It’s been 21
years since I was able to celebrate his birthday with him in person, and even
then, on his 61st birthday, I would have been away at uni. I hope I
remembered to call him, I think I did, even at that stage I knew his health was
bad and I feared losing him. Every time the phone rang early or late at night
my heart skipped a beat, desperately hoping it wasn’t the call I feared. When
that call did come, at 8.30 am on 9 February 1993, I had been deeply asleep,
and my only thought was crankiness that I’d overslept and would be late for my
meeting with my honours-degree supervisor. I never made that meeting.
The real story was that Echo and Narcissus had known each
other for many, many years. That’s not the popular version, where Echo is
cursed by a vengeful goddess to always repeat the last word spoken to her and
Narcissus, meeting her in the forest, disdainfully rejects her in favour of his
one great love: his reflection.
He was lost and she had found him. She just appeared one
day, a friend of a friend, uninvited truth be told, but fitting right in with a
smile and a laugh.
Theseus had been struggling through the labyrinth but
Ariadne made it like a stroll through an exotic garden. She’d charmed the chimeras,
griffins and basilisks, inviting those fearsome beasts to join them for a tea
party. Needless to say the Minotaur was no threat either, Theseus had his
arrows at the ready, but the old monster just lowed gently when she playfully
scratched him behind his craggy horns.
People say living in Canberra can be
dull, but I’ve decided the next few months are a chance to inhabit a world that
appears to be a combination of Elizabethan politics and Westeros.
To whit: the rule of the redheaded and
childless queen Julia Gloriana (Juliana?) is undermined by rumours that she
knifed the previous ruler, a mercurial and strange albino whose ghostly
presence refuses to depart this earthly realm.
Betwixt assassination attempts by her
own advisers the queen is forced to defend herself from the one with the
sobriquet of The Mad Monk, who stands against the age of reform with a growing
power base of conservatism.
There are some people who, if they'd just had the disastrous
date I've had on their last night in New York, would despair. But not me. It's
all grist for the writing-mill. I don't need a
superannuation fund, my retirement plan will be a best selling memoir titled Dear Men of the World: just because I'm
buxom, doesn't mean I'm going to sleep with you!
The first thing you need to know, is that yes I have large
breasts. Since I was about 15 I’ve been either a C or a D cup. And that’s meant
since that time men have judged my personality and character by the size of my boobs.
The offers, catcalls and leers I’ve had directed at me since I was a teenager
have been on a sliding scale of crude to offensive and harassment. Even the
good guys can’t help but stare. I once went on a date when I lived in
Edinburgh, with a radio-advertising executive I’d worked with on a PR campaign.
He was used to seeing me in office clothes. When we sat down at the restaurant
and I took off my coat, I didn’t think my dress was particularly low-cut but
his eyes did that thing you only see in cartoons when they pop out of someone’s
head. I didn’t think that was even possible. And after a reading I gave at a
Catholic wedding, the very sweet and very devout priest said, “I’ll now ask the
breast man to give a reading.” My friends still haven’t let me live that one
The second thing you need to know is that yes, I’m in New
York at the moment. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks, living the high life.
I’ve had wonderful friends visit and have gone to shows, eaten great food and
been shopping, shopping, shopping.
On my first day in the city I went shopping in Soho, near
the corner of Broadway and Lafayette St. One particular shop caught my eye (the
word SALE may have been involved) and in I went. I found a truly gorgeous blue
organza and cotton top that fluted down into a mini peacock-like tail. The shop
manager was very taken with me straight away. After a delightful spot of mutual
flirting, he asked me out. I gave him my number but told him I was spending
time with a good friend who was visiting so he could call me after she’d left.
He respected that and after some toing and froing we arranged a date.
What a frisson to my travels a bit of light-hearted flirting
gave, and I noticed that men all over the city were eager to indulge this with
me. Every time I spoke men’s eyes would light up and they would want to hear
more. It’s rare that an Anglo-Australian gets to be exotic, so yes I lapped it
up. It’s been fun and harmless and something that doesn’t happen in Canberra,
where flirting seems to be a lost art. Here smiling, holding a gaze and laughing
are all about attention, not intention. That’s the big difference;
it’s just about sharing a moment of mutual interest with someone and making
each other feeling a bit special. It isn’t about trying to get into someone’s
So I was excited to be going on a date with someone I’d
enjoyed such a moment with. Of course, I might be light-hearted and adventurous
when I’m travelling but I’m not stupid, I made sure I let my big sister at home
know where I would be, what his name was, his phone number and what shop he
managed. To be honest I didn’t even know his last name, and I was a bit nervous
about going out with a stranger when I am totally on my own in a strange city. I
even dreamt the night before the date that we were in Central Park and had to
escape a horde of marauding zombies.
As it turned out, it wasn’t zombies I had to worry about.
More like a giant octopus with tentacles. His hands were EVERYWHERE within the
first five minutes. I had to brush him off my arse and somewhere even more
intimate, and I don't mean my boobs. I made it clear from the get–go that I
wasn't going to sleep with him. And after that it became a game of how soon he could
find an excuse to leave. 40 minutes. I ended up heading back to my own
neighbourhood and buying myself dinner. At least there the waitress admired the
lovely silk dress I’d put on. And then a man at the subway exit turnstile
admired the very fabulous shoes I was wearing, so the care I took with my
outfit didn’t go unnoticed.
So here I am, in my New York apartment, writing about a
crappy date. How very, very Sex and the
City of me. It’s just as well I am a writer; although if I wrote this up as
fiction people would say it’s too far fetched to be believed.
A vintage glass bell is not the most practical travel accessory but it seems fitting for my travels.
It hasn’t been with me the whole time; we found each other in the seaside town of Rockport, Massachusetts, an hour out of Boston. Rockport has a long history, it’s America’s most renowned artists’ colony, and its harbour is the view most depicted in artistic interpretations in the whole country. I was staying on the headland, overlooking the sea, and visited the town by taking the old Garden Path along the shoreline. Even if the guesthouse I was staying in hadn’t been called The Captain’s House, I still would have expected the dashing poltergeist from The Ghost and Mrs Muir to stop by. Sadly no such visit occurred, which is probably for the best, although I know he would have liked my glass bell.
Happy New Year? What? Did I imbibe a bit too deeply of mango
daiquiris on the 31 December and miss the big event?
Actually I’m talking about Chinese New Year, also known as
Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival. The day heralds the arrival of the first
solar term in the Chinese calendar and is officially the end of winter. It
falls on the second new moon after winter solstice, which is why the date
changes each year. In comparison to the Gregorian calendar it usually falls
between 21 January and 20 February. The traditional greeting is Kung Hei Fat
Choi, literally meaning ‘may you be prosperous!’
On the 18th of
January 2003 an out of control bushfire that had been burning for a week hit
the outer suburbs of my hometown, Canberra, Australia's capital city. Ten hours
after it reached the suburb of Duffy, four people had died and 500 homes were
lost or severely damaged. The smoke and red haze was visible over the entire
I lived on the other side
of town, the high temperatures that had lasted all week drove me to seek solace
in a late Saturday afternoon nap with all the curtains drawn. When I woke up
and opened them the sky was a livid red and charred leaves littered the ground.
the fires hit Canberra in 2003, I was living in the Inner North, in the days
immediately after 18th January we were all on high alert to evacuate, but
thankfully were spared the devastation others suffered.
remember most is my big sister calling me that night. She worked at Centrelink
and told me she was going in on Sunday as part of the emergency response to
make sure those who lost their homes and possessions had financial support to
get them over the first weeks. She asked me to look after her six year old son
and three year old daughter. I’ve always loved spending time with the kids so
it was no hardship, I packed my own evacuation kit—photo albums, insurance
papers and a few changes of clothes—and closed my door.
remember that it was so very hot outside and the skies full of smoke. I kept
the little kids inside, the air wasn’t good to breathe and we spent the day
jumping in and out of the shower in our swimmers. I am glad to say that they
just thought it was silly aunt Hez playing a game with them.
day I feel privileged my wonderful sister entrusted her precious children to me
and I am so proud of how she and so many others responded and helped out our
For the last
few weeks, 10 years on, temperatures have been high again. What surprised me
most was how jittery I felt as the thermometer hit 37 and 39 degrees and hot
winds picked up speed. I took the precaution of packing a change of clothes and
my evacuation kit.
I found that
the things in it were almost identical to the ones I packed 10 years ago:
insurance papers, the same photo albums plus a few additional ones and a thumb
drive, and my father’s watch. The things that I wanted to preserve 10
years ago are still the most precious things in my life.