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Kristie and I have left London. I meant to post this a while ago, but we’re travelling through Europe on the way home and amidst all the last-minute planning it fell by the wayside. We’re currently in a sunburnt little village somewhere in the cicada-droning scrubland of Andalucia, which reminds me strongly of Perth.
Leaving London in July fairly neatly marked our time there as a year, or just over that, although we decided that we’d leave this summer back around Christmastime, or about halfway through our time there. There’s no one reason for leaving, just as there was no one reason for going there in the first place. We went there partly from a desire to live and work in Europe, partly from an urge to seek work in the publishing and writing field in a larger job market than Australia offered, and partly because we (or at least I) had a need to do some more uprooting and travelling while still young, before settling down. On the work front I had absolutely no success, and spent the entire year doing the same job for the same company I worked for in Melbourne. It was certainly more lucrative than a lot of other jobs would have been, but also deeply antisocial, since I spent most of the day sealed inside a soundproof booth, and it didn’t exactly made me feel like I’d made a worthwhile career move. Kristie, on the other hand, was successful in landing a job as an editorial assistant at a publishing house – but she ended up hating it, because it was mostly admin drudgery.
It’s probably not a coincidence that we made the decision to leave during the depths of winter. It was actually a little sad to leave during summer, when everybody is keen to do things, to go out and get drinks and have dinner and soak up the sun, instead of trudging home from work in the freezing dark and pulling the covers over their heads until morning. Seasonal affective disorder was undoubtedly in play. But even at the height of summer, I think we both preferred our old lives, and our friends back home.
There are aspects of England that I’ll miss. The sense of history and heritage, and the ability to travel only a few hours and be in a wonderful town or city that you’ve barely ever heard of, both within England and abroad in Europe. We’ve had some wonderful weekend breaks here, and I’ve learnt more than ever (and this is a sentiment that leaked into my brain when I first properly visited Sydney while reading Oscar & Lucinda) that cities are so much more than dots on a map or letters in a word or photos on Google image search: they all have their own smells, their own flavours, their own character. Paris is not just a French version of London: it’s an achingly beautiful city of splendid architecture, possibly the only large beautiful city in the world, which curiously enough always looks very dull and generic on film. Stockholm is not just the capital of Sweden and the place where Stockholm Syndrome comes from: it’s an ancient maritime trading city spread across hundreds of islands, with gaily-painted houses, in the cold blue light of midwinter, the sun sinking beyond the ocean at half past three. Barcelona is not just the second-biggest city in Spain: it’s the capital of the distinct Catalonian region, with a baroque Gothic old quarter, and an artistic scene and ease with its status as second city that reminded me of Melbourne.
I’ve enjoyed my time scratching the surface of Europe, and regret that I will not spend my life in a place that has hundreds of worthy cities within a $150 return flight. But it’s also telling that my favourite memories of London are the times I spent outside it. I should mention that I quite like Britain itself. I’ve enjoyed my time rowing a boat in Stratford-upon-Avon, wandering the canals in Cambridge, tramping about the Chilterns, drinking tins of convenience store beer on the pebbly beach at Brighton at sunset. I just don’t like London.
It’s indisputably a grand old city. It’s big, it’s powerful, it’s second only to New York as the nexus of the human universe. (And I will miss that – that feeling of hustle and bustle and importance, the sense that you might not matter but the place you live does, an extended sequel to the feeling I had when I moved from Australia’s west coast to its east coast.) London was a great place to live once, and perhaps it will be again. But at this point in its history, on financial terms alone, London is not a good place for ordinary people to live. I was sick of flicking through Time Out and looking at all the awesome shit happening that I couldn’t afford to do. I was sick of living precariously, saving nothing, being ripped off on literally everything from housing to food to transport. When it came down to it, my day-to-day lived experience was far, far better back home than it was in London.
And beyond that, I think maybe big cities aren’t for me. We lived on the edge of Zone 1 because I was determined to live as close to the heart of the city as possible, without realising that this was a hangover from my university days in the suburbs of Perth, when I vowed to be quit of a such a dull and quiet place. 26 is hardly old age, but I quickly grew weary of the soot and the sirens and the screaming outside my bedroom window every night. I don’t want to move back to the Ballardian suburbs of Perth, but jeez, there’s a healthy middle ground. (It’s called Melbourne.)
