Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lady Sings The Blues, So Well.

At 8 o’ clock on a Saturday morning, I arrived in Holland Village, bleary-eyed and grumpy. We’d been working past eleven the night before and I crawled into bed past midnight, collapsing for what felt like a few minutes till an alarm blared at dawn.

Jo and I trawled the cafes looking for errant dog owners till we found a couple of dogs and trailed them to The Coffee Bean. As we dropped into seats, hoping against hope that they would do something newsworthy, someone beside me called my name.

I turned my head to see my boss, casually dressed in a polo shirt and shorts, having breakfast with his children.

“Hey boss,” I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Good life, huh. Hanging out in a café while we’re working!”

He rolled his eyes at me. “What good life?! I was up till one coordinating today’s schedule! And Jay has been up and at the airport since 5am!”

I was instantly wide awake. “What?”

“Yeah. Didn’t you hear about the guys who drowned? She had to go down and cover that asap.”

Suddenly I felt hugely guilty. Jay and I had probably gone to bed at around the same time and she must have been awakened unmercifully before the sun rose and chivvied round to the airport to face five grieving families.

Knowing her, she had no doubt rushed down without complaining. And here I was, strolling in to “work” at eight and feeling grouchy about it.

But then, I’ve come to realise that this is how things always go here.

I work with five other girls, all around my age. Whatever happens, someone’s always got to be there to watch everyone else’s back. If I’m free at night and Mav isn’t, I go down and do what needs to be done, till one o’ clock in the morning, if need be. If Dee knows how to do something I don’t, she’s there in an instant, helping me out.

And when Jay needs to take an emergency day off, Deb covers for her, no questions asked. Day in, day out, we work together. And we always do our best to cover each other’s asses.

As cliched as it is, I was always under the impression that working with a group of girls would be a bitchy, frustrating experience. Instead, all I’ve seen so far is how resourceful, hardworking and respectful my colleagues can be.

I’ve grown up in an environment where the women are always the strong ones. The men sat around and whined a lot and tried to assuage their threatened egos or shouted imposingly and gave orders.

It was the women, however, who got shit done.

My mother complains a lot, but she’s one of the strongest people I know, second only to the unbelievable dilligence of my grandmother. I’ve learnt quickly that when men fall short, women grit their teeth, pick up the piece and bear it. Where the men’s tempers flare, the women have no choice but to get a grip and deal.

I like men, really I do, but the specimens who are actually capable of taking care of all their own needs are few and far between. And being on a team full of capable, strong-minded women means that things get done, whatever it takes.

They are troopers, all of them.

I’ve seen Dee and Jay wheedle their way into situations I would’ve thought nigh impossible to be privy to. I watch Deb charm her way into old men’s hearts. And at lunch, when we all escape the grind for an hour or two, we’re usually busy pissing ourselves over Mav’s cutting wit and her spot on imitation of one of our bosses, I won’t mention which.

This evening, I was sent to an estate to commence a door-knocking exercise that looked like it was going to take all night long. Dee, who was supposed to join me, had to attend a funeral in the family. I was all prepared to stake out a whole block of people on my own and arrived at eight, armed with a list of (supposedly) astute questions.

At eight fifty, when I was just fuming over getting a door slammed in my face, Dee harriedly messaged me, telling me that she was on her way and that she would take over where I left off. She apologised, of all things, for being late and promised that she would be there as quickly as a cab could bring her.

Grateful doesn’t even touch how I was feeling just then. We padded up and down the estate till eleven and left only when a resident rather pointedly told us that it was getting late. As we slumped over canned drinks in the void deck, giggling with exhaustion, I figured out that I somewhere, somehow, I had gotten really lucky with this team.

As Dee said, it’s a dog’s life.

But we’re all dogs together. And somebody’s always got my back.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Love Songs in Age

It’s not that I’m surprised about how my life fits neatly into a few little boxes – I’ve moved far too many times for that. It’s not that I feel sad about the change, the shift away from the place where I grew up. There have been many bad memories here, as many as good ones, and I want to wash their lingering odour off my skin.

Mainly it’s that I find myself startled at just how much I have to throw away.

I work in an unpredictable environment and I live in a family which brings new meanings to the words spontaneous and crazy. Colour me boring, but I like to have a little anchored-ness in the life I lead.

I hate pretending permanence – putting up pictures and posters and knick knacks when I’m really living out of a suitcase. Because then I have to rip them all out when I move on, like the delicate roots of young grass just growing from seed. I would rather eat off paper plates and sleep on a rolled up sleeping bag than have to return heavy crockery and marshmallow-fat pillows when the time comes to leave. I have, in fact, done just that.

So when I find a place that I can truly call home for a little while, I keep things. Too many things. Little ripped tickets and labels, receipts and pieces of plastic, all reminders of places I have been, places I can’t even remember any more. I keep so much shit that an Ikea bio-degradable plastic bag bio-degraded on my bookshelf. I had to pull the little smithereens out like handfuls of feathers, like seventh month ash.

But this time it’s different. This time I don’t have the space I used to, I don’t have the time or energy that I used to to keep my belongings catalogued and to handle them everyday, remembering stories in their grooves and pits.

I was stoic tonight, as I threw my things away, steadily, one by one.

Large, spiral-bound organisers with important birthdays and exams circled in glitter pens, notes from old friends scribbled teasingly in the margins. Glossy day books with creamy pages faced with paintings of dreamy, smudged Impressionism. The one I loved of the woman holding the umbrella on a wind-tossed hill. The notebooks I wrote little notes in: “You may only invite a lower minister to an event when a higher minister has declined. Only when all that fails can you turn to a grassroots leader.”.

A clock that once meant something to me and now sits on a low shelf, lined with grey fluff.

Chip runs among the boxes, wondering at our jerky movements to fill them up. His bad ear flops with each step. I’m so glad I don’t have to pack him into a box to bring him with me.

Everyday, pieces of someone who I was, who I am, fall into the bin to be lost forever. I thought I would mourn all those things – the long lists I used to make, the drawings of every random thing.

But I have collected and thrown away and found and lost and ached and hurt over so many precious, secret things that it’s all become a blur. I once believed that you defined and steadied yourself in the special things you made or kept.

Now, I’ve learned the only core you can truly root yourself to is the one that sits deep inside your mind.