Mutton wrapped up as lamb, make a silk purse from a sow’s ear … there are plenty of idioms about ugliness wanting to be something else. Wishing Cinderella style, any number of unlucky maidens are celebrated in fairytales for a midnight transformations, though sometimes they have to kiss a frog. Now as one of the world’s certified uglies, the man-brand, I should have flocked together long ago with some of those unblessed ladies. If truth be told though I’ve never been able to get hot and flustered about barnyard animals, cane toads, or mountains of human flesh (of either gender). Yup, it’s unreasonable and politically incorrect, but there you go. In unexpected corners of the Ark Earth I strike up marvellous conversations, meet heroines and villains, revel in the human drama with every imaginable mishapen kind of critter, but when it comes to the hot flame of romance, the visuals can stir and quench one’s heart in ways that defy reason. In vain my mother, despairing at my failure to be decently married by a proper age, pleaded that all cats are grey in the dark.
These observations come from sitting on the concourse at Central Railway Station, Brisbane, a bum-parking spot I’ve come to know well after missing yet another hourly train by thirty seconds for the umteenth time. The late evening exhibition at Central is something to behold. Here is the mating parade, Australian style. These are not middle-aged mums on forlorn weekend magazine diets, or the waddling mountains of flesh a generation older. No, it’s twenty-one year old chickens heading off to their compulsory mosh pits of binge drinking and bad music. They come wrapped like sushi rolls in fragile wisps of cloth that stop two centimetres below their crotches, with the top lopped off for a generous bulge of tit cleavage. Shoals of them teeter past on stilettos. I should be vibrating like a tuning fork, but it’s limp sausage time, worse, repulsion. I’m sure they all love their cats and even make their beds sometimes, but these girls are FAT, fat as in an overfed, self-indulgent animal-population-out-of-control herd. The genes that forever bar us from movie star good looks, me or them, come with a throw of the cosmic dice, but the gluttony and sloth that grows slobs is all our own making. Maybe the wistful eye of blokes like me is not so new either. With his uncanny knack for catching the soul of the Ark Earth in a resonant phrase or two, Rudyard Kipling said it all in 1890 in Mandalay:
I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and —
Law! wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay …