Archive for February, 2007

Last Days in Paradise

Posted in Uncategorized on February 18, 2007 by ladyredjess

Or not quite Paradise, as it’s been raining every afternoon, but that isn’t a bad thing as Oz is going through the worst drought in history. However it is lovely to be home again, and mum and dad haven’t even started driving me crazy yet.

After 2 weeks in Brisbane, doing my research at the State Library (which was a very impressive building), and hanging out with my sister and her two kids, I boarded the night bus to Armidale, which contained all of 7 occupants. Before we set off the bus driver cautioned us, ‘Now, the toilet on this bus is DOWNSTAIRS, so be VERY CAREFUL. The bus is moving, so you be careful going down them stairs.’ Meanwhile, sitting to his left was an Aboriginal woman with only one leg (the other was a metal rod ending in a shoe), and he kind of glanced to her for confirmation and said, ‘You right?’ and she nodded, and got off at Toowoomba anyway, so she didn’t have to worry about navigating the stairs.

At home I have been reading (finished Robert Drewe’s ‘Grace’ which was a good read but disappointingly superficial), eating, watching TV and writing. Life here is not so slow so as to have almost stopped, but it’s getting there. I’m not raring to go back to England, but I’m resigned to it, and so I’ve been attempting to make myself feel better by thinking of some of the good things about England. Here is my concise essay on cultural
comparisons between England and Australia:

Things I Like About Australia

My family
My friends
Space
Sunshine/weather in general
Friendly, laidback people
Good coffee
Fresh, cheap Asian food
Fresh fruit and veg
Outdoor eating/drinking
Plenitude of healthy eye candy (esp Asian)
Landscape
Aussie chocolate, esp Freddo Frogs and Caramello Koalas
Egalitarian society
Good shopping boutiques

Things I like about England

PG Tips pyramid teabags
My brother
My friends
My job
My flat
Columbia Road flower markets
Support for the arts
Excellent universities and academic resources
Boots
The British Library

Things I don’t like about Australia

John Howard
Other fuckwit politicians who don’t look after our water and natural resources and who don’t give a rat’s arse about helping the Aborigines.
Obsession with sport, to the detriment of culture

Things I don’t like about England

Weather
Nonexistent customer service
Unfriendly people
English chocolate
Class divisions/social problems
Crowded
Homogenous shops
Backwards about environmental awareness
Dirty streets – no pride in their country
Overpriced place to live
Bad, bad, bad coffee
Obsession with pubs and drinking
No outdoor cafes
No fresh fruit and veg

I think it’s obvious who wins, and who will always win.

The Launch

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2007 by ladyredjess

Monday was my last chance at finding jewellery to go with my outfit, so H and I paid a trip to The Family Jewels and luckily found a necklace that ended most conveniently just above my cleavage, and a pair of (more subdued) matching earrings. Tuesday I had an interview at the ABC studios in Ultimo about Georgiana Molloy, which went very well despite feeling groggy because I’d eaten a plate of couscous the night before and my body didn’t like the wheat. The interviewer was a very intelligent woman and it was refreshing to be able to talk about my book on a more intellectual level.

On Wednesday arvo, I assembled my outfit and it looked splendid. H and I caught a cab (more lovely cabcharges!) to Redfern where mum and dad were staying. En route I madly rehearsed my speech, scrawled on a tiny bit of paper. We found mum and dad in an airless hotel room with our sister, who was capering about making lots of noise as usual. She told us not to tell any stories while she was in the bathroom because she didn’t want to miss them.

I was nauseous with anxiety, so I made everyone get a move on, and we ended up in Glebe early. Mum flaffed around trying to find money for the parking meter while we had a coffee in the back garden of a café down the road. Some men were sitting a little further down, smelling odiferous. There was a swing, of the nasty plastic variety, at the back of the yard so we sat in that and dad took a family photo – the first one in a year.

Then we headed down to Gleebooks and I introduced myself to M, the lady running the show, who turned out to be a good friend of A+’s. Then the people started flocking in – most who I hadn’t seen for years – and it was hectic, and hard work too, trying to hear them all. I knew pretty much everyone there but the strangers spun me out, because it was hard enough trying to communicate, let alone with people I didn’t know. By the time I got onto the stage (after waiting for L, who was stuck in traffic) I was hyperventilating.

