Friday, January 28, 2011

Me Vs Me

Nadal Vs Nadal. Kodakotype by Pants

My very long road trip is finally over. It was artificially extended by the extreme and prolonged illness of Ma Pants being neatly juxtaposed with major flood 'events' as they now like to call them, pretty much wherever I chose to lay rubber.

While I was away on my quest to make friends with the birth-mother country (which failed spectacularly, btw but will provide me with angst fodder for years to come), Melbourne friends Sheila and Paddy came to make their annual 'improvements' to my living quarters. They have always moaned about my tiny little LCD TV and tried various reconfigurations to outwit its general dodginess. I brought it from Britain thinking to use it as a monitor for the DVD player, which I also brought with me. Never did I imagine that it would actually work as a receiver, which it does only after a fashion. I don't really watch the TV but it tolerated national broadcaster ABC and public broadcaster SBS with less reluctance than the commercial stations so we got along just fine.

Sheila and Paddy took it upon themselves to purchase for me a digital HD TV the size of Bikini Atoll. At first I was horrified but once I'd watched a few matches of the Australian Open, I found myself more amenable. After they'd gone, I looked at the receipt, which they had to leave for the guarantee. It was just under $500. I was most relieved. I thought TVs like that cost about the same as a car. I'm also quite gratified to find that I can attach it to my decrepit DVD player. I might even start popping corn and charging admission.

It's an interesting, unstated 'social contract' I have going with Sheila and Paddy. Naturally, I was delighted to have responsible people occupying my house for a substantial portion of my six-week absence. But my friends see it somewhat differently. Notionally I could rent out my house for maybe $1,000 a week in the high season and, maybe, they think they're getting a good deal having it for free. But, of course, I could never rent it out because it's full of my stuff and not the stuff of holiday expectations. But they feel obliged to compensate me in some way, even though I've made it abundantly clear there is no quid pro quo required. Like most social contracts, it contains an unequal power dynamic. I get no choice when it comes to the largesse bestowed, presumably because if asked, I would say 'no'. Of course I would, so what would be the point of that? I have settled for being grateful for and enjoying various items that I could easily live without. This seems to keep everyone happy.

It's true that I have Spartan tastes which suit me fine but are probably not equal to the challenge of satisfying all categories of guest. And I have followed the Pants family tradition of harbouring the most uncomfortable of furniture. I don't know why this is but I did notice that having to sit on Ma Pants's veteran sofa for the better part of six weeks resulted in stress on back muscles that not even Gray's Anatomy is able to identify. Ma Pants is probably the most puritan of us when it comes to home-deco torture because she puts the most uncomfortable of her furniture in the places where it is most likely to be used. She has tolerable seating but it's all in the front parlour which, in typical Edwardian fashion, we are only allowed to use at Christmas or if we have visitors.

Because it rained for the whole time and Ma Pants was sick, I did not get out to do the jogging and surfing that usually limbers me up for the hardcore perching involved in watching DVDs with her. We watched films from lunchtime until bedtime most days which prevented my brain from numbing but had precisely the opposite impact on my derriere.

Unlike Ma Pants, I have something of an excuse for my deluxe deficit. Until recently, I had only the smallest of apartments and it's quite hard to buy furniture that is both compact and comfy. I have also almost always been broke. Since I have the new TV however, I have discovered that the sofabed settee I scraped up the readies for last year is, in fact, only endurable over the long periods of bum parking required of a tennis match when folded out as a bed. This is fine when it's only me but not so great when there are visitors who want to watch my now very watchable TV. So I am commencing internal fundraising for proper lounging furniture. The question remains - will I know it when I see it?

I do wonder why, since I so value being comfortable, it has not occurred to me before to break the family mould and invest in more suitable body slings. My god-bothering grandmother had a most grotesque white vinyl sofa of the type that makes church pews seem cloud-like by comparison. She compounded the agony by retaining its heavy plastic transport covering, so you were either sliding off it or sticking to it, depending on the humidity. I wonder if this is where it all started. One may self-allow a little goggle-boxing but only if laid out on a bed of nails. Or maybe she was just trying to train us to prefer church over The Munsters. Well, that was for sure a misfire strategy.

Among the smaller acquisitions occasioned by Sheila and Paddy's visit is a stylishly retro 80s clock radio bought from a local charity shop. This really is a gem. A Sony Dream Machine, no less. When I installed it on my beside table, I became aware of an interesting phenomenon. Ever since I bought the house in Larrikin's End two and a bit years ago, my favourite room has been my bedroom. I love every aspect of it from its crappy little en suite bathroom and tiny balcony with economy-grade ocean glimpses to its puke-coloured carpet and full-length vertical slat blinds. I realised I like it because it reminds me of a cheap resort room. The Dream Machine completes the idyll.

I daresay that one of the reasons I do not have comfortable seating is that I am nearly always lying on my bed. It is my preferred place for writing where I recline with lots of feather pillows and my laptop on a breakfast tray, which incidentally also doubles as a breakfast tray. I am writing to you from that particular location now. And it is lovely. It's very good to be home - alone.