I studied at the University of Technology, Sydney at the Kuring-gai campus which was tedious to attend because it was, and remains, difficult to access if you didn’t drive. It is just 2 kms from Roseville Station in Northen Sydney to the campus which is fine when you are walking downhill at the beginning of the day. But when you are heading home after a long day with a laden bag and a crappy bus service, I would go out of my way to grab rides with any student that had a car rather than climb that everlasting hill. Along with other carless students, I would hover at the bottom of Eton Road hoping to catch a lift with a familiar face. I was always cautious and never hopped into a car with anyone I didn’t recognise and I never accepted a lift on my own.
One day, in 1991, one of my fellow carless, scam-a-lift friends waved me down in the Kuring-gai corridors and said she had found someone who could give us a lift. At the end of the day, I met up with my scam-a-lift friends who introduced me to their friend John. He was tallish, light brown cropped hair with a Tintin tuft and a sweet freckled face. I remember he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and, much to my horror, no shoes.
I really can’t stand the shoeless culture of Australia. It’s OK when you are at the beach, or at a pool but it is not OK when you are at work, at your local shops or at your place of education. That is right. I was an absolute shoe snob. If you didn’t shod your feet, I consider you to be uncouth, uncultured and frankly, below me. So when I met this shoeless guy, I remember shuddering but not being incensed enough to reject the lift (I wasn’t walking on his feet or anything).
Walking to the carpark, the two of us started chatting and it turned out he had just bought an EJ Holden. He had a cool sixties car. It was hydromatic! He showed off his doors (they opened), the location of the ashtray (neither of us smoked) and the bench seats for squeezing in as many paasengers as you can manage. I pointed out to him that all he needed to complete the picture was a leather jacket and long sideburns.
He turned to me and said “I can’t grow sideburns. My hair stops just above my ears”.
To which I replied “Why you and not me” and showed him my hair that grows to just above my jawline.
From that moment he remembered me as “That chick with the sideburns”.
Collective “Awwwwwwwwwww”. Romantic huh!
Our second meeting was in the Kuring-gai foyer. Once again, I was scamming for a lift, once again he was offering lifts. Our conversation was memorable because I remember laughing and I remember him rattling off some stupid spiel pro-monarchy claptrap (he has been forgiven for this. Firstly, his Great-Great Aunt was the president of the
Australian Royalist Society British Empire Association so it had been ingrained into him and secondly we have agreed that the monarchy is fine and fab in England but commit acts of treason against Australians which can only be negated by proclaiming ourselves a republic).
Subsequent meetings were regular. We were in a few classes together as we were studying for the same degree. He was always funny but I had no interest in this barefoot Aussie from the Northern Beaches. I liked my men shod, sporting sideburns and looking like a young Travolta. To add to this, he had a serious girlfriend who was also doing our course.
Years passed, we all graduated but as uni groups of friends do, we continued to go out together. When everyone would call around with a list of names of who was going out when you heard John was going to be there, you knew it was going to be a rockin’ fun night. He was always the funniest person in the room.
In 1994, a series of odd and sad events led to the two of us spending a lot of time together. John’s Dad had just passed away and my Dad had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and was also dying.
Our first date didn’t even happen. We were supposed to go to see a comedy show but instead ended up visiting his sister who had just given birth.
For our second date he took me to Nando’s for some Portuguese chicken. My thought was “It can only go uphill from here”. And it did.
Upon discovering I couldn’t abide walking barefoot in public he compromised. Barefoot at the beach, shoes everywhere else. I discovered he kept his Mad Magazine collection by his bedside and he didn’t waiver when I gave him two Shakin’ Stevens albums for my birthday. He just added them In with his ultra-groovy The Orb, Beastie Boys, Yello, Prodigy and UFO. He loved that I would belt out Barry Manilow songs and said he would have come along to his concert if I had asked him too. He said this after having told me about copping some other guy’s sweat splatter while moshing to Nirvana live at Selina’s. He was ever so cool yet so unaffected by what others thought of him that he didn’t care that I wasn’t.
He was so laidback that he didn’t even propose to me. And I didn’t propose to him either. We were both wearing striped t-shirts. His eleven year old niece was visiting and she said to us ” You’re both wearing similar shirts. That means you should get married”. We laughed at her and he teased her “You’re only saying that because you want to be a flower girl”. She agreed. All her friends had been flower girls and she needed someone to choose her to be one.
Once she left John turned to me and said “You know, we can’t disappoint an eleven year old. She’ll never recover”. I laughed and agreed with him. We got married 10 months later. And his niece was a flower girl in a gorgeous dress that my wonderful sister-in-law made.
So how does this relate to romance when it is hardly a blow me away, swooning, heart pulsing story? Anna Cowan says
A couple in a romance have to challenge each other. They have to expect unreasonable things, and unsettle and push each other. Romance and love couldn’t happen without it.
Romance fiction is about two people looking past the surface of the person they meet. Romance fiction is about two people working past misconceptions and discovering the other person’s motivation is the same as theirs.
And John certainly challenged me. Outwardly, he dressed in that laconic beach Aussie style that I didn’t like. But dig a little deeper and here was a handsome man that owned his own tails and cravat and starches his own shirts.
He took me out to Nando’s. Dig a little deeper and you find a man particular about the weight and length of his cutlery and knows how to carve a turkey.
He was a promonarchist. Dig a little deeper and find a man respectful of his family’s history.
He delivered a nonplussed reason for needing to get married. Dig a little deeper and find the man who has brought me coffee to bed nearly every single day for more than 16 years.
He married the girl with the sideburns. Dig a little deeper and find a man who tells me everyday how much he loves me and thinks I am beautiful.
Romance is wonderful.