Saturday, December 27, 2008

Claim your right to Milo, claim your right to see it through



Xmas for me doesn't end officially when the last window in the Hannah Montana advent calendar is opened, or when it's Boxing Day and I can yell at the cricket team, or when I leave our conversationally stymied lunch, or even when I pocket the cash that's coming my way and return from an overpoliced night out with a hangover or a punch in the mouth. No, Xmas is officially over for me when the last Morbo in the Favourites chocolate selection is eaten, and suddenly there's nothing to eat in the house. Dragging myself out of the hammock to go and buy something to eat is probably the hardest part of my post Xmas lazy glow, not only because it means I have to get up and move again, but because there's a tradition certainly in Kingston of early morning single people shopping that seems a little awkward, and at certain times it's single live alone men. We gather as a cult some days, all untrimmed unkempt stubble and tracksuit trousers in a line with one loaf of bread and an individual fruit cup each. Two women outside Bakers Delight were having a long and animated discussion about death that seemed to unsettle the boy in the hat, who unlike the ad wasn't dancing and writing slogans in the baking flour, but was rubbing sleep out of his eyes. I wouldn't say, with the possible exception of my greater attention to credit card spending, that I've noticed a massive amount of attention to the world economic problems in the Kingston shopping mall, individiual fruit cups are certainly keeping the local supermarket in green shirts and price check microphones, but today, a small boy in a Cookie Monster T-shirt was pulling on his mothers stretchy silver top demanding that he receive not only attention but a Freddo Frog, but she broke her dream like gaze to tell him that she simply couldn't afford it. Times are tough if you pay enough attention I guess, although I guess that 50c in the pocket is still a valuable asset if it keeps the Mother in silver spangles. When the Mothers attention was distracted by the whys and wherefores of her day dreaming for a better life, the kid, as undeterred in his goal as his T-shirt character was in his, simply reached down, took a Freddo Frog and put it in his denim pocket with the speed of light and he simply stared at me with an angry Gallagher like defiance, daring me to dob him in. I had too many angry texts to send about Brett Lee to worry about his staring, but his Mum busted him in the stare to thump around the air interim, and I had been called over by that stage anyway for a series of probing Parkinson like questions from the check out girl in the green shirt in size denial...did I have a frequent shopper card, at that time in the morning in the fog of mental confusion, is a little like asking a junior government minister a pointed question about leaked documents. It takes me far to long to reply with a no, by which time her attention had drifted onto other matters, or maybe even onto other buttons on her shirt which had an equally short life span as her focus. Still, there was something not in her stare, I know a blank dis-interested piece of customer service when I deliver it, but in the kids. I couldn't place it, where had I seen that look before...and no, I don't have a frequent shopper card...don't interrupt the narrative flow tight shirt girl...

It's funny how my memory works - specifics and definites are often replaced by prosaic moments of interconnected or otherwise lines or moments or colours, a single sentence just as evocative as someone telling me a specific story. That said, I do specifically remember one of my first household sleepovers. No, it wasn't the one where I had to hid in a cupboard when axe wielding Daddy wanted to have a friendly chat about the Hawke government, or the one where I lost a friend forever because instead of playing volleyball outside I stayed in his basement playing C64 FA Cup soccer. It was at my friend Steves house. We all loved Steve, because his house, get this, was within walking distance of school. He was a nice guy with a tremendously freckly face and one of those wonderfully indecisive 1980s haircuts. We had made excited plans to not only get out some BETAmax tapes and make our own lunches or some such nonsense, but also to run to school from his house as late as possible. You certainly made your own fun in the nuclear winter of 1984. Entire days were wasted wondering what Streets would bring out as the next ice cream flavour or who would be the new TAB Cola girl. Steve was a wonderfully enthusiastic sports player, so we spent all night at the school oval playing cricket. I think about this a lot because we had a massive argument a few years later when I hit a shot into the weeds and instead of running for a hundred I stopped running to keep the strike and he was going to bash me up for my idle feet. I was very excited to be sleeping in Burnie as it was, since it wa the big city, home of Fitzgeralds and the 7BU record store. I'm sure that it would have been quite excitedly discussed that I was staying at Steves house - I had still to get socially over the rebuff of not being invited to Bradleys party, so this would have made up for it in some small way. I think Grade 1 was a much better year for me socially than Prep - I knocked off some of my more eccentric edges, I chewed far less Lego, stopped my opinionated stance on Duplo, and calmed down a lot. The endorsement of Steve that I could be trusted with a sleepover was an important breakthrough, almost as much as when I swapped my first cricket sticker. Every single part of our day in Grade 1 was spent on an awkward social precipice - something as simple as a bad haircut or a failure to wear a tracksuit on the right day could set the social tone for the rest of your school days. Similarly though something as simple as getting a shiny marble in a two dollar bag or being in charge of the lunch order bags could rocket you up the social ladder, and we were becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of social popularity - not least of which, the chance to rummage through a better class of other peoples cup...no wait, that's not right, or at least, it's not if my Mum asks. If she does, it wasn't me that made the mess, it was the dog...

