Searching for locations: Smith Street, Fitzroy (Once part of what was known as Marvellous Melbourne)

Of course, it could easily be Collingwood depending on who you barrack for in the local football competition, as it is Fitzroy, but the map and my GPS tells me the street is, for all intents and purposes, in Fitzroy.

Not that there is a football team for Fitzroy any more, that moved north to Queensland a long, long time ago.

But…

Going for a wander up and down the street shows two or three very different sides to inner suburban living, and the effect that comes from a diverse range of cultures, the city has acquired over the past few decades.

Once viewed as almost the slums of Melbourne, these inner suburban areas have moved upscale to become havens for the more wealthy middle classes and a home for many diverse outlets, not the least of which are eateries.

And. In just this small section of Smith Street, there are a lot of eating establishments, from the Old Kingdom Peking duck restaurant to a small place selling Falafel, and then everything in between. It says a lot about how Australian eating habits have changed in a single generation, where back in those infamous old days you would be lucky to have a fish and chips/ hamburger shop and one or two Chinese restaurants.

Now, intermingled with gourmet bakeries and cozy coffee shops, there are a plethora of other eating establishments that cater to any cuisine you can imagine.  In fact, it’s possible to dine out on a different cuisine every night for a fortnight and only traverse about half a kilometre up and down the street.  It could be ideal if you lived in one of the small fronted houses just off the main carriageway in a leafy narrow side street or laneway.

And, as you would expect in an inner-city suburb,  the streets are narrow and made more hazardous for traffic because of the trams, a familiar sight in many of the streets in this area, and a much-used form of transport for workers making the short trip into the city.  It’s almost possible to take the extra half hour, and walk.

The street is lined with old buildings, some dating back to about 1868, there’s around the turn of the century, but most are not inhabited except for the street level where there is an eclectic mixture of furniture, haberdashery, and clothing stores catering to a particular group of people, what some call yuppies or upwardly mobile men and women who are between 25-35, with high paying jobs, and preferably no children.

Then there a subgroup walking there streets, homosexual men, some wheeling adopted children in pushers, others walking hand in hand out for a Saturday afternoon stroll where they can feel safe among many others.  It’s very different from other places I’ve been, but one can imagine there are places like this in every city all over the world.

But as a backdrop to the appearance of wealth, the shopfronts that cater to those upwardly mobile upper middle classes, there’s that exact opposite in full view, the homeless, and beggars, sitting on the ground outside the more run down shops soliciting alms, asking for a spare dollar, and even one asking for a cigarette.

Everyone walks past them, imagining no doubt there are not there, or that if they ignore them, they will go away.  I think not.  And, I suspect, more will come out of their daytime hiding places and take up residence in Smith Street itself.

The only surprise is that the local council has not asked the police to move them on. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of inhabitants in an area that no doubt can only attract the upper middle classes, as anything and everything is relatively expensive, particularly real estate, and permit driven parking spaces.

Would I live here?  No.

Would I come here to wine and dine?

Maybe, if I could get parking, which there appear to be very few spots or any other form of parking such as under the local supermarket which can be very expensive.  And if you are lucky enough to find a spot, who has the time or the memory if continually feeding a parking meter every two hours, particularly if you’re having a good time.

Equally, it’s a place I would not feel comfortable, even if it was once a safe haven, which up to a few years ago, I’d probably think it not.  In fact, at times I was not sure what to make of some of the people on the street, but I guess if I lived here, it would no doubt be the norm.

Would I recommend people to come here?

Of course.  One of the more interesting places in Melbourne to experience grassroots cuisine that is incredibly diverse in it range and price, and even from a place with tables and chairs that may have seen better days, but you haven’t come to see the furniture.

And to my mind, the dining is definitely better, here than perhaps Carlton, which in itself is Mecca to a plethora of university types, both teachers and students alike, and the coffee culture that pervade that area of Melbourne.

I have no doubt you will come and leave with a very good opinion of the place.

As for me, I came here for an engagement party held at the Hotelito de Jesus, a Mexican restaurant, serving a variety of Mexican dishes.  As I’m no expert of that particular cuisine, everything was going to be new.

It was.  It’s spicy but not too spicy, the pork belly excellent, the canapés delicious, and both the mushroom-based and shredded beef based mini tacos were equally scrumptious.

All of this was washed down with two particular Mexican beers, two of several available in bottles, cans, or by the glass.

