The G.O. and I recently returned from a week away. Our original holiday plan was a road trip to Queensland to catch up with long distance family & friends, and celebrate what we consider our tenth anniversary; of our first kiss.
With nine days up our sleeve and anniversary mid-week we plotted the trip back, forth, reversed, stopped and decided to spend a quiet week at our house enjoying the best of Taylors Arm; sunny verandah, chilly evenings, starry skies and the wood fire.
However… there’s always a however… a parallel conversation, begun at my youngest sister’s wedding in May, was happening also. I can still visualise our trio standing unsuspecting in the sunshine looking over the bay witnessing the ceremony in front of us: the partner of my other-bridesmaid sister; the G.O.; and myself. The G.O. and my sister’s partner were joking as men do at such events “you’re next “ “you are “… until the G.O. uttered the words “not us, we argue about it “.
The opportunity to pursue the conversation stalled as at that moment the ceremony was over and we were required to participate in official weddingy things. At the bridal bouquet & garter throwing point of the reception when invited to participate the G.O. and I both flashed the may-as-well-be rings we were wearing on our left hands, forestalling the customary urging to line up with the singles. Later we sailed under the radar of the attentions of my uncles who after a few drinks amused themselves ascertaining the matrimonial intentions of the younger unmarried couples of the family.
But with the following dawn… well, a little later as we sipped tea on our balcony looking over Port Stephens, came the reckoning. It was a rocky start to part 2 of the conversation as I had taken exception to the G.O.’s statement of the previous day and enough time to mull it over. Bewildered “but we do argue about it ” he persisted “there’s no way we’d want all this ” waving his arms to dismiss the recent accoutrements of traditional family-friends nuptials.
Aha, the G.O.’s unconventional semantics strike again. Argue about meant disagree with. It was as plain as chalk and cheese… one of his favourite pronouncements. And it opened a conversational door we had previously shut many times with the mutual declaration “we’re happy as we are “. Which led to me, because I’m the one with a desk, computer, telephone and time, exploring possibilities.
Sydney Registry Office – $401 or $507 depending on what time/day of the week, and both the intending bride and groom must visit the Registry prior during business hours to lodge a Notice of Marriage, and provide their own witnesses: too clinical – too expensive – too hard.
Knowing we’d be heading north in August, I investigated further options, thinking we might do it at Coffs Harbour courthouse, as we’d be in Coffs in June to lodge the NOM. But my Google search for the courthouse details came up with something interesting, Loving Images Wedding Photography who advertised:
“Elope to Beautiful Coffs Harbour,
With a Romantic Elopement Package…
Imagine having your stress free, intimate wedding ceremony, all for under $1000…
for your Celebrant, Wedding Ceremony, Photographer and Witnesses”
I called. They were available on our anniversary.
My stepmother once mentioned you are your father’s daughter when less than pleased with both of us. This is not news to me. I’ve been my father’s daughter my whole life. You have to take the bad with the good… but my futile efforts to arrange a Fathers Day get-together went from bad to worse.
The noisy environs of our apartment mean we often don’t hear our mobile phones ring if it coincides with a passing train. In conferring with the G.O. re his 4WD quest Dad’s taken to calling him directly on his mobile but if the G.O. doesn’t answer then Dad calls my mobile, and leaves messages on both.
I missed Dad’s call on my phone but heard the message beep, and caught the G.O.’s ringing so answered Dad’s call. To the point as usual, he explained it wasn’t necessary for us to give him a lift back to collect his ute, he was catching the train but would like to see us anyway on Saturday night. I countered yes, we hoped so too but the G.O. had yet to make arrangements, and it was still likely to be Sunday as he’d been working long hours each day including Saturday and over the course of several weeks, so driving up on the Saturday night wasn’t preferable. Dad barely waited for me to finish before suggesting it didn’t matter if we arrived very late. The G.O. could have a lovely sleep sequestered in the spare room at the end of the hall. I reiterated my explanation.
Now concerned for the G.O.’s welfare, Dad suggested he stay on there for the week to catch up on much-needed rest. By this time my patience had run out and my volume had increased, as I announced fine, I haven’t been able to organize anything like that but I’ll put you onto him, and you see if you can do better than me. There’s no dignity in this, I thought, here we are shouting at each other like it’s 30 years ago and I’m 17. As I thrust the phone at the G.O. Dad’s final parry was well that’s whose phone I called.
Sometimes it feels like I have the spiel of our work-life imbalance on loop tape. Trying to explain the troughs, peaks and deadlines of project work and that the G.O. works 6 days a week, as a rule rather than an exception, to family, friends… and ourselves even, gets a little wearing.
The plan the G.O. and I made to drive the couple of hours north up the freeway to visit my Dad for Fathers Day and also the G.O.’s son and grandkids en route, came unstuck. Dad rang on the Thursday, giving us advance warning my stepmother had come down with a lurgy. Dad although he sounded snuffily assured me he was fine, as he’d been sensible, unlike Someone Else, and had a Flu Shot.
According to news reports Swine Flu is back. We weren’t taking any chances. The G.O. & I are germ-a-phobic; we’re rarely get ill, and there’s a link I’m sure. When we do, we go down like sacks of potatoes falling off a truck, but still have to drag our sick and sorry butts to work. Actually, the G.O. does, I try to manage a day or 2 at home, even if I’m logged on to my work emails.
We rain-checked the Fathers Day excursion to the following weekend and spent a quiet Sunday at home. Which the G.O. appreciated as he’s consistently been working 6 long days which seem to be getting longer, and continues to suffer from plantar fasciitis aka sore feet, as well as simply being bloody tired.
Not much older and only a little wiser after the demise of marriage #1, I embarked optimistically on marriage #2. Two of the players stayed on for the second act, Baddy and Jack, my cats. The cast welcomed Bo, an Australian Cattle Dog, who adored them both.
I met the man who would become Husband #2 for the first time a fortnight or so after I started a new job as Office Manager for the state branch of a hire company for mining and construction heavy equipment. He was the Branch Manager, somewhat elusive until that point. He’d been absent during my negotiations with Head Office and initially his existence substantiated only by a few phone calls from locations unknown, deferring his return.
Arriving at the yard early one morning I was curious to see a strange vehicle parked out front. The wanderer had materialised, and invited me to have a seat in his office. As I sat myself in the chair opposite his desk, I experienced a tangible but inexplicable sensation of cogs shifting then setting into a new alignment. We had a lengthy get-to-know-you discussion about the company, his role, my role, our backgrounds… and the way in which we most feared dying. This was something up until that point I’d not considered but the words by burning spontaneously but surely uttered from my mouth.
Several years later I read an article about a woman in Tasmania who did past life readings from photographs. I sent her a photo of Husband #2 and myself. She sent me a letter back describing a previous life connecting the two of us, in Cornwall where I’d been a healer in a small village neighbouring a larger settlement. Husband #2 had been a member of a church community who objected to my practices, and was responsible for me being burned as a witch.
If house sharing was the frying pan, marriage was the fire, and I carelessly fed my life to the flames.
Both Husband #1 & I were barely in our twenties when we set up house. He wasn’t averse to sharing household tasks but was shy of public knowledge. I was bemused one night cleaning up after dinner when he reacted to a knock at the door which I went to answer, by directing me to wait. As I hovered, he stepped away from the sink, dried his hands, walked to the living room, turned on the TV and settled on the couch. Only then was I free to open the door.
TV was central to Husband #1’s existence. Back in the 1980’s there were two channels – ABC plus a local commercial station, and VCR. Enthralled, he would sit for hours, gazing at the screen. On one occasion, I’d had enough. Awoken from solitary sleep in the early hours by noise seeping through the floor to the bedroom, my exasperation with the habit of his absence in favour of the idiot-box got the better of me. I stomped downstairs, eliciting no reaction though he was awake, engrossed. So rapt, he didn’t blink as in a single movement I pulled the TV out from the wall with one hand and cut the power cord to it with the scissors in the other. That got his attention.
Continuing the tradition of family hospitality, when the elder of my younger two sisters started work she moved from living at home in the country to my home on the coast. At the time she was vegan, we were all working & commuting, and so we ate a lot of vege rice. I remember Bo, our dog, considering sadly the usually coveted dinner leftovers in her bowl, and looking at me as if to say, not again.
All of us busy, it was a DIY household. My sister summoned me to deal with the sizeable huntsman spider in her bathroom. Not my bathroom. Not my problem. Deal with it, was my response. To her credit she did, compassionately, with a dustpan and brush.
When my sister decided to end a relationship with a guy she had dedicatedly pursued for quite some time, an afternoon of music and cooking was in order, and so we created Nirvana-Lasagne.
My sister is a good musician and terrible sleeper. I believe there is a correlation. Many early morning hours the dull sound of her electric guitar, unplugged, could be heard emanating riffs from the crack under the door to her room.
During the time of my sister’s residence, the cats – Baddy & Jack, and Bo benefited most from her company, as my then husband and I were both away a lot. The timing was great. The furry ones loved the extra attention, lap and set of opposable thumbs to open food and doors. The cats colonized her bed, even when we were home.
During the course of my second marriage we decided it would be a good idea to get out of the rental market and build a house. To do so we needed to save every cent we earned so we thought to rent somewhere small & cheap for the 3 months construction term advised by the builder. With 2 cats, Baddy & Jack, and dog Bo, finding such a place proved impossible so we took up a generous offer to live with my husband’s daughter, her 2 kids and new partner.
We 4 adults, 2 kids, 2 cats and a minimum of 3 dogs shared an old, compact 3 bedroom brick clad house 3 blocks from the beach. In the main it was a satisfactory arrangement with logistical and financial benefits for everyone. The dogs and the kids thrived, happy because they always had company. The cats were confined to our bedroom as the household was chaotic and I couldn’t risk them bolting.
There was one flaw. My husband’s daughter was a vet nurse, and she brought her work home in the form of numerous & varied rescued animals and birds. I’m fond of the furred and feathered but you simply never knew what you’d encounter where.
When the budgie died, it lay in state legs up in the cage for a day or two, so when I saw it had been removed; I who have a horror of dead things was relieved I could now go out the back past its cage. My relief was short-lived when I opened the freezer door to deposit a packet of peas, and found it in a plastic bag shroud next to the icecream.
Before I ventured into the realm of share houses, I followed tradition of many country dwellers, moving out of my family’s small town home, to temporarily reside with family members in a nearby town, large enough to boast 2 sets of traffic lights. Their sons, one slightly older, and one several years younger than me also lived there with the two elder daughters coming and going as well. It was a hustle bustle household. Not least because the property was located in the middle of town, only metres from the rail line and crossing gates, adjacent to the Anglican church, a supermarket car park and aged care residential complex.
It wasn’t a spacious house. My ‘room’ was a caravan in the backyard. In an attempt to encourage domestic order, applied to the horizontal surfaces in the house were plastic shrouded signs advising “Please Clean Up After Yourself. Cups and Dishes Go In Sink”. “DO NOT Leave Mugs Here”. And at the sink, “DO NOT Leave Dirty Dishes In Sink. WASH THEM UP”. Mostly the signs served as placemats and coasters, evidenced by the imprint of rings.
Below is the second of the 2 short stories I came upon when looking for inspiration recently, that I wrote and entered into a city living competition back when we resided at our old apartment where the tiny balcony upon which we spent much of our free time overlooked neighbouring terrace houses, notable of which was the green house. As with most of the short stories I write, they’re based on actual events.
I thought I’d share them this week as they inspired the beginnings of a series of blog posts about housemates.
Short Story 2 – Proposal for New TV Series: Across the Street
Summary: 10 part series. Before Big Brother and Backyard Blitz, there were iconic Australian TV and radio classics such as Neighbours, Sylvania Waters and Blue Hills. Set in a terrace house in an inner city street, this new program mixes and reinvents those styles and utilises the everyday and the door-step to entertain. The architects of this series have swapped formula for an eclectic mix of audio-visual: there are no regular screening times or duration, episodes may be repeated without notice and it’s up to the audience to put it all together, guessing at plot and what is happening behind the scenes. IT’S VOYEURISTIC AND ADDICTIVE.
The short stories I wrote about the goings on at the green house led me to thinking about housemates.
When young and single, I lived in share houses on 2 occasions.
First with a female colleague. We were good mates and life was a ongoing party. One neighbour, I worried, was in danger of developing repetitive strain injury to her wrist from twitching her curtains while keeping tabs on the comings and goings.
All was rosy until I came home work to find my housemate, her boyfriend and a sack of aromatic green leafy stuff in our kitchen. It wasn’t oregano. They were foil wrapping and packing in ziplock bags a less culinary crop, marijuana, in preparation for a weekend trip to the city. When I suggested in the house wasn’t the best place, they moved it to her hatchback parked under the carport. Not quite what I had in mind, especially when my Dad visiting and foraging in the kitchen cupboards for tea emerged with a recycled Moccona coffee jar full of leaf, but not tea leaves, unless you wanted a really mellow brew.
Things got more confused after I went to call my housemate to the phone one post party Sunday morning and found her asleep in bed betwixt her boyfriend & his best mate. Successively the best mate became the boyfriend even though the old boyfriend remained the business partner.