Süleyman The Magnificent


Süleyman said, ‘He is six years old. Yes, six.’ Then he held up seven fingers.

‘He likes kisses. You give Pasha kisses. He give you kisses.’

Pasha skips to my shoulder and gives me kisses. Pasha is heavy. And gorgeous. And I wonder how long it was since he last pooped.

Süleyman and Pasha are a fixture along the ferry docks of Eminönü in Istanbul. The times I was there most of the tourists and locals seemed to ignore them, though I really don’t see how you can. They look magnificent.

I know that an enormous fez-wearing man roving the docks in quasi naval garb complete with medals, and carrying an enormous coloured parrot is a ploy to liberate tourists from their money, but I rather prefer to think that maybe Süleyman is a Sultan made redundant after the close of the Ottoman Empire and now sells kisses and photographs in the hope that he can make enough cash to buy back the Dolmabahçe Palace.


Silk Boxers and a Broken Heart


By Clare


Remember the time when everyone would make their own clothes, they would buy the pattern, select the material and then create instant style? Yeah, well I wasn’t one of those. I just did not have the patience or the finesse. And I’m not sure I can even blame my genes because even though my mother was absolutely appalling at anything to do with craft, be it sewing a button on or knitting, my paternal grandmother was a professional seamstress and my sister was a whiz on the Singer. Trish could whip up a colourful summer ensemble before I could even get the sewing machine threaded. Just don’t get me started about tangled bobbins!
So really my craft abilities could have gone either way and suffice to say, what brave attempts were made to do any kind of needlework did not end well. And it appears it may have come back to haunt me, taunt me even.

Fast forward 10 or so years away from the Singer machine and I am living back in Australia following a 4-year absence. During that time I traversed a few continents, ruined my liver and I fell in love with a smart dressed man from northern England. I wasn’t really certain I even wanted to be back in Australia, but no decisions were going to be made until my long-haired lover from Liverpool arrived. *

It had been six months since I’d seen him and then there he was, sitting on my doorstep beaming like a mad man. He’d decided to surprise me, how sweet.
I couldn’t believe he was finally in my hometown and I would be introducing him to family and friends.
My joy however was short lived, the planned nights of passion suddenly forgotten.

ME: what do you mean you don’t feel like sex, it’s been six months?
HIM: I know sorry, I’m just really tired.

HIM: I think we need to talk
ME: I think we need to have sex
HIM: no, seriously
ME: yeah, no, really?
HIM: I don’t want to be with you any more
ME: Ha ha, stop mucking around
HIM: I’m serious
ME: Why are you in Australia then? Why are you here with me?
HIM: I thought we could still travel around together, just as friends though.
ME: Did you now? And as friends would we be hooking up?
HIM: I couldn’t say for sure.
ME: Oh so you might be hooking up with others?
HIM: Probably.

His true colours began to show as the full story revealed itself. Intuition told me there was more to it but after many hours of questions I was still none the wiser. However, as the days went by in an emotional blur, letters started to turn up for him from a woman in the UK. (Clearly we are talking pre email!)
So not only had he been unfaithful, he felt rather comfortable in coming all the way to Australia to break up with me and to pass on my address as a point of contact for people, including the woman he had slept with. No, really!
I needed to know why, why her and not me. What could she possibly have to offer that would make him walk away from what we had? Which, on the face of it wasn’t much, but hey, I was a romantic!
So when an opportunity presented itself for me to access those letters I did what any insane broken-hearted woman would do.
I made a cup of coffee and sat on my bed and went through his bag. There were a few letters so the coffee was quickly discarded for vodka.
I so wish I hadn’t. I so wish I had just kicked him out. I so wish I had ripped up those letters. Instead I devoured every word on the page, twice over. But finally, there it was on the page taunting me, reminding me of my shortcoming as a seamstress.
The one continuing theme throughout these letters was the offer of more of her handmade silk boxer shorts that apparently he looked rather hot in. She was dangling more sexy shorts to entice him back to her. And going in to great detail about what else would happen once he had those sexy silk shorts on.
Clearly I wasn’t any kind of threat in the home craft division.
I had bought him several rather ravishing pairs of boxers in the years we were together, did they account for nothing?
I was so immersed in my outrage and tears that I hadn’t heard him come home.
He walked in to the bedroom and saw me putting the letters back. Curiosity sure killed this cat!

Perhaps I should have taken him to the boxes of stuff stored at my mothers that held the glorious Hobbytex ** pictures I had so painstakingly drawn in my youth, now that was craft at it’s finest.
And then there were the Treads *** I made. These unfortunately were made in a rush so the suede wasn’t quite the right tension and I flipped and flopped around in them in such an ungainly way that they soon stayed in the bottom of the cupboard.
Let’s not forget though that as a Girl Guide I did receive my craft badge, much needed to then sew on all the other amazing badges received in the heady days of girl guiding. Gosh when we weren’t selling biscuits door to door there was always something to be done to achieve badge status. I’m sure those badges were in a box somewhere close to the Hobbytex.
But he didn’t get dragged to my mum’s and paraded past my many exhibits of acceptable needlework thus proving that I too, had I wanted to, could have made him sexy boxer shorts. Thankfully I had come to my senses.
Instead the Liverpudlian flew back to the UK obviously excited at the prospect of more silk boxers and leaving me to contemplate decisions I’d made much earlier in life to refuse to embrace the world of crafts.

