I have been having a middle aged – oh blow it I’ll tell the truth from the beginning – late in life love affair with Melbourne for the last few years.
On one trip, some years ago I purchased a book by a well known female author cashing in on the stereotypes of:
- being a woman (so am I)
- being middle aged (I was at the time)
- being an already successful author (two out of three ain’t bad)
The book-seller asked me if I had read the last piece of prose from this successful author. She went on to tell me that she had found it to be rather less than fabulous and suggested that when I had finished reading the new one I might like to drop in and tell her what I thought of it.
“Oh certainly! I will just flit down the bloody boring as buggery Hume Highway and give you my unexpurgated version!”
Anyway, I bought the book and started reading it that night. I don’t think I will finish it. I probably should send it back for a refund except for the fact that it prompted me to think that is some middle aged (and she admitted to being 47 – have I got news for HER! You are a late in lifer too, Sue!) female can put together three hundred and fifty, eight hundred word New Idea type vignettes and get published and on the shelves of a very gorgeous little book shop in St. Kilda – well SO CAN I!
My very first trip to Melbourne was with my husband. We haven’t been there together since. No, it isn’t like that! We just have not been there together again. In the meantime we have been to London, Paris, Dublin, Killarney, Bangkok, the cardiac ward and the intensive care together – just not back to Melbourne!
The occasion was Fathers’ Day. We had been married for 32 years and in that time he developed a love of cooking. In those days, I was an extremely horizontally gifted woman (yes, I know, glucose intolerance, type two diabetes, heart disease, latest research which links obesity in women to an increased chance of Alzheimer’s and I haven’t even mentioned my drinking!!!!) so I decided I would give him nirvana for Fathers’ Day and arranged tickets to the Two Fat Ladies Banquet at the Hyatt on the Park in Melbourne.
By the time I paid for the tickets and the air fair I had to beg a good friend of mine for accommodation with her order of Nuns (the Good Shepherds) in Abbotsford. We packed the glam gear and off we went!
Arriving in Melbourne mid afternoon we had plenty of time to be at the Mother House by 6.00pm to pick up the keys to our little Abbotsford hideaway. Husband, wishing to save dollars, noticed that the bus to Melbourne was ten dollars. I had been told that the taxi ride would cost about thirty bucks and I was more than happy to part with that amount – but he had offered to pay so I agreed to the bus ride. After 32 years you would think I would know better!
He has to make friends with everyone so immediately he and the bus driver were second best friends. They entered into a bonding brotherhood conversation and I found a seat.
“How are you mate?” he asked as a phalanx of Japanese tourists queued behind him.“Good thanks.”
“Do you go near Abbotsford Rd?”
“Yes, I go down it – what number?”
“Oh well, I turn off before then but it’d only be a few blocks up the street. I’ll tell you when we get there.”
Now the trip from the airport to the city is a bit of a distance. I know this now – though I had sort of guessed it then – what with the thirty dollar taxi trip and all. It seemed as though we were on the bus for about 5 minutes when it turned right at a tram terminus and stopped.
“The bloke for Abbotsford Rd?” funny I thought, you’d think he would have known the name of his second best friend by now.
“Yeah, that’s me” said beloved – reintroducing himself after a five minute absence – and off the bus we got!
I was wearing a rather fetching outfit suitable for travel on a plane and I had draped one of my signature accessories – a lovely long scarf – around my neck. The wind was blowing at three hundred miles an hour and my scarf immediately ended up in the drain. A sign of where the weekend was going at a rapid rate!
My friend had described the scenery around our little private retreat – narrow streets with speed bumps, leafy trees, gracious old homes and at the end of the street the huge convent which had once been a home for wayward girls. She had spoken at length of the wonderful buildings and described the chapel like it was the antechamber to heaven! We were standing on the footpath of a four lane roadway with cars travelling at speed.
“Well” says he “….that’s number seven hundred and ninety seven so we have a bit of a walk!”
As we battled the wind – up hill of course – we stopped at pedestrian lights and were approached by the only other human being on the street. He seemed to materialise out of the sandstone of the building on the corner. I smelt him before I saw him – no doubt his odour did travel with considerable wind assistance. He was a poor sad looking creature with menacing eyes.
“Hey mate, have you got a light?” he said to long lean and loveable. By this stage I was imagining the tragic sight of our four children made orphans on our first trip to a capital city outside our home state, by a deranged escaped psychopath who took offence to the colour of my signature accessory!
“Oh sure buddy.” BUDDY……I held my breath waiting for the knife to appear.
