I’m occasionally hit by bouts of claustrophobia and hydrophobia.
The claustrophobia is the result of accidentally locking myself in a toy chest when I was six years old. I was in there for an hour before an adult walked passed and heard my muffled screams and unlocked the chest. The closest I’ve felt to this traumatic childhood experience is boarding a crowded 19 North Coburg tram when I’m in a bad mood.
The 19 tram is a fickle beast, prone to fits of madness, rage and the inevitable delays of Melbourne public transport. For the most part I like my tram route because it goes up Royal Parade passed Princes Park and stumbles up Sydney Road spewing commuters onto the pavement and into the many bars and cafes along the way. It’s like a Mallee Ringneck feeding the road with tiny morsels of consumerism.
I can’t remember my first ride on the 19 tram but I do know that I’ve used it almost everyday for the last four years and I can even hear it clanking away at night as I eat my dinner in my wee flat in Ye Olde Lodge. If you’ve ever caught the 19 tram then you’ve probably gone passed my building many times and thought that it’s either a hotel or a halfway house for recently released inmates. I can assure you there are no ex-cons in my building but plenty of other unsavory acts occur on a daily basis, especially in the flat near the laundry.
I think it was the Bedroom Philosopher who wrote about the 86 tram a few years ago and he captured the spirit of the journey perfectly. The 19 tram has a slightly similar ambience but is also very different in many ways, the main difference being that the 19 tram has a strange sense of nobility, particularly if you watch it stop and start up Sydney Road from Brunswick Road. I love watching it slowly crawl up passed Blyth Street and disappear into little Turkey, the sun reflecting off its back windows. It reminds me of being a kid in Scotland, watching my Dad walk up David Street with the day’s takings tucked under his arm, in an old biscuit tin. Just a reassuring feeling of familiarity that makes us all feel at ease when perched on the edge of trepidation.
However, on a bad day the 19 becomes my biscuit tin of nightmares. I only catch it a few stops down to Grattan Street but when I see it approach my stop with its windows misted over and people packed in around the door I’m filled with dread. Why not walk I hear you ask? I’m constantly running late so I end up having to squeeze myself in and just take it like a man. It’s that feeling of impending doom as I mount those stairs and squeeze myself into that jigsaw puzzle of arms, legs and torsos that pisses me off the most. Being stuck next to the person with a bag that is far too big for what they really need to do that day. Music from earphones that’s too loud and never my cup of tea. Sour coffee breath, shit perfume, bullshit conversation and that fading pulse of unease from people just like me. Poor morale is infectious and a bad start to the day.
First world problems I hear you bleat? Of course they fucking are but they’re still problems and I’ve always felt that people who use that expression from the safety of their single story Victorian townhouses are just wankers with European run arounds, trying to make it all authentic with a Triple R sticker on the boot. But being squashed in with all that humanity is not my idea of a good time and finds itself right up there with any film featuring Johnny Depp – Donnie Brasco, notwithstanding.
But on the whole, I like the 19 tram. No I love the 19 tram. It’s regular, double carriaged, has un-vandalised upholstery and runs late on Friday and Saturday nights and there’s something reassuring about coming home on the tram and getting off on Sydney road and navigating your way across the road to Barkly Square. Crossing Sydney Road is an art form and is definitely an example of real life Frogger (see Seinfeld, season 9, episode 18). People unused to it are blown away by the fool hardy moves of locals, unafraid upon white lines, while trams, trucks and bikers speed passed on both sides. It’s all about keeping your nerve and developing a keen understanding of spatial relationships, speed and timing.
So, next time you’re on the 19 tram have a think about its strong links to Sydney Road. That tram dominates that strip of road, which unfolds between Brunswick Road and Bell Street; a huge metal worm muscling its way up the asphalt in all its glory. One of the few trams in Melbourne with a soulful journey, instead of a slow descent into a middle class Hades like the 75 tram’s route to Burwood.
I am unable to account for the hydrophobia. Maybe I’m just lazy.
