By John Dickson
Leon Builder has assured us that we will occupy our new home as spring dawns. This year. [Cue laughter]. It does have a floor now and the framing is complete. Lifting it off the plans and into three dimensions has slightly disturbed us. It is massive. Leon Builder offers that all new structures pull this trick, and we will be slightly less concerned once it is roofed, walls are plastered, and windows inserted. Sure.
But it does mean we have to ponder an exit plan from the New Suburb which just might be more of a jolt than we anticipated. We have come to nearly, almost, quite like it.
But the weather, and fear of the other who might be toting a stash of the spicy cough in that wheezing chest, has dampened enthusiasms as villagers go about their business. They are huddled now, curiously avoiding maskage but eyeing each other with suspicion should the chin hammock appear on the face of a fellow ratepayer. Will they follow suit or cling to their autonomy with their dying breath? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, there is some singular activity emanating from the household Bestie and I occupy for the moment. Here is some of it:
The New Suburb Recreation and Rehabilitation Society of Inclusiveness invited we burghers to join them on a bus trip to The Mountains for a ‘skiing experience’. Despite our shortcomings [knees, general fitness, breathing frailties, coldophobia, zero experience], Bestie thought it would be a good neighbourly exercise for us to Join In. Besides, she advised, my golf buddy, Morza Peter Simon McKinlay, had already signed up.
Morza claims he is a Tatar Prince whose forebears allegedly occupied Astrakhan as their family seat, until it was swallowed up by greedy Russians in the late 15th century [yep, they were at it even then]. Because of his heritage, Morza believed this ‘skiing thing’ would come naturally and silenced any argument to the contrary. This in the face of his never having strapped a plank onto each of his feet and pointed himself downhill on a slippery surface.
The bus left at dawn and was an overheated, upward spiralling rattle of fevered excitement. Fully-woolled Hippie Mary was there with her twin brats Coast and Lake sullenly jabbing at phone games while sledging each other with pornographic burns; George Leaf , amateur photographer and bird enthusiast, pursued a thread of loud circuitous thinking edited by his elbow-rib-jabbing partner, Maurice Post; Jane Brane was knitting what looked like a cosy for a baked potato; the Consonant family were test-singing the nine hymns they planned to assassinate this coming Sunday; Morza had donned his cans and was yelling reviews of the Tchaikovsky ballet The Nutcracker [‘Russian arsehole, can’t play a note!’] that was filling his ears; Bestie was eating something brown and I was already ruing my decision to play nice with these people.
Sleep offered sweet relief until consciousness returned to show me the first snow I had seen since 1968. It was wondrous and I immediately forgave my fellow travellers their sins. I actually whooped. It was downhill [sorry] from there.
Those of us keen to have a crack at this skiing jam were kitted out with state-of-the-art fluorescent pants and jackets that continuously rustled, gloves that abolished finger dexterity, helmets that silenced all incoming communications, and boots that were impossible to walk in.
‘You’re not going to be walking. You’re going to be skiing,’ toothless, tattooed, Weasel Ski Lout reassured as he tightened boots just one more notch before taking some serious weight off our credit cards.
Hippie Mary and Jane Brane opted for the café with its wide range of taste treats and mountain views; George and Maurice wandered off towards the cover of some vegetation, exchanging glares as George dissected Maurice’s behaviour on the bus [‘not appropriate’]; the twins expertly gathered up snowboards, wired their phones to their heads and limped off towards the chairlift; and the Consonants formed a brief prayer circle before lugging to the toboggan park a pile of too many plastic trays they had secured from the New Suburb’s $2 shop for $3.99 apiece.
Morza, Bestie and I arrived at the bottom [ski term] chairlift exhausted and dripping in flop sweat. Emulating those about us, we clipped skis to boots and, holding on to each other, slid precariously towards the circling seats a ‘Towie’ had halted for our benefit and everyone else’s chagrin. Once we’d sorted the tangle of skis and poles, the Towie lowered the safety bar and immediately radioed ahead that we were coming. Off we went, white knuckle dangling from a wire rope high above the ski runs below.
Morza’s confidence was not the slightest bit dented as Bestie and I cringed in fear at what might lie ahead.
‘Look,’ said Morza, waving a pointy pole at some tiny tots 20 metres below who were skiing without stocks in a conga line of natural expertise, ‘how hard can it be?’
This hard: Towie II, waiting at the first drop, stopped the chairlift to help us off [‘boooo!’]. I immediately fell on to my side and began to learn the painful, and soon to be repeated many times, lesson of retrieving my dignity. Bestie, a quick study, emulated those around us and slid off down the mountain deploying a rather satisfactory snow plough which she enjoyed to the point of giggling hysterics.
Morza vanished. He had remained upright, managed his skis into a reliable parallel, pointed his body in the general direction of ‘down’ and quickly gathered speed. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps his genetics had allowed him this miracle competence.
