Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Grand Prix

Greetings from ground zero.

So the Grand Prix has left us for another year, praise the gods. This is what it's like on the track's edge.

First, every time you venture downstairs, the street is full of men with beer bellies, long shorts with pockets on the knees, because this is where their hands reach to, red Ferari caps - everyone supports Ferrari - and huge laminated tickets on lanyards around their necks. Why is this? They come in packs and they like to spead out in a single line across the pavement. Occasionally there will be a small boy or two in the group, never a small girl. Even less often a woman with a remote expression on her face will be with her husband. There are the grid girls of course, but I've never seen one of them except in pictures. They don't venture away from trackside.

The only people who even come close to annoying me as much as the Grand Prix men are the bicycle riders in their spiked shoes and lurid testicle clutching garments who infest the local cafes on Sundays.

The first two days feature aeroplanes - lots of aeroplanes. They roar overhead, circling and spewing out trails. There are helicopters too. But this is the good part. On the third day, the heavy stuff arrives, massive jet planes which set off huge booming explosions overhead, using a technique which I'm told was developed to frighten villagers in Vietnam. It certainly scares the hell out of me. The first time I heard it I ran outside, assuming that the building was about to collapse. It sets off every car alarm for miles, and every dog in St Kilda barks. God knows how they cope at the old people's home on the corner.

Actual race day is not so bad, it's just the dull roar in the background all day that can be a bit stressful. During the afternoon, Ferrari wins the race, and by Monday all is back to normal - in the street that is. The park is full of stands, fences, portable lavatories, trucks and assorted paraphernalia for weeks.

There are good things of course - there is always a newspaper picture of tiny Bernie Ecclestone with gigantic Ron Walker and Bernie's Amazonian wife which gives fleeting pleasure, and...actually that's the only good thing I can think of.

And now they want to run it at night, so as to catch the TV in Europe. Dear God, think of the energy wasted, think of the light towers polluting the park - and once they're up, will one use a year be enough Ron? No.

The first year of the Grand Prix, all the shopkeepers went crazy. They brought in portable refrigerator cabinets full of beer, espresso machines for the footpath, there were huge plastic rubbish bins outside cafes, full of little plastic bags of biscuits, and nobody came. Fitzroy Street is no more than the path to the track. They are not interested in coffee and bickies, and they'd rather get their beer closer to the smells and sounds of the cars.

So the second year there were no preparations, except for sad little signs outside the shops, saying We Will be Open as Normal on Grand Prix Weekend. Because, you see, not only do Grand Prix goers not spend, the locals go away for the weekend. Except me, because the damn thing crept up on me. Next year...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I have been doing voluntary work at a local clinic. A lot of it is spending mornings doing various clerical tasks, but occasionally I find myself working in a place where I overhear conversations between reception staff and patients. I think Harold Pinter must have had such a job once, because conversations in which neither speaker is to the point, and understanding is minimal, are the norm.

Lady at desk: He got a letter.

Person behind desk: Have you got an appointment?

Lady: No, he got a letter.

pbd: A letter from us?

Lady: I can't go to work today.

pbd: Have you got his letter?

Lady: No, he got a letter. I don't know.

pbd: What is your name?

Lady: Maria.

pbd: Maria. Where is the letter? Can I see it?

Maria: I haven't got a letter.

pbd: Are you the patient?

Maria: I just want to go to work.

pbd: Where is the patient?

Maria: What?

Then there are the ones where information seems to be wilfully withheld.:

Patient: (young, male, very cheerful)I think I might have an appointment here.

Person behind desk: For what?

Patient. Dunno.

pbd: Would it be an Xray?

Patient: Could be.

pbd: Have you got a letter?

Patient (Beaming happily): I did have.

pbd: What's your name?

Patient: Wayne

pbd (preparing to consult computer): What's your first name?

Patient: Wayne

And so on. and on and on.

Today, a perfectly normal looking man suddenly started to undress in the waiting room, displaying an impressive range of upper body tattoos. Nobody took any notice, just continued inquiring about his health insurance.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I have been tagged by Marrickvillia, who wants me to go to page 123 of the closest book to hand, count down five sentences and transcribe the next three sentences. Why? I know not, but here it is.

