by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Life, the Universe, and Everything”

When Your Youth is Gone

Posted 30 May 2008 in by Catriona

(I don’t really believe that, but it’s been a bit of a shock this semester teaching people who weren’t born until I entered high school. That, and attending a Cure concert last year with someone who was born the year I last saw The Cure in concert.)

Nick and I have been listening to CDs this evening, in the absence of anything to watch on television.

(Nick is obligated to spend at least one evening a week surfing the Internet on his iPhone in the living room rather than on his iMac in the study. This is what we call spending time together.)

I picked up an album from the very bottom of the stack, and said to Nick, “You know, it’s been twelve years since I listened to this.”

Then I realised that was actually, literally true.

I’m quite proud of myself for not going and pouring another drink on the spot.

So, How Many Cars Can Drive Through My Fence?

Posted 29 May 2008 in by Catriona

The answer, prior to an hour ago, was three.

The answer is now four.

Yes, once again, someone has driven through my front fence. Whenever it rains, now, Nick and I get intensely twitchy, just waiting for the highly recognisable crunching sound.

Actually, there was an accident on the other side of the road earlier tonight, and we both went leaping out onto the front verandah in stark terror. But that was a false alarm.

And we should have realised it was a false alarm, because when the actual crunching sound came an hour later, it was instantly recognisable: this time, as we went leaping out onto the front verandah, we were both shouting “Oh, no! Oh, bloody hell, no, not again!”

Last time this happened, we contacted the Council, suggesting that three cars through the fence was, really, three too many, and perhaps there was something they could do to ameliorate the dangers of that corner?

But, no: apparently we’re a statistical anomaly and, apart from our fence, there are no more accidents in this area than in any other, so no further measures need to be taken.

I’m wondering if four almost identical accidents would qualify us as a black spot.

This actually isn’t too bad, compared to the last incident, which wiped out a stop sign, our fence, one steel-reinforced gate, a brick wall, my car—foolishly parked in the driveway—and the garage door. This one just knocked a fence pole out of the ground and smashed some palings.

This also has less amusement value. Last time, at least I held the following conversation with some extremely intoxicated young men at 2.30 a. m.:

ME: Guys, it’s 2.30 in the morning.
THEM: Just tell us what happened!
ME: Someone drove through my fence.
THEM: Aw, shit, man; that’s really bad.
ME: I know.
THEM: It’s a real fucking mess down here.
ME: I know.
THEM: Got a beer, love?
ME: No, sorry.
THEM: Got any water?
ME: Guys, it’s 2.30 a. m.
THEM: Oh, yeah. Well, sweet dreams, love.

(Incidentally, the lead intoxicated young man woke me up a month later at, ironically, 2.30 a. m., loudly describing the accident to a companion. But he was very apologetic on that occasion when I eventually bored of their conversation and leant out the window to ask pointedly, “May I help you?”)

There was also some amusement to be derived from the fact that they didn’t tow my car for a full twenty-four hours after they removed the cause of the problem, so that for the entire day people would walk past, do a double-take, and then once they were five metres down the road loudly ask their companion, “Did you see where that person drove through their own fence?”

Tonight, the only potential amusement was from the over-the-road neighbours, who were hanging off their verandah cheering—but they fled when I pointedly asked if they wanted to help and, anyway, that was more annoying than amusing.

Everyone who’s driven through the fence has actually been a nice, cheerful person, with whom I’ve chatted over bracing cups of tea while we wait for the police to arrive.

But this isn’t doing anything for my nerves.

And I’m starting to worry a little about how the real-estate agent will react this time.

Smug T-shirts

Posted 29 May 2008 in by Catriona

I don’t have a particular problem with message T-shirts, but I can’t be having with the smug ones.

While grocery shopping this morning—during which I completely forgot to buy milk, even though that was my main purpose in going out: to get milk for coffee—I passed a women’s leisurewear shop that had in its window display a T-shirt reading “I Earn My Chocolate One Step At A Time.”

I now desperately want a T-shirt that reads “Really? I Guess My Chocolate Just Loves Me Unconditionally.”

Storm

Posted 17 May 2008 in by Catriona

And this is my other favourite aspect of life in Brisbane: the storms. I’ve never lived in a subtropical environment before, and I never get used to it.

The storm rolling in from the west:

The palm tree in the front garden:

The palm and jacaranda in the front garden:

Rain pouring through the guttering:

The mulberry outside the study, with the amazing sky behind:

The Garden in Autumn

Posted 17 May 2008 in by Catriona

As suspected, I am now strongly attached to the idea of adding photos to the blog. In fact, this evening’s storm means two whole entries devoted to photographs (perhaps a little odd, given that my ostensible interests are reading and writing, but everyone likes attractive pictures to look at on the Internet, surely?)

Brisbane is not known for its autumnal foliage. Those plants that are deciduous—the mulberry tree outside my study, for example, or the little frangipani out the back—tend to be the less-interesting kind of deciduous; the leaves just turn yellow and fall off.

But sometimes, the autumn seed pods are attractive in their own right:

Despite my woeful lack of anything approaching botanical knowledge—made worse by the fact that my father now refuses to use anything but Latin names, which I can’t remember and, in fact, now make no effort to remember—I’m fairly certain that these are the seed pods of the Cat’s Claw, a weed that spreads prolifically but does produce gorgeous, bright-yellow, bell-shaped flowers.

I also like the seed pods, mostly because they look like they’d be fun to pop—like the flowers of fuschias. Since Cat’s Claw is so noxious, I don’t pop them—not that I think the creeper needs my help to spread its seed, but I don’t need to make the situation worse—but I certainly enjoy thinking about it.

My bougainvillea is still in flower, too:

It’s only a small bush, growing at the end of the garden, but the magenta flowers are magnificent, even when they’re towards the end of their life span and yellowing:

I think, ultimately, that’s what I like best about Brisbane: the greenness of it all, even in the approach to winter.

Breaking Yourself of Bad Habits

Posted 17 May 2008 in by Catriona

I have a bad habit of hitting myself on the forehead with whatever I happen to be holding—usually books or papers—if I become irritated with myself or with the task at hand.

I probably don’t need to describe this as a “bad habit”; I think its ill-advised nature speaks for itself.

The problem with habits, though, is that they become habitual.

Unthinkingly pursuing my habitual behaviour, then, I have just smacked myself in the head with a hardback copy of The Concise Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary (second edition.)

I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.

Dear Bus Driver

Posted 14 May 2008 in by Catriona

I don’t have the same number of complaints as Nick does about Brisbane public transport—I generally find the bus drivers efficient and courteous. But then, my daily trips are much shorter than Nick’s.

I did, however, come up with this imaginary epistle after this morning’s bus trip to the university.

Dear Bus Driver,

I realise, of course, that there’s a reason for the bus being quite late. That reason is readily apparent from the vast number of people standing in the aisle, desperately trying to cling to whatever support they can grab.

What I’m wondering is why you continued to stop at bus stops—not only mine, but at least two more on the route to the university.

By the time you stopped at my stop, people were crammed nearly up to the front windscreen. I only managed to find a space when a lovely elderly gentleman—who was 80 if he was a day, and should not have had to stand—was kind enough to share the pole with which he was supporting himself.

I realise I had the option not to get on the bus and, in fact, nearly waited for the next one, but Wednesdays are not days when I have a great deal of spare time, and I felt compelled to get to work as early as possible.

By the time we arrived at the university, of course, people were actually bouncing off the windshield, because you had continued to stop at the bus stops. Those of use who were buttressed further back in the aisle were becoming far too acquainted not only with the bus’s various safety features but also with one another.

I do think it is very kind of you to attempt to convey as many of us as possible. But honestly? I would rather the bus sailed by than that you lured me into thinking it had room for me; by the time I have my foot on the step, it’s too late to turn back.

Buses in Sydney are restricted in the number of standing passengers that they can carry, and have been since I was in high school. I hate to think what might have happened to my nice, elderly aisle-neighbour had we had to stop suddenly.

Perhaps some such restriction would work here, too?

Sincerely,

Your Slightly Bruised Passenger.

Birthday Flowers

Posted 13 May 2008 in by Catriona

Since I’ve been downloading images from the camera—and a blog is essentially an exercise in solipsism—I thought I may as well upload some images of flower arrangements from my 30th birthday.

I’m actually not really keen on being given flowers; Nick very rarely does so, although he occasionally bought a pretty bunch when we had a service station next door to us, largely to save them from the petrol fumes.

But flowers make me anxious, because I struggle to keep them alive and each day they get a little more ragged and I get more distressed about my botanical skills.

I think my family knows this, because they rarely send me flowers.

But they clearly felt that a 30th birthday was an occasion, because two bunches arrived.

I’d forgotten about these photos, which were taken 18 months ago, so it’s wonderful to see the arrangements in all their glory.

The first bunch is from my parents.

(Conveniently, this picture also shows my swan-shaped lamp, which I love quite beyond reason. I saw it first on a ridiculously expensive antiques website, and we decided it wasn’t worth the money. When I saw it again—at a much lower price, I might add—on ebay.com six months later, my heart leapt in my chest and I insisted on buying it. I love it every time I look at it.)

These arrived quite early in the day, when I was tidying and decorating the house with the help of my marvellous best friend—who had arrived from Sydney that morning with her less-than-four-months-old younger son in tow, and then not only spent the entire day helping me decorate and cook, but also spent the entire evening running around after people while I drank. Her son, my equally accommodating nephew, spent the night sleeping.

Nick must have been apprised of the imminent arrival of some flowers, because he answered the door and called me to the living room. When I insisted I was busy, he said, “No, you really have to collect this yourself.”

Turned out he was as surprised as anyone, because he’d been expecting this bunch, from my sister and sister-in-law:

(Alas, no swan lamp, but pretty funky curtains.)

It’s strange how not downloading photographs from your digital camera for 18 months can bring on such such a saccharine outpouring of nostalgia, isn’t it?

Blame it on my happy childhood; a happy childhood makes nostalgia a wonderful place to visit.

Struggles with Cushions

Posted 12 May 2008 in by Catriona

Nick has claimed for many years that we have too many cushions. In fact, when we were watching a season of Coupling and Steve went into a rant about the uselessness of cushions, Nick couldn’t even meet my eyes.

But I love my cushions. Partly, it’s that I don’t like my sofas. One—salvaged from a share house many moons ago—is brutally uncomfortable, especially now that the foam cushions have reached the couldn’t-bounce-back-even-if-they-wanted-to stage of life. The other two sofas came from a family member’s estate and, while we were and are very grateful for them, they’re shallow with low arms, which means you need cushions to sit on them, given the orientation of the living room.

However, I admit I may have gone too far. I’m attached both to the idea that cushions are a convenient way of adding colour and texture to a room and to symmetry in room furnishings. These two notions have led directly to a cornucopia of cushions, all in neat pairs.

But which ones could I possibly get rid of?

The ones in pseudo-Chinese “silk”: one gold and one a beautiful dark green? Nick bought them for me, so they have sentimental value. (That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.)

The ones that look like someone skinned and stuffed a Muppet? Well, two Muppets, pink and blue. Those are pleasingly furry on cold nights.

The big, square ones shaped like fuzzy dice? Those speak for themselves, surely—as do the furry blue stars.

The retro-patterned blue and red ones made out of the material you get when you turn a tracksuit inside out? One would have to have a heart of stone not to want cushions made of that fabric. Is there anything more comforting than the inside of a tracksuit?

No, I can’t cull my cushions, although I may curse them when I have to tidy up my living room or when Nick gets frustrated and throws them all over the back of the sofa.

The best I can do is not to buy any more.

Thank Something That I Don't Work in the Service Industry Any More

Posted 10 May 2008 in by Catriona

My family have never done anything special for Mother’s Day, although I believe my sister usually sends flowers these days. Nick’s family do, so we go and buy something pretty and then have a nice family meal.

But every year, the thing I’m most thankful for is that I no longer work as a waitress. Mother’s Day was always the most awful night of the year for waitresses.

The Chinese restaurant I worked at years ago went all out for treats for the customers on special occasions: candied fruit and vegetables for Chinese New Year (I liked the peanuts, which my boss told me would increase fertility. When I expressed a hope that they certainly wouldn’t, she said, “But you won’t have a baby: you’re not married.” Oh . . . yeah, that’s right.); roses for Valentines Day; chocolate eggs for Easter; and buckets and buckets of multi-coloured carnations for Mother’s Day—which arrived in huge bunches, and had to be split into small arrangements and attractively wrapped in cellophane. By the waitresses.

That was the start of it.

Then we’d be booked out for weeks in advance, but would still have to argue with customers about the availability of tables, even though there were only twelve tables in the entire place.

Then there’d be the angry walk-ins, who couldn’t understand why they couldn’t have a table on the busiest night of the year, even though the entire restaurant was packed and they weren’t prepared to wait.

Ah, Mother’s Day—I’m so glad I won’t ever spend another one of you asking, “And what would you like to drink, sir?” and getting patted on the bottom.

Still, I suppose it’s not the worst thing that ever happened in my waitressing years. That would be either the time a man punched out a window because he’d been waiting too long—my fault how, exactly?—or the time a customer hired, without warning us, a stripper for his friend’s 50th birthday.

We had a “no shoes, no shirt—no service” policy.

Maybe we should have made that “no shoes, no shirt, no bra—no service.”

And the friend wasn’t that impressed, either.

Drunken Rambling: Part One

Posted 8 May 2008 in by Catriona

Well, you have to start a new tradition somewhere.

Nick and I have had difficult couple of days, so we decided to hit the tequila.

(Of course, once we made that decision, I’d already had half a bottle of wine, hence the title of this post. Nick is dancing to Hunters and Collectors as I type.)

We’ve just been listening to up-beat music and generally chilling out. (And if my 17-year-old students hadn’t already convinced me I was old, my unironic use of the phrase “chilling out” would be all the evidence I need.)

But Nick was also poring over iTunes, which led to the following conversations:

NICK: Scarlett Johanssen’s new single is being previewed. You know I have to listen to that.
ME: Count me out. Her rack’s not that good.
NICK: It kind of is.

He’s right—but I still couldn’t be bothered.

But later:
NICK: I can’t judge whether that was good or not.
ME (from the back verandah, where I was having a cigarette): What?
NICK: It’s a cover of a Tom Waits song.
ME: What?
NICK: Seriously. It’s a whole album of Tom Waits covers.
ME: Really? Even Tom Waits could barely get away with a whole album of Tom Waits songs.

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