Ode to Barry

Train travel. People say they hate it. I thought I would dislike parts of it. But I’m going to miss it. All of it.

Maybe because it symbolises employment. For the past year I’ve made an almost weekdaily (don’t you love it when I make up words) journey to my place of work…which will soon evaporate due to an inevitable end-of-contract reality. And so too, my return train journeys from one side of our city’s pretty, ancient river to the other.

Recently, after almost a year, I began to recognise some of the same faces I’ve been sharing those carriages with. Imagining their stories. Wondering if they recognised me and our travellers in common.

It occurred to me that it perhaps took longer than it should have, to recognise these kindred passengers. What sort of jobs did they travel to each weekday? Did they enjoy their work – was it their vocation or just a paycheque? What calorific secrets hid in their lunch bags? Didn’t he have dreadlocks last week? Wasn’t she wearing that suit yesterday? Wow, that must be her new grandbaby, and proud daughter! I can really see the family likeness. How sweet.

Will they notice when I’m no longer there, commuting beside them, quietly but observantly. Would they recognise me in a future shared cash register queue? Would I be able to place their face, or would I go on wondering for weeks about its familiarity, as I have done with one particular woman I’ve noticed twice on my journey home. It was the set of her Botoxed lips, the angle of her chin, her straightened shoulder-length hair. I still can’t work out why she looked so familiar to me, or where I’d seen her before. Why did I feel like I knew her?

I’ve pondered why people stand the way they do, why the boozy breath, are those shoes even comfortable, does he know what a great dad he is, that bag must be heavy, can the river get any flatter or shinier this morning, please stop raining, this must be a learner driver!

In true introverted style, I’ve struck up just two in-transit conversations in the past year – both in the past two months. For the first, the train had largely emptied and two women – one from Albany, the other from Melbourne – sat right behind me chatting about how friendly people in Perth are. So, without hesitation, I turned around and said hello, coincidentally proving them right! I enjoyed their anecdotes and shared my observations of how friendly and accommodating the people of Melbourne had been to me the previous weekend.

Another chat was with a 20-something man as we both admired the gorgeous innocence of an infant girl, hair sticking straight up and clear blue eyes focused intently on her grandmother’s animated face. We spoke about his nieces and nephews and how he was their favourite uncle. And we touched on how quickly babies grow up and out of our arms into walking, talking dynamos with their own agendas, in record time.

In retrospect, I guess more conversations would have been better. It is amazing how silent a completely packed train can be at peak hour. Everyone is very polite, aware of their impact on fellow passengers, knowing the journey will come to an end sooner rather than later…just grin and bear it inside your own little bubble, even if it does rub against that of several others.

Except for the odd one or two train riders, who carry on conversations that entertain everyone else whether we want to partake or not…

From face to face D&Ms to mobile phone whinge sessions, I’ve heard my fair share, and still marvel at how some people just don’t care if others hear the intimate details of their dinner menu, disrespect for each other, contempt for former partners or the details of their drunken weekend shenanigans.

When my phone silently vibrated with the terrifying prospect of another wanting to talk to me while in transit, I held my breath until it stopped. There was no way I was going to reveal lamb and rosemary sausages, cheesy mash, steamed vegetables and honey carrots, was my chosen comfort food for that wintery eve.

Getting onto the train each day has been like re-joining the human race anew every 8-12 hours or so. It’s been levelling, I’ve never felt unsafe. I suppose it’s become comfortable, like a familiar neighbourhood.

But the most inspiring experience has been the friendly smiling face of Barry, the endlessly nodding Transperth man who greeted and good-byed me at the start and end of every day.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more constantly genuine public servant. Known to all simply as Barry, he would routinely chat to passing commuters about the weather, the day of the week, how long it was until the weekend, smoothing our ride into and out of yet another working day where the tide of humanity is largely faceless, anonymous. He welcomed the company of eccentric bus and train spotters, guided unfamiliar fare payers and trained colleagues all while cheerily nodding to his passing fan base, all thankful merely for his presence.

