Perfect Day has been on automatic replay in my head this past day since the news Lou Reed had passed away. The cover of this tune that stands out in my memory was played on a clear blue June Saturday in Mountsfield Park, London. People’s Day. A jobbing muso of whiskered jaw in black uniform playing guitar under trees to weekend flower children, jigging toddlers, people yearning something or someone never reached, remembering things that never quite were. Remembering flashes of fun. We sing along. Together. Weekenders on our own.
Was it the 444,000th cover of Perfect Day ever made?
A reggae beat rolls up the hill to warn it will be in charge from sunset.
I rarely carried a cameras in the 1990s. It is clear in the big screen inside my head. I wish there was a kind of camera that could take the image in my mind and show it to you. It would show you the plant stall on the left as you came in, the crumbling outbuildings, the craft stalls, and the cakes liquefying even in the shade, flowered icing smearing. It would show you young love. Problems all left alone. It would show you the children in spangly costumes, it’s such fun. It would show you buggies laden with goodies and babies, smiling, sleeping and squirming. It would show you the cream of London apiarists, who for five minutes would make you think of keeping bees. It would show you the tiny stream train and driver, a portly Gulliver. It would show you the tables of ezy cleaning products, and dolls in crinolines with toilet paper petticoats that will do another twirl at a boot fair soon. It would show you old love. It would show you chutneys and pickles with floral covers, and it would show you the donkeys and falcons. Just a perfect day feed animals in the zoo.
I headed to a favourite café the other day, book under my arm. There is time enough to digest a short story at one sitting. As I entered the café an acquaintance greeted me warmly. Wrapped in a bright shawl, she sat alone at a kitchen table. I smiled and greeted her and made a note to self that if I sat there I could forget my intention to read. I was writing well that day and wanted to oil the wheels with some good reading.
The remaining small table in the café was taken and the other big table was almost full with a couple chatting quietly and three others eating and reading newspapers. I found a place, set down my book and scarf, hoping my acquaintance would not feel slighted. Then I thought to myself, it’s a free country and I am entitled to read.
I ordered, sat, poured some water, and opened the book choosing a short story because of it’s title, Green Bus to St Ives by Salley Vickers. I once took a train to St Ives, and somewhere is a diary that records who I met that day and my visit to the Barbara Hepworth home and studio oblivious that not so many years later I would live amid a garden of smooth carved stones. Greedily I lapped up the spectacle, smell and sounds of the beaches that were alike yet far different from home.
As I slipped away with the story characters on a bus to the Tate and rediscovered Barbara Hepworth’s garden, I heard the voice of my acquaintance. “Where do you live?”
A male voice replied, “We live up the coast but I would like to live here.”
“I wouldn’t like to live here as everyone knows your business,” said my acquaintance. I glanced around to see a man and his wife sitting at a small table, a walking frame parked in front of the table. My acquaintance sat at the far end of a big table.
For the next few minutes as I tried to keep reading I learned where the man, and my acquaintance were born and had lived and why each had moved. I learned that my acquaintance had left an affluent city area and was “not like” those people she had left. In a few short minutes I had learned a great deal about my acquaintance’s life. I learned nothing about the man’s wife. She appeared frail and said little. The man seemed glad of the conversation so I thought that was a good thing.
Their talk turned to the economy. I determinedly kept on reading about the unexpected alliance of the characters in the story. Why hadn’t my acquaintance moved closer to her new friends instead of broadcasting across the café?
“My kind of business is not affected by the downturn,” said my acquaintance. “Everything is affected by the downturn,” said the man. For a moment I was tempted to weigh in to agree with him and I suspect they wouldn’t have minded a bit.
“What are your names?” said my acquaintance to the couple. And so it went on.
As I finished my tart, a warm tumble of cheese and vegetables, I checked the pages of my book and saw I still had a number of pages to read.
My acquaintance stood up and issued a fond farewell to her new friends and it was quiet again. I ordered coffee, and made my way back to St Ives.
Today is the 30th birthday my father did not reach.
I can’t recall the other 29 clearly. They are shadows of an anniversary that given the preference, I’d rather not discuss. I’d rather just think of him quietly.
My father’s only grandson sleeps. If they’d met, they’d have had a quiet bet together, and agreed between themselves not to tell me. They are so alike – not in love with academia, liking a bet, loving to collect what others see as junk, sensitive to others, and with a wicked sense of humour.
My father’s only granddaughter plays, making, chatting, imagining, devising, her giggles impervious to the coldness of day and a long ago loss. She loves birthdays. If only they’d met.