“Oh thanks mate. You wouldn’t have some spare ciggies too?”
I clamped my mouth shut to prevent myself from screaming “Give him the whole frigging packet and lets get going!” but Sir Galahad replied “Sorry mate, I just had my last one.”
Oh God! Into the Valley of Death strode the Fat Lady and company!
The poor fellow skulked away and melted back into the sandstone.
By the time we got to the two hundreds I was behaving like one of my own children “How much further…..I think we are lost….” a veritable litany of moans and groans. If I had been my mother I would have slapped myself!
The buildings had started to change – not to lovely little houses at all but to dry cleaners and warehouses. Arriving at 118 we found ourselves at a car yard. I was speechless.
We had recently purchased a mobile phone. It was still new enough technology for us both to be suspicious of it, but now I looked to it as my salvation.
“I think we should ring for a taxi” said I, grasping for control.
“Do you know the number?”
“Call directory assistance – it’s a free call on a mobile” in control and financially responsible…I am still sane!
Now, dear reader, I know that you may be thinking that from here on it went smoothly – think again!
The mobile phone is turned on – NO SIGNAL. I remembered that at around the five hundred addresses I had seen a Telstra shop. We made our way back to the shop but by this stage I had smoke coming out of my ears and every time I opened my mouth flames launched themselves into the atmosphere so I felt it best to stay outside and let the middle path walker deal with this one. I spent my time trying to make out the taxi numbers as three thousand of them – all empty – passed me every second.
“Well” says nil-desperandum “the bloke in there said we wouldn’t get any signal round here – it’s a dead area but he did say I could use one of the land lines. So did you get the number yet?”
Ten minutes later the cab arrived. The driver was the biggest, darkest, deepest voiced Adonis I had ever seen. He was incredible and I gladly surrendered my life to him as he did a U-turn across 4 lanes of traffic and then screeched to a halt at the next intersection when we gave him the address.
“Abbotsford….you are going to Abbotsford?” in a Jamaican accent that sounded like warm honey,
“I have picked up the wrong people. I will have to radio head office.”
Fortunately we were travelling in the days when the carrying of nail files in your hand luggage did not make you a terrorist and so I gripped mine with a vengeance. I was just about to throw myself into the front seat, grab hold of spheres holding his entire future family and threaten to do them both some terrible damage when he flashed a dazzling set of teeth and said,
“It’s O.K – the boss will send someone else to get the other passengers.”
He consulted his Melways at least fifty times during the trip – I have learned that one cannot drive anywhere in Melbourne unless the Melways is on the front seat – and we arrived at the Mother House at 5.30.
“I think we will use taxis from now on” said the Lord and Master! I just remained silent and pondered the things – ALL OF THEM – in my heart.
The Banquet was terrific!
Travel Tip: When in Melbourne if looking for Abbotsford Rd; make sure you know the name of the suburb too!
Meeting the Intended
My father died in 1999. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years earlier. He was a highly respected journalist – a man of great intellect with a warmth and understanding of human nature that were unique. The ravages of the terrible condition that killed him turned him into a very different person. His death was one of the most dignified things I have ever seen and he did it as he had done everything in his life – with appropriate preparation and in private.
My mother and father had raised my children while I went to work. Having been the mother of 2 children under the age of 2 by the time I was 21 I needed the support and love of my parents more than I had ever needed them in my life. They came to the party and stayed there for each of my four children. When Dad died, each of my children was a child with very special needs.
My second child – a son named after my father – was away from home at the time of Dad’s death. We had been told that the end was near and Ken was in Brisbane working on “Boy from Oz”. The night before Dad died I spoke to Ken who had decided he would come home the following day. He had ummed and ah-ed about whether of not to come sooner but he said to me,
“Mum, I have no unfinished business with GrandKen. The last time I saw him I said all I needed to say.”
My Dad died at around four the next morning.
I got the call to go to the nursing home and by the time I got there Dad was dead. I had been with him until around eleven the previous night. I was the last one of the family to see him alive. In death he looked peaceful and relieved – proof of the fact that when a good life is led the only thing remaining is to surrender it to the will of the heavens.
By six o’clock I was standing on the verandah of the nursing home, trusty mobile in hand ringing my son in Brisbane. I told him Dad had died and he was sad but stoic. Each of my kids is so connected to my parents I was aching at the thought of him being alone. He had been in a long-term relationship for about six years and when it fell apart he had been devastated. I had been worried about his capacity to deal with it (because I am really a fool underneath it all) and now I was quite terrified.