Not a bit of it. His screams, carried on the jet stream of his wake eventually reached our ears like the delayed report of a gunshot. He had managed to avoid a dozen collisions before he reached the first jump. He became airborne and disposed of one ski, which embarked on its own lunatic journey. He landed upright, to the applause of a queue of snowboard riders at the terrain park. But it was a false dawn. The second ski was not designed to handle all the torque that Morza imposed on it and disintegrated. Remarkably, Morza stayed on his feet, crazy-running for a dozen metres before he slammed into a padded lift tower, bounced off onto his back, and lazily snow-fairyed into unconsciousness.
I abandoned my skis and ran-fell to his side. Nurse Bestie had already snow-ploughed her way there. Her expert early reading was that he would make it out intact. He was awake and on his feet before the ‘blood bucket’ arrived – this charming epithet used to describe a snowmobile towing a rescue sledge. Two large gentlemen insisted he ride the sledge to the first aid hut. Concussion, yaddah yaddah yaddah…
He agreed, on the proviso that he could sit upright and accept the accolades of witnesses to his demented first, and only, downhill racer experience.
Bestie and I returned to the task at hand with indifferent success, the fruits of our efforts revealing themselves on the bus ride home. Analgesics failed to quell the increasing throb of protesting muscles and had zero effect on Morza’s insistence on trumping our every moan with escalating howls of his own.
‘You don’t know about pain!’
‘Yes, we do,’ chorused our fellow passengers in raggedy unison.
I once read of how writer Kurt Vonnegut’s sister, Alice, claimed she could roller skate through the Louvre Museum in Paris breathlessly saying to herself ‘got it, got it, got it…’ as she sailed past each of 35,000 artworks on display at any one time. If she spent 15 seconds with each, it would take approximately 100 days.
We have seen a lot of art, Bestie and me. We have visited much of the world’s biggies and a stack of littlies as well. We have mused over all kinds of offerings. Deco, Nouveau, Povera and Bauhaus have fallen under our gaze. Baroque, Colour Field, and Dada have toyed with our synapses. Impressionists have impressed, the Fauves have dazzled and Fluxus has left cold and depressed. We have been silenced by Performance and activated by Abstract Expressionism.
The parish’s annual ‘Art Exhibition and Sale, Open for One Weekend Only at the New Suburb’s Masonic Hall’, was none of these things. It was quaint, tentative, and endearing.
It was also the first time we have seen a bread dough sculpture. Nine bread dough sculptures. Delightfully, all with the little red sticker attached, indicating that Auntie Brie had been in and purchased the lot [$40 each or $250 the set].
A knitted, baked potato cosy, available in the colours of your footy team, was an unexpected take on the onset of winter, but here we are.
Sans roller skates, we whizzed through the offerings, chuckling at Maisie Plume’s derivative covering of the genesis of the cubist melange – a stack of pizza boxes artfully arranged as steps with a paddle pop stick figure tumbling down attached by gobs of blue tack and hope [see Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912]; astonished at Bryn Cardiff’s soundscape of a 1959 Victa 18 conquering a nature strip, and dumbfounded by the Reverend Noel Thursday’s dextrous take on the war in Ukraine, showing us broken children’s toys rendered in toothpaste and cheese.
Much to think about.
Slough was over for dinner. A neighbour [two streets over and yet, too close] Slough is Bestie’s cousin on her father’s side. He has been alone now for two years. Slough’s wife grew exhausted from his bombast and quietly left. Used to her passivity while he exercised his pompous balderdash, it was an entire month before he realised that she was gone.
Slough is an unrepentant pedant. It is my perverse pleasure to irritate this itch of his. I don’t know why. Perhaps because he is a fulminating nitwit.
Slough is against everything except his own right to accumulate wealth from the labour of others. He will tell you that being an employee is a derogation of one’s duty to one’s personal autonomy. Why one would allow another one to benefit from one’s labour and intellectual property is beyond one. And that feeble-mindedness demonstrates such an absence of responsibility that it allows one to freely exploit those who fail to understand and profit from one’s power of individualism.
‘Especially when one lunches at one,’ I offer.
He looks puzzled, then says, ‘Well, I suppose we could of had lunch instead.’
I pounce, ‘Could have had lunch instead.’
He pauses, and I can see the clunk and grind of the machinery of his agricultural brain adding one and taking away two and dividing by three and finally realising that I am right, and he has transgressed the pedant’s maxim of precision.
‘Attack me when I am vunrabull, why don’t you,’ he serves up, referencing the now long absence of his former partner.
‘I think the word you are looking for is ‘vu-L-nerable’. It has an ‘L’ in it.’
‘That’s what I said,’ he spits.
Bestie is not enjoying this demonstration of my keen wit.
‘Bully!’ she hisses and silences me by forking a large serve of spanakopita into my mouth. A pity really as I was about to lead him into the less/fewer perplexity and whether pronouncing ‘new-clear’, ‘nuke-u-lar’ [his preference] was evidence of a genetic aberration.