11 Sep 2007

The artist formerly known as Ditz 

I know this is a subject I’ve ranted on about before on many occasions, but this time it’s not so much about how my attitude towards this particular long-standing adversary has changed, but how she herself has, unbeknownst to me, become a completely different person over the last year or so. It’s surprising that I hadn’t noticed it sooner, but it is as if she has had an entire gradual personality transplant since round about August, in all probability to the same extent as the one which transformed her into her larger-than-life Ditzy alter ego not so long after the very beginning of high school.

I first began to notice this change not by the addition of character quirks, but by their absence. Suddenly being around her was no longer so grating on the ears – that horribly affected nasal quality and the sheer volume of her voice had been turned down several notches. Gone was the barely-decent schoolgirl skirt, now down to a length with which even the most strident uniform Nazis could not find fault, along with the endless primping and fixing and posing in front of the hallway mirror, or any semi-reflective surface, really. (Gone, too, was my fiendish desire to switch on the projector whenever she checked her reflection in its mirror, but that’s another story altogether…) In fact, the old Ditz had been replaced by a much more subdued version overall, having been stripped of the last vestiges of the aggressively layered hair, the inch-thick pancake makeup, the bright pink lips and defiantly painted nails – all the hallmarks of her former loosely-moraled desperado self. Even the T-barred shoes, the last remaining fuck-you to the establishment favoured by those endless primpers with their collars fastidiously (and completely ridiculously) turned up on all occasions, have quietly been replaced by the squarest (in every sense of the word) plain black lace-ups you could ever hope to find.

I don’t know whether she’s just mellowed with age, but she’s become a whole lot nicer as well. So okay, flattery wasn’t what killed the cat, and a little bit of sucking up never hurt a girl, but you know what she said to me the other day? “I feel honoured when somebody gets mixed up and mistakes me for you.” What on earth?? Besides for the fact that she would have nothing possible to gain from such blatant flattery, it was said in such a sincere, guileless manner that she seemed, to all intents and purposes, to have genuinely meant it. The Ditz of old would never in a million years have deigned to say something that was so… well, nice! It made me wonder, for the longest time, what exactly had gotten into her?

Like many a zealous Jesus-loving religious reformer would do, I, the hard-bitten opinionated atheist, am forced to concede that this remarkable change has coincided somewhat with her conversion to Christianity. One can hardly fail to notice her palpable presence in the Bible Club, especially during Jesus-orientated events like prayer breakfasts and Easter assemblies (in which the Bible Club outdoes itself every year with increasing elaborate song-and-dance numbers, and the annual tying of a hapless Year Nine pretending to be Jesus in a toga to a cross for thirty minutes while someone else reads out the relevant passages from Matthew and the aforementioned Year Nine slowly asphyxiates). And who could forget her shining moment of pious glory, when the school chaplain decided to feature her rambling speech on her road-to-Damascus moment in his address in the weekly newsletter?

(This is just calling for a disclaimer before I continue, lest I be charged with accusations of Bible-bashing: even though I personally don’t believe in the existence of a God of organised religion, I never attempt to impose my views on others – and also think that that should go the other way too…)

I’ll be the first to admit that religion has its benefits. A several-times-removed distant uncle in America became a committed Christian after a prolonged stint in prison for a crime which the whole family refuses to mention, and although Daddy Dearest would very much like to tell him he’s wasting his time sending us a veritable avalanche of church-approved literature (which must cost enough in postage to single-handedly keep Australia Post in business for a year), there’s no denying how much it’s helped him deal with all shit that life has thrown at him. And although it may be a little far-fetched to compare the small-time rebellion of one high school girl to doing something that would land you in jail for twenty-five years, I see the same kind of transformation occurring in Ditz. Seeing that faith can affect people in such a way reminds me of the tremendous capacity of religion for good as well as evil, and occasionally, very occasionally, I wish that it could happen to me, too. (I had a mini-epiphany once – something terribly banal like the fact that baby Jesus really did die on a cross to absolve all our sins – and for fifteen crazy seconds I thought I had the capacity to become a Christian, until I realised again that everything in my upbringing and personality protested against my ever being so credible.)