* LONG HAIRED LOVER FROM LIVERPOOL (song reference not commonly recognised by anyone born after 1980).
Technically he had very short hair, but that’s not quite as linguistically fun. In fact prior to my meeting him he had been a punk with a purple Mohawk, but he was definitely from Liverpool.

** HOBBYTEX lost art of the 1970’s that involved fabric painting and if you were really cool, sniffing the fumes for a bit of a spin out.

*** TREADS circa late 1970’s Australia, footwear made from disused tyre as the sole and suede material woven for the upper part. In hindsight, not the sexiest of footwear for a teenage girl already struggling to attract the opposite sex, but on trend regardless!!

(model who may or may not resemble ex)mens_classic_fit_boxer_shorts_bailey_pure_silk_navy_model_1

Paul Stanley and my mother

Paul Stanley is 64 years old. He has had two hip replacements and can still dance on seven inch heels for two solid hours, fly on a harness across the length of an arena – guitar in tow, to land on an island revolve, and then still keep dancing, and playing, and singing, while being all round super awesome cool and iconic.

Here’s another picture of the great man.


I tell this to my mother on the eve of her hip replacement operation. She is unimpressed. She even pretends not to know who he is. I say unless you’ve developed a galloping case of dementia as well as a bad hip, you know exactly who he is! For God’s sake my bedroom was plastered with posters of the man for a good deal of my early life.

Oh yes, she says, I think I remember.

Of course you remember Mother, how do you forget what is arguably the greatest rock act on the planet and the man who was destined for a time to become your son in law!? Anyway, the point is Ma, you’re not far off the same age. If he can do all that on two new hips – you will be fine.

Two weeks earlier. You can bite the expectation in the air. Emily and I are a little drunk and a lot excited. The KISS 40th Anniversary Tour. Neither of us had seen them live before, and indeed I might not have this time had it not been for Emily and her spare ticket awakening a long forgotten ten year olds’ allegiance to greasepaint and glitter.

Trains and trams and taxis disgorge their human cargo by the tens of thousands. Crowds converge on the arena. Emily and I fall into step with the other pilgrims. We walk past a man with a big suitcase on the footpath – a shifty purveyor of unofficial merchandise. In the gathering dark his features are indistinct but his whole demeanor definitely adds up to shifty. He pulls tee shirts out of his case and looks around – shiftily.

What’s your price mate? I ask.

One for 20, two for 30, he spits out the corner of his mouth.

See you later on I say.

Too soon to buy now. I’d have to carry the damn thing through the whole concert or put it on and try and stuff what I’m already wearing into my bag. Besides, it’s a ritual to peruse the official merchandise, be appalled and outraged at the inflated prices, and walk away imperiously – afterward, being full of regret on account of not buying anything.

As per the ritual, Emily and I peruse the official merchandise, are by turns appalled and outraged by the inflated prices, and walk away imperiously – this time without regret, because we like the design of the unofficial merchandise better.

In the arena a few adolescents sport greasepaint, though none of the senior members of the KISS Army do. Maybe like me, they had entertained the idea briefly the night before but the hot weather and the thought of trying to get it all off again later had curtailed the plan well before they got to the greasepaint shop. Maybe like me, they had also spent the night before trying to remember what stupid impulse had made us throw out our prized KISS Army membership key-ring when we were 15 because we had become way too cool to like KISS anymore and had moved on to The Violent Femmes.

We take our seats. Darkness descends. Guitars roar to life and a thousand lights light up, spelling out KISS, in case anyone was in doubt as to where they were.


Detroit Rock City is the first song. Fans who’ve seen them many times will tell you it’s always the first song. It’s also my favourite song to crank up in the car when I’m sitting in traffic.

Two weeks later, I’m in sitting in traffic. I’ve just come from dropping my mother off at the hospital. I’ve been telling her for weeks now: You’ll be fine. It’s a simple operation. Everybody knows hundreds of people who’ve had it and they were all up and about in a minute. She believes me I think, but as the nurse pushes her away in a wheelchair, I’m not sure I believe me. A tear escapes. Brushing it away furiously, I think there’s only one antidote. Detroit Rock City. I crank it up.

The surgeon calls a few hours later. Everything went fine. Textbook, he said. Your mum’s recovering nicely.

I Wanna Rock n Roll All Night is the final song of the concert and everyone in that arena wants to do just that, but before we do, Emily and I have to find our shifty purveyor of unofficial merchandise. Happily, amongst the crowd spilling onto the street, there is now a veritable proliferation of shifty tee shirt sellers.

The day after the concert I see my friend Andy who is a technical manager for many of the big rock acts that come to Melbourne. He asks me what I thought of the concert. Best rock n roll show I’ve ever seen, I say, one of the best nights of my life.

Then he reveals that he’d worked with KISS for years…

I was with ‘em masked, then unmasked, then masked again, says Andy.

Oh my God! Really! Why didn’t I know that?!

Then he said, I got too many black tee shirts and gave me this: Oh yeah, I’m with the band!




I pick my mother up from the hospital. I negotiate her carefully into the car, turn the ignition and Detroit Rock City comes blaring out of the speakers.

