You wouldn’t think this was pashmina season. It is, after all, the last day of summer today, and it is, fittingly, a scorcher. For now, anyway. Thanks to climate change, which our fearful leader has only now so very belatedly acknowledged as an issue (everything, but everything with that creep is politically motivated), anything is possible weather-wise these days. Just check out this photo from Canberra, taken in the early hours of this morning. It looks like downtown Helsinki, for Christ’s sake. Canberra is a short three hour drive from Sydney. It has soaring temperatures in summer. This morning, however, it resembled a city in the grip of a northern hemisphere winter. Odd, no?
And Sydney has not been without its own erratic weather patterns this so-called summer. It’s been extremely vexing just choosing what to wear when venturing outdoors for any longer than an hour at a time. A sudden downpour renders my regulation Havaianas more lethal weapons than comfortable footwear – they’re damn slippery when wet. And those gale force gusts blowing in from the ocean have been particularly arctic in nature this year. Cloud moves across Sydney these days faster than a stockmarket crash, so the perfect day one second becomes nigh on apocalyptic the next. It’s all extremely bi-polar (ha ha ha, that’s a hell of a bad pun…).
So a few days ago, I had occasion to pack a pashmina into my little bag of tricks (a cross between Ally Sheedy’s handbag in The Breakfast Club and the TARDIS on Doctor Who), just in case. As I pulled the black wrap from its hanger, I gave a small start. My pashmina didn’t feel right. I stared at the coarse, foreign thing in my hand for a moment, and then shoved it in my bag, thinking I was just in a hurry and imagining things. But no.
Later, as the wind and rain whipped around me, utterly maddening in that way of persistent spruikers flogging cheap trinkets at market, I reached into my bag and pulled out what should have been my silky soft black pashmina. Instead, it was some scratchy imitation, a nasty bit of tat that would be absolutely ideal for the lining of a dog’s kennel.
Somehow, a swap has been effected. But when? And by whom? Well, I can’t answer either of those deeply pressing questions, which is how I know I’ll never see my pashmina again. Sob! I have no idea where I last wore it, or in whose company. All I know is, we never got to say goodbye.
Some cunning shrew has traded up quite nicely, I must say. Perhaps the sticky-fingered slattern created a diversion before pulling the old switcheroo… I probably didn’t notice at the time because it might have been last winter, so I was probably warming the cockles of my heart with some heady brew. Red wine keeps the cold out rather effectively in my experience, especially once all your energy is necessarily directed into not falling down.
Of course, I might have reached for the wrong wrap myself. This horrible mistake could be entirely of my own making. My pashmina could be out there somewhere, brutalised and covered in cigarette burns, abandoned on a plastic hanger, all alone in a darkened wardrobe, forced to associate with ghastly synthetic fibres and wool blends… It’s just too devastating to contemplate. There’s been no ransom note, no call from the abductor… just a dread silence, and an itchiness around the shoulders where pure pashmina used to be…
I don’t know what time this WordPress site is keeping, but last night I woke up at 1:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. The torrential rains of a thunderstorm were lashing the windows, and my mind was overactive after a couple of emotionally overwrought days. I was wide, wide awake. I was so awake I got up and tried to blog about my insomnia, but my computer chose those exact same wee hours not to work. Safari just failed to connect, no matter how many times I rebooted. I sat in my darkened office, the computer screen staring back at me as insolent as any teen, and I eventually had to give up and go back to bed, where I lay, unblinking and tensed from the relentless march of my own thoughts.
I’ve been getting insomnia regularly ever since the death of my niece, Sam, three and a half years ago. And Sam would have – should have – turned 18 on Sunday, so it’s no surprise to me that sleep has not been coming easily the past few days. I can’t help thinking about her, and who she might have been by now. I can’t help thinking about my own 18th birthday. I was at college in Canada, having just returned for my second year at an international school there. I was having the time of my life. I’d already done and seen many things Sam will never have the opportunity to try for herself. These thoughts plague me sometimes, especially in the darkness of night.
