I've piled some more books in corners and eaten rice pudding. The birdoole has climbed about on toppled fantasy-novel shale and I have made walnut and rocket pesto. I forgot things, and kicked against things, and lifted the corner of the rug and put it down again in a hurry.
In 1992 I went to see Strictly Ballroom with an exchange student called Owen who lived on my hall. Owen had round, interrogative eyes, brown curls like wooden five-cent pieces cut close to his head and the kind of soft, mid-tenor New York accent that's almost a brogue.
It was Baz Luhrmann's first feature.
Afterwards Owen said, 'So what would you say was particularly Australian about that movie?'
In one way, I suppose, I was perfectly fitted to answer that question. My colonial life had been limned by the cultural products of other anglophones: TinyXtin's Sesame Street, The Famous Five, dozens of the cheesy 50s musical films beloved by my mother, strange English-Hollywood mashups like Mary Poppins and The Secret Garden whose weird sensibility collisions I would only see many years later. Top Gun, Gremlins, Three Men and a Baby.
But I didn't even know where to start. I had no idea how to convey the Australianness of Strictly Ballroom. There was nothing narratively distinctive about it. Ugly duckling, boy-meets-girl, Cinderella, follow-your-dreams. Nothing you wouldn't have seen in Disney. Dashing hero, corrupt big man of the town who'd have had a gold watch in his pocket in a western, the catty lady-competition, the henpecked husband. Even a Mystical Negro in the form of our heroine's Spanish father, the one who really knows how to dance, donchaknow, because immigrants have it in their hearts not their heads. They live in a little house by the train tracks. The literal wrong side.
The accents, then? The sense of life in an Australian suburb? The colours, the makeup? The distinctively Australian interiors, corrugated iron roofs? The smell of hot weather on the pavement ...
Perhaps the shop. Her family lives out the back of their shop. Shops are only from the place the shop is. An Australian shop isn't like a bodega, or a village shop, or a shop from anywhere except there. A shop is where all the things are together. But it's not all the same things. It's the things the people there expect to find, tiny dry-good microcosms of shared understanding .
I held up my hands helplessly. Everything, I said. Everything about it.
Australians tell the same stories as everyone else. Of course they do.
My friend Sophie's family always seemed properly English-flavoured. Her grandfather was English, and many, many years later we would exchange whispers about the mythological straitness of his laces. His daughter -- Sophie's mother -- had a mane of glossy black hair and the kind of expression that got her cast as the romantic interest in our seaside musical productions. My mother played the bombshell. Not just because she looked the part, for lo, did she ever, but for a certain glinting side-eye entirely absent from Sophie's dear mater.
Sophie and her brother and sister had breakfast at a set table, with milk in a jug. And they went to Sunday school.
We ate raisin bran standing up in the kitchen. My parents were known for saying fuck and being naked. And boy howdy was there no religion. Except in our sedately Anglican schools, tame little Thursday eucharists and all. But that's another story.
Sophie's father was a rheumatologist and they spent a year in England when she and her sister were little. My mother would tell the story of their return. Oh! she would exclaim, clasping her musician's hands to her chest, they had such sweet accents, you couldn't believe it. Hello Miranda! she would lisp plummily, apostrophising the tiny ones in their little blue garbardines. Sigh, said my mother. You wouldn't believe how quickly that disappeared. A few weeks and then ... oh well.
The tragic relapse to our sad, vulgar tongue. Oh well.
I wondered about this place where everyone talked in this way that made my mother clasp her hands to her chest. Fantastic Mr Fox talks like that, I thought. And Ratty and Moley! Perhaps everyone in books talks like that. Well, except the Muddle-headed Wombat. He's a wombat.
Well, that's something, I thought. That's something.
I keep rubbing my hands together, because they seem sticky from wondering if I know what I am saying. I wash them with the tiny fragrant puck of soap I brought home from the hotel in Melbourne, and dry them and pound out more words, and look at them, and my hands feel sticky again.
So, a letter to my hands. Dear hands. Here are some things I am trying to say.
(1) Carving out the place that feels like home to us is hard. It is a series of traps and pipe dreams and false dawns and botched escapes and we amass the most extraordinary arsenal of tools and weapons to build it and sometimes we cut ourselves with them and lock ourselves behind the wrong doors.
(2) It is very, very important to look at other things that are alive. For a long time. Quietly. To see what they do. To see that they are there.
(3) This is harder than it sounds.
(4) It is very, very important to know their names.
(5) Sometimes people say this is not important, but they are wrong.
(6) Books sometimes say what is real. Sometimes they make what is real. Sometimes what is in a book isn't real at all.
(7) This is less obvious than it looks.
(8) We are always asked where we are from as if there is only one answer. That isn't true.
(9) Sometimes all that connects you with the world are some hooded crows and a wooden spoon and those times are actually no different from the other times. It just seems as if they are.
Well, so much for the first week. Another windy night, another drab not-so-cold day. Crumpets and cheap chocolate and cups of tea and all the lights on all day because I can't see a damn thing.