A lot has changed about Ditz, and yet a lot has managed to remain exactly as I have always known it to be. She is still prone to making incredibly dim comments, still sings off-key, and her spelling and grammar remains atrocious. She’s no smarter than I remember her being, although full credit to her for trying ten times harder. She still associates with her old crowd of try-hards and rich-girl wannabe-rebels, but she doesn’t go to their horrid parties and binge drink and get completely wasted every weekend anymore. It’s great for her, of course, the fact that she’s going to come out of it all with tonnes more self-respect than most of those tragic skanks (harsh but true, you know it really). I guess I’m just not used to being surprised like that, to having the entire image I’d formed of someone tipped completely onto its head. That probably says more about my own narrow-mindedness than anything else.

It’s probably good that I’m being made to question my inbuilt prejudices towards those I always thought I had all figured out. But who knows? Next thing you’ll be telling me that Snape really ISN’T evil and that Santa doesn’t exist after all…

14 Aug 2007

Sunday morning and like the dutiful school swot that I have become, I pulled open the blinds at the painful time of ten o’ clock in the morning (it’s a weekend, cut me some slack here!) in preparation for my first and probably last experience of the annual not-so-long-awaited senior year history conference. I feel obligated at this point to mention that it was a particular Sunday the day before a nightmare week of five school assessed coursework tasks in as many days, in order to, firstly, emphasise my sacrifice of this inauspicious Sunday afternoon, and secondly, to give myself a chance to whinge about the pressure and the homework load of my last year of school.

Anyway, whingeing aside, the actual process of arriving at the convention centre was a surprisingly painless experience, given my less than perfect track record with maps and directions, the most memorable incident of which culminated in a 3-kilometre detour to a Max Brenner’s that was, in actual fact, a mere half a block away from where we started. Not so funny if you were there. I had by chance stumbled upon the same train as the majority of my fellow school-swotty convention-attending classmates, which prevented me from getting hopelessly lost yet again, and also gave me another chance to bemoan my workload while mercilessly ridiculing the “tests” and “homework” those of them in the year below me were complaining about. (Tests. PAH. I LOOK FORWARD to tests. I ENJOY tests. Wait until those tender hatchings have a five SAC week about to wallop them on the arse. THEN we’ll see who’s complaining about TESTS.) Another coincidence forthcoming, the very next stop after I embarked, a rather fey guy’s school acquaintance got on my carriage (another embarrassing moment when I asked him how uni was going, and he looked at me weirdly and told me he’s in my year, which I should have known but inexplicably did not), and thus ensued a somewhat awkward conversation about his upcoming starring role in a sex education video. Some people get themselves into the weirdest things.

[A digression if I may: that horrid dragon woman has made my syntax sound more like badly translated Latin by every sentence...]

What throws me about seeing school people I don’t know so well out of uniform is how they often turn out to be quite removed from the impressions you have formed about the kind of person they are from your experience of them at school. On the other hand, certain people conform to stereotype like nobody’s business. One particular classmate with a penchant for 15-centimetre platform Mary Janes emitted a rather queer and unfamiliarly odour of a mixture of probably illegal substances when I went to hug her. N says she steals bunny rabbits from pet stores. I’m not surprised.

The conference itself was not half as bad as I had expected from the accounts of others, although I do rather regret bringing in a box of Nerds purchased beforehand at the train station, which went off like maracas at a tribal dance every time I moved my bag even by a fraction, much to the ire of teachers present. L accuses me of flirting with one very nice young lad introduced to us by my history teacher (of all people) as a family friend, on whom I took pity after it appeared that not a single one of his friends had decided to rock up on the afternoon. He was sweet though, and rather tall, and says he plays bass guitar in a band. Isn’t that cute? But talk about robbing the cradle! As if I would put the moves on a guy more than a whole year younger than me! And someone so closely associated with a teacher, no less. Too weird to handle. I can’t help being friendly and the fact that he asked for my e-mail address… or am I just unconsciously flirty? No, seriously – do I unknowingly give out flirty/friendly/look-at-me vibes around guys I don’t know that well? Omigosh, this is really bothering me now – please leave a comment (really, I COMMAND you) and tell me I don’t come across as some poor, lonely Glenn Close bunny-boiling incarnate…

