melbourne

What if we walked?

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It is a ten kilometre walk to the children’s farm and back, and we don’t have a car today. Before France this would have been out of the question. But now, with the resilience they brought home in their suitcases alongside the medieval Papo figurines, sweet little jumpers from the Monoprix, and a collection of Barbapapa books, the children say, “What if we walked?” 

So I pack a lunch box of chopped apple and pear, crackers, and these banana muffins, and we set off. 

Follow the route towards school and then turn off at the park, sticking to the paths because the long grass is soaked with dew and the day is bright but only three degrees right now. Our breath forms clouds in the air to guide us, and nobody wants cold, wet shoes and socks at the start of a day (the end of the day is a different matter, apparently). 

At the railway crossing, we stop to let a train go by. The children put their hands through the railings and wave to the train. Before the train hurtles past, we can see the driver stand up in her cabin and wave back: a big, whole-of-body, over-the-head wave, and a beaming smile to go with it. 

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We see a beautiful but decrepit old house, one that once probably nurtured families and echoed to tiny, thumping feet and the laughter of children. A long time ago, a colour-loving person had planted a pink-flowering geranium beside the front gate. But now the windows are boarded over, the paint is peeling, some of the cladding has fallen away, and the posts that support the verandah are rotting. 

As we walk on, we make up a story about its haunting. I try for something chilling and deeply tragic, but the children are convinced the demise of the house had been hastened by hungry monsters, aliens and flying dogs. They build their outlandish story with relish, growing more ridiculous by the sentence, giggling and shouting over one another with excitement. I blame Captain Underpants

Under the overpass and onto the Main Yarra Trail, where water is tumbling over rocks in a happy gurgle and bellbirds are calling everywhere. I tell Ralph to move to the left if he hears the ding of a bicycle bell, but he says he can’t tell which ones are the bikes and which ones are the birds. He makes a good point. 

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We tell ourselves, this could be Dinan! Here we are, walking alongside a river again. We climb out onto a wooden lookout and say, “These are the ramparts at the ruins.” Further on, a wall stretches up, up, on the other side of the path, as tall as the Dinan chateau beside the wild apple orchard. This wall is covered in graffiti but we try to ignore that, and tell each other, “Those are the castle walls.” A road bridge up ahead plays the role of the viaduct that connects Dinan to Lanvallay. 

We are chevaliers again, and tired legs discover a last burst of energy before we reach the children’s farm. 

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In fact we are so excited to reach the farm and find our friends that we don’t notice the oak tree but, on the way home, we stop at it in wonder. 

It is ancient, and most of its golden leaves have already dropped, set in a circle of stones and stretching its branches almost all the way to the river. The children climb over the stones and play in the fallen leaves but I am overcome with a powerful sense of stillness. 

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The sun is turning golden as we make our way home along the river, the children collecting leaves and nuts, fanning them out in their hands like cards at a poker table, to inspect the intricacies of Nature’s design. Ralph finds a giant fern frond broken on the ground, and holds it aloft like a sword. 

Back on the back-streets, they discover a small pile of smooth, round pebbles, so we start a game of Hansel and Gretel, counting out steps between stones and taking turns. That game lasts a good kilometre or two, all the way back to the railway crossing. 

The day is warm now - 17 degrees! - so Ralph takes his shirt off and struts those streets as though he’s at the beach. (I am carrying jumpers, shirts, hats, gloves, picnic lunch, water bottle, and other various accoutrements in my back pack. Thankfully a friend has taken our coats in her car, and drops them home for us.)

We find a park we’ve never seen before, rows of trees glowing in the late afternoon light, and promise one another we’ll return one day because there is a playground in the distance “that looks awesome!” We also pass a bakery that we hadn’t seen on the way out, so Scout suggests that next time, we should pick up a baguette. 

The children say, “We feel sorry for our friends who drove in the car, because they would have missed all of this.” 

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Team spirit

cakes There is something about the charisma of the crowd. Something in the roar of a thousand people, a hundred people, even 10 people, if they are like-minded, that is so wonderfully seductive.

In dark moments, this is known as "mob mentality," and it can cause people to do and say terrible things that they might otherwise not even consider doing or saying.

But the collective excitement of a crowd can be a beautiful thing to experience, especially in something that is usually as innocent, as positive even, as the watching of a game.

I was brought up in a decidedly non-sport-watching, non-sport-supporting family. Until I married Mr B, I'd never so much as seen an AFL game played. But I married into a family that had been supporting the one team for four generations. Four generations! And I couldn't help but be drawn into the romance of their loyalty. Year after year, week after week, they would take the back-then three hour drive to Melbourne, and sit outside in the cold and rain to watch their team... lose.

Their team made it to the Grand Final back in the 1960s, but then they lost again. That was almost a very good day for Mr B's father. For the rest of his life, he said, "I will live to see them make it to another Grand Final." But his team's losses outlived him.

And still Mr B and his family supported their team. Year after year, week after week.

So when I married Mr B and we moved to Melbourne, I took up supporting that team, for him. And against all expectations, I found I enjoyed it. I couldn't help admiring the surprising athleticism, the strange rules (apparently based on Gaelic football), and most of all, the historic and unbending joy of just about everyone in Melbourne when it comes to this game. Crowd charisma.

On the weekend, against all possible odds, our team made it to the Grand Final again, at last. Friends gathered at our house to watch it with us, the children decorated the house with streamers and balloons and chalk messages, and I made the best kind of the worst kind of junk food: hot dogs and party pies and french fries and cup cakes.

I cheered myself hoarse with the rest of them, swept up in the excitement of cheering on a team that had waited more than sixty years for a win.

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Oh, and they won!

Playing hooky

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I found a forest!

Well, not really, it was more like a tiny clump of trees. Jane Austen would probably have called it a copse, or something. But in any case it was green and gloomy in the best of ways, and the pine-needles that softened my every foot-fall were made maculate by patches of sun blossoming over the shade.

Yesterday Winter played dress-ups as Spring, and it was the most glorious day you could ever see. All morning, I kept leaving my tiny cupboard of a windowless office to see what the garden was making of this gift of a day.

(Here is the tally: two more daffodils burst into bloom, bringing the total to three; tiny buds appeared all over the once-bare pomegranate tree; the daphne bush tossed perfume willy-nilly into the temperate air; and the snowflakes? the snowflakes burst into bloom by the hundreds.)

And then I would go back into my study and work some more. Read, research, write. Carefully crafted words, self-editing, crafting some more.

But my heart was in the sunshine, in the unexpected warmth of the breeze. And, by mid-afternoon, I couldn't take it any more. I hit "save" on my unfinished story and stepped out into the day, into that false, imaginary spring, and went exploring.

I let my feet take me wherever they would, following parks linked within parks like chains, all over north Melbourne. I foraged wattle and snow-gum leaves and gumnuts, and then I walked some more. When I found the tiny forest, I sat down on the soft, dry pine-needles, closed my eyes, and breathed in the silence.

Breathed it in, breathed it out. In again, out.

As I walked home, carrying my basket of leaves and flowers, it was with a lightness that would suggest I, too, had put on Spring for a day. Even the work that was waiting for me at home, which endured well into the night, could not dampen my spirits. I put my botanical bounty into a big old jug, and got typing.

The climb

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"Let's climb!" shouted Ralph. And so we climbed, free of foreboding.

In the shadow of those great rocks was no ominous hum, no sudden chill, no tingling premonition of hidden watchers' eyes. Instead, there was sunlight trickling through old bracken and ferns. Filtered water splashing out of rocks. A tiny boulder in the shape of a love-heart, wedged between two giants and framing a window to the bottom of the world.

"Let's climb!" said Ralph again. So we ventured off the pathway and scrambled over rocks and in between narrow passes and under natural bridges and, all the while, we found sunlight and clean air and great beauty... and no ghosts.

When you come alone to a place as ancient and spirit-filled as Hanging Rock, secrets whisper at you and watch you from just inside the other plane, and goosebumps come as naturally as breathing. The boundary between imagination and experience is blurred, and you are at the mercy of Place.

When you come in the company of two small children, however, it is hard to hear the spirits over the coughs and sneezes and "My legs are tired!" and "Let's have a race!" and giggles and kisses and "Can I have a banana?" and "Can you carry me?"

I thought the spirits had left Hanging Rock, at least while we were there, retreating into caves to find silence away from our relentless noise. But as I prepared these photographs last night to share with you, and I realised the ghosts had been there all along, watching, as we climbed.

Can you see them? In the strange shadows and sometimes-odd light, and in the many, many faces in the boulders?

Ahhhhh, tread lightly!

Long weekends

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Long weekends are for slowing down. For simple pleasures. Feeding Cornflakes to friendly ducks and soft, black moor-hens. Learning how to row a skiff. The splash of oar in water, a silent oasis, a bubble of river and bush inside the big city.

