You should just see what I am coughing up at the moment. I guess it’s not so very jolly, but it is certainly green, and it is certainly gigantic. Yes, it’s the change-of-season head cold, currently setting up house in the ear-nose-and-throat wing of this human hotel. Yuck. Massive globules of nuclear phlegm are hacking through my body, and I can’t say they’re making me feel very sexy. On the contrary. I feel like wearing flannel pyjamas, watching The Bold and the Beautiful, drinking hot lemon and honey drinks, and eating buttery soldiers of Vegemite toast.
I haven’t had a cold in about two years, so I feel slightly resentful that this one checked in whilst I was attempting to check out… What is it about the holiday that goes so hand in hand with the malady? Is it my immune system being caught off guard (wow – I am sitting in an internet cafe at the end of my street right now as my internet connection at home is failing to, er, connect, and I just had a profound moment of deja vu), or is it the inescapable, entirely unavoidable bump and grind of human traffic along the way? All those foreign bodies sitting next to each other, walking past each other, using public toilets beside each other… it’s enough to make me feel like going home and washing my hands for the next three hours.
In this case, I think I’m sick because of poor packing. I had a shocker. And it’s not as though I wasn’t forewarned. Sarah flexed her psychic streak before Llew and I headed to WA, having multiple visions of my returning to Sydney detailing freezing conditions in the Margaret River. She said “I keep having dreams that you’re going to be really cold over there.” Did I listen? No. Sarah’s sleep has been all screwed up recently and I thought all the messages were getting scrambled. So I went right on ahead and packed for a beach holiday on the Indian Ocean. Well, I packed my Tokyo beanie (because it’s cool). And a denim jacket (because it goes with everything). But I mainly concentrated on what we call thongs (flip flops elsewhere and something really weird in NZ that I can’t remember…) and sundresses, which I packed in abundance. Sarah was, of course, eerily on the money.
Arctic. It was soooo cold my finger- and toenails kept turning blue. I verily convulsed with cold. Emergency retail sessions were required. We stopped at one Margaret River vineyard, and whilst Llew did a wine tasting, I went the rather more unconventional route of charging over to a lonely corner display to try on their entire clothing range. And I eventually, enthusiastically bought a fleece shell. I forked over those not inconsiderable clams with gusto, and I put my new layer on with the tag still dangling down my back and a gladness in my heart. It has VOYAGER ESTATE sewn into it, so you know things were pretty desperate. I don’t generally go in for loudly emblazoned promo merchandise, but damn it, I was cold.
As I shivered my way through the next day, it became clear that my feet needed more protection and warmth than thongs were designed to provide. A pair of Havaianas, even when you have several in a variety of primary colours, will only get you so far. In this case they got me as far as a shoe store in Margaret River town, where for the first time in my E-N-T-I-R-E life, all I really wanted to find, all that my heart really, truly desired, was a circulation-kickstarting, life-giving pair of Ugg boots. Naturally they didn’t sell them, so I settled for a pair of sneakers. The sales assistant threw in a pair of socks, and I walked out in my new, snugly encased feet nearly crying with relief. Warm, dry feet. My new favourite thing.
So how was the Margaret River? It was cold. And I got sick. But those rounds and rounds of cellar door tastings and tasty treats sure did take the edge off, even if I couldn’t smell the pungent bouquet of horseshit, let alone an award-winning Pinot. Berry notes? Plum and pepper? Whatever. If you’ve got an open fire then we’ll have a case, thanks.
Just a little postscript – I am off to be a one woman cheer squad for Llew for the next few days. He is competing in the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships in Scarborough, Western Australia. The crew he rows with aren’t exactly expecting to take out the title, but we are looking forward to a week off and to seeing a new part of the country. We’re staying in Fremantle during the event, and then heading down to wine country, the renowned Margaret River. I hear only good things about WA, so I am very much looking forward to it. I don’t know how frequently I’ll be able to blog, but we’re away a week and I’ll definitely be back at the computer upon our return. Cheers!