On the other hand, general awkwardness turned into some kind of horrible recurring pattern, with an extremely brief conversation with one former history teacher who has since abandoned us for more money and power at some other good-teacher-stealing private school, and then being cornered by the guest speaker at the break. I’m sure he’s a really nice guy and all, although his other role as a high-up in a certain university, which shall remain unnamed, which has decided to screw us all over with their completely revamped educational model did prompt me to fight the strong internal urge to throttle him. But man, can you say awkward? There is only so much you can say as a lowly student hack about a subject the dude’s spent half of his life writing theses about without sounding either like a simpering idiot or a completely ignorant nong. I think I managed to achieve both. How lovely.

Walking back to the station in the bracing wind after it ended, I suddenly realised how abruptly winter has come upon us. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but the dead leaves on the ground are beginning to rot and my thermal socks and winter doona are looking more appealing by the minute. Temperature highs of 20 degrees have turned into a distant memory again, and that dreary chill that eats at your bones has become a permanent fixture. Another three months of miserable winter blubber gathering to go – thank god for opaque stockings and knee-high boots…

12 May 2007

H2... oh. 

Number of laps completed of 25m pool: 50
Number of times swam headfirst into lane ropes: 4
Number of hot lifeguards on duty: 0
Number of times hit on by thirteen-year-old boy: 1
Number of inappropriate brushes of the thigh by lecherous old men: 4
Approximate number of hairs fried to a crisp under temperamental hand dryer: 847
Number of overweight women walking naked around public change room: 2
Amount of strangers’ bodily fluids swallowed: I really don’t want to know

Sunday evening at the local swimming pool walking distance from my humble abode, trying not to think about the creepy Asian guy, who may or may not be stalking me there after attempting to hook up with me when I was at a tender significantly-more-jailbait-worthy age of yore, I decided to brush up on my anti-drowning abilities and make a start on losing those stubborn 2 kilos at the same time. Unexpectedly for a random Sunday arvo, the pool was considerably more crowded than usual, as a group of Korean international students had booked out two whole lanes and appeared to be trying to learn to butterfly by standing in three orderly rows and swinging their arms, windmill-style, through the water as if the pool was a cappuccino and they were the milk frothers. Alas, actually moving forward in the water did not seem to advance their cause – it was as if they were conspiring to make the biggest godawful noise and foam possible while still progressing along the length of the pool. There is a reason, I think, why the activity is called swimming, and not who-can-look-like-the-clumsiest-hippo-in-the-nice-chlorinated-water. To add insult to injury, all the Korean boys were hairless and scrawny and looked to be about fifteen, depriving yours truly of any passable eye-candy to appease oneself of an immense feeling of pissed-offness.

The rest of the pool was populated by frustrated middle-aged men who had in all likelihood taken up swimming due to a recurring knee/back/neck injury that had forced them to give up cross-country running/football/some similarly macho and sweaty sport, with one exception of two people who were obviously a couple because I honestly don’t know what they were doing in a pool, as a motel room would have been far more appropriate… Consequently, though the pool appeared to be filled with people, there were few actual swimmers in the lanes at any one time, as the majority of the waterlogged populace were sitting, panting, in a glut at the shallow end. However, I still maintain that having to share a lane with too many people brings out the worst social etiquette, or lack thereof, in those present. No sooner does some presumptuous breaststroker overtake you while trying their darndest to deliver a well-placed kick to your face, which you gallantly ignore and hold back marginally to let them pass, does she slow right down again to half of your original speed, so that you have no choice but to switch from a comfortable freestyle to a pathetic, half-drowning doggie paddle to avoid crashing into her arse. Not to mention the astronomically unfit losers who choose to subject the occupants of the fast lane to their snail’s pace backstroke, and stand up halfway down the pool to catch their breath! And the woman who makes a point of taking off from the edge of the pool at the exact moment I am about to commence another lap. And some of these people have so little concept of thoroughfare protocol that I hope to God never to encounter them on a narrow highway at night, as they will almost certainly be barrelling down it at full speed in the wrong direction. See those little black lines down the centre of the lane, people? USE THEM.

