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  • Writer's pictureKim M Horwood

$20 Worth... of a Fortunate Life

I had to go into the city last Wednesday to pick up a couple of Christmas presents.

Around Day 11 of my advent calendar, I was gifted a Christmas lurgy that hung around until about Day 20. As I get older, the lurgies stay longer. When I was younger, I’d just pop a couple of cold-n-flu and be on my way – drugged up and ready to take on the world. Nowadays the lurgy clings on with barbed legs, and when it finally lets go, my farewell gift is a mouth full of cold sores.

Because I’d been crook as, Christmas shopping had to be smashed out in about 4 days. I went into a shopping psychosis.

After a breakfast of antibiotics, Vitamin C, and paracetamol, I was treading the pavestones of Queen Street Mall, along with thousands of others – the traditional city shoppers, the tourists, the luxury boutique buyers, the homeless, and those like me, searching for that one gift sold out at suburban malls.

I trekked up and down Queen Street Mall a few times, in search of stores on my phone, wishing Google Maps just gave me directions by landmarks – ‘turn left at the water bubbler, then right at Boost Juice.’ But Google Maps does not give Kimstructions.

During my shopping travels that day, I was people-watching and encountered all kinds. One in particular, was a homeless man at the edge of the mall, at his side was a backpack and a walking stick, his ankles were red and swollen, and he held up a piece of cardboard with ‘HOMELESS, please help’ written in black marker. He had the face of someone’s uncle, or neighbour, or lawn-bowls partner. I wanted to shake his hand and ask his story.

Impulsively, I went in search of an ATM to withdraw $20 for the homeless man, which was not easy. Finding an ATM in the city is like trying to find a taxi at 2am on New Years. If you ever need one (an ATM, not a taxi), there’s one outside Boost Juice in the Wintergarden.

With $20 in one hand and a Mango Smoothie for me in the other, I went back to where I’d seen the homeless man, only to find he had gone. I walked to the other end of the mall, but he was nowhere. I don’t know why I’d made him my mission, or why I thought my $20 was going to change his life but not being able to find him, left me sad.

Regardless, I had to finish my shopping, so after some positive self-talk, I took myself up the mall to the Body Shop.

For anyone who works in retail, I feel for you at Christmas. You must either utterly hate your job or completely love it – and believe me, it shows.

At the Body Shop, a dark-haired girl was the gatekeeper at the door, who I think was spritzing the air with lavender or ylang ylang or something. All 4 or 5 other workers, seemed very busy with reorganising, dusting, stocking, and processing. The shop was packed but I’d been inside for more than 10 minutes, and nobody asked if I needed help. And I needed help. I even did my blank looking-around-for-help face, but nobody made eye contact and I was not approached. The cherry on top was little blondie who called me ‘lovely’ when she processed my purchase – which always makes my right eye twitch.

On an ordinary day, if I walk into a store where no help is offered, I usually walk straight back out again. I have no shopping finesse and limited patience; I always need help. But desperate times call for desperate measures and like I said before, I was in a shopping psychosis – I needed this purchase and was forced to make an on-the-spot decision.

Leaving the mall that day, I was watching the faces of others as they passed, hoping I might see the homeless man who looked like someone’s uncle. Instead, I happened to catch the face of another who was also watching faces – an older man, with a beard and a stoop.

‘Merry Christmas!’ he smiled at me. ‘Merry Christmas!’ I smiled back as we passed each other.

My city trip was finally complete. I had not found the homeless man but I’d found other gifts, including the face of Christmas kindness.

And so, for the winners and losers on my 2023 Christmas Naughty and Nice List…

NAUGHTY:

  • The Body Shop, Queen Street Mall

(DOUBLE thumbs down for service.)

  • Sephora, Chermside

(Online ordering not working, nobody answered the phone for 3 hours,

then they were out of stock and when asked if they could tell me who might

have stock, I basically got ‘yeh-sorry-nah’.)

  • City Beach, Carindale

(For the love of Pete… when the queue is eighty-six kilometres long, please

don’t put 13-year-old chicky-babes on your check-outs. PLEASE.)

  • Medical Receptionists – who I had to converse with because I was sick.

(BOO HISS! BOO x two thousand trillion, HISS x eleventy billion trillion.

P.S. I have friends who are medical receptionists and are queens of kindness

and compassion, but our locals are Cruella and Maleficent.)

NICE:

  • Owen at Mr Toys Toyworld, Mitchelton

(Nothing was too much trouble – exceptional young man.)

  • Matisse at ASICS, Carindale

(For going above and beyond – absolute stellar service.)

  • Lululemon, Wintergarden (Queen Street Mall)

(To the very friendly young man who asked if I regularly shopped instore,

even though I’m shaped like a pug, God bless you son, God. Bless. You.)

  • Absolute Embroidery, Virginia

(For being the only ones who said yes when 4 other companies said no.)

  • BCF, Keperra

(Service with a smile, even when your air con broke down.)

Finally, in a world where our TVs and phones remind us daily of the struggle and suffering of others, where Gen Z care only for tatts and pouts on socials, where 11-year-olds steal cars and 14-year-olds are hardened criminals who run through houses with machete’s, lead by 25-year-old mob bosses who sell weed and zans from car windows, where children are being used physically and metaphorically as shields, we HAVE TO BE the friendly face in the mall. We have to be the Owen’s and Matisse’s of the world because your kindness and generosity of spirit might be the only piece of joy in someone’s day.

I recently read an Australian memoir called, A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey. Born in 1894, Albert Facey’s life was not without challenges but he was born in an era that was culturally and socially simpler. At the turn of the 20th century, being neighbourly outweighed religion, race, and social standing. Experience and education were valued and morals were upheld, all underpinned by open hospitality with helping hands and hearts. Authority was respected, and the only family law that was needed was that passed down by a grandparent. After witnessing the damage done by hard liquor, Albert listened when his grandma told him he must never touch it. And despite a traumatic childhood, witnessing the horrors of Gallipoli, the depression, the loss of a son and of his beloved wife, he kept his promise. He died at 88, having never touched a drop.

I wonder what advice would come from the grandmothers’ of today’s child criminals, drug dealers, property smashers, car stealers, and machete holders. Maybe they would simply be saying, stop. But I’ve read another piece of sage advice from a grandparent:

“Either take the first biscuit or the last biscuit. Never both.”

I fear that a portion of our Gen Z would just take the whole packet.

I think about the homeless man in the Queen Street Mall, and of our misguided Gen Z. It’s occurred to me that even if these young people have a roof over their heads, without a place where their core values live, they too are homeless.

Albert Facey lived a full and happy life, a fortunate life, abiding by the values passed down by his grandmother. As we reflect on 2023, think of something your grandmother would ask of you, something that would make her proud, and keep that promise, every day of 2024.

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