What would he have made of the person I became? What would he have thought of me with my volatile writing life and my weight lifting under the supervision of a personal trainer for goodness sakes? What would he have thought about us never voting the same way?
He had this scheme or dream of travelling the countryside collecting antiques for a shop on Sydney’s North Shore and me running the shop. He was about to start on his side of the plan. He and Mum had the caravan ready but then he became ill. Now I see the antique shop was quite a good plan. I would have found good stories there.
In the southern tablelands town where my father spent his childhood, one of his oldest friends was interred yesterday. He was 92 when he died last week. I make no comparison. He too was a good man. Both of them now gone. My father would be 77 today, were he here. I will bake a birthday cake.
For some years I bought tickets in lottery prize homes. Recently I visited a prize home and again bought a ticket. I didn’t win. In 2008 I wrote a story that appeared in the Weekend Australian Magazine about what appealed to me me about prize home lotteries:
I’ve seen my future. Every day before breakfast I’ll slip out across the road wearing a swimming costume, and a towel draped across one shoulder to swim in the sea. After showering off the salt and sand, I’ll partake of a light breakfast of juice, fruits, cereal and freshly brewed coffee.
My family will be there. Shiny, happy people, who slip off into their days, leaving me to sit down to write at a sleek computer on a glass desk. On weekends we will frolic in the surf and then recline with our books on the deck. At sunset we’ll have champagne in the spa. We’ll entertain friends to dinner by flame torches.
This will be my life after I win the prize home. It only takes one ticket. But I’ve bought three. I’ll just have to keep a second place, a bush cabin maybe, to store all the books and the garage paraphernalia.
Or maybe I’ll just get rid of the lot and start a new digital, clutter-free life.
I love buying tickets in lottery homes. They fire my imagination in a way that cash prizes never do. Sure, I’d love to win a wad of cash but it won’t happen. I never enter Lotto. I used to but I always forgot to check the numbers. But with prize homes, I always remember the date of the draw. And I study the plans and the pictures, and visualise myself there.
There was a lottery recently for a block of apartments at Surfers Paradise. I’ve never wanted to live in Surfers but still I had it all mapped out, with me as landlady in the penthouse.
But this latest place is so me. It has a wine fridge, and it’s right opposite the beach, and close to the airport. I’d enjoy this place, I’d really appreciate it.
“This is not a good use of space,” says another visitor to my future home speaking about the generous proportions of the corridor that has leading of it three doorways, a stairway, a broom cupboard and an exclusive lift to the underground garage. Look lady, go and enter a lottery for homes with pokey corridors why don’t you? For some people even heaven would be too fancy.
“When I win the lottery” was the catch cry of my paternal grandmother. She’d talk about the lovely home she wanted where we could all come and stay. And she’d look at the beautiful gifts she scrimped for, and crafted all year, as if they were nothing – the dresses she’d made to measure or the individual soft toys that she had stitched. “I am going to buy you everything you could want,” she’d say. But her handcrafted bespoke parcels were the most anticipated gifts of all. Anyone else could buy something.
Funny isn’t it, how people always say they are going to buy a lottery ticket just after they’ve had extraordinary luck. A piece of flying metal goes through a windscreen and just misses a driver’s neck so he must buy a lottery ticket. You are cured from a life-threatening ailment, as I was, and countless people tell you to “Go and buy a lottery ticket.” Do they not know that to be cured is the biggest win of all?
But I come from a family of ticket buyers, and winners. When I was 16 my Dad won a third share in the Golden Casket, relatively little if compared to the Lotto giveaways of today. I came home from school, and there was madness in the air. “What’s happened?”
“We’ve won the lottery,” said my Dad A party followed. Some party. The day he won the lottery closed with my Dad in casualty with part of his finger lost when he tumbled into a glass table.
At birthdays and Christmas someone always buys me scratchy tickets and I always win something. But I was part of a lottery syndicate in the UK, and for an investment of £104 per annum over four years, earned £30. Eventually the syndicate manager retired and it was wound up. It was a relief for I could never quit. What if all my colleagues had won the big prize the very next week? Unthinkable.
With the global financial crisis and superannuation funds on a rollercoaster, I wonder if more people are buying tickets. It won’t change me. I’ve been living in my own private recession for years. And prize homes are fantasy, not strategy, for me.
My grandmother never stopped buying tickets. Never stopped dreaming. One day my aunt bought a scratchy ticket and won $10,000. Granny had bought the previous ticket.
As for that whining woman just ahead of me. I just hope that she doesn’t win.