So last night the 20-plus-year-old bus was putting just about every alarming noise you’ve ever heard in Troughton and Pertwee era Doctor Who, all at once, and I’m thinking, okay, that’s probably not a good thing, that it’s sounding like a Tardis about to explode and rip a hole in the universe.
Somehow, it didn’t. it jerked to a near halt at my stop, I tumbled out, it rattled onwards. Well, yes, I’m pessimistic, I’ve already actually dodged a bullet this month. Or possibly a nail from a nail gun. Some sort of projectile anyway, fired by one of my many awful neighbours, through my study window, through the blind, and just missing my seashell collection. Lovely.
Fortunately, it was one of those days, so I was curled on the couch, clutching a hot water bottle and watching Star Trek on the telly (one of the channels was screening the original series, albeit with adulterated FX, dammit, but, still, better than nothing). In other words, he missed me (he knew I was home though, because I’d been chatting to my semi-tame parrot, and he was ranting wildly).
The other neighbour, after scaring the life out of me by thundering onto the property and banging on all the windows and doors with his huge fists (if he wanted to discuss something, I prefer a note in the letterbox), has contented himself with dumping all sorts of shit over the fence upon my attempts at an orchard.
I keep thinking, since the garden was destroyed and I have to start over, that I’d return it to an orchard (it was, once, before development), and maybe if I planted enough trees the possums would leave me a few pieces of fruit. It was said that I’d probably just get more possums, and they’re right. Bloody creatures picked my peach tree clean in two nights, having taken a bite out of all the fruit they’d left the first night so I couldn’t steal it myself – oh yes, this possum is woke.
But hey, at least I got outside and tried to do something. It was having my bag broken into on the way to Bendigo. I figured if I’d learnt to shrug and just buy new everything when I travel, I could and should do the same for the garden (hence the extra hostile neighbours, and bugger the planned redevelopment, may never happen/take years to happen and the trees only cost me the price of a beer and a sandwich and they make me happy).
Which isn’t to say my equanimity re losing three-quarters of my checked luggage wasn’t a hard-learnt lesson through a series of miserable losses, but I got to a nearly zen place.
It was raining sideways, the promised sheets of sleet after just about melting in the hot sun in Melbourne, and the walk was far more than five minutes from the train station (well, maybe for a young sporty type but I’d thoroughly rooted my knee again), and the folks down that end of town were on the scary end of inbred yokels, all very Cars That Ate Paris or Deliverance types, but I found a chain shop that was having a sale, and on a fourth look I found some hidden gems, and the shop lady stopped vacuuming and started assisting and gave me a discount on top of discounts, so it was almost, kind of, fun.
And the knee is a bit better now. It’s been really awful since being hit by the 4WD, but I contrived to trip over the handles of a carelessly thrown down bag in my room the other week, and I managed to knock it some way back into alignment, so yay. Good thing too because it went on me completely in the Immigration Museum in Melbourne of all places. I’d dopily opened my purse upside down (I’d been up since 2am travelling) and dropped all my change, bent to scoop it up and – may I never feel that again. The good folk in the foyer picked me up and my change, but oy, the humiliation. I hobbled through the galleries red of face.
They had an exhibition on British migrants from the 40s to 80s and I thought it’d hit familiar. The bit about the kids waiting to get the rare reel of tape from their UK rellies in the post, it struck me deep. Very deep. I remember that reel of tape so very well. It’s all I knew of my family, that and the odd short letter, as planes, boats and even phone calls were an unthinkable expense. It was lonely. Is lonely.
It was a cool museum though. Between it and the small museum in the Bendigo post office I know more about the Chinese in Victoria than I ever knew before, including the amount of time and effort they invested in floats, costumes and structures for parades at the turn of last century, like the Easter parade, various royal event parades, and the like. They went all out – I like it. A real commitment to keeping face in the community.
So, Bendigo? Well, I’d expected to work over the break, but was given short notice that I was going to lose all my hard-earned time-in-lieu. Too short notice to book anything, so I thought, fine, I’ll catch up on jobs. Only it’s like 47C one day, so all I’m doing is sweating into the couch and staring at the laundry basket. It was too hot to read. I mean, even using my torch because it was too hot to turn on a light, I was still too melty of brain to read.
I figured, sod that. I was looking for markets to visit locally and, weirdly, in a cosmic quirk of Google algorithm, I got back a result alerting me to the fact that the Bendigo Art Gallery was hosting an exhibition of Edith Head costumes, including costumes from Vertigo, Sunset Boulevarde, Funny Face, To Catch a Thief…tickets booked, bag packed. I was off.
It was, actually, perfect, and exactly what I wanted to do (though I didn’t know it) especially as I’d done nothing except watch Funny Face and To Catch a Thief and Holiday Inn on telly (did you know the inside cuffs of Fred Astaire’s costume from the Washington’s birthday number were the loveliest gold? Oh, I was in film freak heaven. And in Bendigo, of all places (it’s an old gold mining town). Why, there was even a costume from the film I’d watched on the wet afternoon previously on the hotel telly. Magic.
I just swooned my way through it. Swooned especially over Yul Brynner’s costume from The Buccaneer. Padding, sneered the lady beside me, catching my vapours. Me, not caring – hell, she didn’t even know Yul was in The King and I and the Magnificent Seven.
Never mind. It was great. Oh, and I even managed my markets, too. That morning I trundled out to the markets at the showground by bus, and, oh, huge. Every shed was like an old church fete or the old Rozelle markets, and the entire carpark was a car boot sale. I was only saved by imaging the lemon-face of the Virgin check-in counter chick. I still bought a half-dozen old books, and handful of allegedly Roman coins, and a pile of old maps for Himself. Proper old school trashy market. So much fun. I meant to only stay an hour but stayed two (the bus was hourly).
My bleak arrival in Bendigo had soured me a little, more than a little, so I’d stocked up on supplies at Coles, and spent the first evening in, watching old films on telly (including an ancient Chris Pine film) and drowning myself in not-as-cheap-as-it-tasted shiraz. I ate in at the hotel restaurant, because rain, sideways, and it was kind of average. Oh, but the other days, brilliant sunshine and that evening in the sun on the veranda with my Tom Collins – does the cherry floating on top of my Tom Collins count as a daily serve of fruit?
Also enjoyed the balcony views, watching the sun set with my mango lassi after an indulgent butter chicken at one of the local curry houses, and although the Chinese had spoons and forks on the table, yikes, they managed to serve the best kung pao chicken I’ve ever had – so I learnt not to be judge-y (and that I should never order kung pao chicken outside of Victoria to avoid disappointment).
The hotel was better than expected. A shabby chic heritage hotel, kind of like the Old Waverly in Edinburgh, this one from the turn of the century and, when approached in dismal weather, of frankly alarming gothic intensity, like tv cliché murder mansion (think Addams Family), but it was lovely and quaint and cosy within, with a window I could open a bit (fresh air, fresh air) and the most beautiful stained-glass windows in the halls and curved wooden banisters in the wide staircases. And the veranda, on a proper summer day, with a band and excellent bar staff. Oh yes. I liked.
When in Bendigo, I choose to stay at the Shamrock Inn. Yes, I wasn’t expecting great things from the old girl, but she’s an old gold mining hotel (think Wild West) and even Dame Nellie Melba once stayed there and complained about the post office clock (after the second day I could see her point). See, I even read the brochure.
I even managed to get the camera out, and respect to the gentleman who backed up a little in his car so I could take a better picture of the fountain (it’s sort of in the middle of a round-about). So it turned out to be quick a nice little break.
Just as well, because I’d given up everything and so much, working that overtime, as commanded, including theatre, parties, film previews and Pine. I’d planned to spend it on nothing less than Berlin, or Rome, or Paris. But then I realised I wasn’t going to be riding through Paris, in a sports car, with the warm wind in my hair, etc., and I was gutted.
So hooray for Bendigo and Hollywood, because I was really not happy.
My other minor excursions included a minor culture crawl, basically the art gallery to see the Rembrandt (one, maybe two actual Rembrandts) and Mapplethorpe exhibitions (Calvinists downstairs, naughty Catholic boy upstairs).
It was like that. The Dutch paintings were very merchant class, lots of ships and Javanese harbours and still-lifes, but I didn’t mind. I loved the map, with the very Dutch even numbered and even spaced windmills, all carefully drawn and annotated. The commentary all mocked the surburbanity of it all, all pubs and kitchens and front rooms, but it was kind of sweet, you really felt like you knew the people you were looking at – they weren’t remote, silk clad creatures.
The Mapplethorpe wasn’t quite as bold as the one I’d seen in Brooklyn, despite being advertised as such, and the dripping Catholic iconography was tedious to me (I’d rather been down the pub with those Dutch dudes) but whatever. Also unsettling that Himself ran into half a dozen people he knew in the rude room, while I’m staring at an enormous dick. Ah, well.
Because I was with Himself my envisioned stroll through the gardens was a forced march in hot weather, very unpleasant, so I was kind of ruined for the exhibition I really wanted to see, the old police photos at the Sydney Museum, you know, the ones Peaky Blinders use as a pattern book. Oh well, I have the book to look at later, and it was just reproductions on walls anyway, with the odd bit of bio or history. Funny how the alleged crims who were let go with a sort of ‘not proven’ verdict are always the ones smiling in the photos, as if they know already they’re going to get off.
After that I insisted on my hoped for feed at Tokyo Laundry. Even that, well. I got to watch Himself shovel sushi and ice cream (no sharing here) away like I don’t know what, and my cocktail was buried under what looked like somebody’s grandma’s old bowl of potpourri upended on top of it. Ew.
This on top of my birthday dinner of a tuna sandwich, because everything was closed for the holidays. At least Himself got out a nice plate for it, even bothering to give it a half-arsed dust before plating. Sigh.
Oh well. Still giggling at one of the Dutch paintings at the start of the exhibition. There, exactly, like, really, totally, was my old boss from ages ago, but as a dour Calvinist missus, bonnet and everything. I mean, he was Dutch, so I get the genetics, but if I’d ever wanted to imagine him as a 17thC Dutch housewife, and I don’t think I ever did, I can wonder no longer.
That, to me, was the far more transgressive experience that all your Mapplethorpes put together. One is pretentious peacocking, the other was unexpectedly hilarious. Because, you know, now that I think about it, there probably was always something of a prim 17thC Dutch huisvrouw about my old boss. Smirk. Stifled giggle. Squirm.
The other thing I did was drag myself (and Himself, at the last minute), and hastily improvised picnic basket of goodies picked up at the markets that morning, to the Symphony Under the Stars, which is now held nearby in a rare tract of green space, or baking brown space, as the case might be. But this time, more experience, I picked a space some distance from the main entrance, the lone gozleme truck (and fortunately/unfortunately the half dozen portaloos with broken doors that didn’t flush that the thought would do for more than 10,000 people), so I didn’t spend the entire night being trampled and getting pissed off.
In fact, I was happily surrounded by an impossible number of Germanic types (especially that far west) and, having happily owned my sensible northern European Calvinist roots. I was delighted we all spread our blankets just so, that you could have measured them with a spirit level, with a regulation gap and our shoes all neatly set to one side. Bliss. Better yet, I could rely on others to scold the child in front of us who would not sit down or shut up well into the second program, and scold the little bastard with enough fire and lightening to actually shut the little terror up. From then on, complete bliss.
Being a free concert for plebs like me, the program was a mix of popular tunes, including my favourites Danse Macabre and Clair de Lune, and they even played Williamson’s Princess Leia’s theme (I was verklempt, I’ll not deny it). But, of course, there was the traditional big finish. I’d spent the whole evening staring down the mouth of a cannon, from bright sunshine, through sunset (it takes about 10 minutes at our latitude), the flocks of parrots replaced by flocks of bats, and the stars, parts of Orion’s belt just visible above all the new skyscrapers (yes, my old town has skyscrapers now).
Himself, who had never been before, was surprised when we romped towards the end of the 1812 overture and all the sparklers lit up all through the crowd on cue (I had none, I did say last minute) but that was just the warm up. Off went the cannons and then whoomp – fireworks! Big, brilliant fireworks, right overhead. Fantastic. I liked that.