Tag Archives: Melbourne

You vill comply!

SATURDAY

The aqua sky’s cloudless and the chirps of the birds are carried by the gentle breeze.  I casually cycle past a man watering his front lawn, my skin and spirits feel pleasantly warm.  My yellow bike reflects my mood.

Me:  Perfect day for a ride!

Him:  Mmm.  It’d be even more perfect if you were wearing a helmet.

Ugh.  The sun’s gone behind a metaphoric grey cloud.

MONDAY

I cross the road to go for a walk in the park beside the creek.  A car drives past.

Jaywalker”!

I spontaneously laugh.  It feels like a 5-year-old just called me “poo-face”.

Are there people out there who genuinely think jaywalking is a crime so severe that it needs to be policed by civilians?  Really?

Yes must be the answer, since three separate jaywalking vigilantes have reprimanded me in the past year.

WEDNESDAY

I stand at a pedestrian crossing with six others.  There are no cars in sight, and we can see the road for miles.  I want to cross, but I know the rules here.  I can also do without the crime of “jaywalker” being yelled at me twice in a week.

No one moves.  We all stand still, dead still, waiting for the green robot man to tell us we can walk.  Minutes pass in silence, the vacant road glaring in front of us.   Finally the green robot man blinks on, instructing the humanoids who obediently step forward.

FRIDAY

I open a small bottle of wine and cross the road to the creek.

“Excuse me”?

“Yes”?

“Um, you know you’re not allowed to drink on the street”?

Sigh.  Of course you aren’t.

Bike helmets are compulsory in Australia, jaywalking is illegal (and the law is actively enforced), drinking in public is banned, and you cross the street when you’re told to cross the street.

Last year it was proposed that Melbourne becomes a smoke-free city.  No smoking in the entire CBD.  Prohibition in 2014.  Oh and voting’s also compulsory – not voting incurs a $74 fine.

This is a land of laws.

Compliance is everything.

It’s tiring, it’s absurd, and it’s a constant challenge to those who have lived anywhere else.  It’s not the snakes, or the spiders, or the bushfires, or the sharks that’ll get you in Australia.  It’s the rules, the laws, and the cultural mindset.

Like a stint in prison, you have to brace yourself to live here – and the final sentence in this note from one American to another about living in Australia reads like the end of a custodial sentence:   “Those of us from the American south know an unbridled, exceptional amount of freedom and (aside from missing our loved ones), the rules and general rigidity of Australia can seem oppressive.  It wasn’t until my Aussie hubby came here and experienced our freedoms, that he understood why I found it so difficult to adjust in Sydney.  Living in Australia was extremely challenging for me, and it was an experience that made me a stronger, more resilient person.” 

Australia’s refreshingly wide and open land contradicts the human oppression and indoctrination.  A friend who visited Australia last year sent me an email which captured how it’s strikingly restrictive to those who have spent years in more relaxed countries.

“I never thought of the UK as free until I visited Australia. Whenever people have asked about my trip, the dismaying nanny-state rigidity of Australian society is all I’ve been able to talk about.  I couldn’t believe the constant, on-going presumption that various public authorities know best!  The rules and ever-present rigidity of Australia is genuinely amazing.  I’ve never experienced anything like it in any other country”.

Of course, there’s a positive side to the compliance.  The rules mean that we have high quality standards, cleanliness, “good” behaviour and civic order.  These are good things … though they also describe Germany.  I guess it’s a matter of whether you consider the price of those things to be worth it.  I’m not sure I do. I’m okay with a few cycling fatalities if it means all of us can have the wind in our hair.  I’m okay with the occasional smell of smoke if it means we can have the freedom to make our own choices.  I’m okay with a few drunks in the street, if it means I can enjoy a cold glass of wine by the creek on a warm summer evening.  Hell, with any luck, I’ll get a little tipsy and be one of those drunks! (And yes, I realise the risks of drinking by a river.  Yawn).

18 months ago, I had a word approved by the urban dictionary; Convictistan.  It’s used by non-Australians (often New Zealanders) when referring to Australia.  I meant it as a nod to our convict history.  Perhaps it’s not history.  Perhaps we’re all currently inmates in an open prison.

Afterword

In October last year Jeremy Clarkson wrote about Australia in “The Times” …

So I was in a helicopter.  The doors were off, I had a rifle and the pilot was hovering 100ft from the ground so I could shoot a wild pig.  Later we butchered it and over a few beers fed it to his pet crocodile.  This is the all-male, rough-and-tumble image we have of life in Australia.  But it’s wrong …

The following morning, all I wanted was a cigarette and a cup of coffee in the morning sunshine, but down under, this is no longer really possible.

I made the short 300-yard walk from the restaurant to what was billed as the smoking terrace. But a waiter sprinted over to say that the actual smoking terrace was even further away, in a cave by the bins.

And that, yes, he could bring me a coffee, but only in a paper cup.

