2012 was the year I learnt to pick up a shit sandwich and turn it into a Shake Shack mushroom burger, with extra cheese and crispy fries on the side.
That’s a terrible analogy, so let me explain. My professional life was turned upside down, but I ended the year with my dream job. My health became confusing, but I didn’t die (or even get sick) and it made us take out health cover so I now get a lame thrill when I hand over a measly $10 at the dentist. We got booted out of our apartment on the north shore, but ended up in an awesome converted horse stable in Balmain with a sweet garden and courtyard. My parents didn’t call me on my birthday and bought me cookware that J-man had actually asked for, so I’ve been lacing their food with arsenic ever since.
So, here it is. The annual yearly review based on what I wrote in my red Moleskine diary. (Here’s 2011, a lazy 2010 version, and 2009)
This was one of the best nights I’ve had in Sydney. It was Sydney Festival’s Summer Sounds and we sat on a picnic rug in the Domain with a bunch of new and old friends. When it started pouring halfway through Mondo Cane, we packed up and went to a nearby apartment where we drank, listened to music and watched an electrical storm dance over the Botanic Gardens.
I should probably re-take this terrible photo. But learn something from me and Jesus and make good out of bad. This was the first of many days we celebrated J-man’s 30th birthday. He put on a rap show at Good God and performed alongside some of his favourite musicians. Only J-man could pull off something like that. My favourite part of this diary entry is “Donny Benet amp fell on my foot “. Am I the life of the party or what?
A few days later we were in New York (the third instalment of J-man’s 30th birthday). This was one of many, many days where NYC surprises you with unforgettable, unplanned, face-melting awesome wow. We went to see Judah Friedlander at the Comedy Cellar, which was amazing enough (he commented on J-man’s “giggle”). Then the lights stayed low and Louis CK came onstage for an impromptu 45-minute set. I mean, holy crap.
This was the day we moved from Crows Nest to Balmain. Our “girl-crazy removalists” were serious 24/7 perves. They were 18 at most and couldn’t believe their luck working 50 metres from a girls’ high school. One of them had butt problems and spent half an hour in our toilet at Crows Nest and then christened our toilet in Balmain. I texted my dad to ask if I should take an hour out of his pay, but ended up giving him a tip instead because I live by an “everyone poops” motto. Aside from the comedy, I get great satisfaction out of physical work (giggidy).
This was one of the best days I’ve ever spent with my mum. We went op-shopping in Orange, where she found me an amazing vintage winter coat with a fur collar (may the Easter Bunny rest). We ran into an old school friend of mine, who is living her dream of being an artist. Then we went to a really fun cooking class, where I ate meat. With the dead rabbit and cow, I did not earn my vegetarian badge that day. Have you tried living on lentils and pleather alone? Sheesh.
I loved getting my wisdom teeth out. The whole thing took about five minutes and I had very little pain when the numbness wore off. That didn’t stop me from milking it for all it was worth and forcing J-man to buy me chocolate Yogo and stroke my hair. Success!
We went to Wet ‘n’ Wild on the Gold Coast and I got to hold a little baby. Need I say more?
We went to see J-man’s aunt in a Christmas-themed community play. She was awesome. Then we had afternoon tea with J-man’s mum, grandma and aunt at a cafe in the city. It was the same place J-man and I used to meet our marriage celebrant to organise our wedding. It made me feel warm and fuzzy, and happy to have a wonderful extended family. Spew.
Other things that happened, as recorded in my diary:
“Saw PJ Harvey. Incredible. Wore black, disappeared into the shadows” – January 18
“No sleep in” – April 8
“Got letter terminating our lease. Went quite mental, actually” – May 2
“JEFFREY EUGENIDES!!!!!” (saw him at the City Recital Hall) – May 17
“Terrible hayfever. Shopping, baking, bad pie at the park” – June 24
“Met neighbour on the driveway while wearing embarrassing clothes” – July 3
“Bought a giant green poncho. Oops!” – July 14
“Joel came home late. Super snorey” – July 18
“Bought gold brogues!” – July 23
“Ate gross fruit salad.” – August 3
“Walked out of Momofuku” (All their bar snacks were meaty) – August 24.
