I think we all have a little inner world of ‘how things should be’, not unlike the new cat food commercial where the sun shines, fish frisk through sparkling blue waves, bumblebees hum and rainbows arc over a contented puss. This inner world forgets about the clawed ankles, the vegemite-y aroma of a freshly adorned litter tray, the reproachful hiss after the vet’s thermometer has been shoved where the sun don’t shine and the great streak of salmon-coloured puke in the hallway.
Let me illustrate this with a few examples. The first (and only) time I went to the ballet in Singapore was with the Princeton kids. We bought the tickets for $30 each, which I thought at the time was a great bargain. My fond memories of ballet were of the plush interior of the Arts Centre, the velveteen dress with matching stockings and ribbon, and of course the scorched almonds in a little bag. In other words, A Great Treat.
When we approached the Kallang Theatre we were a little nonplussed to see everyone dressed in their regulation Singaporean togs (jeans, t-shirt, sneakers) and vast noisy groups of schoolkids racing around. As the lights dimmed, people continued to text and answer their phones. The ushers were too busy still allowing people in to shush them. The kids continued their stampeding. The curtain raised, and an unseen finger reached over to turn on the tape recorder. Our little faces fell.
Well for $30 what did we expect? A full orchestra costs money, and the wobbly arabesques and veering grands jétès were testament to the fact that Singapore is a young country, and doesn’t have the long ballet tradition of places like Russia or France. Despite these glaring facts, and nothing against the entire ballet establishment of Singapore, our snooty expectations led us to believe it would be something far better.
I imagined that along with a shovelful of hard work, a writer’s life involves hours of joyous tapping, long afternoons in the café, berets and recognition. Thus far I have enjoyed these (minus the headwear) in smaller amounts, and lately things haven’t been too bad, but….not what I imagined, for sure.
So what happens when, say (and I speak purely hypothetically, of course), you are in the cut-throat singles world, and have been exchanging emails for several weeks with a delightful fellow? And despite heavy hints on your behalf, he has taken his sweet time about asking you out? The glamorous B/W closeup picture he supplies hints at ‘brooding writer/musician in his Prime’. You peer closely at the tight closeup – the goatee is most certainly dark, and you see a hint of long dark hair. Oooh!
And then! Then! (I’m still theoretically exploring my topic, be patient) You finally wrangle an invite out of him, and agree to meet. When you walk in the pub you stand a while looking around the room. Someone taps at your shoulder and says ‘Rebecca?’ You had looked straight through this fellow when you first walked in, and now give him a long stare. There’s something familiar around the eyes – wait! His image in not so much ‘Pensive Artiste’, more ‘Whitehaired, Bespectacled Ageing Goth Running A Bit To Seed.’ The picture had to have been taken about 10 years ago. No wonder I walked straight past.
Then I had to wrestle with my prejudices, which I loathe doing. (ok I’ll drop the artifice now) I have nothing against ponytailed gents of later years – but when it’s been masquerading as a Del Toro-shaped platter with a gravy boat of Brody, it’s a little, um, disconcerting! I was thrown for a good 15 minutes!! We went on to have a lovely Date, completely free of sexual tension.
This also happened at the end of the night: two younger blokes appeared to be checking us out. They motioned to him, then me. Something very funny was obviously going on. And I was struck with this shameful thought: are they wondering what that old man is doing with that young girl? In the dim light, did I look a lot younger? Or older, even? Are their expectations different as well? Were they in fact having a laugh at the two old boilers trying to recapture their youth?
Thankfully he found the topic of himself more interesting than me, identified closely with the show ‘Grumpy Old Men’ and dropped a few pearlers about a nearby woman’s fat bum. Back to the drawing board, then.
Even today I excitedly opened a tin of cashew nut curry from an obscure Sri Lankan supermarket in Syndal. I could see it in my mind’s eye: the creamy sauce, the crushed nuts, the coconut flavour….when the tin was unzipped, out poured a thin sauce punctuated with lumps and whole cashews. Where was the richness, the curry leaves? I poked at it a while and let it simmer.
Twenty minutes later, and a good sprinkling with chili sambal, the curry turned out to be fantastic. Not at all the flavour I’d hoped, but some great tucker nonetheless. Ah…I’m still learning.