Among the many things I learned living in London, mind you, was that it’s utterly impossible for anybody to objectively judge any city, ever. I will happily het my blood up and stride into the comments section whenever the Guardian publishes an article about the merits or disadvantages of Perth or Melbourne or London. But the truth is, the circumstances of your life are influenced by far more than the objective qualities of the town or city you live in. I moved to London and did not find success: I paid extortionate rent to live in a shitty neighbourhood in the East End, commuting clean across the city for an hour each way to work at the same dead-end job as I did back home, but for $12,000 AUD less per year. In an alternate universe, perhaps I landed a dream job with a publishing company. Perhaps I worked for a cool magazine in Bloomsbury with a generous paycheque and a clear path for progression in my career. Perhaps I lived in Hampstead, and only had a twenty-minute commute. Perhaps I earned 25,000 pounds a year and regularly hung out with a tight circle of friends at a charming Old World pub like in a Richard Curtis film.
That’s stupid, but you see what I mean – if things had gone a different way in London I very well could have had a brighter opinion of it. Conversely, if things had gone differently in Melbourne, I might not love it as I do. Your opinion of a city is coloured largely by your circumstances within it. I’ve met many people in London who hate living there but do so for the career opportunities; also several who only live there because all their friends moved there after university, so if they moved to a smaller city they’d have no social life. I’m glad, I must say, that Australia has two large and equally competitive cities, instead of one monstrous beast squatting in the corner which sucks up all the talent and energy.
Anyway, cities are big and complex and contain multitudes. I can fairly and truthfully say that I believe London is a grand, pulsating, fascinating and important world city, and also a polluted garbage pile which erupts from the skin of England like a cancerous mole.
So we’ve left. Maybe I’ll be back one day; who knows what might happen in life?
I’ll miss: Hampstead Heath, The Holly Bush, The Spaniards, Gordon’s Wine Bar, the Idea Store on Whitechapel Road, northern hemisphere seasons properly aligning with the months that popular culture has led me to expect from childhood, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, a sense of history and heritage, proximity to Europe, passenger trains in all directions to the countryside (and the best train network in the Western world, despite what the British think), the book market under Waterloo Bridge, the West End plays and musicals, the way that landmarks like the Shard or Big Ben have a way of creeping into your view down the edge of a street, the National Gallery, the Word on the Water, Galaxy chocolate, the Ship and Shovel, Foyle’s and Hatchard’s and the Piccadilly Watermark’s, broadcasters which actually commit themselves to ethnic diversity on the TV screen, the endless parade of human life that is the London Underground, the feeling of sheer joy when the long winter is over and spring begins to bloom, frozen puddles and the constant hope of snow in winter, English Christmas, Halloween.
I won’t miss: the depressing manner in which the streets have become a scrolling cartoon backdrop of the same Pret/Boots/EAT/Tesco outlets, overcrowded and sweltering tube rides with your face in a stranger’s armpit, paying 500 quid a week for a room the size of a prison cell in a house with five other people in London’s poorest neighbourhood, a failing and weirdly authoritarian healthcare system, the summer pollen count, the horrendous tabloid newspapers, David Cameron’s punchable face, the pervasiveness of the world’s dullest sport, dickheads high on ecstasy on the Central line on Saturday night trying to engage people in conversation, people getting stabbed outside my bedroom window at 3:00am, not being able to afford a motorcycle, constantly being accosted by homeless panhandlers and ignoring the twisting feeling in your gut which tells you that you’re only a few paycheques away from ending up like them, London’s horribly bleak yet frustratingly snowless winters, the worst air pollution in the EU, diesel fumes seeping through my bedroom window from a truck idling outside for twenty minutes, the infuriatingly slow walking speed of the average London pedestrian especially in the tube, endless fucking ear-splitting sirens, stifling summer heat which happens every year and yet nowhere has air conditioning because they don’t think it gets hot (which to be fair is much like Australian cities not having central heating because they don’t think it gets cold), and – more than anything else – a persistent sense of instability, of endlessly treading water and living paycheque to paycheque, knowing that in fiscal terms, like in so many others, you are going nowhere in life.
It has been an educational year. I don’t regret it, but I’m glad it’s over. All my memories get rose-tinted anyway, so in a few years I’ll probably look back on it warmly.