This is because he’d have to walk past the swimming pool.  Never mind that it was completely fenced off, and accessible through a gate so complicated that only a child could possibly work the latch, there was a chance that he would trip over one of the signs advising visitors that it was 0.2 metres deep, that diving was banned, that no lifeguard was on duty and that the water may contain traces of diarrhoea.

I’m not sure there’s a county on earth where the global perception is as far removed from the reality as Australia.  We see it as a land of spiders and snakes, where you are born drunk and with an ability to barbecue yourself. But it’s not like that at all.

Today the unholy alliance of the nanny state and the trade union movement has created a culture of health and safety so all-consuming that no one is allowed to die, or even fall over. Cigarettes are sold in packets made from the diseased lungs of dead babies, drinking outside is not allowed and there are speed limits on roads where there is literally nothing to hit.  You could have a crash lasting two hours and you’d still be fine.

The last fatality from a spider bite was in 1979, and every single river in the outback is garnished with floats … Australia can keep its ludicrous attitude to health and safety …”

A frog or a prince?

Once upon a time there was a little princess called Simone.  She wasn’t a traditional fairytale maiden with flowing blonde locks, refined features and a delicate slender frame; but a dark-haired girl with an average face and a sturdy hourglass body.  Still, as flawed as she was, she dreamed of one day standing before her empire as Queen Simone, her mighty King firmly by her side.  And that meant finding a prince.

As a young girl she searched her own land in the New World for a royal suitor, but the Land of Oz is vast and its population limited: her prince was nowhere to be found.  She knew she had to get in her carriage and journey on the yellow-brick road to other kingdoms; so, when she finished university, she voyaged to the Old World to continue her search.

She kissed many frogs:   In fact she had dinner with frogs, watched movies with frogs and even saw a few frogs naked.  On two occasions in fifteen years her heart filled with hope when she met first one prince and then another, but they each chose princesses from other realms.  The Australian prince selected a beautiful olive-skinned princess from Italy, and the English prince went with a plain, but intelligent, blue-eyed princess from New Zealand.

Princess Simone never gave up hope, but she carried on her search less fervently; enjoying her life filled with the constant distractions of daily activities.  Work and socialising kept her busy and happy.  In time, she figured, her prince would show his face.  Then in 2012 she met a man in a Melbourne café and her spirits soared.  He looked like a prince, he sounded like a prince, he smelled like a prince … could he actually be a prince?

The week they met was a wondrous whirlwind of courtship.  Each evening, after Mark had fulfilled his princely duties at the café, they went out.  They saw a theatrical performance, heard the great musicians for which Melbourne was renowned, and laughed at the jesters the city’s comedy circuit provided.  Princess Simone saw Mark’s castle which was tremendously stylish, even in comparison to her beautiful temporary palace of residence at the Four-Trees Apartments.

On the night before she was due to return to her mother’s abode, she met Mark for dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant in Hardware Lane.  They chatted over a glass of wine and ordered their food.  Mark spoke excessively harshly to the waitress for making a tiny error, humiliating her and contributing to her nervously spilling some water.  “Is this how he treats his own service staff?” Simone wondered, troubled and embarrassed by his behaviour.

As Mark filled her in on his day, a strange thing happened.  His words started to blur and her eyes glazed over.  Soon, all she could hear was, “Ribbit …. ribbit … ribbit”.  “His words have no substance”, she thought.  “And, we have nothing in common.  It’s just not there between us – he’s not my prince”.  Simone realised that in the week’s carnival of activity and mead drinking, they hadn’t really talked to each other; they’d been so busy being entertained that they hadn’t established if they entertained each other.  They didn’t.

After a dinner that dragged, they finished their coffees and left the restaurant.  Princess Simone kissed Mark farewell, boarded her tram and watched him hop away.  He wasn’t an entirely bad frog (waitress incident aside) and he might be someone else’s prince but for her this fairytale didn’t end with a “happily ever after”.  Her search continues.

Fire alarm

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!  The high-pitched smoke detector screeches loudly and I rush from the bathroom to the kitchenette of my hotel room.  The building will be evacuated if I don’t quickly stop the cause of the noise and I simply cannot have that happen.  Urgently I switch the toaster off, grab a chair and stand on it to reach the alarm.  With a towel wrapped around me I stretch up and press the silent button.  With my arms extended to the ceiling my towel falls to the floor.  At that exact moment the door to my room opens. 

Me:  Jesus! Shit!  (I drop to a crouch on the chair, in a sort of naked Terminator pose).

The hotel manager:  Christ, I’m sorry!  (He pauses for a moment, clearly searching for the words to justify his intrusion).  I’m just here to investigate a fire.

I look at him over my bare shoulder in a room now so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  His eyes are bolted steadfastly on my face as he slowly processes the situation.     

It’s Tuesday morning at the Four-Trees Apartments in St Kilda Road, Melbourne.  Minutes earlier I’d showered and carved a piece of the delicious fruit loaf I’d purchased at Prahran Market the previous day.  I’d popped the toaster down and returned to the bathroom to comb my wet hair; I was really looking forward to a thick piece of buttery toast with apricots and dates coated in sesame seeds.  Now I’m frozen to the chair as cold water from my hair trickles down my back:  a plump and self-conscious drenched albino rat.

