Good afternoon, Dear Readers, and after a week spent at home spent mostly ill, I have little to report – except that ‘low-grade viral infections’, the current medical catch-all, is clearly just a get-out phrase meaning ‘we haven’t the faintest clue what’s wrong with you’. I spent the week with low-grade nausea, shaky hands, a headache…all in all, not all that relaxing.
So, in lieu of the usual unfocused ramblings, I present to you an article I wrote a couple of years ago for the student newspaper here in Aberdeen, the Gaudie. The weather here at the minute reminds me of the situation as it was when I wrote this. Enjoy!
I was speaking to an astonishingly pleasant individual the other day. A bright, attractive girl who was, through the blessing of a Southern Hemispherical birth, Australian. She was, and I feel I must be very, very clear on this point, not called Sheila. She was called Kimberley and she had the kind of figure that makes monks feel funny and renounce their vows at the earliest possible moment. (I nearly said ‘at their earliest possible convenience’ but it was the kind of figure that reduces monks to not giving a monkey’s about anyone’s convenience.)
Not that I got the opportunity to mention this to her. Our conversation was, though technically on a one-to-one basis, enjoyed in the context of a rather larger group of people. There is nothing like a large group of people to destroy any chance you feel you may have. Large groups of people are rubbish. I’m blaming this particular large group of people for my total failure to get off with Kimberley. I was witty and charming and, best of all, not Scottish, Welsh or English.
I know nationality was a factor because I was able to observe Kimberley’s reaction to being introduced to Scottish, Welsh and English people. She had a particular type of smile she used that was very different to the one directed at me. How I wish, Dear Reader, that the smile sent to me in all its genuine antipodean warmth was offered because of the aforementioned wit and charm. But I know it wasn’t; it was mine because I’m Northern Irish and can therefore be held in no way responsible for the lunatic punishment of sending people to Australia to pay for their crimes.
Compare, if you will, mainland Britain to Australia. One has endless blue skies, the Great Barrier Reef and some of the world’s best surfing; the other has rain. Endless, unceasing, permanent drizzly mists of damp insipid unpleasantness interspersed with sudden downpours that make horrendous the already ghastly business of living here. Lawrence Durrell called this ‘Pudding Island.’ “Think of all the times when absolutely everyone you know has the cold,” he said, and rapidly convinced his family that the only possible solution was to up sticks and move to Corfu.
The man was a genius. Kimberley knew this, which was why the mainlanders who came to talk to her got the benefit of a smile reserved in the rest of us for use exclusively on the inmates of institutions for the criminally insane. Deportation to Australia isn’t a punishment, it’s a reprieve. In Dorset there is an old stone bridge which still has a plaque bolted to it saying ‘the punishment for defacing this bridge is deportation.’ I’m amazed the structure is still recognisably a bridge. If I could remember exactly where it was I’d be making my way to the village tomorrow armed with spray paints and a sledgehammer and a pre-written confession.
But as of this moment I am still stuck in one of the greyest cities in Europe. The streets, the buildings, the sea, the sky, the faces…ye gods the gloominess. I once dated a German girl who spoke fairly fluent Spanish (arguments with her were exhausting; she had a tendency to leap from language to language like a serial bungee-jumper on a world tour of high bridges) and who had earned for herself the nickname ‘Señorita Multicolor.’ She liked bright colours and was therefore regarded with suspicion verging on hostility by our less-enlightened natives. “What the hell does she have to look happy about? She lost the war!” was clearly at the forefront of each grey mind. “Quick, pack her off somewhere she can’t do any damage. Try Australia.”
As it was she returned to Germany, which seemed every bit as unfair. So this week, I want to see as many students as possible dressing in defiance of the overcast, and I’d also like Kimberley to take me Down Under, please.
And oh yes – here it is, your moment of Zen: