Saturday, June 30, 2018

George Michael and I are no longer friends

He studied me for a long time from across the room. I ignored his gaze, hammering away at my laptop, intent on meeting a looming deadline, distracted only by my unending craving for tea.

As I arose to flick on the kettle my thoughts were on a large influx of family members, an odd allergic reaction, and the horrible but inescapable reality that it was probably time I went bra shopping.

I wasn’t thinking about the cat.


I don’t think about cats the same way I don’t eat olives – they’re just not for me, and if they’re kept away from my food then we shouldn’t have any problems. It’s a stance that comes with no malice, like changing the radio station every time Ed Sheeran’s voice starts, or never intentionally using emoticons. Each to their own.

There are cat people, there are dog people, and there are people that are still holding out for the arrival of unicorns. But for some of us, all animals merely prompt an ambivalent shrug.

My father turned that ambivalence into an art form. He literally only ever called the family pets by names like ‘New Dog’, ‘Small Dog’ and ‘Grey Dog’, yet he methodically walked them around the block every day, and was somehow exclusively in charge of picking up every single piece of shit those canines brought forth into the world. Like a faecal midwife, he’d trail after them, while avoiding actually patting them
at all costs.

I inherited this disinterest.

As I brewed my tea, the cat wove between my legs, before offering a plaintive meow.

I replied with a distracted, and yes, maybe haughty: “Hello George Michael”, before returning to sit at the table with my steaming brew.

Cat is also called George Michael.

My oldest sister Mrs Ryan had gone in a slightly different direction. There was a point in time when she owned a bird, a mouse, two cats, two dogs, three guinea pigs, and a stout pony called Bob. When you have that many pets all at once, it’s perhaps entirely inevitable that one of them will end up being called George Michael.

George Michael was unimpressed that I had failed to acknowledge him as the most magnificent and important occupant of the room. But it’s easy to ignore a being’s outrage when you’re ignoring the being altogether.

In my peripheral vision I saw the cat amble in my direction, but his casual strides in no way prepared me for his sudden dancer’s leap directly on to my cup of tea.

I screeched in horror, cured of my ambivalence as the hot liquid was hurled across my body, and my keyboard.

Cat is a villainous upender of tea.

Despite my indifference to the animal kingdom, I have always been able to appreciate from afar. I like dogs minus the smell, fish without all the tank cleaning, and chickens because they’re delicious. But cats… I always thought the key to cats, the most redeeming quality was that they shared my mutual shrug of meh. They cared as little for me as I did for them, and that was something I could always respect – on some level, it was like we understood each other.

But now, as sure as the ‘page down’ button on my keyboard no longer works, as true as the tea-soaked trousers I had to change out of, as clear as the smirk that cat gave me while it sauntered away… George Michael and I are no longer be friends.

Painefull Out

* = After fierce negotiation, George Michael and I very briefly put aside our differences for the purposes of the photo shoot that accompanies this post.

Monday, April 23, 2018

That Got Weird…

Scam callers are where I find joy in life.

Wait, that sounds deeply tragic. Let me be clear that they aren’t the source of all happiness, but they do bring just a little jolt of occasional rapture, a surprise hit of delight.

If a scammer calls me, I make a point of wasting as much of their time as humanly possible, until ultimately they give in and hang up on me. I have turned breaking the spirit of scam callers into an art form – my personal Sistine Chapel moment came when one scammer (who shall remain nameless… because I don’t think he was really called ‘Mike’) started hurling abuse at me for wasting his time.


It feels like social justice to irritate, confuse, and generally fuck with those who trick people out of their hard-earned money. I don’t really protest, or sit-in, or campaign, so I guess this is my version of making a difference.

The most common scam is the one where a guy rings from a major phone company and warns the internet in the house has been hacked. If you just follow his instructions and do some stuff on your computer, he will fix it in a jiffy, but if you don’t your internet will be cut off.

In response to this the tactics I use are endless, but some I have previously enjoyed include:

- Pretending to be a tween who needs everything said slowly.
- Pretending to be an aging woman who needs everything said loudly. And also slowly.
- Attempting to engage in a series of existential questions about the nature of the internet.
- Putting them on hold every 30 seconds to deal with a fictional, unruly toddler.
- Claiming my laptop is so old it takes 10 minutes to turn on and asking them to wait.
- Desperately worrying that the phone will cut out because of a phone line issue I’ve been having and asking for a number I can call them on if that happens (actually worked once).
- Getting them to take me through every phase of what they want me to do repeatedly while, and constantly.

