It’s been an odd few months. I quit my job, woke up into a new world after a four-week drinking session, swapped red wine for stout, spent a lot of time on my own thinking about stuff and now, two significant people in my life have found significant others in a post-apocalypse landscape of hope and uncertainty.
Significant person 1: Can’t go for a walk, having breakfast with the dude from next door.
Significant person 2: I had a date last night, he works in tiger conservation!
I got both messages within the same half-hour. The first one while I was having a Poogle and the second as I had my first sip of coffee today on my terrace in the sun.
So, for the first time in years, I’m on my own and I’m kind of sad and excited at the same time. These seismic shifts in life offer us the opportunity to move on and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. The old me would have bought three bottles of cheap wine, got self-indulgently drunk, and listened to Joy Division on the terrace until I passed out on my cacti. Cacti, you are safe.
I have self-indulgent tendencies. Bad ones. Ugly ones. Ones that become crazy monsters in the dark. I can drink an entire bottle of whisky and stare at the floor for hours and hours. Like when my ex left me in 2005 and I came home to an empty house and a note. I went straight out, bought a bottle of whisky, put OK Computer on and stared at the floor until the sun rose into an empty house on Rose Street. I showered, didn’t shave, didn’t pray for my sins, and went to work, where I lost my temper and threatened a co-worker with a hammer. I got sacked, went home via a whisky purchase and put OK Computer back on. Repeat, repeat, repeat, fucking repeat ad infinitum.
But I’m getting self-indulgent again. I need to avoid that state of mind or I’ll wind up back at the Sisyphean drawing board with an Albatross around my neck. I talk to my therapist about the Albatross a lot, it’s a strong theme in our sessions. She’s become the wedding guest that I’ve stopped in the street to tell my story. She has the face of an angel and this uncanny ability to deconstruct my bullshit and throw it back at me like a chimp in a zoo. Sometimes during our sessions, I stop breathing and she tells me to breathe. I like that. I’m not in love with her. She’s a lifeline, end of story. Let’s move on …
But what’s next for this tarnished jester who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage?” Now, this could be an opportunity to be a sad self-indulgent twat. No. Never. I’m taking the bull by the horns and driving that beast into the land of milk and honey. I’m going to build a beach bar in Samoa with my bare hands and “give up the booze and the one-night stands, then I’ll settle down in some quiet little town and forget about everything. Full of sound and fury, signifying” something.
And to my significant people who have moved onto significant others. Dance on. Be happy. Please call me sometimes. I’d like that.
NB. Anything with quotation marks is by Shakespeare and Gerry Rafferty. I can’t work out how to do footnotes in WordPress.
Our Creative Director, Jesse Kingsley, used to be a pool attendant in the 90s. He talks fondly of the position; halcyon days, simpler times, all sprayed with chlorinated water and discount confectionary from the pool kiosk.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when Jesse came up to me and said: “Gary Sweet was my swimming teacher”. I lifted my head up from an exquisitely baked chicken pie and told him that I once had a parking altercation with the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners. A weird stalemate developed where neither of us knew which story was better. That’s when our Head of Business Development chimed in with a story about dating Sting’s cousin’s daughter.
Later that day, Jesse wondered if Gary would remember him if they ever met on the street. I asked Jesse if he’d done anything out of the ordinary during the swimming lessons, and he said no, he hadn’t. But then he smiled and said: “Yes he would remember me! Because back then, my last name was Beaver!”
Brian Cho sits behind me at work, and calls himself The Brian. He’s the kind of person who strolls into meetings he’s not invited to and contributes like he’s organised the meeting, while everyone else sits there, too polite to say anything.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when The Brian swivelled around on his chair and said: “Callum, I got your email about looking at your friend’s website and I wanted to know more about your relationship with her. What does she mean to you?” I told him she’s one of my closest friends on the planet. To this, The Brian replied: “Then I will make sure I give it my complete attention”.
When I gave my friend The Brian’s feedback, I told her what he’d said, and she teared up and said: “What a lovely man, he must be great to work with”. I nodded, took a sip of my drink and ordered a tin of sardines.
