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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Pinky and Scotto in Paris

Literally, the first thing Scotto did when we arrived in Paris, was to step in dog poop.

Figuratively, the first thing Scotto did when we arrived in Paris, was to lose his shit.

I’d only recently calmed down from my phobia of travelling on the Eurostar under the depths of the English Channel and couldn’t offer much sympathy.

As the train had plunged into darkness on the journey, I couldn’t decide if it would be better to die screaming as a plane hurtles to the ground or to drown in an under-the-ocean tunnel. For some inane reason, I’d forgotten it was a tunnel and had imagined we were travelling along the bottom of the ocean in a waterproof train. I’d spent the whole journey examining the walls of the train carriage for tiny cracks and tell-tale drips.

“We’re in France now,” I said to Scotto when he came back from the toilet and we’d emerged from the darkness during his ablutions.

He didn’t look that impressed. He was sick with a horrible flu and was coughing like a four pack a day-er.

I was elated due to the fact we’d survived the trip without drowning and I had my nose pressed against the window scanning the countryside for anything that looked French.

“I can speak a bit of French, you know,” I said.

“Good,” he’d replied, his eyes gazing around, red and watery, and blowing his nose for the millionth time.

Therefore, it was great to be able to inform him that I knew the French word for ‘shit’ when he stood in it.

It was one of the only words that most of the boys in my Year Nine French class had committed to memory and it has stuck in my mind for forty years.

“’Shit’ in French is ‘merde’,” I told him. “And dog in French is ‘chien’, so I suppose dog shit is ‘merde de chien’, or ‘shit of the dog’.

I suppose if you wanted to be a bit more couth you would say, ‘caca de chien’, which is ‘poo of the dog’.”

I spent most of the three days in Paris translating words I remembered from my lower high school French class and saying ‘merci’ and ‘bonjour’ at every opportunity. It must have been annoying for Scotto.

On hearing the Gallic expression for dog poo, Scotto merely grunted and continued to scrape his boot violently on the pavement and mutter that he ‘hoped’ the poo was from a dog and not a human.

Why he thought there might be human poo on the Paris footpath, I’m not sure.

Maybe it was because the area we were staying in was a trifle dodgy. At least fifty police vehicles blocked the entrance to our hotel when we returned from sight-seeing on the first day. 

There were water cannons at the front door, and we had to request a police escort to enter. We found out later it was because of a protest by Eurostar workers. I’m not sure what they were protesting about. 

I hoped it wasn’t because of cracks in the tunnel.

We noticed a multitude of French dogs pooping in the street after that. They looked to be a lot more arrogant than Australian dogs. Australian dogs look shifty and slightly tense when they publicly poop because they know their owner is standing nearby, ready to scoop up the offensive material in a plastic bag before they’ve had a chance to get a good long sniff of it. 

French dogs know they can take their time and leave artistic Matisse-style swirls of excreta in the middle of the footpath and sniff with gay abandon. 

One of the highlights of Paris was spotting Will Smith. I was busy taking the perfect photograph of the Eiffel Tower when I suddenly heard a gasp from the crowd and felt Scotto frantically shaking my elbow. We love Will Smith and seeing him was on an equal level of thrill factor as seeing the Mona Lisa.

I am fully aware that what I just wrote will confirm your suspicions that I am, indeed, a bogan moron. 

The queue

We had to line up for fifteen minutes to see the Mona Lisa and when we finally reached the famous painting, we had about thirty seconds in which to take a photograph before we’d be bustled away by the burly security guard.

“You take a quick selfie with her and then I’ll take a selfie, and then you help me take a selfie because mine are always tres merde, okay?” I conferred anxiously with Scotto as we stood in line. I wanted my photo to be Instagram perfect. 

You don’t get to visit Paris and see the Mona Lisa every day!

Sure enough, we dithered around taking the photos, arguing about angles and filters, until we were hurried off to the side by the irritable guard. 

I turned to Scotto after we’d checked and posted our snaps. “Did you actually look at the painting?” I asked him, suddenly struck by the fact that I hadn’t even glanced at it.

“No,” he admitted.