After three years in Melbourne, today I flew back to Perth for a summer sabbatical before moving on to the UK. I learned in my early 20s, first with Korea and then with backpacking, that life doesn’t always turn out to be as wonderful as you expect it to be. But I moved to Melbourne with zero expectations, having never been there before, based solely on the other people in my life who’d decided to go there. It turned out to be an absolutely amazing city, one I was proud and happy to call home, and genuinely sad to leave. I hope to live there again one day.
Until then, here are some of the memories of Melbourne that stick in my mind – some important, others random, all part of a self-indulgent reminiscence you will likely have no interest in:
Riding my 250cc Kawasaki dirtbike up the freeway from Geelong, the end of a two week roadtrip from Perth, and glimpsing in the summer dusk my first sight of Melbourne – a peachy sky, some wispy clouds, a full moon rising fat and ripe above the skyscrapers.
Listening to The King of Limbs the day after we arrived, sitting on the back porch of a townhouse in Brunswick and looking over the overgrown jungle of a backyard.
Seeing flying foxes everywhere, for the first year or so, winging their way across the stars, until the council moved their habitat further up the Yarra.
Riding out to a pub one night to hang out with Jamie and his friends, who called me a FOB, for “fresh off the boat.” The pub was somewhere in the inner north, an old Victorian building with an attached tower. I cannot remember its name, and although I’ve probably driven past it a dozen times now, I will never be able to remember exactly which pub it was and where it was.
Driving down Mount Alexander Road from Essendon in Kristie’s car to pick her and Susie up from work at the Joint Bar at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, parking across the road in Flinders Lane, sitting in the dark behind the wheel and listening to Triple J.
Playing all the way through Time Crisis 4 at an arcade on Bourke Street, costing Jamie $50 in coins, before drinking the afternoon away at my first visit to Rooftop Bar on Swanston, which would become (and remains) my favourite bar in Melbourne and probably the world.
Working at the airport up in Tullamarine. “Meeting” (serving) a raft of C-list Australian celebrities – Lara Bingle, Bert Newton, Chopper Read, Bob Katter. Standing behind the counter at the Qantas business class lounge watching the sun rise over the hills north of the terminal and the planes touching down from Malaysia and Hong Kong and India. Waking for an early shift one morning at 3:30am, midwinter, to find the street shrouded in fog, and riding my motorcycle up the freeway in -1 degree temperatures, wearing business pants. Running my hands under warm water once I got there for twenty minutes before I could feel anything in them.
Moving into the 1960s brick shithouse Jamie bought in Sunshine West in the middle of winter with the electricity company shutting off the power due to a clerical error, leaving us shivering our way through a candlelit settling-in period. The ragged old vinyl couch, soon replaced by the corduroy sofa set that Jamie and Dave purchased while visibly high, but which nevertheless served us well for two years.
Living in Sunshine West. Smoking not that much weed and drinking not that much beer, but probably mixing the two enough that it wasn’t particularly healthy. Our love-hate relationship with Geoff the dog. Watching Archer and Seinfeld and Breaking Bad on the plasma flatscreen. Cranking the living room heaters in winter, warming the one room in which we spent all of our time, shouting at each other to “SHUT THE DOOR!” whenever one of us ventured outside to take a leak or get a beer. Pissing in the backyard and looking up at the stars. Falling asleep on the couch watching Chris replay Final Fantasy IX on my ancient PS2. Coming home from a late shift at 10pm, crossing the West Gate Bridge and leaving the city behind, droning along the freeway in lashing rain, soaking wet and freezing cold, and arriving home to peel wet clothes off and stumble into the shower, becoming warm and dry and finally arriving in the living room, where Chris and Jamie would already be reliably comfortable and baked, sitting down in my armchair next to the bookshelf and yanking back that tab to make the seat fall back and the footrest kick up, the hassles of the working day washing clean, whiling away the rest of the evening with my two best friends drinking, smoking and watching TV, not realising until long after I moved out that this would be one of the happiest times in my life.
Buying a Triumph Bonneville, my first big bike, from a dealership on Elizabeth Street. Parking it nearby and then having lunch with Chris and Jamie at a tiny cafe with three little seats at a counter table looking out the window, a cafe which, like that inner-north pub, I’ve never been able to find again.
Spending my first Christmas Day in Melbourne at home with Chris and the dog. Making a roast dinner and playing video games. In the midafternoon a hailstorm passed over the western suburbs and coated every lawn with white ice, leaving us with a brief White Christmas in the half-hour it took to melt.
Getting my first speeding ticket because I was racing Chris home on the West Gate from a gig in Brunswick. Proudly putting it under a magnet on the fridge.
Riding out to the Grampians with Jamie and Maya. Eating ice cream by the creek. Fumbling around on the back trails as the sun went down, finding a place to surreptitiously camp just before the light leaked away.
Attending the 2012 beer festival at the Royal Exhibition Building, a magnificent, regal World Heritage site in which the Australian Constitution was signed in 1901 – a building which Jamie and I then got spectacularly drunk in, eventually taking a leak in the gardens outside before taking the tram up to Fitzroy and stumbling through the rain to Kristie’s house in Brunswick with a plastic bag full of pilfered beer festival “memento” pint glasses, which I still have.
Riding up into the Dandenongs with Chris in August, up to Lake Mountain where snow was covering the ground like it was no big deal. The mountainsides were still ravaged from the Black Saturday bushfires from three years ago, the trees dead and leafless, so it looked almost like a European winter.
AFL, a sport comfortingly nostalgic given my own Western Australian boyhood, the most recognisable Melbourne suburbs being those that had rattled around in my brain since childhood because they supported teams – Essendon, Collingwood, St Kilda, Richmond. Becoming more acquainted with the game than I ever thought I would be by having to cover two seasons of it at work. Going to Fremantle games with Kristie, drinking Pure Blonde out of plastic cups, perching up high on those vertiginous seats at Etihad Stadium. The MCG always seemed so small on the inside. Feeling genuinely excited when Fremantle made it to the 2013 Grand Final, only to be slaughtered by Hawthorn.
Sitting on the roof watching the sun go down on my last night in Sunshine, then drinking heavily all night so the next day I was abysmally hungover while dragging my furniture into a rental van.
Coming close so many times to winning Tuesday night trivia at the Great Britain Hotel with Adam. Drinking jugs of Piss and drunkenly playing pool until 1:00am. Taking a cab into the city to get oil-dipped bread at Siglo on an unseasonably warm night or, if we were feeling more local, wandering up to the Vine on Bridge Road and playing pool until 4am with morbidly obese alcoholics and sleazy middle-aged restaurant owners.
Wandering around the CBD until 4:00am with friends from Perth who had the good fortune to show up on a particularly warm summer night for the inaugural White Night Festival. Sitting at the edge of the Yarra texting love messages dedicated to each other’s mums to the Spheres of Love.
Shoving open my creaky old window in Richmond to sit on my bedside table, stick my head out into the rain, and smoke a joint. Finding that it wasn’t quite as pleasant as sharing one with two friends on a reclining armchair in Sunshine.
Having a heart-wrenching evening conversation with Kristie about the future of our relationship, then having my motorcycle break down on the Bolte Bridge on the way home. Spending an hour leaning against the concrete wall in the emergency lane, pulling my coat up against a biting August wind swooping in from the port, feeling miserable and waiting for my mechanic to come pick up me and the bike in his ute.
Drinking most of a bottle of gin while covering election night at the office, all of us shouting at the TV. Getting angry enough at Tony Abbott’s smirking face during his victory speech to punch a dent in the soundproofing panels on the wall.
Trams – something I’d always thought of as hokey and touristy, but which are surprisingly useful and an indispensable part of the city’s aesthetic. The dinging of the bell, the skating of the tracks, the squeaking of the doors snapping open. The cat’s cradle of electrical wires above each intersection. The sudden blue flashes sparking off the overheads.
Walking to work from Flinders Street Station, through the smell of chlorine from the fountains outside the NGV and the Chinese busker with the violin. The last 1am tram rumbling down Swan Street, audible from where I was tucked up in bed, followed an hour later by the humming of the street-sweepers. The reliable excellence of breakfast and coffee from cafes anywhere in the metro area. AAMI Park sprouting out of the grass by the Yarra like an enormous mushroom. The MCG lit up at night like a meteor fallen to earth. The bright night-time colours of 120 Collins Street, imitating its Manhattan forebear. Gelato on Lygon Street on a summer night. Rowing teams on the Yarra near Richmond. Widespread disdain for The Age going tabloid. Breakneck taxi drivers. Volatile weather. Autumn leaves.
Riding my motorcycle across the Bolte Bridge at night and always risking that lingering glance at the city lights, before begrudgingly turning my attention back to the road.
