taxi

Friday night at a friend’s exhibition in Docklands. Beers and good chats with good pals, good art, and a blinding sunset over the river. Whippets and dachshunds. Platform shoes. Dancing. Haddaway’s “What is Love” just as I was leaving, making me think that perhaps it wasn’t the time to leave, that I should stick around and do the robot with my bestie, and try to channel the awesome moves of Hanna from Girls, or Liz Lemon…

But I left. Took a stroll along the Yarra with two lovely friends and their black whippet, as the ridiculous gas towers at the Casino burst into flames in the sky. They hissed and sizzled and I heard the rumblings of a tram – my tram. Imogen said “You can still make it!” and I said “I never run for a tram” and I didn’t, and I missed it. Because I’m lazy and a derbrain and the city on a Friday night is a horrible place and I should have just quickened my pace and j-walked and I would have made it. But I didn’t.

We strolled a little further, and Tim and Imogen and Peppa the whippet left me at Southern Cross station – them to catch a train and me to hail a cab, bougie-style. I headed to the taxi rank, and a cab stopped in no time.

I try not to catch cabs. Taxis in Melbourne are usually not the most enjoyable places. I’ve had my fair share of rude, speeding, texting drivers, and mostly I prefer to walk. So last night, when an older gent with twinkly eyes stopped for me, I counted my lucky stars.

Last night was a night that I was so very glad I didn’t run for the tram, that I didn’t lazily hail a car as soon as I saw one, that I ummed and ahhed long enough before heading to the rank.

I hopped into the car, told him where I wanted to go, and looked out the window.

After a few moments, he asked if I was in the city the previous Saturday, for Melbourne’s White Night event (I wasn’t). We chatted about it briefly, then I asked him where he was from.

“Guess,” he said.

“I’m no good with accents,” I confessed.

“Persia,” he told me. He’d been living in Australia since ’89, first in Adelaide, but moved to Melbourne 3 years ago. He’d been driving taxis three months.

“What were you doing before then?” I asked.

“Bits and pieces,” he said, “When I lived in Persia I was a Sales Manager at an engineering company; selling parts to big companies all over the place, but you can’t get a job like that in Australia. My English isn’t good enough… so I do this.

“What do you do? Study at uni?”

I waved at my face, feigning flattery (I was!) and told him that, no, I wasn’t at uni, I work at a media agency, writing copy for websites.

“You’re a writer?” he exclaimed “I’m a writer! Well, I’m a poet. I’ve written four books of poetry that I’m trying to have published here, but so much of the meaning of my work is lost in translation. I write in Persian and it’s just not the same when it’s read back in English – it loses everything.”

He dug around in the glovebox and pulled out notebook after notebook of words, written in Persian. Curly cryptic squiggles dancing across tiny lined pages. The first poem, he told me, was about a canary in a cage, losing its’ desire to sing.

The crazy thing was that then, after I’d flipped through a few pages of script that I couldn’t read or understand, he said, “You are too good for what you’re doing. Have you written a novel? You need to write a novel. You need to think about your life, up until now, and you need to think about the one occurrence in your life that you always come back to, the one story you always tell, and you need to work that into a story. It’s like making a recipe, but without actually following a recipe. You need to start writing, and add a bit of this other story, and weave in some of that story, and then you need to read it back and cross things out and add a few more lines, and then you’ll have it. But really, you just need to start. Just sit down, and start. And the rest will follow. You must. You must do this.”

I pointed out my street, and thanked him for such a nice chat. Kinda jokingly, I said “Well, next time I see you, I’ll give you my novel!” and he said “Next time I pick you up, I’m expecting great things. I’m expecting that you’ll have a grant and you WILL give me your novel.”

It was such a strange journey, and one that had me buzzing with inspiration. I bounded (this isn’t a lie; I actually did) in the front door and declared to Rich and Beev “I’VE JUST HAD THE MOST AMAZING TAXI TRIP OF MY LIFE!!!” – it’s funny to meet someone in passing who just seems to understand so much, despite my giving nothing away about what I do and what I want to do.

And so, on this balmy Saturday night, I sit on my bed, with my dog at my feet, a glass of wine at my side, with a house full of teens, and I think, I’m gonna write this. I’m gonna try my hand at a novel. It was a goal for 2012 that never eventuated, but 2013 is the year. It doesn’t have to be anything – it just needs to be something. I just need to find that story. And I’m pretty sure I’ve got one.

