The Sad Songs

It’s best not to think about Mark Linkous, or his musical moniker, Sparklehorse, on a bright and sunny day.

Today is gloomy, the clouds are low, snow is predicted, but hail has arrived and as such, it is the perfect day to think about them.

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I came to Sparklehorse by way of PJ Harvey, who collaborated with Mark on the album It’s a Wonderful Life (spoiler alert: It was not. It is also best not to think about the fate of Mark Linkous, ever, but this article in Pitchfork is quite wonderful in explaining the allure of the man and his music, of which Tom Waits said, “It’s like opening your eyes underwater at the bottom of a stream. You go, ‘Jesus, look what’s down here.’”).

I’m not one for making heroes of artists I admire. No-one makes it through life without causing pain, everyone can be held up to the light and be found flawed, but when I was in my late 20s and fairly certain my life would never recover from the mistakes I had made and that I would never correct the path I was on, I had a line of lyrics from Mark and PJ’s song, ‘Eyepennies’, tattooed on my forearm, written in shorthand because even I am not maudlin enough to face answering questions from strangers about the meaning of this peculiar little song about the weight of sadness.

I love the sad songs. My guitar teacher used to joke that I had an uncanny ability to pick songs written in strange time signatures, always in the minor scale.

In my third year of university, I lived in a share house with a high school friend and we made a mixed tape of the saddest songs we knew. The two that were by far the saddest were ‘Your Sweet Voice’ by The Reindeer Section, a song in the classic sad song canon of heartbreak, and ‘Eyepennies’.

There’s something enjoyable and bittersweet about listening to sad songs when life is fine, like maybe sometimes the heart needs to hurt a little to keep growing.

The Bathroom: After

And then … it was done!

It’s an understatement to say I love the result. I cried when I saw it. Then I cried the first time I used the shower and if you’ve never experienced PMS and you think it’s just a walk in the park that involves eating a lot of chocolate without guilt, welcome to the facts of life! It changes your entire brain. You suddenly can’t listen to anything that isn’t Color Me Badd. You cry when you’re running on a treadmill because you saw an ad for the RSPCA and not even a sad ad, just one with a lot of cute baby animals. You actually start composing a letter to early noughties, semi-successful boy-band member, Nick Lachey, to tell him you’re so sorry he was blindsided by his divorce from Jessica Simpson.

Or you might cry in your shower because you’re sad you won’t see your builder again.

The photos don’t do the colours justice. I had thought about going with a white that was tinted to match the wall tiles, but it had a blue base and it looked very sterile. Instead, the walls and woodwork were painted in Dulux Snowy Mountains Half, which I can’t recommend enough. At some point I will do the window frames as well, but if I waited to post photos of it completely finished, we’d be here for years.

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The mirror is 900×900 to match the length of the vanity and to give it enough height so I can do tall lady things in it without half my face being chopped off. The only thing I would change about this set up is that my builder suggested keeping the drawers on the right-hand side of the vanity, but this vanity went in closer to the wall and I suspect unless I’m really careful, there will be some paint damage to the architrave.

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Oooh, look at this part!

Non-plastic taps! A double towel rail! A fancy glass wall! A GODDAMNED NICHE!

I am having a love affair with that niche. The shower recess is quite long and wide and I do like to go for a stroll in there fully clothed, just to look at the niche.

The tiler, who by the end of the job did try really hard to smile at me, managed to get the perfect fall in the tiles on the shower floor without needing to cut the tiles, so even though it absolutely looks like water should get around the glass, it doesn’t at all!

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I am going to keep the bathroom really simple, but I have added a few little accessories, which I will hold off posting about until the last piece arrives in early September, because I think it will tie the whole thing together.

Thank you for coming along on this journey with me, especially those people who had to witness the two years before the renovations actually started. It wasn’t pretty and did involve a lot of colourful language.

The Bathroom: During

After two years of getting quotes and having various builders tell me that the renovations would cost anywhere between $3,000 and $20,000, I finally settled on the guy who built my parent’s house and I am so glad I did.

Now, I am partial to a tradie crush, but ladies, he’s taken both maritally and also as far as getting first dibs on him to do work. Not even I get that privilege, that goes to my mum who’s lining him up to finally install a door that separates their “powder room” from the hallway near the lounge room so you can use their bathroom without feeling like you’re basically sitting on the lap of whoever happens to be watching TV at the time.

