Tuesday, June 9, 2009

High on a hill, heard a bird sing her song, said you were true, then she got it all wrong...

It was AFL Grand Final night 2001 it happened - the stamp on my hand told me that much. A pieced together but mostly forgettable night out. The kind of night where you wake up with a roughly stamped hand, a neon green nightclub stamp pressed into your skin and a sleeping bag and a rough approximation of where you are around yourself. For me, it's always guilt, I always worry if I did something wrong - through a bleary mid morning gaze I quickly check I'm not in any kind of holding cell. I saw a mate get arrested for public disorder once and he's never been the same. London doesn't care though - I'm on holiday in the UK, for no real reason other than it's there, and cheap, and suited and booted Cockneys are marching up and down the pavement oblivious to the noise they are making in my head. I'm not sure about which of my cousins many flavours of raw cereal picked by ethnic minorities I should eat first, or even if cereal is picked to be honest, and she's gone to work anyway, a kindly drawn note on the television underlined in green pen to make sure I see it. The pen is less neon than the stamp on my hand, and I pour some muesli into a bowl and chew it as some perky, non hungover morning television presenter in bright pastels is tut tutting about something, trying to restore normality to a post 9/11 world. I turn over one of my postcards to send to my best friend - although to be honest, in 2001, she's my only friend, through a series of circumstances each more grim than the last - and try and tell her my Geri Halliwell story in the limited space the cheeky Beefeater postcard will allow, and slump on the couch. Eventually once the pastels, muesli and neon font form a psychedellic garish barrier to all rational thought and my head stops feeling like a pavement down which men shoed like the Dave Clark 5ive are pounding endlessly, I'll realise I'm alone in a giant city to do whatever I want. What opportunities there are - the chance of a sleazy visit to an illicit house of ill repute, by which I obviously mean Burger King, the chance to see fine art, by which I mean disreputable claimes about Sharon on a mens room door...an entire world of possibility opened up in one 24our hour window...no rules...no limits...no...ah to hell with it, Ricki Lake is on, I'm staying indoors...

Her name was Samantha, or Suzie, or something like that. We met in one of those horrible Australian themed pubs people feel determined to take you to, where the barmen say Crikey and there's a Vegemite hour where all drinks are 1/2lf price and no one knows who Glenn Ridge is, but they wear corks in their hat anyway. She was dating a rugby player called Mike, a nice fellow at the bar trying to learn the intricacies of AFL from people while holding 12elve beers in his mighty hands. She was, like me, from Burnie, the sort of co-incidences you only find on these nights, although I had to prove myself, since I had a Scottish accent and was caught unaware and didn't have time to change back to normal. Damn holiday accents. I proved myself through some unavoidable reference knowledge - yes, I did sit at West Park Oval in the cold and dark of winter - and we shared amusing tales of missing trains and planes and all kinds of nonsense. She had long curly black hair and a weird shade of lipstick and was interested in what you had to say, in that kind of politician way where she would say everything was interesting when it plainly wasn't. I was gawky and awkward and made far too many of those kind of conversational bits where you end up having no real point and end up sounding like a bad stand up comedian going so, the price of groceries, what's up with that. Mike would habitually come over in his rugby shirt - the logo on it seemed, how would you say, flamboyant, but he was a nice guy, and he put his hand in the pocket as they say in my country, making sure the table was well stocked with drinks. They were getting married the next year, and their conversation was easy, light, fluffy, essentially meaningless and pointless but laced with enough Hallmark approved nicknames to be acceptable. My hard edges were on show though or at least the put on of some because I was not in love, and I must have looked uncomfortable or winced or done something at about the 27eventh mention of snookums, and she filed it away, and I knew she's filed it away because I saw her file it away, but I thought nothing of it until the muesli eating analysis of the night before the morning after, because as she filed it away, a drunk in the corner vomited and Mike had to be part of his escort out the door committee, and the last I saw of him was a pair of weird faux Adidas trainers kicking and scraping along the tiled floor as a barman said crikey like a South African, and to be honest, I was a tad distracted...