Trashy novel in bits that last as long as my frozen hands can stand being out from under the duvet, the sense of waking up in a small, warm Xtin-sized pile of leaves in a forest far, far away that slowly makes itself back into percale and magnolia on the walls. Mothers and bales of towels on sale and running the washing machine empty with some baking soda because renewal and, um something. Kitten gifs and the day before yesterday's coffee cup hiding behind the box of good baubles which ought to be under that other box you put away this morning. A tape measure because always, a Christmas tealight never lit, quilting pins, a book about housekeeping, a book about leopards, a book about wizards, a book about walking, a book about nests and the box of marzipan I thought I'd lost.
Twelfth night. Spruce punctures in my shins, needles winding gleaming astroturfily out the back door, twiddling on cobwebs, under the rugs, baubles stacked like bubbles of dish-detergent in the sink corners. Scotch broth with the last of the Christmas roast lamb shredded from the knuckle.
Pluvialis on the line, eyes hurt from weird reflected flashes of herself. Books teetering in odd places, caught on seasonal tidelines with the bars of gift soap and bits of festive Australian kitsch. The handkerchief is never in the right place and I have eaten too many butter biscuits.
At Linton Zoo the lions are hugging ex-Tannenbaums with as much love as ever I festooned mine.
Eleven pipers piping. I'm on the sofa warm in the last of the Christmas-liveried little house, all winking baubles and felt, folded paper and resinous Norway spruce bottom notes. I might leave the fairy lights I put in the grate.
Hard frost this morning, small boot-shaped holes in the each puddle's ice-cover by the time I venture out into the fog well on into the afternoon on food-truck thoughts intent. I drink a too-sweet hot chocolate while the boys make my burger. Hello, I'm Xtin, I say to the nice smile salting my fries. Your reputation precedes you, he says. I hope it's 'mouthy broad', I think.
Black bare limes on the Piece's edge raining slushy drops of once-was-frost, crows arranging their feathers in the tops'ls, hoods and umbrellas, slish slosh, slish slosh.
Around the corner and back to the little house, apple tree chirruping like it's made of sparrows, blackbirds patrolling the edges of the little garden, for mine is a tiny land of plenty; braeburns and sunflower hearts, bits of cheddar and the odd bit bacon rind, leaped about like miniature pagan rites by overexcited robins if the magpies don't get it first.
I dream of upside-down kittens pawing the air into little parcels of growly-purr, cockatoos and lorikeets tweedledeet! Tweedledoot. Tweedledeet! Tweedledoot, forests papery underfoot and the smell of salt.
The days come around so quickly, no? Bringing their weather with them. A bit of yesterday stuck to their shoe.
It rained and rained and I was happily out of sorts. Pluvialis and I went to the garden centre and said hello to the parrots. A yellow-fronted amazon who puffed his head like a soft green pinecone for scratches. The weird African grey and his thoughtful tiny-dinosaur-mastermind face. I stroked his white face with my ring-fingertip, silk-fuzz and fine-dusty like mulberry paper. He closed his eyes, opened them. Closed again. White rabbits reclining implacably. Cyclamen in free Christmas pots. Orchid repotting kits, air plants, azaleas, little boys with their faces refracted through six layers of aquarium.
When I got home a lunar-footprint lapel pin had arrived in the mail. Contains Command Module metal flown to the moon. A present from my friends in Switzerland, because no reason at all but themselves and their great and chocolatey goodness.
These strange dead days between festival and typical, watching the world's odometers click over to 000 000 because something-or-other.
You drop your resolutions into the silence, a silver teaspoon to see how deep it is, ear turned to the distant ping as it hits, one cat-and-dog, two cat-and-dog but it never comes, of course, because the year is coming at you with both ends of the wind-tunnel wide open, leap for the quotidian roar in your ears, tax, your mother, piles made of all the wrong paper, bag for the charity shop in the hall.
Why are you doing that, asks Pluvialis, because there are Other Things to be doing and she has half-an-eye cocked to my proven tendency to sand the edges off my ambitions until all that's left is a Hummel figurine of a little boy in a blue overall feeding a chicken.
I put on a grown-up voice but she doesn't buy it. Hummel, smash.
*This wonderful portrait of a tumbleweed considering its existence by Ed Deas.
One, one, one five, the future please operator. I slept under my Christmas quilt, finished at ten to midnight on Christmas Eve. Two years, stitched and abandoned, stitched and abandoned, the sewing calluses drifting in and out on my fingertips like a miniature keratinous tide of commitment. We ate National Trust and agreed New Year's had always been awful, mortality, entropy, so-what-have-you-done, the party you're not at, Jools not even live for heaven's sake but at least we have better wine now. One of us was too quiet, I thought later, but by then it was over.
Today it is windy and a thrush is working out its next move in the maple and I'm eating crumpets for lunch and toast for dinner washed down with Les Dauphins and a pointed sense of nothing in particular. The Dark is Rising under my pillow, lousy with portents, oh for the merest scraping of its ancient predestination for myself.
Marmalade and butter by the light of the porcelain cockatoo in the living room, plugged in next to the modem, would-have-been-sulphur crest cocked thoughtfully with points of LED peeping through its carven feathers. Aark, aark I say to it quietly. Happy new year.