Tatsuta Ryokan on the Izu Peninsula

Gorgeous day today. As we drove from Shizuoka to Izu, Mt Fuji was our constant companion out the passenger window and my propensity for iffy high speed landscape photography reasserted itself in spades… This was Mr K’s preferred shot, complete with Shinkansen in the mid-ground.

We’d had quite a warm day – somewhere in the low 20Cs all day, but as we neared Izu and entered the mountainous villages of the peninsula, the temperatures dropped considerably, and with it, the autumn leaves were more prevalent. It’s interesting how you can see which slopes of a small valley are the coolest.


Our last weekend in Japan for this trip, thankfully we only minimal transport work this weekend (unless our Middle East clients start arcing up on Sunday just for shits and giggles!) and two nights of rest and relaxation, fun and frivolity in the beautiful Izu Peninsula staying at Tatsuta Ryokan.

I saw this ryokan on a travel vlog and thought it looking lovely. Beautiful ambiance and a welcoming atmosphere. Sometimes it feels a little hit and miss when booking places in languages you are unfamiliar with, but I seem to have won here.

This was booked months ago, and I honestly forgot what type of accomodation I had booked for most of this trip,so it always felt like a wonderful surprise when we arrived at our ryokan stays. Here, at Tatsuta, because we are having guests on the second night, I remember booking a larger room with the private onsen bath, but damn… this room is palatial!

It’s quite difficult to capture the size of this room – between the bed space above and the living room space in the picture below, is also about another six tatami mat of floor space? I also wish I could adequately convey the amazing smell of this room – the fresh cypress of the timber work, the tatami mats, and the fresh breezes coming in the large windows to the river… it’s intoxicating.

I noticed this quaint device by the bed… cute touch. ūüôā

And of course, I’m starting to feel that no night in Japan is complete without your own private onsen bath on the balcony… just the sight of it is enough to make you start to relax.

We also had a generous provision of coffee, hot tea, cold water, snacks and an amenities kit full of more pookie than you can poke a stick at…
Toothbrush, razor, hairbrush, tabi socks, shower cap and so much more. Most of the ryokans have provided loads of amenities like this – the packaging always gives me pause though!

The view from our room of the Nekokoshi River.

First things first of course we had to shower and then get in for a soak in the tub. It was amazing. The water was about 40C and felt fresh and clear. After that we did a little unpacking and cleared away some work before checking out the ryokan’s other onsen baths. There were four other private onsen baths we could access – and they all had door locks that were electronically monitored so you could scan a QR code and find out which baths were free. This bath was directly at the end of the corridor on our floor, and we had time so we thought we’d go for a second dip before getting ready for dinner. It was lovely – and I imagine four or five people could enjoy this space together quite easily. This is the view from the ryokan’s riverside restaurant on the first floor… just beautiful.

Looking all relaxed and ready for another delicious kaiseki dinner. The menu is predominantly Kawadoko cuisine in this part of Japan (not entirely sure what that means, but I am writing it down so I can hunt for it later). The starters were as impressively presented as they were flavoursome – there was an umeshu aperitif, sakiwan golden soup, boiled rockfish, pork hachimanmaki, forest boar liver, and tengyo nanban (I need to look that one up too!).
The sashimi was fresh kingfish from Ito port, and scallops.

And as per what is now becoming quite the habit, I tried a local junmai saké with the meal.

This was the little boiled rockfish – very fishy, with a very thick consistency, a bit like octopus, but not really.
There was small box covered with decorative paper in the first picture that I hadn’t noticed, and when I did uncover it – more sashimi! Yellowtail and tuna, so fresh and delicious. Amazing… I really am not going to have Japanese food for months after I get home, it just won’t measure up.

Next course, we were back to cooking our own shabu-shabu of delicious golden sea bream and specially prepared tofu.

We were also served this interesting ‘boiled fish’, when we asked our attendant what sort of fish it was, he haltingly replied, ‘Errr, red fish’. ūüôā I’ve since discovered it was known as kinmedai in Japanese which is a Splendid Alphonso to the English speaking world. It was served boiled in a light soy and was very tasty – though I did heave most of the raw ginger off the top… it was just too much!We were also served some tempura seasonal vegetables with wasabi salt – I never thought I was overly fond of tempura…. in Australia it tends to feel heavy in oil, and the one time we went for tempura in Asakusa with a Japanese friend, Aman√©, she took us to her favourite and she claimed ‘best’ tempura restaurant in Asakusa and I honestly didn’t like it that much. But the ryokan meals we have had have served tempura that is light and delicate and doesn’t taste like heavy deep fried food at all.We discovered that Izu is really well known for their fresh wasabi – and we also discovered, when you grate your own wasabi and not using the squishy over processed stuff you see most places, it is more flavourful and less hot. Very nice.Dashi broth heating for our rice set course – The rice set came with more red fish, sesame, miso pickles, nori, wasabi, and coriander (thank you so much for the heads up on the devil’s weed!), then of course you pour some broth on once you have loaded up your rice.Ta-da! Super tasty. They gave us a large pot of rice and said to call if we wanted more rice – but after such a large meal, I nearly had more condiments than rice in my donburi. Thankfully, with these multi course kaiseki meals, the dessert/sweet courses are usually simple and small… I say ‘thankfully’ because many Japanese abhor waste when it comes to food and it is considered rude not to clean your plate – if you are at a buffet and choosing food for yourself, it is VERY rude to take more than you will eat.
Dessert tonight was some local Fuji apple, a couple of well chosen grapes, a piece of brown sugar pudding, and some sort of slightly cheese-layered-cake thing. Looking very relaxed and chilled there Mr K.

The restaurant as we were leaving – each table has blankets under the table top and heaters under the table. We were also given large fluffy Japanese parkas that we could wear if we got too cold, but seeing it was quite a bit warmer here than Takayama and up in the snow near Nagano, we felt a little too warm!

Having dinner by the stream was lovely – though I have to say the water was a bit loud for quiet conversation. I imagine in spring this area would look completely different and the river wouldn’t be trickling past, it would be roaring! Waking up to this in the morning is something I could really get used to.

Took this snap of Mr K enjoying the view from the onsen bath before we went down from breakfast. ūüôā I reckon it’s a pretty safe bet that 2,000JPY he is thinking about work on Monday already.
You can see the dining ‘room’ by the river so much easier to photograph in the morning – it is gorgeous here. It was chilly this morning so we rugged up a bit and settled ourselves in beside the river.

Breakfast full of all good things again – egg and a piece of boar bacon, miso soup, rice and condiments (below), pickled veggies, yoghurt, and green tea all beautifully laid out.

The donburi condiments box for breakfast is full of exciting and some unidentified things. ūüôā Beans-of-uncertain-preparation (?) at 12 o’clock, mushrooms in soy at 11 and 1, some slimy umami fishy things (on the middle left), some miso-ish onion flavoured something (on the middle right), seaweed dead centre, wasabi and bonito flakes!

We also had some grilled fish (local whitefish and some sardine) to heat along with some boar’s speck, which was really an interesting flavour – super gamey bacon. I’m getting used to cooking with the chopsticks and have even mastered removing the fish bones from the morning’s grilled fish offerings, with my chopsticks. The miso soup here was excellent – one thing travelling around to so many different areas throughout the country is you rapidly learn that not all miso soup is made equal! Nor is all curry or all ramen.

Oishi!

The morning light really brought out the colours along the riverbank…

We are off to explore the Izu Peninsular today, in particular some interesting road infrastructure and how they’re integrating their tourist transits from rail through to other passenger transport options (‘cos that’s how we roll!).

But this post continues because we stayed here for TWO days and on Saturday afternoon, The Boys arrived from Tokyo! I have so been looking forward to sharing this lovely ryokan experience with them. These guys have known each other since the first grade and this is their first holiday together like this. They’ve been in Tokyo all week and are now hitting the countryside and road tripping to Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kanazawa, Takayama, Nagano, Fuji and back to Tokyo… but this is the only ryokan/onsen visit they have booked (in fairness you can stay in ryokan at all price points, but places like this one aren’t all that accessible for your average early 20s, budget conscious, backpacker types! They all look great and super uncomfortable in their samue… I’m sure a bit of sak√© will dispel the discomfort quick smart.

When they first arrived, I was busy re-packing our suitcases for our transit home tomorrow, while Keith took them to one of the private onsens so they could figure out how this whole thing works. Which suited me perfectly as I got the bath on our balcony to myself. We all scrubbed squeaky clean, got dressed and made our way down to dinner.


We had a significantly different menu to last night – still served out in the lovely open air river-side dining room… this time a table for five was made up for us.

We started with a yuzu aperitif, and the appetisers tonight were – ginko tofu, simmered sweet potato, tengyo (smoked salmon) with cream cheese, beef with myoko.

On the side was some more beef and green karachi egg in some delightfully delicious sauce made of shitake mushrooms. I have no idea what else was in this, but it was fabulous.

Tonight’s sashimi was two kinds of Ito port fish, and various kinds of wives, (translations provided by google, they don’t always makes sense?), Amagi natural shrimp

The Boys enjoyed grating their own wasabi – very novel.

…and very serious business

A small selection of tempura vegetables – this one had a large piece of sweet potato that I happily swapped for Mr K’s mushrooms… though not passed between chopsticks of course!

Amagi Shamo special wasabi hotpot that you make into a kind of porridge… the soup is made at the table and we were each served up some rice into a bowl, broke about three decent sized eggs and whisked it up and then mixed fresh egg through our rice. Added pickles, miso paste, wasabi, spring onions, and other things to taste, and then add soup to cook the egg… it’s time consuming table side but was really tasty. There was also a savoury egg custard made from tortoiseshell and yuzu paste (?), and some grilled swordfish with magnolia leaves, but I got busy with the cooking of the hot pot and failed on the photos. ūüôā Dessert again was lovely and light and simple: almond pudding, with orange and local melon.

All up a fabulous meal with lots of very traditional Japanese flavours to try… which is a good thing because it sounds like these guys have landed themselves twice in CHINESE restaurants since getting here – and there is zero excuse for that! Japanese food is amazing… I have no idea why you’d opt for Chinese!

After dinner, we all went back to our room, (which all up was about four times the size of the room the Boys were sharing), because of course we had accumulated more sak√© than I could take home, and Mr K had left over beer and snacks we thought they could demolish or take with them for the rest of their trip. An impromptu work meeting transpired over sak√©…Less so as the night went on… ūüôā

See? Way more comfy in their samue after sufficient application of saké. We managed to polish off quite a bit Рwhich was nice, I knew I was buying more than I could consume or would be allowed to take home.

I also gave them a crash course in ‘which sak√© to buy from which convenience store’. LOL… – 7/11 to stock up on cold Hakutsuru, Lawson’s for affordable and reliable good, Tatayam Junmai, and FamilyMart? Well, FamilyMart is a bit of a crap shoot on what you’ll find at any given store. ūüôā

Breakfast time, we met The Boys down by the riverside. Tamago, pickled yam, miso soup, an egg custard, and another donburi set with all the amazing condiments. I have no idea what this dish was in the top right… but it was delicious and full of rich umami flavours – unfortunately the breakfast didn’t come with a menu, and our attendants skills weren’t up to a translation.

This morning’s donburi condiments consisted of whitebait, pickles, seaweed, sesame, bonito flakes and dashi or soy sauce. It was kinda cool to be old hands at the Japanese way of serving dinner now – and to watch the confusion as The Boys tried to figure out what the hell they were eating.

Breakfast miso soup should be a thing back home, I think. I’m gonna turn it into a thing when I get back. Miso soup for breakfast… can’t think of a single reason why not to. Oh okay, other than the fact that the readily available miso soups at home are nowhere near as good as here!

More grilled fish and sardines – plus a weird little chicken popsicle thing that tasted a bit of yuzu…

… but all too quickly, breakfast was over and it was time for us to try and hit the road for the long drive back to Tokyo where we had to return our rental car to Haneda and then meet a driver to take us to Narita (short but annoying story omitted here, where Qantas is the villain*)

We had a marvellous interlude in the mountains hanging out with the kids before they continued on with their adventures and we head off to travel home. This is the good stuff… the best stuff, really. Making memories that last a lifetime.‚Čą

*Villain is probably being far too harsh a term for these circumstances; we booked return to Haneda back in April, but from today onwards, all QF62 Tokyo to Brisbane flights will be going Narita to Brisbane, not Haneda to Brisbane. We’ve known about it for months, so the only inconvenience was two hour transit across the city and the cost of a private transfer to haul our arses and our luggage. *shrug*

I will take the ring…

As is customary in the SCA, during the Reign of Leofric I and Sabine II a cypher was created to bestow upon those who had helped and assisted us during Our tenure. Given King Leofric is a master jeweller and in possession of particularly fine skills, he decided to create an Anglo-Saxon ring that We could gift to those wonderful Gentles who assisted Us through our crazy Covid reign.

We worked together on the design and Leofric handmade the master ring, that a mould was then created from. Once the rings were all cast and completed, from the moment I first held one in my hand… my immediate response was, ‘I really NEED to throw this ring into the Thames for a happy mudlarker to find!’ His work was stunning as per usual, and it was a beautiful recreation of a 9/10thC Anglo Saxon ring.

I had no notion of when I might next be in the UK, but had decided one was destined for the Thames when I did finally make it abroad again.  As luck would have it, a trip was unexpectedly arranged not long after our international borders were opened… and barely two short months after these rings were created, I found myself back in England. As fortune (and my itinerary) would have it, I did not once manage to get into the centre of London and instead found myself happily sojourning in the countryside for the days I spent there instead.

Seeing I had (somewhat deliberately) avoided the hustle and bustle of the city, I recruited my dear friend, Kev Z to take on the commission of tossing the cypher ring into the Thames on my behalf. This morning, three days after my return to Australia, while enjoying my habitual heatpack and a cup of tea, I receive the following messages from the gorgeous Kev, to whom the ring was entrusted to its destination…

“I have a small tale to tell you…
We boarded the tube into central London, bound for the Millennium Bridge‚ĶAnd arriving at London Bridge, in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, we wandered through Borough Market‚ĶPassed a ship once sailed by the favourite of a great Queen…To a place where great tales of romance and betray have been told for immortal centuries‚ĶAnd onto a bridge…Watched by a great spire…

The final resting place.

I had asked Kev if he might film a small clip of himself tossing the ring into the Thames from the Millennium Bridge such that I might share with Leofric – and instead he took me on a delightful little adventure through London, and shared a poem as he completed his commission.

Kev, you gorgeous (gorgeous!) man, thank you ever so much for this – I had not envisaged how my whimsical request would be turned into such a thoughtful and memorable journey, but I should have known that your beautifully poetic and artistic soul was never going to unceremoniously dump the ring into the Thames, like a tourist throwing a coin into a well!

I really do hope that some happy (and potentially confused?!) mudlarker might one day find it, and that they might somehow contact Lochac, saying, ‚ÄúWTF?!‚ÄĚ ¬†ūüôā

Kev’s poem:

Thief

Ten thousand treasures
Strewn beneath dust
An arid garland
of abundance,
How many fortunes
blessed me.
A deluge of gold
Flowed through
these hands
Spilling in
brilliant cascade
Rare and remarkable,
So many jewels
Tumbled from these
graceless palms
Clumsy in their gathering,
Tarnished by a softly
oiled touch
Their glamour gifting
me glow
To melt into air
Dispersed upon
lonely darkness.

Treasures they remain,
Every one
Whilst these spoiling
hands inelegant linger.

When Your Inner Germaphobe Becomes Your Outer Germaphobe.

Okay, hang onto your hats, wash your fucking hands, and welcome to (one of) my major psychological malfunctions.

Confession time: Hello, my name is Borys and I am a lifelong germaphobe.

Always have been, probably always will be. Part of this stems from obsessive personality traits, diagnosed some time back in the early 90s… and part of it results from spending way too much time on the Internet and researching the fuck out of “things that can, and probably will, go wrong”. Yes, I dare say germaphobia and innate pessimism go hand in hand.¬† I have always been careful to make a distinction between me and my diagnosed ‘obsessive personality traits’ (germaphobic, huge equal helpings of being overly meticulous, finickity, and fastidious about way too many things), and that of people who really suffer from full-on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, who experience debilitating and controlling compulsions because I think a lot of people are too flippant with the ‘OCD’ tag. I don’t suffer from compulsions…¬† Or at least I have not in the past.

When I was really little I used to hate the feeling of mud squishing up between my toes when we went pumping yabbies on the mudflats at Straddie – it turned my stomach because it felt like stepping in dog shit… something which happened semi-regularly when you spent your childhood roaming the neighbourhood barefoot and people weren’t required by local laws to pick up after their pets back then.¬† I’m fairly confident it got much worse when I was about 15 and I contracted glandular fever.¬† Either picked up from sharing a drink with some random or (more likely) from snogging Alan Medland at a Blue Light Disco, seeing he came down with it several days before I did.¬† Anyhoo… it laid me up for about six weeks.¬† I was really really sick, fever, aches, coughing and spluttering and spitting up gunk. Multiple blood tests later, I found out I have shit veins. Secondary infection meant I lost my voice and an entire term of school work. It was pretty miserable.¬† My capacity for solving simultaneous equations never recovered but, ‘meh’, I survived.

About four months later my sister, BigSal, got chickenpox – and I was determined to do everything in my power not to get sick again!¬† I disinfected everything. Repeatedly. I refused to use the phone if she’d been on it.¬† I wouldn’t be in the same room with her. I wouldn’t touch things that she had touched, I wouldn’t eat my meals near her and insisted she shouldn’t be allowed near the kitchen – basically forced everyone to treat her like a complete leper.¬† Anyway, I was successful and managed to avoid getting chickenpox even while living in the same house as an infected/contagious individual for about a month. As it turns out my fastidiousness in avoiding it was a bit of a mistake – spending your entire adult life worrying about getting a dose of chickenpox as an adult is not fun¬† ūüėź¬† ¬†Yes, I’ve been vaccinated of course – but still.

Ever since then, I’ve been somewhat, err… hypervigilant in the hygiene department?¬† How hypervigilant?¬† Well pernickety enough that when I was in Turkey and stuck in the tight confines of a double-decker bus with 23 people – when more than half of them got sick with a really aggressive case of gastro – I didn’t get it.¬† And again when on a cruise ship with a whole bunch of people down with norovirus – I didn’t get it.¬† My mum used to say I have a cast-iron gut when people all around me were getting sick and I wasn’t. But truth is, I have always just been really really anal retentive about my hand/face hygiene habits my entire life, and no more so than when travelling.

I got even more germophobic in 2003 after I picked up a very serious (read: potentially fatal) staph infection in my abdomen after a laparoscopic surgery that landed me back in a different hospital from the one that gave it to me, with a burning abdomen, high fevers, delirium, two infectious diseases specialists, some ‘let’s nuke this fucker from space’ IV antibiotics that they hold back especially for these types of infections, and a newfound hatred for hospitals. :/

My particular brand of germaphobia is usually somewhat like a subterranean aquifer – it’s well hidden but it runs pretty consistently unless diverted.¬† Long before this coronavirus outbreak, I had a hundred and one little hygiene little habits. I can’t sleep if I haven’t showered, the idea of getting into bed ‘dirty’ (yeah, dirty from sitting around on a computer in the air-con all day) feels completely ‘ick’.¬† I’ve always washed my hands so often and aggressively that the fingerprint reader on both my previous iPhones never worked (god bless facial recognition!). I make mental notes of who’s drinking what and to never drink from someone else’s cup. It angers me to try and make even something simple like toast in my kitchen if there are any dirty dishes lying around from the night before.¬† People double-dipping at social gatherings makes me want to scream at them, and yes, I am judging you fuckers (unless it’s someone you’re snogging, don’t double-dip with them!).¬† I can’t use moisturisers on my hands or face (or massage oil on my back) without feeling like my skin it is ‘suffocating’. The idea of a dog sleeping on my bed literally makes my skin crawl. ¬†I can’t/won’t use someone else’s iPad or device if I can see it’s got greasy fingerprint marks on the screen. I hate hate hate pimples and can’t stand those ‘popping’ videos full of pus. Even the suggestion of using someone else’s toothbrush when desperate, is enough to make me gag.¬† Catching a whiff of someone’s bad breath literally makes me want to throw up, and up until now, one of the worst times of my life was when my son was in nappies. Urgggh… *shudders from something akin to PTSD*.

It’s mostly something that I’ve just been quietly but acutely aware of my whole life, but that I’ve been largely able to keep to myself. No one really notices or cares when you politely refuse to share a cup with them, or choose to wait out in your car instead of in a doctor’s waiting room, or if you go out of your way not to sit near someone coughing in a cinema…¬† At the moment, however, we are being bombarded with ‘Coronavirus this’, ‘Corvid-19 that’ and it’s getting harder and harder to maintain some semblance (pretence?) of equilibrium.

Mr K was in Sydney last week for work, and even though I know logically that given his movements there, he’s at minimal risk of having been exposed – I’ve relegated him to the back of the house to his bedroom and his office, banned him from the living room or from touching ANYTHING in the kitchen or refrigerator until I’m comfortable that he’s still asymptomatic by the time the median incubation period has passed.¬† In the last week, he came into the living room and sat down out of habit – just once.¬† It took only a few minutes before I felt my heart starting to race, my chest started to tighten with a feeling of wanting to scream but can’t (probably can but, you know, shouldn’t). I was mentally assessing when/if I should just get up and leave, and knowing all this was totally irrational but feeling it anyway and feeling powerless to control it, meant that I very rapidly felt the prick of oncoming tears.¬† My idiotic brain is causing my body to react with alarm/panic in the absence of genuine danger. It’s not fun.

Given the low probability of contagions in my own home, I KNOW I’m overreacting and I’m well aware of it.. but I can’t seem to help it. And I’ve been over-reacting for weeks now.¬† I haven’t left the house for anything social (with the exception of one dinner out on the 12th of March at a totally empty restaurant), since Feb 22nd.¬† Nooooo, I’m not paranoid at all… but I did just quietly locked myself in over a month ago.

Grocery trips have been done, but nothing else.¬† I’ve never been glad for self-checkouts before, but at the moment ain’t nobody needs other people handling their groceries more than necessary. It’s bad enough that we have no idea if the people on minimum income stocking the shelves are healthy. So, it’s been out with the hand sanitizer after touching trolleys, or bags or well, fucking anything at all. And again before getting back in the car and then scrubbing hands again at home with soap and water, before *and* after unpacking groceries.¬† More hand scrubbing before, during and after prepping meals.¬† Using cloths to open the dishwasher or touch the kettle (one for me – one for him). These are the sorts of precautions I normally only exercise when travelling in third world countries and I’ve taken to deploying them in my own house since the number of confirmed cases in my state was a grand total of TWO.¬† ¬†ūüėź¬† This virus, how contagious it is, and the progression of the disease on the body scares the living shit out of me.

But apparently, it doesn’t scare everyone. Watching my Boomer and Gen Z friends, family and colleagues not taking this seriously is honestly doing my head in – Aunt (currently partway through breast cancer treatments) and Uncle (over 70, long time smoker, had a heart valve replaced a few months ago) spent last weekend traipsing about visiting friends and going out to the pub for lunch!¬† Fav 20-year-old niece recently returned from Sydney was out at a party last Saturday night… WHAT-THE-EVER-LOVING-FUCK!?!¬† Some households with both parents working from home are still dropping their kid to DAYCARE!¬† I’ve seen the pictures of people at Bondi Beach, people lining up at Centrelink (it’s so shit that that has become necessary), friends still reporting plenty of foot traffic in retail apparel stores because people are ‘bored’, and so many others still trying to find ‘loopholes’ to keep getting out and keep doing things over the last week or so?¬† WTF people!

Pretending I’m not freaking out that everything I touch, or anyone I come in contact with, could be infected is exhausting.¬† For me, over the last month, leaving the house has felt like steeling yourself to go for a supply run in an episode of The Walking Dead.¬† Watching our government with their incompetent mixed messaging on what is allowed and what is not, and what’s considered ‘essential work’ and what’s not – all the while leaving schools open and risking the lives of all our friends and family who work in education or healthcare is equally angering and terrifying to every fibre of my being… especially in light of the fact that our PM has had his own kids safely ensconced at home for over a week?¬† The mongrel fucking bastard.

EVERYONE, PLEASE JUST STAY THE FUCK AT HOME – STAY AWAY FROM OTHER PEOPLE… AND WASH YOUR GODDAMN HANDS. THEN WASH THEM AGAIN, AND KEEP WASHING THEM UNTIL YOUR DAMN FINGERPRINTS ARE DISAPPEARING!!!

For the first time ever, we don’t want to be like Italy.¬† :'(

PS: If you see me wearing this on a t-shirt… in my defence, I did buy it before this thing started to spiral out of control. It’s now very relevant content – you can buy your own at Teeturtle.

PPS: If you have any weird friends who get miffed when you don’t put their DVDs back in the ‘right spot’, or they sort their books by genre then by author or by height, or who keep their sewing pins in clumps by pinhead colour, or who may sort their wardrobe by colour, or who have meticulously got everything in their pantry in Tupperware containers, or who stand around tidying dump bins at JB HiFi while you’re actually shopping, or who … well, you know the people I mean.¬† Go check on them – they’re probably not doing great.

Twenty years later…

Time seems to pass so quickly and this all feels like it happened just last year, but this story unfurled a little over twenty years ago… starting around the middle of 1996, maybe??? ¬†I had been single for while, I mean, not very long in the big scheme of things, but I was lamenting the lack of intelligent and refined young gentlemen in my general circle of acquaintance to a friend of mine, Peter. ¬†It was a typical, “Where have all the good men gone?” conversation – I was sick of meeting guys who couldn’t hold up their end in a meaty conversation, guys who didn’t know or care about anything outside their own small world, guys who wanted to get you into bed but who had nothing of any substance to offer you over breakfast. ¬†Peter offered me a some very good advice: ‘You need to separate the wheat from the chaff.’ said Pete, ‘What you need is a good pick up line…’ ¬†I had no idea where he was going with this, but he then said to me, ‘Next time you meet someone, ask them what they think of the Chinese Government disbanding the Hong Kong legislature.’ ¬†I laughed in his face – Oh right… how is that going to help me meet an interesting guy?!

But over the next few months, I found Pete’s pick up line was extremely useful: I would be out with the girls at a bar, and a guy would offer to buy me a drink or we’d be playing pool or something, and I’d pull out my conversation starter, ‘So… what do you think of the Chinese Government disbanding the Hong Kong legislature?’ ¬†I got a lot of blank looks, a lot of ‘Huh?’ responses. ¬†I got one, ‘Are you drunk?’, and one guy who literally just turned and walked away. ¬†It turned out that Pete’s one liner was a huge success at getting rid of repetitive conversations about cars or surfing, etc. ¬†So I kept it. And used it to good effect.

Several months after I started applying my¬†pick up line to my all and sundry social interactions at the Alex Hills and Colmslie Taverns, (Yes, I know, in hindsight, there was my problem, right there!), my sister came home from her first Rowany Festival (a large medieval camping event that is held annually near Sydney). ¬†She was full of enthusiastic stories about the tavern, the wars, the wonderful people she’d met, and all the general merrymaking and shenanigans she’d experienced. ¬†She showed me a whole pile of photographs of armoured fighters all decked out for war, and medieval campsites, and costumed people playing games on the green… it all looked like a lot of fun. ¬†She showed me one picture of herself with some friends, and I said to her, ‘Who’s he?’

She replied that his name was ‘William the Admirer’, but that she didn’t know his real name, and then she related a story where ‘William’ was engaged in a flattery competition that involved several guys who were engaged in offering delicate sentiments to compliment the Princess at the time, and how ‘William’ had declared to all that he would henceforth change his name to ‘William the Admirer’ in honour of the Princess and her beauty and accomplishments… or something like that. ¬†I laughed, but at the same time was quite taken by the idea of a young man who could pull off something like that in a social situation, and told my sister that she should invite him to a party that we were hosting soon, so that I could meet him… and so she did. ¬†Several times apparently. ¬†Each time she saw him, she apparently reiterated the invitation and he had promised he would come so that I could meet him.

The party in question was one of our then, annual Tequila Parties (complete with sombreros, ponchos, heavily laced sangria, nachos galore and a pinata filled with alcohol minis and condoms!), and when the night in question rolled around, I kept an eye out to see if the young man in question was going to turn up… but alas, he never did. ¬†So I did what every sensible young woman does¬†when being stood up by a man who didn’t know he had a date – got blind rotten drunk to the point where I was doing tequila shots and thinking, ‘This tequila tastes strange…’ only to double check the bottle and find it was vodka! ¬†After that, I pretty much forgot all about ‘William the Admirer’.

About a month passed, and my sister informed me that she was going to a housewarming party in Annerley and would I like to come? At the time, I wasn’t really all that keen on going a party where I wouldn’t know anyone, so I declined the invitation… and then she said to me, ‘That guy from the photo is going to be there.’ ¬†Oh well, in that case, I decided ‘What the hell.’, I’d go.

We went to the party and I met a lot of new people¬†and engaged in a lot of small talk – as you do when you are surrounded by people who know each other very well, but who you know not at all. ¬†They were all laughing and telling stories and I was politely watching the party warm up. ¬†Several hours and several vodkas later, it was obvious that the elusive ‘William the Admirer’ was not going to be making an appearance – yet again. ¬†So much for that! ¬†Unbeknownst to me, he was on a date (Which was going disastrously – that’s what you get for letting your mother set you up on a blind date!), and he was probably delivering his unfortunate date home around the time I was rounding on my sixth or seventh drink*! (*important plot point)

I was sitting outside under the patio when I saw him enter the dining room and thought to myself, ‘Hey there’s that guy from the photo! Finally, I’ll get to meet him!’ This much I do remember… from there though, things get a little hazy and versions of the story start to differ. ¬†ūüôā ¬†Apparently, while I am thinking this, he claims to have been thinking, ‘Who is that short blonde girl in the pink jumper, outside?’ (Yes, somethings never change). ¬†I’m not sure how we actually met, though I am confident no one made an actual introduction, but HE claims that he was standing in the dining room, talking to Stefano and that *I* came up to him in a very familiar manner and said, ‘Hello’, and put my hand in his pocket! ¬†What a brazen hussy! ¬†As I said, it was getting late, I had more than a few drinks, and my recollection is pretty sketchy but… it is possible that this occurred in this manner. I guess?! ¬†:/ ¬†Stefano looks at him, he looks at Stefano, and they go, ‘Okay then.’

Over the next hour or so, I sobered up a quite a bit as we are exchanging pleasantries, and I think to myself, ‘I like him. A lot. He seems smart.’. ¬†Still a little tipsy, I asked him a very important question, ‘So… what do you think of the Chinese Government disbanding the Hong Kong legislature?’ He looks at me for a moment, and then launches into a full-on dissertation on the political climate in China, and how the residents of Hong Kong are going to be affected by the move from English to Chinese rule and… I stop him right there, and confess that I don’t care, but I am won. ¬†He knew what I was talking about and that was more than good enough for me. ¬†ūüôā

We talked and canoodled until 5am,¬†and three weeks later he declared he was going to marry me – to which I smiled incredulously and verbally patted him on the head by saying, ‘Ahuh, sure.’ ¬†But he proved me wrong and two years later we were married.

Mr K, I hunted you down from a photograph, and I am so very glad I did.  Sometimes the last twenty years feel as though they have been filled with more trials than triumphs, but the one constant has been us, and I am so looking forward to the next twenty years  <3

*and doubly glad that your date that night crashed and burned! ¬†ūüėČ

Every woman.

Thanks to the US presidential election, there has been a lot of discussion lately about sexual assault, attitudes towards women and how men conduct themselves when they are in the private company of other men. ¬†It’s really quite hard to ignore at the moment as the media is in the grips of what must be the very exemplar of a true media frenzy. For most women, the topic of sexual assault and sexual harassment hits us somewhere deep and personal that we’d rather not think about. ¬†It brings ugly memories to the surface and dredges up life experiences that we’d prefer to leave quietly filed away in The Past‚ĄĘ. ¬†Many of us have these long suppressed and often ignored, but never forgotten, unpleasant memories of how we have subjected to the abysmally inequitable status quo that continues to exist in our society. ¬†To varying degrees, most women I know have had a lifetime of unsolicited sexual attention. ¬†All women live with the awareness of possible¬†sexual harassment and assault every day – it is the background noise of our lives. ¬†It¬†hurts us, it scars us, it sure as hell scares us, and it follows us around our entire lives. And more often than not, it starts really young. So goddamn young.

I was 5 or 6 years old and at¬†primary school, when a man we called ‘Window Willy’, lived in a house adjacent to our playground. He gained this nickname from his habit of¬†flashing his penis at us little girls¬†during our lunch breaks. Despite repeatedly reporting it to teachers¬†the message always came back to just stay away from that area of the playground.

I was about 8 years old when one day, I was up¬†at the Carina Terminus shops waiting for my mother in the haberdasher. ¬†A¬†man who was seated outside the shop had been staring at me through the window, and I thought nothing of it. ¬†While my mum was busy with her purchase, he shifted the leg of his c.1970s very short shorts, and displayed his penis and scrotum to me – a little girl. ¬†I told my mum and the lady in the shop… they just told me not to look at him.

I was an athletic, short, blonde, tanned and already busty 12 or 13 year old, when I came out of the surf at Stradbroke Island one holiday with my hair slicked back wet to my head, and a ‘friend’ of the family said I looked like Bo Derek. ¬†My Dad gave me a towel and told me to cover up.

I was 13 when I had recently joined the Army Cadets and a Cadet Under Officer came over to me while we were at attention on the parade ground and fiddled with the lanyard attached to my breast pocket, saying it wasn’t sitting right. ¬†Seemed innocent enough but then I caught the satisfied and smug look on his face as he walked away because he had touched up my boobs in front of everyone.

I was a little over 14 when I went to the movies in the city with a large group of (mostly male) friends one Anzac Day. The boy I was sitting with thought it was appropriate to pull out his dick and put my hand on it in the dark. I screamed, everyone laughed, I switched seats.

I was barely 15 when a 21 year old man, an officer of the same Cadet Unit decided to single me out. I was flattered at the attentions of this older guy, so it never occurred to me to object when he woke me up in my tent at 1am, and encouraged me to go for a walk with him. ¬†He took me to his panel van and convinced me to ‘come talk with me’. ¬†After a while he kissed me and that was okay, but when he started to grope under my shirt and and tried¬†to¬†pull down my pants, I had to fight tooth and nail to get out of there without pissing him off and causing¬†more aggression… or god help me, violence.

I was nearly 16 when another CO – this time a 23 year old man – took me and two other 16 year old friends to the Gold Coast for a ‘night off’, while we were supposed to be on bivouac. ¬†He bought two bottles of vodka and got us all drunk. I vaguely remember doing cartwheels and round-offs¬†over a campfire that night. ¬†I absolutely, 100%, clearly remember waking up in the early hours of the morning in his car with his hands inside in my pants and him¬†saying, ‘Let’s finish what we started.’ Those words have simultaneously haunted and comforted me. ¬†If things needed ‘finishing’, then maybe my fuzzy drunken memory lapse wasn’t covering up something even worse…

I was 17 when I was waitressing at the local Leagues Club, helping out some friends with their catering business, when a drunk footballer stood up and waved his dick at me to the amusement of his friends. ¬†I ran and hid in the kitchen, shaking my head in disbelief and discouraging my black belt boyfriend from going out there and smashing his face in. One of the older women who was also waiting tables with me offered to take over that table. ¬†He didn’t flash at her.

I was maybe all of 19 when a colleague who I had been reasonably friendly with, cornered me in the copy room late one Friday at work. He pushed me up against a photocopier and pressed his erection into my thigh saying that he thought I was really sexy and he couldn’t help himself. ¬†Knowing that more than¬†80%¬†of¬†the office had left for the weekend already, I talked fast,telling him I had a boyfriend and asking him what his wife would think. I never scrambled so fast to get the fuck out of a place in my life.

When I was about 20 we used to hang out down at Fisherman’s Wharf for lazy afternoons of live music and cheap drinks. ¬†After one of these nights, we ended back at my boyfriend’s best mate’s place. ¬†My boyfriend passed out drunk in a spare room, leaving me in a strange house with a guy I had met only once before. ¬†This guy. This ‘best friend’, decided this was a good opportunity to pin me down on the carpet, stick his tongue down my throat and have sex with me. ¬†I was too drunk to say no. I was too drunk to say yes. I was too drunk to fend him off…

Thus began my life of never drinking to the point where I might lose control. Of my wits. Of the situation. Of myself.

I was 23 the FIRST time I felt the penis of a complete stranger digging into me when riding a packed train in London. ¬†I’ve lost count of¬†occasions when¬†I¬†have been on trains, buses, or in a tight packed crowd at a concert, and someone has pushed their erection into me, or an anonymous hand opportunistically groped at my breasts, or grabbed on my arse. What do you do? ¬†What do you do? ¬†Sometimes you don’t even know who did it.

I was 35 when a man in Pakistan at a tailor’s shop, slid his hand up my thigh. ¬†I stepped away, only for him to sidle over to me and do it again. Culturally this was seriously creepy – I know how little men value women in countries like this. I was over 40 when a skeezy little Chinese guy in Shanghai pretended to sneeze – face first right into my chest. Fucker.

Thankfully, it happens less and less these days… perhaps because I’m getting older and I am no longer as¬†desirable as the¬†younger version of me was. Perhaps because I no longer frequent pubs and taverns without the protection of a group of trusted friends. ¬†Perhaps, because like many older women, I have carefully cultivated a general ‘fuck off’ vibe, that I arm myself with whenever I leave the house.

I am not in any way tormented or traumatised by my experiences. Have my¬†behaviours evolved to ensure my personal safety and to avoid situations like this? ¬†God, yes. ¬†I don’t go out by myself at night, I am careful about my alcohol consumption (even among friends), I dress fairly modestly most of the time – primarily because I prefer people to talk to my face and not my tits, but also because I don’t want to offer encouragement. Mostly I don’t think about these things because¬†is just the background noise of my¬†life – this constantly and habitually minimising risk. ¬†I don’t dwell on these experiences or in anyway, nor do I feel myself to be any sort of victim. ¬†I’ve never sought¬†justice or expected sympathy over any of this. ¬†These are just things that happened to me. ¬†Sometimes I think the fact that I am not traumatised from these incidents is an indicator of how normalised sexual harassment and sexual assault is in our lives and in our thinking. Other times my thought patterns are more: ‘Yeah, that happened. I can’t change it. I wasn’t seriously hurt. I’m still here. It could have been worse…’

Mostly I just don’t think about it at all… but at the moment, with the current media climate, I don’t know how NOT to think critically about my past experiences and how/if they have effected me. What I do know is that sexual assault of varying degrees is so completely pervasive in all our societies. It doesn’t matter what your background is – ¬†it leaves no girl or woman untouched.¬† Hell, plenty of men I know have suffered sexual assault too.¬† I may not have suffered the torment and horror of a complete stranger raping me behind a dumpster – but every single woman I know has stories of unwanted sexual attention. ¬†Every. Single. Woman.

And now, whenever that simply horrid, overblown buffoon of a billionaire, wannabe President, opens his mouth – all I hear and see are these men from my past. ¬†These men who took liberties with my person because I am female. Fuck them and fuck him. If this self professed pig of a man wins the White House and sets a shining example for people all over the world – how¬†do we even begin¬†to try and fix this if it? ¬†I can’t believe he is even being considered as remotely suitable.

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