Monday, May 29, 2006

Even More Builder Lingo

A six and a half foot tall carpenter, in stubbies, just tipped his hardhat to me and called me Little Lady. Then he winked at me.

I could think of nothing at all to say to that, so I just simpered behind my fan.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Not Camping

I’m feeling a little bit quiet today, not to say sad. Unhappy? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. My hopes were crushed. I had hoped to awaken this morning to the sound of birds chirruping and a waterfall plummeting. I had hoped this morning to be waking up in a forest. But, well you can probably guess that instead I am at home, typing about it on a computer.

Hayden and I have been on a couple of semi-camping expeditions, most successfully on Magnetic Island (just off the coast of Townsville) where there is a lovely campsite adjacent to the beach and some really good restaurants and bars. So … fun, but only slightly more camping than if we had put the tent up in the lounge room and sat in it to watch TV. But this time, I was yearning for real camping, you know, getting back to nature in that 19th century poet way in which everything takes twice as long to do half as well. I wanted to sleep, cook and eat on the ground.

And so, like the beginning of so many stories of failure, I set out to fulfil my own desire and disregarded everything else. I bought a little camping stove, and we packed up the car and set off. I put on Beth Orton's Central Reservation which is, incidentally, the absolute best music for driving through cane fields in the late afternoon.

We got as far as Ingham, about 100km up the road, where we were due to refuel with petrol and snacks. But Ingham was closed. There was not a soul about. There was no-one we could buy petrol from, so we took in some of the local sights, then pushed on to our destination.

Wallaman Falls. It was only 50km further. We thought that we should get there OK.

We left the flat plains of cane and started to climb into the hills. It was very beautiful, but the only problem was that driving on a tilt made our fuel gauge look even more empty.

The road became gravelly, then muddy, then potholed. I turned to Hayden, who was driving, and said "We can turn around whenever you want to, sweetheart" meaning, of course, "Please please please can we keep going?".

Hayden, like any sensible person, turned the car around and we headed back to town.

Once we got back to Ingham, we discovered where all its inhabitants had been. Not, as I had imagined, enjoying their Saturday afternoon siesta or sitting quietly by the river. No. They were all at the Ingham 06 Car & Bike Extravaganza: No BYO, No dogs, No Bad Attitude. The streets were suddenly filled with utes and hoons, and the air smelled of burning rubber. Hayden watched as a bogan couple slid their bottle of Jim Beam inside a black sock, then stashed it in the engine of their ute. I tried to find out, unsuccessfully, who had won "Best Street Machine" and "Best Street Machine Overall". I saw some great burnouts down near the showgrounds.

And we were able to buy enough petrol to get us home again.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Naked Ocean

The Council has taken down the stinger nets from the swimming beaches; another sign that summer is officially over.

Now that I’ve got the whole ocean to swim in I don’t know where to start, like I’ve been colouring inside the lines all summer and now it’s time to draw freehand.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Tarnished Gold

We had a two-year-old visit us on the weekend. She brought her favourite pink shoulder bag, and in it her little coin purse. When she took it out, I asked her what was in the purse? did she have some money in there? and she showed me two hair elastics and a small carved kookaburra.

This article from the New York times is fairly old, but I thought I'd share it with you anyway. It is about a group of nomads who walked out of the Colombian jungle in order to join in with modern day society.

No-one can work out why they did such a thing.

Meanwhile my knowledge of the way the world works just grows and grows. I learnt a new bit of lingo only today: startin' carton.

That would be the carton of beer that a new worker brings to the building site to make the other guys like him (or her, as it was in this case).

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Darkness

I did a new collage for the wall of my study. More particularly, I filtered and rearranged the pictures and cut-outs, articles and quotes that were previously on the wall and I took down the ones that are bright and sunny and positive and kept the ones that are darker, deeper, more intriguing, and with underground meanings. But don’t read anything into that. I am not at all depressed or unhappy – in fact I can’t remember a time in recent years when I had less to worry about – but I read an article in the Weekend Australian a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking, plus it is winter – even though it doesn’t feel like it. It is a natural time for thoughts to grow darker.

The article I read was about the Hillsong Church, which, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is a new and very popular kind of Christian church in Australia. It has a very upbeat style, with its own groovy songs played on electric guitars, and a strong message that God is cheering us all on to become rich and successful with perfect teeth and hair, blah blah blah. The part of the article that got me thinking was when they mentioned that Hillsong Church has revised the seven sins. They are no longer pride, envy, lust and greed etc, but have been changed to ‘having negative thoughts that hold you back’, complacency and regret. That alarmed me somewhat. To my mind, the old-style Christian church had the negative thoughts covered: sinning, damnation, eternal hellfire and so on. Somebody’s got to be thinking about that stuff, so that the rest of us can go skipping about in our sunshiny lives. And if it’s not going to be the church, then maybe it should be… me?

So on my wall I have kept up the long article about Moby Dick, torn from the newspaper quite a while ago and now well yellowed. I have kept the pictures of Ricky Swallow’s more recent works; I have kept the coffee loyalty card from Gloria Jeans with the picture on it that looks like a lino-cut; it is of a man and a woman dressed in sombre clothes, and it has a prohibition-era look about it, but not glittering pearls-wearing decadent prohibition, more like dark dirty nasty grimy deprivation prohibition. The lino cut faces are dark and shadowed, made crude in the dim light and under the effect of some kind of demon drug … what can it be that they have taken? The writing on the card says Frequent Sippers Club … and in smaller text, ‘escape the daily grind’… these people are obviously addicts. Surely they’re not just drinking coffee? I also have kept a very small (postage stamp small) picture of a figure, silhouetted, looking out onto dark, still water where an old Chinese boat sails. I have kept a slightly larger one of a faraway beach and I have kept a picture I cut from an ad for a new car; in the back seat two blond children sit, one is grinning maniacally and the other gazing strangely out the window. I have kept some different passport and ID photos of myself - representing different identities, international espionage - and I have kept one other page cut from a magazine, not because it is dark or it suggests the underworld, but because it is quite hilarious. I cut it from Marie Claire, where it was attached to a story about how reading is the latest craze amongst models. It's a photomontage of all different but gorgeous models, dressed beautifully, overly made up, sitting around waiting to go on the catwalk. Their noses are in books and their beautiful brows are furrowed in concentration, they are trying very hard to make out the words. It’s so cute.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sorry I've been gone so long

I've been spending too much time at the office.

Also, I’ve been cooking a bit and thinking about my winter vegetables. Now that we’ve decided to definitely sign another six-month lease on the place where we’re renting (and not move into the vacant, cheap three-bedroom house up the road, and not get a cat, not just yet), I think I am going to go and get myself one of those massive horse-troughs of a planter box, and begin planting proper vegetables on my balcony. I have been stalled on this quite early though, I ordered some special organic seeds from a place near Brisbane and they have failed to arrive in the post, twice now.

I can’t wait to find out what will grow here in winter. I am hoping for baby carrots and beets and shallots, and I am going to have a crack at growing some lavender, I don’t know why except that the clean bright sunlight we have on these cooler days makes me think of the smell of it.

This weekend the national outrigger canoeing championships are being held down at the beach. I’m going to go down and watch, trying to ignore the fact that the event has been sponsored by Defence Force Recruiting.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

100 Things to Do Before You Die

I read in one of the fluff columns in the Sunday paper of an Australian woman who is trying to learn to become a Buddhist; part of her training is to live for a year imagining that it is her last. She said that it had quite an affect on her, living this way, and that she was spending a lot more time clearing her wardrobe of things she no longer wore, defragging her computer and generally ‘putting her affairs in order’ as they say in fusty old English dramas. What?? I screeched (in my mind, of course, I'm not a lunatic). As if. As if you would spend the last year of your life on personal admin. I personally would not be wasting my last precious 365 days doing that stuff. As is my wont, I re-pondered this later as I was bottling homemade tomato sauce and inscribing the ingredient list on the label. I thought: that’s because my affairs are already in order. I must be the only person in the whole Sunday-paper-reading public who is sickeningly organised enough not to relate to that story.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Omniscient Third

In my self-directed study of the art of writing (ie, in my reading of writer’s and bookmonger’s blogs) I have heard over and over again of Tolstoy’s brilliant narrative in Anna Karenina, which I completely failed to notice the first time I read it. So I decided to give it another go, and I must say that I’m loving the story this time, too.

The first time I read Anna K was during the 2nd-most unhappy six months of my life (a pretty miserable time but not quite as bad, I think, as my first semester at university). It was October in the year 2000. Like many Australian 20-somethings, I went to London seeking fortune and adventure, but found when arrived there that my money was worthless and my earning capacity negligible. My first job there, as a secretary in the supply-chain department of a publisher, brought in enough money to cover my rent, but not much more than that. It was a hard, lonely time. I had some Australian friends in London, but they were mostly architects and IT professionals on handsome salaries, with penchants for endless rounds of expensive poncy bars and brand new restaurants that served bland tasteless food. I gradually dropped out of that scene and found myself killing time, wandering Oxford Street alone. Eventually, inevitably, I wound up in Borders where I discovered that, in London, books were not nearly as expensive as drinks or food, and I settled in for a long reading bender of a distinctly Russian tone: Nabokov (much more Russian than American, really); Turgenev; a contemporary bloke, Victor Pelevin and, of course, Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky hit the spot. Nothing in my life was so desperately, tragically, hilariously bad as it was for his characters. When I exhausted his supply I turned to Tolstoy, hoping for more of the same from Anna Karenina. However, I was disappointed to find it an overly-long and boringly-detailed soap opera. I ploughed my way through the text – I had shelled out £9 for it after all – but afterward closed it with a feeling of disappointment and a dry, metallic taste in my mouth.

Soon after that, the sun came out on London and the whole outlook of my life there changed. There is nothing like a London summer (although so far Townsville winter is sort of coming close). I found a better job. I took a holiday in Italy and had the obligatory weekend in Amsterdam; I made some new friends and found that life was rosy once more, blah blah blah, and I don’t think that I have read another Russian author since then. My reading focus turned more to Americans: Hemmingway, Miller, Scott Fitzgerald, and Bellow, and I started to wonder more and more what it was that made a good book good. I gently reminded myself that I used to like writing stories, myself.

These days I spend more time reading than ever, though much of it is online. I seem to be far more likely to act on a book recommendation from a fellow blogger than from one of my real-life friends (sorry, real-life friends), and since I have spent so much time pondering Point of View (thanks in particular to this blog), I decided to pick up and re-examine Mrs K, the most masterful example, I've been told, of the Omniscient Third Person. This time, I am really appreciating the effect of Tolstoy’s way of getting inside each of his characters’ minds. He clearly, dearly loves each character though he presents them along with all their foibles and self-delusions. He conveys the drama of each scene, as well as all those tiny details (the ice-skate drilled directly onto the sole of Levin’s boot; the paperknife used on the pages of a new book) that are more than just embellishments, and that I am relishing so much this time. And I do enjoy the more Dostoyevskyesque characters, those who wallow in their own maudlin internal monologues like the manic-depressive Levin and his consumptive brother Nicholas (Nicholas’s common-law wife is a former street-whore, which is, of course, very Dostoyevsky). But, I am glad to say, I appreciate the buoyant Oblonsky and the cold social-climber Vronsky just as much.

And the story is so romantic. How could I have missed that last time?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Cafe Clutter

Make no mistake, I’m missing Melbourne’s cafes. Every Melbournite has his or her favourite, and the one I’m missing the most is the Lawson’s Grove milk bar in South Yarra. (In fact, if anyone’s down that way, would you mind popping in and saying hello from me?) Lawson’s Grove is a beautiful, fussless café shrouded in leafy greenery and built into the ground floor of the creamiest block of art deco flats in a whole cul-de-sac of creamy art decosity. The atmosphere there is one of pure, quiet, early-twentieth-century leisure, which is rare on that side of the Yarra. You can rely on your coffee to arrive a full fifteen minutes after you order it, giving you plenty of time to become absorbed in the Saturday paper, or a magazine or a book. Your breakfast will arrive not long after, and there is plenty of space on the table to spread out your reading material around your plate.

The café we’ve been sniffing around the door of most in Townsville is a brand new one called Squires, and it is as different from Lawson’s Grove as it is possible for two cafés to be. Nonetheless, we have been going there quite a bit because the coffee is the best in town – and I don’t mean that in a snobby way, it’s just that coffee isn’t really taken as seriously around here as, well, as it ought to be – plus the chairs there are quite comfy and the music is low and unobtrusive. In short, it’s a great place to sit for a while with a coffee and some cake if we deserve it, and have a good read. And on Friday evening we did just that.

Whereas the proprietress at Lawson’s Grove will greet you with a beautifully understated casual glance, proprietress of Squires was openly happy to see us and, she said, our books. We sat. We drank mochas in enormous cups with saucers, and we ate some delicious carrot cake. It was lovely. Later on in the weekend I was thinking about the partnership of books and cafes which is well known everywhere in the world but, it seems, Townsville. The only people I’ve seen here sitting reading in a café are me and Hayden. I suppose that, to the locals, we must seem a little odd. Huh. Who’d have thought?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The only thing grotesque

"And the only thing grotesque
Is the space through which
we stumble each night"

After all that, it looks as though my job will be finishing up soon, and – I suppose – I will be heading back to my ordinary stay-at-home, focusing-on-the-internal writing life. The building company is getting sick of paying my expensive temporary wages, and they want to get a permanent office girl in. They have offered me the permanent job, in fact they keep offering it to me three and four times a day, but, well, I’m not going to take it. I thought about it for a bit, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to. For one thing, I might get shy about blogging classic builder interchanges such as this:

Builder bloke 1: Have we got a hole puncher?
Builder bloke 2: It’s over there near Naomi’s fat arse
Builder bloke 1: You can’t say that! That’s sexual harassment! [To me] don’t listen to him love, your arse is fine ... [confirms with a glance] Yeah, it's fine.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

After May Day

With this glut of public holidays – Easter, Anzac Day, and yesterday May Day – I have become quite lackadaisical about how my weekends become spent. This last one was the worst for wasting; I spent it mainly with getting over things. On Friday night after work I thought it would be nice to pick up a piece of fresh fish to cook up for our dinner. I have been working on my cooking repertoire, under the influence of Stephanie, and my current ambition is to become one of those people who can walk into a kitchen and just whip stuff up. I whipped up the fish with garlic (and middle eastern spices, partially in honour of Kath’s departure for Dubai) and in so doing caused myself the most debilitating garlic-hangover that obliterated most of Saturday. On Saturday afternoon I thought a bout of yoga might heal me so I attended a class at the gym, but it left me too sore to move. Sunday was a forced rest day due to the stiffness in my arms and legs, and by Monday afternoon, after a dip in the pool for exercise, I stood under the shower in a lovely summer-holiday-at-the-coast mood, not a thought in my head about what I might do next.

It feels like ages ago that I was unemployed, and it seems like everything has changed since I started work. True, many things have changed, perhaps the most unexpected is that I seem to have made friends with a whole bunch of burly drinkin’ swearin’ builder blokes. It took Hayden to remind me that I haven’t even worked a full five-day week since I started, due to all these public holidays. The best part about that is that it’s already Tuesday, already time for cheap pizza and The O.C.