Monday, 30 July 2012

Hear me discourse

There weren’t any atheists parenting in 1970’s England. The default setting was Christian and families followed that line, it was almost like being union members, to be a non member would have sparked off rumours about you being different and therefore a bit untrustworthy.

There were Jewish and Catholic kids in my school but the majority of us loved the nativity and the baby Jesus was a hard and fast fact, even if some of his super powers were a little uncertain. We prayed every morning, sang hymns about dancing with the devil on our backs and ate chocolate eggs at Easter to celebrate dentists and agonising crucifixion.

The local church was running the Summer School during the 6 week holiday and I went along one year. We were welcomed by beaming adults with guitars chairs and scraping on wooden floorboards. The room was decorated with cartoon pictures of a smiling bearded Noah and happy giraffes about to go for a jolly bob on the ocean.

The supervisors gave us all a picture of Jesus to colour and we did bible stories and games. Towards the end of the day members of each table would go to the wall to colour in the large rainbow that showed the points we’d scored during the day for knowing about frankincense, Eden and how 5,000 hungry party attendees got fed back in da day before frozen party pies.

At the end of the rainbow was a starburst and the aim was to be the first colour to reach the explosion. I coloured in the yellow band for my table and thought I was having fun.

One of the supervisors, in a shirt and tie armed with a clipboard and thick scent of belched Nescafe, came and knelt by me. Hey. He smiled and I smiled back, Jesus had me for a rainbow. Having fun? I nodded. Can you bring a Bible with you tomorrow? I said I would try. I wasn’t sure if we had one. He smiled and burped more Nescafe.

I went home and asked for a Bible. The only one we had belonged to my mother and was something she had since school when she’d been the Virgin Mary in a nativity. It was too precious for me to take to Summer School so we dug up a book of bible stories that I had.

Next day at Summer School I sat back at the yellow table. The supervisor came over during the good morning happy sing-along and asked us all to get our bibles out. I pulled out my big book of bible stories and he stopped, picking it up and looking at it. No bible? I said I didn’t have one. He thumbed through the book, looking at Samson standing between the two pillars and Moses parting the Red Sea and he made a tsk sound. He led me over to another table and I sat with a few other kids there. There’s a special job we need doing that you guys can help us with.

For the day we made paper chains while the kids with bibles ran around and shouted the answers to quiz questions, guaranteeing their place in heaven and – to my frustration – coloured in the rainbow. I really liked colouring in, actually I still do.

After 5 hours of making paper chain decorations we were allowed to sit with the other kids and listened to bible stories, all of which I knew from my bible book. Hell and damnation, pestilence and famine, drowned animals and big boats. Then we prayed and went to get our coats to go home. The supervisor stopped the paper chain gang and asked us again if we could bring in a bible tomorrow, we all said we’d try.

Next day, I still had my bible stories and a note from my mum explaining that the bible at home was a precious family object hence I could not bring it. 2 of the 4 kids I had been making paper chains with now had dusty old dog eared bibles they had found down the back of their families faith. That day 3 of us made paper chains.

I handed in my mums note and the Supervisor read it and said only A bible is a precious object indeed before walking away to the coffee.

I watched someone colour in the rainbow and spent the day with the taste of adhesive gum in my mouth. We joined the group for bible stories again and we went home. I finished out the week, by the last day there were only two of us left without bibles, and we got a special thank you on Friday for all our hard work making paper chains. The kids clapped us and I felt happy again until I saw each and every kid clutching their bibles had smiling sun stickers on their t shirts. I wanted a smiling sun sticker.

The smiling shirt and tie with clipboard held the door and looked forward to seeing us next week. I didn’t go back.

In 2007 Bear and I sat on the headland watching the moon. He was 18 months old and the moon  was turning blood red during an eclipse. He was coo-ing at the moon as I told him I would make it change colour. People were sat around us having picnics and sipping wine. A man in a tie with a clipboard stood and started shouting about God’s wrath, about the end of days. He pointed skywards and then at the sea side town I live in. He railed about the faithless and heaven. I covered Bears ears for a moment and thought about making paper chains and watching other kids colour the rainbow.

Mate, I have a kid here. He pointed at moon and shouted again about hell. Mate, please, take it somewhere else. He promised us brimstone.

A dreadlocked backpacker walked over to the devout man and whispered in his ear. Pointed to Bear and I. Pointed to the crowd. The man took a deep breath and opened his mouth to continue his tirade. The dreadlocked man jolted, as though raising a fist, and the pious penitent man did verily...fuck off. A small cheer went up amongst the godless astronomers, wine drinkers and parents and we went back to watching the moon turn crimson as I kissed Bears ear.

Now I wear a tie and a shirt. I carry papers with me and surround myself with children every Wednesday morning. I go to Bear’s school and in the playground I feel like a Christian, like I should pull out a guitar and start singing that Jesus loves my Calf Muscles and wants me for a paper chain maker. I don't sing, I teach Ethics as the alternative to Scripture. I sit with a class of 8 and 9 year olds and chat philosophy.