I'd like to say that I was a great house guest, I really would, but, and this is harsh on a 5ive year old, I was incredibly emotionally immature. Steve was working at an 8 year old level and was capable of such things as packing his own lunch and making a rudimentary cup of tea for his Mum, where as I couldn't tie my own shoe laces, although I could due to my intellect being used in other areas, like naming the Hawke cabinet and the reporters on 60 Minutes, hold my own in polite adult conversation. My Mum, a terrifying presence in my early childhood due to her common sense Glaswegian approach, always had me on my edge in other peoples houses when I was a kid, making sure that I obeyed the orders of anyone who was the head of the household. When we used to go to my Aunties (not really my Aunty but you called her your aunty) house and I was locked in the rumpus room, I was specifically told not to rummage through the cupboards, which were a treasure trove of activity and lost 1960s and 70s relics of popular culture. Behind the towels and what you could only describe as the good linen (the bad linen was out robbing banks) were old 45s, piles of football cards with exotically named beers stamped over the front, and a Monopoly set with so much character it was frightening. But we at least knew that my Auntie would be good about it if I, say, stole a dart and had to return it. We had no such frame of reference for a stay with Steves parents. I was given a pretty stern lecture on respecting the boundaries of other peoples homes, one which left me patently and naturally terrified. Somewhat inevitably, she delivered her monologue in such a strict and straightforward manner that it terrified me - I certainly didn't want to cause any kind of disturbance, and so when they asked me what I liked to eat I was petrified to answer. When his older sister bowled me a dolly of a delivery in the backyard that should have been smashed into neighbouring Yolla, I didn't have the stomach to upset them and in my indecision I had a tentative off drive was caught on the boundary fence by a well placed flower pot. My biggest issue, if you can call it that, was that they had a disgusting flavour of cordial, a painful mixed fruit concoction that wasn't even Cottees, and which burned my throat as if I was drinking sump oil every time I had to swallow out. Worse, Steve was obsessed with it, and we had to have it with every meal. I'm sure they thought I was a strange child given how little I said about anything even when I was asked, and even worse, at one stage I needed help with tying my shoe laces and didn't like to ask, and so I probably looked completely mental as I walked through the back yard, shoes coming off at every step, until his Mum, a woman called Susan, had to intervene, put the washing down, and perform some kind of Special Olympic style lace intervention. I really liked her, she had peppermint breath, and excellent social skills. She was also the first person I can ever remember swearing, but luckily, that wasn't my fault...this time, it really was the dog...

Still, it was an amiable enough couple of days, poor quality of juice aside. Certainly we got over each others mutual awkwardness around each other and by the end we sat almost as one big family watching A Country Practice and drinking Milo out of a tin (finally not juice!). I had relaxed to such an extent that one of my earlier terrors, getting up at night to use someone elses toilet, had completely evaporated, which was lucky because I really did drink a lot of Milo that night. It felt incredibly exotic and exciting to be up at 2 in the morning at the best of times, never mind in someone elses house in the travel pyjamas. My over confidence though meant I misjudged the length of the hall, and stumbled for a bit in the darkness trying not to trip over a stray dog bowl. I realised my misjudgement in the morning, I had gone two doors too far and almost gone into the linen cupboard (I wasn't rummaging, honestly) but my real misjudgement was to use the living room as a turning point. I put one hand on the living room door for balance and was just about to turn around when I saw, just through the slightest crack in the door, sitting in the same clothes she had on to sit and watch the hilarious antics of Cookie, was Susan. With a slow deliberate pace, she was putting a pile of clothes in a suitcase. Obviously I was too young to realise what was going on, but I knew when someone had been crying, and when someone was agitated and really not in the mood for a little travelling companionship. That of course, is when just like the kid today, she turned out mid fold and pack, and stared defiantly and angrily in the general direction of the little blonde face in the hallway. I'll never know if she saw me, but I always remember that look, and how confused I was that this happy go lucky woman with minty fresh breath and a patient manner had been reduced to such a despairing, worried mess, why she was preparing to sneak out of the house and I'm amazed to this day that I didn't say anything, that I didn't even mention it in the happy go lucky ambience of the next morning when there was bacon and smiles and all the kitchen family decorum that I had previously come to expect. I left the house confused at my first little taste of real life, that not everything was easily explained. That not everything could be easily understood. As I prepared to run to the line for morning assembly with the prepared merry jape that we had talked about for ages, I took one final look at her, trying to find a clue as to her unhappiness, but all I saw was a smiling face and the best wishes. It's only know I realise that just as I took one final look back, she was taking a slow, agonised sip of her coffee, her shoulders were slumped, and she was staring into the middle distance, with far more adult concerns than not having the right marble...