“Talked to drunk dude on the bus. He tells me he’s David Bowie” – September 15
“Cheese platter at The Welcome Hotel. Watched telly” – September 30
“Scary movie night. North by Northwest and Cabin in the Woods” – October 6
One of the best parts of my recent holiday was catching up briefly with my childhood friend, Amelia.
She lives and works in our hometown and is a beautiful artist. Her blog, filled with design, photography and DIY ideas, shows she is super creative and cool. I bought one of her finely detailed prints of four fish and have hung it above our dining table.
In late primary school Mel and I spent our weekends and afternoons riding around our town on our bikes. We’d ride past the houses where boys we liked lived, to parks and to corner stores to spend our pocket money on Gobstoppers and Warheads. We would leave our houses in the morning and not come back until sunset.
In between rides we’d play rounds of Blindman’s Bluff, Murder in the Dark and a very early version of Grand Theft Auto. We’d make prank calls from a local phone box, record home movies and eat a lot of lettuce, cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches.
I was reading waaaay too much Judy Blume towards the end of that time and it made me a little bit crazy.
I fearlessly led all my (reluctant) friends on a mission to find out what smoking a cigarette was like. Being 11 I never got my hands on the real thing, instead showing everyone how cool I was by “smoking” grapevine sticks taken from my backyard. I thought there was nothing more awesome than talking about our girl secrets, even creating an elaborate note passing system using strings rigged up around rooms at sleepovers so our parents couldn’t eavesdrop. I remember proudly showing everyone the results of my covert leg shaving in year 5.
It’s really nice to have something in my home to remind me of my truly wonderful childhood. I just hope Mel’s forgiven me for being totally weird.
It made me think about the sunny one bedroom apartment J-man and I lived in when we first moved to Sydney. It was on a busy road in Cammeray, across from an RSL and a modern apartment block called Modus. We would say ‘Modus’ in a robot voice.
Looking back, it’s funny to think how young we really were. I broke down over a plate of hash browns soon after moving in. J-man accidentally scraped a work car along the side of our garage, taking off some of the wood frame. We had a washing machine so old and awful we had to load buckets of water into it. Our borrowed couch was yellow and quickly faded and attracted weird oily stains. I wore terrible clothes to work and, so green and nervous, was sure I was going to get fired everyday.
It was also where we grew up. J-man decided to quit his desk job and start his own business in music management. I became tougher and made far fewer phone calls home. We became good cooks and Sydney adventurers. We came home to it excited and changed after J-man proposed. On the deck one morning we set a date to go overseas for six months and I rushed inside and called my boss’s secretary to make an appointment to quit my job.
On the weekends we would have breakfast at a cafe in the middle of a strip of shops a few blocks away. It was so cheap and served an amazing sweet and slightly chilli tomato sauce with bacon and eggs. It was the perfect start to a Saturday and a lovely, delicious routine.
One day we walked up the road to find the cafe had closed, with a sign on the door saying “Sorry. We won the lottery”.
Postscript: I accidentally left the stove on and burnt my jam while writing all this down. Serves me right for being such a sentimental baby.
My mum just sent me a package of letters I wrote to Mamie as a gal. So many of them are terribly, soul-crushingly embarrassing professions of my love for God, describing how I was spending a lot of time “praying for people in different states who are starving”.
Here is the least embarrassing of the God-bothering notes. To explain, the “rub here” refers to an invisible ink texta I liked using. I did not think Jesus was a genie.
But some of are cute insights into my little brain.
The greatest hits of 2011, as recorded in my red Moleskine.
I can’t believe it’s been a year since we stood at the peak of Bernal Heights Park and watched 2011 roll in. We were in San Francisco. Over the oceans and far away. Isn’t that weird?
We waited and waited for our little cream flat to be open for inspection. And when it was, only we could get past the (then) fluro green walls and cupboard-sized bathroom to see the potential. With an eccentric but lovable landlord, friendly neighbours, a leafy courtyard and an excellent cafe downstairs, it is the best place in the world.
