Mozambiquean beans

Just at the moment that  Harry and Urik were bonding for the first time over Vegemite sandwiches at “Everyone’s” (post-Bikram), Shelly was bonding with everyone post-biking over Mozambiquean beans. The Polana Hotel in Maputo – the jewel as it were of Portuguese tourism in the 1920’s was recently refurbished by a wealthy Croatian who had made his money brewing beer. It was one of those African icons that Christina relished as a holiday destination close to home (an hour from Jo-burg by South African Air) even more so now that it had been further improved. The food was excellent in any one of the three restaurants, the rooms were spacious, and from the large and circular pool that was positioned so elegantly at the base of the marble amphitheatre circumnavigating the patio, you had a clear view of the turquoise sea.

Unfortunately for Shelly, staying there worsened her sense of agitation such that she stopped making “sensible” choices. Having lost her camera, she took a risk and left the hotel to find another, riding in the rear of a rusted motorcycle taxi (recommended  by the Maputan concierge) from which diesel fumes and cement dust from battered roads and pot holes made a mess of her hair. It broke down of course (the bike I mean) beside a parish “cathedral” – made of tin – where a mob of now African parishioners (they used to consider themselves Portuguese), emerging as the mass came to an end, gathered around to inspect it and gossip about the priest. Hot and now frazzled by the unwanted attention, and the realisation that she had managed to do exactly what Christina had advised her against (that being leave the hotel alone) Shelly was astonished to find herself taking the hand of one of the young sisters, and walking with her into an immaculate linoleum kitchen at the rear of the church, the intention being to share a meal (and just quietly one or two local beers as well – known in Maputo as “Laurentina” and interestingly also produced by the Croatian who refurbished the hotel) while the men attended to the bike….

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What about Shelly??

While Nicole and Rory began to reaquaint themselves with each other and the personalities and preferences they had both abandoned for Rory’s career, Shelly had become very busy with a long and arduous labour of her own. Caught at a cross roads of indecision, Shelly laboured with choice; the considerably expanded appreciation of privilege that exposure to African realities had provided her (after her safari in Namibia with Christina) caused her ever more frequent and ever more painful contraction of the justifications she had used for her choices at home.  It was indeed a kind of torture, an unfair coincidence of birth really, and each night when she woke up in 5 star hotels (through Namibia, Maputo, and finally Johannesburg) doubled over with indecision and self-recrimination, she prayed for a spinal block to blunt the sense of social consciousness not only blossoming within her but now threatening, with ever more frequency, to be born.

Namibia had of course been mind-blowing. At the end of long days scouring the veld for the Big Five, the staff were courteous and pleasant, providing traditional song and dance to entertain their guests while clad in great swirls of cotton died in the colours of the Namibian flag. Christina had told her that she would find it inspiring, but she hadn’t warned her about the power of stories like those told by their elderly African guide, Nelson Ogwambe. Nelson grew up at the foot of the nearby hills shepherding sheep between native pastures with his nineteen brothers.  He had lived in among the great beast of Africa (and herds of Kudu no less) that Shelly and Christina now pursued from the back of his jeep, and for all of it and even his life since national independence, he gave everlasting thanks to God.

Now as I’m sure you have surmised already, Shelly maintained no religious predilections. Any enthusiasm for religious education, a topic taught routinely during her higher school years, was undermined  (let’s say eradicated shall we?) by her love for the younger and once charismatic Harry.  His university inspired and then politically correct view that “if God exists he’s a bastard anyway” had rubbed off on her at an impressionable twenty-something, and the demands of her role on the parent’s committee after the arrival of children had substituted for any kind of “external” community responsibility she may have felt as payment for the privileged life she had so far lead.  No one had warned her about the resultant sense of entitlement that would seditiously slither through her blood by the time the children had reached third grade and she was elected President.  Let alone the intellectual limitations of such a life that revolved, let’s face it, around lunch boxes, sporting commitments, and social functions for raising funds for expanding the school’s already considerable facilities. On the contrary, until now, Shelly had found life challenging in the extreme and ….completely fulfilled (apart from Harry who had been as disappointment as you know).

As a result her exchange with Nelson had been “nice” even “interesting”, and she had thought that she had thought nothing more  of it, except that for the last three days in Namibia she felt agitated without reason, tickled as it were by a hungry, skinny, long-legged and black mosquito that had left her with a little something before moving on its way.  Normally a little paraderm would have fixed it, or in this case a visit to the resort gift shop, but even a selection of hand beaded elephants for her daughter had done nothing to quell a sense that something was not right…………..

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While Harry had been reborn through the vagaries of Bikram,  Nicole wrestled uncontrollably with her own rebirthing phase on the eastern edges of suburban mediocrity. Of course her new coven of friends was only the beginning of a transformation that returned her to her source. Her alabaster skin shined clear again beneath tangled locks of deep brown hair and she rediscovered hand crafted fashion and antique haberdashery, and her sole devotion – the most practical (and no doubt the most expensive) unlined German shoes. But it didn’t happen quickly, the early dinner parties I described to you in the last entry were only the beginning of what was initially a steady decline into self-imposed cognitive therapy and personality reconstruction, one that was to eventually draw upon deeply spiritual pathways that she explored in her sleep.

I am convinced the lesbians were helpful – to a point – as were the women’s studies, and the retro nature of her intellectual endeavours, which put her back in touch with a bygone era. All of the above plied her with some of the better reds from what had been Rory’s wine cellar in the basement, and made them available to others (like me), while releasing her from the binds that had tied her to the house in the past. But with the wine and the rediscovery came reckless outbursts (she got herself re-tatooed with a blessing of unicorns where the smudged remains of the previous one had been), and for a while there was screwing an officer from the City’s Graffiti Removal Unit who she met while lining up for curry at the food and wine festival with Maud. (Maud was also at the dinner party I told you about.) Naturally the business was mind blowingly and predictably self-destructive; having drunk all her wine and flogged her tupperware, her new friends plied her with homeopathic potions and flew away. She ended up in bed, that one-eyed cat grimace (you might remember from the day Rory left) occasionally reappearing above the upper frill on her duvet where she slept.

No-one could rouse her. She stayed there for weeks. Her children arranged her hair around her head and painted her toe nails, and left her hands crossed gently across her heart while they watched endless rounds of NCIS and borderline security (TV shows before banned from their screen).  Had she been connected to anything we might have discussed switching her off.  But there was nothing anyone could do but wait and note that she occasionally snored. No-one thought of calling Rory.  He arrived just by accident driving his beaten up silver Mercedes (the one he calls his steed) and stumbled in through the door hoping to find a bottle of Grange for a client in the cellar.  And he only noticed her by accident when he passed the bedroom door on the way to the toilet. He stopped then and watched her for a second before commenting on her toe nails and wandering in to kiss her square on the mouth.  At which point we all breathed a sigh of relief because …..finally….. she woke up.

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Bra Burners….

Ok, there have been complaints again.  Some of you have issues with the haphazard way in which I am keeping you all in the loop about my friends.  “It is too hard to follow!” you say, “God! I have to go back to the beginning.”  One suggested that he would have to become a woman to understand the complex story line, a comment which may not be terribly complimentary in view of not so recent experiences with Nicole.

Nicole would certainly take umbrage with the latter, having undergone her own metamorphosis since finalising the financial particulars of her divorce from Rory early last year.  She dumped the twin set and pearls almost instantly, and re-emerged in a pair of torn pants from Jeans West.  I would imagine that new restraints to her budget had something to do with the change in wardrobe, though her decision to go back to Uni certainly helped.  They wouldn’t let her recommence the degree she gave up to marry Rory, so she started all over again, this time with women’s studies – part-time. She shoved the kids into aftercare (having always sworn she’d never do that to them) and refashioned herself  “retro-intellectual” while pouring through sacred texts of the women’s liberation movement; The Female Eunuch, and Sex and Destiny and then The Whole Woman, the sequel that Germaine Greer was never meant to write. By the end of June she was holding dinner parties with her new Uni friends and their lice ridden kids.