Long weekends are for equally-long walks in sunshine. For getting lost somewhere in a highway underpass, but it doesn't matter because nobody is in a hurry: this is a long weekend.

Long weekends are for cooking and housework, giggles and cuddles, red wine and friends.

I think long weekends may be my favourite. I'd like to order another one, please.

(Photos from this long weekend brought to you by a family visit to the Fairfield Park Boathouse, which was super touristy and even more super fun. Ralph didn't make it into any pictures because photographing him would have meant having to let go of him, and letting go of him would have meant Ralph fulfilling his heart's desire of diving head-first into the water, to "pat the ducks")

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

coffee Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run - John Keats

Earlier this week there were two whole days that felt, at last, like autumn. Cold mornings, a touch of wind. On our path along Rathdowne Street, the first of the leaves were starting to fall. Scout looked up at me from kicking the leaves. "Is it real autumn yet?" The children can't quite grasp how the calendar can say autumn on a 39 degree day. I'm finding that a little hard to accept, too.

Autumn is a shedding, a paring back. The trees shed their leaves, I shed the weight of summer and step out alive into the day. Relief. On the weekend, riding home in the pram after going out for dinner, a cool wind lifted Ralph's curls. "Are you cold" I asked him, "would you like a cardigan?" Ralph spread his arms wide in the air, all goose-pimply and pale, relishing the unfamiliar sensation of cold on his skin. "No thank you," he said. "It lovely!" My own boy.

Right now the soil in our garden is radiating heat, holding onto the indian summer like buried coals in sand. But I am hopeful, hopeful that soon - any day now! - the "season of mists" will finally roll through. Buoyed by that hope, today I have been choosing bulbs to plant in my garden after Easter. I'm thinking bluebells, lily-of-the-valley, and then a riot of ranunculus for colour.

Also I'm supposed to be detoxing but last night I ate two hot cross buns while watching the Bachelor finale.

Maybe it really is autumn.

 

Image credit: Maria Shanina, licensed for unlimited use

 

Back to food trucks

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Today I'm dipping back into an old, semi-regular kind of post I used to do: a celebration of food trucks. If you're interested, here are all the food trucks I visited back then.

For me it all started when we moved here from Interstate four years ago. It was late summer, I was about two-thirds through my first pregnancy, and it was the sixth interstate or international move we'd made in 18 months. When you move to a completely new city that many times, you get pretty good at learning how to turn "a place" into "a home." I'm not just talking about your house or apartment here, I'm talking about your neighbourhood. I have worked from home for the past 15 years, so I don't have the opportunity to make friends and learn about my city through co-workers. I've got to do the legwork myself and, since we only have one car and Mr B needs that for work, it is literally legwork.

A friend told us, "I've heard that if you walk all the way to the end of your street, there's a taco truck that parks up there at night." I became a little obsessed with this promise. I mean I like tacos (who doesn't?), but I fixated on the mysterious taco truck to a probably overly-excessive degree. To me it represented the first entry in my mental collection of "Stuff I Like About My Neighbourhood," which is a very important collection to start when you move somewhere new.

I think my daughter was about six weeks old when I finally caught up with the taco truck, although it wasn't at the end of our street (those darned things have wheels, and it's harder than you think to track them down in the right place at the right time). I had made a new friend and she and I pushed our prams (her son was about two) north along Lygon Street for several kilometres. The traffic was loud and there were all kinds of building works going on so we walked single file and couldn't chat. The truck location was a lot further than I'd anticipated. Scout started crying for a feed, my friend's son was wiggling and fidgeting and decidedly over being strapped into a pram, and still we were walking.

But when finally, finally we made it to the dingy little park outside of which the truck was parked, there were pockets of people milling around. Eating, chatting, lining up for more. Picnic rugs covering dubious patches of grass. Plastic wine glasses and soda bottles with striped straws. People in suits perched on a low wall, bending over their little cardboard plates so that taco juice wouldn't drip onto their nice clothes. Someone somewhere was playing a guitar. Oh and the tacos were really good (especially the fish ones).

It was the sense of "instant community" that got me hooked on food trucks that day, even more than the food itself. The fact that they can roll up there somewhere not particularly pretty, most often a car park or the side of a nondescript street, and can, by way of a colourful awning and a great-smelling kitchen-on-wheels, create community. And so it started for me.

