Friday arvo. I join Alex at the Livingstone. The Waratahs are already being beaten by the Hurricanes. Alex says the locals are being surprisingly tolerant tonight. They despise rugby union, and resent having it shown on the TV in the pub. (Union’s a toff’s game). Alex explains “ruck” and “maul”. The players put their heads down and mesh together in a ruck, the matrix of muscley men pawing the grass and lurching about like a great twenty-legged beetle. Actually, it’s not bad to watch. Alex knows the names of all the players, and calls out to them in familiar tones, as if they might hear him through the TV set. He asks if I want a drink. “Yeah, how about a shandy?” I ask. “Oh man, I hope none of the locals hear me ordering that!” he says. As soon as the game ends he puts down his red bull and rushes out the door. He’s got to get across to Wooloomooloo. The play he wrote, about AFL, is due to start any minute…
Tully tells me he knows more about his flatmates through reading the blog than by interacting with them himself. After finding the entry about the monster sweet potato, he pads down to the kitchen to see for himself. “Damn,” he says. “there it is!” It’s like the internet has manifested the vegetable, right in front of his eyes…
Friday night. Finally, pumpkin soup is booked in at Heather’s place. When I arrive, she and her friend are painting each other’s faces, and no dinner has been prepared. I pop home for a few essential kitchen ingredients they lack (including a blender) and we all pitch in together. It feels oddly comfortable to be cooking just forty metres from home. The habitable parts of the neighbourhood begin to multiply.
Heather asks whether, in my opinion, we really are friends…or am I just pretending for the sake of the art experiment?
We head down to the RSL, stumbling upon a Latin dancing frenzy late into the night. Heather and I, enthusiastic but rhythmless “skips” that we are, make no friends on the dancefloor amongst the compact South American hip-swivellers. A particularly pro couple steers past nervously as we recklessly fling ourselves across the parquetry. The woman hisses at Heather through clenched teeth:
Saturday. Vanessa and I call in on Elaine at Miss Dee’s cakeshop. I first met Elaine last week while walking the northern border with Sue. Vanessa pulls out the newspapers from 1976. Elaine recognises a photo of one of the council Aldermen, a fellow with a huge handlebar mustache. He’s her old landlord. She laughs out loud at the seventies hairstyle. “So, what can I help you with, loves?” she asks.
But we don’t have anything in particular to ask. I suppose we’d imagined that by bringing the news articles and Elaine together in the same place, something might catalyse. That some lead could emerge, taking us onto further adventures. That maybe she’d put us onto Raz, or John Wayne from John Wayne Shoes… Or that perhaps one golden memory might rise to the surface, bringing back to life the tiny chunk of Parramatta Road between Petersham Street and Railway Street, circa 1976. But we don’t quite reach it. Instead, we drink black tea and munch on carrot cake fresh out of the oven. The present moment seems more pressing than thirty year old memories. In the front room of the cake shop, on a cold Saturday arvo, Elaine and her daughter bicker amicably about their lives in the cake business, the flower business, and the funeral business. Companion trades.
Rohan is probably Petersham’s greatest do-it-yourselfer. His latest project is makin’ bacon. He tells me he’s been hanging out with the Portuguese butcher down the road, to find out how it’s done. Now he’s seriously toying with the idea of buying a “whole hog”. No matter that it will end up costing more than just buying rashers from Charlie’s Deli. For Rohan, the process is its own reward.
Sunday. Vanessa’s very excited about the Battle of the Bands at the Fort Street Fete. In particular, she’s idolising a boy band called “A Joker and His Gun,” who are featured on the cover of the Glebe. Black hair with long fringes which droop down and cover the eyes. Seems to be the style of now. She’s cut their picture out and stuck it on her bedroom wall. A troop of us descend on the fair, we pick up Lisa on the way. Some of the stalls are incredibly cute. I try my hand at “guess the number of lollies in the jar”. It’s fifty cents a pop, and there’s a poem on the jar about a dragon guarding the lollies. There’s a homemade jelly and prawn crackers stall. One enterprising fellow has imported boxes of “wheel shoes” – kind of like roller skates which strap onto your sneakers. I give them a go, wobbling up and down the pavement. Danae and Tully sing the old Fortian school anthem, not so hard to remember as it contains a lot of “hip hurrahs!” Fort Street is a proud old school.
In the main hall, the battle is raging, teenagers dressed in their best street wear jostle and mosh to the distorted guitars of their peers. One all-girl band, Ink Avenue, nervously admits they’ve only been together for a month. They seem pretty competent, thrashing out feminist rock tunes, but never quite sure how to end a song. It matters not: the cheers of the crowd drown out their faltering final chords.
Eventually, A Joker and His Gun step onto the stage. They’ve got quite a following, and spend an inordinate amount of time setting up. Tight hipsters, big hair. The anticipation is killing us. They begin: heavy melodic guitars laid over with the growling voice of the lead singer. The first song brings down the house. Between numbers, the lead singer says: “This one goes out to you guys down the front here! I love you guys! And also a big shout out to all you cunts over there!” It’s a slip of the tongue, a twisted term of endearment. But it doesn’t win the Jokers any fans in the staff room. Quicksmart a casually dressed thirty-something teacher ducks around to the back of the stage. In an instant the microphones have been turned down. The singer’s gutteral growl has been reduced to a faint whimper which sounds like its coming from a few blocks away. He looks up, confused, points questioningly at his mike, and suddenly realises what he’s done. It’s written in his face. The band runs through the rest of their set, deflated. Their defiance has ebbed away.
After the gig, we sit outside the stage door waiting for A Joker and His Gun to emerge. They’re surrounded by fans and parents. The scandal is the talk of the playground. It’s destined to enter school folklore. As we leave, I approach the band, breaking in on their little circle. “You guys were great!” I say awkwardly. They eye me suspiciously with my white crocheted beanie and funny chequered pants…
Vanessa says, “Rock music should only ever be played by teenagers”…