I don’t hate Christmas because I’m a miserable bastard, I hate it because it’s surplus to requirement. It’s an opportunity to max out your credit card, fight with family, eat unhealthy food, guzzle alcohol and pretend to like the crap presents people give you because they have no fucking idea who you are.
Some people even embrace Christmas as the perfect time to commit suicide. However, I’d like to reflect on all the disastrous Christmases I’ve had over the years. And there have been many. Let me tell you about some of the times I’ve been accused of ruining Christmas.
My first Christmas memory is of being around five years old and standing about two metres away from the Christmas tree scratching my balls. My old man came into the room, saw that my hands were down the front of my Magic Roundabout jim jams and said, “Don’t ruin Christmas Callum”. I have no idea what I got/learned that Christmas but I still enjoy scratching my balls.
With the introduction of alcohol to Christmas, the prospect of ruining the day increased exponentially. One year my old man and my wee brother helped me to ruin Christmas. We all got so drunk before Christmas lunch that all three of us passed out at the dining table. The next year alcohol was banned and we had a merry, yet boring Christmas.
I spent Christmas 1999 in Marrakech, where I got so drunk on the roof of the hotel that I had to be assisted to my room by strangers. I spent most of the day passed out on the bed farting, while my girlfriend sat on a rickety chair crying and gagging on the methane. The next morning over a lamb tagine, she announced that I had ruined Christmas.
Moving swiftly beyond the Millennium, ruining Christmas became a certainty. However, Christmas 2001 was spent in Brighton with the same methane suffering GF of Marrakesh fame. That year we hosted an orphans’ Christmas and we had a ball. My wee brother was staying with us and I invited loads of mates from around the traps. We all took hash cookies. It was a truly great Christmas. My wee brother passed out on the couch and the rest of us crumbled Jaffa Cakes into his bum crack. He was rather embarrassed by this but conceded that I had not ruined Christmas.
Jumping five years and a continent, I ended up spending Christmas with another girlfriend at her parents’ house. On this occasion, I really did ruin Christmas and to this day I feel guilty about my behaviour. Life wasn’t going well for me down under and I was a couple of hot dinners away from flying home to the mess I’d left there.
Christmas morning started with champagne and moved swiftly onto red wine (my Achilles heel). By around 8pm I was wild eyed and scary drunk. For those of you who know me, this is an unpleasant experience. A good friend of mine once described it as like being trapped in a broom cupboard with a high functioning zombie. Needless to say, when I stripped off my shirt and threw an antique stool against the wall, I had officially ruined Christmas and any chance of being invited back. That was not only a low point in my life but a low point in ruining Christmas.
After that I got on the straight and narrow and decided that I should devote my life to making Christmas better. It was a failed experiment but at least I stopped ruining Christmas. A few Christmases passed by uneventfully and I thought I was moving away from my Christmas shenanigans. However, I hit the festive wall by getting drunk by the coast one Christmas and I guzzled all of Christmas dinner, leaving nothing for my girlfriend. She loves scallops. I ate all 75 in one sitting and then passed out on the couch. When I rose from my slumber she accused me of ruining Christmas but revoked the accusation after we found naked photos of her Dad’s girlfriend doing unsavoury things to herself.
There have been a few more bumps along the yuletide highway, like last year when I started drinking whisky at 6am and cooked a dry shepherd’s pie for my guests, followed by a tearful monologue about how successful my year had been. But to be perfectly honest, I could do without it.
Christmas, like New Year’s Eve, is an example of forced fun. It’s not a time of reflection, it’s a consumerist hell hole that makes absolutely no sense to me at all. Why max out the credit card for one day? Why pour so much into one day, when the other 364 should be equally as important?
I’ve ruined my fair share of Christmases, so I’m officially retiring from non-secular holidays. They’re obviously not for me and vice versa. I should have done this years ago but people love to guilt trip you about not liking Christmas, like you’re some kind of negative vibe merchant.
So, this year I’m locking the door of the Treehouse and turning off my phone.
If you need me, wait ‘til Boxing Day. It’s better this way.
