Monday, 28 July 2008


I've just added a new post but because I started writing it last Sunday it appears underneath The Girl On Time (Again). I know there's a way of switching them, but I'm the kind of blogging illiterate who could wipe a year of posts without even trying. So just scroll. Please. I hope you don't get RSI because of my technical blunder. I worry about you, y'know.

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Sunday, 20 July 2008

The Girl on Time (again)

Part I:

[at lights-out time]
The Girl: Dad, can you just stay with me a bit longer?
The Australian: I can't, sweetheart, because my mum is visiting us this week and I've got to go downstairs and spend time with her.
The Girl: But Dad, when you were a little boy you spent every single day with your mum. Now it's my turn.

Part II:
[while waiting for the prescribed 15 minutes to pass before I'd take her to the park]

The Girl: Is it 15 minutes yet?
Me: Nope.
The Girl: [ten seconds later] Yet?
Me: No. Go and play.
The Girl: How much do I have to count to for it to be 15 minutes?
Me: It would take me 15 minutes to work that out. Go and do something to distract yourself.
The Girl: [deep sigh] Mum, WHY does time move SO much more slowly when you are a child than when you are an adult?
Me: You are mistaken. Time moves the slowest of all for writers. Then for children. Then for grown-ups. And then for editors, agents, and anyone else involved in the publishing industry.
The Girl: Oh. You're a writer, aren't you, Mum?
Me: A bit.
The Girl: Poor you, Mum.
Me: Aww, thanks, darling.
The Girl: So can we go now?
Me: Sure.

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The Grapevine

I've always wondered how I'd fare living in a small town. I've wondered, calculated I'd feel exposed and scrutinised, and chosen to squish myself in with about 4 million others, in a place where I could blend in and go about my barmy little ways in peace.

What I wasn't prepared for was moving into a street that thinks it's a small town.

This has had its benefits, of course. We'd not long moved in before a chance meeting with someone in the park had us introduced to the Top Five Families (there's a hierarchy . . . being new and interesting has had us hovering around the middle for a while but I fear we're on the wane), and we'd walked away with a ton of cast-offs to welcome us in: cot, scooter, pair of gum boots (I'm getting the lingo, see), hall table, assorted toys . . . Feeling slightly thrown by their generosity, I hot-footed it to Haigh's and selected some truffles tied up in pretty bows to give to each woman who'd extended a welcome. It all felt so simple when I bought them. A gesture. 

'Course then I started having flashbacks to my all-girls' secondary school - where I'd backed myself into a corner marked Loner simply because I couldn't deal with all-girls' politics - and decided that I couldn't bear to hand over these gifts in person; I'd have to be a secret squirrel. Ever the pragmatist, The Australian pointed out that my plan to leave the chocolates in their mail boxes overnight was flawed: ants. I think he said ants; might have been wombats or possums or highly venomous red-back spiders. So I attempted to be a secret squirrel by day, tip-toeing down the street with the chocolates hidden in a brown paper bag, popping them discreetly in each mail box, looking this way and that and maintaining a cool composure. Until the last box: the almost-recipient was standing in her window, burping one of her many children (they breed like rabbits round here . . . ), so I had to make a choice - A. knock on her door and hand over the goods with an unprepared speech about being grateful for her help and wanting to be in her gang (clearly no), or B. wave and leave the chocs in her mail box (sounds perfectly plausible when I write it down now but at the time it was inconceivable), or C. pretend I hadn't seen her and hurry back home and bang on the door and wail at The Australian about how hard it was to make friends and how pathetic I was . . . 

The end of that tragic little story sees The Australian saving the day by taking over secret squirreling, while I cower in the kitchen, but give him the third degree on his return: Did anyone see you? Are you sure? Did you put the box right inside? Are you sure it didn't drop out? Do you think the boxes were too small? Will they think I'm cheap? Why haven't they called? It's been three and a half minutes and they haven't called to thank me! Oh god, they hate me!


Over the next few days, I saw each of these women and they thanked me and I blustered a response and began to feel a little more rational. I said a little. The small town nature of this street, with its prime Shiraz Grapevine, is beginning to make me nervous, and I think I've reached a new stage of emigration (are there seven, I wonder?): after Jetlag, Childlike Excitement, and then General Confusion (Mainly In Bakeries), there comes Paranoia.