Mike, after a while, drifted off into a smoke filled room to play poker machines with rowdy Brisbane Lions fans, and my cousin, peripheral to the evening and the story as she was tuning some guy called Brad all night who had a Zapata moustache and weird faux Adidas trainers he got from a market owned by Del Boy, was long gone in a cab I think, so we were left alone, me and some chick from Burnie, as Oasis played on a jukebox and images from back home flashed up in vibrant sunshine coated colours on the TV screen. She had, so she said, worked at a supermarket the same as I had - her in the slightly more rock and roll the way she made it sound Farmers, me in the frankly vanilla and polka world of Coles, where aside from casual you working here tonight glances at the prostitutes when I got trollies, not much of any note happened. She told me a story about a customer who she really liked called Geoff, who had played football for Cooee, and used to work at Rettke Firearms in the Plaza Arcade for a while hoping no one would rob him, and how he made her laugh and all these different qualities he head. Geoff was a nice guy, and they went on a date once to some burger joint with a big 50tys jukebox, but she didn't like his laugh or the way he laughed at his own pun laden jokes, and so they never dated again, and when next she saw him it was awkward and stilted and she couldn't scan his groceries fast enough. She was as wistful about her superficial rejection of Geoff as I was wistful about my own doomed Grade 12elve rejection by Kylie - after all, we had spent the entire night of my 18th sitting in a rowboat in a Burnie park talking and she must have known I liked her...it was such a passionate conversation about regret and ennui, and all those other things that are supposed to make you stronger, as far conversationally from our starting point of hey remember that woman who worked in KMart with the googly eye what's up that as it was possible to get in 28ight beers, it was no surprise to me that eventually she got up to leave, asked me to follow her, and I did, rather suavely leaving Mike behind and slightly less suavely stepping right into a puddle...

Nothing happened of course, even without the puddling it wouldn't have, we just continued the conversation in other parts of London, walking around, stepping over drunks, drinking coffee in a bus station, taking pictures of weird people wandering about the streets, avoiding a TV set someone threw out the window at about 4our in the morning with a deft sidestep. We parted company inside a greasy spoon at about 6ix in the morning, the kind of place that offers for breakfast beans on beans on more beans, in a really dodgy part of London where a man in a tracksuit was setting a market stall that sold tracksuits just like the one he had on. She texted Mike mid mouthful of beans and we exchanged numbers but we never spoke again. I told her my Geri Halliwell story and she laughed and then a cab came and that was pretty much it. She said as she left she was going to ring Geoff, and I said I would try and find Kylie, but I never did, although I got as far as writing a letter to her once, but I never posted it. I hadn't expected a discussion as deep about the temporal nature of love and the pangs of nostalgia for a past I could never replicate when I sat down to watch Jason Akermanis run around a football field, but as I shuffled past the tracksuit stall seller and watched her drift away into the overly populated backdrop of suburbia, I realised I had up all night and got some things clear in my head - and I still don't know how I got home, just that I woke up with a renewed sense of purpose, a new tracksuit in a bag, and all the muesli I could eat. I never got to say thanks though, which is a shame...just by the door, there was a badly marked pair of faux Adidas shoes but I never found out if my cousin had cause to view the night differently me to me, but I rolled with it anyway, and spent so long lost in dislocated thought and head trauma that an entire day of my precious holiday was lost huddled on a couch with a sleeping bag around my shoulders, and a bowl of muesli that I never finished in my hands, as man, woman and child oblivious to any of my lessons learned walked idly up and down the road, full of their own cares and woes, but none of them anywhere near as still and relaxed as I was just to be so far from home, and yet have spent all night talking about Fitzgeralds...

How I made the most of the next day though, well, that's for another time...

3 comments:

sparsely kate said...

I love meeting up with people from back home at weird places in the world. It makes you realise none of us are really that far apart or separate.

Young Ned of the Hill said...

The break has done you a world of good, thats corker post.

Miles McClagan said...

By the time she got to Rettke Firearms though, I was really starting to get freaked out...

Thanks mate - I needed a break desperately...I was typing on empty!