I’d always thought it was pronounced Cranbourne as in Melbourne – but it’s not; it’s Cranbin or Cranny if you’re a local.
I headed out to Melbourne’s outer south east in my capacity as an independent sales consultant with a company that designs and sells lingerie. It was direct selling…ok, it was party plan.
I’d done this many times for many women in many different suburbs; however nothing prepared me for my Sunday in Cranbourne.
The day was a scorcher. One of those west wind dusty days that make you feel gritty as soon as you walk out the front door. I drove for an hour and pulled up out the front of squat 70’s built house in dark brown brick. Walking up the driveway dragging my suitcase and bags, I passed the open garage where the Gold Coast 600 was blaring out over the sound of an outboard motor. A midsized boat called Wiplash was being worked on by some unseen smoker.
I knocked on the amber coloured glass panel at the front door and eventually the flywire was flung open by a blowsy young woman. Clouds of cigarette smoke billowed out behind her. Tennille was my hostess for the day. While we had never met before, she had been blithely ordering bras sight unseen for a good year or so. It was probably time she was actually fitted.
The wheels on my case got caught in the matted shag pile as I followed her along a narrow hallway. We passed several doorways until she stopped at a bathroom with an enormous corner spa bath. While I agreed that the mirror therein was undoubtedly good sized, and the dim lighting flattering indeed, my concern about arranging my samples in a spa bath coated in ash and pubic hair was grudgingly acknowledged by Tennille and we found a bedroom.
The spare room. A room that contained a double bed, a cot, a dressing table that ran the length of one wall, several bulk bags of nappies and mountains of folded washing which gave me approximately 1.5 square meters of space to work in. This in itself would not have presented quite such a challenge had the average guest not been a size 20.
After doing my best to squeeze my wares in between the folded Dora the Explorer bed sheets and polar fleece hoodies I was ready to meet today’s audience. I took my small display bag into the sunken lounge. A number of flat faced women sat on a collection of overstuffed leather lounges and recliners watching an enormous plasma screen at full volume. I stood awkwardly in the middle of the room waiting for a break in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills to introduce myself. Tennille was busy emptying packets of chips into plastic bowls.
Older sister, Janell (no ‘e’) was there with her two daughters Madison and Tenika, whose names were lovingly tattooed on the back of her neck. ‘Mum’ and ‘Gran’ who had evidently forgone Christian names, completed the immediate family. Cousins Taylah, Brianna and Sherrin arrived with Aunty Bev and Bev’s friend Gwenda.
Janell was busy juggling a cruiser and swatting 18 month Tenika out of her hand bag. “Gerrraway from mummy’s fags”.
Madison, high on jelly babies and cola, bounced around the room in her barbie runners shrieking “what’s in the bag?” to me every time she flashed by.
I managed to catch Tennille’s eye before she dived into the next bag of chips.
“We’re going to the good room”, she bellowed.
Clearly ahead of the game was Tenille’s BFF, Bilynda who was already waiting for us ensconced in yet another large leather recliner picking through a bowl of Cadbury favourites.
With nothing but a mismatched assortment of bar stools left to sit on, I awkwardly hoisted myself upon one and swivelled around to face them all. My presentation, usually a humorous and interactive affair, was met with stony silence.
“Jason would effin’ laugh his arse off if I went home wearing one of them ones,” snorted Janell as I extolled the virtues of the everyday collection; a range of basic tee shirt bras in black, white or honey.
Ignoring her I went on to advise that the range catered for women from an A to a G cup which meant I could fit most women. There was some mutinous muttering and stifled snickers as I held up various lacy confections with matching slips. Somewhat daunted by Tennille’s frequent exhortations for her mum to fetch fresh bags of chips and tumblers of cola, I became as shrill as my audience. I finished up defensively declaring that I had driven for over an hour on a Sunday in 38 degrees and it was my mission to fit each and every one of them in the best bra they had ever worn.