This was the last time I saw my grandmother. It might seem strange to include this on my “greatest hits” list, but it was one of the most perfect days – she was happy and in good spirits. When I went home a couple of weeks after her death, I found a plain gold ring that had fallen from one of her coat pockets. So now it’s on my wedding ring finger behind my love heart engagement ring, as a constant reminder of wonderful Maime (mostly spelt ‘Mamie’. I went wrong somewhere). It makes it a little bit easier when I realise I can’t write her a letter or call her anymore.
Bat For Lashes at the Opera House was one of my favourite shows of all time. I’ve been searching for the perfect red, full skirt ever since.
Our (squishy) trip to Splendour, via J-man’s best friend’s house. We slept in a cute caravan on his parents’ property and woke up to a foggy green Queensland valley.
Seeing Jon Ronson talk about psychopaths at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. Then had my own dangerous idea to hang out on the couch, eat pizza and watch Ryan Gosling become my number one hot-intense-hot dude of the year.
The first swim of the season at Copacabana is always amazing. This time Adam Spencer popped up from underneath the water. Weird.
The more banal and/or amusing moments of 2011, as captured in my red Moleskine diary
“Came home. J-man had done the housework!” – April 7
“Read the papers. Had first dinner at new dining table.” – April 9
“J-man made vindaloo. I got a little sick.” – May 1
“Little sleep in.” – May 7
“Big sleep in!” – May 8
“Bought amazing new bedspread.” – June 6
“Watched Hot Tub Time Machine.” – July 2
“Spider in the shower! Made steak wraps.” – September 2
“Massive rash on my face!” – October 11
“Feeling really frickin’ nervous.” – October 23
“Saw Contagion. Dude behind me had a cough” – November 6
“Alicia’s party. Salt n Pepa dance off in the laundry. Massive fall” [on the road in Redfern, which led to a staph infection and a lot of complaining] – November 26
“Slept at Cessnock Hotel. Massive bogan punch up” – December 10
The cutest thing that happened this year, as recorded on my iPhone
My nephew, little V, trying to say my name. At least he didn’t say “Steve”.
The most mysterious day of 2011, as not recorded in my red Moleskine diary
How am I ever to know what happened on Thursday August 18, 2011. I have no alibi.
I went water skiing for the first time in about a decade on the weekend. Most of the muscles in my body still hurt. I’m pretty sure the ear muscles of people who have been around me for the last three days are also hurting from all the whingeing-slash-bragging I’ve been doing.
J-man and I went to visit my parents in Orange and dad took us all to Carcoar Dam for a day on the boat. We all had a go on the biscuit – which I believe in other circles is called a “tube” – and Dad was the only one to fall off. He says he jumped off when J-man tried to take him on an s-bend, we say he fell off as a result of J-man’s trickery at the helm.
I really wanted to have a go at water skiing, something I learnt to do in late primary school and early high school, but I wasn’t sure I could still do it. I slipped into my wetsuit (after checking it for spiders) and had trouble putting on the heavy skis in the water (after checking them for spiders). I wanted to give up until J-man said “You’re struggling even putting on the skis, do you think you’re fit enough to waterski?” That was it. It took a few goes getting up and out of the water, so each time dad would drive the boat around to pick me up I would say to myself “You can do this Steve. Show J-man who’s boss”. And then I did. And I skied up and over the wake and back again, even doing a few mini jumps and taking the time out to ski one-handed so I could flip J-man the bird.
Mum told me it was all about muscle memory, but as I sailed across the glassy water I was also reminded of when I first learnt to ski. The family of a primary school friend taught me by patiently dragging me behind their orange boat called Popeye. My friend would spoon me in the water and put her feet on the skis to hold them up. I still have scars on my wrists that mark the first time I made it out of the water, after first banging my arms on the sharp sides of old wooden skis.
