Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The same only different

Holiday face-off by Pants

I'm on holiday which means I'm doing what I usually do, just in a different order and at different times of the day and in a place far, far away from Larrikin's End. Some things I do slightly less of (drink wine, eat toast), and other things I do slightly more of (exercise, watch television, talk to other people).

The most dramatic change is that my day shifts forward by about five hours. Instead of commencing at 10am with a leisurely cup of Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire blend, it begins at five with an elderly shuffle accompanied by an excitable Bichon Frise called Louis. When I'm in Queensland, I automatically wake at ten minutes to five. Ten minutes is all I need to poke in a pair of contact lenses and throw on some jogging rags, shoes and a hat. By the time we return at six, there is already enough heat in the day to fry eggs on our foreheads. Some body clock, huh.

Staying with Ma Pants means that I must adhere to a strict routine or find myself sitting on the settee in a recreation of a Monty Python sketch (I got up at five o'clock, made myself a cup of tea, looked out the window and I've been sitting here for seven hours...). It's not that Ma Pants is inert, it's just that time seems to go into free fall if I don't organise it rigidly but discreetly. As she is 85, she doesn't have a lot to do, whereas I have an entire lifetime's worth of unfinished projects to be getting on with. It's a situation that needs to be carefully managed. There are psychological factors in play, of which more later.

I allow up to sixty minutes for a shared breakfast at the world's most uncomfortable table. I find one of the greatest joys to be breakfast in bed and indulge almost every day. Back home in the cold south, I favour scrambled eggs on rye toast with a couple of slivers of smoked salmon, (strictly for the Omega 3, you understand), garnished with fresh herbs from the garden. I have this at around eleven so it's more of a brunch. I'll only eat 'chook' eggs, i.e. eggs from local people's backyard chooks that I buy from the grain store or one of the charity shops. Six o'clock is much too early for a cooked breakfast so I have fruit and yoghurt. Tropical fruit is unaffordable in Victoria and unavoidable in Queensland.

Food is a dominant issue when staying with Ma Pants. She has a fridge roughly the size of Reykjavik which she stuffs full of every imaginable perishable. She eats a spoonful of everything and then carefully packages the remainder in a clear plastic vessel and watches it decompose. It drives me nuts and I suspect, this may be a further benefit. Ma Pants is of the Wallis Simpson school of philosophical thought: one can never be too rich or too thin. She is less-than-secretly proud of being underweight though far from wealthy. Yet it's hard to envisage a more ostentatious display of excess bounty than the purchase of food you have no intention whatever of eating. My fridge, on the other hand, is the smallest fridge/freezer it's possible to buy and yet it still always looks pitifully empty.

Ma Pants has a four-bedroom house all to her tiny self. Three of the bedrooms have a wall-long built-in closet. Her own bedroom features a walk-in closet that Carrie Bradshaw would envy. All of them are jammed with her clothes. As a house guest, you are very lucky indeed to find a few inches of hanging space and a drawer in which to park a couple of sarongs. It's not like you could ever borrow any of her things, unless you are, in fact, a Barbie doll. I also have a four-bedroom house and two of these erstwhile sleeping modules are primarily libraries. Books are at least one-size-fits-all. I shelve my books systematically - fiction alphabetically, non-fiction by subject. I can usually find the book I want. Ma Pants knows where every single item of apparel she owns is located. No system, just a rather eerie sense of attachment. My clothes fall into two categories - in the wash and not in the wash. They are so old and faded now that I don't even need to separate darks from lights. It annoys Ma Pants that I don't dress up for a trip to the ATM. I am not above a little filial taunting myself.

The best time to get to the popular Noosa Beach is around 7.30. This guarantees a parking space close to the beach under a shady tree and a towel space also under a tree with low branches for the hanging up of sarongs and leaning against of the appropriately ancient 'boogie' board. I am still plonking my increasingly decrepit form onto a 20-year-old plank of Styrofoam but am on a sliding scale of success when it comes to catching waves. Chasing them is out of the question now. I can barely walk in wet sand. The encumbrance of flippers would render me completely incapable of going anywhere.  I have to be in the perfect spot when the wave peaks if I am to have any hope of launching. Still the water is glorious and the D's positively inspiring after a bleak winter. I stay at the beach until 10.45. In that time I write some diary notes, review the previous day's work, read some long-form articles or a few chapters of a book.

