My sister of course. A week of drinking, catching up and being a foreigner, what more could you ask for.
Chasing the sun and wet weather, though of course I will quickly learn to regret this decision, in my sun burnt water logged agony.
Long drives, hot weather, serial killers and dust, dust and more dust. hopefully somewhere a large red rock.
After far too long travelling, I am now somewhere that I want to be, and more importantly wants me to be here too.
Early January found me circling around Melbourne feeling very much the international flight on its final decent which in some respects I suppose I have been. After living the itinerant lifestyle for so long, it was time to stop. My physicality has been degrading since Perth, a twinge here and a pain there. Mostly muscular issues, but increasingly they have made their point by invading my sleep with discomfort and reducing my mobility when awake. Christmas and then after, has seen me hobbling, one ankle inflamed and the other knee out in sympathy with it, the latest in a long line of subtle and increasingly not so subtle nudges by my inner workings that enough is now enough.
A gentleman always has an escape plan. Mine was concocted in a week of research in a Motel room - one of the first of the hundreds - in Leichardt during a warm August week shortly before exiling myself to the greater country. As I have written before, life for me is governed by balance and it was - as I think we all realised - a very ballsy manoeuvre to go walkabout that could easily have ended in more bad outcomes than positive. But without that week of meditation in the ironically named Zen Garden Motel, I would have left the shambles of my life in Sydney without a way back.
My father taught me to ride a bicycle by tying a piece of string to the seat post, letting me ride off and running behind, then walking at a distance and then letting go altogether. String, not being known for it's tensile multi directional strength was more about the idea of support rather then the physical. The flimsiest tying together made all the difference as I wobbled along the road.
Clearly no string would have been long enough in this case, instead it was the answer to an early question. What the hell am I going to do with my life now?
“hmm, too old to be an erotic dancer”, I remember consoling myself over another tumbler of wine on the motel bed, “don't want the corporate culture” and though I might push towards the entrepreneurial, I would have to want to be Hugh Heffner to generate the right motivation to drag myself back through the mire I already understood was about to come. Even then I am sure I would have got bored of the continual gratuitous sex at some point, mind you he is still going at 83. The answer was a revelation when it came and though I am unable to say that it was right before my eyes, it is in front of yours.
The best writing course in this country is at the RMIT in Melbourne. In my world of drifting without an anchor, Melbourne has been the only port that has made me feel welcome. Make no doubt, on leaving Sydney last year I had no idea what was going to happen, there was just darkness and pain ahead, but it needed to be tackled and I sailed out onto this storm leaving a single light to guide me back.
The application was completed in Perth shortly before flying to Indonesia, a very interesting lesson in the pointlessness of Hotel business centres and the speedy resolution a few well chosen words to the receptionist can provide. I flew in from Broome for the interview, the reason why I hung around there so long and heard about my acceptance in Tenant creek. Had I turned left that morning to Queensland and not phoned my sister-in-law I would not have known and would have missed the enrolment, the reason for my break neck trip back to Melbourne in December.
There was no Plan B, only maybe Hobart and securing a place on an Antarctic survey vessel, a glorious adventure, but not helpful in finding a way back for me into society, as I am sure you can appreciate.
But before starting this course, I had one last significant hurdle to over come; I needed to find a place to live and get my stuff out of storage.
The Australian rental scene is horrendous, it illustrates one of the greater economic themes in this country "doing over the other man". Properties are in short supply, they are frequently, from what I saw, in a very poor state and are expensive. Viewing is done, not by individual appointment, but by Open House sessions and in some cases the application procedure then descends into more of an auction over the rent, the highest bidder secures . The first Open House I attended had easily forty five people waiting outside to gain entry to a house no bigger than a shoe, and this was by no means the biggest crowd to greet me. We queued outside, in a one out, one in, scenario and eventually I too passed the threshold, squeezed through the front door trying not to brush the crocodile line of application clasping viewers on their way out. It was a student place, that was obvious, but it was a bit odd, slightly artificial and very stereotypical; the bedrooms, both singles, looked like they had been furnished by the set director of The Young Ones! The first bedroom had bits of paper stuck to the wall with words like "RAGE" and "ANGER" painted on them (surely if you were that angry, you'd paint directly on the walls!), I casually imagined that this would be Vivian the Punk's room. The next bedroom had a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon poster; I took note of that, peeked into the living room - bottle necking as these things do around the toilet area - decided that I didn't care if Neil was in fact living there -and walked straight out. My brother is fifty five and is the right generation to have brought that record, he can have the poster up on his wall if he likes, but not the baggy crotched, tight legged wannabe that lived here.
I would like to say that things improved, but no. I have no credit or rental history in this country and this was causing me some acute anxiety. I started to send covering emails with each application, a very risky strategy and one I was quite uncomfortable with as frankly I recognised that I had to be honest about my last two years, so the email started "..I have been travelling since my wife died". One of the other places I had the "distinct pleasure" to view - described in the literature as a cute fronted two bedroom cottage ready to move in - would have been ideal had I been in the market for a crack den. It had been unoccupied for maybe six months if not longer, the detritus of dust, cobwebs and mouse droppings everywhere weren't even the strongest indication, the smell of Tomcat piss, was however. As if the carpet in that place wasn't fucked enough. There was a large hole in the back door, where the cat and pretty much any thing else was getting in, “but still must try to be positive” I remember thinking, tried the taps and watched the sink waste back up with a green mossy goo.
This was easy, a little more disheartening, was my real concern at that time. My change of direction was being strongly resisted. It is easy to work against the world, the ebb and flow, push and pull, can be anticipated and planned for. But to work against yourself is very difficult, you know all your own moves for one. I eventually found a place I liked, my revealing email seemed to find a sympathetic ear. I then waited around in various Melbourne Motel rooms for a couple of weeks until I could move in; the first generously referred to as the Bates Motel, had me wondering if each day would start with a good stabbing in the shower and the second, intended as a bit more up market for my final itinerant week, luxurious only because it had a kitchenette and Foxtel TV channels (which actually turned out to be Sport and a compilation TV movie channel, still I did enjoy Sally Fields in Not Without My Daughter 3: Child in a Trunk, or whatever it was called), but actually made the shanty huts I found in Indonesia look positively regal by comparison. Of course the ever present fleur de lis standard issue hotel quilt cover was there, an old friend found on almost every bed for the last six months. In many ways I am pleased to leave parts of this life behind.
The resistance continued, like the angel and the devil on your shoulder and reversing their position from the last two years; the voice in one ear continually screamed "fuck this writing lark, lets keep going, what about New Zealand"; the ankle became more inflamed as this inner battle raged. I left the travelling life as I had entered it, my brain not fully my own, items were casually put down and not found again after hours of looking, driving became one massive game of chicken, even the busses head on, invisible to me until the last minute and generally I had shut down every process, including speech so this battle of opposing positions could be raged. You know who won of course, but there were casualties of a type. I am sitting in front of a 42" LCD Flatscreen, god knows why, I don't even like the TV over here, but woke up a couple of days ago, felt very lonely (the difference between rest and motion being that I can now hear my own thoughts) and ninety minutes later there it was. The financial cost involved in this little endeavour has been horrendous and I still don't have any furniture. I strolled down the the local off license the following weekend; called, with typical Ozzie brevity, a Bottlo, deciding to go native and not wear shoes. Even a moments thought about the physicality of my immediate environment would have saved me from my own stupidity, but no normal service had not been resumed. I finished that evening with half a roll of kitchen roll around my foot, sopping up the puss and blood from the massive blister my ill conceived jaunt along the abrasive tarmac rewarded me with. My first aid kit was in the car, but the car was outside and I could not walk. Still at least I didn't crap myself again.
The house now has all the boxes I had in storage, half of the life from London that I packed to take in the month after. It is admittedly very strange to be surrounded by all our stuff again. Unpacking was a bit fraught, though not the emotive minefield you would have expected. There was one box, many were repacked by the shipper, that managed to have both my stuff, bits of Tash's and cooking paraphernalia in it, the mix of the three was a bit much, but otherwise I have coped.
The new Casa el Deano is in Brunswick, just off the geographically named Sydney Road (yes it really does go there) and around the corner from Garnet street - a happy coincidence as it's London namesake was just around the corner from me in Wapping and, according to one talkative Taxi driver, was the source of the family surname in Till Death Do Us Part. This is an area that is as colourful as I could ever want, to the left up Sydney road all the shops are Greek and Turkish, and to the right Italian moving to Korean. It is like stepping back forty years, all little shops, all individual and owned by the person that serves you. Apart from the banks, I have only found two chain shops on the street, the supermarket and phone store at the beginning of the road. It is very hard to go shopping without finding yourself drawn into several conversations, such is the casual welcome of this city, considering the man I once was, I have been delighting in how open and relaxed this environment makes me.
The house is in an axe head, once a single block of land, now split in to four small villa houses. I have already met Rod, the son of the "Woman next door, who is at home all day hiding behind the curtains", he was out on the step as I tried to fit three boxes of paper into my midget recycling bin (really, it is the size of a coke bottle) and offered me his sage knowledge, "fwe ave been here for ten years, you know" on the mechanics of tomorrow mornings bin removal whilst holding said yellow lidded midget bin over his head (it is bigger then I led you to believe) to try to hear if the contents would move "jhis is what the jhey do, you know", in an authentic reproduction, of the garbage truck action. Ever sharp, twenty minutes later I learned a new sound, the rap, rap rap of hand on fly screen door, Rod was back offering to cut up some of the industrial paper I had earlier failed to ensconce in said bin - I give you an idea about this stuff, that fills my garage, it wrapped the sofas, it is nearly a ballistic quality medium, does not bend, will not rot, it is going to the tip. He had other ideas about the meagre quantity I had tried to earlier to dispose of, alas I realised after giving into his charming insistence, there was reason in his blunted scissors, outlawed to the step, madness "and you whill give me ah beer, no" he said in his strange Spanish-esque accent as I tried to escape - "ohh" I replied, realising that I had just been done up like a kipper, "righty ohh". He gave the glass back, I was surprised. They move on Wednesday, I might be out. I also met Hoi, or some other such spelling and pronunciation, he is the oriental chap directly opposite me and was clearly terrified of the long haired topless god of the wild front step that is Rod.
The course has started, initially it seemed a cruel joke to be called full time when there was only twenty hours of teaching a week, but no, even after all tough assignments I have worked on, the first days employment where I have hit the ground running, nothing had prepared me for the week I have just had. This will be a different world. Twenty hours will quickly become forty, maybe fifty and beyond. We have already been told that networking is an important part of this course, thinly veiling a sentiment that I have welcomed back in to my life heartily, the pub is going to be an integral place in this new college life. Of the eighty souls on this course, only ten of us seem to make the regular Wednesday night beer pilgrimage. They are fine people, like minded enough to have bonded easily, but different in so many ways that every conversation is interesting. I had intended to keep Tash out of this new life for as long as possible, tiring of being defined by the very thing that has defined me for so long and wanting to get to know these new friends for the person I am and not what I have been. This hasn't happened, but neither did the look of deathly terror that I have come to fear. I think that these are better people than that and this the best place for me to be.