Maybe it’s just me and my basic twitching disdain for all humanity, but don’t you just recoil at situations where you have to come into contact with unfamiliar, slimy, unattractive and mostly-naked humans? And the public swimming pool experience doesn’t just end there – there are the change rooms to face, with the excruciating awkwardness of colliding into the aforementioned weighty naked individuals, and having to step through someone else’s soap scum to get to the showers, which are invariably either ice-cold or scalding, and have a mysterious inability to fully wash off all that industrial-grade chlorine. The more I think about it, the more it dawns on me what a thoroughly unpleasant experience the public pool usually is, and if it wasn’t for the decent exercise I do not know why I keep wanting to go back…

Then I manage to eradicate all the good work and calories burnt anyway, as we almost always end up going out for dinner after a session at the pool because MD and DD cannot be arsed cooking. Yet I must admit that all that expanse of kiddie pee-warmed water holds a strangely inexplicable appeal. Perhaps it’s the rare opportunity of seeing so much water in one place, or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but even after repeatedly suffering through the retardedness of my fellow members of the human race, you can bet that I’ll be back there to go through all that frustration again at a time in the not-so-distant future.

My gosh, that IS kinky.

21 Feb 2007

So it’s the night before the House Productions but, seeing as this is my final year for any of this, I’m unexpectedly unenthused about it. Perhaps all the hours I spent taking the bloody vocal track off a Broadway song using nothing but Audacity and the sweat of my brow, or all that other time trying to compose harmony to a song with an unidentifiable key signature and about five accidentals in each bar really sucked the enthusiasm out of me. Or perhaps it’s because, seeing it’s my final year, I wound up with two lines in the entire play. Not to be vain or anything, but the majority of our lead characters have spent under three years in high school, and I’ve been in enough miscellaneous school productions to at least know what it’s all about.

And their casting! Okay, so it’s not like this is ‘Hamlet’ or anything – far from it, it’s the second rewrite that was the best that a couple of hacks (myself included) could churn out in half a week. But wouldn’t you think that, seventeen hours before it goes on stage, your main actors wouldn’t need to be given stage directions or be prompted for their lines anymore? And don’t get me started on the actors themselves! Maybe I can put it down to their relative youth, or inexperience, but the fact that most of them don’t seem to know what they’re doing on stage is a bit of a concern… The Chief Protagonist (who just happens to shit me to no avail, but THAT is irrelevant) has so much ham in her performance that I could have sandwiches for the rest of my life and die of monosodium poisoning. Not to mention the fact that, with her accent which is really no fault of her own but STILL, she slurs her words like she’s been on a three-day bender. The Love Interest appears to have no idea she’s actually supposed to be pretending to be someone other than herself, and walks around the stage with a vague expression of bemusement, swaying slightly from side to side because she doesn’t know what she’s doing with her hands. The Angry Little Man has big, big eyes and a sweet little smile, but can’t actually manage to conjure up any anger – the best she seems able to produce is ‘mildly irritated’.

The only person who’s actually competent is stressed out beyond belief because of the sizeable mini-monologue that she’s having problems committing to mind, and honestly just wants out of this whole thing. And she’s got the part that I was told I’d probably have been given if she hadn’t auditioned, so perhaps you can’t blame me for being a tiny bit frowny about that matter. I’ll be the first to admit that they do have their moments of… okay, perhaps ‘shining brilliance’ is overstating it a little, so, let’s say, basic proficiency, but when dramatic pauses turn into oh-my-gosh-I’ve-forgotten-my-line awkward pauses, and you cannot hear a single word being said on stage while sitting in the front row… It just worries me, okay? And there are so many moments when they’re speaking the dialogue in a totally different way to what we’d written and what we’d intended that I have to suppress an overwhelming and totally inappropriate urge to SHOW them how it’s supposed to be done. To be fair to our captains, none of them are drama people; so directing a play in their position has got to be an unbelievably daunting task – which is all the more reason for casting people in main roles who’re actually HALFWAY COMPETENT. Bitter? Moi? Never…

All I’m going to say is that it’s a pity we’re not going to win the Characterisation category this year.