I’m 45 and single. If someone had told me that this is what was in store for me when I was 16, I’d have felt very, very afraid. In fact, I’d have regarded future Callum as a weirdo and failure. The kind of man who ended up as a janitor in a train station and had an unwholesome interest in used postage. However, I’m here to explain to young Callum that it isn’t that bad and that being single in your 40s is the ‘new single’ for the 21st Century.
When I was a kid, single people in their 40s tended to be cat ladies, janitors and closeted homosexuals who had ‘special friends’. The latter category tended to be met, by the adults, with a sense of confused wonder, garnished with unresolved sexual issues and a sprinkle of sympathy. I remember one woman in particular who terrified the other adults with her single status and lesbian den of sin in a place called Burrelton.
Anyway, these single people were a kind of a social anomaly and not what you aspired to. I remember having a teacher in secondary school that must have been around mid to late 30s and, rumour had it, liked entertaining the older students in her spinster flat. Total bullshit, but being over 25 and single was a fucking minefield of misinformation and myth making. In the absence of a relationship, people’s imaginations ran wild and we all know where that can lead to.
It’s now 2015 and I’m single, and I’m not a janitor or a stamp collector. I live alone because I like it that way. I’m not going to validate this because I don’t have to. I just do. Well, to be honest, living with me isn’t much fun. I do strange things in the middle of the night, like sleep eating and… but I’ve embraced being single because it’s actually not that bad.
For instance, in your 40s, you know where you’ve been and you know where you’re going, which is reassuring. This comes with an increase in confidence and the ability to navigate through life with greater success. Also, I don’t think young people are idiots, so I don’t feel middle-aged and alienated. This is the biggest mistake people over 35 make in life and it’s pointless, and stupid. Be nice to the people coming up because they’re the ones you’ll see when you’re coming down.
When it comes to the dating scene, so many 40 year olds lie about their age. Suddenly, on Tinder they’re 38 instead of 45. Stop being a fuckwit! People will find out and you’ll look like a massive dickhead! If people aren’t comfortable with your age, then fuck it. Find another medium or go out and actually meet people in the flesh. It can be done. Tinder is not the only fruit.
Now, I’m not against dating sites. They seem to be the modern arena for meeting new people and that’s fine by me. However, I’m old fashioned like that and it’s not for me. Plus my profile would make me look like Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. Interests: Drinking whisky while doing chin ups and watching violent films. Surely that would merit a call to the police or at least the Tinder police. I’m also not 6’ 3” with toned abs and painfully white teeth.
I’m a stocky middle-aged man with some bad habits and I’m going to the dentist this week to get a molar extracted. How would that look in a profile? Well, I couldn’t give a flying fuck because I’m 45 and I don’t aspire to the impossible heights of perfection. In fact, I laugh in the face of perfection because it’s a cruel joke told by other middle-aged men and women who look like used condoms that have been tarted-up to look like a Barbie doll’s arsehole.
The ‘new single’ for people in their 40s should be about dispensing with the fictional pretense and getting on with the reality of the situation. We’re not 25 anymore and that’s not a crime. There’s nothing wrong with a few wrinkles and a receding hairline, and there’s certainly nothing worse than pretending to be somebody that you’re not. I’m an intolerant prick and the idea of being ‘positive’ and ‘up beat’ or interested in arts and crafts fills me with vitriol. It’s been a long and winding road, and I’m not prepared to go backwards for the sake of people with impossible dreams. Plus, I’ll be retiring in 20 years, so I don’t have time for all that crap.
The ‘new single’ for people in their 40s should embrace the wrinkle and the missing molar, and shun the celluloid lies spun by creepy charlatans who think it’s okay to drench the world with their PR driven advice. They should me marched out and stripped of their plastic surgery and made to work in aged care facilities.
I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life and I’m single. And this isn’t a blog about justifying being single, like so many single people do these days. This is a blog about knowing where you’ve been and knowing where you’re going, and embracing it. Yes, there are times when I wake up and think it would be nice to have somebody here with me and sometimes that does get me down. However, most of the time, I wake up, make myself a coffee and go out to my roof terrace (weather permitting) feeling very content.
