Posts Tagged ‘Life/Stuff’

Walking home through Bristol last night after Friday drinks with philosophers, Toby and I had occasion to stop by the waterside and eat a late dinner. More specifically, Toby ate while I, having stolen some of his hot chips, wandered over to say hello to a very patient police horse. His female rider was keeping him at a standstill near where we were sitting, chatting to her three male colleagues, all of whom were on foot. Given that this was a busy part of town at a busy time of night, there was a near-constant stream of civilians wandering past, most of whom stopped to give the horse, whose name was Imperial, a pat on the neck or nose.

As I walked up, two young men in hoodies were doing just this – or rather, one of them was. The other was keeping a nervous distance, fists clenching and unclenching as he bounced on the balls of his feet, clearly wanting to be off. The policemen were teasing him about this, which he took in good humour, but not for the reason I first thought. His friend was content to pat the horse, chatting to the policewoman rider.

‘Is this Imperial?’ he asked. She confirmed that it was. To my surprise, he then asked after two other police horses by name – apparently, this was their usual beat. The policewoman laughed and said that one of them had a new route, while the other was getting old, with a sore back.

‘Sarge will have a plod ’round on him,’ she said, grinning.

At this point, the man turned to his nervous friend and rolled his eyes.

‘Come on, mate – he’s harmless. Pat the horse!’

‘No!’

‘Bloody hell.’ He shook his head, turning to me. ‘Man’s a soldier, and he’s scared of horses. Thinks they have eyes like sharks.’

‘They do!’ the friend insisted. Nearby, the policemen laughed, and I realised this was what they’d been teasing him about. ‘Can we please go for a drink now? Another drink?’

‘Not until you pat the horse!’

‘You’re soldiers?’ I asked him. He reached up and stroked Imperial’s nose.

‘Yeah, both of us.’

‘Where have you been?’

‘Afghanistan.’

‘Well, that sucks.’

He smiled, a bit sadly. ‘Yeah. It does.’ Then he sighed, indicating his mate. ‘Bloody Afghanistan, and he’s still scared of horses!’

‘Come on,’ I said to the friend, ‘look, he’s perfectly safe. Drunk girls are patting him! I’m patting him! Not so long ago, being a soldier would’ve meant riding one of these!’

His eyes widened, head shaking. ‘No way! He’s all…all huge and hoof-y! He’s bigger than me! Can we please just get another drink?’ This last to his fearless friend.

‘Pat the horse, mate,’ one of the policemen said, ‘and then he’ll buy you the drink.’

The soldier looked between them, still uncertain.

‘Go on,’ his friend said. ‘Face your fears.’

He looked at the policewoman rider, and at me.

‘I’ll get bitten.’

‘You’ve got more chance of being bitten by a dog,’ I said, ‘and those are much smaller.’

‘Here,’ said the rider, tapping Imperial’s shoulder, ‘pat him here. Even if he wanted, he couldn’t reach to bite you.’

The soldier closed his eyes, inhaled, opened them again and lunged briefly forwards, arm outstretched to its fullest extent. His fingertips brushed the horse’s shoulder.

Everyone cheered. He grinned, and his mate threw an arm around his shoulder.

‘Come on. I’ll buy you that drink.’

As has been previously mentioned, I am very much enjoying the UK. We leave Surrey for Bristol tomorrow, having been in our current locale for exactly two weeks. In the spirit of commemoration, therefore, here is a list of things I have learned since being in England.

1. Alcohol and supermarket food, especially cheese, are cheaper than their equivalents in Australia, even accounting for the dollars/pounds conversion.

2. Train fares are more expensive, but better value for money, seeing as how British rail and the tube actually work. (Connex, take note!)

3. Fish finger sandwiches with mayonnaise are extremely tasty.

4. Sloe gin is, as the name suggests, regular gin with sloes in’t. Sloes are small, purple-brown berries. On their own, they do not taste wonderful. Neither does gin. But mix them together, and by God, you have a spiritous, mule-kickin’ beverage that drinks like port, warms like whiskey and hammers like dawn. Also, it is delicious.

