Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The worlds loneliest piano player

I am basically, in societys eyes, an old man, which allows me to reflect nostagically on a bunch of things that no one else seems to remember - Egg Flip Big Ms, Jaffa Orange Big Ms (as opposed to Jaffa Big Ms or Orange Big Ms, completely different Big Ms), Blackberry Cadbury Creme Eggs, Caramel Milky Ways, big chunky Jaffas, DMCs (the forerunner to M&Ms, but bigger and the size of a dinner plate), and best of all, lime Spiders. I'm not all that far away from writing some kind of horrendously awful childhood memoir all about Golden Gaytimes (an ice cream foreigners), Phil Maney Pies, Bubble O Bills and whatever happened to proper Butterscotch Ice Cream, with a proper butterscotch flavour and proper butterscotch colouring (I think caramel ruined the ice cream industry) but really, I've just realised I'm really, really hungry, and it's time for some toast. Mind you, even that isn't as good as it used to be, what with them thinning down the bread and the quality of bakers being on the decl...

Anyway, today I was talking to someone about Lime Spiders today, which if you don't know is lime syrup, ice cream, lemonade, sugar and probably whisky mashed up in a big giant glass of fun. Some people will try and tell you that Lime Spiders were the poor relation of the coke Spider, which is an area of great contention in certain Australia discussion circles. However, I would say that anyone who preferes a Coke Spider to a Lime Spider might as well prefer Velvet McIntyre to Leilani Kai, a Sega Genesis to an ATARI, Glenn Ridge to Tony Barber, Shane Woewodin to Dale Thomas, Ulverstone to Penguin or Darren Kappler to Gavin Brown. You could probably make a very sound argument for your position, you could debate to the ends of time, but you would be completely and utterly wrong. Families were basically only together in the 80s for the one day a week they could send the kids to the shops or the milk bar for a lime spider. No family was ever, ever kept together by a trip for a coke spider. And that is absolutely and completely true, so take your coke spider and go to the corner.

Penguin in Tasmania was just up the road from the city of Burnie, which, given the limited nature of shopping in Penguin (apart from the Soapbox) was like a trip to Paris, New York or Launceston. Now, we hated Burnie, not as much as we hated Ulverstone of course, but we still hated Burnie, made Burnie jokes, mocked the locals and their arrogance, and then ploughed into the car anyway and went off to Fitzgeralds or K-Mart to gawp in awe at racks of slacks or the latest games for the Commodore 64 and the great array of shops. Really, you can't overstate when you grow up in a small town the joys of going to a bigger town (or in Burnies case, a slightly bigger city) to do your shopping. Burnie really isn't a remarkable shopping metropolis now I've seen some of the world, but did I mention it had a K-Mart? Fitzgeralds was probably the most exciting shop though, it had a top floor that you could get at with a ramp. A ramp! It had an entire shelf full of He-Man figures so you always came back to Penguin with something good that you could show your friends. And of course you would go back to Penguin and tell all your friends that even though you had a great time, and brought a Ju-Jitsu Heman figure, the locals in Burnie were complete idiots and you wouldn't live there if they paid you. In Heman figures.

At the end of the day, or the end of the trip when your Mum had finally stopped looking at boring dresses, it was off to the Fitzgeralds cafe for a lime spider. Now, Fitzgeralds cafe was the worst cafe in the entire world. Worse even than the store Santas. The Sausage Rolls were awful, the biscuits tasted like sausage rolls, god knows what was in the macaroni and cheese (the only things ruled out were the macaroni and the cheese), and there was a strong smell of old people. And yet, I loved going there. It wasn't just the lime spiders, the best in the entire world bar none, but also even though I was really young, I spent hours studying the worlds loneliest piano player. In the midst of this dreck of a cafe, full of pissed off kids, dis-integrating families, old people waiting to die and canteen staff wondering where the goat meat sandwich was, was an old man sitting in the corner in a dinner suit and tux, playing classical music on a grand piano. His face was a mask of emotions, on the one hand utter professionalism as he concentrated on his Beethoven and Bach played from a sheet music rendition out of the middle of the Classical Composers series. On the other, contempt, no, not quite contempt...despair? Wondering where his life went? Why his classical training had him playing Bach to 6 year olds? He always looked sad, but stoic, like a captain leading his men to certain doom, but still pretending he could turn it all around.

You can see, I don't know many composers.

I always remember once, I was trying to pretend the chips were made of potatoes, when I caught his eye. With an imperceptible flash of his eyes and a shake of his head, he said a lot with his expression. He looked like the worlds loneliest man, and I've always remembered his face, his sad, desperate face, and then the stoicism he showed as he puffed out his cheeks, caught the eye of an old granny, and clammed up with a professional entertainment smile. I think he got away with it, but only just. I was proud of him, and learned a lot from him about the professionalism of doing your job, in the midst of a personal hell.

I'll try and be like him tomorrow, when I face the general him, and blue eye shadow girl...

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