One could smell it as soon as the door swung open – it was the minty whiff of cleanliness. This put us in a positive frame of mind for adventures to come at the commencement of our weekend stay in Yarra City. Rarely does this city let us down in that regard – there are always adventures to be had. Our chosen hostelry certainly looked unpretentious as we trod over its stained carpet to the cubby hole that formed reception, but the being it held at the counter was beaming a smile as wide as the St Kilda strand a little further down the road. He checked us in with cheery chatter and then presented us with a bottle of, as it turned out, quaffable red. I was attracted to the images lining the walls as we made our way up to our first floor apartment. These were from the days of yore back in the 50s when the Oakleigh Motel was the height of travelling sophistication. Rebranded as the Armidale Serviced Apartments, on the corner of Dandenong and Williams Roads, it was a far cry from that now, but our unit was spacious enough to constrain the energies of that mighty-mite Tessa Tiger, giving her as well numerous cupboards to open and examine. It was well appointed and was soon made tot-safe by my BTD (Beautiful Talented Daughter). Following an afternoon of meeting with publishers (BTD), ‘adventuring’ with Tiges (me) and lugging luggage on and off trams (the both of us), the quality our accommodation was a fillip to our sagging stamina. As an added plus, it possessed a bath to indulge this showerophobic man. The trips we made back and forwards to the city took only a restful twenty or so minutes along either tram routes 5 or 64, plus with a few shops nearby for supplies it was all very convenient. Our choice therefore was the bees’ knees until……………
We suspect he/she, hereafter to be referred to as the Music Nazi (MN), had attended the Soundwaves Music Festival, which had attracted my son and son-in-law across the Strait as well this weekend. We deduced this for the MN started off his/her ‘show’ around midnight with a cacophonous Freddie Mercury track blasting me from my slumbers. Musically, it was downhill from there with a full range of heavy metal/rock making it impossible to contemplate a return to the Land of Nod. Initially I thought BTD had had a sudden urge to tune into ‘Rage’ at maximum decibels, but a quick reconnoitre put that theory to bed. Unbeknown to me until later, by four a.m. BTD, despite her love of a wide range of modern music, had also had enough and contacted the local constabulary. They, gratifyingly, soon put matters to right with an abrupt termination of MN’s thundering efforts to wake the neighbourhood. The following day I made polite inquiries of the smiley reception man as to the effect on other residents of the racket, only to be startled by his news that we seemed to be the only guests affected and offended. Even the in-house manager, residing in the unit below us, when summoned, claimed he had had a most restful night’s sleep. Perhaps BTD and I had both suffered a simultaneous nightmare and imagined it all!
Of course the weekend’s big event was the excursion to Melbourne Zoo. Tiges duly got to be gobsmacked by a wide variety of beasts, big and small, she had only previously encountered in her books. Lions, bears, otters, monkeys, apes and those quirky sentries, the meerkats, were of great interest to her. And she espied, for the first time, a real living tiger. The butterfly house utterly delighted our little miss, as did those dozy koalas. Similar magic was created by the arrival, at various stages, of glamorous Auntie Peta and handsome Uncles Rich and Neil. She became completely besotted by the latter when he presented her with a wearable hugging orang-utan. This she promptly added to her fairy wings as an essential everyday fashionable accoutrement.
