She stood out – boy, did she stand out on the Skybus that morning. I thought she could be a modelling goddess from Vogue magazine or something, the way that woman stood out. Sheathed in a figure hugging, dazzling ultra-short white dress, she was accessorised by a rich red lipstick and heels of the same hue. Later, I was to notice the sparkle in her eyes and fingernails alternately painted bright red and blue. She flicked her mane of shimmering brunette tresses as she elegantly stepped on board and entered into conversation with the driver. What a contrast she was to the dun-attired backpackers, excited Asians and dowdy pensioners like myself. The fact that she toted not a skerrick of baggage was the reason for our exuberant Brit driver’s interest in her as he reached out his hand to place more cases in the luggage bay, only to find she was lacking in that regard. She obviously offered a satisfactory explanation as he shrugged, smiled and waved her on to find a seat. The one she found was next to me.
I said g’day as she settled in, but she was soon transfixed by her mobile in one hand and the Skybus timetable in the other. As the journey continued on towards Southern Cross, seeing increasing concern on her face and hearing a great deal of displeased sighing, I eventually asked if there was a problem – if I could assist her in what was obviously perplexing her.
She rolled her eyes and explained her predicament to me. The tale of woe went that she had just deposited her hire car at Tullamarine and was now travelling back into the city to spend her last day in Australia. This explained her lack of suitcases as she had checked into her accommodation the previous evening. Now she had to arrange for her departure from the city, at four the next morning, to catch an early flight home. The problem involved her hotel being in South Yarra and she was trying to work out if Skybus’ courtesy pickup service operated in the wee small hours. I explained to her that, in any case, the service was only provided for CBD hotels and surely it would be simpler to catch a cab into Southern Cross or out to the airport. My suggestion bought on more eye-rolling before she proceeded to huff that taxis were far too expensive in this country to even consider that option. She felt she had no alternative but to come up with a plan B.
She spoke perfect English, but heavily accented so, as is my wont, I asked of her provenance. Turned out she was from Luxembourg, but home these days was Japan where she worked for a law firm. She was also studying political science, so therefore, or so she claimed, she was just a poor student. She smiled broadly when I stated that, not only had I studied politics when I went to uni way back when, but once upon a time had also visited her home country. She asked about Japan, but alas I had to say I had never been there, but I had heard it was expensive. She agreed, but added Tokyo was not as overpriced as Australia.
She had flown to our country on very short notice, on a deal too good to pass up. She had hired a car in Brisbane and driven the coastal route south. Sadly, she sighed, she had seen hardly anything she had hurriedly planned; yet again because everything was far too pricey. But, she said, our nature was fantastic and despite our expensiveness, she could not wait for a return visit. Of course I encouraged her to come to Tassie next time. I then asked what she planned to do on her last day here. She put her head back and laughed. ‘I plan to shop and shop and shop.’ She then sought my advice about where to go. I said South Yarra itself was meant to have some stylish shops and then there was the Mall. She did not look the type of girl who was into inner-suburban strip shopping. Nor was she dressed for Skybus. She looked a million dollars and would seemingly be more suited to limousine transportation to get around. When we rolled into Southern Cross we disembarked the bus together. I gave her directions as to where to go, shook her hand and was rewarded by a glorious parting smile that would last me through the day. But I did scratch my old noggin at her – a plan to shop till she dropped, but not enough funds for a taxi!!!
With the Luxembourg lady my summer trip to Yarra City was off to an interesting start and although I’d really much rather be going there as a couple with my lovely lady than on my tod, I nevertheless enjoy being out and about in the city to which the founding fathers once gave the name of Bearbrass.
My digs for the few days was again the Cosmopolitan, down on Carlisle Street, St Kilda. It is a welcoming place with a friendly staff, none more so than the vivacious blonde who greeted me that morning. Sadly her utterances, once she opened her mouth, didn’t match her lovely face as it was quickly evident she hailed from the Americas. How that accent can sometimes grate – as if we Aussies can talk. I’m always a little wary of asking the obvious question for fear of offending a Canadian, but I needn’t have worried for the lass was from Chicago. I soon discerned she had followed a man to Australia and was as in love with him as she was with our country. She adored Melbourne and we briefly discussed her aim to come to Tassie, as well as a show I had watched in recent times, set in the ‘Windy City’ – ‘The Boss’. Hearing that it starred one of her favourites, Kelsey Grammer, she was immediately interested. As she passed over the plastic to my room I received another winning smile to light up my visit.
What a contrast this gorgeous counter staff employee of the Continental was to the Yank I encountered on the No86 later in the trip. She was working her phone, she was largish and decidedly sweaty in the close confines of the tram on a warm day. She was loud, so loud, with her drawl capable of cutting glass. The tram carriage was left in no uncertain terms as to just how important a personage she was. She was obviously sorting out an IT issue at wherever she worked or consulted to, it being essential that the whole throng of those around her knew all about it as well. What she was saying, in between expletives, was indecipherable – some sort of computerese us lower life forms had no hope of comprehending. There was much looking to the heavens amongst my fellow passengers – but eventually we had the last laugh as our verbal torture was about to end. As the rattler rounded the corner into Spring Street she, all of a sudden, let out a screech ”I’m going in the wrong f****g direction.’ and proceeded to hurl herself up the tram, still working her digital device, no doubt to demand the driver stop at her earliest convenience. But I was not finished with the denizens from Trumpland.
On my final morning, a couple entered where I was pleasantly breakfasting, the Goodegg (303 Coventry St, South Melbourne, across the road from the Markets). I’d read about this establishment in an Age food review (it had rated highly) so I had decided to give it a burl. My bacon and egg in a bun was lovely – so much so I wished later I had tried something more adventurous. Next time. The male portion of the couple was stereotypically hipster, complete with sculpted beard and bun. The girl – obviously their spokesperson, as presumably such a mundane task as placing the order would be beneath hipster-guy – immediately established they too were from across the Pacific. They took the table next to mine. When our Kiwi barista bought over their coffees and egg-based brekkie delights he inquired where they were from. I was able to earwig in on an interesting conversation. It turns out they were from NYC and the reason they were in Oz was because of coffee. She reported they frequented the Aussie themed coffee houses of Brooklyn, the Village, Soho and so on, falling in love with our brews and therefore they decided to come to Melbourne. Now any hipster knows our nation’s second city is the coffee capital of the globe, right? The bearded one did open up when the subject of blends was raised. In the best tradition of his breed he was incredibly knowledgeable on the topic – and his enthusiasm for what we do with the humble brown bean here was quite engaging. So there you go. The media hype about our flat whites taking over the planet might have some veracity after all.
There were other meetings with overseas guests to our country – the Italian couple from Lucca who had just spent six months living at Margaret River WA before driving across the Nullarbor to Adelaide and Yarra City, for instance. They were soon to head back to Tuscany. They reckoned that the next trip would encompass Queensland and Tassie. They had loved us – they badly wanted to come back for more. There was an ebullient Canadian from Winnipeg whom I discovered at the Luna Park tram stop, wearing a Tassie t-shirt. I engaged him in conversation and found out he was a frequent visitor. He’d loved his time on our island on a previous sojourn and reckoned Mona was the best art gallery he’d seen anywhere, period. Then, on the No96, I sat next to a UK couple who were soon chatting to me about Brexit, Trump and our immigration policy. This Sussex pair, about my age, couldn’t believe that a big, wide nation such as ours would send a few thousand poor souls, fleeing oppression, to off shore islands to have to indefinitely survive mental and physical issues without hope. I could but only agree with them.
‘Clever bugger, isn’t he,’ I quipped to the guy standing next to me, similarly gobsmacked, staring at the beauteous array of art work afore us in a garishly marvellous display at the NGV. David Hockney’s phantasmagorically alluring digital presentations took one’s breath away. It was hand on heart, one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen in all my time of going across the Strait to view showings in art galleries around the country, staring at visual marvels created by the human mind directing the human hand. So if you are in Melbourne’s orb before this brilliant extravaganza closes, do attempt to see it.
I also attended the Viktor and Rolf flight of fancy at the same establishment. This pair of fashion designers produce supposedly wearable artwork, many pieces of which would be impossible to disport anywhere but on a catwalk they’re so unwieldy. I did particularly like the dolls attired in their fabric masterpieces. Interesting was the protest art of Los Angeles’ Sister Cora and various Australian practitioners of poster work, to make a point, at the Ian Potter. I always enjoy my tram ride to the top end of Swanston to visit this gallery at the Uni of Melbourne. Back towards the city centre, at the State Library of Victoria, was a retrospective look back over the forty years of Triple R, Melbourne’s community radio station and the nursery for many of today’s popular culture icons. Good stuff it was too.
And that’s an appropriate segue to my next yarn, which I presume to be entirely true. I’ll let you be the judge. However, if inappropriate language does offend, it may be better to skip this and move on to the next vignette. Now this occurred, not on Triple R, but Triple M. My usual place on the dial, to accompany me through the wee small hours, is ABC Local – but try as I might I could not locate it across the water, that is, Melbourne’s version thereof. MMM’s music was less intrusive than most other stations I tried in frustration and more to the point, so were its ads. The overnight slot was called the ‘Nightshift’ and featured Mark and his sidekick Jess as the hosts, they being my pre-dawn companions for the three nights of my stay.
I woke the first night to a segment that must have been about ‘the sacrifices we make for love’, with callers recounting tales of their own experience or of those they knew. This one, the one that caused me to guffaw repeatedly under the Continental’s doona, was from a bloke that swore black and blue he wasn’t telling porkies – and it went something like this. And you have been warned.
Caller: ‘Well I reckon this female friend of mine made the greatest sacrifice for love that you’ll ever hear about.’
Host Mark: ‘And that was?’
‘Well, she took her hubby’s name.’
‘That’s no different to many brides, is it? Women still take their partner’s name.’
‘Not if you have a name like his, you don’t’
‘Oh come on. It couldn’t be that bad. What was it?’
‘Well you’d better give a language warning before I say it.’
‘You already have. Come on, our listeners are a broad-minded lot.’
