By John Dickson

    The new house for the old suburb is belting along. Thanks for asking. There are, of course, unforeseen consequences of leveling a block of land in winter. Yods of clay must be transported away [destination unknown] in large trucks driven by grim-faced men called Smokey, Crank and Gobblehead [I dare not ask]. It is inevitable that some crumbs from these considerable loads find their way on to the road. The road that is shared by our neighbours, few of whom we know. 

    Smokey, Crank and Gobblehead have other things on their minds [football, beer, 1970s hits coming at them from augmented sound systems] as the clay tumbles generously, carpeting the street while allowing them to overlook the responsibility for care that our neighbours tell the Council is clearly theirs. The Council agrees and has had a representative telephone to tell me so. I too agree. I insist that S, C and G foot the bill for the Council’s street sweeper to be deployed. They are not well pleased. In the early sleepless hours of morning, I wonder how retribution will come my way. Stand by.

    Starting Tuesday

    ‘Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast’. Sounds like Shakespeare, but it ain’t. William Congreve scratched that out in 1697 in a poem entitled ‘The Mourning Bride’. But I digress.

    I’ve been fumbling with a few tunes. My brother, a considerable guitar player, sent me one of his as a fillip during The Plague. It has long been my ambition to honour my destiny as a musician of awe to the world. This is the fantasy of taking up the guitar and being instantly proficient. No, better than that – an undiscovered Clapton, a hidden Bonamassa, a backroom Page, only better, just waiting for the right moment. And now it has arrived!

    Fundamentals be damned! As soon as I unwrapped that beast, I knew what to do – just strap it on, plug it in, stand like this and bend them strings! 

    Well, that sounded awful. Must be something wrong with it.

    ‘Hi bro. There’s something wrong with the axe you sent me. I strapped it on, plugged it in, stood like this and bent the strings. Looked good but sounded horrible.’

    ‘Google ‘guitar lessons’ and do what you’re told. Put in the work.’ Click.

    I shame-giggled. Mentally thanked him for his advice and did what I was told. It turns out that digital dexterity [not the 1s and 0s, but the things hanging off your hands] is an absolute pre-requisite to mastering the guitar fretboard. I have the digits, but the dexterity part eluded me. At birth.

    My hands are stumpy, my fingers fat. An ideal combination for a brickie or a thumb-war professional, not so much for accurately landing on a slim string 5mm from its neighbour and not producing a sound as dead as Jimi Hendrix [too soon?]. 

    But I plough on because I am in full procrastination mode. There is a column to write, a book to finish, it’s my turn to cook and those broken tiles in the driveway are not going to replace themselves. Avoidance turns into something of a driver and within hours I have mastered four chords that, when played in a predetermined sequence, resemble something of a tune.

    But before I can offer Bestie a competent-adjacent performance of a lumpy version [novice] of a Rolling Stones ode to drug abuse and misogyny, I must staunch the bleeding from my fingertips.

    Friday, then Saturday morning

    I drive a Japanese car. My Subuyota Moneysink is actually owned by Bestie. It’s in her name because it was cheaper for her to buy. She is a nurse. Nurses get a discount. Every time I take it in for servicing, I am subjected to quizzical looks from the manly men who seem puzzled that I am claiming ownership. The Subuyota Moneysink is clearly a nurse’s car. Why would I want to claim ownership of that? 

    Ivan exchanges knowing looks with Attila, and I know what is about to come my way. They will smile with empty eyes and put plastic covers over the driver’s seat and steering wheel, as they confirm that this is ‘sir’s’ (I can see the air quotes in their minds) 50,000k capped service which is a $784 investment in a car that is visibly diminishing in value as we stand on the forecourt in the rain and it will continue to do so until the service cost equals its net worth. Not far now.

    A third person I have not met, possibly Winston, will phone me at about 2.00pm. Winston will tell me that the ‘boys’ have got the dumflapple off the groantake and the blatfutter is showing a bit of wear. It will be a good idea to replace the blatfutter now because it will be much more expensive to do it at some unspecified date. This will add something in the vicinity of $600 to the bill. All ‘variations’ cost multiples of $600. It used to be $500, but inflation, Covid, supply lines and the war in Ukraine.

    I will say ‘no’ and the conversation will end with an icy, ‘well, sir, it’s your decision’. Turns out, it is.

    And yes, they did find something. But I made sure it was not to their advantage. It was not to mine either.

    On collecting the car, Attila informed me that the left rear tyre had a tear in it and was ‘precarious’. Unfortunately, Subuyota did not have the same tyre in stock, but it was on ’back order’ and he would inform me immediately it was available. They also advised me not to drive on this lethal footwear. Possibly to give them time to secure availability of said rubber and lock me into the purchase. You know, Covid, supply lines and the war in Ukraine.

    That I have a spare tyre, should the need arise, was not mentioned. A new tyre would be a sound $600 investment and they would call me when it was available to be fitted.

    Instead, I called my local tyre guy, Clifford, whom I have used since last century on the various dodgily-shod vehicles Bestie and I have owned. He agreed that this tyre was hard to source but could find one for me if I wanted it. I said that would be great if it wasn’t too much of a burden. When he said, ‘100 percent, no worries, no drama, too easy, no stress’, I knew I was in good hands.

