Pippin Pearmain leaves her beloved Lemonwood Cottage in the care of the cats and Cousin Clarkia while she flies to Sydney for her first screen test in decades. A new role, a new agent and a new challenge await, but Pip is sixty-six and she’s not sure a comeback is what she wants. Behind her lies a comfortable but eccentric life of performing in offbeat roles, and a decade of living alone. She’s short of family and friends, but she has the surprisingly conversational cats, the cottage, and her memories. She has her bucket list and plans for an interesting personal project involving an album and decoupage. Is that enough? Or should she jump feet-first into her new role and see where a comeback takes her?
Pip’s few days in Sydney teem with new possibilities, none of which involve decoupage. Mind you, she’ll get to that sometime, once she’s sorted out two ballets, a film, and a festival.
It was a decade since Pippin Pearmain had been on a plane, but old habits resurfaced, and she settled into her seat and prepared to tune out the annoying passengers and crew.
That is, she supposed they’d be annoying, and she wasn’t prepared to give then the chance to prove it. She glazed over while the flight attendant mimed putting on the life jacket as she indicated the exit rows with a lipstick smile.
Yes, yes, in the event of an emergency we leave all our stuff behind, assume the position, escape via an inflated slide, then bob about in Bass Strait while people paddle out in kayaks to rescue us.
Well, maybe not kayaks.
She remembered a story she’d loved when she was young. It was about a teenager who was rescued by dolphins when his plane, no, hovercraft, crashed into the sea. He’d been a stowaway, so the escaping crew had no reason to look for him and left him behind.
Better not think of that.
She’d read that ninety-five percent of passengers would theoretically survive a plane crash, but she had no interest in testing it for herself. Figures could lie. For instance, almost everyone could survive a hundred metre fall… It was the final few centimetres that did you in.
The plane took off. Pip put on earphones, not because she intended to listen to the in-flight entertainment, but because she wanted to divorce herself as much as possible from the strangers around her.
After a while, two attendants came around with a trolley of refreshments.
Tea or coffee? they mouthed, each looking to a different side of the aisle.
“Tea, please,” chorused the other two people sharing Pip’s row.
Pip watched, appalled, as the left-hand attendant distributed wrapped teabags, sachets of sugar, tiny pots of milk, and ready-poured polystyrene cups of hot water.
“You can’t possibly make tea like that!” she blurted.
The attendant stared at her and mouthed, “I beg your pardon?”
Pip removed her earphones. “I said, you can’t make tea like that. Tea has to be brewed. If you insist on using teabags, the bags go into the pot or cup. Boiling water, still bubbling, is poured on top. The whole lot is set to brew for at least three minutes. Five is better. You cannot make tea by dipping a tea bag into hot water. It isn’t even steaming.”
“You mean you would like to unwrap your bag and have me pour water on top?” the attendant clarified.
“No. That water’s not boiling. You’d have to do it back in the galley. With boiling water. Or make it in a pot.” She’d caught sight of the coffee pot. “You’ve got coffee in a pot. Surely the least you can do is treat tea-drinkers as well as you treat coffee drinkers! Instant coffee doesn’t need boiling water. Tea does. If you have just one pot, I suggest you make the coffee in cups and use the pot for the tea. It’s the only viable solution.”
The attendant exchanged baffled glances with her partner.
Pip imagined them saying Lor’ lumme, we got a pain in the arse ‘ere, guvnor.
The right-hand attendant peered round the left-hand one and said, “You’re welcome to have coffee, ma’am.”
“That’s not the point. Anyway, I’ll get enough bad coffee on set.” Pip considered the cache of camomile tea she had concealed in her luggage. Unfortunately, it was in the hold. And it still required boiling water.
“You’d like tea, then?”
“Yes, if you’re prepared to make it properly.”
“No need to be afraid. I’ve explained how to make tea. It’s easy. Leaves in the pot or a teabag in the cup. Pour on boiling water and let it steep. A seven-year-old could do it.”
“We don’t have the facilities…”
“Yes you do! Right there.” Pip indicated the coffee pot again.
She became aware the other passengers were staring at her with trepidation or distaste. Clearly, what was logical and obvious to her was seen as peculiar and time-wasting and borderline passive-aggressive to them. “Never mind. I’ll have water.” She couldn’t help adding, “I just thought you ought to know how to make tea by now. Didn’t your mums teach you?”
One of the attendants passed her a polystyrene cup of water.
Pip thanked him and retreated into her headphones again. Obviously, she shouldn’t have said mums. She ought to have used the inclusive parents, or the even more inclusive caregivers. It made her tired.
She had intended to think about the children’s dolphin ballet she’d conceived during her recent Experience over there, but the ridiculous fuss over teamaking put her out of sorts. It was too late to try sleeping, so she sat in grumpy silence until the plane landed.
Generally, she quite enjoyed people-watching and public eavesdropping, but being cooped up on a plane destroyed the ambiance.
It seemed to take forever for passengers to leave as they opened overhead lockers, shuffled forwards, half rose to their feet and subsided again, and got their over-sized cabin baggage wedged in the inadequate aisle.
Pip reverted to her usual trick of staying seated until there was room to move without being squashed by someone’s large shoe.
“Is everything all right, ma’am?” One of the attendants bent to look at her.
“Yes thanks. I’m waiting for a chance to get out without being flattened in the stampede.”
“I think there’s room now,” the attendant said politely. “Shall I help you?”
It was the left-hand tea-server.
Pip sighed. “Sorry about the tea. It’s just…” She almost gave up. “I suppose you’re not a tea-drinker yourself?”
The attendant smiled. “No, ma’am. I’m a coffee-drinker.”
“Then I shouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“Listen, I’ve thought of another analogy. Have you ever made instant porridge?”
The attendant nodded.
“Have you ever made quick oats?”
“Do you know the difference?”