Friday, November 28, 2008

Every cloud engenders not a storm

Pants West


I heard there’s a storm approaching. I heard it will be fierce. As I gaze blissfully at the pantorama of, I don’t know, how many degrees are there before your neck starts to ache? – I can’t imagine it. The skies are as innocent as they are azurely cloudless and the sun is fixing to set without incident. Yet I’ve heard it on good authority that the heavens will rage and hurl down upon us balls of ice that wouldn’t look out of place in an Oliver Reed G&T. So I’ve locked the pantibago in the shed, dragged the pantoys in from the deck, stocked up on candles, plasticated water and Tim Tams. I’ve got a battery radio, a wind-up torch and enough sauvignon blanc and croissants to last for three days – or a week if life truly threatens. I’ve never made a case of wine last for a week before but I’m sure it’s doable in an emergency.

And I bought a mattress. In the world of me, this is fairly big news. Regular readers may recall that when Barney and I launched ourselves upon an unsuspecting world this time last year, I jettisoned the entirely serviceable but twenty year-old and frankly a little discoloured Warren Evans ticking-coated plank on which I had never had a bad night’s sleep. I did feel at the time that I couldn’t really claim I’d lived in Hackney unless I’d left at least one mattress on the street. All the way through India, I experienced blissful nights on a succession of firm to the point of surly mattresses. I know what I like and approached the task of securing a new sleeping platform with a consumer confidence rare to someone as generally purchase-averse as I.

Problem. Nearly all mattresses now come with such a high relief of spongy embossed bits as to make the Elgin marbles look flat. Further problem, these make even a firm mattress feel soft and worse, cost rather more money than a mattress decently should. My entreaties to various bedding sales people, who incredulously regarded themselves as experts on my nocturnal comfort, that I wanted a firm mattress were brushed away with the entirely uninformed view that I would have back problems if my mattress was too hard. I have never had a back problem in my life and have always slept on a sturdy, no frills mattress. It’s difficult to ascertain what part of this robustly tested equation they found flawed. The only other explanation for this intransigence is that people who work in bedding shops have all had their brains replaced with a limited amount of specific product information and are unable to engage a critical thinking facility when it is appropriate to do so. Or, seriously, they are too shit thick to fathom that all they really need to do is sell the customer what she wants to buy. Difficult? Apparently.

After being summarily shunned from bedding shops the length of eastern Victoria, I happened past a small furniture outlet right here in Larrikin’s End that had a row of half-price mattresses out the front. The firmest was duly laid out right there on the shop floor for me to test, much to the amusement of other locals. Fortuitously, the concrete was more of a match for the workmanlike slatted pine Warren Evans bed that I had had the good sense to cart across the globe than the cumbersome and probably incompatibly spongy bed bases on which I had been attempting to lie in the specialist stores. After exchanging a modest wad of cash for my address, the mattress was despatched and arrived at Seat of Pants before I’d had time to get up the hill and screw Warren Evans back together again. I was sleeping well enough in a sleeping bag on the floor but it’s very nice to be at the same level as my sea view. I am once again in slumber sanctuary.

To enhance my comfort even further, I’ve intuited a way of attaching the Seat of Pants home entertainment system to the wall via an international electrical adaptor plug so I can play the vast collection of three for £20 HMV DVDs that I amassed in my final days in Britain. If the power fails, I’ve got The White Tiger – birthday present from Sis Pants to read. I’ve also secured a copy of Gods Behaving Badly whose author Marie Phillips used to blog as Struggling Author before her publishing deal rendered the tag redundant. Because she was from Hackney, hers was one of the first blogs that fell under the Pants radar. I followed with interest her parlous (for a well-connected bookseller) attempts to be noticed. Now her book has turned up in the Larrikin’s End Library. Fame at last Marie – and a full circle as Pants will finally get to read it.


The anticipated tempest raged all weekend and Seat of Pants mostly survived the deluge apart from a mysterious puddle on my bedroom floor that could not be linked to a corresponding water source and I can only assume is a typical Barney attempt to cloak his incessant covert activity in natural phenomena. One of my copious yet pointless smoke detectors chose Friday night to protest about not getting nearly enough attention by staging a hissy fit manifesting as an intermittent, strangled squeal that threatened to sever my sanity permanently. Initial attempts to solve the problem by destroying said smoke detector were severely hampered by its celestial location. Why I ever thought a cathedral ceiling was a good idea, I can’t imagine. Still I literally gave it my best shot. By standing on a coffee table and armed with a broom, I was able to knock the cover off and, if I hadn’t blacked out, I honestly believe I might have dislodged the battery eventually.

