Friday, July 14, 2017

Longbourn, by Jo Baker.

I've been following my instincts with my reading this year. Bliss. Longbourn published in 2013, came to me from a throw-out table of deleted books in a remote Northern Territory school library; a serendipitous find, given I hadn't heard of it. (Cheers, sister Janey.) There are heaps of reviews on line already, but here's mine.

The characters and setting of Jo Baker's Longbourn are those of Pride and Prejudice, however, the Bennet family is seen from the perspectives of the servants, who very much have their own stories. Remember Mrs Bennet's frantic calls for 'Hill!' when things needed organising? Well, Hill, Mrs, comes to life in this story, as does old nearly toothless Mr Hill, who supports and shares but makes no demands on Mrs Hill, preferring the companionship of men. Baker also shows us the lives of servants, Sarah, aged about fifteen and Polly, maybe twelve. Both girls serve and owe their survival to the Bennet family, to whom they are not quite enslaved, but not far off. Two young men give further insight. They are James Smith and Ptolemy Bingley. James is the footman who mysteriously comes to work for the Bennets. Ptolemy is a so called 'mulatto' footman, born into service for the Bingleys, hence his surname. Both are thoughtful and intelligent and not quite accepting of their lot, although James became so, but I don't want to say too much about that.

The novel begins at about four on a cold September morning. Love the opening line. "There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering..." a parody of the opening of Pride and Prejudice itself - "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." I was out there freezing with Sarah, as she began her working day. 'The iron pump-handle was cold, and even with her mitts on, her chilblains flared as she heaved the water up from the undergraound dark and into her waiting pail.'  The picture of the sleeping household effortlessly involved me. "All else was stillness. Sheep huddled in drifts on the hillside; birds in the hedgerows were fluffed like the sty, the sow twitched, her piglets bundled at her belly. Mrs Hill and her husband, up high in their tiny attic, slept the black blank sleep of deep fatigue; two floors below, in the principal bedchanber, Mr and Mrs Bennet were a pair of churchyard humps under the counterpane..." On that otherwise sleeping cold morning, having filled two pails of well water, Sarah hitches these onto a yoke which she hoists onto her shoulders before making her precarious way to the house. Unfortunately, she skids in hogshit, which no one has had time to clear, and loses her effortful load. Those first three pages of Longbourn are enticing. Baker writes skilfully; her prose is easy to read, evokes all the senses and has loads of subtext.

If you know the world of Pride and Prejudice, you know its machinations; its balls, its walks into Meryton for bits of lace on the lookout for the diverting redcoats of the militia. You know its ringlets, highwaisted frocks and bonnets and the necessity of a good marriage for the upperclass. What I hadn't previously considered was how often the serving girls were sent out into the elements on fatuous errands when the inclement weather prevented the ladies from braving the outdoors. Baker takes us into that other world. Despite Sarah's protestations of the goodness of Elizabeth and Jane, they seem self-absorbed and sadly lacking. Both ladies raise their arms so Sarah may dress them. They step out of their discarded clothes and Sarah picks them up for folding, repair or laundering as needed. Yes, they occasionally hand over a chap book or an unwanted old fashioned dress - treasures to Sarah - but they treat her with as much regard as someone today might treat their washing machine - missing it if it breaks down but otherwise taking it for granted. The class system, that upstairs/downstairs mentality, is acutely felt.

Sarah, who is able to read, is a thoughtful and perceptive young woman. She usually accepts her lot and isn't judgmental. However, her observations allow readers to evaluate the characters. It is Sarah's destiny to serve the Bennet family for a meagre wage per quarter. She is a chattel of the household; largely invisible. As the imposing gentleman - Darcy - barges past her she feels herself becoming physically transparent, so unacknowledged is she.

The Longbourn world, and other places further afield are also reflected through the eyes of James Smith, footman.  "They were lucky to get him...what with the War in Spain, and the press of so many able fellows into the Navy; there was, simply put, a dearth of men." He barely registers for the ladies of the Bennet household yet he greatly eases the strain for the overworked servants. He works tirelessly for the family, driving the ladies out to balls with the horse and carriage, keeping himself occupied throughout the freezing nights until the entertainment is over then driving them home again. His arrival at Longbourn is somewhat mysterious. James' story in many ways drives the narrative. To say more would be to ruin an intriguing plot.

