone and so have seized the moment to tell anyone who actually reads this blog about my love affair with airports. I always like to arrive early just so I can spend more time cruising around soaking up the general uncanniness of the space that both is and is not like every other airport on earth. So much fun to be had staring at other travellers and wondering about their stories and their destinations. Who and what is waiting at the other end? Let’s go and find out…