Ultimately, if I wind up into enough of a rambling monologue it usually ends things, but today… today I finally met my match. The scam caller broke me. Let's call this guy Larry.

After several minutes of claiming my computer screen kept going black every time I followed his instructions (I was actually cleaning up post lunch, then boiling the kettle), I could feel Larry's frustration brewing.

I thought I had Larry on the ropes, that a hang up was moments away. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Below is the faithfully recorded transcript (typed immediately after) of what happened next.

LARRY: Are you stupid or something?
ME: I am not the stupid one, dude.
L: Do you think you’re stupid or I’m stupid?
M: I think you’re stupid.
L: You think I’m stupid?
M: Yes. Because you are sustaining this well past what I would imagine you should. Statistically, if you have any chance of scamming someone you have to move on to the next number, right?
L: I am the stupid one?
M: And a scammer. I have had a great time making a cup of tea while we talked, but it’s brewed now--
L: Why do you think I’m a scammer?
M: Let me amend that, I am also stupid. We are both stupid, as is the fact this conversation is still going. I have a tea that needs drinking.
L: Just to be clear, you think I’m stupid.
M: How do you imagine I believe the internet works? Magically? Through a laptop? Why would I fix the internet in a home through a laptop? A laptop hooks into the internet, it isn’t the internet. I’m fairly certain. In addition, these companies don’t call and ask you to type stuff in, and you opened this entire call wrong anyway, I think you need to work on the opening spiel because it’s not really how it happens, and I’d think you’d have this down by now. At the start of the call—
(Larry lets out an extended sigh – I think I’m finally about to break him)
M: Oh, I’m sorry, am I wasting your time? How awful for you.
L: Hey, my god.
M: Almost makes you want to hang up, huh?
L: Notice, I say, “Hey” not “Oh”.
M: I did notice. What’s the difference?
L: “Oh” is like an exclamation. Like you’re shocked.
M: And what does “hey” mean in the place of “oh” in that context?
L: It’s more just like regular. Like hey (pauses for emphasis) my god.
M: Sort of like ‘Hey, my god, why did I have to call this number and get this nutty lady on the phone?’
L: Sort of, yeah. But this isn’t a scam.
M: Tell you what, if you’re from Telstra, as you claim, give me the Telstra number to call you back on.
L: I will give it to you.
M: Great. Shoot.
L: May I ask, am I speaking to XX XXX?
M: I’m not really interested in giving you a name. Just like you are clearly incapable of giving me an actual Telstra number that will go through to you. Give me a number and I will believe this is not a scam.
L: I will give you a number.
M: Excellent. Hit me – what’s the number?
L: Where do you live?
M: Don’t you already know that? Isn’t that information in front of you right now? Where do you live?
L: I am based where you live. The same city and country.
M: And where is that?
L: Melbourne, Australia.
M: Ha! Good for you, that’s not where I am.
L: Yes, it is.
M: No, and I feel quite confident on that fact.
L: You live at XX XXXXX Street, in the city of XXXX (all you need to know is he was out by a state and a suburb… and a street pronunciation).
M: You are incorrect. That’s not where I am.
L: Yes it is. I am outside your door right now. Stick your head out your window, you will see me.
M: I don’t understand, in this version am I currently in a block of flats? Will I look down and see you, or out and see you?
L: If you look outside and see a man on your street, that is me.
M: Nope. I won’t. I won’t see anyone.
L: And there is my van on the street as well. It’s the… blue-black one.
M: Dude, this conversation is a little creepy now. Why do you need a van? What is the van for? Also, I am not even there.
L: Go on, wave.
M: I’m waving, can you see me?
L: Yes. Oh my god, you are very beautiful.
M: Ha – liar!
L: I am not lying.
M: Dude, on so many levels.
L: How old are you?
M: Why would I tell you that?
L: Are you over 70, or under 30? If you are underage I am very sorry.
M: So am I. And I have no reason to tell you my age. Isn’t that on your file?
L: I ask because you have a very smooth voice.
M: Thank you. I have been told I have a voice for radio actually. And a face for it too.
(He chuckles – holy crap – he is not hanging up – is he enjoying this???)
M: Dude, why are you sticking with this conversation. Try another number, seriously, play the odds.
L: You still think this is a scam?
M: Yes. You didn’t even claim this call was being recorded for quality purposes. Is this call being recorded for quality purposes?
L: Yes, and training purposes.
M: Great. Well you can train people how to deal with irritating ladies then. You must be glad you have this all on tape.
L: Can I ask you a question?
M: (Defeated) Sure. Why not?
L: Are you married?
M: Why would I answer that? That’s a really weirdly personal question. Are you married?
L: I don’t find that too personal. I’m not.
M: I don’t understand why we’re still talking. You should call someone else, I have a cup of tea waiting.
L: Will you meet up with me tonight in Melbourne?
M: No. Hard no.
L: Let me give you a treat, please. Meet up with me in the city tonight and I’ll buy you a cup of tea.
M: I want to tell you straight out the gate that offering to buy a girl a treat makes it sound like you’re talking to a puppy. Don’t do that, for the purposes of your seduction game – offering a girl a treat is creepy.
L: Oh, okay.
M: Now this has been entertaining, then weird, but you’ve broken me. I have to go.