Last week I woke up ill. Really ill. The kind of ill that I don't want to go into in case you're eating. Or have ever eaten. Or are ever planning on eating . . . ok, you get it. I spent all day in bed, not even reading or watching telly, just vegetating, quite sweatily. At first I worried that this was a dreadful physical reaction to some possibly very exciting news I'd received the night before (which I shall either soon blog about or brush under the carpet while drinking a stiff gin), but my main concern was getting better because I had an important phone call to get through the following day and a couple of The Australian's relatives coming to visit. So I was relieved to wake up the following day and find that I could function almost normally again - I felt a bit weak, having had nought but a glass of water in 24 hours, but only in that "ooh, I wonder if I've lost weight" slightly feeble way.

It was a bit of a shock, therefore, to hear various neighbours shouting across the road to me as I took The Girl to kinder: "Hey, we heard you were really sick! You look ok now!" "Oh, you're better? We thought you were really bad!" "What was it? It seemed to pass pretty quick, hey?" By the time I got home I was a nervous wreck! How had the news spread so quickly? Why were they all so suspicious about my recovery skills? I quickly went down the road of Illogical Conclusions: they must think I wasn't ill at all . . . they think The Australian was lying . . . they think he's covering for me . . . they think I'm an alcoholic . . . they'll never let their children come over and play with me now . . . I've ruined my child's life just by having the ability to get over gastric flu at record speed!

So that's where I'm at. I'm over the fashion quandary posed by my Uggs, and they continue to have their regular outings, and the children hardly even point any more. But now I'm at the stage of wondering who I can trust, who I can make jokes with about having had a few jars the night before, who's going to tell who about such-and-such and thingummy.

While googling "the stages of emigration" I happened across an article about migrants and mental illness. I think I might not read that.

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Thursday, 10 July 2008

Fickle, me

I'd quietly promised myself never do to a Meme. It's not that I don't like other people's meme's, it's that I'm frightened of questions that will shine a bright light on my inner-dullness and reveal my past to be the incident-free cushy ride it has been. Aren't writers supposed to struggle? Plus I like to change my mind about things so I'm a bit wary of the commitment. But here I am, about to commit.

I'm doing it because I've been trying to write a short story that came to me suddenly while I was taking The Boy for a naptime stroll, only it has taken me three nights to write exactly no words whatsoever while my legs reach boiling point under this laptop and I end up doing searches for people I hardly know on Facebook, just so I can say I've achieved something. The story came to me as a whole in the time it took to walk around the block. For the first time ever I know what it's about from start to finish, I know why I'm writing it, and I know what I want to say but I just don't know the actual precise individual words I want to use. I always thought it would be easier writing something if I knew where it was going (this is not my usual approach), but I think I've killed the story by making all the important decisions already.

So here I am. Fickle me. This is not the first time I've been fickle. I've quietly and not-so-quietly sworn myself off plenty of things only to change my mind later. 

Meat (10 years)
Men (10 minutes)
Telling my mother anything (10 seconds)

I think I'll just get on with it. (I think I'm supposed to say here that I was tagged by Charlotte.)

1) What were you doing 10 years ago?
Wearing smaller clothes. Drinking larger gins. Smoking. Working at Penguin. Spending most of my day worrying that someone was going to ask me to do something I didn't know how to (oh, that's no different to now actually). Inventing reasons not to be at my desk in case the phone rang. Having impure thoughts when I was supposed to be writing Peter Rabbit books. (Nb. no innocent rabbits were used in the making of these impure thoughts.) 

2) What 5 things are on your to-do list today?
I've already had my day. I did one of my to-do's: Post letter. I did not do the other 4: write brilliant short story, mop floor, take wet jacket off washing line (it has been out there for half a dozen heavy downpours; I think the dye is starting to run), avoid cake.

3) What snacks do you enjoy?
What snacks do I not enjoy would be faster. If I could think of any. I don't like porridge, which some people may use as a snack. I don't like Monster Munch either but I would probably eat them for old time's sake.

4) What would you do with a billion dollars?
I would have forty million pedicures. And some champagne.

5) List the places you have lived:

6) List the jobs you have held:
Miniature train driver (only one child injured while I was on duty).
Felafel seller (left after I was asked to clean a perfectly clean table).
Ice cream seller (in November. Quite dull).
Waitress (dropped hot chicken in police woman's lap. Given caution).
Classroom assistant (shunned staffroom in favour of playground. Used to sneak off for crafty fags. Still have all the goodbye pictures they drew for me).
Runner (answered the phone once to a man with a very strange accent, couldn't understand him, asked him to repeat his name about 25 times. Turned out to be Loyd Grossman.)
Editor (far too many stories. Buy me a gin and I'll tell).

7) List the people you'd like to know more about.
I'd love to know more about the man I live with, but he doesn't have a blog.