At other times, most of the time, in fact, I choose to think differently about her death. I choose to be positive, and to accept the lesson that I must live and love fully, always, and with great urgency. This one lesson has removed much of my fear of failure and rejection in all that I do. That is Sam’s gift to me, so I choose to believe. It’s just hard not to waver on days like Sunday, when I should have been attending Sam’s 18th birthday party instead of sitting on the toilet seat crying.
And then yesterday was Andrew McAuley’s memorial service at the Macquarie Lighthouse in Vaucluse. The weather was wild, the Tasman laid out before us like the separate universe it really is. The horizon was unsteady, shifting, grey, and hypnotic. A little sailing boat was whipped around the swell outside the heads looking as delicate as a lace handkerchief.
I won’t talk about the eulogies, except to say Andrew’s family and friends were so dignified and loving in their remembrances, and it was an extremely moving service. Staring out to sea didn’t offer up any of the answers, not one, but it seemed an incredibly fitting site for goodbye.
Since I first learned Andrew was missing, I’ve thought so much, basically continually, about what drives humankind forwards, and sometimes to greatness. What dwells in the heart of a man who would go out there alone in a kayak for a month? What got Andrew through those weeks and weeks of sheer hell on water? What was it that motivated him to such an extent recovered images place him close enough to land that he was able to photograph it in the distance? What appetite, what heart, what balls, what fury? What is the will toward death as an absolute expression of life? A paradox, certainly, but then, isn’t it all?
‘Round and ’round and ’round life goes. Where it stops, nobody knows
The past few weeks, for about the last four, I’ve been feeling like complete crap – just really, really exhausted and bone-weary. A deeeeeeep down exhaustion that was hitting me right in the soul. I generally have a pretty outstanding constitution, so I get frightened when something goes wrong, and I probably exaggerate the problem in my mind. I guess you’d call that hypochondria. But the weird, exhausted feeling itself was absolutely genuine, and I’ve never experienced anything like it. I felt waves of tiredness dragging my head down toward my chest as I sat here at my desk. Last Sunday, I started falling asleep holding a bowl of pasta. It was kind of scary, actually. And it was in my head, too, I was really, really exhausted in my head. Nothing seemed to be working, everything seemed leaden and difficult. Thick.
Anyway, it must have been some kind of virus, because it’s cleared out now and I feel normal again. I can’t tell you what a relief this is – I didn’t even get a cold last winter, not one, but this thing had me ironed out like a wafer. I eased myself back into some exercise yesterday with a brisk walk, but it was only this morning that I felt up to a run. Light cloud cover offered perfect protection, keeping the temperature down and my skin out of Sydney’s harsh direct sunlight. There was a gentle breeze. And I’d just started running when I looked out to the ocean just in time to see a dolphin at the back of its pod do a great triple back flip. Yes, things were definitely looking up.
The dolphins stayed with me just off-shore for lap #1. In fact, it’s because of them that I even did lap #2. I just couldn’t take my eyes off them, the one at the back especially, who kept up the stunning aquabatic display. I was getting a kink in my neck from having my head at right angles to my body, but it was totally worth it. Up and down the beach they went, and up and down the beach I followed, for an hour, feeling more and more exultant every time they leapt and twirled and spun. I cried out a couple of times, just for sheer joy, and I wasn’t the only one – a crowd from the English Language School filled their balcony, cheering and applauding every time the show off in the water did another trick. Then the sun came out from behind the clouds, and the skies cleared to their perfect, almost surreal blue. Suddenly it was a perfect day, and the dolphins looked to have known all along it would be.
After my 10 kms, I came home and changed for my swim. When I got back across the road, the pod was right out front. I could hardly believe my luck. There was a class being taken by the surfing school, and all the new recruits got a lot more than they bargained for this morning: the pod of dolphins, coming by to play. I jumped in the water and went out almost as far as the surf school because the conditions are perfect for me today – glassy, neat little waves and no big rips. The dolphins passed right by. Some of the surfers couldn’t have been more than a couple of metres away. I was probably something more like 15 metres from the pod, but I was close enough to see the water sliding down their fins as they rolled over the surface of the waves.