Scooping up armfuls of samples and cramming them back into the bag; I swept out of the room and waited for my first fitting. Bilynda squeezed into the room and stood before me looking defeated. “You won’t have one that fits,” she said.
Snatching up my tape measure I brightly assured her that even if I didn’t have her exact size we could certainly work with some alternatives and possibly an extender…or two. When I actually focussed on the task before me, it was quite evident that nothing but a couple of tarps and some octopus straps would work here. The poor girl was a double J cup. I’m not entirely convinced there is such a size, but she was certainly off the grid. It was official – Bilynda was my Waterloo.
Next up was ‘mum’. She stood in the doorway offering up a scrap of greyish fabric across both hands like a dead rat. “What can you do about this? The bloody underwire snapped! Can you replace it?”
Given its indeterminate colour and generally distressed appearance I guessed this was not a new purchase. “It sits on me gut when I bend over”
Despite establishing that this was the second sports bra to experience underwire breakage in ten years and that there was every possibility she needed a bigger size to counter the encroaching ‘gut’ issue, ‘mum’ was reluctant to take a gamble on another “unreliable” garment. Mumbling something along the lines of ‘fuckin’ customer service, my arse’, she angrily shuffled back to the family.
My commission cheque was looking fairly lean.
Several interchangeable cousins came in next. They all looked and sounded the same. They each had tattoos. It was very cramped in the tiny airless room and the rising temperature made things particularly pungent. All the girls wanted ‘something sexy’. Lord knows I tried. With a size range spanning 38EE to 44F their options weren’t vast. Eventually we found something they all liked that did they job. Finally, the day didn’t seem quite so financially disastrous.
Janell slouched in next toting Tenika on one hip. Dumping the child on the bed in the middle of my samples she ferreted around the pile of camisoles and briefs as if I wasn’t there.
“So, Janell, do you know what size you are and what you’re looking for today?” I interrupted.
I watched Tenika’s dirty little feet scrunching around the display of colourful fashion bras, a lolly snake hanging from her mouth.
“Look,” Janell turned and levelled me a look of barely disguised contempt, “I hate your fuckin’ product, ok? I’m only here for me sister. I’m here for Tenille.”
Miraculously, given her clear antipathy for me and my product, I was able to fit her and admire the triptych of tattoos across her back at the same time. I’d never seen a series of themed tatts before. She was grudgingly appeased by my wonderment. Settling on a violently floral bra and g-string set and a purple lace push up bra, she retrieved Tenika from the tangled mass of bras and shot out of the room.
Gran was the last guest to wander in. A gentle woman with tired eyes, she clutched at her deflated breasts and said she probably needed a good bra. Madison charged in and flung herself on the bed. I’d just straightened up after Tenika’s assault. Gran batted the child away with surprising vigour and she flew out the door yelling “Gran’s an ol’ bitch” over and over.
“Little bugger,” chuckled Gran affectionately.
After complimenting Gran on the durability of her own vintage 70’s tattoo, and fitting her for a bra, she bought three and wandered back out again.
Finally it was Tennille’s turn. She asked if I could check the fit of the last bra she had ordered. There it was, positively grafted onto her body. The miracle ¾ contour bra in belladonna pink and I had never seen anything filthier.
“Ah, did you hear me say how important it is for the longevity of your bras that you wash them every second day?”
“Yeah. I do. Usually.”
At this point I will confess to a deep and abiding need to escape.
No one, save Gran, looked away from the plasma as I waved goodbye. Throwing my hastily repacked bags in the boot, I jumped in the car and reached for the dettol soap less wash lathering my hands and arms as though I was about to perform brain surgery.
After a long shower and several glasses of wine I was able to assess the day objectively. The experience had provided a useful template for bookings to avoid in the future; while my commission cheque handily covered petrol and the laundry powder required to wash the smell of cigarette smoke and crinkle cut BBQ chips from my entire kit.
….and it was something to talk about.