Thursday

This isn’t last night, this is the last time we went out in Adelaide…it was Wednesday which is even quieter than Thursday

Going out for a drink on a weeknight in Adelaide is easier than it used to be, but you can’t leave it too late because the only places that stay open after eleven have music that is too loud for our middle age sensibilities. We had to deal with the possum’s doorway to our roof space first. That meant we had to wait for it to get dark so we could be sure that the possum had left its cosy house in the ceiling space. No one wants to block a possum in. The mister and the floppy adolescent were on the case, but the floppy adolescent needed to finish his pulled pork enchiladas before he could even think of going up a ladder or holding a light.

The mister’s been here since last Friday night, and he’s leaving on Saturday and we haven’t had much of a chance to sit and talk and let the conversation take its path to wherever it might lead. The thing is, in a week, there’s been the Future Prime Minister’s cricket final spread across two days (his team won, and there’s hurrah!); a couple of deadlines; the mister wanting time to hang out with the floppy one, and so on. This is one of the very real challenges of this global commuting caper – finding time to have the casual conversations that glue a relationship together.

For example, I was half a glass of sparkling in when I was able to say, ‘Yes, that’s true, but we’re in a post-neoliberal age now.’

‘Wot?’

‘Yes, Paul Keating said neoliberalism is at the end of his life. I’m the one who’s coined it the post-neoliberal age, but everyone’ll be saying it by tomorrow. You can use it at work if you like.’

‘Keating, hey? Bet he didn’t tweet that?’

‘No,’ I said. It is hard to know where to take the conversation when you’ve got no real idea what you’re talking about and you’re a little distracted trying to work out exactly where you know the woman at the next table from.

We ordered two plates of tapas and I took another picture using the snapchat-type feature facebook seems to have ripped off in their latest update. (This is an aside, but when I discovered it a few hours earlier, I said it’s to stop the flight of middle aged ladies away from facebook and the floppy adolescent told me I was wrong and I said, ‘It might come as a surprise to you, but middle aged ladies do have value,’ and then both the adolescents piled on in a flurry of outrage that I would suggest that they have anything except complete respect for women.)

For my second drink, I joined the mister in a glass of shiraz there being no cabernet sauvignon available by the glass. It was my first red of the season, but the temperature in Adelaide had dropped to sufficiently autumnal levels to allow it. I am a most sophisticated wine drinker and said, ‘Well that’s more like a European shiraz than a Barossa, isn’t it?’ The mister agreed. ‘It’s still not cab sav though, is it?’ I said.

At 10.30 (not on the dot but close enough) the waiter came and said, ‘Were you interested in ordering last drinks at all?’

We looked around and realised we were the last ones in the bar.

‘No, thank you, we’ll just get the bill.’

The relief! Writ large across his face. Though of course, we should take our time, take your time, there’s no rush.

On the way back to the car we stopped and looked in the windows of a place that would be the perfect space for my new business. Well it would be perfect if it cost next to nothing and fitted itself out. And then we drove home along Anzac Highway and parliament was on the radio and I got a notification on my phone that the plans to make changes to 18C had been foiled but they still seemed to be talking about it on the radio but I did not feel like listening to odious people saying odious things so I arranged for us to listen to some music.

If I’d had Redgum’s It’s One More Boring Thursday Night in Adelaide in digital form I would have played that for the laugh. Instead, I put on Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. I often listen to that when I’m driving home at night, but of course I’m usually driving home by myself and it takes me by surprise when the mister says, ‘What’s this? I haven’t heard this.’ At first he’s like, ‘Bloody hell, are we listening to this all the way home?’ But that’s okay because Leonard Cohen is like that, and by the time we’re on The Esplanade we’re up to If I Didn’t Have Your Love and the mister’s like, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful, isn’t it?’

So now next time I play that album, I can think of the lovely night we spent together, the mister and me on a boring Thursday night in Adelaide.

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If I were the kind of person to have Eureka! moments then this would be one

This is my second novel under construction. I remember thinking I was close to finishing, but actually I was still years away. World’s slowest novel-writer.

A good thing happened to me today.

The foundation stone for my next novel fell into place. It missed hitting my toes and everything.

And the world looked different to me.

I hadn’t realised it until about 2.30 this afternoon, but not having a novel-in-progress has been having quite an impact on the rest of my work. I mean I know that I’ve been feeling blah about my work, but I didn’t understand what I was feeling blah about. And in fact, the feeling of the blah was making me feel even more blah because I thought I should be feeling wonderful. I had assumed that getting my current novel back to the editor with its final-before-copy-edits edits would invigorate me. It would free me to get stuck into the other projects I’ve got on the go. A couple of things I’ve got are reasonably solid and should be easy to work on.