    He made no mention of nurses. He fitted it this morning. While I waited, watching indifferent breakfast television, and wondering if I should buy that bag of crisps for twice its supermarket price, but that would benefit a charity I have never heard of. I did and felt good about it.

    Clifford charged me a measly $381. Me, 1; Subuyota, 0.

    Wednesday [ongoing]

    It’s hard rubbish time in the shire. Trawlers everywhere. ‘Yer left blinker is out,’ says I, as I pedal past the Scavenger Man. Lead hunter in a flotilla of white transit vans. Those grot-vans looking like they were rescued from last year’s bout. 

    Stuff and the severing of stuff from lives lived. The sweet surprise of a biscuit tin filled by Grandma with teaspoons collected over a lifetime. Now of no significance. Just stuff. The rest, a record, a tidal mark of technology aging. 

    What’s in that pile? Country kitchen chairs are there. They’re finished trend-wise. Entertainment units are there. The big CRT tellys went five years ago, or five before that, I can’t remember. Leather furniture. Their slippery surfaces no longer tolerated. Hutches. WTF is a hutch? Mattresses and their marks of human interaction. Leave those. Is that an air fryer?!?! Air fryer disappointment! Copies of The Real Thing: near-Dyson vacuums failed after the first suck; faux-Swedish flatpack furniture showing the scars of home-construction-angry-Allen-key failures; doorless near-Kelvinators, with garage mould; books [who reads books?]; bookshelves by the metre [who needs bookshelves?]. Plastic doodads, their failed use/value revealed post-purchase. Lots and lots of plastic doodads. Likely destined for landfill and their later pristine uncovering, a head-scratcher for future anthropologists and archaeologists. And if you want to know what will be thrown out next year, just browse the shopping channels on your no-longer-CRT telly.

    But that steel klonfuddock. I could probably find a use for that. If only I could carry it on me bike…


    The local monthly market is sponsored by a service group. It provides the open-fronted tents that ring the perimeter of the town square. Actually now just a side and a half of the square, and dwindling. It is as quaint an anachronism that you might find in The New Suburb and a pity it is staggering about on its last legs.

    Much of what is for sale is the product of feverish activity in home kitchens, workshops and sewing rooms.

    Barbara sells overwhelmingly scented soaps, individually wrapped in coloured cellophane, secured with sticky tape and finished with a sparkly ribbon. Nothing says ‘personal hygiene’ more adroitly than a sparkly ribbon. Barbara sports a medieval headdress. Why? No reason. She tells Bestie that the only downside is that she has to duck a bit when leaving her tent, but she’s prepared to endure that because she thinks her headgear looks ‘nice’. It does.

    Chris and his mother have been making candles in their kitchen for going on twenty-five years now. They do all the markets. ‘Stalling’, as they call it, is not what it was. Once they would sell as many as 1,000 candles a week. Good money for a side hustle. Now they are lucky if they do that in a month. ‘The two-dollar shops have killed us,’ says Chris. Still, it’s good to get out and talk to folks, breathe a bit of fresh air and cover your costs. It’s a far-cry from his day job. Chris is a physicist who heads up a lab at The University. His mum owns four fast-food franchises in surrounding suburbs.

    John and Betty Bright offer homemade cakes and biscuits at prices that might just cover the ingredients. More Betty actually. John occupies a threadbare camp chair from which he pontificates, sipping continuously from a thermos which he confides contains ‘eau-de-vie’. 

    For those who came in late, the French is a euphemism for a thirst quencher that ranks alongside schnapps, grappa, arak and limoncello for its profound alcohol content. A lesser man might succumb to its blandishments and cosy into a stupor. Not John. As the day wears on [he starts early], he becomes more animated and opinionated. He would be a one-man soapbox trumpet if he could be bothered standing up. Betty says that signal for packing up is when John leaps to his feet begins to share the first verse of The Red Flag: ‘The people’s flag is deepest red, It shrouded oft our martyred dead, And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold, Their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold’. A guaranteed Square clearer.

    Amongst the home-bred pot plants, the tool tat from grandad’s shed, the lovingly hewn kids’ toys doomed to remain orphaned as none contain any digital whizzbangery, the crystals, the polished pebbles and gemstones, there lurks my favourite huckster. Antoinette is there to read my palm. 

    No longer able to accept ‘silver to cross her palm’, Antoinette now brandishes an eftpos machine coded to accept only $20 or above. I eagerly comply. Her prognostications are recorded and converted to a digital file before being transferred to a printer which spews her wanderings almost immediately she is done. This most ancient of flimflammery has certainly moved with the times. This is her analysis. 

    ‘Your life line is long, your health excellent. Your head line is forked which suggests a talent for communication. Your heart line is curved away from the fingers, which means you are generous, sensual and loving. It is broken though, which suggests you might like to be unfaithful. Because your fate line ends on the head line, you tend to make mistakes. Fortunately, your sun line is long. This means you are lucky.’

    Oddly, it is identical to the prophecies Bestie received a month ago. Nevertheless, tonight I will sleep well. 

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