On the other hand, the singing for which I’ve written harmony and lyrics seems to be managing okay. Again, we’re probably not going to win it this year but at least it won’t be a cause for shame like SOME other things I could mention… Although at times I get a very deep desire to push a certain House Captain who is a complete musical dimwit off a bridge. After a whole bloody evening I could have been spending doing the homework they claim they’ve been letting us off lightly with these past two weeks writing bloody harmony, the Girl Who Cannot Tell If A Song Is In Four-Four Or Three-Four Time tells me she wants three quarters of the one-and-a-half-minute song solo. NOT UNTIL HELL FREEZES OVER, SISTER.

Deep breaths. Okay. Still, despite all my doubts and apprehensions, I do actually hope it all comes together tomorrow, if not for my sake, then for our captains who’re just about to explode with stress. Nothing could beat the disaster of last year when a main character was wheeled off to hospital with chronic fatigue hours before the play started. And we managed to muddle through that pretty well. And win it. (Although as for actually winning it, I’m not going to get my hopes up too high this year…) So wish us luck. I say this before any performance – but god knows we REALLY need it this time.

2 Jul 2006

In the swag of low-priced wearable goodies brought back from my trip to China is a pair of calf-length brown dress boots that lace up the back. With a dreary Aussie winter already upon us and faced with the prospect of lavender toes when donning thongs and other forms of open summer footwear (mmm, attractive), I decided it was about time for me to break them in. Thus followed the painful but inevitable breaking-in period, during which I unwisely decided to embark on a daylong shopping expedition with my mother, who has the endurance of Forrest Gump when it comes to uncovering decent clothing that has inexplicably ended up on the sale rack – honey, show me a pair of brand-new shoes and I’ll tell you about blisters… Whoever said that fashion is about being comfortable, a) was without doubt a man, and b) has obviously never stood for forty-five minutes on a train at peak hour in five-inch heels and a miniskirt.

The pain of squishing full-sized toes into pointy shoes aside, the next time I put on my boots a funny thing happened. The moment I went out the door I felt different somehow, and people were looking at me in a funny way. Initially, this was more of a cause for panic than for celebration, and the first chance I got I ducked into an isolated corner to check that my fly was done up, that there wasn’t any toilet paper hanging out the back of my pants, and that I didn’t have ‘Bite Me’ written in cursive across my forehead. Surprisingly enough, I had managed to leave the house with all my clothing intact and the right way round, and with a minimal amount of indecent exposure, so I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was that had strangers staring. That is, until I remembered the integral part of my outfit that was making my strides long and confident, and made me feel taller than I’ve ever been (okay, so I don’t really need the extra height but whatever) – the boots. And at that moment, I suddenly comprehended the transformation that the apparently innocuous pair of boots had effected on me. With those shoes on my feet, getting around had become more than merely a matter of walking. There was no shlumping, no slouching, and definitely no shuffling like you’re creeping outside to get the paper on a Saturday morning in pyjamas and an ancient dressing gown. When you put on a pair of boots, you can’t just walk anymore – you’ve got to strut.

(And by boots I mean REAL boots, the kind with a proper heel and zips, laces, buttons that do up, the kind that encases the foot in a snug layer of leather or pleather or snakeskin or suede – not any of those horrid woolly glorified slippers that passed for actual footwear amongst deluded Hollywood starlets throughout much of 2004 and 2005, and also amongst an alarming number of fashion victims in the general public, sometimes teamed with – horror of horrors! – a miniskirt or short shorts that inch up past mid-thigh. For Christ’s sake, if it really is THAT cold, PUT ON A PAIR OF PANTS! There is a REASON ugg is short for UGLY, people!! But I digress.)

