Sunday, 29 June 2008


I might start a new novel.

At least, it feels like a new one is creeping up on me. Reading a story by Miranda July in bed the other night - "The Man on the Stairs" - I felt stirred up not just by the chill and depth of the story but by my own need to create something like that (I mean "like that" in the loosest sense, since I am much too flabby and mainstream to be anything like July). I fell asleep with my mind racing all through the novel I'd been rewriting before we came to Oz - the one I insisted on taking a hard copy of in my hand luggage because I didn't want to be parted from it . . . the one that made it safely here and has been shut in a drawer ever since. For its own good, you understand. I mean, no one could expect me to carry on writing when I had all this freaking-out-about-emigrating to do. Least of all me.

Only I'm a bit bored of freaking out. I'm still friendless, still Ugged-up, still being laughed at by the local children - that's not likely to change so I might as well get on with it. So the morning after the July story I opened the Sacred Drawer and had a peek though some of the manuscript, and breathed a sigh of relief when it only stank slightly. I could fix that, I thought. Shut the drawer pretty damn fast but felt I'd be back soon.

But that's not the novel creeping up on me - that's the novel I have to fix up and send out on its merry/tragic way before the creeping novel can begin properly, only this time I feel like there's going to be a lot of research involved and I want to start that right now.

I can tell I want to start right now because when I was pushing the ever-heavier Phil n Teds (seriously, it reminds me of pushing drunk students in shopping trolleys) towards Melbourne Aquarium this morning I was tempted to buy a huge bag of bribe muffins for the children and instead visit the Immigration Museum, where I suspect the research will germinate. If I thought the muffins would have lasted more than five minutes it would have been a more likely plan. But instead we made it to the aquarium, where I chased the children - in different directions, obviously - through shark tanks and turtle pools, and then when we got back I did something that convinces me I'm about to embark on a new project:

I cleaned the fridge.

This might be a normal, perhaps even weekly, chore for some people, but to me it signifies a profound need to get my house in order before I completely neglect it for about a year. It was a great clear-out - I'd thought the fridge was full because I'd been diligent at supermarket shopping, but it turns out I'd merely been slack at chucking out because it has gone from rammed to bare.

Just to seal the deal, I then made a roast dinner. On a Monday night! This might be "guilt cooking", to make up for the possibility that my head will be somewhere-else-ish from time to time in the near future, and I might distractedly say "Mm," a lot when asked if they can use the big scissors, and they might be wearing the same socks two days in a row, and I might only have time for one round of "My Favourite Things" before bed because I'm desperate to punch my card and get back to my research. 

Yep, I'm kind of a cross between Julie Andrews and Mrs Sugamo.

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Friday, 20 June 2008

If The Shoe Fits

I am sensing a pattern.

Since our arrival in Melbourne, less than two months ago, three of my Major Issues have been in relation to shoes.

First there were the Ugg Boots - well, not 'were', as I am still resolutely putting them on and going outside in them, despite the pointing and laughing from the local children as they are pulled away from me by their embarrassed-at-their-conduct-but-still-clearly-concerned-about-their-child's-fascination-with-Crazy-Slipper-Lady, mothers. The other day I saw a girl in the street wearing them, and I was so overjoyed to find a fellow Outdoor Ugg Wearer, or OUW as we're commonly known, that I nearly crossed the street and hugged her, until I realised that I was walking through a university campus, that she was a student and had merely popped out for some milk in her slippers . . . Back off, Crazy Slipper Lady.