5. Sloe gin is, as the name suggests, gin. Drinking it as if it were port is therefore not recommended.

6. Camden Markets is my new spiritual home. On an average Thursday at 3pm, the crowds were equivalent to that of any street festival you’d care to name, and bounteous with (but by no means limited to): tattoo parlours, striped stockings, blue hair, market stalls, African food, Lolita Goths, silversmiths, canals, rainbow knits, anime, punk, leather and lace. There is a pub called the World’s End, and beside it, a shop called Underworld. It is a magic place.

7. There are many excellent bookshops, first and secondhand, on Charing Cross Road, into which I could cheerfully (though inadvisably) take a shopping trolley and a credit card. Of these, Foyles is the most mindboggling. It is huge. If Camden Markets were not my spiritual home, then I suspect Foyles would be.

8. Luggage has a tendency to grow overnight, in the fashion of mushrooms.

9. Deadlines become hazy when they were set on a different island.

10. We will soon be living with a cat called Genghis. Which is awesome.

Tomorrow, my husband and I will leave the house we’ve lived in for nearly four years, ever since we first moved to Melbourne. With the exception of the few clothes, books and things we’ll be taking with us to the UK, everything we own is in boxes, ready to go into storage for the next six months. Our bookshelves are bare, the daybed is stacked on its side, and thanks to Toby’s overzealous packing of the kitchen utensils, we’ve been living on tinned soup, frozen¬†pizza¬†and takeaway for the better part of a week. The cats have been in Bowral for nearly a fortnight. I find myself lying awake in bed,¬†staring at the shadow-tinged walls and wondering how we’ll remember the place in a year, two years, five, ten. Physically, it’s a skinny terrace that feels like a train station. The bathroom is the size of a postage stamp with barely enough room to turn around.¬†Leaky pipes have caused the¬†paint on several walls to flake. There’s mould on the ceilings and not enough powerpoints. The ceilings are high enough that changing lightbulbs is a royal pain, even with a stepladder – the bedroom has¬†stayed unlit for over a year, and only half the hall and lounge bulbs work. Even if we had one, there’s no space for a dining room table. The rent has increased 30% since we first moved in. Like hermit crabs in a too-small shell, we’ve gradually outgrown the place, accumulating more books, films and possessions than comfortably fit the interior, so that we’re constantly living amidst our own clutter.

But for nearly four years, it’s been ours. It’s the first house we picked together, the place we lived while engaged and to which we returned after our honeymoon. Toby’s parents and sister all ended up living in Albert Park because we were there, sliding down from Queensland in the space of three years. I’ve lived in other places since starting university, but this is the first house that’s felt like home. And small though it is, cramped as the bedside tables are and as much as the dodgy washing-line makes me grumble, I’ll miss that about it.

Between¬†tomorrow and the 20th, we’ll be staying with my parents-in-law, whose current house is just up the road. Despite all the preparations for our five months in the UK, I didn’t quite believe we were going until earlier today, because I hadn’t really processed that we were leaving our little house forever. Whenever I think about getting on the plane, I feel a rush of exhiliration: we’re nearly there. We’ll be overseas until January 2010 – just two months before Solace & Grief is published. Next year is already significant. But 2009 is the year its all been built on: the year I signed a contract, went to my first convention, (hopefully) finished the sequal, spent my first New Year’s Eve in another country,¬†visisted Scotland, celebrated my second wedding anniversary – and there’s so much still to look forward to.

But until then, I’m taking a moment to remember our funny, thin, impractical¬†house. We’ve loved it, and now we’re leaving. Chances are, it won’t remember us, unless it turns out that walls have memories as well as ears. But we’ll remember it.

Apologies for the lack of blog this week. Essays for my final two uni subjects have reared their heads, necessitating that I actually Do Some Work. Shattersnipe ramblings will return to their regular schedule sometime in the following week.

Until then, here’s a kitty!

