Saturday, 31 May 2008

Crazy Slipper Lady

Months ago, when the conversations about what it'd be like when I moved to Melbourne still sounded like a script about someone else's life, I'd joke that I planned on taking the role of an eccentric English writer-type, enigmatic underneath gigantic hats to shield my pale complexion and all my interesting English writer-type thoughts.

(I must sound like such an arsehole sometimes.)

The reality has been slightly less elegant. On my first shopping trip in our new neighbourhood, I braced myself and went into the bakery. A ridiculously friendly girl asked me what I'd like.

"Umm, ahhh, oooh, not sure, errrr, some bread, ummm..." I was trying to read the signs on the many loaves behind her, while she beamed manically at me and then cocked her head to the side like a slightly surprised puppy. "That one. Sliced, please," I said, relieved that the ordeal of choosing was finally over and not entirely sure what I'd pointed at.

"Sandwichortoast?" she said. No, she squealed. She really was quite ridiculously happy, and I began to wonder what exactly was in this bread. 

"Huh?" I replied.


"Um, could you say it just one more time? Sorry."


"I have no idea what that is." I tried to lip-read but all I could see was her alarmingly big smile. 

"Slices. Sandwich slices, or toast slices?"

"Ah. Right." My brain went into overdrive - was I required to tell her what I planned on using the bread for? Had I chosen the wrong kind? What if I wanted to make sandwiches AND toast? Why couldn't she just stop smiling at me so I could concentrate? My old baker in London had smiled just the right amount and only had one size on his slicer. 

"You choose," I said, and the girl managed to look extremely concerned at my ignorance but still bizarrely happy. I shuffled away with my loaf and realised with alarm that though I'd moved to a country where the people spoke my language, they spoke it so fast I needed an interpreter. 

And so it continued, as I fumbled my way around a new city, catching the wrong train home and taking forever at a shop counter to establish which of these damn coins is a dollar; less enigmatic foreigner and more utter goon. To console myself, I bought myself a beautiful pair of chocolate brown Ugg boots - not the fake, highly-flammable Primark variety I'd worn in my Kilburn days, but a real-deal Aussie pair, guaranteed to get me accepted in my new neighbourhood as well as keeping my tootsies toasty. Nothing like a bit of retail therapy to get your spirits back up, right? Rejuvenated, I decided to ditch my boring old English shoes and wear my new Australian ones home.

Ugged-up, I strolled back to my house through the park, and felt warmed of heart as one of the charming local kids I'd met days earlier ran up to me to say hello. As we chatted, she looked down at my feet.

"Why are you wearing your slippers?" she said, with a tone that hinted she would be appalled at any answer I'd care to offer. Typically, I gave into the irrational fear I feel when most people talk to me, and the self-loathing that usually follows, and said:

"Because I'm crazy."

She giggled. "You look silly."

I thought of the eccentric English hat and the interesting writer-type thoughts I was supposed to adopt as part of my new, emigration-special reinvent yourself persona, and slowly shuffled away.

"Seeya, Crazy Slipper Lady," she said.

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Tuesday, 27 May 2008

If It's Not Pineapples...

Before my mouth was taken over by the hideous pineapple boils, it had befallen an altogether more tragic accident, which caused me acute pain and caused my little sister to experience the first signs of bladder weakness.

I'll explain.

Our new house has six French windows looking onto the garden. The day we arrived they were beautifully clean - while pleasing, this did induce in me the sort of internal anxiety that rots your guts as I pictured one of the children hurtling into glass on their way to marvel at the lorikeets in the lemon tree, etc. Meanwhile, another danger had presented itself in the form of a sneaky passage from the garden down the side of the house to the front, where the white gate might easily be opened by a canny Girl. An hour into our first day here, both children had made Great Escapes and I'd become accustomed to running out from the kitchen - where I'd been making a carefully balanced tea (um, peanut butter on toast with a side of apple) and chatting to my travelling sister - grabbing one or both of them as they ran down the side, and plonking them back on the grass with a stern word or two.

I may need to practise my stern. For on the fifteenth-or-so escape, and me nearing the end of my rope (actually, a tether might be a good idea), I marched towards them and - you know what I'm going to say, right? There's no point in trying to make it sound like a surprise. You knew from the first sentence of paragraph 3.

BAM. I literally bounced off the window - with my face - and landed on the floor, clutching my nose and mouth and eye.

"OH MY GOD DID YOU BREAK YOUR NOSE?" said my sister, running to my side. I was a little concussed, but through the haze of mild brain-damage I could see that behind the sisterly concern was a strong urge to laugh. And I wanted to laugh, too, but I couldn't move my huge sore lips into position. We both looked up at the window and saw the ugly smudge of my face - eye, nose, mouth and chin smeared on the sparkly glass. And that was it - my sister laughed like a drain, soon crouching down and gasping for breath, "THAT'S THE FUNNIEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN. I CAN'T BELIEVE I DIDN'T FILM IT! PLEASE KEEP THAT SMUDGE THERE FOREVER, HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

I guess you had to be there. But I'm glad you weren't.

(I did keep the smudge. And the children have now helpfully added copious amounts of sticky finger marks so that Mummy doesn't have another little accident.)

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New Talent

Just when you think you've got a handle on the talent required to look after your small children...

- nurturing
- patience
- bit more patience
- willingness to watch one's furniture get splattered in porridge/yoghurt/paint and not tear hair out/sell splatterer to nearest circus
- willingness to dress like shit because there's no point putting anything better on if you're going to get covered in porridge/yoghurt/paint, and sometimes excrement let's face it
- bit more patience
- good knees (required for getting down to pick up bits of fish finger coating / Cheerios / squashed raisin from floor)
- ability to survive on almost no sleep
- guts to tell family that yes you ARE going to parent this way and no you DO NOT require their input, thank you
- did I mention patience?
- there's more
- but I need to go to bed before the 2 hours of available sleep before the Fun Begins is cruelly snatched away
- where was I?