“I do not want to be a busy body son” (every mother’s worse nightmare in relation to any of her sons) “but I am hoping you are not alone.” Considering my conservative catholic upbringing this was a rather big statement for me to make and I was a bit pleased with my degree of enlightenment – but then of course I had been living with a walker of the middle path for more than half my life!
“No Mum, I am not alone.” Well, right at that moment of course I knew that who ever he was with would have a large part of the entire love of my heart for the rest of my life!
And then “Boy from Oz” went to Melbourne! It was on at his favourite theatre – the Princess. He organised a ticket for me and once again I was on my pilgrimage south of the border. Again I called upon the hospitality of the Good Shepherd Sisters.
My future daughter in law’s favourite restaurant is in Little Bourke St. just around the corner from the theatre. It is a Greek restaurant. I was not really up on the notion of things Greek but I was willing to give it a try. The evening of the show I met Ken and his love there for an early tea. I have to admit I was a little nervous. All the stereotypical things about mothers and their sons and their son’s loves were belting at my brain – especially the line from “My Fair Lady” ….. “ with a large Wagnerian mother with a voice that shatters glass!” It made no difference that when Rex Harrison sang those lines he was talking about the mother of the BRIDE!
In they came….he in his leather jacket wearing a grin from one side of his face to the other, she also in a leather jacket looking lithe and fresh and stunningly beautiful. Cheekbones to her eyebrows and eyes that danced in ordinary conversation and did cartwheels and star jumps when she looked at my son and my heart just opened up and directed itself to the part of it that was especially reserved for Carrie!
We had baby octopus and some kind of grilled goat’s cheese that was a veritable orgasm of taste and texture. They left to get ready for the show and I was by myself just pondering what I had experienced. My Dad was with me too…. He would have loved her sparkling eyes and her lyrical laugh.
The show was great. I had never been to a professional show where I actually knew someone in the cast before. I only saw Carrie. I am sure that everyone else on the stage was fantastic but Carrie was the star for me. Afterwards I was shown back stage and we had coffee at the café just down the road from the theatre. We arranged to meet for dinner the following day at a pub in Acland St.
I got walking instructions to get there. It was not very far from my Good Shepherd digs. MacDonalds was at the end of the street and all I had to do was to walk up the street till I saw the big pink lips neon sign and I was at the pub. In true blue “Louise does Melbourne” fashion I got lost and flustered. Eventually however, I was on the right track and feeling rather wonderful….going off to meet my brush with fame son and his beautiful new friend.
Power walking my way up the street I was suddenly confronted by a middle European looking “gentleman” who leapt in front of me and opened his arms in my direction. My first response was “he is on drugs”. I tried to side step him but he anticipated my move and within a millisecond he had thrown his arms around me, felt various parts of my anatomy hitherto untouched by anyone except my husband and various gynaecologists/obstetricians and attempted to devour a large part of my left earlobe while mumbling “I love your body, you are gorgeous”.
I was gob smacked. Flustered, flushing and gasping for breath I tried to regroup and look ahead. The very next face I saw was Carrie’s. She came running towards me and hugged me and said “Oh Louise, that was beautiful… fancy meeting such a good friend in the middle of Acland St!”
“Um…..I have never seen that person before in my life” was my bordering on monosyllabic response. We laughed and laughed and headed for the pub.
On arriving in the dining room we were greeted by Ken. Carrie told him the story of her witnessed encounter between me and the total stranger and he, product of his father as well as his mother eyeballed me and said,
“Shit Mum, have you checked your handbag?”
Travel tip: Never expect your son to believe a male other than his father could find you appealing!
After my first two trips to Melbourne I was convinced that I should have been born in Victoria. I have lived a pretty full on life what with one thing and another. Four children, eight pregnancies, a busy job that takes its toll – you know the stuff that just wears you down. I believe in the need to get away and reconnect with myself. If I was a member of a religious congregation it would be called Retreat….I call it Retreat anyway!
In January 2001 I made my first trip to South Gippsland.
The genesis of this trip is found in the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. My sister was a member of the Sydney Philharmonia Choir and she had arranged for my mother and myself to get tickets to the final dress rehearsal of the ceremonies. My mother was eighty two at the time. We were both excited beyond belief at the opportunity to see the whole thing so close to the actual event.
Mum and I caught the train to Sydney, changed at Central and arrived at the Stadium. The famous volunteers flocked upon my mother with offers of wheelchairs and special help. She flatly refused any kind of assistance. However, by the time we got to the last section of the six flights of stairs we had to climb to get to our seats I thought she was on her way to the other side! I of course was almost paralytic with exhaustion but tried to put on a brave front. Finally cresting the summit we flopped into our seats and I said to her “Mum, no matter what happens for the rest of the evening we are not moving from here till the whole thing is over!” We were both breathing normally by the end of the national anthem thank God!
It was a fabulous night. At the end of it all we retraced our journey – back to the train – back to Central, back to Newcastle and we arrived home at four in the morning. As I dropped her off at her little duplex in the aged care facility I said to her “Now you listen to me, you have to stay well for at least the next six months cause if anything happens to you, they will say it was my fault for making you climb six flights of stairs and for bringing you home at four o’clock in the morning!”
Well of course dear reader I should have just known that I was only setting myself up for disaster – again!
Two days later, Mum came over to watch the actual event. At the end of the evening she said she felt a little odd. My daughter was driving her home and staying with her for the evening although she had to be at work early the next morning. At around nine o’clock the phone rang,
“Hello Louie, it’s your Mother. I am ringing to tell you that the doctor thinks I may be having a stroke. I have rung the ambulance. I do not know which hospital I am going to. I just wanted to inform you of what is happening. Goodbye.”
And well yes, she did have a stroke. It was a very distressing and frightening time for her. But as with every other event in her life she committed herself to doing the right thing, drove the therapists mad with her conviction that she would get better and she continues to keep on keeping on to this day.
By the time things were all a bit back to normal I was ready for flight and I found Wattle Cottage at a little town called Foster just forty five minutes away from Wilsons Promontory National Park.
In January 2001 I set out, driving this time, for my escape week. I suppose I had absolutely no idea of how long the trip was. I like driving – which of course is just as well – and I like driving alone – which of course is even better. I stayed overnight at the tiny little town of Bombala. The Motel I stayed in had cardboard walls designed specifically to enable the occupants of each unit (euphemism) to hear every word, every sound produced by any part of the body to keep them fully informed of their neighbours’ movements – including bowels! The Motel was an L shaped arrangement of rooms and I was assigned the unit at the angle where horizontal met vertical. This provided me with great entertainment for the entire night. I really appreciated the opportunity to be kept awake by the sounds of Mr and Mrs Amorous But Quick on one side and the emptying of Mrs Piddles All Night’s bladder on the other side – especially after an eight hour drive.
Travel Tip: When staying overnight in small towns, ask them how thick the walls are before giving them an imprint of your credit card!
Beautiful South Gippsland!
I arrived at the little town of Foster the next day and made my way to Stockyard Creek and Wattle Cottage. I am a bit reluctant to giveaway the name of this little piece of paradise in case the whole world discovers it and I cannot get a booking ever again!
I set about discovering all there is to see – well all I was up to seeing I suppose – in this beautiful part of the world. I spent hours worshipping at Whale Rock on Tidal River. I walked to the end of the River and splashed in the ocean. On the drive back I stopped to take pictures of the beautiful little beaches where the sand is blinding white and the water is crystal clear and sparkling blue.
The town itself is a gem. There is a wonderful old hotel and lovely little shops where you can get anything you could ever imagine needing to keep you comfy in your home away from home.
One day I decided I would think about driving into Melbourne. I do not know what prompted me to do this but off I went. It turned out to be the hottest January day they had had in the that part of Victoria for 10 years. The trip to Melbourne was supposed to be147 kilometres. By the end of the day I had not been to Melbourne but I had managed to clock up 500 kilometres!
As I said, the day was hot and by the time I got to the Frankston turn off I was pretty well exhausted. I took the exit and went looking for lunch. I found the shopping centre, had something to eat and shouted myself the luxury of a hair cut as well. By around two thirty I had had enough and decided to head back to Wattle Cottage. I had had a bit of a problem with the air conditioning in the car prior to my departure from home so I was not keen to use it unless it was an emergency. In spite of the fact that I was melting into the sheepskin seat cover, I did not yet think I was in a state of emergency.
On the way to Frankston I had noticed a place called the “Koo Wee Rup Swamp Viewing Platform”. It was quite an impressive Structure. It reminded me of one of those Ranger stations set High above the trees in the black and white movies about whole forests being burnt somewhere in America, starring B grade actors that used to be shown as the Saturday afternoon movie before the whole world went sport crazy! It sits there perched on its stilts – an incongruous sight beside the four lanes of freeway!
On the way to Frankston it was on the right hand side of the road.Somehow the trip went desperately wrong and I passed that adjectival swamp viewing platform 3 times on the left! The third time it came into my view I was on the verge of mental collapse! I had no idea of where I was or why I kept on turning up in the same bloody place at regular intervals!Over dressed, over heated, over tired and over the threshold of insanity!