I never told anyone about it, I simply turned the weekend into an amusing anecdote about not being able to get the top off some jam, and left it at that. Further intrusion into the world, much like their taste in juice, would just have been very wrong...

10 comments:

the projectivist said...

I had been doing my pre-Christmas shopping up at Coles, a last minute thing that really wasn't as painful as expected. I was unloading my trolley onto the black, juddery conveyor belt when the chap in front of me caught my attention.

He politely plonked the plastic Next Customer Please sign onto the belt, creating a sad little barrier war zone between his shopping and mine, and apologising for his lack of foretought in not creating separate zones earlier. We smiled at eachother in that way that you have with strangers who you instantly like.


His side of the barrier was full of tins and frozen spring rolls, a little half loaf of bread and some rosy red tomatoes. About 20 items all up. I'm pleased to report, not a sign of fruit punch or other dodgy flavoured examples of cordial were present.


He made small talk with the maniac-mouthed till operator. The one i usually avoid, but had chosen for the shortness of his waiting masses. I wondered whether that had been a false indicator though.


Anyway, the usual questions about this being his last shop and was he all set for Christmas? I had by this time unpacked my trolley and made it clear that i was listening in to the conversation. Mr Ahead Of Me In The Line informed us with a rueful smile, that this was the extent of his Xmas shopping for the week, and that he was on his way home to put his feet up.


The shop boy blathered on again, but i was distracted with images of Mr Ahead Of Me and his solitary Christmas, rosy tomatoes or no rosy tomatoes.


Shortly after, he had paid and verbal vomit boy had shifted his focus to his next victim, so that the incident of one of the badly packed items falling from the bag and landing on the floor behind the employees-only side of the conveyor was a special moment shared between only the two of us.


A voila! My moment with the nice young 30something with the sweet smile and nobody he wanted to share Xmas with for some inexplicable reason, that would never become clear to me, was brutally cut short.

anodyne Brownie said...

that could all be an Ingmar Bergman film.


anyhow, wishing youonly happy days in 2009 ... sand Susan too, wherever she is.

Jannie said...

If only you could've had Velcro shoe fasteners. I'm a bit maimed from shoelace tragedies myself.

Miles McClagan said...

What a brilliant comment! Although I feel like I've had my next post stolen...if I had nicked that and thrown in some references to mid 90s bands, I'd be set!

I do wonder what happened to Susan - I wonder if she ever did leave...happy new year to you and her as well!

I did make it to velcro eventually - and getting my shoes so slack I could slip my shoes on without undoing the laces!

the projectivist said...

Sorry to blather on, Miles! I got a bit carried away there.

Miles McClagan said...

No, it was great, I loved it! I'd be the last one to tell anyone they used too many words! Genuinely loved it!

Baino said...

Ah my question answered in your comments, I wondered whether she'd left or not. As for being so polite you eat what you're given when sleeping over, my bro would never tolerate tomatoes at home but ate them at a friend's house because he was too polite to say no . . discovered he actually loves 'em!
And I like to shop on Sunday mornings . . full of single men! Wahey!

Miles McClagan said...

It was Thursday night at Coles, singles night, fruit in a basket...if I was given tomatoes, I'd have eaten them...Mums voice would have been in my head...I'd love to go and find out all the little whys and wherefores of what happened to all these people...maybe one day?

squib said...

I was getting a few things today and LittleSquib pointed at some chocolate bars next to the counter and said, 'It's too bad I can't have one of those.'

That's how she words her requests 'it's too bad...' Works every time too

Fancy not having Cottees! I bet it was Black & Gold

Miles McClagan said...

I like Hamish and Andys song about the brand Black and Gold to the Sam Sparro tune...I'm going to start trying that...it's too bad I can't go out with Jodie Low...three...two...