Cheers to that

Cheers to that…

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up up and away

Twas a cool, dark morning one year ago, almost to the day. The morning of one of the most exciting and exhilarating adventures I have ever ever experienced. The morning that I rose at 4.30am, wearing my neckerchief and leather flying cap, and cycled maniacally through the dark Fitzroy streets, avoiding end-of-the-night revellers – drunk and stumbling onto the road, pashing wildly in alley ways, looking for cabs, looking for fights, looking for souvlakis – in the pre-dawn light.

I met Wa, my bestie, on a street corner near Gertrude Street (similarly attired in cap and scarf) and from there, we cycled through the slowly lightening morn to a hotel in East Melbourne.

No, it was not for a sordid 4 star hotel BFF tryst. It was not so we could arrive first at a neckerchief and leather flying cap convention. It was the morning we were taking a birds-eye-view of Melbourne in a hot air balloon.

We arrived at the hotel, and entered a foyer filled with people wearing polar-fleece and baseball caps and tracksuit tops, their necks weighed down by large SLR cameras. Balloon pilots were scattered about the place, with balloon-branded jumpers and clipboards and “If you fall out of the balloon we do not accept responsibility” forms for us to sign. Wa and I were herded into a minivan with six other eager adventurers (none had gone to quite the same effort as we had in the dress stakes) and we were off. Well, off to an oval in Prahran, soon to TAKE off in our gas-filled bag and basket.

When we got to the oval and our basket was lifted from the back of the van and the balloon laid out and the burner unit fired up, our pilot gave us a quick spiel on safety and landings and helped us all into the wicker basket. He attached a flashing beacon to a helium-filled party balloon and set it loose into the dawn sky, to see which way the wind was blowing (reassuring – I did NOT want to end up soaring across Port Phillip Bay) and to get a vague chart of our flight path.

Weirdly, it wasn’t until I was in the basket, with my elbows resting on its wickery side, that the following important points occurred to me: a) we were going to be up very very high, b) we were going to be up very very high IN A BASKET, c) we were going to have a large propane burner mere centimetres above our heads, and d) hellooooo, fear of heights, anyone???

I pondered these facts (with mild anxiety) as I gazed out across the park, distractedly taking photos of the other balloons slowly lifting off the ground, taking photos of Wa, taking photos of the trees, taking photos of the treetops – hang on – what was this? We’ve already taken off? We’re already above the trees, and the streetlights and the tram tracks and the hospital and – oh me, oh me – we’re floating high above the park now, actually too high to leap from the basket to the safety of terra firma and green grass. There’s no turning back now.

Lift off, we have lift off

Over the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Tennis Centre, and the Fitzroy Gardens, the Freemasons Hospital, and over Gertrude Street, over the street corner I’d met Wa on a few hours earlier. Over my workplace. Over Brunswick Street. Over friends’ houses. Over MY house! I actually leaned over the side (not too far, mind you) and called out to Gus as we floated above my backyard, in the hope he’d run out and woof at the hiss of the burner, but no such luck.

Anyone for tennis?

O Melbourne, you luvverly city...

In the ayer!!!

Over familiar streets and shops, and then… into unchartered territory. Past the familiarity of my local hood and over Brunswick, and Coburg. Over a park with a lake full of ducks. Over backyards with crazy woofing dogs, running madly in circles. Over joggers. Over men in their dressing gowns, peering up at us from their driveways as they collect their Saturday paper. Over the drive-in, its huge empty screen looming large. Over factories, roofs passing underneath so low I thought we’d come to a stop on a square of asbestos-ridden tile. Over a park and an oval and, actually, no, we’re coming down. Our pilot tells us to brace, and we all lean against the side of the basket, as we were shown earlier that morning.

'Burban Streets

At the movies...

Wa + Wem = Besties 4 Evaahhhhhhh

And after three heavy bumps, we were on the oval and clambering out of the basket onto the dewy grass.

A trip in a hot air balloon is not nearly as terrifying as I had thought. In fact, it’s the opposite of terrifying. The silence, the gentle drift, the occasional roar of the burner – it’s calming and peaceful and slow. The world as it is seems to be all about how quickly you can get from A to B, and how instantly we seem to ‘need’ (and receive) information, and how everything needs to be mapped out and planned. Not knowing where you’re going to end up is exciting, and fun, and kinda highlights that we should focus more on where we’re at now – on looking around and learning and drifting and laughing – and less on our final destination. Don’t you think?

wembolina’s melbourne list

Bucket list. I don’t really like that term. It makes me feel a bit sad. One of my all-time, absolute favourite magazines has a section in the front, where they interview chefs and foodie-type peeps and they ask them what they’d want their last meal to be. People salivate over this stuff (literally!), but it always kinda makes me feel a little bummed out. I don’t wanna think about my last meal. Or ‘things to do before I die’. I just wanna eat and have adventures and be happy and when my time’s up, I hope it’s quick and that there isn’t a giant pavlova I have to get through before I give life the ol’ heave-ho.