Wind Warnings for Sunday:
Gale warning for Far North West Coast, Lower East Coast and South East Coast
This week I spent my life savings on a motorcycle. That’s how I live my life!
Royal Enfield Bullet 500
Honda CB 1100
I bought a bunch of books off The Book Depository. Then I thought, “I shouldn’t have done that, I should be saving up for that motorcycle. That’s the problem with online shopping. You don’t have to pick them up and walk to the counter and stand in line, so you don’t have any time to reconsider.” Then I thought, “I’m glad I live my life in such a way that ‘saving up for that motorcycle’ is considered the more responsible financial course of action.”
Hello, faithful reader! My short story “The City” is being published in the Autumn 2011 edition of online fiction magazine The Battered Suitcase. You can read it here for free online, or shell out a few dollars to download it to Kindle or iPad or whatever the kids are doing these days, or spend a few dollars more to order a print copy. Naturally this volume contains not just my own tale of amazement and delight, but those of many other writers.
This is the first short story I’ve had published in any kind of official capacity, which is a significant milestone for any writer. Unfortunately it’s also the last issue of the magazine, which can be traced directly back to you for not supporting the independent arts scene in the past. Shame, shame, shame.
I first started writing “The City” when I was living in Seoul, which was more than two years ago. It was accepted for publication in November 2010, which was nearly a year ago. I think I need to either start writing more stories, or ignore simultaneous submission prohibitions.
Ahoy hoy! We are finally in The House. We moved in about two weeks ago, actually, but still don’t have Internet. I’m at the library on Flinders Lane with an awful busker’s Beatles covers floating up through the windows from street level.
Our original moving day was, you will recall, March 12, but it was delayed again and again because Jamie’s conveyancer (whom he is now taking to court) was a deceptive charlatan. So that’s a total of 110 days late.
On the evening of the 30th, I borrowed Kristie’s car and headed up to the airport, to stand around in the blustery winds outside the Tiger terminal waiting for Chris. I say “terminal” but it’s actually an enclosed concrete area of barbed wire fencing containing a luggage carousel and porta-potties. I already nursed a hatred for that airline after one of the worst flights of my life, but any lingering thoughts I might have had of ever using it again were wiped out by standing outside that haggard refugee camp. (In any case, it was grounded by the aviation authorities for safety breaches a few days later, and remains grounded, and deserves to be grounded.)
Chris stumbled out of the concentration camp looking a little pale and worse for wear after his bout of glandular fever, and we hopped back in the car and cruised down the freeway, past the city and back to the Camberwell house. Jamie had rented a removal truck and already packed most of our stuff into it, but he needed to pick up a few things from his previous residences, so Chris and I took his bike and Kristie’s car while he and Dave went off in the truck. We went straight to the house, only to find that it had no electricity.
“Just check the fuse box,” Jamie said when we rang him.
“No, yeah, we’re doing that,” I said.
“Well we’ll have to ring the electricity company or something.”
“Alright,” Chris said. “We’ll see you when you get here. Well, actually, no we won’t, because there’s no lights.”
We set about moving our stuff into the house in the dark, using our scant reserves of phone battery to see. The house hadn’t been lived in for a while – we still have no idea what the conveyance delay was caused by – and had a musty smell to it. I said, “This is reminding me very strongly of…”
“…last year,” Chris finished for me.
We cracked open a few half-warm beers by taking them outside and smashing them on the letterbox, and sat in the empty living room drinking until Jamie and Dave showed up in the truck. Jamie had been making some phone calls too, and it turned out that the power had been switched off because the electricity company thought nobody was living there. The conveyancer was supposed to notify them that we were, but of course they didn’t. We moved in on Thursday night, and didn’t get power hooked up until Tuesday. At least on the second day we got some candles.
And so here we are, home sweet home, in Sunshine West, the third place I’ve lived in since moving to Melbourne. I moved around a lot when I lived in Perth as well, but it was always in the same area – somewhere in the City of Stirling, never more than a few kilometres from the ocean, upper-middle-class suburbs like Trigg or Carine or Karrinyup at the northern end of the bell curve that hugs the coast. In Melbourne I’ve vaulted all over the city. First there was Essendon: middle-class but still blue-collar, prosperous but not wealthy, the kind of suburb full of solidly middle-class “working families” that both political parties always pander to. Probably a marginal seat in federal elections. Then Camberwell: an old-money suburb, not as snobbish as Toorak or Kew but still very well-off, the streets dotted with European trees and students in private school uniforms. Old houses, churches and plenty of trams. (The wealthy suburbs of Perth lack this European analogy; even Dalkeith and Peppermint Grove are full of garish modern mansions. Perth is a new-money city.) Doubtless a Liberal safe seat.