‘They had better be. You sure you are ready for this?’
‘Yep. Let’s have it.’
‘His name was Softakok.’
Silence – then, ‘You can’t be serious. What – it can’t be. Come on – you’re joking. Spell it’
‘It’s spelt as it sounds. S O F T A…..’
More silence – then, ‘That can’t be right – Jess… Jess – please stop laughing, Jess!’
‘I’ll swear again that it is.’
‘Are they still together, the Softakoks?’
‘Jess! Jess! Please stop it. Stop laughing and help me out here. And tell me (laughter) tell me (uncontrollable laughter……. then) Tell me, are there any Softakok offspring?’ (More hysterical laughter, before…)
‘There are, three.’
Another breakout of uproarious hooting from the hosts. Even when Mark thought he had it together again he was struggling to get the next question out, asking, between splutters, as to where the caller was ringing from.
‘The Newcastle area’
‘And tell me. Are there … Jess, for the last time, please stop laughing. Are there, to your knowledge, a long line of…. Jess, get it under control…. a long line of Softakoks in the Newcastle region?”
‘Not to my knowledge, no sir – no more Softakoks to my knowledge.’
‘Jess, Jess….take over please. Jess. Jess…… I’ve lost it….. Jess…’
There’s silence on the radio for a period before Mark comes back on, seemingly on top of his mirth.
‘Oh dear. Oh dear. Jess, you were absolutely no help to me there. Well there you have it listeners. Quite a tale – and I can relate to those poor kids. Mine have had enough trouble at school too with their surname, poor darlings.’
My radio companion from the Nightshift was Mark Bona. I wonder if his wife also made the ultimate sacrifice to take his name?
I am blessed to have three gorgeous nieces – Jacqui, Emma and Peta – and I love having contact with all three, as their vivacity lights up my life, along with that of my own beautiful, writerly daughter. Going over the Strait often pleasantly means meeting up with Peta, who is lucky enough to reside in St Kilda, a short walk from the Continental. It’s another reason I like staying there. We have taken to meeting at Soul Sister (73 Acland), which serves ‘…global vegan and vegetarian food in an airy space with exposed brick walls and rattan light shades.’ – or so says my mobile phone descriptor. I might add that the tucker there is delicious.
Peta has many strings to her bow but these days teaches dance – her involvement in that industry in earlier times having taken her around the world. She had just recently returned from her honeymoon in Vietnam, so we had much to talk about. Somehow the subject of Heide came up – a site I’ve longed to visit as the story of John and Sunday Reed has intrigued me for decades. However the notion of using first a train and then a bus to get there by public transport has always put me off. Dear Peta took to her hand held device and after a bit of tapping, exclaimed, ‘That’s easy! I’ll take you there.’ Turns out hubby Troy’s family lives in that neck of the woods, so she knows the area quite well. Something more to look forward to on a future excursion across the Strait. As I said, I am blessed to have Peta in my life.
Peta also recommended the local night market, held each Thursday evening, in St Kilda, through the summer. I took her advice. There was a goodly array of stalls selling a mixture of clothing and art, but the highlight was the array of food vans. It took me a while to choose, but eventually my taste buds took me to one selling marinated lamb salads. Again, delicious.
Her name is Sally. She comes from Seoul. Sally, of course, has a Korean name which she also gave me but, at my age, unless I write something like that down, it readily escapes my mind. Sally is a waitress at Toscani’s (107 Acland) and I like the lasagna there. I hang out for lasagna and have yet to discover a restaurant in Hobs where I can partake of a tasty, well cooked one – although I perhaps haven’t overly stretched myself to find one. The supermarket variety seems runny and tasteless compared to what Toscani’s and several other Melbourne establishments dish up.
It was around seven when I walked in and Sally had already laboured through a long day, fronting up at eight that morning for the breakfast crowd – and she had several hours still to go. But, even so late in her day, she still had a smile for me as she welcomed me in. Gee, I hope they are paying her a reasonable rate for the hours she puts in. I’d met Sally before on last year’s winter trip, being her only customer that chilsome evening – so we had quite a chat then. She was a little busier this latest night, but she reckoned that, overall, the crowds were less than the previous summer. People just weren’t coming in the same numbers to St Kilda these days, she felt. I quipped that it was because they were all heading to Hobart instead. I knew that some of the other inner city strips were struggling and thought it would be a pity if Acland Street and surrounds went that way as well.
I recalled from the last occasion that Sally had an ambition to save and return home to start up an eatery in her homeland, so we discussed that for a while – she is certainly working her butt off to attain her goal. Sally loves Australia, particularly Melbourne, she relates, as it is so relaxed and friendly compared to other places in her experience. She says she feels so free here. She regaled me with a recent trip she had made to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island – on the latter she saw penguins for the first time and she enthused that they were just the cutest things.
Sally is just lovely – she made my night. I do hope our country will continue to always be so positive an experience for the Sally’s of this world. There is much scoffing about Melbourne being ranked as our planet’s most liveable city, but listening to Sally rave about the place, as the sun set over St Kilda, I might well believe it.