23 April – Note to self: Don’t clog the head… again!

Location: Monaco

We have been invited to have lunch with Anna and Franco at their house today. I am very excited and put on my best outfit, again.

I’d only packed one best outfit in the belief that it’s better to leave lots of room in my suitcase when flying out of Australia, so I’ll have room to bring lots of new stuff home. Because of this I am starting to get sick of wearing the same outfit and want to tart it up with a different belt.

There’s no full-length mirror on the boat, not even in the master stateroom, so I stand on the head in front of the small cupboard mirror in our ensuite to see how the belt looks. Given there’s only about four feet between the head lid and the cabin ceiling, I either have to bend my knees or fold at my waist to see my torso in the mirror.

It is a completely unsatisfactory exercise. I give up and use a pre-moistened “Wet One” towelette to wipe the marks I leave on the top of the head, then toss it into the head, and flush it. I figure I look fine with or without the belt.

Flushing our head is a real procedure and it took me several days to get it right despite my vast experience on other yachts.

It involves flicking a little lever to the right and then pumping a bigger lever like crazy to empty the bowl. Then flicking the first little lever to the left and pumping again like crazy to flush sea water through the bowl to clean it. And then, just when you thought you were finished, finally flicking the little lever to the right again and, yep you guessed it, pumping like crazy yet again, this time to empty the sea water from the bowl.

Hence, going to the toilet is a strenuous workout. Even more so because I can never remember whether to flick the little lever right or left, and of course there’s no labels, which means I usually have to repeat the process a few times more than necessary, to get it right.

Because heads are notorious for blocking or breaking, and it is Bill’s job to fix everything, he’s the self-appointed head vigilante and is constantly checking up on what I’m doing and whether I’m doing it right.

Did I mention there’s also never any privacy on a yacht? Bill walks in as I pull out another Wet One to wipe the basin down.

“You’re taking your time,” he says. ”Everything alright?”

“Yeah, sure,” I say, feeling guilty for no reason. Well, apart from standing on the head that is.

“You’re not going to throw that Wet One in the head, are you?” he asks.

“No, of course not,” I say quickly. I finish wiping the bench top and make a great show of putting the Wet One in the bin. “Why?”

“Because it’s material and it will block the pump,” he says in an aggrieved tone.

“Oh? I thought they were paper?”

“They’re not,” Bill says, combs his hair and leaves.

I quickly lift the lid after he goes. Nothing but clean sea water. I breathe a sigh of relief and follow him out.

It takes us just 10 minutes to get to the Perettos which means we are embarrassingly early.

Bill suggests we spend 20 minutes hanging around a nearby street corner, before we finally knock on the gate and announce ourselves.

After a long while, Anna emerges dressed in pastel jeans and an elegantly casual light cashmere jumper, possibly worth several hundred dollars. I feel over dressed.

She opens a small gate off the steep road, and after showing us the tiny, cramped garage at street level, she takes us up a set of wide stairs between two multi-story obviously historic, but disappointingly smallish stately homes.

Both home entrances lead off either side of the top of the stairs. We peel off to the front door on our left, around which are a bunch of dead pot plants, old shoes and other fairly normal family paraphernalia.

Inside is a small entrance hall that leads into a kitchen on one side. It looks like it might have been transplanted from a suburban Melbourne home. Functional with worn marble benches, inset with a sink, stove and fridge. Brenda fusses around a bit.

We hover uncomfortably around a small child’s table and chairs in the doorway that take up an inordinate amount of space and make it difficult to find somewhere to stand where we aren’t in the way.

“Tea or coffee?” Brenda asks brightly.

“I’ll have tea please,” I say.

“Coffee,” says Bill.

She makes two coffees and hands one to each to us.

“Come,” she says. “I’ll show you the rest of the house.”

Now she was talking. I happily follow her past a staircase leading upwards, across a narrow hallway with a vacuum cleaner sprawling across it.

“Francesca is still cleaning,” Brenda says with nonchalant ease.

“No problem,” I murmur politely.

We walk into a dining room with the most bizarre old-fashioned painted mural depicting evil looking fauns and half naked voluptuous women dancing across a Disney-land meadow. It occupies an entire wall, opposite a chunky carved corner drinks cabinet and matching dining table. I feel as if I’ve stepped back in time into the 1970s.

“It’s so beautiful,” I say, feeling sure the devil in the mural just winked at me.

The littlest cutest backyard
The littlest cutest backyard

Brenda smiles. She walks us through that room into a little ante room, like a miniature atrium that overlooks a dainty walled garden with a small iron garden table and two matching chairs, on a lovely patch of lawn surrounded by a garden bed.

This is more like it. Tiny, but really, truly pretty. It’s hard not to be impressed.

“That’s so cute,” I say. “The hedges and lawn are so neat, but there’s no gateway into the garden. How do you mow the lawn?”

“Oh, the gardener carries his equipment though the house,” she says.

I look at her and nod, furiously telling myself not to show anything other than studious interest. Seriously? Who the fuck would design a house like this?

“It used to have a gate but then we extended the house,” Brenda explains.

Just then we hear Franco enter. Brenda rushes to the door to greet him. They make a great show of kissing each other. I avert my eyes.

“Hello, hello,” he booms. “Welcome. I see you have coffee. Well done Brenda. Well done.”

Brenda gives me a smug smile. She’s obviously chuffed to be praised in front of company. I smile back and sip the poisonous black stuff, now stone cold and even more disgusting.

“I am very sorry, but I have just stopped to change my shirt then I must depart for a work lunch,” saysFranco as he disappears upstairs.

In the meantime Brenda shows us some recipe books. Bill is very interested.

When I can get a word in edgeways, I suggest that she photograph her favourite recipes using her new iPad so we can create an iPod-recipe library to use on the boat.

“Oh. That’s OK,” she says. “I have all the same books on the boat as well.”

Of course she does.

“Ahhh,” says Bill. “That reminds me of an old Buddhist saying. The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live for the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

Brenda watches him, obviously entranced. She turns to me and sighs. “That’s so lovely. He’s so lovely.”

I smile and nod, feeling a bit emotional myself. Yes. I look at him, smile and wink.

I look back at Brenda and notice she’s gathering our cups. I help and follow her back to the kitchen where we dump stuff in the sink.

“Have you washed the settee covers?” she asks.

“Yes. The other day,” I say proudly.

“Is the new washing machine working well?”

“Yes. It’s gone through several cycles. No problem.”

Brenda smiles a sweet smile and starts walking to the front door.

I realize we’re being dismissed and fumble for the right things to say.

“Thank you for having us and for showing us your beautiful home.”

She nods graciously.

Gimme’ a break!? No lunch? You invited us for lunch? And what about upstairs? What about the front of the house or the back? Two rooms? You call that a showing? And did I mention I’m starving fucking hungry? Of course I stay diplomatically silent.

We return to the boat, just as quickly as we arrived. After all that walking on a cup of coffee, I really need to use the head.

After doing my thing, I start the pumping routine. Flick the little lever to the right and pump like crazy to empty the bowl. It doesn’t empty. Doh. Obviously flicked it to the wrong side. Flick it to the left and pump again like crazy. But no, now sea water quickly seeps the bowl, mixing with the contents that are already there. Flick the little lever back again and nothing. No suction, just a dark murky soup mix that refuses to empty.

I look at it with frustration and return to the galley.

“Bill. The head looks like it’s blocked,” I call.

His head appears through the hatch into the cockpit. “What did you do to it?” he asks.

I shrug. “Nothing,” I say as I start pulling things out of the fridge for lunch. I take my time selecting cold meats and a variety of cheeses from the fridge, listening to him grunting and swearing at the other end of the boat, as he pulls one thing after another from the cavernous hold so he can get to the pipes underneath.

French stick or rye bread? Can’t decide.

“Do you prefer a French stick or Rye for lunch?” I yell.

No response.

I choose the French stick, a selection of cheeses, including my favourite blue vein, and some tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, which I cut into bite-size chunks.

Still no sign of Bill. I sigh and pour two glasses of water, then sit down to wait for him, nibbling just a bit to pass the time.

I am sitting in the weak sun in the cockpit well after lunch, quietly reading one of the many books on board, when I smell, rather than hear him emerge just long enough to bolt down some food then return to finish the job and have a shower.

Note to self. Don’t ever throw Wet Ones down the toilet….again!

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