Friday, January 30, 2004

The Start of an Unnatural Obsession

Funny things still happen to my brain over here. Like being so spaced out from no sleep that I got strangely excited at spotting a pigeon on the platform at Baker Street Station and pointed it out to Monica saying 'hey, cool, a penguin on the underground.' Monica was so pleased with the line that she composed me a poem the next day.

There's a penguin on Claire's subway
Wand'ring this way and then that
He waddles 'cross the platform
Feet softly slapping, belly fat

Dressed in warm grey feathers
Birdlike beak 'neath tiny eyes
Methinks that Claire's fat penguin
Is a pigeon in disguise :)

The story could just end there but later that week, while walking through the crowd at the Church for Australia Day there was a (hot) guy in a t-shirt that said 'one by one the penguins are stealing my sanity'

Ah! But does the strange penguin inspired co-incidences stop there? No indeed not my captive audience! That very Tuesday at the pub quiz there was a question about Penguin Radio. Monica and Matt say it is an association thing, much like the phenomenon of noticing all the Audis on the road once you have bought one. I personally prefer to believe that the penguins are trying to send me a message.

The red penguins are great fun.

Apart from primary coloured pygoscelis papua there are other small joys in the midst of the London January. Like the sky on a clear day at 4.45pm. I first saw this wonder a few weeks ago. At approximately quarter to five the sky melts into a fantastically deep electric royal blue. That may seem to be an extremely fancy discription of the colour but it is certainly the only way I can describe it ... maybe put velvety in there somewhere. The first time I saw it I was captivated and walked to the tube with my head scanning the sky trying to savour the colour.

And I am still a happy little layerer, wearer of scarves and gloves and hats bought in celebration of the snow. So I am blessed with the simple pleasures. And penguins. The red ones. Yup, the penguins.

I actually inspired Monica to create quite a bit of rap and prose in our time ...

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Fat Rain

The weather forecast for the last week was snow, but frankly I was getting AWFULLY tired of waiting. On Tuesday I was walking down the street to lunch when itsy bitsy little snow flakes starting swirling around me like tiny lost baby hailstones. This lasted for about 30 seconds. Wednesday I entertained a few workmates by standing on the roof and doing a Julie-Andrews-in-the-first-scene-of-the-Sound-of-Music style dance in the 1 minute splatter of snow. Once again, not terribly exciting, but certainly an escalation.

Then, Wednesday afternoon I went up to Old Street to see my house and as I came out of the tube it was snowing. Old Street Station has an open roof to the sky and so I saw the snow falling before I saw it on the ground. Being a snow-virgin there were a few fabulous moments when I didn’t even know it was snow, I seriously looked at the sky and thought ‘that is REALLY fat rain!’ (thank you Terry Pratchett) Walking out onto my very first stretch of snow covered ground I then discovered that the soles on my boots are entirely useless on snow, that a beanie doesn’t protect you from snow in your eyes and that no-one else was grinning quite as broadly as I was at the snow. Once again I should have taken notice.

It was about 20 minutes before rush hour when I got out of the Tube and so, for a short and blissful time, the snow was undisturbed and blanketed the usual London noise until I could almost hear myself jumping around in my head singing ‘It’s snowing it’s snowing hahahaha it sticks to everything my coat is white ah slippery hehehehe it’s snowing it’s snowing it stings when it hits my face I’m not even cold yet it’s snowing it’s snowing whoops.’ The streets were quiet and those who were about were either standing sulkily wishing they had better shoes on or were under 19 years old and had a snowball in either hand.

I headed out to Leytonstone to have a snowball fight with Monica and Matt. The snow was MUCH thicker out in the parks near them and we had a running fight in the street and then ran crazily around in the pristine snow of the parks. It was Matt’s first experience of snow too so the three of us cleared the roof of every car in the street to make arsenals of snowballs and then, once in the parks, made snow angels and found endless amusement in trying to slam each other down in the snow. While Monica and Matt frolicked I was finding new, untouched snow to make footprints in and beaming indiscriminately at snow laden trees feeling too excited to do anything but say ‘this is so cool.’ The best way to describe the feeling was like I had stepped into a film - I knew exactly what snow looked like, but not what it felt like – it was familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