The complexity of the lives of the servants would have made an interesting story in itself but it is faxcinating to have a good look at the dirty laundry of the privileged Bennet household. We know about Lydia's disgrace from Pride and Prejudice and we know that the family allows Lydia and Wickham to return to Longbourn. However, it is Mrs Hill who must deal with the newly weds' soiled linen. Mrs Hill "peeled out the few chemises and petticoats and nightgowns that Lydia had bundled away...tried not to look too directly at them, or inhale the odours of cheap lodging houses, sweat and sex./ She steeped the soiled linen - blood and sweat and spunk and travel dust, and the shiny grubbiness of things that have gone too long between washing - in lye, prodding at it with the laundry tongs, swirling it through the murky grey water...If Mrs Hill had the ruling, and not just the maintenance, of Lydia, the little madam would be obliged to wash her own dirty linen just this once, and see what other people saw of her."

Great writing. Look, I could keep transcribing so you, too, could get a sense of what is in those chamberpots that must be taken down the back stairs, one's face averted, to the 'necessary' house outside, but won't. (Assuming you are also fascinated by the minutiae of upperclass family life in Regency England.) Since I finished my obligatory reading for school last year*, this is one of the books that has made me want to carry it around for a while; to reflect on it in more than a brief summary in my journal. I read this novel quickly and relished it. When I'd finished I wanted to reread it; it's easy to dip back into with its deft, detailed prose.

If you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, even if you've only seen some screen adaptation, you'd enjoy this book.

*A literary life guided, for years, by school reading lists, what's new in YA fiction and vacation reading splurges of books judged by covers is not so bad..

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Losing battle in war on waste

Had a ferret in my wardrobe for something warm. Found a big cardigan. Shades of mauve in a boucle  chunky knit; two white knitted bands around the upper arms. Thirty-two years on, it's seriously pilled and shabby. It no longer has the moral fibre to declare itself vintage. It's warm but sad, not the delicious creature I snuggled my face into in a Firenze market in late summer, 1985. Was a beautiful garment when purchased new. Now it's fit for the op shop bag. It's all a bit metaphoric.

Recently, in my endeavour to reuse/recycle, I wore an old pair of Nikes. They've aged well. They're a lovely shape made from interleaved strips of grey suede. They have a dance shoe sole with rubber tread under your heel and toes and a suede arch. When I bought them, at least ten years ago, from Rebel Sport in the Bourke Street Mall, the sales assistant read me a mandatory disclaimer.  These shoes aren't designed for sport, or words to that effect. Didn't worry me. I had no intention of exercising in them, apart from cycling.  These non-sports 'leisure' shoes must have looked good because my daughter used to borrow them. Also, they'd elicit compliments from some of my students and colleagues.and are as comfortable as your slippers.

You know why they've aged well? I've barely worn them.That dance style? Great in the studio, shit in the weather. Didn't want to spoil the suede by risking them out in the rain. Another thing, they slip off my bike pedals. Literal slippers. Not cool. I'd forgotten about that though, when I gave them another outing recently, feeling proud of my environmentally aware austerity. Remembered about the slippage as I was cycling downhill to the shops, gripping my knees to stop my feet shooting off their perches. As I walked along the street later, my feet kept skating out behind me in a flicking motion. Sensibly, I skidded to a stop then slid around the door into the sports shoe specialists.

Ah well, a new pair of running shoes is an appropriate alcohol-free reward. So I told myself as I browsed for an elusive bargain.

Having laced my right foot into a sleek new running shoe, the sales assistant picked up one of my old Nikes, examined it and pronounced it seriously old school; sounding impressed. 'Are you just going to give these to the op shop?' she asked. Was that a hint?

But old school? They're only ten. Suppose if you're under thirty that's a long time.

Meanwhile, I conceded another battle in the war on waste by buying another pair of sports shoes. For safety reasons, I wore them home. At my age you can't risk a fall on a damp footpath, sans tread on your trainers.

This is the sad thing though. I can part with neither my old cardy - back in the wardrobe - nor my 'vintage' Nikes - back on the shoe rack. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Onus on the Owner

'Argh!' How do you write a short sharp scream? (Of course there's a forum on this on Google. Makes for interesting reading if you're into that sort of thing, like yours truly, the real Judith Middlemarch, or is it Jill, wife of Trevor?) No matter, this little piece begins with a brief, loud - I was wearing headphones - cry of terror.

I stood, stock still, neither flight nor fight would work here. Instinctively, my hands shot in the air, heart banging in my chest.