I got out, and then got right back in again. I just couldn’t leave until they did. They headed up to the northern end, and finally, more than an hour and a half since I first saw them, they headed out toward the next beach. I haven’t had a morning quite that good in a long time. It just does not get any better than that. I feel energised, excited, optimistic, healthy, and properly awake for the first time in weeks. Dolphins fill me with something childlike. It wells up inside me whenever they’re close by, and I think it’s just a really basic kind of happiness. It may not be everyone’s remedy, but if you ask me, swimming with dolphins sure as hell beats running with scissors.
In mafia speak, a cleaner is the trigger-happy stooge with all the blood on his hands, so I thought I’d give Cheney a little nickname in honour of that shooting accident last year, and in honour of the special gun laws that have been passed in NSW, after federal government pressure, to accommodate his visit to Sydney today. I thought I’d give the nickname an Australian flavour by putting that sentiment in the context of John Farnham’s totally daggy old hit about Sadie the trolley dolly, because there’s no doubt about who’s bringing the biscuit tray around on this visit. Our prime miniature, that’s who. Go Fetch, Little Johnny, Watch Johnny Run, See Johnny Jump, and other titles all coming to a kindergarten near you. And Cheney, the Cleaning Lady is something the whole family can sing along to, as they dodge stray bullets and try to stay out of Cheney’s green-lit path over the next couple of days. It goes a little something like this (I’ve just adjusted some of John Farnham’s lyrics, and I hope I’m not breaching any copyright laws…):
Cheney, the Cleaning Lady
Cheney, the cleaning lady
With trusty special forces, guns aimed at the aorta,
Working Sydney to the bone
Recreating the bubble he’s got at home
Guns locked and loaded, ever ready for a slaughter
Ah Cheney, the cleaning lady
His aching knees not getting any relief
His red, bloodied hands
Have for years clutched a simple man’s,
Cheney’s servicing the Commander in Chief.
Scrub your floors, do your chores, dear old Cheney
Looks as though you’ll always be the cleaning lady
Can’t afford to get lazy, dear old Cheney
Looks as though you’ll always be the cleaning lady
Ah, Cheney, the cleaning lady
His slow working mind cannot find a way of trapping
America’s most wanted Saudi
So Cheney just spends the night watching TV, and napping
Ah, Cheney, the cleaning lady
He and Howard, hook, line and sinker
To my sorrow and dismay
They’re both still working to this day
And didn’t they turn out to be no-good stinkers?
CHORUS from: Scrub your floors, do your chores etc
Cheney’s bringing his own security detail, and they have been given permission to shoot Australians if they have to, in order to protect him. Special rules, you see, for special people. Look, I seriously doubt anyone’s going to get hurt, but it really irks me that Australian protection evidently isn’t good enough for Dick. Dick wants American protection, gosh darn it, even on foreign soil. And what Dick wants, Dick gets, isn’t that right, Johnny?
So we’ll all just try to ignore the Black Hawks and the traffic delays and the street closures and the men with ear pieces and firearms, whilst Dick goes about the very important business of being a…well, dick. And we all know how Johnny loves to get up close and personal to those, being the good little biscuit boy that he is.
Yesterday, two big ships brought Sydney to its knees. I’m still trying to figure out what happened, but what I can tell you is that the place was at fever pitch for a mad 24 hours. The reason? The QE2 and the QM2 (for those not up with Cunard nicknames, these are the enormous cruise ships Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Mary II respectively) were in town.
Hate to be a party pooper, but just what, exactly, was the big deal…?
