Okay, people, most of you are already well and truly embarked upon the rampant consumer binge unmistakably marking the end of another year. I can’t believe how quickly we’ve reached it. So I’ll be signing off for a few days whilst I join in the ’round the clock feasting and spend some time with my friends and family.
Be careful and carefree, if you’ll allow the contradiction.
I’ve been giving some of my friendships, past and present, quite a bit of thought recently. It all started when we were about to leave for Italy, and I tried to contact someone to let them know we would be there. Many years ago, this guy was a really good friend of mine. One of my best friends, actually. We haven’t seen each other in five, five and a half years, and the last time, in New York City (one of my other favourite places in the universe) it didn’t go very well. Still, it seemed completely counterintuitive not to try to see him in Italy. Or at least to let him know we’d be there, and leave the decision to him. He’s very successful in his chosen field now, which is wonderful, so it wasn’t hard locating an office email. It wasn’t his address, but it would certainly get to him. I never heard back, and I didn’t try again. Sometimes silence booms.
Then last week, by chance, I found out he was in Australia in July to give a talk in Melbourne. This information upset and disappointed me to an unreasonable, irrational degree, so much so that I dashed off a spluttering note of indignation and sent it to his last known address before I could calm down. How could he not get in touch? Australia is so far away – these opportunities are so, so rare. This friend and I used to talk about and dream about his getting down here one day, and now he’s been, and he didn’t even bother to let me know. It was a deliberate slight; there’s actually no foreseeable chance he could have touched down in Australia without at least a glancing thought in my direction. And still he said nothing, not even for old times sake. Ouch.
I remember when Sarah and I were in Budapest in 1999, I got a really shitty email from a Canadian friend I had roomed with, in Canada, for two years. She basically said she couldn’t be bothered keeping in contact with me; she didn’t see the point, and she wasn’t interested enough to try finding one. It took my breath away. Then there’s the Danish friend who just never responded to our wedding invitation. Her husband told me she “doesn’t do email.” Well, I don’t do discourtesy. Even I, a faithful correspondent to the point of masochism and delusion, eventually have my limits.
Just as I have been unceremoniously dropped by some friends, so have I pulled the pin on others. I did it just the other day, in fact. A friend moved overseas a couple of years ago, and I didn’t hear from her, except once, when she wanted something from me. Now she’s back and looking for playmates, so she called me. I found myself saying “I just don’t think I have anything to say to you. And if you have absolutely no idea why I might feel that way, then that about sums it up, really.” I wished her all the best, and I hung up. When I withdraw my friendship, I tend to be quite decisive about it. The judge’s decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into.
I wish I could do the same thing in those circumstances where, for whatever reason, someone just can’t be bothered knowing me anymore. I wish I could just say “Roger that, wanker,” and never think of them again. But I don’t do that. With my Italian friend, especially, I seem unwilling and unable to accept the overwhelming evidence that he is simply not interested in being my friend anymore. What I need to do is adjust my position slightly, so I can see it from the point of view of being the dropper rather than the drop-ee. I know what that’s like, and I know that when I hit that point, that’s it. And that must be where he’s at with me. Or where he was at, more accurately, years ago when it actually happened. It’s well and truly time for me to catch up.
But then every now and again I manage to find someone again, and it’s this possibility that keeps my naturally optimistic view of friendship fairly open. Just yesterday I rediscovered an old friend’s email address, tried it, and he wrote back straight away. We’re really happy to hear from each other, and it’s lovely to think that particular long-lost friendship is now found. I kept wanting that to happen with my Italian friend. But you can’t always get what you want, so it’s very lovely when, as happened yesterday, sometimes you do.
I just found out from Jack Marx’s Sydney Morning Herald blog that some property developer BASTARD is going to demolish Barons in April 2007. Barons is an INSTITUTION. A bloody legendary dive very, very close to my heart. I love Barons. Barons is one of the spare few watering holes left in THIS GODFORESAKEN TOWN that has any atmosphere, any history, any charm, any VALUE that is not determined by dollars and cents. Oh my god. I could actually cry.