And now Sunshine, an outer suburb of plain houses built in the 1970s, wide treeless streets, lots of highways and traffic lights and fast food stores. Physically it resembles the suburbs of Perth too close to the freeway; places like Balcatta or Balga, far from the ocean, where the average household income starts to drop. Other parts of Sunshine resemble a rural town like Collie, full of rednecks and bogans; other parts are closer to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The residential streets here are sandwiched in between industrial zones and commercial lots. The avenues are lined with warehouse-like stores selling things like tyres or paint or screen doors; when the wind is up, you can smell fumes and chemicals from the factories. More than half the traffic is semi-trailers and trucks, which makes riding a motorcycle dicey. It’s also a hot-spot for crime. On our first night here Chris heard gunfire in the distance; when I rang my insurance company to tell them my new address, I was informed my premium would be going up; all the petrol stations are pre-pay after 6 pm.
It’s a long way from Camberwell. Maybe 30 years from now, after they develop Fisherman’s Bend and rezone the industrial wasteland below the West Gate Bridge and gentrify Footscray, Sunshine will become more respectable. Until then it’s one of the hard suburbs of Melbourne, full of struggling families and Sudanese immigrants and feral bogans. My vehemently left-wing beliefs are about to clash with the removal of my middle-class white existence.
The house itself is OK. It’s sort of plonked into the lot at an odd angle, the walls not parallel with the fences. It’s fairly basic, with thin walls and no insulation (and a Melbourne winter is pretty brutal). The shower is well fucked; the head is level with my neck, and doesn’t go up any further, and the floor is coated with years’ worth of grime and mould. (We bought wooden slats from Ikea to stand on. ) But it’s gradually shaping up into a home; Jamie and Dave made some shelves out of planks and ladders, and we got a TV and some couches, and I bought a bed and a chest of drawers from a used furniture shop down the road. I don’t mind sleeping on a mattress on the floor, but these rooms are way smaller than Camberwell, and I need the storage space.
I’m finally getting around to the job hunt in earnest, sending out unsolicited applications and going into the city to use the library’s internet whenever I get the chance. I’m growing tired of working at the airport. It occurred to me the other day that I was better off at Coles: I got paid more, didn’t work as hard, got longer breaks, didn’t work in such an inconvenient location, and didn’t have to start at 5 am some days. The only difference is that it’s more dignifiying to work in a bookstore than in a supermarket. But at the end of the day I’m still in retail. And Lagardere is one of those tiresome retail companies that’s constantly trying to increase profits by putting relentless pressure on the $16-an-hour drones at the very bottom of the pecking order, urging them to meet sales targets and upsell and blah blah blah. Recently three of us were sent to Brunswick to do coffee training to cover the baristas’ breaks, because they’re too cheap to put two baristas on at a time. The coffee training was woefully inadequate, so we’ve been nipping into the cafe whenever we get the chance, to watch and learn from what they’re doing. A few weeks ago one of my co-workers was doing that when the CEO of the Asia-Pacific division happened to pass by (that’s the bother of working in a major transport hub) and screamed his head off at her for being in the cafe rather than on the floor selling books – despite the fact that it was late at night and you have a clear line of sight to the registers from the cafe. He swore at her and the barista in front of customers and told them that they needed to “justify their position there.”
If it had been me I would have tossed my lanyard at him and walked out. I don’t know where the fuck people get the idea that a part-time retail job, with shit hours and shit pay, is some kind of esteemed privilege that has people clamouring at the gates. On the contrary, our staff turnover is amazing. Kristie was working at a retail store in the Bourke Street Mall before she left for Europe and had to put up with the same bullshit – “perform or you will be replaced,” “the reason we’re not making budget is because of your poor sales performance,” etc. I utterly loathe retail companies like hers and mine, who treat you only with as much courtesy as is required by federal law. Coles, in comparison, paid me more than the minimum wage and gave me longer lunch breaks, simply out of generosity. Other companies squeeze every fucking dollar and treat their employees like garbage. There’s no way I’m going to put in 110% (or even 80%, for that matter) at a job that pays me $16 an hour and requires me to get out of bed at 3.30 am. And there’s something disgusting about a CEO with a triple figure income screeching and howling in anger at a girl who earns $16 an hour and reducing her to tears. All the money that we make for that store is fed up the chain to Paris and goes towards mansions in Provence and speedboats in Barbados and private school fees for some rich asshole’s kids. And the more you earn, the less actual work you have to do, as I’ve decided after many hours of watching suits in the business class lounge knock back whiskeys and pile up their plates at the buffet. The harder and more unpleasant your job is, the less you are actually rewarded for it.