I had to go into town yesterday afternoon because we were having a family dinner for my sister-in-law’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Flic!). When I got to the ferry wharf, the jet cat had been cancelled and the place was heaving with sweaty daytrippers all queueing to see the QM2 docked at Woolloomooloo on their way back to Circular Quay. This would be the same QM2 they all saw on the way over yesterday morning. They’d already seen it. But no matter, once the capacity-crowd ferry hobbled its way past, the ferry lurched violently port side as everyone choked the deck to take more photos of the docked ship.
I can confirm it was a big ship. A very big ship. Yes. That appears to be all it was.
Utter pandemonium reigned at Circular Quay. I fought my way through the crowds, passed at one point by an employee of Sydney Ferries, travelling in the opposite direction (or trying to) and loudly swearing “Oh for fuck’s sake!” at the swarming scene of disembarkation. It was really hot yesterday, so by the time I emerged, gasping for breath out the front of Customs House, I was not only hot but bothered. So bothered I headed immediately for the soothing air-conditioned comfort of David Jones, where a new pair of fab sunglasses to replace my beloved Burberrys (lost in the line of duty on my way to the airport last week) made me feel much better about everything. They don’t call it retail therapy for nothing, kids.
But then Llew and I returned to the Quay to meet the others, and it was in a state of advanced super-chaos. The QE2 was due to arrive at 7pm, and this was apparently the biggest news of the century. It was the Attack of the Killer Crowds down there, kind of what I imagine it was like during the height of Olympic fever in 2000 (we stayed away. Far, far away). The tsunami of boat worshippers surged around to the Opera House side, where we were due to meet parents and Flic at the Oyster Bar for a pre-dinner drink and what we had thought would be a casual once-over of the QE2 as she docked. It was not to be. Llew and I took one look at the madness and made the executive decision to walk in the opposite direction.
Unfortunately, this only put us on the other side of Circular Quay, at the International Passenger Terminal. By this stage Llew was going to smack someone if he didn’t get a beer in his hand before he could form it into a fist. We somehow found a table, and put in the calls to let the others know where we were. Peter and Katie had left their car in Manly and caught the ferry. They had to wait an hour for that privilege, which they snugly shared with the same masses I had encountered hours earlier. They did, however, get to see the QE2 passing the QM2. This was the number one news story in Australian media last night and this morning, so you can see how starved we are for something to talk about. Unless I’m missing something. Maybe there is something hugely important and exciting about a moving ship passing by an unmoving ship.
Eventually, we all found each other, and the bar, much-needed by that stage. People thronged around us in a most enthusiastic thronging fashion. We went to Sailor’s Thai Canteen for dinner – fantastic, now there’s something I can get excited about – and when we emerged a couple of hours later, everyone was still there. But for the conspicuous absence of floats and dancing girls, it seemed for all the world like a crazy, very low budget version of Carnivale.
And here’s where it all went awry. Here’s where Sydney shuddered to a stunned, bloated halt. Here’s where two cruise ships had Sydney on its knees. No cabs. Overcrowded buses. Massive ferry delays and an unspeakable queue making that delay just that little bit more horrific. Madness reigned. Flic somehow managed to get herself on a Bondi Express – the birthday present of the night – but for the four of us wanting to get to Manly, the outlook was grim.
After a fruitless search for transport alternatives, we drowned our stranded sorrows at the bar at the Wentworth Hotel whilst we tried to figure out how to get home. In the end, Llew’s parents insisted we take the last room in the hotel – they were strenuously insistent that they had to get back to Palm Beach, but I was still horrified we got the room and they got the road. It was a tiny broom closet of a room, clearly the last one left for a good reason, but it was a roof and a bed, shelter. And that’s how we came to be in Room 1120 last night. It’s also why Australia is not a republic. You say the word “Queen” around here and the whole place just falls to pieces.
I’ve made no secret in past posts of my acute dislike of Australia’s current Prime Minister, John Howard. And this blog excitedly embraced the new Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, when he took over from Kim Beazley last year. I believed then as I believe now that Rudd is the better chance of beating Howard, something I am desperate for the Labor party to do at the next election. The good news is I am apparently not alone, according to the latest Newspoll results.