I just got off the ‘phone from my friend Erin. She’s at the airport as I type, off to do a working holiday in the UK, which is something of a pilgrimage for many Australians. It’s a real coming-of-age trip, and I did it myself when I was her age. Most of us who undertake this journey work for a couple of years after university, get something behind us to put on an otherwise rather slim-looking CV, save some cold, hard cash, and then go nuts one day in the nearest Kathmandu store, kitting ourselves out with a backpack, matching daypack, fleece, thermal underwear, water bottle, Swiss army knife, chamois, sleeping bag, and anything else we even remotely think we’re going to need on our big backpacking adventure. Oh, and a Europe on a Shoestring volume of Lonely Planet, which weighs about 6 kilos.
Erin sounds like she’s following a very similar route to my own. She’s going to arrive in London at about 6:15 am. Heathrow – a universe unto itself. Then she’s going straight to Hammersmith to stay with Nat, who started her own working holiday about 8 months ago. By the time Erin gets through Customs, in other words, she’ll be just in time to share the tube with millions of peak hour commuters. Oh, I remember it well. My own welcome to London started at Customs. The guy looked down at my passport, looked up at me, and spat “Not another bloody working holiday Australian.” Having saved for a solid year to get to be right where I was standing, this was a little deflating. I looked at him, smiled, and said “I just had to get away from all the Poms.”
He didn’t appreciate my early morning attempt at humour, and stamped my spanking new passport with unnecessary brutality. But then I was through, and I was there. England. The other side of the world, and my gateway to Europe. It was a thrilling moment, and I deeply inhaled all those Heathrow fumes – oh, the humanity – with a rush of joy that’s very, very particular to taking my first steps in a foreign land. I just love that feeling.
A big sigh…
They’re happy and sad days, both hard and frivolous, strange and yet strangely familiar. Backpacking is a deeply shocking and in many ways totally unsatisfactory way to travel, and the horror of seeing your savings disintegrate at breakneck speed really defies description. The Pound Sterling and the Euro are horribly unkind to the Australian dollar, and it makes Australian backpackers obsessive and penny-pinching in a way that is both unexpected and unflattering. It makes backpacking a limited experience, and I can assure you I far preferred Italy the second time around.
Nonetheless, backpacking around Europe with Sarah, dodging repeated flashers, missing trains, and suffering gallery/church fever, was such a grand, mid-twenties adventure. It was simply great to be there, seeing everything with my own eyes, pounding those cobbled streets with my own two feet, smelling those markets with my own nose, hearing the cacophony of foreign tongues with my own ears, and tasting new flavours on my own tongue. Nothing beats travel as a way of life.
Bon voyage, Erin, enjoy!
On the way back from the wedding on Sunday, Tamsin, Ruben, Llew and I spent some time ruminating on the Australian condition. I used to think, for instance, that I was a fairly representative Aussie: mainly working-class roots, the product of both public and private education, fairly laid-back and open-minded, with a readiness to find humour in most things, and a desire to travel the world. I believed for a long time in a basic decency at the heart of the national character, which is popularly bandied about in terms of the “fair go” and the ANZACS. I now believe I was wrong about a lot of things.
I now know I am not representative at all. I was born and spent my childhood years in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, which immediately puts me in a rather bizarre group that loves rolling around in their own pretensions toward exclusivity. I’m certainly not representative of that culture, but my links to this section of society immediately mark me as someone who isn’t representative of just about anyone else in the country.
I was next dragged, kicking and screaming and crying, out of Sydney to the Central Coast. It was a very unhappy time in my personal life, and no doubt this tainted the whole place for me as well as my memories of it. I spent my two and a half years there fleeing back to Sydney every chance I got, and generally feeling and being treated like a complete and utter misfit and outsider. My first six months of high school, at a private girls’ school in East Gosford, were among the most miserable of my life.
Circumstances intervened and I returned to Sydney and went to live for the first time with my father. He enrolled me at a public girls’ high school in North Parramatta, in Sydney’s west. This is where the majority of Sydney actually lives, in the western suburbs, but I can’t say I or the friends I made there felt terribly representative there at all. In Year 11, fate dealt me a winning hand, and I was off on scholarship to an international college in Canada for two years. There I was embraced as a representative of my country. Hardly surprising, since I was there as a kind of teen ambassador, to ‘represent’ Australia and typical Australian youth, and I suppose I laboured under the fairly gross misapprehension that that’s exactly what I did. I really believed I was typical.