I am home and desalinated by eleven. Ma Pants and I enjoy our morning coffee. She will relate whatever governmental idiocy has been reported on the ABC morning programme. We are at least on the same political page. Despite our obvious profligacy, my family are all lefties. I believe I am what is known as a Chardonnay socialist - although possibly more actively Chardonnay than socialist these days. My conviction is as strong as ever, it's my belief that protest makes any difference that is waning. It's unwise to read too many capitalism-will-destroy-the-world books in a row. In quick succession this year I devoured Profits of Doom, Capital in the 21st Century and The Shock Doctrine. Vulture capitalism, rampant capitalism, disaster capitalism - all too, too vile. I'm fighting back by growing my own vegetables and darning my socks. Capitalism won't get fatter on my dollar.

Ma Pants and I lunch together at around 1pm. I've usually manged to sneak in a couple of hours work by then. Time to unpack the sneaking around bit. For reasons that I've never been able to fathom, Ma Pants dislikes the idea of my having any artistic aspirations, so I don't talk to her about what I'm doing lest it result in the dreaded frown of disdain. I am more sensitive than I should be and far more sensitive than I've ever been before. I no longer work towards public acceptance so the roller-coaster of disappointment is now rusting in the recesses of the part of my brain that used to deal with self-esteem. It was hugely liberating. Some time soon, I'm going to write a whole piece on what a crock the whole self-esteem phenomenon is. I'm not just working this out now by the way, I've never been the type who could look in the mirror and say, 'I love you, you're wonderful.' I've always been more inclined to say, 'Is that a melanoma on your nose or just a kohl smudge?'

In the afternoon, I take a swim in the pool. I can't do laps because Louis runs alongside barking like one of those sociopathic coaches that we used to praise in the 1980s for their ability to turn neurotic, exhausted teenagers into gold medals.  Breaststroke excites the canine pom-pom less but, unfortunately it's also boring for me. Sometimes we watch a film after my swim. Yesterday it was Nebraska, a film about an elderly man who may be a hopeless alcoholic in the early stages of dementia or may simply have withdrawn his cooperation with a world that can find no place for an individual with small but meaninful passions whose youth it stole in a pointless war. It's a long time since I've seen a film as satisfying. Irascibility is a very effective antidote to bleakness. 

Ours is not an unhappy family in any sense. It seems to me that we do not know each other well enough to have developed strong negative feelings and that doesn't bother us at all. We don't and never have shown much of an interest in what each other is doing. We always have trouble thinking of what to buy each other for Christmas and yet, our Christmas celebrations are always enjoyable. Not memorable, but enjoyable. This year I've found Christmas shopping almost unbearable, largely because the shit in the shops just gets shittier every year and this year the excrement levels have been elevated to extreme. Yet, it's done. The Christmas tree is up and the presents are all getting wrapped, a few at a time.

Ma Pants and I take it in turns to prepare an early supper. In this weather, it is invariably salad. Easy. You can't go wrong with salad. On my non-preparing nights, I can usually manage it sneak in another 60-90 minutes of work. And what is this work? Well it sure ain't blog posts, as you know. This year, I finally had to admit defeat with my novel-in-progress for the last eleven years and as many drafts, The Full English. There followed a bitter winter of lying under three duvets with plates of toast watching all the old musicals over and over. And then, on a blizzardy day at Seat of Pants irascibility won out. I remembered that I had once written a musical adaptation of a Charles Dickens story which never quite worked. So, despite the fact that I had not played the piano in over six years and was coming off the back of another long project that had 'not worked out', I decided to revisit the musical. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, it has come right and I have learned to use a musical notation programme which eliminates both the need for a piano and the memory of how to play it.

In a couple of weeks, I'll go back to doing the same things in the usual order. I'll have eaten some Christmas pudding, kissed the family farewell and embarked on the dreary journey back to Larrikin's End. Somehow though, I have the feeling that 2015 is going to be a better year for me. I have had my own Nebraska moment. Like the film's character, I seem to have snatched a surprise success from the gnawing mouth of doomed failure, if only in my own mind. But then again, that is the only place where it really matters.

Best wishes to you and yours. See you on the other side.