Mad hatter

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I read the other day that women who wear hats are destined to remain single for eternity. The article, perhaps tongue-in-check admittedly, said of the many faulty traits/mannerisms/sartorial choices that you need to hide if you ever hope to meet a mate is the wearing of hats. This is a serious problem for me but may explain why my love-life is about as lively as a roomful of tax accountants.

I don’t remember when my hat-wearing became such an obvious “issue”. Indeed, as I write this I can see out of the corner of my eye my collection of hats perched proudly on my specially-bought hat rack. I have at least a dozen of them in various shapes and sizes. One of them I even bought in a men’s shop. And I won’t mention the scarves. I have about three dozen of them in an array of colours so resplendent I often resemble a peacock when I wear them. I sometimes wear both a hat and a scarf. At. The. Same. Time. I’m sure such an (un)fashionable choice of accessories is likely to result in my dance card remaining empty for some time yet.

I like hats. Mainly because they are very good at hiding my hair. You see when you own a serious hat collection like me you can never really have a bad hair day. That’s because if you wake up one morning and your hair looks like you have spent the night with every one of fingers lodged in a light-socket or it appears that birds have decided to make nests for their young in your hair because it’s just the right consistency to raise their chirping offspring, well, you just pop on a hat and no one need ever know the horror that lies beneath.

One of my ex-boyfriends used to say that my hair made me look like Krusty the Clown and another said that it was like I had a ghost on top of my head. I’m still unsure whether these were terms of endearment or perhaps, as is mentioned above, they were indicating – albeit in a reasonably humourous way – that they would never marry someone with such a ridiculous mop on top of their head. And most of all, someone who wears hats to hide the hilarity that is obviously their hair.

Over the years my hair has been long, short, curly, red, white, orange and it’s been dreadlocked. That was probably my favourite hairstyle of them all because at least back then no one asked me when the last time it was that I washed and/or brushed my hair. For someone with locks about as luscious and thick as a spider’s web, the unkempt look is just part and parcel of my everyday life. I can brush my hair in the morning and one small, untimely whisper of wind can result in me looking like I’ve spent a week living rough under a bridge by the time I get to work five minutes later.

I spent $180 on a haircut a few weeks ago and even the hairdresser looked defeated when I walked out looking pretty much exactly the same as I had when I had walked in 45 minutes before. But sometimes when I let my quasi-afro roam free, it can have unexpected benefits. I recently sauntered into a pub and a very hot man walked over to me as soon as I walked in. This was very unusual. No one usually talks to me – well, sometimes they do but they often don’t have many teeth. I was automatically suspicious but also merry enough to ask: “What’s your story?” He looked me up and down and said: “I came over because you looked so interesting.” Ah, that old chestnut, I thought, so I replied: “It’s the hair isn’t it? He smiled a bit sheepishly and replied in the affirmative. I knew it. Not the legs. Not the tits. Not the smile. No, it was my hair.

Who knew that hair could pick someone up? Maybe that’s what that journalist was alluding too? If I hide the ridiculousness that is my hair under a hat, it may be preventing me from using what appears to be my most interesting feature to attract a mate. I always thought that it was what was inside my head that was the most alluring part of me but obviously not. Jesus. No wonder I have been single for so long.

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An inconvenient truth

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Last Friday night, I gave myself an enema in a restaurant toilet while 17 of my family and friends unknowingly sat a few a metres away enjoying the various culinary delights. The reason for such a traumatic, let alone rather uncomfortable, turn of events was that I learned last week that just because you can do something in your 30s doesn’t mean you still can do it in your 40s.

Until about three years ago, I used to love Thai food. Especially red-hot red curries. If they made my eyes water even bloody better. Alas, as one food reaction piled on top of one other in my late 30s – courtesy of having a system so acidic it should have been a bestselling comedian like Russell Brand – all the “good” (which really means bad) tasty stuff was soon off the menu. Mexican? Nope. Burgers? Only when I am very hungover and don’t care about the consequences. Pizza? Ditto previous comment. Indian? Never again. And Thai? My delicious creamy, MSG-laden Thai food – well, I could get away with it sometimes but only if I had eaten nothing but quinoa and grass clippings for a week before and after.

The last night of my 30s I ate red curry chicken for dinner. I’d just spent a week in Bali devouring all manner of spiciness and (mistakenly I was to learn) thought that miraculously I had healed myself of my many stomach issues. Alas, by the time we got back to the hotel, I was sweating profusely and had to borrow my dad’s sweatshirt because I’d got the chills. After a fitful sleep full of dreams of tarantulas and tidal waves, the first morning of being in my 40s involved me lying on the floor of the hotel toilet – naked and sweating and mere moments from passing out. It was all very very unpleasant. Without going into too fine a detail, let’s just say my birthday was utterly, utterly shit.