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Monday, 7 July 2008

Tradition, innit

I've been feeling slightly ashamed of my constant moaning and griping on this blog. For the record I do appreciate that what I have here is not a real problem, as problems go. (And, sshh, I am secretly loving the adventure of being here and the challenge of being a fish out of water.) Never was that more obvious than during a visit to the wonderful Immigration Museum last Saturday morning. 

This was such a treat. I took the train - alone! No wriggly Boy wanting to run up and down the carriage, no chatterbox Girl wanting to read out every piece of advertising or graffiti, no one to pacify with crackers and satsuma, no one demanding a reading of The Gruffalo "with all the voices, Mummy". (And speaking of The Gruffalo, check out Vulpes Libris today for a great interview with The Queen of Picture Books, Julia Donaldson.)

The sun shone on me all down Flinders Street and I felt electric with the promise of three solid hours to delve into something fascinating by myself. I think I must have taken down, in my own made-up short-hand, almost every word in that place. I inched round with my moleskin, feeling wonderfully insignificant in the scheme of this country's immigration history. They even had a 17-metre replica ship, featuring a cabin from the 1840s and one from the 1950s, with accompanying sound-track. I thought of our own 24-hour journey here - how dreadful I'd proclaimed it to be, with The Boy (who is built like the proverbial shit-house) sitting on my lap 90% of the way, and no sleep in the company of hundreds of slumberers, and your basic gelatinous mess in place of food. All that seems pretty weak compared to journeys past: the stench of sweat and urine in the cramped sleeping berths, the outbreaks of several killer diseases and the small fact that it took about four months to get here!

In one section there was a short film about a woman whose family had brought with them a huge loom that they'd made from scraps of wood in a displaced persons camp in Germany just after WWII. They'd arrived in Australia in 1950, and had kept up the tradition of weaving their national costumes. They said the loom had "eased the pain of displacement". Well, I ain't got a loom and can just about sew on a button but I know I'll feel less displaced when our belongings get here (especially my books). As for keeping up the traditions of my home land...

- I am keeping us well-stocked in Marmite.
- I am maintaining a slightly bonkers/shy/stuttering/blustering approach towards these smiling, uninhibited Australians I keep meeting.
- I hardly ever wear my coat, even though it's winter here: "Winter?? This is NOTHING!" *shiver*
- Today, I actually said "Rather!" in agreement with someone.

So, not so much a loom but a loon.

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Wednesday, 2 July 2008


People keep asking me: "Have you settled in yet?"

I'm getting it three or four times a day. By email, by phone, face-to-face - it has become a pre-requisite to any conversation. They mean well, I know. But it feels like nagging, the way all well-meaning questions do when you know that the answer you're going to give will slightly disappoint (you as well as them). It's a bit like "Is the baby sleeping through yet?" (And no, he's not.)

Sometimes I answer "No" straight away, and probably more aggressively than I intended, so then I try to make light of it and gesticulate wildly at the empty bookshelves - the big glaring sign that I cannot possibly feel settled in when my book collection is bobbing up and down on some ocean. Other times I pretend that I'm really thinking about the question: "Am I settled in? Hmm, am I? That's a new one. Let's think..." 

Maybe I'm in denial about feeling settled. Maybe I see it as some huge betrayal of my family and friends and all that is British. And how do you know anyway? Is it like how you know when you're in love? You just do? Is it like the way you have to guess if a shook-up can of fizzy drink is ready to be opened?

Let's look at the signs that this Pom has not quite acclimatised:

1. I still haven't cancelled my British mobile phone account. (Yes, that means I'm still paying the monthly amount.) The phone is somewhere in this cavernous house, dead. There is an Australian sim card in another part of the cavernous house but they are too shy to meet. They are not sure they'll get on.

2. I cannot buy anything without working out what it would be in pounds. As I'm not very bright, this mean that shopping takes an age. I handle Aussie money like a person with very poor eyesight and annoy everyone in the queue.

3. Speaking of shopping, I have not opened an Australian bank account either. But I am still carrying round my British Library card (now expired) and my Body Shop card (never used, and expired) and my Oyster card. 

4. For the first time in my life I am making loose leaf tea in a pot. How terribly English.

5. I keep the keys to my parents' communal gardens in my bag. The Australian keeps taking them out and jingling them at me: "What have you got these for?" 

There are a worrying amount of administrative clues that show I've not settled but thinking about them is giving me a headache. 

My feeling is that it will never happen. I know, I know - "Give it time." Even so, I think I have a strong internal resistance that no amount of lemon trees in the garden / beautiful "winter" weather / lorikeets instead of pigeons / consistently amazing coffee / good cheap eat-outs / stunning scenery / street-party-type address / muffin-bringing-neighbours  etc etc, is going to change. 

But just in case it happens to me and I don't realise, let me know.

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