Now I know that’s bunkum. I actually belong to a very small demographic within Sydney, let alone Australia. I have a PhD. I live by the beach in the country’s biggest, most expensive city. In my own home. My husband is a professional with a university qualification. We have both lived overseas and travelled widely. We are small ‘l’ liberals.
In Maitland on Saturday night, I was reminded again that a lot of Australians spread throughout this vast land hate small ‘l’ liberals with an unreasoning passion, and think anyone from Sydney is a posh wanker only getting what’s coming to them. Cue knuckle sandwiches. Certainly walking down the main street after the bus from the wedding reception delivered us back into town was an education I’m in no hurry to repeat. There was one group of really scary men roaming the streets like a pack of wild dogs looking to make a kill, and as I passed by, one of them yelled “Hey bitch, you’ve got no tits.” Lovely. When I left a couple of minutes later, deciding this was all too much high country hi-jinx for me, I was rattled enough that I asked to be taken out via a back exit to avoid walking past them again. Llew walked me back to our accommodation, and I was genuinely scared about him walking down the street back to the club alone.
These are what I like to call the Bring Back the Biff Australians, and their numbers, sadly, are not few. Nope, there’s lots of them, more than I realised, and they’re all over the country. There are Australians who vandalise private property for kicks. Why go home when you can smash a plate glass window or two at the local cafe…? Why call it a night when there are still apartment blocks to grafitti? There are Australians who hate gays, Aborigines, Muslims, Asians, and anyone else they’re determined to remain wilfully ignorant about. Refugees, for instance. There are Australians who think that you are a dirty rotten tree-hugging un-Australian terrorist-loving commie if you think David Hicks has the right to a fair and expedient trial. Or that the war in Iraq is a humanitarian disaster (“Who cares? They’re just Osama Bin Laden-look-a-like towel heads anyway.”).
And I think the thing I despise most about John Howard’s reign of paranoia and ignorance and xenophobia is that he has allowed these attitudes to flourish. He has fanned the flames. He has made the Bring Back the Biff contingent stronger, more suspicious of difference than ever, more dangerous in their claims of ownership and entitlement. More ‘Australian’ than the rest of us. So are they representative? Boy, I seriously hope not.
What is it with celebrants? Why do so many of them think they’re comedians? You have to wonder why they go into this line of business if what they really want to do is crack jokes at someone else’s expense. If you really think you’re that funny, try stand-up, not marriage ceremonies.
A case in point was the celebrant at James and Melissa’s beautiful wedding on Saturday at Tocal Homestead, Paterson. It was a garden ceremony, overlooking rolling green paddocks and a family of Clydesdales, and an excellent vantage point from which to watch the afternoon light change and a terrific, moody storm roll in. It was all gorgeous.
The celebrant’s probably a perfectly decent bloke once you pull him away from the limelight, but he spent a good portion of the ceremony absolutely whipping the groom. By the time they went to sign the marriage certificate, we were all busting to turn around in our seats and have an animated chat about this peculiar phenomenon. It’s the celebrant comedy act, coming soon to a wedding near you.
This particular celebrant announced early that James had confided Melissa “can be a nightmare,” and asked James if he’d care to elaborate. James passed. Before James began his vows, the celebrant said something along the lines of “After all the weeks of your friends asking you if you’re really going to go through with it, this is where you show them that yes, you are.” As Melissa went to slide on James’s wedding ring, the celebrant said “Let’s hope James hasn’t put on even more weight.” When Jeff, Melissa’s father, went to take his seat after giving his daughter away, the celebrant said “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Pause. “No, no, just kidding, you were great.”
There was more. It was relentless. And he’s not at all an isolated case. It seems to be the rule rather than exception, which suggests to me the job – for many a second, weekend means of income earning – must attract a certain type of person. The first thing about a civil marriage celebrant is that you’ve got a guaranteed captive audience. People will show up, definitely, for the wedding. You will never play to an empty house. And it doesn’t matter how bad your comedy routine is, because there’s always the marriage ceremony as handy back up should you ever encounter any rough patches. It’s also a happy occasion, which guarantees a forgiving, friendly crowd. I also have to wonder if the little bit of power is part of the attraction, in the way I often think it is for some religious figures and, say, bouncers. There’s nothing quite like having a big important job to do to make the socially awkward puff their chest and strut their stuff. Just look at John Howard.