Kitty

It’s late last night, 11pm on a Wednesday. Having just celebrated my husband’s last day at work with¬†dinner in Chinatown, we’ve decided to continue celebrating at Charlton’s, a nearby karaoke bar. I write down a couple of songs, put them in the mix and wait by the cigarette machine for my name to be called, while Toby and friends drink double whiskeys in the pool room. All is going well. A new song starts – three Asian guys get up and start yelling an 80s rock ballad into one mic – and I take this opportunity to go downstairs to the bathroom.

There’s one girl at the sink. We swap a cursory smile, and I go into the cubicle, where I am confronted with two toilet paper options: that one-play, waxy cardboard crap you normally only find in state primary schools, and some of the good stuff. This is located in a tall, rectangular holder mounted on the wall, made of clear plastic and designed to¬†contain three rolls,¬†so that when the bottom roll is done, the next one will drop neatly down and replace it. Except, somewhat expectedly, it hasn’t dropped, and so the roll is hovering about ten centimeters above the slot.¬†

Me, I’m a pro at this dilemma. I know what to do. I turn my hand sideways, twist it gently up through the slot, and start poking the underside of the recalcitrant roll in order to coax it down. Contrary to both my experience and my expectations, however, this doesn’t work. That sucker will not move. Irritated, I decide to give up and go with the cheap stuff for the sake of convenience, when I realise something: my hand is stuck.

Surprised, I give an experimental tug. My hand does not move – in fact, it’s beginning to hurt! A few more tugs; my hand remains fixed, and the pain increases. I am trapped in a Chinatown karaoke toilet.

‘Oh, lame.’

I say this out loud. The girl at the sink, who eviently hasn’t left, hears me. I can sense her awareness through the cublicle wall. Desperately, I wrap my free hand around my trapped wrist and pull, hard. This results only in agony. My hand is changing colour. Like a sea-turtle stuck in a plastic six-pack ring, I am incapable of freeing myself. I sigh, resignedly.

‘Is someone there?’ I call out, knowing full well there is.

‘Yes?’

‘Look,’ I say, ‘I know this is totally lame and completely stupid, but my hand is stuck in the toilet-roll dispenser.’

Silence.

‘Are you serious?’

‘Yes. Completely. My hand is stuck.’

The briefest of pauses. Clearly, options are being weighed. Then she takes pity on me.

‘I’ll come in and help.’

‘Thank you.’

I unlock the door. She steps in, frowns at the situation, tilts her head onside, studies my hand. It really is wedged.

‘Stretch your fingers out,’ she commands. Hapless servant, I obey. She tugs experimentally on my wrist, then turns my palm as far to the left as possible. She wraps both hands on my wrist. I yank my arm downwards.

With a spastic, reverberating boioioioioing! from the plastic trap, my hand comes free. It is painful! Oh, how it is painful. I make a hissed-through-teeth noise of discomfort. The girl looks sympathetic.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.’ I look¬†stoically up at her. ‘Thanks.’

‘No problem.’

She lets herself out. I lock the cube behind her, finish my business, and leave in turn. At the sink, I notice two deep, pinched,¬†white-blue bruises on the back of my hand, as though¬†it’s been inexpertly¬†worried by a young Alsatian. A pox on toilet-paper-dispenser-makers and their inelegant designs!

Back upstairs, the boys¬†have finished their number. Someone else goes up. I get a glass of water, burst out laughing, and tell my husband what’s happened. He blinks at me, grins, and sips his whiskey. I resume my post at the cigarette machine. My good Samaritan girl is back with her friends. We swap the tiniest of looks. No more.¬†

And about half an hour later, I belt out Don MacLean’s American Pie, to thunderous applause.

It’s the afternoon of New Year’s Day, 2009. I’m writing this on my laptop, which, appropriately enough, is¬†resting on my lap, being as how I’m stretched out on the lounge.¬†We¬†came home by cab¬†at 5am this morning and¬†fell into bed; I slept for a bit, then¬†fell out again around midday. I’ve made it as far as the dressing-gown¬†stage, but no further.¬†I consider this to be a satisfactory state of affairs. Despite having consumed an appropriately broad range of liquor last night, I’m¬†delightfully unhungover – just lazy and cotton-mouthed enough to condone a day of indolence and carbohydrates. Love Shack is playing on iTunes. I’ve already Facebooked my photos from last night, despite the wavery nature of today’s internet connection;¬†since then, I’ve¬†sat through¬†the first half-hour of Tropic Thunder (crap), read Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader (ends well, but feels odd throughout) and watched all of Pineapple Express (weirdly, stupidly wrong, with funny bits). Also, I fed the cats ham.

The new year hasn’t sunk in yet. There’s always¬†a strange, anticlimactic irony to January 1st,¬†given that¬†most people trying to start health and fitness regimes in the fledgling annum wake up feeling, despite their best intentions,¬†seedier than an overzealous pomegranate.¬†Me? I’m just happy to¬†be here, liver intact.¬†And in that spirit, here are my plans for the rest of the evening:¬†to¬†do¬†my jigsaw, watch some cartoons, work on my novel¬†and maybe play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.¬†Simple pleasures, now.

But tomorrow – who knows?

As 2008 draws gracefully to a close, one is lead, somewhat inevitably, to confront the imminent¬†prospect of its replacement. Next year, for instance, I will¬†turn twenty-three, complete my Bachelor of Arts and celebrate my second wedding anniversary. Steps will be taken which might, possibly, result in an eventual¬†move to China. Possibly – and very hopefully – someone might offer to publish my book. Regardless of whether this happens, the likelihood is that I’ll finish writing the sequel. I may also get drunk. And so on.

2009, therefore, is clearly a year for productive resolutions. Ignoring the typical-but-inevitable desires for better health and athleticism, here are mine:

1. My rolemodels for 2009 will be Zoe Washburne,

Zoe Washburne, 2iC on Serenity (Firefly class)

Zoe Washburne, 2iC on Serenity (Firefly class)

Temperence Brennan

Dr Temperence Bones Brennan

Dr Temperence 'Bones' Brennan

 and Jane Lane

Jane Lane, of Daria fame

Jane Lane, of Daria fame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– because fictional or not, these ladies rock.

2. After a five-year hiatus,¬†I will take up¬†tennis again.¬†However, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I shall¬†refrain from sulking when it turns out that I’m nowhere near as good as I used to be, because the point is to have fun, and also because I’ll get better again with practice. See that, universe? That’s growth.

3.¬†I will write more short stories, because they’re enjoyable, and because they’re a good way to figure out where the hell my writing style is headed.¬†

4. I will maintain and broaden my addiction to awesome TV shows, because a little immaturity is an excellent thing.

5. I will endeavour to surprise myself – and others – as often as possible. This may involve props.

6. I will reupholster my armchair anarchism.

7. I will find my poetry, and run with it.

8. I will do more jigsaw puzzles.

9. I will locate a second pair of comfortable pants, delight in getting caught in the rain, listen more, talk less, sing shamelessly in public and wear crazy hats.

And:

10. I will give thanks to Vizinczey.

You’ve been good to me, 2008. I’ll remember you fondly.

2009? Bring it on.

Dear Gods of Television,

Praise unto You for the gift of Daria, Seasons One through Five! As foretold in the ancient prophecies, Your generosity is boundless; yea, even unto providing a free downloadable player compatable with .rm files. Sing hallelujah also for this bounty of Torchwood, which brings us the wonder of John Barrowman getting it on with James Marsters; and verily, lest we seem ungrateful, your lowly acolytes must call further praise on the early arrival of Bones, Season Two, just as we anticipate the festive gift of Season Three, which has that episode where Bones and Booth totally kiss, which will be Awesome.

Thanks unto thee, Gods, for turning thy Universal Remote on those tireless Earthly avatars who, though they know it not, work tirelessly in Your service, be they family, friends, or the humble staff of Amazon and JB Hi Fi; for the DVDs, movies and soundtracks are Yours, now and forever, Amen.