Sydney seems to have some kind of serious, pathological aversion to preserving its heritage. A few years ago, Frank ‘Let’s tear it all down and blow the lot to smithereens’ Sartor took a running leap at the Museum of Contemporary Art, an art deco building that sits over Circular Quay. He wanted it gone. Fuck off, Frank, Sydney finally managed on that occasion to shout. But would you look at that man’s legacy? Wall to wall eyesores, as far as the puss-weeping eye can see. The number of CRIMES AGAINST ARCHITECTURE in this town really beggars belief. When I think of all the gorgeous sandstone buildings that were so casually destroyed downtown in the 1960s and 1970s, I get emotional. Really emotional. And really angry, too. Their erasure is a criminal loss, and I wish, dearly wish, it was a criminal offence to be responsible for it, too. Especially when I am so constantly confronted by the physical evidence of their folly. Wow. What an “improvement,” if by improvement you mean A FUCKING TRAVESTY.
Property developers should not be the arbiters of our architectural landscape. They are not interested in preserving our history. The useless pack of fucking bastards in government at state and federal level just stand aside to wave developers through, allowing all manner of WILFUL DESECRATION of our history-keeping and our aesthetic character with a smile, a nudge, and a wink. Thanks, current Mayor Clover Moore. Nice job preserving what little is left of any interest whatsoever in the City of Sydney. Why don’t we just raze the rest now and get it over and done with? I am delighted to see that what my vote apparently gets me is a ringside seat to a mass construction zone. Developers seem to have everyone in a position to DO SOMETHING held tightly by the twisted balls. That’s extremely SHITHOUSE, people, because developers are only interested in making money and cutting costs and cramming as many people into their endless apartment blocks as possible. It’s an ugly, ugly, ugly cannonball run motivated solely by greed. And I mean ugly, inside and out.
Clearly one of Sydney’s biggest advantages is that it is possible to work downtown and live by the beach. It is lifestyle all the way in this place. Lots of people don’t live anywhere near the beach, of course, and the population centre of Sydney is actually out in the land-locked west, but the fact remains many people who work in Sydney live in beach suburbs, all the way down south as far as Wollongong, and all the way up north as far as the Central Coast. I don’t personally recommend either of those commutes, but god knows people do it.
We live by the beach. I thoroughly recommend it. It is a ‘Thing to Do in Sydney’ – in fact, it’s one of THE things to do in Sydney. If you check out some rental prices by various beaches, you’ll quickly discover it doesn’t even cost much more than living in the hot, airless inner west. Buying is the same deal. I can only assume there are lots of people out there who just don’t like sand. Otherwise I don’t know why you wouldn’t at least investigate, whereupon you will discover an apartment in Narrabeen is probably only going to cost you around the same amount as an apartment in Strathfield. Hmmm, big decision…
And if you can’t or won’t live by the beach, then you sure as hell spend every summer getting there as often as you possibly can. En masse. It is invasion of the day trippers from December 1 until after Easter. I used to live one street back from Bondi Beach, and I can say with absolute confidence that there are days when you’re hard pressed to find the room to unfurl your towel. Bondi is the urban beach par excellence – so close to town I used to walk home from work every day. That’s a decent stretch of the legs, granted, but absolutely manageable, and a damn big improvement on the excruciating torture chamber that is the dreaded 380 bus service.
Beaches are synonymous with Sydney. In my books, that’s a very good thing. Beaches are amazing, and swimming in the Pacific every day before work, and after if you choose, is just about the most refreshing, restorative, therapeutic thing I can possibly imagine. That big old open Australian sky is matched only by the ocean’s awesome stretch out to the horizon. Lovely.