The call lasted 11 minutes and 16 seconds.

Painefull Out

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Jet Lag is a Floating Unicorn

I have never given birth, but I have been on a long haul flight. Sure they’re technically a little different, and yes only one of them truly comes with the risk of vaginal tearing (I think… I hope? don’t answer that), but in a lot of ways I believe my reactions to them would be quite similar.

When I prepare to travel from one side of the world to the other, there’s anticipation, nervous energy, and an attempt to pack for every possible scenario. Then about a third of the way through flying for 24 hours I want to press rewind and take the whole thing back – I suspect I’d reach the same conclusion while in labour, I’d just ask them to stuff the baby back in and suggest we forget about the whole procreation gambit.

So, if surrendering all concepts of personal space to economy seating is somewhat akin to the miracle of life, what does that make jet lag? Not the allegedly edible delight that is afterbirth – I won’t be pushing this analogy quite that far because… ew. It’s something else entirely, a different species altogether.

Jet Lag is a floating unicorn waiting for you in the arrivals lounge.

This unicorn to be precise…

Whether the unicorn is a balloon being held by the friend surprising you at the airport, or simply hovering at the edge of your peripheral imagination like Mike Pence (you know you should be more worried by him, but your brain can only hold so much fear for the future of humanity at one time) – everyone gets a unicorn at the end of long haul.

He (the unicorn, not Pence) represents jet lag as it should be seen – the surreal fever dream that haunts you over the coming days – surprising, slightly trippy and prone to getting in the way.

And as the days progress after touchdown, you believe it’s gone, but it hasn’t. You keep thinking it’s not really there, but it is.

What unicorn? I can't see him.

Said unicorn thinks he’s being uber stealthy, but what he lacks in audible noise, he more than makes up for with his vibrant plumage and habit of drifting into the background of photos.

Oh, hello unicorn, I didn’t see you there. You’re so subtle and unassuming.

Actually in that particular photo Jet Lag looks super pissed that Mother Painefull is utterly owning him in the competition to see who can be adorned with a wider variety of colours all at once. Jet Lag the unicorn has kaftan envy, but he’s also pretty much jealous of anyone in possession of a torso.

Jet Lag the unicorn haunted me for a full week – drifting casually through Mother Painefull’s birthday gathering, leering sarcastically as I reacquainted myself with the horrors of the Australian climate (sunburn, sweat, year-round competitive cooking shows), and looming ghost-like in my imagination as I tried desperately to find sleep in my childhood bedroom.

I can hear the disembodied unicorn chuckling dryly as he points out: "Nothing puts the ‘real’ in surreal quite like knowing you’re unemployed, living on the generous rent-free scheme of your mother, and about to turn 33."

There’s a reason Jet Lag has no friends – he’s a total arsehole.

Painefull Out

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

How Did I Get Here... Again?

Eventually I’ll find it funny, but right now it’s mostly just infuriating, and a tad improbable.  13 months and 8 days after I fell down a mountain, I slipped while walking on a flat footpath and ended up back in hospital with a broken leg.  Again.

But I’ll get to that.

