Time is an eccentric and cruel mistress. In the past week she’s snapped shut like a teenage girl having second thoughts, so that our time away seems to have been erased from history. Now we are back, and everything is just as we left it, we can hardly believe we were ever gone at all.
Our travels commenced 5.5 months ago – a good portion of any year. We were overseas for 4.5 of that…and yet time has concertinaed now, a folded fan keeping all its secrets. People frown when we answer the question of how long we’ve been away, shaking their heads and saying, “Really? It doesn’t feel like that long,” which only has the effect of making it true. One friend swam against the tide yesterday by saying she had really felt the length of our absence, but for most it seems it’s passed as a quickened heartbeat at best.
The Touring Toddler saw one of his little Mothers’ Group friends yesterday – and he’ll see a couple more today – picking up where they left off with a delighted play along the beachfront. Though we’re not yet back living in Man Town, it’s a relatively simple matter of driving here from Palm Beach and I’ll be doing it regularly if we end up staying at Palmie for longer.*
We are very, very fortunate people. We’re so lucky to be able to stay at Palm Beach at all – if you can’t live in your own home for a while, there are few alternatives more beautiful than this. Palm Beach is where they film the TV series Home & Away, in case you’re familiar with that, and it’s a really stunning part of Sydney, the meeting place between Pittwater and the Pacific, the lush cliff-top home to a lighthouse as picturesque as it is practical.
Though it is zoned as the northernmost suburb of Sydney, to me it is far enough away to acquire a separate identity. It is not a place full of young families, though, because few young families can afford to even contemplate living here. No, Palm Beach is often the rich reward of the retirees who dominate the demographic. Like any small community the place is lousy with minor intrigues, petty grievances and fraught friendships, and while Llew and I exist well outside his parents’ social set, one does grow curious about the population. Many have been hugely successful in their field, and there’s usually a smattering of new OBEs once the Queen’s list is announced. But ultimately life still coils itself around much smaller moments, tightening like a boa constrictor as it ages, so that earlier triumphs recede and we are all eventually humbled by failing minds, brittle bones and Time’s erratic yet conclusive plan for each of us.
As I write, a handsome, broad-backed kookaburra surveys the vista from a naked frangipani tree that remains starkly bald after the bitter winter I can still feel in the air. We are both turned west, facing Pittwater. Occasional sailing craft drifts by, headed for Lion Island or perhaps open water, and the reserve between here and the rippled blue is alive with birdsong and the rustling leaves of so many mighty eucalypts. It is very Australian, this scene, including as it does the unlovely hills hoist heavy with the day’s laundry, the whole flooded in the unmistakable intensity of Australian sun, and I accept that Sydney does and always shall stake a fierce claim on my heart. But I don’t need to be here to honour my affection, and Time shall divulge what she alone knows in due course.
* Postscript: It’s the next day, and the Touring Toddler’s play-date yesterday with three of his MG mates was such a huge success that he wept inconsolably from Seaforth to Dee Why, plainly devastated to be parted from them having been so successfully reunited. Looks like I’ll be making the trip back to Man Town at least once more this week.
You know, there’s one thing about turning 40 that I do not appreciate, and it’s the fact that my knees have promptly collapsed overnight. What is with these Beagle Knees (hmmm, should I register this trademark…? I think strictly speaking I’m referring to a Basset Hound’s physiognomy, but ‘Basset Knees’ doesn’t trip off the tongue in quite the same way) and these new folds of determinedly downward-tending flesh…?
I was in Rome when I first noticed my new, vastly unwelcome knee rolls, standing in the change-room of a boutique near the Spanish Steps. I was also with my mother-in-law, whose lovely birthday gift was shouting me something to wear – a piece of Roman apparel, something to put the spring in my step back in Sydney. So there we were in the final hours of my time in the eternal city, and I think it was in store number 2 that I first spied my very own Sad Sacks, dangling past my knees like failed pastry.
It’s unfortunate that at the very instant I saw my Beagle Knees I was engaged in a conversation with my mother-in-law about the possible perils of skirts of a certain length.
“This would be quite a good work dress,” I offered through the door, inspecting my lunch- and month-bloated figure with thin-lipped disdain.
“Mmm,” said my MIL, before adding, ” but I don’t think one would want to wear a mini-skirt to a job interview.”
I stared at my drapes of knee fat.
“It’s not a mini-skirt,” I snapped. “It’s just a dress.”
I tore it off, too unhappy and menstrual and overfull to even pay my usual care not to leave a streak of face powder or deodorant dust on the thing, the monstrous thing I now wanted to flee. Hated dress. Vile dress. BAD DRESS.
Out of the store I tore, my poor mother-in-law doing her best to keep up with me on the cobbled streets as I charged off muttering to myself about mutton.
I’d all but given up when I spied a boutique I’d not noticed during our 9-night stay: Manila Grace. Inside was the perfect top (thanks, K!) and to go with it, a new pair of jeans I was desperate for and which cost me a lot less than the equivalent in Sydney. Success!
But now we’re back in Sydney, having landed here Sunday morning with a pretty leaden heart, I’m left contemplating my navel as well as my knees. What now, my friends, what now? Perhaps I should have chosen something ‘interview appropriate’ after all.