I would spend weekends with her family at the dams around Orange quite a lot towards the end of primary school and in the early years of high school. Her family was so different from mine. I remember her dad singing “Every night, every day, every possible way, we will do it, yeah yeah” on a trip home once. When I repeated the tune to my dad, he was less than impressed and he had to explain its meaning to me. My friend and her sister were huge belly-laughers, who wildly jumped off pontoons and loved being thrown off the biscuit into the water. They seemed fearless. Their family also ate a lot of stuff we were never allowed to – her mum made a Barbie pool cake for one of her early birthdays and microwaved McDonald’s she had picked up from town. The girls were allowed to read the sealed sections of Dolly and Girlfriend out in the open. Later in high school, my friend was allowed to have parties in a spare paddock of the family’s property. It was out there, in the dewy grass under a clear winter sky, where I learnt an important lesson: Always bundle up your clothes and take them with you on a nudie run.
None of this really has a point, except that I’m so grateful to have had a bare foot, bike riding, paddock bashing, water skiing childhood.
After travelling for six months, J-man and I learnt never to judge a city by the way it looks when you arrive. The international bus station in Berlin is a cement wasteland in the middle of a beautiful, mysterious city. The train into Venice gives you a tour of the romantic city’s bowels, rushing you past the sewerage plant and factories. The station in Sofia is a dark death chamber filled with groups of toothless men smoking cigars and eyeing you off like they’re figuring out how to bundle you into their boot and sell you into sex slavery … OK, so that’s a pretty accurate indication of what that city is like.
The only place where the first impression was the right one was San Francisco. The day we flew in, a couple of weeks before Christmas, it was cold and drizzling lightly. We drove into the city, pointing out the views of the bay, the tall terraces, the colourful rows of houses and the crazy-scary hills. The airline had lost our bags, but our sweet taxi driver was playing Buddhist chants and I felt calm, inspired and happy.
I will conveniently skip over the following four days where I totally, irrationally flipped out over loss of said bags, walked through the Tenderloin district alone and in tears and spent an inordinate amount of time crying and watching 16 and Pregnant. I’m pretty sure J-man spent an inordinate amount of time researching the best route to Reno for a quickie divorce.
The reason why I’m writing about San Francisco now, after all these months, is because I’ve actually been unsure whether I can do it justice. Here, I’ll try:
We were lucky enough to be housesitting for a lovely family and caring for their sweet black cat. We made a temporary home and spent our days cooking, exploring the neighbourhood, eating, drinking and taking excursions to different areas. One day we spent an afternoon in Golden Gate Park, before becoming immersed in Haight Street and all its amazing shops and characters. Another day we went to Chinatown, wandered down some side streets and ended up in a bustling restaurant where we were the only tourists. We went to countless movies, and dissected them over food at Mel’s Drive-in while putting old Christmas carols on the juke box. I had my first, real American pecan pie. We celebrated our first, and probably only, solo Christmas; combining our family traditions and sharing them only with each other. We hired a car for a day with the intention to end our drive by going over the Golden Gate Bridge. We got caught in terrible traffic and by the time we drove over it, I couldn’t have cared less because I was BUSTING to wee. Later we managed to convince a guy at a garage to let me use the toilet by telling him I was pregnant. We got coffees and walked along the shore at Crissy Field. We saw in the new year by having a decadent dinner and then watching the fireworks on top of a hill. I had grown a little pudgy on our trip, so every morning I climbed the hill and walked while taking in a 360-degree view of the city.
Up on that hill, I thought about just how crazy it was that we made it right through Europe and drove across America to San Francisco. Steve, just a small town gal, was here in San Fran-freakin’-cisco. I don’t mean to be all “ah-ha moment” lame, but I started to think about our future and what might be possible. When we came home, some of those hopes came true.
San Francisco is definitely my favourite place in the world.
1986 – Born in country NSW. My parents take one look at my angelic face and give me a name, meaning “the feminine version of Stephen” in ancient Greek.
1989 – In another country town I get run over by a blind man and ride my trike into a ditch. I am left with a nose that resembles a Picnic, which is actually my favourite chocolate bar.
1990 – I start preschool. My passion for playsuits, cloudy apple juice and naps continues to this day.
1993 – I get busted for “trick or treating”, or demanding other kids’ food in the playground, and am pulled up by the arm to stand in front of the whole school. The image of the smirking flame-haired Kindergarten girl, who dobbed on me after she lost her Smarties to my rebel cause, remains seared into my retinas.
