Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ludd Gang

Or: What We Did On Our Holidays.

For a few days in early January, we were very kindly given the keys to a very nice house on the river in inner Melbourne. It has the distinction of being the only house I have ever been in that has more Charlie Brown books than our house does. (It also has the most Doctor Who figurines and magazines I have ever seen outside a shop, which has sent Carl off onto his next most recent obsession. Thanks, Miles. Oh, and sharp kitchen knives. Thank heaven for sharp kitchen knives.) The house is not geared for scaredy cats such as us. It has all (post-)mod cons, everything that can possibly be remote controlled is remote controlled, and press-buttons do the most surprising and unexpected (and sometimes unwanted) things. We were all at sea, and hence probably made a few too many telephone calls to the owners.

During our stay, we only made one trip into the city, much to the boys' disappointment: "only two train rides? only two tram trips?". We dropped in on the Games Lab at ACMI, where all of us got to try out a few cutting-edge computer games, including a gorgeously whimsical piece of Czech animation called "Samorost 2". Thereafter we split up, and I was able to take in the Christian Marclay exhibition (the four-screen gunfire-percussion loop, featuring scenes from many movies, almost all of which involved someone firing or aiming a gun at you (the viewer as victim), was particularly confronting (and mesmerising), but there were lots of other good things; and to think I only knew of Marclay as a "turntable artist"), and the ridiculous-to-imagine Saint Nick Cave exhibition across the road, where you could look at Actual Nick Cave Notebooks, an Actual Nick Cave Desk and Typewriter, Actual Nick Cave Bookshelves, and many, many photographs of Actual Nick Cave, and listen to the Actual Nick Cave Voice commenting on the above, in his dry, verging-on-ironic/sarcastic manner. Unsurprisingly, you are left with the impression that he is somewhat bemused by the whole thing, and not taking it particularly seriously (although it is a serious exhibition, and entirely deserved).

We also spent a very memorable evening of a very hot New Year's Eve with good friends at the beach at Point Lonsdale, and took a run up to Ballarat, where I saw my cousin Max, whom I last saw at my mother's funeral, in 1993.

Miraculously, I got to catch up, briefly, with one of the most important people in my life, who I haven't seen since before we moved to Canberra, and who has been living in London for many years now but happened to be in Melbourne for Christmas and happened to ring us the day before we left home for the holidays, and whose time in Melbourne happened to overlap with our time in Melbourne by two days.

In other news, that man Darren insisted on filling the remaining space on my hard drive with (after deleting the few that I already have) 1,111 songs (Nelson with an extra digit), personally chosen to highlight my many weaknesses and blind spots (e.g., and particularly, my long-held aversion to all things popular, which I have since remedied but which has left a gaping void as a legacy). I intend to blog all 1,111, from top to bottom, on these pages, even though it will likely take several years to do so.

And, finally, what you have been waiting for:

"The Ball In The River": A True Story.

Somehow the boys talked us into buying for them from Studley Park Boathouse a bouncy ball each (we used to call them super balls; I don't know the current nomenclature). Next day, we were going for a walk along the edge of the river at Fairfield Boathouse when - as if you didn't know what's coming - Jules lost control of his ball and we watched it roll slowly but inexorably towards, and into, the river. In its own way, this was not unlike the end of the first chapter of Ian McEwan's "Enduring Love", with its runaway hot air balloon - although here nobody dies.

I have never seen anybody as distraught as Jules was. He ran after the ball to the edge of the river, but mercifully did not jump in. We could see the ball, which had become trapped near the bank, but just too far out for a very brave person (viz., myself) to reach, despite my best efforts at riverbank clambering. There was only one thing for it: we were planning to hire a canoe the next day for a Wind In The Willows outing anyway, so we instantly decided to bring it forward a day. What the heck; and Jules wasn't going anywhere from his watching post, so Carl and I hastily proceeded to the boathouse while Adrienne stayed with Jules, lest he decide to do something rash. After several rings of the boathouse bell, somebody deigned to take our money and issue some very rudimentary instructions about boat hire and safety.

I was not born with sea legs, and I have an unexplainable inability to tie knots (I am from a family of knot-tying professionals), yet somehow I managed to get Carl and myself into the boat, upright and facing the right way, preparing to light out for the territory, as they say, just in time to hear from nearby a small boy shouting the words "We got it, we got it". Somehow figuring out how to stop the boat from drifting away from the bank, I held it in place for Adrienne and Jules to join our little party. Their story was that Jules had used his, uh, piercing voice to hail a passing kayak, and after several attempts the ball (which, I might as well at this point add, would have been entirely replaceable for the very affordable sum of two dollars) was passed up onto the bank and into Jules's greedy hands, and thence to his mother's handbag, with strict instructions not to take it out until we were well away from any watercourse.

Our purpose thwarted (thankfully; I had no great confidence in my ability to retrieve the ball myself), we nevertheless, having paid for an hour of boating time, headed off upriver for a leisurely row, mercifully not putting too many other rowers (or ourselves) in too much danger, strengthening our arm muscles, picking up a bit of sunburn, and gradually getting our heart rates back to within normal range.