Sober-curious drinking

Whatever the reason behind your dry July, there’s no denying the growing awareness of booze-free drink options in restaurants and bars beyond the sweet mocktail.

I’ve tried many, many variations of alcohol free beer, wine, spirits and Ready-To-Drinks. You’ll notice the different mouth-feel most. It doesn’t have the same weight in the mouth that alcoholic versions of do. That’s just the way things are.

Here are my top recommendations.

Lyre’s American Malt

I like whiskey, I won’t deny that. The vanilla and herbal notes provide a welcome to my winter drinking. Mixed with a nice dry ginger ale, it’s easy drinking. I’ve even made a Mint Julep with it when I was feeling fancy.

Cheese match – L’Amuse Signature Gouda

https://lyres.com.au/

Brunswick Aces Spades Sapiir

London dry style similar to a gin, so infused with a range of botanicals including green cardamom, lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepperberry

I make an old school G&T with Fever-Tree Refreshingly Light Mediterranean Tonic, and some fresh citrus peel from the backyard pots. A large ice cube and fancy glass and things are looking better already.

Cheese match – double down on the fragrance of the Mediterranean vibes and some Fleur du Maquis

https://brunswickaces.com/

UpFlow Stout

This brings togther all the delightful roasty, toasty flavour of malt with a backbone of bitter chocolate/coffee. As is the case with alcohol free beer, the head dissipates quickly, there is plenty of flavour to keep you engaged.

Cheese match – Bleu d’Auvergne

https://www.upflowbrewing.com.au/

Sobah Pepperberry IPA

Thanks to the hoppy IPA base and the spice of Australian Native pepperberries, this IPA has great depth of flavour. Apparently it is rich in antioxidants and vegan friendly but what really counts is that it’s a great sub in that actually tastes like craft beer.

Cheese match –Rouzaire Fougerus or perhaps a washed rind

https://sobah.com.au/

Wine – For me, I appreciate high amounts of acidity in my drinks and most de-alcoholised wines are too soft, and sometimes too sweet. Tannins not only give wine bitterness but also body.

I’ve tried a handful of options and none of them are wine in my book.

Many of the alcohol-free options are sparkling and that’s probably something to do with carbonation’s influence on the mouthfeel.

If you do find a good wine, let me know. I still drink wine, beer and spirits but it’s no longer a default position.

Po’boy

Or is it poor boy or po-boy? Whatever you want to call it, I implore you to make one.

Long roll/half baguette

Protein of choice

Shredduce (see below)

Optional extras:

Tomato slices

Pickles

Hot sauce – I quite like Tabasco green

Mustard

Mayonnaise

Get a long roll, half a baguette will do. You want something a bit crusty on the outside but with a soft and yielding interior. Also, this a hot sandwich not one with cold fillings and not a toasted sandwich. It’s best if the dressings (ie not the main event) are room temp but stress ye not if this doesn’t happen.

With the bread choice sorted, cut it mostly but not completely the way through. Do you really want all the bits to fall out while you’re scoffing it? Bend the seam open for ease of filling.

I like a bed of shredded lettuce – shredduce, if you will indulge me. I also like several thin slices of tomato but I won’t demand you include them if tomato is not your thing.

My preference is for something like fried shrimp, fried oysters or fried catfish if one is in a country where such things are available. Here in Australia, I’d opt for fresh prawns warmed through in butter and garlic, fried calamari or fried flathead tails. Oysters, I like raw or Kilpatrick style if I’m feeling nostalgic. So choose your protein preference and get that happening because, as mentioned, this is a sandwich with a hot filling.

To construct, you’ve got shredduce on the bottom, tomato then your condiment of choice but don’t overdo things. Stick to one, or two at most, and be parsimonious in the quantity; you want to taste the main event. Finally top with your hot protein and a sprinkle of salt (it makes things come alive on your tongue.)

Oh and don’t’ consume while wearing your best white t-shirt. In fact, for preference, consume it outside.