I’ve picked a very, very tricky time of year to hit the moderation booze brakes. It’s the silly season, after all, and silly is something Sydney does extremely well, especially at this time of year. It’s silly, for instance, to lather up in some cloying coconut oil before going and lying out in the searing Sydney sun all day, crisping up to a nice melanoma rich, hot scarlet hue that identifies you as a) a Pom just off the plane b) an expatriate Australian, home for the holidays, who really should know better c) anyone born before they knew smoking, sunbaking, and all the other fun things were bad for you. Now you’ve lived long enough that you just don’t care. Bring on the sun lamps, stogies, deep-fried food, and hard liquor. Good times.
For the rest of us, it’s also silly to roll up for a Sunday session at the pub after a full day of frying your previously lily white arse. You’ll be feeling a little light-headed, and you don’t want to run the risk of an over-zealous pub patron giving you a hearty backslap the second Shane Warne claims another wicket. Ouch. Seriously. That would really, really hurt, and you might even pass out from the pain. Every beer you rapidly down, that you think is relieving the sting around your inner thighs, is really only starting to gently simmer your brain. Sunburn makes you thirsty. Really thirsty. Shot-gunning forty beers seems like a good way of quenching your desert mouth so you might be able to crack a smile, but really you’re just accelerating your dehydration to the point where you couldn’t cry even if you wanted to. Not even if some rowdy long-lost friend came up and crushed your bubbling skin in a bear hug.
So yesterday, even knowing all this, we, like many Sydneysiders, found ourselves in a pub late afternoon, enthusiastically embarking upon a sly Sunday session. There were people there with bandicoot eyes made by the outline of their sunglasses, their exposed red raw arms seeming to scream ‘PINCH ME.’ There was smoking indoors in a really confined space around the bar. This is actually illegal, but no one seemed to care. There was loud music and progressively hoarse yelling, people gyrating to the beat, and a wild, Bacchanalian vibe that gave the whole scene a specifically fecund kind of freedom. Then the sea breeze blew in the door like an irate parent, reminding me to stay sober. I snapped out of the dusky trance, forcibly collected my husband, and made for the exit. This was surprisingly sensible, but sometimes I would definitely prefer to stay silly.
Karaoke is big in Sydney. It’s definitely graduated from ‘kooky Asian subculture’ to mainstream ‘Thing to Do in Sydney.’ It used to be something no one would ever admit to loving, but now lots of people sing it loud and proud and wear ‘I heart Karaoke’ t-shirts right along with their strange and vaguely creepy Hello Kitty accessories. This is a town of belters. People do it in big groups, for Christmas parties, birthdays, and first dates. Every occasion is something to sing about. It’s only a matter of time before Karaoke weddings take hold of the city’s glittery, kitschy imagination.
I do not sing. I am not a good singer, and I prefer to keep my humiliations to the shower when Llew isn’t home. I’ve heard that singing is good for you. I’ve also heard red wine is good for you. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner, and choir practice is not it. So I am not the best qualified to regale you with tales of Sydney’s crazy all-night Karaoke bars, but I am qualified to talk about how Karaoke very nearly destroyed my last public holiday getaway. Public holidays, by the by, are SACRED here, just as precious as, say, cows in India. We all party like it’s 1999 every time we don’t have to go to work the next day. I’m pretty sure there’s a by-law that says we have to.
So, a few months ago, I was naturally looking forward to the forthcoming public holiday. Eight of us rented a house somewhere called Eagle Reach, which lies somewhere beyond the Hunter Valley. There were whispers along the lines of ‘Eco Resort,’ and some of us had already booked in massages and something to do with hot stones and steam. It was all sounding so good. I’d made peace with the five hours we were going to lose trying to leave Sydney on the Friday, and I’d already chosen in advance the higher ground of a sanguine response to the violent spike in petrol prices that I knew would arrive just in time to wave us on our merry way.
At the time, I hoped it would keep on raining, because I was planning to do a lot of lounging about fireside with a pile of books, magazines, and weekend papers. I was also planning on some gluttonous, long weekend chowing down at the trough. I love nothing more than feeding my face more frequently on such weekends just because I can, obesity statistics be damned. Three couples were taking turns with dinner, the fourth was doing lunch, there was bound to be a pub for a counter meal or two, and breakfast was included. Aside from three full-fat meals a day, the cheese platters, salami and pate treats were already being hotly anticipated. Everything was on track for a bumper weekend. Almost.