The main thing that increasingly concerns me about all these comic celebrants is the fact that their departures from script – and we all swapped stories about the alarming ad-libbing of a celebrant on a roll – have the effect of making it all about them. And rule number one of any wedding is that it’s all about you if and only if you are the bride and groom.
Congratulations, James and Melissa, now husband and wife. Here’s to you and a long, happy life together.
Last night Llew and I went down to the wharf bar for a “quiet” drink with Matt, who’s in town from Papua New Guinea for James and Melissa’s wedding tomorrow, which should be a cracker if only I can sort out my outfit… Anyway, it was a classic Wookie-Llew-Di sparring frenzy, and things got rather…er…loud.
In the midst of all the ribald hilarity, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that this is why I love being in otherwise exclusively male company: I get to use an entirely different part of my personality. Male chat is fundamentally different to female chat. And I think that’s what I have been missing out on during those previously mentioned nights of gender demarcation: the subtleties and specificities of what men talk about when they’re with other men and there are no women around.
Of course, I’m a woman, so the chat must change at least slightly due to my presence. But there are some guys who seem to have accepted me, for the purposes of these conversations, as one of the boys. Nothing is too shocking, no joke too extreme, no topic taboo. And I love it. I participate wholeheartedly, and I flex what feels like a completely different funny bone than when I am with my beloved girls. The humour and group dynamic involved is very different.
A couple of months ago Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens wrote a piece called ‘Why Women Aren’t Funny.’ Hitchens obviously thought he, on the other hand, was a laugh riot. It was an interesting piece, although it ended up being patronising and sexist in its insincere and backhanded-insult conclusion, that women don’t have time to be funny what with all that work they have to do making up for the innumerable shortfalls of men. Oh, really?
And it was a stroke of genius, in a way, because of course there’s no response one can make that doesn’t seem to prove his point. In the letters teemed nonetheless. I resisted the urge to write one, but the thought, I’ll admit, crossed my mind. But then I realised he had me. He had me good. There was no way to be funny in replying to a charge of being unfunny. The whole structure is set up for flat-on-your-face failure. There is no possible humour to be found stridently insisting to him and the world that we’re capable of it. Think about it. “My friends say I’m hilarious” and “I’m a funny person” and “People at work are always telling me I should do stand up” are three of the most cretinous, unfunny lines known to man. And woman. And yet women in their droves rushed to tell Vanity Fair these very things. I actually winced reading some of the letters the following month. Atta girl, that’ll show ’em…that’ll have ’em rollin’ in the aisles…
But what Hitchens underestimated or didn’t understand or didn’t stop to think about is that female chat is rather different when he’s not around. It changes radically, in the way that conversation alters when I join a group of guys who don’t know me as well as Llew and Matt or James and Evo do. I’m betting from the size of this particular columnist’s ego that he’s not exactly treated as ‘one of the girls’ when he has occasion to be surrounded by the so-called fairer sex. Some of the sharpest people I know are women. And sometimes I only know just how sharp they are because I’ve spent girl time with them. It’s not missing, it’s just different, and last night as I nearly sprayed my drink across the bar I was laughing so hard, some of those differences started to seem a little clearer to me.
We don’t have a television. People tend to think this is slightly eccentric, but it’s actually a monumental relief never sitting through hours and hours of advertising and abysmal programming. That’s just not part of my day. I know we do occasionally miss out on good things, but I’ve seen enough TV to know I’m never missing much. But we do have a projector, and we both love movies.
The projector is awesome. We have white walls, so we just play DVDs directly onto the lounge-room wall. It’s big screen entertainment in the comfort of our own home, and I love it. I love it easily as much as some people love their flat-screen TV, so there’s nothing Amish about our way of life. We’re visual junkies just like everybody else.
Anyway, last night we watched The Departed. Excellent cast, riveting movie. And I must say although it’s appalling it took so long, I am really relieved Martin Scorsese finally got that Oscar for a great film, rather than as a consolation prize because everyone knew he’d been waiting too long. Imagine if he got it for something like A Good Year, which looks like self-indulgent crap. What would his equivalent be…? Perhaps one man’s personal quest for self-discovery in A Good Fella. Or maybe the warmhearted, coming-of-age, modern day fable Gangs of New Year. Hmmm. Maybe Martin would never make a movie like that, but you never know. Being a bridesmaid but never a bride can do strange things to a man. Figuratively speaking.