A+ gave an excellent speech and said lots of good things, and described an argument we’d had about my use of the word ‘gleam’ in a poem, which he was against and which I had adamantly refused to change, so he was forced to concede the point. I couldn’t remember this transaction at all but was in no doubt of it having occurred, as it sounded like one of many conversations that we’d had. I was glad that my talk was quite perfunctory in comparison because M had told me not to go on for long, as people were standing and wanting to get back to the wine. I made them laugh though, and that was the important thing. Afterwards I was hurried to the writing table and began signing books. It was only when R* handed me her nice black pen to sign her own book with that I realised I should have been using something fancier than the blue Artline pen A* had given me in Melbourne, because I’d been penless then too. Anyway I will get it right next time.

After a few hours, people began to leave, and I shepherded out the last of them because M was wanting to pack up. We repaired to the Mexican restaurant down the road, and to H’s and my astonishment, my parents, and most of their friends, hadn’t ever had Mexican before and didn’t know what to order. H ordered for them, while L and a friend of R’s from uni got trolleyed on the sangria. I was utterly drained by this point and just wanted to go home, but when I finished dinner I joined E and S-j down the road for a chat, then H and R swung by and said they were going to a Spanish bar up the road.

E and S-j walked me up there, saying, ‘You’re not going on your own dressed like that!’ and my shoes were pretty hard to walk in so I wouldn’t have been able to effect any fatal self-defence moves (apart from a stiletto heel in the groin, but even then my shoe might have gone flying before making the necessary contact), and agreed it would be good to have their company. E knew the bar, so I waited with her out the front until her man picked her up. H generously bought me a Toblerone cocktail and I joined L and R, and L’s toyboy who’d also come to the launch. Then J, who H was hoping was single and available, turned up. He was a lovely man, but unfortunately I was too tired and drunk to chat to him much. There was some kind of metal peacock attached to the wall, its tail fanning out across the wall while the bird itself stuck out of it in a sculptural way. J used its beak as a back scratcher and then, when I got up to go to the loo, my dress got stuck on the wire and I panicked, and J gave an excellent rendition of a peacock squawking violently. It was all very confusing, amusing and worrying as I sought to detach myself without damaging the dress.

After my second cocktail I was pretty much losing the plot and, to the discomfort of H, R and I (J was probably just amused) L was making out with the toyboy with increasing intensity. I absolutely detest it when people have sex in front of me, and I was so exhausted, and J had to work the next day, so we called it quits without H being able to make much of a move. We used my final cabcharge to get home, and H got sick with a cold that night because he didn’t turn the air conditioning off.

So it was a wonderful launch, the only sad thing being that I didn’t have a chance to talk to people properly, when they’d made an effort to come and see me.

The next morning we had to get up at 9am, having had a protracted argument with our mother about the absurdity of the hour, but she’d refused to get there any later, saying that she and dad would have nothing to do in the hotel and had to be on their way. When they arrived we had a coffee at the café down the road (which has Rick Hatch pottery) and I painfully mustered some conversation, then they took H home and I went down the road to buy some wine for L and P for having us to stay, then went back to bed. That evening I flew out to Brisbane and my sister met me off the plane, in even worse shape than I was, because she’d had to fly back that morning and go to work, so I decided to stop feeling so sorry for myself.

Literary Traversings

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6, 2007 by ladyredjess

After meeting H and having lunch with C on Chapel Street, I walked back to the hotel to meet my publicist. I was still grumpy, but feeling less violent than in the morning, and as I walked I rehearsed my speech and decided that the sun was uncomfortably warm on my shoulders. A* turned out to be wonderful – young, vibrant and friendly – and she carried my backpack around for me, which made me a little uncomfortable. H had been the designated packhorse but due to a change in plans he couldn’t go back to the hotel to collect the bag for me.