Then there was the glamour party. The next-door neighbours (not the ones we're secretly in love with but the ones who invited us to their bbq after knowing us 45 seconds) sent out invites to a 'Glam Party'. We fretted for days about what 'Glam' might mean. Glam rock? Dynasty-type glam? Hollywood proportions? Or merely 'please don't wear your Uggs'? I planned my outfit in the same cack-handed way I plan novels - I chose one detail and tried to build something around it. In this case it was a blue-green (fake) fur stole. At a second hand designer store (where I made the mistake of telling the store owner that I wrote children's books, and then had to stay and listen to her idea for a children's book for a long, long time - one of those "I'd love to write a novel but I simply don't have time" types) I managed to find a dress that could have been made for the stole. But the shoes were eluding me. In a moment of panic - mainly because the children were demanding "Park Not Shopping!" and I'd run out of cookies to buy their silence - I ran into a charity shop, picked up a pair of gold(ish) heels, tried them on, saw the $8 tag and thought job done.

When I got them home I realised they were a size 11. Never mind, thought I, I'll buy insoles and cotton wool and stuff them till they fit me. It was at this point that The Australian took me in hand - or rather, by the hand, and to the local shoe shop, whereupon he made me buy a brand new pair that fit. Am I the only woman in history to have been frog-marched to the shoe shop by their partner? As it was, being a confirmed Ugg-Boot wearer I couldn't handle being in heels at all and wished I'd worn the huge gold boats to the party instead.

And finally, tomorrow night there's another party - this time a fundraiser for the nursery that The Girl is attending, with live auction, finger food and 70s fancy dress.  As everyone around here knows each other, and each other's business, in a spooky quasi-Stepford Wives way, The Australian and I will be appearing as The New Folk and as such the only thing that is required of me is To Not Look Stoopid. Not being one to learn from my mistakes, I dashed into the charity shop yesterday and bought a pair of shoes for the event. The good news: they are my size. The bad news: they are enormous wedge-heeled sandals that I cannot walk in. I don't just mean I'm a bit wobbly. I mean I have to hold on to something. Preferably on either side. And even then for only three of four steps at a time.

So tell me, were Ugg boots around in the 70s or what? Perhaps what I really need are a pair of ruby red slippers . . . 

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Monday, 9 June 2008

Read with Mother

The Girl has just started to read, and couldn't be more proud of her new skills. Nor could I, though I have now realised that jumping three feet in the air and screeching 'YOU'RE A FRIGGING GENIUS!' every time she gets a word right might not be the best approach . . . 

However, being able to read has been causing me a few problems on Melbourne's public transport as The Girl points to every piece of graffiti and attempts to sound it out.

'P . . . O . . . U . . . F . . . POUF . . . POUF! Hey that says POUF, what's a POUF, Mum?'

'Sshh, you have to whisper on the tram.'

'No, you have to whisper in the library, not the tram. WHAT'S A POUF?'

'Ah look! a bird! out the window! - see?'

'Nah. Anyway I'm reading this word now. C . . . U . . . N . . . . . .

And thus it continued, so I have decided that I must either:

(a) blindfold her on public transport,
(b) gag her on public transport,
(c) teach her every rude word there is, and then tell her if she ever says them out loud in a public place all her hair will fall out and witches will come in the night to steal her teeth,
(d) carry a big marker pen with me and edit all graffiti into acceptable language.

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Tuesday, 3 June 2008


Readers should note that the following incident took place after the French Windows Collision but before the Pineapple Fiasco...

It was dusk. The children had played themselves into a state of exhausted ecstasy in the park at the end of our street and I carried them both home to our beautiful, big, empty new house. At the gate was a young girl.

"Bonjour," she said. "I am French student of ze art and I make paintings for sell. You have a time?"

Perhaps I was drunk on the perfect sundown, or seduced by her accent, or lulled into a false sense of camaraderie all this way from 'home' - France! my old neighbour! - or maybe that facial collision did some permanent damage to my brain, or . . . the truth is that I am rubbish at dealing with doorstep salespeople. On one of our last nights in England I'd bought oven gloves and two types of cloth from a perky young door-to-door elf with a Cockney accent for about £20. So the upshot is that I allowed this French student of ze art to show me her portfolio.