I’m not advocating communism. I just want to be on the other side. And so I’m sending off resume after resume in the hope that someone will take pity on me and give me a shitty entry-level position writing copy for shit I don’t care about. At least then I’d earn more money. I actually had a job interview yesterday, at Melbourne University Press, for a three-month internship. That was nice simply for the act of going to Carlton. Something about living in Sunshine and working in Tullamarine, commuting up and down on the Western Ring Road at the fringes of the city, usually before dawn or after sunset, makes me feel like I’m living at the periphery of human society. Like a rat scuttling in the shadows. If I can’t live in the city, I damn well want to work there.
When I first moved in with Kristie in Essendon it was only with the intention of staying for a few nights, until Jamie’s house in Sunshine became available. That sorry saga is still being played out, but with Jamie being evicted from the charming Brunswick townhouse by his DINK hosts, Chris languishing in Perth, and my own fate unsecured after Kristie’s lease expires in July and she takes off to Europe, we started rent hunting.
This would have been around Easter – in fact, yes, I spun the idea to Jamie at the Cornish Arms on the long weekend. So that was, what, two months ago? And yet we only recently found a place. It was a pain in the fucking ass, and I must say that in the age of the Internet I have no idea why any potential landlord still goes through real estate agents to find prospective tenants rather than using gumtree or craigslist. You can still get them to sign legal leases, so what is the point of a real estate agent anymore – somebody who serves as a pointless middleman? The house we eventually found was on gumtree and leased directly from the landlord, who was happy to give us a flexible lease considering that he’s bulldozing it to build a block of flats in about six months.
Chris was all set to move over, after his two week visit to Perth stretched into a three month visit, but then he was suddenly struck down with glandular fever and had to go to hospital to have a bunch of tests done. Between this and his bike being stolen (which he still hasn’t receieved an insurance payout for) I’m beginning to think he may have been a bloodthirsty dictator in a past life. (Actually, Hirohito died about nine months before he was born.) So he’s still waiting, and meanwhile it’s me and Jamie and Glenn, whom Jamie rescued from the crappy couchsurfing backpacker sharehouse he stayed in after Brunswick (where, amongst other things, he got bedbugs, had his Mac stolen, and had a knife pulled on him). Glenn’s friend Dylan is also staying with us, and Jamie’s friend Dave – who is planning to live in Sunshine with us – has a lease expiring in about a month. So I’ve gone from living in domestic bliss with my girlfriend, with a nice bedroom and warm bed and homecooked meal every night, to sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a male sharehouse. It is, as Orwell would say, like being a goldfish tossed into a tank of pike. But I need to learn to fend for myself sooner or later, and this is what I want. I have a good forty or fifty years to live with a girlfriend or wife; there’s only so many years of your life where you can live in a sharehouse with friends.
The house is in Camberwell, a very prosperous part of the city right next to Toorak, Melbourne’s traditional ivory tower suburb. The streets are lined with auburn trees and the houses are mostly large and regal. It vaguely reminds me of Hampstead in London – it’s where the old money lives. It’s a pretty decent house, quite new, palatial bathrooms and partially furnished, and about 400 bucks rent a week (for the whole house, not per person). There’s a semi-attached house out the back where an Asian girl and an Indian guy live, which has proved to be a little weird. Apparently Glenn woke up one morning and walked out into the living room, to find the Indian sitting at the coffee table doing some work.
“What are you doing in here?” he asked.
The interloper jumped at that and said “Oh… um… sorry, I didn’t think anyone was home.”
“Dude, that’s so much worse!” Glenn yelled, before kicking him out. This was not the first nor last intrusion, but he seems to have gotten the message lately. So all in all it’s a good house.