There were the regular newspaper readers, book addicts, mobile phone interfacers. Then there was my usual parking spot, only available prior to 8am, my preferred side of the train where I was guaranteed the longest river view possible, and my habit of trying to count the abundant black swans on Lake Monger. It’s been an absolute pleasure to go on this ride.

Which must be why violent attacks on mass public transport nodes, rip our communities to the very core, attacking our sense of personal and societal safety for evermore.

I really hope my next job allows me to catch the train, it’ll be like a homecoming.

PIC:

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1845: an early English steam locomotive. (Lambert/Getty Images)

Wolf whistle-ee bites the hand that feeds

HE wasn’t anything special physically, possibly even under par – but that could just have been his scruffy garage work uniform. Perhaps he scrubbed up ok in a suit at a mate’s wedding, or even after a shit, a shower and a shave, as blokes are wont to say.

But I would never make an ‘out loud’ judgement specifically directed at him to let he and everyone else within earshot know what I thought of his appearance – beau or bogan.

That would be rude, bullying, arrogant – lord knows I’ve tried to model behavioural traits that contradict these to my two daughters.

I didn’t know the first thing about his personality. He could be someone my mother would love, or a fraudster, or very sensitive about being thrust into the spotlight. So me making an ‘out loud’ physical judgement would only be telling part of his story, a story I didn’t know intimately enough to tell accurately. And it would limit him to one thing only – his appearance. And we all know that’s only skin deep and changeable, depending on the day, the mood, the circumstance, the lighting for gawd’s sake.

So why do some men (or women) find it necessary and acceptable to let a woman (or man), usually a complete stranger, know they look above par…attractive…hot…to them, personally, in a way that also sends a clear message to others with ears in the area?

And are there times, in this politically correct age, when the controversial wolf whistle is acceptable behaviour?

If I’m honest, hearing a stranger wolf whistle me when I was in my mid-teens was sort of thrilling…I may have felt differently had I seen the source of this admiration. It usually came from a passing car. Probably driven by a balding married man with middle-age spread; or a pimply late teen with P Plates on the floor beside a clinking crowd of empty stubbies. The beer bottles, not the shorts…

Somehow in my salad days, those whistles gave me an idea I looked acceptable in a public sense. That I wasn’t embarrassing myself with how I presented my very ordinary appearance. It wasn’t until years later that I realised the wolf whistle said more about the whistler than the whistle-ee. Perhaps those early ‘commenters’ had an inappropriate thing for young girls. **My skin has actually grown legs and is crawling all over itself!**

Inevitably, after a few years of sustained ‘comment’ I began to lose confidence, avoid or fear certain situations and cringe to my very core – my initial thrill had briefly turned to anger before nestling in plain old dread and humiliation.

I was 41-years-old before I stood up for myself, by standing up to my wolf whistler. My daughters were so proud!

As I arrived at my place of work, where I was a senior manager, I would park in the nominated car bay and start the 20m walk to my office’s back door. It was double the distance to the front door and in the rain, it felt triple that on those dark whistle-laden days.

As I made my way to the closest entry point of my workplace, I had to walk up to and past the open roller door of a neighbouring auto mechanic business. Men often stood in the communal access way, having smoko. I would nod and smile politely in greeting. It would be rude not to given I was walking straight past them in a relatively confined space.

This was all very normal and acceptable. Until. The wolf whistle. My eyes dropped straight to the bitumen as I walked more efficiently than ever to the door, willing it to be unlocked so I wouldn’t have to navigate my key into its sticky innards. The relief once I got inside that door was immense. It was a one-off. Incident over.

But no. It became an almost daily occurrence over about two weeks. And the whistler wasn’t shy. He would lean against the outside wall and blatantly make his comment as I came within metres of him. By this time I was worrying about it on the drive to work, I’d shared the story with a couple of close workmates, girlfriends, even my daughters. We all thought this bloke was an absolute tool.