I would love this Howard’s End to be ignoble. I would love to see him go down in the feverish, licking flames of disgrace. A really spectacular blaze that burns on and on through the ages. I’d love to see history remember the man (who refuses to remember history) as a national embarrassment, as someone slippery and small and cunning, who took the country unawares in an unguarded moment, and then spent ten years modelling it after his own image. Oh, the efforts it will take to undo the damage he has done.
A robust economy does not a nation make.
What is it to be an Australian now? Who are we? Of what stuff are we made? Are we fair or foul?
I emailed Mr Rudd last year the second I learned his leadership bid was successful. I offered him my heartfelt, and I mean that literally, I felt it in my heart, congratulations, and I offered him my full support. I said I wanted Australia to be reacquainted with its better self, and I said I hoped that during his campaign, he would trip over millions of Australians who felt the same way. He personally emailed back, thanking me for my kind words of support. I intend to keep repeating them, in public, as often as possible, just in case it helps.
I hope similarly disposed Australians are still out there in the numbers I used to completely take for granted. I hope the time for this rampant, misguided, underestimated, altogether destructive promotion of absolute self-interest from the top down is drawing to an overdue close. Howard’s election-sensitive volte face on Guantanemo Bay inmate David Hicks is absolutely nauseating. His utterly repellent, continued sucking of an idiot president’s dick is the biggest source of cultural cringe in this country since Kylie Minogue released The Locomotion. His outrageously misplaced, inflammatory comments linking Barack Obama, the American Democrats, and the terrorist network Al Qaeda is one of his more insane diplomatic blunders. His highly developed cynicism is boundless, not to mention insulting to the intelligence of the average voting Australian. He will, I believe, finally be brought down by his breathtaking hubris. I’m starting to mark the days on the calendar as I eagerly watch it happen. Go Kevin Rudd, your time is now.
I think there are too many rules these days, I do. I think everyone’s a bit trigger happy with the word “no,” and I think Australia is a lot less laid back than it famously used to be. Our local council is run by some rule lovers, and they like brandishing big signs everywhere – everywhere – about what residents and visitors are not allowed to do. Naturally this invites derision and vandalism, and a lot of the time these signs get defaced or removed by people who quite rightly want the council to shove its DON’T DO THIS, DON’T DO THAT signs up its authoritarian arse.
Not to be deterred, the latest genius idea from the council is to flash large messages of rule-keeping on the pedestrian shopping strip in a variety of menacing, we-mean-business colours. Personally? I think they’re completely insane.
So it’s not that I am a rule-monger. Quite the opposite. I don’t mind a bit of chaos and cheek. But I’ve always been a big fan of the unspoken rule, that little gem that everyone knows intuitively, and abides by just because it makes sense and there’s no need to make a fuss. I love the unspoken rule because it’s there by unspoken community agreement. Everyone just gets it, and because it’s there, understood by all, society hums along just a little better. Or at least it used to. Now, the unspoken rule lies abandoned, in tatters, and it’s time to actually speak it. Speaking the unspoken rule changes its nature forever – part of its charm and its effectiveness lay in its not being said – but I just don’t know what else to do. It’s either say it or lose it, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
Unspoken beach etiquette has always dictated a certain distance between towel groups. If I place my towel at point A, so the unspoken rule goes, then the closest point B will be, at least, equidistant from the towel at point C. This way, you never sit your summer reading right on top of my towel, and I never dump my bag of crap right on top of yours. This has got to be the unspoken rule most in danger of extinction. Every single bloody time I go into the surf these days, I emerge to find some extended family or other has absorbed my little patch of sand into a landfill of towels and umbrellas that would be visible from space. Who does that? Who doesn’t know the unspoken towel space ratio rule????