Oh, Alice, turn that awful noise off!

No worries Ma.












The Leopard Skin Coat

No customers tonight I say.

It’s cold. No-one comes out when it’s cold says Jean. Jean doodles stars on her order pad, says absently: No-one in their right mind. Roads too icy.

I don’t mind. It’s nearly 10. Let’s close up early.

The door opens. A blast of ice air. A woman closes it hard behind her.

Now that’s a coat. I want me one of those coats says Jean.

What would your husband say?

I don’t care – he don’t hafta wear it! I always wanted a coat like that ever since I was a little girl ‘n I saw Joan Blondell in… what’s that movie?

The woman in the coat settles into a booth.

How many leopards d’ya think woulda have to a died for that coat? I says.

D’ya think it’s real? Says Jean.

I’ll ask her.

Go on.


Sure says the woman. Thanks.

We was just admiring your coat. Me ‘n Jean.

The woman don’t answer.

It must be warm, I says, a coat like that.

Nothing keeps you warm on a night like this. Her voice is quiet, like she don’t want nobody to hear. I can’t place her accent.

It sure is cold, I says, gonna hafta scrape the ice off my windscreen later ‘fore I go home.

There’s a silence. The woman studies the menu. So I study her while I wait. She got fishnet stockings on and cowboy boots that look like she mighta stole ‘em off a dead man. Her hair is dyed all kinds of blonde and her red lipstick – stubborn round the edges of her mouth and smudged like she’s been kissed hard. She got a tattoo peeking from under her sleeve. Some kinda bird I think.

You come far tonight, I ask.

I got further to go she says.

Oh yeah?

Another silence.

There’s pie I say. One piece left. Apple. It’s good.

I’ll take the pie.

You seen her before? asks Jean.


She say where she come from?


Something happened to her says Jean. I reckon she on the run from somethin’.

You got an imagination lady, I say.

I heat up the pie. Jean wipes the tables all the while staring at the woman. The woman just stares out the window at the snow starting to fall now.

I like your coat ma’am, says Jean.

Thanks, says the woman.

It’s a coat for adventures, says Jean, I wish I had me a coat like that.

The woman smiles and watches the snow again.

I put the pie down in front of the woman and re-fill her coffee. She eats two bites and lays her spoon down. Me and Jean put things straight and go through our lock up routines.

I check in to see if another re-fill is required. The woman’s got her coat off now, she’s fixing her face. It is a bird. There’s lots of ‘em. All flying round and round her arm all the way up to the shoulder. Her black dress is torn in two places. She applies her lipstick and presses her lips together to seal the deal.

No more coffee she says. The check. L’addition, she says. That’s French she says.

I leave her bill on the table. She fixes it up and stands ready to leave.

Jean picks up her coat.

Ma’am, your coat. Don’t forget your coat, it’s cold.

You keep it.


I had too many adventures.

I lock the door behind the woman and look after her till the snowy night swallows her tail-lights. Jean brushes her cheek against the coat, buries her nose in it. Here smell, she says. Do you think that smells like Chanel?

Could be, I say.


by Alice

My coat for adventures
My coat for adventures
Joan Blondell
Joan Blondell









Gary Cooper and my new shoes

Last nights’ post break-up vodka festival has sucked all the moisture from my major organs. There’s a desert in my mouth. Can’t move. Too soon to test the efficiency of any limbs. Can’t form any plan yet to slake pernicious thirst. Becoming aware that arm has a pins and needles sensation. Obviously been sleeping on it. Arm should have had better sense than to get rolled on by drunken, leaden, vodka soaked torso in the middle of the night. Have no sympathy for arm.

The sunrise knocks at my window. It’s an urgent knock. Like it has lost it’s key and really wants to come in. I open one eye. Decide sunrise can wait. Sunrise can just come back later when it has better manners. Eyes have only been shut for a couple of hours and eyes have been crying well into the night so eyes are raw like the sandman had given them a good sandpapering, then a good shellacking, then another good sandpapering. I think Sandman has actually been preparing to stain a roll top desk rather than sprinkling gentle somnambulant grains on my peepers.

The sun is well up in the sky when I wake again. Sun says I thought I’d get on with things without you since you didn’t get up to let me in. I call Sun arrogant bastard, say it can do whatever it bloody well likes just so long as it doesn’t bother me again. Sun harrumphs and says it will do just that; that there are lots of other people that appreciate his beautiful day and I can just stew in morose darkness. Fine with me I say.

Decide that the desert in my mouth is the Sahara. Hmmm… cliché. Choose another desert, a less well-known desert. The Mojave? The Gobi? Those are the only other deserts I can name this morning. Well, let’s make it the Sahara then. Conjure endless, rolling, majestic dunes to mind…. SUDDENLY… through the heat haze… the French Foreign Legion march into view. Soundtrack swells. All colour leaches from the image. We’re in black and white now. We’re in the film Morocco. Made in 1930. The film that made Marlene Dietrich famous for wearing a man’s dress suit.


The French Foreign Legion is getting closer now. They must be thirsty too. What on earth would compel them to march across the Sahara desert in the middle of the day? Could they not have hired a camel train? Do they have sunscreen? The peaks on those little kepi hats aren’t really effective against the arrogant bastard sun.

