A Neater, Sweeter Maiden

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 …

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