Just prior I'd been on a naturally occurring chemical high. See, I'd garnered the motivation to get out of bed on a cold, albeit sunny winter's day to do my six kilometre constitutional. This is a combination of brisk walking alternating with marginally quicker jogging.To give you the picture, when Al walks with me he thinks it vaguely amusing to outpace my jogging with his leisurely stroll. I'm not winning any medals here, but if I can keep at it for another forty years I could enter the world masters and break a record like Man Kaur. Maybe not.

Anyway, nearly five k into my routine, those endorphins coursed pleasingly through my system. I'd been listening to a podcast of Joe Jackson being interviewed by Alec Baldwin. I've had a deep, abiding love for Joe Jackson since the late 1970s so my morning constitutional had thus been elevated to even greater heights of emotional healing. My local park is a lovely treed, quiet - on weekdays - ovalled space atop a hill with splendid city views. Joe's interview finished with a few bars from Breaking Us In Two. I was in heaven. Pulled out my phone to choose some music to get me through the last k. Chose Frank Sinatra's I've Got You Under My Skin with its stirring middle eight, that always evokes my dad, and continued slow jogging to half way round the oval. Next in my mix was (I've had) the time of my life. No apologies for my eclectic tastes. At that stage I was running up the incline on the other side of the oval, relishing my freedom, completely lost in my own thoughts.

That's when a slavering, snarling jowly raven black beast charged me, its teeth bared, hence my scream.

'Clara,' - I'm not kidding - her owner called lightly, scooping to pick up a ball with his little tosser on a stick. I started to walk on but Clara lunged at me again.

'Call her off!' I insisted, hands now clutched under my chin.

'She won't hurt you,' was his dismissive reply as he surveyed me like I was some mental defective in my black running gear, tweed cap pulled down over my ears and a bum bag hanging around my hips.

'That's very easy to say,' I replied, 'but I'm terrified.' And I was. My previous joy had drained out replaced by too much adrenaline and a bit of fury.

I've been menaced by dogs before. Aged about three, I remember being bitten by a bull dog. Mum was pushing me in a pram at the time. She took me into a butcher's shop and he applied a bit of butter to my bleeding knee. Don't know what happened to that ugly hound.

Jeeze, who hasn't had a bad experience with a dog? Not so long ago this rat-sized dog who lives down our street had its teeth bared, and was snapping within half a hand span of my exposed ankles. Same comment from the owner standing nearby apparently enjoying the entertainment. 'She won't hurt you.'

Got bailed up by a pit bull terrier once in our own back yard. The dog had breached the low fence. Its owner was on her side pinning sheets on her rotary hoist. 'Sally!' - such lovely names - she uselessly called for her dog, 'She won't hurt you, ' she said, continuing to adjust her sheet. I wasn't so sure, Sally, growling menacingly had me in a Mexican standoff, daring me to move. Not sure what would have happened if Maria hadn't climbed the fence and hauled Sally off by her collar.

My own experience tells me that some dogs, who may not attack those who've established dominance over them, will attack anything they perceive as weaker. My parents had a couple of Dobermann Pinschers. Soft as brushes, according to my mum. But I've seen both of them turn on our own toddlers when those kids were getting a bit annoying. My dad always sided with the dogs.

Anyway, Clara's owner really bugged me this morning. I'm sure Clara is a lovely pet. But seems to me that if Clara has any inclination to threaten a stranger, she should be on a leash.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Trevor and Jill out on the town

How was my night out? Well, it began well with a 4pm chardy. Felt like I was back in the day, preparing to party. That could be due to determinedly reprising my own now vintage clothes. Unfortunately, I don't look funky, I look like an old woman playing dress ups. Damn you, Craig Reucassel. It's his fault I'm digging through my wardrobe. His War On Waste really got to me. Thing is, I'm already frugal. and a borderline hoarder, inclined to put a new zip in an old pair of jeans if necessary.You know how hard that is. Okay, so I was saving money rather than the planet.

Sorry. What was I saying?

I wore my orange-is-the-new-black turn of the millennium top. You know the one. Bought it for some long ago school deb ball - jeeze, those kids will be in their thirties now - looked a bit blingy but passable and am pleased to say, it still fit. Sort of. Contacts in; bit of make up. Well, quite a lot. You know how it is when you get to a certain age?

