In Which Reality Bites At the Supermarket Checkout!

Nine days after our little band of intrepid explorers arrived in Australia, my husband started work. In this short space of time we had done all the “official” bits of bedding down in a new country; registering for new driving licences, opening bank accounts and so forth.

My Australian driving licence photo unfortunately looks rather sombre. As you would expect, a British person would not dare to indicate jollity or any other type of frivolous emotion on such a serious document.

British officialdom does not encourage smiling, creative hairstyles or other perceived tomfoolery on its citizens’ identification. This is not the British way, Tarquin old boy! – in fact there is a distinct possibility that Churchill legislated against it (with a stern seal of approval from George VI).

My husband’s driving license photo, on the other hand, looks like someone has passed him a glass of champagne and told him to enjoy Rihanna smothered in vodka for lunch. His delighted expression could not have been cheesier if we’d written “Brie” across his forehead and sat him inside a Deli counter.

This was solely because the lady in the vehicle licensing office had encouraged him to beam after declaring my own photo “a bit miserable.”  “Crikey!” she exclaimed, looking disappointedly at my expressionless offering. “It’s alright to smile, you know!”

So, with this beneficial knowledge in hand and secretly pleased that
I looked like a Victorian workhouse matron on mine, he beamed happily for his photograph. I admit that I glowered, slightly peeved at the realisation that I could have appeared rather more chipper if only I’d known. This  probably caused the vehicle licensing lady to feel that she’d been right about me being a grumpy old sod after all.

During our first week in Brisbane, we had also attempted numerous small shopping expeditions. These exercises were conducted primarily to prepare me for the complexity of paying for one’s groceries alone, without the assistance of my husband to help me.

Now, I am at pains to point out that I am not usually a person who needs any type of assistance with any part of the shopping process. I am female, therefore the selection and  payment of shopping does not cause me concern. In fact like most women, I excel at shopping.

However, no one had prepared me for the fact that shopping in Australia requires you to choose one of three payment buttons at the checkout.

“Do you want to pay by cheque, savings or credit?” the helpful checkout assistant would prompt as the queue behind us grew longer and I became more perplexed. “I don’t know, I don’t know!” I wanted to wail. “I’m English and I’ve only ever had to type my PIN number before! Three buttons is two choices too many! ” I wanted to lamely plead.

I had no idea what the payment buttons for cheque, savings or credit might mean – I felt a bit stupid as the realisation that something as fundamental as paying for shopping was not as simple as I was used to. I do realise that this is probably only a feeling that someone such as HRH Prince Charles or Paris Hilton could sagely nod in recognition at as they recall the distress that they felt when their flunkey once wandered off to look at the magazines, just as they really needed them to press the buttons on their behalf to pay for a Snickers bar at the supermarket checkout.

Okay, so not even Prince Charlie or Princess Paris would feel any degree of sympathy for me at my payment predicament. Nevertheless, as contestants on The Apprentice are partial to saying, it was a “learning curve,” even somewhat of a “journey” for me.

So, nine days in, and I was on my own! (well, as on your own as you can be with two “tweenagers”). “Let’s see what you’re made of, you incompetent, dithering Pommie shopper!” Australia challenged me. “Come and explore!”

The apartments we were staying in on the Brisbane River were situated close to a little ferry station, which connected on the other side of the river to the main water taxi, the Brisbane City Cat. On the morning that Husband began work, the three of us decided to explore the unknown… The Other Side of the River.

Truly, Brisbane is a beautiful, well-maintained city. The area known as South Bank is home to a gorgeous, large man-made beach and pool area which sits incongruously against a backdrop of glossy, high-rise office buildings. The beach is a magnet for people from all walks of life. New mums with babes in arms share their space in the shimmering sunshine with tourists, couples, the retired and teenagers, or seek the protection from the heat under the dappled shade of a well-placed palm tree.

The South Bank beach area is serviced by well-organised changing blocks complete with showers and toilets, and you can choose one of the many cafes nearby to refresh yourself with a nice cool drink or a fantastic coffee when you have had enough fun and frolics by the “sea”.   There is a profusion of magenta flowers which creep along the metal “vines” that hug the pathways. It really is very, very pretty.

Whilst we are on the subject of cafes, I would like to point out that it is physically impossible to purchase a rubbish-tasting coffee in Australia. I have tried. I have failed. Australian cafes, even the grubbier ones you consider crossing the road to avoid, produce the most excellent coffee I have ever had.

Considering I am something of a coffee and sunshine aficionado, I resolved find out more of what other delights Brisbane had to offer….


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