Another unspoken rule is that if I am walking in a group of people in one direction, and we are spilling all over the path – hogging it, as it were – then it is I who moves over to make room for you, the people attempting to walk past in the opposite direction. It’s only fair – we are otherwise blocking your path completely. This unspoken agreement between walkers is also right out the window. In its place, a new agreement seems to be in force. Under this new strategy, groups agree that they are the most important users of everything, everywhere, and that all paths exist for their benefit and for their benefit only. Woe betide the individual trying to get past a group these days. Not only won’t anyone move across for you, but group members will actively stand in your way. There is strength in numbers indeed. I have ended up in the gutter, up the embankment, and on the road, all thanks to the ignorant arseholes who have forgotten how to share. This includes mothers who travel in packs with prams. They are among the worst and most selfish of any pedestrian group, and I don’t understand the evident and advanced atmosphere of entitlement they exude. It’s perplexing, but all groups seem to have it these days. Well, all I can say is cut it out. It’s really rude.
One final unspoken rule, may it rest in peace, is that litter is…well, out. Don’t drop your rubbish on the street, at the beach, in the water. Are we all that lazy and that selfish and that ignorant that we no longer heed that little gut nudge inside that says “don’t litter”? I live in a beautiful and pristine natural environment. When I see some slob dump their cigarette butt on the beach, or chuck their McDonald’s wrappers in my front flower box, or casually drop their empty can over the side of the ferry so they can watch it float on the otherwise rubbish-free harbour, I want to scream my head off, right up close in their face. What the fuck is wrong with you? That’s what I want to scream. And I’d be completely hoarse by now, that’s the really sad thing. It’s part of a bigger problem, I think. I think the unspoken rule is dead because people are so obsessed with themselves these days that far fewer people care about those little things that made it easier to live with each other before. There are fewer little courtesies. Fewer people giving up their seat on the bus. Fewer people letting the person with only two items in ahead at the checkout. Fewer people spotting you twenty cents if you’re short at the shop. Fewer people lending assistance by the side of the road. Fewer people helping the pram up the stairs. Fewer people, that is, stepping up to do something small for someone else just because it’s quite obviously the right thing to do. And that, my friends, is a damn crying shame.
I feel uncomfortable writing this post, but I have also been uncomfortable withholding it. I want to acknowledge what has happened, and I want to tell you about some of the things I have been thinking in relation to it. I guess I am just very, very keenly aware that this is not my story, and therefore not mine to tell, but it has been in the news here in Australia, so I suppose to that extent it is already out there, in the public domain.
I have met Andrew McAuley, the kayaker lost since this time last week off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Andrew’s parents are great and beloved friends of Llew’s parents. Llew has known the family all his life. I last saw the elder McAuleys in December, and they are terrific people. Terrific parents. I met Andrew and his wife Vicki years ago, I think even before the birth of their son, Finlay. I believe it was just after his historic kayak crossing of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Certainly Llew and I both remember talking to him about what he went through during that trip. The danger, the delirium, the damage, and the determination.
He was very close to making it this time, too, by anyone’s measure. I’ve heard various things, but all of them put him between 65-100 kms of the end, inside the Milford Sound. He had kayaked from Tasmania, and had been out there on the ocean for something like a month. The stretch of water Andrew crossed experiences, regularly, the very worst weather in the world. He was in a kayak, alone in the elements, battling some 1600 kms to reach the other side.
I felt sick when Llew took a call from his mother last Saturday night, telling us Andrew was missing. This was his second attempt at the crossing. A little while ago, during the first attempt, he’d experienced serious problems and had to turn back. When I heard that at the time, I thought “Good. Oh, thank goodness, please let that be the end of it now.” But of course, that’s not how an adventurer perceives failure. ‘Failure’ simply computes as ‘the next challenge.’