That’s not the most appealing opening paragraph, is it? No… But since ‘that’ movie came out a few years ago, bucket lists seem to be popping up all over the place. Time Out recently had a ‘101 Things To Do Before You Die’ feature in their magazine, which made me think “Hmm… Having adventured about the world over the past few months, there are so many fun things to do in this fair city…. Maybe I should make my OWN ‘Things to do’ list (without the morbidity factor) that might inspire activity and adventure for Wembolina readers?”.

So here goes. This is a list of things I’m super keen to do, and things I’ve done that I would whole-heartedly recommend to ANYONE – visitors and locals alike!:

Kayaking at Studley Park Boathouse

Hire a kayak for one – or make a date of it with yo beau – and paddle up the river towards Fairfield. Once you get past the ‘Sunday Driver’ row-boaters, you’ll find yourself virtually alone in the bush (which is weird, given you’re about 5 kms out of the city) – just trees and birds and the occasional ‘pro’ kayaker. On hot days you might see (gulp) a snake slithering across the surface of the water. YUCK! I don’t think they can leap into your boat though, so you should be safe (should be). If you go far enough, you’ll find yoself surrounded by sleeping fruitbats, which is eerie and creepy and kinda like something out of a horror flick… And it stinks a bit too. But it’s totally worth it.

You can also kayak through Docklands at twilight, which I’ve never done, but am SUPER keen to!

Horseback Winery Tour in Red Hill

I did this a few years ago with a bunch of peeps I didn’t really know, and now we’re all totally besties, so I HIGHLY recommend this. You head to the stables in the morning, get paired with your horse, don some tres fetching Drizabone jackets and a helmet, and then you’re off! Most of the trail is along dirt roads through farmland, but you do a few canters and the like through vineyards and paddocks, which is pretty spesh. We hit up three wineries, got a little sozzled, and finished the day with lunch at the Red Hill Brewery. Woot!

Peninsula Hot Springs

We went to the Hot Springs after our horse-riding booze-fest, and it was pretty nice, but VERY busy. There were a few moments where I felt like I was in a bowl of Human Soup, rather than having a ‘relaxing unwind’ in a thermal pool. No matter. If you went on a weeknight or in winter, I reckon it’d be quite a bit more sublime. Would deffo recommend cooking yourself in the sauna and then jumping into the icy plunge-pool – totes invigorating!!

Warburton Rail Trail

O snap, this is ANOTHER adventure I had with my new gang of besties (we are actually a real gang – I’ll tell you about it some other time!) and a fun weekend away if you are sans car. Ride your bike to Flinders Street Station (or some other station), get on a train to Lilydale (a charming ‘burb that has neither lilies nor dales), and cycle your way along 38kms of old railway line to Warburton. There are a few cafes and pitstops to make along the way, and it’s a relatively easy ride (until you hit the mofo hill on the way back – but if I can do it, anyone can!!). We spent the night at a house in Warburton and moseyed back to Melbourne the next day, but not before filling up on scones and coffee at The Patchwork Teahouse.

Having a little rest on our way to Warburton

Penguin Parade, Phillip Island

Do you know that I have lived in Melbourne my whole entire life and I’ve never even been to Phillip Island, let alone seen the penguins strut their stuff along the sand in front of 8000 snap-happy tourists? This must happen. Because penguins are in my top 5 favourite animals of all time.

(Thanks to Chris Cohen for his genius penguin translation; please note that these guys are NOT fairy penguins, you won’t see them doing this on Phillip Island)

Women of Letters

Why have I never been to this? I love sassy ladies, I love writing, and I love letters! Held once a month at the luvverly Thornbury Theatre, WoL celebrates the lost art of letter writing with some of Melbourne’s finest creative lady-folk – writers, musos, politicians, et al. I’M PUTTING THE NEXT ONE IN MY DIARY!!! I’M DEFFO GONNA GO!!! Plus, at the end of the afternoon, you get to drink wine and pen a letter of your own.