It was making me miserable. I started to ditch the heels and wear flats, hoping to look less ‘womanly’, more homely, or at least less like the siren he thought he should activate.

One morning though, I was in a bad mood, some incident at home, and I was still stewing over it on the drive to work. The perfect storm. My dander was already up.

So I just let him have it, in my own understated, direct fashion.

As the whistle came, I surprised myself by changing direction and heading straight for him.

“Why do you do that?” I asked.

“I thought you liked it,” came his stuttering reply.

“No. I don’t like it at all. It makes me feel really embarrassed. Could you please not do it,” I stated.

“I’m really sorry. I won’t do it again. Sorry,” he blustered, visually shrinking before me.

“That’s ok,” I said, before propelling myself towards my destination and victory!

It never happened again and I’ve shared this story a few times, mainly as a way to subtly let men know women don’t appreciate being singled out with a wolf whistle and to let other women, particularly younger ones, know it’s important to step up sometimes, and say what you really think, without overreacting.

Everyone has agreed with me that this sort of wolf whistle is inappropriate. Except for one person. A former colleague, an English woman in her early 60s who said women should take it as a compliment, and that it was harmless. She said English men often did it and that they weren’t afraid to show their feelings or their appreciation of an attractive woman, unlike Australian men, who were more interested in their cars. While that sounds like a great theory, anecdotally, that is rarely how we are left feeling.

I can think of times I’ve wolf whistled my girlfriends quietly, but in a public forum, like when I’ve discovered them in the same aisle at the supermarket. And the look on their face is always one of embarrassment-slash-annoyance, until they see me. Then we smile and hug. This might be the only time it’s acceptable – among very real friends. When we know the whole story.

Giving the colour pink a bad name

I am pink with irritation.

Not all women like pink or consider themselves denoted as female by the mere use of the sickly colour.

Not all women appreciate being singled out as such, by being told they can now park more safely in their own special pink ‘female-friendly’ car bays, where the security lighting and CCTV coverage is better.

And not all people are stupid enough to have the woolly fairy floss of laziness pulled over their eyes by a council trying to get away with not spending money on decent car park security for everyone – regardless of gender, age, ability or whether or not you have children and a pram in the back of your wagon.

Here, in the marshmallow-scented capital city of the nanny state of Western Australia, the City of Perth has employed a sugar-coated marketing ploy to encourage women to park in the few car bays that do have proper night lighting and CCTV coverage.

Mary Poppins would recognise this as a cynical attempt to spend less on security, spit spot!

It is a spoonful-of-sugar attempt to provide better protection, but glaringly it’s aimed at only one section of society.

A small article in Perth’s daily newspaper today states the bays will be easily identified by pink signs, walls and poles during a three-month trial close to exits in one council car park.

But here’s the real icing on the cake. The article also states, without attribution to anyone, that the bays are “the same size as regular bays”.

If that statement isn’t a slight on women drivers, I don’t know what is – the size of the bay will not influence the behaviour of would be attackers any more than the colour pink.

So why was this information even in the article in the first place? If it is a question that has been asked by several, prompting that line of enquiry, then whoever supplied the response should be quoted, at least.

If statistics do exist somewhere showing women as the main culprits of at fault bingles, scratches and crashes in car parks, it’s probably because they are usually the ones that drop off children to school/childcare on their way to work before parking the family car, and again later as they are slowly irradiated by fluorescent lighting while foraging at the supermarket.

There are statistics that show men are just as vulnerable to attack in public places at night, with many ending up in hospital after banging their heads on kerbs and bitumen as terrible proof.

At its worst, the pink-ifying of parking bays almost accepts that there will be attacks on women in car parks because they are vulnerable targets. No – that behaviour is not acceptable in society, for any gender.

Yes, women do like it when someone is kind, or thinks of our comfort and/or safety. But so do men. So why can’t the City of Perth be nice to everyone and provide secure parking for all? Not just those born with ovaries and a stereotypical matching obsession with the colour pink, or the men who love the delicate shade and can park carefree in the knowledge that they will not be fined for doing so and will be safer for it.

Now, that would be just supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Howling with a heavy brogue

IF a man indulges in casual sexism in an unintelligible accent, is he really being an ignorant oaf?

Or consider this.

If a woman doesn’t realise she is the butt of a man’s casual sexism, does it mean she’s no longer a feminist?

Hard hitting questions, all.

This post is a confusing one for me to write – so I’ll just tell it as it happened, because, it was an amusing blip in my otherwise ordinary day.

It was a Monday. I’d happily survived another one and was walking post-work from the train station to where I park the car – about a five minute walk; I’ve convinced myself if I don’t have time for formal exercise on any given day, at least I walked briskly for 10 minutes. And used the stairs instead of the lift. And only had two chocolates at 3pm with a cup of tea.

Deep in aimless, western society thought…what should I make for dinner, damn I forgot to book the dogs in for a groom, again, that champagne on Saturday was really nice, what brand was it…I was pulled from my mental meanderings by a rogueish brogue.

Well. I didn’t know that’s what it was until my mind had caught up with the situation – someone was talking to me, or attempting to.

As I turned my head toward the train station access road beside me, I noted a white 4WD ute had slowed to walking pace and a male driver, dressed in hi-viz, was talking out his open window. Probably to me. Because there was nobody else around.

My thoughts began to speed up, I checked my surroundings wondering if he was slowing to give me a warning about some sort of nearby danger, maybe someone was nicking my car, but how would he know which car was mine, and why do we suddenly think these weird sorts of things?

There was only one thing to do.

“I beg your pardon,” I genuinely asked, looking for clarification of the impending danger.

“Yaprollydoneffennohowotyearrrr,” came the repetitive, slur-ry reply.

Now, I know the helpful grinning man was repeating his statement so I could better understand it, but it sounded just the same, only slightly slower.

As my brain worked overtime to decipher it, and matching it with his boofhead smile, I instinctively realised bodily danger was not imminent. Besides, there was a fence and a car between him and me.

And then it clicked.

“You probably don’t even know how hot you are,” was the helpful offering of life advice, in a thick Irish brogue.

And what was my brilliant reply?

“Okey doke.”

Brilliant! A wordsmith without the wherewithall to wield them.

Well, what was I supposed to say? And what was it all supposed to mean?

But, back to my first question – was this harmless gent a sexist oaf?

No. I think he thought he was giving me a compliment. Because, it’s a looong walk from the train station to the deserted car park and I don’t know how much more silence I could have endured without a reassuring ‘compliment’ from a stranger. Withdrawals already!

We women need reassuring that we are hot, don’t we. I will refrain from making a dad-joke about the weather at this point. (Ooops, was I being sexist then? Sorry dad.)

Was I being an anti-feminist by not calling him out as a sexist or in fact, not realising that’s probably what he was being? It only became clearer when watching this week’s hooha following Chris Gayle’s clumsy and inappropriate flirtation with TV sports reporter Mel McLaughlin. I’m a bit slow on the uptake some days.

I say inappropriate because it’s not nice to show someone up in public for your own entertainment. If a romantic relationship did eventuate from this shallow televised attempt, expect more of the same top quality respect for your feelings. Privately and publicly.

But, unsurprisingly, I digress.

In a nutshell, I was momentarily confused. I didn’t feel like a victim, because I don’t think our Irish friend set out to make me feel that way. I think Chris Gayle distinctively did. Ms McLaughlin certainly didn’t appear as a slaughtered lamb.

So, I am not an anti-feminist for just ‘shaking my head’ at the thoughtless things some men will do to communicate to a woman that they think they’re a bit of alright. I don’t think I needed to take any stronger action…I think my ‘okey doke’ will have convinced him beyond doubt of his stupid, sexist actions…pfffffttt!

But, seriously guys, what do you want us women to do when you offer an uninvited impression of our attractiveness? Scale the fence between us, clamber through your open window and plant sloppy, thankful kisses all over your dusty, stubble-pocked face, then use a hanky to wipe the spittle away and remind you to put your dirty work clothes in the laundry basket and not on the bedroom floor?

No. Well, behave then.

On another aside, we women don’t publicly voice our impressions of men’s physical appeal because from the moment we are born little girls are conditioned to behave politely and be sensitive to the feelings of others. It’s as simple as that. Or is it?

Blokes, it’s time to be awesome role models for the little men in your lives. It can’t just be mum’s job any more.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Picture: Norbert Rosing/Getty Images

 

 

Designer vaginas – the next must-have beauty treatment?

Is your vagina designer?

What? Don’t play stupid with me – Has it seen better days? Have people been complaining about its appearance? Does it need redoing, you know, like your holiday house décor, or your roots?

Because, apparently if your ‘ladyparts’ don’t look like a petite, perfectly closed purse you need surgery to fix that – a bit like those boobs in need of perkifying and that unattractive non-trout pout.

According to a gloriously pink full page ad in a weekly newspaper delivered to Perth’s most elite beach and riverside suburbs, local women should contact a particular ‘medical aesthetic centre’ to find out how they can get their own designer vagina.

‘Tighten vaginal tissue, remodel collagen and rejuvenate the vulva. Revive the sensations, revitalise the tissue of the vagina and improve urinary incontinence’ is the ad’s teasing hook line (and sinker), with a web address using the words petite and lady, because that’s what we all aspire to be, isn’t it!?

I mean, I don’t know about you, but I would love myself sick, and so would others, if my brain, pay packet, personality, role and presence on this planet was so much smaller, thinner and petite than they really are.

I’m so thankful I have the choice to get a designer vagina if I want one – hooray! Unless it’s just another way to make women part with their hard-earned and their self respect by buying into the pressure to conform to yet another sanitised, feminine ideal of sameness.

What is the perfect vagina? One that can adequately birth children and still function as a pleasure receptor and provider, surely.

If you need help with urinary incontinence, pelvic floor exercises work wonders and if not it’s a bone fide medical condition that may need specialist surgery; it’s not an excuse for a ‘medical aesthetic centre’ to charge you thousands to improve the appearance of something that is already unique, beautiful and functional.

Is this pressure to possess a ‘healed’ over vulva coming from men, if so, is there a particular age range flexing their muscles? Is it women – it seems unlikely, you can’t even show off the finished product? Is it the cosmetic surgery industry?

I’ll go with the last one – I’m informed there is a demand for the service at this western suburbs clinic, but advertising the designer vagina treatment perpetuates what is a sad, damaging cycle – it doesn’t just involve medically unnecessary surgery with a painful recovery but the reiteration of an unhealthy and inaccurate belief that as women, our natural appearance is not good enough.

I’ve even heard the frightening anecdote of a teenage girl so ashamed of her vagina that she is convinced she needs surgery – and she hasn’t yet seen what an amazing array of yonis are even out there, so that she can see she is perfectly normal, or given birth…but that’s a topic for another day.      

We cry foul at the thought of women undergoing female circumcision and/or genital mutilation. I don’t see how this is any different, except that the patients have been brainwashed into thinking it’s just a normal desire all women have the right to fulfil.

Get real. There’s nothing wrong with your vagina. Embrace it. And do your pelvic floors.