That’s life. Highs and lows and all the bits in between. If you’re in your 40s, single and reading this blog, cut yourself some slack – there’s great things in store for people who embrace a situation and turn it to their advantage. Being 40 and single is empowering as long as you own it and are not insecure about it all.
One of the sexiest characteristics in the world is the ability to be bold, to assert yourself and attain that greatness through success. Regardless of age.
IKEA is a depraved consumerist nightmare and everything Karl Marx warned us about. I recently moved into a new flat with a rooftop balcony and needed to deck the place out with new furniture for my new life, closer to the sky. Somebody suggested I go to IKEA for their low prices and range of unassembled furniture. I enjoyed the meatballs but the rest of the experience was fucking awful.
On Friday, I borrowed my old man’s trusty Ute for the pilgrimage to the temple of Scandinavian minimalism, which if you’ve ever been there – and I bet you probably have – is a clear contradiction in terms. I knew in advance they were serving meatballs, so on Saturday morning I skipped breakfast and knocked back a quick belt of whisky to open my eyes to the stark reality of normality. By noon, me and lil’g, The GF, were on the road to Victoria Gardens in Richmond.
I’m not a religious man but I am a superstitious man, and there’s a difference. Religious people fuck things up and superstitious people just touch wood. On the way to IKEA, I had one of those premonitions, accompanied by a slight stomach cramp from the previous night’s shenanigans.
We were listening to Gold 104 FM, great classic hits, and half way through Mr. Tambourine Man, I remembered a story about a friend of mine who went to IKEA and, two hours into the experience, thought he’d never make it out. I turned to lil’g and asked her if this was true, but she just smiled and held my hand.
When we arrived at the bustling Victoria Gardens shopping centre, we parked up top to avoid the usual colonic fight for parking space. I spend much of my time dreaming about the zombie apocalypse and walking into IKEA I felt a rush of apocalyptic adrenalin that almost wiped out my frontal lobe. If it was going to happen, it would start here and I’d be fucking up zombies with sharpened Swedish pine, while lil’g nodded her head in time to the carnage. There’s a compelling beauty to bloodshed.
Anyway, the meatballs and mash were actually quite good, washed down with peach tea and an insight into the lives of those who’ve chosen the Australian dream in the same way I might choose laundry detergent in Safeway. So, with a stomach full of Nordic staples we threw ourselves into the wonderful world of IKEA.
It started with easy chairs and quickly progressed to a butcher’s bench called BEKVAM. By the time we got to the kitchen section, I was bored shitless and wishing the zombie apocalypse would kick in so I could at least justify the hip flask in my back pocket and the venom crawling up my spine. There’s a moment in everyone’s life when you stop, take a look around and say, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’
With that in mind, I told lil’g that I was satisfied with what I’d chosen and could we please get the furniture I selected and go home for a beer on my balcony. I love watching the sun set on Brunswick West; I find it reassuring because I live in the better half of Brunswick. It was at this point that lil’g told me that we had to go down to the warehouse and find the shit. But nothing prepared me for what was about to happen.
After two hours of confusing herding we eventually found ourselves in the warehouse from the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pallet racks extending to the heavens loaded with animistic furniture. I stopped in my tracks and actually marveled at the dagger that had appeared before me. ‘How would the Macbeth’s have reacted to this?’ I thought, as my scrotum contracted. Buying furniture for their empty nest, hoping that they could adopt an African baby, and spend the rest of their lives blissfully unaware of awkward Christmas gatherings with fertile loved ones…
…but I digress, because that is my want and writing about The Macbeth’s in the same paragraph as Raiders of the Lost Ark mixes allegories, and we shouldn’t be afraid of doing that.
For those of you who’ve never been to IKEA, it’s a good idea to take photos of the tags attached to the furniture because they correspond to their location in the warehouse. We hadn’t taken photos of the tags upstairs, and so began the agonising job of using the touch screen information tablets to locate the position of our flat packed furniture. Most touch screens in public spaces are pretty shite at the best of times but IKEA have come up with a new way to torture us with technology. You have to press the icons at least a dozen times before they activate. A test of patience for a man like me is always going to be like staring down the barrel of my inherent flaws, and likely to end in a hail of blood pressure and expletives. And it did.
I stood there swearing at modernity and so-called Swedish ingenuity. It was man versus warehouse and I was going to win the day. I thought if Bear Grills can drink piss from a dead camel’s bladder, I could at least learn how to operate and overcome rows of concrete, steel and cardboard. And we did.
With lil’g’s patience at the helm of this voyage into the dark maw of commodity fetishism, all we had to worry about was me swearing in front of minors, which was inevitable and character building for them. As Stephen Fry said, ‘The sort of twee person who thinks that swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest, is just a fucking lunatic.’ And he goes onto say, ‘It’s not necessary to have coloured socks; it’s not necessary for this cushion not to be here but is anyone going to write in and say, ‘I was shocked to see that cushion there, it really wasn’t necessary’. No. And things not being necessary is what makes life interesting, the little extras in life’. So toughen the fuck up, you weeshites, and let the red-faced Scotsman exercise his cultural right.
And with this in mind, I swore my little heart out until we got to the other side and finally paid hard currency for our purchases because as consumers that’s what our ‘little extras in life’ are.
Back in the Ute, with my purchases safely stowed away on the tray, I thought about all this. We require things to sit on. We require consumerist herding in this fucked up world we call Victoria Gardens. We are live stock in our own particular way and, by the corporate sector, we are treated accordingly. However, I’m no fool and I know when somebody is taking the fucking piss.
IKEA has positioned itself within the market as affordable designer furniture for younger middle class consumers looking for a prescribed sense of style. As Palahniuk’s unnamed protagonist says of IKEA in Fight Club, ‘I had it all, even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof that they were crafted by the honest, simple, hardworking indigenous peoples of… wherever’. It’s the ultimate consumer illusion that the items we buy have a solid history based on righteous fair trade, supporting the underdogs of life, the artisans. That somehow we’re buying into the ‘bigger picture’ of Swedish socialism and neutrality. But when I look at a piece of IKEA furniture I feel like I’m looking at something that can’t make up its mind.
And IKEA wants us to update our furniture based on pivotal lifestyle changes, getting married or starting a family etc. IKEA wants to be right there ushering us into adulthood, doing all the thinking for us – aligning us with like-minded people who are ready for the next stage of their life to begin in earnest. IKEA is earnest, earnestly making consumerism look like an experience rather than a transaction. And they succeed in doing so with the IKEA nesting instinct.
But I will say this, readers: In IKEA the world stops spinning and, just for a moment, you gaze into the muddy gorge of spiritual damnation and feel the need to resurrect Karl Marx, even though his ideas have been shafted by the worst kind of cunts.
In the meantime, I have whisky and an Allen key, and I will build this thing.
“I took her to a supermarket. I don’t know why, but I had to start it somewhere.”
Pulp, Common People
I’m moving out of Ye Olde Lodge in two weeks and the prospect of leaving is making me miserable. I’ve been there for four and a half years now, and it’s the longest I’ve ever stayed in a house since I was 17 years old. So, I’m now going to tell you why Ye Olde Lodge (YOL) is the most important building in Brunswick.
The first reason is that it’s located at No. 1 Sydney Road making it the first house you see driving into Brunswick if you arrive via Royal Parade. Yes, it’s that place on the corner with the clocks that don’t work and yes, it looks a little bit like a half-way house for more discerning vagrants. But no, it used to be a hotel in its heyday and when you open the huge front door you can smell about five different dinners cooking at once. That’s not a reference to it being a hotel but at any time of the day you can actually smell five meals being cooked at once. The government calls it high density living. I call it living up somebody’s arsehole.
However, arseholes aside, the walls are thick, so once you’re inside your flat, the smells dissipate and all you can hear are the trams clanking down Sydney Road or the urgent throttle of a local Bandido racing towards another MENSA meeting. Is it a mere coincidence that the rise of bikie crime in Australia has occurred concurrently with the popularity of Sons of Anarchy? Anyway, I digress.