I am the anti faint instructor, hear me discourse.

Share share and share again - Thanks

Thursday, 12 July 2012

What do you want?

In Teneriffe I walked from a night club reasonably depressed about my choice of holiday destination while the folks I was on holiday carried on dancing to Rolf Harris songs. I’d given my money to my flat mate as he’d run out for the night and had nothing on me other than a packet of Marlboro.

A girl came up to me.

What do you want? You want a good time?

No thanks.

C’mon, come have a good time.

Nah, it’s ok.

It’s cheap.

I shrugged - I have no cash on me at all, I gave it all to me mate.

She smiled at me and nodded - You have cigarettes?

I do.

I offered her one but she shook her head - I suck for cigarettes.

I think I laughed. I’m really not sure. I was half drunk and sleepy. The sentence sounded musical, almost poetic.

C’mon, come with me.

I shook my head and turned away.

Wait - She put her hand on my arm - I suck for one cigarette.

I had a brief moment of believing I must look pretty damn dapper and hell, maybe she really did think I was cute at 2am on the empty road leading back to my villa. I held the cigarettes out to her again.

No worries, you can just have a cigarette.

She shook her head and frowned at me - Suck and then we both smoke. She was pulling me toward an alley. I glanced up at the right time to see two figures step back in the shadows. She saw me notice them and took her hand from my arm. She smiled as though I’d stumbled upon nothing more than a comedy prank rather than an attempted mugging. She took a cigarette from my pack, shrugged and walked away.

A year later a colleague said he was going to Malaysia with a mate and asked if I wanted to come. Being in my twenties and having a disposable income for once I booked a ticket. My colleague had given me his e mail address, which I had written down incorrectly, and his flight number. At Kualar Lumpar airport I failed to find them. I stood for 4 hours waiting at Arrivals and they hadn’t appeared. Eventually I had no choice but to head into the city and find a place to sleep. It turned out my friends were metres from me at a bar waiting for me to appear but I didn’t know that until I found them 3 days later, by which time they had reported me missing to the British Embassy.

For those 3 days I’d eaten boiled chicken sausage and not liked it. I couldn’t fathom how to order anything else, I tried mime and pointed to other plates but I always ended up with another plate of white sausage.

I finally tracked my friends down and we arranged to meet through a mutual friend in England by e mail. I told them my hotel and they knew it and said they’d be there. The hotel was across the street from the café I was in so I crossed the road and thought I’d sit on the steps and wait for them. I couldn’t miss them; they would have to walk right past me to get to the bar. What I didn’t know was they had been in the café next to mine, were already in the hotel and already at the bar. I sat, and I waited, and I waited.

A cab pulled up and the driver leant out of his window - Young man young lady?

I really don’t know why, but I thought he was asking my gender. It didn’t occur to me that I had a goatee beard and a grade 2 hair cut. I thought he was a confused cab driver who had pulled over with no more intention than asking what sex I was. So I shouted back in moderate annoyance YOUNG MAN OF COURSE.

He looked delighted and sped off. I carried on scanning the street for my friends, who were at the bar scanning the lobby for me and on their third beer. Moments later the cab reappeared and pulled up and the back door opened. Inside was a young man. He was wearing only a t shirt which he lifted to show me his penis. He was gesturing to me with one hand and with the other he was caressing himself. My jaw fell as the jigsaw in my head fell into place and I realised what was transpiring.

Young man young man, you come now. Come come quickly. I stood and backed up, saying No repeatedly. The young man was still smiling at me, still stroking himself, still beckoning me. I stumbled for the door of the hotel and saw my friend at the bar. I sprinted inside and heard the cab screech away.

Where the fuck have you been? they asked as I sat down. I tried to figure in my head how I would explain I had just accidentally hired a male prostitute but the words wouldn’t come. On that same trip I took a photograph of the air traffic control tower as I thought it was a temple and left my passport in a toilet.

Years later in Phnom Penh, while my wife was at Kampong Cham, I was walking to the Western Union to get money. I was a single western male so I expected a certain attention and wasn’t surprised when a moto driver pulled up beside me.

You want girl?

No thanks.

You want boy?

No thanks. I was proud of myself for that one. I wasn’t falling into the nude young man trap again.

You want smoke smoke?

No thanks.

You want……. – he smacked his arm repeatedly as though raising a vein.

No thanks.

You want shoot gun?

No thanks.

You want throw grenade?

No thanks.

You want fire rocket? – he made a whooshing sound – Blow up cow?

No thanks.

He stopped the bike and blocked my path.

What do you want?

Monivong Boulevard hummed past us. The air was dusty and hot; I had travelled three hours by coach and coped with a town called Scun where everyone on my bus bought carrier bags full of fried giant spiders that were handed through the windows. They devoured them, bursting abdomens on their lips and slurping innards like cream eggs. For once on my own overseas I knew where I was, where I was going, how to get back - and there was no sign of any nude young men waving at me. I was quite pleased with myself.

What do you want? He asked me again after allowing me time for internal reflection.