No Lights No Lycra

A good friend of mine went to her first No Lights No Lycra thinking it was a yoga class, and wondered why every one was dancing up a storm to bangin’ 80s tracks when she walked in. Warm ups? Not very zen. Not very relaxing. But once she got into the swing of it – following the ‘dance like no one’s watching’ mantra, because NO ONE IS because THE LIGHTS ARE OUT – she cut loose, Kevin Bacon-style, and has been going to the weekly classes ever since. I love dancing, and I love 80s n 90s tunes, so this is definitely an evening I could embrace!

Volunteering at the Collingwood Children’s Farm

In my quest to brush up – nay, perfect – my gardening skillz, this is a great way to learn about dirt and compost and what to plant and when. AND! You’re surrounded by behbeh cows and goats and guinea pigs, so it’s a pretty sweet venture. The last time I was at the Children’s Farm, I saw a cat with no ears bite a small child. But that kid was pulling its tail, so I think it’s warranted.

Learn to crochet

Well helloooo, I just did this TODAY!!! Learning the art of the granny square has been on my list of things to do for about 4 years. Fingers crossed I’ll be well on my way to completing a ye olde woollen rug in no time! There are a ton of places you can wield a needle around town, but I did it at Thread Den. Morris and Sons also looks like a pretty great place to partake in a few lessons, and they have wool and needles to die for. 

Look at what I did!!!

Be an extra on Offspring (or be discovered and offered a leading role – I’m not fussed)

Since my all-time favourite Melbourne-filmed TV show RUSH was sadly AXED last year, I have had to focus my Australian drama sights on another show. Offspring. Which is quite a bit better than Rush, really. Less guns and car chases and loud music, but not enough Sgt Joshua *swoony sadface*… Offspring is filmed in my neck of the woods and I always seem to be stumbling across shoots (I promise not in a stalky way – it’s just that I walk my dog a lot, and your two main shooting locations are across the road from my work – HONEST!!!), so it makes sense that one day I should be asked to ‘sit at the bar with a friend, laughing into your white wine spritzers’ or ‘stroll with conviction down Smith Street, with your eco-friendly shopping bag tucked tightly under your arm’ or ‘cycle gaily down George Street, but MAKE SURE YOU’RE WEARING A HELMET!!!’. But seriously, this is a great show. Well done, writers. Well done, cast and crew.

Picnic lunch at Heide Museum

Make some salad and sammies, jump in the car, and head to the Heide Museum in Bulleen. On a nice day, you can sit on the grass amongst the sculptures, soaking up the serenity (and art) as you munch on yo lunch. On not-so-nice days, book a table at Cafe Vue, have a little tipple, then stroll through the museum admiring the luvverly artworks… A nice activity to do with your folks, if you’re after something parent-friendly.

Sign up for a Broga class

My ace pal Jennie started up Broga a few months ago, following a trip to Thailand where she got her Yoga license – yay! Geared towards the fellas – but ladies are most welcome (phewf, so I can sign up!) – Jennie works with small groups, and posts handy tutorials on her blog. I’ve done a bit of yoga and pilates over the years, but always feel like a bit of a brittle ol’ stick when I’m surrounded by elasticky pretzel ladies. The small class size – and Jennie’s hilar sense of humour – are mega appealing to me.

Foodie things

What would a Wembolina post be without some food references? As the world’s biggest lover of a good meal (not proven), here are a coupla places I’m DESPERATE, on-the-edge-of-my-seat to eat at, plus some others that are a bit special, or just a bit great:

Loam, Drysdale – they FORAGE for food, then they cook it!!
Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld – all I know about this place is that the food is flipping incredible. And they often post photos of echidnas on Twitter. Food + Australian wildlife = perfeck (as long as the wildlife ain’t on the plate. Which I’m sure it is on occasion, but I don’t need to partake to that extent).
The Estelle, Northcote – order the degustation (WITH dessert), get your friendly waiter to match wines, and sit back and relax. The food here is ridonkulous – in a deliciously splendid way – but it’s the presentation that’ll knock your socks off.
The Everleigh, Fitzroy – go here and order a martini. Just do it. If you wanted to dress up like a flapper, it would not be frowned upon. This would be a nice place to have a drink with Morgan Freeman.
Afternoon tea at The Windsor, Melbourne – When I finally get around to doing this, I’m going to dress up like Elizabeth Bennet and tut at Mister Darcy’s lateness. While I eat sandwiches and little cakes.

Dirty martinis....

And so ends my ‘Things to Do’ in Melbourne post. Are you a Melbourne-ite? What are YOUR top things to do in our leafy town? Or what are you bursting at the seams to do? Tell me, tell me, so I can add it to my list!