Sunday, 7 August 2011


It is 1am and I am lying on the single bed in the nursery staring at the ceiling, listening to Kitty's shallow breathing in the cot next to me. She has just fallen asleep.

She is very ill. Strep throat, a doctor will say two days later. She was boiling - boiling - to the touch with fever when I arrived at her bedside. I got myself ready to adminster some life-saving Nurofen but she didn't want it - gagged and vomited a little bit down herself in protest. So I jammed as much in her mouth as I could, changed her pukey sleeping back, walked her round, waited for her to nod off and then lay down braced for a sleepless night listening to her whimper.

It's a terrible noise, a baby whimpering in its sleep.

And as I lay there in the dark listening to the whimpering and to the nursery clock ticking and the aircon whirring I thought for the first time in a long time "At least I'm not in Australia."

That is my thing, my "At least I'm not..." thing.

I ended up in Australia in the late summer of 2001. I went out with no clear idea of what I was going to do but my sister was out there for a year and I was bored, so I went. My sister was working in some snazzy bar and going out with a very posh Australian - yes they do, in fact, exist - called Jimmy. He was terrific, Jimmy - he was hilarious. Tall with dark hair and long dark eyelashes like a girl. He was always stealing his flatmates' food - usually dinky little take-out pots of spicy asian-fusion salads - late at night when drunk and peckish.

"Hmm..." he would say, his head in the fridge. "What's Polly got in here? A little snacky-snack for Jimmy before bedtime?"

Anyway you get the idea.

I couldn't stay in Sydney with them so I took off up the East Coast. It was boring. I had a shit time. There was one okay week where I worked on a cattle farm and I should have stayed there mucking out the horses and working in the bar, but I moved on in the wrong belief that there was more to see.

What happened instead was that I unwittingly became a thief.

It happened like this:

I was sitting about in some hostel or other with a girl who was going home soon. "Just going," she said "to have a quick rummage round lost property for some flip flops. Mine are broken."

"Is that a thing you do?"

"Yeah there's always great stuff in hostel lost properties. These Miss Sixties?" She said, pointing at her jeans. "Alice Springs. This bag...?" etc.

So off we went to the lost property box. There was nothing that fascinating except a shitty brown t-shirt with red Japanese writing on the front that I thought looked quite unusual. I tucked it under my arm and thought no more about it.

Three days later I was sitting in another dull, depressing hostel somewhere hot and crappy, wearing my scavanged t-shirt, and an angry Irish girl stormed up to me.

"Where did you get that t-shirt?" she demanded. "It was stolen out of my bag. Why have you got it?"

And here is where it went wrong. Why didn't I just say "Found it. Lost property in X. Is it yours? Have it back!!"?

I don't know why not. What I did say, however, was "My sister gave it to me."

Why did I say that? WHY?

Maybe I thought she wouldn't believe the story that I'd found it in lost property and scream "Thief!" at me. I can't be bothered to recount exactly what happened in the days that followed but it was nasty. The angry Irish girl and her friend accused me to everyone they could find of having stolen her t-shirt. And the Eastern Coast of Australia turns out to be a very small place. I somehow kept up with my lame story that it was mine.

They followed me up the coast for three days, telling everyone at every hostel that I was a thief. Hissing at me as they passed me that I was pathetic. Then one day the angry Irish girl's friend came up to me and said that they'd called the police. By then I had lost all sense of perspective and couldn't see that it was obviously total fucking rubbish. I'd had enough. I hadn't eaten for about three days or really slept. I am an anxious person, you see, and being accused of being a thief is something I can't really style out.

I went to my rucksack and took out the t-shirt. "If I give this to you," I said. "Do you promise to leave me alone and never speak to me again?"

I saw, on the girls' face, a flicker of doubt that she and her angry Irish friend were right.
"I'm not an arsehole, you know," she said.
"Sure," I said, and handed her the t-shirt.

Then that night, in the middle of the night, I split. I took a taxi to a hostel well off the beaten tourist path, filled with cattle station hands and middle-aged women travelling cross-country to see newborns. And that was that.

It's bothered me for years, that incident - although with hindsight I didn't really do anything that bad. Just really thick. But still, I have never told anyone that story. Not. A. Soul.

(A week later I arrived back in Sydney and went straight out and got a tattoo. I've always wondered if the two things are connected.)

The day before I flew back to London the twin towers collapsed. (It was interesting getting on an international flight via the Middle East on 12/09/01, I tell you.) Then about three years later, Jimmy killed himself. I won't go into how. And I simply don't know why. Oh, and someone gave me fucking chlamydia.

So that's why however crumby things are, I'm glad I'm not in Australia.

Although I think I am one of the few people to have enjoyed the film.

I have newly fallen back in love with my husband. Not that I was ever out of love with him but in the last few days I have been crawling around after him screaming "I love you! I worship you! Please marry me!"

The thing is, he comes into his own when there's something wrong with the baby and I am simply vomiting in a corner with anxiety, ringing NHS Direct and crying. My husband takes charge, shooes me out of the nursery, won't let me near the baby monitor and makes me dinner.

All we had in the house was some beef, which he decided to roast - "Although I know we're not celebrating or anything," he said. "I know we're all in mourning because Kitty's got a cough."

And he wanted to make a gravy to go with it.

Gravy is something that can appear daunting but actually it's okay if you give yourself a bit of time.

For gravy, you need:
1 The pan that something has roasted in
2 Some shitty alcohol (even this is optional, really)
3 Some flour or cornflour
4 Some stock or vegetable cooking water

Roughly to make a gravy, take the roasting pan and "de-glaze" with shitty cooking wine. This means you place the pan over a medium flame and pour in some alcohol, about half a wine-glass full I'd say. Then you scrape at the pan and get all the roasty bits and sticky bits off the bottom.

Then reduce this until it becomes glossy-ish round the edges. Reduce the heat and take the pan off the flame. Sprinkle over some flour - about a tablespoon. With the pan off the heat, mush this all round until it is a paste.

Now add some of your liquid - either stock or some veg cooking water - to the pan still off the heat. Mix this round until vaguely combined.

Then put the pan back on the heat and add some more sloops of stock or cooking water. Simmer it briskly until it starts to thicken thanks to the flour.

Pour over your roast dinner.

Then take a Valium. Or three.

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