Life has its ups and downs for all of us, so I thought I might celebrate some of the things that make it that little bit finer. They're in no particular order.
When we were kids in rural Cornwall, our drink of choice was cider, although that lasted only until we were 16 and started going to the pub. You could buy a litre and a half of cider cheap though, so we did, and would go to the towans or some other hiding place to drink it. Cider was never fashionable, always a favourite of kids and deros, but of course even though I stopped drinking it, it kept a corner of my heart, aided by the fact that my granddad also drank it sometimes. He would tell my sister J that he was going out for a cider when he went to the pub in the evening. She wanted nothing more than to go with him and clip out for a slider.
So I was not surprised when I went to the UK this year to find J a devotee of cider, but more surprised to see that it is now quite fashionable (and has become so in Australia, if the springing up of prestige brands in the bottlo is anything to go by). Slave to the trend that I am, I joined J in a pint or two of Bulmers and liked it. It's perfect for summer, after all, light and refreshing. One afternoon, waiting for B in a pub in Brighton, I tried a bottle of Rekorderlig. OMG. Somehow those Swedes captured the soul of an apple and bottled it. I was hooked, and drank it wherever I could find it. Which was not in many places, so I despaired of finding it here in Brisbane. Curiously though, the bottlo I go to for beer carries it. Maybe Australia is finally catching up with the rest of the world for good things. You can even buy Quorn now. Who knows, maybe someone will even learn how to make coffee.
Tim tam straws
It's no lie to say that Australia would prop up any league table for sweet goods, worse even than the States at biscuits, far behind the UK in bread, way off the pace in pastries, yet there is one world-class treat. The Tim tam is a chocolate biscuit, very much like a softer, slightly sweeter Penguin, much beloved by expat Aussies. The key to its genius is that it cannot be dunked but it can be used as a straw, each for the same reason. Because the chocolate covering is quite thick, it won't melt easily when dipped in coffee, so dunking is out; but if you bite off a corner and then the diagonally opposite corner, dip it in and suck hard, the whole of the inside will melt. You can then pop it in your mouth and the outside chocolate will finally melt. It's amazing.
B has two smiles and I get to see both of them a lot. Smile A is an oddity, because the corners of her mouth don't turn up, and she looks like she might burst into tears. She looks like she is thinking, I can't believe you just said that (and you can imagine, with me as a bf, that is precisely what she is thinking). It makes you want to hug her. Smile B is a full-on grin. B has a wicked sense of humour, often very sharp and quick to see an opening to deflate my bubble. She gets in a jab, and then unleashes smile B. It's a real day-brightener. It's by no means the only good thing about her, and she's not the grinning monkey sort (which would unnerve me because no one has that much to smile about that doing it all the time can be genuine) but it makes you feel good about being with someone if you feel you are bringing them smiles.
I've played more than three thousand $11 sitngoes and I've won 500 or so of them, but I still get a small thrill when I take one down. Even though I know my aim is to make good decisions and make money, I still enjoy being king of the heap.
There are other great things in poker. I make a good call with bad cards, and knock some guy out, and he berates me in chat, telling me I'm a fish, a donk, an idiot. Yes, I say, I'm just mashing the buttons at random. He has no idea why what I did was good. Poker players have a model of the game, and when things happen that are counter to the model, they are shocked and hurt. Sometimes you have to make a loose call because the odds demand it, but for a guy who thinks you should only call with a good hand, that's all wrong. It's even funnier when I shove a rubbish hand and get called by a good one, and then suck out. 32, they cry. WTF you donk! But I knew my shove (putting all my chips in) was good. They'll probably never know why but I took the trouble to learn (it's precisely because they only call with good hands that I shove bad ones, with the times I get away with it compensating for the few that I get called and am beat).
Being next to a loved one
I'm a simple person. I like simple things: plain food, beer, cakes and football. I like to express my feelings, and if possible, I do it physically. I never leave people I care about in any doubt about it, because I am myself so fearful that I'm not cared for. I kiss the people I love often, hug them and get close to them. There's nothing better. If you are lying holding someone you love, the world recedes, until all you have is you and them, as though your two auras are all there are. I suppose in a way it's an expression of narcissism: if you are holding someone, you have someone who wants you to be close to them, who validates you, gives your person meaning.
Tescos chocolate limes
To my dentist's despair, I have a massive sweet tooth. It developed out of all proportion when I gave up smoking, and went way beyond sanity when my marriage went bad and I was smoking a lot of weed. I would munch lollies nonstop. It had almost got to the point where I would smoke a bowl just to have the excuse to eat sweets.
Even though I've given up the weed, I still comfort eat some. Certainly not as much as I used to, but more than a man of my age ought to, I suppose. Having fixed my depressive cycle helps, because I don't need the lift of sugar so much. My favourite sweets when I was a child were Parkinson's chocolate limes--boiled lime-flavoured sweets with a chocolate centre. I don't know what became of Parkinson's but I've never been able to find them, and other chocolate limes don't come close. Except Tescos' version. I brought a couple of packets home from the UK but sadly the ants got into one of them and they became inedible. Ants are one of the menaces of Brisbane life: little ants swarm everywhere, and that's bad enough, but there are also bull ants. They are big, angry ants whose bite is incredibly painful. It's not the initial bite but the continuing hour-long pain that the acid they inject brings, usually to your toe when you've stepped on one.
Dusk is very short here in Brisbane. The evenings do not draw in so much as fall on top of you. But for an hour or so, the light fades, and the sky purples. In the dusk, bats fly over the city, heading out from Indooroopilly island and other roosts. They are big black creatures, scary for children I suppose, but they eat only fruit and pollen and the odd insect and are vital to the city's flora. Brisbane is a lowslung city, much of it semirural or at least greener than a similarly sized English city--more so on the northside than the south, which is more heavily built up. I've always lived on the southside, but B lives in the far north (too far north if you ask me!), so I see a lot of the north too.
I'm shortly going to be moving into a unit in Holland Park (which is very different from the London suburb of the same name). It's a fairly typical southside suburb, with street after street of mostly wooden houses, relatively little greenery and not much character. It's close to the Mrs Zen's home though, so easy to take the kids to school. I have never really lived on my own, so I suppose I'm quite nervous about it (leaving aside some stress over how I can pay the rent, given that I don't precisely have a job, or much work at all). I'm very excited about having my children live with me every other week though. I finally get to be a dad again.
That above all is what makes life fine. Being a dad has been the best thing in my life. I'm rubbish at it, but I don't dwell on my shortcomings. You can't, really. You just have to do what you can. Ultimately, all of life is a bit like that. You can't control everything, can't fix most of what's wrong, but you can just be in it, enjoying what's fine as best you can.