A* and I went first to a gay and lesbian bookshop down the road and signed their two copies, then went on to a beautiful bookshop in Albert Park. ‘The book’s been selling quite well,’ said the manager, rather solemnly and quietly, and I wondered if this reserved estimation was characteristic of all bookshop managers. A* then got us a cab to Dymocks and the manager there was lovely, and gave us cups of tea and hot chocolate from the cafe. She told us about her camping trip for the upcoming weekend, on a plot of land which several families had grouped together to buy, and now she and their descendents kept up with the tradition and still went there to stay. It sounded a bit like life on the farm so I told her about that. Then A* and I went across the road to an independent bookstore and signed some more copies, and then we caught a cab to Brunswick Road for dinner – Malaysian this time, at Blue Chillies. H texted me in alarm to say that there were people queuing on the footpath outside and he wasn’t sure if he could get a ticket. Then he wrote again to say they were the overflow from the previous event, which had a comedian in it, and my heartbeat subsided fractionally.

It surged again as we entered the bookstore, where there were quite a few people. I flapped around trying to get the FM set up so I could hear, and introduced myself to the two women writers beside me, Jesse Blackadder and Susan Hawthorne. There were three blokes, Dallas Angguish, Todd Alexander (Sydney) and Henry von Doussa, sitting in front of us but I couldn’t hear them and was too stressed trying to remember my spiel to try to hear them. Four writers spoke and then there was an interval, in which I caught up with my publisher, who’d come back from maternity leave, and met the head of marketing at Penguin who’d also come along. H chatted to them too then excused himself to attend to his blind date outside – a meeting engineered by L. After the interval a woman got up and sang a song, murmuring into my FM microphone, ‘This song is for you, Jessica,’ then she sang into the microphone for the audience. I giggled, embarrassed by the attention; it was the first time I’d been serenaded by a lesbian, and she was a good singer. Finally I got up and said my bit and gave two readings from my novel and, despite feeling very nervous and ill-prepared, it was fine.

I was utterly relieved when I got back to my seat and forgot that we had to do Q&A. So we all went up and sat on the plush red velvet couch, and everything was fine and dandy until I got asked the question by the MC, ‘Now Jessica, you’re a heterosexual, so how did you go about writing about lesbians?’ Fortunately I’d rehearsed an answer to this question with H, though he assured me that I wouldn’t get asked it because a thing like because it was passé. I explained that the relationship between Ingrid and Ellyn was based on a relationship with a man that hadn’t been working and wasn’t ever going to work, but that the reason why I’d written about two women instead of a man and a woman was because I was a very strong feminist and my ideas about female autonomy and independence were better expressed through a relationship between two women. They seemed happy with that, though I was affronted and, later, quite angry, for the same reason that I was irritated by the review written by Peter Pierce.

Pierce had maintained that I’d chosen quite a conventional structure and genre (ie a romance) to write about an unconventional topic – namely, lesbians. The must frustrating thing about reviews is that you can’t defend yourself or give the reviewer one of your famous expressions of withering scorn. The whole point I’d been making had been that lesbian love is no different to heterosexual love – therefore as a heterosexual writer I’m entirely qualified to write about love. As for the sex scenes, as I pointed out to the MC, I used my imagination – which is what writers tend to do.

After thinking about it some more, I understood that the MC might feel defensive if a heterosexual writer was writing about gays, namely because I was infringing on the very thing that defined them – their sexuality. But to use that line of reasoning would be to say that deaf people can only write about deaf people and black people can only write about black people, which is patently ridiculous. Then I thought about it some more and figured that it might have been a generational thing – maybe that’s how people like the MC thought (and he was at least in his late 50s), and how people like Pierce think – ie that lesbianism is something radical, when in fact it’s not that different – sure, you’re still marginalised, but marginalised in the way that deaf people might be. I can recall one of my writing lecturers (also around the same age as the MC and Pierce) saying in a faintly disparaging tone to a lesbian in my class that the lesbian novel she was writing was the sort of thing that might get picked up by a left wing women’s press but it would never make it to the mainstream. Well, look at where we are now, folks.

Anyway that’s enough of my ranting. Someone then asked a very sensible question about the role that landscape of Australia, both in the city and country, played in our work. I’d already spoken about this before I gave my reading, so I talked about how homesick I was, and that the only good thing about being out of Australia was that I didn’t have to listen to John Howard, and I got a round of applause for that one.