It is, however, not a good spot for my job. In Essendon I was fifteen minutes away from the airport; now I’m about 45. Every afternoon and evening I face a long, chilly commute down the Citylink tollway, watching the distant skyscrapers grow nearer, going past them on the Bolte Bridge, and then watching them grow just as distant again. I’ve started going around the boom gate in the long-term carpark to shave ten minutes off my commute, instead of parking in the staff carpark and waiting for the shuttle bus. But it still sucks. It’s also getting unbearably cold; I had a 7 am start yesterday, and was riding along in the 6 am darkness wearing thermal underwear, my thick bike jacket and a scarf, and was still freezing. I couldn’t feel my hands and feet for about half an hour afterwards. I was considering getting a car for the winter months, but tolls (which motorbikes don’t have to pay) would cost me at least twelve dollars a day. This is literally highway robbery, and Perth’s freeway is thus far the only thing Perth does better than Melbourne.
I’ve rapidly become sick of working in retail anyway. It’s the same thing every day: “Hi, how’s it going, would you like a bag for that, which account was that on, would you like a receipt, have a good day!” I hope I won’t come across as arrogant if I say I’m better than that. They’ve also made me go from casual to part-time, so that my pay has gone from $20 an hour to $16. Meanwhile Jamie and Glenn both just got pay raises, and are both on at least $50,000 a year. Jamie’s friend Dave is on at least $70,000. It’s time for me to stop working in crappy minimum wage jobs and start building a career. Even the shittiest entry-level position writing copy for things I don’t care about would pay better than a dead-end retail job. And I wouldn’t have to get up at 3 am on winter mornings. So I’ve started jobhunting, even though I can only do it when visiting Kristie, since there’s no Internet in our Camberwell house. I do have an iPhone now (a good rule of thumb is that whenever an awesome new piece of technology comes out, it takes about five years for it to become ubiquitous and affordable enough for people like me to own it) and that’s OK for Facebook and such, but browsing the Internet on it is cramped and tedious. It also has a shitty camera, which is a shame, because there’s a lot of nice stuff in Melbourne to randomly snap photos of. The iPhone 4’s is fantastic, but I’m using Jamie’s old 3G.
Since I had to change phones anyway I switched from Vodafone to Optus, since Vodafone’s constant fuckery was starting to irritate me. Turns out Optus is just as bad; the only places I really have decent reception are at the airport and in the CBD. Technology infrastructure in Australia is hopeless. Although with Optus I do get free Facebook and Twitter, and signed up to Twitter purely because of that. I’m “mitchedgeworth” if you feel like following me.
I finally got in trouble for my (lack of) license plate today, because there was a booze bus on the way to work. I explained to the cops that I’d been trying to get it replaced, and that I’d filed a police report and spoken to VicRoads and such, to which I receieved a surly “And how are we supposed to know that?” From the words that just came out of my mouth, I thought. What the fuck did they want me to do? I’ve been chasing this fucking thing for months and received virtually no help from any government employee between the Indian and the Pacific. When I finally did get my documents together and went to a licensing centre, I was told I needed to bring the bike, even though they’d previously told me I didn’t have to. So I have to wait weeks for the next available appointment. Needing to make an appointment just to hand in forms is also stupid.
I’m perpetually disappointed with government services (police, VicRoads, visa bureaus and consulates all over the world) and yet I’m also perpetually disappointed with private companies (Chris’ insurance company, Worldbridge, CityLink). Everyone’s an asshole and nobody wants to help you out. What the world needs more of is not love, but common human decency.
Anyway, they let me off with a warning but told me to replace them by the end of the financial year. Which will also be the first time I have some money in my pocket thanks to the tax office. I was looking at my payslip the other day and was flabbergasted to find that I’ve earnt $7000 since working at this bookstore and saved nary a cent of it. Somehow – between rent and groceries and booze and mattresses and winter coats and scarves and books and restaurant meals and comedy shows and train fares – it’s all slipped away. I know I said I wanted to start enjoying life again instead of constantly scrimping and saving like I was for the last three years, but ideally I’d like to enjoy life and put aside some money for future adventures. Hence the jobhunt.
I never know how to finish these things. I’ve been idly flicking through books of famous people’s journals at work (Michael Palin, Christopher Isherwood, George Orwell) and keeping a daily diary seems tempting, but I suspect it would reveal a depressingly tedious routine to my life. Lord knows these occasional updates are dull enough.