Oh yes, so just when you think you've mastered those skills, along comes a new requirement for talent: the ability to withstand a deep and profound urge to administer a right good slap to the mouldy old dragon of a teacher who is currently telling you your child is - not too stupid, or too withdrawn, or too emotionally immature, to start school next year, but TOO SHORT.

Next time, we are emigrating to Lilliput.

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Wednesday, 21 May 2008

On Parenting

The Girl and Boy are sharing a room for the first time. We bought them an educational bedside light - a globe, which also has animals all over it in their countries or seas of origin. As The Girl turned it gently last night, taking it all in, she sounded out the letters A-F-R-I-C-A and then said "Africa! That spells Africa! It's hot there. I learnt that from the television. I learn so much from the television don't I, Mum?"

I said I supposed she did, but could she please not say that in front of the other mums at the park or at nursery. Then, somewhat foolishly, I asked what she'd learned from me.
"Oh, just that silly song about ants being desufficated in your pants," she said, matter-of-factly, and then sang a tuneful, "In an English country gar-ar-den."
"Right. And what about Dad?" I said. "What has he taught you?"
She thought for a second and then put her finger up her nose:
"He taught me how to pick my nose, because I've seen him do it and then I started to do it when I was about two and a half or something."
I smiled, more than a little relieved that The Australian's teachings are more pathetic than mine. Just.

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Warning: 5-a-Day May Be Health Risk

Just before I start at the beginning, I must begin at the present, because something small but significant has occurred - involving a large piece of fruit - which has rendered me incapable of thinking back to a time before this small but significant occurrence with fruit, err, occurred.

I've always loved fresh pineapple. I've loved it so much that it never bothered me if it started to sting a little at the corners of my mouth after I ate it. Or if my tongue got a bit itchy. That was normal. It probably happened to everyone, and what was a little pain when it came to the lovely juicy tanginess?

So yesterday evening I was a little bored, what with The Australian working his UK hours as well as his Aussie ones, the children asleep, and the only programme on telly being 'Ladette to Lady'. (I still had it on, but in a kind of 'seen this; rubbish the first time' way, whereby you watch the entire show and then feel dirty and used at the number of minutes you've wasted but subconsciously agree to tune in same time next week.) 

'Ooh, we've got pineapple!' I said, happily diverted while the ladettes practised How Now Brown Cow, and went to the fridge. I cut myself a few slices and sat back down. 

Lovely juicy tanginess.

'I'll have a bit more of that,' I said, and felt fairly wholesome about all the fresh fruitiness. 

And then I had a bit more.

And a bit more.

And before I knew it I'd eaten half a pineapple. As I got to the end, my mouth started to tingle and I thought 'damnit, I've used the same knife The Australian used to cut the chilli earlier.' But I figured that my palate is pretty weathered and I'd be ok in a minute.

But the tingle turned to an itch, and the itch turned to a sting, and the sting spread all over my tongue and lips and down my throat until I was sitting there watching the latest ladette get booted while quietly contemplating whether this was how my life was going to end - a sudden tongue-swelling-throat-closing death and only a handful of pineapple skin shavings to show for it. (Admittedly, during the panic I did wonder if someone would publish my novel posthumously, and briefly considered writing a dedications page.)

I called The Australian in and tried to get across the severity of the pain while retaining some dignity about the fact that I'd consumed an insane amount of tropical fruit. He tried to douse me with water, and when that didn't work, milk. He asked me why I'd eaten so much - I said it was because I was bored, what with him leaving me all alone with only Ladette to Lady for company. A pint of milk later I felt the sting lessen. I decided to go to bed, sure that by morning I wouldn't feel like I'd swallowed a bunch of stinging nettles. Only I did. And I still do. And the responses I'm getting are not nearly sympathetic enough. I have these weird lumps all over the back of my tongue, which I think is about 15% bigger than it was before the fruit. I feel grossly punished for eating my 5-a-day all in one go, and a bit like I've lost a friend - I mean, obviously I can never eat pineapple again, and I really really liked it.

Hopefully by tomorrow I will be able to think about something else.

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Monday, 19 May 2008

The Blog That Time Forgot

Actually, I wish I had forgotten about my blog, but since April and all that moving to the other side of the planet business I have been feeling terrorised by the blog. "Must blog about this," I have thought. An awful lot. At 3am, mainly. Once I even got out of bed, went downstairs, made tea  (loose leaf, in a pot, which you will understand if you've ever tried Australian teabags) and prepared to sit down at the laptop. But it is very cold in Melbourne and the house makes noises that I cannot be sure about yet so I went back upstairs and lay quietly with The Girl for a while.

I don't know what's different about today. It might be that this life is starting to feel more real. Some very friendly, very stocky men delivered our sofa this morning. I went for a walk without getting lost. The Girl has a place at nursery. The Boy is no longer sleeping in a 'travel cot'. The Australian is holed up in his office working Aussie hours as well as UK ones. I have been doing quite a lot of homely things - things I used to put off in London to make way for blogging and writing and sitting by the laptop waiting for someone to reject my novel.

The truth is that I am bored of the homely things. The washing and the scrubbing and the preparation of different meals for different palates, and the picking up of squashed bits of said meals from the polished floor. So I'm back. Only, I think to make sense of everything I am going to have to blog about April's goings-on before I catch up with May. Because if you don't know where to begin, you should begin at the beginning.


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