Trev and I set off arm in arm down the road to catch a bus. Felt nice and crisp in the night air. Moon and stars out; breath steaming. But somehow we'd missed the 6.05, which had either dropped off the grid or gone by earlier than our arrival at the bus stop at five to six. Told you we were excited to be going out. We walked a couple of stops to pass the time and avoid hypothermia. Remembered to 'touch off' on the bus this time so we didn't get blocked at the turnstiles at Parliament station like last time we did public transport, thrilled to bits with our new Seniors' Mykis. We had to suffer a lecture on the minutiae of PTV before being released like a couple of errant school kids. Promise not to do it again. No, you have a nice day.

So did I have a good time? Well, there was the thrill of anticipation; the buzz of people in the city streets; excited families out seeing Aladdin; girls in tight skirts and six inch heels gripping the hands of their pimply boyfriends. We were eating at an up-market Chinese restaurant with a great bunch of people. Well, Trevor's friends anyway.

Hmm. Good time would be stretching it. Let's say it was interesting, but in an ironic way. Soon as we walked into the restaurant, my third eye was watching. I don't know why I have this irrepressible urge to write it all down. I've just read Atonement* too. You'd think I'd have learned something.

Ah, who cares? Here's a tip. Don't waste your breath trying to make conversation with contrary people. You know the type. They can't keep the wheels of civil human intercourse humming along. So, this is Trevor. He says, to his friend, Susan on the other side of our for table for ten, 'Jill and I saw this wonderful film last week. At the Nova. It's only seven dollars on Mondays. Great value. You know, the Nova in Carlton?'

So Susan says, 'We don't go there, do we Greg? We go to The Sun in Yarraville.' Greg nodded, staring into the middle distance.

I piped in here, oiling the wheels, I thought. 'I haven't been there but I've heard it's very good.'

'It's too hard to get parking at the Nova,' Susan was on a roll and she sounded a bit put out.

'There's an underground...' I began. I was going to tell her about the car park but she cut me off.

'I know, near Woolworths, but it's always packed. We prefer The Sun.' Did I just imagine she folded her arms at me, blocking further conversation? Whatever, I thought. But Trevor, bless, kept trying.

'A great French film,' he said. 'Things to Come.'

'Why? What was it about?' The set on her face suggested Susan thought Trevor should shove it and focus on his spring roll. But he continued, pushing his voice valiantly through the ambient sound and across the table, to Susan, with her arms crossed over her ample chest.

'Well, it's about life,' he said.'A philosophy teacher who lives in Paris is just going through life's events; the changes that happen in time. Things to come,' he said. 'The title says it all really.'

'But do you have to like Paris to enjoy it?' asked Susan, belligerently.

Trevor winced a little at the question. 'Mm, no. It's just a really good film. We really loved it.'

'Well, that might be all right for you. You go to France. But what if you'd rather go to the Dalmation Coast? Would you still like it? Would just anyone like it?' Susan's voice was rising.

I was experiencing a little tachycardia by then. 'You know what, Susan?' I was smiling so much that my face hurt. 'Don't go and see it. It's not for you. Forget Trevor even mentioned it.' Trevor put a firm hand on my knee at that stage. You know how he does? 'Jill,' he warned. Yeah, I stopped and had another swill of that Chardonnay I wasn't paying for. Hang on. I think I was paying for it in one way or another.

Susan's Greg was on my left. He's very groomed. Bristly.Trimmed to within an inch of his life. He clearly spends a lot of time contemplating his face in the mirror each morning; checking for regrowth of his sheared white hair. He's got this neat triangle of moustache, sort of sergeant major meets prison warden. Somehow we got on to the subject of aged parents, a topic close to the hearts of many of my generation. Greg's mother, well into her nineties, had died some years earlier from complications after minor surgery. Well Greg's bristly lip wobbled a bit as he berated the hospital over his mother's passing. If only she hadn't had that surgery she'd still be alive today - aged 100. Like you want to be.

'Oh well, she had a good innings,' I cliched. He didn't say anything but a couple of minutes later he left and sat at the other table. Something I'd said? Perhaps. But my punishment was waiting in the wings. Another dinner guest, the one who likes to take those group shots for posterity, slid into Greg's place and teased me by flicking through pictures on her point and shoot. Making conversation, I asked her what had her so absorbed. Well, she wasn't really. She was waiting to be asked. Thus I climbed into the centre of her web.

'These are my teenage children,' said Gilda, handing me the camera for a closer look.