As she described each painting, she occasionally stumbled on a word and I filled in with the French, for which I got a pretty little round of applause from her. Which made my pathetic heart swell, like some dopey poodle catching biccies in its mouth. I hated most of the paintings, but The Boy and The Girl were moved by two very bright, slightly wacky paintings of dogs. However, I said I didn't keep cash in the house so I wouldn't be able to buy anything from her. She said she could come back later, when "Your usband is ome". And at that point I obviously sent her packing, told her I didn't have a 'usband and that I wasn't interested in her crummy, gaudy art anyway.

Only I didn't. I said, "Sure! Au revoir!" and then waited for The Australian to come home, whereupon I set about convincing him that Renoir's great-great-great-grand-daughter was calling round with some rare bargains at 7pm, and could he please deal with her as I'd be extremely busy at that time putting his two highly energetic children to bed. He could tell by my guilty smile that I'd done something Typically Me, but bless his heart he opened the door to the mademoiselle and bought the two dog paintings for a pretty price and hardly scolded me for being so utterly spineless.

I have grown accustomed in recent weeks to communicating things to The Australian via this blog - partly because he spends a lot of time in his office (the only carpeted, properly heated room in the house - suspicious?) on the computer, and partly because I sound better on paper (seriously). So - excuse us for a minute - Darling, I've just been reading the local paper and I thought you should see this snippet:

"Police have warned people about an art scam in Kew. For the past few weeks people have been knocking on doors selling what they claim are original French paintings. Sgt Bruce Pingo said most of the artwork could be found on the internet for a far cheaper price. He said the scammers used French backpackers to sell the paintings so the work appeared genuine..."


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Monday, 2 June 2008

Crazy Slipper Lady Strikes Again

I think I'm starting to believe that we really, truly, definitely live in Australia. Trust me to be fashionably late to this particular party - I usually suffer from arriving places intolerably early, but on this I seem to be a bit slow.

And as it dawns on me, so too has the fact that it is difficult. It is. Oh god yes, it's difficult. For so long I have tried to cover that up, because I didn't want my deepest fears to affect the children's experience, but now that the initial excitement has died down a little and normal life must resume, I find myself feeling vulnerable and frustrated and quite pathetic because I know that I must set about making friends if I'm to live happily in Melbourne, and that terrifies me.

Every day I watch The Girl skip into her new nursery - a tiny, smiling English dot amongst these robust Australians - and I wonder how she does it. 

"Hello, I'm Madeleine. Can I play with you?"

I've heard her say it a hundred times. I've watched as other children have turned their backs on her (sometimes), or nodded and smiled and let her in (more often). I've watched her and cried behind my sunglasses at how brave she is, and then I've walked briskly home as other mums stand around chatting or walk in pairs to coffee shops and look like they've known each other a million years and are probably wondering: who is that weird Pom with the nervous twitches and why on earth is she wearing Ugg boots?

It's not as if people round here are not friendly. They are a whole new world of friendly for this Londoner. Our neighbours on one side invited us to a bbq after knowing us approximately 45 seconds. On the other side, they are so friendly I think The Australian and I have slightly fallen in love with them, in an unhealthy way that I suspect we'll never talk about. But friendly is not friends. Friendly can lure you into a sense of believing that friendship is just around the corner, but that is not necessarily so. Soon we will not be the new, interesting Poms. We'll just be the Poms. Oh, god.

At the park today, the little girl who has become obsessed with my footwear came to say hello.

"You're wearing your slippers again," she said. I nodded. She went on. "I saw your husband or whatever yesterday and I asked him if you were wearing them, and he said you were." I confirmed that he was my "whatever". "But why are you?" she said.

"They're stuck on with glue," I replied.

"No they're not! You're lying."

"It's true. I can't get them off."

"Ok, let me try to pull them."

So there I was, wobbling on one leg while a very determined 6-year-old tugged and heaved my right Ugg boot, and her mother starting shouting from the other side of the park so that anyone who had not noticed these strange goings-on were now alerted: "What are you doing? Put that poor woman's leg down !!"

Now, if that's not a way to make friends, I don't know what is.

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