Rottnest Winter

Three women with a median age of fifty go to Rottnest. Essentials have been packed. Bewley’s tea, a stainless steel teapot, Borsin cheese, bottles of Pinot Gris, my preferred washing up liquid and scrubber, the Tefal pancake pan, the Global knife.

We take various half-finished craft projects and yet started ones. C. is the aficionado of all things textile and while A. and I are less skilled, we are no less enthusiastic. C. has hot machine washed and caused the felting of op-shop jumpers of various colours – a teapot cosy will be hand sewn and embroidered from these.  A mish-mash of wools are brought – these will form many various crochet hexagons for the purpose of ? That’s not the point. It’s the doing. The luxury of hours and hours of doing without interruption from the word “Mum”.

Children and partners have been dispensed with. Mine are overseas. C. and A. have teenagers and they have been left to cope, or else. Skill-up kids.

A. is making a blanket for her one-day house in Brittany. Little strands of sky blue wool mark the squares her partner has knitted. Like my knitting project, hers has mistakes – the odd dropped stitch, wayward yarns. We don’t know enough about knitting to know how to fix errors, so we just carry on knitting. One of C.’s tasks this weekend will be to show me how to pick up a dropped stitch.

In the South end of Thompson Bay, known as Nappy Alley, we three settle into our chalet. No nappy duty for us. Even the sound of children is something of an anathema. We have a room each. A. makes sure each bed has its plastic sheeted mattress covered by the blanket before it is remade for extra comfort. We have enormous bags with hardly a thing in them. I have brought a hot water bottle, but the weather does not require it.

There is time for walks, and even swims (dunks really) and more than enough time for craft. A. and C. even do a water-colour each and manage to play scrabble at the same time as knit. We cover our faces in papaya peel-off masks. It does nothing to appease the wrinkles. We exfoliate with loofas. For breakfast we have pancakes with thin slices of green apple and honey yoghurt. For lunch we have tomatoes and asparagus on toast spread with Borsin.

On the sunny patio we drink Pinto Gris. We attempt to nap but simply end up fighting with our blankets.

On the third day A. goes back to the mainland since her job won’t let go.

C. and I go to the shop for one more bottle of Pinot Gris and some smoke salmon to put in our fritatta. The shop is largely deserted, as is the whole island. We are at the counter waiting to pay. A middle-aged woman in front of us has purchased a souvenir plastic place-mat of Rottnest (the kind of thing you can’t imagine buying), but instead of exiting, she wanders back into the store. She is short and round with a full length black skirt and comfort sandals. She has a blonde bob and a perplexed look on her face. She shuffles, like the signals her brain gives her feet aren’t quite strong enough. We are both turned to watch her. She is that kind of person. Is she lost? Is she not sure how to exit the shop? We are both observing her and smiling at her ineptitude when we notice her large pink underpants appear from beneath her long skirt and fall, in an ankle-hugging way, around her sandals. What do you do when you see someone’s underpants slip down? You look away.

We leave the shop and sit outside on a bench to discuss the woman and her underpants. Fifty something with no elastic. We feel a mixture of girlish giggling and pathos.

I remember being a child at school with underpants devoid of elastic. What horror! Firm one minute – sprung elastic the next. A tight-fisted gripping of the cotton beneath the skirt. A staying at your desk as long as possible. A cursing of the inequality of dresses and skirts. A strange waddle on the way home. But your mother sorted it for you. Those one were chucked out. Stupid pants!

Miss Falling Undies emerges from the shop. Her dignity is recovered, but something has gone on in the shop afterwards. She has lost something? Money perhaps. She sits on a nearby bench with another woman, older and a potential big sister or even a mother. The older woman has white hair and a sensible perm. She has slacks on. She’s cross. The older woman is saying, This is why no one can be bothered with you… The underpants woman sits facing her looking glum. She’s heard all this before. She has no defence. Her bottom lip is pouting, her eyes cast down and she looks like a six-year-old being told off. No one can be bothered with you.

I wonder did she remove the knickers, ball them up, and put them in her bag? After all the skirt is long. Did she hoist them up in the cereal aisle between the Weetbix and the Nutrigrain? What kind of holiday is she having whilst being chided by a relative? Can she tell her rebuker she needs new underpants now?

I see a red post box and think how if my mother was alive I would be compelled to send her a postcard. She would like to hear the story of the woman whose underpants needed new elastic.