The story starts when I moved overseas four and a half months ago.  High on the international wave of optimism wrought by Trump, Brexit and a flawless Oscars ceremony, I distilled everything I owned into one gigantic suitcase (and a few discrete boxes in Mother Painefull’s cellar, which she may have forgotten about so I’ll shut up), boarded a flight, and landed in the sunny United Kingdom.

It was a tale as old as time – girl gets itchy feet to live in London a decade later than she’s meant to, decides to move in with three Italians almost exclusively on the proviso that they make pizza once a week, then promptly gets a job in Leeds.  Classic.

Actual Pizza served up by Actual Italian Housemates

Despite rehabbing my Wolverine leg to the satisfaction of various medical professionals before I left Australia, there was still work to be done.  In the knowledge I was bridesmaiding for one of my oldest, closest friends at a ceremony near Sheffield in July, I became determined not to limp down the aisle.  With this as a useful and worthy goal I began walking everywhere to build up strength.

The simple version of how that went is to say the limp was indeed eradicated in time for the wedding.  The slightly more involved version includes the detail that it was when I began my first graceful steps down the aisle in a strapless, floor length, blush pink gown* that I discovered Mother Painefull was the celebrant.

There’s a lesson here - when your mother claims she’s merely “helping out” at a wedding ceremony rehearsal by “standing in” for the inexplicably absent celebrant, ask follow-up questions.

Someone somewhere must be in possession of a video of me mouthing the words “What the fuck are you doing there?” to my mother while gliding towards her at a dignified pace.  She was wearing an ethereal, bright purple kaftan with sequined neckline, shoulder length matching earrings and Dame Edna inspired glasses** – that’s Mother Paineful for ‘demure’.

It goes without saying that no one remotely compared to the bride.

The rest of the night was a blur of river dance duels, drunken relatives being prised through doorways and 5 different people trying to fix my hair.  It was a hilarious, joyous celebration, and the photographs attest to that, as well as providing evidence of my fundamental, repeated misunderstanding of what you’re meant to do when asked to fake laugh for a ‘candid’ photo.

This brings us to me in the present day, rocking a limp-free walk in Leeds.  Stairs were still a challenge, but the three flights up to my new bedroom were helping me to overcome that.

Life was good, on track, settling into a rhythm – like a North Korean scientist, it felt like all my hard work was finally paying off.  I was trundling to my job while listening to The Quiet American on audio book (drawn in by the possibility that such a thing might exist).

From afar it probably looked like a cartoon character stepping on a well-placed banana peel – left leg shooting out and up in a comical skid, attached body hurtling back before thudding down with a crunch onto the awkwardly placed right leg underneath it.

Fortunately the completed metal puzzle that is my tibia remained intact, and I merely sustained very minor breaks to my ankle and thigh.  Like most sequels ever it was lame and unnecessary, a forced follow-up and a pale imitation.  I can already see the uninspiring poster tagline…

Last time I broke this leg being able to blame a skiing accident at least left me with a bit of credibility.  “Fell while walking completely sober in flat shoes” is not what one would call sexy, dangerous or remotely mysterious.

The word you’re reaching for is ‘embarrassing’.  Like that time you kept giving a full face hyena cackle for a posed, ‘candid’ fake-laughter photo.

Them, as the inevitable pun concludes, are the breaks. 

Painefull Out

P.S.  Every sign and person that ever ordered you to walk, not run, for your own safety was a liar.

* = I think it was blush pink… and that blush pink is a thing?  Whenever I was asked for details of what I’d be wearing I was informed that ‘a dress’ was not descriptive enough, so that’s me trying to give it a little flavour.

** = On the other hand I know this description is entirely accurate – the visual is far more firmly placed in my mind.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Things to Leave Behind

I once produced a television segment about de-cluttering your life.  Actually, I pulled together four such masterpieces – breakfast TV is a Groundhog burial site of repeated content (there’s only so many questions you can script for a candid in-studio chat with Elmo, but the shameless media whore keeps visiting Australia anyway).

In any case, brekky TV was often about becoming a brief, unwilling expert in a topic I couldn’t give two shits about – the salt content of cereal, the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, the reasoning of climate change sceptics … the annoying part was always the information I’d retain.  But no matter what, the rules of de-cluttering wouldn’t stick.

I’ve never been good at throwing things out.  Nothing proved that more thoroughly than packing up my life recently to move overseas.