I was on the South Coast famil when the search for Andrew was called off by the authorities in New Zealand. They had searched an extra day beyond what was probably required, realistically, given the freezing conditions and massive search area, but, beyond recovering his kayak Saturday night, sadly there was no sign of Andrew. The room’s TV flashed devastating footage of Andrew and Vicki’s goodbye back at the start of his epic voyage. I lay on the bed of the serviced apartment I was booked into for the night, and I bawled my eyes out. For his parents, his wife, his son, his brother, his sister, their families, his many friends, and for my own husband’s family, all of whom I love, and all of whom love the McAuleys. And I bawled because he was gone, just like that. Gone.
There’s been a lot of ocean in my week. It’s been all around me. I live by the ocean, for a start, but on the South Coast trip I was on it, travelling out to Montague Island, and standing on the edge of vast expanses of it on Green Cape. Water, everywhere water. So much water. As I said to Sarah on Sunday, I am completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the ocean, and by the sudden permanence of death.
What is left for the modern day adventurer, now all the world is mapped and logged and coordinated many times over? What is left for the man born with the aching need for exploration when everything has been found? If you think of Marco Polo and Magellan, and all the great figures of exploration, you start to appreciate that they just got the timing right. They got lucky. They were there first. But for the modern day adventurer like Andrew, born with that same wanderlust, the frames of reference have changed. To make their mark, to still their adventurer’s wild heart, they must not just travel miles, because all the miles have already been travailed. No, they must travel those miles against impossible odds and in extreme conditions. Otherwise, where’s the adventure? Otherwise, how to quiet the yawning need inside to do what no human being has ever done before?
I don’t have that particular ember burning inside me. I am a curious, active traveller, I absolutely love seeing the world, but I have no desire to knowingly put myself in extreme danger. So for the last week, I have been trying to understand Andrew’s need to do this trip. I have been trying to understand that knowing all the risks, knowing he could die, knowing he might never see his wife and child again, he went anyway. And I think I am slowly starting to see that if he had his time over, he’d probably go again. Because that’s the way he was made. My dreams are different, but I know how much they mean to me. I can only imagine what Andrew’s meant to him, because they propelled him toward a journey that most of us would regard as sheer madness. The footage I saw on TV that night ended with Andrew’s broad smile, a family trait, and you could see he was itching to get on the water, absolutely busting to get going. Someone must have asked him why he was doing it, and he grinned and said something like, “Oh, it’s a big adventure. To me, it’s just a great, big adventure.”
Rest in peace seems an out of step sentiment for such a restless soul, so I just stood at the water’s edge a couple of days ago, and I said goodbye instead. I didn’t really know Andrew, but he seemed like a great guy. He meant the world to a lot of people, some of whom mean the world to me, and I’m so, so sorry he’s gone.
I’ve been away the past few days on a press famil to the NSW South Coast, organised by Tourism NSW, and very nice it was, too. I got back last night, just in time for dinner with Llew. It was, for those of you who chose to ignore it, Valentine’s Day.
I’m not a Valentine’s Day hysteric of either type. One type of person slavishly devotes themselves to the occasion, scattering petals and love notes in their wake, whilst the other energetically scorns it, mocking couples and their dinner dates as gimmicky and kitsch. Me, I don’t really care about Valentine’s Day, I remember far too many years without a Valentine for that, but I don’t see what’s so wrong with having a reason to celebrate a little romance.
There’s couples everywhere on Valentine’s Day, and I think it’s kind of nice to see all those interlinked arms and locked lips. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Sydney coming over all Venetian. It sure beats the pack and mob mentality of the hoon squads that usually drag their hotted up cars up and down streets at night. Even these guys somehow manage to get girls in this town, and even those girls, forever stuck in the back seat suffering eardrum damage, manage to call the shots on Valentine’s Day. For a brief moment, the floor is theirs, even if it means turning off ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?” when they pull up at a set of lights. On Valentine’s Day, they might even get to ride up front for a change, if they play their cards right. Lucky things.