When I came to on Saturday morning, finding headphones seemed like a better idea than resuming hostilities with the safety apparatus. I duly located a pair of earmuff-style Technics, gathered all available entertainments and closed my bedroom door on the hubris happening in the hall. By Monday I had miraculously, in the circumstances, constructed a course of action. I found a local handyman called Newton who not only replaced my errant smoke bloke but replaced the phoney taps in my laundry that leaked the minute I tried to attach my washing machine. The wonderful Newton is not empowered to replace electrical plugs as he is not an electrician. Somehow that struck me as odd. But I do have peace, quiet and clean washing.

fur flies


And now there’s vertical lightning and another storm approaching. A short while ago, a rather attractive seal-point Persian cat (pictured) appeared at the trade entrance to Seat of Pants. She has the tragic demeanour of a feline who has sacrificed seven lives on the altar of love yet still elects to risk the remaining two. When I did remove the Technics for brief periods over this last grim weekend, I became aware of a lot of squawking and scuffling coming from the ceiling above me and naturally assumed I would have to call in the possum man. Now I’m not so sure. The wet patches, the distressed female, the missing bottle of vodka and packets of smoked salmon… Barney!!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The shadow rises to meet you

Street Art Melbourne by Pants

John Burnside said, ‘to be fifty and have no friends is a sign of thoughtfulness.’

There’s no question that the longer you have friends, the more difficult they become to manage. I’ve been whittling mine down over the years so that there are now no more than a handful. I suppose moving to the middle of nowhere will put paid to even those. So, I conclude, I have achieved the requisite state of thoughtfulness commensurate with my age. The less time you spend on friends, the more is available for essential pondering and ruminating. That’s only common sense.

The downside of being a loner is that it takes rather a lot of time to get anything done. I may be a native born Australian, but I knew nothing of the administration of life in this country. There is not a single process that is comparable to my previous experience. For example, I went to tip the hairdresser in Melbourne – you would have thought I’d tried to molest her with her own blow dryer. I then found myself affronted in virtually empty restaurants by signs warning ‘no split bills’. Perhaps that explains the paucity of custom. You don’t ask for permission to split the bill in London – you simply present your credit card and state the amount you’re willing to pay. I’ve done equal shares in the notoriously ill-tempered Marco Pierre White’s restaurants without incident. I’ve not tried it in a Ramsay establishment but I’m sure it’s no biggie.

Many daily transactions have enough mechanical and linguistic variations to put them on a par with particle physics in difficulty and make you look like a complete ninny into the bargain. You can take nothing for granted. Then again, some operations are insanely easy once you’ve lucked onto the correct line of inquiry and judiciously followed a logical path, which hopefully happens before you’ve exhausted the patience of the person from whom you’re attempting to extract vital information. People can be very understanding if you clearly indicate that your grasp on sanity entirely depends on their largesse.

I feel this state ought to be recognised in some way. So, in the spirit of complete self-centredness for which I have become renowned, I bring you the first annual That’s So Pants Awards. The gongs are bestowed on those individuals or institutions who’ve either made my resettlement heaven or hell. Without further virtual ado, I give you,

The Palme de Pants

This is the highest honour in the Pantheon and is awarded to

Ms Anne O’Dyne

One friend I’ve known for over thirty years found it a burden to endure me for a week, another offered to put me up for two days and no more. Neither demonstrated appropriate empathy with the painfully obvious emotional turmoil that the move was inflicting. It’s tempting to blame it on the Barney factor, but it was, and is, hurtful. Ms O’Dyne, who knew me only through our blogs, invited me to Victoria to housesit with her indefinitely. I stayed five months, learned all the practical things I needed to know about cohabiting with Victoria and had the space to put my head and heart back in good repair. As far as I am able to ascertain, and I am admittedly biased, the experience has done her no lasting harm. Ms O’Dyne’s generosity knows no limits. Thank you dear Annie.

Golden Kek Awards go to the following who pro-actively offered themselves as part of the solution.

• The Pants Family - Ma Pants, Sis Pants and Niece Pants have made life easier in the million different ways that come quite naturally to them all. Evidence, if it were needed, that I am definitely adopted.

• Roddy and Shirley – my friends in Melbourne who put me up, helped me buy the Pantibago and escorted me across hundreds of miles of Victorian coast in search of the new Seat of Pants and, as a bonus, acclimatised me to totally unnecessary but extremely character-building cold.

• Kay and Kiernan who lent us their lovely house in Lorne.

• Robyn who helped me understand the house purchase process and for being wonderful company.

• Chris, Lyn and Sarah, the lovely lawyers who did a brilliant job on my conveyancing.

• Ling and all the gorgeous people at Tradewinds Removals. They really looked after my stuff and landed it at the new Seat of Pants all perfectly preserved and with the greatest of good will and humour. Ditto Atlantis Removals in the UK. I give them both the highest recommendation.

• The Commonwealth Bank. From the moment I stumbled into Queen Victoria Street, London hyperventilating with hysterics because the evil Nationwide had told me I’d never see my savings again since I’d forgotten my internet banking password, the calm people at the Commonwealth have helped me get my financial house in order.

• Vic Roads. This one’s really for being not nearly as hideous an ordeal as I was expecting. It was a relatively simple matter to get the Pantibago registered and get me tooled up with a Victorian Driver’s Licence. And Kelvin was very understanding when Shirley unloaded the entire saga of the break-in at CIS when all he really wanted was to verify that I was actually who I said I was.

• Noosa and Colac libraries for keeping me in restorative reading.