So where does the name come from? The neat origin story involves the roll being fed to over one thousand striking streetcar workers in 1929. *May or may not be true.

Muffaletta

BREAD

Ideally, it should be a bread as large as your outstretched hand which, when filled, is more than you should comfortably eat. Focaccia, Turkish or even those flat burger buns from the supermarket. (In fact, this whole thing can be sourced from your average supermarket.) I’m not a believer in scooping out any of the bread insides; I just don’t understand this move.

Cut the roll of choice all the way through, please. I promise it’s the right move.

MEAT

Meat needs to cover the porky spectrum, a minimum two. One must be a hot salami plus a pressed deli meat, preferably mortadella. The third can be your choice but again I implore you to stay within the porcine family. I’d choose capocollo or a double smoked ham. Chicken, turkey and beef small goods have no place here.

You need several slices per layer. They can be overlapped as required but they must reach edge to edge. But if you use too many slices, those whole things loses structural integrity.

THE WET STUFF

Now to the wet components. I like them top and bottom for maximum crumb penetration.

A good giardiniera (pickled cauliflower, carrot maybe some celery and onion) is the ideal place to start. If you can’t locate this Italian-style pickle look for something briny and pickle-y. It’s going to provide a satisfying crunch to the finished dish. Obviously, you can make it if you feel the need to. I like to add some roasted capsicums and then dice it all up.

Olive tapenade – again use a bought one for ease but feel free to make your own. Think olives (black or green or both) pitted and finely diced, garlic, anchovy, maybe some parsley, capers and all mixed with olive oil. Generously spread one of these on each side of the bread, ensuring to add some of the carrier liquid.

CHEESE

Provolone – not the piccante which can taste of bile to my mind. Two layers please. I’m ‘one of those people’ who always orders extra cheese on everything. I’ve used Jarlsberg from the supermarket and this works too. You’re looking for something mild yet creamy in flavour to balance out the rest of the components.

Important note.

No mayonnaise, mustard, or butter are necessary. There’s enough going on here as it is. Leave it to sit (and pressed under a weight is best) while you clean up. It needs this time for flavours to meld together and the juices to soak into the bread. Only toast it if you must. Cut into half so you can admire your layered handiwork.

It’s pickle-y, salty, creamy, earthy goodness – enjoy!

Biscuits and Gravy

Once you understand what these words mean in the USA, you’ll feel much relieved.

BISCUITS

1 cup cream
1 cup soda water
3 cups SR flour
1 tsp salt

Combine the above until it just comes together than turn out onto a floured surface.
Form it into a slab and cut in 12 equal parts. Smoosh the corners so they’re roundish.
Place on oven tray close together (they may join when baking, don’t stress) and brush tops with cream.
Bake at 200 degrees for 15 minutes or until tops are golden. My ocean temp is highly unreliable so I like to keep checking whatever goes in there.

GRAVY

500 g sausage meat freed from the skins, or mince – generally pork but it’s good with chicken also
2 tbl fat of your choice – butter, oil, duck fat
2 tbl plain flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cream

Push the meat out of the skins and brown it off in a little of your chosen fat.
Remove and put to one side while we make the roux. Add the rest of the fat and flour and whisk together over medium heat. Add milk slowly at first and keep whisking while it thickens. Add cream cause I like the lusciousness.
Season generously with pepper, salt and whatever else you like eg cayenne, herbs, garlic powder. Toss the meat back in to warm though. Taste again for seasoning then serve over warm biscuits.

If you want to fancy it up, you could fresh herbs, caramelised onions, bacon bits, cheese or, as we had in Seattle, sub out the sausage for crab meat.

Melbourne story-telling

My name is Mandy Kennedy – you need to know that for this story.

We met online which clearly is the way these things happen nowadays.
He was living in Perth but about to move to Melbourne for work.
His company had let go 25% of its workforce several weeks prior and they’d all gone out drinking for the evening.
He’d drunk applied for half a dozen jobs later that night and, fortuitously, was successful regarding the one in Melbourne.
He’d never been to my city before. He’d spent the last dozen years between Kalgoorlie and Perth, being from England originally.
He flew over (remember those days) and spent several days looking at apartments until he found one he liked.
2 bedrooms 11th floor apartment in St Kilda with views out to the Dandenongs. Nice!

Online, he kept looking at my profile, so one night and half a bottle of sav blanc later, I threw him a bone and sent him a message.
‘So Mr Kennedy71, I guess I should introduce myself; I’m Ms Kennedy 72.’
Now I can see this message with a more objective eye.
My profile name was Klimt – as in Gustav Klimt – the Austrian symbolist painter, one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement, noted for his frank eroticism of the female body. You know his work even if his name doesn’t ring a bell.

Dating profiles are like the blurb on the back of a book, they should pique your interest and hint at what is to come.
I’ll never use lovestolaugh73 (too cliched) yrdestiny (seriously?) and never anything featuring my name or location. I don’t need any more stalkers.

I figured he was using his name and year of birth cause he was fresh meat – I mean, new to online dating.
Anyway we connected and messaged briefly before taking it IRL – well, talking on the phone.
A week later he’d moved to Melbourne and that following weekend we met up. I volunteered to taking him on a walking tour of my city; my Melbourne, if you will. ‘Wear your good walking shoes,’ I said.

So there we are, at Queen Vic market munching on a bratwurst with sauerkraut in a crusty roll.
It’s one of those typical busy Sunday mornings and the market is pumping with shoppers and tourists alike. He buys the sausages while I find us a perch by the wall to eat them.
We’re chatting easily, both dropping crumbs down our front, when I think how easy it is talking to him.

He then gets a bit more serious – ‘I need to tell you something. I’m not Mr Kennedy 71.’
‘What?’ I say, genuinely not understanding.
‘I mean, my surname is not Kennedy.’ He goes on. ‘My name is Steve Druce not Steve Kennedy.’
‘Why would you use Kennedy in your profile name then?’ I ask.
‘Well, Mr Kennedy is a WWF wrestler and he’s the complete antithesis of me so it’s funny, see?’
‘How would I know Mr Kennedy is the name of a wrestler?’
‘But it’s funny, cause well,’ he shrugs, ‘I’m clearly no wrestler.’ At that he pops the last of the spicy bratwurst in his mouth and smiles.
‘Well, you’re in my phone as Steve Kennedy,’ I say.

After wandering around the market, we walk down Lonsdale Street and I point out the Hellenic ornamental border on the footpath, we walk through China town, up to the Parliament building and stop for a coffee at the European. Conversation is easy between us. We discuss books and art but mostly food and travel.
We walk down towards the river and around Fed Sq. I explain its controversial redevelopment and how no one calls it Federation Square but always Fed Square.
We watch buskers entertain the crowd and try to figure out how much money they make in a day.
We wander down to the river’s edge and I point out the prime real estate occupied by the private boat clubs on the south bank.
Further along we cross the pedestrian bridge and divert down to Ponyfish Island for a unique perspective of the Yarra River and the city. For true Melbourne initiation, we share a long neck of Melbourne Bitter.
We cross back into the city and duck into Young and Jacksons and I show him Chloe – the nude portrait which caused such a stir in the days before you access nudes almost instantaneously on your phone.
I explain how the public transport system works and that it’s pronounced Myki not mickey. I think I allay his fears about hit by a tram.
I’m enjoying our afternoon so much I try to delay its conclusion by taking a succession of laneways and arcades to weave our way though the CBD.
(As an aside – a few years later, I end up employed as a tour guide taking visitors on walking tours of our city.)

We’re almost back to where we started so I offer to give him a lift home. He agrees, confessing to being tired from all our walking. Too quickly, we’re in St Kilda and the car is idling while we continue to chat. We sit this way for another half hour.
Finally we say goodbye and he suggests that he call me that evening to arrange a second date later in the week.

‘That’d be great Mr Kennedy,’ I say.
‘It’s Mr Druce, remember?’ He says.
‘No, I think it’s easier if you stay Mr Kennedy, that way you don’t have to change it when we get married.’

I drive away.

Postcard from isolation

They say keeping a routine is important. My routine is mostly thinking about what meals I want to cook in the next few days. And excitingly, I now have three meals a day to consider. Back before, when you could decide on a whim to go down the shops for one ingredient, breakfast didn’t really feature on my radar. I don’t like food in the morning. A litre of strong milky hot tea is the only way to start a morning. It’s the ideal accompaniment to my hour in bed reading.

So now I am allowing myself to indulge in the mid-morning breakfast. It might be a case of using up the slightly-too-ripe tomato from the fruit bowl on toasted getting-stale bread ends topped with the wilting basil. Equally it is just as likely to be the three-weeks-in-fridge eggs scrambled and topped with hardened cheese nubs. Weeks of staying home to ‘flatten the curve’ (which we no longer need to explain. Other new phrases that have entered the common lexicon: social distancing, self-isolate, herd immunity, lockdown) force us to consider our fridges and pantries with a critical eye.

Now of course, there will be dishes to wash. Currently there are always dishes to wash. Next it’s time to do my yoga stretches. Move the ottoman, lay down on the floor, press play on whatever podcast I’m currently listening to (preferably non-Covid-19 in subject), notice how much cat hair there is down here, ignore it and begin the stretching routine anyway. My glutes are tight when I sit too much and I’m always sitting too much now. So as I lay flat against the floor I try to breathe slower, deeper, testing the capacity of my lungs. Covid-19 or Coronavirus (pick your preferred nomenclature) attacks the respiratory system and patients have reported the sensation of drowning. I have to admit that this is the thing that scares me the most. Drowning, in a hospital bed with the best medical care our country has but unable to do a thing, seems inconceivable.

So, breakfast and stretches done, time to do some laundry. Yes, I’m washing things more than I normally would. That’s the thing about an invisible virus, it could be anywhere. After venturing out into the world, the one inside opens the front door to minimise touching of surfaces.
Inside person – ‘wash your hands!’
Previously-outside person – ‘I am!’
I read an analogy about picturing the virus as glitter and as a glitter-phobe I know that shit gets everywhere even when you think you’ve cleaned it off and gotten rid of it. So yes, I’m washing our towels, our clothes, our bedding more often. I feel like I’m guarding myself against the unknowable.

Time to think about lunch. What might it be today? Cacio e pepe? Okonomiyaki? Cheese soufflé with a side of petit pois a la française? YouTube cooking channels have a lot to answer for. Get distracted by my phone and check Facebook and Instagram for absolutely no good reason apart from being reminded that there are people out the in the world. There’s a new messenger request. Someone else wants some of my sourdough starter. I’ve shared maybe 30 of these in the last month. People rediscovering the ability to make their own bread. Not that I imagine they will continue to be home bakers once ‘normality’ has been restored but maybe, just maybe, they won’t baulk at the $7.00 sourdough loaf from their local bakery.

I switch on our hand-me-down coffee machine and warm up the milk while it cycles through its start-up. We take our coffees on the front porch to discuss today’s lunch options while marvelling at how quiet the street is now most people work from home and the park next door has been locked closed. The autumnal weather is at odds with the sense of existential dread so many people are feeling.

I think the house directly opposite us is empty. Maybe they’ve a holiday house they’ve retreated to. I don’t blame them. The house with the most comings and goings in our street belongs to the weed dealer.

So what do I do with the rest of my day? I write. At least I try to write. This isolation has been great for my writing. The forced solitude (if you don’t count Steve in the next room or the two cats) encourages introspection. And that’s what I write. I write narrative non-fiction which is factual things I have done and my view on it all. I may massage details to suit but it’s my story so I don’t care.
I’m most of my way through a manuscript that I would love to finish. I want the lack of paid employment to continue so I have to keep writing.

