The Op-Shop Around the Corner

That’s me – the blue Huggies box, slightly dented. Or, more accurately, that’s my contribution. Inside are old baby clothes, a few toys, unwanted gifts, a pair of velvet tights (no longer tight enough), and some scraps from a relationship best forgotten. All destined for the shelves of St. Martin’s Op Shop in Kensington.

Then there’s you. Perhaps you are the person who stops to admire the hand-painted kangaroo paw adorning the doorway. Or are you the person who glances at the display window – some quirky crockery, some fine pieces of bone china – as you trot past on your morning jog? The shop is open between 9am and 2pm, so you can always come back, takeaway coffee in hand, for a browse. Fossicking, my friend Alana calls it. She’d have a field day with bargain buys here. Yes, this shop demands a mixing of metaphors.

You could be like me – the contributor of the Huggies box. I come, toddler in hand, on a quest for for cheap toys and old books at the bookshop next door. The shopkeeper is a Phyllida Law look-alike, complete with bun atop her head. The day is cold, but her breezy welcome is warm. Some books are not quite so old and some are not quite so easy to find at Dymocks. It’s a real thrill to discover old Enid Blyton editions and the latest Philippa Gregory. Oh no, wait that came out of last month’s Huggies box. No wonder it looks so familiar!

Then again, you could be like my son – keenly appreciative of the ancient ceiling fan that sweeps its blades across the ceiling. Delighted to see an activity cube sitting next to the dolls house. Ecstatic on finding Maisy Mouse in the shelves. I believe we’ve made our choice for this week.

We’ll come again, of course, when the next box is full. It’s not so hard to find St. Martin’s – just off Canning Highway, just behind the church. Just the op-shop around the corner of Vista St and Brandon, offering a cheery welcome, some grandmotherly wisdom, and often a far better bargain than any Good Sammy’s or Salvo’s I’ve been to. Come and have a look. You may even find me there of a Saturday – toddler in hand and Huggies box tucked under my arm.

 

Election 2016 and the Sizzle Fizzle

If you are a poet or have a literary bent, do not read this. You are bound to be offended for:

This is the story of how one single mum

Pushed stroller and baby through the campaigning scrum

Queued up in the cold, having braved the fray,

And cast her vote on her first Election Day.

Have you survived thus far? I did warn you about the terrible rhyme. That’s what comes of staying up nights with a teething toddler. Imagine what I could do with eight straight hours of sleep! I imagine Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten are also having sleepless nights. At least, I’d like to think someone was losing sleep over an election that doesn’t seem to have resolved anything. I suspect though that the only person losing any sleep right now is the election commissioner or whoever occupies that position here in Australia.

Yes, I am now an Australian. Newly minted and proud to have voted. I must say that after all the build up to Election Day, the actual morning was quite a let down. Where was the sausage sizzle that my friends promised me? All I was offered was pamphlets and placards. “Bey,” said my toddler son hopefully, looking around for balloons – his current obsession, by the way. But no, my darling M, there were no balloons in sight – not even a flashy bit of bunting.

I was also dismayed by the rather long ballot paper, somewhat akin to a toilet roll, and the open booths. How private is my vote if I can simply watch which end of a sheet a person marks and guess that they must be voting Labor or Liberal? I miss India’s screened off booths and electronic machines. Someone ticks my name off a list, but no one sits ready to dot my thumbnail with indelible ink.

Choices, choices. Few parties to choose from, but many candidates. It is very hard to decide when one has little sense of the history of Australian politics and I find little from either major party on childcare, the one issue I really care about. A quiz on Vote Compass tells me that my sympathies lie 51/49 per cent for the major parties. It appears I am a walking Brexit decision. “The ultimate swing voter,” says one Australian friend who kindly gives me tips on how to vote. I opt to number the Senate candidates below the line, one to twelve, despite recognising few names.

Despite my misgivings and disappointments, I hope my vote does count for something. As another Indian-turned-Australian friend pointed out, they do make you register as a voter before swearing you in as a citizen. I fold up my ballot papers and drop them in the box. Then, with Master M waving madly to the ever-growing queue, we head off in search of sunshine and balloons.

As for the votes? As the ABC puts it, “Nothing is resolved.” They’re still counting.

Neighbours

It’s the name of a long-running soap opera. Still, it is not the Australian thing to do, says a friend of mine, for neighbours to get to know each other. I must have quite very odd neighbours, then. I am glad of it.

My first effort at living alone in Perth was in a large block of flats in Victoria Park. The only permanent resident was an ageing Filipina who scrutinised each new tenant with some misgiving. Which flat were we in? Did we know the parking rules? Had we remembered to turn off the lights in the laundry? Well, it was conversation of a sort. The only other friendly face was that of a little Middle-Eastern boy who used to peep over the adjacent balcony to show me his cars. Boys and their toys – it starts young, apparently.

The second time round, I found myself in a housing complex of twelve town houses near South Perth. You know the type – fairly new, cramped, and within a secure compound. So secure, in fact, that I hardly knew the other inmates, except in passing. Wave – there goes number 9 in his ute. Wave – there goes number three in his coupé. Number ten hurries past with her pram. I had the royal wave down pat by the time I moved out.

Third-time lucky and with a small child – I find myself in a brick-front villa in a complex of six. My neighbours have gardens and garden gnomes. They stop and smile and say ‘hello.’ Perhaps having a baby is a talking point. Certainly, my baby is keen to talk (read babble) about his day to anyone who will listen. His first stop, the patient cat across the way, sitting by the window. Then, his equally patient owner. He toddles along to check Nonna’s garden next door, filled with lovingly grown flowers. He tries his best to chat with the older toddler in number one. He loves watching the man with the lawnmower in the garden across the street.

We are a multicultural neighbourhood – Italian, Scottish, Indian, Costa Rican – it’s a regular United Nations. It feels like home. People stop to chat. We share titbits about our lives. We help each other out. And more to the point, we are all Australian.