Of course the red wine led to the usual bevy of excessive table talk, one dinner party in particular degenerating into a fairly hefty bagging of my marriage (well some things really don’t change!) as a monogamous, traditional, suburban, and consumerist union between a power-hungry workaholic and a eunuch – a description that I am sure was meant to test even the most level-headed and forgiving of friends. At the time we kind of laughed it off though the level of frenzied and drunken intellectualisation lead Nicole to suggest further that I was sexually repressed  (I was yawning a lot), my hints about my menstrual cycle not really being taken very seriously – “It’s a perfect opportunity for you to embrace your body by tasting your own menstrual blood!” an older looking hippy from Coldstream pointed out laughing when she over heard me. I was left floating there on that comment (I mean what do you say to that?) as the conversation moved on to a discussion about a college professor who was feeling up female residents at a post exam party after they’d shown him their tits. I think I said something about bras at that point, to which the henna haired dike opposite my husband responded polemically, “Bras are a ludicrous invention” … “but if you make bralessness a rule, you’re just subjecting yourself to yet another repression.” Out done intellectually and every other which way I finally lost it and, getting up from the table, called them all “fucking feminists” and went for the keys. Nicole withered. She knew that they had all crossed an imaginary line (don’t worry we’ve made up since then) but the henna haired woman’s partner, an extremely passive aggressive lesbian with a very short hair cut reassured her as my husband I moved to the door: “Don’t worry Nicole,  wives who come along to dinner parties always pervert civilized conversation about real issues into personal quarrels. The number of hostesses who wish they did not have to invite wives is legion.” I’ve been thinking about that comment ever since.

(Photo from:

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Secrets in Sanscrit….

As time slipped past all of us, Harry’s 30 day challenge evolved into 50, the regular release of endorphins becoming so addictive that the arrival of Cathy for the morning shift at “Everyone’s” was like tossing a bone for the dog.  He continued going religiously to the 6am class, despite (or because of?) being the only man there, and with time moved beyond distracting himself from the heat by watching the tattoos, to relishing the challenges of Tree (Tadasana for those of you who speak Sanscrit) and Eagle or Garurasana (again Sanscrit). By the 51st class he actually mastered Savasana (despite what Shelly had diagnosed as ADD) and was able to calm his mind.

Not so the new student who laid his mat in the back row behind Harry. He fidgeted through Savasana, farted loudly in Pavanamuktasana (or wind-removing pose), and sobbed uncontrollably after Camel (Ustrasana). He alone was a testament to the powers of Bikram to release emotion suppressed for years by shoulders rounded in front of a computer. Harry invited him to “Everyone’s” at the end of class and introduced him to some of the regulars (the lost and lonely divorcees you will all remember from entry No. 30) before making them both a coffee and a round of Vegemite sandwiches for breakfast. The new guy drank the coffee – greedily – but declined the sandwich because, “I’m an American”, and… “I only eat peanut butter”. The boys took one look at the platter and pounced on the sandwiches, before pronouncing him a punce, and laying into him –  smashing one of the recycled chairs in the fray. It was only enough to rough him up a bit and he took it on the chin, earning himself a Guernsey as one of the lost souls of “Everyone’s”, a whole new group of albeit generally depressed male friends, and a cup of tea laced with St John’s wort made by Cathy that he didn’t really need on account of the fact that he was a psychologist (from Berkeley) who only had time for Bikram this month because his girlfriend had taken her children on safari in Namibia for the school holidays with her sister-in-law Christina (originally from Joburg – ring any bells?) and her brother Bruce ……….

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ch. 3 Rebirth

Harry improved while he worked at “Everyone’s”. His healing was helped by the integration of 2XU bottle blondes who walked their pedigree brown labs and shared their morning coffee with the by now resident alternative set. (Converted warehouses were beginning to attracting wealthy investors.) Certainly that added to the eclectic mix that I had envisaged for the cafe’, the establishment pedigree that they wore on their ring fingers providing a certain and necessary sparkle…. Also, Cathy (who had taken on the morning shift because it fitted in with her correspondence course in homeopathics and who saw the spirit in Harry’s bloodshot eyes) had taken it upon herself to “save” him from that inner demon. She introduced him to Hot Yoga, laced his tea with St John’s Wort, and encouraged him to floss those shattered teeth with peppermint bark. He embraced it, of course, knowing that he had few alternatives and few friends, and diving headlong into Bikram’s thirty-day challenge found that he lost everything including the love handles  in the process. He shaved his head and began to wear tracksuits more often (with thongs!) and with time he left his loft and appeared amidst the clientele on a daily basis.