The next day, like some type of sinister bum coup, my bottom decided to shut down altogether and within two days my belly was so bloated I looked like I was four months’ pregnant. While all this hilariousness was taking place, family and friends starting flying in for my 40th birthday party – something which I had hyped to the point of ridiculousness or perhaps delusion – and all I wanted to do was go for a poo.

I tried cups of green tea, overdosed on fruit, drank coffee, laxative tea – nothing worked – so off I went to the chemist and acquired the aforementioned enema for just $2 after leaving any trace of humility at the pharmacy door. At the pre-party party (as you do), I decided I’d had enough. I felt like shit – which is kind of ironic – and didn’t want people asking me when the baby was due (and why I was pissed) at my party the next night. Plus I’d bought a flash designer frock for my party that made my tits look fantastic. So after half a dozen or so ciders to provide the necessary fortitude, the best two bucks I have ever spent was dispensed in the necessary fashion. Within 30 minutes it started working – indeed 24 hours later at my party it was still working, which I have to admit was a little inconvenient.

The whole shitty experience taught me that in my 40s I will never eat Thai food ever again. I dare say that sometimes I will miss it. As I will miss the ability to eat, drink or take whatever you like, whenever you like, for however long that you like. You see my party lasted for three days. It is now day five after its spectacular denouement and I don’t think that I’e fully recovered yet. Indeed, a trip to the doctor has been taken this week such was my overall crap condition. It’s an inconvenient truth that must be learned that it might in fact be time to grow up. But strangely, I’m kind of cool with that – as long as it doesn’t involve anything too extreme or scatological.

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Just a girl

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Her name was Vedree. She works as a masseuse in a salon in Seminyak Bali. She is 27 and is three months’ pregnant with her first child. She gets married to her fiance in two weeks but doesn’t want to take time off work because she won’t get paid.

Her doctor told her she should rest during her first trimester, but she can’t afford to do that either. Vedree also does pedicures and manicures on rich tourists like me. Of the $10 I pay the salon for each treatment she gets 55 cents.

She told me she dreamed of going overseas but she knew that would never happen as it was hard enough earning enough money to feed her family. Her husband-to-be washes motorbikes for a living – also on commission – so she knows that her family will never have much more than the basic necessities.

She is thankful for the job she has though. She said it was better than begging in the streets. She wishes she could work in one of the hotels – just like the one I am staying in next door. Staff there get paid a salary, she said, but they also need a university education to serve drinks and food to a variety of white people who come to relax there for a week or for a month.

But she will never be able to work there because she only did four years of school. Her family is from a small village in the north and her parents had three daughters and one son. They only had enough money to send one child to secondary school so in Bali, like so many other countries, it was their son that got that opportunity.

Vedree told me she only wants to have two children because then, she hoped, she might somehow make enough money to send both of them to school – even if they are girls – so they will have a better life than she has. I told I her that I thought all parents wanted better for their children no matter where they came from and we smiled at each other in mutual agreement.

I was leaving for the airport that day but told her I would be back next year. She said she was only taking one week off work when the baby came so she would see me then. When I left I gave her all the money in my wallet – about $40 to me but probably a month’s wages to her – and told her it was a present for her wedding. She cried a little. As I walked out the door, so did I.

His name was Jo Jo. He is 28 and works as an exotic dancer in a gay bar in Bali. He is straight. He is from Java, but had to leave his village because there is no work. He said Bali is not much better but at least he has a job now. He gets paid to dance in his underwear on top of the bar and in a shower enclosed in a perspex box. He earns $5 a night. He said at least he could afford to buy food.

I asked him what he would do if he could do anything in the world. He didn’t understand my question. He couldn’t comprehend that in some countries, if you have enough brains and motivation, you can pretty much do anything you want. Once someone translated it to him, he smiled at me and said: I’d be a doctor. To help people.

He was beautiful, had a body to die for, and strangely took a shine to me perhaps because I was a white Western woman in a gay bar, but I suppose he may have also seen me as a way out of his situation. We spent time talking over a few days, and while his English was not great, he seemed sweet and kind, but also kind of sad. I think you have to be a certain type of person to take advantage of someone like that. I am not. I’m no Rhonda, but his plight still affected me deeply nonetheless.

For some reason, I’m not too sure why, this trip to Bali – of all the trips I have taken to South East Asia and third world countries generally – made me realise that the “stress” in my life is self-generated and self-defeating. Compared to Vedree and Jo Jo, my life is paradise. I think sometimes you need a hefty dose of reality from a beautiful people who give so much but have so little to realise that.

Terima kasih, Bali. I will see you next year and every year after that too.

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