And your way of walking isn’t the only thing that’s changed either – boots have the power to turn you into a bolder, sassier, more assured version of yourself. Sneakers are practical, Havaianas go with practically everything, and peep-toe heels are gorgeous and girly and I seriously need a decent pair for summer. But a pair of boots is something else – hiding imperfections and your daggy winter socks, keeping you warm, protecting your poor, mistreated toes when trodden on by careless passers-by, and, if the heels are tall and spiky enough, can be potentially lethal. In boots, you feel empowered, invulnerable, unafraid to look rude salespeople in the eye, gutsy enough to smile at the cute guy who’s been staring at you from behind the counter of the donut stand for the last five minutes. And I know at the root of the matter it’s really only Dutch courage of the most understated kind, but if something as innocent and wonderful as a pair of great shoes can make you feel so good about yourself, then well… why not?

25 Jun 2006

Socc- uh, FOOTBALL fever 

So mid-year school holidays are well under way and, having finally made my way through the mountain of maths homework that was once again threatening to crash-tackle me and sit on my head while I slowly suffocate, I am now free to sleep in ’til noon, watch six hours a day of bootleg DVDs, do absolutely no exercise and gorge on high-fat, high-sugar empty calories until it’s time to go to bed again. Ah, the good life – I’m almost glad we only get two weeks of this at a time or I’d turn into a socially retarded blancmange, never to be able to utter intelligible sentences in civilization again.

Meanwhile, in case any of you have been living in a padded room for the past month, the FIFA World Cup is also well under way, and after thirty-two Australian years of “the only footy worth talking about is Aussie Rules”, everyone in this country seems to have jumped right on the soccer – excuse me, football – bandwagon. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, it could be another thirty-two years before it happens again. So, with that and SBS’s shamefully clueless-non-football-watching-female-targeted “hot boys in shorts” marketing campaign in mind (tsk tsk, although I must say they DO have a point…), I decided to join the parade and see for myself just what all the fuss is about.

Another perk of being on holiday is being able to get up at all manners of odd times in the night/morning to watch TV and not having to worry about repercussions the next day. On the eve of Brazil versus Australia, I set my alarm for the ungodly time of a quarter to two in the morning for my first experience of being a football nut, albeit without the extent of tragic fanaticism of SOME otherwise-sane fathers and husbands who have readjusted their body clocks to German time and have set up permanent camp in the living room opposite the TV. (Certain people spring to mind. You know who you are…) Turned out I didn’t need the alarm clock after all, as I was woken at 1:30 a.m. by insanely loud classical music blaring from the sound system downstairs which had mysteriously managed to switch itself on during the night. (Either that or a gang of marauding bandits had broken in but had suddenly been struck by temporary amnesia before they could nick the TV and decided to have a cocktail party instead of robbing us blind and forgot to turn off the music before they left. How nice of them. To not rob us blind, that is.) Naturally, it was absolutely freezing, and tiptoeing down the stairs in complete darkness, wrapped in a doona and half-asleep, was not the easiest task in the world. Not to mention walking face-first into the banisters after miscounting the number of steps, and trying to muffle the swearing and yelps of pain lest the parentals be alerted to my nocturnal activities.

Anyway, I managed to find my way to the living room without any further dramas and got settled in front of the television. I hate to admit the extent to which the media can toy with my emotions, but I think I experienced a stirring of patriotism in my cold, hard heart as the Socceroos came out onto the field. Even though I knew we were playing Brazil, and therefore we were going to get thrashed. But it was a surprisingly goalless first half as my own lack of fitness was acutely brought home by the strapping lads in little shorts bounding up and down that massive pitch for three-quarters of an hour without respite. I was tired just watching them. Although the lack of sleep might have had something to do with that…

And okay, 2-0 wasn’t really such as bad loss considering the opposition. Ronaldo (poor Ronaldo, everyone seems to be bagging him now for being fat and old, but I still remember when he was the young and virile and mohawked Brazilian hero of the last World Cup) executed some shockers, like when he went to kick the ball but totally missed and almost fell over. What the? That’s something you’d expect ME to do, not a seasoned professional athlete! But they still won, so I guess that pretty much says it all.

I have a confession to make. I know at this point I should be rhapsodising about the beauty of the sport and the mastery with which the players wield the ball, and I should especially be single-mindedly rooting for the Aussie boys, but I got a little sidetracked during that match. As the ball passed interminably from one player to another without any real progress being made and only a small number of way-off-the-mark goal attempts during the first half, I noticed the camera cutting to close-ups of a certain Brazilian player by the name of Kaka. (So sue me if he’s really famous and I’ve never heard of him before in my life –it’s called jumping on the bandwagon for a reason…) And oh my gosh, has anyone noticed how HOT he is?? I know most professional athletes are hot by merit of being professional athletes, but by GOD is he exceptionally fine! It goes without saying that I got a bit distracted after that.

Nevertheless, by the time the Australia versus Croatia match rolled around, I had become a fully-fledged momentary football nut like everyone else and I am proud to say that no one cheered harder when Harry Kewell scored the equalizer in the seventy-ninth minute than I. Go Socceroos.

(On another note: why has no one ever told me how scary the local library can be in the daytime during school holidays? Not a minute had passed after I innocuously took a seat at a table with this month’s Vogue and Vanity Fair when some random weirdo peered out from behind the magazine rack and stared at me, breathing heavily while I desperately tried to ignore him, for fully ten minutes. Then when I finally chanced to look up, the aforementioned random weirdo had, thankfully, disappeared, but I had accidentally made eye contact with this creepy Indian guy who had also been staring at me and he hit on me. Right-o! I took that as my signal to leave. And that is DEFINITELY the last time I pick up Cindy Chupack’s “Between Boyfriends Book” in public.)

24 May 2006

Driving Miss Daisy... up the wall 

It’s a well-known fact in my household that Daddy Dearest has his own very special neuroses when it comes to the family car and it’s probably best when he’s in the driver’s seat to just sit extremely still, look straight ahead and try not to breathe too loudly lest the sound distracts him unnecessarily from his very important task. And it’s also probably best to simply nod and make soothing noises when a random dickhead in a sports car does something stupid like cutting in half a metre in front of us and DD starts muttering about buying a Mack truck with headlights taller than every other car on the road and THEN we’ll see who’s game enough to try cutting in like that again, huh? HUH? (Yes, Daddy. There, there. You’re absolutely right.) And never are these quirks of his brought home more embarrassingly than when we’re giving a friend a lift home and he refuses to play any music except for Soviet-era Russian folk songs or that talkback radio station where all the presenters are mouth breathers. (PLEASE, Daddy, would it KILL you to put something remotely NORMAL on the air? Apparently literally so, according to you-guessed-who, hypothesising that pop music will make him go insane and ram the car into a tree.) But if you thought DD behind the wheel was bad, you never would’ve imagined that DD in the passenger seat could be worse…

In contrast to DD’s well-established driving habits, Mother Dearest has had her licence for years now (alas, she can only drive an automatic – oh, the STIGMA of not being able to handle a manual…) but it’s been ages since she’s done any actual driving because she’s lazy and takes public transport to work anyway. So DD has decided it shall be his mission to get her back into tip-top driving shape so MD can be the one ferrying me to all my extracurriculars for a change. Consequently, MD has become the official driving person on our semi-weekly trip to the city library to borrow weirdo foreign language DVDs and old issues of British Vogue – with DD giving instructions from the seat beside her, of course. I had the misfortune of bad judgement to decide to accompany them on one such journey not far into MD’s revived driving career. And oooh boy was it not pretty. Not pretty by a very VERY long shot.