When quizzed by Shelly as to “What the fuck are you doing Harry?” he replied that the 2XU’s were a little pudgy but not bad lookers (considering…) and the alternatives were nonjudgemental (unlike HER!!) and gave him space to “be”.

Meanwhile Shelly remained embroiled with Urik, whose attempts to psycho analyse me had become a little long in the tooth. She justified the sex on the basis that he was excellent with the children (he was doing both morning drop off and afternoon pick up) and despite his metrosexuality, “…was very kind.” I was unconvinced.  He continued to talk to me about the reincarnations of Jamie Pierce such that I was sure he would eventually “fly the coop” (he did of course but that will come a little later) and Nicole, who I met last Saturday for a wine and the latest remake of Girl With The Dragon Tatoo – highly recommend it by the way, thought the bond he sought with her children was a little wierd…”They’re not his Sally Edna! He’s searching for something in him self…” My husband had no interest in any of it, or course, and pronounced the lot of them “toxic” to which I replied that he was “heartless and boring” purely because I was irritated by his obsession with the AFL (the other woman in our marriage).

Anyway, so begins chapter three…welcome back.

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35. Back to “What happened to Rose?”

OK, so I did actually see a psychologist (well Urik)in the end, but only because I dropped around to Shelly’s place after leaving Rose at the airport only to find that Shelly had left Urik in front of his lap top while she had her nails done (diving had destroyed them) at “Tiffany’s Secret”, a drop in emergency brow bar and manicure shop front that was often rescuing my friends. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure about Urik’s assessment of his ex-girlfriend.  It all struck me as a quite predictable youthful rebellion (I am sure that I’ve used that phrase before), though it did give me pause to reflect a little more closely on Rose’s decision.

Rose spent hours on the phone that night after I gave her Colin’s number (all at mobile and not land line phone charge rates). As it turned out Colin told her that he hadn’t kicked Jeremy out of Colleen’s place that day because of his decision to back Pauline Hanson in the federal election, rather he kicked her out because Jeremy had always admired the shape of Colleen’s hips, and Colleen was Colin’s little sister. As it was, it was too late, which wasn’t such a bad thing.  Colleen’s husband had already been married once, the end of it being the marriage was barren on account of him (as opposed to the ex-wife – she went on to have a squillion children with a pony tailed and greying country biker who inherited a shack on his dad’s run down ten acres in the bush). Rosie was considered a gift from God, and Jeremy was none the wiser anyway thanks to geographical location and a LOT of heavy-duty pot.

The point is that by the time Rose had finished on the phone she was no longer the daughter of that philandering big toothed old bastard who not only resembled Harry but also continued to share the one roomer that Colleen had left to him at the Salvos (and his bed) with those cake baking heifers from bowls.  Rather, she was now the prodigy of a rather handsome (albeit occasional pot smoking) private school educated, and establishment family originated, dilettante who spent his time on the Italian Riviera.  She no longer needed the kaftan, the sari, or the organics to reject the father she always found a little uncomfortable, she could simply embrace her true heritage, her penchant for profligate expenditure, and her secret identification with those “doer’s” she had met at drop off, and begin “doing” a few of those European cities herself.

She threw her old outfits into my children’s dress up box (lucky me!!) and donned a yummy mummy’s pregnancy set instead, before booking herself a one way and reduced price fair to Genoa in the sale that Flight Centre organised in May, transferring a big chunk of her inheritance into Euro’s via an ANZ travel card, and climbing aboard a Qantas airbus (very little sound and plenty of room in premium economy). Of course I drove her to the airport and dropped her off at the terminal. “Good luck with the baby,” I said a little sentimentally as I put her hands on the baggage trolley and turned her toward the doors.  Needlesstosay, I’m sure you are all thinking ” I told you so!” because she didn’t even bother to look back.

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