The Flinders Street Stakes

Sometimes in the morning when I cross Flinders Street to get to the station from the Young and Jackson’s side of Swanston Street, I imagine that I’m in a horse race.

Is that childish? (That’s not a rhetorical question – I want you to answer it in the comments section of this page.)

I don’t have a good turn of speed; I don’t steam home from the rear of the field like Kingston Town. I’m more like Manighar; I grind away and try to out-stay more mercurial pedestrians.

I consider the edge of Swanston Street to be the running rail and try to position myself one off the fence, partly because it’s always a straight race and you can’t save any ground, but also because there are inevitably two or three runners ahead of me – dawdlers – who don’t have the class to win the race. If I’m stuck on the fence with these donkeys holding me up in the final furlong (or six metres), I give myself no chance of winning.

Sometimes other runners – mostly corpulent businessmen who’ve lost their bearings, their dignity and any basic human decency – lay in badly during the race, halt my run and force me to stop riding. On those occasions, if I’ve still got close to the eventual winners after the interference, I get to the Flinders Street clocks and have to gather my thoughts and decide whether or not to lodge a protest.

I notice some days that there are police on either curb waiting to book people for J walking. I feel they would be better to spend their time booking fat blokes for careless riding.

Sometimes, standing in front of Young and Jackson’s, and knowing the lights are about to turn green, I fuck with everyone’s heads by yelling “WAIT! WAIT! WAIT! NOT YET! NOT YET!” in a high-pitched voice.

I don’t win out of turn, but when I do, I salute the crowd. Once I got carried away after nosing out a broom-handle-up-her-arse woman in a stiff white power suit, and I made it all the way to the National Gallery before realising I needed to get back to scale.

Once I did a star jump after a two-length a win in the wet, and a Scotch College student called me a “fucking mung”. He obviously hadn’t backed me.

If I get really carried away I wait for Johnny Letts after a win and get disappointed when he never shows.

All in all, the Flinders Street Stakes is a great lark and I recommend getting involved when you next get the chance.

Haught fact of the day:

The gibbon is the world’s best animal. Its natural habitat is tropical and subtropical rainforest, but this one is in someone’s letterbox:

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The Grape Men

I grew up in well-established suburb of Melbourne, so it was a novelty to have horses over the back fence.  They roamed around in a thin expanse of undeveloped land that spanned an entire block lengthways and sometimes Dad would lift me up so I could feed them grass and pat their noses. (To this day, I like horses for the fact that they prefer the grass out of a person’s hand to the grass coming out of the ground. They are humouring us like a kind uncle humours a dim-witted child, and I appreciate it, despite the fact that once you know what they’re doing you can’t help but feel it’s a tiny bit condescending.)

The strip of land is still there, but the horses are long gone, and so am I – from the house bordering it, not the paddock itself. (Sometimes Mum told me she could no longer support two children and that I had to go and live in the paddock and make money as a busker, performing my inimitable version of ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ to dog walkers, 85 cents in the dollar of which I would need to “send” back to the family. But it never came to that.)

Nothing will ever come close to the excitement of having horses over the back fence, but since then, I’ve been lucky enough to live in two homes with something interesting to peer at while standing on tiptoes.

For a couple of years I lived on the second floor of an apartment that bordered one of those creeks that have been lined with concrete and become a sort of open drain. Sometimes, when the creek ran low or completely dry, incomprehensibly cool teenagers – not yet pubescent, in many cases, but oh so hormonal nonetheless – would use it as a kind of ultra-fashionable thoroughfare. Occasionally they’d stop to pull out a spraycan and spend seconds, and sometimes a full minute, creating something wonderful.

You could see them if you craned your neck in one of the bedrooms, but you got the best view if you stood on the toilet in the little bathroom at the end of the hallway. From this vantage point you could see every nervous dart of the head, every self-consciously indifferent adjustment of the testicles, every letter of the word they were trying so hard to spell – bless them.

I was living with my brother at the time, and on a weekend once, we stood with one foot on the toilet lid each and watched as a little group of twelve year olds, their trousers round their knees, stopped to leave their aerosol contribution to the beautification of the concrete drain – the word “dick”.

I’m not a huge fan of the fight-fire-with-fire approach, but in this instance I could see its merits. I decided that the best way to combat their childishness was with childishness, so I cupped my hands over my mouth and yelled out the window “THIS IS THE POLICE! PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”

The can hit the ground before I’d finished the first sentence. They bolted – two left, one right.

I yelled: “THEY’RE RUNNING! OPEN FIRE!”

