Saturday, September 27, 2008
Pants in shorts
It’s been a frightening time for too many reasons so I’m immensely relieved to find that I still have feet. That’s one less thing I have to develop crippling anxiety about. I haven’t actually seen my feet for some time as they’ve been concealed in Boots the Chemist flight socks for the better part of the year. To die of deep vein thrombosis when I hadn’t taken a long-haul flight would have been too depressing and embarrassing so I thought it better not to take the risk. Today I emerged from the four layers of clothing and the same of bedding in which I have been permanently sequestered to find that spring has arrived in western Victoria. Admittedly it was well after midday. I was beginning to think I’d landed in a climate-free weather zone. As the sun roared down confidently, I dug out the peddle-pushing puddle-jumpers and Bob was my red, red robin-loving uncle. I discovered that the farm’s trampoline makes an excellent sun lounger and was able to read by natural light for the first time this year.
I also ventured out into the adjoining woodland to find the lovely frisky horses next door brimming with seasonal joy and eager to pop over for a chat and large clumps of well-watered grass from my side of the fence. Some things don’t change. My mission for this year has been to get over myself, a project that has had more downs than ups. I blame the lack of sun, amongst other things. There wasn’t much sun in England either but neither did I expect it and it was a situation that was easily remedied by devoting a tea break to lastminute.com. I nearly always went in search of places where clouds aren’t a measurable contributor to GDP in September and October after the inevitable abysmal excuse for a London summer had finally acquired the decency to slink away. But now I believe I might be in for something approaching seasonal clemency. You could forgive England for its climactic caprice but not Australia. What else is there?
I knew when I came to live here that I would sacrifice my instant access to mainstream culture and my easy proximity to the rest of the globe. There’d be no meeting friends in the bar at the Tate Britain and popping downstairs to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition, no flying into town on the No. 26 bus on the last Sunday afternoon of the El Greco. No Damien Hirst. No Tracey Emin. No Turner Prize. I knew I wouldn’t be able to flit off to Calais for a spot of shopping or take the Eurostar to Paris just to have lunch in Montmartre and stroll along the Boulevard Saint-Michel. There’d be no long weekends in New York, Vienna or Prague. No getaways to Cuba, Cyprus, Croatia. I still think I’ll be okay with all that if I can just get some sunny sodding weather.
When I knew I was leaving London for good, I spent a year on a solemn pilgrimage around all my oldest favourite places. I had pasta at the Pollo Bar which had been recently gutted and remodelled to look exactly as it had always, only slightly cleaner. I ate Tandoori chicken in Brick Lane which had thirty-five million quid thrown at it in the nineties and came out dirtier. I ordered the superb şiş kebab at the Mangal II in Dalston which also pissed away thirty-five million squids with the nonchalance of a gambler who’d hit the triple rollover on Euromillions. I once saw a tramp sauntering down Dalston Lane carrying two Armani suit bags full of grubby plastic Costcutter carriers and vintage copies of News of the World. Says it all really. Gilbert and George were at the Mangal II, as they have been every evening for several years. I used to think it was because they fancied the waiters, who by and large are pretty yummy – I know someone who married one of them. They don’t make very good husbands. One evening when I was having dinner with an art historian in seats recently vacated by G&G, she told me it’s because they have that ongoing project where they use their faeces as the raw material. Cheaper than oils I guess. They have to eat the same thing every day to guarantee consistency of quality. It’s this attention to detail that makes them world class I suppose but it was probably not the right time to be considering that particular piece of information. I was very glad I hadn't ordered the kofte.
I’d passed two tranquil months in the British Library typing out all five published works by my G-G-Grandfather who was transported to Australia in 1819. You can’t photocopy rare books so I undertook this as a labour of love and with the intention of some day using it as the basis for a novel about him. I was satisfied I’d spent ample time in the BL but even so, on the last day as I walked to Euston Road to take the No. 30 bus back to Hackney Wick, I knew that I would really miss it and I do. Every summer day last year that clawed its way into the double figures, I took a tuna sandwich and a couple of cans of Stella Artois over to Hampstead Heath to spend the day sunbaking topless at the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond, my absolutely favourite place in all of Britain. Once or twice I even dived into the freezing natural pond to swim about with the ducks and coots and watch the kingfishers and dragonflies hover about at the far end. On a really sunny day, there’s no lovelier place to be.
I’ve never in my life been as cold as I’ve been these past four months in western Victoria. I have never before worn all my clothes to bed and still been cold, not even in Russia in the middle of winter. The Russians may not have much else but they have heating and vodka. The mountains of Japan run a close second, the difference being that with all my clothes and four futons on top of me I did actually warm up eventually, after lots of hot sake. But now I might have something to look forward to. Where there is sun, there may be more sun and… and… Ms O’Dyne and I have been offered free accommodation in a fabulous seaside mansion and, with luck, the two phenomena might coincide. Is there a God? Name Ra by any chance?