There was an alarming range of inexplicable, dust-gathering crap.  I’m not talking generic crap, like every magazine I ever bought, or several large boxes of miscellaneous seashells – it was character specific, to say the least.

I’m a jeans girl by nature – in fact I’d say there are some people in my life who’ve only ever seen me sporting god’s gift to trouser material.  But my heart isn’t made of denim, it’s made of dreams and aspirations (and, on a biological level, some other stuff I’m sure), which explains why I found two separate piles of jeans labelled with these post-its:

'Fits, but not comfy' - thanks for the heads up Past Self

'Aspire to Fit (what the hell was I thinking?)' - now Past Self is trolling me... such a bitch
Yes, the piles were substantial, there were far too many pairs of pants… several of which had never been worn.  But there was also the belief that those post-its were so important to their accurate storage that they stayed with them when I moved inter-state two years ago.

Those weren’t the only notes addressed to me that I held on to – I had also stored every abusive missive anyone had ever left on my car windscreen.  I don’t know why… some of them have awful spelling, which was probably amusing at the time.

Still, I’m glad I did, because this particular message….

...helped jog the memory regarding the mysterious can opener in my collection.

Which I now recall purchasing in a fit of whimsy and leaving on my dashboard whenever I parked behind that same car.  Because there’s no higher former of comedy than a prop-based gag targeted at one person you’ve never actually seen, on the off-chance they’ll see it, remember something that pissed them off enough once to leave an angry note… only to be charmed by this jesting response.

That’s how my brain works sometimes.

Of course selling my car as part of Operation Hemisphere Change meant saying farewell to a wide array of novelty items I’d avoided throwing out for years.

I don’t know what I’ll do without that pen from that New York bar I got wildly drunk at once in 2007.  Will the Yaris even start without the hammer that lived under the passenger seat (in case the vehicle veered off a bridge and into a body of water)?  And who would even bother owning a car without keeping a monkey* and a top hat in it?

Eventually, the nostalgia of magical, but admittedly worthless objects from every moment of adulthood gives way to a brutal rhythm.  When trying to distil your life into a single suitcase, culling gets real.  The strange rat king of necklaces that has been slowly growing for 15 years goes in the bin, along with the hand soap from a bizarre little ghost hotel just outside of Bologna, and the yellow folder so optimistically labelled ‘Ideas’ that has remained empty for its entire existence.

As void of contents as the day it was made
Then there are the things that shouldn’t be hard to throw away at all.  Yet, when it came to my leg and arm braces, I paused.  Briefly, ridiculously, I wondered if I might still need them somehow.

At the very least it felt like they needed a ceremony.  Or a bonfire.  Instead they got a wheelie bin.

The things we hold on to often make so little sense.  Like the clothes worn to a funeral – bought on a frantic, blackly comic shopping spree because I hadn’t packed anything mourning appropriate.  I’d consciously chosen not to.  I thought it would be bad luck.  Because that’s also how my brain works sometimes.

I know I’ll never wear them again, and yet they were put in storage.

We accrue so much traveling through life.  Even when you know it would be better to let it go, it can still be hard to truly leave some of it behind.  Especially when it’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t need to be accounted for with removalists or airline baggage limitations. 

Often you don’t even notice you’re carrying it.  Some things will be with you forever.  And sometimes it’s a broken hairbrush you’ve had for 14 years.

Don’t worry, it’s gone to the great big Hairbrushery in the sky.  Because ‘Hairbrushery’ is a word.  It’s Painefull, for ‘fancy landfill’.

Painefull Out

* = Fyi, the monkey’s name was Jo.  I know that would have been a burning question.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Most Painefull Collection

Confession number one: I still use CDs to listen to music.  Not in addition to Spotify, nor in conjunction with a curated iTunes account – I listen to CDs exclusively.

Let the record show I am not trying to be retro, and this is not some sort of proactive choice – I use CDs because it’s what I started with, and the act of changing over to digital always seemed to require more energy than I could muster.  You know, like combining your super funds, engaging in a thorough skin regime at the early age your mother insisted, or, in the case of so many Americans, voting*.

Confession number two: It has recently become apparent that I have never thrown out a CD.  Ever.

Like a pristine skeleton, or a perfectly preserved mummy, my collection remains untouched – an archaeological find that appears to document the limping evolution of my musical taste.

The beginning of said evolution can be traced back to one pivotal moment.

I was 11 years old when I arrived at boarding school for the first time.  I was nervous, excited, shitting myself and generally thrilled all at once.  Each item of my clothing had my full name stitched into it (including every individual sock), my uniforms were pressed, my preferred teddy bear was discretely packed, and my unwitting middle class, white privilege was polished to a high gleam.

But my pride and joy, my ace in the hole, my sure-fire ticket to the social summit of high school was the CD collection I carried in its own special bag on my lap for the length of the trip in.

It was 1997.  Meredith Brooks was all about the ‘Bitch’, Mariah Carey was all about the ‘Honey’, the Backstreet Boys were all about ‘Everybody’… and I had never heard of any of them.

I was raised on Ella Fitzgerald, Cat Stevens and Babs Streisand.  I grew up with Nina Simone in my ear, while Kiki Dee reassured Elton John in my heart.  And all of them were stowed in my special little bag (along with cast recordings of Les Miserables, South Pacific and West Side Story).  Not only did I pack a Bette Midler album, I was so convinced it would be hot property I labelled both the CD case, and the CD itself.

Thank god high school girls are so historically kind to each other, right?

My first dorm room came with two strangers the same age as myself – Smith and Bruno (before long there was a Podge, a Chum, a Morti, and a Buttles, because sometimes, yes, boarding school is every cliché you could possibly imagine).  Almost straight away, I sensed that we did not speak the same musical language.

They spoke fluent Garth Brooks, with accents of Shania Twain.  I, in case this wasn’t already screamingly apparent, had inherited all the tastes and inclinations of my middle aged parents.

So I did what any self-respecting pre-teen would do – I hid my special bag of Broadway classics and era-bound divas under a pile of shoes in the bottom of my closet and never spoke of it again.  And by sheer, involuntary osmosis, I found myself learning every word of ‘Standing Outside the Fire’.

That was the true beginning of my musical miseducation – the long, stumbling road towards discovering what I actually enjoy listening to.  And my untouched CD collection is the time capsule that documents that journey into the heart of darkness, from Britney to Ren & Stimpy (which explains my knowledge of all the lyrics of The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen Anthem).

Sorting through the hundreds of CDs has been akin to an anthropological investigation. 

Apparently I departed the Jewel train after purchasing 0304, her inexplicable foray into dance music (retrospectively it’s likely she was just Taylor Swifting ahead of her time), it’s entirely possible I believed ‘Roxanne’ was a song originated for the soundtrack of the film Moulin Rouge, and it seems I really, really liked Dido for a couple of years.

This Tutankhamun-esque treasure trove raises far more questions than it answers. Questions like:
  • How many times could one teenager buy an album because they liked one song on it, before they learned their lesson?  Creed, Wheatus, I am absolutely looking at you.
  • Why don’t I recognise anything on this dance album?
  •  Who is David, and why do I have his copy of Parachutes?
  •  So much Dido and nothing by the Spice Girls… why?
  •  Did I really adore Ben Lee’s ‘Gamble Everything for Love’ so much I needed to own both the single and the entire album?
  • What could possibly be on the homemade compilation discs I have mysteriously labelled with such descriptive titles as Cool and Mum’s Mix? In the case of the second one… a lot of Dido.
  • And above all else, the greatest, single most important question, which continues to haunt my entire generation: Aqua. Question. Mark.

I’m finally forcing myself to do a cull… but, Dido help me, how do I pick?  What makes a CD essential?  While digital users would undoubtedly say “nothing”, 11 year old me would probably just point at the bag of discs hidden under that pile of shoes back in 1997 (like a creepy, wordless, movie ghost child).

Neither answer is particularly helpful.  It's all too hard...

I'm giving myself a dance break.  I just need to pick the CD, turn on the machine, load it, skip to the song I want, and hope it's not too scratched to play...

Painefull Out

* = All to be filed under Things That Would Be Good For You If You Just Bothered.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

This Juggling Life

It was your standard housemate interview question: what do you do with your spare time?  The answer is usually pretty rote – they’re either fitness freaks who unwind with a soft sand jog, or brunching besties who know where the superior hollandaise is kept.  Occasionally they own up to watching a lot of TV, and sometimes they admit they go home to their parents every weekend.

The two strangers across from me exchanged the briefest of glances, before one replied with only a hint of trepidation:

We juggle.