• The town of Larrikin’s End for being in the right place at the right time.

And now for the bad guys,

The inaugural That’s So Pants Great Big Shit award goes to,

• EGBP. I got these people to do the building inspection on my house. After aggressively demanding full payment up front, they then didn’t bother to give me the report until days after the agreed date – threatening my contract deadline. They were unbelievably rude and dismissive of my entitlements as a customer. The report, when it finally came, was vague and contradictory. And they repeatedly referred to themselves as ‘building surveyours’ in correspondence. Get someone else. Your cat would do a better job.

Soiled Nappies for minor but no less annoying misdeeds go to,

• King and Heath Real Estate for mixing up the completion date and trying to blame me and for being more than acceptably sleazy. Although a consolation bronze ‘mini-kek’ is awarded for the two very nice bottles of house-warming wine. This kind of gesture works remarkably well with me.

• The Nationwide, UK for reasons already stated and for being far more focused on pumping their ‘product’ than providing a service. Let us all hope the present financial crisis at least heralds a shift in perspective on the part of banks leading to a re-acquaintance with their core function – i.e. to mind our savings and lend us cash when we want to buy a big thing.

So there you have it. More bouquets than brickbats, happily. All things considered, the journey that started out inauspiciously with me spending a miserable night on a hard bench at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 nearly a year ago, may have churned Barney and me in the Magimix of financial turmoil in a way we could have done without but has resolved itself with a soft landing in lovely Larrikin’s End. At long last, all seems right with the world. Now, as long as we can avoid developing friendships, we should be fine. Fortunately, Barney has proved particularly effective as a deterrent in that regard.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

From the Manor Torn

The Pantorama

At long last news - the new Seat of Pants is established. Barney and I have deigned to endow the somnolent Victorian hamlet of Larrikin's End with our permanent presence. The Pantibago rolls no more. The already rock-bottom real estate market is set to burrow down to new subterranean depths with our arrival and we take great pride in our pivotal role in the current financial correction. We are certain the reconfigured global community will be a better place with fewer investment bankers and mortgage sharks in it. Ma Pants wishes it to be known that she has also played a significant role as her recent extended hospitalisation has kept her away from the shops for a record six weeks. Barney and I genuinely believe that you get the house you deserve. We would say that wouldn't we because, incredibly, we now have a wonderful cathedral of eighties kitsch with the spectacular ocean views for which we scoured coastal Australia with the diligence of the Brangelina bunch in search of new blood. Regard the fruits of our extended labour above as this is the view from our 'deck'.

Feel free to move here now that we have lowered the tone - you can get a house for a song. Barney managed to secure his own place below with a rather shakey but nonetheless moving rendition of Owl By Myself. You have to hand it to the little bugger, he can certainly spot a business opportunity. Asking himself the question 'what's the thing people most want in a financial meltdown?' he came up with the profound and insightful answer, 'strong drink'. He immediately contacted his old friend from last time we were over this way, Wacko the Wombat who'd had a big win on the Melbourne Cup and they've set up a vodka bar. You may recall the barnster considered the Victorian motto of The Place To Be his personal invitation to Nirvana so it was the only choice for a moniker. Naff as Nutella on toast, but then, that's Barney

As is the way of all things, I'd no sooner supervised the unloading of the container conveying the collective chattels that comprise House of Pants to our new life, than I had to be off again. Another suitcase in another hall, another home entertainment system to master, another set of baffling streets and incomprehensible internet provision. Barney felt he needed to stay behind this time and get his feet under the table. Believe me, left to his own devices with that shipment of vodka, all of him will be under the table before you can say Abramovich.

Relocating to a different country is a saga of unimaginable tedium as one struggles to learn the names of thousands of service providers and gauge their relative risibility from chance encounters with battle-hardened strangers. One needs a Rumsfeldian grasp of the concept of unknown unknowns to conceive of the scale of the inquiry necessary to get the thousands of gold spotlights in one's residence to shine light down on one's evenings. Three nights in a house isn't quite enough to get to know it well, but we've at least established that our Limoges arrived in exactly the same number of pieces in which it set out. I've bagged the big room with the ensuite bathroom naturally which was fine with Barney who said he'd mostly be sleeping above the shop, which I take it he means literally.

After all the turmoil, I'm only now catching up on world events. The trials of jolly-jape-gone-wrongsters, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross passed me by completely but, as I write, Barack Obama has just been elected president of the United States. America, we applaud you. Barney, still technically a Californian, sent in his vote on a postcard. He figured if it was good enough for Dubya it was good enough for him and he was confident he'd got the spelling a whole lot righter too. It'll be a couple of weeks before I can settle down and get to know the good people of Larrikin's End and indeed catch up on what's been going on outside the Pantibago for the last year. I hesitate to commit to the resumption of normal service because I've no idea how difficult it will be to get Seat of Pants online. I suspect piece of cake is not in the frame. We'll see.

Later this week, I'll be announcing the results of the inaugural That's So Pants awards for behaviour both beastly and beatific. If you've done me a service in the past year, either fair or foul, expect a gong...