But now he’s got his Oscar and we never have to know if he would have eventually punished us all with his version of that hog movie that’s out now. You know the one. Lots of old men riding motorbikes and, inexplicably, not to mention implausibly, Marisa Tomei. No, Martin’s free to keep making good movies, and long may it continue. I loved The Departed. It was so tense, so corrupt, so bleak.
And I don’t know what Leonardo DiCaprio is eating but it should be available on prescription. He was not only fantastic in the role, he’s become an absolute bruiser. Look at the size of the man. He exudes power now in a way that is both vulnerable, in that I-don’t-know-my-own-strength kind of way, and powerful, as in I-am-a-killing-machine-don’t-fuck-with-me. It’s incredibly charismatic. He has really filled out as a man and a talent. I thought he was equally compelling in Blood Diamond, so it’s great to see him leave behind the heavy manacle of that sinking ship once and for all. Go Leo.
And what can you say about Jack? He does always get all the best lines, but then… well, he deserves them.
The only thing missing from my movie-watching pleasure last night was a Special Features DVD to go with the main feature. Or any Special Features at all. I guess we’ll have to wait for the Oscar-winning Director’s Cut. Take your time, Marty, take all the time you need.
The man staggers me. Truly. He takes my breath away. He leaves me gasping. Incredulous. Choking. My jaw drops. My head shakes. My fists clench. Boy, am I ready for a new Prime Minister. And if we don’t get one at the next election, if the Australian people want to keep sidling up to that snake, then I’m out of here, and I’m taking my husband with me. I just don’t want to keep living in a place that keeps electing that man.
So Honest John’s latest brazen display of gross hypocrisy has to do with the ‘comfort women’ of World War II. These women were forced into prostitution to service Japanese soldiers during the war. This is accepted as historical fact, and in 1993 the ‘Kono apology’ acknowledged that some women were forced into sexual duties that the Japanese military either directly or indirectly abetted. Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, hit the news this week when he queried the extent of coercion involved.
And here comes John Howard, the moral hero of history, riding to the rescue… As reported by The Australian yesterday, ‘on the eve of joining Mr Abe for his first prime ministerial meeting in Tokyo, Mr Howard said there should be no attempt to rewrite history.’
OH MY GOD. I’m so galled I could S-C-R-E-A-M. This from our most dedicated revisionist. This from the man who has repeatedly danced around the finer points of the White Australia Policy, this from the man who has repeatedly shied away from acknowledging the Stolen Generation, this from the man who will not say sorry for the wrongs of the past (just a little casual spot of extermination) to the original inhabitants of this country. As it happens, I agree with his statements about comfort women. I say get it out there. Let’s hear it. Don’t hold back on the nasty bits – let’s keep it real, people. Let us learn from the mistakes and horrors of the past. We can use all the help we can get in the education department, after all, after nearly 11 years of being dumbed down, dumber and dumber, ever dumber by Howard’s Government. But to have him pass comment on another Prime Minister’s resistance to historical fact and consequent revisions toward a more palatable version of events? He just can’t be serious. Oh, but he is, isn’t he? Has a bigger hypocrite ever walked the face of the earth? I just can’t imagine it, because this guy takes the cake.
We have a new policy at home. Open house Sundays. This Chez J initiative is designed to promote two things: we don’t leave the general vicinity of our place on Sundays, but we encourage people to feel free to pop in. So far it’s going quite well.
Open house Sundays came about because we had oh so easily fallen straight back into that Sydney trap of spending whole weekends in transit, thanks to diaries choked with social commitments spread across the greater metropolitan area. I think you have to see an aerial shot of Sydney to fully appreciate why travelling to a friend’s house on the other side of town is such a mission. There’s just water everywhere, separating everything. It’s lovely, no doubt, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it does create particular challenges for getting around. Often, being forced to travel overland doubles or even triples the distance. If we were all able to scoot around on the water the whole time, the whole enterprise would be much more manageable. Unfortunately, boats cost a fortune, and so do moorings. Believe me, we’ve looked into it.