At YOL, I live across the hall from the weirdo of the building; let’s call him Dan because that’s his name. On Sundays, Dan climbs into the roof and can sometimes be heard raking around above my flat doing something. I don’t know what he does up there but I hope he’s been having fun. Dan once gave me a six-pack of Asahi because I complained about the noise of his renovations. He genuinely thinks he’s bought me after that act of benevolence, and every time I see him on the tram he nods at me like those six beers changed my life.
Then there’s the lad downstairs, who always calls me ‘neighbour’. Last summer we argued about him using my parking space. I was drunk at the time and told him that if he parked in it again I’d smash in his car’s windows with a baseball bat. He took this seriously and called the police. When the police called me, I told them that my ‘neighbour’ had urinated in one of the plant pots out the front of the building. By Monday morning the plant pots were gone.
The woman who lives right next door to me is Janice, and she’s in love with Blake Carrington from Dynasty. We’re friends and are now the longest standing residents of YOL and she’ll be sad to see me go because she hates Dan and has never received a six-pack of Asahi from him. Instead, Dan has spent a long time in her roof being single. There was talk of Dan having a girlfriend but I suspect the closest thing he has to a girlfriend is a pork chop, in a tumbler.
Dirti Cunti is the building’s body corporate. My top tip to anyone reading this is to never, ever employ these people to look after anything. Getting these so called property managers to take any form of responsibility is like asking Jack the Ripper to work as a temp in a remotely located brothel and asking him to promise not to brutally murder any of the employees.
But dysfunction aside and the odd call from the cops, I love this old building. It’s been a good home to me, Callum Scott, and many of my boisterous guests. It was in this building that I had a remarkable alcoholic delusion. Two friends came round and found me leaning against the toilet door having an argument with my girlfriend, who they assumed had locked herself in the toilet because I was being a nightmare. They coaxed me away from the door with more beer and I sat drinking with them at my kitchen table, occasionally going back to the toilet door to shout something, until I eventually passed out in an ashtray. As they walked down the stairs they passed my girlfriend returning from the supermarket with much needed supplies, and to their credit said ‘hello’ like nothing had happened.
Anyway, there is something incredibly spiritual about a home you love. The very walls seem to imbue a sense of harmony that’s impossible to articulate. In a real home, everything is perfect, even the things that don’t work and, really, that’s the whole point of building a home in the first place. I’ve lived in places that didn’t feel like a home and the knock on effect to the rest of my life was palpable to everyone, especially me. When I don’t have a home, part of my brain ceases to function properly.
When I have a home everything makes sense because I have somewhere to go when everything doesn’t make sense. I think of all the long days I’ve had over the last four and a half years and how getting home at the end of one of those days was better than anything else I could imagine. Opening the door, smelling my home and placing my keys in the little plate by the door. Simple pleasures, the kind of routines that work on me like functional therapy. I hope everybody experiences this at least once in their life because after that you won’t settle for anything less, and nor should you.
So, goodbye Ye Olde Lodge. Sometimes life was stormy and tempestuous but you were always there for me, and most of the time life was perfect because I knew you were there, on the corner of Sydney Road and Park Street. A loveable collection of bricks with a generous soul…
…and the broken clocks who only told the right time twice a day, which was good enough for me.
I’ve always loved the Melbourne Cup and not because I’m into horse racing but because it’s a great excuse to get together with friends and hit the piss on a week day. Gambling has never been one of my vices and I’ve only ever placed two bets: one on the Cheltenham Races in 1998 and this year on the Melbourne Cup. However, this year was the very best of both bets.
My mate Aaron had been on his honeymoon and I was pretty sure he’d be back around Cup Day but I wasn’t 100% on this. On the morning of the cup, just as I’d finished watching an episode of The Moaning of Life (ep. 1, Marriage, 6.5/10), I received a text at 8:30am. It was Aaron informing me that he was back and trying to get out of going to a BBQ, meaning he wanted to hit the piss with a vengeance, with me. I endorsed his decision to bug off the BBQ and get some proper drinking done. It had been six weeks and I’d been in a thesis keyhole and in desperate need of cracking my skull on a good skelp o’ the bottle.