There’s one last thing I need to mention: the red velvet flock wallpaper of the bookstore. I spoke to the owner of the store afterwards as he got me to sign a stack of books and told him how much I admired it. He said that it had been a toss up between the wallpaper and the airconditioning and he wasn’t sure if he’d made the right decision. ‘Oh, I’m sure it was,’ I replied. ‘It’s like when I buy shoes – I always favour beauty over pain.’ He looked at me dubiously and said, ‘I don’t think you’d have been saying that if you were here last week when it was 40 degrees in the store.’ I had to concede he had a point, but now I am determined to have the same wallpaper in my house when I get back to Oz.

We went out for dinner afterwards, and as we stood at an intersection figuring out where to go, a girl, who was reasonably well-dressed, came up asking for money. H forked some out and handed it over, then the girl turned to me. I didn’t really have any idea of what was going on as I hadn’t heard her, so J+ patted her on the shoulder and said patronisingly, ‘I think you’ve done well for tonight, you should go now.’ I didn’t hear this until afterwards when H repeated it to me, but when he told me I started laughing, and matched up J+’s phrase with the girl’s expression of resigned agreement.

The next day we had a picnic with our cousins in the Botanical Gardens, which were beautiful, and the day after that indulged in the panacea of shopping. I found some lovely sparkly shoes to go with my Collette Dinnigan dress – $215 down to $75 – wohoo! And made the mistake of walking into Alannah Hill and walking out again with a red handbag. Ok it was kind of essential and I will use it everyday but I still felt guilty as it was a tad on the expensive side.

That night we went out with G and her boyfriend to the pub. H was supposed to meet up with his blind date again but after the previous night he was a bit reluctant to go. I drank twice my limit (which is a glass and a half – yes, am sad – but cheap) and eventually I got sick of his flaffing around and said, ‘For God’s sake, what do you WANT to do?’ and he said, ‘I want to stay here,’ and I replied, ‘Well, tell him that then!’ Many creative suggestions for texts were proffered and eventually, guilt-ridden, H managed to stay put. After freezing once again (honestly, I didn’t travel 2000 miles to end up shivering in a Melbourne beer garden in the middle of summer) we got up and I tottered after the others, flashing a brilliant smile at the bouncer for the heck of it. There was some kind of scuffle going on across the road. ‘What is it?’ I asked H. ‘A bitch fight,’ he replied gleefully. We walked on some more. ‘What are they saying?’ I asked again, but he replied, ‘Shhhh, just get a move on.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Shut up and keep walking, I’ll tell you in the car.’ When we got to the car he said, ‘Lock your doors, Jess!’ and I asked again, ‘What’s happening?’ and he said that he’d started giggling as we walked down the street and the man fighting with his girlfriend had shouted, ‘What are youse fuckin’ laughing at, you fuckers?’ Hence the reason for not talking and hurrying on. Next time, H said, he would laugh throatily like a man instead of giggling like a girl, and no one would dare to swear at him. At this I, too, burst out laughing.

I caught the plane back the following afternoon after having coffee with C and J* at a hole-in-the-wall cafe. I’d had a bad hangover and so settled on Vietnamese coffee, which was thick black coffee with condensed milk. It was a bit nasty and my tummy was upset so I opted for a freshly baked chocolate cupcake as well. When I got back to Sydney I texted L to tell me where to go but she didn’t answer her phone until 2 hours later (despite me having told her I would arrive at 5) by which time I was sitting at Eddy Avenue at Central in the sun waiting for a bus, angry as all fuck. Later I complained to Mum on the phone, ‘My life is organised, why can’t other people organise theirs?’ and she remonstrated, for the umpteenth time, that everyone was different therefore it wasn’t fair to apply my standards to them. I knew she was going to say this – she’s been saying it since I was small – despite the fact that both of us know it won’t make any difference because I will always be frustrated by disorganisation.

Home again, jiggity jig

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6, 2007 by ladyredjess

A few weeks ago I flew out from a day that was pissing with rain into a balmy Sydney evening. The weather in England was on the news the following night; Mum said that the people in Oxford Street looked like they were swimming against the wind and I burst out laughing. None of it was smug laughter, of course. L greeted me at the airport and I scolded her for being too thin. She was annoyed but I pretended I didn’t see it.

The next day I was so jetlagged my eyeballs felt like they were drying up in my head. My lovely ex-Randwick flatmate had booked me into Blondes Brunettes and Redheads to have my hair done at 11am. ‘We’ll be through by 2, right?’ I asked the hairdresser. ‘Because I need to have lunch with my agent.’ ‘Um,’ he replied, ‘you’re due to have the haircut at 2.’ I then realised that the hair was going to be epic. We decided I could have a break in the middle then come back for the cut. However the foils weren’t red enough so after lunch with my agent – at Benzin, the Thai restaurant snuggled between Puegots (ah, the perks of being a writer!) – I bought another fashion mag and sat for another 2 hours to have the colour and the cut done. The hairdresser was Irish with ginger hair and a lovely accent, but he was a bit hard to hear and put off having conversation with me, I think, by my announcing that I was deaf, but I was too tired to rectify the situation. Suffice to say, 5 hours in a hairdressers is a first, and I wasn’t even getting married.

H turned up on Sunday. L had to work so I public transported it to Coogee Bay, finding (with much satisfaction) that I could get from the Northern Suburbs to the Eastern Suburbs in an hour; in London it would have taken me two hours. D had picked H up and they were sitting outside Barzura, the former wearing a pair of ‘ironic’ (his words) white-framed 80s sunglasses, and his facial hair was something to be reckoned with. Only D could have pulled off awful fashion and uncontrolled hair with irony. However I soon lost my thoughts in the bliss of Barzura’s blueberry pancakes with coconut icecream and maple syrup.

D drove us to Nielsen’s Bay after that, and it was rammed with people because it was 35 degrees out, probably more on the sand. The bay was netted in from the sharks and there were no waves so I borrowed H’s goggles and stolidly swam a few laps, vowing again to start swimming properly when I got back to London. Which I have to do anyway because my knee is buggered. Back on the beach I got hot and bored and started whingeing to H, and D kindly took us back to L’s place.

Monday and Tuesday were shopping days but I couldn’t find the jewellery, shoes or handbag that I needed. Things in Sydney seemed dull and overpriced so H and I decided to leave it until Melbourne. I flew there on Wednesday arvo and discovered the joy of cabcharges courtesy of Penguin. The Midsumma people put me up in the Marque Hotel which was a little dull (though still tasteful) on the inside, and the receptionist was very helpful and there were bottles of Bvlgari shampoo and conditioner in the shower. I was knackered so I slept for a bit, then found an internet café and did a Q&A for my publicist. It had questions like ‘Which book has changed your life?’ which is a wank but after searching on the internet for half an hour I managed to find the title of the book I had in mind – Rumer Godden’s ‘The Peacock Spring’ which, to me, always lay on the cusp between childhood and adulthood and therefore represented some kind of turning point in my life. And there were other questions like ‘Who is your favourite author’ which drives me insane because I don’t HAVE a favourite author. I read omnivorously, if you take popular fiction like Jodi Picoult to be your veges and literary fiction like Kazuo Ishiguro to be your meat. Or Jodi could be dessert if you want to follow the fairly useless assumption that popular fiction is sweet and fluffy. In my mind all good literature should constitute a meal in itself – tasty and good to read, but also satisfying in that it fills you up and gives you things to think about.

I told H I’d meet him and G for dinner and trammed it into the city, remembering where to go from the last time I’d been in the city, when I came down for my scholarship interview and J took me around. I texted H and ended up freezing my tits off on a bench opposite the train station while I waited for him and G to arrive. I decided then and there that I could never live in a city where the weather was even remotely like London’s. H + G finally turned up and then it transpired that we were to go to a barbeque at A’s and it was to be a family reunion, with C + J* coming too. That was wonderful but my hopes of a good night’s sleep slowly and sadly dissipated.

After much hilarity – with G and A screeching at the top of their voices like their mother – but how they made us laugh – G took me back to the hotel. I woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep because I was stressed about the talk. By the time I got up I was furious that I was so tired. I packed and put on my red and cream Monsoon skirt, then checked out and ordered a bad coffee from the café that was part of the hotel while I waited for H to arrive.