Looking for home

Was in the local supermarket yesterday grabbing a few groceries when I figured, for about the hundredth time, how much I was out of place. I felt like a wolf amid a whole herd of very tame sheep. Most of the clientele there are grey haired dears with scribbled shopping lists in their hands. Occasionally hubby might be seen shuffling somewhere behind them, shrunken with age and bewildered by choice. On the weekends you’ll see more middle-aged mum types, though seemingly less weekdays. Then there’s me. I feel different. I look different. I dress different. I have a different attitude. I even walk different. And I’m about a foot taller than the olds.

It’s the same driving the local streets. It’s a well to do area full of old people either in well established homes or up-market retirement villages. Mercedes seems the choice of wealthy pensioners all over, and the streets, literally, crawl with them here. They’ll cruise, not always smoothly, at somewhere between 40-50 kmh. Or they’ll stop at a roundabout for 5-10 seconds just to ensure that if there is an invisible car that it gets through safely. Stuck behind them, as I so often am, I’ll wonder what it is that makes old people such ponderous drivers. Do they lose their nerve? Have they lost all their daring? Or is it the realisation as they get close to the pointy end, that there’s no point throwing it all away on a silly prang? Not that that is universal. The other end of the spectrum are the absolute shockers. Mostly they just won’t bother to indicate. Or they’ll stop in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. Or turn without looking. A couple of weeks ago I was within a metre of being cleaned up as a car driven by an old chap came careering through on the left as I was halfway through a roundabout. Somehow it doesn’t seem right abusing these old critters.

I’m in the middle of looking for some place different to live, and all of this makes me keenly aware that I have to get back to my own. I watched a movie the other night where much of the action was set in Fitzroy. I felt kind of wistful – the laneways, the groovy terrace houses, the cool pubs, even the hipsters. My idea of a perfect home is one where if I walk 500 metres in one direction I’ll happen across a decent pub or bar; 500 in the other a cafe with Melbourne standard coffee, and a class breakfast; and around the corner a good deli, a top notch bakery, a decent bottle shop, and, ideally, a cosy bookshop. And in the area drivers who drive as I do, without surprises, aggressive, alert and skilled.

I’m not going to end up in Fitzroy. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but there’s a good chance it will be bayside. It’s a nice area, and I have friends who live that way, so it will be convenient. I’ve been out there regularly over the years, and always appreciated the girls of bayside – well educated, well spoken, and with good dentistry, bayside girls seem to have a good even tan all year round, and often possess a bitchin’ forehand (I’ve never really taken much notice of the blokes out that way, unless they play AFL, but presume something similar).

All the same, I’m not sure it is my milieu. The houses are nice, the beach is close, there’s some handy restaurants, bakeries, bars, and so on, and generally they drive with the required urgency. But. Maybe it seems a little cleanskin for me. Then maybe, I think, it’s time I got away from the ambient grit of the inner suburbs. I’m no-one’s idea of a hipster – in fact I sometimes think, if only physically, that I’m based on an old (but I like to think, classic) model, superseded maybe, but with good lines – though certainly not the skinny lines of the skinny jean types. And perhaps the allure of cool breakfast cafes and poky bars should be paling for me by now. Maybe I need to aspire to becoming more cleanskin myself. My dentistry is fine, but maybe I need to develop my forehand alongside my serve, should consider the parks full of swings and pre-schools as promises of things to come, rather than the vaguely foreign and unsettling places they seem right now.

Whatever. As long as I get away from Mercedes driving olds whose head I can’t even see.

Somebody else’s home

Last week I received a call from a real estate agent inviting me to an auction today at a house virtually over the back fence. By odd coincidence I had walked by the same house barely 10 minutes earlier while walking Rigby. I had stopped to read the board, and to admire the house, which seemed the best on the street.

This morning I went along to check it out properly. Walking in I was amazed at how many Asians there were inspecting the property. The next suburb over is Box Hill, which is very much an Asian enclave. Walking through the mall there half of the signs are in Chinese, and about 80% wandering through are Asian. It’s a momentarily strange feeling to be in the ‘burbs of Melbourne and to experience it as foreign. There is still something about it that seems quite Australian – the light perhaps, or perhaps the architecture – and yet it reminds now of China, and Beijing particularly. And so yes, that explains why there were so many Asians examining the property – about 20 of the 25 I saw there – but it still comes as a surprise.

The house itself was beautiful. In many ways it was a conventional, upper middle class home, comfortable without being extraordinary. What lifts homes like this from the ordinary are the lived in quality. You walk in and you sense years of happy family memories, a warm engaging feeling that immediately inclines you to a positive impression. That was present here. It was tidy and beautifully presented, but it was also clear that it was lived in, a guitar in the corner, old paperbacks in the book shelf with their spines cracked, a cookbook lying open, and so on. In my mind at least you conjure up the people who have lived here and now selling, confirmed moments later by a family portrait hanging on the wall.

It was a tastefully, elegantly decorated gome. Beautiful things, neither too few or too many, warm colours, and none of that austere look that has become so common. Lifting it further where decorator items that seemed to have a story behind them – some black and white framed photos of the back streets of some Asian city, perhaps in Vietnam. An antique porcelain bowl,  once more of Asian origin, placed prominently.

I wandered around by myself, deferring to others on the narrow staircase, letting others go before me into the lock-up garage. I was curious as to what it might sell for, but I found more and more my mind moving into another direction.