As they come yet closer, I call out. ‘Gary!’ Gary ignores me. The Gary is Gary Cooper. I’ve never thought him much of an actor but the camera loves him. He knows how to wear a French Foreign Legion uniform, I’ll give him that.

I call again, ‘Gaz! Do you wanna come to the pub? I’m feeling a bit shit, I just broke up with…..well, you know blah, blah blah.’

Gary calls back, ‘I can’t, I’ve got some more marching to do, then I’m meeting up with Marlene later.’

‘Are you wearing sunscreen?’ I shout. ‘The sun’s a bastard, and there’s a big hole in the ozone layer.’

‘No,’ he shouts back, ‘It hasn’t been invented yet.’ He momentarily breaks step. ‘There’s a hole in the what?!’

‘Don’t worry, I’ll explain it later.’

The Saharan sand is hot. Hot in a stupid molten way that is about to make my feet burst into flames. I think…If only there was an oasis offering pedicures and Long Island iced tea… Oh look, there’s one. A little bit of self-care is exactly what I need after my emotional night.

I ring the bell at the front desk of the oasis. A dusky, bejewelled woman – let’s call her Fatima – shows me to a foot spa and helps me pick out a colour for my toes.

‘What are you doing on the weekend?’ Fatima asks.

‘Not much,’ I reply. ‘I’ve just broken up with someone so I’m a bit sad, probably just stay home and watch Game of Thrones or something.’

‘Oh, she says, you should buy a new pair of shoes, put some lippie on and go out. The French Foreign Legion’s in town. Those boys go off, you know.’

‘Yeah, I just ran into Gary, but he said he’s catching up with Marlene later.’

‘I dunno what he sees in her’, says Fatima. ‘You know, at the end of this film, she throws away her shoes and follows the Legion across the infinite, stinking hot dunes.’

‘I know?!!!’ I exclaim. ‘Is she mental? That sand is freakin’ hot! What is she thinking, following some dude across this incredibly cinematic yet largely inhospitable topography?’

‘It’s Marlene, you know how she likes a grand gesture,’ offers Fatima.

‘Yeah, well we’re in a film, I guess that’s what you do for love in a film,’ I sigh.

‘I don’t wanna touch those feet when she comes limping back.’ adds Fatima.

‘I don’t blame you.’

I lie back in my massage chair while Fatima paints my toes Mecca Gold. The pins and needles in my arm are subsiding now.

‘Is there a shoe shop around here?’ I ask Fatima.

‘Of course,’ she says, ‘Just over that dune, turn right at the angry camel.’

I try on every shoe in the store before settling on an open toed lace up Cuban heeled clog by Jeffrey Campbell that shows off Fatima’s fine work.


Then I put on some lippie as per Fatima’s excellent advice and pop into the medina for a refreshing beverage. I enter the funky coldness of a smart bar. I see a man through the arch silhouetted by the candlelight from the gently swinging lanterns. It’s Gary. He’s slumped over the bar, crying into his mint tea.

‘What’s going on, Gaz?’ I say. ‘Where’s Marlene?’

‘She’s busy with Adolphe Menjou.’ moans Gary.

‘Oh. Sorry. It’ll all turn out alright,’ I say.

‘How do you know?’ asks Gary.

‘I just know.’

‘Have you seen the end of this film?’ presses Gary.

‘No, of course not,’ I lie. Then in an effort to distract him I say, ‘Look at my new shoes.’

‘Nice,’ he says, ‘No good for marching though.’

‘I don’t intend to do any marching,’ I say. ‘They’re my break up band-aid shoes. I’m going home to watch Game of Thrones this weekend in them.’

‘I don’t know what that is,’ says Gary. ‘Don’t you wanna go out? I could introduce you to the rest of my regiment.’

‘No thanks,’ I say, ‘I’ve had enough of unavailable men. And the whole marching obsession thing you’ve all got going on is a bit weird.’

‘Fair enough,’ says Gary.

‘I’d better be off,’ I say, ‘Will you be alright?’

‘Well, I thought I’d mope for a bit longer, then see if I can hook up with a belly dancer.’

‘Don’t bother with the belly dancer, Gaz. Marlene will be back later. Her and Adolphe won’t last.

‘Are you sure you haven’t seen the end of this film?’ he asks.

‘Trust me’, I call back over my shoulder, ‘Love always works out in films.’


Cue final sequence:

Shot of the Saharan dunes framed through an ornate Moroccan archway. The French Foreign Legion march in formation toward vanishing point. Suddenly Marlene! A moment of decision. She tries to run but the damn sand! She stops. Takes off her shoes. Flings them aside, and with them her past, her history and all the doubts she had had about Gary. She catches up to the back of the regiment, joining the other camp followers that have given up everything to follow the Legion to God knows where.

We watch until the endless rolling majestic dunes swallow them all. Soundtrack swells. The End.













Dear Mr Yamamoto. A love letter.

Dear Mr. Yamamoto,

I remember the day we met. It was 1988 and I was at fashion college. I borrowed a book from the library. It was called New Fashion Japan*.  Amidst it’s pages one of the most iconic fashion images of the eighties. A back view from the waist down. Long white shirt over pleated black skirt. Leather laced booties. Texture, movement, architecture – all in glorious black and white minimalism. The student was ready and the teacher had appeared.


