Tag Archives: Newtown

500 people: Week Nineteen

See this post for a brief description of my 500 People challenge.

As I mentioned last week, I hadn’t been paying attention, so this week starts with an encounter that rightfully belongs in last Saturday’s post. It also includes a slantwise account of an event that could have been the subject of its own blog post.

  1. Wednesday 16 June, near the new section of Marrickville Metro shopping centre, we passed a young man standing on a windy corner holding up a sign advertising a major supermarket chain. As we waited for the light to change, I said hello, and then asked how long he was standing there. Emboldened by his readiness to answer that question, I asked how much he was paid. He told me an hourly rate that removed any remaining misgiving I have about what I charge for proofreading.
  2. Sunday 20 June, walking in Sydney Park in the morning, I was amused by the behaviour of a young dog, I asked one of its human companions what breed it was, venturing my guess that it was a border collie–blue cattle dog cross. She was an Australian shepherd and its owners were unashamedly besotted with her.
  3. Sunday afternoon, I attended a small gathering and walk to honour Martin Johnston, an Australian poet who died at this time of year 31 years ago (photos of the event below). The event was organised by Nadia Wheatley, Martin’s literary executor, and Vivienne Lathem, his step-daughter and copyright holder, at the Garden Lounge Creative Space in Newtown. It was a lovely occasion and I hope it becomes an annual tradition. Unusually for a poetry reading, I had warm encounters with a number of people who are new to me. First, the long term partner of an old friend: he is a retired English and History teacher, and we bonded over the joys of travel in retirement, among other things.
  4. Sunday, our host at the Creative Lounge provided hot drinks. A woman who arrived in company of a friend of mine said something about having a hot chocolate, and announced more or less to everyone that she had discovered the joys of chocolate with added chilli. My ears pricked up. We were introduced a little later, but our brief exchange about the joys of chilli and chocolate is what has stayed with me.
  5. Sunday, at the same event, I had the honour of reading one of Martin’s poems (‘Drinking Sappho Brand Ouzo’, the twelfth poem at this link). I asked a Greek-speaking audience member for help with the pronunciation of a Greek word. I did this because, though I did need the help, it made room for him to volunteer that the word – rododaktulos, evidently brododactulos in Lesbos – was from Homer, thereby saving me from providing that possibly redundant information to the audience. Later, I apologised for exploiting his presence in that way, but he didn’t seem to feel it was exploitative.
  6. Sunday, a little later, as we strolled through locations from Martin’s novel, Cicada Gambit, I chatted to a man in a baseball cap who had been staying quietly in the background. He knew Martin after I did, and I asked if perhaps he knew him at SBS, where he worked for many years. No, he said, Martin had ‘succeeded [him] in the affections of X—’. He had a number of colourful anecdotes, and we grieved lightly over Martin’s early death and the role alcohol played in it.
  7. Sunday, as most of the other people were settling down to snacks and drinks in the Bank Hotel and I was taking my leave, among the people I said hello-goodbye to was Julian Neylan, the Joycean enthusiast behind Bloomsday Sydney. He had read beautifully from Martin’s novel. We had a pleasant chat.
  8. Monday morning early I went to the local shop to buy milk for breakfast, and forgot to take a mask – they were made mandatory indoors in our local government area on Sunday evening. I apologised at the check-out. The young woman there said, ‘I don’t like masks anyway.’ I did my bit for the common good, saying, ‘Me neither, but we need to do it.’
  9. Tuesday, back to my regular sauna after a couple of weeks’ absence, and sure enough there were some sweet encounters. Well, two. A young man – I’d guess in his late 20s – came in and commented that reading a book was a good thing to do in the sauna. I said some people thought differently (see previous post, paragraph 2). Then…
  10. (Tuesday) … his friend joined us moaning performatively. It turned out he had a terrible hangover. I tuned out for the conversation about drinking and its aftermath that followed, but a little later they were talking about money. One of them said he was being paid $9.50 an hour. The other said, ‘How can they do that?’ I re-entered the conversation: ‘Because they can.’ Then I trotted out a boomer reminiscence: ‘My first full time job I was paid $60 a week. Then I joined a union and was paid an award wage of $120.’ (To be honest I don’t know if that second figure is accurate, but I do remember feeling guilty about taking the increased amount from my small-business employer.) ‘I spent that much on beer last night.’ ‘Yes, but I remember at that time being shocked when I was charged a dollar for a beer in a flash club, and’ – this is the one that really got their attention – ‘I could buy a packet of cigarettes for 42 cents.’
  11. Wednesday, walking back from buying bread in Marrickville, I met a man who was rubbing his back against a street sign. As anyone would, I smiled as I passed. He explained that his back was itching terribly after a session in the gym. I told him he reminded me of cows from my childhood, rubbing their backs on low branches.
  12. Friday in the sauna, or rather in the dressing room after my sauna, to avoid having my wet bathers drip allover the floor and bench while I was changing, I left them on a hook near the shower. Once back in street clothes, I was about to go get them when a chap emerged from the shower area and told me I’d left them there. I have no idea how he knew they were mine … I guess we all do a lot more observing of each other than we make obvious.
  13. Saturday morning, after a substantial shopping trip to the local behemoth supermarket, I went back for a quic visit to the ATM, and forgot my mask. This time, there was a young woman on the door blocking access to the maskless. I pleaded that I was going about 10 metres into the centre for less than two minutes. She relented and let me through, but warned me that the centre was full of police cracking down on the mask-noncompliant. I waved to her cheerily two minutes later as I left.
  14. Saturday at about 3.30, I went back to buy wine for the Emerging Artist. (I don’t drink alcohol, but I’m the fetch-and-carry person.) Our suburb was about to join the rest of greater Sydney in lockdown in a couple of hours, and not only were shelves of toilet paper bare, but the red wine shelves were looking pretty sparse, though there were plenty of bottles of the $4 merlot. On my way out with bottles of stuff I suspected the EA would turn her nose up at – not the aforementioned $4 merlot – I spent a little moment chatting to the masked woman who rang up my purchase. The alcohol shop, she said, had been very busy all day.

Running total is now 184. Now that we’re in lockdown, I expect there will be slim pickings next week.

GDS launch at PPR in Newtown

GDS28SydneyEflyer

Last night I went to the Sydney launch of Going Down Swinging No 28. As I may have mentioned, I have not one but two poems in this excellent publication, and I’d missed the Melbourne launch last Wednesday. So of course I made my way to Penguin Plays Rough headquarters in Newtown for last night’s event.

I’d left my PDA at home, so we had a little trouble finding the place. I remembered the address as 475 King Street. That turned out to be a convenience store, which didn’t seem right. My companion wanted to phone home for instructions, but my dim recollection of the Google Street Image made me expect to find a door down the side street. And sure enough there was one.

‘But look, through the windows, you can see that it’s someone’s home,’ said Madam Circumspect.

‘Remember the New American Vaudeville,’ I said.

‘That was fifteen years ago,’ she muttered, but the little New York adventure I was referring to had taken us to a door just as unlikely as this one in the Bowery, and it had opened onto a strangely enjoyable evening of fire-eating, Groucho Marx impersonations and bad folk music. So we climbed the stairs last night, to an evening that was at least as enjoyable, with its own kind of strangeness.

It turns out that we had been seeing someone’s home through the windows. The story as I gleaned it in the course of the evening is that two young women moved into the flat above the convenience store, and when they took a good look at the high-ceilinged, crumbly front room, they decided it was too big to waste as a bedroom or even as a shared living room, and should be put to work as ‘a space’. And so Penguin Plays Rough was born: at 8 o’clock on the third Sunday of every month five programmed writers and five wild cards sit in a red velvet wing chair and read from their work to a paying audience (a wild card is someone who puts their name on the blackboard at the door on arrival).

Last night the room was comfortably full of mostly young people drinking beer and what I thought at first was soup but was actually mulled wine. An assortment of chairs – wooden from the kitchen, wrought iron from the garden, upholstered and plastic – lined two walls, but most people sat in comfortable, picnic-style circles on the floor. My companion’s prediction that we would be the oldest people in the room proved correct by a good ten years, and we were possibly as much as 30 years above the mean. Klare Lanson and Lisa Greenaway, editors of GDS were there. I knew a couple of people, including Mark Tredinnick, poet, essayist and creative writing teacher, who was there to give moral support to one of his students who was reading. But mostly I had a sense that this was a thriving group of people who enjoyed each other’s work, had fun writing and reading and providing an audience for each other. We were treated, among other things, to the final instalment of a Philip Marlowe spoof serial drama with a zombie and cheerful gay male incest. My favourite PPR part of proceedings was a nasty homophobic encounter on Windsor Railway Station told in the language of Shakespeare (‘Ho, varlet, what music doth enter thine ear through yon iPod buds?’ ‘This be Anthony and the Johnsons’), and incorporating a giant green tentacled alien.

A charming young man introduced simply as Shag (who Google tells me is a Radio FBi personality) did the actual launching. He hadn’t actually seen a copy of GDS until he arrived at the venue, but that didn’t stop him from doing a nice job: he had written a piece of ‘Creative Writing’ entitled ‘What I Imagine It will be Like to Launch Going Down Swinging’ which managed to be funny, self-deprecating and devoid of actual reference to the subject of the launch. Nonetheless there was a sweet mood of celebration. Klare Lanson had a few moments in the chair, and managed to slip us a couple of factoids (Peter Carey and Brian Castro appeared in early issues, and in spite of the implied pessimism of the title, it’s now been going and swinging for 30 years). A couple of contributors read their poems and stories from the GDS, Literary culture is alive and well and having a good time in a room above a convenience store in Newtown.

Mark Tredinnick mentioned in a break that his book The Blue Plateau is to be launched tonight at Macquarie University. ‘Do you imagine it will be like this?’ I asked. ‘Absolutely not,’ he said, ‘and that’s not altogether a good thing.’