1996 – I am named a state finalist in Nestle Write Around Australia competition for my gripping novella”Where The Big Boys Play”. At the time, I was vaguely Christian and believed I heard the voice of God telling me I would win right before I did. I also prayed for a boyfriend and got one. Take that starving African kids! The Lord has better things to do!
1997 – I am named school captain of my primary school. In my spare time I play tenor horn and take singing lessons on Sundays with a bunch of Christian kids. Retrospect tells me my election victory may have been cruel prank.
1998 – I begin high school and wear plastic pegs in my hair ala Mai from Heartbreak High. Also pick up weird habit of showing my sister’s friends my pink bra straps. People do not want to be my friend. God stops answering my prayers.
1999 – I have my first kiss at a school disco. Boy goes on to tell others I tried to “eat his face”. I did not.
2000 – I try to learn the guitar with a friend. I only learn the opening strains of Hole’s Violet and Everlast’s What It’s Like.
2001 – I get braces to close a gap in my front teeth. I totally nab the hottest guy in school and things are looking up. He is a sweet God botherer, who gets worried when he thinks his mum may have seen me hold his hand. He skateboards and is in a band called Skankn 24/7. I love him, but we break up during rehearsals for Bye Bye Birdy. He goes on to lose his virginity. I do not.
2003 – I study for the HSC. I cry at Big W checkout after finding out I “only” scored in the low 90s. Someone punches me in the face, I wish.
2004 – I start university. I spot hot dude on my first day. Older sister tells me to stay away from him because he does a theatre degree and is guaranteed to have herpes. He goes on to become my husband.
2005 – I move into a share house where plants grow through the floorboards and mice roam freely. I exist on a diet of Sargent’s Pies and licorice allsorts. Housemates spend a lot of time waiting to use the bathroom.
2006 – I edit the university newspaper. During a bitter battle with the conservative student board, I write a blistering editorial under the heading “The pen is mightier than the sword” in the early hours of deadline day. The edition comes back and the heading turns out to be “The pen that is mighter that teh sword;;”
2007 – We move to Sydney. We acquire a yellow couch from J-man’s aunt. Vinnies go on to refuse to take the now-brown couch off our hands.
2010 – We get married and travel the world. Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight go on to star in a movie based on our time in Bulgaria.
2011 – We return to Australia. On the anniversary of the day we left, July 4, I wake up with conjunctivitis.
A couple of weeks ago I visited my grandmother Mamie in her bright room at a nursing home near Newcastle. She was bedridden after a stroke six months ago. Sitting up in bed with her hair freshly washed and bouffant, she asked me to open the curtains so she could look out onto a garden as she dozed. That afternoon, with my mum, uncle and two aunts, we sat around her chatting. I stroked her hair, held her hand and cleaned her nails for her. As we all finally left for the afternoon, she said: “Abyssinia Samoa”. I didn’t understand at first, but mum translated the 1940s-style play on words for me as “I’ll be seeing you some more”. As I left the room I looked back in to see the others saying goodbye and, with her face left almost expressionless by the effects of the stroke, her eyes twinkled back at them.
My final visit to her perfectly summed up the Mamie I loved and the woman I hope to emulate.
Her shiny ebony hair dotted with a trim of bright silver was the final hint of her glamour. I never thought she dressed like an old woman; she wore bright blouses, red lipstick and Chanel perfume. She would wear beautiful, delicate rings on her olive-skinned hands.
Her request to open the curtains to look at the garden was kind of symbolic. She managed to take pleasure in the smallest of things and was always sunny and positive. Mamie would often loudly give thanks for everything around her – the music, the view, a vase of flowers, a friend who had sent her a card, a good article in the paper, an excellent cup of tea, a delicious chocolate.
Her silly joke to me was also pretty typical. She had a cheeky sense of humour and would have a real belly laugh at jokes, with her head tilted right back and her hands gripping the couch cushions. When she got a bit tipsy from her nightly scotch or a couple of glasses of wine, her cheeks would go red and the jokes would get as close to dirty as she could muster.