I flirted with you, Mr. Yamamoto, during those college years. We went on dates with pleats and lacing, blowing great billows of white cotton sails onto my dressmaker’s form. Crushing linen and folding it, swathing it, winding it around sugar bag waisted, voluminous black cropped peasant pants. Oh, our long hot nights folding and draping till the early hours, Mr. Yamamoto! But good times are always soon over and I was too young to appreciate what we had together.

The early nineties were our wilderness years, Mr. Yamamoto. I went to work for a commercial fashion studio where artless appliqué was the order of the day. I lost my way in a sea of small cotton floral prints. I was drowning in conservative dirndl skirts with matching scrunchies, but in the middle of the nineties you threw me a life preserver. You reinvented with lyrical, historical elements. You were back, and our love was reignited. It felt more mature this time. I had moved on from my adolescent fumblings and experiments. I had more confidence now. My cutting was more disciplined, my process calmer, surer. We had come through those difficult years but I missed the exuberant passion of our youth.

The year 2000 arrived and I left you again. I had to follow the times, Mr. Yamamoto. Lead astray, I was running with a bad crowd in a rock chick label. I put the pedal to the metal and made Swarovski crystal bedazzled cobalt polyester dresses for celebrity clients. I was swept away from you into the fast lane of body-con. I won’t lie to you Mr. Yamamoto, it was fun, a furious car chase through garish, synthetic fabrics and glittering gew-gaws. But Mr. Yamamoto, after a few years I felt empty, spent. I had wandered far from my tailoring roots. I had lost my balance. I sat by a little stream and listened.

‘What do I need?’ I asked the little stream. ‘You need to drape,’ whispered the little stream. ‘It is only by draping that you will recover your equilibrium.’

I took the advice of the little stream, Mr. Yamamoto, and I went to work as a developer for an up and coming international label. I worked with panné velvets and silk jerseys that ran through my hands like water. I walked into the stream and I draped for all I was worth Mr. Yamamoto.

Sometime later, in Paris, I turned into the Rue Cambon. I walked into your temple – white, vast white. I remembered the lessons Mr. Yamamoto. I remembered those long hot nights, pleating and swathing. Only three figures amid the vast whiteness of your temple. All that was needed. Three archangels of black on black minimalism. I bathed in your master tailoring, your cartridge pleats, billowing blouson sleeves, finely wrought flys. I was home again Mr. Yamamoto.

It’s been twenty-seven years now since our affair began. The library stamp in the front of the book gives the date we met as August 15, 1988. You see I still have the book Mr. Yamamoto. I forgot to take it back to the library. I’m not sorry either. I will keep it always as a memento of our early years together.

Love Alice

*New Fashion Japan. By Leonard Koren. Published by Kodansha International, 1984.
*New Fashion Japan. By Leonard Koren. Published by Kodansha International, 1984.



JPG liked my boots. A memory of Paris by Efterpi Soropos.

It was 1992. I had been working on tour to the Edinburgh Festival where I had struck up a friendship with Bev, an Aussie from Perth who was working as an au pair in Paris for a French American family. I decided to visit her.

It was my first visit to Paris and I was not really prepared for the reaction I received walking around the streets in my beloved Blundstones. Parisian women were so petite and always in heels. They would do a double take when they saw what was on my feet and laugh. Parisian men sneered – my feet were obviously too butch for them. I asked my friend Bev what they were saying. She said ‘They can’t believe you are wearing army boots’.

Here I was in beautiful and amazing Paris …

Effe in Paris wearing the boots.
Effe in Paris wearing the boots.

being laughed at and ridiculed for my boots, my comfy rockstar Blunnies …

I wanted to buy my boyfriend a special gift so Bev took me to Jean Paul Gaultier’s store. When we entered the attendant walked straight over to us, gushing in French and looking at my feet. Then he called over the other attendant. Bev explained to them that I was wearing Australian workman’s boots. Then the man himself appeared. ‘Bonjour’, he said. At first I did not register who he was. Jean Paul studied my boots. The attendants explained to him what Bev had told them. Jean Paul nodded at my feet, nodded at me, and with ‘Au revoir’, he disappeared again.

Now I am not trying to lay claim to anything here…but I have always wondered if they later ended up on the JPG catwalk?

Alice’s note – Yes, they did indeed. Combat boots have been a staple of JPG style forever. Now maybe JPG thought of them first – after all he is a genius. But maybe, just maybe you contributed to changing the face of women’s footwear in the early nineties.

Here’s a link to JPGs recent incarnation of the combat boot perfectly teamed with tulle on pinterest. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/447474912947073236/


Hibiscus Vomit in FNQ

Why is it when one visits a tropical paradise one feels a sudden urge to buy clothes that look like a hibiscus threw up on them?

Shops full of next year’s tropically patterned landfill are everywhere – seducing me with their colourful wares – coaxing me into parting with good money for what I would generally consider garish rayon rubbish. Is it the need to reinvent oneself whilst on holiday that drives one to buy garments that you wouldn’t ever consider wearing at home?

Buying clothes on holiday always carries risk. I have come back from grown-up sophisticated European holidays with what I believed at point of purchase to be grown-up sophisticated European clothes that I’d seen on the natives of the place, only to realise when trying them on at home, that what I’d actually bought made me look like a Neapolitan prostitute.

