Continuing with the challenge to talk to 500 new people this year. See this post for the brief description of the challenge. We were on the road this week, and though I must have talked to strangers I didn’t start keeping track until half way through the week. Still, here’s what I’ve got:
- Thursday 5 April, late morning at the fabulous Gunyama Park Aquatic Centre, Ruby was holding back from the small water slide, not willing to challenge the cheerfully rough surges of older children. I protected one set of stairs for her a couple of times and she clearly loved the slide. In a lull, a small boy, hardly any bigger than her and not at all aggressive, came to the other set of stairs, and this was enough to make her back off. The little boy’s mother saw the problem and, after a little bit of explanation from me, asked Ruby’s name. We introduced the little ones to each other, and for a little while they did some parallel sliding – until the big ones came back.
- Thursday afternoon, while sitting for 15 minutes after receiving my first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine, I noticed that the man in the nearest chair had taken out his phone to photograph his documentation. I broke the prevailing silence to say what a good idea that was. He more or less grunted. I said something else inane, and photographed my document.
- Saturday morning, as we were walking by the Cook’s River, the Emerging Artist was expounding on the crucial importance of breath in competitive swimming as explained by her physiotherapist. My attention was grabbed by a woman and a roughly three-year-old little girl, who were doing something that involved a water bottle, sitting in the grass beside the path and some kind of cheerful negotiation. I said to the EA, ‘Sorry, I was distracted.’ The woman we were passing heard me, and asked, ‘By cuteness?’ That wasn’t a word that had been in my mind, but, well, she was right.
- & 5. Saturday midday, in a small art gallery in Chippendale having given up on the White Rabbit because of a huge queue, we heard loud conversation and laughter coming from a small room off the main exhibition area. It didn’t look like a private area, so we went in. Two people were standing in front of a photograph of a woman in a red skirt and heels (if you like, you could click on this link before reading on). ‘But because the background is dark,’ said a youngish woman, cheerfully browbeating a bearded man, ‘it could be lower than she is. She’s definitely about to jump.’ A quick look at the photo, and I could see what she meant: the woman in red was standing on the edge of a rail platform. The bearded man expressed good natured but definite disagreement. The youngish woman looked over her shoulder to include us, and said, ‘He’s the artist,’ which explained why there had been so much laughter. On closer examination we could see that the woman in the photo was actually standing in front of a newsstand – what we’d taken for railway tracks made much more sense as indistinct magazine racks. The artist, clearly delighted with the conversation, told us he had given up ever telling people where his photos were taken when someone was bitterly disappointed to learn that one of his images was created in Coogee and not, as she had thought, in Venice. As she left the room, the youngish woman called back over her shoulder, ‘Definitely Anna Karenina.’
6. Saturday evening, arriving at what was to be a joyous and convivial book launch, I asked a young woman in a hijab if the seat next to her was empty. She said yes, and we had a brief conversation after I sat down. Basically I said we had the best seats in the room and she agreed. I almost asked her if she was a friend of the poet but opted for amiable mutual ignoring.
7. Saturday evening a few moments later. A young white man (everyone under about 65 is young to me, apparently) asked if it was OK to sit in the chair on my other side. I was a lot less diffident with him. I asked him if he knew the work of the poet whose book was being launched. It turned out he had met her when she came to his school. She had become a mentor to him in his own poetry. We talked about the relationship between his poetry and his cherishing of his two young sons. I told him my anecdote about David Malouf saying that three-year-olds are the most interesting things in the world just now. And we chatted on pretty much until we were called to order.
8. Saturday evening, after the readings, the signing queue was too daunting and I decided to take my book home unsigned. But instead of slinking off into the darkness, I stopped to speak to the launching poet’s father. I congratulated him on his daughter’s success and he graciously accepted my handshake. I asked an awkward question about how he felt about featuring or not featuring in her work, then faffed around until I managed to make it somehow amusing. He looked vaguely relieved when I said goodnight.
Running total is now 72.
All genuine human interactions, Jonathan – and the way you weave literature in – attendance at or otherwise – is seamless in these short reports – Anna Karenina indeed! My wife and I went up to The Stroud Show yesterday for a couple of hours – its 100th anniversary – its centenary! Stroud an old AA-town. The show-ground brilliant – horse-jumping in progress – flags a-plenty fluttering in a fresh breeze above beautiful “utes” – later ‘demolition derby’ vehicles arriving for an evening performance – even the Deputy PM in attendance M McCormack (I have a great x 3 grandmother from Ireland whose name was written McCornac which I assume is the same as the Deputy PM’s name – given illiteracy, other’s writing it as heard, etc.). What was he doing there – well rural – oh, yes – Upper Hunter by-election – out with NSW Nationals MLA (yet another) sexually profligate – Johnsen – in – the Nationals hope – with David Gillespie – interview ensues with NBN (Newcastle TV).
In the pavilion – to fill the walls with exhibitions – local Infants/primary school efforts. I make a comment to a woman taking some delight as am I with the efforts – but she throws around all the technical and developmental terms! Are you a teacher I ask. Yes – of this very age bracket. I am too – though of much older – we nod at these revelations – and I move on. Later my spouse and I find a place to sit watching the ring (ignoring some bull jumping going on elsewhere mostly in full sun glare) – a chap asks if the bench further along is taken. No, not at all – go ahead. Are you local I ask – from Dungog – just over the range. But is from a little place near Goondiwindi. We were in Inverell a few years. It makes us practically neighbours. Now? – well, we are at/in Caves Beach. I know it, he says – I took a lot of bush rock there some years back – for landscaping! Later we think it must the rock edging most of the villa gardens of our development of some 20-25 years ago.
Random conversations. And political sightings. About which – the political entourage had a kind of fenced off semi outside/indoors “Green Room” separateness – and tables at which these august personages later sat at to dine – the political mob instantly recognisable in clean moleskins and boots and Akubras – of the John Howard or Tony Abbott look when they ventured away from their natural urban environments. My wife unhappy because the large hanging quilts had been turned into their Green Room space to spruce it up – denying her the chance to examine them quite closely – with some beautiful patchwork quilting experience behind her! (Even before I had seen the Deputy PM I had thought: “Ha! Classism at work – here – at little Stroud Show! Keeping us – clearly the riff-raff – at bay!”)
Thanks for that, Jim. If ever I have a book launch I’ll invite you to speak in this vein
Still loving this series, and now Jim’s additions too. I know Stroud well and can just imagine the scene. I was having breakfast with friends in Camperdown Park yesterday and one of us had a scruffy little white dog (probably a well-groomed little white dog by now) that attracted the attention of a two-year-old child. The mother brought her over and asked if she could pat. Yes, of course! When it came to it the child could only manage a smile and a rather forced pat. ‘This could be one of Jonathan’s 500 people!’ I said.
Fabulous! I’d certainly have included it, Kathy.
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