I first came to Australia from England in 1990 with my then girlfriend. She was Australian and, naturally, she introduced me to plenty of locals. Among them was Emma.
We got along well and at one stage she cooked us all a meal and I remember thinking, “Who is this girl?” But I was with someone else, and really I was just impressed by what cool friends my girlfriend had.
By the time I moved to Australia, in earnest in 1993, the relationship I had been in had faded and died. I was single, just working and enjoying myself. One afternoon I caught up with some of my ex-girlfriends’ friends to play tennis. Emma was there and we stayed in touch after that.
From time to time we’d meet in the city for a cheap meal and the place of choice was Pellegrini’s, a well-known espresso bar in the Melbourne CBD. In early 1994, the second time we’d met there, we were sitting in the “back room” at the big crusty, beaten-up old table that’s effectively in the kitchen. It’s not fancy and it’s certainly not discreet – more like eating at your nonna’s house but with several strangers. Yet it was here, as I chowed down on white bread slathered in margarine, that I looked over my bowl of minestrone at Emma and thought simply: “Gee, I could spend the rest of my life with you.”
Emma was pretty convinced that I was in Australia for a good time, not a long time. And while romance had blossomed it wasn’t until we went to watch an AFL game together in August that year that it became official.
A few months in, Emma made me a pumpkin gnocchi that was lighter than any gnocchi I’d ever eaten, anywhere in the world. There was truly something magical about it.
I always joke that aside from her humour, beautiful soul and ability to make gnocchi that is lighter than air, what really sealed the deal was the devotion she developed to my beloved Chelsea FC. When we met she knew nothing about football or the English Premier League. About two years into our relationship I was watching a match at home and asked myself out loud where a player called Duberry was. Without missing a beat, or even really looking over, she replied: “Out. Three weeks. Calf strain.”
I mean, oh my gosh. If a woman is willing to commit to that level of interest in something you’re obsessed with I think that’s surely a great foundation for any relationship.
We’ve been together for 29 years now and have three children – one of whom once came home to excitedly tell me about this great discovery he and his friend had made, in the back room of a little espresso bar on Bourke Street. When I told him it’s where I romanced his mother, he called me cheap.
Matt Preston’s memoir Big Mouth is out now through Penguin (RRP $34.99)