Walking down the main drag of Port Douglas one soon realises that style too has also taken a holiday here – that any clothes I might have considered cultural currency in the company of the Melbourne frock cognoscenti are completely redundant here. I simply don’t fit in with my post punk belts and my eighties referencing oh so on-trend ankle boots. And I’m hot – the kind of hot that makes one’s thighs chafe even just thinking about how hot you are. Then… it comes from a long way down – a primitive urge – from the ancient collective unconscious of every woman. I want… I want dress… I want a hibiscus print dress! I have to have one. Now!

Somewhere buried in my chromosomes is an age-old anthropological urge to belong: Look I have a large pink hibiscus emblazoned across my breasts – I am just like you – a native of the tropics – please like me and accept me. It’s illogical because you know that every other female tourist you pass in the street is fulfilling the same chromosomal urge – ‘quick, buy some brightly coloured crap so I really feel like I’m on holiday’.

Not my actual purchase. The one I bought fell apart in three minutes and was way way way more nausea inducing. I like this one a lot - if anyone sees a dress exactly like this - please tell me.
Not my actual purchase. The one I bought fell apart in three minutes and was way way way more nausea inducing. I like this one a lot – if anyone sees a dress exactly like this – please alert me immediately.

You can tell the really rich women in this town because they are not the ones wearing the hibiscus vomit – they are the ones wearing the orchid vomit – the orchid vomit is sold in the posh shops here – no generic quasi Hawaiian hibiscus prints for them – they can afford orchids. But colourful floral vomit it is just the same. I saw a woman in Coles in an orchid vomit dress with Sergio Rossi sandals – the ones with the gladiatorial metal ankle calliper brace detail. Instantly a warm glow came over me – fashion has not completely forsaken this benighted place. The stygian style gloom of far north Queensland is illuminated for one precious second in a supermarket by a simple configuration of burnished metal and Italian leather. Time stands still. A chorus of seraphic cherubim float into view all pointing at her feet, singing a heavenly chorus to designer footwear, whilst she, oblivious to the moment, squeezes and prods the mangos. I want to run up and hug her, congratulate her on her exceptional taste. But I don’t. I merely stare in anonymous admiration as she glides up the deli aisle, cutting a stylish swathe through the hideous rayon hibiscus vomit.


Boys, beaches and a good scarf.

A piece of short fiction by Clare.

Rachael knew that being an Australian gave her many privileges, but some she only recognised when travelling in other countries. Take camping. Nowhere in Australia had Rachael ever been refused entry to a camping ground just because she didn’t have a tent. Sure it’s a good thing to have! But sometimes the open air and swag are all that you need. With only a few days to explore Crete, Rachael, Stella and Annie thought they’d avoid the busy backpacker hostels and head for the beaches that were home to many camping grounds. Their romantic idea of sleeping under the stars in the safety of a camping ground, which also, hopefully, would provide a shower and cooking facilities, was not to be for the weary travellers. It was 40 degrees in the shade and they had been on a ferry all night and on the road all day. They trudged from bus stop to camping ground and back to the bus and onto the next town. No tent, no stay!

By 3.30 the message had sunk in. Annie suggested they find a beach and risk it there for the night. However, trying to find a beach that offered the option to not be noticed by any officials was a big ask. It was peak season. The Greek police were always on high alert for trouble from backpackers. As with every Mediterranean destination the Northern Europeans had taken over the beaches. Not the backpacking variety though. On no, these were serious ‘I’ve got 2 weeks to bake in the sun, drink excessively and get laid’ types. En masse! So when three girls with backpacks bulging from their rears appear on a beach looking every bit of a couple of days without a proper wash, attention is drawn. But Annie’s instincts in this instance were good. The beach stretched quite a way and the path had led them to a cove. The rest of the beach was littered with bodies, but where they stood was slightly shadowed by the cliff face, and therefore of no interest to any of the sunbathers. They had a quick discussion as to spot’s suitability, and made their way back up the steep path. There was a taverna at the top of the cliff and there the girls sat, biding their time, waiting for relief from the heat that sunset would bring.

Luckily Rachel, Stella and Annie were the types of backpacker who rationalised. If they didn’t have to pay for accommodation, they could afford more beer! And it had been a long hot day. Stella had gone in search of a toilet, which hopefully would also provide a hand basin with a tap. The girls hadn’t been able to have a wash for a few days.  There was something ironic about the scene. There they were on the other side of the world, sheltering from the hot sun and yet surrounded by people who just couldn’t get enough of it. From the taverna they looked out over a stunning beach that was ringed by high-rise apartment buildings. These apartments temporarily housed the masses of mainly Scandinavian holidaymakers presently lying naked under the Mediterranean sun. And the Australian girls’ only priority? A tap with running water. Oh and access to alcohol!

For a time the girls were the taverna’s only customers. As they did at most places they visited, the girls always made an effort to befriend the locals. The barman was young, very tanned, and his English was good. Annie flirted big time with him. Rachael was in awe of her two travelling companions’ prowess with men and flirting. Unfortunately she suffered from recent Catholicism so was still building her confidence with the male species.