Oh, and you can get sangria by the jug too if you like.  I would have, but my passion for trying different beers won out.

“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way:  Editing becomes re-writing (4)

I’ve been looking at the role of the [policewoman, and her interaction with the shop’s participants.

I’m still working on whether she needs more or less of an introduction, but, for the time being, this is what I’m going with:

 

It had been another long day at the office for Officer Margaret O’Donnell, or, out in the streets, coping with people who either didn’t know or didn’t care about the law.

People who couldn’t cross the road where there were crossings and lights to protect them, silly girls shoplifting on a dare, and boys who thought they were men and could walk on water.

The one they scraped of the road would never get to grow up, and his mother, well, she was not doing another call on a family to give them the bad news.

That was her day.

So far.

At the end of the day, she was glad to be getting home, putting her feet up, and forgetting about everything until the next morning when it would start all over again.

Coming around that last corner, the home stretch she called it, she was directly opposite the corner shop, usually closed at this hour of the night.  It was not.  The lights were still on.

She looked at her watch and saw it was ten minutes to midnight, and long past closing time.  She looked through the window, but from the other side of the road, she could only see three heads and little else.

Damn, she thought, I’m going to have to check it out. 

She was aware of the rumors, from her co-residents and also her colleagues down at the station, rumors she hoped were not true.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 5

As some may be aware, but many not, Chester, my faithful writing assistant, mice catcher, and general pain in the neck, passed away some months ago.

Recently I was running a series based on his adventures, under the title of Past Conversations with my cat.

For those who have not had the chance to read about all of his exploits I will run the series again from Episode 1

These are the memories of our time together…

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This is Chester.  He is contemplating the mess on the floor.

I’ve asked him many times to stop unraveling the extension cords, or to play with it as it it was a ball of string.

I’m not sure he understands the implications of playing with electrical wires.

Yet.

He is recovering from the visit by our grand children.

Sometimes, when they’re very quiet, he assumes they have gone.  He comes down to see what’s for dinner, or if there are any ‘snacks’.

Then, suddenly he realizes they have not gone, and panic sets in.

Sometimes he gets away.

Sometimes he is trapped, and forced to take large doses of child affection.

Yesterday, it was very close.

In a word: Anonymous

Which is how I feel sometimes.

It can be a paradox in that an ordinary man may strive to be recognised, that is, to rise above his inherent anonymity simply because he feels he has something more to offer mankind than just making up the numbers.

But sadly, that desire will often be met with staunch resistance, not because there’s an active campaign against him, it’s just the way of the world.

The fact is, most of us will always be anonymous to the rest of the world, but in being so in that respect it’s that anonymity we can live with.  However, it’s far more significant if we become anonymous to those around us.  And, sadly, it can happen.

It’s when we take someone for granted.

At the other end of the scale, there is the celebrity, who has finally found fame, discovers that fame is not all it’s cracked up to be.  You find that meteoric rise from obscurity an adrenaline rush, and you’re no longer anonymous.

But all that changes when you are constantly bailed up in the street by well-meaning but annoying fans when you are being chased by the paparazzi and magazine reporters who thrive not on the fact that you are famous but watching and waiting for you to stumble.

Some often forget that there’s always a camera on them, or there’s a reporter lurking in the shadows, looking for the next scoop, capturing that awkward inexplicable moment when the celebrity is seen with someone who’s not their spouse, or worse, if it could be that, they get drunk and make a fool of themselves.

Do I really want to lose that anonymity that I have?

Not really.  It seems to me like it might be the lesser of two evils.

An unfortunate side-effect of not a pandemic

As writers, we put ourselves in the shoes of many different people.

We have extraordinary lives, sometimes more than one, but never more than the regulatory nine.

We get shot at, manage to run into cars and miraculously bounce off with only a few scratches, fall off three-story balconies, and sometimes get in the way of stray, and almost perfectly aimed bullets.

Near-death, almost dead, mostly dead, but always, somehow, we come back to life.

But, in reality, this rarely happens.  You get shot; you often die.  You get hit by a car, or, worse, a bus, you quite often die.

You certainly do not get back up again, leap out of hospital beds, and chase after bad guys.

So, what does any or all of these things feel like in reality?

In my case, I have no idea, other than what I have read, and what I’ve been told by experts it might be like.

But what if…

You are facing what might be certain death?