There are two books on my desk: the C. Day-Lewis translation of Virgil's Aeneid, and Tacitus' The Annals of Imperial Rome (trans. Michael Grant). Tacitus was marginally closer, so here it is:

'He anticipated malevolence among senators and others, but believed that Tiberius had the strengh to ignore gossip and was also immobilized by his mother's complicity. Besides, he argued, it was easier for a single judge to distinguish truth from defamation: numbers encourage prejudice and hostile emotion.

Tiberius was fully aware of the problems of the investigation and the malignant rumours about himself. So, after listening - with the help of a few close friends - to the accusations and pleas of defence, he referred the whole case to the senate.'

Where, no doubt, it ended in tears.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Window Furnishings, non-approved.

I've been brooding over this since before Christmas, when I received, along with all other residents, a letter from our body corporate. There are 97 flats in this block, and about six people attend meetings. Nevertheless these six felt empowered to send the rest of us an item headed Window Furnishings. This took the form of an edict relating to Non Approved Window Furnishings. I should not have been surprised - they once made a rule that no shoes were to be left outside doors, and they have succeeded in enforcing a no-other-plants-but-geraniums-in-the-window-boxes edict.

But window furnishings? Non-approved not allowed? What could possibly be a non-approved window furnishing? So I went out to have a look at the windows that face the public courtyard. There were plastic venetian blinds, which I think came with the flats when new. A few windows had wooden venetians, and some had drapes. (That's American for curtains.) But one, no doubt the poor soul being targeted, had hung a selection of Indian shawls in her window. and very nice they were too.

So what we have here is the Window Police. Will they patrol? Will they be brave enough to tackle the owner of the non-approved window furnishings? Will she tell them to get stuffed?

Just for comparative purposes, I checked out the windows of the community housing block which I see from my back windows - there were drapes, Indian shawls, a US Confederate flag, a skull and crossbones, a bead curtain, soft toys, mobiles, dreamcatchers,a stuffed crescent moon with a doll sitting on it, and one person appeared to have hung a bridal veil in her window.

Me, as soon as I've got time it's red satin in the spare bedroom.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

I live in a block of flats, which is pretty normal around here. It's actually a converted hotel. When I first lived in St Kilda it was a run down old boarding house, then it became a squat full of drug dealers and takers. Then it was added to and converted to flats. So I've contributed to the gentrification of St Kilda just by living here I guess.

But next door is a hostel run by a community housing society. and in the hostel there was a lady whom I never saw, but I heard her frequently. She had the habit of, occasionally, conducting long, bitter and very loud arguments with someone who was not there. This didn't happen every day, or even every week. Maybe once a month, sometimes less often. It was annoying, but that's all. she had been there longer than I've lived in the flats, so at least five years.

Then I heard that other residents in my flats had taken up a petition to have
Robin removed from the hostel. I rang the housing society and was told yes, that had happened. Furthermore, they had enlisted the aid of councillors and members of parliament who had added their voices to the demands that Robin must go. I said that that was not my opinion at all, but it was obvious that I was outnumbered. I heard last week that Robin has gone. Where? I don't know. I asked the petition signers. They don't know either, and they don't care, just so long as their delicate ears are no longer assailed by her despair and distress at the way life has dealt with her. They were amazed at my suggestion that Robin too was entitled to her home. But, they said, she was crazy.

I never know when to keep my mouth shut, so I suggested to these ladies that anybody who chooses to live in St Kilda should be aware that there are drug addicts, street kids, prostitutes and a variety of other troubled and damaged people on the streets. So why do they come? Do they not know this? One explained. "But," she said, "this is the most expensive part of St Kilda." No, actually, it's not. But the connection eludes me anyway.

Wherever you are Robin, I hope your neighbours are kinder than the ones you had here.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What a woman!

This morning I was walking along Fitzroy Street when I saw Alannah Hill and her small son. Alannah was wearing a pink chiffon frock, a navy linen coat (you understand these are the descriptions of a person not very interested in clothes) black lace footless tights, red stilettos and flowers in her hair. She was fully made up, and carrying a large pink and black bag. Suddenly, her son decided to turn around and walk backwards, and Alannah joined him. Together, they walked solemnly along Fitzroy St, ignoring the debris of last night's clubbers (smashed eggs, vomit, old pizza boxes, broken glass), backwards. She is an inspiration to us all. The smashed eggs are there because it is a sport for carloads of young men from other places to come to St Kilda on Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes in stretch limos, and to drive slowly along shouting abuse at the locals and throwing raw eggs. They particularly target women whom they assume to be prostitutes. Charming.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Every time I open a magazine or newspaper lately I read about the obesity epidemic which has hit the western world, including its children The story seems to go like this:

We no longer exercise

We eat too much junk food - regularly mentioned are McDonalds, chocolates and chips

Added elements are that poor people are worse than rich people (poverty apparently equals stupidity and the poor are therefore too stupid to feed themselves or their children properly) and that this added fat is an incredible health risk, causing diabetes, heart disease and all sorts of other horrors.