Her twinkling eyes were something she saved for people she loved. She would twinkle for her children, her grandchildren, her beloved sisters, her friends and, in the end, her loyal carers, and even her pharmacist. She had a habit of referring to everyday people as “my friend” because she was social butterfly, constantly seeking out good company. Everyone who ever got to know her well got the privilege of her twinkle.
Even though that afternoon was my final moment with her, I will also always remember the years when she was able to play with us in the surf, climb rocks, collect shells, indulge herself and us at the David Jones Food Hall or makeup department, take us to concerts at the Opera House, dance around the house to our choice of music, play imaginary games with us and chat for hours on the phone, often about her world travels and childhood.
Lots of people look underwhelmed when you say you’ve lost a grandparent. For some, I think it goes hand in hand with “I have a cold” or “the dog ate my homework”. But my sisters and I were fortunate enough to build real, loving, long-lasting relationships with each of our grandparents to the point where I felt they were an extra set of parents.
I read so many crappy columns written by women about why they wanted to watch the royal wedding, despite being feminists in favour of a republic. I read things like “All girls secretly love weddings!” “All girls secretly love romance!” “All girls secretly want to be princesses!”. Well, it turns out I must be a big ol’ man – one of those unfortunate ones born with their junk on the inside – because I don’t secretly love any of that.
Sure, I look at a lot of wedding photos, but that’s only because it’s so satisfying to see what my high school enemies are up to. Quite often their weddings involve XXXX Gold, a cavalcade of Holden Commodores and a child who does not have the same skin colour as its father. I don’t particularly enjoy romance. Look up the phrase “dead inside” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of me. Frowning. And I could never be a princess because I think they gave the title Duchess of Potato Bake to Fergie.
So here’s where it gets real. Some people love heroin, others like to binge drink, but my dangerous and unpopular vice is a love of all things royal family. And, as I’m sure Prince Harry would say, if you don’t like it you can suck it.
To change gears here a little, I think my fascination comes from my beloved paternal grandmother, Corelly. I cannot describe how cool my grandparents’ house was to visit as a little kid. There was an orchard to run around in; a silver bowl filled with sugar cubes to suck on while hiding from adults behind a couch; tins of home-cooked treats; honey on toast cut into soliders every morning; a freezer full of choc-coated ice creams; rooms with spacemen and soldier wallpaper; a cupboard full of old, weird books and a vintage telephone; a ride-on lawnmower; a ping pong table; a sheepskin rug to tiptoe on; a dresser full of beads and costume jewellery; a cappuccino maker used to make cups of froth; a giant organ to learn Beatles songs on; a long hallway to run up and down and a scary staircase to lock your siblings/cousins in. When I was old enough to read, I started spending a lot of time flipping through my grandmother’s stash of Woman’s Day, New Idea and Women’s Weekly. Nan totally loved the royal family and it was something I felt I could bond with her over as a primary school girl. Princess Diana died on the day of my confirmation and I remember hearing the news on the radio as I drove home with Dad, feeling strongly for the first time like I was living in a historic day. On the day of her funeral, I was sleeping over at a friends’ house and her mum made us sit and watch while she cried on the couch. Around the same time, Mum and I would spend Sundays watching a dramatic series about Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson as we snacked on salty chick peas. As I got older, my interest in the royal family was also an easy way to learn about different periods of history. My fascination with King George III and his mysterious purple wee informed my knowledge of the Georgian era (and wee!). Edward and dirty old Mrs Simpson helped me get interested in learning about the lead-up to World War II. One of my favourite books is The Royal Book of Lists, which is a collection of trivia about which kings died of syphilis (King Henry VIII and King Edward VI) and which royals were related (all of them).
So it was only natural that I wanted to watch the royal wedding, despite being a bit of a femmo and a republican (as in, the go-away-royal-family kind). There was little to no cooing over the dress, the kiss or the fact that she was becoming a princess. No indeed, I was dressed as King Edward VIII, got totally sloshed on Pimm’s and made a lot of royal dick jokes. And as Prince Charles would say: “Oh God, I’ll just live inside your trousers or something”.