Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Story of a Sofa


The Monster
Just the other day our sofa bed went out on the nature strip, in time for the council clean-up.  It was a relief to get rid of it – it was far too heavy for either of us to move, the sun had leached out all the colour, reducing the rose-coloured suede cloth to a dismal, dirty grey.  Apart from that it was in perfectly good condition, plumply upholstered, with a barely-used, single innerspring mattress tucked away inside it, and it seemed such a shame to consign it to the landfill.
It was rejected on sight by the men from the Salvoes, and later by the ones from Goodwill.  The reason was the fading.   As both explained, it couldn’t be sold in their shops like that.  There were other possibilities (slim but hopeful) but when the Goodwill blokes offered to carry it onto the nature strip we were too worn out to refuse.  Still, this was a week before the council clean-up and we were worried about the forecast rain.  The suede cloth, tough as it was and chosen with the grandchildren in mind, might not survive a decent downpour.
Imagine our delight then to discover that within the day the monster, as we’d come to refer to it, had vanished.  Someone had seen it, we rejoiced, recognised its value and saved it from a drenching.  But as it turned out, it wasn’t quite as simple as that.
Before I go on, here is the monster’s back story.  We bought it on the stern recommendation of my husband’s daughter, who insisted that she would only come to stay if we bought a Moran for her, since that was the only type of sofa that had a proper inner-spring mattress, instead of the run-of-the-mill rubber ones.  We had recently returned from Canada to take up residence in a tiny flat in Manly and just had room for a two-seater.  But the two-seater Moran only had a single-sized mattress and if the daughter stayed overnight she couldn’t bring her husband.  Moreover, the mattress was padded on one side only, and in order to be stored that had to be on the bottom, and the one time she did stay I hadn’t figured out yet that I needed to flip it over.
By the time any grandchildren stayed I knew how it worked and we supplemented it with a futon from Ikea at a tenth of the monster’s price.  That worked out fine, if one grandchild was a little concerned about having to sleep in the kitchen when her brother was three feet away in what passed for the living room, the smallest he’d ever seen.
Eventually we moved, but the monster was so heavy we had to pay $200 extra to the removalists to bring it down one set of stairs and then up another.  The sun shines brightly on this new flat, so much so that within 9 months of our occupancy the upholstery was irreparably faded.  This, needless to say, was not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.  I was told by the Moran representative that I was a fool to have exposed the sofa to so much sun, and no doubt I was.  The dye wasn’t up to it.   I hadn’t even noticed the fading until one day when cleaning I saw that the rose hue on the back of the couch had totally fled from the front of it.
Couch or sofa?  Back in the 1960s, when the U and non-U divide was the popular way of determining status, it was considered non-U to refer to a couch as a sofa.  This was because ‘couch’ - considered uncouth by the lower middle class - was in one of those quirks of inverted snobbery embraced by the upper class.  Sofa, thus, was very non-U.  I had been brought up to call them couches – a term that’s hardly heard today, if at all.  Perhaps that’s due to the advent of sofa beds as we know them – I think a postwar phenomenon.   It was snobbery of course that led my husband’s daughter to insist on a Moran – the brand still exists but the furniture is made in China, and was even then.   It’s the story of so much of our manufacture.  The names live on but the skill, like the dye, has gone.
But if our leaders remain in the grip of an all-pervasive ideology designed to make a few people ever richer and the rest of us mere mortals wrestling with insecure job prospects, broken infrastructure and a polluted, rapidly heating environment, I still maintain that, against serious evidence to the contrary, most human beings are basically good at heart.  This shaky belief was confirmed when I discovered what actually happened to our sofa.  The young couple living downstairs saw it there on the nature strip and immediately got online to a swap and trade site that we knew nothing about.  They took a picture of the monster, posted it, and within seconds someone put their hand up, came within the hour and hauled it away.  Faded or no, I do hope they enjoy it.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

How I Became a GetUp! Volunteer and Lived to Tell the Tale - Just


How to describe myself politically?  A friend once observed that I was ‘difficult to tag’ and I soon perceived I liked it that way, and have in fact spent the better part of a lifetime resisting group action, at the same time believing it absolutely necessary.   This contradiction is largely temperamental but also arises from some bitter past experiences.  Yet I let myself be recruited by GetUp! for the recent federal election, for reasons I’m attempting to explain.
Last Saturday brought the fifth change of federal government I’ve experienced since coming to Australia in 1958.  I can’t remember ever handing out leaflets at a polling booth before but I once was an ALP member so must have been commandeered.  I let my membership lapse, however, sometime in the 1980s when the Hawke government gave the green light to mining uranium.  I was opposed to the policy, was berated by no less than Keating strongman Don Russell for being a soft-headed fool, and this did little for my sense of loyalty.  Besides, the Black Mountain branch meetings were unspeakably dull and utterly futile, since every motion we managed to adopt was duly ignored by the government.  That was thirty-odd years ago and speaks volumes, I think, about the problems the party has been facing ever since.
GetUp! is an organisation I’ve admired but was never really active in before.  I’ve donated a little money and signed their petitions, but concede that this is the lazy woman’s way of trying to right the wrongs in our alarmingly imperfect world.  What does it cost in blood and sweat to click onto a petition or proffer a few measly dollars?  So in a critical moment I responded in the affirmative to their email asking for volunteers.  Yes, I would do it.  I would wear an orange t-shirt and hand out the GetUp! guide. A further incentive was that this was in Abbott’s Warringah, and the booth I signed up for at Balgowlah Boys High was only a few blocks from home.
People like me who live here are likely to feel beleagured.  I’m told it’s the same for progressives across the pond in Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth.  These two electorates contain some of the richest suburbs in Australia, going by median per capita income and most expensive housing.  How I am a resident is one of the flukes fate sporadically dispenses, but I often wonder how long I can manage to stay.
As election day I approached I was introduced by email to my fellow volunteers, and spoke on the phone with the organiser, Andrew Fraser, like me an ex-Canberran, now studying public policy at Sydney University.  But only when I arrived for my afternoon shift did I meet anyone in person.  Liam and Jeremy, both young as GetUp!s tend to be, had been there since late morning.  Victoria and I, two 'maturer' women, signed on at 2, and Anita came an hour or so after.  I studied Liam as he approached voters to discover how to persuade them to take the guide.  I soon twigged that assuring we were independent gave the erroneous impression that GetUp! itself was fielding candidates, when the whole point of our being there was to inform electors how the parties stood on certain issues.
The guide was useful, despite being derived from a survey of GetUp! members, and inevitably reflecting their outlook.  No surprise then that on most of the issues listed, the Greens came out best.  That was fine by me; with things as they were I’d felt I had no choice but to vote Green anyway.  Like many a Labor sympathiser and former party member, I had to acknowledge that the political stuff-ups, factional shenanigans and whatever-it-takes philosophy of recent years had rendered the party unacceptable to me.  There was no way, however, that this deep discontent could translate into a vote for our muscle-bound local member.
Picture us then, in our bright orange t-shirts, with a couple of orange posters to note our presence, but overwhelmingly outnumbered by the blue Liberal ones emblazoned with Tony’s triumphant grin.  There was a Green one with young Will Kitching’s picture on it, and one announcing that PUP was somewhere in evidence.  The lone Labor poster was hidden in a corner.  Overall, it was a companionable day, a day for democracy; the weather was perfect, the smell of sausages sizzling and carmelising onions wafted over volunteers and voters alike. I made instant friends with the Greens, and the sole Labor man was clearly a kindred spirit.  For a time this pleasant geniality even extended to the one female Liberal, though we agreed to disagree on climate change.  (‘Did you know that England was warm in the 15th Century?’ she divulged. ) The Abbott men in their panama hats were predictably standoffish and consulted among themselves about the worrisome Y the Libs were given on the ballot.  But the truly dark side to all of this came from the voters themselves.
It wasn’t the older ones, or the Botoxed and kaftaned middle-aged women who disconcerted me.  They could be expected to wave us, and especially the Greens, peremptorily, contemptuously aside.  No need to remind myself then that this was Coalition territory.  It was the young ones, some without families, up and coming accountants or aspiring IT executives, and some with kids, preteens straggling beside them, and some with kids in strollers, living the dream and arrogant with it, with seemingly no concern over what’s ahead for those children. For, after all, Abbott has assured them that climate change is ‘crap’, and even if it isn’t the Coalition will fix it, painlessly and competently, and keep the riff-raff from their borders.  And apart from a few amazingly welcome exceptions, this is who the electors were, clinging to what they read in Murdoch’s papers and all the meretricious slogans Abbott has repeated ad nauseum, shaking their heads and holding out their palms as they swept imperiously past us and entered the polling both.
I knew it would be like this, but it still made me awfully sad.