Drinking in the afternoon sun had gone straight to Rachel’s head. To sober up she decided to wash. She left Annie and Stella to the barman’s charms and headed to the bathroom. Feeling clean and refreshed, and only slightly tipsy, she rejoined the others. Two guys were sitting with them. Annie introduced them. Mikey and Johnny. They were Irish, Northern, like Rachael’s mum. Being a complete sucker for an accent she was in, hook, line and sinker. The barman, George, pumped up the terrible pirate version of a Kylie song and came over with a round of drinks on the house and sat next to Rachel. Rachael began to think that maybe she was in with a chance after all when she saw a vision. He was smiling and walking towards their table. Rachael’s heart skipped a beat. She returned his smile. Mikey grabbed his arm, pulled him to the table and announced that this was Joe, their other mate. Rachael wanted that moment to freeze. But before she could say, ‘Hi, my names Rachael’, Annie had moved on in. She had to hand it to Annie, she hedged her bets that one. Rachael really didn’t care. She was on a beach in Crete watching the sunset with some great company and the prospect of sleeping bag dancing!

One of the guys asked where they were staying? The three girls shared a look. Was it safe to tell these guys? Stella took the lead. She started explaining their dilemma about not having a tent etc. Rachael was secretly hoping that maybe the guys would invite the girls to stay with them. To her horror Annie began telling them that the beach below was their room for the night. What if these guys turned out to be serial rapists or something? Rachael’s mind was working overtime. But to her surprise the boys explained that that was where they had been sleeping the past three nights. George the barman laughed and suggested he should also sleep on the beach.

As the taverna had begun to fill with hungry and thirsty patrons, the group decided to head to the beach and organise a meal with whatever food they could throw together. They grabbed a couple of bottles of retsina. Rachael was almost beside herself when Joe offered her his hand so she didn’t topple over on the way down. What did this mean? Should she assume anything? As soon as they hit the sand he dropped her hand and ran ahead to catch up with his friends.

Conversation was easy. They shared travel horror stories. The guys were particularly impressed by Rachael’s African adventures. Sure she’d embellished the bit about the gorilla attack in Uganda, but all in a good cause! As the night air began to cool down the group decided to head back to George and the warmth of the taverna. The place was alive with music and laughter. They made themselves comfortable at the bar. The girls were keen to keep George in the picture. He and Stella had hit it off and Rachael had noticed that Annie seemed rather put out. Did this mean she would make a move on Joe? Rachael was beginning to think that Annie only wanted a guy that someone else liked.

The taverna had a great mix of locals and tourists. From a travellers’ perspective that was usually a good sign that the prices would be reasonable. It was not uncommon to find one price for travellers, and one for the locals, but George, their new best friend was giving them a discount anyway. As Rachael listened to Annie go on about her experiences in the bush as a jillaroo she convinced herself that Annie was far more experienced at this mating game. Although, Rachael wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

The taverna was emptying out. Although it was not late the tourists were early risers, not wanting to miss a minute of the sun. George and his boss Stavros joined the table.   This wasn’t the girls’ first Greek island, but so far it had definitely been the stand-out for friendliness and hospitality. Stavros explained that it went back to the war when Australian and Greek soldiers had fought side by side to defend the island. The Cretans were grateful to Australia for the safety and protection of its’ people. Stavros had everyone mesmerised with some of the stories his father had shared with him about Australian heroism, and ties that would never be broken.

Rachel was trying not to be obvious with Joe. But every time she stole a look, he was looking back at her smiling. Invariably, where there is alcohol and Irish people, songs will be sung. With contributions from the Greek and Australian contingent it turned into a Eurovision Song Contest. Rachael took the opportunity to share her prowess with Irish tunes. She was hoping to impress Joe with her passion for all things Irish. The coolness of the night was settling in, even in the warmth of the taverna, so they decided to adjourn to the beach. Somehow they ended up minus Joe and George who had stayed behind. The singing continued, as did the drinking. Confused by Joe’s absence Rachael was desperate for the night to keep going. Stella was close to flaking it and had slipped into her sleeping bag. Drunk as Rachael was she had enough nouse to place herself where there was every chance Joe would sit on his return.

She heard Joe and George coming down the steps. Joe was whistling an Irish freedom song. Johnny had shone the torch so they could find their way. Joe found his way to Rachael. He explained that George and he had shared a joint and had got caught up in a conversation. He unrolled his sleeping bag and helped Rachael with hers. She let Joe continue talking, his voice was beautiful, and the accent, well how could she resist! Then his hands were cradling her face, she wondered if he could feel her trembling. Rachael was struck by the taste of his lips, a mix of alcohol and the sea air, soft and sensuous as he explored her neck, her face, her lips. They spent what felt like an eternity exploring each other’s bodies, only too aware of the closeness of their sleeping friends.

Rachael awoke to the heat and glare of the sun, Joe’s arms lying across her. Joe awoke and without so much as a kiss he was up out of his sleeping bag and running into the water. Rachael didn’t know what to do. She was embarrassed so she headed up to the taverna to the toilet. In the mirror she noticed the love-bites on her neck. No chance of wearing a polo neck to hide these ones!