It was not until I had to walk back to the tube station to go home that I got a hint of what terrible times to come. The snow was incredibly slippery and my boots had no grip so Matt practically carried me to the station. The snow was quickly churned to sludge and the sludge froze overnight so Thursday dawned to find London had turned into a giant ice-rink. Despite the forecasts, many of the councils had not gritted or salted the streets and Thursday was a bit of a farce. The news footage that night was of suited City Bankers measuring their lengths on the sidewalks and well-dressed women in heels hauling themselves off the pavements by clutching at poles and bins. Hilarious footage once I was home and safe. The day was a actually nightmare for me. I am terrified of ice-skating. It usually takes me at least three hours of constant babysitting by patient friends to get me to skate on my own and I never look up at ANY TIME when I am on the ice. So imagine my anxiety as I stepped out Thursday morning to walk the ice. I have never been in such a constant state of terror. I didn’t stack it at all during the walks to work, to lunch and back home - a fact of which I am very proud - but it was mainly because I took TINY steps and I never raised my head. At one stage I do believe I started muttering encouraging remarks to myself under my breath however. I hate ice.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The First Wave Hits

Immediately after this bitter little outburst I felt better. Perhaps because there is NOTHING like a good whine, and perhaps because I used trousers instead of pants - getting a handle on the lingo is very satisfying.

Then, just to make sure that my bitterness really turned into a good dose of homesickness, Val sent me a photo of herself standing on a nameless Western Australian Beach and for a moment, sitting in four layers of clothes at my desk in London, I was transported.

I could feel the sun drying my skin, the sand cradling my feet and the tang of the salt air from the surf. I could feel the weight of sunglasses on my nose, my hair lift in the afternoon breeze and recall my grin as I watch the surfies pass as I sun-baked with Louise on the shoreline. I could see the grey and brown gum-trees blur into a khaki sea as we roar at Dad's breakneck speed from Perth to Yallingup for that blissful two-week holiday.

It is a strange kind of torture when your whole body aches for a season and a place you will not see for another year. My computer at work has four photos on it.

One is of my bedroom strewn with bathers, towels, countless brightly coloured skirts and slides – some of these items Mum sent to me in London in hope of being used at the start of my visit and they got to me just as the unnatural heat broke.

There is the view from my Joel Terrace bedroom of the front garden and through to the Swan River – the crisp shadows below the trees, the glowing green of the leaves, the brown patches in the lawn.

There is a picture of Yallingup with no shadows on the scorching sand - just brown bodies and colourful beach umbrellas, the spectrums of blue in sea and sky and the green of the headland.

Finally, there is the picture of a dam on the farm at York, fairly screaming of Australian heat. In the foreground is the murky blue-brown yabby-infested water and then, on the far side of the dam, the skeletons of drowned gum-trees reflecting the harsh light so they seem to glow and leech the colour out of the healthy trees and sky behind them.

It is my very first wave of homesickness, and it hurts like nothing I have ever felt.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Vacation Swim Level 13 - Pass

See! I have swum in clothes before! It is just I have never done it in four layers on the way to work. Today is the start of the horrible winter weather and I am not in the best mood with London.

ONE – why, why, WHY combine rain AND umbrella melting winds? I had been so proud of the little umbrella I bought from home. It had survived the three times I bought it out so far. On Friday it melted before my eyes in the middle of Hatfield Mead. By melted I mean it buckled and curled along all the ribs, and not even just at the joints. I just walked on watching the death agony of my umbrella and decided that the moment they bring out a titanium brolly, I will queue up for it in fine English tradition.

TWO – surprisingly enough London town planners, drains were invented to keep the water OFF the roads. I walked three blocks today from Tube to work cowering against the far limit of the sidewalk so I could miss the meter high tidal waves churned up by the buses driving through the stream that was the road. Even more entertaining are the small dams that forms on cross walks so that if you DO want dry trousers you have to hike down to the end of the small sea, which is usually a blind corner, to cross the road.

THREE – every time I mutter and grumble my way quietly into work, my London-weary work mates simply smirk and promise me that it gets worse. hahahahahahahahahahahaha*shriek*

And so I end my little rant. I now have only one holy mission. To buy a coat that will render me a walking waterproof area of antipodean London. I am envisioning a Michelin-man effect coat that will cover me from hood to boots in attractive plastic puffa material. Either that or I will abandon myself to long plastic raincoats, Wellington boots and fisherman hats. And then I will move to Cornwall. Yes …

So, put your hands in the air if you are dry only when you are not sweating, and let’s enjoy the pleasures of extreme weather shall we?

Much love (it’s a bit wet, you better put it over the radiator)