It has been speculated that we’ll be in lockdown til late July. Yes please. Though of course it’s not as simplistic as all that. I still want to go the the pub and see my friends, more than one at a time. I want to share meals and laugh at a joke without the effort that Zoom sometimes requires.

So , Mr Prime Minister, can you forbid me from going back to work but let me go out and play with my friends please?

The New Norm

The world has shifted sidewards too rapidly these last few weeks. Maybe it’s only been a week but that’s the thing about time – when the laws of the universe have gelatinised, time itself becomes untrustworthy.

Most of my work has evaporated and the remaining quotient has become an ‘essential service.’ As the majority of the fortunately employed now work from home, we’re discovering the limitations of our country’s internet connection.

The local library has temporarily closed so friends are delving into their bookshelves and sharing the bounty.

Good Karma groups are reaching out to ask for assistance, sourdough starter or spare computer monitors.

Each inclination to go down the street (for coffee, for flour or to just feel sun on your face) becomes a fierce internal debate.

Bedroom doors are shut so we can hear the rest of our team during the endless online meetings.

Social media has become something I wish to simultaneously avoid and yet that’s where I’m finding the biggest belly laughs. Nothing like a pandemic to inspire the best memes.

My podcast listening is down because I’m not commuting but on the upside I’m reading much more because books are excellent escapism.

I’ve always enjoyed showering in the middle of the day and it currently breaks up the day rather nicely into two distinct time frames. Of course, I also have no excuse not to do my morning yoga stretches even if I don’t get around to them until the afternoon.

Pubs, cafes and restaurants no longer exist as a viable place to congregate (even typing that word feels a little risky) so drinking at home is the only option. I absolutely believe I’ll have virtual drinks with friends via Skype/Zoom/insert app of choice before the new norm dissipates.

I read a book or watch a movie where people are cheering on a sports match, or slapping each other on the back at a pub and think ‘well, not now!’ We will become used to this new situation. That is a fact.

Just think how wonderful things will be when we’re sitting in a friend’s backyard passing around a bowl of chips and not second-guessing ourselves. It’ll take some time to be comfortable around other people, touching what they’ve touched, not flinching when someone coughs. Maybe that time will coincide with the same time people will use the last of their hoarded toilet paper.

Ghosts

I can still see it now – a large, proper china tea cup sitting on its saucer ever so gently shaking in her grasp. Her thin, spindly fingers are absent-mindedly caressing the flowers which encircle the cup, their interlaced folds of delicate petals surround the tight bud, blossoming, spilling outwards to unravel in an ordered chaos. Slightly shiny, crepe-like skin, so sheer I can see her veins. There is a small side table nestled up against the armchair but she is so focused on her tale that I think she has forgotten she is even holding the tea cup.

It is a day like any other in our house. My two young daughters are running around the garden picking flowers, chasing butterflies or something equally bucolic. I am pottering around my kitchen, baking biscuits for school lunches and getting a head-start on the week’s meals. The sun is streaming in the long windows, filtered through the over-hanging trees making it a place I’m very content to be.

It is through the kitchen door at the side of the house that people entered. In fact, when new people came to the house and approached the front door, they were stranded there for quite several minutes before we knew anyone was there. The wires to the front doorbell didn’t lead anywhere useful so it never rang even if someone managed to find the button.

The house had been extended multiple times over its almost one hundred year history so that its direction and focus had changed. With almost more hallways than rooms, the concept of good design had been bypassed as rooms were added one by one.

It is her firm rasping knock on the window, by the back door, that draws my attention. I hadn’t been expecting any visitors. Drying my hands on my apron, I shuffle to the back door. It’s the weekend and I’m wearing weekend-at-home-appropriate clothing. She isn’t.

‘Hello?’ I say upon forcibly sliding the reluctant door along its tracks.