Lesson One: Backing Out of the Garage. This was, without doubt, one of the most excruciating experiences I have endured inside a (barely) moving vehicle, and made for an extremely inauspicious start to our expedition. MD, who can barely see over the top of the steering wheel (hopeless spatial abilities and a four-wheel-drive doesn’t help, either), took a full twenty minutes of faltering bunny hops to manoeuvre the car into the general direction of the street. It was the embodiment of the one step forward, two steps back routine, narrowly missing the bike rack here, stopping ten centimetres short of a full-on collision with the opposite wall of the garage there. Whoops, don’t forget the ping-pong table. Whoops, there goes THAT headlight. OH MY GOD NOT THE NEIGHBOUR’S BACK FENCE.

Lesson Two: Turning the Corner at Five-Way Intersections. DD’s (immensely helpful) instructions to Mother Dearest go something like this:
“Okay… now! Go go go go! Turn the wheel! YES, the steering wheel! Keep turning, keep turning NO NO NO! You’re turning too much! Ease it off now, ease it off, ease it off! Not so fast, not so fast… MY GOD, WOMAN, SLOW DOWN!”

Now if that’s not enough to induce a nervous breakdown, I don’t know what is.

Lesson Three: How to Deal When the Siren Goes Off. So we’re moving on the highway in a tense and jumpy silence when suddenly from somewhere on the road behind us comes the unmistakable wail of a fire-engine siren. DD starts mumbling under his breath and MD, trying to keep track of all four directions at once, grows increasingly panicky, which she attempts to make up for by taking her foot off the pedal so we end up crawling down the road at about 5k an hour. Meanwhile, the siren’s getting closer and closer and every other car around us has turned into the parking lane at the left to let the fire engine through, and pretty soon it’s just the three of us pottering along on the road and the fire truck pressed against our bumper with the driver leaning on the horn. DD’s yelling incoherently, and MD’s utterly confused. And I’m sitting as low in my seat as possible, pretending I don’t know the driver nor how the hell I ended up in the car, until eventually Mother Dearest regains control of her senses and moves aside so that the good firemen can go past. You would not believe the range of dirty looks we got from the other drivers as soon as normal traffic resumed – a kill-me-now moment truly like no other.

Lesson Four: Parallel Parking. Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of novice motorists, or raises the blood pressure of the owners of the cars they’re driving, more than early attempts at parallel parking. DD sets it out in black and white – get the car at the right angle, turn the tires forty-five degrees, reverse, forward, reverse again and you’re there. Simple geometry, right? Not on your life. Once we’d secured a parking space (a harder task than you would think, as MD drives like she’s walking so by the time we reach what was an empty space it’s already been taken by someone moving at a normal speed), it takes a long and painful process to get the car in without causing anyone grievous bodily harm.

MD backs up half a metre. “Way too close, you’ll never get it in like that,” says her helpful passenger. She tries again, at a slightly larger angle. “I said, wider.” “I am going wider!” “Not wide enough!” MD takes it at an even larger angle. “Now that’s too wide.” Another three attempts until she’s found the exact angle to meet DD’s finicky criteria. Just as she’s concentrating on the back wheel outside the driver’s side window, a sudden outburst from you-guessed-who: “The passenger mirror! For god’s sake, pay attention to the passenger mirror!” “I can’t see that far.” They stare at each other. After the lapse of several seconds, MD shrugs and continues to back into the parking space with her head out the window.

Eventually MD does manage to park the car, and no one breathes a louder sigh of relief than yours truly. But as soon as MD unbuckles her seatbelt, DD finds something else to complain about – this time, the fact that MD has to adjust the driver’s seat back to get out of the car because she needs to push it all the way forward just to reach the pedal when she drives. One day you won’t push the seat forward properly and it’ll spring back when you’re driving, he argues, and you won’t be able to reach the brakes. It’s too hard to get out of the car when the seat’s pushed all the way to the front, she counters. So deal, he says, you’re not frail and elderly, you’ll be fine. But it’s too difficult, she says, and I don’t want to!

I lose patience and leave the two of them in there, still bickering over the ridiculously petty question of whether MD should push her seat back to get out of the car, and go into the library alone. They emerge, fifteen minutes later, ominously quiet and well behaved. I have never figured out who won the argument. Somehow, I just don’t think it makes that much of a difference in the scheme of things.

Remind me NEVER to take driving lessons from my father.


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