We tried to move back in to the roped off area, but the guard was having none of it.

Merdey bastarde!

When we were walking around Paris, I spotted the Eiffel Tower in the distance and pointed it out to Scotto.

He looked at me sceptically. “That’s not the Eiffel Tower,” he rasped. “It’s too small and the top of it is the wrong shape.”

“What? You think they have a miniature Eiffel Tower in Paris as well as the real one?" I couldn't believe him. That’s a load of merde, Scotto!”

I was pretty sure it was the bloody Eiffel Tower but after mistaking a Ferris wheel for the London Eye, I had to keep my trap shut and just keep walking in the opposite direction because that’s what his GPS was instructing. Plus, Scotto was sick and he gets cranky when he’s sick so it’s best to humour him.

Eventually, the GPS led us to the structure in a roundabout fashion and it WAS the Eiffel Tower (of course) but there was no apology from Little Lord Fauntleroy who was growing paler and breathing heavier by the minute. 

That night, I was kept awake by the sound of Scotto attempting to suck in oxygen and I kept imagining him having to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance. 

I pictured myself sitting in a Parisian hospital waiting room, gnawing on a stale baguette and wondered how much it would cost to fly his body home and if he would mind being buried in France.

The next morning, I insisted he visit le docteur.

Ze docteur deed not speaka ze Anglais.

Neither did the pharmacist from whom we purchased a plethora of medications. Scotto almost drank one of the concoctions he was meant to use to bathe his eyes. Even my expert Grade Nine French was ineffective when it came to translating the French instructions. 

By the time our three days in Paris was up, we both decided against buying an ‘I Love Paris’ t-shirt because neither of us really felt like we loved Paris.

It was alright. Not quite the romantic tryst I’d imagined though.

But did I tell you? We saw Will Smith! 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Pinky and Scotto's European Vacation (Part Two)


“Do you think that’s a ghost?” I asked Lulu. 

Mr Darcy: Jane Austen Centre

I was showing her a photograph taken of Mr Darcy in the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. She grabbed my phone and inspected it with the intensity of a hard-core sceptic.

“Look!” I said, swiping the phone. “It’s in this photo as well.

And if you look closely it’s in this one on the right side of me.”

“Could be your thumbprint,” Lulu sniffed.

“No, it’s not because it’s not on any other photos.” I triumphantly showed her the other photos.

“I think I can make out a face,” Lulu said.

I quickly snatched the phone back from her and turned it off. Ghosts are okay if they’re just wispy bits of fog, but I didn’t want to know about any eerie faces appearing.

“I think it was Jane herself,” I said, hugging myself with contentment. “She knew it was me coming to pay homage, so she dropped down from the ether for a visit. You know, fellow writer and all that…”

I’d become all teary when we first walked into the centre because I’d wanted to go there for so long and I love her so much.

It was definitely Jane’s spirit and not a thumbprint. Besides, according to the Singapore authorities, I don’t have thumbprints.

I was nearly captured and imprisoned on the way through Singapore to London because no matter how many times I submitted my thumbprint to security, it drew a blank. 

Smooth as a baby’s bum my thumbs are. 

For all I know, I don’t have fingerprints either.

I was innocently standing behind Scotto at Changi Airport, (who merrily scanned his thumb and walked straight through the checkpoint) when I was detained. 

Scotto didn’t see me desperately poking my thumb in the machine as he was fiddling with the luggage. A machine gun attired guard grabbed me by the arm and escorted me into a side room, demanding my passport without a smile on his face.

Naturally, whenever something like that happens, I become sweaty, nervous and highly suspicious-looking.

‘Don’t talk, Pinky,’ I muttered to myself. ‘Whatever you do, don’t start babbling on and making stupid jokes about terrorists, like last time you did at Brisbane airport. This is Singapore. They shoot people here, idiot.’

“Do you come to Singapore a lot?” the guard asked, eyeing me up and down.

“Never,” I blurted. “Well, once I did. But that was twenty years ago. I mean thirty. Thirty years ago. Thirty years ago I was here.” I grinned sheepishly.

