She's in her dark charcoal power suit, snug leather trenchcoat and matching boots and a bright red slick of lipstick kissing her curly haired son goodbye at the school gate.
She glances over at me: worn runners, leggings dusted in dog hairs and puckered at the knees, baggy mens' t-shirt, polar fleece over-run with fluff balls and a voice yet to unravel. "SAPPHIRE! Don't forget you've got viola at 11am, guitar at lunchtime and junior strings after that, OK? Oh and Sapph - tell your teacher that I didn't have any soft drink bottles or food scraps for the class excursion to the Council depot today because it was bin night and it's all been taken away... and don't dawdle home because you have tennis lessons straight after school, so SEE YOU LATER!"
She glances away, perhaps thinking it's no surprise that Sapph is in an obvious hurry to get through the gate and away from a woman who clearly rejects morning showers or clean clothes.
I nod to a few other parents at the gate who hail from the Horn of Africa. They all reel back in horror as Milly the dog trots past - one goes so far as to hop to the other side of the street. They've seen her now for eight months; their children all eagerly rush to pat her after school and I throw out my most dazzling and approachable smile but still they avoid me. Is it because I haven't brushed my teeth yet?
No matter, I have a meeting to get to. I'm joining John, the irrepressible Chairperson of the Flemington Association as he meets with a local graphic designer to discuss a new project that we'll hopefully get some funding for. They're at the corner cafe having coffee and a chat before they leave for their respective workplaces and I'm keen to express my enthusiasm for the project and offer what I can to help it get up and running.
On the way through, I say "Good morning" to the Lollypop man on Mt Alexander Road, who Never. Ever. Smiles. Or greets me back. Ever. It has now become a battle of wits - I say hello, he snobs me off with contempt, I smile as if to say, 'You acknowledged me, you git, just by deliberately snubbing me' and walk on with an exaggerated swagger. ....... Is it my eyes, with brows and lids still so puffy with sleep that they lap over my pupils, suggesting I'm Clive James' lovechild but without the wit or wardrobe mistress?
No answer from John as I call him on the mobile; Milly yanking forcefully on the lead attempting to catch the pigeons feasting on the bread thrown by the mechanics on the corner of the street as I slip on the cobbles and lean rightwards to balance myself. Some vaguely-familiar parents are passing by with their kids dressed in pyjamas for a fund-raiser today: Batman, Dora, The Hulk and Barbie feature on flannelette trousers with pale pink ugg boots already stained with mud.
I throw out the comment, "Boy, I wish I was still in my pyjamas" at a Dad passing by and he snorts a response that I choose to interpret as friendly agreement when I suspect it's more "Yeah well you look like you still are, lady."
Oh for Pharksakes, it's EVERYWHERE. Litter. Wet junk mail brochures, greasy Red Rooster boxes, paper serviettes, crushed mixer cans, bendy white straws and fruit boxes. For Sapphire's sake I quickly look around to check that no kids are watching and start picking it up, still struggling to pull Milly back in my direction. Scoffing Dad looks back for some reason and sees lycra straining at the seams as my butt is facing his way, me busy picking up a coke can. More Crazy Bag Lady-like I could not possibly be.
Further down Wellington street, the other Lollypop man is on duty, but this one is far friendlier. And more vocal. And, quite clearly more simple. "HALLO" he waves at me, as if we're halfway house sheltered-workshop buddies. My attire suggests that we are. "Hello," I chime back, smiling. He ventures over to ruffle Milly's ears. At least he's not afraid of her, or of me.
We reach the street that the cafe is on. Milly stops stubbornly which means one thing - time to hatch a nugget. She looks sheepish and ashamed and hates me standing there staring at her so I look at an elderly couple with matching zimmer frames shuffle past, whistling as I wait. Zimmer Lady mutters, "Messing up our streets...." to Mister, so when Milly's done I ostentatiously rustle my doggy doo bag (a nappy bag in this case) and pick it up in a pantomime pose Marcel Marceau would be proud of.
There'll be a bin somewhere along here, surely....? I keep walking but only spot other litter and furtively forgotten turds along the footpath. The warm, slightly peach-scented bag is swinging in my hands when I'm in line with the cafe window and see John and Tess sitting there.
"Come in," John mouths, and I automatically wave back, forgetting about the bag in my hand and that the thin plastic is transparent. Tess turns around to look at who John is gesturing to and her smile is frozen when she sees an unkempt, shabby woman brandishing two enormous snags of shit in her hands.
"Nice one," says the apprentice builder, standing on the kerb watching my embarrassment.
BAM! A sheet of rusty corrugated iron from the roof is flung by his comrade onto the ground, scaring another butt blast out of Milly and causing me to let go of the already-filled bag which lands at his feet.
Let's hope that second impressions overtake the first ones.