I’ve lived in Brunswick for a few years now and I wouldn’t live anywhere else in Melbourne. This might make me a wanker but I don’t give a fuck. I like it here. It’s hard to find somewhere to live that you actually like but when I stepped into Barkly Square for the first time it was love at first sight. For those of you who haven’t been to my beloved Barkly Square it’s a rather cheap and nasty mall located near the city end of Sydney Road. It’s been renovated recently but I want to talk about the old Barkly Square, my Barkly Square.
I can see the roof of Barkly Square from my Brunswick apartment, that beige wave of concrete, topped by grey skies. The front of the building is dominated by large automated doors and a McDonald’s. Inside there is and was the usual array of shops. However, Barkly Square aka Barkers has had some odd shops in its time, like the shop that only sold stockings and hats or the bookshop that only sold Christian texts and audio books spoken by my ex-girlfriend’s, ex-boyfriend.
When I first moved to my Brunswick apartment, after finding myself in the liminal wasteland of shared accommodation in such places as Prahran and Preston, I spent every Saturday morning in Barkers. In particular, I used to adore walking around Kmart, nursing my hangover. There is something exhilarating about being surrounded by affordable goods that defies articulation. I’d sweep up and down the aisles, trailing my hands across the bargains like Ellen DeGeneres dancing onto her set. I kitted most of my apartment out with Kmart products but told people they were from elsewhere.
After a trip to Kmart I’d treat myself to a Vietnamese roll from the bakery out the front of Barkers, served by surly ladies who only now, after 3.5 years say hello to me and smile. I’d wash that down with a litre bottle of Bundaberg ginger beer and watch the DVD I’d also bought in Kmart. The rest of the afternoon was usually spent drinking whisky and writing at my kitchen table or meeting a friend at The Retreat for over-priced beer in the front bar.
But back to Barkers.
I’ve walked into Barkers in all sorts of states and never been asked to leave. There is an unconditional love that exists between me and this building. I have a Zen-like attachment to the walls and the floors and the toilets; when I enter through those automated doors all the troubles of the world slide down my legs and scurry into the rubbish bins, where the little fuckers belong. I have plans for Barkers though, big plans.
Barkly Square is where I’ll go when the zombie apocalypse finally arrives. I have it all worked out, so well worked out that I will not divulge my secrets on this blog, needless to say I’ll survive and you will not. Surviving the end of humanity takes a lot of planning and tinned products, also the ability to stab loved ones in the eye with a make shift spear. Sorry Mum but if you turn I’ll put you out of your misery using a selection of knifes from the kitchen section of Kmart, I know you’d appreciate the gesture.
Zombies aside, my favourite place in Barkers is the bottle shop attached to Safeway. When I first moved here it was a Liquorland but now it’s a BWS. Those of you who know me, know that I like the odd tipple before evensong. Drinking empowers me and later in the night disempowers me and sometimes leads to me being incarcerated but that’s another story. The lads in the BWS are great, except the skinny one with the goatee who’s a miserable prick and takes his job far too seriously and smells of stale cakes and probably loves Glee. The other lads are excellent value and we enjoy a good bit of banter whenever I go there, regardless of my state of mind.
But why Barkly Square when I live across the road from Princes Park? I’ll tell you why; Princes Park reminds me of that lurid scene in Midnight Express when all the brain dead prisoners walk around and around and around. The joggers at Princes Park are no different except they look healthier, are not afraid of the showers and jog rather than lurch around like smack heads on a carousel. I love Barkers because it has all the hallmarks of the unwanted ginger stepson. I revel in its rudimentary attempts at decoration. I worship at its alter of mediocrity. But more importantly Barkers sneaks under the radar and breaths its fiery smog of blandness up my jacksey and in doing so fills my soul with joy.
We are taught to admire aesthetically pleasing buildings, to regard them as the paragons of social advancement but places like Barkly Square never gain a mention even though they serve an important part of our community. I’ve watched Barkers for 3.5 years now and I can see its community, its familiar faces, and we all know each other and nod and wink and stop to chat.
Barkly Square is the unsung hero of Brunswick but when you get to know the building it takes off its glasses, undoes its hair, shakes it around, puts its hands on its hips and promises to show you a good time.