I want to buy my wife some dumplings and go home. He waved me off and swerved back into traffic as another driver shouted at me. Mister, mister you look like Beckham. You have big nose. You big nose Beckham. I waved my thanks for his astute observation, got money, bought dumplings, and took my Beckham good looks back to Kampong Cham.  

Like it, share it, - thanks

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Divorcing my wife

For Christmas I may give my wife a divorce. She tells me that marriage is embarrassing and is contrary to who she feels she is so if the tax office and Department of Immigration have no issues we might get a divorce. Nothing will change, me wife will still celebrate the rock and the roll of me and I’ll still buy her cookbooks, I just won’t be able to call her me wife any more. It also occurs to me that if we do get divorced we can possibly reverse the nonsense that was our wedding.

This week as a workmate has become engaged. When folk tell me they are engaged I stumble over what to say – congratulations on still being with the person you were with last week doesn’t seem to quite cut it. She has the ring and the smile and the discomfort of folk saying Ohh and Ahh a great deal as they ask for details. I wandered past the discussion and heard someone point out that I was one of the few happily married people they knew.

It’s hard to find happily married people but he’s happily married.

I nodded and shrugged at the same time - I am, I guess I am.

I was asked what marriage means to me and without thinking I said Socks. Marriage is having socks.

When I was single. I’d have maybe 4 functional pairs, 3 dysfunctional pairs and a few random lonely mismatching socks that I’d had since school. One morning I found my housemate had yanked my laundry from the machine after the rinse cycle rather than the spin and scattered my clothes on the clothes dryer. This was one of the many reasons why my other house mates and I trained the cat to throw up in his room by feeding is tinned salmon and shutting it in his room until we heard the Greeecccc Greeecccc sounds of its stomach coming up. His boasting that his girlfriend had a perfectly symmetrical vagina, his taking money from the bill bowl for his food and cigarette needs, never flushing his deposits down the toilet and my wet clothing, lead us to feel that second hand cat salmon on his pillow was a reasonable consequence.

My socks were unwearable but movies came to the rescue, as for me they often have. I remembered Uncle Buck microwaving laundry and dashed my socks onto a plate. High power for 15 seconds should do, but when I popped the door a cloud of foot smelling steam belched out. My socks were now both hot and wet so I put them in for another 15 seconds. This lead to more foot steam and my socks being molten, but dry. I pulled them on and felt my feet burn, jammed on my shoes and left for work.

On the walk to work I felt something give, a powdering around my toes. At my desk I pulled off my shoes and found on both feet my sock extremities had disintegrated. The tips of all my toes were showing and I could see more crumbling happening before my eyes. My black socks were turning brown and in a moment of unutterable stupidity I grabbed a stapler and closed the holes with 5 staples on each sock and sprinted off to a meeting.

Since marrying I have always had socks. I don’t credit this to my wife; there is just something about being in a couple, especially when you have kids, that makes something as basic as socks achievable.

To the newly engaged girl I also said that marriage is embarrassing.

My wife asked me to marry her while sat on the toilet. I was in the bath. She was only sat; I didn’t give a tearful Yes to the romantic sounds of pee. Our reasoning for marriage went no further then my need for an Australian visa. Her proposal was a shrugged we may as well just get married then huh? Pleased with our decision, my to-be-wife wearing a green plastic ring that was on the cistern (was it God placing it there to bless our love? - .no, it was a relic from Christmas and a testament to our housekeeping) we went out and got drunk on Veuve Clicquot. Drinking lead to phone calls and soon Australia knew about our engagement while English family was left in the dark. Australia seemed safe to tell as we didn’t think they would come to the wedding.

They did.

It got out of all control, weddings stop being about the couple and become about everyone and everything else. Everyone wants to come, to stare, to eat, give advice, take photos, giggle, dance and drink. We were lean with our invitations but we still ended up with considerably more attendees than intended.

Our original plan was 2 witnesses and a curry afterwards. We ended up with 50+. As soon as people knew the wedding grew. And grew.

After socks and embarrassment I said relief.

It’s nice to be married in some ways. Marriage means you have a bosom in your home. I said it was good to be in a team, especially when you have kids. I taught my son to pee in pot plants. My wife taught him to make pasta. I taught my daughter to deride her grandparents, my wife taught her to make them birthday cards. Having a wife means always having someone to talk to about my stool consistency. It’s nicer to be with someone then have a concerned liver and be living on me own aged 38. The marriage part of it matters the least though, it's the having someone that is the great part, especially if they feign interest in your stool consistency.

Knowing then what we know now it would be extremely unlikely that we would have married. If we had, it would have been 2 mates as witnesses and a curry afterwards. More likely we’d have saved the cash and gone to Morocco. It made no difference to my Australian visa or our relationship. We’d still have had the kids we just wouldn’t have that pointless piece of paper – which I signed on the Wife line so technically my wife is my husband.

So yeah, maybe we’ll get divorced, and if we do we’ll celebrate with a curry and 2 mates.