He continued to stare at me with hard beady eyes and I could feel heat rising up from the back of my neck and sweat trickling down my face. 

I didn’t want to sweat because they might have thought I’d swallowed heroin. I've seen Border Security on the telly.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s nice. (cough) Singapore is lovely. I wonder why I don’t have thumbprints?” I wiped a thick streak of sweat from my top lip with the back of my hand.

I could see Scotto through a glass barrier. He was looking confused, worried and more than slightly irritated that I’d seemingly disappeared into thin air.

I think the guard took a photo of me. I can’t remember because I was so anxious and was obsessing about Schapelle Corby in Bali, and rats in prison cells, and having to use my Nicorettes as collateral in jail instead of cigarettes. 

I thought about how I might finally get a book published if I had a Singaporean prison story but then I thought about missing out on my holiday to London and felt a bit miffed.

Finally, they let me through, and I tumbled out of the secret room to find Scotto looking around in a bewildered state of fury.
“Where were you?” he hissed. “You’ve got to stop disappearing on me, Pinky. I thought you’d been abducted!”

Later on, after I’d calmed down, I googled why I might have no thumbprints. Apparently, four people in a hundred have difficulty at Singapore Airport because they have worn down prints. They wear off with age, so I’m told.



Monday, January 13, 2020

Pinky and Scotto's European Vacation (Part One)

(Video above is clandestine footage taken of Pinky descending a castle staircase)

On looking back at our holiday photographs, I can honestly say that I don’t care if I don’t see any moss-encrusted turrets, Gothic spires or stained-glass windows for a while.

I don’t care if I don’t get to lug a suitcase along cobblestones in the rain, decipher the engineering of a hotel shower faucet or climb up and down a slippery castle staircase either.

We’re back from our trip abroad and had a fantastic time, but BOY is it good to be home.

On our first morning in London, we woke up at some ungodly hour full of dribbling, unbridled hysteria and left the hotel in the darkness at seven am. 

Spilling out onto the streets of Balham like a couple of Dickensian chimney sweeps, the shock of the cold almost killed us. 

Our first port of call was a coffee shop called Café Nero. It’s a franchise all over the U.K. and it became our frequent pit stop.

Cafe Nero

 I was so excited to be in London, I bought a gingerbread man and took a photograph of it and posted it to Facebook. I realise you can buy plenty of gingerbread men in Australia, but it was either that or a toasted cheese sandwich and I thought the former had a more English ambiance about it. 

The second thing I bought in London was an umbrella from Sainsbury's.

Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard was our first destination. Apparently, the guards don’t do the proper ‘change’ during inclement weather, so I think we missed it. We were there watching and waiting but nothing much happened. The guard kept stepping in and out of his cubicle and fiddling with his gun and at one stage a booming voice yelled out, ‘Get off the fence’. Scotto got a fright as he thought the voice was yelling at him because he was hanging over the railings trying to take a picture, but I think it’s all part of the performance. 

Next, we walked all the way to Harrods. "Look Scotto!" I shrilled in excitement and pointed to a distant wheel. "There's the London Eye!" We decided to wander over after our Harrods excursion. 

Whilst we browsed the finery on display in Harrods, Scotto spied a pen for sale.

It cost 20 000 pounds. Yes, I know. That’s quite a lot for a pen which I would probably lose after a day or two, so we didn’t buy it. 

Heading over towards the London Eye, we came across a squirrel in Hyde Park. It crept out from behind some shrubbery and started to beg for food but the only thing we had was my gingerbread man and I wasn’t ready to open it, so we gave it nothing. It was a long, damp walk to the London Eye so you can imagine how disappointed we were to discover when we arrived on blistered feet that it wasn’t the London Eye at all. It was just a lousy Ferris wheel set up in Hyde Park. We sat at a café and ate some scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream instead which were delicious but made me feel a bit sick.

After ‘tubing’ it across London, we met up with my daughter, Lulu, and had drinks with her and her workmates. The view from the pub afforded a panoramic scene encompassing the actual London Eye. It was quite a bit bigger than the Ferris wheel in Hyde Park I must say. 

Portobello Road Markets

The next day, as Lulu had finished her teaching term and was on holidays, she accompanied us to the markets. There was no Hugh Grant to be seen at Portobello Road and Lulu insisted we move on to Camden Markets instead. I’m glad she insisted because it was one of the highlights of our trip. Rambling along cobblestone paths surrounded by the aromas of mulled wine and roasting chestnuts transported us into the soul of Medieval Britain. There were buskers and Egyptian stalls galore and exotic dishes sizzling all around us. There was a shop specifically focussed on vaginas which wasn’t Medieval and which Scotto was reluctant to enter. 

“Do you think I should buy one of these vagina postcards?” I asked him as I gazed around at the statues, posters and vagina shaped lollypops. But he kept staring at the ground and shuffling his feet in an awkward fashion.

One thing I really admire about the British is their ability to briskly walk down a street, en masse, carrying umbrellas, and not bump into anyone else. I hadn’t developed this skill and was constantly jostling people and having to apologise.

The rain was annoying but we saw a double rainbow and we knew that signified a magnificent holiday to come. 

Lulu took us across London Bridge to the Eye (finally) and then on to the British Science Museum. It was dark when we left so we got to see the Winter Wonderland skating at Leicester Square. This was part of the reason we warm-blooded Aussies travelled over in winter; to see the Christmas lights. We weren’t disappointed. 

There are no leaves on the trees in winter, so the best scenery is at night. The sun doesn’t rise until 8am and it sets at 4pm which meant we had to squeeze a lot into a short time.

The things I was most nervous about on the trip were firstly, feeling the cold, but my coat was like a down-filled quilt and kept me so warm I didn’t even need gloves.

My second fear was getting pickpocketed, but my coat had an interior pocket so I knew where my credit card was at all times.

My third fear was getting stabbed by a lunatic. I just had to get over that one myself.

On the whole, I felt pretty safe in London and the only time I ever felt in any danger was the day Scotto and I decided to walk to Wimbledon Common. Scotto had his heart set on buying a Womble from Wimbledon. I know. Most men want to go to watch the tennis. He particularly desired a stuffed toy figurine of Great Uncle Bulgaria or something and he’d read that Wombles could be purchased from the Windmill gift shop at Wimbledon Common and NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD.

It was only an hour and fifteen-minute walk according to Google Maps so we set off early in the morning.

As we meandered along through a suburb called, Tooting, we came across three young men urinating on a building. We passed them but they soon overtook us and then stopped, loitering on the corner and going through rubbish cans. There wasn’t much traffic on the deserted road and I became a trifle nervous. They looked like they might hassle us and even though I was with my roguish Womble-loving thug of a husband, there were three of them and only one of him.

“Why don’t we take a side street to avoid those guys,” I suggested to Scotto.

We did, but somehow Google maps took us on a different route and our gentle one-hour amble to Wombledom turned into a three-and-a-half-hour uphill odyssey which left us with trembling quadriceps and wheezing asthma.

After dodging muddy puddles and wild and woolly hounds running loose on the common, we finally arrived at the windmill to find it was closed for the season, so Scotto failed to collect his Great Uncle Bulgaria after all. 

Wimbledon Common: Wombles: Nil

The café was open though and I plunged my choppers into the most delicious Lemon Drizzle cake I’ve ever eaten. I don’t usually eat cake but at that stage I would have eaten a five-day old Womble carcass I was so hungry.

We caught an Uber home.

On reflection we should have caught more Ubers than we did. We’d caught a taxi from the airport which cost us $150 and had felt bitterly remorseful ever since. Getting off a plane after a 13-hour flight, in the dark, in a strange city, lowers your defences. There was no way we could have dragged our luggage onto the Tube in that situation. 

Overall though, the Tube was excellent value but the journey during peak time made my hair stand on end. All those people crammed into a sardine tin hurtling through underground tunnels… shudder. 

On the Tube

Christmas Day was fast approaching. The plan was to breakfast at Lulu’s place then move on to a full Christmas dinner in Tooting. We had bought our daggy Christmas jumpers and were ready to party.