‘Hello there,’ she replies.

I’m sure she would have introduced herself but more than ten years later I have no recollection of her name. I do, however, still remember being slightly mesmerized by her appearance. Multiple strands of pearls hang down from her neck, nestling into her rich velvet scarf. Layers of clothing in dark, gemstone tones jar at the bright sun in which she stands, leaning heavily on a walking cane. For a few moments we watch each other. I am wondering where, or rather when, she has come from. No doubt, she is sorting through her memory files trying to reconcile the many times she had stood at this door to be ushered in by her dear friend of many years. Not today though.

Although she knew the house had been sold, my strange face is still a disappointment. I don’t even have a chance to invite her inside, however. Stepping past me and into the kitchen, she explains how many years she has been visiting here. Not pausing in either the kitchen or the dining room, she moves deliberately and determinedly her 90-year-plus body onwards, so I have nothing else to do but follow.

As we arrive in the lounge room, she looks up and after a few moments, smiles. I can only imagine this room hasn’t really changed too much. The cherry-wood panels that line its walls, the large fireplace and mantle taking up an entire corner have not changed; only the furniture and its arrangement. Standing beside her, I can only wonder what she sees. I take the opportunity to offer her the armchair, its commanding position ideal to survey her domain.

Like a lady in waiting, I offer her some tea. She nods her approval and I disappear back into the kitchen to fossick for the supplies required – teapot, creamer, leaf tea, tea cup and saucer, a small plate of biscuits still warm from the oven. As the electric kettle takes its time boiling, I wonder who is this woman seated in my lounge room. Returning triumphant with my tray of tea supplies, I‘m unsure where to start but it turns out that doesn’t matter, as I’m not the one directing things here now.

‘I have been coming here for many, many years, you know.’

I had figured out my role as silent adoring audience.

‘Yes, I’ve known Nina and Clem since the early days. Stanhope was such an exciting place. The Russian Ballet would always visit when they were in town. The parties they would have,’ she pauses and points out through the west window. ‘Out there, under the cherry trees looking over Eltham. Tables laden with all sorts of food, they would play music and have outrageous arguments. So much life, so much laughter. I never saw Nina smile so much as she did then.‘ Her own smile slowly fades.

I hand her a cup of tea which is not so full that she will spill it with her trembling hands. I don’t want to interrupt her but I want to know who she is and what is she doing here in my house. Hopefully, we will get to that at some point.

‘How did you come to know Nina?’ I ask trying to steer the conversation somewhat.

‘My first husband and I moved in to the street behind ten years or so after the war. We knew everyone in the street back then. Stanhope used to be quite a large estate. It stretched all the way down the hill to the railway line. Being academics they never really had any money, so they would sell off a block here and there when they needed to. I can still picture them running down the hill to the station to catch the train into Melbourne University where they both worked. The driver would blow the horn giving them time to race down. Nina was head of Russian Studies and Clem edited the literary journal Meanjin.‘

She looks down at her left hand as if noticing for the first time that she is holding a cup of tea. I offer her a biscuit but she declines with a slight wave of her right hand. I feel obliged to take one as though that is the reason I presented them in the first place. My girls are a blur as they run past the windows, squealing.

‘Nina couldn’t have any children of her own but she would host birthday parties for the neighbours’ children. She loved having children around. She would be very happy to know that there is a family living here now.’

‘We’ve only been here a few weeks but we really like it here,’ I say trying to assuage any concerns. I bring the side table a bit further in front to make it easy for her to place her tea down. She pays it no heed. We both sit in silence and I think how to explain to this woman what I already know. I have met Nina. I can feel her over my shoulder, keeping an eye on me. “Just watching, darlink. Just watching.”

Nina is short with her long hair pulled back tightly in a bun. Always smartly dressed, she enjoys the company of me and my daughters. At times, she sits in the corner of the kitchen on the wooden bench next to my girls as they attack their afternoon snacks. In fact, both Nina and Clem love the life and energy we’ve brought to the house.