I can see it’s an American commercial construct, a commemoration constructed out of thin air by card companies, florists, and chocolate manufacturers, I know too that restaurants have jumped on the big, fat pie, demanding their own hefty slice, a big tower of fake cream swizzled on the side, and I can even swallow the idea that Valentine’s Day has a negative impact on otherwise sane and stable singletons. This is even though the single crowd in Sydney otherwise seems to be constantly tripping the light fantastic, and doesn’t usually hold back letting you know that married people and couples are to party time what Adam and Eve were to the Garden of Eden.
Yes, the origin of the couple is where all the trouble started, and we’ve all been paying the price ever since. Those bastards.
When I met up with Llew last night, I hadn’t seen him for three days that had felt like an eternity. He had a bunch on orchids for me. We had a drink, and then we went out for a lovely meal and a bottle of wine. We walked home along the beach arm in arm, and we passed dozens of couples doing the same. It wasn’t about presents or boxes shaped like love-hearts or hyperbolic declarations of love. It was just lovely to be together, just the two of us, because sometimes I worry that we don’t make enough time for that. I make no quarrel with the made-up holiday that ensures there’s at least one night a year when we do. Long may it continue.
Great name for a book. Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I love the way it sounds. It’s one of those titles you say in your head every time you pick up the book to keep reading. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (see, there I go again). A great name, but is it a great book? I can’t decide, although I’m delighted Brett made a gift of it (thanks, Brettle!) because otherwise it might not have crossed into my airspace. What I can say is it came to have a total hold over me, and I finished it yesterday thanks to a couple of marathon reading sessions of four hours apiece. Not everyone can read uninterrupted for that length of time, but I can go all day if I have to. And I had to. Sometimes the spell takes hold hard.
I just can’t decide if I liked it, loved it, or if it irritated the absolute living hell out of me. It’s by Marisha Pessl, previously mentioned debut novelist and New York beauty, and it has all sorts of smarty-pants, knowing conceits, some of which are more than slightly lip-curling over 514 fat pages. For a start, she uses similes like a…(kidding). I started to hate it. Even early on, I wanted to scream “NO! Not like anything! Not as if anything! It is what it is, so fucking well spit it out, for Christ’s sake!” Oh, some of them were funny and (that kind of almost an insult) “clever,” yes, yes, but so smug, so self-conscious, so grating I wanted to smack something (and yes, Marisha, that something was you). There was also the nagging feeling that the extremely ethereal, extremely thin, extremely intelligent heroine was a sketch of how Marisha sees herself. If the protagonist is even remotely the author’s self-portrait, then I’d find Marisha’s breathtaking vanity insufferable in real life. And yet…
It’s a strangely compelling read, although there are so many loose ends it’s maddening (although yes, I get it, thanks, life’s like that). And I found myself tempted to do something I never, ever, ever do: read ahead. My friend Anna reads the ending of a book before she starts reading the rest of it, a habit that absolutely slays me. I am floored, alarmed, even, by the very idea, let alone the shocking act itself. But somehow I developed, whilst reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a shamefully unhealthy urge to see what became of a minor character I was on the sidelines cheering for with all my might. I had to know how it ended for him. I did actually get as far as fanning the pages, but then I stopped myself just in time, feeling as guilty as if I’d stolen from a friend. I guess that’s unsurprising, because I think the contract I have with every author of every book I read contains some of the tenets of friendship. And there I was, about to cheat Marisha, rob her blind, after all her hard work on my behalf.
It drove me to distraction, the thought of this subsidiary character not getting his due. The rest of the book, the rest of the long and confusing and rather odd story, started to feel like nothing more than a woolly impediment to my progress, which was unexpectedly and ferociously directed toward learning the fate of the young man who nurses an all but unrequited crush on the protagonist. I bolted pages like seventeen year old boys bolt breakfast cereal (in moderation, similes are simply marvellous), assuming (correctly, I am relieved to say) that my good friend Marisha simply couldn’t be so cruel as to leave this subplot dangling, though dangling otherwise dominates her book, literally and figuratively. I finally got my reward.
And I’d love to tell you what happened, but that would be cheating.