Independent spirits

On a cold, wintry day last week I headed out for lunch with a friend at Hawkr. I went by it at first, conditioned to go to the market when I head off in that direction. I backtracked and soon enough was enjoying a very nice lunch.

Nothing remarkable in this at all, except in the overcast, cool surrounds of that Melbourne winter’s day my mind was unaccountably cast back about 30 years to a time and place very different.

It’s fascinating to wonder what triggers such unlikely memories. Here I was in the middle of winter in Melbourne and my memory was of a summer’s day in Sydney. Specifically I recalled a time when I trained to become a cocktail bar-tender. I must have been about 21 at the time. There were a bunch of us in the class, maybe about eight, and I was one of the eldest there.

This was in the heart of King’s Cross, and I can remember still the name of the course – Alex Beaumont something, something, but not the name of the instructor.

I was living with my aunt at the time in Watson’s Bay, and as it turned out the instructor lived in Watson’s Bay also. He was one of those very cool characters who you imagined had lived an interesting, if not exotic life. He was in his mid-forties I guess, fit and with a handsome, well lived in face with – in retrospect – a Humphrey Bogart vibe. He was a professional cocktail bartender who had plied his trade all over the world and doubtless had a great time doing it. He was a level-headed character studious in teaching us the tricks of his trade. I remember him telling off a couple in the class who were goofing off, and in spite of the difference in our age he seemed to connect with me. Perhaps I seemed the closest in spirit to him.

One night after the class had ended we went back to his place together. I was flattered to be asked. I remember he lived further along towards South Head, past Doyles, in one of the cute cottages that overlooked the beach. He had a wife or girlfriend who wasn’t there, but who he had spoken of often. She seemed his long-time partner in crime, a fellow traveller close in spirit. He called her always by a nickname, Flea, or something like that.

Though she wasn’t there I felt her spirit. I was young and adventurous and my imagination was vivid and I was curious about such a woman thinking that she was probably the sort I would like to know. But then he was of a type I would happily emulate as well, the free-spirited individual who lived for experience.

We sat on his leafy patio in the sunshine sipping on gin and tonics while he told me his stories (now forgotten), and I attempted to shape into words my expectations of the world ahead of me.

And that was it, that was the memory that came to me that day, and has every day since. Why is that?

Lot of water under the bridge since and much I might have hoped for that day will have come to pass. I’m a long way on from that young man, though he is still recognisably within me. I wonder if the appeal of the independent spirit has come to resonate in me and trigger this memory – it’s always been there, sometimes nearer, sometimes more distant, but never absent.

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