But the trams, the trams! In Yarra City it’s always about the trams. Except at peak hour sandwich time, they are such a joy. Tiges loved them, and with her fashion statements, ever present smile and vibrant big blue eyes, it was like moths to a flame for our fellow travellers. As soon as BTD alighted, Tess attached, seats were offered up by young and old. Something similar occurred when luggage was being hauled. BTD was constantly politely batting away offers of assistance. Then there were those who initiated conversations using Tess as the entry point. There was the genial, voluble guy down from the Blue Mountains, who was giving his daughter a birthday treat with the attractions of Old Bearbrass. He was later encountered at the zoo. There was the striking, heavily pregnant Indian lady who, as she was expecting her first, queried BTD on the path that lay ahead. In the fifteen minutes that we spent in her company we discovered she was a US trained expert in biotechnology; that she had met her hubby, an Aussie sub-continental, through family connections – her way, perhaps, of saying an ‘arranged’ marriage. Sadly, before we could deduce more of her story, this elegant vision had to depart the conveyance. I could have listened to her sing-song, accented voice all day. On another similar journey from our digs up to the city a young lass, with a flower in her hair, sat down opposite BTD. The duo were soon in deep conversation. Hailing from Perth, this lovely had a smile as wide as that city’s Cottesloe strand, with eyes that sparkled with pleasure at the contributions of Tiges to proceedings. Sadly, with only a tram stop to go, my daughter and WA girl both found out they had a great deal in common as both were writers. There was no time to exchange particulars, so another story half told had to be settled for. Then there was a stunning blonde further up the tram, that same day, who could not take her eyes off my equally stunning granddaughter. I wondered what her tale may be as she pointed to Tess and made comments to her partner. Was she herself in the early stages of expectation, or was there an expectation that she could be if only she could convince her man – ‘Look at that little treasure over there darling. Wouldn’t you like one just like that?’ Later on that night the same lady caused the ruination of a well worn but loved white linen shirt, but that event, together with one involving a mirth inducing nappy belonging to Tessa, is for telling about at another time.
We discovered the village (as shopping strips in our vicinity were termed) of Hawksburn two blocks away from the Armadale. It’s located where Commercial Road morphs into Malvern. At 521 on the latter is Cafe Latte where, according to son-in-law, very knowledgeable in such matters, there was consumed the best coffee of the trip. The accompanying tucker was pretty sublime too. The shops and other eateries along either side of the thoroughfare were as eclectic as they were inviting, with a little indie bookshop (My Bookshop, 513 Malvern Rd), as well as a fruit and vegie emporium, of particular note. In future trips I’ll be catching the 72 down to Hawksburn as respite from the generic sameness of the CBD.
The final morning found me meandering around Fed Square. Up on its big screen the Academy Awards were in progress so I ambled to a viewing position to watch awhile. Glenn Close was on stage taking the millions viewing through a sad list of those shining talents lost to us during the past twelve months – Shirley Temple, Annette Funicello, Peter O’Toole, James Gandolfini, Paul Walker et al, as well as the incomparable and irreplaceable Philip Seymour Hoffman. Then Bette Midler walked on stage to warble ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ in tribute to them. Apart from the occasional clang of a passing tram, extraneous noise seemed to evaporate and time stood still as this remarkable performer worked her way through her signature tune. The response in the venue of the Awards was to give her a standing ovation. I looked to the guy on the step below me. A big, burly, stereotypically barrel-chested working class Aussie was unashamedly wiping away his tears in the most unmanly fashion (joining your soft scribe in doing so as well). Was he weeping for the fact that song had special significance? Perhaps it was for the reason that, as with all of us, time was catching up with ‘The Divine Miss M’. Were his tears ones for a loss he had endured, or because such an array of talent will no longer grace our screens again? As with me, perhaps it was a combination of all of the above.
But this was a commercial broadcast. The ovation for Ms Midler was cut short to be replaced by the leering faces of Shane Crawford and Sam Newman feverishly promoting that most crass and turgidly inane of shows about to commence its twenty first season of Thursday night sewage. The spell was now well and truly broken. The outside world and its din had re-entered and those, who moments previously had stood transfixed, awoke from their reverie and were, as with me, moving off to continue their day.
Even if the Footy Show never does, Melbourne always beguiles and I am looking forward to the next time already. This visit had added sheen as I was accompanied by my incredible BTD. I therefore had the magic of seeing the city anew through the eyes of the wonder that is Tessa Tiger.
Oh, and about that Music Nazi. On leaving the Armadale Apartments our smiling reception clerk came running out to tell us that MN had been at it again the previous afternoon, whilst we were out. Those resident were regaled at heavy volume with MN’s musical offerings. There were no bad dreams after all that weekend in Yarra City.
The Academy Awards tribute to those departed icons = http://perezhilton.com/2014-03-02-bette-midler-oscars-2014-performance-video-watch-here-live-wind-beneath-my-wings-in-memoriam