I begged God to give me a sign “Please God, show me the turn off to Fish Creek.” I knew in my bone marrow that I could find my way back to Wattle Cottage if I could just find Fish Creek! And there it was – “Oh Yeeesssssssss!” – who needs an orgasm when Fish Creek lies dead ahead!
Fish Creek is a tiny town with an enormous pub. It stood there gleaming white in the blinding light.So relieved was I – and so absolutely parched that I stopped,breasted the bar (a task for which I am more than adequately equipped) and asked for a lemon squash. In bred locals eyed me off and dismissed me as a possibility!
The lemon squash was nectar of the Gods. It was 5.45. There were bumper stickers on the bar – “Where the hell is Fish Creek?”People had written messages in the walls. I wanted to ask the Bar person if I could write “Fish Creek Take me, I am Yours” but was very conscious of how red my face was and how scarlet myright arm was – right down to my knuckles – courtesy of exposure to radiation for 12 hours today as I drove like an idiot in ever decreasing circles somewhere between the Mornington Peninsulaand South Gippsland!
Travel Tip: No matter where you travel – there is nowhere in the world that can compare to Fish Creek – GO THERE!
Fashion Capital for All!
I love clothes. I especially love clothes that make a statement. I have the kind of body that makes a statement with or without power dressing. People are intimidated by me at half a kilometre’s distance. I have a presence that has the capacity to reduce hormone charged teenagers to snivelling apologies. I become their worst nightmare even before they are asleep! I was born power dressed!
I never ever use this god given gift to deliberately strike fear in the hearts of anyone. On days when I find it all a bit bewildering I wonder what the world would be like if I decided to set out to strike fear in the hearts of humankind! They would be dropping to their knees at forty thousand feet I think.
The down side of my special birth gift is that it is a bit of a challenge to find suitable apparel! Not wishing to appear to be my own grandmother, I try to find clothes with clean straight lines in fabrics that can hold their own in order to be able to hold me. Longer lengthed skirts, V necks rather than round necks and jackets that are tailored and easy care. My friend the Good Shepherd Sister once disclosed to me, after she had a consultation with a fashion expert, the secret of the success of the V neck for the fuller figure woman. To this day, when in frock shops I repeat the mantra “Round is pound, V is me” and it serves to steer me clear of round necked tops – regardless of how in they may be at the time.
In my home town, when shopping for clothes I am compelled to go to the extreme end of the rack….In America I would be a size sixteen to eighteen – mainly because their sizes start at zero! Here, I am up the scale a little!
On one of merely trips to Melbourne I discovered Horizontally Gifted Nirvana. “Specialising in sizes sixteen to thirty eight”!!! Wow, this put me mid range! I will never forget my first five minutes in this shop. It was pure fluke that led me to it. Tucked away in a little arcade in Little Collins St it beckoned me like Aladdin’s Cave! I could have bought anything there…. Debut frocks, wedding dresses, beach wear, under clothes that did not resemble my grandmother’s, accessories that fit – belts, gloves, hats. It was amazing. Not only that but the staff were also horizontally gifted. It is always a bit of a challenge buying one article of clothing from a shop assistant who could make her bedroom curtains, three blouses, a pair of pants and two skirts from the fabric in your three piece power dressing business suit!
Of course they do not have this store in New South Wales. The Melbourne shop is the only one in the southern hemisphere. Every article I purchased from the place on that and subsequent trips is still an integral part of my wardrobe and whenever I wear only of them I get the comment “and I suppose you bought that in Melbourne” and it’s true!
Of course the bubble had to burst and so it was that on one trip I took off to visit the shop only to discover, to my absolute horror, that is had been taken over by the fashion fascists and is now a much more up market fat yuppie shop. The amount of stock had been cut back to practically nothing and the place now oozes chrome and soft carpet and clothing racks that are suspended on chains locked into the ceiling and of course the absolutely compulsory recessed ceiling lighting with well chosen spot lights and mirrors…..everywhere!
I was distraught!
The very gorgeous, still plumpish but probably more of a size sixteen on a mission to size fourteen, beautifully coifed, eloquently spoken, young trendy shop assistant asked me if I needed any help, and after mumbling something about “no, just my therapist” I sadly turned my back on what had once been my rock and my fashion support!
Travel Tip: Remember the whole world is on a weight loss campaign. Trying to maintain your dignity while they are all surrendering theirs requires contact with a good therapist!