Once more I felt a kind of existential pang. So this is what you have sacrificed, I thought. It’s not something that had ever occurred to me before. I grew up in a home not dissimilar to this – tasteful, warm, very comfortable. Perhaps it’s the home I thought I would return to as an adult. Instead I’ve gone my own way, deliberately so, and in the process had some great experiences, let alone some stylish pads of my own. Why then did this occur to me now?

I guess I’m in a different state of mind these days. I was conscious as I looked around of a mild sense of regret. You choose one thing at the expense of the other. This is what I had failed to choose, the family home, and all it entails. Was it too late? Of course not. Was it likely? Maybe not.

None of this showed in my face. Amid the crowd there I was the solo visitor, the tall caucasian scrutinising things as if he might myself be a buyer. I was not. I left before the auction. By now it’s somebody else’s home.

IWikipedia: is the ninth letter and a vowel in the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

Plum memories

When I was a kid – say between the age of 7 and 16 – I lived in a cul de sac in one of the prettier of Melbourne’s outer suburbs. I had a lot of fun. It was a developing area where families had settled to build their own home and live the life they had always dreamt of. In our small street alone, there must have been nearly 30 kids between about 18 homes. Most of those kids could be accounted by – as we would say at the time – the catholic families to either side of us. On one side, there was a child making industry where they averaged one child a year for over a decade. The last count I heard, a few years after I had moved away, was about 16, I think. The other side was 5. We were the proddies in the middle but had the same dream as everyone else.

I remember going to the local primary school before we even moved into the area. My father, who worked in Eltham at the time, would pick me up from school every night and together, we would drive by the house built for us, a stylish and modern tri-split-level. We would check on the construction progress, my dad with excitement while I felt the fascination normal every boy has for construction sites. When finished, it was the best house in the street.3 blood plums on tree

In time we moved there. I have many great memories of that period. These were the formative years of my development, and purely as a boy looking to experience the world, they were abundant, rich and enjoyable. I could tell a hundred stories or more. Once, when years later I met with my best friend of that time, he asked if I had written anything of our childhood there. He had the same memories as me: he said that I should.

In the last week, one tiny memory – or is it a motif? – has recurred to me. Near the top of our street, a house had a purple-leaved plum tree growing on the fence line. The property was bounded by a wooden fence painted mission brown to around head height, I guess, but the branches of the tree over-arched the fence and hung over the pavement. It was a blood plum tree, which in my opinion, are the tastiest and juiciest plums there are, though it seems many years since I’ve tasted one. In season I remember the splotches of purple on the pavement where plums had fallen and burst. Being kids, we would often raid the tree and pluck the ripest looking plums, which we would eat with the juices running down our chin. Often we would turn on each other in a sort of Huck Finn-ish sort of glee and begin to fling blood plums at each other. The battle would rage as we ducked and weaved and dodged and laughed and celebrated when our shots rang home. We all played a sport, and in the way of boys very accustomed to picking up things, mainly rocks and stones (or ‘yonnies’ as we called them then) and throwing them for the fun of it, and sometimes at somebody else. Plums were easy, and blood plums especially satisfying as with each bulls-eye, a purple stain would erupt on the victims’ clothes.

That’s what I remember. It’s a simple memory but very pleasing. Gotta get me some of them blood plums, methinks.

Saturday night’s alright

Rainy Saturdays, good to be home and dry. Not going anywhere tonight. Looking forward to a night in, the Bledisloe match on in about a hour, and not long after that the footy proper. I’ll be safely ensconced on my couch thinking how good is it to be a boy?

It’s fat day too, so making the most of that. Put on a mix CD of old, nostalgic tunes before to cook by. First Rigby and I had a little dance while Nat King Cole in his oh so smooth voice crooned about when he’s too old to dream, before next song crackles to life, Fever, how’s that Rigby, know that tune? And Rigby loved that, and showed some good moves. Okay, enough of the dancing boy and so Rigby followed me into the kitchen to attentively watch as I prepared tonight’s dinner. I mixed and rolled and breadcrumbed listening to music by singers now long dead, Cole and Sinatra, Dean Martin, Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin… I sang along to songs I’d known since I was a kid and mum singing around the house as she did her cooking, the songs she used to perform once when she’d been a singer: now I did the same. Or else I whistled with all my might, surprised out how powerfully and tunefully the notes trilled from my pursed lips, happily going with the flow. It was odd in a good way. Close my eyes and maybe I could have been there, that time, that era, so distant now and so different to ours. Perfect cooking music too.

Tonight’s meal is a cracker: fat overload. Never made Chicken Kiev until today. It’s a classic dish maybe a little unfashionable these days, but just the thought of that garlic infused butter oozing from the crunchy breadcrumbed chicken fillet gets me licking my lips. I feel like Rigby. Just to go all in I’m making potatoes dauphinoise to go with it, heaps of cream, more garlic, and potatoes. And for some semblance of moderation some green beans will go on the side. For dessert I picked up this mega-expensive, mega-awarded ice-cream from the deli earlier today for half price. That’s the scene sportsfans, me on the couch cheering on Oz and abusing refs and umpires and barracking hard for my boys while I tuck into an extended feast. If I don’t go to bed with indigestion I’m doing something wrong.

This is what Saturdays are meant to be all about.