My buzzer went off at around noon and as usual I excreted a couple of teaspoons of poo because that fucking buzzer always catches me off guard, like it knows I’m concentrating on something and vulnerable to its awful sound. It was Aaron and he’d brought back a shot glass and some classic black and white French pornography as gifts for me. He knows me well. Although I was disturbed to find out that his duty free had been confiscated in Dubai, he never went into detail but judging by his gait it had been a harrowing experience for all involved.
Luckily he had a spare bottle of whisky at home, which he brought around in a posh bag he bought in New York that was slung over a fetching sports jacket he picked up in Rome and carried around to my place upon a shiny new pair of shoes purchased in Paris or London or somewhere like that. It was great to see him because Aaron is the kind of man who speaks his mind regardless of the company he’s in and not because he thinks it makes him look smart but because he really can’t help himself. This is both a gift and a burden for the lad but I admire this quality.
I had some beers in the fridge, so we got them out and started on the day.
By 1:30pm we’d caught up, drunk six beers and knocked back a bottle of whisky. It was time to venture out and get some more whisky, cigarettes, dumplings and place a bet on the cup. Everything but the bet was bought in my favourite place, Barkly Square. The bet was made in Bridie O’Reilly’s on the corner of Brunswick Road and Sydney Road. My local where I write my PhD, the rewrites of my novel and a screenplay with Brother Josh, in the middle booth looking out onto Brunswick Road and the corner where I live.
I had no idea who to bet on, so with a minute before bets closed I sought the advice of the barman. I also had no fucking idea how to work the machine and I was drunk and euphoric and needed a piss asap. It’s the kind of mix that can leave a man avoiding social engagements for a month or so. Anyway, the barman suggested Fiorente to which I said yes and Aaron handed him a fiver. We bet low because we’re novices and not afraid to say so.
Back at my place with a bottle of single malt on the table we got settled in for the race, dumplings bubbling on the stove. I flicked on my analogue TV and we kicked back and watched people wandering around Flemington Racecourse in all sorts of states. It’s a time for women to become slutted-up-weeble-wobble-dental-ads and for men to squeeze into suits from Peter Jackson and wear poorly selected sunglasses and strut around with one finger up their arse (Aaron in Dubai) and the other finger firmly ensconced in the cleavage of a slutted-up-weeble-wobble. I have nothing against this. People are entitled to behave this way if they want to but I am also entitled to laugh my arse off at them after three bottles of beer and half a bottle of whisky. It is our cultural right to engage in either practice.
The horses left the gates and they were off. The commentators started on a high and continued to work themselves up into a frenzy as the horses tore up the track in a spectacular array of colour and adrenalin. Aaron and I sat on the edges of our seats cheering on Fiorente, as our horse brought up the rear and other horses surged ahead. With five dollars on the line we were both on tenterhooks getting into the spirit of the occasion. The hooves smashed into the grass and the commentator rose from his seat and started spitting everything into the microphone. Just when we thought all was lost Fiorente came up on the side and raced to the finishing line like a drunk man with a kebab sprinting towards the last tram with garlic sauce spiraling behind him like a vapour trail. Ten seconds later Aaron and I were jumping around my flat hugging and swearing and high-fiving. It was the best feeling I’ve had so far this year. We’d won the cup, our cup and the whisky never felt so good dancing a victory jig in our veins.
After we’d exhausted every cell in our vocal chords we sat down knackered, speechless. It was the greatest home coming either of us could imagine. One of those moments you have with a mate when you’ve both placed your trust and expectations on the same situation and everything has fallen into place in a way you never could have anticipated.
When the dust finally settled, we sat in silence, every once in a while saying, ‘I can’t believe we won the fucking cup, I can’t believe we won the fucking cup’. Savoring victory, enjoying victory as dumpling skins boiled over onto my stove.
The rest of the day passed in a haze but at some point it all hit me. It’s these moments in our culture that make it all worthwhile, the moments when a race does stop a nation but it stops differently for all of us. Whether it’s drinking at home with a mate or falling over in the mud dressed to the nines, having fun has many forms but as a long as you’re having fun without fucking other people up then you are truly tapping into the better side of humanity.
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.