The young hotel manager finally overcomes his stunned embarrassment and looks away.  I unsuccessfully try to break the uneasy silence by desperately babbling.

Me:  It’s okay, it was just some toast.  It didn’t even burn.  The smoke detector must be overly sensitive.  I’ve stopped it now.  There’s no fire.

The hotel manager:  Oh good.  Okay.  Um, I still need to check the area and re-set the alarm …. Sorry.  I just can’t leave the area without making sure.

Jesus Christ, seriously?

The awkward atmosphere continues as he turns and faces the door to give me much overdue privacy.  I get off the chair with as much self-assurance as I can muster, pick up the towel and wrap it back around me.  In a weak attempt to reduce the discomfort I switch the TV on, purely for some noise, and head to the bathroom to dress.

I hear him bustle around the room making the necessary checks and he leaves with an excessively loud, “Okay that’s all sorted!  Let me know if you need anything else”!  I call out thanks, knowing that I’ll be avoiding him for the remainder of my stay.  The air conditioning doesn’t work, the safe doesn’t lock and the Wifi keeps cutting out, all unacceptable in a five-star hotel, but I’ll put up with the flaws for the next two days.  Certain he’ll tell his staff about this incident, I’ll do my best to keep a low profile until I check-out.  Sigh.  Causing an evacuation would have been less embarrassing.  Admittedly, supervising the toasting bread in the first instance would have been the best approach … well my lesson has been sharply learnt through good old-fashioned humiliation.

Wolfgang

Tuesday morning, Heathrow, Terminal 3.  I’ve boarded my Boeing 747, Flight CX252 to Hong Kong and am walking to my seat.  The public sector strikes scheduled for Wednesday mean I’m flying a day early – I can blame them for many things, but not my hangover.  Thankfully my throbbing head can relax as my excessive organisation has me fully prepared; I checked in 48 hours ago, chose the perfect seats (aisle for the first leg, window for the second) and, through Cathay Pacific’s website, selected the movies I’ll be watching (Horrible Bosses, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Midnight in Paris and Mr Popper’s Penguins).  I’m the only person I know who runs out of time to do all the things they need to do on a long haul flight.    

 I approach my seat and take a (hopefully unnoticeable) intake of breath at the attractive, olive-skinned man in the seat next to mine.  We smile hello to each other and I attempt to put my hand luggage in the overhead compartment.  He jumps up and grabs my bag.

MAN: Let me get that for you (I hear an accent – Dutch?).

I thank him, and we seat and buckle ourselves.   

MAN:  So you’re going to Hong Kong?

ME:  For just a few hours – I’m heading to Australia from there.

Polite conversation reveals that he’s German, a dentist, plays the piano, and is an avid motorcyclist.  I’ve a history of owning scooters (which prompts mild, good-natured mocking on his part), his name is Wolfgang (which prompts immense, good-natured mocking on mine).  He’s on his way to Australia for a friend’s wedding which leads us to indicate that we’re both single, and a distinctly flirtatious atmosphere develops.

After we’re fed, the lights are switched off.  We draw up our blankets and lower our seats.  I wait for about half an hour, my body tense, before pretending to fall asleep.  My heart pounds as I feel the back of his left hand lightly brush against my outer right thigh and settle there.  Gradually, I feel his hand move more firmly against my leg and gently stroke it (you’ll have to take my word for it when I say this wasn’t creepy).  The excitement is intense.

Inch by inch, I slowly drop my head to his shoulder, my mouth slightly open (attractiveness had to be sacrificed for authenticity … I’m not saying I’m proud of my actions!).  After twenty minutes in this position, a child kicks my seat so I take my opportunity to “wake”.  Trying to look dazed, I sit up and lift my head from Wolfgang’s shoulder.

ME:  God, I’m sorry!

MAN:  It’s okay … I liked it.

ME (my heart jumping at the recognition of our intimacy. I smile):  Well I just hope I didn’t dribble on you.   

MAN: Not at all – I was really enjoying it.

I laugh and we both watch our individual movies before landing.  Wolfgang asks for my email address (he’s getting a different connecting flight), but I don’t intend to see him again – we had our moment on the flight and it’s best to recognise these for what they are.  One friend had a mile high-esque experience with an Italian man and made the mistake of meeting him for dinner – she maintains it was the second worst date of her life.  Another friend (male) had a mile high experience (no “esque” about it) on a flight to America and ended up being punched by the woman’s husband, a US soldier.  It’s often best to walk away while you’re enjoying yourself and I’m choosing to take my brief moment of titillation.

I board the second leg from Hong Kong to Melbourne and see a middle-aged Chinese woman in the seat next to me.  This flight will have a very different vibe to the last one.  I smile at her and open my book.  When we take off I’ll put my headphones on; Mr Popper’s Penguins awaits.