The tennis round robin was going to be great, if only because of the chicken sandwiches and Pimms we were going to reward ourselves with afterwards. I was even looking forward to facing off with my demons by joining in an afternoon of horse riding. The last time I attempted to go riding, I was handed the reigns of a mutant Trojan named Killer, whilst my friends gently cantered off on Daisy and Bluebell. That wasn’t going to happen this time. I too had a date with a preferably lame horse named after a flower.
It was all going to be tickety-boo.
Until, that is, I got the email. Everything was a blur after “rock legends,” “Solid Gold,” and “Karaoke,” but the meaning was clear: one of our number had betrayed the brethren and booked a Karaoke machine for the weekend. Oh please god, no.
Ever since I was passed over in a primary school musical and given the speaking-part-only role of narrator, I’ve known the truth: I can’t sing. I try, and I do actually know the words to the national anthem, but religion was easy to give up once I realised it would emancipate me from hymn. It’s just not my thing. I’m hopeless, and, as a general rule, I avoid onslaughts of well-founded derision.
Only Cameron Diaz can get away with Karaoke this awful. I knew I was destined to embarrass my husband and cause good friends – people I have known for years – to carefully avert their collective gaze. The silence after my (naturally compulsory) performance was going to be deafening, but that’s okay: no one was going to be able to hear a thing by then anyway.
Everyone else thrilled to the possibilities. We had Elvis, who was planning a rousing rendition of the same Teddy Bear routine that helped him take out the coveted Karaoke King title at the Ettalong RSL. There was animated talk of costumes, and Blondie’s name was mentioned more than once. A play list circulated, and our Saturday night in the mountains was suddenly renamed Eagle Reach Idol. It was like some kind of nightmare. My sole consolation, aside from the proximity of vast quantities of Hunter Valley red, was knowing they would definitely be playing my song: Help.
Despite a really curious level of denial by many, Sydney is a high density city. We live close together, and there’s a lot of us. It’s still nothing compared to larger cities of the world, but it’s still a fifth of the entire population of Australia, so Sydneysiders feel it’s a mite crowded these days. After all that time spent sitting in traffic, commuters are understandably feeling a little testy about numbers in general (petrol prices, travelling at 0 kms per hour, being 40 minutes late for work, losing count of cars carrying only the driver…). I’m actually surprised there isn’t more road rage. Drivers have ample time every day to reflect on the fact that no one in government has done anything about the public transport infrastructure required to deal with the now four million people who live here. Traffic jams are just queues, after all, and you already know how much we love to spend time in those.
So. It’s pretty shoulder to shoulder on the domestic front as well as bumper to bumper on the traffic front. Because Sydney housing prices are OUT OF THIS WORLD, but owning your own home is still a cherished national ideal, people who choose to remain in Sydney are moving into apartments at a fairly unprecedented rate. More apartments have been thrown up here in the past few years than 4 am kebabs.
And yet people seem to think their home is a secluded island paradise. An oasis into which no Tom will peep, no wind chime will ding, and no cooking fumes will seep. Seriously, do you really expect to live with so many other people so closely located ALL AROUND YOU, and never be aware of their existence? I’m AMAZED by what some neighbours expect. We used to live in a great place in Glen Street, Bondi Beach, and there was a crazy, petty woman in the sprawling block of apartments opposite who tried to insist to our landlord that our windows should be filled in because they overlooked her windows. I mean, where the hell does she think she’s living? This ain’t the Great Dividing Range, toots.
So today, just for something different, I thought I’d take you on a little imaginary journey into a display of neighbourly cooperation, Sydney style.
