Sunday, 20 July 2008

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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