So the end result, and I know I speak for many people around Sydney when I say this, is that we just end up knackered. Constantly. In need of a weekend to recover from the weekend. I used to think the problem was simply over-committing. Last year I even wrote a piece for The Sydney Morning Herald to that effect, but now the nuances are becoming clearer. It’s not just saying yes, it’s getting there, and getting away again. Tick tock, tick tock… Just like that, there goes the day, and the weekend is over.
It’s not that we’re refusing to do the distances. I love leaving my own neighbourhood and visiting friends elsewhere. We’ll do Fridays nights. Saturdays. Saturday nights. The occasional weeknight. All aboard and toot toot. Fabulous. Can’t wait to see you. It’s been too long. Let’s catch up. But Sundays? We’ll be at home. And if the door’s closed and there’s no signs of life, then we’ll be over the road in the surf, and we’ll be back before you can apply your sunscreen. Come on over, we’d love to see you. And as we start to spread the word and stick to our guns, people are actually more inclined to visit. They are bringing their togs and their toddlers, and they are happily spending Sunday at the beach. And now, finally, so are we.
Stella McCartney has today launched a line of clothing through selected Target stores in Australia. Affordable designer clothing is generally the stuff of fantasy and rather frightening Boxing Day sales, so, of course, the women of Australia (or rather Sydney and Melbourne) flocked to Target and cleaned out the racks with alarming efficiency this morning. It all seems to have taken place with a piranha-like, flesh-eating zeal that says as much about the female buyers as it does about the clothes themselves.
Read The Sydney Morning Herald’s description of the frenzy at Bondi Junction. I laughed a knowing little laugh when I got to the article’s pointed reference to the fact that some of the women were entering Target for the very first time in their entire lives. That’s right. Until Stella McCartney said it was okay, they wouldn’t be caught dead in Target. But now that the magical presence of Stella’s designs has given Target the nod, these same women have spent the morning fighting, clawing, and gouging their way in just to get close to a Stella McCartney trench.
Of course, Stella herself is staying as far away from us for as long as she possibly can. I read an article on the weekend that said she’d come to Melbourne but promptly left again for Paris instead. Well, I’d do the same thing myself given the choice, so no hard feelings, Stel. She is reportedly contractually obliged to come to Sydney for the official launch sometime this week, but she’s opting to keep that as close to the wire as possible. In and out. Just long enough to grit her teeth and do what must be done. Oh…I see… just like the eastern suburbs grand dames who have this morning rushed the Bondi Junction Target store like it was a physical challenge on Survivor. There’s a real ‘Oh god, must I?’ attitude pervading both visits. And do you know why? Because those women think they’re better than regular Target shoppers, and Stella McCartney thinks she’s better than them.
The reluctance, the slight embarrassment of being seen rubbing shoulders in these less than salubrious, distinctly non-Parisian surrounds is almost too much for everyone. Stella has had to flee to Paris to fortify herself with European gorgeousness before hitting the neon lights of Target later in the week, and all those society gals have no doubt raced home with their navy and grey trench coats for a hot shower, since that inaugural visit to Target has left them all feeling slightly unclean. I have heard people talking about the impending arrival of the Stella stock, and the women quoted in the SMH article have echoed similar sentiments, which suggest that although it means (heaven forbid) going to Target, “it’s still worth it.” As if it’s a huge personal sacrifice going in there, in the way that fighting the spread of fascism in the trenches of WWII was “worth it” despite the horrific number of Allied and innocent dead.
Seriously, we need to get over ourselves. If only we could get as worked up and as passionate about things like children in detention, corrupt politicians, disastrous foreign policy, and the untold damage our boundless consumerism is wreaking on the environment and our ethical rather than fiscal economy as we can about a new fashion label hitting a few select stores. Some of these women might have even camped out overnight (no doubt also for the first time in their lives). And I’m as guilty as the next person – I lobbed up to Martin Place at 4 am to queue for Lou Reed tickets, don’t forget – so I am talking as much to myself as to anyone else reading this. Don’t you think there’s something wrong with us? Don’t you think there’s something wrong with this? If the West cared even half as much for our fellow human beings as we so evidently, abundantly do for our ever-expanding wardrobes, the world would be a vastly different place. But we don’t, and it’s not. Pity.