I have never heard a louder explosion of flatus in my life – the acoustics of the drain turned out to be perfectly suited to turning a fart born of terror into a kind of once-in-a-lifetime musical event.

About six months later, I thought I’d try out the police routine again. This time a lone spraypainter had set up shop and was proving himself to be a damn fine depicter of the human vulva.

“THIS IS THE POLICE!” I bellowed.

His head moved slightly. He could have been turning to spit. It was not the reaction I’d been expecting.

“PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”

With his back still turned and his spraycan finishing a labia, he lifted his other hand and gave me the bird. I shat myself, ducked and spent the next twenty minutes squatting on top of a closed toilet, whimpering a little bit.

At my current home, I’m on the first floor of a little apartment block which sits next to an expansive vacant block. It’s owned by people my wife and I have come to know as The Grape Men. Every March they drive their semi-trailer down to the Barossa Valley and return with what I can only assume is cast-off – shitloads of it.

Then they spend the next three months… what would you call it? – tending to these picked grapes. Once every three or four weeks they sell a bunch or two. For the rest of the time they use up ten to twelve hours a day, every day, just… I suppose… being near the grapes. It’s sort of like a vigil, except with a monumentally large amount of swearing, bickering, starting and stopping of engines, shifting of polystyrene boxes and thrashing of corrugated iron.

They are all Italian men of between 55 and 90 years of age. Some of them have allocated jobs – loud palette stacker, engine starter, belligerent foreman, engine stopper – but most just stand (or lean on walking sticks) around, sometimes entering into an argument about how slowly a car should reverse out of the block, mostly just smoking.

For three months a year, we wake up to the rattling of big iron gates and hollered exclamations:

“EH! PUTANA!”

“NOH! NOH! NOH! NOH! NOH!”

“PUTANA!”

“BACK. BACK BACK BACK BACK. NOH! FORWARD! FUCK!”

“PUTANA!”

“OH! FUCK!”

“EP! EP! EP! EP! EP! FUCK!”

“EH! YOU! WHAT YOU DO?! HA HA HA HA! FUCKIN’ PUTANO!”

“LEAVE IT THERE! OH! NOT THERE! FUCK!”

“EH! PUTANA!”

Etc. (FUCK!)

They are delightful people and I hope to be doing what they’re doing – pissfarting on a full-time basis – by the time I’m 50, but sometimes they start screaming “PUTANA!” so early that it becomes a bit much.

That’s when my wife has to go down and have a word to them.

The first time she went down furious and came back jovial and with a bunch of grapes that was gently fermenting.

The second time she went down furious and came back jovial and calling them The Nice Grape Men.

I don’t know what they said on either occasion because I had hid in a cupboard and waited for the confrontation to pass in a foetal position.

They’re back again this year and it’s fun to watch their antics.

Once one of them rode in on an okapi and someone yelled “PUTANA!” and everyone laughed. Including me, while on tiptoes, standing on my bed.

Haught fact of the day:

According to the Crimes Act 1900:

A person who, with intent to deceive:
(a) impersonates a police officer, and
(b) purports to exercise a power or function as a police officer,
is guilty of an offence.

The maximum penalty is imprisonment for 7 years.

Haught starter

Do blogs need introductory posts or do you just wade straight in and start floundering around, not like a flounder (possibly the stillest creature in the marine kingdom) at all, but like a juvenile okapi, thrashing helplessly in a particularly deep section of the Congo with your preposterously inadequate Bambi legs and a look of desperation on your face that quickly turns to a look of resignation before sinking, with the rest of your head, below the cool sheet of water which only moments ago you were lapping at contentedly?

That’s not a rhetorical question; I really really want an answer.

Speaking of a sheet of water – narcissism: that’s the only reason you’d start a blog, surely. Last week I said this to a friend who had suggested I begin putting my thoughts down for public (digital) consumption.

He said, “So – why not?”

I said: “Because it’s for narcissistic clowns.”

He said, “Then what’s stopping you?”

And he had made a good point. Nobody likes the sound of their own keystrokes more than me. Narcissus, of course, was around in a time long before it became possible for people  to self- publish earnest, illiterate and vomit-inducing poetry and make it available to every single person in the world who owns a computer and access to the internet. So instead of starting a blog, like I’m doing right this instant, he looked at his own reflection in a lake.

Personally, if I had a womanly physique, permed hair and a nose fourteen times the size of my mouth, I reckon I could find better ways of starving to death. But good on him – he found an interest and he pursued it.

Haught fact of the day:

An okapi is one of the few animals in the world to have an onomatopoeic name – the word “okapi” is a representation of the noise mature males make while eating: