Melbound and Down

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Over Christmas and New Year, I was lucky enough to have the parents over for a visit.  They had a look around Melbourne, went for a sojourn round Sydney and most importantly got to meet the fabled Catriona for the first time.  Luckily, all three went down well.  From what I hear, mum has been boring everyone within earshot of the Australian adventure and the official Jayne Thurlow endorsement certificate is winging its way to Catriona’s post box as we speak.  Phew!

So anyway, with that in mind, I thought I’d do a wee run down of things to do in this corner of the world, through the prism of parental escorts.  It’s easy to write negatively about places so I’ll aim high.  There’s a lot to cover too, so I’ll go with a couple of topics first:

Best Day Out:

Pretty much everyone goes to Philip Island when they visit Melbourne as there’s a squad of Little Penguins that raid the beach every night.  They’re officially called Little Penguins, I’m not being derogatory.

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Like clockwork, they emerge from the surf at dusk and cautiously make their way to their burrows where their starving kids keenly await some regurgitated anchovies.  Stadium seating is arranged on the banks of the beach as hundreds of tourists await the nightly avian re-enactment of Saving Private Ryan.  Chinese tourists disregard the frequent pleas for no flash photography and then leave en masse as soon as the critters appear.  The rest of us wait around and scope around the bush to spot mum or dad being accosted by her famished sprogs (I’m talking about the penguins here, not the Chinese tourists).  It’s pretty violent stuff.  Still in their downy feathers, the children appear bulkier than their beleaguered parents and virtually mug them as they stagger through the dark to their burrows, ramming their beaks into their startled mouths.  In hindsight, we shouldn’t have gone on Boxing Day, as it was unbelievably busy with tourists.  Trying to catch a glimpse of this nocturnal phenomenon was almost as violent as the act itself.  Fortunately, our guide for the day was exemplary.  On the bus he regaled us with a mix of local history and vaguely duff dad jokes.  On the way to the penguin party we stopped off at a koala reserve where we saw the lazy bastards sleeping in various poses on various trees.  koalas rank almost as high as pandas in the useless animal league.  They sleep up to 22 hours a day and only eat specific types of eucalyptus leaves, which offer next to no nutrition.  These leaves are highly toxic though, and the koalas have evolved such strong antibodies in their digestive systems to combat and dissolve these elements that there’s serious research underway to realise their potential for fighting human contagions.  Eventually, one koala woke up, did a scratch and wandered along a pole.  It was very cute indeed.  I remember seeing a panda in China and it couldn’t even climb a tree.  It was pathetic.  So the koala has some way to go before gaining the Most Redundant Animal Award.  We also saw some wallabies and ate some pretty useful fish and chips.

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Lazy.

Best Free View:

Climb the top of the Shrine of Remembrance on the corner of the Royal Domain and you’ll get a straight shot right down the throbbing artery of Swanston Street.  You’ll also notice there’s a 31 storey building with the giant face of indigenous leader William Barak etched on to it.  I did have to look this up though as the face is so massive and spread over a series of balconies it’s pretty nondescript.  Underneath the Shrine there’s a museum sitting amongst the pillars that make up the old crypt.  There’s the usual telling of World War Two, told through the eyes of the country that’s telling it.  I think the only way to get the whole picture would be to visit every country in the world that fought in the War and find somewhere in the middle.  You could open the museum in Switzerland.  Failing that you could read ‘All Hell Let Loose’ by Max Hastings.

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Best Cycle Route:

The Capital City Trail!  30km loop through the inner suburbs, the parks, alongside the river, through the CBD and out the other side!  I say 30km but if you have the directional sense of a bluebottle like me, add a good 5km to the total for wrong turns.  I counted mine and made specifically seven.  I may write to the Melbourne City Council and request more signs, a few hundred should do the trick.

Most Tenuous Claim:

Come to Fitzroy Gardens and see the OLDEST BUILDING IN AUSTRALIA! Hmmmm.  The building in question is ‘Cook’s Cottage’ – not belonging to bedraggled ex-Labour prawn-face Robin Cook, but Captain James Cook, discoverer of the New World, well the one other than America.  The building is very old by Australian standards for sure, except that it wasn’t built in Australia.  It was built in Yorkshire.  In the 1930s it was dismantled and shipped over to Melbourne where it was reconstructed brick by brick.  This is a bit like saying you’re drinking a 30-year-old malt when actually you’re drinking Bell’s from an old bottle. I’m not sure where you’d draw the line.  I assume there’s a street in Yorkshire with a cottage-sized gap in the middle of it, just a sign reading, ‘Here Lay the Oldest Building in Australia.’  Tourists can dress up in period clothes and pose in front of the cottage, like they’re maids in 18th century England, in a park in central Melbourne.

Best Bar:

I think Melbourne might have the greatest collection of bars that fill specific niche markets in the world.  If you like beer and retro computer gaming, you have two options (Bartronica and Pixel Alley).  If you like beer and ten pin bowling, you have Strike next to the State Library.  If you like unlimited beer and electronic darts you have iDarts next to Strike.  Luwow on Johnston Street is an incredibly themed Hawaiian bar with a weekly karaoke night featuring a velour-suited host that fills time between songs with his own Tom Jones renditions.  If you like beer, tacos and skateboarding, Beach Burrito can serve you the best liquid and food from Mexico around a giant skate-bowl.  If you like Seinfeld, there’s even a bar entirely devoted to George Costanza!

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The Evelyn Bar wins the award though because A) they have happy hour every day that means $6 pints of Fat Yak, and B) they’re attached to an off license (or bottle-o) where you can buy a bottle of wine for $14.  They’ll even stick it in an ice bucket for you and you can enjoy it on the bar terrace watching the oddballs of Fitzroy waddle by in their skinny jeans.  City Slickers.

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The Booth

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I’ve been demoted or promoted depending on your perspective, to The Booth, which is the ticket stand beside the train station.  Only once or twice a week, but to begin with I felt snubbed.  This was until I realised it featured in its own cartoon series: ‘The Booth.’  Quite humdrum at first appearances, much of my time in The Booth is spent directing lost pensioners to the Information Centre over the road.  There was an upsurge in activity recently when a disabled busker stationed himself 10 feet from my face and fired up his mobile karaoke machine.  He then put ‘Hey Baby’ by DJ Otzi on repeat and screamed over it.  Occasionally he would sing the correct lyrics, like ‘Heeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyy Baby!’ but predominantly he would just scream.  He was having a great time.  I wasn’t and neither was anyone else.  People shielded their ears and their children’s as the incoherent wails ricocheted down St Kilda Road.  But of course I wasn’t going to say anything as the guy in question was disabled.  Fortunately, a bald bloke from the casino next door wasn’t so principled.  A few well-placed words later and the shrieking busker was moving on.  I immediately felt sorry for him but suddenly a customer approached The Booth looking for a cruise.  I realised in the two hours the Otzi tribute act had been in the vicinity I hadn’t sold a single ticket.

I still work on the boats of course.  On the big boat the worst aspect of the job is scraping off the seagull shite with the hose.  In The Booth it’s human waste you have to worry about.  Tramps use the stairwell and the wee nook belonging to The Booth as their own gigantic toilet.  It’s a true olfactory experience when you go to open up your place of work for the day and the tramps have been going heavy on the grog all night, pools of fresh urine steaming in the morning sun.  We don’t have a hose in The Booth unfortunately. 

There was added drama on the big boat last week when an old lady collapsed.  I was working on the small boat so was a bystander on this occasion, thank God, so I only got the whole story from the deck-hand on duty and a few understandably upset passengers.  The Captain, never in contention for the Nobel Peace Prize, was visibly annoyed by the lady’s collapse.  He called the office and told them to call an ambulance as a lady was “unwell”.  He hung up after this detailed diagnosis, leaving the bloke in the office with a fairly vague description to pass on to the emergency services.  Relatives of the stricken woman asked The Captain how long it would be before they could disembark and get her to a hospital.  “As long as it takes!”  Retorted the unsympathetic Croat, to general dismay and disbelief.  Upon mooring at the wharf he then continued to let passengers on to the boat, who had to shuffle awkwardly past the prone lady who was splayed in the recovery position.  Disembarking passengers exclaimed their shock at his lack of empathy to us on shore.  But what could we do?  Paramedics arrived on motorbike and boarded the vessel, tending to their patient with due care and attention.  The Captain complained loudly that they were taking too long, delaying his next precious cruise to the hallowed grounds of Herring Island.  Thankfully the poorly pensioner was taken to hospital fully conscious and on the mend.  The Captain greeted this news like he’d got two numbers in the lottery.  Astonishingly he then held up the next cruise by over 20 minutes so he could eat lots of sushi.  The man is not a Roald Dahl character.  He is real.