The signs in the hotel’s common areas are many and clear. Observe social distancing, sanitise your hands, wait here to be seated, use the QR code to see the menu.
My husband had already experienced four people, millimetres away from him, exchanging pleasantries, while he attempted to eat his poached eggs on smashed avocado and toast.
Almost at the end of breakfast a woman drags a chair over to join a couple behind him. Parked a hair’s breadth from his back an unspoken outrage charged the air. Members of staff engaged with the interloper. Nothing was mentioned of the infringement.
If my husband had said something he would have been the one drawing gasps and stares from onlookers. On this occasion our group of four stood up as one, escaping to the outdoors.
Australia has been largely spared the pandemic’s deathly grasp. I find the flagrant disregard of measures, put in place to protect the populace to be unconscionable, especially in the context of society’s new normal.
While having my pre-27 years anniversary hair cut on Friday, there was little conversation. I like it like that, preferring to close my eyes and let my mind wander.
My contemplation was suddenly interrupted by the barber asking, ‘Will you have the COVID vaccine?’ ‘Oh yes’, I replied, ‘I have the flu vaccination every year.’
Clip clip, cut cut, buzz buzz.
‘What about you?’, I asked. ‘I just had a vaccination for whooping cough because my sister’s child has it’, she said. ’My arm feels really heavy after it. Good job it’s the left one as I’m right handed. I will get the COVID injection.’
‘Do you get the the flu vaccination?’ I enquired, ‘Oh no, I’ve never had that.’
‘But you work in an industry where you come into contact with different people every day.’ ‘True, and men run their fingers through their hair all day long. You know, they don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet. I then touch their hair.’
As a teenager in the UK, I had a few part time jobs. The first was serving takeaway fish and chips in a timber framed shop with higgledy-piggledy floors, ceilings, windows and doors. It was located in a high street where the buildings appeared to have collided into each other.
The income paid for uniforms, chef’s knives, and books, required for study. Following the start of a two-year sandwich course*, I was informed I needed to get experience working in a more superior hospitality business. I was fortunate in securing the role of banqueting waiter at a half timbered C16th hotel.
The business was purchased by a local hotel group, leading to my first redundancy and redeployment. The new hall porter position was located at a grand C19th mansion, turned hotel and function centre. The group also ran the lido in the town. Each Summer staff had the opportunity of working in the lido kiosk.
As my heritage is more Northern European than Mediterranean, my pasty white limbs would sear to a deep vermilion when flaunted in the sun. In order to protect my fragile ego I opted to succumb to packaged promises of golden to bronzed litheness.
Quelle horreur and indignity I endured exposing the resulting patchy brown reality!
*a training course with alternate periods of formal instruction and practical experience.
Afterwards, the Regional Director talked as he walked me out of the room, ‘about the hobbies, I recommend taking up rugby, builds character’, he said.
Earlier that day in 1988, while nervously picking at a bowl of All Bran, sliced banana, and skimmed milk, I decided to be authentic. It was time to be me, find my voice, and use it!
Being meek and mild, keeping secrets, and hiding in plain sight had carried me through the first 25 years of my life. Speaking up and out challenged every fibre of my being, even with improved self-confidence from spending four years in post college employment.
I am forever grateful for the jobs that freed me from the toxic family home. Escape from my stepfather’s episodes of psychotic rage, child abuse, and domestic violence directed at Mom. My only regret was leaving my youngest brother, by nine years, behind with his father.
The last time I saw my stepfather we had an altercation upstairs. I can’t remember the cause of the fight. What sticks in my mind is a split second decision that could have negatively impacted my life forever. Being slow to anger, my judgement is often compromised, when I’m enraged. In that moment, clarity of thought prevailed. I was faced with a choice, walk down the stairs and out of the house forever or punch my stepfather causing him to fall backwards down the stairs.
Images of him hitting my mother’s stair lift as he tumbled, followed by his mutilated form lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs, flashed through my mind. Choosing the former, I got on with my life.
Work roles provided purpose, financial independence, and an identity; a facade of societal compliance. Space, secrecy, safety, and nurturing friends facilitated the exploration of my likes and dislikes.
The appointments at this time, were largely humdrum. I sought out ways to release my creativity. The main barriers to self-expression were self-doubt and a perceived need to keep up appearances, shielding my true self.
Butterfly-like my ideas for a career in the arts were many and fleeting including, a teenage dream of becoming a dancer. In my twenties my friend and I attended ballet and tap, evening classes. Hence the questionable hobbies of a young man seen through the eyes of a conservative authoritarian.
My upbringing had instilled in me to respect and not to question authority. I am sure he thought the advice he was giving was intended to guide me. How was he to know about the inner turmoil raging in my mind.
This brief pep talk pushed me further into hiding.
A recent visit by friends from Sydney and a conversation about minimising food waste inspired me to save:
oil from marinated feta
I have reused the oil to make my own marinated feta. With the egg shells I made a tea to give succulents a boost. Also, combined banana skins, coffee grounds and eggshells in the food processor to make fertiliser.
Two of us drinking two to three coffees a day produces a lot of grounds! Not wanting to throw away the excess, I have been experimenting with what to do with them. This has successfully included grounds:
One of the friends from Sydney told me they had coffee bread at a restaurant. A quick search online yielded bread made with coffee liquid, not the grounds. Some discussion boards decried the idea, saying that the end product would be gritty.
Hey ho, throwing caution to the wind I added grounds to my latest batch of no knead bread. During fermentation the dough rose more than usual. Not knowing how well the loaf would retain its shape, I opted to use a loaf pan.
The loaf has been an overwhelming success. Being moist with an open texture and a slight espresso flavour, it is very dark brown in colour and grit free.
We have had it sliced with butter to accompany lunch and toasted for breakfast; avocado looked and tasted delicious on it.
How true the adage that you don’t know what you have until it is gone. Showering is convenient, quick, economical, eco-friendly, and healthy. It has been part of my daily routine for the last four decades.
After eight years we again live in a house with a bath. Yesterday, I took the ‘plunge’ in making use of the modern plastic tub. Lying on my back; knees bent, in water that was not deep enough to cover my ever expanding stomach and arms wedged against my sides, thoughts of childhood bath time drifted through my mind. Especially the rose tinted memory of my grandparent’s vintage 1920’s bathroom in Warley, West Midlands, UK.
The room had dark brown linoleum floor covering, cream painted walls and gleaming white fittings with chrome taps. These were no frills taps; tee shaped from the side, they were connected through the back of the square porcelain sink and the end of the claw foot iron bath. The water flowed from the bottoms, nothing as fancy as spouts. The horizontally mounted, cross headed taps with small white porcelain discs, indicating ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ resisted when they were turned, emitting satisfying grinding screeches followed by soft pops.
It seemed that water gushed with the force of fire hoses, even though it took forever to be deep enough before I could slowly lower myself into this gargantuan steaming vessel. Once inside, the bottom and sides would feel icy against my skin. Also, the enamel was a little rough from eons of scouring with Vim powder. Time scented with the fragrance from Radox salts drifted up towards the ceiling. Dreamily I would exit when my fingertips had puckered and the grey soapy liquid had become chilly.
Even with its shortcomings, the contemporary experience of fifteen or so minutes, spent splashing about in late afternoon resulted in a physical and psychological calm that lasted well into the evening.
A week last Sunday, we returned home from our travels. Since then our days have been filled with moving and unpacking boxes, stowing contents, hanging pictures and redecorating the guest bedroom. Somewhere along the journey we seem to have misplaced two cartons; one containing a hifi the other, precious porcelain things 😱.
Our first task after getting over the thirteen hours drive from Sydney to Brisbane, over two days, was to remove the thicket in the tiny back garden. A lack of attention over the last six years had resulted in three plants creating a bizarre intertwining twisting structure that threatened to engulf the neighbourhood.
For the past week it has rained every day. What was a couple of muddy puddles have become a quagmire; ideal housing for a colony of mosquitoes. Clearing the undergrowth has revealed a drain that sits aloft the lapping waters of ‘Lake Morningside’. The Body Corporate have let us know that as the issue is in a private courtyard it is our responsibility to fund remedial works. The joys of home ownership.
I suspect the missing caskets have been taken by a creature from below the brown sludgy waters of the swamp.