At some point, Nina became ill and with her strength ebbing day by day, she soon never left her bed. Clem would sit near her bedside reading as Nina dozed. She was grateful for the exciting lives full of love and laughter that she and Clem had shared. Sadly, too soon, she passed away.

Clem couldn’t cope with the great weight of sadness he felt at this enormous loss. He drank more and more whiskey from his favourite crystal low ball to help blur reality but upon waking each morning, the house was still cold and empty without her. Not too long after, Clem moved out and died a few months later. Colour had been gradually draining out of him without his Nina around.

I understand that our family moving in, with all the noise and light that a family with two young girls bring with them, stirred Clem and Nina.

It is only a few seconds between the sound of the back door slamming and my six and eight year-old daughters bounding into the room, puffing and laughing. But the spell is broken. My guest straightens up, placing her tea cup roughly on the table and starts her ascent out of the chair. I go to assist and get stuck not knowing how to help so just stand beside and watch.

Picking up the teapot, cups and tray, I follow her to the back door. She knows the way. I say goodbye as she disappears down the path and around the corner. I look down and see her still full cup of cold tea, untouched.

The Last Time

The last time

The last time I rode my bike to work, I didn’t ride it home. An ambulance took me to hospital instead. My bike had slipped on tram tracks (very Melbourne) and I tumbled down like a sack of potatoes. It took me 6 months to get the courage to ride again.

The last time I dyed my hair was over a year ago. I like that my blonds now shine through.

The last time I was in a St Kilda pub on a Saturday night, the bartenders ignored me while they clambered to serve a skimpily-clad 18 year-old. I guffawed so loud I startled them.

The last time I got married, I divorced him 13 years later.

The last time I took illicit drugs, I did so in a safe and comfortable environment with someone I trust to guide me through. The next morning he asked if I wanted a cigarette with my coffee. I said, ‘I don’t smoke.’ He said, ‘you did last night.’

The last time I took a pregnancy test it was negative. I was, and still am, very thankful for that.

The last time I lied was yesterday.

The last time I swam in the ocean it was off Magnetic Island and not really warm enough but I hadn’t carted my bathers from Melbourne for nothing.

The last time I slept solidly through the night was earlier this year. It’s so rare that when it happens I wake in awe.

The last time I went for a jog I was 12 years old and before I had finished developing fully. I don’t care what other people say about sports bras, bouncing is just too uncomfortable. So if you see me running, you’d better run too cause there’s something scary coming this way.

The last time someone asked me to get married, I said no to the marriage but yes to jewelry and a party.

The last time I raged against injustice was earlier this week. There seems a lot stuff in the world to rage at lately.

The last time I did yoga was this morning. It seems that if I don’t stretch and move daily, things start to seize up.

The last time I was able to use my phone without finding my glasses was over a year ago. I apologise for those on the receiving end of my typos. I now own multiple pairs of glasses that I have stashed in various bags and spots around the house.

The last time I used the phrase ‘in my day’ – oh no, that’s right I never have. Because I still think of things as being ‘in my day.’

The last time I wore high heels I got a blister. I’d like to say that’s the last time I wear high heels but I’m not ready to make that kind of commitment.

The last time I sang in public was – who am I joking, I’ve never sung in public and trust me you don’t want me to start.

The last time I experienced sexual harassment was – actually, it’s happened so many times in my life that I no longer bother to remember.

The last time I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone I came to a story telling night. I’ve been coming every month since. I’m hooked and reckon I’m learning and improving month by month. And tonight won’t be my last time.

IN MY DEFENCE

IN MY DEFENCE

I’m here, naked, in front of a dozen people on a Wednesday night. How the actual fuck did I get here? Drips of sweat escape my armpits and roll down the side of my torso. It’s the middle of winter and I’m sweating. Later, I’d have plenty of time to wonder how exactly it was that I got here.

In my defence though, it was probably the third glass of wine.

Scrolling through my social media feed a few nights prior, I’d seen a post from a newly-minted arts organisation run by a friend.

Life drawing every Wednesday night 7-9pm. Materials supplied, untutored $20. Thanks to local muso Greg who posed while serenading us last night.

I’m sure it was the third glass of wine that lead me to comment. ‘I’m a registered life model.’ It wasn’t until the morning that I saw the response – ‘talk to the gallery manager tomorrow.’ Now, I work as a barista in a small town and have done for many years. I know many people by sight and what they drink, if not by name: he’s the large-skinny-cappuccino-extra-hot-half-a-sugar-guy: she always brings her reusable cup, which hasn’t been washed out – soy cappuccino with honey: that couple? Weak latte for him, skinny flat white for her.

There’s one particular local family I kinda half know. Dad drinks long blacks in the morning and peppermint tea in the afternoon. Mum drinks a three-quarter decaf, almond latte – not too hot. I work with their son. He got his carefree personality and good looks from the both of them. Dad is always chatty. He’s a photographer though I do wonder when he works as I see him most days book in hand, chatting with locals. I don’t see her that often. She’s gorgeous. Tall, slim, effortless blonde pixie cut. She’s the kind of person that when she smiles, the world just seems like a nicer place.

After work on the day in question, it only takes two glasses of Yarra Valley Sangiovese to set me up for the life modelling session. I arrive 15 minutes early, scope out the space then retreat to get changed, emerging in my fluffy bathrobe shortly after. Artists have started to arrive, claiming their spot with an easel. When enough have gathered, I move to the middle of the rough circle and set out the housekeeping for the session.

‘I’ll start with five 2-minute poses, then we’ll have two 5-minute poses then a quick break. After that we’ll head into two 10-minute poses, another break and so on. I’ll change up my orientation so no one always gets the same side, though feel free to move around if you want to. Okay, everyone ready?’

My robe drops to the floor and there I am, every bit of pale, hairy winter skin on display, just as Mother Nature made me. The first section goes swiftly, standing poses, arms in various directions, hips contra-posto, a knee bent here and there. I look up, I look down, I turn at least 90 degrees between poses.

At the break, I take a sip of water and organise some more insulation between the exposed concrete floor and my feet which are starting to feel the chill. I shift a padded stool into place, drape my towel across it and catch the eye of the facilitator to see if she’s ready to begin.

‘If everyone is ready,’ I say a little too loudly. They settle and I slip out of my robe and deposit it a few feet away. Feeling like I may have neglected the back of the room, I suddenly decide to face that direction. I position my legs open without being gynaecology-exam-open, lower one knee and slightly twist my upper body to rest my weight on my right hand. I centre my gaze, look up and there she is. Directly in front, looking straight at me.

Fuck. It’s three-quarter decaf, almond latte. It’s Elliot’s mum. Fuck. Don’t smile, don’t do anything different. Of course, she knows it’s you. She’s smart AND beautiful. Keep calm. Think of something else. What’s for dinner tomorrow night? Oh, I don’t fucking know. FUCK!

Calm down, they’re artists. Breathe.

They knew what they were getting into. Breathe.

You’ve done this before. Breathe.

No one cares. Breathe.

You’re just a mass of lines and curves and light and shadow. Breathe.

You’re just a mass of lines and curves and light and shadow.

The only thing that gets me through the session is the Eric Clapton song ‘After Midnight’, swirling around my head over and over and over.

After midnight, we gonna let it all hang down, after midnight, after midnight

After dressing I collect my cash from the facilitator and head towards the back door. Her work is strewn across a back corner of the gallery. Body after body, contorted limb, flesh piled high and tumbling about, a composed face not out of place on a crumbling Roman statue. Of course, she’s gorgeous, intelligent AND talented. I glance up and see her eyes – warm and friendly – looking right into mine. I reach out my hand and stammer, ‘I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. Hi, I’m Mandy.’