Hi! We live downstairs in Number 2. Sorry to bother you, but would you mind please getting rid of that pile of mail at the main entrance? I know it’s for the previous tenants, but it’s been six months and I don’t think they’re coming for it. You can just drop them off at the post office marked return to sender – that’s what I did when we moved in here and had the same problem. Thanks!
Dear No. 2,
Problem solved – I’ve set the whole pile alight.
Ta ta, your friendly neighbourhood arsonist.
Dear No. 4,
I know this is going to seem crazy, but it’s really a much better idea to send the mail back. Otherwise it’ll just keep coming.
Dear No. 2,
What, like these notes?
Dear No. 4,
Okay, this is the last one, I promise. You have someone staying with you at the moment that smokes at night right by our bedroom window. Hate to be a nag, but it’s really gross. Do you mind asking him to smoke back up on your back step? Thanks.
Hey No. 2, you’re an ex-smoker, aren’t you? I can just tell. Sure, I’ll ask Smokin’ Billy to take it elsewhere, but in return, do you mind asking all your boring, egomaniacal lawyer mates to avoid sitting in your courtyard every Saturday night? Otherwise I’m going to start egging them from my window every time they start waxing lyrical about the size of their…well, you know what they say about a man and the length of his billable unit.
Dear No. 4
That’s completely uncalled for, especially coming from someone who frequently seems to drag corpses across the floor. Are they body bags you’ve got up there? They certainly sound like it every night when we’re trying to sit down to a quiet dinner.
No. 2, you must be kidding! Quiet? What about the fact that you inflict your GOD AWFUL MUSIC on us day after day after day? Not everyone wants to rock out to Supertramp, you know, you bad taste, bourgeois bumpkin.
To No. 4:
Listen, neighbour, this has gone far enough. We all have to live together, and as we’re the owner-occupiers in this building, I can assure you we won’t be the ones leaving any time soon. I know which real estate agent you deal with, and I’d be happy to put in a call.
Dear No. 2,
I’d really like to know what kind of person feels the need to put a lock on a communal laundry power outlet. It’s not your power point, honey. Deal with it.
To No. 4: I can’t believe I have to live below someone so childish and petty. I know you have taken up the bagpipes for the sole reason of getting to me. It’s pathetic. Get a life.
Poor No. 2: Listen, you’re flattering yourself and flaming your rampant paranoia at the same time. By the way, we can hear you up here. Yes, that’s right. You know what I’m talking about. We’re keeping scorecards if you’d like to see how you did.
Dear No. 4
I’m sure one day we’ll laugh about all this, but right now, for your sake, I really hope you’re working on acquiring the appropriate visa.
Dear No. 2
I’m already laughing, sweetheart. Hope you’ve saved all your receipts, because you can expect a call from the ATO any day now. Don’t mention it – it was the least I could do.
Now I’ve started to reflect on all these ‘Sydney Things to Do,’ I can’t stop. There’s just so many weird and idiosyncratic things to talk about. What is this place, anyway? What is “Sid-a-nee”? What are the things we love to do here? Well, one of them is queue. Now, I distinctly remember telling anyone in London who would listen that “the English love to queue, there’s so much queuing, around the clock, it’s like a national passtime.” Well, didn’t I get a rude comeuppance when I returned home. It seems queuing is another sport we share with that northern hemisphere island. All those London members of the Barmy Army who have flown out here for the Ashes will have no trouble adjusting to life in Sydney. No doubt it will remind them quite a lot of home. Sydney is another city where half one’s life is lost in pursuit of the perfect queue.
The perfect queue is elusive, an enigma, but you do know it instinctively when you see it because when you are standing in the perfect queue, you are the only one in it.
The chance of encountering the perfect queue is rare. Much likelier is the bastard queue, which snakes out of the store and around the block. Some of those new, nifty little health drink and sandwich outlets manage to incorporate two bastard queues in one standing: there’s a queue where you order and pay, and there’s another where you collect. Genius.
Since everyone in Sydney is heavily addicted to caffeine, the bastard queue has become the bastion of the barista, whose crema is evaluated not by beans but in units of other-bastards-waiting. Everyone has a preferred coffee vendor, and because we’re running such a tight ship here, we’re probably all standing in the same queue day after day. It’s Groundhog Day, except you can’t enjoy it by bedding beautiful women and crashing cars like Bill Murray did, because you’ll miss your place in the congo line.
Then there’s the insidious creep of the double intermission across the arts, a place where bastard queues abound. It’s always such crazy good fun spending the entire intermission, both of them, first in the queue to the toilet and then in the queue to the bar. My favourite moment inevitably arrives only once I am clutching both a full glass of champagne and an accidental handtowel memento. As if on cue (ho ho), the bell starts ringing to herd me back into a queue to retake my seat behind everyone else in my row. I’d like to meet that bell ringer. Over the years of playing cat and queue, I feel we’ve developed a special bond.
Llew and I once had lunch at the Motor Registry near Wynyard. It was a sunny day, sure, but why sit in Hyde Park when you can watch red numbers flashing and count out the difference between the number presently being served at counter 7 and your own triple digit ticket out of there? We weren’t the only ones making a day of it. There was sandwich wrap rustling, chip packets crinkling, salad boxes opening, and the unmistakable waft of Chiko roll in amongst the stench of human misery and defeat. For one terrifying moment, we thought we’d lost our ticket, and that’s when we realised what else you can smell in there: fear. Fear of the lost stub, a simple error from which there is no escape.
My personal favourite is being stuck behind that enemy of the people whose ENTIRE FINANCIAL BUSINESS is conducted by hogging a public ATM, totally at the expense of the hapless bastards waiting impatiently behind him. And you can start muttering that it’s time to give someone else a crack, can’t you see we’ve all been here half an hour, moving right along now, pal, but everyone knows how sweet it is to finally reach the head of the queue. I’ve felt that surge of adrenalin when my number’s been called, I’ve whooped when my stub matches the overhead display – I’ve even been moved to pump the air and sing Hallelujah. Because when your number’s up, it’s up. Your work back there in the trenches is done. You may advance past GO and collect $200, bank charges not included.
In honour of our ‘china’ anniversary, Llew gave me a china teapot made in, er, Japan, and some china teacups made in Australia. All very lovely and much needed. I actually wanted to buy some funky Japanese ceramic tea ware whilst we were in Tokyo, but it didn’t prove practical in the time we had, so I am very happy to finally be the proud owner of a contemporary Japanese teapot. It’s beautiful. I, on the other hand, got Llew a foot holiday at a luxury spa. I didn’t know it was our china anniversary. Just our anniversary. I guess I am not much of a traditionalist, although I do enjoy finding old copies of hilarious ‘Good Housekeeping’ tomes from the 1950s to give to friends celebrating their first anniversary (that’s paper, you know).
And so in keeping with the ‘china’ theme, Llew and I headed to Chinatown for dinner last night. This is another ‘Thing to Do in Sydney,’ or at least it certainly should be. We have a large Chinatown that spreads well beyond the Dixon Street pedestrian strip, and it’s extremely cool just cruising around checking it all out. I have been going to Chinatown all my life. When I was still in primary school, part of my urban education was walking those streets unsupervised, soaking up the unusual sensory riot. The glazed ducks hanging from hooks in the shop windows. The vast bakeries with brightly coloured plastic trays and chaotic queues. The neon signs and shops bursting with cheap trinkets, souvenirs, and shouted foreign languages. The markets teeming with life and the rotting smell of vegetables crushed underfoot.
Later, in high school, the pub at the very bottom of Dixon Street used to willingly serve us alcohol even though we were shockingly and I would have thought obviously underage. Then, before some concert or other, my friends and I would smuggle our illegal gains into the nearby Entertainment Centre in paper cups from McDonald’s. It never failed.
Since then I’ve returned on many occasions – multiple dinners at Sydney institution BBQ King, raucous group celebrations around enormous tables at seafood favourite Golden Century, lunch hour Yum Cha with colleagues at the Marigold, and the instant footpath snack of freshly roasted pork pieces from Wong’s. I love Chinatown. I love its bustle, I love its 2nd floor secrets and underground food courts and Korean hot pot restaurants hidden down the back of random office buildings all the way back up to Park Street. I love its gradual and determined spread uptown. I love the fact that even on a Monday night, Chinatown is always jumping. We found a little tucked away place called Chinese Noodle House, with its unadorned white walls and bright lights, its plastic vine bearing plastic grapes loosely and inexplicably fixed to the ceiling, and its hard, uncomfortable chairs rammed around the room in as close proximity as humanly possible. We had a long neck of Coopers Sparkling Ale from the bottle shop around the corner, and the food was delicious and spicy enough that halfway through, we needed another. We over-ordered, the improbably low prices belying the generous portion sizes. The table next to us turned over thrice in the time we were there. The place was packed, and so was the Dumpling King’s place next door. We’re going there next time, and I thoroughly recommend wandering the streets of Sydney’s Chinatown anytime.
Well, to us, actually. Today is our second wedding anniversary, and as scary as it is that the time has passed so quickly, it’s also very nice to have reached a new milestone. In real terms, Llew and I have been together ten years today – it was on this night ten years ago that we first lurched drunkenly down the work Christmas party slippery slope from “just friends” to “something more.” But in marriage terms, we’re still absolute beginners. We’ve only reached the china year, so we’re still a long way from the diamonds and pearls no matter what the artist formerly known as Prince has to say about it.
Two years ago, it was all about to kick off. I’d been to a south coast hairdressing salon and had my hair singed right to my scalp. All I wanted was a simple wash and blow dry, but instead I copped a full scale arsenal that left my hair feeling and looking remarkably like steel wool. This is something of a feat, because I have very fine and dead straight hair. It all started because the psychotic owner of the salon seemed to find it unforgivably offensive that I had booked a lady from Ella Bache to do my nails and make-up as well as administer a nice all-over spray tan. “WELL, WE DO ALL OF THAT, YOU KNOW,” she screeched at me. “WE DO EVERYTHING HERE!!! YOU SHOULD HAVE HAD IT ALL DONE HERE!!!!!” I thanked her, but stuck to my guns and begged off changing my booking with the lovely girl from Ella Bache, who was meeting us back at Llew’s parents’ accommodation within the hour. Thanks, but no thanks.
Now, I can understand competition is stiff and every little extra wedding dollar you can bleed out of your customers the better, but I should have been able to exercise my right to say no without sacrificing a perfectly healthy head of hair. Instead, they seemed to deliberately BRUTALISE me, taking turns to inflict the next stage of torture. First I was given a scalding wash, then some high school work experience girl bound my hair in curlers so tight I squealed and my eyes involuntarily watered. When I protested that I didn’t want curlers, the cut snake crazy owner pretended not to hear me and stuck me under one of those industrial 1950s-style hairdryers that look and move like triffids. Then she walked away.
It takes ten minutes to dry my hair. They left me under that monster for over an hour, and when I tried to wave my arms and yell out for help because the back of my neck was on fire, I found I wasn’t the only one fallen deaf with the noise. When my crisp little sticks of fried follicles eventually fell out of the curlers, the place finally fell quiet for a moment. Very, very quiet. Nearly in tears, I ran outside to scream, and one of the hairdressers said to my bridesmaid, Sarah, “She’s not getting married like that, is she?” Well, I hadn’t planned on it, sweetheart, but that was before you all took turns gleefully destroying my poor innocent hair because I didn’t want you to give me three inch acrylic nails with some kind of glittered, sparkly story about flowers and rainbows and sunshine told across ten cuticles like tacky, highly flammable commandments. No means no, you trumped up talon tarts.
So, anyway, I’ve always wanted to get that off my chest. We got back to the house and just started all over again, literally picking up the limp pieces and trying to coax them back to life. Happily, the rest of the day went off like a dream.