We usually come to Brisbane in summer, when the jacaranda and bougainvillea are blooming and the city is full of flowers. It’s late autumn now and there’s no sight of the brilliant flowers, just green against more green. My niece and nephew have grown like weeds and would be unrecognizeable, if they didn’t look exactly like the rest of my family. Kelly is basically me with brown eyes and a pointier nose; Ross is a grown-up, boy version of Julia.
These kids set the bar impossibly high. They have green belts in jiu-jitsu. Kelly is an accomplished cellist and Ross is about to start playing flute. In terms of physical fitness and manual dexterity, they kick my ass three ways from Sunday. Lucky I have mass and cunning on my side.
We had fantastic coffee at Cafe Do-Da. Sarah told a story about her new job, obviously a far better match to her personality than the old one. Her boss demanded a phone number from “a resume on my desk”. It wasn’t on his desk, or his boss’s desk, or the owner’s desk, or in his email, but eventually Sarah checked his voicemail and found it there. He texted back “Ta.”
She sent back seven texts.
“It took me three hours to find that number, and all you can say is ‘Ta’?”
Ross said: “You should have done one letter at a time.”
(Kelly made a good joke, too. We pulled up outside her neighbour’s house, and I said “They don’t know it’s you in this weird car.” Under her breath she added: “With these weird people.” “Hey! I heard that!”)
Sarah says her boss gets nervous if she doesn’t quit two or three times a week. The job is clearly mad. The last n people in her position, for some unfeasibly large value of n, only lasted a few days. Rather than having to remember names, the company started referring to people by the day of the week on which they started work. Sarah was Tuesday for three weeks before they accepted that she was probably going to stay.
Next we drove up to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens on Mt Coot-Tha for a picnic. We spread our blanket on a peninsula in the lagoon, and were serenaded by Pacific black ducks, dusky moorhens, sacred ibis and an Eastern water dragon.
The cousins interviewed Claire. “What’s your favourite animal? Do you like cats? Do you like dogs? Do you like horses?”
The roast chicken came out of its bag.
“I like chicken!” said Claire.
Ross ran all the way around the lagoon (crazy!) and we all applauded when he arrived back. Later, in that shy way she uses when talking to a new crush, Claire said “Very good running.”
We tried to get some pictures of all four cousins, but there’s at least one cousin squinting or sticking its tongue out in every shot.
As we were packing up, I asked Claire to put on her shoes.
“She can put her shoes on! I’m very impressed,” said Uncle Al.
“I can put my shoes on,” said Kelly.
“You’re ten!” said Al. “She’s only three! I was impressed when you were three, too!”
“It’s the miracle of velcro,” I said.
“There is no article of clothing known to man that can’t be improved with velcro,” said Uncle Max.
My sister and I each thought for a minute, then said with exactly the same rhythm and intonation: “A… g-string?”
It took us a good ten minutes to stop laughing. In unison. You’d think we were related.
Oh, and talk about the HONOURED FREAKING GUESTS. Last night Uncle Max split a bottle of 1991 Peter Lehman Stonewell shiraz with us. YUM.