Speaking of toilets, I had a bright blue portaloo in my front yard for six weeks in the middle of an Orange winter! Have you ever been rained on while going to the toilet? Probably, because unlike me, you’ve gone camping.

I haven’t gone camping, unless you count that one hotel in Seattle which was so horrendous that I just stood in the middle of the room with my bag on my back, spinning around in a circle, pointing at things and going, “Exposed live wires, possible blood on carpet, no running water, evidence of previous guest in the bathroom, bed bugs.”

My portaloo was nicer than that hotel room. It smelt great, which was slightly concerning because I was never able to figure out where the very sweet tropical scent was actually coming from and I’m pretty sure whatever the chemical was, it was strong enough that I got a contact high from it.

Also, someone, who has yet to own up to it, left me cat food in there on the first night! Some people would find that creepy, I loved it, so thank you, whoever you are!

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The whole reason for the renovation was because whoever built the house decided that waterproofing the bathroom was excessive and that particle board, the most porous of all boards, was the best base for the tile bed.

Surprise! It wasn’t! The tile bed was the only thing holding parts of the floor together and although my builder said, “Oh no, you wouldn’t have gone through it!” … he went through it.

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I came home early in the piece to a spooky looking barrier, which of course, because I’ve watched a lot of Scooby-Doo and was high on portaloo perfume, I decided to ignore.

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Oh cool! Just where I was naked and at my most vulnerable for two years of my life!

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The damage was extensive. The bathroom got gutted.

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And then, it got put back together with so much waterproofing that in centuries, historians will point to it as the only remaining evidence of how middle-class spinsters lived in the early 21st century. Just kidding! We’ve ruined out planet, there won’t be historians for the 21st century!

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Turns out they put water in the bath to hold it down while the silicon sets, one of many things I learnt about building. Other lessons included: Just leave the Italian tiler alone, he does not want to be friends, and plaster powder! You’ll be finding it for years!

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Tiling was when I started to get excited. For someone who only wears black, my house is an absolute carnival of colour, but I decided to rein it in for the bathroom and when I came home and saw how good the white tiles looked, I started practicising saying, “Yeah, I’m like a Scandi minimalist?” to myself in the mirror, while flicking my hair and pretending to smoke a cigarette.

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The tiles in the niche are the most genius thing I’ve ever done, including my thesis on feminist science fiction and Levinasian existentialism. These tiles are both better, and more interesting than that.

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Finally, it was time to paint.

Have I ever mentioned I worked at Bunnings? I did, for most of the time I was at uni. I was known as “the goth girl at Bunnings” [author’s note: I’m not a goth, black clothes are just super chic and look good with a lot of really large silver jewellery, which is my fetish. I don’t wear black nail polish and I really don’t like The Cure, thus, not a goth].

Anyway, I worked at Bunnings for a long time and finally I got to be the person asking to colour match paint and buy sample pots and it turns out painting patches on the wall and writing on it is almost the same level of fun as roller-coasters.

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Finally, my mum and my aunt came and painted the bathroom. They are absolute clowns, which only intensifies when they’re together in a small space with paint fumes, but they did an amazing job and I have told them I’m going to install a brass plaque to commemorate their generosity.

Later, I discovered my mum had left a message to the builder in part of the paint that he needed to go over, and when he saw it, he said, “Oh you mum’s a character!” and I said, “Love me! … I mean, yes, she is.”

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Finally, the toilet went in. By this stage I was so addicted to portaloo perfume that I found myself twice that night putting on my gumboots to make the trek to the portaloo, forgetting that now I can go to the bathroom without needing protection from mud! And even in the middle of the night if I want to! And the neighbours don’t need to know about it! And people driving past won’t even see my pyjamas!

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This account glosses over some of the more annoying parts of not having a bathroom, like sometimes making a 40km round trip to use my parent’s shower, or the time I came out of the shower at work and found the cleaner just standing there, holding up a rag like he has been waiting to polish me, or the fact that my nieces started to answer the door with, “Mu-um. It’s Julia. She’s here to have a show-er!” and then just running off to watch cartoons because seeing me stopped being a novelty. Even seeing me leave in my pyjamas with my hair up in a towel stopped being funny.

In the next installation, I’ll unveil the finished product and reveal the fact that a combination of PMS and relief made me cry like Tobias Fünke the first time I used the shower! See you then!

The Bathroom: Before

There is no-one more sick of hearing about, thinking about, or talking about my bathroom than me. Except possibly my father, who said more than once, “This is killing me!”

And yet here I am, telling its tale, once again.

It all started when my dad looked at my rental ledger and pointed out I’d paid off over $30,000 on someone else’s mortgage and told me it was time to choose a place to live and stop hauling my increasingly large amount of possessions off to a new suburb or city every time I decided to blow my life up.

At that stage I was still living in the rental house B and I moved into in Bathurst when we still thought we were going to get married.

Narrator: They did not get married.

I culled a three bedroom, couple-who-own-two-dogs-and-a-cat life down to a small strata title duplex in Orange and in the time it took the strata manager to approve the renovations required to fix the water damage in the bathroom, I lost one of the dogs to old age, the neighbour sold her property, the strata manager screamed in my face twice, I had to get a solicitor involved, and my dad rued the day he ever asked to look at my rental ledger.

In order to fully explain what those two years were like, I need to show you some pictures. Before viewing them, please put on the sunglasses provided, and familiarise yourself with the location of the sick bag, which can be found in the pocket of the seat in front of you.

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Oh hey, cream walls and tiny pink tiles!

See the patches of missing tiles? By the end, tiles were just coming up when I walked across the floor.

The things you can’t see here because of a forgiving filter are scorch marks on the vanity and the toilet, which was prone to lime buildup, which my nieces loudly told me was “gross” every time they visited.

This wasn’t even the worst part. Please, follow me in a little further so we can look at the health hazard that was allegedly the shower:

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Rustic feature tiles! Creeping mold that I could never get rid of because the grout around the tiles had disintegrated so badly that the floor was always damp! A single towel rail which made me feel like I was destined to die alone every time I looked at it! The drain in the shower which at this stage was so badly damaged that when it was removed, the hole it was sitting in was twice as big as it should’ve been! The entire sub-floor which was being held together by the tile bed alone, which we discovered when my builder fell through it! That shower screen!

Nineties interior design has a lot to answer for, although I’m not sure the grunge aesthetic was intentional.

At this stage, the last day of June, I was beyond ready to never see my bathroom again. Little did I know what the next six weeks would hold!

Please tune in for that exciting installment tomorrow, same time, same channel.

2020: The Plagues of Egypt Edition

This is going well so far.

A plague of locusts and I’m going to have to darken the doorstep of a church.

Somewhere between the bush fires and the Coronavirus I stopped sleeping, even the small amount I usually get. I don’t think it had anything to do with either, it was more just the icing on the dirt cake that 2020 seems determined to be.

I went to a new doctor, who was initially very dismissive until I yelled, “I don’t like your bedside manner!” while wondering if that was applicable in a room without a bed.

What happened in the room stays in the room, but over her figurine of a cute cow holding a sign saying, “I’m not fat, I’m fluffy!”, she and I reached an understanding and since then she’s been very proactive in pushing me in the direction of various specialists and after a day spent drooling from the aftermath of my first encounter with Restavit, I’ve discovered half a tablet doesn’t put me to sleep, but once I fight my way there, it does keep me asleep.

While this was being sorted, I decided to try reading a book every time I found myself lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling and it turned out I was staring at the ceiling a lot, because I read 12 books in January alone, which I took to be a sign I may have taken my hermit lifestyle too far.

It took weeks for my brain to catch up with the new norms. How could the world be so different when everything looked exactly the same?

My brain got there eventually and I’ve come to like some of the changes. I like less traffic on the road, I like things being quieter, but I still hate evenings and living alone sometimes feels oppressive. Has this virus not seen my youngest niece, Nora? She’s a tiny blonde pixie, who you have no choice but to carry around and squeeze with love every time you see her. Not being able to see her or squeeze her is a cruel and unusual punishment.

Like every man and his dog, I swore I would use this time to better myself as a person, and like every foolish man and his dog, I’ve made a list that’s probably going to be too long, even for a pandemic, but I’m doing some stuff, mostly in the garden, which rewarded me this week with the first sasanqua flower I’ve ever managed.

A pandemic is about the only thing that could distract from what a huge difference there is in the landscape between January and now. Water returned, green returned. Not enough to end the drought, but enough to loosen its grip.

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