My food truck hunt slowed down somewhat (alright it pretty much stopped) after I had Ralph. It gets a whole lot harder to schlep around town when you have not only a newborn, but also an 18-month-old who only recently started walking. Double prams are not the most mobile of beasts, and timing long outings around competing nap times and feed times and little legs wanting to run just got too hard. This also coincided with Yarra Council (the area where I live) making it increasingly difficult for food trucks to operate in our area, so I tended to have to travel further afield to find them. I visited a few food truck parks, and even the street food festival last year, and it's kind of great having all the trucks gathered together, but that's a) a different kind of community, and b) even I can only sample just so many types of foods in the one meal (especially if I have to individually line up for each one).

But then a few months ago we ducked into a shopping centre to visit the Apple store and, lo and behold, there was a veritable food truck bonanza parked out behind the supermarkets and greengrocers. I left my family waiting inside with the air conditioning (it was 39 degrees that day) and temporarily dipped back into Food Truck Land just for that one afternoon.

What we ate:

* From Wingster's Grilled Chicken: a burger with buttermilk chicken (because the wings weren't ready yet) and a spicy sauce I can't remember (but it was good), and fries * From the Real Burgers: a classic weiner (because I am a rebel and also it looked and tasted so good) and fries * From the Refresher Truck: a (virgin) piña colada, and a "green power"

Ah, I'd missed the smoky deliciousness in the air, and the comforting rumble of those generators.

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Aaaargh! Heathcliff!

kate-10 copy This is actually happening! In Melbourne! And I can't even begin to tell you how happy it makes me.

What is "this," you ask? Why, only a gigantic, public group-dance to Kate Bush's classic Wuthering Heights, that's what. There is so much silly joy right here, it's palpable. These screen-shots are from the first dance, in Brighton in the UK, in 2013 (watch it here - I laughed out loud).

Since then, ladies and lads in red dresses and bad wigs have been dancing to Wuthering Heights all over the world and finally, finally this event is coming to Melbourne, on 15 July. There's an event page on Facebook if you want to follow along.

Flash mobs are so 2000s.

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UPDATE: I just learned that this will be a world-wide simultaneous event. Eek! 

Strange magic

suburbia_3 It was just a simple, one-block walk to get coffee. But today, with the sun searing the back of my neck and the light a strange kind of summer thickness, and me the only person in the whole street, it felt eerie. Hot, still, silent, and eerie. That first summer at the beginning of The Virgin Suicides kind of eerie. I walked on, past the grass and the houses and the oak trees and old wrought-iron fences and one sleeping cat, to buy my coffee.

My footsteps, the only sound on the street.

A dry wind flirted with the oak leaves on the grass median strip, and stung my eyes until I felt the tears pool. Hot and golden and quiet, this day, and it should have been beautiful but it felt like somebody was about to discover Cecelia in the bath.

This is the point where Strange Magic by ELO starts playing in your head.

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The royal family

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Not so long ago, Scout's career aspiration was to become Father Christmas, and then a doctor... and then a duck. These days she wants to be a queen. Not a princess, my daughter will have none of that: she is going straight to the top.

"I LOVE queens," she tells me. For Christmas, she asked Father Christmas for "a queen dolly." (Father Christmas found it more challenging than you might imagine to convince the elves to make such a thing).

"Why do you love queens so much?" I ask her.

"Because queens are Mummys and I love Mummy." Be still my heart.

"What do queens do?"

"They wear crowns and dresses and high heels." Of course.

"But," I prompt her, "what else do they do, after they get dressed?"

She looks at me with the air of a person patiently explaining something to someone who is a bit slow. "Well, we will just have to wait and see, won't we?"

Ralph, in the meantime, is VERY into castles. Essentially, any building that is more than two stories high is a castle.

"A castle! I see a castle!" he runs on the spot with excitement, every time we pass the construction site of an apartment complex on Sydney Road.

So on the last day of Mr B's holidays we decide to indulge both passions, and take them to Kryal Castle, the only "castle" within driving distance of Melbourne.

Say what you like about this place, my kids absolutely love it. Scout mixes potions and makes her own perfume. ("This is powdered goblin teeth," says the potions lady. "No, that's flour!" corrects Scout, despite being by far the youngest participant in the potion-mixing class. That's my little baker.) They are riveted during the jousting display (refusing to leave until the end, despite a bitter wind blowing); take turns gleefully playing "following the leader" in the maze; and Scout spends the entire drive home speculating how Merlin will rescue Queen Guinevere from Morgana.

Also, she wears her crown all day.