But no. Instead of sitting down and working with focus (which I’m actually not too bad at doing despite appearances) I’ve been bumbling around, picking one thing up and then another and not really sure what to work on next.

I sat down with my journal this morning and instead of trying to write an essay or a short story or get started on my novel, I decided to write about how I was feeling and what I was thinking about my writing work. I know. It sounds uber-naff, but I did it anyway. And after writing and writing and writing, I discovered that there was a deep, tight knot of frustration somewhere in my brain. This in itself isn’t unusual, but this particular knot seemed to have some kind of quality that other knots have not had. So I kept writing and writing, until…I don’t suppose you can call it an epiphany exactly after three hours and several pages of writing, but it was a revealing (I think revelation is probably a bit too biblical too).

For the past fifteen years I have lived with the foundation stone of a novel in my consciousness. I have not always been writing a novel, and I have not always known the details of that novel, but the foundation stone has been there and the rest of my life has been about building the novel up from there. By that, I mean that I’ve always had an understanding of what it is I’m trying to write about. Even if I’ve had to knock walls down and rebuild them a million times since, the foundation has been strangely rock solid right from the beginning. I’ve just always known.

Perhaps this seems an odd thing for a person who has only managed to produce two novels in fifteen years to say – that a novel is an anchor in her life – but as far as my work goes it’s been the only constant and I hadn’t properly understood until today the function that it has provided in giving me something to organise the rest of my life around. (An ungenerous interpretation would be that my powers of procrastination are so phenomenally powerful that I can’t function without something to avoid.)

So after I’d worked that out I turned the page on my journal and wrote down every single idea related to my novel that’s in my head. Of course its foundation had been there all along, and once I started writing with a bit of focus it came to quite quickly. So there you go, and that’s that then. I know exactly what it is I’ll be avoiding working on for the next three years.

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A lot of capsules and many vials too

Cradle to Grave, Pharmacopoeia, British Museum


This is part of an installation at the British Museum. It’s Cradle to Grave by Pharmacopoeia. The work shows a lifetime’s supply of prescribed drugs, using composites to create drug narratives for one man and one woman. The work excludes over-the-counter and recreational drugs such as panadol, vitamins and ecstasy, but still runs to 14,000 drugs knitted together and displayed in a mesh that runs for 14 metres. Of course, the composites are derived from the developed world and its focus is on our biomedical approach to health.

The woman’s drug story takes us through her vaccinations, pregnancies, miscarriage, hormone replacement therapy, chemotherapy, arthritis, a hip replacements, diabetes and a range of life’s random infections and illnesses.

I saw this piece in 2011 and spent a long time wandering back and forth along it and indeed the criticism levelled by one critic that the piece is a distraction from the rest of the room is a fair one in my case – I don’t remember anything else that was around it. It may be that I did not take everything away from the exhibition that I should have/could have done, but this installation haunts me.

It is the mister’s birthday today. He is 49. I know that age is just a number and 50 is the new 30 and life begins and so on. But bodies. They are robust, tangible proof of our existence, as fragile as our thoughts.

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Ciggies

He wakes to the sound of a wattlebird, a call that starts as a scratching sound and ends in a song. It is as if, he thinks this morning although he has never thought it before, the bird is trying to clear its throat after a night on the piss with a packet of ciggies thrown into the mix.

Ciggies. The word belongs to her. If he were using one of his own it would be fags or smokes.

Ciggies.

She looks over the top of her computer from time to time and says, ‘I’m going downstairs for a ciggie. If anyone asks.’ But if you mention cigarettes and smoke breaks these days, people roll their eyes and say, ‘All right for some,’ and he doesn’t want to see them roll their eyes when it’s her, so when they ask (and someone nearly always does), he shakes his head and says, ‘What? No, haven’t seen her sorry. Is her coat still there? Yeah? Well, she can’t be too far away.’

He went downstairs with her once. Pretended he was going next door for a coffee then stood with her in the laneway, four metres from the door. She stood, carefully placing the outside edge of her boot on the outside edge of the line they’d painted four metres from the door. Black, with red embroidered flowers, she wore those boots once or twice each week in winter. They went past her ankle but finished well below her knee.

She smoked with her left hand and this was a surprise to him because that was the hand with the missing finger. Not her whole finger, only down to the knuckle, enough to leave her middle finger shorter than the other two that flanked it. She smokes the same way she does everything – quickly, but thoroughly, turning the white stick to ash faster even than his father ever did. He wanted to know whether that was the finger she used to flip the bird but then he thought a woman like that wouldn’t, would she? She wouldn’t flip the bird.

‘Can I get you a coffee?’ he’d asked, but she shook her head. ‘No caffeine after three,’ she’d said.

The wattlebird calls again. A car door bangs closed, an engine starts. From the other side of the bed, the alarm starts its call. He watches as his missus, his wife, the mother of his children, reaches out and presses snooze.

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