And that’s when I knew, I wasn’t in Sydney anymore.

It’s a point that was driven home even further when I began unpacking the boxes and bags dropped off by the removalist.  Me, being the anal-retentive control freak my friends have learned to side-step and tolerate, I instantly spotted a suitcase that wasn’t mine.

Either the removalists who’d arrived eight hours late, then tried to bail on me completely, had stuffed up or they’d decided this was a timely opportunity to dispose of a body.  Me, being the absurdly paranoid zombie apocalypse doomsday prepper my relatives have decided to ignore and/or humour, I could only assume it was the latter.

Not wanting the remains of whatever crime Dumb and Dumber were covering up to spend too long festering, I unzipped the aforementioned suitcase.  The Bearded Nephew and I looked down to see…

Bearded Nephew: Is that…?
Me: Wow, they were not joking.

Welcome to Melbourne, enjoy your stay.

Doing interviews for housemates is speed dating, but with vastly more commitment.  It’s filled with all the hurried introductions, oddly intimate revelations and frequent snap judgements you’d expect… but then at the end, instead of vague promises to catch up for a drink, you move in together.

When you make the leap, and choose to share a fridge, and a soundscape… and a wine rack (and, please god, a dishwasher) with someone you’ve just met, it’s important to choose for the right reasons.  Well, no, first it’s important that they choose you (if they have the house, and you simply have the need).  Then, when they choose you, you need to choose them back.  It’s The Bachelor, just with less people invested, and far fewer awkward group dates.

If housemate hunting is Tinder, swiping right means sharing a bathroom for the next 12 months.  It’s signing a contract before finding out what they really look like.  So when they say they’re recreational jugglers, you need to believe them, because it’s random enough that it’s unlikely they’re making that shit up.

That’s how I ended up living with Juggle Boss and Magneto.  Yes, my nicknames make them sound like supervillains with varying degrees of potential menace.

Juggle Boss actually works with circus acts.  Basically that means all her work crises are just better.  For example: “One of my performers took his sword in his hand luggage on to the plane”, and “the candy cane stilt walkers have been over-booked again”.

Magneto works with… engines/magnets/something.  It sounds cool when he describes it.  He’s the type of person who makes dessert by accident, and is known for waking up with a random pineapple after a big night out.  Magneto also admits he hasn’t “come out to his work” about his juggling yet.

I currently have the house to myself because they’re away for a juggling convention.  Because that’s a thing.  It’s not the first one this year, after all the EJC (European Juggling Convention) was only a few months ago.  But this weekend’s one is more specialized – it’s a passing juggling convention.  Because that is also a thing.  A niche, within a niche.

They’re practicing patterns with names such as ‘Funky bookends’, ‘Champy’, ‘Panda panda who’s got panda’ and of course that inimitable crowd favourite ‘8441841481441’.  You know you’re impressed.

Other people who are impressed?

Mother Painefull.  Actually, initially it was just relief - she misheard me the first time and thought I said they were ‘recreational drug users’.  Now she insists they perform every time she sees them.

Also my boss, Stanislavski, who somehow developed an unrelenting ambition for me to learn how to juggle.  Like ‘stage-an-office-wide-talent-show-in-which-I-am-required-to-juggle,-then-cancel-the-show-due-to-lack-of-other-talent-but-still-require-me-to-juggle-five-days-from-now’ unrelenting.  So, I’ll let you know how that goes*.

You know who’s unimpressed?  My housemates every time they get home from running their weekly juggle club, and I ask “How was le juggle (French for juggle**)?”  Apparently it’s a bit repetitive for their liking.  Unlike juggling.

It’s through conversations like that, that I’ve spent the past year and a half testing the patience of Juggle Boss and Magneto (even before the trip down Break-a-Leg Mountain turned them into my personal grocery shoppers and tea-makers).  I’m here to tell you that patience is as flexible and durable as those circus jocks who engage in the dangling arts.  As one surrogate teenage daughter accurately described them, they’re responsible… but fun.

Whether we like it or not, sometimes life throws us into the path of total strangers.  With any luck, they know how to catch.

Even better, they might know how to juggle.

Painefull Out

* = I jest.  I won’t let you know.  Assume it goes badly.

** = I learnt French from Joey Tribbiani.  It’s a reference that’s lost on Juggle Boss.