I have issues with quite a lot of this. First, as a school teacher, I saw no evidence whatsoever that my students were fatter in 2006 than in 1976. There have always been a few fat kids, just as there have always been a few very skinny kids. I know, there are statistics, and statistics must be right. I just didn't see it, and I knew thousands of kids.

Second, I worked in both poor and rich schools, and saw no difference - in both, there were a few skinny kids, a few fat kids, most about average. There was one difference. To thank teachers, parents in working class areas, who are often migrants, would sent gifts - a bag of homegrown tomatoes or capsicums, a jar of home bottled tomato sauce - while in the richer schools, it was chocolates and bottles of wine that appeared in the last week.

Third, I reckon girls, at least, exercise more than they used to. They all seem to go to the gym, which my generation certainly didn't. To us, the gym was a place you went once a week to do a class in, essentially, flexibility.

A surprising number of teenagers are vegetarians. Many still have the basic diet of their parents home countries, whether it be Lebanon, Greece, Italy, India or another country. Many observe various food taboos - no pork, or beef, or alcohol. They do go to "Maccas", but not daily. I have on occasion found myself defending McDonalds against some the wilder beliefs students have about them - I won't tell you what they believe to be the ingredients of the burgers, or the milk shake type drinks (I forget what they are called.)

Teachers get to do supervise the canteen once a week or so. This is all part of what you studied 6 years to be qualified to do. You see what kids order for lunch. Now, our canteen didn't sell fried food, so popular items were a chicken schnitzel in a roll, sausages in rolls, pies, pasties, sandwiches, containers of soup, pasta or fried rice. A particular fad for a while was a bread roll filled with grated cheese and tomato sauce. Not fabulous food, but OK, I would have thought. Judging by the apple cores and banana peel strewn around the playground in the afternoons, there was a fair bit of fruit being consumed too.

I am pretty fat. I do not go to McDonalds (or get someone to pick it up for me). I have never eaten a single mouthful from KFC, Pizza Hut, Hungry Jacks or any similar establishment. I eat very little meat, and lots of fruit and vegetables. I don't eat chips, hot or in a packet (crisps). I don't drink lemonade or coke or beer. I have Vegemite on my toast, never jam. My eggs are poached, not fried. I do sometimes eat pasta and rice, but not once a week. Nevertheless I am fat. I don't know my BMI index, but I'm sure it's disastrous.

I don't have a car, so I walk a lot. As well as the necessary walking, I try to walk or swim for an hour a day.

Every weekday for about a thousand years I sat in the staffroom at recess and lunchtime and watched people consume Kit Kats, Coke, chocolate milk, pies with sauce, and other fat laden goodies. They were almost all thin. Some very thin. Some exercised, some didn't.

One teacher did weights at the gym, swam daily and rode a bike to and from school. She was fat.

I have a diet on which I can lose about four kilos a month. This is it:

Breakfast: 2 slices toast with ricotta cheese and sliced tomatoes

Lunch: small container of salad (tomato, lettuce, cucumber) with ONE of a boiled egg, a small tin of tuna, a slice of cheese, half a grilled chicken breast.

Dinner: steamed vegetables (not potatoes), half a chicken breast.

Drinks: tea, coffee, water

Extras: fruit

Good eh? Makes it hard to eat out of course, and it means preparing two meals, one for me one for the family, every night. And the longest I've managed to sustain it was for about a year, in which I lost 35 kilos.

Perhaps, being fat, I have grown too stupid to see an obvious pattern here. Perhaps my sample size was too small to draw conclusions from. And perhaps the pattern is more complex than we think, and it's just too easy to just blame the fat, especially if they are from a social group that won't hit back.

I'm going to have my lunch now. A cheese sandwich, if you want to know. And a cup of coffee.