It’s not a realistic statement, is it?  You can’t possibly know when and how you’re going to die.

So, let’s factor in a possibility, and let’s call it Covid-19.

What do we know about it?  It is a killer if you have respiratory problems, heart problems, in fact, any sort of problem with organs, and, if you have a weakened immune system.

And, it is far more dangerous if you have any of these conditions and are over the age of 60.

I’m 68.

I have psoriatic arthritis and use methotrexate which is an immunosuppressive medicine

It means, in not so many words, I have a compromised immune system.  That’s the doctor’s polite way of saying I’m in deep trouble if I get Covid-19.

So…

I now have to face what is most like man’s worst fear: death.

I fit into a category where I have a 40% chance of survival.

There is no cure, there are vaccines but they might also kill me even though the odds are very slim, so really it is simply a matter of the body fighting off the virus itself, and, more or less, wait and see.

To say I’m scared of what might happen is an understatement.

In this country, up till now, we have managed to avoid a disaster, but with the new variant, everyone is all but saying that in a short time that will change … for the worse.

I hope not.

I do not want to have a first-hand experience of what it like to die.

Searching for locations: Toowoomba Flower Festival, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is held in September, and generally runs for ten days at the end of the month.

We visited the Laurel Bank Park, where there are beds of many colorful flowers,

open spaces,

statues,

an area set aside for not only tulips but a model windmill

and quite a number of hedge sculptures

There was also the opportunity to go on a morning or afternoon garden tour which visited a number of private gardens of residences in Toowoomba.

“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way:  Editing becomes re-writing (3)

I have reworked the first part of the story with a few new elements about the characters and changed a few of the details of how the characters finish up in the shop before the policewoman makes her entrance.

This is part of the new first section is the one that involves the shopkeeper`:

  

This wasn’t the shopkeeper’s first hold up.  In fact, over the years there had been a dozen.  But only one got reported to the police, and that was only because the robber was shot and killed.

He’d taken a bullet that night, too, which, from the police point of view, made him a concerned citizen simply defending himself.

The rest had been scared off by the double-barrel shotgun he kept under the counter for just such emergencies.

The young punk who came into the shop with his girlfriend had pulled out the pistol and told him if he reached for the shotgun he’d shoot him.  The kid looked unstable and he’d backed away.

When the kid collapsed, he should have gone for the shotgun, but instead, he thought he could get to the gun before the girl realized what was happened.  She wasn’t an addict and clearly looked like she was only along for the ride.  Her expression, when the kid pulled out the gun told him she’d known nothing about her partner’s true intentions.

But, he wasn’t fast enough, and she had the gun pointing at him before he’d got past the counter.

From one pair of unpredictable hands to another.

Like the girl, he was just as surprised when the customer burst in the door, just before closing time.

The situation might have been salvageable before the customer came in the door, getting the girl to go along with the robbery being about money, but there was no denying what the kid on the floor’s problem was.

Damn.

He had to try and salvage the situation simply because there was a lot of money involved, and other people depending on him.  He looked at the boy, on the floor, then the girl.

“Listen to me, young lady, you would be well advised to let this man go as he suggests.  And, please put the gun down before someone gets hurt.  Your friend needs medical help and I can call an ambulance.”

The girl switched her attention back to him.  “No one’s going anywhere, so just shut the hell up and let me think.”

The storekeeper glanced over at the customer. 

He’d seen him come into the shop once or twice, probably lived in the neighborhood, the sort who’d make a reliable witness, either a lawyer or an accountant.  Not like most of the residents just beyond the fringe of respectability.

If only he hadn’t burst into the shop when he did.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 4

As some may be aware, but many not, Chester, my faithful writing assistant, mice catcher, and general pain in the neck, passed away some months ago.

Recently I was running a series based on his adventures, under the title of Past Conversations with my cat.

For those who have not had the chance to read about all of his exploits I will run the series again from Episode 1

These are the memories of our time together…

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This is Chester.  Hiding.

He is the proverbial ‘scaredy cat’.

He is in hiding, buried at the back of the shelving in our walk in robe, one of the few places he thinks the grand children don’t know about.

Think again, Chester!

He pays scant regard to the fact he moults hair all over our clothes.

Efforts to fill the hole have been met with stiff resistance, the ‘blockage’ finding its way to the floor.

A bit like the blankets he doesn’t like on his bed.

Chester is 16 years old.  He has had a tumultuous relationship with my grand children, who, at first, wanted to terrorize him, and now, older and wiser, want to make friends with him.

Sorry, no can do.  You had your chance.

But …

He’s warming to the 12 year old.  Perhaps because she is as tall as us, he is confused.

Her efforts to get him to sleep on the end of her bed have failed.

Perhaps we should switch beds, and I might win that battle after all.

“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way:  Editing becomes re-writing (2)

I have reworked the first part of the story with a few new elements about the characters and changed a few of the details of how the characters finish up in the shop before the policewoman makes her entrance.

This is part of the new first section is the one that involves Annalisa, and her boyfriend, Simmo:

 

Annalisa looked at the two men facing her.

Simmo, the boy on the floor, had told her that the shopkeeper would be a pushover, he was an old man who’d just hand over the drugs, rather than cause trouble for himself.

Where Simmo had discovered what the shopkeeper’s true vocation, dispensing drugs to the neighborhood addicts, she didn’t know, but it was not the first place like this they had visited.

She had always known Simmo had a problem, but he had assured her he had it under control.  Until a month ago, when he had tried something new.

It had changed him.

The breaking point came earlier that day when, seeing how sick he was, she threatened to leave.  It brought out the monster within him, and he threatened to kill her.  Not long after he had changed into a whimpering child pleading with her to stay, that he hadn’t meant anything he’d said before.

All he needed was one more ‘score’ to get his ‘shit’ together, and he would do as she asked, and find help.

She believed him.

He said he knew a place not far from the apartment, a small shop where what he needed was available, and said he had the money.

That should have been the first sign he was not telling the truth because she had been funding his habit until her parents cut off the money supply.  She suspected her father had put a private detective on to find her, had, and reported back, and rather than make a scene, just cut her off so she would have to come home or starve.  Her father was no better than Simmo.

And, as soon as they stepped into the shop, Simmo pulled out the gun,

Instead of the shopkeeper cowered like Simmo said he would, he had laughed at them and told them to get out.  Simmo started ranting and waving the gun around, then all of a sudden collapsed. 

There was a race for the gun which spilled out of Simmo’s hand, and she won. 

That was just before the customer burst into the shop.

It had been shortly before closing time.  Simmo had said there would be no one else around.

Wrong again.

Now she had another problem to deal with, a man who was clearly as scared shitless as she was.

This was worse than any bad hair day, or getting out of the wrong side of bed day, this was, she was convinced, the last day of her life.

She heard a strange sound come from beside her and looked down.  There was a trickle of blood coming out of his mouth and Simmo was making strange sounds like he was choking.

Any other time she might have been concerned, but the hard reality of it was, Simmo was never going to change.  She was only surprised at the fact it took so long for her to realize it.

As for the man standing in front of her, she was safe from the shopkeeper with him around, so he would have to stay.

“No.  Stay.”

Another glance at the shopkeeper told her she had made the right decision, his expression said it all.  Gun or no gun, the moment she was alone with him, he would kill her.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 3

As some may be aware, but many not, Chester, my faithful writing assistant, mice catcher, and general pain in the neck, passed away some months ago.

Recently I was running a series based on his adventures, under the title of Past Conversations with my cat.

For those who have not had the chance to read about all of his exploits I will run the series again from Episode 1

These are the memories of our time together…

20160902_123201

This is Chester.  Back on the bed.

Another argument lost, another smug ‘I’ve got the better of you, again’ look.

Time to move on, pick a battle I think I can win.

Food.  There’s the old wives tale, that cats love fish, and it’s true to a certain extent.

Chester doesn’t believe fish live in cans or plastic packets, despite how it’s dressed up.  Fresh fish, he’s into it, but there always seems to be a measured reluctance to eat something out of a can.

I think he regards us humans with disdain when our food comes out of a can or packet.

He refuses to eat the leftovers!

Then there’s chicken, or its more expensive neighbor, turkey.

He loves turkey.

I’m sure he’d eat quail and spatchcock too, but no, he’s a cat, and cats have to get used to eating chicken.  We’ve had this discussion, one too many times.

And just for good measure, I told him if he thinks he’s coming to Italy with us, he’d better get used to the idea of eating pasta.

Of course, always with the last word, he said, quite nonchalantly, ‘then you’d better call me Garfield’.

Grrrrrrr.