'Nice kids,' I said, handing her camera back. They were all right, if a little random.

'And these are the kids in my parents' group. We all met fifteen years ago at a parents' group for new parents and we still meet monthly.' Gilda showed me several photos of several middle aged women and more photos of even more random groups of teenage kids in various locations and poses. Hovering over individual photos she provided the whole of the numerous members of her group: who'd married whom, who'd divorced; who'd died, when and what from in livid detail. Then she arrived at her last trip to Scandinavia where she'd visited her grandmother's house. Well, not exactly her grandmother's house. It was the house next door she was now showing me. Her grandmother's house had been turned into offices and they weren't open but no matter they got into the house next door, of which she took many photos which she described to me down to the hardwood floorboards.

'Scuse me, Gilda,' I interrupted, one hand raised signalling a passing waiter. 'Could you get me a Chardonnay?' I asked. Stat. I'd already desperately spun the Lazy Suzy vainly searching for dregs in the bottom of a bottle. Red. White. I didn't care.

I returned to Gilda. 'Sorry? Go on." Gilda is a bit stick insect-y, but with high cheekbones and this swathe of long brown hair. She sat sort of folded into herself and continued to click through her photos. And there were her school friends back in Scandinavia who'd all been together in the top English grade. Where had they been all my life? Gilda's voice was a croaky low drone. I nodded, ooh-ed and aah-ed my appreciation of particular names on the school honour boards she'd photographed. In an effort to change the tenor, I pulled my phone out of my bag and asked if she wanted to see photos of my adult kids. She gave a cursory glance at my two then invited me to look at her grandmother's garden in Scandinavia.

You know what? You can only take so much. I shouldered her out of my peripheral vision. My glass was empty.

But it was a night out. Five degrees by the time we were out on the street. And we only had a twenty minute wait underground for our City Loop train. And train travel's free on weekends for us seniors. Didn't mind walking that last kilometre back home. And despite my war on waste I'd accidentally, but happily left the heater on while we were out. Was quite cosy.

Hey, Jane. Same again next Friday night. A fiftieth this time.

*Bored, neglected self-absorbed budding writer misinterprets what she sees, sticks her nose in and ruins others' lives. Sorry, Ian McEwan. Atonement is one of the best books I've ever read. Bothers me, though, how much I identified with the priggish deluded Briony.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lieben: German for to love

"Why would you want to learn German?" So said Mum, in a Yorkshire accent, a look of horror on her face. Given when I mentioned it, in her mind she was somewhere in the early 1940s, she thought I was betraying England. Why was I even telling her? It's something to talk about in my monologue as we shuffle around Queen's Park lake, given that mum can't carry on a regular conversation these days. 

Somehow, I've drifted back into talking about mum again. Wasn't my intention. I was thinking about my recent German classes at Melbourne's CAE.

The German people, our young Deutschlehrerin (female German teacher) told us a couple of lessons ago, would only use the expression 'I love…' in the context of an intimate relationship. Ich liebe dich - I love you - is reserved for one's partners, one's family.

 'So you mean,' said John, a student in the class - aged 80 by the way, 'they wouldn't debase the word by using it to describe lesser things?'

'Ja, genau!' she said. Yes, exactly.

So you wouldn't say you loved someone's hair or shoes. Das ist verboten. It's banned. Hurrah, I know another quirk of the German language. I won't embarrass myself by inappropriately professing my love when I'm in Germany: ich liebe das Wohnmobil  - I love this campervan.

Apart from giving my non-working life a bit of structure and perhaps staving off dementia, I decided to learn German because I've travelled there several times and intend to return. The German language was absolutely, well, foreign. We - Al and I - could be handed a German menu in a restaurant and have no idea what the hell was on offer, apart from the ubiquitous wurst, schnitzel and strudel, words that have found their way into our vernacular. We've been stumped driving off an 'Ausfahrt' (exit) on the 'Autobahn' (freeway); bemused as fellow campers have waved us off on a ride with a 'Good fart!' Suppose it could be an added bonus. But Gut Farht actually means have a good journey. As for ordering a glass of wine. In broken German I've asked for 'ein dry white'. Basically I've been requesting 'one - nearly - three, nonsense', given that in German 'w' is pronounced like our 'v' . Suppose that explains occasionally getting a glass of red and making do. Any port in a storm.

Now, German is less weird by the minute. It's easy enough to learn to speak because it's phonetic. Once you can recognise and mimic those 'guttural' sounds you're away. Suppose the grammar would be challenging if one didn't love grammar, as I do. Weird, huh.

Two hours of German class seems to pass by each week in about fifteen minutes. That's total absorption, or mindfulness or I'm having a series of cardio vascular accidents. I'll go with the former.

Given we don't mind debasing the word love in English I can say I love learning German, In German I think that's ich mag Deutsch lernen sehr gern. Course, I could be wrong.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A bit of my life as a writer.

In my thirties I tried to be a working writer. I was teaching one three hour evening school VCE class a week. I had two children, sixteen months apart who occupied much of my time. Still, I wrote. Journal. Short stories. A novel. Well, best to call it a novella. The novella amounted to 45,000 words. It was about a young woman whom I initially called Meredith but shortened to Mere - to some derision - who had married a young Anglican minister and lived to regret it. Underneath it all, I was writing about my own experience of being a Christian. Writing the book was cathartic and it helped me, at 37, to finally disentangle myself from the hold that Christianity and church had over me. That was extremely liberating and I've never returned to it. I think I'm probably over the bitterness I felt at being trapped in religion for so long. Can't stand going to church services for baptisms and funerals these days. Interestingly, I can still sing or recite all the liturgy. (I can also sing about a million TV show themes and adverts too and recite Shakespeare. It's all about exposure and repetition.)
Stick to the point. The writing. I began a business and sought copywriting opportunities. With the help of a relative in the design business I got perhaps three lucrative projects. I say lucrative because for the few hours involved they paid heaps more money than teaching did.  I enjoyed playing with words to complete the projects but they didn't provide any ongoing job satisfaction, especially the advertising catalogue for a now defunct stationery company. Pfft. Writing a newsletter for a restaurateur was more fun but he went bust and I experienced how hard some people have it regularly trying to get paid for their completed work. He shrugged and told me he simply didn't have the money - $500 - to give me. It was a lot of money back then given I was getting $25 an hour under our agreement. 
With the paucity of copywriting opportunities I mainly wrote résumés, the occasional student essay and job applications responding to key selection criteria. I became quite a job counsellor. The internet hadn't really taken off at that stage. I industriously read the classifieds in The Age, getting some sense of the job market and developed skills in helping people get work. Really. But once they'd secured work I never saw them again. You don't want them coming back because that means you've been unsuccessful. A couple of sad souls kept returning for yet another cover letter. 
My workroom is at the back of our house and looks out onto a paved courtyard. The kids’ tyre swing used to hang from an old fir tree, long since cut down. But it looked nice out there. One young woman, a return client, with a big fleshy stubbly face and woolly hair scraped back into a pony tail, gazed wistfully out there one day. You're so lucky, she said, to have this job. 
Some of my résumé writing experiences weren't pleasant. One woman, who'd seemed perfectly nice at the initial résumé consult turned into psycho-bitch when it came time to pay for the final product upon which she cast unwarranted aspersions. She held it in her left hand and slapped at it with the back of her right as she scorned the way I'd written it. In my ignorance, I'd put a hyphen in the compound word, bookkeeper. It was easily remedied but this instigated her ire. I fixed the problem and printed out a new copy. She claimed she'd have to take the two page document to a better résumé  service to see if they could fix my inferior work. I snatched it back from her. You're not having it, I said. I'd rather rip it up than let you take something unsatisfactory. This made her reconsider and she handed me twenty-five dollars before storming back through my home and out the door. Heart beating in her wake, I realised that she was simply trying to get the document for free. Probably behaved like that all over the place.
I formed a friendship of sorts with an elderly semi-retired businessman. He'd seen my ad in  the local paper. He'd get me to type business letters for him. Suppose I was his clever little secretary. He was a gentleman: tall, white-wavy hair, well groomed, soft checked shirts and business pants but with a sort of horsey country air about him. He'd wait while I typed his mail and we'd talk. He told me the story of his son’s death. His face crumpled and almost broke as he shared his grief. His son had died when a drug-filled condom he'd ingested in a smuggling attempt had burst in his intestine. His son had attended a private Christian college; had been loved and nurtured. This man couldn't understand what had happened. It broke my heart listening to him.
That was the thing about the little job I had. Clients shared their stories with me. Something about my demeanour seems to invite that. However  it wasn't enough and at forty I decided to let it go and get back into secondary teaching. Interestingly, my first teaching position after having my own kids was at the same school that gentleman’s son had attended. I was going to send my own children there, having put their names on a list back in my ‘intense Christian’ phase, but my five months experience there made me get my money back. As an educator, memories of that school still make me shudder.
During my break from teaching I also had three articles published in The Age, and I was paid for them; it was probably one of the biggest thrills of my life, especially when the first appeared. About 800 words long, it was underneath an article by Bettina Arndt and a cartoon illustration accompanied my piece about an experience I'd had, as a newly diagnosed person with diabetes. I'd submitted the article to coincide with Diabetes Week but I'd been occupied with looking after kids and hadn't expected it to be published. I’d had no indication that it would be. I experienced a sort of fifteen minutes of fame: congratulatory phone calls; the school where I taught on a very part-time basis had photocopied my article and pinned it on a notice board. I was astounded that I received so much adulation for this, and two other pieces that were subsequently published. They'd taken little effort to write. The hardest part was having the audacity to think that anyone would want to read what I'd written; having the guts to submit them. 
People wanted to talk about my writing. Teaching, for me, is far more worthy and humanitarian and yet I rarely get accolades for having devoted much of my adult life to it.
I'm glad I've never had to earn a living through writing. I've recently read Ruth Park’s engrossing two part autobiography, A Fence Around the Cuckoo and Fishing in the Styx. She wrote to live and by god she worked hard. (Highly recommend those books.)
I teach and I write. I've written things for which I haven't been paid that have been published in magazines. I've had as much satisfaction from writing these and seeing them published as I have from the paid articles, although there was a certain prestige in appearing in the then revered Age broadsheet newspaper.
Fortuitously, I heard, from an English teacher colleague, about blogging. Blogging seems to satisfy my writing needs. I began my fraudulentteacher blog in 2005 and later began fraudstersmusings. Between them I've had more than 65,000 page views. Not heaps but enough to satisfy me. I gather lots of those page viewers might not actually read what I've written but lots of them do. 
Why this need to write my stories? It's just what I've always done.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The upside of travel. Happy meetings.

