Bits and Pieces

Friday, February 27, 2004


I can't be bothered writing about politics right now, so allow me to tell you about my favourite place in the world: Melbourne, Australia.

I went to Melbourne in summer 2002 to visit my brother, who was travelling for a year after finishing university. My original plan was to fly to Sydney, rent a convertible and drive up to Brisbane to meet him, but his plans changed and he ended up in Melbourne. I was on the verge of cancelling the trip, as I had no intention of spending the Australian winter in such a temperate climate as Melbourne. I can't tell you how glad I am that I didn't.

I arrived in Melbourne Airport at 5am on a cold June morning, relieved after a horrible 25 hour flight with a stopover at Singapore. With nothing but my luggage and a scrawled address, I jumped on a coach to the CBD. On arrival, I stood for a few minutes at the Bourke Street tram stop, savouring the feeling that I had the city to myself. Melbourne had yet to come alive, and the only activity was at a small newspaper stand, the owner bustling about setting up the racks. Presently an old green and yellow tram came creaking down the tracks, its destination marked number 12: St. Kilda.

My first worrying moment came when I got off the tram at a Burger King on Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda. The town was still pitch black and silent as the grave, and I had absolutely no idea where my brother's flat was. All I had was an address on Canterbury Road and an instruction to get off on Fitzroy. After 20 minutes of searching I found the building, awoke an obese old man on the first floor with my knocking, and got him to let me in.

In the light of day St. Kilda looked a lot more inviting than it had seemed last night. The bright winter sun shone on a quaint town that seemed to have been moved wholesale from the coast of Victorian England. The long promenade fringed by a pristine stretch of white sand; the rickety old wooden rollercoaster of Luna Park looking like it could collapse at any moment; the myriad cake shops catering to every taste, as long as it was sweet. If it wasn't for the fact that the town was popular with travellers who favoured tie-dye shirts and long greasy hair I could almost have believed I had travelled back into the past.

Over the following weeks I slipped into a comfortable routine. I would awake on the sofa when the early sunlight peeked through the sliding door, and walk a hundred yards to a bakery or 7-11 to pick up some freshly baked bread and something to cover it with. After breakfast I would gather the troops (among them my brother and his flatmates: Jonny, Olly and Dom), and play football for a couple of hours in Albert Park.

Loch Ard

Most of the nights were insane and alcohol fuelled. The World Cup was being played at the time in Japan and South Korea, so most nights were spent either in the Elephant and Wheelbarrow, an English theme pub (why do the English enjoy these pubs so much?) or a sports bar in Chinatown in Melbourne, where we witnessed the most unusual behaviour. South Koreans who had come to watch their country play would sit drinking soft drinks, and after replacing all the chairs and tables at the end of the game, they would quietly file out of the bar and go home. I remember when South Korea were knocked out of the tournament. Someone had printed out several hundred small flags and hand coloured them all., During the game the South Koreans waved them like there was no tomorrow, but at the end of the game they left them all in orderly stacks at the bar for disposal. I have the utmost admiration for South Koreans. Their good manners and composure is something English football fans could do with learning.

Anyway, I have written quite enough for now. I will save my stories for the next time I feel a little nostalgic. Next time I'll tell you about the Great Ocean Road, where we were caught in storms in the middle of a tropical forest (and later that night kidnapped and abandoned by drunken Australians). Or maybe the time my brother was poisoned and needed a CAT scan after waking up face down in front of a church with cuts on his face. Or maybe even the time we met Harold Bishop from Neighbours, and he shocked us with some foul language about Aussie Rules Football (who would have thought that he knew words like that?) For now, I bid you adieu.
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