The guys had asked the girls to look after their belongings for the day while they hired mopeds. The deal was that the boys would take the girls for a ride at the end of the day. And after the big night the girls were keen to do nothing except relax in the sun and swim in the clear Mediterranean water. The girls farewelled them and proceeded to dissect the previous evenings events. Stella had managed to get a bit of action with George the barman, but Annie was unusually quiet. Rachael couldn’t help but wonder if Annie did really fancy Joe. Did she know about them? She put her hand to the damp scarf she had casually draped around her neck. Annie and Stella didn’t say anything about the love-bites, so Rachael didn’t say anything either. Then Stella giggled, pulled something from her bag and threw it at Rachael. It was a tube of toothpaste. Annie cracked a smile and said that it was probably too late for that! Rachael was embarrassed. It was as if Annie knew all her weak spots.

The girls talked about their plan to move on the next day. Both Rachael and Stella expressed a desire to stay at least one more night. Annie was keen to move on to the next island. They had arranged to meet up with some guys they had previously met in Italy. Rachael wasn’t really fussed about any of the Italian guys and didn’t see that one more day on Crete would mean missing the Italians altogether. Rachael looked at Stella, urging her to argue the point, but Stella was too hung over to really be bothered. They settled into their own space. Rachael with her music, Stella lavished the coconut oil on, and Annie wrote postcards.

By midday the sun was killing Rachael. She cooled off in the water and sought refuge in the taverna for some shade and a big cold glass of George’s mum’s home made lemonade. George was hard at work and happy for some company. Eventually the other girls joined her. Rachael was curious as to how Stella would be with George. They just smiled at each other. He brought over a drink for her, gave her a kiss and went back about his work. Why hadn’t it been that easy with her and Joe?

The hours passed and Rachael had planned a thousand ways to deal with her insecurity over Joe. Soon enough the boys were back regaling the girls with the adventures of the day. George offered to mind the backpacks while the guys whisked the girls away on the mopeds. Before Rachael knew what was happening Annie had manoeuvred her way onto the bike with Joe! She turned to find Mikey patting the seat behind him. Was this a plan amongst the guys? Maybe Joe had said he didn’t want to be with her on the bike? Maybe he was embarrassed about the love-bites, which she thought she had cleverly disguised with her rather smart scarf al la Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Rachael was determined not to let anything spoil the day, so she jumped on and grabbed Mikey around the waist. They wound their way around the hills of Crete, stopping along the way to take photos and admire the views.

Rachael contemplated playing Annie at her own game and jumping on Joe’s bike at the next stop, but her courage deserted her. And Mikey was good company. Two hours later as the sun was beginning to set they made their way back to the taverna. George had promised a special feast on the girls’ last night. The boys had another week on Crete before heading back to Belfast. Rachael was now contemplating the possibility of staying longer on Crete without her friends. They weren’t on a schedule as such and she could always catch up with them in a few days on Santorini.

Rachael talked with Joe about taking a trip to see relatives in Belfast before returning to Australia and the fact that she really had no plans past the trip in Europe. When no offer of an address or phone number was forthcoming Rachael let the topic drop. Should she ask about a girlfriend back in Ireland? Joe and Rachael spent the night talking. About their dreams, their aspirations, and the more Rachael learned about Joe, the more she liked. The night was coming to an end and Rachael was becoming drunker and very melancholy. Photos were taken but still no exchange of addresses.

All Rachael could think about on the way down to the beach was how to manoeuver into the spot next to Joe. Someone was smiling down because as they reached the sand Joe turned and grabbed her hand. Rachael was beginning to feel so emotional she thought she would lose it completely. All she could do was grin wide-eyed at Joe. The night was still warm and Johnny dared everyone to go in the water. Rachael hung back, waiting to see what Joe would do, and as he started to strip down to his bathers she followed. The water felt fantastic, but suddenly Rachael was conscious of the amount they had all had to drink. She stayed close to Joe and smiled and felt safe as he slipped his arms around her waist. They kissed and Rachael was grateful for the water that would hide the tears welling up.

This felt like goodbye. Rachel felt a chill up her back. She could hear the girls calling her from the shore. She hadn’t realised how long they had been in the water. Johnny had lit a small fire. More stories were told and more songs were shared as they sat around the fire. Rachael fell asleep wrapped up in Joe’s sleeping bag with his arms cradling her and his hand stroking her hair. The next morning she awoke to find him already up. The chance of a last kiss gone forever? Stella and Annie were also up and packing their things. Everyone adjourned to the taverna for morning coffee. Stavros had put a food parcel together for the girls as a doting father would for his daughters. George and Stella were sharing their last moments together.

Joe reached for Rachael’s hand, kissed her passionately and then walked back to his friends. With that the girls were on their way to the bus stop. The guys saw them off with their own crude version of Waltzing Matilda. Rachael put her sunglasses on as the tears began to roll down her face. Rachael contemplated telling the girls that she was going to stay and would meet them at a later date. But the idea that anything would come of an island holiday romance seemed so far fetched that she banished it from her mind.

As the bus pulled away Rachael looked back. She saw Joe. He smiled his big smile and blew her a kiss. Rachael felt like her heart was about to break. But she adjusted the scarf and turned her attention to the road ahead.


This week’s tale may or may not be based on fact. It may well have been just a crazy dream the author had.
Anyone else’s crazy dreams or real life holiday adventures would be welcome on Style Takes A Holiday.