At Charles De Gaulle airport with a couple of spare hours pre flight back to Oz via Abu Dhabi.

The best thing for me about travelling, and life, actually, is interaction with other people. (I'm still learning not to overreact to any perceived offence. 'Maybe it's paranoia, maybe it's sensitivity...' Joni Mitchell said that. Love Joni.)

One interesting interaction was on the train from Munich to Stuttgard. We shared a six seater first class compartment with Boris and his daughter, Josie. (See, I'm so nosy I get names.) We initially started talking because we'd been double booked in the same seats. It I didn't matter, given there were four of us and six seats available. He spoke perfect English with a slight accent. His daughter spoke with a flawless clipped British accent. Then they slipped into their native Estonian - I think. However, they live in Munich and also speak German. Boris, having been born in Russia to a Finnish mother and Russian father, also speaks both those languages. I find that amazing, coming from a country where speaking anything other than 'Strayan' - as the word Australian is often pronounced - unless one is a migrant, is unusual. It was the first day of Josie's three month summer break from the international school she attends. Given that her mother had to work that weekend, she and Boris were attending a seminar in Switzerland. On quantum physics. As one does. 

While Josie, a teenager, listened to music on her phone and sketched faces in blue ink in her visual diary, Boris told us a little about his life. A ship builder now, whose next contract doesn't start until October in Japan, Boris also did his time, aged eighteen, in the Russian army. 'It was bad,' he said, 'but not like prison.' He served on the North Korean border. The harshness was mitigated for him by his mother's insistence during his youth that he attend a music school. Consequently, he had learned the flute, having been 'no good, according to [his] teacher' at cello. Thus he played in the military band and was proud that he'd never carried a Kalashnikov during his military service. 'Only a flute.'

Boris, urbane and articulate, is a passionate ice fisherman. Said he is much happier if it's minus 30 degrees than anything over 25. 'You just drill your hole in the ice and it's wonderful,' he said. 'To keep warm you can drink some tea. I can stay out there - in Finland on the ice - all day. But the days are short.'

We shared the cabin for a couple of hours and the time flew. Sounds like I did some sort of interrogation but it wasn't like that. Boris was equally interested in our Australian lives and our travels. 

Yesterday, we went in search of something of Paris as I remembered it from 1980. That was a winter holiday and I don't recall the hordes of tourists we've seen in the summer months. So we took the métro to Sebastopol and walked through the Montorgueil area. There we found an arcade, Passage du Grand Cerf, and wandered through it. This arcade has greenery hanging from one of those high leaded glass-like ceilings and was lined with shops selling beautiful handcrafts and jewellery, amongst other things. And not one other tourist. How can this be, so close to the Marais which is crawling with tourists?

Chantal, a shopkeeper I talked to, explained that there's Paris for the tourists and Paris for the locals. We had wandered into her shop - Le Labo + filf; Objets poétiques et créations lumineuses - looking for some unusual gifts. Chantal's daughter, Maud, designed the beautiful bags I ended up buying. Chantal was lovely and more than happy to chat with me in French, something I crave. She asked where we were staying and how we intended getting to the airport. She lives in the arrondissement where our apartment was and was puzzled as to why the tourism office had directed us to Porte d'Orléans as the nearest métro station. 'Cité Universitaire is much closer, just a walk through Parc Montsouris. And it connects directly with CDG airport.' She laughed a bit at this. We'd not only walked out of our way to catch the métro each day but the train loops through heaps of stations adding about fifteen minutes onto a journey that otherwise takes about five. Ha. At least we found the local supermarkets.

It was a fortuitous meeting, Chantal, should you ever read this, you greatly reduced the stress of our trip to the airport this morning. (Chantal and I did actually swap email addresses and I've already composed the email I'll send her as soon as we get back home. I haven't been able to send any emails while I've been in Europe, for reasons I don't understand.)

By the way, there was a four day haute couture fashion event during our week in Paris. Twice we've stumbled upon the glitterati and their entourages. The other day we walked along the red carpet being set up in Rue Montaigne. Yesterday we were amongst the buzz and press of the Jean-Paul Gaultier show. I know this from another of my sources, haha, a freelance photographer sitting outside a café near the mêlée. He was nice. I told him I'm a writer, of sorts, and he was keen for me to hang around and soak up the ambience. 'This is a big thing. You have Jean-Paul Gaultier. Use that as a label in your blog and you'll have more readers,' he suggested. 'And you have the fashions and the chateau here.' Yes, there was a chateau. Beats me if I can remember the name of the street we were in. (Perhaps I'd look it up if I wasn't up in the air courtesy of Etihad Airways.) Hard to see through all the posh cars with their tinted windows. At that moment an emaciated model fell off her six inch stilettos right in front of us. All caught by the nearby paparazzi. She didn't miss a beat. Picked herself up and continued wobbling along the cobbled path.

More interested in sausages than fashion, I moved on in my Target blue jeans, home-made haute couture shirt and running shoes.

Now Porte de la Villette sounded interesting in the Paris tourist guide. It's where two canals converge. It was almost at the end of the métro line it was on. No one else seemed to be going there. We emerged from the métro into a dodgy looking street, walked a bit, then crossed the road into an enormous empty 'parc'. Well, there was a science exhibition centre if you're into that sort of thing, which I'm not. We wandered over relatively modern - 1983 - cobbled pathways to check out the canal. Yep. Canal. Straight. Flowing. There was a sort of 'fun fair' but no one really seemed to be having any. A carousel was going around playing the Danube waltz. A guy was leaning idly on the counter inside the office of the unused dodgem cars. (I was slightly tempted, but then thought of the camping car and decided against it.) Quite bleak, really. A handful - six? - other tourists were wandering around with bemused expressions, like wtf am I doing here? (I'm perhaps being unkind about this place. Al compared it to Melbourne show grounds when the show's not on.)

I used - needs must - one of the grottiest 'bathrooms' since the back blocks of Vietnam. Two, let's call them ne'er do wells, male, were hanging around inside the unisex facility. The toilet wouldn't flush, no paper. Just a stench of old urine. (Not mine.)  Suppose it could have been worse, I thought as I swabbed the backs of my thighs with antiseptic handwash.

Happily, the Champs Élysées is only a métro ride away. We came up into the sunshine and the glorious view of the arc and right into the middle of a great hip hop dance performance. You can knock your tourist haunts but this is where you can enjoy a bit of street entertainment, for free if you're a bit short on spare change. It was wonderful.

I'm on the plane now, having an early Chardonnay - it's 11.45 am Paris time - and I'm sure I've tested your stamina with such a long post. Thank you again for reading.

PS. Do you know how effectively writing passes time?