Dating male research assistants Vers 1

B&Wimages

The power of love is a curious thing,
Make a one (wo)man weep,
Make another (wo)man sing – Huey Lewis (and The News)

I AM conducting an experiment. And I am the gullible guinea pig.
While no animals are being undeservedly harmed it does involve some unsuspecting assistants.
I call it an experiment because although this was not the intention when I began this “journey” (god, I hate this use of that word, but it seems so appropriate, despite the lack of destination) it is rapidly deteriorating into little more than research.
Some research assistants are given financial reward for their precious time and generosity, in this case the only reward is my one-off company (lucky them…) and perhaps the opportunity to discover the same as I – is there such a thing as being too fussy when looking for a potential life partner?
As I edge closer to the second half of my fourth decade (see how I artfully dodge stating my actual age while maintaining my habitual need to tell the truth) I decided to test the theory that there is someone for everyone, given that my previous 25-year effort was in fact, delusional.
I decided if that was ‘it’ something is seriously wrong – see, I can be optimistic!
So after realising what a sham online dating sites, and their ‘dates’ (appropriate word use), are, I glibly and gullibly coughed up a rather large amount of money to what can only be described as a dating agency. Turns out, I’ve probably done this solely for your reading pleasure! How cathartic for all of us.
I’m not feeling robbed – far from it. I said to myself, if this gets me closer to someone who ‘gets’ me and the feeling is mutual, great, but if it doesn’t, at least I tried and can now strike it off the list and continue my lifelong love affair with, me. And chocolate. And chairs. And sleep. And books. And live theatre. And Europe. And my priceless friends and fam.
Long story short, I’ll introduce you to each of my ‘research assistants’ and explain why we aren’t suited – Names have obviously been changed, but the general ambience is authentic.
Grant, the South African –
A strapping rugby union player with a personality only slightly duller than a football boot’s faded leather.
My initial thought was ‘oh my gosh, is this the calibre of man this dating agency has on its books!’ Then we began talking.
Firstly, the accent grated, but I was sure I could get past that if this handsome specimen could hold his own in a conversation.
Alas, despite being a successful businessman who moved his family from one nation to another, hence starting a new life, his was a banal existence and to make matters worse, a sense of humour could not be detected, signalling the sure but steady death of this barely begun bleep.
But death came swiftly after I probed him for experiences of how he managed to fit in to the West Australian way of life and culture after leaving South Africa.
He regaled me with a tale of he, his wife and children’s first visit to a Perth café and the baffling abundance of coffee choices he faced when he ventured up to order at the counter – his expectation of table service having been disappointed.
Upon returning to the table after ordering the mysteriously named flat whites, he told his wife in no uncertain terms that he would not be doing that (ordering coffee at a café counter) again because “it was her job”.
That was his first mistake.
His later statement, uttered almost secretly, that central Africa would do well if a bomb landed in the general area, was terminal.
This bleeding heart feminist left shaking her head (on the inside).
Jean-Paul, the Frenchman –
Oh, yes, internationally themed dates are so my thing! I love France, can’t resist the language, nation, food, art, music, architecture, fashion blah blah blah. This should be fascinating, I thought.
This FiFo was already anxious to the extreme as said dating agency had mixed up our meeting time, so calming him down was my first duty, after the obligatory double cheek kiss – maybe a little too familiar for a first date…
My next was to listen intently for the next 1.5 hours as he talked about himself ad nauseam while I dodged exuberant puffs of halitostic (yes, I just invented a new word) spittle as he ‘educated’ me about the benefits of being a property mogul, buying property north of the river as opposed to the down-heel south, why he hated his family and refused to communicate with them, how much money he earns working away and how bad the coffee was at the chosen café.
He did not ask me one single question, clearly having no interest in me, or what made me tick, at all.
I patienly observed his side show and began looking for ways to discretely beg my leave. I offered to pay for our coffees, it was the least I could do after making him both wait and cancel an appointment with his property agent due to my unfortunate tardiness.
After finally extracting myself from our table he followed me to the cash register where fopishly thinking he had me hooked, giggled and tickled my ribs with his poky fingers as if I was some come-hitherly dressed beer wench. How ironic that I had to experience the purported arrogance of the French on home soil despite travelling to the Gallic nation more than once.

I just shook my head, on the outside, as I sped walked (yes, that’s a thing) back to my ever-loving car.

I can tell you are fascinated by my first two research assistants but this has been such an outpouring of raw emotion, I must rest. Stay tuned for my next instalment…